Isaiah 37: Be Not Afraid of the Words That Thou Hast Heard

Chapter 37 is the second of four chapters called the “historical chapters” that describe a series of events that occurred during the lifetime of Isaiah. These events are important for us in the latter days because they serve as prophetic types for events that will occur in our own time.1

These events were the subject of prophecy earlier in Isaiah’s writings.2 However, the ancient fulfillment of these prophecies as described in these chapters is not the full story. The Assyrian aggressors are typical of an equivalent superpower in the latter days that will threaten the Lord’s people and, just as He defended Hezekiah and his people anciently, the Lord will defend His righteous people in the latter days.3 Details pertaining to the dual fulfillment of this prophecy are provided here in Chapter 37.

The events of Isaiah Chapter 37 are also recorded in 2 Kings Chapter 19. A careful comparison reveals that differences in wording between the two accounts occur in nearly every verse without significantly altering the meaning.4

Major events of Chapter 37, continuing the account of the previous chapter, are as follows: Hezekiah, upon hearing the report of Eliakim and his companions, tears his clothing in dismay. Hezekiah then sends Eliakim and others to the prophet Isaiah, seeking counsel. Isaiah prophesies the defeat of the Assyrians and the death of Sennacherib. Sennacherib sends Hezekiah a blasphemous letter, and Hezekiah prays unto the Lord for deliverance. The Lord speaks again to Isaiah, foretelling the defense of Jerusalem against Sennacherib and, later, the captivity and return of the Jews. Finally, the angel of the Lord slays 185,000 of the Assyrian army and Sennacherib is slain in his own land by his sons.

Abundant chiasms in this chapter reinforce the argument that Isaiah himself wrote this and the other “historical chapters,” since this important aspect of Isaiah’s writing style is maintained.

Verse 1 continues the narrative from the previous chapter, describing Hezekiah’s response to the report brought by Eliakim and two companions: “And it came to pass, when king Hezekiah heard it, that he rent his clothes, and covered himself with sackcloth, and went into the house of the LORD.” The report causes great distress for Hezekiah. Rending of his clothing is an outward expression of his anguish, and his putting on clothing made of sackcloth indicates that he went to the temple fasting. Sackcloth was made of coarse goat’s hair or camel’s hair and was typically used for making cloth bags.5

Verse 2 states: “And he sent Eliakim, who was over the household, and Shebna the scribe, and the elders of the priests covered with sackcloth, unto Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz.” Note that the recorder, Joah Asaph’s son who was present with Eliakim and Shebna during Rab-shakeh’s pronouncements in Chapter 36, was not sent to Isaiah. Instead, certain “elders of the priests” were sent.

Verse 3 begins the messengers’ declaration to Isaiah: “And they said unto him, Thus saith Hezekiah, This day is a day of trouble, and of rebuke, and of blasphemy: for the children are come to the birth, and there is not strength to bring forth.” The people were in great anguish because of the blasphemy and threat of war delivered by Rab-shakeh. Doubtless, they also recalled the desolation of the northern kingdom of Israel following their being conquered and carried away by the Assyrians. The metaphor used in this verse describes great distress. Before development of techniques of modern medicine an expectant mother in the throes of labor but lacking the strength to deliver would perish, causing indescribable anguish to her family due to her loss and the loss of her child.

Verses 1 through 3 contain a chiasm:

A: (1) And it came to pass, when king Hezekiah heard it, that he rent his clothes,
B: and covered himself with sackcloth,
C: and went into the house of the LORD.
D: (2) And he sent Eliakim,
C: who was over the household,
B: and Shebna the scribe, and the elders of the priests covered with sackcloth, unto Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz.
A: (3) And they said unto him, Thus saith Hezekiah, This day is a day of trouble, and of rebuke, and of blasphemy: for the children are come to the birth, and there is not strength to bring forth.

The chiasm tells the story in poetic form: Hezekiah puts on sackcloth and goes to the house of the Lord. He sends Eliakim and Shebna, also clothed in sackcloth, to Isaiah to seek the Lord’s counsel.

In verse 4, the messengers to Isaiah state their errand: “It may be the LORD thy God will hear the words of Rab-shakeh, whom the king of Assyria his master hath sent to reproach the living God, and will reprove the words which the LORD thy God hath heard: wherefore lift up thy prayer for the remnant that is left.” The Great Isaiah Scroll states “the remnant that remain in this city.”6 The Assyrian army had devastated the whole of Judah except for the capital city, Jerusalem; many people had been slain or taken captive, and some had fled into the city ahead of the marauders. The hope expressed by the messengers is that the Lord, having heard Rab-shakeh’s blasphemy before God, will punish him and save Judah from destruction. They request that Isaiah pray in behalf of the Jews.

Verse 4 contains a chiasm:

A: (4) It may be the LORD thy God
B: will hear the words
C: of Rab-shakeh,
C: whom the king of Assyria his master hath sent to reproach the living God,
B: and will reprove the words
A: which the LORD thy God hath heard: wherefore lift up thy prayer for the remnant that is left.

This chiasm expresses the hope that the Lord will be angered by the blasphemous words of Rab-shakeh and will defend Judah. “Rab-shakeh” complements “to reproach the living God,” a declaration that Rab-shakeh himself was a reproach.

Verse 5 summarizes: “So the servants of king Hezekiah came to Isaiah.”

Verses 6 and 7 deliver Isaiah’s comforting response. Verse 6 begins: “And Isaiah said unto them, Thus shall ye say unto your master, Thus saith the LORD, Be not afraid of the words that thou hast heard, wherewith the servants of the king of Assyria have blasphemed me.”

Verses 4 through 6 contain two overlapping chiasms which, in turn, partially overlap that of verse 4:

(4) It may be the LORD thy God will hear the words of Rab-shakeh,
A: whom the king of Assyria his master hath sent to reproach the living God,
B: and will reprove the words
C: which the LORD thy God hath heard: wherefore lift up thy prayer for the remnant that is left.
D: (5) So the servants of king Hezekiah
E:   came to Isaiah.
E:   (6) And Isaiah said unto them,
D: Thus shall ye say unto your master,
C: Thus saith the LORD,
B: Be not afraid of the words that thou hast heard,
A: wherewith the servants of the king of Assyria have blasphemed me.

The ascending side of the chiasm presents the plea from the servants of Hezekiah to Isaiah, whereas the descending side begins the Lord’s answer given through the prophet.

The overlapping chiasm contained in these same two verses provides additional interpretive links:

(4) It may be the LORD thy God will hear the words of Rab-shakeh,
A: whom the king of Assyria his master hath sent to reproach the living God, and will reprove the words which the LORD thy God hath heard: wherefore lift up thy prayer for the remnant that is left.
B: (5) So the servants of king Hezekiah came to Isaiah.
C: (6) And Isaiah said unto them, Thus shall ye say unto your master,
C: Thus saith the LORD, Be not afraid of the words that thou hast heard,
B: wherewith the servants of the king of Assyria
A: have blasphemed me.

The first chiasm focuses on two iterations of “Isaiah,” and “king Hezekiah” equates with “your master.” In the overlapping chiasm “servants of king Hezekiah” contrasts with “servants of the king of Assyria;” and “thus shall ye say to your master” compares with “thus saith the Lord.” In both chiasms, “reproach the living God” matches “blasphemed me.” Because of the overlapping chiasms, all the occurrences of “the LORD” in verses 4 through 6 are structurally equivalent.

Verse 7 continues the words of the Lord, spoken by Isaiah: “Behold, I will send a blast upon him, and he shall hear a rumour, and return to his own land; and I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land.” “Blast” means “spirit,” “wind” or “hard breathing through the nostrils in anger.”7

Isaiah’s prophecy concerning Sennacherib, the king of Assyria, contains three parts: First, the Lord’s anger, or curse, will be sent upon him; second, he will hear a rumor that will prompt him to return home; and third, he will be slain by the sword in his own land.

In verse 8, upon his return the Assyrian captain finds changed circumstances: “So Rab-shakeh returned, and found the king of Assyria warring against Libnah: for he had heard that he was departed from Lachish.” Sennacherib heard that an adversary, Libnah, had left the city of Lachish; thus Sennacherib had pursued him to continue the conflict.

Verse 9 provides details explaining why Sennacherib was not able to go immediately to Jerusalem to commence military operations there: “And he heard say concerning Tirhakah king of Ethiopia, he is come forth to make war with thee. And when he heard it, he sent messengers to Hezekiah.” The Great Isaiah Scroll states “he returned and sent messengers to Hezekiah….”8 Sennacherib’s purpose was to promote further developments at Jerusalem in order to end the confrontation with Hezekiah, thus avoiding war on two fronts. We learn later, in verse 14, that the message was in the form of one or more letters, carried by the messengers, to Hezekiah.

Verses 10 through 13 contain the text of the letters. Verse 10 commences with instructions to the messengers: “Thus shall ye speak to Hezekiah king of Judah, saying, Let not thy God, in whom thou trustest, deceive thee, saying, Jerusalem shall not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.” Sennacherib’s use of negative phrases may obscure the meaning of this passage. The first states: “Let not thy God, in whom thou trustest, deceive thee….” This means, in essence, “Don’t listen to what you think your God may be telling you.” The second phrase offers Sennacherib’s assumption of what God would tell Hezekiah: “Jerusalem shall not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.” Although this was ultimately proven to be a true statement, Sennacherib wishes to communicate the opposite meaning—that not even Israel’s God could protect Jerusalem from the advance of the Assyrians.

Verse 10 contains a chiasm:

A: (10) Thus shall ye speak to Hezekiah king of Judah,
B: saying, Let not thy God,
C: in whom thou
D: trustest,
D: deceive
C: thee,
B: saying, Jerusalem shall not be given
A: into the hand of the king of Assyria.

This chiasm illustrates that Sennacherib’s intent was to intimidate; Hezekiah’s was to trust in the Lord.

Verses 11 through 13 continue the letter:

Behold, thou hast heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all lands by destroying them utterly; and shalt thou be delivered?
Have the gods of the nations delivered them which my fathers have destroyed, as Gozan, and Haran, and Rezeph, and the children of Eden which were in Telassar?
Where is the king of Hamath, and the king of Arphad, and the king of the city of Sepharvaim, Hena, and Ivah?

The Great Isaiah Scroll adds and Samaria to Sennacherib’s list.9 The Assyrian king asks a series of rhetorical questions in which he asserts his intent and capacity to destroy Jerusalem, just as he and his predecessors had overcome king after king and destroyed kingdom upon kingdom.

Verse 14 describes Hezekiah’s reaction: “And Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers, and read it: and Hezekiah went up unto the house of the LORD, and spread it before the LORD.” The Great Isaiah Scroll pluralizes, stating “received the letters” and “read them.”10

Verse 15 declares: “And Hezekiah prayed unto the LORD, saying—”

In verse 16, Hezekiah’s prayer begins, continuing the sentence of verse 15: “O LORD of hosts, God of Israel, that dwellest between the cherubims, thou art the God, even thou alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth: thou hast made heaven and earth.” The phrase “that dwellest between the cherubims” refers to the altar in the holy of holies in the temple. The Lord, speaking to Moses, explained the meaning:

And there I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubims which are upon the ark of the testimony, of all things which I will give thee in commandment unto the children of Israel.11

The sacred altar was the place designated for prophets—and a righteous king in this case—to receive revelation from the Lord. Hezekiah acknowledges that the Lord is the one true and living God, creator of heaven and earth.

Hezekiah’s prayer continues in verse 17: “Incline thine ear, O LORD, and hear; open thine eyes, O LORD, and see: and hear all the words of Sennacherib, which hath sent to reproach the living God.” The original Hebrew meaning is “…to blaspheme the living God.”12

In verses 18 and 19 Hezekiah acknowledges the truth of part of Sennacherib’s words: “Of a truth, LORD, the kings of Assyria have laid waste all the nations, and their countries, And have cast their gods into the fire: for they were no gods, but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone: therefore they have destroyed them.”

In verse 20, Hezekiah concludes his prayer with a plea for deliverance: “Now therefore, O LORD our God, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that thou art the LORD, even thou only.” The Great Isaiah Scroll adds “even thou only art God.”13 By the Lord delivering the Jews from the Assyrian army, the whole world would see that Israel’s God is the only true God.

Verses 16 through 20, comprising Hezekiah’s prayer, contain a chiasm:

A: (16) O LORD of hosts, God of Israel, that dwellest between the cherubims,
B: thou art the God, even thou alone,
C: of all the kingdoms of the earth:
D: thou hast made heaven and earth.
E: 17) Incline thine ear, O LORD, and hear;
E: open thine eyes, O LORD, and see: and hear all the words of Sennacherib, which hath sent to blaspheme the living God.
D: (18) Of a truth, LORD, the kings of Assyria have laid waste
C: all the nations, and their countries,
B: (19) And have cast their gods into the fire: for they were no gods, but the works of men’s hands, wood and stone: therefore they have destroyed them.
A: (20) Now therefore, O LORD our God, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that thou art the LORD, even thou only.

“Thou art the God …” contrasts with “they were no gods,” exhibiting the fallacy of Sennacherib’s logic. The Lord is the creator of all, in contrast to the powerless idols of other nations, made by human hands. “Made heaven and earth” contrasts with “laid waste,” setting the powers of creation in opposition to the powers of destruction and chaos.

The Lord’s answer to Hezekiah’s prayer is given in verses 21 through 35. Verse 21 commences: “Then Isaiah the son of Amoz sent unto Hezekiah, saying, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Whereas thou hast prayed to me against Sennacherib king of Assyria—” The Great Isaiah Scroll adds “Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, to whom thou hast prayed….”14 Isaiah sent a message to the king, rather than appearing in person.

In verse 22 Isaiah proclaims the word of the Lord, first speaking against Sennacherib: “This is the word which the LORD hath spoken concerning him; The virgin, the daughter of Zion, hath despised thee, and laughed thee to scorn; the daughter of Jerusalem hath shaken her head at thee.” The phrase “the virgin, the daughter of Zion” is chiastically equivalent to “the daughter of Jerusalem;” as used here, it means the city of Jerusalem.15 Equivalency of “daughter of Zion” and “daughter of Jerusalem” reflects the dual nature of the prophecy and its fulfillment in two different periods of history. Compare Isaiah’s earlier prophecy regarding these events: “As yet shall he [the king of Assyria] remain at Nob that day: he shall shake his hand against the mount of the daughter of Zion, the hill of Jerusalem.”16

Also, compare the range of meaning in the chiastic couplet “for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.”17 The Lord defended Jerusalem at the time of Hezekiah and will defend Zion in the latter days, both in a similar manner and both in fulfillment of this prophecy.

In verse 23, the Lord poses and then answers rhetorical questions: “Whom hast thou reproached and blasphemed? and against whom hast thou exalted thy voice, and lifted up thine eyes on high? Even against the Holy One of Israel.” The king of Assyria’s blasphemy is against the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel.

Verses 21 through 23 contain a chiasm:

(21) Then Isaiah the son of Amoz sent unto Hezekiah, saying,
A: Thus saith the LORD God of Israel,
B: Whereas thou hast prayed
C: to me
D: against Sennacherib king of Assyria:
E: (22) This is the word which the LORD hath spoken concerning him;
F: The virgin, the daughter of Zion,
G: hath despised
H: thee,
H: and laughed thee
G: to scorn;
F: the daughter of Jerusalem hath shaken her head at thee.
E: (23) Whom hast thou reproached and blasphemed?
D: and against
C: whom
B: hast thou exalted thy voice, and lifted up thine eyes on high?
A: even against the Holy One of Israel.

This chiasm delivers the words of the Lord to Hezekiah, given through the prophet Isaiah. “The LORD God of Israel” is equivalent to “the Holy One of Israel.” “Daughter of Zion” and “daughter of Jerusalem” are equivalent; their equivalency strengthens the thesis that this prophecy is to be fulfilled at two different times. The Lord defended Jerusalem at the time of Hezekiah and will defend Zion in the latter days, both in a similar manner and both in fulfillment of this prophecy.

Verse 24 continues the Lord’s accusation: “By thy servants hast thou reproached the Lord, and hast said, By the multitude of my chariots am I come up to the height of the mountains, to the sides of Lebanon; and I will cut down the tall cedars thereof, and the choice fir trees thereof: and I will enter into the height of his border, and the forest of his Carmel.” The metaphor of trees as noblemen is used throughout Isaiah’s writings.18

These words, spoken to the ancient king of Assyria, serve as a prophetic type for events in the latter days. A modern equivalent superpower will threaten the latter-day Zion after having devastated the surrounding regions.

The metaphor of trees was set forth earlier by Isaiah, first providing the interpretation:

For the day of the LORD of hosts shall be upon every one that is proud and lofty, and upon every one that is lifted up; and he shall be brought low:
And upon all the cedars of Lebanon, that are high and lifted up, and upon all the oaks of Bashan….19

The phrase “the height of the mountains” in verse 24 provides a link to latter-day events. A variation of this phrase was used earlier by Isaiah:

And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it (emphasis added).20

Isaiah spoke of the modern state of Utah, the name of which means “the top of the mountains” in the Ute language,21 where a temple would be built.

Verses 23 and 24 contain a chiasm:

A: (23) Whom
B: hast thou reproached and blasphemed?
C: and against whom
D: hast thou exalted thy voice,
D: and lifted up thine eyes on high?
C: even against the Holy One of Israel.
B: (24) By thy servants hast thou reproached
A: the Lord, and hast said….

“Whom” matches “the Lord;” “against whom” matches “the Holy one of Israel,” and “exalted thy voice” matches “lifted up thine eyes on high.” The Lord takes affront at the blasphemous words of Sennacherib.

In verse 25 Isaiah describes boasting by the king of Assyria: “I have digged, and drunk water; and with the sole of my feet have I dried up all the rivers of the besieged places.”22 The Great Isaiah Scroll reads “and drunk foreign water,”23 meaning water in foreign nations. The ancient Assyrians were able to traverse vast desert regions by digging wells wherever they went rather than relying upon existing streams and springs, thus increasing the range of their conquests.

In verse 26, the Lord rebukes Sennacherib for his boasting: “Hast thou not heard long ago, how I have done it; and of ancient times, that I have formed it? now have I brought it to pass, that thou shouldest be to lay waste defenced cities into ruinous heaps.” The Lord, by using negative rhetorical questions, shows that the Assyrian king already knows of the Lord’s power to act and to create and that He has raised him up to destroy cities.

