Keys To Understanding the Writings of Isaiah

The writings of Isaiah contain prophecies and instruction that are of vital importance to us in the latter days. However, because of Isaiah’s artful writing style much of the information is hidden. Of all the writers who have ever written Isaiah is the undisputed master of style, poetic form, and the use of literary devices to communicate much more instruction and prophetic insight than are apparent upon first reading.

Bruce R. McConkie presented ten keys to understanding the writings of Isaiah.1 These are:

•   Gain an over‑all knowledge of the Plan of Salvation and of God’s dealings with His earthly children.
•   Learn the position and destiny of the House of Israel in the Lord’s eternal scheme of things.
•   Know the chief doctrines about which Isaiah chose to write.
•   Use the Book of Mormon.
•   Use latter‑day revelation.
•   Learn how the New Testament interprets Isaiah.
•   Study Isaiah in its Old Testament context.
•   Learn the manner of prophesying used among the Jews in Isaiah’s day.
•   Have the spirit of prophecy.
•   Devote yourself to hard, conscientious study.

These keys are essential elements in any serious study of the writings of Isaiah and are the basis for this commentary. Some are easier than others to apply or master, but none of these elements can be ignored. Each key is discussed in some detail in the following paragraphs.

1.   Gain an Over‑all Knowledge of the Plan of Salvation and of God’s Dealings with His Earthly Children

Isaiah’s purpose in writing was not to set forth and explain the doctrines of salvation. He wrote to people who presumably were already well-versed in the principles of the gospel, including the supernal reality that Jesus Christ is the promised Messiah who atoned for us by giving up His own life. An understanding of these doctrinal truths is prerequisite to gaining an understanding of the prophecies of Isaiah.

Because of Christ’s incomparable gift, two things happen to us that otherwise would not happen. First, we will all be resurrected. It makes no difference if we were good or bad, or even if we knew about Jesus Christ during our lives. We will all be resurrected because of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.2 The title “Savior” used by the Lord reflects this great gift, given freely to all through the Lord’s grace.3 Paul summarizes: “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (emphasis added).4 The negative effects of the fall of Adam have been overcome through Christ’s sacrifice. Thus, Isaiah foretold: “He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from off all faces…”5 Paul recapitulates: “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?”6

Second, those of us who repent and keep God’s commandments will be forgiven of our sins. This is not a free gift, unlike the first part; it is conditional, based upon our repenting of our sins and following the Lord’s commandments.7 The title “Redeemer” used by the Lord reflects His role in providing the means for us to be forgiven of our sins.

Although redemption is not free because there are things we must do to obtain it, the possibility and opportunity for repentance from our sins is still part of the greatest gift of all, given to us through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.8 If the Savior had not taken upon Himself the sins of the world in the garden of Gethsemane and then taken our sins up on the cross with Him where He died, there would be no way for us to return to our heavenly home. He paid the price of sin for us if we repent, thus becoming the great Intercessor.9 It enables Him to extend mercy to the repentant while still satisfying the demands of justice.10 This part of the Atonement—exaltation in the kingdom of heaven—includes the privilege of dwelling forever in God’s presence.11

The risen Lord summarizes:

And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost….
Behold, I have come unto the world to bring redemption unto the world, to save the world from sin.
Therefore, whoso repenteth and cometh unto me as a little child, him will I receive, for of such is the kingdom of God. Behold, for such I have laid down my life, and have taken it up again; therefore repent, and come unto me ye ends of the earth, and be saved.12

LeGrand Richards taught: “You see that [salvation] does not come just by confession that you believe in Jesus Christ. You have got to do the works and be judged according to your works.”13

Our part of the Atonement includes having faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, repenting of our sins, being baptized by immersion for the remission of sins, and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands. These principles and ordinances are presented in the Fourth Article of Faith.14 Beyond these requirements, we must wear out our lives in service to God and our fellow men. In order to attain exaltation, the highest level of salvation, we must also avail ourselves of other saving ordinances and obey other eternal laws and commandments of God.

From time to time throughout the history of the world, God has sent forth prophets to declare the glad tidings of the gospel to mankind on the earth. There have been at least seven such times, called “dispensations,” when these things have been made known through divine revelation. Earlier dispensations are identified according to the prophets who led them including Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus Christ. Following each dispensation there occurred a falling away—an apostasy15—in which the revealed truths brought to earth by divine messengers or through the Holy Ghost to prophets were gradually abandoned and forgotten.

Paul wrote of the “dispensation of the fulness of times” in which the Lord would “gather together all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and on earth.”16 The dispensation of the fulness of times is the culminating one, which will usher in the glorious second coming of the Lord. Joseph Smith was the prophet who began this dispensation.17 Born in 1805,18 he translated the Book of Mormon, publishing it in 1829,19 and organized the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1830.20 Since his time, the Church has been led by an unbroken chain of divinely-inspired prophets. Much of Isaiah’s writings deal with the dispensation of the fulness of times, leading up to the second coming of Jesus Christ. We would be well-advised, therefore, to understand and heed the words of Isaiah.

