Chapter 28 deals with corruption and subsequent destruction that will precede the Second Coming. With each successive chapter on this subject we are given yet another perspective of these events, with more details and insight. Here the prophet deals with ecclesiastical corruption; an intended spiritual feast is depicted as solemn mockery, with tables filled with vomit and filthiness. Pervasive wealth, pride and self-indulgence among ecclesiastical leaders are depicted as drunkenness; hence, “Woe to the drunkards of Ephraim!”
The revelation presented in Chapter 28 was given to Isaiah at a time when Assyria controlled Ephraim—meaning the northern kingdom of Israel consisting of the ten tribes—except for the capital city Samaria and the surrounding area.1 Ephraim anciently was the leading tribe of the northern kingdom, which would be taken into captivity by Assyria in 722 B.C. shortly after these pronouncements by Isaiah.2 Recurrent fulfillment of this prophecy involves latter-day actors on Isaiah’s stage. Modern Ephraim includes the nations of Europe and North America, the inhabitants of which—although generally considered as Gentiles—are a mixture of the tribe of Ephraim. The historical context provides a type for latter-day events and conditions.
This chapter begins by focusing on the corruption of Ephraim—both Ephraim of old before the captivity by Assyria, and Ephraim’s latter-day descendants. In typical Isaiah style, some elements of this chapter relate to Ephraim of old, some deal with her latter-day descendants, and some deal with both. This chapter serves as a warning to modern descendants of Ephraim of an inherent weakness—an area in which they may be subject to temptation.
Revelation, we are informed, comes line upon line and precept upon precept, but the drunken priest and prophet of decadent Ephraim are not able to understand the workings of the Spirit. Upon His coming, Christ—the sure foundation—will sweep all such away with an overflowing scourge so intense that people will be overcome by merely hearing about it.
Verses 1 through 4 are a woe oracle structured as a chiasm. Verse 1 begins: “Woe to the crown of pride, to the drunkards of Ephraim, whose glorious beauty is a fading flower, which are on the head of the fat valleys of them that are overcome with wine!” The crown, or leaders, are the priests and prophets of Ephraim, both ancient and modern, who are drunk with wealth and pride. “Whose glorious beauty is a fading flower” describes the moral collapse of modern Ephraim—reliance upon past achievements and victories rather than upon present integrity or future noble aspirations. “Fat valley” means a valley rich in produce.
Verse 2 declares: “Behold, the Lord hath a mighty and strong one, which as a tempest of hail and a destroying storm, as a flood of mighty waters overflowing, shall cast down to the earth with the hand.” The Lord will bring the mighty and strong king of Assyria or his modern counterpart. “The hand” means the king of Assyria, acting as proxy for the Lord in destroying Ephraim. Note the symbolism, now familiar to us: “A flood of mighty waters overflowing” is a metaphor for an invading army.
Isaiah describes a similar devastating event in Chapter 8: “Now therefore, behold, the Lord bringeth up upon them the waters of the river, strong and many, even the king of Assyria, and all his glory: and he shall come up over all his channels, and go over all his banks.”3 This symbolism arises because Assyria, the source of the invading army, was located in Mesopotamia, the land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.4 The name “Mesopotamia” comes from the Greek meso- meaning “between,” and potamos, meaning “rivers.”5
Verse 3 foretells: “The crown of pride, the drunkards of Ephraim”—meaning the priests and the prophets who are drunk with self-indulgence—”shall be trodden under feet.” “Under feet” means the feet of the invading army.
Verse 4 summarizes: “And the glorious beauty, which is on the head of the fat valley, shall be a fading flower, and as the hasty fruit before the summer; which when he that looketh upon it seeth, while it is yet in his hand he eateth it up.” The Hebrew meaning of “hasty fruit” is “early fig.”6 The invading army, as revealed in this simile, will plunder all that lies in its path.
Verses 1 through 4 contain a chiasm:
A: (1) Woe to the crown of pride, to the drunkards of Ephraim, whose glorious beauty is a fading flower,
B: which are on the head of the fat valleys
C: of them that are overcome with wine!
