In the first part of Chapter 6, Isaiah recounts his call by the Lord to be a prophet. He sees the Lord and feels deep regret because of his sins and those of his people. He also sees seraphim and describes symbolically the powers these beings possess. Isaiah is called to serve “until the cities be wasted without inhabitant, and the houses without man, and the land be utterly desolate, and the LORD have removed men far away.” He is informed that the Jews would reject his teachings and those of the Savior, and he is given instructions on how to present his message. Finally, the Lord tells Isaiah that although Israel would be scattered, a tenth would return.
Nephi presents this chapter in its entirety with minor variations. Differences in wording in the Book of Mormon version are shown in italics where quoted; most notably, the past tense is used in verse 9. Compare 2 Nephi 16.
In verse 1, Isaiah tells us that he received his call to prophesy “in the year that king Uzziah died,” in 740 B.C.1 Isaiah states that in vision, “I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple.” In the original Hebrew, the meaning of “train” is “skirt of his robe.”2
In verse 2 Isaiah states: “Above it [meaning the Lord’s throne, from verse 1] stood the seraphims.” In the Hebrew seraphim means “fiery beings.”3 Isaiah used this word in place of “angels,” meaning “messengers” because their function was adoration of the Lord, not delivering a message.4 Both angels and seraphim are glorified beings. Continuing, Isaiah describes these beings: “Each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly.” The Book of Mormon renders seraphim, the correct Hebrew plural form.5 In the Hebrew the word “veils” is the same as “wings,” resulting in this interpreted meaning: “Each one had six veils; with twain he concealed his presence, and with twain he concealed his location, and with twain he did fly.” The wings or veils, then, are not literal; they are symbolic representations of powers possessed by the seraphim.6 Except for their not functioning as messengers they were like angels, having the same appearance and powers.7 Joseph Smith answered questions about Revelation 4:6 and a description there of beasts seen by John the Revelator. These beasts also possessed six wings like the seraphim; Joseph described the wings as “a representation of power, to move, to act, etc.”8
In verse 3 Isaiah records words spoken or sung by one of the seraphim: “And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.” The Hebrew word from which “full” is translated means “the entire contents.”9 Thus the Lord’s purpose is for the entire earth to be filled with His glory—giving added understanding regarding the role of the earth in the Lord’s eternal plan. Compare the Lord’s words to Moses: “For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”10 Three repetitions of “holy” spoken by the seraph are for triple emphasis—the Hebrew language uses repetitions rather than superlatives.
In the dedication of the Kirtland Temple, Joseph Smith makes reference to singing by heavenly beings surrounding the throne of God: “And help us by the power of thy Spirit, that we may mingle our voices with those bright, shining seraphs around thy throne with acclamation of praise, singing Hosanna to God and the Lamb!”11
Verse 4 continues the narrative: “And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke.” The Hebrew word translated as “posts of the door” means “threshold” or “sill.”12 The sound of the Lord’s voice caused everything to tremble.
In verse 5 Isaiah feels deep regret to be in the presence of the Lord because of his sins and those of his people. He exclaims: “Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.” The Book of Mormon renders “Wo is unto me!”13 Not only does he feel unworthy but spiritually dead—in need of repentance—in order to have confidence in the presence of the Lord.14 As “a man of unclean lips” who dwelt “in the midst of a people of unclean lips,” his sin of speaking improperly had to be purged if he were to bear the word of the Lord.15
His regrets are duly noted by the seraphim. Verse 6 begins: “Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar.” The Book of Mormon again renders the grammatically correct seraphim.16
Verse 7 continues: “And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged.” This act by the seraph provided a symbol of the cleansing power of the Atonement to Isaiah.
In verse 8, after the issue of personal purity is resolved, the Lord is ready to speak to Isaiah. Isaiah states: “Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.” In responding to this call from the Lord, Isaiah uses the same words that the Lord Himself used at an earlier time in accepting His call to be the Savior of the world.17 In our own day, more of us need to become involved in the Lord’s work. We need to step forward and say, “Here am I; send me.”18
In verses 9 and 10 the Lord gives Isaiah a unique challenge: To encode the things the Lord would show him in such a way that it would be plain to the reader who has the spirit of prophecy—but so that it would be incomprehensible to those not in possession of this great spiritual gift. In verse 9 the Lord instructs Isaiah: “Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not.” This verse is rendered in the Book of Mormon in the past tense: “Hear ye indeed, but they understood not, and see ye indeed, but they perceived not.”19 From the Book of Mormon rendition it is clear that the people are to blame—not Isaiah’s encoding—in their failing to understand or perceive.
The Lord continues in verse 10: “Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed.” The Book of Mormon renders “and be converted….”20 “Fat” implies worldly abundance, which renders the people spiritually unreceptive. The Lord does not want to give sacred information to the wicked because it would be to their greater condemnation.21
The Lord Jesus Christ paraphrased verse 10 during His earthly ministry:
And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables:
That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them.22
This and other events in the life of Jesus Christ are cited by writers in the New Testament as fulfilling prophecies of Isaiah foretelling the coming of Messiah.23 In quoting this passage the Lord verifies Isaiah’s meaning.
Not only did Isaiah’s prophecy come forth by means of the spirit of prophecy; its interpretation, understanding and application into one’s own life must also be by the spirit of prophecy, which is the Holy Ghost. This concept is explained by the apostle Peter: “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation, for the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.”24
Verse 10 contains a chiasm:25
A: (10) Make the heart of this people fat,
B: and make their ears heavy,
C: and shut their eyes;
C: lest they see with their eyes,
B: and hear with their ears,
A: and understand with their heart, and be converted, and be healed.
