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 18: Even in Vessels of Bulrushes Upon the Waters

This chapter is laden with symbolism, which at first may make it hard to understand. However, given the rhetorical connections and interpretations of symbols from earlier chapters, the message readily comes through: The Lord will raise the gospel ensign, send messengers from a far distant land to His scattered people, and gather them to mount Zion.

Verses 1 and 2 are not a woe oracle, even though they may appear as one. The word “woe” is here translated from the Hebrew word howy, which is a form of greeting.1 It would be equivalent to the English “hail,” meaning “hello,” and may reflect the Native American greeting, “how.” Young’s Literal Bible renders “ho,” a transliterated form of the greeting.2

In verse 1, Isaiah describes a faraway land: “Woe [or, hail] to the land shadowing with wings, which is beyond the rivers of Ethiopia.” “Ethiopia” is translated from the Hebrew word Cush, a land which lay southward from Egypt. The land of Cush was named for a son of Ham and grandson of Noah whose name means “black.”3, 4 It is apparent here that Isaiah meant simply a far-distant land. “Shadowing with wings” may refer to a land protected by the Lord, figuratively nurtured under His wings. Another possibility is that it means wings of birds or of airplanes, or may describe the shape on the map of the North and South American continents.5 The distant land is beyond “rivers,” or bodies of water.

Why did Isaiah write “Cush,” rather than being more explicit in his description? Consider Lehi’s statement regarding the land of promise he had obtained from the Lord: “And behold, it is wisdom that this land should be kept as yet from the knowledge of other nations; for behold, many nations would overrun the land, that there would be no place for an inheritance.”6

In verse 2, the identity of this far-distant land becomes apparent: “That sendeth ambassadors by the sea, even in vessels of bulrushes upon the waters, saying, Go, ye swift messengers, to a nation scattered and peeled, to a people terrible from their beginning hitherto; a nation meted out and trodden down, whose land the rivers have spoiled!” “Rivers,” as used here, is a metaphor for invading armies—in particular, those of Assyria and Babylon.

Verses 1 and 2 contain a chiasm:

A: (1) Woe [hail] to the land shadowing with wings, which is beyond the rivers of Ethiopia: (2) That sendeth ambassadors by the sea, even in vessels of bulrushes upon the waters, saying,
B: Go, ye swift messengers, to a nation scattered and peeled,
C: to a people
C: terrible from their beginning hitherto;
B: a nation meted out and trodden down,
A: whose land the rivers have spoiled!

“Rivers of Ethiopia” contrasts with “whose land the rivers have spoiled!” In the first phrase “rivers” means bodies of water, whereas in the second phrase “rivers” means invading armies. “A nation scattered and peeled” is equivalent to “a nation meted out and trodden down.” This denotes the status of Israel as conquered, scattered and downtrodden. “People” complements “terrible from their beginning,” to form the central focus of the chiasm.

Three elements in verse 2 merit further explanation: First, the far-distant land sends ambassadors; next, these ambassadors travel in vessels of bulrushes upon the waters; and third, they carry a message to a scattered nation, a nation meted (or measured to be divided up) and trodden down.

What land but America sends ambassadors to the scattered remnants of Israel? At first they traveled by sea; but now they travel mainly by air—recall the “wings” mentioned in verse 1—over the waters of the sea. It is the same place from which an ensign would be raised to the nations, referred to earlier by Isaiah in Chapter 57 and in verse 3 below.

What is the meaning of “vessels of bulrushes”? There are only a few places in the world where boats are made with bulrushes, or papyrus reeds: One is Egypt; another is Lake Titicaca, on the border between Peru and Bolivia. The design of reed boats in both locations is strikingly similar, suggesting—to the consternation of anthropologists who cannot explain it—a common origin.

This reference to papyrus boats by Isaiah is not literal; modern “ambassadors” (missionaries) do not ply the Atlantic in papyrus boats. Rather, it is a cultural clue: The tribe of Joseph, divided into two under his sons Ephraim and Manasseh,8 exhibited Egyptian culture—including the spoken and written language—long after the twelve tribes settled in the Promised Land. Their scriptures were written in Egyptian, on brass plates, which later served as a model for Nephite writings. Mormon attests: “For it were not possible that our father, Lehi, could have remembered all these things, to have taught them to his children, except it were for the help of these plates; for he having been taught in the language of the Egyptians therefore he could read these engravings, and teach them to his children….”9

When Joseph’s brothers in search of wheat in Egypt came before him after he had been elevated to a high position in Pharaoh’s government, he pretended not to understand their Hebrew and spoke to them through an interpreter.10 His descendants for many generations continued to use Egyptian as their primary language, although they spoke Hebrew with an accent. Ephraimites were readily distinguished from others by their inability to pronounce the Hebrew word shibboleth.11 The Nephites, who were descendants of Joseph, continued to use a form of Egyptian, even after a thousand years, for their scriptural writings.12 The missionaries who go forth to scattered Israel in the latter days are primarily of the tribe of Joseph. They carry with them the Book of Mormon—a scriptural account of a remnant of the tribe of Joseph, translated from reformed Egyptian engravings.

In the last phrase of verse 2, “whose land the rivers have spoiled,” “rivers” symbolizes invading armies, as used by Isaiah earlier in Chapter 8.13 In the phrase “a nation scattered and peeled,” “peeled” is translated from a Hebrew word meaning “scoured” or “polished,” or of light complexion when describing human skin.14

Verse 3 delivers a warning: “All ye inhabitants of the world, and dwellers on the earth, see ye, when he lifteth up an ensign on the mountains; and when he bloweth a trumpet, hear ye.” “He” refers to the Lord, referenced in verse 4; “mountains” means “nations.”15

Verse 3 contains a chiasm:

A: (3) All ye inhabitants of the world, and dwellers on the earth, see ye,
B: when he lifteth up an ensign
C: on the mountains;
B: and when he bloweth a trumpet,
A: hear ye.

The Lord calls upon the inhabitants of the nations of the world to see and hear when He raises the ensign and blows the trumpet, which means preaching of the gospel and gathering of scattered Israel in the latter days. The central focus of the chiasm is “on the mountains,” meaning nations of the earth.

Regarding Chapter 18, Joseph Fielding Smith stated:

This chapter is clearly a reference to the sending forth of the missionaries to the nations of the earth to gather again this people who are scattered and peeled. The ensign has been lifted upon the mountains, and the work of gathering has been going on for over one hundred years. No one understands this chapter but the Latter-day Saints, and we can see how it is being fulfilled.16

Verses 4 and 5 describe the fate of those who fail to heed the warning, delivered by the ambassadors and symbolized by the ensign and the trumpet. Verse 4 declares: “For so the LORD said unto me, I will take my rest, and I will consider in my dwelling place like a clear heat upon herbs, and like a cloud of dew in the heat of harvest.” “Consider in my dwelling place” means that the Lord will watch from heaven while events transpire. Like the clear sun causes heat to build up after the rain, and like a humid mist in the heat of the late summer, the Lord’s anger will build up against those who fail to heed the message.

Continuing in verse 5, the destruction is described symbolically: “For afore the harvest, when the bud is perfect, and the sour grape is ripening in the flower”—before the gathering, or harvest, of scattered Israel is complete—”he shall both cut off the sprigs with pruning hooks, and take away and cut down the branches” of those who fail to heed the warning. Nephi foretells this same event, using similar words.17 This pruning is analogous to the pruning of grape vines after the fruit is set, to remove unproductive branches and allow space for the fruit to grow.18

Verse 6 states: “They shall be left together unto the fowls of the mountains, and to the beasts of the earth: and the fowls shall summer upon them, and all the beasts of the earth shall winter upon them.” 19 The bodies of those slain—too numerous to be buried—will be left like pruned branches to molder upon the ground.

In Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord described the fate of the wicked in similar but more graphic terms:

Wherefore, I the Lord God will send forth flies upon the face of the earth, which shall take hold of the inhabitants thereof, and shall eat their flesh, and shall cause maggots to come in upon them;
And their tongues shall be stayed that they shall not utter against me; and their flesh shall fall from off their bones, and their eyes from their sockets;
And it shall come to pass that the beasts of the forest and the fowls of the air shall devour them up.20

Verse 7 describes the foreseen culminating event: “In that time shall the present be brought unto the LORD of hosts of a people scattered and peeled, and from a people terrible from their beginning hitherto; a nation meted out and trodden under foot, whose land the rivers have spoiled, to the place of the name of the LORD of hosts, the mount Zion.” “Mount Zion” as used here means a place of latter-day spiritual gathering, and is also a synonym for latter-day Jerusalem.21 The same scattered people referred to in verse 2 will be gathered together to Zion, the fruit of the labors of the messengers who went forth to gather them. There they will be presented as a gift unto the Lord.

 


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. 1945, p. 222.
2. A wide array of Bible translations is available from “The Unbound Bible” website at http://unbound.biola.edu.
3. Bible Dictionary—Cush.
4. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 3568, p. 468.
5. Donald W. Parry, Jay A. Parry and Tina M. Peterson, Understanding Isaiah: Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1998, p. 172.
6. 2 Nephi 1:8.
7. See Isaiah 5:26.
8. See Genesis 48:5-6.
9. See Mosiah 1:4.
10. See Genesis 42:23.
11. See Judges 12:5-6.
12. See Mormon 9:32.
13. See Isaiah 8:7-8 and pertinent commentary.
14. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 4178, p. 599.
15. See Isaiah 2:2, 14 and 2 Nephi 12:2, 14; Isaiah 11:9; 13:2, 4; 30:25 and pertinent commentary.
16. Joseph Fielding Smith, Signs of the Times: Deseret Book Co., Salt Lake City, Utah, 1974, p. 54-55.
17. See 1 Nephi 22:20-21.
18. Victor L. Ludlow, Isaiah: Prophet, Seer, and Poet: Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1982, p. 208-209.
19. Verse 6 contains a chiasm recognized in the original Hebrew: Summer/fowls/beasts/winter. In Donald W. Parry, Harmonizing Isaiah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) at Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, 2001, p. 259.
20. Doctrine and Covenants 29:18-20.
21. See Isaiah 3:16; 24:23; 28:16; 29:8; 30:19; 31:4, 9; 51:3.

Isaiah 10: For Yet a Very Little While, and the Indignation Shall Cease

Chapter 10 foretells the destruction of Israel at the hand of Assyria. Assyria would act as an instrument in the hands of God to bring about the punishment and destruction of unrepentant Israel, but then Assyria would also be destroyed. The destruction of Assyria is a type for—or, is typical of—the destruction of the wicked at the Second Coming. Because of rampant wickedness preceding the destruction at that time, few people would be left after the destruction of the wicked. The Lord comforts those in Zion, reassuring them that the indignation would last for only a short while; then the Lord would defeat the invaders.

An important key to understanding this chapter is to carefully note who is speaking and at what point the speaker shifts. In the first part—a woe oracle (verses 1 through 4)—the Lord is speaking, declaring woe unto unrighteous rulers and specifying the destruction that awaits them. The woe oracle is followed by an explanatory phrase spoken by Isaiah— “For all this, his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still” in the last part of verse 4. The Lord then resumes speaking, declaring destruction upon “an hypocritical nation,” meaning ancient Israel and her modern equivalent, at the hand of the Assyrians and their modern counterpart (verses 5 through 7). Then the Lord vocalizes the Assyrian king’s prideful thoughts (verses 8 through 11) and decrees swift destruction upon him, his army, and his modern equivalent (verse 12). This is followed by more of the Assyrian king’s prideful thoughts, boasting of his conquests (verses 13 and 14). Isaiah then speaks, chastising Assyria for not acknowledging that the devastation they had brought upon Israel was the work of the Lord, who used the Assyrians as an instrument (verse 15). Isaiah, continuing as voice, declares swift destruction upon Assyria (verses 16 through 19). This declaration is followed by a prophecy, spoken by Isaiah, of the return of the remnant of Israel who would be scattered among all nations (verses 20 through 23).

In the final verses of this chapter (verses 24 through 34) Isaiah changes the subject abruptly, prophesying of an invasion by ancient Assyria against Jerusalem that is repulsed by the miraculous destruction of the Assyrian army at the hand of the Lord. This prophecy was fulfilled during the reign of Hezekiah,1 but serves as a type for our day.