2.   Learn the Position and Destiny of the House of Israel in the Lord’s Eternal Scheme of Things

As part of an earlier dispensation, God made sacred covenants with the prophet Abraham. He said to Abraham:

By myself have I sworn, saith the LORD, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son:
That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies;
And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice.21

Because of his obedience, Abraham was promised that his posterity would be numerous beyond measure and that all the nations of the earth would be blessed because of them. The Abrahamic covenant applies to his descendants through his son, Isaac,22 and his grandson, Jacob23—who became known as Israel24—down to the present day.

Isaiah’s greatest interests center in the posterity of Jacob. His most detailed prophecies describe what would happen to the people of the Abrahamic covenant through ensuing periods of apostasy and restoration. The role of the descendants of Jacob in the dispensation of the fulness of times—the restoration of the gospel, together with restoration of covenants from former dispensations preparatory to the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ—is of vital interest to each of us because we live in the times of fulfillment. Isaiah is, most importantly to us, the prophet who foretold the restoration.

Peter also foretold this restoration. He declared that Christ should be received into the heavens until a time of “restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.”25 This restoration would include “every truth, doctrine, power, priesthood, gift, grace, miracle, ordinance, and mighty work ever possessed or performed in any age of faith.”26 As Isaiah’s prophecies attest, this restoration would culminate in the Lord’s glorious return to the earth where He will vanquish all His foes and reign in benevolent triumph for a thousand years.27

3.   Know the Chief Doctrines about Which Isaiah Chose to Write

Although Isaiah did not set forth and explain the doctrines of salvation since his intended audiences would already believe and be well-versed in them, he wrote about certain subjects that would have a significant bearing on events in the future. His chief doctrinal concerns fall into seven categories:28

•   Restoration of the gospel in the latter days through Joseph Smith
•   Latter‑day gathering of Israel and her final triumph and glory
•   Coming forth of the Book of Mormon as a new witness for Christ and the total revolution it would eventually bring in the doctrinal understanding of men
•   Apostate conditions of the nations of the world in the latter days
•   Messianic prophecies relative to our Lord’s first coming
•   The Second Coming of Christ and the millennial reign
•   Historical data and prophetic utterances relative to his own day, which may serve as types for events that will take place during the latter days

Isaiah’s emphasis throughout his writing is on the gathering of Israel, the dispensation of the fulness of times and the restoration of all things.

Although major restoration of doctrines, priesthood keys, Church organization, saving ordinances and ancient scripture has already taken place and modern scripture has come forth, there is still much that Isaiah has prophesied that will yet come forth in our own time as part of the dispensation of the fulness of times, preparatory to the Second Coming of Christ.

McConkie says:

The restoration of the wondrous truths known to Adam, Enoch, Noah, and Abraham has scarcely commenced. The sealed portion of the Book of Mormon is yet to be translated…. The greatness of the era of restoration is yet ahead. And as to Israel herself, her destiny is millennial; the glorious day when “the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the most High”29 is yet ahead. We are now making a beginning, but the transcendent glories and wonders to be revealed are for the future. Much of what Isaiah—prophet of the restoration—has to say is yet to be fulfilled.30

If we cannot readily comprehend Isaiah’s pronouncements regarding the future, we can begin by looking back to prophecies already fulfilled, including our Lord’s first coming. We can enjoy Isaiah’s incomparable skill and literary style, acknowledging that some things have been fulfilled and obtaining thereby the faith to comprehend the nature of things prophesied that are yet to be fulfilled. Isaiah is truly the foremost prophet of the latter-day restoration.

4.   Use the Book of Mormon

The Book of Mormon is, in fact, an important key to understanding Isaiah’s writings. Approximately a third of Isaiah’s writings are quoted or paraphrased in the Book of Mormon, placed there by the ancient American prophets whose writings collectively comprise the Book of Mormon. Nephi, who had originally lived in Jerusalem, says:

…That I might more fully persuade them [his rebellious brethren] to believe in the Lord their Redeemer I did read unto them that which was written by the prophet Isaiah; for I did liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning.
Wherefore I spake unto them, saying: Hear ye the words of the prophet, ye who are a remnant of the house of Israel, a branch who have been broken off; hear ye the words of the prophet, which were written unto all the house of Israel, and liken them unto yourselves, that ye may have hope as well as your brethren from whom ye have been broken off; for after this manner has the prophet written.31

Just as Nephi did for his brethren, he and others of the Book of Mormon prophets do for us, their latter-day readers: They prophetically interpret the passages they quoted. As a result, the Book of Mormon is the foremost commentary on the writings of Isaiah, and truly the authoritative witness for and revealer of the truths contained therein.

