This chapter deals with apostasy, violence and treachery that will precede the Second Coming. The righteous in Zion will pray for the Lord’s protection during these times. When the Lord comes in His glory the wicked will be destroyed with devouring fire; despite tribulation, Zion and her stakes will never be removed. The Lord will reign as Lawgiver, Judge, and King.
A key to understanding this chapter is to carefully watch to whom and about whom Isaiah is speaking. These elements shift throughout the chapter, possibly leaving the reader confused. Use of varying subject and verb forms, sometimes rendered more clearly in modern languages other than English, provide a clue for following these shifts.
Verse 1 consists of a woe oracle against those who “spoil,” or rob by violence and treachery: “Woe to thee that spoilest, and thou wast not spoiled; and dealest treacherously, and they dealt not treacherously with thee! When thou shalt cease to spoil, thou shalt be spoiled; and when thou shalt make an end of dealing treacherously, they shall deal treacherously with thee.”1 The woe oracle describes predators who rob the innocent or defenseless. Sennacherib king of Assyria, who would invade and plunder Jerusalem in 701 B.C., is thought by most scholars to be this spoiler.2 For the latter days, this verse describes a state of violent anarchy and terror in which marauders roam about, seeking victims whom they might harm, pillage, and rob. Doctrine and Covenants describes the same or similar conditions: “And it shall come to pass among the wicked, that every man that will not take his sword against his neighbor must needs flee unto Zion for safety.”3
In verse 2, the righteous pray fervently for protection: “O LORD, be gracious unto us; we have waited for thee: be thou their arm every morning, our salvation also in the time of trouble.” The Joseph Smith Translation renders “their salvation also in the time of trouble.”4 “Be thou their arm” is Isaiah’s plea to the Lord, meaning “defend them against those who would do them harm.”
Verses 3 and 4 describe the Lord’s coming. Verse 3 begins: “At the noise of the tumult the people fled; at the lifting up of thyself the nations were scattered.” The archaic phrase “at the lifting up of thyself” means “upon thy rising up,” like the rising of the sun in the morning—to be seen by the whole world, to do battle. Note use of the second person familiar form “thyself;” Isaiah directs his statement to the Lord.
In verse 4 Isaiah’s usage changes voice, directing his statement toward the nations to be scattered at the Lord’s coming: “And your spoil shall be gathered like the gathering of the caterpiller: as the running to and fro of locusts shall he run upon them.” Isaiah’s similes of insects voraciously feeding create visual images of marauding pillagers as these nations are destroyed. His use of the second person plural familiar verb form “your” is not readily recognized in the English because it is the same as other commonly-used verb forms.
Verse 5 describes the blessed state of the inhabitants of Zion during this time of great destruction. Isaiah’s statement here is directed toward the reader: “The LORD is exalted; for he dwelleth on high: he hath filled Zion with judgment and righteousness.”5 “Judgment” means “fairness.”6 The Hebrew word translated as “righteousness” means “ethically right.”7
“Zion” in this verse means both a place of latter-day spiritual gathering as well as Jerusalem, especially the latter-day Jerusalem under righteous circumstances.8 “Zion” is used in two other places in this chapter with the same range of meanings. The definition of “Zion” as given in Doctrine and Covenants is the pure in heart, meaning that Zion is wherever the righteous dwell—not necessarily a specific place.9
In Doctrine and Covenants, the phrase that follows the definition given of Zion may refer to events described here in Chapter 33 by Isaiah: “Therefore, let Zion rejoice, while all the wicked shall mourn.”10
The Lord reveals His design in appointing places of gathering:
And, behold, there is none other place appointed than that which I have appointed; neither shall there be any other place appointed than that which I have appointed, for the work of the gathering of my saints—
Until the day cometh when there is found no more room for them; and then I have other places which I will appoint unto them, and they shall be called stakes, for the curtains or the strength of Zion (emphasis added).11
In verse 6, Isaiah changes to the second person singular familiar pronoun to speak unto Zion: “And wisdom and knowledge shall be the stability of thy times, and strength of salvation: the fear of the LORD is his treasure.”12 The Lord’s greatest treasure is the righteousness of His people. The latter-day righteous of Israel will be saved from tribulation, invasion and pillaging through their wisdom, knowledge and fear of the Lord.
