Chapter 29 contains prophecies regarding the restoration of the gospel in the latter days. Events foretold include the first vision, the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, and the visit of Martin Harris to Professor Charles Anthon to authenticate characters from the gold plates and their translation. As foretold by Isaiah, Professor Anthon said “I cannot read a sealed book” when he was told that part of the gold plates was sealed. The Nephites, whose history is contained in the Book of Mormon, would speak as a voice from the dust. Those in the latter days not willing to accept the Book of Mormon and the restored gospel will be left spiritually unfulfilled.
The Joseph Smith Translation (JST) provides great insight.1 The text of Chapter 29 is greatly expanded, providing more details of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon than are presented in the King James Version. Nephi, in the Book of Mormon, paraphrased portions of Chapter 29 that foresee the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, providing still more detail and deeper understanding, and giving specific instructions to the future translator of his writings. Comparison of JST—which usually closely matches the Book of Mormon in portions where Isaiah is quoted directly—enables distinction in Chapter 29 of Nephi’s commentary directed toward his own people.
Some of the best-known passages from this chapter are chiastic, the structures of which provide deeper insight and poetic balance to the message of the prophet.
Verses 1 through 6 are a woe oracle against “Ariel.” This word results from associating two similar Hebrew words, ariyel, meaning “lion-like” or “lion of God,”2 and ‘ari’eyl, meaning “hearth, altar hearth, or altar.”3 Ariyel, in turn, comes from combining two words, ariy, meaning “lion,”4 and ‘el, meaning “of God.”5 This is an example of Isaiah’s use of double meanings to impart greater understanding. “Ariel” has reference to the sacrificial altar of the temple, to the temple itself, and also to valiant peoples in different places and times having the blessings of the temple. “Ariel” means Jerusalem as attested in verse 1, but it also means the Nephites and the Latter-day Saints, since the three groups have in common the blessings of the “altar,” or temple.
In verse 1, the Lord declares: “Woe to Ariel, to Ariel, the city where David dwelt! add ye year to year; let them kill sacrifices.” In this instance Ariel refers to Jerusalem, “the city where David dwelt.”
Verse 2 continues, with the Lord speaking: “Yet I will distress Ariel, and there shall be heaviness and sorrow: and it shall be unto me as Ariel.” The Joseph Smith Translation renders “for thus hath the Lord said unto me, It shall be unto Ariel.”6 JST casts a different meaning than in the King James Version, which purports that Isaiah would sorrow due to the distress of Ariel.
In verse 3, the Lord testifies: “And I will camp against thee round about, and will lay siege against thee with a mount, and I will raise forts against thee.” Nephi relates these words of Isaiah to his own people; differences in the Book of Mormon version are shown in italics: “After my seed and the seed of my brethren shall have dwindled in unbelief, and shall have been smitten by the Gentiles; yea, after the Lord God shall have camped against them round about….”7 The destruction of Jerusalem—”Ariel, the city where David dwelt”—would be a type for the destruction of the Nephites, which in turn would be a type for the destruction of the wicked, including the apostates of latter-day Zion before the Second Coming of the Lord. JST renders “that I the Lord will camp against her round about, and will lay siege against her with a mount and I will raise forts against her.”8 A “mount” is a mound built up by the aggressors in a siege to overcome the height advantage of a wall or fortification.
Verse 4 prophesies the destruction of the Nephites, but foresees that their sacred records would be preserved: “And thou shalt be brought down, and shalt speak out of the ground, and thy speech shall be low out of the dust, and thy voice shall be, as of one that hath a familiar spirit, out of the ground, and thy speech shall whisper out of the dust.” The Hebrew word used in the Masoretic text9 translated as “familiar spirit” in verse 4 is ‘owb, which means “necromancer,” one who purports to communicate with the dead.10 However, the Hebrew word nachash has two meanings, one of which is similar to usage in this verse—”to practice divination”11 and “serpent.”12 In some translations of this verse, “python” is rendered instead of “familiar spirit,”13 reflecting this second meaning.
Nephi applies the words of verse 4 to his own people; his differences in wording are shown in italics:
[A]nd after they shall have been brought down low in the dust, even that they are not, yet the words of the righteous shall be written, and the prayers of the faithful shall be heard, and all those who have dwindled in unbelief shall not be forgotten.
For those who shall be destroyed shall speak unto them out of the ground, and their speech shall be low out of the dust, and their voice shall be as one that hath a familiar spirit; for the Lord God will give unto him power, that he may whisper concerning them, even as it were out of the ground; and their speech shall whisper out of the dust.
For thus saith the Lord God: They shall write the things which shall be done among them, and they shall be written and sealed up in a book, and those who have dwindled in unbelief shall not have them, for they seek to destroy the things of God.14
Nephi, when bidding farewell to his readers at the end of his record, describes himself as “speaking out of the dust:”
And now, my beloved brethren, all those who are of the house of Israel, and all ye ends of the earth, I speak unto you as the voice of one crying from the dust: Farewell until that great day shall come (emphasis added).15
Verses 5 and 6 further describe destructions of Jerusalem, of the Nephites, and of the modern apostates. Verse 5 states: “Moreover the multitude of thy strangers shall be like small dust, and the multitude of the terrible ones shall be as chaff that passeth away: yea, it shall be at an instant suddenly.” The Book of Mormon describes the moral downfall and precipitous destruction of a once-righteous people and their armies in not too many years. The siege and fall of Jerusalem, foretold here by Isaiah, occurred in one night. We can expect similar sudden downfall and destruction of the modern-day wicked, also foreseen by Isaiah. “Strangers” means “gentiles” or “converts” and “terrible ones” means “soldiers.”
