The first part of this chapter is a prophecy foretelling the coming of Messiah, referring both to the Lord’s mortal ministry and to His Second Coming. Following is a warning specifically to Ephraim, but applicable also to Judah and their descendants in the latter days, to avoid pride and corruption in government or face destruction. This chapter is quoted in its entirety by Nephi, with minor variations shown in italics where quoted. Compare 2 Nephi 19.
Verse 1 states: “Nevertheless the dimness shall not be such as was in her vexation, when at the first he lightly afflicted the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, and afterward did more grievously afflict her by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, in Galilee of the nations.” The Book of Mormon renders “…by the way of the Red Sea….”1 The lands of Zebulun and Naphtali are westward and northwestward, respectively, from the Sea of Galilee.2 The dimness in the first part of verse 1 refers to the last verse of Chapter 8; the beginning word, “nevertheless,” establishes this connection and indicates that the darkness spoken of is the spiritual darkness brought on by wickedness, as set forth in the ending verses of Chapter 8. Darkness, or fear and discouragement, was experienced by the people when the Assyrian attackers first came upon the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali.
Rabbinical commentators “relate this to the attacks by Assyria under Tiglath-pileser and Sargon II.”3 However, because of Isaiah’s use of events of his time as types for events yet to come, the historical record alone should not be relied upon as a key to understanding his writings.
Verses 2 through 5 describe the glory to be seen at the Lord’s coming. Verse 2 states: “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.”4 This passage describes a great light that will influence all “that dwell in the land of the shadow of death”—meaning everyone living on the earth in their mortal probationary state—at the time of the Lord’s coming. During His mortal ministry that light was spiritual; He broke the bands of death and provided salvation for all. This light of hope and joy shines on each one of us who benefits from His expiation. At His Second Coming, the light will be a physical phenomenon as well.
Verses 1 and 2 are quoted by Matthew in the New Testament. This prophecy of Isaiah is one of several cited by writers of the New Testament as being fulfilled by events in the life of Jesus Christ:5
And leaving Nazareth, he came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is upon the sea coast, in the borders of Zabulon and Nephthalim:
That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying,
The land of Zabulon, and the land of Nephthalim, by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles;
The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up.6
This passage illustrates Isaiah’s extensive use of types and double meanings and the thorough understanding that Matthew had of them. Verse 2 is the textual basis for Handel’s Messiah, Part 1, No. 11—Air for Bass, “The People That Walked in Darkness.”
Verse 3 declares: “Thou hast multiplied the nation, and not increased the joy: they joy before thee according to the joy in harvest, and as men rejoice when they divide the spoil.” The Book of Mormon omits “not,” to render “and increased the joy.”7 The Joseph Smith Translation states “…and they joy before thee.…”8 There will be great joy at the Lord’s coming—joy like that experienced when there is a good harvest, or when conquering soldiers divide the spoil. “Multiplied the nation” refers to the Abrahamic covenant in which Abraham was promised innumerable posterity.9 Numbers of those gathered and returning by means of the restoration and spread of the gospel, culminating at the time of the Lord’s Second Coming, will be great.
By contrasting the fear and dread provoked by the threat of Assyrian invasion faced by both Israel and Judah with the light, joy, and gratefulness evoked by the coming of the promised Messiah, Isaiah provides reassurance that the conditions imposed by the invaders would be only temporary. At some time in the future, Messiah would come to Abraham’s descendants who would still exist as a people.
Verses 1 through 3 form a chiasm:
(1) Nevertheless the dimness shall not be such as was in her vexation, when at the first he lightly afflicted the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,
A: and afterward did more grievously afflict her by the way of the sea,
B: beyond Jordan, in Galilee of the nations.
C: (2) The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light:
C: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.
B: (3) Thou hast multiplied the nation,
A: and (not) increased the joy: they joy before thee according to the joy in harvest, and as men rejoice when they divide the spoil.
Isaiah’s use of a literary foil in this chiasm contrasts the darkness and fear inflicted by the Assyrian invaders, described in the ascending side, with the joy the people will experience when the Lord comes in His glory, described in the descending side. In a literary foil, opposites are contrasted to accentuate their differences. The joy to be experienced by the people who walk “in darkness” and dwell in “the shadow of death” will be because they have “seen a great light…upon them hath the light shined.”
