Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Isaiah 9 - Joy from darkness

As I read in Isaiah 9 this week, I was touched by the following passage, which I am quoting from 2 Nephi because there is a significant change in the wording:


2 The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.

3 Thou hast multiplied the nation, and increased the joy—they joy before thee according to the joy in harvest, and as men rejoice when they divide the spoil.


This is really an amazing theme to me, and it illustrates to my mind the brilliance of God’s plan for us.  The path to travel in this plan is often what would seem be the direction exactly opposite of our self-interest.  Who could imagine that a people in their darkest hour and greatest extremity could have joy likened to those who have just received a great bounty?  Who would imagine that extreme hardship and difficulty lead to enlightenment?  And most of all, who would imagine that a God whom we have offended would remain patient through the millennia, with His “hand, stretched out still?” 

I was impressed one day as I was studying this chapter to turn to the last chapters of Luke and read the account of the atonement there.  I started with the last supper, and read through to the end when Jesus ascended into heaven.  In one part, he is on the road talking with disciples heading to Emmaus.  They are sad, for they too, are having difficult comprehending the plan of salvation for them.  It isn’t something logical that they can figure out.  The Lord rebukes them and begins to recite the prophets who have prophesied of His mission, and of how these things must be.  “Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?”  He goes on like this for a while and they still don’t know who it is that is talking with them until they invite him in to eat.   He sits down with them, blesses the break and breaks it.  At that moment their eyes are opened.

As I read that passage, I realized that the disciples must have remembered the last supper just a few days earlier when Christ had originally blessed bread and broke it in front of them.  That was a remarkable thought for me, because it makes the symbolism of the sacrament more beautiful.  I hope that my eyes will also be opened each week when I have a chance to partake of the broken bread. 

So the feeling I am left with at the end of this reading is how exceedingly merciful the Lord is to us.   As a people, we have been constantly forgetting him and transgressing his laws for all of history, but though he may punish us and withdraw his protection, he is ever willing to gather us in if we want it.


Friday, May 12, 2006

Isaiah 8 - Odd ducks and Familar spirits

I’d like to start off with an amusing observation:

I think it is extremely cool that each of Isaiah’s sons have names that are prophecies.  One thing that I am gleaning from the chapters I have read so far is that Isaiah was probably an odd duck.  I could just imagine Isaiah going to see King Ahaz as mentioned in last week’s chapter:


Servant:  Highness, you have a visitor.
Ahaz:  Who is it?
Servant:  (pause)  Isaiah.
Ahaz:  *Sigh*  Send him in.


Like Isaiah, let us not be ashamed of the gospel and let us live it in every way that we can, throwing ourselves into the service of the Lord.


Now, a comment about this passage (quoted from 2 Nephi):


19 And when they shall say unto you: Seek unto them that have familiar spirits, and unto wizards that peep and mutter—should not a people seek unto their God for the living to hear from the dead?
20 To the law and to the testimony; and if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them


There is a lot I could say about this passage, but I think I will narrow it down to this thought:   At heart we are spiritual beings and we are surrounded by a world of spirits.  Some are good, some are evil, and all of them are interested in and associated with this world.  As we go through life we will have much contact with those on the other side of the veil whether we realize or not.  Most of us, I think, understand the importance of communication with those in the spirit realm.  Many of us seek after these communications in an improper way- through mediums and such.   Isaiah’s criticism of spiritualists of this sort is not that spiritual communication itself is sham, it is just that spiritual communication of this sort should be had by seeking unto God. 

If we are to fulfill our destiny in Zion, we need to be a spiritual people.  We should be open to and actually seek for any and all communication that the Lord will be willing to give us.  For otherwise, how can we believe that God will “yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the kingdom of God?” 

May we all seek for greater things, and point our minds heavenward, that we may, as the prophets have promised, be privy to the majesty and the glory of God’s Kingdom.

Isaiah 7 - Politics will not save you


In the first part of Isaiah 7 is an interesting and poetic description of the dire circumstances Judah is in at the commencement of the reign of Ahaz.   They are being attacked by the Northern tribes (Israel) and have just gotten wind of an alliance between Israel and Assyria.   Judah is understandably on edge about this development and I think we can assume that Ahaz is considering some plans of his own to remedy the situation, perhaps a similar alliance with an outside nation. 

Isaiah is sent to give this heavenly advice to Ahaz:  Be still.  Yes, the situation looks dire at the moment, but don’t put your trust in political alliances, because this one with Assyria will be a disaster.  And moreover, because I really want you know that it is the Lord that is telling you this, I’ll throw in a sign for free. 