Nephi applies the words of verse 5 to his own people:
Wherefore, as those who have been destroyed have been destroyed speedily; and the multitude of their terrible ones shall be as chaff that passeth away—yea, thus saith the Lord God: It shall be at an instant, suddenly—
And it shall come to pass, that those who have dwindled in unbelief shall be smitten by the hand of the Gentiles.16
Verse 6 describes ravaging natural disasters: “Thou shalt be visited of the LORD of hosts with thunder, and with earthquake, and great noise, with storm and tempest, and the flame of devouring fire.”17 The Book of Mormon describes unprecedented natural violence including all of the elements mentioned here by Isaiah that, over the space of about three hours, resulted in the deaths of most of the people of the Nephites—in particular, the wicked element.18
Nephi continues applying these words of Isaiah to his own people:
And when that day shall come they shall be visited of the Lord of Hosts, with thunder and with earthquake, and with a great noise, and with storm, and with tempest, and with the flame of devouring fire.19
The Lord extends a similar warning to the Latter-day Saints:
Nevertheless, Zion shall escape if she observe to do all things whatsoever I have commanded her. But if she observe not to do whatsoever I have commanded her, I will visit her according to all her works, with sore affliction, with pestilence, with plague, with sword, with vengeance, with devouring fire.20
Nephi paraphrases Isaiah’s words, applying them particularly to the latter days:
But, behold, in the last days, or in the days of the Gentiles—yea, behold all the nations of the Gentiles and also the Jews, both those who shall come upon this land and those who shall be upon other lands, yea, even upon all the lands of the earth, behold, they will be drunken with iniquity and all manner of abominations—And when that day shall come they shall be visited of the Lord of Hosts, with thunder and with earthquake, and with a great noise, and with storm, and with tempest, and with the flame of devouring fire.21
As Nephi explained, the Nephite destruction is a type for destruction in the latter days. Fire will be an important element in these destructions.22
Verses 7 and 8 describe the fate of those who fight against Zion. Verse 7 commences: “And the multitude of all the nations that fight against Ariel, even all that fight against her and her munition, and that distress her, shall be as a dream of a night vision.” Nephi, paraphrasing, equates the latter-day Zion with Ariel: “And all the nations that fight against Zion, and that distress her, shall be as a dream of a night vision….”.23
Verses 2 through 7 contain a chiasm; wording from JST is given in italics: 24
A: (2) Yet will I distress Ariel, and there shall be heaviness and sorrow; for thus hath the Lord said unto me, It shall be unto Ariel;
B: (3) That I the Lord
C: will camp against her round about, and will lay siege against her with a mount and I will raise forts against her.
D: (4) And she shall be brought down,
E: and shall speak out of the ground, and her speech shall be low out of the dust; and her voice shall be as of one that hath a familiar spirit,
E: out of the ground, and her speech shall whisper out of the dust.
D: (5) Moreover the multitude of her strangers shall be like small dust and the multitude of the terrible ones shall be as chaff that passeth away;
C: yea, it shall be at an instant suddenly.
B: (6) For they shall be visited of the LORD of hosts with thunder, and with earthquake, and great noise, with storm and tempest, and the flame of devouring fire.
A: (7) And the multitude of all the nations that fight against Ariel, even all that fight against her and her munition, and that distress her, shall be as a dream of a night vision.
Some elements in the ascending side of this chiasm are obvious matches with their reflections in the descending side, whereas others are not immediately apparent. “Camp against her round about, and will lay siege against her” is equivalent to “at an instant suddenly,” giving a time frame for the length of the foretold assault by Ariel’s enemies. “She shall be brought down” is equivalent to “her strangers shall be like small dust,” describing first Ariel’s military defeat and then the scattering of her vanquished combatants. The central focus of the chiasm is “out of the ground, and her speech shall be low out of the dust” and its reflection “out of the ground, and her speech shall whisper out of the dust.” Variations rendered in the Joseph Smith Translation make the chiasm work better than in the King James Version. The Lord will encamp around Ariel, bringing her down; nevertheless, a record will be preserved and kept which will come forth as a voice out of the ground, or as speech out of the dust.
Verse 8 presents a simile about spiritual hunger that will afflict nations that fight against Zion: “It shall even be as when an hungry man dreameth, and, behold, he eateth; but he awaketh, and his soul is empty: or as when a thirsty man dreameth, and, behold, he drinketh; but he awaketh, and, behold, he is faint, and his soul hath appetite: so shall the multitude of all the nations be, that fight against mount Zion.” Nephi provides more information:
And all the nations that fight against Zion, and that distress her, shall be as a dream of a night vision; yea, it shall be unto them, even as unto a hungry man which dreameth, and behold he eateth but he awaketh and his soul is empty; or like unto a thirsty man which dreameth, and behold he drinketh but he awaketh and behold he is faint, and his soul hath appetite; yea, even so shall the multitude of all the nations be that fight against Mount Zion.25
Their torment will be that they are unable to satisfy their hunger or thirst for spiritual nourishment—for meaning in their lives. They will have no more lasting satisfaction than does a hungry person who only dreams of eating.26 In this verse, “Zion” means a place of latter-day spiritual gathering, as well as being a synonym for Jerusalem, both ancient and modern.27 The definition of Zion may be substituted for greater meaning: So shall the multitude of all the nations be, that fight against the pure in heart. 28
Verses 7 and 8 contain a chiasm; wording from JST is given in italics: 29
A: (7) And the multitude of all the nations that fight against Ariel, even all that fight against her and her munition, and that distress her, shall be as a dream of a night vision.