Verses 4 and 5 describe the destruction that will occur among the oppressors of the Lord’s covenant people at His Second Coming. Verse 4 begins: “For thou hast broken the yoke of his burden, and the staff of his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, as in the day of Midian.” The Book of Mormon omits “as in the day of Midian.”10 At the Lord’s Second Coming His people will be freed from oppression.
Verse 5 continues: “For every battle of the warrior is with confused noise, and garments rolled in blood; but this shall be with burning and fuel of fire.”11 Instead of the typical battle scenes characterized by “confused noise,” and death administered by conventional weapons resulting in “garments rolled in blood,” this destruction will be “with burning and fuel of fire.” Does this mean nuclear holocaust, or the wicked being consumed by the glory of the Lord’s presence? In Chapter 10 Isaiah declares: “under his glory he shall kindle a burning like the burning of a fire. And the light of Israel shall be for a fire, and his Holy One for a flame: and it shall burn and devour his thorns and his briers in one day.”12 This seems to indicate that the Lord’s glory will be the consuming fire—those unworthy of His presence, and unable to endure it, will be consumed. “Thorns and briers” also refers to false doctrines, which will be done away at His coming.13
Other passages that tend toward the interpretation that the Lord’s glory will be the consuming fire are: “They perish at the rebuke of thy countenance,” in Psalms;14 “The mountains quake at him, and the hills melt, and the earth is burned at his presence, yea, the world, and all that dwell therein,” in Nahum;15 “For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the LORD of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch,” in Malachi.16 This passage from Malachi was quoted by the Angel Moroni to the youthful prophet Joseph Smith with some variation: “For behold, the day cometh that shall burn as an oven, and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly shall burn as stubble; For they that come shall burn them, saith the Lord of Hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch” (emphasis added).17 The glory of the Lord and that of the hosts of angels accompanying Him will apparently burn the wicked.
There may be occurrences of nuclear conflagration at this time, as well. Nuclear warfare is possibly the abomination of desolation prophesied by Daniel.18
Latter-day revelation sheds additional light:
Behold, now it is called today until the coming of the Son of Man, and verily it is a day of sacrifice, and a day for the tithing of my people; for he that is tithed shall not be burned at his coming.
For after today cometh the burning—this is speaking after the manner of the Lord—for verily I say, tomorrow all the proud and they that do wickedly shall be as stubble; and I will burn them up, for I am the Lord of Hosts; and I will not spare any that remain in Babylon.19
Verse 6 presents a prophecy of Christ: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” These words are memorialized in Handel’s Messiah, Part 1, No. 12—Chorus, “For Unto Us a Child Is Born.” Who can fail to be moved by a choral performance of these stirring words?
The Hebrew word translated as “Wonderful” is a masculine noun,20 indicating that it is a separate title of the Lord rather than a modifier of the subsequent word, “Counsellor.” The comma placed after “Wonderful” by the translators properly sets it apart to preserve the original intended meaning.
Part of the prophecy set forth in verse 6 has been fulfilled with Jesus’ birth, but the remainder awaits fulfillment until His Second Coming. During His mortal ministry He presided over no political government, and He was acclaimed as “Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” only by His closest followers. Writers in the New Testament proclaimed that this prophecy of Isaiah relates to the mortal and post-mortal ministry of Jesus Christ.21
How can it be said that Jesus Christ is the everlasting Father? Abinadi, a Book of Mormon prophet, explains:
Behold I say unto you, that whosoever has heard the words of the prophets, yea, all the holy prophets who have prophesied concerning the coming of the Lord—I say unto you, that all those who have hearkened unto their words, and believed that the Lord would redeem his people, and have looked forward to that day for a remission of their sins, I say unto you, that these are his seed, or they are the heirs of the kingdom of God.
For these are they whose sins he has borne; these are they for whom he has died, to redeem them from their transgressions. And now, are they not his seed?22
The Lord Jesus Christ becomes the Father, spiritually, of those benefiting from His redeeming sacrifice and of all who take His name upon them—the Father of their salvation.
Verses 4 through 6 contain a chiasm:
A: (4) For thou hast broken the yoke of his burden, and the staff of his shoulder,
B: the rod
C: of his oppressor, as in the day of Midian.
D: (5) For every battle of the warrior is with confused noise, and garments rolled in blood;
D: but this shall be with burning and fuel of fire.
C: (6) For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given:
B: and the government
A: shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.