D: (2) Behold, the Lord hath a mighty and strong one,
E: which as a tempest of hail and a destroying storm,
E: as a flood of mighty waters overflowing,
D: shall cast down to the earth with the hand.
C: (3) The crown of pride, the drunkards of Ephraim, shall be trodden under feet:
B: (4) And the glorious beauty, which is on the head of the fat valley,
A: shall be a fading flower, and as the hasty fruit before the summer; which when he that looketh upon it seeth, while it is yet in his hand he eateth it up.
“Overcome with wine” is equivalent to “drunkards of Ephraim,” identifying who is overcome; “the Lord hath a mighty and strong one” complements “hand,” identifying the hand as that of the invader; and “tempest of hail and a destroying storm” compares with “flood of mighty waters overflowing,” using two metaphors to describe the devastation to be wrought by the invader in retribution for the drunken or immoral state of Ephraim.
In verse 5 the context changes, now referring specifically to latter-day Ephraim in a time after the scattering of Israel—during the time of preparation for the Second Coming of the Lord: “In that day shall the LORD of hosts be for a crown of glory, and for a diadem of beauty, unto the residue of his people.” Isaiah uses “In that day” to designate the latter days; as attested earlier by Isaiah in Chapter 2, “the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day.”7 “Residue” means those remaining after the devastation.
Verse 6 continues: “And for a spirit of judgment to him that sitteth in judgment, and for strength to them that turn the battle to the gate.” The Lord’s glory, described in verse 5, will be for a spirit of righteous judgment, or inspiration, upon the leaders of the righteous remnant of modern Ephraim, and will be for strength upon a small army of righteous Ephraimites who will turn back the invading army of verses 3 and 4 even at the gate of the city of Zion. “Spirit of judgment,” as used here, means “a spirit of fairness” or of meting out justice.8 Other meanings for “judgment” found in the writings of Isaiah include social justice,9 retribution,10 sound reasoning,11 and an equitable system of laws.12
Verses 4 through 6 contain a chiasm:
A: (4) And the glorious beauty, which is on the head of the fat valley, shall be a fading flower, and as the hasty fruit before the summer; which when he that looketh upon it seeth, while it is yet in his hand he eateth it up.
B: (5) In that day shall the LORD of hosts be
C: for a crown of glory,
C: and for a diadem of beauty,
B: unto the residue of his people,
A: (6) And for a spirit of judgment to him that sitteth in judgment, and for strength to them that turn the battle to the gate.
“The glorious beauty” corresponds to “a spirit of judgment to him that sitteth in judgment, and for strength to them that turn the battle to the gate.” The Lord will provide strength to those who righteously judge or defend His people, who face marauders intent on consuming the glorious but fading beauty of modern Ephraim. “The LORD of hosts” corresponds to “his people,” identifying whose people they are; and “crown of glory” is the same as “diadem of beauty.” Ephraim’s past crowning glory—the righteousness of “him that sitteth in judgment”—will be manifest in the future and will provide strength “to them that turn the battle to the gate.”
Verses 7 and 8 provide more insight into the decadent state of the religious leaders of ancient and modern Ephraim before the foretold conquest by the invading army. Verse 7 attests to the lack of inspiration of these religious leaders: “But they also have erred through wine, and through strong drink are out of the way; the priest and the prophet have erred through strong drink, they are swallowed up of wine, they are out of the way through strong drink; they err in vision, they stumble in judgment.” “Erred through wine” means that priestcrafts, pride and seeking after the riches and honor of the world have left religious leaders destitute as to spiritual things, which are obtained only through revelation from God. They have lost sight of the strait and narrow way.13 “The priest and the prophet” means those whose duty is to provide moral guidance, who profess priestly authority and prophetic insight. “Judgment,” as used here, means “sound reasoning.”14 Because those who assume ecclesiastical authority are given to worldly appetites and their gratification, their vision and judgment err; they are not inspired of the Lord.