B: (8) Yea, it shall be unto them even as unto a hungry man who dreameth, and behold he eateth, but he awaketh and his soul is empty;
B: or like unto a thirsty man who dreameth, and behold, he drinketh, but he awaketh, and behold, he is faint, and his soul hath appetite.
A: Yea, even so shall the multitude of all the nations be that fight against mount Zion.
“The multitude of all the nations that fight against Ariel” is equivalent to “the multitude of all the nations be that fight against mount Zion,” which establishes the equivalency of “Ariel” and “Zion.” Lack of spiritual nourishment will afflict those who fight against the latter-day Zion.
Verses 9 and 10 describe further torment upon Zion’s persecutors. Verse 9 commences: “Stay yourselves, and wonder; cry ye out, and cry: they are drunken, but not with wine; they stagger, but not with strong drink.” Again, Nephi provides more detail: “For behold, all ye that doeth iniquity, stay yourselves and wonder, for ye shall cry out, and cry; yea, ye shall be drunken but not with wine, ye shall stagger but not with strong drink.”30
Nephi elaborates: “…behold, they will be drunken with iniquity and all manner of abominations.”31 Previously, in Chapter 28, Isaiah described apostate ecclesiastical leaders of Ephraim as “drunken, and not with wine.”32
Verse 10 continues: “For the LORD hath poured out upon you the spirit of deep sleep, and hath closed your eyes: the prophets and your rulers, the seers hath he covered.”33 “The spirit of deep sleep” means that Zion’s tormentors, because of their iniquity, will be oblivious to the truths revealed to the Lord’s seers and prophets brought forth in the latter-day restoration.
Nephi, paraphrasing, provides deeper understanding: “For behold, the Lord hath poured out upon you the spirit of deep sleep. For behold, ye have closed your eyes, and ye have rejected the prophets; and your rulers, and the seers hath he covered because of your iniquity.”34
During the time of great spiritual darkness and stupor described in verses 9 and 10, the Book of Mormon would come forth as described in verses 11 and 12. Verse 11 states: “And the vision of all is become unto you as the words of a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one that is learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I cannot; for it is sealed.”
Verse 12 continues: “And the book is delivered to him that is not learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I am not learned.”
Nephi explained these verses hundreds of years before the time of Joseph Smith:
And it shall come to pass that the Lord God shall bring forth unto you the words of a book, and they shall be the words of them which have slumbered.
And behold the book shall be sealed; and in the book shall be a revelation from God, from the beginning of the world to the ending thereof.
Wherefore, because of the things which are sealed up, the things which are sealed shall not be delivered in the day of the wickedness and abominations of the people. Wherefore the book [the sealed portion] shall be kept from them.
But the book shall be delivered unto a man, and he shall deliver the words of the book which are the words of those who have slumbered in the dust, and he shall deliver these words unto another.35
The man spoken of here by Nephi is Joseph Smith.36 Nephi continues his explanation:
But the words which are sealed he shall not deliver, neither shall he deliver the book. For the book shall be sealed by the power of God, and the revelation which was sealed shall be kept in the book until the own due time of the Lord, that they may come forth; for behold, they reveal all things from the foundation of the world unto the end thereof.
And the day cometh that the words of the book which were sealed shall be read upon the house tops; and they shall be read by the power of Christ; and all things shall be revealed unto the children of men which ever have been among the children of men, and which ever will be even unto the end of the earth.37
The sealed portion of the gold plates contains a revelation, originally written by the brother of Jared and translated from the Jaredite language by Moroni,38 the marvelous content of which is described here by Nephi.
Nephi further proceeds, providing much detail about how this prophecy would be fulfilled:
Wherefore, at that day when the book shall be delivered unto the man of whom I have spoken, the book shall be hid from the eyes of the world, that the eyes of none shall behold it save it be that three witnesses shall behold it, by the power of God, besides him to whom the book shall be delivered; and they shall testify to the truth of the book and the things therein.
And there is none other which shall view it, save it be a few according to the will of God, to bear testimony of his word unto the children of men; for the Lord God hath said that the words of the faithful should speak as if it were from the dead.
Wherefore, the Lord God will proceed to bring forth the words of the book; and in the mouth of as many witnesses as seemeth him good will he establish his word; and wo be unto him that rejecteth the word of God!
But behold, it shall come to pass that the Lord God shall say unto him to whom he shall deliver the book: Take these words which are not sealed and deliver them to another, that he may show them unto the learned, saying: Read this, I pray thee. And the learned shall say: Bring hither the book, and I will read them.
And now, because of the glory of the world and to get gain will they say this, and not for the glory of God.
And the man shall say: I cannot bring the book, for it is sealed.
Then shall the learned say: I cannot read it.39
Next, the Lord through Nephi gives specific instructions to the future translator of the work:
Wherefore it shall come to pass, that the Lord God will deliver again the book and the words thereof to him that is not learned; and the man that is not learned shall say: I am not learned.