Isaiah again uses a literary foil to emphasize the profound difference between the Lord’s government and the oppression of Assyria, or destruction by fire preceding the Lord’s Second Coming. The shoulder of the people bearing the burden of oppression contrasts with the ample shoulder of the Redeemer who would bear the responsibility of righteous government. The rod of oppression contrasts with the Lord’s benevolent government; “oppressor” is the antithesis of “for unto us child is born, unto us a son is given.” Rather than coming in the form of an oppressive conqueror, the Redeemer would be born as an innocent child. “Confused noise, and garments rolled in blood” contrasts with “burning and fuel of fire” to indicate that the destruction before the Redeemer’s Second Coming would be by fire rather than by prevalent methods of warfare.
Isaiah’s prophecy continues in verse 7, declaring the Lord’s accession to the throne of David:23 “Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.” Christ is the literal heir to the throne of David.
Verses 6 and 7 contain a chiasm:
(6) For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor,
A: The mighty God,
B: The everlasting
D: The Prince
E: of Peace. (7) Of the increase of his government
E: and peace there shall be no end,
D: upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it,
C: and to his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice
B: from henceforth even for ever.
A: The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.
In this chiasm “the mighty God” is equivalent to “the LORD of hosts,” establishing equivalence of these two titles for the Lord Jehovah. “Everlasting” is synonymous with “from henceforth even for ever,” and “Father” is equivalent to “his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it,” showing that the Lord’s kingdom would be characterized by benevolent paternal love. “Prince” equates with “the throne of David,” establishing that “the Prince of Peace” refers specifically to Christ’s heirship to the throne of David. “Peace,” the central focus of this chiasm, would characterize the Lord’s kingdom on earth.
Verses 8 through 21 comprise a prophetic message, or priestly sermon, to Ephraim, or the northern kingdom of Israel.24 It consists of three woe oracles that describe wickedness including pride and corruption in government for which Ephraim faces destruction. A fourth woe oracle, directed against both Ephraim and Judah, comprises the first part of Chapter 10. However, the message in its entirety applies to us in the latter days. These events that would befall ancient Ephraim and Judah are types for similar occurrences in our day.
Chiasms in this prophetic message provide bridges between the four woe oracles, unifying them as a coherent warning. The final phrase of each woe oracle—“for all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still”—forms a central statement in the first chiasm, a supporting statement in the second, the reflection of the introductory statement in the third, and the introductory statement and its reflection in the fourth chiasm. Phrases that are chiastically equivalent provide a method for discerning Isaiah’s intended meanings.
Verse 8 means that the Lord sent a prophetic message to Israel: “The Lord sent a word into Jacob, and it hath lighted upon Israel.” The Book of Mormon reads “The Lord sent his word into Jacob….”25 The message follows in the succeeding verses.
Verse 9 declares: “And all the people shall know, even Ephraim and the inhabitant of Samaria, that say in the pride and stoutness of heart—” The Book of Mormon renders “inhabitants of Samaria.”26 The phrase “all the people shall know” indicates that the entire kingdom of Israel should know about this prophetic message and learn from it. Also, it is a type for the Second Coming when “the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.”27 All those of “Ephraim and the inhabitant of Samaria” will know, even though haughtiness—pride and stoutness of heart—is rampant.
In verse 10, the pride of the people of Ephraim and Samaria is manifest in their statement that although destruction may befall them, on their own they would rebuild even better than before: “The bricks are fallen down, but we will build with hewn stones: the sycomores are cut down, but we will change them into cedars.”
In verse 11, “Therefore the LORD shall set up the adversaries of Rezin against him, and join his enemies together” indicates that the enemies of the king of Syria would combine to wage war against him.
Verse 12 states: “The Syrians before, and the Philistines behind; and they shall devour Israel with open mouth. For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.” This phrase describes a long history of wars against the northern kingdom of Israel, ultimately to result in her destruction. Israel and Syria, confederates against the southern kingdom of Judah, would both be destroyed by their adversaries.
The closing phrase of verse 12, “For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still,” means that the justice of the Lord’s anger continues and His hand is stretched out against them in punishment. Apparently the time for repentance will have passed when these conditions arise. This phrase first occurs in Chapter 5, where it is preceded by a parallel phrase with somewhat different wording but with identical meaning: “Therefore is the anger of the LORD kindled against his people, and he hath stretched forth his hand against them, and hath smitten them.”28 The phrase is repeated three times in Chapter 929 and occurs once more in Chapter 10,30 all with the same meaning. A second interpreted meaning is that “in spite of all, the Lord is available if they will turn to him.”31 The first meaning is true outright whereas the second remains as a possibility, in character with the Lord’s mercy.
