This chapter is about political rulers. It begins with a description of the archetypical righteous King, the Messiah whose reign will bring unprecedented blessings, peace, and security. Isaiah’s use of this description at the beginning before describing the corruption of political rulers is a literary foil—a comparison of extremes to make descriptions of each more vivid.1 This comparison accentuates in the mind of the reader both the severity of the prevailing wickedness and the Lord’s infinite righteousness. This wickedness and corruption describe both ancient Israel and the latter days, with the earlier condition providing a type for the latter. The chapter ends with a chiastic description—mirroring the first four verses of the chapter—of the righteousness of the Lord and the favorable conditions that will prevail under His reign.
Verse 1 describes the reign of the Lord at His Second Coming: “Behold, a king shall reign in righteousness, and princes shall rule in judgment.” 2 As used here, “judgment” means “fairness.”3 The Lord is the archetype of the righteous king; political rulers under His command will rule justly.
Verse 2 presents a series of similes to describe the security and peace that will be enjoyed by the righteous under the Lord’s reign: “And a man [specifically, the King of verse 1] shall be as an hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.” Following the latter-day destructions the Lord will be looked upon by the surviving righteous as a great relief from tribulation. “Water” symbolizes inspiration and revelation from heaven.4 Each of these similes strikes a sharp contrast between the relief and comfort provided by the Lord in His benevolent reign and the chaos, misery and suffering experienced under the oppression of the preceding wicked rulers. Their wicked rule is characterized in this verse as “wind,” “tempest,” “dry place,” and “weary land.”
Verse 3 describes metaphorically the spiritual gifts that will abound among the righteous under the Lord’s reign: “And the eyes of them that see shall not be dim, and the ears of them that hear shall hearken.”5 “Them that see” means “seers,” and also those with the ability to perceive and understand spiritual things whereas “them that hear” means those with the ability to listen to the voice of the Spirit. “Hearken” means those who hear will respond to the promptings of the Spirit. This statement compares to Isaiah’s description in Chapter 29 of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, using the same physical metaphors for spiritual qualities: “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.”6
Verse 4 continues with similar metaphors: “The heart also of the rash shall understand knowledge, and the tongue of the stammerers shall be ready to speak plainly.” “Rash” means “those who act impetuously”7 whereas “stammerers” means “those who speak inarticulately.”8 This meaning contrasts with “for with stammering lips and another tongue,” used in Chapter 28, which describes the Lord’s representatives speaking in foreign languages.9
Verse 5 describes the ending of twisted values characteristic of the latter days: “The vile person shall be no more called liberal, nor the churl said to be bountiful.” “Churl” means “a rude, ill-bred person.”10 These parallel phrases emphasize true definitions of words that have been purposely twisted in meaning in our day. The Hebrew word translated as “liberal” means “noble” or “generous.”11 The dictionary definition of “liberal” is “honorable, noble, gracious, generous.”12 Isaiah foresees a time when leaders who have noble titles but who in reality are vile, churlish, avaricious, deceitful or foolish or are cheaters will no longer be called liberal or bountiful. Isaiah described this deliberate inversion of meaning in Chapter 5: “Woe unto them that call evil good and good evil; that put darkness for light and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.”13
In verse 6, Isaiah provides a simple key for recognizing evil leaders—by their actions rather than their lofty titles: “For the vile person will speak villany, and his heart will work iniquity, to practise hypocrisy, and to utter error against the LORD, to make empty the soul of the hungry, and he will cause the drink of the thirsty to fail.”14,15 Note that “vile” and “villainy” have the same Latin root, villa, which refers to farms and workers of the soil,16 but in the King James Version and in usage today both are used only in the pejorative sense. The Hebrew word translated as “villainy” means “senseless folly” or “obscenity.”17
Verse 7 continues Isaiah’s exposition begun in verse 6 on how to distinguish a wicked ruler: “The instruments also of the churl are evil: he deviseth wicked devices to destroy the poor with lying words, even when the needy speaketh right.”18 This phrase—using archaic words—means that corrupt rulers with avaricious or evil intentions devise schemes to deceive, using carefully-measured or lying words.
How striking is Isaiah’s description of evil rulers of our time! They use the pretense of caring for the needy to amass political power, but they destroy the poor with lying words. The Lord gave this same key for distinguishing evildoers in the Sermon on the Mount: “Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?”19
Verse 8 provides the contrasting truth: “But the liberal deviseth liberal things; and by liberal things shall he stand.”20 Liberality is a personal quality greatly valued by the Lord. The true leader, recognizing what is expected of a worthy leader, measures up to expectations.