Then shall the Lord God say unto him: The learned shall not read them, for they have rejected them, and I am able to do mine own work; wherefore thou shalt read the words which I shall give unto thee.
Touch not the things which are sealed, for I will bring them forth in mine own due time; for I will show unto the children of men that I am able to do mine own work.
Wherefore, when thou hast read the words which I have commanded thee, and obtained the witnesses which I have promised unto thee, then shalt thou seal up the book again, and hide it up unto me, that I may preserve the words which thou hast not read, until I shall see fit in mine own wisdom to reveal all things unto the children of men.
For behold, I am God; and I am a God of miracles; and I will show unto the world that I am the same yesterday, today, and forever; and I work not among the children of men save it be according to their faith.40
Joseph Smith recorded the literal fulfillment of this prophecy in February, 1828, as described by Martin Harris:
Sometime in this month of February, the aforementioned Mr. Martin Harris came to our place, got the characters which I had drawn off the plates, and started with them to the city of New York. For what took place relative to him and the characters, I refer to his own account of the circumstances, as he related them to me after his return, which was as follows: “I went to the city of New York, and presented the characters which had been translated, with the translation thereof, to Professor Charles Anthon, a gentleman celebrated for his literary attainments. Professor Anthon stated that the translation was correct, more so than any he had before seen translated from the Egyptian. I then showed him those which were not yet translated, and he said that they were Egyptian, Chaldaic, Assyriac, and Arabic; and he said they were true characters. He gave me a certificate, certifying to the people of Palmyra that they were true characters, and that the translation of such of them as had been translated was also correct. I took the certificate and put it into my pocket, and was just leaving the house, when Mr. Anthon called me back, and asked me how the young man found out that there were gold plates in the place where he found them. I answered that an angel of God had revealed it unto him. He then said to me, “Let me see that certificate.” I accordingly took it out of my pocket and gave it to him, when he took it and tore it to pieces, saying that there was no such thing now as ministering of angels, and that if I would bring the plates to him he would translate them. I informed him that part of the plates were sealed, and that I was forbidden to bring them. He replied, “I cannot read a sealed book.” I left him and went to Dr. Mitchell, who sanctioned what Professor Anthon had said respecting both the characters and the translation.41
Joseph Smith further proclaimed the fulfillment of this prophecy from Isaiah and Nephi: “And again, what do we hear? Glad tidings from Cumorah! Moroni, an angel from heaven, declaring the fulfillment of the prophets—the book to be revealed.”42
This prophecy of Isaiah regarding the sealed book would not easily be understood except for its fulfillment, recorded by Joseph Smith. In the same way, many other prophecies of Isaiah will not be fully understood until they are fulfilled.
The Lord apparently deemed it important that the readers of the Book of Mormon in the latter days understand the details of the fulfillment of this prophecy of Isaiah. This information— provided by Nephi—was already fulfilled at the time it was translated from the gold plates and therefore did not serve as a guide for the prophet Joseph in sending Martin Harris on his errand to Professor Anthon. The small plates of Nephi, which contained this prophecy of Nephi, were translated last in the sequence of sections of the Book of Mormon, probably in the latter part of 1829.43 Martin Harris was sent on his errand in February, 1828.44
Verses 13 and 14 describe the earliest beginnings of the restoration. The words of verse 13 were spoken by the Savior to Joseph Smith in the Spring of 1820, when Joseph was 14 years old, in response to his fervent prayer to know which church was right: “Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men—”45,46
And again it shall come to pass that the Lord shall say unto him that shall read the words that shall be delivered him:
Forasmuch as this people draw near unto me with their mouth, and with their lips do honor me, but have removed their hearts far from me, and their fear towards me is taught by the precepts of men—47
Verse 13 was quoted by Jesus during His mortal ministry: “Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.”48
Not only was this statement true regarding the Jews of Jesus’ time; it was true of the sectarian Christians of Joseph Smith’s time and is true of our own time. Multiple levels of prophecy and fulfillment characterize the writings of Isaiah, as illustrated in this verse.
Verse 14 continues: “Therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvellous work among this people, even a marvellous work and a wonder: for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid.” 49 The Hebrew word meaning “surpassing” or “extraordinary” is translated as “marvellous work,” and the Hebrew word meaning “unusual” or “extraordinary” is translated as “wonder,”50 showing them to be almost synonymous. Neal A. Maxwell presented the Hebrew meaning of the phrase as “a miraculous miracle.”51
Nephi renders this verse with minor changes: “Therefore, I will proceed to do a marvelous work among this people, yea, a marvelous work and a wonder, for the wisdom of their wise and learned shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent shall be hid.”52
The Apostle Paul paraphrases verse 14:
For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.
Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?53
The Lord, speaking in February, 1829 to Joseph Smith, proclaimed the imminent fulfillment of this prophecy: “Now behold, a marvelous work is about to come forth among the children of men.”54 The “marvelous work” spoken of here is the coming forth of the Book of Mormon and the restoration of the gospel—the times of refreshing spoken of by Isaiah55 and by Peter.56 It would cause the wisdom of the wise to perish and the understanding of the prudent to be hidden, because it would restore truth to take the place of error taught by the self-proclaimed wise and prudent. It would be accomplished by the unschooled and unlearned, as described in Chapter 28 by Isaiah.57 Nephi foretells the restoration: “And the Lord will set his hand again the second time to restore his people from their lost and fallen state. Wherefore, he will proceed to do a marvelous work and a wonder among the children of men.”58
Nephi described another dimension of the “marvelous work and a wonder:”
For the time cometh, saith the Lamb of God, that I will work a great and a marvelous work among the children of men; a work which shall be everlasting, either on the one hand or on the other—either to the convincing of them unto peace and life eternal, or unto the deliverance of them to the hardness of their hearts and the blindness of their minds unto their being brought down into captivity, and also into destruction, both temporally and spiritually, according to the captivity of the devil, of which I have spoken.59
Great and marvelous will be this work because, as the Lord attests, it will provide for all mankind a clear choice—either to choose peace and life eternal, or to choose hardness of heart and blindness of mind, leading to temporal and spiritual captivity under the influence of the devil.
