understanding Isaiah
Week 37 is scheduled for study Sept. 5-11, 2022. This week we get a better understanding of Isaiah, what he was up against, and how he was trying to save his people.

Day 1

Seek spiritual guidance as you study. The words of Isaiah are best understood when we are “filled with the spirit of prophecy,” as Nephi taught (2 Nephi 25:4).

Isaiah 1-12 – How can I better understand the teachings of Isaiah?

In Isaiah’s day his writings were as clear to the house of Israel as our prophet’s talks are to us today. They knew of the places he referenced, the people he talked about, the idioms he used and the events he discussed. But for us, if there is one truth most everyone can agree on it’s that Isaiah requires study and thinking to understand. We live in a different political climate on the other half of the world, and all the people and places he references have long since passed into antiquity.

As veiled and difficult as Isaiah is for us today, Jesus quoted him often, and even told the Nephites that there are no greater prophetic writings than those of Isaiah. So where does that leave us? That means that in order for us to come to appreciate Isaiah we must be willing to commit to putting in the work of teasing out his intent, his promises, and we must gain a desire to understand the messages of hope and warning he left for us. Isaiah didn’t only write for his day, but for all the generations from his day down to the very last day of the earth’s mortality. His prophesies cover many periods in time, and often the same prophecy overlaps multiple periods of time, so they have already been fulfilled, are being fulfilled, and will yet be fulfilled again. That makes them worth the work to come to understand.

Did you notice in the manual that the writers left us no easy way to understand Isaiah’s writings? They list some of the helps we should use to try to come to understand what Isaiah is talking about, but they only list four sources. Many of you will be focused on the poetic forms he used to do some of his writing. Others will be looking up place names, names of rulers and their significance in the political machines of their day, while others will be focused on how Isaiah keeps coming around to referring to Christ, without ever naming him as Jesus of Nazareth. We must also remember that the scriptures we have were purged of anything that would directly name Jesus as the Messiah by the Jews of the first century after Christ’s ministry. The parts that describe the Messiah and Redeemer in our Bible are only there because they don’t mention his name while in mortality, so we must learn to recognize the references that refer to him, but don’t speak his name. (And you thought it was tough talking about Voldemort [“he who must not be named”] when no one in the conversation was willing to say his name!)

Here is an article I wrote on just the first chapter of Isaiah. Hopefully, this article will help you see how I used the scriptures and other resources to try to figure out for myself what Isaiah was talking about. The first chapter is the set up for the prophecies to come, so it is an easier chapter to start with.

Remember that during your study of Isaiah, prayer and pondering is of paramount importance. Nothing he writes is an easy read. Coming to love and appreciate the words of Isaiah take time and lots of exposure. As you read and think about what he is saying, you may feel like you are reading gibberish at first. Fear not, for over time, and with study and prayer, little insights will come to you that will be thrilling to your soul. Over the years (yes, years) you will grow to appreciate Isaiah. His words will come to be a comfort to your soul. Just remember that the study of Isaiah isn’t for just the few weeks we will be studying him in these lessons. The study of Isaiah has to be a lifelong pursuit.

Day 2

Seek spiritual guidance as you study. The words of Isaiah are best understood when we are “filled with the spirit of prophecy,” as Nephi taught (2 Nephi 25:4).

Isaiah 1; 3; 5 – Cease to do evil

I want to make a quick mention here about the footnotes. An example of a great footnote is found in the first verse of chapter 5. It tells us that Isaiah is composing a song or poetic parable to describe Israel and their standing before God. Isaiah really does try every trick in the book to get them to see and understand just how precarious their position is before the Lord, so if you can understand one of his methods, it may help you see and recognize one or more of his other methods to get them to understand how dangerously they are living. You don’t need to understand all of the comparisons at once. If you can understand even one of them it will help you spot and grasp some of the others, and that will help with your over all understanding of where he is going with his narrative.

Sorry, one more note – One of my favorite word substitutions in this week’s reading is the word “judgment.” Almost without exception the footnotes replace judgment with “justice.” When Isaiah says there used to be judgment in Israel, read it as there used to be justice in Israel. That really helped me see what he was driving at in his text. The people no longer knew what justice was. Sound judgment, or the dispensing of justice to all the people had been replaced with bribes and graft. They stole from the orphans and widows because they were easy targets and couldn’t get justice from anyone else, and so they lined their pockets with the money stolen from the innocent and helpless among them. Isaiah refers back to, and condemns this practice, over and over again.

The instructions for Day 2 ask us to think about how what we read in these chapters may remind us of our own situation today. Do we see our “public servants” making themselves rich at our expense? Are their homes filled with the spoils of the poor? Are they lacking sound judgment, as if we were being led by children? Are they ransacking our nation for their own enrichment “for ye have eaten up the vineyard” which is the people of the house of Israel? Find these references below.