Verse 7 contains a chiasm:
A: (7) But they also have erred through wine,
B: and through strong drink are out of the way;
C: the priest
C: and the prophet
B: have erred through strong drink,
A: they are swallowed up of wine, they are out of the way through strong drink; they err in vision, they stumble in judgment.
“They also have erred through wine” matches “they are swallowed up of wine, they are out of the way through strong drink; they err in vision, they stumble in judgment,” the metaphoric wine being explained in the last two phrases. Because of indulgence in strong drink—metaphorically, gratification of worldly appetites and passions—the priest and the prophet have erred and are out of the strait and narrow way.15
Verse 8 describes an intended spiritual feast, rendered as a drunken debauchery by the uninspired priests and prophets: “For all tables are full of vomit and filthiness, so that there is no place clean.” In place of pure doctrine, the corrupt priests and prophets present a vomitous banquet of false doctrines, wickedness, and hypocrisy. No place is left clean, or no doctrines are left unadulterated. This corrupt feast is solemn mockery before the Lord; that which was sacred has been profaned. Compare the feast which the Lord will offer in Mount Zion: “Y Jehová de los ejércitos hará en este monte a todos los pueblos convite de engordados, convite de purificados, de gruesos tuétanos, de purificados líquidos”.16 The feast will consist of the very best of blessings and spiritual gifts that the Lord can offer.
In verse 9, Isaiah ponders: “Whom shall he teach knowledge?” The Lord teaches knowledge through revelation. “And whom shall he make to understand doctrine?” Isaiah answers: “Them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts.”17 Those who are innocent and pure, like young children, are those who will receive guidance and inspiration from the Lord.
Regarding the innocence and purity of His apostles, Jesus said: “I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes.”18 In like manner God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, appeared to Joseph Smith when the nascent prophet of the restoration was just fourteen years old, in response to his prayer seeking to know which church was right.19 The Lord, in modern revelation, described the innocence but lack of spiritual sophistication of early converts in similar terms: “For they cannot bear meat now, but milk they must receive; wherefore, they must not know these things, lest they perish.”20
Verse 10 describes the manner in which the Lord reveals truth through revelation: “For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little.” The Lord gives His people what they can understand, a little at a time, so that they can assimilate it into their lives. Then He gives them more, based upon the new level of understanding and obedience gained from what He has previously given. The Lord explains in Doctrine and Covenants:
And I give unto you a commandment, that ye shall forsake all evil and cleave unto all good, that ye shall live by every word which proceedeth forth out of the mouth of God. For he will give unto the faithful line upon line, precept upon precept; and I will try you and prove you herewith (emphasis added).21
Again, this meaning is clear elsewhere in modern revelation:
[A]nd the voice of Michael, the archangel; the voice of Gabriel, and of Raphael, and of divers angels, from Michael or Adam down to the present time, all declaring their dispensation, their rights, their keys, their honors, their majesty and glory, and the power of their priesthood; giving line upon line, precept upon precept; here a little, and there a little; giving us consolation by holding forth that which is to come, confirming our hope! (Emphasis added).22
The Lord summarizes: “That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day.”23
Verse 11 describes the great lack of eloquence and oratory that characterizes the Lord’s humble servants: “For with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people.” Missionaries go forth, struggling and stammering to learn new languages as they seek out the modern descendants of Ephraim and others of the lost tribes. “This people” means modern Israel in her scattered state, sought for and gathered by modern-day “ambassadors” and “swift messengers.”24
In modern revelation the Lord foresees the preaching of the gospel in every man’s native language:
For it shall come to pass in that day, that every man shall hear the fulness of the gospel in his own tongue, and in his own language, through those who are ordained unto this power, by the administration of the Comforter, shed forth upon them for the revelation of Jesus Christ.25
Verse 11 is paraphrased by Paul in the New Testament: “In the law it is written, With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that will they not hear me, saith the Lord.”26
The Lord affirms it for the latter days: “That the fulness of my gospel might be proclaimed by the weak and the simple unto the ends of the world, and before kings and rulers.”27
Those who fail to heed the warnings of the Lord, delivered by stammerers struggling with foreign languages, will be swept away by the modern counterpart of the invading Assyrians. Ancient Assyria spoke a language incomprehensible to the ancient Israelites; so will be the language of the modern invading army described in verses 2 and 3 above, who will sweep away and pillage the drunkards of Ephraim.