The beginnings of this work—as prophesied by Nephi—would be accomplished among the Gentiles on the American continent, where he and his people dwelt:
And it meaneth that the time cometh that after all the house of Israel have been scattered and confounded, that the Lord God will raise up a mighty nation among the Gentiles, yea, even upon the face of this land [the American continent]; and by them shall our seed be scattered.
And after our seed is scattered the Lord God will proceed to do a marvelous work among the Gentiles, which shall be of great worth unto our seed; wherefore, it is likened unto their being nourished by the Gentiles and being carried in their arms and upon their shoulders.60
The Lord, in describing blessings upon faithful latter-day saints, used some of the same words:
I, the Lord, am merciful and gracious unto those who fear me, and delight to honor those who serve me in righteousness and in truth unto the end….
And their wisdom shall be great, and their understanding reach to heaven; and before them the wisdom of the wise shall perish, and the understanding of the prudent shall come to naught.61
President Gordon B. Hinckley described the continuation of the work of spreading the gospel through the work of missionaries:
They [missionaries] are building the kingdom across the world. They are touching for everlasting good the lives of all with whom they work, and generations who come after them will be affected by what they do today. They are fulfilling the declarations of ancient prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord concerning the “marvellous work and a wonder” that should come to pass in the dispensation of the fulness of times.62
President Spencer W. Kimball described an aspect of worldly wisdom and understanding of the world that should perish:
We are appalled at the conscious effort of many of the people in this world to take it upon themselves, presumptive, to change the properly established patterns of social behavior established by the Lord, especially with regard to marriage, sex life, family life. We must say: “The wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid.”63
In our day—the day foretold so vividly by Isaiah and Nephi—there are only two kinds of churches. First, there are churches based upon tradition, that try to keep the memory of revelations received in the past alive in the minds and lives of their people. These are churches that base their doctrines upon ancient scripture and what they have been able to derive from them intellectually. They claim that revelation, as a major influence in the personal lives of people, is a thing of the past and not the present. They reject as sacrilege anything that claims to be scripture or revelation beyond what is preserved in the Bible. They deride or persecute whoever claims to receive revelation.
Second, there is the living, vibrant church led by the Son of God through living prophets who walk the earth in our own day and age. This living church—the “marvellous work” spoken of by Isaiah—is founded upon the principle of ongoing revelation from God. It is characterized by the gifts of the Spirit including the testimony of many that the light of heaven has been borne in upon their souls, testifying of the truth of the words of the modern prophets. This church does not set aside the doctrines contained in ancient scripture because we heed and “live by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God.”64 We use ancient scripture to authenticate the words of the Lord given to prophets in modern times. This modern church is strangely different in its doctrines from those of the rest of the world, because the fulness of the gospel has been restored and because there is new revelation and new scripture that has been held in reserve until its glorious coming forth in the latter days, as foretold by ancient prophets.
Verses 10 through 14 contain a chiasm:
A: (10) For the LORD hath poured out upon you the spirit of deep sleep, and hath closed your eyes: the prophets and your rulers, the seers hath he covered.
B: (11) And the vision of all is become unto you as the words of a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one that is learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I cannot; for it is sealed:
C: (12) And the book is delivered to him that is not learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I am not learned.
D: (13) Wherefore the Lord said,
E: Forasmuch as this people
F: draw near me
G: with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me,
G: but have removed their heart
F: far from me,
E: and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men:
D: (14) Therefore, behold, I will proceed to do
C: a marvellous work among this people, even a marvellous work and a wonder:
B: for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish,
A: and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid.
“The prophets and your rulers, the seers hath he covered” is equivalent to “the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid,” providing additional description of the decision-makers of the foretold time. “One that is learned” compares with “the wisdom of their wise men shall perish;” “the book is delivered to him that is not learned” is complemented by “a marvellous work among this people, even a marvellous work and a wonder,” revealing Isaiah’s meaning that the Book of Mormon would be an important part of the “marvelous work” spoken of. “With their mouth, and with their lips” contrasts with “their heart,” illustrating the superficial character of the beliefs of the people. The restoration, including the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, would come about in a time of hard hearts and closed minds, when men would pay lip-service to the Lord but fail to honor Him in spirit.