In verse 7 Isaiah continues speaking to Zion, now describing the angst of those not permitted to enter: “Behold, their valiant ones shall cry without: the ambassadors of peace shall weep bitterly.” An alternative meaning in the original Hebrew, translated in the King James Version as “valiant ones,” is Ariel, meaning “the hearth of God” or “the Lion of God,”13 used previously in Chapter 29.14 Ariel refers to the covenant people—in particular those currently, or at some point in the past, possessing the covenants and blessings of the temple. Ariel not being permitted to enjoy the temporal protection of Zion means a group—other than Zion and her stakes—which is not now living up to the covenants that would entitle them to the security and blessings of Zion. This represents apostate Israel; possibly it could mean others.
In verse 8 Isaiah continues to direct his comments toward Zion. He describes the destruction preceding the Second Coming, then gives the reason that Ariel was excluded from the temporal safety of Zion: “The highways lie waste, the wayfaring man ceaseth. He [Ariel] hath broken the covenant, he hath despised the cities, he regardeth no man.” Violence, anarchy and possibly natural disasters have destroyed the highways to the extent that no traveler can continue.
Verses 7 and 8 contain a chiasm:
A: (7) Behold, their valiant ones shall cry without:
B: the ambassadors of peace shall weep bitterly.
C: (8) The highways lie waste, the wayfaring man ceaseth:
C: he hath broken the covenant,
B: he hath despised the cities,
A: he regardeth no man.
The ascending side of the chiasm describes the remorse and disappointment of Ariel, the ancient covenant people, upon their being found unworthy of the Lord’s protection in the latter days. In the descending side, reasons for their being denied protection are set forth. Ariel is not permitted to enter the city of Zion and is not afforded its protection.
Verse 9 describes the effect of the broken covenants: “The earth mourneth and languisheth: Lebanon is ashamed and hewn down: Sharon is like a wilderness: and Bashan and Carmel shake off their fruits.” This shaking of Bashan and Carmel may mean earthquakes; or, it could mean fruit falling from the vine before it is ripe.15 “Lebanon” refers to “proud leaders and noblemen,” as described earlier by Isaiah in Chapter 2.16
Verses 10 through 12 describe the coming of the Lord. Verse 10 begins: “Now will I rise, saith the LORD; now will I be exalted; now will I lift up myself.” To become “exalted” and to be lifted up means that the Lord Jehovah would become great, acknowledged by the world.
In verse 11, the Lord speaks to the wicked: “Ye shall conceive chaff, ye shall bring forth stubble: your breath, as fire, shall devour you.” “Chaff” and “stubble” emphasize that the temporal fruits of the daily labors of the wicked are of no permanence and would be burned like a grain field after the harvest. The main efforts of their lives were of little consequence; left undone were the important spiritual matters to which they ought to have paid the greater attention.
Verse 12 describes burning by fire: “And the people shall be as the burnings of lime: as thorns cut up shall they be burned in the fire.”17 “Burnings of lime” brings to mind a horrible scene of bodies of the people being consumed by fire, leaving the ashes of their bones like an accumulation of lime.18 Chiastically, the people having conceived chaff is the cause of their being burned in the fire.
As stated in verse 13, the Lord’s greatness, might and majesty will be acknowledged worldwide: “Hear, ye that are far off, what I have done; and, ye that are near, acknowledge my might.” The Lord will speak to peoples both near and far.
