“At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Ps. 16: 11)
The Basket Case Chronicles #169
“Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men. In the law it is written, With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that will they not hear me, saith the Lord. Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not: but prophesying serveth not for them that believe not, but for them which believe.” (1 Cor. 14:20–22).
We now come to a place in the New Testament where it is really important to let the testaments speak to one another. Paul starts by saying that we must not be childish in our thinking, but instead we should be mature. When it comes to malice we should not be mature, but in our theology we are called to maturity.
With this exhortation, Paul then quotes Isaiah 28, and cites it as his reason for encouraging them to speak intelligibly in their worship services. The context of Isaiah’s warning is a context of judicial blindness, where Isaiah’s warnings to the hard-hearted were all yammer yammer yammer.
“For with stammering lips and another tongue Will he speak to this people. To whom he said, This is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest; And this is the refreshing: yet they would not hear. But the word of the Lord was unto them Precept upon precept, precept upon precept; Line upon line, line upon line; Here a little, and there a little; That they might go, and fall backward, and be broken, And snared, and taken.” (Isaiah 28:11–13).
This is the passage Paul quotes when he is explaining why tongues is a sign (of judgment) on unbelievers. Isaiah taught them plainly, but they taunted him in return, mocking his simplistic teaching—line on line, precept on precept, sing-songy ABCing to the widdle Sunday School kids. Very well then, Isaiah says, if you treat the plain Word of God as gibberish, what you will get is gibberish. You don’t listen to God when the prophet speaks, and so maybe you will understand it when your streets are full of Babylonian soldiers speaking a strange language. The end result is that they go and fall backward, are broken, snared and captured.
The same thing is promised in the law.
“The Lord shall bring a nation against thee from far, from the end of the earth, as swift as the eagle flieth; a nation whose tongue thou shalt not understand;” (Deut. 28:49).
Tongues speaking was therefore given as a sign of judgment. When the streets of Jerusalem were filled with the praises of God in multiple languages, this was a great blessing to those who were speaking those praises, along with those who heard them and entered into the praise But it was simultaneously (and more importantly) a sign of judgment on the residents of Jerusalem who did not know what was going on. Those who accused them of drunkenness were being handed over to the judgment of God, a precursor to the Latin-speaking soldiers who would be on them within a generation. It is not a good thing.
Tongues are a sign of pending military judgment, and they were an ominous sign given to the obdurate and unbelieving. So why should such a practice be emphasized inside a Christian worship service? Prophesy—intelligibility—is for the community of faith. Why? Because we are not under condemnation, not under judgment.