Verse 12 describes the message from the Lord, delivered by the stammering messengers to the scattered of Israel: “To whom he said, This is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest; and this is the refreshing: yet they would not hear.” “The rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest” means the doctrines of salvation. “This is the refreshing” refers to the latter-day restoration—the time of refreshing spoken of by Peter: “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord” (emphasis added).28
“Yet they would not hear” means that many who would be given the message of refreshing, or restoration, would fail to heed the warning. To those who refuse to listen, the Lord will speak in yet another tongue—that of the modern equivalent of the Assyrian army. Parry et al. identify “rest” and “refreshing” as observance of the law of the Sabbath.29
Verse 13 summarizes, reflecting verse 10: “But the word of the LORD was unto them precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little; that they might go, and fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken.” In spite of the Lord’s instructions to them through ancient and modern prophets and the modern army of missionaries struggling to deliver the Lord’s message in foreign languages, most would reject the message.
Nephi, providing added understanding, paraphrases verses 10 and 13:
For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have.30
Verses 10 through 13 contain a chiasm:
A: (10) For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little:
B: (11) For with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people.
C: (12) To whom he said,
D: This is the rest
E: wherewith ye may cause the weary
E: to rest;
D: and this is the refreshing:
C: yet they would not hear.
B: (13) But the word of the LORD was unto them
A: precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little; that they might go, and fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken.
The Lord provides revelation and guidance to His people in small portions. “For with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people” matches “but the word of the LORD was unto them.” Despite the word of the Lord delivered by messengers struggling to speak in another tongue, many of the covenant lineage would not accept the message of the restoration.
In verses 14 through 22 Isaiah turns to Jerusalem, addressing her scornful rulers. Verse 14 declares: “Wherefore hear the word of the LORD, ye scornful men, that rule this people which is in Jerusalem.” Isaiah attests that the warning given to ancient Ephraim applies equally to Judah. The scornful, drunken leaders of Jerusalem are challenged to give heed to what the Lord is telling Ephraim. For our time, reference to “Jerusalem” means, in the broadest sense, modern-day ecclesiastical centers.
Verse 15 explains the false security surrounding these scornful leaders: “Because ye have said, We have made a covenant with death, and with hell are we at agreement; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, it shall not come unto us: for we have made lies our refuge, and under falsehood have we hid ourselves.” They incorrectly assume that their covenant with Satan—or the invading army—based on their falsehoods and lies that pass for beliefs, will save them from the impending destructive scourge.
This scourge is also described in modern revelation:
For a desolating scourge shall go forth among the inhabitants of the earth, and shall continue to be poured out from time to time, if they repent not, until the earth is empty, and the inhabitants thereof are consumed away and utterly destroyed by the brightness of my coming.31
From the time of Cain, Satan has sought to make agreements with men. But when the unavoidable consequences of their actions under these agreements become apparent, Satan’s promises notwithstanding, Satan essentially laughs in their faces. The trust of decadent Ephraim and Judah in the arm of flesh and in their agreements with Satan brings only remorse, which is pleasing unto Satan.
In modern revelation the Lord describes the scourge of a desolating sickness:
And there shall be men standing in that generation, that shall not pass until they shall see an overflowing scourge; for a desolating sickness shall cover the land.
But my disciples shall stand in holy places, and shall not be moved; but among the wicked, men shall lift up their voices and curse God and die.32
The Lord provides further explanation to His modern disciples:
For behold, and lo, vengeance cometh speedily upon the ungodly as the whirlwind; and who shall escape it?