Verses 15 and 16 are a woe oracle, directed against those who commit secret acts of wickedness. Verse 15 begins: “Woe unto them that seek deep to hide their counsel from the LORD, and their works are in the dark, and they say, Who seeth us? and who knoweth us?” Nephi renders this verse with only minor variation.65
Nephi further explains the meaning of verse 15: “Yea, and there shall be many which shall teach after this manner, false and vain and foolish doctrines, and shall be puffed up in their hearts, and shall seek deep to hide their counsels from the Lord; and their works shall be in the dark.”66
Verse 16 continues: “Surely your turning of things upside down shall be esteemed as the potter’s clay: for shall the work say of him that made it, He made me not? or shall the thing framed say of him that framed it, He had no understanding?” Nephi clarifies who is speaking: “And they also say: Surely, your turning of things upside down….”67 The Hebrew renders “O your perversity! Shall the potter be counted as clay?”68 The rhetorical question illustrates the absurdity of the position of these workers of secret darkness in assuming that their works—persecuting the saints and attempting to discredit the Lord’s work of restoration—would be unknown to the Lord. Two other rhetorical questions show the error of assuming that the Lord would not know about their secret acts. The phrase “surely your turning of things upside down” reflects the total revolution in religious thought that eventually would be brought about by the Book of Mormon and the restoration of the gospel.
Verse 17 foresees that the current state of spiritual and political affairs would change dramatically: “Is it not yet a very little while, and Lebanon shall be turned into a fruitful field, and the fruitful field shall be esteemed as a forest?” Nephi renders: “But behold, saith the Lord of Hosts: I will show unto the children of men that it is yet a very little while….”69 A negative question, such as that presented in this verse in the King James Version, means that the premise is so obvious as to be a foregone conclusion. In this case, the meaning is that it would be only a very little while after the commencement of the restoration until these events begin to unfold. “Forest” means nobility or leaders of the people, and “a fruitful field” means a new economic apparatus70 developed by the productivity of the Lord’s covenant people; at that day the fruitful fields will be esteemed just as much as the forests once were. Physical changes described here are symbols of the foreseen changes of values and perceptions among mankind.71
Isaiah, in Chapter 32, uses a similar phrase to describe the restoration but substitutes “wilderness” for “Lebanon:” “Until the spirit be poured upon us from on high, and the wilderness be a fruitful field, and the fruitful field be counted for a forest.”72 Substitution of “wilderness” for “Lebanon” gives greater understanding of Isaiah’s intended meaning for “Lebanon”—the spiritual wasteland that resulted from the worldwide apostasy.
Verse 17 contains a chiasm recognized in the original Hebrew, here phrased to match the Hebrew construction:73
(17) Is it not yet a very little while, and
A: shall be turned
C: into a fruitful field,
C: and the fruitful field
B: as a forest
A: shall be esteemed?
“Shall be turned” compares with “shall be esteemed,” revealing that Lebanon being changed into a fruitful field is figurative rather than literal.
Verse 18 describes spiritual blessings to be poured out when the Book of Mormon comes forth: “And in that day shall the deaf hear the words of the book, and the eyes of the blind shall see out of obscurity, and out of darkness.” Those spiritually deaf and blind will be empowered to comprehend spiritual matters because of the content of the book. Nephi renders this verse the same.74
Elements of verses 17 and 18 form a chiasm:
A: (17) Is it not yet a very little while,
B: and Lebanon
C: shall be turned into a fruitful field,
C: and the fruitful field
B: shall be esteemed as a forest?
A: (18) And in that day shall the deaf hear the words of the book, and the eyes of the blind shall see out of obscurity, and out of darkness.
These two verses are closely related as shown by the chiastic structure, although at first glance it may not be apparent. “A very little while” compares with “in that day shall the deaf hear the words of the book….” Isaiah’s message in these two statements is that a short time after the book comes forth it will be responsible for a revolution in religious thought, enabling those spiritually deaf and blind to comprehend spiritual matters.
Verse 19 describes some of the great blessings that will be provided by the Book of Mormon: “The meek also shall increase their joy in the LORD, and the poor among men shall rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.” Nephi renders: “And the meek also shall increase, and their joy shall be in the Lord….”75 Compare statements in the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” and “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.”76 The Book of Mormon contains the fulness of the gospel, the same as taught by Christ during His earthly ministry. Christ’s teachings—both in the Bible and the Book of Mormon—would provide blessings to the believing poor and meek of the earth.
The Lord, in Doctrine and Covenants, provides further insight into the blessings provided by living the fulness of the gospel:
For they that are wise and have received the truth, and have taken the Holy Spirit for their guide, and have not been deceived—verily I say unto you, they shall not be hewn down and cast into the fire, but shall abide the day of the Second Coming.
And the earth shall be given unto them for an inheritance; and they shall multiply and wax strong, and their children shall grow up without sin unto salvation.77
And their generations shall inherit the earth from generation to generation, forever and ever….78
Verse 20 describes the fate of critics of the Book of Mormon and of the latter-day work of restoration and building up of Zion: “For the terrible one is brought to nought, and the scorner is consumed, and all that watch for iniquity are cut off.” Nephi adds: “For assuredly as the Lord liveth they shall see that the terrible one is brought to naught….”79
The Lord, in Doctrine and Covenants, provides additional insight: “Cursed are all those that shall lift up the heel against mine anointed, saith the Lord, and cry they have sinned when they have not sinned before me, saith the Lord, but have done that which was meet in mine eyes, and which I commanded them.”80
The Lord testifies that He will destroy those who watch for iniquity: “And calamity shall cover the mocker, and the scorner shall be consumed; and they that have watched for iniquity shall be hewn down and cast into the fire.”81
Verses 17 through 20 contain a chiasm that overlaps the chiasm of verses 17 and 18. Shared elements in these two chiasms provide further meaning:
A: (17) Is it not yet a very little while, and Lebanon shall be turned into a fruitful field, and the fruitful field shall be esteemed as a forest?