Verse 14 speaks of the unworthy among the covenant people in Zion: “The sinners in Zion are afraid; fearfulness hath surprised the hypocrites.” Although they have had every opportunity, they have failed to prepare themselves for the day when the Lord would appear. Living with concealed sin, they ask fearfully: “Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? Who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?”19
Two types of fire are described here: “Devouring fire” is that which will destroy the wicked, whereas “everlasting burnings” means the eternal glory that is characteristic of the presence of God. The Prophet Joseph Smith described this glory:
I saw the transcendent beauty of the gate through which the heirs of that kingdom will enter, which was like unto circling flames of fire; Also the blazing throne of God, whereon was seated the Father and the Son.20
Personal righteousness is a requirement to survive the destructive burning at the Lord’s coming and is essential in order to endure the glory, or eternal burnings, of the Lord’s presence.21 When worthiness is lacking, the wicked and hypocrites will look with great fear upon the Lord’s resplendent glory. “Zion” as used here means both a place of latter-day spiritual gathering as well as the righteous latter-day Jerusalem. Other meanings may also be discerned.22
Bruce R. McConkie elaborated:
…Who in the Church shall gain an inheritance in the celestial kingdom? Who will go where God and Christ and holy beings are? —Who will overcome the world, work the works of righteousness, and enduring in faith and devotion to the end hear the blessed benediction, “Come, and inherit the kingdom of my Father.”23
Verse 15 answers the rhetorical questions posed by the unworthy hypocrites of verse 14: “He that walketh righteously, and speaketh uprightly; he that despiseth the gain of oppressions, that shaketh his hands from holding of bribes, that stoppeth his ears from hearing of blood, and shutteth his eyes from seeing evil.”24 “Hearing of blood” means “hearing of violence.”25 These qualities of the righteous will enable them to abide the day of the Lord’s coming and to inherit eternal life in the celestial kingdom.
What sins did the hypocrites of verse 14 commit? The answers of verse 15 provide the answer: They walked unrighteously; they failed to speak uprightly—meaning they were not truthful; they gained from oppressing others. They committed extortion; they accepted bribes; they “heard,” or countenanced, violence or the shedding of blood; and they saw evil things. In our day, closing our eyes to evil includes avoiding media whose purpose is to promulgate evil, such as pornography or offensive programming on television and in movies.
The psalmist rehearsed these principles: “Who shall ascend into the hill of the LORD? or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully.”26
In verse 16, blessings to be obtained by him “that walketh righteously” by avoiding the pitfalls described in verse 15 are expounded: “He shall dwell on high: his place of defence shall be the munitions of rocks: bread shall be given him; his waters shall be sure.” “Munitions” means fortifications; fortifications of rocks will provide greater temporal security. The Lord will defend His righteous followers; He will provide them with bread and a sure supply of water—temporal as well as spiritual sustenance27—during these times of destruction and turmoil.
Further blessings for the righteous, now addressed by Isaiah in the second person singular, are described in verses 17 through 20. Verse 17 states: “Thine eyes shall see the king in his beauty.” This sentence reflects the meaning of the well-known phrase from the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.”28 “Beauty” means the Lord’s resplendent glory alluded to in verse 14. Continuing, Isaiah describes what else the eyes of the righteous will see: “they shall behold the land that is very far off,” meaning the kingdom of God in heaven.
Verse 17 contains a chiasm recognized in the original Hebrew, here phrased to match the Hebrew construction:29
A: (17) The king in his beauty
B: Thine eyes shall see:
B: they shall behold
A: the land that is very far off.
“The king in his beauty” is complemented by “the land that is very far off,” indicating that the land spoken of is the dwelling-place of the King, or Messiah. The focus of the chiasm is “thine eyes shall see: they shall behold.”
Verses 18 and 19 describe the protection from invaders to be enjoyed by the righteous. Verse 18 states: “Thine heart shall meditate terror. Where is the scribe? where is the receiver? where is he that counted the towers?” The scribe, weigher, and list-maker are they who work at managing the spoils of war; the righteous need not be concerned about them or their function.
The Apostle Paul paraphrases verse 18 in the New Testament: “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?”30
Verse 19 continues: “Thou shalt not see a fierce people, a people of a deeper speech than thou canst perceive; of a stammering tongue, that thou canst not understand.” The righteous will not see fierce invading armies who speak an incomprehensible language. “Stammering tongue” refers to the effect on the ear of uncomprehended syllables spoken in rapid cadence. To one not familiar with a foreign language, its sounds may resemble stammering or stuttering. This verse helps clarify the meaning of an earlier passage, in Chapter 28: “For with stammering lips and another tongue will he [the Lord] speak to this people.”31 In that verse Isaiah describes missionaries or messengers, sent by the Lord, struggling to learn another language. Here, in verse 19, the stammerers are an invading army—sent to destroy those who failed to heed the message of the first stammerers.
