Thursday, April 27, 2006

Thoughts on unity

I’ve been having some discussions with friends on the unity of our nation and how the state of things today does not bode well. We are increasingly divided on issues all over the political spectrum. The issue of immigration brings to the forefront some of the key issues and I’ve read some opinions that are very thought provoking. One of them is on a friend’s blog, complete with an excellent quote from Teddy Roosevelt.

When we talk about unity and immigration, I think it is worthwhile to consider that we are all emmigrating to another nation of great importance, which we term as “The Kingdom of God”. Immigrants to that kingdom will not get to enjoy citizenship there until they, of their own free will, conform to the laws and customs of that kingdom. It is a melting pot in the most perfect sense, where a wide range of God’s children come together to be unified in a most perfect way. As Jesus put it: “That they may be one as we are.” (John 17:11) It seems unlikely that Jesus wanted the saints to merge together into a formless, identity-less mass of … something. Rather he wanted them to come together into a perfect union of thought and will. When we see as God sees, we will be alike in our determination to love and lift all those around us. When we know as God knows, contention in all its ugliness will disappear.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Isaiah 5 - What the Lord has done for His vineyard

Isaiah 5 is a pretty big chapter and full of lots of interesting things.   I feel like I could write a few posts about the things I was getting from it, but I will just touch on a few.

I love the poetry in the first four verses.  It makes me want to cry:  In particular I want to point out verses 2 and 4:


And he fenced it,
and gathered out the stones thereof,
and planted it with the choicest vine,
and built a tower in the midst of it,
and also made a winepress therein:
and he looked that it should bring forth grapes,
and it brought forth wild grapes.

What could have been done more to my vineyard,
that I have not done in it?
wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes,
brought it forth wild grapes?


Indeed, what more could God have done?  Here is how I interpret what the Lord did:


gathered out the stones – removed those people who would not hear the word
planted it with the choicest vine – raised up righteous people to start things out
built a tower in the midst of it – built a temple for the people
made a winepress therein – established the priesthood


Of course, the Lord has done the same things for us in our day.  Will we bring forth wild grapes? 


This poetry continues through the chapter to verse 13:


Therefore my people are gone into captivity,
because they have no knowledge:
and their honourable men are famished,
and their multitude dried up with thirst.


Predictably, the footnote on knowledge refers to “the knowledge of God”.  I think we can assume, as in Christ’s time, that there were plenty of Jews who knew the scriptures.  I think the “honourable men” spoken of here are like the Pharisees in Christ’s day- they were well-read in the law, they knew all about what the scriptures said about God.  We must assume, then, that knowledge of God is not simply knowing about Him, because that was common.  No, it must be a personal and intimate knowledge.    Isaiah is saying, “you guys think you know what’s what, but really you don’t know anything, and you are like prisoners, like people who are starving”. 


Isaiah continues this wake-up theme in verse 20:


Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil;
that put darkness for light, and light for darkness;
that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!


It seems crazy that people would do this, especially people who should know better, but it really happens, and the people who are guilty of it often do not think that they are.  Nephi had similar language with his brothers.  He and Lehi were constantly trying to get them to wake up to what was really happening.   The message I get from Isaiah is that I need to always be on guard with myself and make sure the subtle philosophies of the devil don’t twist my thinking in a similar way.  I believe the key is daily, sincere prayer and mediation. 


Now to end on a positive note, I will proffer verse 25:


Therefore is the anger of the LORD kindled against his people,
and he hath stretched forth his hand against them,
and hath smitten them:
and the hills did tremble,
and their carcases were torn in the midst of the streets.
For all this his anger is not turned away,
but his hand is stretched out still.


I gather from this that the Lord, following the pattern of the priesthood, is showing forth greater love to those whom he has chastised.  He may be angry with us, but he still loves us and His hand is ready to offer help at the moment we choose to have it.  I believe this is the case because for the rest of the chapter, we see the mighty prophesies of Isaiah concerning the blessings, power, and majesty that will be afforded to the righteous, who will be gathered by the mercy of God. 


Let me just say that I love the words of Isaiah.   The spirit continually bears witness to me of the truth of them and it is a joy to read them and write my thoughts.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Isaiah 4 - Seven women and one man

I spent a lot of time pondering the first verse of Isaiah 4:


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.


It sounds pretty salacious at first blush, but I feel Isaiah is trying to say something profound, so I will try to dig deeper:


And in that day

This chapter is a continuation of chapter 3 where “that day” refers to the time(s) when the Jews (Isreal) will be scourged and suffer the consequences of their disobedience and pride.  I believe “that day” also refers to a time hence when the Lord will purify his kingdom through fire, as is mentioned in verse 4:


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.


seven women

Isaiah uses women as a metaphor for the weak.  They are the ones left after the great and mighty have been taken away and/or killed.  I think we can also assume that we are talking about the remnants of Israel and not necessarily all of the world.


shall take hold of one man,

conversely, the man is used a metaphor of the strong.  Verse 3 seems to indicate that the “man” refers to those who keep themselves unspotted from the world and keep their covenants:


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:


To “take hold” indicates, I think, the earnestness of the plea.  These ladies know exactly what they want and they are determined to get it.


saying, We will eat our own bread, and wear our own apparel:

The motive will not be for food or clothing, even though Zion should have plenty of that.  The weak will recognize the spiritual integrity of Zion, that that is what they will yearn for, not simply to be fed and clothed as often seen in times of disaster.  I think they will recognize that it is not a hand-out that they want, but rather the ability to prosper in the way that Zion does, as mentioned in verse 2:


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.


only let us be called by thy name,

When we are baptized, we take upon ourselves the name of Christ.  So in other words, this could be rephrased as “let us be called by the name of Christ.”   The weak will recognize that it is association with the true church that provides the spiritual power they seek.    They will want to be united with it, presumably through baptism and repentance.


to take away our reproach.