The Lord’s scourge shall pass over by night and by day, and the report thereof shall vex all people; yea, it shall not be stayed until the Lord come;
For the indignation of the Lord is kindled against their abominations and all their wicked works.33
Verse 16 describes the only sure source of safety: “Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste.” The final phrase means “he who believes should not flee in panic.” This prophecy is quoted in the New Testament, relating to the mortal ministry and Second Coming of Jesus Christ34 who metaphorically is the foundation stone.
Jacob, the brother of Nephi in the Book of Mormon, explains:
[T]hat by the stumbling of the Jews they will reject the stone upon which they might build and have safe foundation.
But behold, according to the scriptures, this stone shall become the great, and the last, and the only sure foundation, upon which the Jews can build.35
Jacob explains that the Jews would reject their Savior during His earthly ministry. In verse 16 “Zion” means a place of latter-day spiritual gathering, as well as being a synonym for ancient Jerusalem at the time of Christ’s ministry.36
The symbolism of verse 16 is familiar to us. Paul writes:
Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God;
And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;
In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord (emphasis added).37
“Stone” refers simultaneously to Jesus Christ and the principle of revelation, whereas the “sure foundation” is simultaneously the Lord and the saving doctrines He teaches.
Verses 14 through 16 contain a chiasm:
A: (14) Wherefore hear the word of the LORD, ye scornful men, that rule this people which is in Jerusalem.
B: (15) Because ye have said, We have made a covenant with death,
C: and with hell are we at agreement;
D: when the overflowing scourge shall pass through,
D: it shall not come unto us:
C: for we have made lies our refuge,
B: and under falsehood have we hid ourselves:
A: (16) Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste.
Reading this chiasm in reflective order—beginning with the introductory statement and its reflection and proceeding in this manner to the central statement and its reflection—provides insight: “Wherefore hear the word of the LORD, ye scornful men, that rule this people which is in Jerusalem.” The word of the Lord to the scornful rulers is: “Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste.” But the rulers of Jerusalem respond: “We have made a covenant with death; under falsehood have we hid ourselves; with hell are we at agreement; we have made lies our refuge; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, it shall not come unto us.” Wicked rulers fail to heed the word of the Lord through which salvation comes. Instead they rely on lies, false doctrines and agreements with Satan to protect them from the overflowing scourge.
Verse 17 establishes the basis for survival, in contrast to the lies of Ephraim’s drunken and scornful leaders: “Judgment also will I lay to the line, and righteousness to the plummet: and the hail shall sweep away the refuge of lies, and the waters shall overflow the hiding place.” “Judgment” in this verse means “fairness” or “justice.”38 Proper judgment requires being guided by the Holy Ghost. “The line” refers to the level line used in building—essential in getting foundations and walls straight—and “plummet” refers to another tool of masonry and carpentry, the plumb bob, used for maintaining precise vertical lines. “Plummet” and “plumb bob” have a common Latin root, plumbum, meaning “lead,” the heavy substance from which these tools are made.39 These metaphors refer to personal righteousness. Those whose refuge is lies and whose hiding place is falsehood will be overrun by the invading army, characterized here as a sweeping hailstorm that will sweep away the lies, and a flood of waters that will overflow every hiding place.40
Verse 18 presents the outcome of the covenant with Satan made by scornful leaders, both in Jerusalem and Ephraim: “And your covenant with death shall be disannulled, and your agreement with hell shall not stand; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, then ye shall be trodden down by it.” True to form, Satan’s covenant with these wicked rulers will come to naught and the invading scourge will sweep through, treading them down.
Verses 15 through 18 contain a chiasm that verifies Isaiah’s intended meaning:
A: (15) Because ye have said, We have made a covenant with death, and with hell are we at agreement; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, it shall not come unto us:
B: for we have made lies our refuge, and under falsehood have we hid ourselves:
C: (16) Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, I lay
D: in Zion
E: for a foundation a stone,
F: a tried
H: a precious
G: corner stone,
F: a sure
D: he that believeth shall not make haste.
C: (17) Judgment also will I lay to the line, and righteousness to the plummet:
B: and the hail shall sweep away the refuge of lies, and the waters shall overflow the hiding place.