Nephi, Jacob, and Abinadi all quoted extensively from Isaiah in their teachings. The resurrected Lord Jesus Christ quoted and interpreted passages from Isaiah 5:29,32 Isaiah 52:8-10,33 11,34 and 15;35 and Isaiah 54,36 together with passages from other Old Testament prophets, during His ministry to the Nephites. His approval of the writings of Isaiah is especially notable:

And now, behold, I say unto you, that ye ought to search these things. Yea, a commandment I give unto you that ye search these things diligently; for great are the words of Isaiah.
For surely he spake as touching all things concerning my people which are of the house of Israel; therefore it must needs be that he must speak also to the Gentiles.
And all things that he spake have been and shall be, even according to the words which he spake.37

The purpose for these quotes in the Book of Mormon is to highlight Isaiah’s teachings on repentance and the judgments of God; God’s covenants and promises to the house of Israel; prophecies concerning the Messiah; and prophecies concerning the latter days.38

McConkie says: “May I be so bold as to affirm that no one…in this age and dispensation…can understand the writings of Isaiah until he first learns and believes what God has revealed by the mouths of his Nephite witnesses as these truths are found in [the Book of Mormon].”39

5.   Use Latter-day Revelation

In our own day, the heavens are no longer sealed. Duly called and ordained prophets and apostles living upon the earth have been receiving revelation from God since the earliest beginnings of the restoration.40 Moroni, the last of the ancient Nephite prophets, appeared as an angel to Joseph Smith on September 21, 1823. As part of his instructions to the youthful prophet concerning the imminent coming forth of the Book of Mormon, he “quoted the eleventh chapter of Isaiah, saying that it was about to be fulfilled.”41

Doctrine and Covenants, a compilation of revelations from the Lord received by the Prophet Joseph Smith and others during the Restoration and accepted as scripture by the general membership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is especially rich in quotes and explanations of Isaiah’s prophecies. Section 113 contains a series of questions regarding passages in Isaiah, answered through revelation by the prophet Joseph Smith. Passages thus explained include Isaiah 11:1-4; 11:10; 52:1-2; and 52:6-8.

McConkie says: “As reference to the footnotes in the Doctrine and Covenants will show, there are around one hundred instances in which latter‑day revelation specifically quotes, paraphrases, or interprets language used by Isaiah to convey those impressions of the Holy Spirit borne in upon his [Isaiah’s] soul some 2,500 years before.”42 The present (1981) edition of the Doctrine and Covenants contains over 275 footnotes referencing passages in Isaiah.

In their conference talks and other inspired messages, modern-day prophets and apostles on occasion allude to or explain the writings of Isaiah, revealing to us the true meaning and intent of the passage. Our efforts to understand the meanings of Isaiah’s writings should include these modern works. A website,, provides an easy method of finding passages from the four Standard Works that have been quoted or explained in conference talks by LDS General Authorities and published in conference issues of the Ensign magazine.

6.   Learn How the New Testament Interprets Isaiah

Isaiah is quoted at least 74 times in the New Testament,43 typically clarifying a meaning or attesting to fulfillment of a prophecy. Most of these are found in the writings of Paul, with Isaiah quotations or paraphrasings occurring at least 28 times in the Epistles. Matthew quotes Isaiah passages nine times, and Luke cites Isaiah nine times also. Peter and John each cite Isaiah seven times, Mark has six quotes and James paraphrases Isaiah at least once. All of these citings help to establish Isaiah’s meaning.

7.   Study Isaiah in its Old Testament Context

Isaiah was not alone in preaching and prophesying to ancient Israel. Other Old Testament prophets, facing the same situations as Isaiah, had much to say on many of the same subjects but used different literary styles. Such correlations are an invaluable aid in understanding Isaiah. Footnotes and cross-references, abundant throughout Isaiah—and, indeed, throughout all of the scriptures—are the easiest way to approach Isaiah’s meanings from this perspective.

8.   Learn the Manner of Prophesying Used Among the Jews in Isaiah’s Day

Isaiah lived in times of great iniquity in which those whose responsibility it was to attend to the spiritual nurturing of the people were themselves bent on subverting the way of the Lord. Not only did they lead people astray; they tampered with the scriptures and their meanings.44 Isaiah wrote in a style that was deliberately difficult to understand. He encoded his prophecies in types and shadows, used structural devices to conceal deeper meanings, and placed treatments of apparently unrelated subject matter together so that his writing appears to the uninitiated almost as a patchwork “crazy quilt.”

The result of these efforts prevented the unworthy from receiving more of the truth than they could endure, which would have subjected them to the “greater condemnation.”45 In addition, it protected the integrity of Isaiah’s writings to some extent. Lacking the Holy Spirit and thus the capability of understanding Isaiah’s deeper meanings, those intent on subverting the truth were hindered by their inability to recognize it. The extent of the damage done by these scriptural vandals, as shown by careful comparisons of Biblical and Book of Mormon Isaiah texts, was to delete significant words and phrases. This was foreseen by Nephi who prophesied that “many plain and precious things” would be “taken away from the book…of the Lamb of God.”46 Some of these deletions interfere with chiastic structures that are replete in Isaiah’s works, but they are preserved in equivalent passages in the Book of Mormon. Presence of these chiastic structures, preserved in the Book of Mormon but disrupted by deletion of words and phrases from the Hebrew text from which the Bible was translated, speaks volumes about the authenticity of the prophetic mission and work of Joseph Smith.

Modern scholars have made a careful study of Isaiah’s literary methods and style including governing structure, forms of speech, parallelism, chiasmus, metaphors, and meanings inherent in the original Hebrew language version but not as apparent in translations into English or other modern languages.47 Studies of Isaiah’s literary style provide invaluable aid in understanding Isaiah’s manner of writing and prophesying and are discussed in Chapter 3: Literary Artifices Used by Isaiah.