Reproach means “an expression of rebuke or disapproval”.   The remnants of Israel will come to understand that God has been unhappy with them because of the detour they have taken from righteousness.  They will feel the shame of it and that will be their motive for coming back into the fold.



As I think about what I have written here, I feel like there are two ways that I can (and should) take this:  First, I aught to realize that as a sinner, I am one of the weak.  I should strive to be aware of where God may disapprove of what I do and seek to repent.  I should also seek after righteousness and seek after the name of Christ.  My motives should not be any of the worldy motives of prestige or wealth, they should be the pure motives of peace and prosperity through living by covenants, the desire to have the Lord be my protector and my light.


Second, I think should also understand that these prophecies paint a picture of the day in which I am living and the role that I can play in the Lords plan.  There will be pure in heart and I can be one of them.  There will be those who are escaped from the world and they will be the rescuers of the residue of Israel.  This is our task in the last days.



Friday, April 07, 2006

Isaiah 3 - The sins of Israel

This chapter reads like poetry with all of its visual metaphors.  One of the verses that impresses itself most on my mind is because of the striking visual images it describes:


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 ca stomacher a girding of sackcloth; and burning instead of beauty.


The interesting thing I learned from the footnotes is that “burning” in this verse is in reference to being branded as a slave.  The Lord is warning Israel of their fate if they do not repent: destruction, poverty, and slavery.  I supposed we can take that to be in both the spiritual and temporal sense.

I am always interested in the “why” question.  Why will the calamities prophesied come upon Israel? Here are the verses in this chapter that seem to answer that:


8 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.

9 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.

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.

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:


My interpretation yields the following list of grievances against Israel:


-          The things they say and do are not in harmony with the gospel. (they are hypocrites)

-          They are open in their sinfulness, which is comparable to the sins of Sodom.

-          Instead of caring for the poor, they take from the poor to enrich themselves

-          The rising generation is not humble and indulges in self-adornment and the appearance of wealth.


One of the most insidious things about sin is how subtle it comes upon us and how it justifies itself.   I believe Isaiah wrote such clear and scathing rebukes because he wanted the people to wake up to what was really going on.  Think about it- nobody walks out their front door in the morning saying, “G’Bye dear!  I’m off to grind the faces of the poor!”    Instead, we gradually and incrementally heap upon ourselves treasures and possessions because we “need” them, or even because we want them and feel like we deserve them, not realizing that this selfish behavior is making the situation of the poor worse.    In the mean time, the Lord is looking down on this in disappointment, so he speaks through his prophet and says something to the effect of, “why are you doing this?   Can’t you see the poor among you?  Why aren’t you lifting them up and blessing them the same way I am blessing you?” 



These thoughts weigh a lot on my mind because it makes me think seriously about the differences in my standard of living and that of others.   I have to ask myself seriously if the Lord is happy with what I am doing with the great blessings and wealth he is giving me.    I can’t help but think this is the design of Isaiah, to get us to think about these uneasy questions.



Monday, April 03, 2006

Isaiah 2 - The folly of relying on the arm of flesh

Isaiah starts this chapter by addressing it to those in the house of Isreal on the Earth during the last days.  He then issues this plea (quoting from 2 Nephi 12):


5 O house of Jacob, come ye and let us walk in the light of the Lord; yea, come, for ye have all gone astray, every one to his wicked ways.


That is quite a broad stroke to paint the children of Israel.  The phrase “all gone astray”, I think, is intended to cause every one of us to ponder seriously what is being said here and liken these scriptures to ourselves.  The verses in this chapter that caused me the most pondering were these (again quoted from Nephi):


6 Therefore, O Lord, thou hast forsaken thy people, the house of Jacob, because they be replenished from the east, and hearken unto soothsayers like the Philistines, and they please themselves in the children of strangers.

7 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.

8 Their land is also 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 him not.


As I pondered these accusations, I thought about how to interpret them, looking at the various meanings of the words and this is how I interpret these things for myself:


God has stopped interacting with us and helping us, his people, because:

-          We seek after strange philosophies and useless knowledge

-          We try to understand and prepare for the future by consulting people with specialized knowledge, such as analysts and gurus

-          We consume entertainment from public celebrities that we don’t know

-          We are surrounded and immersed in wealth and the symbols of wealth

-          We place too much emphasis on possessing items of utility- cars, machines, etc.

-          We make (or buy) objects and then devote ourselves to them.

-          Both the poor and the rich lack humilty


Flipping this around is an interesting exercise.  Here is the opposite of the above interpretation:


God will come to me and be a part of my life when:

-          I seek after revealed truth and knowledge from the “best books

-          I prepare for the future by listening to seers and seeking revelation of God

-          I seek entertainment and pleasure through association with friends and family

-          I stop fretting about money choose not to lavishly adorn myself and my surroundings

-          I treat the useful objects and machines that I buy not as status symbols, but as the tools they are.

-          I Give my time and wealth to people who need it rather than to the rich and famous, or to any thing that might catch my fancy.

-          I envy not those who have more than me, give to those who have less, and always remain grateful for what I have received.


Some of this stuff is pretty hard and takes a measure of faith because we have to let go of something we are probably clinging to.  I can think of more than a few things already that I struggle with.  But then there is this great verse at the end of the chapter, and I totally love it for the poetry:


22 Cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils; for wherein is he to be accounted of?


Of what use is relying on the arm of flesh?  It is pure folly, yet I do it all the time and it is a constant temptation.  There are a few things in particular I know I can do better now which relate directly to my fear of people.  I will face my fears and take stand in favor of the Lord even though I am afraid.