B: (18) And in that day shall the deaf hear the words of the book, and the eyes of the blind shall see
C: out of obscurity,
C: and out of darkness.
B: (19) The meek also shall increase their joy in the LORD, and the poor among men shall rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.
A: (20) For the terrible one is brought to nought, and the scorner is consumed, and all that watch for iniquity are cut off.
Within a very little while after the coming forth of the Book of Mormon the meek and the poor, who have been spiritually blind and deaf, will be brought to comprehend the message of the book and will rejoice in the Lord. Because of the book the leaders of the people will be made to prosper, due justice will be meted out to the terrible ones, scorners will be done away, and those who watch for iniquity will be put down.
Because of relationships in the chiasm of verses 17 and 18, the following phrases are all equivalent: “Lebanon shall be turned into a fruitful field,” “for the terrible one is brought to nought,” “the deaf hear the words of the book,” and “the meek also shall increase their joy in the LORD.” The meaning is that the coming forth of the Book of Mormon will revolutionize religious thought, including the described beneficial effects.
Verse 21 provides further description of the persecutors and scorners: “That make a man an offender for a word, and lay a snare for him that reproveth in the gate, and turn aside the just for a thing of nought.” Nephi renders this verse with only minor changes.82 “Gate” means a place of public transaction, where prophets commonly preached or reproved.
Neal A. Maxwell elaborated:
So the process of proving, reproving, and improving unfolds; it should neither offend us nor surprise us. Meanwhile, unevenness in the spiritual development of people means untidiness in the history of people, and we should not make an individual “an offender for a word,” as if a single communication could set aside all else an individual may have communicated or stood for!83
Verses 22 and 23 continue to delineate the beneficial results of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. Verse 22 declares: “Therefore thus saith the LORD, who redeemed Abraham, concerning the house of Jacob, Jacob shall not now be ashamed, neither shall his face now wax pale.” Nephi renders the wording of this verse the same.84 The coming forth of the Book of Mormon would lead to the gathering and redemption of Jacob’s descendants, restoring them as a people and taking away their shame at being so long dispersed—not belonging anywhere, being envied, being looked down upon for being different—because of iniquity.
Verse 23 continues: “But when he seeth his children, the work of mine hands, in the midst of him, they shall sanctify my name, and sanctify the Holy One of Jacob, and shall fear the God of Israel.” Nephi renders this verse with only minor changes in wording.85 The phrase “fear the God of Israel” means “stand in awe of, or worship, the God of Israel.”
Verses 22 and 23 form a chiasm:
A: (22) Therefore thus saith the LORD,
B: who redeemed Abraham,
C: concerning the house of Jacob,
D: Jacob shall not now be ashamed,
D: neither shall his face now wax pale.
C: (23) But when he seeth his children,
B: the work of mine hands, in the midst of him,
A: they shall sanctify my name, and sanctify the Holy One of Jacob, and shall fear the God of Israel.
“The LORD” is equivalent to “my name,” “the Holy One of Jacob” and “the God of Israel,” which are various titles of the Lord. “Who redeemed Abraham” compares with “the work of mine hands,” which means that the promise made to Abraham is fulfilled through Jacob’s descendants, who are the work of the Lord’s hands. The Lord, through the content of the Book of Mormon, would provide great consolation to Jacob and his heirs.
Verse 24 explains that the Book of Mormon would be the means of correcting false doctrines: “They also that erred in spirit shall come to understanding, and they that murmured shall learn doctrine.” Again, Nephi renders the wording the same.86 “Murmur” means to complain about the Lord’s dealings with mankind, such as at the death of a loved one. Expounding upon the last phrase of this verse, Neal A. Maxwell stated: “The only cure for the doctrinal illiteracy of those who murmur will be to learn doctrine.”87
Truly the Book of Mormon plays a pivotal role in the latter-day restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ, functioning figuratively as “the keystone of our religion.”88
1. Joseph Smith’s “New Translation” of the Bible: Herald Publishing House, Independence, Missouri, 1970, 523 p. See also JST Isaiah 29:1-8.
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. 740, p. 72 (Ari’el); Strong’s No. 739, p. 72 (ari’yel).
3. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 741, p. 72; see also Isaiah 29:1, footnote 1b.
4. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 738, p. 71.
5. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 410, p. 41.
6. Joseph Smith’s “New Translation” of the Bible: Herald Publishing House, Independence, Missouri, 1970, p. 201; JST Isaiah 29:2.
7. 2 Nephi 26:15.
8. Joseph Smith’s “New Translation” of the Bible: Herald Publishing House, Independence, Missouri, 1970, p. 201; JST Isaiah 29:2.
9. The Masoretic Hebrew text of the Old Testament is that which is in common use today, from which were translated the King James Version and all of the modern foreign-language translations of the Old Testament. “Masoretic” means the summary of traditions concerning the correct reading and writing of the Scriptures, as handed down from the ancestors of the modern Jews (Ernest Klein, A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the English Language: Elsevier Publishing Company, New York, 1971, p. 448).
10. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 178, p. 15.
11. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 5172, p. 638.
12. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 5175, p. 638.
13. In particular the Latin Vulgate and the Spanish Reina-Valera translation (1909, 1960) render “python.” Translations of the Bible used for comparison in this commentary may be accessed at the “Bible Database” website at http://bibledatabase.net or “The Unbound Bible” website at http://unbound.biola.edu.
