Therefore thus says the Lord God, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a tested stone, A costly cornerstone for the foundation, firmly placed. He who believes in it will not be disturbed.” (Isa. 28:16 NASB)
As I was studying this passage, I saw something I had never seen before. The speaker is the Lord God. But there is an odd anomaly in the quote. The subject and the verb don’t seem to match.
The first word in Hebrew is “hineni”. It means, roughly, “Behold I”. It is used when one is summoned to announce his presence. Abraham says it to the Lord when the Lord calls him. Samuel says it to Eli, when he thought that Eli called him. It is often translated “Here am I”.
God also uses it for his own activity to announce his own presence. “Here am I.” He announces when he is coming in judgment, when he is making a covenant, when he is working redemption and righteousness and judgment in the earth.
Isaiah emphasized the “hineni” with the next word, which is a verb. But the verb is in the third person, when you are expecting the first person. “He is establishing”. It doesn’t fit the “Behold, I.” The Hebrew says, “Behold I he is establishing a foundation in Zion.”
Most translations and most commenters assume that there is a mistake in the verb, and that it should be pointed as a participle, translated, “Behold, I am the one who is laying a foundation”. Not too bad, except that I don’t like “fixing” the vowels in the Bible. And I think we are missing some poetic beauty. The meaning is there, but the emphasis is missing.
After Ephraim has finally rejected the Lord completely, mocking the prophet and dismissing the promised rest, ridiculing the promise of a redeemer, God could have easily dismissed his people entirely. He is scattering Israel in judgment. The Assyrian army will come and will carry the northern tribes away. They have made a covenant with death and therefore they will suffer the consequences of that unbelief.
But God will not cast off his people forever. He will gather together his church in a way that no one could ever see. Israel, Judah and all the nations together have become corrupt, unprofitable, cast away. They have all become “not my people”.
But God will lay a cornerstone, a stone of testing. True Israel, our Lord Jesus. He who believes in him will not be disturbed, restless, fearful – fleeing from one abyss to another abyss. But they will learn to rest.
How do we know? for God has announced his presence. Hineni. Here I am.
You have rejected me. But here I am.
I would translate the verse like this:
Therefore thus says the Lord God, “Here I am.”Isaiah 28:16
He is laying in Zion a stone, a stone of testing, a costly cornerstone, a foundation firmly placed. He who believes will not be hasty.
It is hard to capture in the English. But it is the announcement of God’s mercy in Christ. Here I am.
He has not left us with the covenant of death that we have willingly made, but has announced his presence. Here am I.
The covenant of death was broken because God took upon himself the flesh of Abraham in the womb of the virgin Mary. He paid that covenant and suffered the penalty of the broken covenant, that we might live.
He didn’t wait for us to find him, for we weren’t even looking. “There is none that seeketh me.” He didn’t wait for us to overcome the curse ourselves. He didn’t come to find the righteous. He came to seek and save that which was lost.
The sheep have gone astray. they have been scattered. They have run from the shepherd. they have rebelled. And then he announces his presence. Here I am.
What we have in this verse is the promise of Emmanuel. God with us. There is where we find our rest. If we believe the promise, we can finally lay down our weapons and rest, even in the presence of our enemies.
Here am I. Such beauty in one little word!