In verse 27 the Lord belittles the conquests of the king of Assyria: “Therefore their inhabitants were of small power, they were dismayed and confounded: they were as the grass of the field, and as the green herb, as the grass on the housetops, and as corn blasted before it be grown up.” The Great Isaiah Scroll reads “…blasted before an east wind.”24  The Lord explains that these were weak kingdoms of little consequence, who were easily frightened and dismayed. “Blasted” refers to any of a number of crop-destroying diseases that result in drying up of plants before they achieve maturity, in addition to the Great Isaiah Scroll’s meaning of desiccation before a hot, drying wind.

Verse 28 reveals the Lord’s knowledge of the Assyrian king’s malevolence: “But I know thy abode, and thy going out, and thy coming in, and thy rage against me.” In place of “abode,” the Great Isaiah Scroll reads “I know thy rising up….”25

In verse 29, the Lord foretells the king’s departure in defeat: “Because thy rage against me, and thy tumult, is come up into mine ears, therefore will I put my hook in thy nose, and my bridle in thy lips, and I will turn thee back by the way by which thou camest.” “My hook in thy nose” and “my bridle in thy lips” refer to devices for controlling animals by inflicting pain or directing their view, here used metaphorically.

Verses 26 through 29 contain a chiasm:

A: (26) Hast thou not heard long ago, how I have done it;
B: and of ancient times, that I have formed it?
C: now have I brought it to pass,
D: that thou shouldest be to lay waste defenced cities into ruinous heaps.
E: (27) Therefore their inhabitants were of small power,
F: they were dismayed
F: and confounded:
E: they were as the grass of the field, and as the green herb, as the grass on the housetops, and as corn blasted before it be grown up.
D: (28) But I know thy abode, and thy going out, and thy coming in, and thy rage against me.
C: (29) Because thy rage against me, and thy tumult, is come up into mine ears,
B: therefore will I put my hook in thy nose, and my bridle in thy lips,
A: and I will turn thee back by the way by which thou camest.

In the ascending side of this chiasm the Lord attests that He is the creator of all things and raised up the Assyrian king to destroy. In the descending side the Lord minimizes the conquests of the king of Assyria when compared with His own works as Creator, then states that He will turn Sennacherib back by the way he came.

Verses 30 through 32 give a sign to the king of Assyria and to the people of Jerusalem. Verse 30 states: “And this shall be a sign unto thee, Ye shall eat this year such as groweth of itself; and the second year that which springeth of the same: and in the third year sow ye, and reap, and plant vineyards, and eat the fruit thereof.” The singular form, “thee,” directs that statement to the king of Assyria whereas the plural form, “ye,” directs the following statement to the people of Jerusalem.  The meaning is that for two years the land of Judah would remain fallow because of the conflict with Assyria and the danger of being outside the city’s protective walls, but in the third year the Jews would be able to work their lands, plant crops, and harvest them. Another dimension of this sign is as a type for the captivity of Judah in Babylon for three generations, after which a remnant would return.

This second meaning becomes clear in verses 31 and 32. Verse 31 commences: “And the remnant that is escaped of the house of Judah shall again take root downward, and bear fruit upward.” The prophecy is stated metaphorically, as a plant growing in soil.

Verse 32 continues: “For out of Jerusalem shall go forth a remnant, and they that escape out of mount Zion: the zeal of the LORD of hosts shall do this.” The Joseph Smith Translation renders “and they that escape out of Jerusalem shall come up upon mount Zion….”26 Recall an earlier sign, this one given to king Ahaz, that also described events to occur at a later time: “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”27

Both of these signs proclaim that Jerusalem would survive her current difficulties, permitting the fulfillment of prophecy in the distant future. “Mount Zion” as used here means both the temple mount at Jerusalem28 and the place of latter-day spiritual gathering,29 thus indicating dual fulfillment of the prophecy, both anciently and in the latter days.

In verse 33 the Lord summarizes: “Therefore thus saith the LORD concerning the king of Assyria, He shall not come into this city, nor shoot an arrow there, nor come before it with shields, nor cast a bank against it.” Sennacherib would not be permitted to shoot even so much as an arrow against Jerusalem.

Verse 34 foretells Sennacherib’s departure: “By the way that he came, by the same shall he return, and shall not come into this city, saith the LORD.”

In verse 35, The Lord attests: “For I will defend this city to save it for mine own sake, and for my servant David’s sake.”30 “My servant David” means the current heir to the throne of David, the righteous king Hezekiah.31

Verse 36 describes the Lord’s intervention: “Then the angel of the LORD went forth, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians a hundred and fourscore and five thousand: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses.” The Joseph Smith Translation renders “and when they who were left arose early in the morning….”32 No doubt the news of this singular event spread far, in fulfillment of Hezekiah’s plea before the Lord: “Now therefore, O LORD our God, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that thou art the LORD, even thou only.”33

This destruction of the Assyrian army foreshadows events in the latter days. By miraculous intervention, the Lord will stop a well-disciplined army at the periphery of the domain of His righteous people after that army will have devastated much of the surrounding regions. Earlier, in Chapter 14, Isaiah asserts:

The LORD of hosts hath sworn, saying, Surely as I have thought, so shall it come to pass; and as I have purposed, so shall it stand: That I will break the Assyrian in my land, and upon my mountains tread him under foot: then shall his yoke depart from off them, and his burden depart from off their shoulders.34

The Lord’s statement “upon my mountains” means the area surrounding Jerusalem in times of old, as well as being a prophetic type for the modern Zion in the mountains.35 In addition, it may be a type for Jerusalem in the latter days and events that will transpire there.

As Isaiah described in Chapter 28, the Lord will provide strength and courage for a small army of righteous Ephraimites who will turn back an invading army at the very gate of the city of Zion: “[A]nd for a spirit of judgment to him that sitteth in judgment, and for strength to them that turn the battle to the gate.”36

Verses 37 and 38 describe fulfillment of the prophecy regarding the death of the king of Assyria:

So Sennacherib king of Assyria departed, and went and returned, and dwelt at Nineveh.
And it came to pass, as he was worshipping in the house of Nisroch his god, that Adrammelech and Sharezer his sons smote him with the sword; and they escaped into the land of Armenia: and Esar-haddon his son reigned in his stead.

Thus, Sennacherib was slain in the house of his god by his own sons, and Hezekiah and Jerusalem were defended by their God against strangers from a foreign land. The true God, worshiped by Hezekiah and his people, saved them by miraculously destroying the Assyrian army whereas Sennacherib, who blasphemously taunted that Jehovah would not be able to save Hezekiah and his people, was himself slain in the presence of his false god which was powerless to save him.

 


Notes:

1. See Isaiah 36 and pertinent commentary.
2. Isaiah 10:24-34.
3. See Isaiah 10 and pertinent commentary.
4. See Isaiah 36 and pertinent commentary.
5. Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary: 1988, Merriam-Webster Inc., Springfield, MA.
6. Donald W. Parry, Harmonizing Isaiah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) at Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, 2001, p. 149.
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. 7307, p. 924.
8. Parry, 2001, p. 150.
9. Parry, 2001, p. 150.
10. Parry, 2001, p. 150.
11. Exodus 25:22.
12. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 2778, p. 357.
13. Parry, 2001, p. 151.
14. Parry, 2001, p. 151.
15. See 2 Kings 19:21, 31; Psalms 9:14; 51:18; Isaiah 10:32; 16:1; 52:2; 62:11.
16. Isaiah 10:32.
17. Isaiah 2:3; see pertinent commentary. See also Isaiah 10:12; 24:23; 31:9; 52:1, 2.
18. See Isaiah 9:18; 10:18-19, 33-34; 14:8; 29:17; 32:15; 55:12.
19. See Isaiah 2:12-13; 9:18; 10:18-19, 33-34; 14:8; 29:17; 32:15; 55:12.
20. See Isaiah 2:2, 14 and 2 Nephi 12:2, 14; Isaiah 11:9; 13:2, 4; 30:25 and pertinent commentary.
21. Joseph Fielding McConkie, Gospel Symbolism: Bookcraft, Inc. Salt Lake City, UT, pp. 129-130. See Isaiah 2:2, 14 and 2 Nephi 12:2, 14; Isaiah 11:9; 13:2, 4; 30:25 and pertinent commentary.
22. Verses 24 and 25 contain a chiasm: By the multitude of my chariots/height of the mountains/tall cedars thereof/ height of his border/with the sole of my feet.
23. Parry, 2001, p. 152.
24. Parry, 2001, p. 152.
25. Parry, 2001, p. 152.
26. Joseph Smith’s “New Translation” of the Bible: Herald Publishing House, Independence, Missouri, 1970, p. 206.
27. Isaiah 7:14.
28. See Psalms 9:11; 14:7; 74:2; 78:68-69; Isaiah 1:8; 4:3-4; 10:12, 32; 16:1; 18:7; 30:19; 31:4; 34:8; Doctrine and Covenants 133:18, 56.
29. See Psalms 102:13, 16; 129:5; 132:13; See Isaiah 3:16; 33:5, 14, 20; 34:8; 40:9; 41:27; 51:3.
30. Verses 32 through 35 contain a chiasm: The LORD of hosts shall do this/thus saith the LORD/shall not come into this city/by the way/by the same/ shall not come into this city/saith the LORD/ I will defend this city.
31. See Genesis 49:10; 1 Kings 2:33; 1 Samuel 15:27-28.
32. JST, 1970, p. 206.
33. Isaiah 37:20.
34. Isaiah 14:24-25.
35. See Isaiah 2:2; 37:24; and pertinent commentary.
36. Isaiah 28:6.

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Isaiah 36: Neither Let Hezekiah Make You Trust in the Lord

Chapter 36 is the first of four chapters that give an account of certain events that occurred during the lifetime of Isaiah. Accordingly, Chapters 36 through 39 are called the “historical chapters.”

Although events in these chapters occurred during the lifetime of Isaiah, they are important to us in the latter days because they serve as prophetic types for events that will occur in our time. When the foretold events begin to unfold, this account will provide us with comfort and assurance that the Lord’s protection will be with His modern followers, just as it was with ancient Jerusalem and her righteous king, Hezekiah. When these events begin to unfold, may we remember the words of the prophet Zephaniah:

In that day it shall be said to Jerusalem, Fear thou not: and to Zion, Let not thine hands be slack.
The LORD thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing.1

Clearly, Isaiah’s purpose in writing these chapters was not to produce a historical record or even to summarize important historical events. The most important political event of Isaiah’s lifetime, the carrying away of the ten tribes into captivity, is not even mentioned here.2 Isaiah’s purpose is two-fold: First, to remind future readers that the Lord has acted miraculously in the past in defense of His righteous people; and second, to give readers in the latter days a type, or pattern, for events in their own lifetime that would otherwise cause great fear or despair.

Earlier, in Chapter 10, Isaiah prophesied concerning these events that came to pass during his lifetime which would serve as types for latter-day events: “Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD of hosts, O my people that dwellest in Zion, be not afraid of the Assyrian: he shall smite thee with a rod, and shall lift up his staff against thee, after the manner of Egypt” (emphasis added).3 “Zion” means ancient Jerusalem as well as the latter-day Zion in America, and “the Assyrian” means simultaneously the ancient superpower and a modern equivalent.

The events of these chapters are also recorded by the scribes of Hezekiah, king of Judah.4 A careful comparison reveals that differences in wording between the two accounts occur in nearly every verse. For example, verse 1 of Isaiah Chapter 36 reads: “Now it came to pass in the fourteenth year of king Hezekiah, that Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the defenced cities of Judah, and took them.” Verse 13 of 2 Kings Chapter 18 reads: “Now in the fourteenth year of king Hezekiah did Sennacherib king of Assyria come up against all the fenced cities of Judah, and took them” (emphasis added). Note that the subtle differences in wording do not significantly alter the meaning.

Major events of Isaiah Chapter 36 are as follows: Sennacherib, king of Assyria, wages war against Judah, taking all the defenced cities except for Jerusalem. The Assyrian army assembles at Jerusalem and the Assyrian king’s emissaries confer with representatives of Hezekiah, king of Judah. The Assyrians insult the Jews and blaspheme the Lord, proclaiming that the Lord had no power to protect Jerusalem. Hezekiah’s representatives rend their clothes and report these developments to Hezekiah.

Verse 1 states: “Now it came to pass in the fourteenth year of king Hezekiah, that Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the defenced cities of Judah, and took them.” Judah, we are told in this verse, came under attack by the Assyrians who conquered all the walled cities of Judah except for Jerusalem itself. This development followed the Assyrian conquest of the kingdom of Israel and the carrying away of the ten tribes into captivity.5 The remainder of Chapter 36 and all of Chapter 37 describe events that took place when the Assyrian army subsequently encircled Jerusalem.

An account not included in Isaiah’s narrative occurs at this point in 2 Kings 18:14-16. The fact that Isaiah does not present this portion suggests that it is not part of the prophetic type and that Hezekiah’s actions as reported in these three verses do not serve as guidance for the Lord’s latter-day followers.

2 Kings 18:14 begins: “And Hezekiah king of Judah sent to the king of Assyria to Lachish, saying, I have offended; return from me: that which thou puttest on me will I bear. And the king of Assyria appointed unto Hezekiah king of Judah three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold.” Here Hezekiah attempts to appease the invaders, stating that he will do for them whatever they request if they withdraw. Obligingly, the King of Assyria demands an enormous ransom: Three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold. The value by today’s standards of these weights of silver and gold is not known precisely, but it was clearly in the millions of dollars.

2 Kings 18:15 states: “And Hezekiah gave him all the silver that was found in the house of the LORD, and in the treasures of the king’s house.” Not only did Hezekiah give the Assyrians the wealth that he owned personally; he also gave them the wealth that resided in the temple.

2 Kings 18:16 declares: “At that time did Hezekiah cut off the gold from the doors of the temple of the LORD, and from the pillars which Hezekiah king of Judah had overlaid, and gave it to the king of Assyria.” Here, the removal of gold from doors and pillars of the temple is described. Despite the ransom paid by Hezekiah, the Assyrians do not withdraw, thus not fulfilling their side of the agreement. Isaiah’s implication is that appeasement or payment of a ransom should not be part of the model for latter-day events.

Verse 2—returning to Isaiah’s account—states: “And the king of Assyria sent Rab-shakeh from Lachish to Jerusalem unto king Hezekiah with a great army. And he stood by the conduit of the upper pool in the highway of the fuller’s field.” “Conduit of the upper pool” is chiastically equivalent to “highway of the fuller’s field.” These two linear geographic features serve as coordinates to precisely describe the meeting place. “Rab-shakeh,” rather than being a name, is a title meaning “chief of the officers” in Hebrew. 6

Verse 3 continues:Then came forth unto him Eliakim, Hilkiah’s son, which was over the house, and Shebna the scribe, and Joah Asaph’s son, the recorder.” Three representatives of the household of Hezekiah came forth to meet Rab-Shakeh and the others. These three were the manager of the king’s palace, a scribe, and a recorder. The law required two or three witnesses to document important events,7 fulfilled by Hezekiah in sending these three representatives.

In verse 4, the Assyrian emissaries state their cause: “And Rab-shakeh said unto them, Say ye now to Hezekiah, Thus saith the great king, the king of Assyria, What confidence is this wherein thou trustest?”8 Hezekiah had refused to pay additional ransom; the Assyrians surmise that he has made an alliance with another power to protect against the invaders, giving him confidence that he can withstand the Assyrians.

In verse 5, the Assyrian emissary repeats his question for emphasis: “I say, sayest thou, (but they are but vain words) I have counsel and strength for war: now on whom dost thou trust, that thou rebellest against me?” The Joseph Smith Translation (JST) clarifies: “I say, thy words are but vain when thou sayest, I have counsel and strength for war. Now, on whom dost thou trust that thou rebellest against me?”9 Again, the emissary of the king of Assyria surmises that Hezekiah has made an alliance with another political power for protection against the invaders.

Verses 4 and 5 contain a chiasm:

(4) And Rab-shakeh said unto them, Say ye now to Hezekiah,
A: Thus saith the great king, the king of Assyria,
B: What confidence is this wherein thou trustest?
C: (5) I say, thy words are but vain
C: when thou sayest, I have counsel and strength for war:
B: now on whom dost thou trust,
A: that thou rebellest against me?

“The great king, king of Assyria” compares with “that thou rebellest against me?” Isaiah designates who spoke these words—the king of Assyria, through his representatives. Omission by the scribes in their account of “I say” at the beginning of verse 5 interferes with symmetry of the chiasm.10 This suggests that Isaiah likely wrote the original account; his narrative was then altered and expanded as the official record by the scribes, who apparently did not recognize the subtleties of Isaiah’s writing.

In verse 6, the spokesman for the king of the Assyrians answers his own question: “Lo, thou trustest in the staff of this broken reed, Egypt; whereon if a man lean, it will go into his hand, and pierce it: so is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all that trust in him.” The humanistic Assyrians reason incorrectly that Hezekiah had appealed for protection unto Egypt, an ancient but fading superpower which did not have the capability of protecting Jerusalem. The metaphor used by the Assyrians—a broken reed that would penetrate the hand of him who would lean upon it—illustrates perceived Egyptian weakness, her inability to provide the needed protection and disastrous consequences for him who would place such trust. The kingdom of Israel, consisting of the ten tribes, had been taken into captivity by the Assyrians despite Hoshea’s appeal to Egypt for help.11

Verses 5 and 6 contain a chiasm:

(5)  I say, thy words are but vain when thou sayest, I have counsel and strength for war: now
A: on whom
B: dost thou trust,
C: that thou rebellest against me?
B: (6) Lo, thou trustest in the staff of this broken reed,
A: on Egypt; whereon if a man lean, it will go into his hand, and pierce it: so is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all that trust in him.

“On whom” matches “on Egypt,” providing a response to the question.  Verse 6 contains a chiasm that overlaps that of verses 5 and 6:

A: (6) Lo, thou trustest in the staff of this broken reed,
B: on Egypt; whereon if a man lean,
C: it will go into his hand,
C: and pierce it:
B: so is Pharaoh king of Egypt
A: to all that trust in him.

Overlapping elements shared by this and the chiasm of verses 5 and 6 emphasize that the Assyrians thought Hezekiah had established an alliance with Egypt. “Egypt,” the second element on the ascending side of the chiasm of verse 6, is the same as the final element on the descending side of the chiasm of verses 5 and 6. Thus “on whom dost thou trust” is equated with “Egypt” in both chiasms.