Elsewhere in today’s chapters Isaiah says that the few righteous left in Israel (the northern kingdom) and Jerusalem (the capitol of the southern kingdom) are the only thing preventing the whole house of Israel from being judged like God judged Sodom and Gomorrah. In verse 9 Isaiah reminds the people that God’s judgments and blessings are based on the law of the harvest. Our rewards and punishments from God are directly related to our own behavior. If we are good we have good rewarded to us again, and if we are evil we are rewarded with evil.

For Jerusalem is ruined, and Judah is fallen: because their tongue and their doings are against the Lord, to provoke the eyes of his glory.

¶ The shew of their countenance doth witness against them; and they declare their sin as Sodom, they hide it not. Woe unto their soul! for they have rewarded evil unto themselves.

10 Say ye to the righteous, that it shall be well with him: for they shall eat the fruit of their doings.

11 Woe unto the wickedit shall be ill with him: for the reward of his hands shall be given him.

In verses 12-15 Isaiah tells the people that their government has been turned upside down. Their leaders are like children who lack sound judgment and rule based on passions. He accuses the rulers of the people (14-15) of stealing from the poor. He says that their homes are filled with the substance they have taken from those whom they should have been protecting, the orphans and widows. The Lord wants them to answer for their behavior of beating His people to pieces and grinding the faces of the poor.

12 ¶ As for my people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O my people, they which lead thee cause thee to err, and destroy the way of thy paths.

13 The Lord standeth up to plead, and standeth to judge the people.

14 The Lord will enter into judgment with the ancients of his people, and the princes thereof: for ye have eaten up the vineyard; the spoil of the poor is in your houses.

15 What mean ye that ye beat my people to pieces, and grind the faces of the poor? saith the Lord God of hosts.

The verses below reference specifically women, but something whispers to me that the habits referred to here apply equally to men as well. It is not about what we wear, but about how we behave. For example, in verse 16 he accuses the daughters of Zion of being “haughty” which is high minded or vain. They walk around with “wanton eyes” which refers to their lustful and greedy or carnal nature. They walk in an unnatural manner with tiny steps with bells on so they tinkle as they walk. It is all a show. More than anything here is the attitude with which they choose to adorn themselves. They are not being modest or virtuous either in their dress or in their behavior. So he tells them that God will take all their finery and replace their show of grandeur with rottenness and their perfumery with stink. He will put them to shame. For the high minded in society where appearance is everything, nothing could be more horrifying than Isaiah’s description of what the Lord will do to them.

16 ¶ Moreover the Lord saith, Because the daughters of Zion are haughty, and walk with stretched forth necks and wanton eyes, walking and mincing as they go, and making a tinkling with their feet:

17 Therefore the Lord will smite with a scab the crown of the head of the daughters of Zion, and the Lord will discover their secret parts.

18 In that day the Lord will take away the bravery of their tinkling ornaments about their feet, and their cauls, and their round tires like the moon,

19 The chains, and the bracelets, and the mufflers,

20 The bonnets, and the ornaments of the legs, and the headbands, and the tablets, and the earrings,

21 The rings, and nose jewels,

22 The changeable suits of apparel, and the mantles, and the wimples, and the crisping pins,

23 The glasses, and the fine linen, and the hoods, and the veils.

24 And it shall come to pass, that instead of sweet smell there shall be stink; and instead of a girdle a rent; and instead of well set hair baldness; and instead of a stomacher a girding of sackcloth; and burning instead of beauty.

25 Thy men shall fall by the sword, and thy mighty in the war.

26 And her gates shall lament and mourn; and she being desolate shall sit upon the ground.

The declarations of sin in these chapters, followed by the warnings of what is to come because of their evil ways, is offset by the Lord’s ever present statement that if covenant Israel will just turn back to the Lord, all can be forgiven. But the choice is up to each individual. He tells Isaiah that the righteous have nothing to fear, but the wicked among them should know what is in store for them if they refuse to repent. This is the same for us today.

I think Israel’s problem then was no different than our problem is today. Evil had, and has, made such a foothold among the people that they no longer thought that what they did was evil. They scoffed at the statements that they needed to repent, for they no longer saw anything wrong with how they lived their lives. Like Laman and Lemuel after them, they felt like the people of Jerusalem were righteous, sophisticated people. They went through the motions of righteousness, but without any sense of conversion in their actions. This is what the Lord complains about in the first chapter. He is sick and tired of the people offering sacrifices without the slightest understanding or show of faith in their actions. Their very acts of devotion had become abominations to him, for all their acts of faith were just that, an act.