14. 2 Nephi 26:15-17.
15. 2 Nephi 33:13.
16. 2 Nephi 26:18-19.
17. See Isaiah 1:7, 28; 5:24; 9:5, 18-19; 10:16-18; 24:6; 27:11; 30:27, 30, 33; 33:11-12, 14; 34:9; 42:25; 43:2; 47:14; 64:1-2, 11; 66:15-16 and pertinent commentary.
18. See 3 Nephi 8:5-18.
19. 2 Nephi 27:2.
20. Doctrine and Covenants 97:25-26.
21. 2 Nephi 27:1-2.
22. See references and commentary for verse 6.
23. 2 Nephi 27:3.
24. Joseph Smith’s “New Translation” of the Bible: Herald Publishing House, Independence, Missouri, 1970, p. 201; JST Isaiah 29:2.
25. 2 Nephi 27:3.
26. Donald W. Parry, Jay A. Parry and Tina M. Peterson, Understanding Isaiah: Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1998, p. 263.
27. See Isaiah 3:16; 18:7; 24:23; 28:16; 30:19; 31:4, 9; 51:3.
28. See Doctrine and Covenants 97:21.
29. Joseph Smith’s “New Translation” of the Bible: Herald Publishing House, Independence, Missouri, 1970, p. 201; JST Isaiah 29:2.
30. 2 Nephi 27:4.
31. 2 Nephi 27:1.
32. Isaiah 28:1-3.
33. Verse 10 contains a chiasm: Deep sleep/closed your eyes/prophets/rulers/seers/covered.
34. 2 Nephi 27:5.
35. 2 Nephi 27:6-9.
36. Monte S. Nyman, “Isaiah Chapter Review: 2 Nephi 26:6; 27/Isaiah 29,” Book of Mormon Reference Companion: Dennis L. Largey, ed., Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, UT, 2003, p. 388-392.
37. 2 Nephi 27:10-11.
38. See Ether 4:5-7.
39. 2 Nephi 27:12-18.
40. 2 Nephi 27:19-23.
41. Joseph Smith—History 1:63-65.
42. Doctrine and Covenants 128:20.
43. Joseph Smith—History 1:66-68.
44. See Joseph Smith—History 1:62-63.
45. See Joseph Smith—History 1:19.
46. Verse 13 contains a chiasm: This people/draw near me/mouth/lips/honour me/heart/far from me/their fear.
47. 2 Nephi 27:24-25.
48. Matthew 15:7-9. See also Mark 7:6-7.
49. Verse 14 contains a chiasm recognized in the original Hebrew: Shall perish/wisdom of their wise men/understanding of their prudent men/shall be hid. In Donald W. Parry, Harmonizing Isaiah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) at Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, 2001, p. 260.
50. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 6381, p. 810 (pala’, marvellous work); Strong’s No. 6382, p. 810 (pele’, wonder).
51. Neal A. Maxwell, “My Servant Joseph,” Ensign, May 1992, p. 37.
52. 2 Nephi 27:26.
53. 1 Corinthians 1:19-20.
54. Doctrine and Covenants 4:1; See also Doctrine and Covenants 6:1; 11:1; 12:1; 18:44.
55. See Isaiah 28:12.
56. See Acts 3:19.
57. See Isaiah 28:9; also Isaiah 29:12.
58. 2 Nephi 25:17.
59. 1 Nephi 14:7.
60. 1 Nephi 22:7-8; see also Isaiah 49:22.
61. Doctrine and Covenants 76:5, 9.
62. Gordon B. Hinckley, “An Ensign to the Nations,” Ensign, Nov. 1989, p. 51.
63. Spencer W. Kimball, “Why Call Me Lord, Lord, and Do Not the Things Which I Say?” Ensign, May 1975, p. 4.
64. Doctrine and Covenants 84:44.
65. 2 Nephi 27:27.
66. 2 Nephi 28:9.
67. 2 Nephi 27:27.
68. J. R. Dummelow, The One volume Bible Commentary: Macmillan Publishing Company, 866 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10022, 1908-1909, p. 435; see also Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 2017, p. 246.
69. 2 Nephi 27:28.
70. See Isaiah 2:13; 10:18-19, 33-34; 14:8; 32:15; 37:24; 55:12.
71. Monte S. Nyman, “Isaiah Chapter Review: 2 Nephi 26:6; 27/Isaiah 29,” Book of Mormon Reference Companion: Dennis L. Largey, ed., Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, UT, 2003, p. 388-392.
72. Isaiah 32:15.
73. Parry, 2001, p. 260.
74. 2 Nephi 27:29.
75. 2 Nephi 27:30.
76. Matthew 5:3, 5.
77. Doctrine and Covenants 45:57-58.
78. Doctrine and Covenants 56:20.
79. 2 Nephi 27:31.
80. Doctrine and Covenants 121:16.
81. Doctrine and Covenants 45:50.
82. 2 Nephi 27:32.
83. Neal A. Maxwell, “Pre-mortality—a glorious reality,” Ensign, Nov. 1985, p. 15-17.
84. 2 Nephi 27:33.
85. 2 Nephi 27:34.
86. 2 Nephi 27:35.
87. Neal A. Maxwell, “Called and Prepared from the Foundation of the World,” Ensign, May 1986, p. 34.
88. See Book of Mormon—Introduction.