Verses 9 through 11 chastise the women of Israel, and as a type, the women of the latter days. Verse 9 begins: “Rise up, ye women that are at ease; hear my voice, ye careless daughters; give ear unto my speech.” “Careless” means “carefree” in modern usage; the Hebrew word from which it is translated means “confident” or “secure.”21
Verse 10 continues: “Many days and years shall ye be troubled, ye careless women: for the vintage shall fail, the gathering shall not come.” Despite their ease and comfort, long years of deprivation await them.
Verse 11 concludes: “Tremble, ye women that are at ease; be troubled, ye careless ones: strip you, and make you bare, and gird sackcloth upon your loins.”22 Isaiah foretells long years of trouble and deprivation that await them—admonishing them to tremble and be troubled, strip themselves of pride, and dress themselves in the sackcloth of humility and repentance.23
Verse 12 describes their mourning for the pleasant surroundings they once enjoyed: “They shall lament for the teats, for the pleasant fields, for the fruitful vine.” The Hebrew word translated as “lament for the teats” means “beat the breast” in mourning.24
Verses 8 through 12 contain a chiasm:
A: (8) But the liberal deviseth liberal things; and by liberal things shall he stand.
B: (9) Rise up, ye women that are at ease;
C: hear my voice,
D: ye careless daughters; give ear unto my speech.
E: (10) Many days and years shall ye be troubled,
F: ye careless women:
G: for the vintage shall fail,
G: the gathering shall not come.
F: (11) Tremble, ye women that are at ease;
E: be troubled,
D: ye careless ones:
C: strip you, and make you bare,
B: and gird sackcloth upon your loins.
A: (12) They shall lament for the teats, for the pleasant fields, for the fruitful vine.
“Liberal things” is complemented by “the teats…pleasant fields…fruitful vine,” which provide a key to the prophet’s meaning. “Rise up, ye women that are at ease” is contrasted with “gird sackcloth upon your loins,” admonishing the privileged to repent of their arrogance. “Hear my voice” is equivalent to “strip you, and make you bare,” providing a spiritual explanation for the comparison. Those who heed Isaiah’s warning voice will strip themselves of pride, putting on in its place the sackcloth of sore repentance. Because of overlapping chiasms, all the phrases similar to “ye women that are at ease” are equivalent.
Verse 13 describes both the physical abandonment of the land following the fall of Jerusalem and the pervasive neglect of spiritual matters: “Upon the land of my people shall come up thorns and briers; yea, upon all the houses of joy in the joyous city.” In addition to their literal springing up in a neglected land, thorns and briers represent false doctrines that spring up when the Lord’s vineyard is neglected because of iniquity.25
Verse 14 continues the description of a land abandoned by its inhabitants: “Because the palaces shall be forsaken; the multitude of the city shall be left; the forts and towers shall be for dens for ever, a joy of wild asses, a pasture of flocks.” Feral animals would roam the abandoned palaces and fortifications of Jerusalem.
Verse 15 describes the conditions that will bring an end to this period of devastation, abandonment and neglect of spiritual things: “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.” The spiritual rebirth described in this verse is the latter-day restoration, foretold earlier by Isaiah.26 The inclusive parallel statements “the wilderness be a fruitful field” and “the fruitful field be counted for a forest” indicate that the spiritual restoration would be universal—a precursor to the righteous reign of the Lord. “Forest” means the nobility or leaders of the people, and “fruitful field” means their economic apparatus.27 These phrases are almost the same wording used by Isaiah in Chapter 29 to describe the restoration, except here substituting “wilderness” for “Lebanon:” “…and Lebanon shall be turned into a fruitful field, and the fruitful field shall be esteemed as a forest.”28
Verses 16 through 20 return chiastically to the righteous rule of the Lord, described in verses 1 through 4. Verse 16 begins: “Then judgment shall dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness remain in the fruitful field.” The Lord will rule righteously during His millennial reign. “Judgment” means “fairness” or “justice.”29 Other meanings for “judgment” that apply to the Lord’s reign are social justice,30 sound reasoning,31 and an equitable system of laws.32
Verses 17 and 18 describe the peace that will attend the Lord’s righteous reign. Verse 17 begins: “And the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever.” Here Isaiah describes the assurance of knowing you are living in accordance with God’s will.33
Verse 18 continues: “And my people shall dwell in a peaceable habitation, and in sure dwellings, and in quiet resting places.” Not only will these conditions prevail during the Lord’s reign; it is possible—at least to a measure, in times of worldwide wickedness and upheaval—to experience peace in our private lives and homes by strict adherence to the Lord’s commandments.