In verse 7, Rab-shakeh continues his speech: “But if thou say to me, We trust in the LORD our God: is it not he, whose high places and whose altars Hezekiah hath taken away, and said to Judah and to Jerusalem, Ye shall worship before this altar?” The Assyrians knew of Hezekiah’s destruction of idolatrous altars and high places throughout the land of Judah.12 Rab-shakeh incorrectly assumes that they were altars unto the Lord Jehovah, thus requiring all to worship exclusively at the temple in Jerusalem. This, the Assyrians reason, could be perceived by the Jews as an affront to the Lord and that they could easily be convinced that the Lord would refuse to protect Judah and Jerusalem.

In verse 8, the Assyrian spokesman demands: “Now therefore, give pledges, I pray thee, to my master the king of Assyria, and I will give thee two thousand horses, if thou be able on thy part to set riders upon them.” By “give pledges,” Rab-shakeh means “join the Assyrian army.” He also offers to provide up to two thousand horses to the consignees, an added incentive. This, he implies, would be a far better outcome than the ensuing slaughter and captivity if they declined such an offer.

In verse 9, Rab-shakeh continues with a question: “How then wilt thou turn away the face of one captain of the least of my master’s servants, and put thy trust on Egypt for chariots and for horsemen?” This means “how could you turn down such an offer from me, and put your trust in Egypt?” Rab-shakeh’s self-diminutive “one captain of the least of my master’s servants” is at once an attempt at modesty and an added threat: If the Jews were not intimidated by Rab-shakeh and his hosts, other units of the Assyrian army were greater and more formidable than his.

Verses 7 through 9 contain a chiasm:

A: (7) But if thou say to me, We trust in the LORD our God:
B: is it not he, whose high places and whose altars Hezekiah hath taken away, and said to Judah and to Jerusalem, Ye shall worship before this altar?
C: (8) Now therefore give pledges,
D: I pray thee, to my master
D: the king of Assyria,
C: and I will give thee two thousand horses, if thou be able on thy part to set riders upon them.
B: (9) How then wilt thou turn away the face of one captain of the least of my master’s servants,
A: and put thy trust on Egypt for chariots and for horsemen?

“We trust in the LORD our God” contrasts with “put thy trust on Egypt for chariots and for horsemen.” To the Assyrian captain, however, both options were equally rash. “Now therefore give pledges” compares with “I will give thee two thousand horses;” the second phrase stating what the Assyrian spokesman would do in response to the pledges.

In verse 10, the Assyrian spokesman claims that the Lord [Jehovah] sent him to destroy this land: “And am I now come up without the LORD against this land to destroy it? the LORD said unto me, Go up against this land, and destroy it.”13

In verse 11, the Jewish representatives respond: “Then said Eliakim and Shebna and Joah unto Rab-shakeh, Speak, I pray thee, unto thy servants in the Syrian language; for we understand it: and speak not to us in the Jews’ language, in the ears of the people that are on the wall.” Eliakim and his companions request that the Assyrian spokesman speak in the official language of the Persian Empire, Aramaic,14 rather than in Hebrew which the citizens of Jerusalem who were within hearing could understand. Eliakim’s use of “thy servants” was an expression of courtesy to a visiting dignitary.

In verse 12, the Assyrian captain angrily denies the request and delivers a crude insult: “But Rab-shakeh said, Hath my master sent me to thy master and to thee to speak these words? hath he not sent me to the men that sit upon the wall, that they may eat their own dung, and drink their own piss with you?” Rab-shakeh emphasizes that the Assyrian king sent him to speak to the entire citizenry of Jerusalem, not just Hezekiah and his representatives. Rab-shakeh here predicts that the people would be forced to eat and drink their own waste by the Assyrian siege of Jerusalem, which would deprive them of food and water.15

In verse 13, the Assyrian captain addresses the entire populace within his hearing: “Then Rab-shakeh stood, and cried with a loud voice in the Jews’ language, and said, Hear ye the words of the great king, the king of Assyria.”

In verses 14 and 15, Rab-shakeh delivers the Assyrian king’s message. Verse 14 commences: “Thus saith the king, Let not Hezekiah deceive you: for he shall not be able to deliver you.” The Great Isaiah Scroll renders: “Thus saith the king of Assyria….”16

Verse 15 continues: “Neither let Hezekiah make you trust in the LORD, saying, The LORD will surely deliver us: this city shall not be delivered into the hand of the king of Assyria.”17 According to this boastful challenge, neither Hezekiah nor the Lord Jehovah are strong enough to stop the Assyrians.

Verses 16 and 17 set forth the Assyrian plan of dispersing the population of their conquered lands:

Hearken not to Hezekiah: for thus saith the king of Assyria, Make an agreement with me by a present, and come out to me: and eat ye every one of his vine, and every one of his fig tree, and drink ye every one the waters of his cistern;
Until I come and take you away to a land like your own land, a land of corn and wine, a land of bread and vineyards.
The account of the king’s scribes adds: “a land of oil olive and of honey, that ye may live, and not die.”18

In verse 18, the Assyrian captain reiterates his boastful challenge: “Beware lest Hezekiah persuade you, saying, The LORD will deliver us. Hath any of the gods of the nations delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria?”19

Verses 19 and 20 deliver the blasphemous challenge of the Assyrians, comparing the Lord Jehovah to vain idols in conquered lands. Verse 19 commences: “Where are the gods of Hamath and Arphad? where are the gods of Sepharvaim? and have they delivered Samaria out of my hand?”20 The account of the scribes includes the gods of three other conquered kingdoms, “the gods of Sepharvaim, Hena, and Ivah.”21

Verse 20 continues: “Who are they among all the gods of these lands, that have delivered their land out of my hand, that the LORD [Jehovah] should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand?” The Assyrians blaspheme the Lord by denying that He has power to deliver Jerusalem from their hands.

Verses 19 and 20 contain a chiasm:

A: (19) Where are the gods of Hamath and Arphad? where are the gods of Sepharvaim? and have they delivered Samaria out of my hand?
B: (20) Who are they among all the gods
C: of these lands,
C: that have delivered their land out of my hand,
B: that the LORD should deliver Jerusalem
A: out of my hand?

In this chiasm “gods” is equated by the Assyrian captain with “the LORD,” illustrating his blasphemous contention that the Lord Jehovah was equivalent to gods of the lands already defeated by Assyria and could not defend Jerusalem.

Verse 21 describes the Jewish response: “But they held their peace, and answered him not a word: for the king’s commandment was, saying, Answer him not.”

In verse 22 the Jewish emissaries report to Hezekiah: “Then came Eliakim, the son of Hilkiah, that was over the household, and Shebna the scribe, and Joah, the son of Asaph, the recorder, to Hezekiah with their clothes rent, and told him the words of Rab-shakeh.” Tearing of clothing was a sign of deep distress.

 


Notes:

1. Zephaniah 3:16-17.
2. 2 Kings 17:6; see also Bible Dictionary—Chronology.
3. Isaiah 10:24; see verses 24-34 and pertinent commentary.
4. 2 Kings 18:13-37; 19; and 20:1-19.
5. See 2 Kings 18:9-12.
6. F. Brown, S. Driver, and C. Briggs, The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon: Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, MA, 01961-3473, 1996, Strong’s No. 7262, p. 913.
7. See Deuteronomy 17:6.
8. Verses 2 through 4 contain a chiasm: Rab-shakeh/king Hezekiah/conduit of the upper pool/highway of the fuller’s field/Eliakim…Shebna…Joah/Rab-shakeh.
9.  Joseph Smith’s “New Translation” of the Bible: Herald Publishing House, Independence, Missouri, 1970, p. 206.
10. See 2 Kings 18:19-20.
11. See 2 Kings 17:4.
12. See 2 Kings 18:3-4.
13. Verse 10 contains a chiasm: Come up/the LORD/against this land/to destroy it/the LORD/go up.
14. Isaiah 36:11, footnote 11a.
15. Victor L. Ludlow, Isaiah: Prophet, Seer, and Poet: Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1982, p. 321.
16. Donald W. Parry, Harmonizing Isaiah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) at Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, 2001, p. 148.
17. Verses 13 through 15 contain a chiasm: King of Assyria/let not Hezekiah/deceive you/deliver you/let Hezekiah/ king of Assyria.
18. 2 Kings 18:32.
19. Verses 15 through 18 contain a chiasm: The LORD will surely deliver us/hearken not/Hezekiah/vine…fig tree… waters…cistern/ corn…wine…bread…vineyards/ Hezekiah/persuade you/the LORD will deliver us.
20. Verses 18 and 19 contain a chiasm: Delivered his land…hand of the king of Assyria/gods of Hamath and Arphad/gods of Sepharvaim/delivered Samaria…my hand. Parry, 2001, p. 261.
21. 2 Kings 18:34.

Isaiah 35: The Desert Shall Rejoice, and Blossom as the Rose

This chapter describes the building up of Zion in the wilderness in the latter days, before the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. The events of this chapter are being fulfilled both spiritually and physically. The prophecy describes the physical setting for the establishment of the mountain of the Lord’s house in the top of the mountains, as foretold earlier by Isaiah in Chapter 2.1 This same prophecy also describes the introduction of the saving ordinances of the gospel—the “living water” spoken of by Christ during His mortal ministry2—into the spiritual wasteland that is the world. Physically, the desert began to blossom as the rose with the arrival of the Mormon pioneers in the Great Basin of western North America and their building up of Zion. The ransomed of the Lord—the gathered of Israel from the nations of the earth—have been coming to the area since the arrival of the first pioneers in 1847. The spiritual wasteland of the world continues to receive living water as missionaries carry the message of the gospel and its life-imparting blessings and ordinances to all the world. Converts from many nations are gathered to Zion or her stakes which are established in many places of the world, but which are directed and guided from the central location by living prophets. Another aspect of fulfillment of this prophecy is the return of the Jews to the land of their inheritance beginning in the early 20th century, and the development of agriculture and commerce there. Still in the future is the Second Coming of the Lord and His glory being made manifest at the Zion in the wilderness.

Verse 1 describes the blossoming of the desert: “The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose.” Isaiah foresees both the physical transformation of the wilderness into a pleasant place and the spiritual introduction of life-imparting blessings among nations that knew neither of Jesus Christ nor His saving Atonement. “Shall be glad for them” refers to the refugees from oppression, gathered from the scattered tribes of Israel, who would come to transform the desert or who would appreciate the “living water” given them by Christ. The Hebrew word from which “rose” is translated is chabatstseleth, which means “meadow‑saffron,” “crocus” or “narcissus.”3

In a revelation received in March, 1831, long before there were publicly-announced plans for the eventual migration of the Latter-day Saints to the Great Basin, the Lord foretold the building up of Zion in the wilderness and the flourishing of the Lamanites:

But before the great day of the Lord shall come, Jacob shall flourish in the wilderness, and the Lamanites shall blossom as the rose. Zion shall flourish upon the hills and rejoice upon the mountains, and shall be assembled together unto the place which I have appointed.4

In this revelation the Lord paraphrases Isaiah’s prophecy, providing added understanding. It is clear that the physical assembly of the saints in the wilderness and upon the hills and mountains—together with their receiving the spiritual blessings of the gospel—was appointed by the Lord well before the time that persecution would force the Saints to move westward. “Jacob” refers to descendants of Jacob, or Israel; “hills” and “mountains” mean nations of the earth, both small and large.5

The early members of the Church were primarily of the tribe of Joseph, the eleventh son of Jacob. The Lamanites are descendants of Lehi, also of the tribe of Joseph, whose story is recorded in the Book of Mormon. The modern descendants of Lehi are the native Americans and Pacific Islanders, together with the mixture of European and native American ancestry that characterizes much of Latin America in Mexico, Central America, and South America.6 Latin America is currently one of the most fruitful places in the world for spreading the gospel—characterized by rapid growth of the Church, establishment of numerous wards and stakes, and edification of many temples. Such growth is a spiritual fulfillment of this prophecy of Isaiah.

Another perspective on the fulfillment of this prophecy is the return of the Jews to the lands of their inheritance beginning in the early 20th century, and development of extensive agricultural and commercial operations there. It is meaningful for us to consider this prophecy in its worldwide perspective and its fulfillment among all the peoples with whom the Lord has made covenants.

LeGrand Richards described the latter-day fulfillment of this prophecy and the purpose for its fulfillment:

We are a blessed people. The Lord has blessed us. After our pioneers were driven a thousand miles from civilization and transportation, they landed here in this wilderness. Isaiah saw that the Lord would cause the wilderness to blossom as the rose. He saw the rivers flow in the desert and flow down from the high places to make this land productive.7 And why? So that the Saints, when they were gathered here, could fulfill his promises. For if this gospel that Jesus referred to was to be preached in all the world, it had to be done by his children.8

Verse 2 continues the description of Zion in the desert: “It shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice even with joy and singing: the glory of Lebanon shall be given unto it, the excellency of Carmel and Sharon, they shall see the glory of the LORD, and the excellency of our God.”9 Music and singing have long been a part of Latter-day Saint worship, and the world-famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir is a major part of the fulfillment of this prophecy. “The glory of Lebanon” and “the excellency of Carmel” are presented as typical of the growth, flourishing, and beauty of Zion in the desert. “They shall see the glory of the LORD, and the excellency of our God” foresees the glorious Second Coming of the Lord. “They” refers to the descendants of Joseph whose labor brought forth the long-prophesied Zion in the wilderness. The phrase “the glory of Lebanon” is used by Isaiah later, in Chapter 60, to describe the wealth of the world to be brought to build up Zion and Israel.10

Verse 3 gives a mandate to Zion to care for the infirm and spiritually weak: “Strengthen ye the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees.” This verse is paraphrased in Doctrine and Covenants in the context of providing for the disadvantaged: “Wherefore, be faithful; stand in the office which I have appointed unto you; succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees.”11

The Apostle Paul paraphrases: “Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed.”12 Establishment of Zion requires much labor, including helping and providing healing blessings for the infirm, spiritually weak and disadvantaged.

Verse 4 begins with a mandate to strengthen and comfort the fearful: “Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not.” The assuring words to be spoken are: “Behold, your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompence; he will come and save you.” Two important characteristics of a Zion people are their care for one another and their faith that the Lord will defend and protect them. Not only does this apply to the leaders; it applies to every person in Zion. Service projects, weekly inspirational sacrament meetings, monthly home teaching and visiting teaching visits, and uplifting stake and general conferences are part of the mandated effort to strengthen.

President Gordon B. Hinckley admonished:

Let love be the Polar Star of our lives in reaching out to those who need our strength. There are many among us who lie alone in pain. Medicine helps, but kind words can bring to pass miracles. Many there are who walk in frightening circumstances, fearful and unable to cope. There are good bishops and Relief Society officers who are available to help, but these cannot do it all. Each of us can and must be anxiously engaged.13

Verses 5 and 6 describe the beneficial results of these efforts. Verse 5 commences: “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped.”14 In His earthly ministry the Lord Jesus Christ performed many miracles in which the ill or disabled were healed under His touch. John describes one such instance: “[H]e anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay, And said unto him, Go, wash in the pool of Siloam…. He went his way therefore, and washed, and came seeing.”15

During His ministry to the Nephites the resurrected Lord performed similar miracles:

And it came to pass that after he had ascended into heaven—the second time that he showed himself unto them, and had gone unto the Father, after having healed all their sick, and their lame, and opened the eyes of their blind and unstopped the ears of the deaf, and even had done all manner of cures among them, and raised a man from the dead, and had shown forth his power unto them, and had ascended unto the Father—
Behold, it came to pass on the morrow that the multitude gathered themselves together….16

These healings are a type for similar events that will occur at the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Not only does this prophecy foresee temporal blessings upon Zion; the spiritual blessings are even greater. Isaiah’s similar words earlier, in Chapter 29, refer to great spiritual blessings associated with the coming forth of the Book of Mormon: “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.”17 The meaning is that the spiritually deaf and blind will be made to comprehend spiritual matters because of the content of the book. Great blessings, both physical and spiritual, are given because Zion looks forward to the Second Coming of the Lord with great faith.

Verse 6 continues: “Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing: for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert.”18 Metaphorically, the spiritually lame will receive capacity and those spiritually dumb will be given power to sing. The spiritual wilderness and desert—the world at large, living without Christ or the blessings of salvation provided by the Atonement—will become verdant as the living waters of the gospel spread throughout the world. The Great Isaiah Scroll renders “and streams will run in the desert.”19

The relationship of the first part of verse 6 to the last part is unclear unless the spiritual meaning is considered. The extraordinary spiritual blessings described result from the continual flow of knowledge from living prophets in the Zion of the wilderness, as though it were a stream of flowing water. Compare an earlier statement by Isaiah, in Chapter 30, that uses this same metaphor: “And there shall be upon every high mountain, and upon every high hill, rivers and streams of waters in the day of the great slaughter, when the towers fall.”20

The Lord, during His earthly ministry, quoted these verses to the followers of John the Baptist to answer John’s inquiry concerning whether Jesus was the Messiah: “The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.”21 Doubtless, the Lord knew that John would recognize the fulfillment of a Messianic prophecy of Isaiah.

Verses 5 and 6 comprise the text for Handel’s Messiah, Part 1, No. 19: Recitative For Alto, “Then Shall the Eyes of the Blind Be Opened.”

Verse 7 continues the metaphor: “And the parched ground shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water: in the habitation of dragons, where each lay, shall be grass with reeds and rushes.” Lands formerly parched and dry would be irrigated under the caring hands of the refugees who would come to build Zion, causing vegetation to spring forth abundantly. The spiritual meaning is that the darkness of apostasy would be dispelled by true doctrines. Doctrines of dragons and jackals would be replaced by the revealed truth, which would flow as living water in abundance from Zion.22

This passage is paraphrased and expanded in Doctrine and Covenants:

And in the barren deserts there shall come forth pools of living water; and the parched ground shall no longer be a thirsty land.
And they [the gathered of Israel] shall bring forth their rich treasures unto the children of Ephraim, my servants.
And the boundaries of the everlasting hills shall tremble at their presence.23

Here it is clear that the waters to come forth in the desert represent not only the physical irrigation and blossoming, but the coming forth of an uninterrupted stream of spiritual blessings. “Ephraim my servants” means those of the tribe of Joseph who would build up Zion in the wilderness.

Verses 6 and 7 contain a chiasm:

(6) Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing:
A: for in the wilderness shall waters break out,
B: and streams
C: in the desert.
C: (7) And the parched ground
B: shall become a pool,
A: and the thirsty land springs of water: in the habitation of dragons, where each lay, shall be grass with reeds and rushes.

“In the wilderness shall waters break out” equals “the thirsty land [shall become] springs of water,” meaning an abundance of revelation and inspiration. Chiastically “wilderness,” “thirsty land,” “desert” and “parched ground” are all equivalent.

