The main themes of this chapter are apostasy, restoration and gathering. Particular emphasis is placed upon the practice of idolatry, against which the Lord presents a tightly-reasoned argument: How can we cut down a tree and burn part of it to cook food and warm ourselves, and then out of another part of the same tree make a god which we think can save us? For us in the latter days, pervasive materialism is equated with idolatry.1
The chapter begins with an assertion that the house of Israel was chosen by the Lord because of her righteousness. However, apostasy would overtake her, resulting in a multiplicity of beliefs. The Lord would denounce this apostasy and would set things in order again, restoring the spiritual gifts including prophecy.
The chapter ends with a prophecy that Jerusalem would be rebuilt following its destruction by the Babylonians. The rebuilding would occur under the direction of Cyrus the Great, the king of Persia who would overthrow Babylon and would allow the Jews to return to Palestine. Not only did Isaiah know of Cyrus’ actions that would result in the restoration of the Jews, but he was also given his name. This should come as no surprise to those who understand and believe in Isaiah’s gift of prophecy, nor is it necessary that these words be written by someone other than Isaiah during the time of Cyrus’ reign.2
Verse 1 presents two parallel statements spoken by the Lord: “Yet now hear, O Jacob my servant; and Israel, whom I have chosen.” The principle of the Lord choosing His servants is evident here; the same principle is illustrated in this passage from John: “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit….”3 This New Testament passage, which refers to Jesus’ selection of His apostles and other disciples, does not imply the erroneous concept of predestination. As evident in the long history of the house of Israel, being chosen of the Lord can be forfeited through disobedience.
In verse 2, the Lord proclaims His role as Creator: “Thus saith the LORD that made thee, and formed thee from the womb, which will help thee; Fear not, O Jacob, my servant; and thou, Jesurun, whom I have chosen.” The Hebrew word Jesurun means “upright one,”4 designating Israel’s ideal condition and revealing the reason for the Lord’s choosing of Jacob. The last part of verse 2, which consists of two parallel statements, is also parallel to verse 1. Note the repetition of the phrases “O Jacob, my servant” and “whom I have chosen” in the two verses. “Jesurun” is equivalent to “Jacob” in verse 1 because of this parallelism.
Verse 3 consists of two sets of parallel phrases: “For I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground: I will pour my spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring.” The meaning here is metaphoric—with water meaning the Lord’s spirit, providing inspiration and revelation.5 “Floods upon the dry ground” indicates the Lord’s generosity in providing a deluge of inspiration, not just a trickle. The second phrase in this verse, parallel to the first, gives the interpretation of the metaphor. The elements of this metaphor are familiar, since they occur elsewhere in the scriptures. Compare the words of Christ to John the Apostle: “…I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely.”6 In the Sermon on the Mount the mortal Lord said: “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled” (emphasis added).7
Verse 4 returns to the metaphor: “And they shall spring up as among the grass, as willows by the water courses.” The Great Isaiah Scroll reads “And they shall spring up like grass….”8 Jacob’s descendants will receive spiritual nourishment from the Lord and will thrive.
However, as verse 5 describes, apostasy would set in: “One shall say, I am the LORD’s; and another shall call himself by the name of Jacob; and another shall subscribe with his hand unto the LORD, and surname himself by the name of Israel.” “Subscribe with his hand” means to make a written covenant. This apostasy was foretold by Nephi as well:
For it shall come to pass in that day that the churches which are built up, and not unto the Lord, when the one shall say unto the other: Behold, I, I am the Lord’s; and the others shall say: I, I am the Lord’s; and thus shall every one say that hath built up churches, and not unto the Lord—
And they shall contend one with another; and their priests shall contend one with another, and they shall teach with their learning, and deny the Holy Ghost, which giveth utterance.9
This statement describes the situation that young Joseph Smith faced, which eventually resulted in his inquiring of the Lord and in the restoration of the gospel.10
In verse 6, the Lord declares His role as King, Redeemer and God of Israel: “Thus saith the LORD the King of Israel, and his redeemer the LORD of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God.” The Great Isaiah Scroll reads “…and his redeemer the LORD of hosts is his name.”11 “His redeemer” means the Redeemer of Israel. “The first and the last” is a title of the Lord used in several places in the scriptures.12 The New Testament phrase meaning “the first and the last” is “Alpha and Omega.”13 The Lord, in Doctrine and Covenants, uses language similar to verse 6: “Verily, thus saith the Lord your God, your Redeemer, even Jesus Christ.”14
Verse 7 foretells the latter-day restoration, which the Lord Himself would bring about: “And who, as I, shall call, and shall declare it, and set it in order for me, since I appointed the ancient people? and the things that are coming, and shall come, let them shew unto them.” The Lord denounces the confusion of religion described in verse 5 and promises to set it in order. Restoration of spiritual gifts, including prophecy, is foretold for the latter days—”the things that are coming, and shall come, let them shew unto them.” Here the Lord issues a challenge to the apostate churches: Let them (the churches) show the people the marvelous things that are to come forth in the restoration, if they can.
