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.
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.