9.   Have the Spirit of Prophecy

“The words of Isaiah,” Nephi said, “…are plain unto all those that are filled with the spirit of prophecy.”48 The Apostle Peter proclaimed that having the guidance of the Holy Spirit is essential: “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.”49

Interpretation of prophecy is, therefore, not an exercise in supposition or speculation. Not only did the prophecy come forth by means of the spirit of prophecy; its interpretation, understanding and application into one’s personal life must also be by the spirit of prophecy, which is the Holy Ghost.

In this commentary, reliance has been placed on the pronouncements of inspired prophets as to the interpretation of Isaiah’s words. The purpose of this effort is to bring together what has already been said about Isaiah’s writings and applying the keys to understanding that have been provided, as opposed to blazing new interpretive trails. However, once an understanding of Isaiah’s intent and methods has been developed, it is truly amazing what insights can be obtained as guided by the Holy Spirit. McConkie summarizes:

In the final analysis there is no way, absolutely none, to understand any scripture except to have the same spirit of prophecy that rested upon the one who uttered the truth in its original form. Scripture comes from God by the power of the Holy Ghost. It does not originate with man. It means only what the Holy Ghost [intends that] it means. To interpret it, we must be enlightened by the power of the Holy Spirit. It takes a prophet to understand a prophet, and every faithful member of the Church should have “the testimony of Jesus” which “is the spirit of prophecy.”50 This is the sum and substance of the whole matter and an end to all controversy where discovering the mind and will of the Lord is concerned.51

10.   Devote Yourself to Hard, Conscientious Study

Undertaking a detailed study of Isaiah is truly a daunting task. Bringing together all that has been said, combined with application of the interpretive keys provided, requires diligent study and more than a little of resolve and perseverance. Praying, reading, pondering analyzing, cross-referencing, and finally understanding the writings of Isaiah—“verse by verse, thought by thought, passage by passage, chapter by chapter”52—are what is required in order to gain the full understanding.


1. Bruce R. McConkie, Ten keys to understanding Isaiah: Ensign, Oct. 1973, p. 78. Bruce R. McConkie served as a member of the Council of the Twelve of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. At the time he wrote this article he was preparing the Latter-day Saint edition of the King James Bible which includes extensive footnotes and chapter headnotes.
2. See Isaiah 25:8-9.
3. See 2 Nephi 2:4.
4. 1 Corinthians 15:22.
5. Isaiah 25:8.
6. 1 Corinthians 15:55.
7. See Hebrews 5:9; see also Articles of Faith 3.
8. See 2 Nephi 25:23.
9. See Isaiah 53:12.
10. See Mosiah 15:9.
11. See 2 Nephi 2:8; Alma 42:23-25; Mormon 7:7; Doctrine and Covenants 76:50-62.
12. 3 Nephi 9:20-22.
13. LeGrand Richards, “Strange Creeds of Christendom,” Ensign, Jan. 1973, p. 109.
14. Articles of Faith 4.
15. The word “apostasy” comes from the Greek, meaning literally “a standing off” or a falling away from the true principles of the gospel. In contrast, the word “apostle” means “one set apart,” or one given divine authority through an ordinance of the priesthood (see Ernest Klein, A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the English Language: Elsevier Publishing Company, New York, 1971, p. 43).
16. See Ephesians 1:10.
17. See Doctrine and Covenants 20:1-2; 1:4-7; 135:3.
18. See Joseph Smith—History 1:3.
19. See Joseph Smith—History 1:66-67; Doctrine and Covenants 1:29; 19:26-27; 20:8.
20. See Doctrine and Covenants 20:1-2.
21. Genesis 22:16-18.
22. See Genesis 17:19-21.
23. See Genesis 28:10-16.
24. See Genesis 32:27-28.
25. See Acts 3:21.
26. McConkie, p. 80.
27. See Revelation 20:2-4.
28. McConkie, p. 80.
29. Daniel 7:27.
30. McConkie, p. 81.
31. 1 Nephi 19:23-24.
32. 3 Nephi 21:12.
33. 3 Nephi 16:18-20.
34. 3 Nephi 20:32.
35. 3 Nephi 21:8.
36. 3 Nephi 22.
37. 3 Nephi 23:1-3.
38. Victor L. Ludlow, “Isaiah, purposes for quoting,” Book of Mormon Reference Companion, Dennis L. Largey, ed., Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, UT, 2003, p. 341-342.
39. McConkie, p. 81.
40. See Doctrine and Covenants 128:19-21.
41. Joseph Smith—History 1:40.
42. McConkie, p.81.
43. See Bible Dictionary—Quotes.
44. See 1 Nephi 13:24-28.
45. See Doctrine and Covenants 82:3 and Luke 12:48.
46. 1 Nephi 13:28.
47. Avraham Gileadi, The Book of Isaiah: A new translation with interpretive keys from the Book of Mormon: Deseret Book Company, P.O. Box 30178, Salt Lake City, Utah 84130, 1988, p. 1-90.
48. 2 Nephi 25:4.
49. 2 Peter 1:20-21.
50. Revelation 19:10.
51. McConkie, p. 82.
52. McConkie, p. 82.

Why Study Isaiah?