Verse 8 continues: “Fear ye not, neither be afraid: have not I told thee from that time, and have declared it? ye are even my witnesses. Is there a God beside me? yea, there is no God; I know not any.”15 Here the Lord affirms that He has “foretold these things “from the time of the ancient people,” and Israel is His witness. Israel is commanded “fear ye not” when apostasy arises, because the Lord would set His earthly kingdom in order again. The Lord, using a negative rhetorical question, confirms that He is the only true God, whose statements can be relied upon. Isaiah addresses the people collectively using plural pronouns, but reminds them by using a singular pronoun, “thee,” that the Lord’s words are given to each of us individually. This verse is similar to the Lord’s words from the previous chapter.16
Verses 9 through 20 deal with idolatry and its folly. For us in the latter days, pervasive materialism is equated with idolatry.17 Verse 9 begins: “They that make a graven image are all of them vanity; and their delectable things shall not profit; and they are their own witnesses; they see not, nor know; that they may be ashamed.” The Hebrew meaning for “delectable” things is objects in which they “take delight” or “pleasure;”18 the connection with modern-day materialism is clear.
Verse 10 poses a question: “Who hath formed a god, or molten a graven image that is profitable for nothing?”
Verse 11 answers the question: “Behold, all his fellows shall be ashamed: and the workmen, they are of men: let them all be gathered together, let them stand up; yet they shall fear, and they shall be ashamed together.”19 “All his fellows” means “those who worship idols;” their idolatry will turn to their shame.
Verse 12 begins a description of the process of making an idol: “The smith with the tongs both worketh in the coals, and fashioneth it with hammers, and worketh it with the strength of his arms: yea, he is hungry, and his strength faileth: he drinketh no water, and is faint.” The man who builds an idol has no special powers or superhuman ability. Just like everyone else, he gets hungry and thirsty. Without nourishment or water, he is unable to continue the work.
Verse 13 continues the description: “The carpenter stretcheth out his rule; he marketh it out with a line; he fitteth it with planes, and he marketh it out with the compass, and maketh it after the figure of a man, according to the beauty of a man; that it may remain in the house.” The only standard the artisan has to go by in designing a god is human beauty.
In verse 14 the Lord begins a tightly-reasoned argument against idolatry: “He heweth him down cedars, and taketh the cypress and the oak, which he strengtheneth for himself among the trees of the forest: he planteth an ash, and the rain doth nourish it.” The pronoun “he” refers to “a man” in the following verse.
Verse 15 describes uses for which the wood of the tree is applied: “Then shall it be for a man to burn: for he will take thereof, and warm himself; yea, he kindleth it, and baketh bread; yea, he maketh a god, and worshippeth it; he maketh it a graven image, and falleth down thereto.” The Great Isaiah Scroll reads “And he takes part for a man to burn: for he will take thereof, and warm himself; yea he kindleth it, and baketh bread; or, he maketh a god, and worshippeth it….”20
Verse 16 emphasizes the use for wood as fuel: “He burneth part thereof in the fire; with part thereof he eateth flesh; he roasteth roast, and is satisfied: yea, he warmeth himself, and saith, Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire.” The Great Isaiah Scroll reads “…I am warm in front of the fire.”21
Verses 15 and 16 contain a chiasm:
A: (15) Then shall it be for a man to burn:
B: for he will take thereof, and warm himself;
C: yea, he kindleth it,
D: and baketh bread;
E: yea, he maketh a god, and worshippeth it;
E: he maketh it a graven image, and falleth down thereto.
D: (16) He burneth part thereof in the fire; with part thereof he eateth flesh; he roasteth roast, and is satisfied:
C: yea, he warmeth himself,
B: and saith, Aha, I am warm,
A: I have seen the fire.
The chiasm demonstrates the illogical comparison of more mundane uses of wood with that of making a graven image, all from the same tree. “For he will take thereof, and warm himself” is equivalent to “aha, I am warm;” “he kindleth it” complements “he warmeth himself;” “baketh bread” compares to “with part thereof he eateth flesh; he roasteth roast, and is satisfied;” and “he maketh a god, and worshippeth it” reflects “he maketh it a graven image, and falleth down thereto.”