Verse 8 foretells: “And an highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called The way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it; but it shall be for those: the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein.” The Joseph Smith Translation renders:

And a highway shall be there; for a way shall be cast up, and it shall be called the way of holiness. The unclean shall not pass over upon it; but it shall be cast up for those who are clean, and the wayfaring men, though they are accounted fools, shall not err therein.24

Isaiah makes similar reference to a highway earlier, in Chapter 11: “And there shall be an highway for the remnant of his people, which shall be left, from Assyria; like as it was to Israel in the day that he came up out of the land of Egypt.”25

The meaning of the highway in both cases is spiritual, meaning the strait and narrow way.26 The way opened up by the Lord for the children of Israel to pass over the Red Sea is a physical type for this highway.27 The means by which the remnant peoples of Israel are to be gathered in the latter days is that the gospel will be preached unto them, they will unite with Zion and her people, their identity as heirs of the Abrahamic covenant will be revealed to them, and they will make covenants with the Lord as in former days. The “way” will be so plain that travelers thereon, even though they may be thought of as fools, will have no trouble following it as long as they are obedient.

Verse 9 describes spiritual protection that the wayfarers upon this highway will receive: “No lion shall be there, nor any ravenous beast shall go up thereon, it shall not be found there; but the redeemed shall walk there.” These predators represent temptations and evil designs of men and Satan to divert or destroy those following the strait and narrow path. We avoid temptations by following this spiritual highway, as spelled out in great clarity by living prophets.

Verse 10 summarizes: “And the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” The “ransomed” are those who accept the restored gospel and its covenants,28 whose sins, after repentance, are remitted by the infinite sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ.  “Zion” means both a place of latter-day spiritual gathering and the latter-day Jerusalem under righteous circumstances.29 As Zion is built up in the wilderness, Israel will be gathered from the lands of their dispersal. Those returning will be filled with joy and gladness; the sorrow they experienced in exile—spiritually, their ignorance of the revealed truth—will be done away.

In Doctrine and Covenants the Lord foretells that the gathered of Israel will come with joy and singing: “They that remain, and are pure in heart, shall return, and come to their inheritances, they and their children, with songs of everlasting joy, to build up the waste places of Zion.”30

Verses 9 and 10 contain a chiasm:

A: (9) No lion shall be there,
B: nor any ravenous beast shall go up thereon,
C: it shall not be found there;
D: but the redeemed shall walk there:
D: (10) And the ransomed of the LORD shall return,
C: and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads:
B: they shall obtain joy and gladness,
A: and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

“No lion shall be there” compares with “sorrow and sighing shall flee away,” and “nor any ravenous beast shall go up thereon” compares with “they shall obtain joy and gladness.” Peace and happiness of those following the strait and narrow way would not be marred by temptations and evil designs of men or Satan, here represented metaphorically as predatory animals. The establishment of Zion and the bestowal of rich blessings by the Lord would overcome sighing and sorrow; joy and gladness would result.

 


Notes:

1. Isaiah 2:2-3.
2. John 4:10-11; see also Jeremiah 17:13; Zechariah 14:8.
3. 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. 2261, p. 287.
4. Doctrine and Covenants 49:24-25.
5. See Isaiah 2:2 and pertinent commentary.
6. See 1 Nephi 5:14.
7. See Isaiah 41:18.
8. LeGrand Richards, “The Second Coming of Christ,” Ensign, May 1978, p. 74.
9. Verses 1 and 2 contain a chiasm: Wilderness and the solitary place/glad for them/rejoice/blossom/blossom/ rejoice/joy and singing/glory…shall be given unto it.
10. See Isaiah 60:13 and pertinent commentary.
11. Doctrine and Covenants 81:5.
12. Hebrews 12:12-13.
13. Gordon B. Hinckley, “Let Love Be the Lodestar of Your Life,” Ensign, May 1989, p. 65.
14. Verses 3 through 5 contain a chiasm: Weak hands/feeble knees/ be strong, fear not/God will come with vengeance/God with a recompence/he will come and save you/eyes of the blind shall be opened/ears of the deaf shall be unstopped.
15. John 9:6-7.
16. 3 Nephi 26:15-16.
17. Isaiah 29:18.
18. Verse 6 contains a chiasm: Wilderness/waters/break out/streams/desert.
19. Donald W. Parry, Harmonizing Isaiah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) at Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, 2001, p. 145.
20. Isaiah 30:25; see also See Isaiah 12:3; 55:1, 11; 58:11 and pertinent commentary..
21. Matthew 11:5; see also Luke 7:22.
22. See Isaiah 12:3; 27:3; 55:11; 58:11.
23. Doctrine and Covenants 133:29-31.
24. Joseph Smith’s “New Translation” of the Bible: Herald Publishing House, Independence, Missouri, 1970, p. 206.
25. Isaiah 11:16.
26. See Isaiah 11:16; 19:23; 40:14; 49:11 and pertinent commentary.
27. See Exodus 14:21-31.
28. Donald W. Parry, Jay A. Parry and Tina M. Peterson, Understanding Isaiah: Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1998, p. 319.
29. See Isaiah 1:8 and pertinent commentary. See also Psalms 102:13, 16; 129:5; 132:13; Isaiah 1:27; 2:3; 4:5; 14:32; 24:23; 28:16; 31:9; 46:13; 51:16; 52:7, 8; 59:20.
30. Doctrine and Covenants 101:18; see also Doctrine and Covenants 45:71; 66:11; 109:39;133:33.

Isaiah 34: Their Slain…Shall Be Cast Out, and Their Stink Shall Come Up Out of Their Carcases

Chapter 34 describes apocalyptic destruction preceding the Second Coming of the Lord that will befall the nations of the earth who oppose the Lord and His people. The armies of the world will be destroyed, the stink of the carcasses of the dead will rise up, and the mountains will be melted with their blood. Nations that opposed Zion and her establishment will be left without inhabitant, and none but wild animals will remain to inherit the land. An important key to understanding this chapter is to compare similar passages in Doctrine and Covenants. An essential purpose for this volume of modern scripture is to describe events that will occur in the latter days: “Wherefore, fear and tremble, O ye people, for what I the Lord have decreed in them [revelations contained in Doctrine and Covenants] shall be fulfilled.”1

In verse 1, Isaiah calls upon all to hear his words: “Come near, ye nations, to hear; and hearken, ye people: let the earth hear, and all that is therein; the world, and all things that come forth of it.”2 Isaiah’s warning, of utmost importance, is for all the world to hear; the nations of the earth are summoned to listen. Compare the Lord’s introductory summons in Doctrine and Covenants:

Hearken, O ye people of my church, saith the voice of him who dwells on high, and whose eyes are upon all men; yea, verily I say: Hearken ye people from afar; and ye that are upon the islands of the sea, listen together.
For verily the voice of the Lord is unto all men, and there is none to escape; and there is no eye that shall not see, neither ear that shall not hear, neither heart that shall not be penetrated.3

Verse 2 commences Isaiah’s message to the people of the world: “For the indignation of the LORD is upon all nations, and his fury upon all their armies: he hath utterly destroyed them, he hath delivered them to the slaughter.” The Great Isaiah Scroll renders “and hath delivered them to the slaughter.”4 Isaiah’s use of the past tense may reflect his having seen these events in vision.

The Lord provides additional understanding in Doctrine and Covenants: “I, the Lord, am angry with the wicked; I am holding my Spirit from the inhabitants of the earth. I have sworn in my wrath, and decreed wars upon the face of the earth, and the wicked shall slay the wicked, and fear shall come upon every man.”5

The Lord gives further insight:

And thus, with the sword and by bloodshed the inhabitants of the earth shall mourn; and with famine, and plague, and earthquake, and the thunder of heaven, and the fierce and vivid lightning also, shall the inhabitants of the earth be made to feel the wrath, and indignation, and chastening hand of an Almighty God, until the consumption decreed hath made a full end of all nations.6

Verse 3 describes the horror of the slaughter: “Their slain also shall be cast out, and their stink shall come up out of their carcases, and the mountains shall be melted with their blood.” This description provides an image of an immense shedding of blood upon the earth—so much that the blood functions as an agent for erosion. Isaiah’s use of “mountains” here implies that this destruction would involve many nations.7 The Great Isaiah Scroll renders “…the mountains shall be melted with their blood; the valleys will be split.”8

This horror compares with the final scenes of the Jaredite nation, described by Moroni in his translation of Ether’s record:

And so great and lasting had been the war, and so long had been the scene of bloodshed and carnage, that the whole face of the land was covered with the bodies of the dead.
 And so swift and speedy was the war that there was none left to bury the dead, but they did march forth from the shedding of blood to the shedding of blood, leaving the bodies of both men, women, and children strewed upon the face of the land, to become a prey to the worms of the flesh.
And the scent thereof went forth upon the face of the land, even upon all the face of the land; wherefore the people became troubled by day and by night, because of the scent thereof.9

Scenes like this await the inhabitants of the earth in the latter days.

Verse 4 describes the extent of the slaughter: “And all the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll: and all their host shall fall down, as the leaf falleth off from the vine, and as a falling fig from the fig tree.” 10 The Hebrew word translated as “falling fig” means “unripe fruit.”11 These similes describe the falling of individuals in a vast army.

“All the host of heaven” means “all the armies upon the earth” on the basis of context and chiastic equivalence. The same meaning for “heaven” is apparent in modern revelation: “Yea, verily I say unto you again, the time has come when the voice of the Lord is unto you: Go ye out of Babylon; gather ye out from among the nations, from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (emphasis added).12 Compare Isaiah’s words in describing the advance of the Assyrians: “They come from a far country, from the end of heaven, even the LORD, and the weapons of his indignation, to destroy the whole land” (emphasis added).13

Heaven being rolled together as a scroll is not easy for us to imagine in our temporal context; nevertheless, there are several scriptural references to it in addition to this instance in verse 4. John the Revelator, foreseeing an event in the latter days, stated: “And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places.”14 The Lord, in revelation to Joseph Smith, refers to “the curtain of heaven” being “unfolded, as a scroll is unfolded after it is rolled up.”15 In contrast, Mormon and Moroni both refer to the earth being rolled together as a scroll during the latter-day devastation.16

Verses 2 through 4 contain a chiasm:

A: (2) For the indignation of the LORD is upon all nations,
B: and his fury upon all their armies:
C: he hath utterly destroyed them,
C: he hath delivered them to the slaughter.
B: (3) Their slain also shall be cast out, and their stink shall come up out of their carcases, and the mountains shall be melted with their blood.
A: (4) And all the host of heaven shall be dissolved….

“For the indignation of the LORD is upon all nations” complements “all the host of heaven shall be dissolved.” Comparison of these two phrases further clarifies the meaning of “heaven” in verse 4. “His fury upon all their armies” complements “their slain also shall be cast out;” and “he hath utterly destroyed them” is equivalent to “he hath delivered them to the slaughter.” The Lord will destroy the armies of the earth.

Verse 5 continues, now with the Lord speaking in the first person: “For my sword shall be bathed in heaven: behold, it shall come down upon Idumea, and upon the people of my curse, to judgment.” “Judgment,” as used here, means “retribution.”17 The Great Isaiah Scroll renders “For my sword appears in heaven.”18 Compare the Lord’s statement in Doctrine and Covenants, which speaks in the third person: “And the anger of the Lord is kindled, and his sword is bathed in heaven, and it shall fall upon the inhabitants of the earth” (emphasis added).19

The curious phrase “for my sword shall be bathed in heaven” deserves further scrutiny. The Hebrew word translated as “bathed” means, figuratively, “saturated” or “satiated;”20 some translations render “drunken.” The meaning is that the sword of the Lord is about to be used abundantly for the shedding of blood. Anciently, dipping swords and shields in oil was a preparation for battle; the oil lubricated the blades, improving their effectiveness as cutting tools.21 The phrase indicates that the sword of the Lord would be prepared to fall with great fury upon the inhabitants of the earth.

“Idumea” signifies “Edom” in the original Hebrew.22 “The people of my curse” refers in particular to Edom, based on parallel phrases in this verse. However, it also means people throughout the world who would turn against the Lord and His people, having no regard for His commandments. The cursing of Edom, who was Esau, a son of Isaac and twin brother of Jacob, was the result of his personal unrighteousness.23 The Lord sets forth the broader meaning for Idumea in Doctrine and Covenants: “And also the Lord shall have power over his saints, and shall reign in their midst, and shall come down in judgment upon Idumea, or the world.”24

Verses 4 and 5 contain a chiasm:

A: (4) And all the host of heaven shall be dissolved,
B: and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll: and all their host shall fall down,
C: as the leaf falleth off from the vine,
C: and as a falling fig from the fig tree.
B: (5) For my sword shall be bathed in heaven:
A: behold, it shall come down upon Idumea, and upon the people of my curse, to judgment.

The Lord’s judgment will fall upon the world and its hosts, or armies. “All the host of heaven shall be dissolved” complements “behold, it [the Lord’s sword] shall come down upon Idumea, and upon the people of my curse, to judgment.” “The host of heaven,” therefore, means the armies of the world.

Verse 6 presents a parallel description, shedding additional light: “The sword of the LORD is filled with blood, it is made fat with fatness, and with the blood of lambs and goats, with the fat of the kidneys of rams: for the LORD hath a sacrifice in Bozrah, and a great slaughter in the land of Idumea.”25 “Great slaughter” is chiastically equivalent to “judgment” in verse 5, providing a more precise meaning. “Filled” with blood is translated from the same Hebrew word rendered in verse 5 as “bathed.”26 Bozrah was the capital city of Edom, southeast of the Dead Sea. Its name means “fortress” or “sheepfold.”27 The name is shared by a city in Moab and by a modern city, Basra, in Iraq. The slaughter and the sacrifice are in lieu of the sacrifices and obedience not forthcoming from the inhabitants of the earth. Lambs, goats and rams were elements of sacrifices under the Law of Moses. Here these animals are metaphoric; the people themselves would take the place of the sacrifices unoffered and for the Lord’s infinite sacrifice unaccepted by the people.

In describing the Lord’s coming following these events, Isaiah in Chapter 63 asks: “Who is this that cometh from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah? this that is glorious in his apparel, travelling in the greatness of his strength?” The Lord answers: “I that speak in righteousness, mighty to save.”28

Verse 7 continues the metaphor of animals to be sacrificed: “And the unicorns shall come down with them, and the bullocks with the bulls; and their land shall be soaked with blood, and their dust made fat with fatness.”29 Slaughter of the people is likened to animal sacrifices left unoffered by them in their wickedness. “Unicorn” is translated from a Hebrew word meaning “wild ox;”30 the Joseph Smith Translation renders reem, a transliteration of the Hebrew word for wild ox.31  The wild ox is probably Bos primigenius, now extinct, but once common in Syria. The Bible Dictionary states “The [King James Version] rendering is unfortunate, as the animal intended is two-horned.”32

Verse 8 summarizes: “For it is the day of the LORD’s vengeance, and the year of recompences for the controversy of Zion.” One aspect of the “controversy of Zion,” doubtless, is the animosity between Jews and Arabs, the modern descendants of Esau. Other aspects of the controversy may relate to the founding of Zion and her stakes by the posterity of Joseph. “Zion” as used here means a place of latter-day spiritual gathering s well as both ancient and modern Jerusalem, including the temple mount.33

Verses 5 through 8 contain a chiasm:34

A: (5) For my sword shall be bathed in heaven: behold, it shall come down upon Idumea, and upon the people of my curse,
B: to judgment.
C: (6) The sword of the LORD is filled with blood, it is made fat with fatness,
D: and with the blood of lambs and goats, with the fat of the kidneys of rams:
E:   for the LORD hath a sacrifice in Bozrah,
E:   and a great slaughter in the land of Idumea.
D: (7) And the unicorns shall come down with them, and the bullocks with the bulls;
C: and their land shall be soaked with blood, and their dust made fat with fatness.
B: (8) For it is the day of the LORD’s vengeance,
A: and the year of recompences for the controversy of Zion.

“For my sword shall be bathed in heaven: behold, it shall come down upon Idumea, and upon the people of my curse” is complemented by “the year of recompences for the controversy of Zion;” the meaning is that the reason for the Lord’s sword being bathed in heaven and its coming down upon the people of Idumea, or the people cursed by the Lord, is in recompense for their controversy regarding Zion, or the people blessed by the Lord. “Judgment” is equivalent to “the day of the Lord’s vengeance,” providing a definition. Equivalence of “the LORD hath a sacrifice in Bozrah” and “a great slaughter in the land of Idumea” establishes that the people being slaughtered have themselves become the sacrifices—taking the place of their sacrifices left  unoffered to the Lord.

Verses 9 and 10 describe the aftereffects of warfare. Verse 9 begins: “And the streams thereof shall be turned into pitch, and the dust thereof into brimstone, and the land thereof shall become burning pitch.” “Pitch” means tar, asphalt, or petroleum;35 “brimstone” is sulfur, which burns to form an acrid, corrosive smoke that destroys lung tissue when inhaled.36 Fire is an important element in the destruction.37

Verse 10 continues the description: “It shall not be quenched night nor day; the smoke thereof shall go up for ever: from generation to generation it shall lie waste; none shall pass through it for ever and ever.”38 Events similar to those described occurred in 1991 at the close of the Arabian Gulf War in Kuwait, and were witnessed worldwide on broadcast news television. The retreating Iraqi army, intent on inflicting severe economic damage on its smaller neighbor, exploded and ignited hundreds of wellheads in the oilfields. Smoke and flames arose; burning oil flowed across the desert and down stream beds. Extinguishing these hundreds of well fires required painstaking, dangerous work by skilled crews and required many months. Plumes of smoke could be seen vividly on satellite photographs taken from many miles into space. Millions of anti-personnel mines, scattered across the desert by both the Iraqi army and its opponents, prevent free access even years later. Removal of these lethal explosives may take generations. We may expect further fulfillment of this prophecy as more conflicts arise in the oil-rich Middle East.

Verse 11 describes the desolation of these war-torn lands: “But the cormorant and the bittern shall possess it; the owl also and the raven shall dwell in it: and he shall stretch out upon it the line of confusion, and the stones of emptiness.” The line of confusion and the stones of emptiness could describe cordons and markers denoting areas not cleared of land mines, making travel there hazardous. The Hebrew word translated as “stones” means “plummet,”39 a tool used in surveying.