“Make the heart of this people fat” is contrasted with “understand with their heart;” the people are spiritually unreceptive because their hearts are set upon worldly abundance. “Make their ears heavy” is contrasted with “hear with their ears,” and “shut their eyes” is antithetic to “see with their eyes.” The eyes, ears and hearts of the people would be closed due to their overriding concern over worldly matters.
In verse 11 Isaiah inquires about the length of time that would pass before his message would be understood:26 “Then said I, Lord, how long? And he answered, Until the cities be wasted without inhabitant, and the houses without man, and the land be utterly desolate.” A footnote in the LDS Bible offers an alternative meaning for this verse: “The prophet wonders how long men will be so, and the Lord answers: until mortal man is no more.”27
Continuing in verse 12, it becomes apparent that both previous verses have reference to the scattering of Israel: “And the LORD have removed men far away, and there be a great forsaking in the midst of the land.” The Book of Mormon renders “…for there shall be a great forsaking in the midst of the land.”28 In the Hebrew, “a great forsaking” means desolation or forsakenness;29 the land would be depopulated, with her inhabitants slain or carried away. Isaiah’s message would not be understood until after the destruction and scattering of Israel.
Verse 13 refers to the subsequent gathering of Israel: “But yet in it shall be a tenth, and it shall return, and shall be eaten: as a teil tree, and as an oak, whose substance is in them, when they cast their leaves: so the holy seed shall be the substance thereof.” The Book of Mormon renders: “But yet there shall be a tenth, and they shall return, and shall be eaten, as a teil-tree, and as an oak whose substance is in them when they cast their leaves; so the holy seed shall be in the substance thereof.”30 The Hebrew word translated as “eaten” means “to burn, consume, kindle, be kindled.”31
Even as the trunk, or stump, of a tree cut down or burned puts forth new growth, a new righteous order would arise after the scattering and destruction. Isaiah implies this same meaning later, in Chapter 11: “And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots.”32 The rod refers specifically to Christ, who was a descendant of Jesse, father of King David, through Joseph, the husband of Mary; and also through Mary His mother, who was of the same lineage.33
When Judah was taken captive into Babylon approximately 90 percent of the inhabitants of the land were killed, with the remaining tenth being carried into captivity or remaining in the land as caretakers under Assyrian rule.34
1. Bible Dictionary—Chronology.
2. F. Brown, S. Driver, and C. Briggs, The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon: Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, MA, 01961-3473, 1996, Strong’s No. 7757, p. 1002.
3. Bible Dictionary—Seraphim; see also Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 8313, p. 976.
4. Avraham Gileadi, The Book of Isaiah: A new translation with interpretive keys from the Book of Mormon: Deseret Book Company, P.O. Box 30178, Salt Lake City, Utah 84130, 1988, p. 35.
5. See 2 Nephi 16:2.
6. See Gileadi, p. 35.
7. See Gileadi, p. 35.
8. Doctrine and Covenants 77:4.
9. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 4393, p. 571.
10. Moses 1:39.
11. Doctrine and Covenants 109:79.
12. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 5592, p. 704.
13. 2 Nephi 16:5.
14. See Doctrine and Covenants 121:45.
15. Robert S. Wood, “The Tongue of Angels,” Ensign, Nov. 1999, p. 83.
16. See 2 Nephi 16:6.
17. See Abraham 3:27.
18. H. Bruce Stucki, “The Faith of a Sparrow: Faith and Trust in the Lord Jesus Christ,” Ensign, Nov. 1999, p. 44.
19. 2 Nephi 16:9.
20. 2 Nephi 16:10.
21. See Doctrine and Covenants 82:3 and Luke 12:48.
22. Mark 4:11-12. See also Matthew 13:14-15; Luke 8:10; John 12:40; Acts 28:25-27; and Romans 11:8.
23. See Matthew 1:22 (Isaiah 7:14); Matthew 2:15 (Hosea 11:1); Matthew 2:17 (Jeremiah 31:15); Matthew 2:23 (lost scripture); Matthew 4:14 (Isaiah 9:1-2); Matthew 8:17 (Isaiah 1:5, 53:6); Matthew 12:17 (Isaiah 42:1-3); Matthew 13:14 (Isaiah 6:10); Matthew 13:35 (Psalms 78:2); Matthew 21:4 (Isaiah 62:11, Zechariah 9:9-11); Matthew 26:56 (Isaiah 2:3, 54:13); Matthew 27:9 ( Zechariah 11:12, “Jeremy”); Matthew 27:35 (Psalms 22:18); Mark 4:11-12 (Isaiah 6:10); Mark 15:28 (Isaiah 53:12); Luke 4:21 (Isaiah 61:1-2); John 12:38 (Isaiah 53:1); John 12:40 (Isaiah 6:10); John 13:18 (Psalms 41:9); John 15:25 ( Psalms 69:4); John 17:12, 18:9 (lost scripture); John 19:24 (Psalms 22:18); John 19:28 (Psalms 69:21); John 19:36 (Exodus 12:46); Acts 1:16 (Psalms 41:9); Acts 3: 18.
24. 2 Peter 1:20-21.
25. Donald W. Parry, Harmonizing Isaiah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) at Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, 2001, p. 258.
26. Victor L. Ludlow, Isaiah: Prophet, Seer, and Poet: Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1982,
27. See Isaiah 6:11, footnote 11a.
28. 2 Nephi 16:12.
29. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 5805, p. 737.
30. 2 Nephi 16:13.
31. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 1197, p. 129.
32. Isaiah 11:1.
33. See Matthew 1:1-16.
34. See 2 Kings 15:29.