In verse 20 Isaiah continues his speech to the righteous, admonishing them: “Look upon Zion, the city of our solemnities: thine eyes shall see Jerusalem a quiet habitation, a tabernacle that shall not be taken down; not one of the stakes thereof shall ever be removed, neither shall any of the cords thereof be broken.”32 “Zion” and “Jerusalem” here are synonymous, referring to the Lord’s righteous people.33 The analogy of latter-day Zion and her stakes to the tabernacle of ancient Israel, sustained by cords and stakes, is elaborated in Chapter 54 by Isaiah:
Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thine habitations: spare not, lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes;
For thou shalt break forth on the right hand and on the left; and thy seed shall inherit the Gentiles, and make the desolate cities to be inhabited.34
Isaiah’s statement in verse 20 is quoted by the resurrected Lord to the Nephites35 and is referenced in various places in Doctrine and Covenants.36 The Lord’s promise that “not one of the stakes thereof shall ever be removed, neither shall any of the cords thereof be broken” is a great comfort and solace to the Latter-day Saints. Isaiah’s prophecy describing destruction of the wicked—leaving the Gentile cities without inhabitant—serves as a warning to all who will heed.
A stake is an ecclesiastical organization of several wards, or local congregations, which is presided over by a stake president. He directs the work of the Church in the wards and provides guidance, direction and leadership to the bishops, who preside over the wards. The stake president, in turn, receives direction from general and area authorities who report to the president of the church. Inherent in the organization of a stake is the availability of every aspect of the Church’s programs, including the ordinances of the priesthood, that is needed for the members of the stake to obtain eternal exaltation. “Solemnities,” used in the first line of verse 20, comes from the Latin root sollemnis which means “that which takes place every year,”37 meaning religious feasts and ceremonies.
Verses 17 through 20 contain a chiasm:
A: (17) Thine eyes shall see the king in his beauty: they shall behold the land that is very far off.
B: (18) Thine heart shall meditate terror.
C: Where is the scribe?
D: where is the receiver?
E: where is he that counted the towers?
E: (19) Thou shalt not see
D: a fierce people,
C: a people of a deeper speech than thou canst perceive;
B: of a stammering tongue, that thou canst not understand.
A: (20) Look upon Zion, the city of our solemnities: thine eyes shall see Jerusalem a quiet habitation….
“Thine eyes shall see the king in his beauty” matches “look upon Zion, the city of our solemnities,” designating that Zion is to be the dwelling-place of the Lord who will reign upon the earth. The ascending side of this chiasm poses rhetorical questions that foresee the protection from invaders afforded the righteous in Zion and Jerusalem; statements in the descending side describe the invaders who would ravage the wicked during the destructions preceding the Second Coming, but from which Zion and Jerusalem would be spared. Righteous Zion and Jerusalem will not be overrun by invading armies that speak in a strange tongue.
Verse 21 continues Isaiah’s description of latter-day Zion, which will become the dwelling-place of the Lord during His glorious reign upon the earth: “But there the glorious LORD will be unto us a place of broad rivers and streams; wherein shall go no galley with oars, neither shall gallant ship pass thereby.” Zion will be a place of refuge, protected by the Lord from invaders. This description of Zion as a land of great rivers and streams characterizes the location designated by the Lord, through the Prophet Joseph Smith, as the New Jerusalem in America—Jackson County, Missouri.38
Verse 22 describes the reason for the great peace and protection enjoyed by Zion: “For the LORD is our judge, the LORD is our lawgiver, the LORD is our king; he will save us.” Salvation, as applied here, means temporal protection from earthly enemies, as well as eternal exaltation in the presence of God. The Atonement, which provides the way for us to be cleansed of our sins and opens the way for us to obtain eternal exaltation, is provided by the Lord Jesus Christ.
Verses 21 and 22 contain a chiasm:
A: (21) But there the glorious LORD will be unto us
B: a place of broad rivers
C: and streams;
C: wherein shall go no galley with oars,
B: neither shall gallant ship pass thereby.
A: (22) For the LORD is our judge, the LORD is our lawgiver, the LORD is our king; he will save us.
“Broad rivers” compares with “gallant ship” and “streams” compares with “galley with oars.” Note that the larger objects, “broad rivers” and “gallant ship” and the smaller elements, “stream” and “galley with oars,” are chiastically matched.
