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Standard vs Non-Standard: Isaiah 59:19b (Part 1)

March 12, 2016

Isaiah 59:19b presents a number of interesting issues in terms of lexicology, interpretation, translation, and teaching, and I’d like to post a few observations about what I’ve discovered looking at it.

It is a favorite verse for a lot of people, at least in the KJV/NKJV tradition. I say this because there is a radical divide in meaning between the (N)KJV and just about every other translation out there. Here is how those two translations read:

When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him. (KJV)

When the enemy comes in like a flood,
The Spirit of the Lord will lift up a standard against him. (NKJV)

And here are five popular English translations:

For he will come like a pent-up flood
that the breath of the Lord drives along. (NIV)

For He will come like a rushing stream
Which the wind of the Lord drives. (NASB)

for he will come like a rushing stream,
which the wind of the Lord drives. (ESV)

for He will come like a rushing stream
driven by the wind of the Lord. (HCSB)

For he will come like a raging flood tide
driven by the breath of the Lord. (NLT)

It looks as if the latter translations are working from an entirely different text, doesn’t it. They all read largely the same as one another, but very different from the (N)KJV. But it is not a text issue. The underlying Hebrew text is exactly the same. These represent two different constructions of what the words mean.

I plan to explain why this is and how it works. But I’ll disclose right from the outset I think it is very unlikely that the very popular KJV rendering of “lift up a standard against” the enemy is correct. That being said, I’m not completely convinced about the alternative reading above either. But I’ll get to each in a later post.

But first, within the KJV school, there is a further complication. I’ll deal with it in Part 2.

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