Isaiah is among the most prominent of Old Testament prophets, whose spiritual and literary contributions are without equal. His is a book of divinely-inspired poetic prophecy, best known for his declarations concerning the coming of Jesus Christ, the Messiah. His prophecies are not limited to the coming of the Savior, however. Isaiah was shown an all-inclusive vision or revelation of the history of the world, including its wickedness and righteousness and how the life, mission, and infinite sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ occupies an essential, central role in the spiritual and temporal history of the world. The resurrected Lord said of Isaiah: “And all things that he spake have been and shall be, even according to the words which he spake” (emphasis added).1 Isaiah’s prophecies encompass the past, present and future, with recurrent fulfillment in different dispensations. We who are now experiencing the trials and challenges of mortal life should pay careful attention to Isaiah’s writings. The latter days—our days—are the times of fulfillment of many of Isaiah’s prophecies.2 Victor L. Ludlow, in his commentary on the book of Isaiah, stated: “Above all the ancient prophet-writers, Isaiah will be the best guide through the perilous last days of the dispensation of the fulness of times.”3

Isaiah’s writings are intentionally difficult to understand. The Lord instructed Isaiah: “Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not. Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed.”4

Because of apostasy and wickedness among his people, Isaiah encoded his prophecies so that only those with sufficient spirituality and insight could understand. Isaiah’s purpose is not to convince unbelievers, but to provide vital, saving information to those who already believe.5 Not only did Isaiah’s encoding prevent the unworthy from receiving more than they could comprehend, which would subject them to the “greater condemnation;”it protected the integrity of Isaiah’s writings to some degree as well. Those bent on altering the scriptural record to suit their subversive needs by taking away “many plain and precious things” from the “book of the Lamb of God”7 had too little insight to be able to do much damage to Isaiah’s cryptic writings.

Primary Sources

Numerous scriptural and other authoritative resources are available to us in our day to enable us to understand the words of the Prophet Isaiah. In addition to their presentation in the Old Testament, Isaiah’s written words are quoted elsewhere in the scriptures—both ancient and modern—more than any other ancient prophet. Each citing provides valuable information on how Isaiah’s prophetic words are to be understood.

Primary sources for Isaiah’s writings that are available to us include:

•   The King James Version of the Bible
•   Portions of the Book of Mormon in which Isaiah’s writings are quoted and explained
•   The Doctrine and Covenants, in which The Lord describes events that will lead up to His glorious Second Coming—often paraphrasing or expanding upon the words of Isaiah that describe the same events
•   The Pearl of Great Price, which contains Joseph Smith’s account of the latter‑day Restoration including the fulfillment of some of Isaiah’s prophecies pertaining to the dispensation of the fulness of times
•   The Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible, in which the youthful prophet applied the Urim and Thummim to a reading and revision of the King James Bible—the same divinely‑prepared instrument he used in translating the Book of Mormon from the reformed Egyptian
•   Recently‑discovered ancient manuscripts from near the Dead Sea, including a version of the Book of Isaiah in the original Hebrew that predates the currently‑used Masoretic text8 by several hundred years
•   The New Testament, which provides valuable comparisons illustrating how Isaiah’s prophecies pertained to the dispensation of the meridian of time
•   Writings and speeches of latter‑day apostles and prophets, who rely heavily upon the words of Isaiah

These sources comprise the basis for this commentary, to establish and substantiate Isaiah’s intended meanings.

1.   Bible—King James Version

The King James Version of the Bible,9 translated in A.D. 1611 from the Hebrew Masoretic and Greek texts, is accepted as scripture by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints among its English-speaking adherents.10 More recent English translations of the Bible seek to eliminate the archaic language characteristic of the King James Version; however, newer translations lack the beautiful poetic writing attributed to William Tyndale and King James’ panel of translators.11

In this commentary each verse is presented in the familiar words of the King James Version, followed by explanations as to its meaning, including wording from other primary sources.

A weakness of other LDS-oriented commentaries is their reliance upon Bible translations other than the King James Version. It seems better to begin with the familiar wording—archaic language and all—whereas use of a less-familiar Bible translation requires a reader accustomed to the King James Version to first connect with the familiar wording, either from memory or by referring to it on the written page.

Occasionally other English translations, as well as translations in modern languages other than English, are compared when doing so provides insight.12

2.   The Book of Mormon

The Book of Mormon includes 21 chapters from Isaiah, quoted either in whole or in part,13 and includes inspired interpretations and commentary by the ancient prophets whose writings collectively comprise the Book of Mormon. Isaiah’s writings were included in the brass plates, a volume of scripture engraved on metal that was in the possession of Lehi and his family as they departed Jerusalem in 600 B.C. The Isaiah source for the Book of Mormon thus predates all other sources available to us by several hundred years.

When the Lord Jesus Christ visited His ancient Nephite followers following His death and resurrection, He quoted and explained passages from Isaiah.14 His explanations presented in the Book of Mormon apply particularly to us,15 providing vitally important information for our time.