Nephi quotes this chapter in its entirety; compare 2 Nephi 20. Differences present in the Book of Mormon text are shown in italics where quoted. This chapter has several chiasms that greatly add to our understanding of Isaiah’s meaning.

Verses 1 through 4 comprise a woe oracle in which the Lord declares evil consequences upon unrighteous rulers. The woe oracle is the final one of four that comprise an important prophetic message, or “priestly sermon,” directed to the northern kingdom of Israel and to Judah. Verse 1 begins: “Woe unto them that decree unrighteous decrees, and that write grievousness which they have prescribed.” The written grievousness means unfair edicts or laws that deprive subjects or citizens of rights, resources or property.

Verse 2 describes wicked rulers’ persecution of the powerless: “To turn aside the needy from judgment and take away the right from the poor of my people, that widows may be their prey, and that they may rob the fatherless!” “Judgment” here means justice.2 Wicked rulers would derive their unjust power from taking advantage of the poor, including widows and orphans.

In verse 3 the Lord poses accusatory questions: “And what will ye do in the day of visitation, and in the desolation which shall come from far? to whom will ye flee for help? and where will ye leave your glory?” “Visitation” is translated from a Hebrew word meaning “punishment” or “accountability.”3 The Lord will abandon them in the day of visitation because of their wickedness, leaving them defenseless against “the desolation which shall come from far,” meaning the invading Assyrian army and its modern equivalent.

Verse 4 concludes the cursing pronounced by the Lord: “Without me they shall bow down under the prisoners, and they shall fall under the slain.” The wicked rulers would be numbered among the prisoners and among the dead.

The closing phrase of verse 4, spoken by Isaiah, “For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still,” means that the justice of the Lord’s anger continues and His hand is stretched out against them in punishment; this is repeated three times in Chapter 9, in addition to this occurrence in verse 4, all with the same meaning.4 The prophet explains the meaning of the phrase earlier, in Chapter 5, where it is preceded in the same verse by a parallel phrase with somewhat different wording but identical meaning: “Therefore is the anger of the LORD kindled against his people, and he hath stretched forth his hand against them, and hath smitten them.”5

Regarding the high-minded rulers of the latter days, the Lord stated to Joseph Smith:

[T]hat I may visit them in the day of visitation, when I shall unveil the face of my covering, to appoint the portion of the oppressor among the hypocrites, where there is gnashing of teeth, if they reject my servants and my testimony which I have revealed unto them.6

Verses 1 through 4 contain a chiasm which begins with the final phrase of the last verse of Chapter 9:

A: (9:21)…For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.
B: (1) Woe unto them that decree unrighteous decrees, and that write grievousness which they have prescribed;
C: (2) To turn aside the needy from judgment, and to take away the right from the poor of my people, that widows may be their prey, and that they may rob the fatherless!
D: (3) And what will ye do in the day of visitation,
D: and in the desolation which shall come from far?
C: to whom will ye flee for help? and where will ye leave your glory?
B: (4) Without me they shall bow down under the prisoners, and they shall fall under the slain.
A: For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.

This chiasm pronounces woes upon unrighteous rulers. The beginning phrase, “for all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still,” is reflected at the end by a repetition of the same phrase. “Woe unto them that decree unrighteous decrees” complements “without me they shall bow down under the prisoners, and they shall fall under the slain,” meaning specifically that the unrighteous rulers will be singled out to be taken prisoner and slain. “To turn aside the needy from judgment” complements “to whom will ye flee for help?” indicating that the help they denied the needy will be denied them in retribution; and “what will ye do in the day of visitation” compares with “in the desolation which shall come from far?” stating that when destruction comes these unrighteous rulers will be held to account for their wickedness toward those who depended upon them for help.7

In verse 5 the Lord resumes speaking, declaring that Assyria is an instrument in His hand to mete out justice against wicked Israel: “O Assyrian, the rod of mine anger, and the staff in their hand is mine indignation.”8 The Assyrian army is figuratively the rod being wielded by the Lord against Israel and Judah to punish them for their wickedness. The Book of Mormon renders “…and the staff in their hand is their indignation;”9 this rendition includes the anger of the invaders. “Indignation” means “displeasure.”

In verse 6 the Lord, who continues speaking, declares: “I will send him [the king of Assyria] against an hypocritical nation, and against the people of my wrath will I give him a charge, to take the spoil, and to take the prey, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets.”10 “An hypocritical nation” means ancient Israel and Judah, and also their modern counterparts. Destruction will come at the hand of the Assyrians and their modern superpower equivalents. The phrase “to take the spoil, and to take the prey” in verse 6 is translated from the Hebrew Maher-shalal-hash-baz, the name of Isaiah’s second son, designating that the foretold destruction would be in fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy given at the time of his son’s conception.11

In verse 7 the Lord explains that the Assyrian king does not understand that he is merely an instrument of destruction in the hands of the Lord: “Howbeit he meaneth not so, neither doth his heart think so; but it is in his heart to destroy and cut off nations not a few.” Archaic sentence construction may render this passage hard to understand. “Howbeit he meaneth not so” means “Even though he will not think of it like that.”

In verses 8 through 11 the Lord quotes the Assyrian king’s prideful thoughts. Verse 8 queries: “Are not my princes altogether kings?” A negative question, such as this and those that follow, means that the premise is so obvious as to be a foregone conclusion—in this case, that the princes under the command of the king should, indeed, be considered equal to kings of other nations.

Verse 9 continues: “Is not Calno as Carchemish? is not Hamath as Arpad?” These are countries left desolate in the wake of the Assyrian onslaught that were unable to resist. Finally the Assyrian king reasons, “is not Samaria”—a land he has just laid waste— “as Damascus?” Syria at this time was a tribute country to the Assyrian overlords.

In verses 10 and 11 the Assyrian king continues his boasting. Verse 10 states: “As my hand hath found the kingdoms of the idols, and whose graven images did excel them of Jerusalem and of Samaria—” The Book of Mormon renders “As my hand hath founded the kingdoms of the idols….”12 “Founded” means “to establish,” or “to lay the foundation.”13

Verse 11 continues: “Shall I not, as I have done unto Samaria and her idols, so do to Jerusalem and her idols?” Here the king derides the idolatry of Jerusalem, reasoning that her idols would be powerless in defense against his invading armies just as were the idols of other countries, including neighboring Samaria. As a custom, ancient conquerors destroyed or carried off the idols of vanquished nations to establish that their own deities were superior to those of the defeated nation. In Chapter 46, Isaiah foretells the overthrow of Babylon by depicting her idols being carried into captivity.14

In verse 12, the Lord decrees swift destruction upon the king of Assyria, his army, and his modern equivalent once they have fulfilled the Lord’s purposes: “Wherefore it shall come to pass, that when the Lord hath performed his whole work upon mount Zion and on Jerusalem, I will punish the fruit of the stout heart of the king of Assyria, and the glory of his high looks.” The Book of Mormon renders “…and upon Jerusalem….”15 “Zion” is used twice in Chapter 10 in the same way, with dual meanings—a place of latter-day spiritual gathering, as well as a synonym for Jerusalem, both ancient and modern. The whole of the Lord’s work includes the destructions foretold in this chapter, together with the latter-day restoration and gathering under righteous conditions.16

In verses 13 and 14 the Assyrian king continues his boasting: “For he saith, by the strength of my hand I have done it, and by my wisdom; for I am prudent: and I have removed the bounds of the people, and have robbed their treasures, and I have put down the inhabitants like a valiant man: And my hand hath found as a nest the riches of the people: and as one gathereth eggs that are left, have I gathered all the earth; and there was none that moved the wing, or opened the mouth, or peeped.” The Book of Mormon renders “…I have done these things….”17 This is a troubling thought: that ancient Israel’s modern counterpart—a “hypocritical nation”—will somehow render itself so defenseless that an invading army would be able to pillage totally unopposed.

In verse 15 Isaiah resumes speaking, chastising Assyria for not acknowledging that the devastation they would bring upon Israel was the work of the Lord, with the Lord using them as an instrument: “Shall the axe boast itself against him that heweth therewith? or shall the saw magnify itself against him that shaketh it? as if the rod should shake itself against them that lift it up, or as if the staff should lift up itself, as if it were no wood.” The Hebrew word from which “wood” is translated means “firewood;”18 the Hebrew meaning for “shaketh” is “wields” or “moves.”19 All the metaphors in this verse, phrased as rhetorical questions, ask the same question: Can man—specifically, the Assyrian king—prosper against God?

In verses 16 through 19 Isaiah, continuing as voice, declares swift destruction upon Assyria. Verse 16 begins: “Therefore shall the Lord, the Lord of hosts, send among his fat ones leanness; and under his glory he shall kindle a burning like the burning of a fire.”20 “Therefore shall the Lord…send among his fat ones leanness” means that the Lord would send weakness among the Assyrian king’s most vigorous warriors.

Verse 17 reveals the cause of the conflagration: “And the light of Israel shall be for a fire, and his Holy One for a flame.” These equivalent phrases teach us that “the light of Israel” is the same as “his Holy One,” meaning the Messiah or Jesus Christ.

Continuing in verse 17, Isaiah states: “And it shall burn and devour his thorns and his briers in one day.” “His” as used here refers to the modern counterpart of the Assyrian king, and “thorns” and “briers” mean the lies and false doctrines he has caused to be planted in the hearts of the people.21 Earlier, in Chapter 9, Isaiah described the destruction at the Lord’s Second Coming. Instead of the usual battle scenes “with confused noise, and garments rolled in blood,” this destruction would be “with burning and fuel of fire.”22

Verse 18 continues the description of the destruction of the Assyrian king and his hosts, both ancient and modern: “And shall consume the glory of his forest, and of his fruitful field, both soul and body: and they shall be as when a standardbearer fainteth.”23 “His forest” means the Assyrian nobility or leaders, and “his fruitful field” means their economic apparatus.24 “Glory” as used here means military strength.25 “Both soul and body” means that Assyria will vanish completely, both politically and culturally. A standard-bearer in ancient warfare served the vital role of communication between the commander and his forces. With the standard-bearer no longer providing communication, total chaos would ensue.

Verses 16 through 18 contain a chiasm:

A: (16) Therefore shall the Lord, the Lord of hosts, send among his fat ones leanness;
B: and under his glory
C: he shall kindle a burning like the burning of a fire.
D: (17) And the light of Israel shall be for a fire,
D: and his Holy One for a flame:
C: and it shall burn and devour his thorns and his briers in one day;
B: (18) And shall consume the glory of his forest, and of his fruitful field, both soul and body:
A: and they shall be as when a standardbearer fainteth.

The “leanness,” or physical weakness, to be sent among the Assyrian army and its modern counterpart compares with “when a standardbearer fainteth,” which would result militarily in total confusion. “His glory,” meaning the glory of the Lord at His coming, is contrasted with “glory of his forest,” meaning the worldly glory and military strength of the prideful leaders of ancient Assyria and their modern equivalent. “Burning like the burning of a fire” reflects “shall burn and devour his thorns and his briers in one day.” “The light of Israel shall be for a fire” is equivalent to “his Holy One for a flame,” which comprise the central focus of the chiasm.

Does the burning refer to a nuclear holocaust, or does it mean the wicked being consumed by the glory of the Lord’s presence? The combination of elements in this chiasm indicates that the Lord’s glory will be the consuming fire—those unworthy of His presence and unable to endure it will be consumed. Note that in addition to the physical destructions, the truths to be made manifest at the Lord’s Second Coming will destroy all the lies and false doctrines of the modern equivalent of the Assyrian king, along with his armies, in a single day.

In verse 19, “trees” and “forest” refer to the Assyrian leaders or nobility: “And the rest of the trees of his forest shall be few, that a child may write them.” All but a few would be slain, decimating their ranks.

In verses 20 through 23, Isaiah prophesies of the return in the latter days of the remnant of Israel who had been scattered among all nations. Verse 20 states: “And it shall come to pass in that day, that the remnant of Israel, and such as are escaped of the house of Jacob, shall no more again stay upon him that smote them; but shall stay upon the LORD, the Holy One of Israel, in truth.” The Hebrew word from which “stay” is translated means “lean upon” or “trust.”26 Rather than placing their confidence in evil despots, those of the remnant would place their confidence in the Lord.