We run the risk of becoming like that. When we participate in the sacrament each week, what are our motives? Are we truly seeking to repent, or do we do it out of a sense of fulfilling an obligation, something that is socially expected of us? Are we living our lives often without any contact with the Spirit in our life, or do we study our scriptures, pray, and seek His guidance each day? The specifics of what we wear or how we walk isn’t important. What matters to God is the spirit with which we do all that we do. Are we humble followers of Christ or is it more important to us to seek to excel in the rat race of the commerce of the world? These are the kinds of questions Isaiah was trying to get each person to ask themselves. All of us should be considering where we stand before the Lord.

Day 3

Seek spiritual guidance as you study. The words of Isaiah are best understood when we are “filled with the spirit of prophecy,” as Nephi taught (2 Nephi 25:4).

Isaiah 2; 4; 11-12 – God will do a great work in the latter days

Reading and studying the texts connected with today’s lesson have convinced me that I have tunnel vision. I see only a straight course ahead of the world where the people become even more wicked then the Lord comes and saves the day. It is all very simplistic. Reading the article below by Paul K. Browning, in conjunction with the chapters outlined for today, I can see more clearly that the work of the Lord in gathering Israel is much larger than anything I have ever suspected.

Here is just one example of how the work of the Lord is far bigger and more comprehensive than anything I have imagined before. In Isaiah 11:11, Isaiah says that God will set about recovering his people for the second time. Initially I looked up the first gathering of Israel on Google, and the references I found all said that term is inconclusive in the Bible. In other words, they don’t know what it means.

11 And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall set his hand again the second time to recover the remnant of his people, which shall be left, from Assyria, and from Egypt, and from Pathros, and from Cush, and from Elam, and from Shinar, and from Hamath, and from the islands of the sea.

In the article referenced below by Paul K. Browning, this is how he describes the first gathering of Israel.

After generations of servitude, the Israelites were miraculously delivered by Moses. Their migration from Egypt back to the land of Canaan took place over a 40-year period of travail in the wilderness. The exodus from Egypt and subsequent settlement of the promised land was the first gathering of the people now called Israel. Moses sought not only to restore them to their land but also to recommit them to their faith in God.

My first thought was that Israel was all in one place. They all knew who they were. How is that a gathering? That is when the light went on and the eyes of my understanding began to open. Israel had been mostly lost to their God through hundreds of years of idolatry. Yes, they knew who their ancestors were, that they were all related, and that at some point in the future the Lord their forefathers worshipped promised to release them from bondage and establish them in the land He gave to their forefather Abraham. Emotionally and spiritually they were all pretty much just slaves. They had been slaves for so many generations that many of them could see nothing but slavery in their future. They would need to be converted and convinced that they had greater worth than they had ever imagined. They needed to come to know the God of their salvation, the God of their forefathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

During Israel’s 40 year sojourn in the wilderness of Sinai, they were taught over and over again about who Jehovah really was. They were taught to live His law of daily commandments that reminded them of the law He would give them when He visited them in the flesh. But they were still newbies to the kingdom of God, and they were easily led astray.

Their 40 years in the wilderness schooled them in the ways of God’s people.  As Bro. Browning’s article demonstrates, they had great difficulty in keeping on the path of obedience. This is why the Lord promised them that the day would come that their disobedience would earn them a removal from His protective covering. They would be scattered among all the nations of the earth. During their scattered state they would be a “hiss and a byword” among all people, and that they would be hated until the Lord remembered them in the last dispensation of time and began the process of bringing them back into the gospel fold once again.

The miraculous part here is that God, through our missionary work, is extending His hand throughout all the nations of the earth and touching the hearts of individuals, awaking within them a desire to be obedient to God’s commandments. As they come to learn of and obey His gospel message, through baptism they spiritually re-enter the family of Abraham. For many of them they learn that they are already physical descendants of Abraham. For others they find that they were adopted into his family through their own obedience. Either way, the Lord is gradually rebuilding the family of Jacob and his twelve sons. And the most exciting parts haven’t even happened yet, for we still have a long way to go in finding all of Jacob’s posterity. In each case we must preach the fulness of Christ’s gospel to them and see if they are willing to listen to the Spirit’s call and follow His promptings.

This is the great work God is doing in the latter days. He is rebuilding His ancient nation by offering the message of salvation to all the world, and seeing who among them, and the posterity of Abraham respond. Through this miraculous method He is rebuilding Israel in all her glory and strength, with all the promises from days of old still in tact. And this time, instead of Israel consisting of just Abraham’s descendants, it is being offered equally, and liberally, to all the children of Adam, along with all the privileges and promises of priesthood power and eternal covenants once held only by the prophets.

Gathering Scattered Israel: Then and Now

Day 4

Seek spiritual guidance as you study. The words of Isaiah are best understood when we are “filled with the spirit of prophecy,” as Nephi taught (2 Nephi 25:4).