This second meaning is expounded by Nephi:
Wo be unto the Gentiles, saith the Lord God of Hosts! For notwithstanding I shall lengthen out mine arm unto them from day to day, they will deny me; nevertheless, I will be merciful unto them, saith the Lord God, if they will repent and come unto me; for mine arm is lengthened out all the day long, saith the Lord God of Hosts (emphasis added).32
The closing phrase of verse 12, “for all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still,” is chiastically equivalent to “for the people turneth not unto him that smiteth them, neither do they seek the LORD of hosts” in verse 13. Here it is clear that the Lord would stretch out His hand to smite the wicked of Israel.
In Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord explains that His arm will be stretched out in defense of His people against the wicked in the latter days: “I am he who led the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt; and my arm is stretched out in the last days, to save my people Israel.”33
The message of verse 13 is that tribulations and punishment at the hand of the Lord seldom bring repentance: “For the people turneth not unto him that smiteth them, neither do they seek the LORD of hosts.”
Verses 14 and 15 describe the destruction that would befall Israel; this is also a type for the destruction of the wicked in the latter days. Verse 14 declares: “Therefore the LORD will cut off from Israel head and tail, branch and rush, in one day.” “Head and tail, branch and rush” means the different levels of society.34 “Rush” means stem or trunk of aquatic plants, commonly used for weaving baskets and mats.35 The destruction would be directed first against Israel’s corrupt leaders and clergy, but would extend to the very least of the kingdom as well—all who engage in lies36 and other corruption. The destruction would occur rapidly, in one day.
Verses 12 through 14 contain a chiasm:
A: (12) The Syrians before, and the Philistines behind;
B: and they shall devour Israel with open mouth.
C: For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.
C: (13) For the people turneth not unto him that smiteth them, neither do they seek the LORD of hosts.
B: (14) Therefore the LORD will cut off from Israel
A: head and tail, branch and rush, in one day.
“The Syrians before, and the Philistines behind” complements “head and tail, branch and rush.” The invading armies—or their latter-day analogs—would bring about the destruction described. “Israel” in verse 12 is the same as “Israel” in verse 14, identifying the kingdom of Israel and its latter-day equivalent as objects of the destruction. “For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still” is equivalent to “for the people turneth not unto him that smiteth them, neither do they seek the LORD of hosts.” Here it is clear that the Lord’s purpose in stretching out His hand is to smite them, but this does not result in their seeking the Lord.
In verse 15, the prophet explains the symbolism: “The ancient and honourable, he is the head; and the prophet that teacheth lies, he is the tail.” The Book of Mormon omits “and honourable,”37 revealing that there would be none considered honorable among those to be destroyed at that time.
In verse 16 Isaiah continues the explanation: “For the leaders of this people cause them to err; and they that are led of them are destroyed.” “The leaders of this people” are the head, meaning political leaders, and tail, meaning spiritual leaders, whereas “they that are led of them” are the branch and rush.
Verse 17 continues: “Therefore the Lord shall have no joy in their young men, neither shall have mercy on their fatherless and widows: for every one is an hypocrite and an evildoer, and every mouth speaketh folly. For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.” The Book of Mormon renders “for every one of them is a hypocrite….”38 The entire nation—from the young men to the orphans and widows—are hypocrites, evildoers, and liars.
In verse 18, the wicked are rendered as fuel for the fire: “For wickedness burneth as the fire: it shall devour the briers and thorns, and shall kindle in the thickets of the forest, and they shall mount up like the lifting up of smoke.” The Book of Mormon reads “…thickets of the forests….”39 The briers and thorns to be devoured are false doctrines that sprang up in place of the truth,40 resulting from a lengthy period of apostasy. “Kindle in the thickets of the forests” means that associations of the noble and powerful would be destroyed.41 All will vanish away like dissipating smoke.42
Verse 19 continues the metaphor and provides explanation: “Through the wrath of the LORD of hosts is the land darkened, and the people shall be as the fuel of the fire: no man shall spare his brother.”43 The wicked will be seared by the fire of destruction, the people themselves serving as fuel for the fire. The Hebrew word translated as “spare” means “to have pity or compassion.”44
Verse 20 states: “And he shall snatch on the right hand, and be hungry; and he shall eat on the left hand, and they shall not be satisfied: they shall eat every man the flesh of his own arm.” Greed and corruption would run rampant. Each person would cheat or steal from his neighbor to the right but would be left wanting more, whereupon each would steal from his neighbor to the left and still would not be satisfied. These awful conditions would result in a total breakdown of society; people’s corrupt actions would be as destructive upon society as eating the flesh of one’s own arm would be upon the body.