Verse 17 describes how man makes an idol from the residue (remainder) of the wood: “And the residue thereof he maketh a god, even his graven image: he falleth down unto it, and worshippeth it, and prayeth unto it, and saith, Deliver me; for thou art my god.”22
In verse 18, the Lord describes the profound folly of idolatry: “They have not known nor understood: for he hath shut their eyes, that they cannot see; and their hearts, that they cannot understand.”
Verse 19 sets forth the tightly-reasoned argument: “And none considereth in his heart, neither is there knowledge nor understanding to say, I have burned part of it in the fire; yea, also I have baked bread upon the coals thereof; I have roasted flesh, and eaten it: and shall I make the residue thereof an abomination? shall I fall down to the stock of a tree?” None of the idolaters considers this logic in his heart.
In verse 20 the Lord declares: “He feedeth on ashes: a deceived heart hath turned him aside, that he cannot deliver his soul, nor say, Is there not a lie in my right hand?”23 “He feedeth on ashes” means there is no spiritual nourishment in the vain practice of idolatry; compare the “bread of life” and “living waters” preached by the mortal Lord.24 Similarly, in the vain practice of latter-day materialism there is no spiritual growth or refinement. Like the idols of old, our modern-day material possessions cannot deliver our souls. We are only deceiving ourselves; we are living a lie. The “right hand” is used in covenant-making; here the covenant—based on a lie—is of no value.
In verse 21 the Lord reminds Israel of her being chosen: “Remember these, O Jacob and Israel; for thou art my servant: I have formed thee; thou art my servant: O Israel, thou shalt not be forgotten of me.” 25 “Remember these” means these points of logic just rehearsed—that idolatry cannot save man, nor can the modern-day equivalent, materialism.
In verse 22 the Lord reminds Israel of the Atonement, whereby her sins are remitted: “I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions, and, as a cloud, thy sins: return unto me; for I have redeemed thee.” “Return” is translated from the Hebrew, meaning “repent;”26 it is through the Lord’s sacrifice that forgiveness is possible through repentance. Just as thick clouds blot out the distant scene, the Lord blots out our sins from His memory as we repent.27
In verse 23 Isaiah declares: “Sing, O ye heavens; for the LORD hath done it: shout, ye lower parts of the earth: break forth into singing, ye mountains, O forest, and every tree therein: for the LORD hath redeemed Jacob, and glorified himself in Israel.” The metaphoric meanings of “mountains,”28 “forest,” and “every tree”29 are well known—nations, and the citizens and leaders thereof. “The LORD hath done it” means the Lord has provided the means for salvation. The entire world will sing with joy upon the Lord’s redemption of Israel.
In verse 24 The Lord describes His creative accomplishments to emphasize that His statements are to be believed regarding the Atonement: “Thus saith the LORD, thy redeemer, and he that formed thee from the womb, I am the LORD that maketh all things; that stretcheth forth the heavens alone; that spreadeth abroad the earth by myself—” The Creator of heaven and earth, and He who formed us in the womb,30 has provided the Atonement whereby salvation comes through faith and repentance. The initial phrase of this verse, “thus saith the LORD,” is the subject of a sentence that comprises the remainder of the chapter. Throughout the sentence are eight occurrences of “that,” each of which is followed by a verb describing an action taken by the Lord.
Verse 25 proclaims the Lord’s triumph over error: “That frustrateth the tokens of the liars, and maketh diviners mad; that turneth wise men backward, and maketh their knowledge foolish—” The verbs here that describe the Lord’s actions are “frustrateth,” “turneth,” and two repetitions of “maketh.”
Verses 26 through 28 begin a prophecy of the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the temple under Cyrus, king of Persia. Verse 26 proclaims the Lord’s support of His servants the prophets: “ That confirmeth the word of his servant, and performeth the counsel of his messengers; that saith to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be inhabited; and to the cities of Judah, Ye shall be built, and I will raise up the decayed places thereof—” The action verbs are “confirmeth” and “performeth.” Jerusalem would be rebuilt upon the return of the exiles from Babylon. Latter-day fulfillment of the prophecy is also evident as descendants of Judah flock to their mother land.