Isaiah 6 – Prophets are called of God

Each of us might have a different answer to the question posed by the manual in today’s lesson – “How does this chapter influence the way you think about the Lord, His prophets, and the work they are called to do?” This is just my answer, which is based on my experience and my perceptions. It is also influenced on my own lack of ability to communicate what is truly in my heart.

The prophets are men found worthy enough and faithful enough before the Lord that the Lord shows them things most of us will never personally see. We could, but only if we are willing to demonstrate the same level of devotion to keeping the commandments and seeking to understand God and His ways. When Isaiah see’s God in His temple, sitting upon His throne, he sees that the hem (or skirts) of his garments filled the temple. Ordinarily this would be an entirely impractical piece of outer ware. Can you imagine a cloak that covered the entire inside of your home? Ridiculous! But look at the garments of God as the extent of His power and influence, and suddenly it makes sense to describe such a scene with this physical description. I actually think Isaiah was very clever in that he was able to perceive such a thing and find a way to put his perception into words that painted a picture of what he perceived. There is no place that God’s influence and power do not extend, and I see that when I think of His robes filling the entire throne room of God.

Seeing God’s might and majesty was such a humbling experience that Isaiah had an instant recognition that he had been called to represent a people that were so woefully lacking in humility and obedience that he now felt completely insecure in his own worthiness to stand in front of such a man of perfection and power. Hence you have his words in verse five.

¶ Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone (cut off); because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts. [comment added]

Isaiah’s sense of unworthiness was relieved once the angel touched his lips with the purging power represented by the live coal. In his newly found confidence, because he had been declared to be pure before God, he volunteered to go and do whatever God needed done. This desire to serve God was not new. Isaiah had possessed this desire before his vision, but now he felt able to express it openly before God, Himself, having just been declared by God to be free of the sins of the people he was called to serve. See verses 7-8.

And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged.

Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.

This is the power of God’s prophets. They have labored all their lives to be worthy of His company and approval. He has called them to serve His people because they are trustworthy and have prepared themselves for the sacred callings He gives them. In a small way, I feel about being in the presence of a prophet like Isaiah describes being the presence of God. I am firmly convinced that the Prophet today is one who stands fully approved and supported by God to fulfill God’s will and work among His children. And when I am near one of His prophets I am filled with gratitude that there are those among us who have worked so hard to be so favored of the Lord. I will probably never be called to such a work, but I believe any of us can be just as worthy as the prophet, and just as blessed by the Lord, for God is not respector of persons. This is my answer to today’s question. How would you write out your answer?

Day 5

Seek spiritual guidance as you study. The words of Isaiah are best understood when we are “filled with the spirit of prophecy,” as Nephi taught (2 Nephi 25:4).

Isaiah 7-9 – Isaiah prophesied of Jesus Christ

I am going to depart from what the manual says just a little bit. The manual says, regarding Ahaz and the prophecies of Isaiah, “While it’s not completely clear what these prophecies meant in Ahaz’s time, they clearly apply to Jesus Christ.” Ahaz may not have directly asked for a sign from God when Isaiah offered to show him one, but Ahaz was reminded by Isaiah that Christ was going to be born, and that before he would be old enough to know right from wrong, “the land that thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings.” This gave Ahaz a little bit of a timeline as to what was going to happen and when, as well as gave this apostate king another testimony of the coming of his Lord. Isaiah tells Ahaz that before the day the Christ child can know between right and wrong, there will be great destructions brought upon Ahaz’s kingdom. Basically Isaiah tells him the kingdom will be wiped clean by their enemies, like a man freshly shaved of all his head and feet hair, and of his beard.

Isaiah didn’t give a time in his timeline, but he did include the correct series of events. Unfortunately, this prophecy wasn’t enough to bring Ahaz into line with the Lord’s wishes.

FHE/Personal Study

Improving Personal Study – Ask the Lord for help

The Lord has promised over and over again that if we seek we will find, and if we ask it shall be given to us. But what is it the Lord will give us? The answer is – what we need. Not what we want, but what we need. If you and I are both seeking for understanding and greater appreciation of something, what you receive will rarely be what I receive. What you need at your stage of growth and development is what the Lord will give you based on His perfect knowledge and perfect love for you. What I receive will be based on those same qualities, and it will most likely be tailored to my personal needs.

The ability and propensity for the Lord to gear all of our spiritual experiences to our personal needs is one of the greatest sources for my appreciation and awe for His power. Neither our Father, nor our Savior are ever cookie cutter in their approach to answering our prayers and teaching us how to be better today than we were yesterday. They always give us what we individually need for our greatest opportunities of happiness. This is one of my greatest sources of personal happiness and trust in God, that His love for me never takes a backseat to what might be easier to do for me because He needs to do the same for someone else. If my need is nothing like my neighbor, I will always receive what I need, just as my neighbor will always get what is in their best interests. The needs of the individual is always of paramount importance to our God.

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OT37-2022 – God Is My Salvation

Week 37