The names of four animals, three of them birds, have been rendered in the King James Version with some variation from the Hebrew Masoretic text. “Cormorant” is translated from a Hebrew word meaning “pelican” or possibly an extinct bird species;40 “bittern” is from a Hebrew word meaning “porcupine;”41 “owl” means “great owl” or the Egyptian “eagle-owl;”42 and “raven” is translated from the Hebrew with the same meaning.43

Verse 12 describes the devastation of political kingdoms: “They shall call the nobles thereof to the kingdom, but none shall be there, and all her princes shall be nothing.” “Shall be nothing” means to become “nought” or “non-existing.”44

Verse 13 continues: “And thorns shall come up in her palaces, nettles and brambles in the fortresses thereof: and it shall be an habitation of dragons, and a court for owls.” Thorns, nettles and brambles arising in vacant palaces and fortresses suggests usage elsewhere of “thorns and briers” representing false doctrines.45 However, thorns, nettles and brambles may have a more literal meaning here, describing the aftereffects of the annihilation. “Dragons” comes from a Hebrew word meaning “serpents,” “dragons” or “sea-monsters;”46 and “owls” is translated from a Hebrew word meaning “ostriches;” ostriches dwelling among ruins are symbolic of mourning.47 This word is different from the Hebrew word in verse 11 translated as “owls.”

Verses 12 and 13 contain a chiasm:

A: (12) They shall call the nobles thereof to the kingdom, but none shall be there, and all her princes shall be nothing.
B: (13) And thorns shall come up in her palaces,
C: nettles
C: and brambles
B: in the fortresses thereof:
A: and it shall be an habitation of dragons, and a court for owls.

The chiastic structure supports the more literal interpretation of thorns, nettles, and brambles rather than figurative meanings, with “nettles” and “brambles” as the central focus. The meaning here is literal devastation—rather than apostasy and the rise of false doctrines.

Verse 14 further describes wild animals having free rein in the desolate country: “The wild beasts of the desert shall also meet with the wild beasts of the island, and the satyr shall cry to his fellow; the screech owl also shall rest there, and find for herself a place of rest.” “Satyr” is translated from a Hebrew word meaning “hairy,” or “a demon with the form of a he-goat.”48

Verse 15 states: “There shall the great owl make her nest, and lay, and hatch, and gather under her shadow: there shall the vultures also be gathered, every one with her mate.” “Great owl” comes from the same Hebrew word used in verse 11, meaning “great owl” or the Egyptian “eagle-owl.”49

In verse 16 the Lord declares that all is according to scriptural prophecy and commands that the scriptures be read: “Seek ye out of the book of the LORD, and read: no one of these shall fail, none shall want her mate. For my mouth it hath commanded, and his spirit it hath gathered them.” The Joseph Smith Translation renders “Seek ye out of the book of the LORD, and read the names written therein….”50  The meaning is that none of the righteous—those whose names are written in the book of the Lord—will be without their spouse throughout eternity.51 This reality should provide great comfort to those bereft of their spouse in this life, or who never were able to marry during this life—that in the eternity none of the righteous will be without a spouse. This verse teaches that the Lord has commanded prophecies of destruction to be written and fulfilled, but He also promises eternal increase to the righteous.

In verse 17, Isaiah declares: “And he hath cast the lot for them, and his hand hath divided it unto them by line: they shall possess it for ever, from generation to generation shall they dwell therein.” The Joseph Smith Translation renders: “And I have cast the lot for them, and I have divided it unto them by line….”52 The Lord will divide the land among the righteous and will give it unto them for a perpetual inheritance. “By line” refers to a surveyor’s measuring chain or cord. As rendered by the King James Version, this division of inheritances would be among the wild animals living in the depopulated areas of the world.

Verses 15 through 17 contain a chiasm:

A: (15) There shall the great owl make her nest,
B: and lay, and hatch, and gather under her shadow:
C: there shall the vultures also be gathered,
D: every one with her mate.
E:   (16) Seek ye out of the book of the LORD,
E:   and read the names written therein;
D: no one of these shall fail, none shall want her mate:
C: for my mouth it hath commanded, and his spirit it hath gathered them.
B: (17) And he hath cast the lot for them, and his hand hath divided it unto them by line: they shall possess it for ever,
A: from generation to generation shall they dwell therein.

Prophecy recorded in scripture foretells the devastation of the lands of Edom, left desolate by wars and great slaughter. The central focus, “Seek ye out of the book of the LORD, and read the names written therein,” testifies that the righteous—jointly with their spouses—will inherit the land forever, like the birds cited as inheriting the land after its depopulation.

 


Notes:

1. Doctrine and Covenants 1:7.
2. Verse 1 contains a chiasm: Come near/hear/hearken/people/earth/hear/all/come forth.
3. Doctrine and Covenants 1:1-2.
4. Donald W. Parry, Harmonizing Isaiah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) at Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, 2001, p. 141.
5. Doctrine and Covenants 63:32-33.
6. Doctrine and Covenants 87:6.
7. See Isaiah 2:2, 14 and 2 Nephi 12:2, 14; Isaiah 11:9; 13:2, 4; 30:25 and pertinent commentary.
8. Parry, 2001, p. 142.
9. Ether 14:21 -23.
10. Verse 4 contains a chiasm: Host/heaven/heavens/host. Parry, 2001, p. 261.
11. Isaiah 34:4, footnote 4c.
12. Doctrine and Covenants 133:7.
13. Isaiah 13:5.
14. Revelation 6:14.
15. Doctrine and Covenants 88:95.
16. Mormon 5:23; 9:2.
17. See Isaiah 1:17; 3:14; 4:4; 28:6.
18. Parry, 2001, p. 142.
19. Doctrine and Covenants 1:13.
20. 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. 7301, p. 924.
21. See Isaiah 21:5.
22. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 123, p. 10.
23. See Genesis 25:30-34; 27:34-38; Hebrews 12:16-17.
24. Doctrine and Covenants 1:36.
25. Verses 5 and 6 contain a chiasm: Idumea/judgment/sword of the LORD/blood/fat/fatness/blood/sacrifice in Bozrah/great slaughter/Idumea.
26. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 7301, p. 924.
27. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 1224, p. 131.
28. Isaiah 63:1; see also Doctrine and Covenants 133:46-47.
29. Verses 6 and 7 contain a chiasm: Fat with fatness/blood/lambs and goats…rams/sacrifice/slaughter/unicorns… bullocks/blood/fat with fatness.
30. Brown et al., 1996; Strong’s No. 7214, p. 910.
31. Joseph Smith’s “New Translation” of the Bible: Herald Publishing House, Independence, Missouri, 1970, p. 205.
32. Bible Dictionary—Unicorn.
33. See Isaiah 3:16; 33:5, 14, 20; 37:32; 40:9; 41:27; 51:3.
34. Parry, 2001, p. 261.
35. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 2203, p. 278.
36. Webster, p. 179.
37. See Isaiah 1:7, 28; 30:27, 30, 33; 33:11-12 and pertinent commentary.
38. Verses 8 through 10 contain a chiasm: Day…year/pitch/dust…brimstone/land…burning pitch/it shall not be quenched…smoke thereof/generation to generation.
39. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 68, p. 6.
40. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 6893, p. 866.
41. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 7090, p. 891.
42. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 3244, p. 676.
43. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 6158, p. 788.
44. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 657, p. 67.
45. See Isaiah 55:13; 5:6; 9:18; 10:17; 27:4; 32:13 and pertinent commentary.
46. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 8577, p. 1072.
47. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 3284, p. 419.
48. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 8163, p. 972.
49. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 3244, p. 676.
50. JST, 1970, p. 205.
51. Donald W. Parry, Jay A. Parry and Tina M. Peterson, Understanding Isaiah: Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1998, p. 313.
52. JST, 1970, p. 206.

Isaiah 33: Not One of the Stakes [Of Zion] Shall Ever Be Removed

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.

 


Notes:

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.

Isaiah 32: The Vile Person Shall Be No More Called Liberal

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.

 


Notes:

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.

Isaiah 31: So Shall the Lord of Hosts Come Down to Fight for Mount Zion

This chapter is a summary of, or an appendix to, the previous chapter. It begins with a woe oracle: “Woe to them that go down to Egypt for help,” which was a central focus of Chapter 30. This is followed by a call for repentance, again summarizing an important theme from Chapter 30: “Turn ye unto him from whom the children of Israel have deeply revolted.” This chapter ends with a call to turn from idolatry: “Cast away [your] idols of silver, and [your] idols of gold,” and “the LORD of hosts [will] come down to fight for mount Zion.” For the latter days Egypt is a keyword meaning America, as Isaiah developed in chapters 18 through 20.

Verses 1 through 3 are a woe oracle. Verse 1 begins: “Woe to them that go down to Egypt for help; and stay on horses, and trust in chariots, because they are many; and in horsemen, because they are very strong; but they look not unto the Holy One of Israel, neither seek the LORD!” Stay on” means “rely on.”1 Those who put their trust in the arm of flesh, placing their confidence in the power of armies, will fall.

Verse 1 contains a chiasm:

A: (1) Woe to them that go down to Egypt for help;
B: and stay
C: on horses,
D: and trust
E: in chariots, because they are many;
E: and in horsemen, because they are very strong;
D: but they look not
C: unto the Holy One of Israel,
B: neither seek
A: the LORD!

In this chiasm,  elements on the ascending side contrast with elements on the descending side. “Egypt” is contrasted with “the LORD;” confidence should be placed in the Lord, not in the military strength of Egypt. “Horses” is contrasted with “the Holy One of Israel,” again illustrating misplaced confidence.

Verse 2 continues the woe oracle: “Yet he also is wise, and will bring evil, and will not call back his words: but will arise against the house of the evildoers, and against the help of them that work iniquity.” The Lord is wise, will bring calamity upon evildoers, and will not renounce His words. The last phrase, “against the help of those who work iniquity,” means that when evildoers come to the aid of other evildoers, the Lord will intervene against both.

The Lord, in Doctrine and Covenants, expands upon the concept of His not calling back His words:

What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.2

Verse 3 finalizes the woe oracle, describing the curse: “Now the Egyptians are men, and not God; and their horses flesh, and not spirit. When the LORD shall stretch out his hand, both he that helpeth shall fall, and he that is holpen shall fall down, and they all shall fail together.” For “and not God,” the Hebrew meaning is “gods” or “men of might and rank.”3 “Holpen” is an archaic rendition of “helped.”4 Israel should put her trust in God, not Egypt. All will fall because of their reliance upon the arm of flesh.

Verse 4 presents a simile that illustrates the Lord’s willingness to defend the righteous: “For thus hath the LORD spoken unto me, Like as the lion and the young lion roaring on his prey, when a multitude of shepherds is called forth against him, he will not be afraid of their voice, nor abase himself for the noise of them: so shall the LORD of hosts come down to fight for mount Zion, and for the hill thereof.” The Lord will be fearless and powerful as a lion in defending Zion.

“Mount Zion” as used in verse 4 has several meanings—the latter-day spiritual gathering as well as latter-day Jerusalem under righteous conditions. The Lord provides a definition: “…for this is Zion—the pure in heart….”5 Other meanings may also be discerned.6

Verses 2 through 4 contain a chiasm:

A: (2) Yet he also is wise, and will bring evil, and will not call back his words:
B: but will arise
C: against the house of the evildoers,
D: and against the help
E: of them that work iniquity.
F: (3) Now the Egyptians are men, and not God;
F: and their horses flesh, and not spirit. When the LORD shall stretch out his hand,
E: both he that helpeth
D: shall fall,
C: and he that is holpen
B: shall fall down, and they all shall fail together.
A: (4) For thus hath the LORD spoken unto me….

“His words” is complementary to “thus hath the LORD spoken unto me,” designating whose words will not be called back. “The house of the evildoers” complements “he that is holpen [helped],” meaning Israel who had sought help from Egypt. The Lord will arise against those who do evil, placing their confidence in Egypt’s military strength rather than seeking help from the Lord.

Verse 5 continues the description of the Lord’s protection of the righteous, here with another simile: “As birds flying, so will the LORD of hosts defend Jerusalem; defending also he will deliver it; and passing over he will preserve it.” The meaning of “Jerusalem” here is the larger sense—the Lord’s righteous people; it is used by Isaiah as a synonym for “Zion” in the previous verse. “As birds flying” and “passing over” may indicate that Isaiah witnessed aerial warfare in vision.7

Verses 4 and 5 contain a chiasm:

A: (4) …he will not be afraid of their voice, nor abase himself for the noise of them: so shall the LORD of hosts come down to fight
B: for mount Zion,
B: and for the hill thereof.
A: (5) As birds flying, so will the LORD of hosts defend Jerusalem….

“So shall the LORD of hosts come down to fight” is equivalent to “so will the LORD of hosts defend Jerusalem;” and “mount Zion” matches “the hill thereof.” Although the Lord will rise up against apostate Israel, He promises to defend mount Zion. Purging and punishment of Israel are necessary steps in the ultimate triumph of Zion and the covenant people of Israel.

In verse 6, Isaiah challenges: “Turn ye unto him from whom the children of Israel have deeply revolted.”8 This is knowing rejection—not out of ignorance—of the Lord’s leadership of Israel as a nation. 9

In verse 7, the day of Israel’s repentance is described: “For in that day every man shall cast away his idols of silver, and his idols of gold, which your own hands have made unto you for a sin.” The Lord will defend Israel after she has repented, casting away her idols; making and worshiping idols is serious sin.

Verses 8 and 9 describe the fall of Assyria by the hand of the Lord, which stands as a type for the fall of the wicked in the latter days. Verse 8 commences: “Then shall the Assyrian fall with the sword, not of a mighty man; and the sword, not of a mean man, shall devour him: but he shall flee from the sword, and his young men shall be discomfited.”10 “Not of a mighty man” and “not of a mean man” mean that it will not be by men, but by the hand of the Lord.11 “Discomfited” means “defeated” or “disarrayed.”12

Verse 9 concludes: “And he shall pass over to his strong hold for fear, and his princes shall be afraid of the ensign, saith the LORD, whose fire is in Zion, and his furnace in Jerusalem.” The Assyrians, and their modern analog, will be struck with terror as they flee from the destructive power of the Lord. “Zion” means both a place of latter-day spiritual gathering and the temple at Jerusalem.13 “Fire” and “furnace” both refer to the fires of destruction that await the wicked in the latter days, thus protecting the righteous.14

Verses 4 through 9 contain a chiasm:

A: (4) …so shall the LORD of hosts come down to fight for mount Zion, and for the hill thereof. (5) As birds flying, so will the LORD of hosts defend Jerusalem; defending also he will deliver it; and passing over he will preserve it.
B: (6) Turn ye unto him from whom
C: the children of Israel
D:  have deeply revolted.
E:   (7) For in that day every man shall cast away his idols of silver,
E:   and his idols of gold, which your own hands have made unto you
D: for a sin.
C: (8) Then shall the Assyrian fall with the sword, not of a mighty man; and the sword, not of a mean man, shall devour him: but he shall flee from the sword, and his young men shall be discomfited. (9) And he shall pass over to his strong hold for fear, and his princes shall be afraid of the ensign,
B: saith the LORD,
A: whose fire is in Zion, and his furnace in Jerusalem.

“…so shall the LORD of hosts come down to fight for mount Zion, and for the hill thereof” matches “whose fire is in Zion, and his furnace in Jerusalem,” indicating that the Lord will destroy the wicked by fire to protect the righteous. At the time of the destruction of Assyria and its modern equivalent, every man will recognize the hand of the Lord in the deliverance of Zion and Jerusalem and will cast away his idols of gold and silver.

 


Notes:

1. 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. 8172, p. 1043.
2. Doctrine and Covenants 1:38.
3. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 410, p. 42.
4. Ernest Klein, A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the English Language: Elsevier Publishing Company, New York, 1971, p. 350.
5. Doctrine and Covenants 97:21.
6. See Isaiah 3:16; 18:7; 24:23; 28:16; 29:8; 30:19; 31:9; 51:3.
7. See Isaiah 7:18-19 and pertinent commentary.
8. Verses 5 and 6 contain a chiasm: The LORD of hosts/defending also he will deliver it/passing over he will preserve it/turn ye unto him.
9. See Isaiah 30:9-11.
10. Verse 8 contains a chiasm: Assyrian fall with the sword/not of a mighty man/not of a mean man/he shall flee from the sword.
11. See Isaiah 10:34, 14:24-28 and pertinent commentary; also 2 Kings 19:32-37.
12. Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary: Merriam-Webster Inc., Springfield, Massachusetts, 1988, p. 361.
13. See Isaiah 3:16; 18:7; 24:23; 28:16; 29:8; 30:19; 31:4; 51:3.
14. See 1 Nephi 22:7; 2 Nephi 30:10; Ether 4:9.

Isaiah 30: The Day of the Great Slaughter, When the Towers Fall

In Chapter 30 Isaiah declares that Israel is to be scattered for rejecting the prophets. Their trust in the strength of Egypt at a time of danger from Assyria would be profitless. Judah and Israel would be smitten, broken and scattered for their perversity. However, this prophecy applies to the latter days as well: The Lord will be gracious to repentant Israel in the latter days, setting her up as a beacon on top of a mountain and as an ensign on a hill. A latter-day outpouring of inspiration and blessings upon many nations would follow a great slaughter, when towers would fall. The Lord will come in a day of apostasy to judge and destroy the wicked.

Verses 1 through 5 are a woe oracle, decrying the rebellion of the nation of Judah and stating that her efforts at obtaining assistance from Egypt against the threat of Assyria would be of no avail. Verse 1 begins: “Woe to the rebellious children, saith the LORD, that take counsel, but not of me; and that cover with a covering, but not of my spirit, that they may add sin to sin—” Judah would establish alliances contrary to the will of the Lord and against the admonitions of prophets. Israel’s objective in seeking help from Egypt was to “add sin to sin,” or to be able to continue in their licentious practices without consequences.

Verse 2 continues the sentence of verse 1: “That walk to go down into Egypt, and have not asked at my mouth; to strengthen themselves in the strength of Pharaoh, and to trust in the shadow of Egypt!” The Lord’s “mouth” is the prophet whom they did not consult. “My mouth” contrasts chiastically with “Pharaoh;”1 the Lord is displeased with Israel’s ill-advised action.

Verse 3 begins the Lord’s description of the consequences for this action: “Therefore shall the strength of Pharaoh be your shame, and the trust in the shadow of Egypt your confusion.” The alliance sought with Egypt would result in Judah’s shame and dishonor.