Verse 27 declares: “That saith to the deep, Be dry, and I will dry up thy rivers—” This statement recalls the Lord parting the Red Sea to facilitate the escape of the children of Israel at the time of Moses, and also to Cyrus’ diversion of the Euphrates River to permit his invading armies to enter Babylon on the dry riverbed under the city wall.31 “That saith” is a verb form which refers to the subject of the sentence, “thus saith the LORD,” in verse 24.
Verse 28 adds to the prophecy of the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the temple; the prophecy continues into Chapter 45: “That saith of Cyrus, He is my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure: even saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid.” “That saith” is the eighth occurrence of “that” followed by an action verb in the long sentence comprising verses 24 through 28. The rebuilding of Jerusalem and the temple, which occurred from 537 to 520 B.C.,32 was recorded in scripture by Ezra.33 This temple was called the Temple of Zerubbabel, after the chief builder of the temple.34
Verses 26 through 28 contain a chiasm:
(26) That confirmeth the word of his servant, and performeth the counsel of his messengers;
A: that saith to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be inhabited; and to the cities of Judah, Ye shall be built,
B: and I will raise up the decayed places thereof:
C: (27) That saith to the deep,
D: Be dry,
D: and I will dry up
C: thy rivers:
B: (28) That saith of Cyrus, He is my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure:
A: even saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid.
The rebuilding of Jerusalem and the temple, foretold in this chiasm by Isaiah, would be a miracle of the same magnitude as the parting of the Red Sea, allowing the escaped of Israel to pass through.
1. See Isaiah 2:7-8 and pertinent commentary.
2. Victor L. Ludlow, Isaiah: Prophet, Seer, and Poet: Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1982, p. 382; see Introduction 5: Authorship of the Book of Isaiah (this commentary).
3. John 15:16.
4. 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. 3484, p. 449.
5. See Isaiah 12:3; 35:6-7; 55:10-11; 58:11.
6. Revelation 21:6.
7. Matthew 5:6.
8. Donald W. Parry, Harmonizing Isaiah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) at Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, 2001, p. 177.
9. 2 Nephi 28:3-4.
10. See Joseph Smith—History 1:5-11.
11. Parry, 2001, p. 177.
12. See Isaiah 41:4; 48:12 (1 Nephi 20:12); Revelation 1:11, 17; 22:13; Alma 11:39; Doctrine and Covenants 110:4.
13. See Revelation 1:8, 11; 21:6; 22:13.
14. Doctrine and Covenants 66:13.
15. Verses 6 through 8 contain a chiasm: I am the first, and I am the last/beside me/God/who, as I, shall call/declare it/ancient people/are coming/shall come/ from that time/declared it/ye are even my witnesses/God/beside me/I know not any.
16. See Isaiah 43:10-12.
17. See Isaiah 2:7-8 and pertinent commentary.
18. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 2530, p. 326.
19. Verses 9 through 11 contain a chiasm: They that make a graven image/vanity/witnesses/see not, nor know/may be ashamed/formed a god/molten a graven image/shall be ashamed/they are of men/let them stand up/they shall fear/they.
20. Parry, 2001, p. 179.
21. Parry, 2001, p. 179.
22. Verse 17 contains a chiasm: Maketh a god/graven image/falleth down/worshippeth/prayeth unto it/my god.
23. Verses 18 through 20 contain a chiasm: They have not known/they cannot see/their hearts/I have burned part of it in the fire/coals thereof/roasted flesh/eaten it/residue thereof/shall I fall down to the stock of a tree/deceived heart/cannot deliver his soul/is there not a lie.
24. See John 6:35, 48 and John 4:10-11.
25. Verse 21 contains a chiasm: Remember/Jacob and Israel/thou art my servant/I have formed thee/thou art my servant/Israel/not be forgotten. Compare Parry, 2001, p. 262.
26. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 7725, p. 996-997.
27. Donald W. Parry, Jay A. Parry and Tina M. Peterson, Understanding Isaiah: Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1998, p. 385.
28. See Isaiah 2:2, 14 and 2 Nephi 12:2, 14; Isaiah 11:9; 13:2, 4; 30:25 and pertinent commentary.
29. See Isaiah 14:8 and pertinent commentary.
30. See Isaiah 40:28; 41:20; 42:5; 45:12; Moses 1:33; 4:2.
31. Pat Alexander (Organizing Editor), The Lion Encyclopedia of the Bible: Lion Publishing Co., 1987 ed., p. 296. See also West, Franklin L., Discovering the Old Testament: Deseret Publishing Co., Salt Lake City, Utah, 1959, p. 442.
32. Bible Dictionary—Chronology.
33. See Ezra, chapters 1 through 6.
34. See Ezra 5:2.