Verse 19 describes the destruction that will precede the Lord’s righteous reign: “When it shall hail, coming down on the forest; and the city shall be low in a low place.” Here the destruction of the wicked is characterized as a hailstorm, one of the elements of the destruction foretold. A city “in a low place” is one that is especially vulnerable to devastating floods, which are symbolic of invading armies. “Forest” represents the noble, whereas “the city” here represents common humanity.
Hail as an element of the destructions that will occur before the Lord’s Second Coming is well established in the scriptures. Earlier, In Chapter 28, Isaiah stated: “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” (emphasis added).34 Similarly: “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” (emphasis added).35
“Line” and “plummet” are metaphors representing personal righteousness, and “hail” and “waters” represent the sweeping Assyrian army that would devastate Israel. “Hail” and “waters” are also types for literal occurrences of destructive hail and floods in the latter days. John the Revelator foretold a hailstorm with cataclysmic effect: “And there fell upon men a great hail out of heaven, every stone about the weight of a talent: and men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail; for the plague thereof was exceeding great” (emphasis added).36
Verse 20 describes the blessed state of the righteous survivors in the modern equivalent of Egypt: “Blessed are ye that sow beside all waters, that send forth thither the feet of the ox and the ass.” The economic downfall of modern America is foretold earlier by Isaiah in terms of the industries of ancient Egypt, whose agriculture was based upon crops raised along the Nile River.37 Therefore, “ye that sow beside all waters” has direct reference to modern America by way of ancient Egypt as a type. Not only will there be planting and harvesting of crops; livestock will be raised during the Lord’s reign upon the earth.
1. See Isaiah 53:5; 60:2; 63:7 and pertinent commentary.
2. Verse 1 contains a chiasm recognized in the original Hebrew: Shall reign/a king/princes/shall rule. In Donald W. Parry, Harmonizing Isaiah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) at Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, 2001, p. 260.
3. See Isaiah 1:21; 30:18; 33:5; 41:1; 49:4; 53:8.
4. See Isaiah 12:3; 27:3; 35:6-7; 55:11; 58:11.
5. Verse 3 contains a chiasm recognized in the original Hebrew: Not be dim/eyes of them that see/ears of them that hear/hearken. Parry, 2001, p. 260.
6. Isaiah 29:18.
7. 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. 4116, p. 554-555.
8. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 5926, p. 748.
9. See Isaiah 28:11.
10. Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary: 1988, Merriam-Webster Inc., Springfield, MA, p. 240.
11. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 5081, p. 622.
12. Ernest Klein, A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the English Language: Elsevier Publishing Company, New York, 1971, p. 420.
13. Isaiah 5:20.
14. Verses 4 through 6 contain a chiasm: Heart also of the rash/speak plainly/vile person/liberal/bountiful/vile person/speak villany/his heart.
15. Verse 6 contains three chiasms recognized in the original Hebrew: Speak villany/work iniquity/practise hypocrisy/utter error. Will speak/villany/iniquity/heart will work. Empty/soul of the hungry/drink of the thirsty/to fail. Parry, 2001, p. 261.
16. Klein, 1971, p. 811.
17. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 5039, p. 615.
18. Verses 6 and 7 contain a chiasm: Hungry/drink of the thirsty to fail/instruments/churl/he/wicked devices/destroy the poor with lying words/needy.
19. Matthew 7:16.
20. Verses 7 and 8 contain a chiasm: Deviseth wicked devices/lying words/speaketh right/liberal deviseth liberal things.
21. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 982, p. 105.
22. Verses 9 through 11 contain a chiasm: Ye women that are at ease/ye careless daughters/days/years/ye careless women/ye women that are at ease.
23. Compare Alma 5:28-29.
24. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 7699, p. 994; see also Isaiah 32:12, footnote 12a.
25. See Isaiah 55:13; 5:6; 9:18; 10:17; 27:4 and pertinent commentary.
26. Isaiah 2:2-4; 18:1-7; 29:11-14.
27. See Isaiah 2:13; 9:18; 10:18-19, 33-34; 14:8; 29:17; 37:24; 55:12.
28. Isaiah 29:17.
29. See Isaiah 1:21; 30:18; 32:1; 33:5; 41:1; 49:4; 53:8.
30. See Isaiah 1:17; 5:7; 9:7; 42:1; 59:8, 14.
31. See Isaiah 1:17; 28:7; 40:14, 27; 42:3; 59:8.
32. See Isaiah 5:7; 51:4; 54:17.
33. Eldred G. Smith, “Peace,” Ensign, July 1972, p. 117.
34. Isaiah 28:2.
35. Isaiah 28:17.
36. Revelation 16:21; see also Revelation 8:7; 11:19; Doctrine and Covenants 109:30.
37. See Isaiah 19:5-10.