Verse 4 gives the timing of these consequences: “For his princes were at Zoan, and his ambassadors came to Hanes.” Isaiah uses the past tense as though recounting a vision shown to him by the Lord; the statement foretells events that would occur after the time of Isaiah’s declaration. Zoan is a large city in the Nile delta, whereas Hanes is a smaller city in the same region of Egypt. Jerusalem’s delegation would meet with the Egyptians at these localities.

Verse 5 continues: “They were all ashamed of a people that could not profit them, nor be an help nor profit, but a shame, and also a reproach.”2 Egypt would not be able (or willing) to help Judah in protecting her against Assyria. In the latter days, the modern superpower equivalent of Egypt—America3—would not be willing to assist Israel when the modern equivalent of Assyria threatens to attack. Judah’s appeal to Egypt would be rejected, since Egypt would derive no benefit from providing support and protection to Judah.

Verses 6 and 7 are a burden of doom for Judah’s representatives who travel with loads of gifts on animals toward Egypt. Verse 6 declares: “The burden of the beasts of the south: into the land of trouble and anguish, from whence come the young and old lion, the viper and fiery flying serpent, they will carry their riches upon the shoulders of young asses, and their treasures upon the bunches of camels, to a people that shall not profit them.” The Hebrew word translated as “the south” is negeb.4 The animals mentioned symbolize the treachery of ancient Egypt and its modern analog. They also represent hazards of the desert through which the delegation bearing gifts for Egypt would pass, and through which ancient Israel was led safely by Moses’ inspiration from the Lord. Egypt will not help Judah against Assyria despite the treasures provided. Isaiah’s description of a “land of trouble and anguish” does not bode well for Egypt’s modern superpower equivalent, America.

Verses 3 through 6 contain a series of linked chiasms in which the central statement of one is the introductory statement for the next.5 The focal point of the whole sequence is “a people that shall not profit them.” This sequence is similar to a lengthy “if…then” inductive logic statement, which concludes that Egypt would be of no profit to Judah.

In verse 7 the Lord foretells: “For the Egyptians shall help in vain, and to no purpose: therefore have I cried concerning this, Their strength is to sit still.” To “sit still” means to take no action toward establishing an alliance with Egypt,6 but to rely on the Lord as instructed by the prophet.

In verse 8 the Lord further instructs Isaiah: “Now go, write it before them in a table, and note it in a book, that it may be for the time to come for ever and ever”7—indicating that this prophecy regarding the folly of depending upon Egypt for protection from Assyria applies particularly to equivalent nations at a later time. The Lord commands him to write it down so that it would be available “for ever and ever,” for the guidance of those at that future time.

Verse 8 is also the beginning of a lawsuit which Isaiah is instructed to write, with the indictment portion comprising verses 8 through 12. Verses 13 through 17 present the penalty portion.

Verse 9 continues the sentence from the previous verse: “That this is a rebellious people, lying children, children that will not hear the law of the LORD—”

Verse 10 continues the indictment: “Which say to the seers, See not; and to the prophets, Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits—” Instead of the truth which is hard for the wicked to bear,8 they sought for lies and deceit. Smooth things” is translated from a Hebrew word meaning “flattering things.”9

Verse 11 further describes the people’s rebellious nature: “Get you out of the way, turn aside out of the path, cause the Holy One of Israel to cease from before us.” This is knowing rejection—not in ignorance—of the Lord’s leadership of Judah and Israel as nations. This condition contrasts with the exodus of Israel from Egypt when the Lord “went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light; to go by day and night.”10 The “path” and the “way” referred to in verse 11 is the “strait and narrow way.”11

Verses 9 through 11 form a chiasm:

A: (9) That this is a rebellious people, lying children, children that will not hear the law of the LORD:
B: (10) Which say to the seers, See not; and to the prophets, Prophesy not unto us right things,
C: speak unto us smooth things,
C: prophesy deceits:
B: (11) Get you out of the way, turn aside out of the path,
A: cause the Holy One of Israel to cease from before us.

Prophesy not unto us right things” is equivalent to “get you out of the way, turn aside out of the path,” meaning the strait and narrow way to salvation. “Speak unto us smooth things” and “prophesy deceits” comprise the matching central statements. Conversely, being in the “way” or “path” implies the people giving heed to seers and prophets who see and prophesy right things.

Verse 12 summarizes the indictment: “Wherefore thus saith the Holy One of Israel, Because ye despise this word, and trust in oppression and perverseness, and stay thereon—” Judah has cast away her reliance on the word of the Lord and placed her confidence in violence and iniquity.

Verses 13 through 17 present the penalty portion of the lawsuit. Verse 13 begins: “Therefore this iniquity shall be to you as a breach ready to fall, swelling out in a high wall, whose breaking cometh suddenly at an instant.” This is one of two similes used by Isaiah to illustrate the downfall of rebellious Israel and Judah. The suddenness of the downfall is likened to a high wall that begins to bulge, then collapses precipitously. The wall symbolizes the Lord’s protection around the people, which would be removed suddenly.

Verse 14 presents another simile, this one illustrating the completeness of the destruction: “And he shall break it as the breaking of the potters’ vessel that is broken in pieces; he shall not spare: so that there shall not be found in the bursting of it a sherd to take fire from the hearth, or to take water withal out of the pit.”

Verse 15 summarizes the indictment once again: “For thus saith the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel; In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength: and ye would not.” “Returning and rest” means repentance and forgiveness, indicating that this is the path to salvation. But repentance and forgiveness are rejected by rebellious Israel and Judah.

Verse 16 illustrates the flawed thinking of the unrepentant: “But ye said, No; for we will flee upon horses; therefore shall ye flee: and, We will ride upon the swift; therefore shall they that pursue you be swift.” Rebellious Israel thinks she can escape the advances of Assyria by fleeing upon swift horses. The Lord points out that this is folly, stating that their pursuers would ride upon horses equally as swift.

Verse 17 forms a transition between the lawsuit of verses 8 through 16 and a description of the gathering and exaltation of Israel in the latter days, which comprises the rest of the chapter. Verse 17 begins: “One thousand shall flee at the rebuke of one; at the rebuke of five shall ye flee: till ye be left as a beacon upon the top of a mountain, and as an ensign on an hill.” This verse has dual meaning. First, it refers to Israel being mercilessly driven from place to place, a thousand being routed by a single Assyrian warrior, in consequence of the matters summarized in the preceding lawsuit. But it also means that eventually Israel would be left in the glorious position of being set as a “beacon upon…a mountain,” or “as an ensign on a hill.” “Mountain” and “hill” mean “nation.”12

Isaiah uses the same symbolism earlier, to describe the gathering of Israel in the latter days: “And he will lift up an ensign to the nations from far, and will hiss unto them from the end of the earth: and, behold, they shall come with speed swiftly.”13

In verse 18 Isaiah extolls the Lord’s magnanimity toward repentant Israel in the latter days: “And therefore will the LORD wait, that he may be gracious unto you, and therefore will he be exalted, that he may have mercy upon you: for the LORD is a God of judgment: blessed are all they that wait for him.” “Judgment” means “justice” as used in this verse.14 The meaning of this verse is that the Lord awaits the time that His people repent and become righteous before He will bestow His grace upon them.

Elder Marion D. Hanks expounds upon the meaning of verse 18:

I am one who believes that God loves and will never cease to love all of his children, and that he will not cease to hope for us or reach for us or wait for us….
And yet over the earth, across the years, I have met some of God’s choicest children who find it very difficult to believe in their hearts that he really means them. They know that he is the source of comfort and pardon and peace and that they must seek him and open the door for him and accept his love, and yet even in their extremity they find it difficult to believe that his promised blessings are for them. Some have offended God and their own consciences and are earnestly repentant but they find the way back blocked by their unwillingness to forgive themselves or to believe that God will forgive them, or sometimes by a strange reluctance in some of us to really forgive, to really forget, and to really rejoice.15

Verse 19 describes the state of those who wait for the Lord: “For the people shall dwell in Zion at Jerusalem: thou shalt weep no more: he will be very gracious unto thee at the voice of thy cry; when he shall hear it, he will answer thee.” The Lord hears and answers the prayers of the righteous. “Zion” as used in this verse means a place of latter-day spiritual gathering, as well as latter-day Jerusalem under righteous conditions.16 The definition of “Zion” may be substituted for greater meaning: “For the people shall dwell in purity of heart at Jerusalem….”

Verses 17 through 19 contain a chiasm:

A: (17) One thousand shall flee at the rebuke of one; at the rebuke of five shall ye flee: till ye be left as a beacon upon the top of a mountain,
B: and as an ensign on an hill.
C: (18) And therefore will the LORD
D: wait, that he may be
E: gracious unto you,
F: and therefore will he be exalted, that he may have mercy upon you:
F: for the LORD is a God of judgment:
E: blessed are all they
D: that wait
C: for him.
B: (19) For the people shall dwell in Zion
A: at Jerusalem: thou shalt weep no more….

The introductory statement, “a beacon upon the top of a mountain,” is reflected in “Jerusalem,” providing an explanation of Isaiah’s meaning. “An ensign on an hill” matches “Zion.” “The LORD” is equivalent to “him;” “gracious unto you” is equivalent to “blessed are all they;” and “exalted” matches “God of judgment.” Zion in the latter days will be as an ensign on a hill whereas Jerusalem will be as a beacon on the top of a mountain, both providing light to the world.

Verse 20 explains that the righteous will not be spared adversity: “And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity, and the water of affliction, yet shall not thy teachers be removed into a corner any more, but thine eyes shall see thy teachers.” Note Isaiah’s use of singular and plural pronouns. First, the Lord gives adversity and affliction collectively to the inhabitants of Zion—but then each person individually receives the blessings of inspired teachers, indicating that agency plays a pivotal role in how we respond to adversity.

This verse is the only instance in the scriptures describing “the bread of adversity” and “the water of affliction.” The Lord will give direction to the righteous—despite their floundering in adversity—by means of inspired teachers.

Verse 21 describes the guidance of the Spirit to the righteous: “And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left.” The Holy Ghost will give direction to the righteous as they walk the pathway of life. Turning to the right or the left means deviating from the strait and narrow way, whereupon the Spirit redirects us through the still, small voice.17 Again, note Isaiah’s use of singular and plural pronouns.  The Holy Ghost interacts with each of us individually, but His instructions are given to all collectively.

In verse 22, the righteous will do away with idolatry: “Ye shall defile also the covering of thy graven images of silver, and the ornament of thy molten images of gold: thou shalt cast them away as a menstruous cloth; thou shalt say unto it, Get thee hence.”18  “Menstruous cloth” is a sign of uncleanness under the Law of Moses.19 Here Isaiah uses a plural pronoun to address the group of righteous as a whole, but then he reverts to singular pronouns to prescribe each individual’s response.

Isaiah, in Chapter 2, equates idolatry with materialism:

Their land also is full of silver and gold, neither is there any end of their treasures; their land is full of horses, neither is there any end of their chariots: Their land also is full of idols; they worship the work of their own hands, that which their own fingers have made.20

What is their land full of? Three parallel, equivalent statements provide an answer: “Silver and gold…treasures;” “horses…chariots;” “idols…the work of their own hands, that which their own fingers have made.” The prevalent form of latter-day idolatry—the worship of false gods—would be materialism.

The Lord’s blessings, both temporal and spiritual, will come to the righteous. Verse 23 attests: “Then shall he give the rain of thy seed, that thou shalt sow the ground withal; and bread of the increase of the earth, and it shall be fat and plenteous: in that day shall thy cattle feed in large pastures.” The Lord will provide rich temporal and spiritual blessings for the benefit of His righteous people.

Verses 20 through 23 contain a chiasm:

A: (20) And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity,
B: and the water of affliction,
C: yet shall not thy teachers be removed into a corner any more, but thine eyes shall see thy teachers:
D: (21) And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it,
D: when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left.
C: (22) Ye shall defile also the covering of thy graven images of silver, and the ornament of thy molten images of gold: thou shalt cast them away as a menstruous cloth; thou shalt say unto it, Get thee hence.
B: (23) Then shall he give the rain of thy seed, that thou shalt sow the ground withal;
A: and bread of the increase of the earth, and it shall be fat and plenteous: in that day shall thy cattle feed in large pastures.

The introductory statement, “bread of adversity,” contrasts with “bread of the increase of the earth.” “Water of affliction” contrasts with “rain of thy seed;” these show that although we may be afflicted the Lord will provide blessings. “Shall not thy teachers be removed into a corner any more” contrasts with “thou shalt cast them [thy graven images] away,” meaning inspired teachers take the place of idols in the lives of the righteous. “This is the way, walk ye in it” compares with “when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left.” In the first, the Spirit defines the strait and narrow way for us to follow; the second describes the still, small voice of warning, heard when we deviate from the path. The message of this chiasm is that although we may face adversities and afflictions in life, if we cleanse ourselves from idolatry and heed the words of inspired teachers the Lord will provide the guidance of the Spirit as we walk life’s path.

Verse 24 continues: “The oxen likewise and the young asses that ear the ground shall eat clean provender, which hath been winnowed with the shovel and with the fan.” “Work the soil” is the Hebrew meaning for “ear the ground.”21 Temporal and spiritual blessings will abound for the righteous.

Verses 25 and 26 are best considered together on the basis of their chiastic structure, in which Isaiah foretells a traumatic latter-day event. However, as if to shield us from the bad news, he envelops the prophecy with good news about what would happen as a consequence of the event—a great slaughter when towers would fall:

A: (25) And there shall be upon every high mountain, and upon every high hill, rivers
B: and streams of waters
C: in the day of the great slaughter,
C: when the towers fall.
B: (26) Moreover the light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun,
A: and the light of the sun shall be sevenfold, as the light of seven days, in the day that the LORD bindeth up the breach of his people, and healeth the stroke of their wound.

The central focus of this chiasm is “in the day of the great slaughter, when the towers fall.” The meaning of these paired phrases was forever emblazoned on the world-wide consciousness on September 11, 2001 when the Twin Towers of  the World Trade Center fell under terrorist attack, resulting in a great slaughter in which thousands of people were killed.  Now, in referring to the atrocities of that day, we have almost universally adopted the phrase “when the towers fell” whether or not we knew of Isaiah’s prophecy.

Verse 25 describes an abundance of spiritual blessings that would come as a result of the traumatic event and the wars that would ensue. “Water” is a metaphor meaning inspiration and blessings from heaven,22 whereas “mountains” and “hills” are metaphors meaning nations of the earth, both large and small.23 The meaning is that the nations of the earth would be blessed by a streaming flow of revelation and blessings.

Verse 26, using a different metaphor, further describes an abundance of inspiration and blessings from God that would be made available to the nations of the earth in that day. “The light of the moon” and “the light of the sun,” augmented sevenfold upon the earth following the falling of the towers and the great slaughter, also symbolize this outpouring of revelation and blessings. The chiastic structure tells us that the metaphors of verses 25 and 26 are the same—both are consequences of the event described in the central focus. Thus, Isaiah foretells a time of great spiritual awakening. The yoke of ignorance and superstition that enslaves many nations of the earth will be thrown off and the straight and narrow way will be made known unto them, permitting another phase of the latter-day gathering of the descendants of Israel.24 The Lord’s guidance and inspiration will also increase dramatically upon the righteous in that day, healing the affliction of their long exile25 and providing comfort to those who suffered great loss.

One way in which this great outpouring of guidance and inspiration would increase dramatically is the coming forth of the message of the Gospel through the internet and electronic devices, which has occurred largely since that time.

Concerning these momentous events President Gordon B. Hinckley, speaking a few weeks after the atrocities of September 11, 2001, said:

I am familiar, as are you, with the declarations of modern revelation that the time will come when the earth will be cleansed and there will be indescribable distress, with weeping and mourning and lamentation.26
Now I do not wish to be an alarmist. I do not wish to be a prophet of doom. I am optimistic. I do not believe the time is here when an all-consuming calamity will overtake us. I earnestly pray that it may not. There is so much of the Lord’s work yet to be done. We, and our children after us, must do it.27

This prophecy of Isaiah foretelling the fall of the towers, followed by a great outpouring of inspiration and blessings upon the nations of the earth, might not easily be understood except for its fulfillment. Nephi declared: “…nevertheless, in the days that the prophecies of Isaiah shall be fulfilled men shall know of a surety, at the times when they shall come to pass.”28 Similarly, many other prophecies of Isaiah will not be fully understood until they are fulfilled before our eyes.

Verses 27 and 28 describe the destruction accompanying the Lord’s Second Coming. Verse 27 begins the description: “Behold, the name of the LORD cometh from far, burning with his anger, and the burden thereof is heavy: his lips are full of indignation, and his tongue as a devouring fire.”29,30 “The name of the Lord” means “a symbol of the Lord’s power come to destroy wickedness.”31 Great destructions will befall the wicked while the righteous receive great blessings.

Verse 28 continues the description: “And his breath, as an overflowing stream, shall reach to the midst of the neck, to sift the nations with the sieve of vanity: and there shall be a bridle in the jaws of the people, causing them to err.” The “overflowing stream” is symbolism used elsewhere in Isaiah’s writings to represent an invading army.32 The bridle, or bit, in the jaw of the people is to prevent, rather than to cause, the people to err.

Verse 29 describes the joy of the righteous survivors on that day: “Ye shall have a song, as in the night when a holy solemnity is kept; and gladness of heart, as when one goeth with a pipe to come into the mountain of the LORD, to the mighty One of Israel.” Despite the destruction taking place, the righteous—who give heed to the word of the Lord through His living prophet—will be protected.33 The Hebrew word translated as “when a holy solemnity is kept” means “the sanctifying of a feast day.”34 “Solemnity,” in turn, comes from a Latin word meaning “annual observance.”35 “Goeth with a pipe” means with a musical wind instrument, and “mountain of the Lord” has reference to the temple.36

Verse 30 continues: “And the LORD shall cause his glorious voice to be heard, and shall shew the lighting down of his arm, with the indignation of his anger, and with the flame of a devouring fire, with scattering, and tempest, and hailstones.” The voice of the Lord will be heard at the time of the destruction, similar to the Nephites hearing His voice as He declared the extent of the destruction in America at the time of the crucifixion, as recorded in the Book of Mormon.37 Expressions of the Lord’s anger, by which the destruction will come about, include fire,38 scattering, storms, and hailstones. All describe extraordinary natural disasters.

Verses 29 and 30 contain a chiasm:

A: (29) Ye shall have a song, as in the night when a holy solemnity is kept; and gladness of heart, as when one goeth with a pipe to come into the mountain of the LORD,
B: to the mighty One of Israel.
B: (30) And the LORD
A: shall cause his glorious voice to be heard….