A: (18) And your covenant with death shall be disannulled, and your agreement with hell shall not stand; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, then ye shall be trodden down by it.
“We have made a covenant with death” is complemented by “your covenant with death shall be disannulled, and your agreement with hell shall not stand,” describing the Lord’s displeasure regarding an alliance with evil. “For we have made lies our refuge, and under falsehood have we hid ourselves” contrasts with “the hail shall sweep away the refuge of lies, and the waters shall overflow the hiding place,” describing the futility of reliance upon wickedness. “Zion” equates with “he that believeth,” providing a definition. Compare the definition given by the Lord in modern revelation: “For this is Zion— the pure in heart.”41
Verse 19 describes the horror of this overflowing scourge: “From the time that it goeth forth it shall take you: for morning by morning shall it pass over, by day and by night: and it shall be a vexation only to understand the report.” People will be overcome just by hearing about the destruction wrought by the invading army.42
Verse 20 symbolically describes the discomfort the survivors will experience: “For the bed is shorter than that a man can stretch himself on it: and the covering narrower than that he can wrap himself in it.” The people will be left uncomfortable and destitute, whereas before they enjoyed great wealth and comfort.
Verse 21 attests that the Lord will bring destruction upon the invading army: “For the LORD shall rise up as in mount Perazim, he shall be wroth as in the valley of Gibeon, that he may do his work, his strange work; and bring to pass his act, his strange act.” These instances of the Lord destroying invading armies reflect Old Testament events in which Israel was defended against the Philistines—whom the Lord delivered into the hands of David and his forces43—and against the Amorites, by great stones being cast from heaven.44 The Lord will defend the latter-day righteous against the overflowing scourge, just as He defended His ancient followers.
The final phrase of verse 21, “that he may do his work, his strange work; and bring to pass his act, his strange act,” compares with the Lord’s words given to Joseph Smith, which provide explanation:
What I have said unto you must needs be, that all men may be left without excuse;
That wise men and rulers may hear and know that which they have never considered;
That I may proceed to bring to pass my act, my strange act, and perform my work, my strange work, that men may discern between the righteous and the wicked, saith your God (emphasis added).45
In verse 22, Isaiah admonishes his latter-day audience: “Now therefore be ye not mockers, lest your bands [or, bondage] be made strong: for I have heard from the Lord GOD of hosts a consumption, even determined upon the whole earth.” The prophet challenges the people to listen to the Lord’s appointed prophets—not mocking them—and to receive revelation in order to escape the bondage, consumption and destruction foretold.
Verses 18 through 22 contain a chiasm:
A: (18) And your covenant with death shall be disannulled, and your agreement with hell shall not stand; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, then ye shall be trodden down by it. (19) From the time that it goeth forth it shall take you: for morning by morning shall it pass over, by day and by night:
B: and it shall be a vexation only to understand the report.
C: (20) For the bed is shorter than that a man can stretch himself on it: and the covering narrower than that he can wrap himself in it. (21) For the LORD shall rise up as in mount Perazim, he shall be wroth as in the valley of Gibeon,
D: that he may do his work, his strange work;
D: and bring to pass his act, his strange act.
C: (22) Now therefore be ye not mockers, lest your bands be made strong:
B: for I have heard from the Lord GOD of hosts
A: a consumption, even determined upon the whole earth.
“The overflowing scourge” corresponds to “a consumption, even determined upon the whole earth,” providing further insight. “A vexation only to understand the report” complements “I have heard from the Lord GOD of hosts,” providing Isaiah’s source for information. Those who survive the scourge will be left in destitute circumstances, although the Lord will protect them.
In verses 23 through 29, Isaiah presents the Parable of the Farmer to illustrate the Lord’s unchanging method in bringing His word to nations and peoples of the earth. The process described metaphorically in the parable includes three phases—plowing, sowing and harvest. Plowing represents the means by which a nation or people is humbled to prepare them to receive the gospel—a nation may be subjected to tyranny, servitude, war, natural disaster, or economic distress. In its humbled state the nation is more receptive to the good news of the gospel, sown among them by righteous saints living the principles of their religion. First, the sowing, or seeding, comes as a good example; subsequently as more formal teaching. The seeding is followed by conversion, spiritual growth, and the harvest of souls who have lived their lives in righteousness and are prepared to meet their God. Depending on the nature and character of the people—represented by the various crops mentioned—the Lord has formulated specific methods, both for planting and harvesting.
