And it shall come to pass

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Isaiah 2

Here’s a lovely piece of over-translation from the KJB.  Six English words are used to render a single Hebrew verb.  They might have simply said “It shall be”.  In fact many times they might have left it entirely untranslated (as many modern translations do).  But we would have missed a beautiful turn of phrase.

There are 526 “comings to pass” in the Old Testament and 87 in the New.  And one of the great benefits of the phrase is its sense of prophetic history.  By using the phrase, the translators manage to convey both a sense of future and past.  These events will not only come, they will come to pass.  That is, they will be established as new states of affairs.  The world will have to reckon with these fresh happenings.  It will be a future that makes history.

Therefore this saying is the very opposite of that similar sounding phrase which comes from Persian poets:

“This too shall pass.”

Legend has it that this saying was inscribed on a ring given to a powerful king.  It was meant to remind him that both his achievements and his sufferings were only fleeting.  It would make him happy when sad and sad when happy.

It’s a phrase invoking the transience of all things.  Yet the words of the Old Testament prophets could not be more different.  For them, the things that “shall come to pass” are earth-shattering events that will change history for good.  The Messiah will come and establish His kingdom, He will shatter His enemies and reign in peace and righteousness.  What will come to pass will never pass.  That is, it will never fade or be lost.  They strained ahead towards this Messianic future.  And while all things in the meantime might pass, the Messiah’s coming would be the real making of history.

For instance, the KJB translates Isaiah chapter 2 like this:

And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD’S house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. 3 And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. 4 And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people.  (Isaiah 2:2-4)

Notice how this future event will make history.  What is yet to come will establish a whole new world.  Even the mountains will shift when this “comes to pass.”  The nations will flow uphill to the “house of the LORD”.  At the same time the word of the LORD will flow out to the ends of the earth.

These events indeed “came to pass” when Jesus, the true Temple, was torn down and raised up again through His death and resurrection (John 2:19-22).  Now the nations flock to Him and His word flows out to the four corners of the earth.  The future Isaiah longed for is coming to pass.  But, as we’ll see tomorrow, it awaits a final consummation…

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