Verse 21 declares: “The remnant shall return, even the remnant of Jacob, unto the mighty God.”27 The Book of Mormon renders: “The remnant shall return, yea, even the remnant of Jacob….”28  The phrase “The remnant shall return” is the English meaning of the name of Isaiah’s oldest son, Shear-jashub, indicating that this foretold latter-day event would be in fulfillment of the prophecy given at the time of Isaiah’s son’s birth.29

Verse 22 continues: “For though thy people Israel be as the sand of the sea, yet a remnant of them shall return: the consumption decreed shall overflow with righteousness.” Israel being like “the sand of the sea” means that they are numerous but scattered. “Consumption” is translated from a Hebrew word meaning “complete destruction” or “annihilation;”30 and “overflow with righteousness” means that the destruction would fulfill the just and righteous designs of the Lord.

Verse 23 states: “For the Lord GOD of hosts shall make a consumption, even determined, in the midst of all the land.” The Book of Mormon renders “…even determined in all the land.”31 The meaning is that the wicked would be annihilated, completely removing them from the land.32

In verses 24 through 34, the final verses of this chapter, Isaiah changes the subject abruptly, prophesying of an invasion by Assyria against Jerusalem that is repulsed by the miraculous destruction of the Assyrian army by the angel of the Lord. This prophecy was fulfilled during the reign of Hezekiah.33 Not only does the prophecy foretell the defeat of ancient Assyria; it is a type for destruction of Assyria’s modern equivalent.

In verse 24 Isaiah declares authoritatively: “Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD of hosts,” followed by the Lord’s words in verses 24 and 25: “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.” “After the manner of Egypt” means the cruelty of the Egyptians in earlier times, when the Israelites served them as slaves.34 “Zion” as used here means a place of latter-day spiritual gathering as well as being a synonym for ancient Jerusalem, particularly under her righteous king. These meanings reflect the different times that this prophecy is to be fulfilled.35, 36

Verse 25 continues: “For yet a very little while, and the indignation shall cease, and mine anger in their destruction.” The onslaught of Assyria—both in the days of Hezekiah and in the equivalent latter-day confrontation—would last only a short time. This statement will be a great comfort to those who understand the significance of the latter-day events.37

In verses 26 and 27, Isaiah describes what will happen at that time. Verse 26 states: “And the LORD of hosts shall stir up a scourge for him according to the slaughter of Midian at the rock of Oreb: and as his rod was upon the sea, so shall he lift it up after the manner of Egypt.” The slaughter of Midian at the rock of Oreb refers to a time when Gideon led a force of 300 Israelites, identified by their means of drinking water from a stream—lapping the water like a dog, “putting their hand to their mouth.” This small force frightened the Midianites with trumpets and lights; the result was infighting, slaughter, and defeat among the Midianites.38 “After the manner of Egypt” in this instance refers to the time when the Egyptian armies were destroyed by the returning waters as they attempted to pursue Israel across the parted Red Sea.39

In verse 27, Isaiah asserts that the Assyrian oppression would be undone: “And it shall come to pass in that day, that his burden shall be taken away from off thy shoulder, and his yoke from off thy neck, and the yoke shall be destroyed because of the anointing.” “The anointing” refers to the Lord’s covenant with Abraham40 and also the promise to David that his righteous descendants upon the throne of Judah would be sustained by the Lord.41

Although this passage foretells a specific miraculous event that occurred during the reign of Hezekiah, it is a type that foretells the Lord’s intervention in behalf of His people in the latter days. Truly, this will also be a great miracle.

Verses 24 through 27 contain a chiasm:

(24) Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD of hosts,
A: O my people that dwellest in Zion,
B: be not afraid of the Assyrian: he shall smite thee with a rod, and shall lift up his staff against thee,
C: after the manner of Egypt.
D: (25) For yet a very little while, and the indignation shall cease, and mine anger in their destruction.
D: (26) And the LORD of hosts shall stir up a scourge for him according to the slaughter of Midian at the rock of Oreb:
C: and as his rod was upon the sea, so shall he lift it up after the manner of Egypt.
B: (27) And it shall come to pass in that day, that his burden shall be taken away from off thy shoulder, and his yoke from off thy neck,
A: and the yoke shall be destroyed because of the anointing.

“O my people that dwellest in Zion” compares with “anointing,” indicating that it would be the righteousness of His covenant people—although probably outnumbered by those among the people who would be wicked—that would prompt the Lord’s miraculous intervention against the Assyrian army. It also refers to the anointing of the Davidic king—in this case Hezekiah, who would humble himself before the Lord. “Shall smite thee with a rod, and shall lift up his staff against thee” contrasts with “his burden shall be taken away from off thy shoulder, and his yoke from off thy neck,” indicating that although the Assyrian king would smite them, his oppression would be miraculously removed from them. “After the manner of Egypt” in verse 24 means the oppression endured by the enslaved Israelites in Egypt, whereas the same phrase in verse 26 refers to destruction of the Egyptian army in the Red Sea as they pursued the escaping Israelites led by Moses. “Mine anger” compares with “the LORD of hosts,” designating who is speaking and whose anger is to accomplish the destruction.

In verses 28 through 32, the terrifying advance of the Assyrian king and his army is described by Isaiah, mentioning various towns and villages, finally arriving at the base of the hill where Jerusalem is located:

He is come to Aiath, he is passed to Migron; at Michmash he hath laid up his carriages:
They are gone over the passage: they have taken up their lodging at Geba; Ramah is afraid; Gibeah of Saul is fled.
Lift up thy voice, O daughter of Gallim: cause it to be heard unto Laish, O poor Anathoth.
Madmenah is removed; the inhabitants of Gebim gather themselves to flee.
As yet shall he remain at Nob that day: he shall shake his hand against the mount of the daughter of Zion, the hill of Jerusalem.

Some of the localities cited can be found on maps in the Bible; see especially Map 4, “The Empire of David and Solomon” in the LDS Bible.42 The succession of place names indicates that the king of Assyria would advance from the north toward Jerusalem.

Isaiah uses “the daughter of Zion” with dual meanings in verse 32. Its main use here is as a synonym for Jerusalem, but when these events are considered as types for latter-day happenings, other meanings may also be discerned. In particular, it refers to the place of latter-day spiritual gathering, which should at some time come under attack and be defended miraculously by the Lord. 43 The Great Isaiah Scroll reads “…the mount of the house of Zion” in verse 32.44

Verses 33 and 34 describe the defeat of the Assyrian army at that time:

Behold, the Lord, the LORD of hosts, shall lop the bough with terror: and the high ones of stature shall be hewn down, and the haughty shall be humbled.
And he shall cut down the thickets of the forest with iron, and Lebanon shall fall by a mighty one.

“Bough,” “thickets” and “forest” refer to the Assyrian leaders or nobility, particularly “the high ones of stature,” to be hewn down by the Lord’s mighty iron axe. The elements of the metaphor are familiar to us.45

This prophecy was fulfilled when 185,000 men of the Assyrian army were slain during the night by the angel of the Lord:

And it came to pass that night, that the angel of the LORD went out, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians an hundred fourscore and five thousand: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses.

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 Esarhaddon his son reigned in his stead.46

 


Notes:

1. See 2 Kings 18 and 19; also Isaiah 36 and 37.
2. See Isaiah 1:17; 5:7; 42:4; 59:8; 59:15.
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. 6486, p. 824.
4. Isaiah 9:12, 17, and 21.
5. Isaiah 5:25.
6. Doctrine and Covenants 124:8.
7. Verse 4 contains a chiasm recognized in the original Hebrew: They shall bow down/under the prisoners/under the slain/they shall fall. In Donald W. Parry, Harmonizing Isaiah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) at Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, 2001, p. 258.
8. Verses 4 and 5 contain a chiasm: His anger/his hand/rod/staff/their hand/mine indignation.
9. 2 Nephi 20:5.
10. Verses 4 through 6 contain a chiasm: Bow down/his anger/Assyrian/rod/mine anger/tread them down.
11. See Isaiah 8:3; see discussion by Donald W. Parry, Jay A. Parry and Tina M. Peterson, Understanding Isaiah: Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1998, p. 105.
12. 2 Nephi 20:10.
13. Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary: Merriam-Webster Inc., Springfield, Massachusetts, 1988, p. 487.
14. See Isaiah 46:1.
15. 2 Nephi 20:12.
16. See Isaiah 1:27; 3:16; 4:3-4; 8:18; 10:24; 12:6; 51:3.
17. 2 Nephi 20:13.
18. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 6086, p. 781.
19. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 5130, p. 245.
20. See Isaiah 1:7, 28; 5:24; 9:5, 18-19 and pertinent commentary.
21. See Isaiah 55:13; 5:6; 9:18; 27:4; 32:13 and pertinent commentary.
22. See Isaiah 9:5.
23. Verses 17 and 18 contain a chiasm: His thorns and his briers/glory of his forest/of his fruitful field/both soul and body.
24. See Isaiah 2:13; 9:18; 10:33-34; 14:8; 29:17; 32:15; 37:24; 55:12.
25. See Isaiah 8:7; 16:14; 17:3-4; 20:5; 21:16-17; 22:18; 66:12 and pertinent commentary.
26. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 8172, p. 1043.
27. Verses 20 and 21 contain a chiasm: Remnant of Israel/stay upon him that smote them/stay upon the LORD/ remnant shall return.
28. 2 Nephi 20:21
29. See Isaiah 7:3; also, see discussion by Donald W. Parry, Jay A. Parry and Tina M. Peterson, Understanding Isaiah: Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1998, p. 109.
30. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 3617, p. 478.
31. 2 Nephi 20:23.
32. Verses 22 and 23 contain a chiasm: Consumption/overflow/righteousness/the Lord GOD of hosts/shall make/ consumption.
33. See 2 Kings 18 and 19; also Isaiah 36 and 37.
34. See Isaiah 10:24, footnote 24b.
35. See Isaiah 1:27; 3:16; 4:3-4; 8:18; 10:12; 12:6; 51:3.
36. Verse 24 contains a chiasm: Assyrian/smite thee/rod/lift up his staff/against thee/Egypt.
37. See Isaiah 26:20; 30:29 and pertinent commentary.
38. See Judges 7.
39. Exodus 14:24-28.
40. See Genesis 22:9-12, 15-18.
41. See Genesis 49:10; 1 Kings 2:33; 1 Samuel 15:27-28.
42. See Bible Map 4.
43. See 2 Kings 19:21, 31; Psalms 9:14; 51:18; Isaiah 16:1; 37:22; 52:2; 62:11. Also, see Isaiah 1:27; 3:16; 4:3-4; 8:18; 10:12, 24; 12:6; 51:3.
44. Parry, Harmonizing Isaiah, 2001, p. 71.
45. See Isaiah 2:13; 9:18; 10:18-19; 14:8; 29:17; 32:15; 37:24; 55:12.
46. 2 Kings 19:35-37.

Isaiah 4: He That Is Left in Zion Shall Be Called Holy

Although this chapter has only six verses it has a wealth of information applicable to our day. It gives an account of the condition of Zion, the people of the Lord, during the beginning portion of the Millennium when Christ will reign on earth. The inhabitants of the earth—those righteous enough to have survived the wars, judgments and devastation spoken of in the previous chapter—will be redeemed and cleansed so that all who remain will merit being called holy. Nephi quotes this chapter in its entirety with only one minor change in wording. Compare 2 Nephi 14.

As described in verse 1, the male proportion of those that will survive the devastations that precede the Second Coming will be so small that in order for women to enjoy the blessings of marriage, polygamy will be practiced: “And in that day seven women shall take hold of one man, saying, We will eat our own bread, and wear our own apparel: only let us be called by thy name, to take away our reproach.” Those surviving the depopulation, primarily women, will be in destitute circumstances.