Wording of the Isaiah quotes in the Book of Mormon parallels that of the King James Version. This similarity indicates that Joseph Smith may have used the Bible as a lexical aid, or at least applied its familiar wording from memory as part of the translation process. However, there are differences in more than half of the 433 verses of Isaiah quoted in the Book of Mormon, whereas about 200 verses have the same wording.16 A careful study shows that most of the differences represent subsequent deletions from the purer Isaiah text that was possessed by Lehi in 600 B.C.17 Some of the deletions identified in the Bible text interfere with Isaiah’s intricate poetic chiastic structures, indicating that those who altered the text did not fully understand his literary style. Presence of chiasmus in the Book of Mormon in an unaltered form is powerful evidence of the veracity of the work of the prophet Joseph Smith.18

3.   Doctrine and Covenants

The Doctrine and Covenants (D&C) is a compilation of revelations received by the Prophet Joseph Smith, together with other inspired documents, that represents the Lord’s will for His saints in the latter days.19 Scattered throughout the Doctrine and Covenants are prophecies of events that will lead up to the Lord’s glorious Second Coming—the same events prophesied anciently by Isaiah and other prophets. The Lord’s words to the Prophet Joseph Smith often paraphrase or expand upon the words of Isaiah, providing a valuable resource for understanding Isaiah’s prophecies for the latter days.

4.   Pearl of Great Price

The Pearl of Great Price is a compilation of writings of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Of particular interest is his account therein of events leading up to the organization of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He described the First Vision; visits of the angel Moroni, the ancient conservator of sacred records written upon gold plates; his obtaining and translating the sacred record; and publication of the Book of Mormon.20 These events mark the fulfillment of some of Isaiah’s prophecies regarding the latter-day restoration. This account enables us to understand in what ways we might recognize other prophecies of Isaiah as they are fulfilled before our eyes.

5.   New Testament

Events recorded in the New Testament—the scriptural account of the earthly ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ, which was abundantly foretold by the Prophet Isaiah—provide valuable comparisons, illustrating how Isaiah’s prophecies pertaining to the dispensation of the meridian of time were fulfilled. Isaiah is quoted at least 57 times in the New Testament.21 Some of the same prophecies, although fulfilled during the mortal ministry of the Savior, are to be fulfilled again in the latter days.  Accordingly, the New Testament provides another means for us to understand how prophecies foretelling latter-day events are to be fulfilled.

Quotes from Isaiah found in the New Testament typically follow the wording of the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Old Testament dating from the third century B.C. that was more readily available during New Testament time. The Septuagint is useful in comparing New Testament quotes from Isaiah; however, modern Bible scholars point out that its translator “produced an exceptionally liberal translation that included the translator’s personal reflections and interpretations…. The translator permitted his own biases to govern the translation process.”22 The Septuagint is therefore not considered as an irrefutable primary source by many Bible scholars, nor is it the most useful resource in gaining an understanding of Isaiah’s meanings. An English translation of the Septuagint is available on the internet.23

6.   Joseph Smith Translation

The Joseph Smith Translation (JST) is an inspired revision of the Bible, made in response to commandment from the Lord to Joseph Smith.24 In making the revision the youthful prophet applied the Urim and Thummim, the same divinely-prepared instrument used in translating the Book of Mormon from the reformed Egyptian, to a reading of the Bible. The JST is represented in part as footnotes in the current LDS edition of the King James Bible; longer passages are placed in an appendix.25 A more complete rendition, Joseph Smith’s “New Translation” of the Bible, places Joseph Smith’s Inspired Version adjacent to the original King James text for each altered passage.26

7.   Dead Sea Scrolls—The Great Isaiah Scroll

An important scripture treasure discovered in 1947, the Great Isaiah Scroll (designated as 1QIsaa) is one of the original seven Dead Sea Scrolls. Dating from the period between 150 and 100 B.C., it predates the Masoretic text—the source for our modern King James Version and most other translations of the Bible in a host of modern languages—by almost a thousand years.27 The Great Isaiah Scroll has been utilized in many new translations of the Bible since 1950.28

Donald W. Parry, a Brigham Young University Professor of Ancient Scripture, combined four primary sources in producing his modern translation of Isaiah, presented in Harmonizing Isaiah.29 Since he carefully identified the four sources including the Great Isaiah Scroll, his work is an important source for clarifications in English that come to the modern world from the Great Isaiah Scroll.

8.   Modern-day Apostles and Prophets

Since they are sustained by the general Church membership as prophets, seers and revelators, modern-day apostles and prophets constitute an important primary source for understanding Isaiah’s writings and how they apply to our time. Talks given in General Conference are published in Conference Reports and, since 1970, in the Ensign. An LDS General Conference Scriptural Index is available on the internet that correlates passages of scripture with talks given by General Authorities in which the passages of scripture are cited.30 Talks published in the Ensign since 1970 are also available on the internet, linked at the same website. Quotations from Isaiah are well represented in General Conference talks and provide valuable insight in understanding Isaiah’s message.

9.   Other Resources

Two commentaries written for the LDS reader have proven valuable in the present study. Victor L. Ludlow’s Isaiah: Prophet, Seer, and Poet, published in 1982,31 was commissioned to be written as a textbook for the Church Educational System of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.32 It has been used by its author and many other teachers for many years in teaching Isaiah courses. Donald W. Parry, Jay A. Parry and Tina M. Peterson’s Understanding Isaiah, published in 1998,33 is another valuable resource; a strong point of their commentary is its treatment of Isaiah’s parallelisms which they carefully diagram for the benefit of the reader. Writers of both commentaries enrich their discussions of Isaiah through their knowledge of the Hebrew language and ancient Jewish and Middle Eastern history.