Verse 21 continues: “Manasseh [will be at war with] Ephraim; and Ephraim [will be at war with] Manasseh: and they together shall be [at war] against Judah. For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.” This verse and the verses preceding describe the horrors of war inflicted upon Ephraim, Manasseh and Judah. The closing phrase, “for all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still,” means that the justice of the Lord’s anger continues and His hand is stretched out against them in punishment.45
Verses 19 through 21 form a chiasm:
A: (19) Through the wrath of the LORD of hosts is the land darkened, and the people shall be as the fuel of the fire:
B: no man shall spare his brother.
C: (20) And he shall snatch on the right hand, and be hungry;
C: and he shall eat on the left hand, and they shall not be satisfied:
B: they shall eat every man the flesh of his own arm: (21) Manasseh, Ephraim; and Ephraim, Manasseh: and they together shall be against Judah.
A: For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.
“Through the wrath of the LORD of hosts is the land darkened” complements “for all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still;” and “no man shall spare his brother” complements “they shall eat every man the flesh of his own arm,” providing an interpretation of the symbolism. “He shall snatch on the right hand, and be hungry” complements “he shall eat on the left hand, and they shall not be satisfied,” to form the central focus of the chiasm.
The final phrase, “for all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still,” is also the introductory phrase of a chiasm formed by the fourth woe oracle consisting of the first four verses of Chapter 10.46
1. 2 Nephi 19:1.
2. See Bible Map 3.
3. See Isaiah 9:1, footnote 1b.
4. Verses 1 and 2 contain a chiasm: Dimness/lightly afflicted/Zebulun/Naphtali/did more grievously afflict/darkness.
5. See Isaiah 6:10, pertinent commentary and endnote.
6. Matthew 4:13-16.
7. 2 Nephi 19:3.
8. Joseph Smith’s “New Translation” of the Bible: Herald Publishing House, Independence, Missouri, 1970,
9. Donald W. Parry, Jay A. Parry and Tina M. Peterson, Understanding Isaiah: Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1998, p. 94.
10. 2 Nephi 19:4.
11. See Isaiah 1:7, 28; 5:24; 9:18-19 and pertinent commentary.
12. Isaiah 10:16-17.
13. See Isaiah 5:6 and pertinent commentary.
14. Psalms 80:16.
15. Nahum 1:5.
16. Malachi 4:1.
17. Joseph Smith—History 1:37.
18. See Daniel 9:27, 11:31, and 12:11; see also Matt. 24:15.
19. Doctrine and Covenants 64:23-24.
20. 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. 6382, p. 810.
21. See also Isaiah 7:14; 11:1; 25:9; 53:5.
22. Mosiah 15:11-12.
23. See Genesis 49: 9-10.
24. See 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. 19.
25. 2 Nephi 19:8.
26. 2 Nephi 19:9.
27. Isaiah 40:5.
28. Isaiah 5:25.
29. Isaiah 9:12, 17, and 21.
30. Isaiah 10:4.
31. Isaiah 9:12, footnote 12d.
32. 2 Nephi 28:32.
33. Doctrine and Covenants 136:22.
34. See Isaiah 19:15, footnote 15a.
35. Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary: Merriam-Webster Inc., Springfield, Massachusetts, 1988, p. 1032.
36. See Isaiah 16:6; 28:15, 17; 59:3-4 and pertinent commentary.
37. 2 Nephi 19:15.
38. 2 Nephi 19:17.
39. 2 Nephi 19:18.
40. See Isaiah 55:13; 5:6; 10:17; 27:4; 32:13 and pertinent commentary.
41. See Isaiah 2:13; 10:18-19, 33-34; 14:8; 29:17; 32:15; 37:24; 55:12.
42. See Isaiah 1:7, 28; 5:24; 9:5 and pertinent commentary.
43. Verses 17 through 19 form a chiasm: Every one…every mouth/his anger/burneth as the fire/briers/thorns/shall kindle/wrath of the LORD of hosts/no man.
44. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 2550, p. 328.
45. See comments for verse 12, where this phrase also occurs.
46. An alternate chiasm is also found in verses 19 through 21: Wrath of the LORD of hosts/no man shall spare his brother/Manasseh/Ephraim/Ephraim/Manasseh/they together shall be against Judah/His anger is not turned away.