In some ways the situation foretold by Isaiah is similar to conditions that existed in the early days of the Church, but in other ways conditions are very different. In nineteenth‑century Utah, most plural wives maintained an autonomous economic basis with little or no support from the husband. Isaiah’s description of women after the foretold devastations being willing to provide for themselves in polygamous marriages indicates that economic conditions will not favor large families at that time. The reproach alluded to by the women reflects their unfulfilled desire to be married and to raise children. This prophecy, it appears, will be fulfilled at some time still in the future. Of interest here is that the name Joseph, which Rachel the barren wife of Jacob (Israel) gave to her firstborn son, means “God has taken away my reproach” in Hebrew.1

Wilford Woodruff described a vision in which he was shown the future fulfillment of verse 1:

It seemed as though I was above the earth, looking down to it as I passed along on my way east and I saw the roads full of people principally women with just what they could carry in bundles on their backs…It was remarkable to me that there were so few men among them…. Wherever I went I saw…scenes of horror and desolation rapine and death…death and destruction everywhere. I cannot paint in words the horror that seemed to encompass me around. It was beyond description or thought of man to conceive…. I was given to understand, that the same horrors were being enacted all over the country….Then a voice said “Now shall come to pass that which was spoken by Isaiah the Prophet that seven women shall take hold of one man,” etc.2

In verse 2, conditions on the earth during the Millennium are described: “In that day shall the branch of the LORD be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the earth shall be excellent and comely for them that are escaped of Israel.” The Book of Mormon omits “shall be,” rendering “the fruit of the earth excellent and comely….”3 The Great Isaiah Scroll renders “…them that are escaped of Israel and Judah.”4

At the beginning of the millennium, as set forth in the Tenth Article of Faith, “…the earth shall be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory.”5 In its renewed state, the earth will produce abundantly for those who survive the destructions. The Lord’s blessings and honor, both temporal and spiritual, will be showered down upon those who persevered in keeping the Lord’s commandments during the times of great wickedness—those who were worthy of the Lord’s protection during the destructions.

Further information on how the righteous are to escape, pertinent to us in our day, is given by the Lord in Doctrine and Covenants:

Watch, therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour.
Let them, therefore, who are among the Gentiles flee unto Zion.
And let them who be of Judah flee unto Jerusalem, unto the mountains of the Lord’s house.
Go ye out from among the nations, even from Babylon, from the midst of wickedness, which is spiritual Babylon.
But verily, thus saith the Lord, let not your flight be in haste, but let all things be prepared before you; and he that goeth, let him not look back lest sudden destruction shall come upon him.6

Elsewhere in Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord reiterates: “And go ye out from among the wicked. Save yourselves. Be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord.”7 The Lord unequivocally gives us the way to escape the destructions of the latter days.

Verse 3 describes the state of righteousness of those who will survive: “And it shall come to pass, that he that is left in Zion, and he that remaineth in Jerusalem, shall be called holy, even every one that is written among the living in Jerusalem—” The Book of Mormon renders “And it shall come to pass, they that are left in Zion, and remain in Jerusalem, shall be called holy, every one that is written among the living in Jerusalem—”8 From both of these versions it is apparent that there will be gatherings both in Zion and Jerusalem, distinct from each other. The main prerequisite for survival at that time will be personal righteousness.

Verse 4 describes the cleansing process, continuing the sentence in verse 3: “When the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and shall have purged the blood of Jerusalem from the midst thereof by the spirit of judgment, and by the spirit of burning.” The spiritual filth of the daughters of Zion was described in Chapter 3. Blood to be purged from Jerusalem means murders and other gross sin, purged “by the spirit of judgment, and by the spirit of burning.”9 Gileadi10 translates this as “in the spirit of justice, by a burning wind.” Gileadi’s translation is valid because, in the Hebrew, “spirit” and “wind” are the same word.11 Could the burning wind be part of the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel?12 “The spirit of judgment” as used in this verse means “retribution.”13

“Zion” is used in verses 3 and 4 to mean a place of latter-day spiritual gathering and as a synonym for modern Jerusalem.14

Verses 5 and 6 describe events to take place in the Millennium. Verse 5 states: “And the LORD will create upon every dwelling place of mount Zion, and upon her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day, and the shining of a flaming fire by night: for upon all the glory shall be a defence.” The Book of Mormon renders “for upon all the glory of Zion shall be a defence.” The meaning of “mount Zion” as used here is a place of latter-day spiritual gathering.15

The cloud of smoke by day and the flaming fire by night, foreseen by Isaiah, is a sign of the presence of the Lord. The sign is reminiscent of similar manifestations of the Lord’s presence before the fleeing Israelites as they departed Egypt.16 At the foretold time, manifestations of the Lord’s presence will be upon every dwelling place, indicating the holiness of each individual as well as the entire “mount,” or nation. “Assemblies” means convocations or sacred gatherings;17 “defence” is translated from a Hebrew word meaning “canopy,”18 as for protection.

A manifestation consisting of a cloud of smoke during the day and a pillar of fire at night was witnessed by hundreds—both believers and nonbelievers—at the dedication of the Kirtland Temple in Ohio in April, 1836.19 Of the Kirtland Temple, the Lord declared:

Let the hearts of your brethren rejoice, and let the hearts of all my people rejoice, who have, with their might, built this house to my name.
For behold, I have accepted this house, and my name shall be here; and I will manifest myself to my people in mercy in this house.
Yea, I will appear unto my servants, and speak unto them with mine own voice….20

Ludlow provides additional insight:

In ancient times, a single pillar of smoke and fire rested only over the Holy of Holies, which was approachable by the high priest alone.21 Now, under the tabernacle or wedding canopy, the [symbolic] remarriage of [Jehovah] and his people, promised and prophesied in Isaiah and throughout the Old Testament, will be consummated at last.22

Because of the new covenant brought about by the Lord Jesus Christ, the pillar of smoke and fire designating the presence of the Lord would be manifest upon every humble home and upon every meeting place, since all would be worthy and authorized to enjoy His presence.

Verse 6 continues: “And there shall be a tabernacle for a shadow in the daytime from the heat, and for a place of refuge, and for a covert from storm and from rain.” The Lord’s protective presence will be upon the righteous during the time of destruction. Storms and rain symbolize the destructive forces that are to separate the righteous from among the wicked.23

Verses 5 and 6 contain a chiasm:

A: (5) And the LORD will create upon every dwelling place of mount Zion, and upon her assemblies,
B: a cloud and smoke by day,
C: and the shining of a flaming fire by night:
C: for upon all the glory shall be a defence.
B: (6) And there shall be a tabernacle for a shadow in the daytime from the heat,
A: and for a place of refuge, and for a covert from storm and from rain.

Zion, glorified by the presence of the Lord, will become a place of refuge for the righteous. Note that “cloud” is equivalent to “shadow,” indicating that the purpose for the cloud of smoke by day and for the tabernacle are the same.

For us in the latter days, this chapter’s message is clear: If we expect to survive the destructions preceding the Lord’s Second Coming, personal righteousness is imperative.

 


Notes:

1. Genesis 30:22‑24; see also pertinent footnotes.
2. Wilford Woodruff, Journal of Wilford Woodruff, June 15, 1878, Historical Department, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City.
3. 2 Nephi 14:2.
4. Donald W. Parry, Harmonizing Isaiah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) at Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, 2001, p. 49.
5. See also Isaiah 11:1-9.
6. Doctrine and Covenants 133:11-15.
7. Doctrine and Covenants 38:42.
8. 2 Nephi 14:3.
9. See Isaiah 1:7, 28; 5:24; 9:5, 18-19 and pertinent commentary.
10. 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. 103.
11. 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.
12. See Matt.24:15 and Dan. 9:27.
13. See Isaiah 1:17; 3:14; 28:6; 34:5.
14. See Isaiah 3:16; 1:27; 8:18; 10:12, 24; 12:6; 51:3.
15. See Isaiah 1:8 and pertinent commentary. See also Psalms 102:13, 16; 129:5; 132:13; Isaiah 1:27; 2:3; 14:32; 24:23; 28:16; 31:9; 35:10; 46:13; 51:16; 52:7, 8; 59:20.
16. Exodus 13:21-22.
17. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 4744, p. 896.
18. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 2646, p. 342.
19. F.W. and S.W. Richards, Journal of Discourses: (26 Vols., Liverpool, England: 1854-1886), v. 2, pp. 214-216.
20. Doctrine and Covenants 110:6-8.
21. See Exodus 33:8-10.
22. Victor L. Ludlow, Isaiah: Prophet, Seer, and Poet: Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1982, p. 110.
23. Donald W. Parry, Jay A. Parry and Tina M. Peterson, Understanding Isaiah: Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1998, p. 49.

Isaiah 2: The Lord’s House Shall Be Established In the Top of the Mountains

In Chapter 2, Isaiah sees events preparatory to the Lord’s Millennial Reign. He sees the latter‑day temple, the gathering of Israel, and millennial judgment and peace. The proud and the wicked will be brought low at the Second Coming. Great destructions prior to that time will bring an end to pervasive idolatrous materialism and will strike fear into the hearts of the wicked.

This is the earliest chapter quoted in its entirety by Nephi, in 2 Nephi 12. When compared with the King James translation 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.1 Throughout this commentary words and phrases quoted from the Book of Mormon that are rendered differently are shown in italics. In the Joseph Smith Translation (JST), wording closely matches that of the Isaiah portions of the Book of Mormon.2

This chapter marks the beginning of a major division in the Book of Isaiah, comprising Chapters 2 through 39. In these chapters, the ancient nation of Israel is described as being in her homeland in a state of wickedness. These conditions are types for—or, are typical of—similar wickedness in the latter days.3

Wording of chiasms in Chapter 2 as rendered in the Book of Mormon differs from that of the King James Version, adding to and clarifying meanings. In some cases chiasms intended by the prophet are unrecognizable without the added words. This indicates that those who altered the text after the time of Isaiah4 had, at best, an incomplete understanding of the subtle structures originally written into the text by the prophet. It also indicates that the Isaiah text contained on the brass plates, carried into the wilderness by Lehi and eventually to the American continent,5 was a purer version than the Hebrew Masoretic text from which the Old Testament has been translated into the modern languages of the world.

Verse 1 declares: “The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.” This chapter, however, deals extensively with worldwide developments in the latter days rather than just Judah and Jerusalem. His apparent meaning is, therefore, those who came from Judah and Jerusalem and were scattered throughout the earth. The Hebrew meaning of “word” that Isaiah “saw” is that Isaiah viewed his message through a vision from the Lord.6

In verse 2, the prophet foresees the Lord’s house (the latter‑day temple) established in the top of the mountains: “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.” The Book of Mormon renders “when the mountain of the Lord’s house….”7 “Flow” means “to stream,” meaning large numbers of people from all nations will go up to the Lord’s house.8 The “mountain of the Lord’s house” means the holy temple.9

When the Mormon pioneers first came to the Salt Lake Valley10 they called it and the surrounding regions “Deseret,” from the Book of Mormon Jaredite word meaning “honeybee.”11 The name was chosen to symbolize the industriousness of the people. However, when the citizens of Deseret first sought to join the United States as a territory, Congress sought to impose its will by denying their choice of name. The name Utah—the name given to the region by the Ute Indians—was mandated instead, applying the practice of retaining the original Indian name followed for many states in the United States. Thus, Utah became the name of the territory in 1869 and finally the name of the State in 1896. It was not known at that time that “Utah” in the Ute language means “the top of the mountains.”12 Under the circumstances, it cannot be said that assignment of the name of Utah to the state was contrived by those wishing to demonstrate fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy.

According to Gileadi,13 the word “mountain” is rhetorically connected to “nation,” which may be substituted for deeper meaning. This is illustrated in several places, both in the King James translation of Isaiah and in the Book of Mormon. Nephi’s transcription of verse 14 in Chapter 2 states: “And upon all the high mountains, and upon all the hills, and upon all the nations which are lifted up, and upon every people.”14 Italics show words and phrases that are rendered differently in the Book of Mormon, as explained earlier. Note in these two parallel, synonymous phrases that an important interpretive key, applicable throughout the entire book of Isaiah, is given—”mountains” means “nations.” Similarly, in Chapter 13 in the King James Version, Isaiah states: “The noise of a multitude in the mountains, like as of a great people; a tumultuous noise of the kingdoms of nations gathered together: the LORD of hosts mustereth the host of the battle.”15 In these two parallel statements, “mountains” is equivalent to “kingdoms of nations.”16

With this clarification, we understand verse 2 to mean: “And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the nation having the Lord’s temple will be established as the chief among the nations, and shall be exalted above the lesser nations; and all nations shall stream unto it.”

The Lord used the same rhetorical connection in commanding Sidney Rigdon: “…Behold, I, the Lord your God, will heal him [Sidney Rigdon] that he shall be healed; and he shall lift up his voice again on the mountains, and be a spokesman before my face.”17 This early associate of the Prophet Joseph Smith would be called to lift up his voice again among the nations.