“The mountain of the LORD” is linked to “his glorious voice to be heard,” meaning that the Lord’s voice will be heard at the temple, or the mountain of the Lord. “The mighty One of Israel” is equivalent to “the LORD,” providing a synonym.

Verse 31 declares: “For through the voice of the LORD shall the Assyrian be beaten down, which smote with a rod.” By means of the Lord’s voice the invading army of Assyria will be beaten down, in the same way that they assailed their victims with a rod.

Verse 32 continues: “And in every place where the grounded staff shall pass, which the LORD shall lay upon him, it shall be with tabrets and harps: and in battles of shaking will he fight with it.” The Hebrew word translated as “battles of shaking” means “with swinging or brandishing of weapons.”39

Verses 31 and 32 contain a chiasm:

A: (31) For through the voice of the LORD
B: shall the Assyrian
C: be beaten down,
C: which smote
B: with a rod.
A: (32) And in every place where the grounded staff shall pass, which the LORD shall lay upon him, it shall be with tabrets and harps: and in battles of shaking will he fight with it.

In this chiasm it is made clear that the Lord would wage battles in the latter days using His voice, as well as with tabrets and harps. The voice of the Lord—including divine inspiration and guidance—would be an instrument in the destruction of the latter-day equivalent of Assyria, who in contrast smote the people with a rod. Music in the latter-day kingdom of God would be a powerful influence for good.

Verse 33 describes the fate of the king of Assyria—and thereby symbolically the destruction of all the wicked: “For Tophet is ordained of old; yea, for the king it is prepared; he hath made it deep and large: the pile thereof is fire and much wood; the breath of the LORD, like a stream of brimstone, doth kindle it.” Tophet was a location in the valley of the son of Hinnom, south of Jerusalem, where human sacrifices were offered to Molech.40 Righteous king Josiah defiled, or broke down, the idolatrous altar.41 Subsequently, the place became a site for burning of refuse.

 


Notes:

1. Verse 2 contains a chiasm: Egypt/my mouth/strengthen/strength/Pharaoh/Egypt.
2. Verses 3 through 5 contain a chiasm: Shame/your confusion/his princes/his ambassadors/a people that could not profit them/shame.
3. See Isaiah 18 and pertinent commentary.
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. 5045, p. 616.
5. Verses 4 through 6 contain a chiasm: Princes…Zoan…ambassadors… Hanes/ashamed/profit/profit/shame/south.
Verses 5 and 6 contain a chiasm: People that could not profit them/burden of the beasts of the south/trouble and anguish/lion…viper…fiery flying serpent/riches upon the shoulders of young asses…bunches of camels/people that shall not profit them.
Verse 6 contains a chiasm: Into the land of trouble and anguish/young and old lion/viper/fiery flying serpent/ shoulders of young asses…bunches of camels/people that shall not profit them.
6. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 7674, p. 992.
7. Verse 8 contains a chiasm recognized in the original Hebrew: Write it/in a table/in a book/note it. In Donald W. Parry, Harmonizing Isaiah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) at Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, 2001, p. 260.
8. 1 Nephi 16:2.
9. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 2513, p. 325.
10. See Exodus 13:20-22.
11. See Matthew 7:14; Doctrine and Covenants 132:22; also Isaiah 3:12; 8:11; 26:7-8; 28:7; 40:3 and pertinent commentary.
12. See Isaiah 30:25.
13. Isaiah 5:26.
14. See Isaiah 1:17; 5:7; 42:4; 59:15.
15. Marion D. Hanks, “He Means Me,” Ensign, May 1979, p. 74.
16. See Isaiah 3:16; 18:7; 24:23; 28:16; 29:8; 31:4, 9; 51:3.
17. See Doctrine and Covenants 85:6; 1 Kings 19:12; 1 Nephi 17:45.
18. Verse 22 contains a chiasm recognized in the original Hebrew: Ye shall defile/covering/graven images of silver/molten images of gold/ornament/thou shalt cast them away. In Donald W. Parry, Harmonizing Isaiah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) at Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, 2001, p. 260.
19. See Leviticus 15:19-20.
20. See Isaiah 2:7- 8 and pertinent commentary.
21. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 5647, p. 712.
22. See Isaiah 12:3; 35:6-7; 55:1, 11; 58:11 and pertinent commentary.
23. See Isaiah 2:2, 14 and 2 Nephi 12:2, 14; Isaiah 11:9; 13:2, 4 and pertinent commentary.
24. See Isaiah 11:15-16.
25. Isaiah 30:26, footnote 26a.
26. See Doctrine and Covenants 112:34.
27. Gordon B. Hinckley, “The Times in Which We Live:” The Ensign (Conference Report Issue), November 2001, pp 72-74.
28. 2 Nephi 25:7.
29. See Isaiah 1:7, 28; 30:30, 33; 33:11-12 and pertinent commentary.
30. Verse 27 contains a chiasm: Burning/anger/burden/heavy/indignation/devouring fire.
31. Isaiah 30:27, footnote 27a.
32. See Isaiah 8:7-8; 28:2; 59:19.
33. Compare Exodus 12:21-23; see also Isaiah 10:25; 26:20 and pertinent commentary.
34. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 2282, p. 290.
35. Ernest Klein, A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the English Language: Elsevier Publishing Company, New York, 1971, p. 696.
36. See Isaiah 2:3; 56:7; 65:11; 66:20 and pertinent commentary.
37. See 3 Nephi 9:1-22.
38. See references for Verse 27, above.
39. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 8573, p. 632.
40. Bible Dictionary—Topheth.
41. 2 Kings 23:10.

Isaiah 29: I Will Proceed to Do…A Marvellous Work and a Wonder

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

Nephi elaborates:

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
B: Lebanon
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

 


Notes:

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.

Isaiah 28: Woe to the Drunkards of Ephraim!

Chapter 28 deals with corruption and subsequent destruction that will precede the Second Coming. With each successive chapter on this subject we are given yet another perspective of these events, with more details and insight. Here the prophet deals with ecclesiastical corruption; an intended spiritual feast is depicted as solemn mockery, with tables filled with vomit and filthiness. Pervasive wealth, pride and self-indulgence among ecclesiastical leaders are depicted as drunkenness; hence, “Woe to the drunkards of Ephraim!”

The revelation presented in Chapter 28 was given to Isaiah at a time when Assyria controlled Ephraim—meaning the northern kingdom of Israel consisting of the ten tribes—except for the capital city Samaria and the surrounding area.1 Ephraim anciently was the leading tribe of the northern kingdom, which would be taken into captivity by Assyria in 722 B.C. shortly after these pronouncements by Isaiah.2 Recurrent fulfillment of this prophecy involves latter-day actors on Isaiah’s stage. Modern Ephraim includes the nations of Europe and North America, the inhabitants of which—although generally considered as Gentiles—are a mixture of the tribe of Ephraim. The historical context provides a type for latter-day events and conditions.

This chapter begins by focusing on the corruption of Ephraim—both Ephraim of old before the captivity by Assyria, and Ephraim’s latter-day descendants. In typical Isaiah style, some elements of this chapter relate to Ephraim of old, some deal with her latter-day descendants, and some deal with both. This chapter serves as a warning to modern descendants of Ephraim of an inherent weakness—an area in which they may be subject to temptation.

Revelation, we are informed, comes line upon line and precept upon precept, but the drunken priest and prophet of decadent Ephraim are not able to understand the workings of the Spirit. Upon His coming, Christ—the sure foundation—will sweep all such away with an overflowing scourge so intense that people will be overcome by merely hearing about it.

Verses 1 through 4 are a woe oracle structured as a chiasm. Verse 1 begins: “Woe to the crown of pride, to the drunkards of Ephraim, whose glorious beauty is a fading flower, which are on the head of the fat valleys of them that are overcome with wine!” The crown, or leaders, are the priests and prophets of Ephraim, both ancient and modern, who are drunk with wealth and pride. “Whose glorious beauty is a fading flower” describes the moral collapse of modern Ephraim—reliance upon past achievements and victories rather than upon present integrity or future noble aspirations. “Fat valley” means a valley rich in produce.

Verse 2 declares: “Behold, the Lord hath a mighty and strong one, which as a tempest of hail and a destroying storm, as a flood of mighty waters overflowing, shall cast down to the earth with the hand.” The Lord will bring the mighty and strong king of Assyria or his modern counterpart. “The hand” means the king of Assyria, acting as proxy for the Lord in destroying Ephraim. Note the symbolism, now familiar to us: “A flood of mighty waters overflowing” is a metaphor for an invading army.

Isaiah describes a similar devastating event in Chapter 8: “Now therefore, behold, the Lord bringeth up upon them the waters of the river, strong and many, even the king of Assyria, and all his glory: and he shall come up over all his channels, and go over all his banks.”3 This symbolism arises because Assyria, the source of the invading army, was located in Mesopotamia, the land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.4 The name “Mesopotamia” comes from the Greek meso- meaning “between,” and potamos, meaning “rivers.”5

Verse 3 foretells: “The crown of pride, the drunkards of Ephraim”—meaning the priests and the prophets who are drunk with self-indulgence—”shall be trodden under feet.” “Under feet” means the feet of the invading army.

Verse 4 summarizes: “And the glorious beauty, which is on the head of the fat valley, shall be a fading flower, and as the hasty fruit before the summer; which when he that looketh upon it seeth, while it is yet in his hand he eateth it up.” The Hebrew meaning of “hasty fruit” is “early fig.”6 The invading army, as revealed in this simile, will plunder all that lies in its path.

Verses 1 through 4 contain a chiasm:

A: (1) Woe to the crown of pride, to the drunkards of Ephraim, whose glorious beauty is a fading flower,
B: which are on the head of the fat valleys
C: of them that are overcome with wine!
D: (2) Behold, the Lord hath a mighty and strong one,
E:   which as a tempest of hail and a destroying storm,
E:   as a flood of mighty waters overflowing,
D: shall cast down to the earth with the hand.
C: (3) The crown of pride, the drunkards of Ephraim, shall be trodden under feet:
B: (4) And the glorious beauty, which is on the head of the fat valley,
A: shall be a fading flower, and as the hasty fruit before the summer; which when he that looketh upon it seeth, while it is yet in his hand he eateth it up.

“Overcome with wine” is equivalent to “drunkards of Ephraim,” identifying who is overcome; “the Lord hath a mighty and strong one” complements “hand,” identifying the hand as that of the invader; and “tempest of hail and a destroying storm” compares with “flood of mighty waters overflowing,” using two metaphors to describe the devastation to be wrought by the invader in retribution for the drunken or immoral state of Ephraim.

In verse 5 the context changes, now referring specifically to latter-day Ephraim in a time after the scattering of Israel—during the time of preparation for the Second Coming of the Lord: “In that day shall the LORD of hosts be for a crown of glory, and for a diadem of beauty, unto the residue of his people.” Isaiah uses “In that day” to designate the latter days; as attested earlier by Isaiah in Chapter 2, “the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day.”7 “Residue” means those remaining after the devastation.

Verse 6 continues: “And for a spirit of judgment to him that sitteth in judgment, and for strength to them that turn the battle to the gate.” The Lord’s glory, described in verse 5, will be for a spirit of righteous judgment, or inspiration, upon the leaders of the righteous remnant of modern Ephraim, and will be for strength upon a small army of righteous Ephraimites who will turn back the invading army of verses 3 and 4 even at the gate of the city of Zion. “Spirit of judgment,” as used here, means “a spirit of fairness” or of meting out justice.8 Other meanings for “judgment” found in the writings of Isaiah include social justice,9 retribution,10 sound reasoning,11 and an equitable system of laws.12

Verses 4 through 6 contain a chiasm:

A: (4) And the glorious beauty, which is on the head of the fat valley, shall be a fading flower, and as the hasty fruit before the summer; which when he that looketh upon it seeth, while it is yet in his hand he eateth it up.
B: (5) In that day shall the LORD of hosts be
C: for a crown of glory,
C: and for a diadem of beauty,
B: unto the residue of his people,
A: (6) And for a spirit of judgment to him that sitteth in judgment, and for strength to them that turn the battle to the gate.

“The glorious beauty” corresponds to “a spirit of judgment to him that sitteth in judgment, and for strength to them that turn the battle to the gate.” The Lord will provide strength to those who righteously judge or defend His people, who face marauders intent on consuming the glorious but fading beauty of modern Ephraim. “The LORD of hosts” corresponds to “his people,” identifying whose people they are; and “crown of glory” is the same as “diadem of beauty.” Ephraim’s past crowning glory—the righteousness of “him that sitteth in judgment”—will be manifest in the future and will provide strength “to them that turn the battle to the gate.”

Verses 7 and 8 provide more insight into the decadent state of the religious leaders of ancient and modern Ephraim before the foretold conquest by the invading army. Verse 7 attests to the lack of inspiration of these religious leaders: “But they also have erred through wine, and through strong drink are out of the way; the priest and the prophet have erred through strong drink, they are swallowed up of wine, they are out of the way through strong drink; they err in vision, they stumble in judgment.” “Erred through wine” means that priestcrafts, pride and seeking after the riches and honor of the world have left religious leaders destitute as to spiritual things, which are obtained only through revelation from God. They have lost sight of the strait and narrow way.13 “The priest and the prophet” means those whose duty is to provide moral guidance, who profess priestly authority and prophetic insight. “Judgment,” as used here, means “sound reasoning.”14 Because those who assume ecclesiastical authority are given to worldly appetites and their gratification, their vision and judgment err; they are not inspired of the Lord.

Verse 7 contains a chiasm:

A: (7) But they also have erred through wine,
B: and through strong drink are out of the way;
C: the priest
C: and the prophet
B: have erred through strong drink,
A: they are swallowed up of wine, they are out of the way through strong drink; they err in vision, they stumble in judgment.

“They also have erred through wine” matches “they are swallowed up of wine, they are out of the way through strong drink; they err in vision, they stumble in judgment,” the metaphoric wine being explained in the last two phrases. Because of indulgence in strong drink—metaphorically, gratification of worldly appetites and passions—the priest and the prophet have erred and are out of the strait and narrow way.15

Verse 8 describes an intended spiritual feast, rendered as a drunken debauchery by the uninspired priests and prophets: “For all tables are full of vomit and filthiness, so that there is no place clean.” In place of pure doctrine, the corrupt priests and prophets present a vomitous banquet of false doctrines, wickedness, and hypocrisy. No place is left clean, or no doctrines are left unadulterated. This corrupt feast is solemn mockery before the Lord; that which was sacred has been profaned. Compare the feast which the Lord will offer in Mount Zion: “Y Jehová de los ejércitos hará en este monte a todos los pueblos convite de engordados, convite de purificados, de gruesos tuétanos, de purificados líquidos”.16 The feast will consist of the very best of blessings and spiritual gifts that the Lord can offer.

In verse 9, Isaiah ponders: “Whom shall he teach knowledge?” The Lord teaches knowledge through revelation. “And whom shall he make to understand doctrine?” Isaiah answers: “Them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts.”17 Those who are innocent and pure, like young children, are those who will receive guidance and inspiration from the Lord.

Regarding the innocence and purity of His apostles, Jesus said: “I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes.”18 In like manner God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, appeared to Joseph Smith when the nascent prophet of the restoration was just fourteen years old, in response to his prayer seeking to know which church was right.19 The Lord, in modern revelation, described the innocence but lack of spiritual sophistication of early converts in similar terms: “For they cannot bear meat now, but milk they must receive; wherefore, they must not know these things, lest they perish.”20

Verse 10 describes the manner in which the Lord reveals truth through revelation: “For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little.” The Lord gives His people what they can understand, a little at a time, so that they can assimilate it into their lives. Then He gives them more, based upon the new level of understanding and obedience gained from what He has previously given. The Lord explains in Doctrine and Covenants:

And I give unto you a commandment, that ye shall forsake all evil and cleave unto all good, that ye shall live by every word which proceedeth forth out of the mouth of God. For he will give unto the faithful line upon line, precept upon precept; and I will try you and prove you herewith (emphasis added).21

Again, this meaning is clear elsewhere in modern revelation:

[A]nd the voice of Michael, the archangel; the voice of Gabriel, and of Raphael, and of divers angels, from Michael or Adam down to the present time, all declaring their dispensation, their rights, their keys, their honors, their majesty and glory, and the power of their priesthood; giving line upon line, precept upon precept; here a little, and there a little; giving us consolation by holding forth that which is to come, confirming our hope! (Emphasis added).22

The Lord summarizes: “That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day.”23

Verse 11 describes the great lack of eloquence and oratory that characterizes the Lord’s humble servants: “For with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people.” Missionaries go forth, struggling and stammering to learn new languages as they seek out the modern descendants of Ephraim and others of the lost tribes. “This people” means modern Israel in her scattered state, sought for and gathered by modern-day “ambassadors” and “swift messengers.”24

In modern revelation the Lord foresees the preaching of the gospel in every man’s native language:

For it shall come to pass in that day, that every man shall hear the fulness of the gospel in his own tongue, and in his own language, through those who are ordained unto this power, by the administration of the Comforter, shed forth upon them for the revelation of Jesus Christ.25

Verse 11 is paraphrased by Paul in the New Testament: “In the law it is written, With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that will they not hear me, saith the Lord.”26

The Lord affirms it for the latter days: “That the fulness of my gospel might be proclaimed by the weak and the simple unto the ends of the world, and before kings and rulers.”27

Those who fail to heed the warnings of the Lord, delivered by stammerers struggling with foreign languages, will be swept away by the modern counterpart of the invading Assyrians. Ancient Assyria spoke a language incomprehensible to the ancient Israelites; so will be the language of the modern invading army described in verses 2 and 3 above, who will sweep away and pillage the drunkards of Ephraim.

Verse 12 describes the message from the Lord, delivered by the stammering messengers to the scattered of Israel: “To whom he said, This is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest; and this is the refreshing: yet they would not hear.” “The rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest” means the doctrines of salvation. “This is the refreshing” refers to the latter-day restoration—the time of refreshing spoken of by Peter: “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord” (emphasis added).28

“Yet they would not hear” means that many who would be given the message of refreshing, or restoration, would fail to heed the warning. To those who refuse to listen, the Lord will speak in yet another tongue—that of the modern equivalent of the Assyrian army. Parry et al. identify “rest” and “refreshing” as observance of the law of the Sabbath.29

Verse 13 summarizes, reflecting verse 10: “But the word of the LORD was unto them precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little; that they might go, and fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken.” In spite of the Lord’s instructions to them through ancient and modern prophets and the modern army of missionaries struggling to deliver the Lord’s message in foreign languages, most would reject the message.