Avraham Gileadi’s The Book of Isaiah: A new translation with interpretive keys from the Book of Mormon34 was written in 1988 from the point of view of a Jewish convert to Mormonism. His interpretive keys for understanding Isaiah’s writings represent a valuable contribution. For the first time, many realized that it is possible to understand the writings and prophecies of Isaiah which had long been an enigma to readers of the Bible and Book of Mormon alike.

An understanding of the original Hebrew meaning of some words is useful. An excellent source is The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon,35 if used with a transliterated lexicon available on the internet.36

Isaiah Testifies of Jesus Christ

Why study Isaiah? Isaiah is the foremost Messianic prophet, foretelling the coming of Christ in great detail. Key passages from Isaiah concerning Christ and His earthly ministry are quoted and explained by New Testament writers, many of whom were personal witnesses of the foretold sacred events. These writers declare the fulfillment of some of Isaiah’s prophecies and set forth a correct interpretation. But do we really understand the depth of meaning of these and other important passages? We hear lines of scripture from Isaiah being sung in Handel’s Messiah, but does their deeper significance escape us?

Isaiah 40:3 states: “The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” Most likely, we cannot read these words without the familiar music of Handel’s Messiah flooding our minds.37

John the Baptist is he of whom Isaiah wrote. Matthew, in the New Testament, acknowledges the fulfillment of this prophecy:

For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias [Isaiah], saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
And the same John had his raiment of camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey.
Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan,
And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.38

The New Testament authoritatively verifies Isaiah’s meaning.

The next verse, Isaiah 40:4, asserts: “Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain.” These words are also familiar, set to music in Handel’s Messiah.39 But what does this passage mean? How does it relate to the mission of John the Baptist, if at all? Does it foretell cataclysmic structural changes in the earth’s topography, or is its meaning metaphoric? The answer comes from a comparable passage in the New Testament. James, the brother of Jesus,40 admonishes: “Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted: But the rich, in that he is made low: because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away.”41

The last phrase, which describes the temporary mortal state of man, is a quote from Isaiah that relates to John the Baptist and his preparatory mission. By including “as the flower of the grass he shall pass away,” James connects the first part of the passage to its Old Testament source. In Isaiah 40:6, the Prophet foretells the message to be delivered by John the Baptist: “The voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field.”

From James, then, we understand the meaning of Isaiah 40: 4 as a metaphoric description of the united social order established under the gospel in several dispensations, apparently to be introduced by John the Baptist. The united social order that was established is described in Acts: “And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common.”42

The Lord describes in Doctrine and Covenants—using words similar to those of James—how the saints are to set up the law of consecration in the latter days to provide for their temporal needs: “But it must needs be done in mine own way; and behold this is the way that I, the Lord, have decreed to provide for my saints, that the poor shall be exalted, in that the rich are made low” (emphasis added.)43

An understanding of poetic chiastic structures, used extensively by Isaiah, provides further interpretive insight. The highway in the desert foretold in Isaiah 40:3 is spiritual, meaning the “narrow way” with a “strait gate,” “which leadeth unto life.”44 The phrase “make straight in the desert a highway” is chiastically equivalent to the phrase “and the crooked shall be made straight” in verse 4. What was crooked that needed to be made straight? Through apostasy, the knowledge of the Plan of Salvation had become corrupted; the narrow way had become “crooked.” John the Baptist’s mission, Isaiah foretells, was to restore the knowledge of the Plan of Salvation in advance of the coming of the promised Messiah. A description of chiasmus and its interpretive value is given in Introduction 4.

Not only do the phrases “make straight in the desert a highway” and “the crooked shall be made straight” foretell the mission of John the Baptist and the advent of the mortal Messiah; they are a type for—meaning typical of—events in the latter days, to occur before the Second Coming of the Messiah in glory to the earth. Following the Great Apostasy at the close of the apostolic era, a Restoration—a straightening out of crooked paths again—would be needed to prepare the way for the coming Lord. As a type, the role of the prophet Joseph Smith and his successors in building up Zion in the wilderness is foretold in these same passages. Use of types is characteristic of many of Isaiah’s prophecies, indicating that they are to be fulfilled more than once.

As described above, in our day many helps are available to assist us in gaining an understanding of Isaiah’s writings. A main purpose for this commentary is to demonstrate that there is sufficient information available to understand Isaiah if we will but put forth the necessary spiritual effort and study. Nephi states: “…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.”45 Modern scripture is an important means by which “men shall know of a surety” in our day, when many of Isaiah’s prophecies are to be fulfilled.

Isaiah presents a world-view that puts religious matters at the very center of what is important. Our religious observance, accordingly, should be vastly more than mere attendance. Whether nations live or perish depends on whether children are taught the Plan of Happiness at their parents’ knees and whether that nation as a whole abides by those sacred principles.46 Endless weeks and years of routine ceremonial observances are no substitute for self-discipline and true adherence to the principles of the gospel.47

An important reason for studying and understanding the writings of Isaiah is that here and now, in our own time, his prophecies are being fulfilled before our eyes. Perhaps even our temporal and eternal salvation during the foretold times of cleansing depend on our detailed understanding of his message and our heeding his warnings.48 Further, a diligent study will lead us to a stronger conviction that Jesus Christ—the Messiah foretold by Isaiah and many other prophets—is truly the Savior of the world, and through Him the way is made possible for us to return to our heavenly home to live in eternal glory.