In the latter days, then, a nation—America—will have a temple, or house of the Lord, in a place called Utah—“the top of the mountains,” from the Ute language; that nation will become preeminent over all other nations, and people from all nations will stream in large numbers unto it. This prophecy has been at least partially fulfilled; elements such as the flowing of all nations unto it have seen partial fulfillment but may yet be fulfilled to an even greater degree.

In verse 3, the purpose for the nations streaming to the temple in America is revealed: “And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.” “Law” is translated from a Hebrew word meaning “teaching,” or “doctrine.”18 Each year, millions visit Temple Square in Salt Lake City where they have the opportunity to learn the Lord’s ways. “Zion” as used here means a place that would be established in the latter days, for the spiritual gathering of the Lord’s people that would be brought from many lands.19 “He will teach us of his ways” means that the people will be taught by revelation from God, and “we will walk in his paths” means the people will follow the Plan of Salvation, making sacred covenants with God in His holy house.

The words of verses 2 and 3 are quoted, with minor variation, by Micah.20

Elder LeGrand Richards stated:

This temple on this temple block [in Salt Lake City] is that house of the God of Jacob that our pioneer fathers started to build when they were a thousand miles from transportation, and it took them forty years to build it. Isn’t it a glorious thing, one of the most beautiful buildings in the world? Those of us who filled missions in the early days know how literally every convert, as soon as they joined the Church, would want to sell everything they had, saving their money, as I saw in little Holland, by the nickels and the dimes, until they could find enough to come to this land because of the drawing power of that temple, so that they could learn of His ways and walk in His paths.21

The last two phrases of verse 3 are a simple chiasm:

A: Out of Zion shall go forth
B: the law,
B: and the word of the LORD
A: from Jerusalem.

“Zion” is equivalent in meaning to “Jerusalem,” and “the law” is equivalent in meaning to “the word of the LORD.” Apparently, there is no special significance in the pairing of “Zion” with “the law” nor that of “Jerusalem” with “the word of the LORD;” the meaning would not be different if the pairings were reversed. Micah varies the order of these words, rendering parallel statements rather than a chiasm: “For the law shall go forth of Zion, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.”22

What does the latter-day Zion have in common with ancient Jerusalem, in the structural context of this phrase? Various interpretations come from the range of meanings of the key words “Zion” and “Jerusalem.”23 Latter-day Zion, where the temple serves as an ensign, would have living prophets just like ancient Jerusalem. These living prophets would receive the word of the Lord and send it forth to the world. On the other hand, if “Jerusalem” is taken to mean the modern gathering place for the righteous descendants of Israel, the meaning is that there would be two places from which the word of the Lord would go forth. In Doctrine and Covenants, where verse 3 is paraphrased, the meaning of two latter-day places from which the word of the Lord would go forth is apparent: “And he shall utter his voice out of Zion, and he shall speak from Jerusalem, and his voice shall be heard among all people.”24 It is likely that Isaiah intended both meanings.

Joel also paraphrases, with the same implied meaning: “The LORD also shall roar out of Zion, and utter his voice from Jerusalem; and the heavens and the earth shall shake: but the LORD will be the hope of his people, and the strength of the children of Israel.”25

Later, in Chapter 56, Isaiah foretells the universal availability of temple ordinances in the latter days:

Even them [people not of the covenant from many lands] will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar; for mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people.26

The Lord would welcome all people—even those not born into the covenant lineage—into the temple and would accept their ordinances and offerings.

Matthew, in the New Testament, describes verse 3 as being fulfilled in the life of the Lord Jesus Christ. During the final week of His life He taught daily in the temple—or, the mountain of the Lord.27

President Gordon B. Hinckley declared at the dedication of the Conference Center on October 8, 2000 that this new edifice is part of the “mountain of the house of the Lord,” along with the temple and all other buildings at the Church’s headquarters, in fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. Said he: “As I contemplate this marvelous structure, adjacent to the temple, there comes to mind the great prophetic utterance of Isaiah.” He continued, after quoting verses 2, 3, and 5:

I believe that prophecy applies to the historic and wonderful Salt Lake Temple. But I believe also that it is related to this magnificent hall. For it is from this pulpit that the law of God shall go forth, together with the word and testimony of the Lord.28

Some modern Jews believe that this prophecy of Isaiah foretells the third building of the temple at Jerusalem and, when constructed, the temple will usher in the coming of the Messiah.29

Regarding the prophecy of verse 3, President Joseph Fielding Smith gave the following explanation:

Jerusalem of old, after the Jews have been cleansed and sanctified from all their sin, shall become a holy city where the Lord shall dwell and from whence he shall send forth his word unto all people. Likewise, on this continent, the city of Zion, New Jerusalem, shall be built and from it the law of God shall also go forth. There will be no conflict, for each city shall be headquarters for the Redeemer of the world, and from each he shall send forth his proclamations as occasion may require. Jerusalem shall be the gathering place of Judah and his fellows of the house of Israel, and Zion shall be the gathering place of Ephraim and his fellows, upon whose heads shall be conferred the ‘richer blessings….’

These two cities, one in the land of Zion and one in Palestine, are to become capitals for the kingdom of God during the millennium.30

The hymn “High on the Mountain Top” declares the fulfillment of the prophecy of verses 2 and 3:

High on the mountain top A banner is unfurled.
Ye nations now look up; It waves to all the world….
His house shall there be reared, His glory to display,
And people shall be heard in distant lands to say:
We’ll now go up, and serve the Lord,
Obey His truth and learn His word.31

Verse 4 tells of great wars for the purpose of judgment and rebuke: “And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people.” These parallel statements indicate that “judgment” means “rebuke” and “nations” has the same meaning as “many people.” Following these wars, war will be abolished: “and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” Weapon technologies will be used for peaceful purposes and war will become a thing of the past.32 Verse 4 is also quoted by Micah, with little variation.33

In verse 5, the prophet implores: “O house of Jacob, come ye, and let us walk in the light of the LORD.” “Light” in this verse refers to the light of inspiration, or the influence of the Holy Ghost. This is a spiritual gift that can be obtained only through righteous living. For our time, Isaiah pleads with us to live righteous lives so that we may escape the judgments of the latter days and enjoy the promised spiritual blessings. The Book of Mormon adds more to verse 5: “[Y]ea, come, for ye have all gone astray, every one to his wicked ways.34

Isaiah’s plea is expressed in the children’s hymn “Teach Me to Walk in the Light.”35

Verses 3 through 5 contain a chiasm:36

(3) And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
A: to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
B: (4) And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people:
C: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
C: and their spears into pruninghooks:
B: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
A: (5) O house of Jacob, come ye, and let us walk in the light of the LORD.

Central to this chiasm is that the nations of the earth, following their learning of the Lord and His ways and following His paths, will forsake war. Instruments of war will be converted to peaceful uses; figuratively, swords will be beaten into plowshares and spears into pruninghooks.

Verse 6 declares: “Therefore thou hast forsaken thy people the house of Jacob, because they be replenished from the east, and are soothsayers like the Philistines, and they please themselves in the children of strangers.” The Book of Mormon renders “Therefore, O Lord….”37 “Replenished from the east” means that they are filled with customs from the east, meaning Babylon in particular.  Instead of practicing the law given them by the Lord, the people adopt evil practices and customs. They rely on fortune tellers like their neighbors the Philistines, and they make treaties with the sons of foreigners, unauthorized by the Lord.

Verses 5 and 6 contain a chiasm:

A: (5) O house of Jacob, come ye,
B: and let us walk in the light of the LORD;
C: yea, come, for ye have all gone astray,
C: every one to his wicked ways.
B: (6) Therefore, O Lord, thou hast forsaken thy people
A: the house of Jacob

Wording from the Book of Mormon “for ye have all gone astray” and “every one to his wicked ways” comprise the matching central statements of this chiasm. The Lord’s prophet, Isaiah, pleads for a return to righteousness.

Note that this chiasm is virtually unrecognizable in the King James Version, but words and phrases from the Book of Mormon expand and complete the chiasm. Corruption of the Masoretic text, as manifest in the King James Version, obscures and weakens the chiasm that was originally intended by the prophet.

Verses 7 and 8 contain a three‑fold parallelism:

Their land also is full of silver and gold, neither is there any end of their treasures;
Their land is also 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.

Three different equivalent statements follow the lead phrase, “their land also is full of….” These are “silver and gold, neither is there any end of their treasures;” “horses, neither is there any end of their chariots;” and “idols; they worship the work of their own hands, that which their own fingers have made.” What are their idols? —Silver and gold, treasures, horses and chariots; the work of their own hands, that which their own fingers have made.38 Isaiah saw our materialistic society and the emphasis placed upon status symbols. “Neither is there any end of their chariots” suggests that Isaiah saw the continual traffic jams on modern freeways. Horses and chariots also imply military strength and equipment.39

This materialism would be forsaken by the repentant at the time of the Lord’s Second Coming. Isaiah proclaims later, in Chapter 17: “And he [those who would survive the great latter-day destructions] shall not look to the altars, the work of his hands, neither shall respect that which his fingers have made, either the groves, or the images.”40

Verse 9 pleads: “And the mean man boweth down, and the great man humbleth himself: Therefore, forgive them not.” The Book of Mormon renders: “And the mean man boweth not down, and the great man humbleth himself not, therefore, forgive him not.”41 “Mean” signifies “common,” as used here. Rather than indicating that the common man and the great man alike bow down before the idols of materialism, we learn from the Book of Mormon that their refusal to humble themselves before the Lord is the reason for His ire. The Book of Mormon version adds words and phrases that reveal an elaborate chiasm,  including verses 9 through 11, that is almost unrecognizable in the King James Version. See discussion and analysis of the chiasm following verse 11 commentary.

The remainder of the chapter, verses 10 through 22, describes great destructions that will accompany the Lord’s Second Coming—after the temple has been built and nations flow unto it. Great destructions will bring an end to the pervasive idolatrous materialism and will strike fear into the hearts of the wicked.

In verse 10, the prophet admonishes the wicked: “Enter into the rock, and hide thee in the dust, for fear of the LORD, and for the glory of his majesty.” The Book of Mormon renders “O ye wicked ones, enter into the rock, and hide thee in the dust, for the fear of the Lord and the glory of his majesty shall smite thee.”42 The wicked will fear at His coming and will try to hide; they will be struck down by the glory of the Lord’s majesty.

Verses 11 through 14 describe the humbling of society. Verse 11 states: “The lofty looks of man shall be humbled, and the haughtiness of men shall be bowed down, and the LORD alone shall be exalted in that day.” The Book of Mormon renders “And it shall come to pass that the lofty looks of man….”43 During and after the great destructions, humility will replace pride.

Verses 9 through 11 contain a chiasm:

A: (9) And the mean man
B: boweth not down,
C: and the great man humbleth himself not: therefore forgive them not.
A: (10) O ye wicked ones,
D: enter into the rock, and
D: hide thee in the dust,
A: for the fear of the LORD, and for the glory of his majesty shall smite thee.
C: (11) And it shall come to pass that the lofty looks of man shall be humbled,
B: and the haughtiness of men shall be bowed down,
A: and the LORD alone shall be exalted in that day.

The introductory statement and its antithetic reflection occur four times in this chiasm —also inserted before and after the central statement and its reflection. Elements on the descending side of the chiasm have meanings opposite those on the ascending side. “And the mean man” in verse 9 and its repetition “O ye wicked ones” from the Book of Mormon are antithetic to “for the fear of the LORD, and for the glory of his majesty shall smite thee” in verse 10 and its repetition “and the LORD alone shall be exalted in that day” in verse 11. In order for the second and third elements to be opposites on the ascending and descending sides to fit the antithetic pattern of this chiasm, wording from the Book of Mormon is essential. The word “not” inserted in two places and placement of a second iteration of the first element, “O ye wicked ones,” all on the ascending side, complete the chiasm. “Boweth not down” and “ humbleth himself not” on the ascending side are contrasted with “humbled” and “bowed down” on the descending side; and “enter into the rock” and “hide thee in the dust” are equivalent statements describing the fear and futile evasion of the wicked at the coming of the Lord. The fact that this chiasm works well only when wording from the Book of Mormon is used is a powerful witness of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon and the veracity of the work of the Prophet Joseph Smith.44

The theme from the preceding verse is repeated for emphasis in verse 12: “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.” The Book of Mormon renders “For the day of the Lord of Hosts soon cometh upon all nations, yea, upon every one; yea, upon the proud and lofty….”45 Later, in Chapter 13, Isaiah explains the Lord’s reasons for the destruction: “And I will punish the world for their evil and the wicked for their iniquity; and I will cause the arrogancy of the proud to cease, and will lay low the haughtiness of the terrible.”46

Verses 11 and 12 contain a chiasm:

A: (11) And it shall come to pass that the lofty looks of man shall be humbled, and the haughtiness of men shall be bowed down,
B: and the LORD alone shall be exalted
C: in that day.
C: (12) For the day of
B: the LORD of hosts soon cometh upon all nations, yea, upon every one; yea,
A: upon every one that is proud and lofty, and upon every one that is lifted up; and he shall be brought low.