Nephi, providing added understanding, paraphrases verses 10 and 13:

For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have.30

Verses 10 through 13 contain a chiasm:

A: (10) For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little:
B: (11) For with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people.
C: (12) To whom he said,
D: This is the rest
E:   wherewith ye may cause the weary
E:   to rest;
D: and this is the refreshing:
C: yet they would not hear.
B: (13) But the word of the LORD was unto them
A: precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little; that they might go, and fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken.

The Lord provides revelation and guidance to His people in small portions. “For with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people” matches “but the word of the LORD was unto them.” Despite the word of the Lord delivered by messengers struggling to speak in another tongue, many of the covenant lineage would not accept the message of the restoration.

In verses 14 through 22 Isaiah turns to Jerusalem, addressing her scornful rulers. Verse 14 declares: “Wherefore hear the word of the LORD, ye scornful men, that rule this people which is in Jerusalem.” Isaiah attests that the warning given to ancient Ephraim applies equally to Judah. The scornful, drunken leaders of Jerusalem are challenged to give heed to what the Lord is telling Ephraim. For our time, reference to “Jerusalem” means, in the broadest sense, modern-day ecclesiastical centers.

Verse 15 explains the false security surrounding these scornful leaders: “Because ye have said, We have made a covenant with death, and with hell are we at agreement; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, it shall not come unto us: for we have made lies our refuge, and under falsehood have we hid ourselves.” They incorrectly assume that their covenant with Satan—or the invading army—based on their falsehoods and lies that pass for beliefs, will save them from the impending destructive scourge.

This scourge is also described in modern revelation:

For a desolating scourge shall go forth among the inhabitants of the earth, and shall continue to be poured out from time to time, if they repent not, until the earth is empty, and the inhabitants thereof are consumed away and utterly destroyed by the brightness of my coming.31

From the time of Cain, Satan has sought to make agreements with men. But when the unavoidable consequences of their actions under these agreements become apparent, Satan’s promises notwithstanding, Satan essentially laughs in their faces. The trust of decadent Ephraim and Judah in the arm of flesh and in their agreements with Satan brings only remorse, which is pleasing unto Satan.

In modern revelation the Lord describes the scourge of a desolating sickness:

And there shall be men standing in that generation, that shall not pass until they shall see an overflowing scourge; for a desolating sickness shall cover the land.
But my disciples shall stand in holy places, and shall not be moved; but among the wicked, men shall lift up their voices and curse God and die.32

The Lord provides further explanation to His modern disciples:

For behold, and lo, vengeance cometh speedily upon the ungodly as the whirlwind; and who shall escape it?
The Lord’s scourge shall pass over by night and by day, and the report thereof shall vex all people; yea, it shall not be stayed until the Lord come;
For the indignation of the Lord is kindled against their abominations and all their wicked works.33

Verse 16 describes the only sure source of safety: “Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste.” The final phrase means “he who believes should not flee in panic.” This prophecy is quoted in the New Testament, relating to the mortal ministry and Second Coming of Jesus Christ34 who metaphorically is the foundation stone.

Jacob, the brother of Nephi in the Book of Mormon, explains:

[T]hat by the stumbling of the Jews they will reject the stone upon which they might build and have safe foundation.
But behold, according to the scriptures, this stone shall become the great, and the last, and the only sure foundation, upon which the Jews can build.35

Jacob explains that the Jews would reject their Savior during His earthly ministry. In verse 16 “Zion” means a place of latter-day spiritual gathering, as well as being a synonym for ancient Jerusalem at the time of Christ’s ministry.36

The symbolism of verse 16 is familiar to us. Paul writes:

Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God;
And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;
In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord (emphasis added).37

“Stone” refers simultaneously to Jesus Christ and the principle of revelation, whereas the “sure foundation” is simultaneously the Lord and the saving doctrines He teaches.

Verses 14 through 16 contain a chiasm:

A: (14) Wherefore hear the word of the LORD, ye scornful men, that rule this people which is in Jerusalem.
B: (15) Because ye have said, We have made a covenant with death,
C: and with hell are we at agreement;
D: when the overflowing scourge shall pass through,
D: it shall not come unto us:
C: for we have made lies our refuge,
B: and under falsehood have we hid ourselves:
A: (16) Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste.

Reading this chiasm in reflective order—beginning with the introductory statement and its reflection and proceeding in this manner to the central statement and its reflection—provides insight: “Wherefore hear the word of the LORD, ye scornful men, that rule this people which is in Jerusalem.” The word of the Lord to the scornful rulers is: “Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste.” But the rulers of Jerusalem respond: “We have made a covenant with death; under falsehood have we hid ourselves; with hell are we at agreement; we have made lies our refuge; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, it shall not come unto us.” Wicked rulers fail to heed the word of the Lord through which salvation comes. Instead they rely on lies, false doctrines and agreements with Satan to protect them from the overflowing scourge.

Verse 17 establishes the basis for survival, in contrast to the lies of Ephraim’s drunken and scornful leaders: “Judgment also will I lay to the line, and righteousness to the plummet: and the hail shall sweep away the refuge of lies, and the waters shall overflow the hiding place.” “Judgment” in this verse means “fairness” or “justice.”38 Proper judgment requires being guided by the Holy Ghost. “The line” refers to the level line used in building—essential in getting foundations and walls straight—and “plummet” refers to another tool of masonry and carpentry, the plumb bob, used for maintaining precise vertical lines. “Plummet” and “plumb bob” have a common Latin root, plumbum, meaning “lead,” the heavy substance from which these tools are made.39 These metaphors refer to personal righteousness. Those whose refuge is lies and whose hiding place is falsehood will be overrun by the invading army, characterized here as a sweeping hailstorm that will sweep away the lies, and a flood of waters that will overflow every hiding place.40

Verse 18 presents the outcome of the covenant with Satan made by scornful leaders, both in Jerusalem and Ephraim: “And your covenant with death shall be disannulled, and your agreement with hell shall not stand; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, then ye shall be trodden down by it.” True to form, Satan’s covenant with these wicked rulers will come to naught and the invading scourge will sweep through, treading them down.

Verses 15 through 18 contain a chiasm that verifies Isaiah’s intended meaning:

A: (15) Because ye have said, We have made a covenant with death, and with hell are we at agreement; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, it shall not come unto us:
B: for we have made lies our refuge, and under falsehood have we hid ourselves:
C: (16) Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, I lay
D: in Zion
E: for a foundation a stone,
F: a tried
G: stone,
H: a precious
G: corner stone,
F: a sure
E: foundation:
D: he that believeth shall not make haste.
C: (17) Judgment also will I lay to the line, and righteousness to the plummet:
B: and the hail shall sweep away the refuge of lies, and the waters shall overflow the hiding place.
A: (18) And your covenant with death shall be disannulled, and your agreement with hell shall not stand; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, then ye shall be trodden down by it.

“We have made a covenant with death” is complemented by “your covenant with death shall be disannulled, and your agreement with hell shall not stand,” describing the Lord’s displeasure regarding an alliance with evil. “For we have made lies our refuge, and under falsehood have we hid ourselves” contrasts with “the hail shall sweep away the refuge of lies, and the waters shall overflow the hiding place,” describing the futility of reliance upon wickedness. “Zion” equates with “he that believeth,” providing a definition. Compare the definition given by the Lord in modern revelation: “For this is Zion— the pure in heart.”41

Verse 19 describes the horror of this overflowing scourge: “From the time that it goeth forth it shall take you: for morning by morning shall it pass over, by day and by night: and it shall be a vexation only to understand the report.” People will be overcome just by hearing about the destruction wrought by the invading army.42

Verse 20 symbolically describes the discomfort the survivors will experience: “For the bed is shorter than that a man can stretch himself on it: and the covering narrower than that he can wrap himself in it.” The people will be left uncomfortable and destitute, whereas before they enjoyed great wealth and comfort.

Verse 21 attests that the Lord will bring destruction upon the invading army: “For the LORD shall rise up as in mount Perazim, he shall be wroth as in the valley of Gibeon, that he may do his work, his strange work; and bring to pass his act, his strange act.” These instances of the Lord destroying invading armies reflect Old Testament events in which Israel was defended against the Philistines—whom the Lord delivered into the hands of David and his forces43—and against the Amorites, by great stones being cast from heaven.44 The Lord will defend the latter-day righteous against the overflowing scourge, just as He defended His ancient followers.

The final phrase of verse 21, “that he may do his work, his strange work; and bring to pass his act, his strange act,” compares with the Lord’s words given to Joseph Smith, which provide explanation:

What I have said unto you must needs be, that all men may be left without excuse;
That wise men and rulers may hear and know that which they have never considered;
That I may proceed to bring to pass my act, my strange act, and perform my work, my strange work, that men may discern between the righteous and the wicked, saith your God (emphasis added).45

In verse 22, Isaiah admonishes his latter-day audience: “Now therefore be ye not mockers, lest your bands [or, bondage] be made strong: for I have heard from the Lord GOD of hosts a consumption, even determined upon the whole earth.” The prophet challenges the people to listen to the Lord’s appointed prophets—not mocking them—and to receive revelation in order to escape the bondage, consumption and destruction foretold.

Verses 18 through 22 contain a chiasm:

A: (18) And your covenant with death shall be disannulled, and your agreement with hell shall not stand; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, then ye shall be trodden down by it. (19) From the time that it goeth forth it shall take you: for morning by morning shall it pass over, by day and by night:
B: and it shall be a vexation only to understand the report.
C: (20) For the bed is shorter than that a man can stretch himself on it: and the covering narrower than that he can wrap himself in it. (21) For the LORD shall rise up as in mount Perazim, he shall be wroth as in the valley of Gibeon,
D: that he may do his work, his strange work;
D: and bring to pass his act, his strange act.
C: (22) Now therefore be ye not mockers, lest your bands be made strong:
B: for I have heard from the Lord GOD of hosts
A: a consumption, even determined upon the whole earth.

“The overflowing scourge” corresponds to “a consumption, even determined upon the whole earth,” providing further insight. “A vexation only to understand the report” complements “I have heard from the Lord GOD of hosts,” providing Isaiah’s source for information. Those who survive the scourge will be left in destitute circumstances, although the Lord will protect them.

In verses 23 through 29, Isaiah presents the Parable of the Farmer to illustrate the Lord’s unchanging method in bringing His word to nations and peoples of the earth. The process described metaphorically in the parable includes three phases—plowing, sowing and harvest. Plowing represents the means by which a nation or people is humbled to prepare them to receive the gospel—a nation may be subjected to tyranny, servitude, war, natural disaster, or economic distress. In its humbled state the nation is more receptive to the good news of the gospel, sown among them by righteous saints living the principles of their religion. First, the sowing, or seeding, comes as a good example; subsequently as more formal teaching. The seeding is followed by conversion, spiritual growth, and the harvest of souls who have lived their lives in righteousness and are prepared to meet their God. Depending on the nature and character of the people—represented by the various crops mentioned—the Lord has formulated specific methods, both for planting and harvesting.

Verse 23 implores: “Give ye ear, and hear my voice; hearken, and hear my speech.” Isaiah pleads with his listeners and modern readers alike to give heed and listen.

Verse 24 begins the parable: “Doth the plowman plow all day to sow? doth he open and break the clods of his ground?” Isaiah establishes the premise by using rhetorical questions. Preparing the field is an essential prerequisite, but time allowed for this step is limited.

Verse 25 continues: “When he hath made plain the face thereof, doth he not cast abroad the fitches, and scatter the cummin, and cast in the principal wheat and the appointed barley and the rie in their place?” “Fitches” means “vetch,” a pealike nitrogen-fixing legume sown for enrichment of the soil, and “cummin” is an herb used for flavoring. Various crops are planted in specified places; some seeds are “cast abroad” indiscriminately whereas others are more carefully placed. Most valuable is the “principal wheat,” which is “cast in” with greater care.

Verse 26 goes on: “For his God doth instruct him to discretion, and doth teach him.” The meaning is that God instructs His people and their leaders through revelation. As one period of time comes to a close, another arises which has different challenges, different purposes, different instructions from the Lord. Are God’s instructions to Adam sufficient for Noah? Are God’s words given to Abraham all that Moses needed? So it is with us: Rather than memorizing endless sets of questions and answers (catechisms) or set prayers, we are to be guided by continuing revelation. Our task is to train ourselves to listen and hear “line upon line, and precept upon precept.” Thus, as the Lord brings about destructions, seed times, and harvests in the latter days, His specific instructions come to those who recognize His voice and His method of delivering instructions—through living prophets and through personal inspiration.

Verses 27 through 29 illustrate the care taken by the Lord in harvesting and threshing. Verse 27 begins: “For the fitches are not threshed with a threshing instrument, neither is a cart wheel turned about upon the cummin; but the fitches are beaten out with a staff, and the cummin with a rod.”

Verse 28 continues: “Bread corn is bruised; because he will not ever be threshing it, nor break it with the wheel of his cart, nor bruise it with his horsemen.” There is an appropriate method for threshing each type of grain or seed; duration of the threshing process is carefully limited lest the precious grain be damaged. Accordingly, trials and tribulations are meted out carefully according to need, circumstances and the character of the individual or group.

Malachi describes the process of refinement using the purifying of silver as a descriptive metaphor:

But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap:
And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the LORD an offering in righteousness.46

Only those who have been through the refiner’s fire and have been purified and refined by their experience will be able to endure the Lord’s presence when He appears at His Second Coming.

Verse 29 concludes: “This also cometh forth from the LORD of hosts, which is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in working.” Those who follow the Lord’s continuing instructions will not be harmed, though the harvest and threshing be orderly but severe.

Devastating wars that we have witnessed in our time have resulted in the gospel being preached among the affected nations. Following a war, during the reorganization and rebuilding effort, the citizens of the devastated land have the opportunity to observe the good examples of members of the Church. Slowly at first, the people are taught the gospel; as time passes, more and more accept the opportunity to be taught and join the Church. The end result is that a nation that was at one time hostile or unreceptive is taught the gospel, temples dot the land, and her citizens are granted the same opportunities and blessings as Church members in lands where the Church has been established for generations.

Verses 23 through 29 contain a chiasm:

A: (23) Give ye ear, and hear my voice; hearken, and hear my speech.
B: (24) Doth the plowman plow all day to sow? doth he open and break the clods of his ground?
C: (25) When he hath made plain the face thereof, doth he not cast abroad the fitches, and scatter the cummin, and cast in the principal wheat and the appointed barley and the rie in their place?
D: (26) For his God doth instruct him to discretion,
D: and doth teach him.
C: (27) For the fitches are not threshed with a threshing instrument, neither is a cart wheel turned about upon the cummin; but the fitches are beaten out with a staff, and the cummin with a rod.
B: (28) Bread corn is bruised; because he will not ever be threshing it, nor break it with the wheel of his cart, nor bruise it with his horsemen.
A: (29) This also cometh forth from the LORD of hosts, which is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in working.

“Give ye ear, and hear my voice; hearken, and hear my speech” compares with “this also cometh forth from the LORD of hosts,” which describes the divine source of Isaiah’s information. The ascending side of this chiasm describes methods of soil preparation and seeding, whereas the descending side describes methods of harvest and threshing. Nations are carefully prepared to receive the gospel; sowing and harvesting are carried out according to the Lord’s detailed plan. Prophets, receiving guidance and instruction from the Lord, are given information appropriate for their time, here compared metaphorically to knowledge and implementation of agricultural practices.

 


Notes:

1. Victor L. Ludlow, Isaiah: Prophet, Seer, and Poet: Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1982, p. 258-259.
2. Isaiah 28:1, footnote 1b.
3. Isaiah 8:7; 17:12-13; 28:17; 43:2.
4. See Map 2, LDS Bible.
5. Ernest Klein, A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the English Language: 1971, Elsevier Publishing Company, 52 Vanderbilt Avenue, New York, NY 10017, “Mesopotamia,” p. 459-460.
6. F. Brown, S. Driver, and C. Briggs, The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon: Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, MA, 01961-3473, 1996, Strong’s No. 1063, p. 114.
7. Isaiah 2:10-12.
8. See Isaiah 1:17; 5:7; 42:4; 59:15.
9. See Isaiah 5:7; 42:1; 59:8, 15.
10. See Isaiah 1:17; 3:14; 4:4; 34:5.
11. See Isaiah 1:17; 40:14, 27; 42:3; 59:8.
12. See Isaiah 51:4; 54:17.
13. See Matthew 7:13-14; see also Isaiah 3:12; 8:11; 26:7-8; 40:3 and pertinent commentary.
14. See Isaiah 1:17; 40:14, 27; 42:3; 59:8.
15. An overlapping chiasm is also present in verse 7: Priest/prophet/erred/strong drink/swallowed up/out of the way/strong drink/err/vision/judgment.
16. Isaiah 25:6; see pertinent commentary.
17. Verse 9 contains a chiasm: Teach knowledge/understand doctrine/weaned from the milk/drawn from the breasts.
18. Matthew 11:25.
19. See Joseph Smith—History 1:15-17.
20. Doctrine and Covenants 19:22.
21. Doctrine and Covenants 98:11-12.
22. Doctrine and Covenants 128:21; see also Doctrine and Covenants 98:12.
23. Doctrine and Covenants 50:24.
24. Isaiah 18:2.
25. Doctrine and Covenants 90:11.
26. 1 Corinthians 14:21; see also 1 Corinthians 1:26-27.
27. Doctrine and Covenants 1:23.
28. Acts 3:19.
29. Donald W. Parry, Jay A. Parry and Tina M. Peterson, Understanding Isaiah: Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1998, p. 251.
30. 2 Nephi 28:30.
31. Doctrine and Covenants 5:19.
32. Doctrine and Covenants 45:31-32.
33. Doctrine and Covenants 97:22-24.
34. See Isaiah 6:10; 7:14; 11:1; 25:9; 53:5.
35. Jacob 4:15-16.
36. See Isaiah 3:16; 18:7; 24:23; 29:8; 30:19; 31:4, 9; 51:3.
37. Ephesians 2:19-21.
38. For references to other meanings of “judgment,” see verse 6.
39. Klein, “plumb,” p. 570.
40. Isaiah 8:7; 17:12-13; 28:2, 43:2.
41. Doctrine and Covenants 97:21.
42. Doctrine and Covenants 5:19.
43. See 2 Samuel 5:19-20; also 1 Chronicles 14:10-11.
44. See Joshua 10:8-14.
45. Doctrine and Covenants 101:93-95; see also Doctrine and Covenants 95:4.
46. Malachi 3:2-3.