Verse 23 implores: “Give ye ear, and hear my voice; hearken, and hear my speech.” Isaiah pleads with his listeners and modern readers alike to give heed and listen.
Verse 24 begins the parable: “Doth the plowman plow all day to sow? doth he open and break the clods of his ground?” Isaiah establishes the premise by using rhetorical questions. Preparing the field is an essential prerequisite, but time allowed for this step is limited.
Verse 25 continues: “When he hath made plain the face thereof, doth he not cast abroad the fitches, and scatter the cummin, and cast in the principal wheat and the appointed barley and the rie in their place?” “Fitches” means “vetch,” a pealike nitrogen-fixing legume sown for enrichment of the soil, and “cummin” is an herb used for flavoring. Various crops are planted in specified places; some seeds are “cast abroad” indiscriminately whereas others are more carefully placed. Most valuable is the “principal wheat,” which is “cast in” with greater care.
Verse 26 goes on: “For his God doth instruct him to discretion, and doth teach him.” The meaning is that God instructs His people and their leaders through revelation. As one period of time comes to a close, another arises which has different challenges, different purposes, different instructions from the Lord. Are God’s instructions to Adam sufficient for Noah? Are God’s words given to Abraham all that Moses needed? So it is with us: Rather than memorizing endless sets of questions and answers (catechisms) or set prayers, we are to be guided by continuing revelation. Our task is to train ourselves to listen and hear “line upon line, and precept upon precept.” Thus, as the Lord brings about destructions, seed times, and harvests in the latter days, His specific instructions come to those who recognize His voice and His method of delivering instructions—through living prophets and through personal inspiration.
Verses 27 through 29 illustrate the care taken by the Lord in harvesting and threshing. Verse 27 begins: “For the fitches are not threshed with a threshing instrument, neither is a cart wheel turned about upon the cummin; but the fitches are beaten out with a staff, and the cummin with a rod.”
Verse 28 continues: “Bread corn is bruised; because he will not ever be threshing it, nor break it with the wheel of his cart, nor bruise it with his horsemen.” There is an appropriate method for threshing each type of grain or seed; duration of the threshing process is carefully limited lest the precious grain be damaged. Accordingly, trials and tribulations are meted out carefully according to need, circumstances and the character of the individual or group.
Malachi describes the process of refinement using the purifying of silver as a descriptive metaphor:
But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap:
And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the LORD an offering in righteousness.46
Only those who have been through the refiner’s fire and have been purified and refined by their experience will be able to endure the Lord’s presence when He appears at His Second Coming.
Verse 29 concludes: “This also cometh forth from the LORD of hosts, which is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in working.” Those who follow the Lord’s continuing instructions will not be harmed, though the harvest and threshing be orderly but severe.
Devastating wars that we have witnessed in our time have resulted in the gospel being preached among the affected nations. Following a war, during the reorganization and rebuilding effort, the citizens of the devastated land have the opportunity to observe the good examples of members of the Church. Slowly at first, the people are taught the gospel; as time passes, more and more accept the opportunity to be taught and join the Church. The end result is that a nation that was at one time hostile or unreceptive is taught the gospel, temples dot the land, and her citizens are granted the same opportunities and blessings as Church members in lands where the Church has been established for generations.
Verses 23 through 29 contain a chiasm:
A: (23) Give ye ear, and hear my voice; hearken, and hear my speech.
B: (24) Doth the plowman plow all day to sow? doth he open and break the clods of his ground?
C: (25) When he hath made plain the face thereof, doth he not cast abroad the fitches, and scatter the cummin, and cast in the principal wheat and the appointed barley and the rie in their place?
D: (26) For his God doth instruct him to discretion,
D: and doth teach him.