In the chiasm the Lord’s exaltation at His glorious Second Coming is contrasted with the selfish pride of the wicked. The haughtiness of all nations will be brought down and the Lord alone will be exalted in that day.

In verse 13, trees refer to proud leaders and noblemen47 in adjacent countries: “And upon all the cedars of Lebanon, that are high and lifted up, and upon all the oaks of Bashan.” The Book of Mormon renders “Yea, and the day of the Lord shall come upon all the cedars of Lebanon….”48 Bashan is the area northeast of the Sea of Galilee, now part of Syria. See Bible Map 1.49 Bashan is the type area and the namesake for basalt, a common volcanic (lava) rock, present there in abundance.50

In verse 14 “mountains” and “hills” refer to greater and lesser nations of the earth, all consumed by pride: “And upon all the high mountains, and upon all the hills that are lifted up.” The Book of Mormon renders “And upon all the high mountains, and upon all the hills, and upon all the nations which are lifted up, and upon every people,”51 providing the interpretation of the metaphor in a series of parallel statements. This rhetorical connection is used throughout the book of Isaiah.52

In verse 15, high towers and fenced walls refer to military strongholds: “And upon every high tower, and upon every fenced wall.” The original Hebrew meaning is “fortified” wall.53

Verse 16 continues: “And [the day of the Lord will be] upon all the ships of Tarshish, and upon all pleasant pictures.” The Book of Mormon renders “And upon all the ships of the sea, and upon all the ships of Tarshish, and upon all pleasant pictures.”54 This verse provides insight into the brass plates from which Nephi copied these chapters from Isaiah. A footnote in the LDS edition of the Bible explains: “The Greek Septuagint has ‘ships of the sea.’ The Hebrew has ‘ships of Tarshish.’ The Book of Mormon has both, showing that the brass plates had lost neither phrase.”55 The Great Isaiah Scroll, one of the Dead Sea Scrolls, renders “luxury ships” for “pleasant pictures.”56

Verse 17 repeats the theme established in verses 10 through 16: “And the loftiness of man shall be bowed down, and the haughtiness of men shall be made low: and the LORD alone shall be exalted in that day.” Isaiah contrasts the haughtiness of men being made low and the Lord’s exalted state to emphasize their differences; this literary technique is called a “foil.” The purpose for this stark contrast is to accentuate in the mind of the reader the vast difference between man’s lowly state following the destructions and the Lord’s exalted state upon His Second Coming.

Verse 18 states: “And the idols he shall utterly abolish.” True worship will replace the pervasive materialism, self-indulgence and wickedness that characterize the latter days.57

Verse 19 continues Isaiah’s description of man’s terror: “And they shall go into the holes of the rocks, and into the caves of the earth, for fear of the LORD, and for the glory of his majesty, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth.” The Book of Mormon renders “And they shall go into the holes of the rocks, and into the caves of the earth, for the fear of the Lord shall come upon them and the glory of his majesty shall smite them, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth.”58

Leading up to the day of the Lord, earthquakes will “shake terribly the earth.” In the early part of the Twentieth Century, earthquakes of Magnitude 6 or greater occurred about once per decade. From that time the rate of occurrence of severe earthquakes has increased exponentially, so that at the present time earthquakes of Magnitude 6 or greater occur almost every day somewhere in the world.59

Verse 20 declares that those who practice idolatry (materialism) will come to know the Lord’s displeasure: “In that day a man shall cast his idols of silver, and his idols of gold, which they made each one for himself to worship, to the moles and to the bats.” The Hebrew renders “cast away.”60 The Book of Mormon substitutes “he hath” for “they.”61 Men will seek to hide the evidence of their idolatry in caves and holes in the ground—the habitats of moles and bats.

Verses 8 through 20 contain a chiasm:

A: (8) Their land also is full of idols; they worship the work of their own hands, that which their own fingers have made. (9) And the mean man boweth not down, and the great man humbleth himself not: therefore forgive them not.
B: (10) O ye wicked ones, enter into the rock, and hide thee in the dust, for fear of the LORD, and for the glory of his majesty shall smite thee. (11) And it shall come to pass that the lofty looks of man shall be humbled, and the haughtiness of men shall be bowed down,
C: and the LORD alone shall be exalted in that day.
D: (12) 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:
E:   (13) And upon all the cedars of Lebanon, that are high and lifted up, and upon all the oaks of Bashan,
F:   (14) And upon all the high mountains, and upon all the hills,
G: and upon all the nations
H: that are lifted up,
G: and upon every people;
F:   (15) And upon every high tower, and upon every fenced wall,
E:   (16) And upon all the ships of the sea, and upon all the ships of Tarshish, and upon all pleasant pictures.
D: (17) And the loftiness of man shall be bowed down, and the haughtiness of men shall be made low:
C: and the LORD alone shall be exalted in that day. (18) And the idols he shall utterly abolish.
B: (19) And they shall go into the holes of the rocks, and into the caves of the earth, for fear of the LORD, and for the glory of his majesty shall smite them, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth.
A: (20) In that day a man shall cast his idols of silver, and his idols of gold, which they made each one for himself to worship, to the moles and to the bats.

Proud owners of idols will seek to hide them in caves for shame and fear when the Lord appears. The wicked, fearful of the Lord’s majesty and glory—and acutely conscious of their guilty lives—will be humbled and smitten. Nations and their leaders, represented metaphorically as mountains, hills, cedars and oaks, will be brought down and humbled on the day of the Lord of hosts. Without the words and phrases supplied by the Book of Mormon, this chiasm would be significantly weakened.

Verse 21 is similar to verse 19, repeated for poetic balance and emphasis: “To go into the clefts of the rocks, and into the tops of the ragged rocks, for fear of the LORD, and for the glory of his majesty, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth.” The Book of Mormon renders “To go into the clefts of the rocks, and into the tops of the ragged rocks, for the fear of the Lord shall come upon them and the majesty of his glory shall smite them, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth.”62

Verses 19 through 21 contain a chiasm:

A: (19) And they shall go into the holes of the rocks, and into the caves of the earth, for fear of the LORD, and for the glory of his majesty shall smite them, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth.
B: (20) In that day a man shall cast his idols
C: of silver,
C: and his idols of gold,
B: which he hath made for himself to worship to the moles and to the bats;
A: (21) To go into the clefts of the rocks, and into the tops of the ragged rocks, for fear of the LORD, and for the glory of his majesty shall smite them, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth.

The earth will shake violently and the wicked will be smitten at the Lord’s coming. Out of fear of the Lord—realizing their gross wickedness—idolaters will seek to hide the evidence of their iniquity.

In verse 22 we are admonished: “Cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils: for wherein is he to be accounted of?” We must cease from placing our confidence in man, for the arm of flesh is of no significance compared to the power of the Lord.63

Did Joseph Smith have sufficient understanding of the subtleties and hidden meanings in Isaiah’s writings to have fabricated the Book of Mormon? Comparing the chiasms in this chapter to their wording in the Book of Mormon bears a strong witness that the Prophet Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon through divine guidance from an ancient source, just as he testified.64 How could Joseph have come up with the precise words needed to fill in the missing pieces of these chiasms? Consider that in the 1820s not much was known about chiasmus—especially not among unschooled farmhands.65

 


Notes:

1. 2 Nephi 12:2, footnote 2a.
2. Joseph Smith’s “New Translation” of the Bible: Herald Publishing House, Independence, Missouri, 1970,
523 p.
3. Chapters 2 through 39 depict Israel in her homeland in a state of wickedness; chapters 40 through 54 describe Israel in exile in the world at large, interacting with people and events; and chapters 55 through 66 describe her glorious return to her homeland following repentance and cleansing.
4. See 1 Nephi 13:28.
5. 1 Nephi 3:3, 12, 24; 1 Nephi 4:16, 24, 38; 1 Nephi 5:10-22; 1 Nephi 13:23; 1 Nephi 19:21-24; 1 Nephi 22:1, 30; 2 Nephi 4:2, 15; 2 Nephi 5:12.
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. 1697, p. 182.
7. 2 Nephi 12:2.
8. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 5102, p. 625.
9. See Isaiah 30:29; 56:7; 65:11; 66:20 and pertinent commentary.
10. See Isaiah 35:1 and pertinent commentary.
11. Ether 2:3.
12. Joseph Fielding McConkie, Gospel Symbolism: Bookcraft, Inc. Salt Lake City, UT, 1985, pp. 129-130. See also “The Mountain of the Lord” (videotape), The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1993.
13. Avraham Gileadi, The Book of Isaiah: A new translation with interpretive keys from the Book of Mormon: Deseret Book Co., Salt Lake City, Utah, 1988, 250 pp. See p. 43. See Isaiah 2:2 and 2 Nephi 12:2, 14; Isaiah 11:9; 13:2, 4; 30:25 and pertinent commentary.
14. 2 Nephi 12:14.
15. Isaiah 13:4.
16. See Isaiah 2:14 and 2 Nephi 12:14; Isaiah 11:9; 13:2, 4; 30:25 and pertinent commentary.
17. Doctrine and Covenants 124:104.
18. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 8451, p. 435.
19. See Isaiah 1:27 and pertinent commentary. See also Psalms 102:13, 16; 129:5; 132:13; Isaiah 1:8; 4:5; 14:32; 24:23; 28:16; 31:9; 35:10; 46:13; 51:16; 52:7, 8; 59:20.
20. Micah 4:1-2.
21. LeGrand Richards, “Prophets and Prophecy,” Ensign, Nov. 1975, p. 50.
22. Micah 4:2.
23. For example, see range of meanings for “Zion” in commentary for Isaiah 3:16.
24. Doctrine and Covenants 133:21.
25. Joel 3:16.
26. Isaiah 56:7.
27. See Matthew 26:56; see also Isaiah 6:10, pertinent commentary and endnote.
28. Gordon B. Hinckley, “This great millennial year [Dedication of the Conference Center]”: The Ensign, November 2000, p. 67.
29. See http://www.templemountfaithful.org/vision.htm.
30. Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, Vol. 3, pp. 69-71.
31. Hymns of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1985, Hymn no. 5, “High on the Mountain Top,” verses 1 and 3.
32. See Isaiah 32:15.
33. Micah 4:3.
34. 2 Nephi 12:5.
35. Hymns, no. 304.
36. Donald W. Parry, Harmonizing Isaiah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) at Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, 2001, p. 257.
37. 2 Nephi 12:6.
38. See Gileadi, p. 22.
39. Donald W. Parry, Jay A. Parry and Tina M. Peterson, Understanding Isaiah: Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1998, p. 30.
40. Isaiah 17:8; see pertinent commentary.
41. 2 Nephi 12:9.
42. 2 Nephi 12:10.
43. 2 Nephi 12:11.
44. See John W. Welch, “Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon”: BYU Studies 10, no. 1, 1969, p.6.
45. 2 Nephi 12:12.
46. Isaiah 13:11.
47. See Isaiah 9:18; 10:18-19, 33-34; 14:8; 29:17; 32:15; 37:24; 55:12.
48. 2 Nephi 12:13.
49. See Bible Map 1.
50. Ernest Klein, A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the English Language: Elsevier Publishing Company, New York, 1971, basalt, p. 72.
51. 2 Nephi 12:14.
52. See Isaiah 2:2 and 2 Nephi 12:2, 14; Isaiah 11:9; 13:2, 4; 30:25 and pertinent commentary.
53. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 1219, p. 130.
54. 2 Nephi 12:16.
55. Isaiah 2:16, Footnote 16a.
56. Parry, 2001, p. 45.
57. See Isaiah 2:7-8 and pertinent commentary.
58. 2 Nephi 12:19.
59. On the Internet, see http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/map on recent earthquake occurrences.
60. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 7993, p. 1020.
61. 2 Nephi 12:20.
62. 2 Nephi 12:21.
63. See 2 Nephi 4:34.
64. The Book of Mormon—Introduction (1981 edition) states: “Concerning this record the Prophet Joseph Smith said: >I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.’“ See also Joseph Smith—History 1:59-68.
65. John W. Welch, “Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon”: BYU Studies 10, no. 1, 1969, p. 6; see also Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith—History 1:3, 22-23, 27, 48, 55.