Verse 23 returns to the theme presented in verse 21, in which no ships would come near Zion. First Isaiah addresses the ship in the second person singular, describing its inability to navigate: “Thy tacklings are loosed.” Then Isaiah shifts attention to the men operating the ship: “They could not well strengthen their mast, they could not spread the sail.” Left unable to navigate, the ship is vulnerable to attack, even by the weak: “Then is the prey of a great spoil divided; the lame take the prey.” The goods on the ship are divided among the conquerors, which include even the physically disabled. This ship is a type for any who seek to invade or overthrow Zion. In Chapter 54 the Lord promises His righteous followers: “No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and their righteousness is of me, saith the LORD.”39
Verse 24 describes the spiritual strength of the inhabitants of Zion: “And the inhabitant shall not say, I am sick: the people that dwell therein shall be forgiven their iniquity.” The Lord, through the Atonement, provides the way for each to be cleansed of sin, or spiritual infirmity. To qualify for the blessings of dwelling in Zion, each person must repent of his or her sins and be forgiven, according to the laws of the Lord.
1. Verse 1 contains a chiasm: That spoilest, and thou wast not spoiled/dealest treacherously/cease to spoil/make an end to deal treacherously/shall deal treacherously.
2. Victor L. Ludlow, Isaiah: Prophet, Seer, and Poet: Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1982, p. 294.
3. Doctrine and Covenants 45:68.
4. Joseph Smith’s “New Translation” of the Bible: Herald Publishing House, Independence, Missouri, 1970, p. 205.
5. Verses 2 through 5 contain a chiasm: Be gracious unto us/people fled…lifting up of thyself/the LORD/he dwelleth on high/filled Zion with judgment/righteousness.
6. See Isaiah 1:21; 30:18; 32:1; 41:1; 49:4; 53:8.
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. 6666, p. 842.
8. See Isaiah 3:16; 33:14, 20; 34:8; 37:32; 40:9; 41:27; 51:3.
9. Doctrine and Covenants 97:21.
10. Doctrine and Covenants 97:21.
11. Doctrine and Covenants 101:20-21.
12. Verse 6 contains a chiasm: Wisdom/knowledge/stability of thy times/strength of salvation/fear of the LORD/treasure.
13. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 691, p. 72.
14. See Isaiah 29:1-2, 7 and pertinent commentary.
15. See Malachi 3:11.
16. See Isaiah 2:13 and pertinent commentary; see also Isaiah 10:34 and 14:8.
17. Verses 11 and 12 contain a chiasm: Chaff/stubble/breath/fire/burnings/burned in the fire.
18. See Isaiah 1:7, 28; 30:27, 30, 33; 33:11-12 and pertinent commentary.
19. Verse 14 contains a chiasm: Sinners in Zion/afraid/fearfulness/hypocrites.
20. Doctrine and Covenants 137:2-3.
21. Doctrine and Covenants 130:7.
22. See Isaiah 3:16; 33:5, 20; 34:8; 37:32; 40:9; 41:27; 51:3.
23. Bruce R. McConkie, “Think on These Things,” Ensign, Jan. 1974, p. 45.
24. Verse 15 contains a chiasm: Walketh righteously/speaketh uprightly/despiseth the gain of oppressions/shaketh his hands from holding of bribes/stoppeth his ears from hearing/shutteth his eyes from seeing evil.
25. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 1818, p. 196.
26. Psalm 24:3-4.
27. See Isaiah 12:3; 35:6-7; 55:11; 58:11 and pertinent commentary.
28. Matthew 5:8.
29. Donald W. Parry, Harmonizing Isaiah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) at Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, 2001, p. 261.
30. 1 Corinthians 1:20.
31. Isaiah 28:11.
32. Verse 20 contains a chiasm: Taken down/stakes/cords/broken.
33. See Isaiah 3:16; 33:5, 14; 34:8; 37:32; 40:9; 41:27; 51:3.
34. Isaiah 54:2-3.
35. 3 Nephi 22:2-3.
36. Doctrine and Covenants 68:25-26; 82:14; 101:21; 107:36-37; 115:6, 18; 133:9.
37. Ernest Klein, A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the English Language: Elsevier Publishing Company, New York, 1971, p. 696.
38. Doctrine and Covenants 57:1-2.
39. Isaiah 54:17.