C: (27) For the fitches are not threshed with a threshing instrument, neither is a cart wheel turned about upon the cummin; but the fitches are beaten out with a staff, and the cummin with a rod.
B: (28) Bread corn is bruised; because he will not ever be threshing it, nor break it with the wheel of his cart, nor bruise it with his horsemen.
A: (29) This also cometh forth from the LORD of hosts, which is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in working.
“Give ye ear, and hear my voice; hearken, and hear my speech” compares with “this also cometh forth from the LORD of hosts,” which describes the divine source of Isaiah’s information. The ascending side of this chiasm describes methods of soil preparation and seeding, whereas the descending side describes methods of harvest and threshing. Nations are carefully prepared to receive the gospel; sowing and harvesting are carried out according to the Lord’s detailed plan. Prophets, receiving guidance and instruction from the Lord, are given information appropriate for their time, here compared metaphorically to knowledge and implementation of agricultural practices.
1. Victor L. Ludlow, Isaiah: Prophet, Seer, and Poet: Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1982, p. 258-259.
2. Isaiah 28:1, footnote 1b.
3. Isaiah 8:7; 17:12-13; 28:17; 43:2.
4. See Map 2, LDS Bible.
5. Ernest Klein, A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the English Language: 1971, Elsevier Publishing Company, 52 Vanderbilt Avenue, New York, NY 10017, “Mesopotamia,” p. 459-460.
6. 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. 1063, p. 114.
7. Isaiah 2:10-12.
8. See Isaiah 1:17; 5:7; 42:4; 59:15.
9. See Isaiah 5:7; 42:1; 59:8, 15.
10. See Isaiah 1:17; 3:14; 4:4; 34:5.
11. See Isaiah 1:17; 40:14, 27; 42:3; 59:8.
12. See Isaiah 51:4; 54:17.
13. See Matthew 7:13-14; see also Isaiah 3:12; 8:11; 26:7-8; 40:3 and pertinent commentary.
14. See Isaiah 1:17; 40:14, 27; 42:3; 59:8.
15. An overlapping chiasm is also present in verse 7: Priest/prophet/erred/strong drink/swallowed up/out of the way/strong drink/err/vision/judgment.
16. Isaiah 25:6; see pertinent commentary.
17. Verse 9 contains a chiasm: Teach knowledge/understand doctrine/weaned from the milk/drawn from the breasts.
18. Matthew 11:25.
19. See Joseph Smith—History 1:15-17.
20. Doctrine and Covenants 19:22.
21. Doctrine and Covenants 98:11-12.
22. Doctrine and Covenants 128:21; see also Doctrine and Covenants 98:12.
23. Doctrine and Covenants 50:24.
24. Isaiah 18:2.
25. Doctrine and Covenants 90:11.
26. 1 Corinthians 14:21; see also 1 Corinthians 1:26-27.
27. Doctrine and Covenants 1:23.
28. Acts 3:19.
29. Donald W. Parry, Jay A. Parry and Tina M. Peterson, Understanding Isaiah: Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1998, p. 251.
30. 2 Nephi 28:30.
31. Doctrine and Covenants 5:19.
32. Doctrine and Covenants 45:31-32.
33. Doctrine and Covenants 97:22-24.
34. See Isaiah 6:10; 7:14; 11:1; 25:9; 53:5.
35. Jacob 4:15-16.
36. See Isaiah 3:16; 18:7; 24:23; 29:8; 30:19; 31:4, 9; 51:3.
37. Ephesians 2:19-21.
38. For references to other meanings of “judgment,” see verse 6.
39. Klein, “plumb,” p. 570.
40. Isaiah 8:7; 17:12-13; 28:2, 43:2.
41. Doctrine and Covenants 97:21.
42. Doctrine and Covenants 5:19.
43. See 2 Samuel 5:19-20; also 1 Chronicles 14:10-11.
44. See Joshua 10:8-14.
45. Doctrine and Covenants 101:93-95; see also Doctrine and Covenants 95:4.
46. Malachi 3:2-3.