Isaiah 1: Hear the Word of the Lord, Ye Rulers of Sodom

Chapter 1 is a prologue, or overview, of the message presented in the entire book of Isaiah.1 Here can be seen elements of Israel’s apostate, rebellious, and corrupt state, with only a very small remnant remaining faithful. The Lord rejects Israel’s sacrifices and feasts because they are practiced unworthily. Similarly, the Lord rejects the sacrifices, observances and ordinances of his people of all ages when performed unworthily. The Lord calls upon Israel to repent and work righteousness; if they do, the Lord promises remission of sins and forgiveness. Finally, the Lord promises that Zion will be redeemed in the day of restoration, which will be accompanied by destruction of the wicked by fire.

Nephi begins his lengthy quote from Isaiah with Chapter 2.2 The reason for his not quoting Chapter 1 may have been that this chapter is a prologue; however, Nephi does not state the reasons for his selection of portions of Isaiah.

Verse 1 attests that Isaiah was shown a vision: “The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, king of Judah.” Note that the vision concerned what should befall Judah and Jerusalem and that it was seen over a period of many years, as represented by the reigns of the four kings cited. Isaiah is given detailed instructions, which he records in Chapter 6, on how to present the vision.3 Because of apostasy and wickedness among his people Isaiah encoded his prophecies so that only those with sufficient spiritual insight could understand. This encoding prevented the unworthy from receiving more than they could comprehend, which would subject them to the “greater condemnation.”4

Modern-day revelation further attests to the veracity of Isaiah’s mission and work. Joseph F. Smith wrote of a vision he received 3 October, 1918 in which he was shown the spirit world. He saw many of the “great and mighty ones,” including ancient prophets who were teaching the gospel to the spirits of those who had once lived upon the earth. He states: “And Isaiah, who declared by prophecy that the Redeemer was anointed to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that were bound, [was] also there.”5

In verse 2, Isaiah proclaims: “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the LORD hath spoken.” This means that everyone on earth is to hear these words;6 a witness of them would be recorded in heaven. “Heaven and earth” is a euphemism meaning “everybody.” The words spoken by the Lord, to be heard by all, follow: “I have nourished and brought up children and they have rebelled against me.” The Lord’s words are a lawsuit, comprising verses 2 through 4, testifying of the unfaithfulness of the children of Israel.

Doctrine and Covenants Section 76—a great vision in which Joseph Smith and an associate, Sidney Rigdon, were shown the world of spirits, resurrection, judgment and three degrees of glory to be inherited by God’s children—begins with words similar to those of Isaiah in verse 2: “Hear, O ye heavens, and give ear, O earth, and rejoice ye inhabitants thereof, for the Lord is God, and beside him there is no Savior. Great is his wisdom, marvelous are his ways, and the extent of his doings none can find out.”7 Greater detail provided by modern revelation confirms Isaiah’s meaning.

Compare also the Lord’s latter-day call to listen to and obey His words, as recorded in the beginning verses of 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.8

The voice of the Lord, given through prophets in all ages of the world, is for every member of the human family everywhere. Eventually all will be given the opportunity to hear and understand, and will be held accountable for obeying the Lord.

In the King James Bible, the Hebrew Yahovah,9 or YHWH, meaning “Jehovah,” is translated “the LORD” (in all caps) except for two instances in Isaiah where it is rendered “Jehovah,”10 to avoid the too-frequent use of the name of Deity.11 “Lord,” in which only the initial letter is capitalized, typically is translated from the Hebrew adonay,12 meaning “Lord” or “Master,” connoting the human rather than the divine.

Verse 3 contains two sets of parallel statements: “The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib,” and “but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider.” From the first set we are reminded that even domestic animals demonstrate loyalty to their masters, unlike the Lord’s chosen people. In the second set, “Israel” is equivalent to “my people,” and “doth not consider” is equivalent to “doth not know.” The original Hebrew meaning translated as “crib” is “manger,”13 providing powerful insight into the Master’s identity—He who would be “laid in a manger.”14

Verse 3 illustrates the profound difference between ignorant sin and dwindling in unbelief. Although Israel may be the Lord’s covenant people, when they do not think about, study or obey the law—or the gospel, to apply an equivalent New Testament term—even that knowledge which they have is soon lost. The Spirit withdraws, leaving them spiritually dead. Their one‑time status as children of the covenant is no protection from the consequences of their sins. John the Baptist chastised the Pharisees and the Sadducees: “And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.”15

Verse 4 describes the sinful, corrupt state of Israel, both individually and as a nation: “Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the LORD, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward.” Their corruption persists for multiple generations; the Lord is angry with them and withholds blessings.

Verses 5 and 6 describe spiritual disease, using physical ailments metaphorically. Verse 5 begins: “Why should ye be stricken any more? Ye will revolt more and more: the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint.” The people’s thoughts and emotions—denoted by the head and the heart—are turned entirely toward iniquity. Matthew in the New Testament cites this passage as being fulfilled by events in the life of Jesus Christ;16 the people among whom Christ ministered were spiritually sick, matching Isaiah’s description.

Verse 6 continues the metaphor: “From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment.” The disease is serious, affecting the entire body. No healing treatment—metaphorically, the Atonement—has been applied.

Verse 7 describes the consequences to a nation when the individuals who comprise it are pervasively corrupt, forsaking the blessings and the protection of the Lord: “Your country is desolate, your cities are burned with fire; your land, strangers devour it in your presence, and it is desolate, as overthrown by strangers.” Because of wickedness, the Lord’s protection is withdrawn and speedy destruction ensues. Cities are burned with fire; crops and natural resources are seized and consumed by invaders.17

In verses 8 and 9, only a small remnant of the righteous remain among the people. Verse 8 begins: “And the daughter of Zion is left as a cottage in a vineyard, as a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, as a besieged city.” The inhabitants of Jerusalem are decimated; the survivors are few, similar in number to the occupants of a hut in a vineyard used by harvesters during harvest time.

Verse 8 contains a chiasm:

A: (8) And the daughter of Zion
B: is left as a cottage in a vineyard,
B: as a lodge in a garden of cucumbers,
A: as a besieged city.

In this chiasm Isaiah establishes “daughter of Zion” as a poetic synonym for Jerusalem, or the “besieged city,” which he uses repeatedly throughout his work.18 Survivors of the destruction are few, comparable in number to the occupants of a hut in a vineyard.

Verse 9 continues the lament: “Except the LORD of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like unto Gomorrah.” Except for a small number of righteous who would survive, the destruction would be total—like that of Sodom and Gomorrah,19 two cities that were totally destroyed because of their wickedness.

Paul quotes verse 9: “And as Esaias [Isaiah] said before, Except the Lord of Sabaoth had left us a seed, we had been as Sodoma, and been made like unto Gomorrha.”20 “Seed” refers to a small number of survivors from which would grow a great nation again, after many generations.

In verse 10, Isaiah mockingly refers to the rulers of wicked Jerusalem as the rulers of Sodom, and its wicked inhabitants as the people of Gomorrah: “Hear the word of the LORD, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah.” Sodom and Gomorrah are types for wickedness and total destruction, to be recurrently fulfilled.

Verses 11 through 20 are a classic lawsuit. In verse 11, the Lord condemns rituals practiced by the people of Jerusalem because they are practiced unworthily and their hypocrisy is abhorrent to Him: “To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? Saith the LORD: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks or of lambs, or of he goats.”

Verse 12 continues the lawsuit: “When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts?” Unworthy entry into the Lord’s holy temple—to “tread my courts”—is serious sin.

In verse 13, the Lord demands: “Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting.” “Away with” is an archaic English term, translated from a Hebrew word meaning “endure.”21

Verse 14 continues: “Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them.”  Because of hypocrisy, the Lord rejects the assemblies and feasts of His people and will no more grant forgiveness. In like manner, the Lord rejects the offerings and observances of His people of all ages when performed unworthily.

Verses 13 and 14 contain a chiasm:

A: (13) Bring no more vain oblations;
B: incense is an abomination unto me;
C: the new moons and sabbaths,
D: the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with;
D: it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting.
C: (14) Your new moons and your appointed feasts
B: my soul hateth:
A: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them.

The Lord rejects Israel’s oblations, appointed feasts, solemn assemblies and celebrations because the people’s gross iniquity makes these observances abominable in His sight. The Lord’s demand to “bring no more vain oblations” is complemented by “they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them.”

In verse 15 the Lord declares that He will not hear their prayers: “And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.” The Great Isaiah Scroll—one of the Dead Sea Scrolls—adds a parallel phrase at the end of the verse: “your fingers with iniquity.”22 “Blood” refers to the effects of sin in the lives of the people, here emphasizing the most serious, the shedding of innocent blood.23

Verse 15 contains a chiasm:

A: (15) And when ye spread forth your hands,
B: I will hide mine eyes from you:
B: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear:
A: your hands are full of blood.

Because of their dreadful sins, the Lord will not hear the prayers of the people nor look upon them in mercy.

In verses 16 and 17 the Lord extends the opportunity for repentance and forgiveness. Verse 16 begins: “Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil.” As much as the sinner wishes his wickedness were secret, all our doings are seen by the Lord, with nothing concealed. These four parallel statements, all with similar meaning, are given for emphasis—visualize Isaiah underscoring four times. “Wash you, make you clean” implies the ordinance of baptism.24

Verses 15 and 16 contain a chiasm that overlaps that of verse 15:

(15) And when ye spread forth your hands,
A: I will hide mine eyes from you:
B: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.
C: (16) Wash you,
C: make you clean;
B: put away the evil of your doings
A: from before mine eyes; cease to do evil.

This chiasm centers on a plea for the people to repent and become clean before the Lord. Until they do so, the Lord will not look upon them in mercy nor hear their prayers. Because of  the overlapping chiasms in these verses, both “your hands” and “your hands are full of blood” in verse 15 are equivalent to “the evil of your doings” in verse 16.

Verse 17 continues: “Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.” Note here the great extent to which the Lord defines righteousness as social justice and how much He disdains conformity with rules, ceremony, and ritual as a substitute for genuine righteousness. “Judgment” and “judge,” as used here, imply social justice.25

The care of orphans and widows is an important commandment given by the Lord in all ages. To Moses He declared: “He [the Lord] doth execute the judgment of the fatherless and widow, and loveth the stranger, in giving him food and raiment.”26 James attests: “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”27

In verse 18 the Lord states the purpose for the Atonement in one of the Old Testament’s most striking and frequently‑quoted passages: “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” The color scarlet—red or crimson—here symbolizes the most serious of sins, the taking of innocent life. The color white, represented in this verse by snow or wool, symbolizes purity. The Lord, through the Atonement, “has provided the way whereby our spiritual sicknesses can be healed.”28 Words from the hymn “Gently Raise the Sacred Strain” express words and meaning from verse 18: “Tho your sins be crimson red, Oh, repent, and he’ll forgive.”29

President Gordon B. Hinckley declared:

Repentance is one of the first principles of the gospel. Forgiveness is a mark of divinity. There is hope for you. Your lives are ahead, and they can be filled with happiness, even though the past may have been marred by sin. This is a work of saving and assisting people with their problems. This is the purpose of the gospel.30

There are two kinds of righteousness for which we are personally responsible, both delineated repeatedly by Isaiah. One is personal righteousness; the other is collective—or national— righteousness. We are familiar with the ways we attain personal righteousness: Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; repentance; baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; and receiving the Holy Ghost through the laying on of hands.31 Repentance and purification, however, are not a one‑time‑only event in our lives. We must go through this four‑step process continually, substituting the ordinance of the Sacrament by which we renew our baptismal covenants, and then re‑inviting the Holy Spirit back into our lives. After this, we should do everything we can to promote good around us including keeping the Lord’s commandments, properly caring for, raising, and teaching our children, and fulfilling assignments given to us through the Lord’s authority. National righteousness extends from the majority being personally righteous, together with leaders who cherish truth and righteousness.