1. 3 Nephi 23:3.
2. Victor L. Ludlow, Isaiah: Prophet, Seer, and Poet: Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1982, p. 98.
3. Ludlow, 1982, p. 98.
4. Isaiah 6:9-10.
5. See Isaiah 53:1 and pertinent commentary.
6. See Doctrine and Covenants 82:3 and Luke 12:48.
7. See 1 Nephi 13:28.
8. 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 other 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).
9. The Holy Bible, Authorized King James Version, with explanatory notes and cross references to the Standard Works of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1979. The King James text used in this commentary was downloaded in digital format from The Scriptures: Authorized Version Including the Official Study Aids:The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, CD-ROM Standard Edition 1.0, copyright 2001 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc., which includes WordCruncher 6.0, copyright 1991-2001 by Brigham Young University. The LDS Scriptures are also available online at, together with linked cross-referencing.
10. True to the Faith, a Gospel Reference: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2004, p. 157.
11. S. Michael Wilcox, Fire in the Bones: William Tyndale—Martyr, Father of the English Bible: 2004, Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, Utah, p. 6-7.
12. Translations of the Bible used for comparison in this commentary were accessed at the “Bible Database” website at
13. Isaiah 2 through 14 are quoted in 2 Nephi 12 through 24; Isaiah 29:3-5 is quoted and expounded in 2 Nephi 26:15-19; Isaiah 29:6-24 is quoted and expounded in 2 Nephi 27:2-35; Isaiah 48 and 49 are quoted in 1 Nephi 20 and 21; Isaiah 50 and 51 are quoted in 2 Nephi 7 and 8; Isaiah 52:1-2 is quoted in 2 Nephi 8:24-25; Isaiah 52:1-3 is quoted in 3 Nephi 20:36-38; Isaiah 52:6-7 is quoted in 3 Nephi 20:39-40; Isaiah 52:7-10 is quoted in Mosiah 12:21-24; Isaiah 52:8-10 is quoted in 3 Nephi 20:32-35; Isaiah 52:11-15 is quoted in 3 Nephi 20:41-45; Isaiah 53 is quoted in Mosiah 14; and Isaiah 54 is quoted in 3 Nephi 22.
14. See 3 Nephi 16:17-20 and 3 Nephi 20:32-46 (Isaiah 52); 3 Nephi 22: (Isaiah 54).
15. See 3 Nephi 20:30-32.
16. See 2 Nephi 12:2, Footnote 2a.
17. See 1 Nephi 5:10-13; 13:23.
18. See Chapter 4: Structural Artifices used by Isaiah (this commentary).
19. See Doctrine and Covenants, Explanatory Introduction, paragraphs 1-3.
20. True to the Faith, p. 159.
21. Bruce R. McConkie, “Ten keys to understanding Isaiah”: Ensign, Oct. 1973, p. 78.
22. Donald W. Parry, Harmonizing Isaiah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) at Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, 2001, p. 33-34.
23. English Translation of the Septuagint: Sir Lancelot Charles Lee Brenton (1807-1862); originally published by Samuel Bagster & Sons, Ltd., London, 1851. Currently available at the website “Christian Classics Ethereal Library” (CCEL):
24. See Doctrine and Covenants 35: Section Heading; 35:20; 45:60-62.
25. See Bible Dictionary—Joseph Smith Translation.
26. Joseph Smith’s “New Translation” of the Bible: Herald Publishing House, Independence, Missouri, 1970, 523 p.
27. Parry, 2001, p. 3-6.
28. Parry, 2001, p. 6-8.
29. Parry, 2001, 286 p.
30. Richard C. Galbraith, Stephen W. Liddle, Will Jensen, Dan King, Thomas Packer, and James Andersen, LDS General Conference Scriptural Index
31. Ludlow, 1982, 578 p.
32. Ludlow, 1982, p. ix.
33. Donald W. Parry, Jay A. Parry and Tina M. Peterson, Understanding Isaiah: Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1998, 659 p.
34. Avraham Gileadi, The Book of Isaiah: A new translation with interpretive keys from the Book of Mormon: Deseret Book Company, P.O. Box 30178, Salt Lake City, Utah 84130, 1988, 250 p.
35. F. Brown, S. Driver, and C. Briggs, The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon: Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, MA, 01961-3473, 1996, 1185 p.
36. A transliterated interactive Hebrew and English Old Testament Lexicon is presented at the following website:
37. Handel’s Messiah, Part 1 No. 2 – Recitative for Tenor, “Comfort Ye My People.”
38. Matthew 3:3-6.
39. Handel’s Messiah, Part 1 No. 3—Air for Tenor, “Every Valley Shall Be Exalted.”
40. See Bible Dictionary—James, Epistle of.
41. James 1:9-10.
42. Acts 4:32; see also Acts 2:44-45.
43. Doctrine and Covenants 104:16.
44. See Matthew 7:14.
45. 2 Nephi 25:7.
46. See Isaiah 54:13-15.
47. See Isaiah 1:11-15.
48. See McConkie, Oct. 1973, p. 78.