Interestingly, Ahaz refuses the sign, I might have thought this a noble thing to do, but clearly the Lord is displeased that Ahaz is ignoring his councel. 

The thing that interests me about this account is that it has direct application to my own life and my own battles with the things that beset me.    We may think that we are relying on the Lord, but the real test is when the opposition gets stiff.  If we are relying on the arm of flesh, a crisis will cause us to drop all pretenses of relying on God and we will cling fully to the other sources we actually trust.  It’s like being adrift at sea with a life preserver.  We might casually hold on to it when the seas are calm, but when the storm comes, we will find ourselves clinging to the thing that we really think will save us.  In the case of Ahaz, he thought that political strategy and alliances would save Judah.  He and the kings after him were wrong about that in spite of many dire warnings from the Lord’s servants.    We are in a similar position.   We see the outside forces of the world encroaching in on us, making alliances that make them appear ever stronger and more persuasive.  It is tempting to let go of our faith at these times and rely on our own reasoning and understanding and ability to save us.  For example, we may be worried about making a living, so we start working on Sundays, or our concern for success and social status may cause us to give up time for family and prayer or We may want a comfortable retirement so we put off children.  Worse still, perhaps we put off repentance until we are “ready”. 

The Lord’s message to me is:  “Trust in Me.”  Even though armies are combining against you, trust that I will deliver you.  Don’t turn to the world for deliverance, because if you do, your personal desolation will be terrible.   I’ve seen the Lord working in my life enough to know that this is true.  It helps my faith to see that this has ever been God’s advice from age to age through all history. 



Friday, May 05, 2006

Isaiah 6 - Dominion

Yesterday when I was riding the bus and opening up my scriptures to reread this week’s Isaiah chapter, I had a thought come to me that I’ve had a few times now. It is basically a feeling that I won’t get much out of the chapter I am studying because the symbols seem too obtuse to understand or I am too distant from Isaiah to apply these words in my life. Yet again, however, I was amazed at how a little quiet reflection turned this handful of verses into something really remarkable.

First, let me start with a little summary of what is happening in this chapter:

Verses 1-4 Isaiah sees the Lord in vision
Verse 5 He laments at his sinful and unworthy state.
Verses 6-7 Isaiah is forgiven (which bolsters his confidence)
Verses 8-10 He voluntarily takes on a ministry as a prophet
Verses 11-12 He feels sorrow for the sins of the world
Verse 13 A hopeful promise from God about Israel’s return to righteousness

Compare this pattern with what we find in the story of Enos:

Enos, aware of his sins, supplicates the Lord
His sins are forgiven (which amazes him)
He immediately shows concern for his brethren
The Lord makes hopeful promises about their return to righteousness
He voluntarily takes on a ministry as a prophet

The congruence is remarkable to me and I feel like there is something to learn from these accounts. So, I hope you will indulge me here, because these two passages remind me of one of the sayings of Jesus that is reported in the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas. It is not from the standard works but I feel like there is truth to it and it also corresponds to Isaiah’s experience.

Jesus said: He who seeks,
let him not cease seeking until he finds;
and when he finds he will be troubled,
and when he is troubled he will be amazed,
and he will reign over the All.

Here again is the pattern of seeking the Lord, realizing our sin, obtaining forgiveness, and then receiving a dominion. This in turn takes me to a very interesting scripture in D&C 121:45-46

Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.
The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever.

Looking at that verse in context, we see that the dominion of the priesthood as described here is not at all like an earthly dominion. This dominion (or I would also say “influence”) is not exercised by force or coercion. It is exercised by love, patience, persuation, etc. I used to think that “without compulsory means” meant that people would follow you without compulsion, but after reading the above citations, I am beginning to think it applies more to the person receiving the dominion. God does not force our callings upon us. He may pull us forcefully back from the brink, but he will never compel us to do good. It comes as invitation and it comes as a result of the purity that is achieved through forgiveness. As we continue to purify ourselves, more responsibility and influence will flow unto us and we will assume it willingly.

One more thing that I wanted to share about what I read: I really loved the symbolism of the coal touching the lips to make Isaiah pure. The coal was brought from the Alter in the Lord’s house. It must therefore be the remnant of a burnt offering. In my mind, the coal then logically represents the grace and the power that were the result of the Lord’s sacrifice for us all. The touching of the coal to the lips represents to me the acute pain that comes through the repentance process, and yet it is momentary and it is cleansing. The hallmark of it is that we will feel confident in the presence of God, just as Enos and Isaiah did.

Reading this chapter has increased my testimony of the scriptures and of the power of God to cleanse us from sin. I feel exceedingly grateful for what I have read this week and what the Lord has given me.