In verse 19 the Lord promises the fruits of repentance and subsequent righteousness: “If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land.” The Lord’s blessings, including prosperity and national security, are contingent upon individual and collective righteousness.

Elder Boyd K. Packer explained that the Lord’s gift of forgiveness requires our obedience:

The gospel teaches us that relief from torment and guilt can be earned through repentance. Save for those few who defect to perdition after having known a fulness, there is no habit, no addiction, no rebellion, no transgression, no offense exempted from the promise of complete forgiveness.32

In verse 20 the Lord promises the inescapable result of continued iniquity: “But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.” War and destruction await the nation that rejects the Lord.

Verses 21 through 23 are a prophetic lament. Verse 21 begins: “How is the faithful city become an harlot! It was full of judgment; righteousness lodged in it; but now murderers.” Isaiah sorrows over the wickedness of Jerusalem. “Judgment” as used here means “fairness” or “justice.”33

Verse 22 continues the lament: “Thy silver is become dross, thy wine mixed with water.” “Dross” means slag or waste, a metallurgical term. Metaphorically, substituting dross for silver and adding water to wine symbolize cheating, dishonesty, and corruption.

Verse 23 summarizes the accusation: “Thy princes are rebellious, and companions of thieves: every one loveth gifts, and followeth after rewards: they judge not the fatherless, neither doth the cause of the widow come unto them.” “Gifts” is translated from a Hebrew word meaning “bribes.”34 The leaders of the people commit great sin in lying, bribery, associating with thieves and ignoring the plight of widows and orphans.

Verses 17 through 23 contain a chiasm:

A: (17) Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. (18) Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.
B: (19) If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land:
C: (20) But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.
D: (21) How is the faithful city becomes an harlot!
E: It was full of judgment;
E: righteousness lodged in it;
D: but now murderers. (22) Thy silver is become dross, thy wine mixed with water:
C: (23) Thy princes are rebellious, and companions of thieves:
B: every one loveth gifts, and followeth after rewards:
A: they judge not the fatherless, neither doth the cause of the widow come unto them.

The introductory statements, “Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow” in verse 17 and “judge not the fatherless, neither doth the cause of the widow come unto them” in verse 23 are antithetics in which Isaiah contrasts the people’s actual behavior with conduct that the Lord would approve. The princes’ receiving of gifts—meaning bribes—is the opposite of their being willing and obedient. The focus of this chiasm establishes Israel’s past righteousness as the goal to be achieved, whereas the introductory and supporting statements describe the obstacles that must be overcome in achieving the goal.

In verse 24, the Lord declares: “Therefore saith the Lord, the LORD of hosts, the mighty One of Israel, Ah, I will ease me of mine adversaries, and avenge me of mine enemies.” In the beginning phrase, note that “Lord” is first rendered in lower case except for the initial capital L, then in all caps. “Lord” means “master, owner or ruler; one who has dominion” whereas “the LORD” (in all caps) is translated from the original Hebrew Yahovah or YHWH, meaning “Jehovah.”35 The Lord Jehovah, the Mighty One of Israel, will avenge Himself of His adversaries and enemies—in particular, those who commit wrongs against His people.

Verse 25 declares: “And I will turn my hand upon thee, and purely purge away thy dross, and take away all thy tin.” Metallurgy, the refining of metals, is used here as a metaphor for the cleansing of blatant and hidden sin. Tin added to gold as an alloy diminishes its worth, or value in carats, without significantly altering its appearance. The heat of the refiner’s fire—to continue the metaphor—represents trials, tribulations and destructions imposed by the Lord for the purpose of cleansing.36 “Turn my hand” is translated from a Hebrew word meaning “repeatedly return.”37

In verse 26, in the latter days when Israel is restored, the Lord declares: “And I will restore thy judges as at the first, and thy counselors as at the beginning: afterward thou shalt be called, The city of righteousness, the faithful city.” Compare the words of the hymn, “The Spirit of God Like a Fire is Burning:”

The Lord is extending the Saints’ understanding,
Restoring their judges and all as at first.
The knowledge and power of God are expanding,
The veil o’er the earth is beginning to burst.38

Verse 27 proclaims: “Zion shall be redeemed with judgment, and her converts with righteousness.” Only through personal and collective righteousness will Zion be redeemed. The primary meaning of “Zion” here is a place of latter-day spiritual gathering; other meanings in other layers of understanding may also be discerned.39 “Judgment,” as used here, means “fairness” or “justice.”40

Verse 28 continues: “And the destruction of the transgressors and of the sinners shall be together, and they that forsake the LORD shall be consumed.” This statement foreshadows the great destructions by fire that await the wicked in the latter days, before the Second Coming of the Lord.41

Verses 20 through 28 contain a chiasm:

A: (20) But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.
B: (21) How is the faithful city become an harlot!
C: It was full of judgment; righteousness lodged in it; but now murderers.
D: (22) Thy silver is become dross, thy wine mixed with water:
E:   (23) Thy princes are rebellious, and companions of thieves: every one loveth gifts, and followeth after rewards: they judge not the fatherless, neither doth the cause of the widow come unto them.
F:   (24) Therefore saith the Lord, the LORD of hosts,
F:   the mighty one of Israel,
E:   Ah, I will ease me of mine adversaries, and avenge me of mine enemies:
D: (25) And I will turn my hand upon thee, and purely purge away thy dross, and take away all thy tin:
C: (26) And I will restore thy judges as at the first, and thy counselors as at the beginning:
B: afterward thou shalt be called, The city of righteousness, the faithful city. (27) Zion shall be redeemed with judgment, and her converts with righteousness.
A: (28) And the destruction of the transgressors and of the sinners shall be together, and they that forsake the LORD shall be consumed.

The Lord—the focal point of this chiasm —will destroy, purge, and avenge as described in the supporting statements. Note that the rebellious princes are chiastically identified as adversaries and enemies of the Lord. Diluting wine with water is equivalent to alloying gold with tin; both are symbolic of hidden sin. The redemption of Zion will involve restoration of judges and counselors “as at the first,” before Israel began to adopt the ways and beliefs of their idolatrous neighbors.

Because the chiasm of verses 17 through 23 overlaps the chiasm of verses 20 through 28, “judge the fatherless,” “judge not the fatherless,” and “I will ease me of mine adversaries, and avenge me of mine enemies” in verse 24 all are structurally comparable. Similarly, “but if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword,” “the destruction of the transgressors and of the sinners shall be together,” and “thy princes are rebellious, and companions of thieves” are also comparable. These chiasms together paint a picture of pervasive wickedness and its unavoidable consequences.

Verse 29 states: “For they shall be ashamed of the oaks which ye have desired, and ye shall be confounded for the gardens that ye have chosen.” This statement refers to the idolatrous practices of apostate Israel, adopted from their pagan neighbors. “Oaks” and “gardens” as used here mean “terebinth trees and gardens used in idol worship.”42 Terebinth is a species of fragrant sumac tree. The form of idolatry alluded to in this verse centered upon ceremonial illicit sex. Elsewhere in the Old Testament this idolatrous practice is euphemistically called “the groves,” meaning gardens with shade trees prepared as a pleasant setting for such acts.43 The Lord here condemns all sexual sin, whether or not it is part of idolatrous worship.

In verse 30, the depth of shame felt by those caught up in the sin of moral impurity is likened to a tree whose leaves dry up or a garden that has not been watered: “For ye shall be as an oak whose leaf fadeth and as a garden that hath no water.” Life-giving water symbolizes the redeeming power of the Atonement.

But in verse 31, the withering leaves of the powerful oaks and the waterless gardens only serve to expedite the unquenchable destructive burning: “And the strong shall be as tow, and the maker of it as a spark, and they shall both burn together, and none shall quench them.” “Tow” means coarse fiber or hemp, a ready fuel for destructive fire. The destruction foretold will transpire at the time of the Lord’s Second Coming, but it is typical of destruction of wicked nations throughout the ages.

In describing the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, John Taylor—who was severely wounded by the murderous mob—alluded to this destruction by fire: “[I]f the fire can scathe a green tree for the glory of God, how easy it will burn up the dry trees to purify the vineyard of corruption.”44

Verses 28 through 31 contain a chiasm:

A: (28) And the destruction of the transgressors and of the sinners shall be together, and they that forsake the LORD shall be consumed.
B: (29) For they shall be ashamed of the oaks which ye have desired, and ye shall be confounded for the gardens that ye have chosen.
B: (30) For ye shall be as an oak whose leaf fadeth and as a garden that hath no water.
A: (31) And the strong shall be as tow, and the maker of it as a spark, and they shall both burn together, and none shall quench them.

Because of idolatry that the people have desired in place of devotion to the Lord, they will be destroyed by fire.


Notes:

1. Chapters 2 through 39 depict Israel in her homeland in a state of wickedness; chapters 40 through 54 describe Israel in exile in the world at large, interacting with people and events; and chapters 55 through 66 describe Israel’s glorious return to her homeland following repentance and cleansing.
2. 2 Nephi chapters 12 through 24.
3. Isaiah 6:9‑10.
4. See Doctrine and Covenants 82:3 and Luke 12:48.
5. Doctrine and Covenants 138:38, 42.
6. William Grant Bangerter, “The Voice of the Lord Is unto All People,” Ensign, Nov. 1979, p. 9.
7. Doctrine and Covenants 76:1-2.
8. Doctrine and Covenants 1:1-2.
9. 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. 3068, p. 217-218.
10. Isaiah 12:2; Isaiah 26:4.
11. See Doctrine and Covenants 107:4.
12. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 136, p. 10.
13. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 18, p. 7.
14. See Luke 2:7, 12, 16.
15. Matthew 3:9.
16. See Matthew 8:17.
17. See Isaiah 1:28; 5:24; 9:5, 18-19 and pertinent commentary.
18. See 2 Kings 19:21, 31; Psalms 9:14; 51:18; Isaiah 10:32; 16:1; 37:22; 52:2; 62:11.
19. See Genesis 19:24-25.
20. Romans 9:29.
21. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 3201, p. 407.
22. Donald W. Parry, Harmonizing Isaiah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) at Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, 2001, p. 40.
23. See Isaiah 59:3 and pertinent commentary.
24. Victor L. Ludlow, Isaiah: Prophet, Seer, and Poet: Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1982, p. 77.
25. See Isaiah 1:17, footnote 17c; See Isaiah 5:7; 42:4; 59:8; 59:15.
26. Deuteronomy 10:18.
27. James 1:27.
28. Vaughn J. Featherstone, “Forgive Them, I Pray Thee,” Ensign, Nov. 1980, p. 29.
29. Hymns of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1985, Hymn no. 146, “Gently Raise the Sacred Strain,” verse 4.
30. Gordon B. Hinckley, “Stand True and Faithful,” Ensign, May 1996, p. 91.
31. See Articles of Faith 1:4.
32. Boyd K. Packer, “The Brilliant Morning of Forgiveness,” Ensign, Nov. 1995, p. 18.
33. See Isaiah 1:21, 27; 5:16; 10:2; 16:3, 5; 28:6, 17; 30:18.
34. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 7810, p. 1005.
35. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 3068, p. 217-218.
36. See Malachi 3:2-3; Doctrine and Covenants 128:24.
37. See Isaiah 1:25, footnote 25a.
38. Hymns of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1985, Hymn no. 2, “The Spirit of God,” verse 2.
39. See Isaiah 3:16; 4:3-4; 8:18; 10:12, 24; 12:6; 51:3.
40. See Isaiah 1:27, footnote 27b. For references to other meanings of “judgment,” see verse 17.
41. See Isaiah 1:7, 4:4; 5:24; 9:5, 18-19; 10:16-18; 13:6-9; 24:6; 26:11; 27:11; 29:6; 30:27, 30, 33; 33:11-12; 34:9; 42:25; 43:2; 47:14; 64:1-2, 11; 66:15-16 and pertinent commentary.
42. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 352, p. 18.
43. See 1 Kings 14:23; 2 Kings 16:4; 17:10; 2 Chronicles 28:4; Jeremiah 2:20; 3:6, 13; Ezekiel 6:13; also Isaiah 17:8; 27:9; 57:5 and pertinent commentary.
44. Doctrine and Covenants 135:6.