Friday, October 27, 2006

Isaiah 16 - Bad news for Moab

This is a curious chapter to me, because it calls up for scrutiny what role Isaiah is playing in Israel.  So I’d like to start of with a historical thought.

This chapter is a sort of formal (yet literary) request/response communication between two countries.  Moab realizes it is in trouble and appeals to Israel for protection in the name of justice.  Israel’s reply is a rejection of Moab because of the pride and Haughtiness of that country.  The rest of the chapter is a prophecy of the miserable times ahead for Moab.  Again, the prophet is not happy about it, yet that is how it is going to be. 

So I wonder what this communication is all about.  Is Isaiah literally having this correspondence with some dignitary in Moab and using his political authority to reject the country?   Is he commenting on his influence with the King of Israel and a recommendation to turn away Moab’s pleas?    Or maybe Isaiah is using his literary gifts to prophesy the near future with Moab.   I tend to think it is this latter explanation that fits the best.  When I think about it that way, it also makes the chapter seem more beautiful to me.  I could imagine that if it were written in our time, it might look something like this:


            To: The President of the United States

            From:  The Prime Minister of France

Dear Mr Presdent, As a servant of the people of France, I solemnly call upon the powers of the United States to protect us in a time of need … etc.


            To: The Prime Minister of France

            From:  The President of the United States

Dear Mr Prime Minister, We have heard about your country and the great pride and arrogance there.  Your lies have finally caught up to you and you will have to suffer the consequences.  We feel great sorrow for you and your people, and yet you must understand that you have brought the following terrible consequences upon yourself: (a poetic list of terrible consequences .. )

God’s analysis suggests that these calamities will come upon you in about three years, at which point you’ll be small enough that Luxemborg could probably give you a hand.


It is kind of fun to think about Isaiah 16 this way because it makes it easier to imagine how it would catch the attention of readers in ancient Israel.

On a spiritual note, I think the message of the chapter is clearly a warning against pride.   It is a national sin and the consequences are absolutely devastating.  If it is true that we ought to pay attention to the words of Isaiah, I think it is incumbent on us as citizens to take heed of this warning.  Israel didn’t, and look what happened to them.


Friday, October 20, 2006

Isaiah 15 - A prophet weeps

This short and depressing chapter has an interesting verse in it:


5 My heart shall cry out for Moab; …


I think we get a glimpse of how Isaiah feels on the inside about his prophetic calling.  These visions that pass before his eyes must be awful scenes indeed.  Moab may be suffering the wrath of a just God, but Isaiah probably feels as God does, willing to gather us under his wings if we would just repent and turn to him.  Isaiah clearly wishes for the redemption of Moab, but he weeps because of what he knows will happen.


I think that is a powerful thing to have a heart wide enough to have that kind of compassion for a foreign nation.  I pray I can develop that kind of love.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Isaiah 14 - The fate of Babylon

This chapter is like a capstone to the several previous chapters, illuminating promises from the Lord concerning the wicked and the righteous in the last days.   The first sentence in the chapter is very telling:

            For the Lord will have mercy on Jacob …

This is followed by a verse that was touching to me:

3 And it shall come to pass in the day that the LORD shall give thee rest from thy sorrow, and from thy fear, and from the hard bondage wherein thou wast made to serve

This is a nice continuation of a common theme throughout Isaiah:  the Lord may chastise us when we disobey, but his mercy is always extended to us if we repent and he is willing to forgive generously.  The result is that all will be made right and the condition of the righteous will be better than they imagined.

The most interesting part of the chapter to me was the poetic pronouncement against Babylon.  In some ways this is literal, but there is also a marvelous symbolic meaning in all of it that paints a picture to give us a clear perspective on Satan and his kingdom.  I will highlight some of the things I learned:

  • Satan’s Kingdom is Babylon – the world.  It will one day come to a complete end, swept clean with a broom of destruction, as Isaiah puts it. 
  • This kingdom is in appearance as a rich and mighty city and people will be astonished when it falls. 
  • One of the goals of Babylon is to fill the world with its cities.
  • Babylon is a waster of the natural resources of the Earth.  The very trees will sing with joy at its destruction.
  • The pride of Babylon is that it made itself to be greater than God, seeking all power, dominion, and glory.
  • Any gains that Babylon makes in this world will eventually be exposed as counterfeits.  When we see the end from the beginning, we will look upon Satan in astonishment.  We will see him in his final state and marvel that he ever could have had so much influence over the world.
  • Babylon and its ruler, the devil, will fall below all.  Even the earthly leaders of Babylon, who dwell in Hell, will be in a position lofty enough to see that it has fallen to the depths, and will be “trodden under [their] feet”

The Lord makes very clear in the chapters of Isaiah that he is against the Kingdom of Babylon, and his purpose to eventually cleanse the “whole Earth” of it.  One thing that really struck me as I was writing this is that it is important for us to face Babylon with faith and courage.  We often look at it fatalistically, believing that there is nothing we can do to stem the tide of evil that will sweep the earth.  I think we should look at it a different way.  Babylon is all smoke and mirrors and in the end it will fall completely and utterly.  Part of the reason it will fall is that people on the earth will choose the ways of the Lord and will enjoy his protection.  I believe we can therefore take courage against Babylon in the understanding that our personal choices for good have a real effect in the world and will eventually bring about the Lord’s designs.  We can be on the winning team!


Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Isaiah 13 - The Burden of Babylon

The first phrase of this chapter really struck me: “The Burden of Babylon”   As I was reminded in a recent general conference address, Babylon can be thought of as a culture in which we are immersed in these last days.  It is all around us and it is intruding into our places of refuge through various kinds of media.   Satan tries very hard to make this culture look appealing.   It is sold to us in neat packages by beautiful, charming people who look happy and successful.  Their message is that we will be similarly beautiful, happy, and successful if we gratify our self-interest.   Isaiah’s vision is that this culture carries with it a terrible burden.  According to the footnotes, this burden “is a message of doom ‘lifted up’ against a people”. 

To summarize Isaiah, this message of doom to the wicked is as so:

  • The sanctified hosts of Israel will be against them. 
  • They will experience faint-heartedness, sorrow, amazement, and fear.
  • They will suffer destruction, desolation, darkness, and punishment accompanied by scenes of horror and bloodshed. This destruction will come from God and it will be a complete and utter destruction, as when “God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah”.

Satan leaves a lot of fine print out of his advertisements for Babylon!

Based on what I have read so far, I do not believe that the children of Israel were conscious of their decline- hence Isaiah’s very harsh language.  To support this idea, I reference 2 Nephi 1:13 in which a dying Lehi pleads with Laman and Lemuel to “wake up”:

13 O that ye would awake; awake from a deep sleep, yea, even from the sleep of hell, and shake off the awful chains by which ye are bound, which are the chains which bind the children of men, that they are carried away captive down to the eternal gulf of misery and woe. 

Likening the scriptures unto ourselves, I think we need to be extremely careful in evaluating our own lives.  We are warned in the scriptures of the deception of the “very elect”. *   I think it is important that we start with the assumption that we are to some extent deceived by the messages of Babylon.  This will put us in a position of humility that will allow us to approach God and ask him to help us see where we are weak.  When we ask God to show us these weaknesses, he will gladly do so and we will be on the right path.  Jesus highlighted the importance of this introspection when he told the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican:

And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:

Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.  I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.

And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.

            I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.

Again, we must be exceedingly careful not to fall into the trap of thinking that we are somehow better than others, or in thinking that it is someone else who needs to repent and not me. 

Lastly, I would like to call attention to some very interesting wording at the start of the chapter.  I’ll quote from 2 Nephi for these verses:

3 I have commanded my sanctified ones, I have also called my mighty ones, for mine anger is not upon them that rejoice in my highness.

4 The noise of the 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 hosts of the battle.

5 They come from a far country, from the end of heaven, yea, the Lord, and the weapons of his indignation, to destroy the whole land.

The footnote on “sanctified ones” in Isaiah says that it is translated from a Hebrew word that is also translated as “Saints”.   If we understand the mountain to be a symbol of a temple, we can understand that the Lord will organize his hosts from the multitude who make and keep sacred covenants.   This would suggest that the “far country” mentioned in verse 5 refers to Zion, the pure in heart who have sanctified themselves through the grace of Christ and obedience to his commandments.  Interestingly, there does not seem to be a distinction between this world or the next when referring to these people.  There is more to say on that topic, but I think I will leave it there as food for thought. 

As I write this, I feel a spirit of peace within me that assures me of the truthfulness of Isaiah’s words.  I believe the day is not far distant when the Lord will come again with his hosts, both in heaven and in the Earth.  I hope we will be prepared and that we will be found among the “multitude in the mountains”. 



* The implication that the elect can be deceived is an interesting topic unto itself.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Isaiah 12 - Short and sweet

This chapter provides a little break from the previous chapters which all include warnings for Israel.  Here is presented the bright future that awaits those who have repented and endured.  Notice in the first verse that we learn something important about the state of the righteous:

1 AND in that day thou shalt say, O LORD, I will praise thee: though thou wast angry with me, thine anger is turned away, and thou comfortedst me.

The righteous people described here have at some time in the past angered the Lord.  Their overflowing joy, as described in later verses comes because they are aware that God’s anger has been “turned away” from them and he has brought them peace of mind (comfort).  In the next verse, we learn who has turned away God’s anger:

2 Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the LORD JEHOVAH is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation.

At face value, we read here that God has saved Israel from Himself.   It would appear then, that Isaiah is speaking of the God Head here, and of Jesus Christ’s role in answered the demands of Justice to the Father, effectively turning away His punishments against those who have willingly disobeyed Him (but have repented).  

I think Isaiah is aware at this point that his readers may not understand the significance of what Christ will do (has done) for us, for in the rest of the chapter he describes how the righteous will express their feelings at being saved in the kingdom of God:  Joy, praise, singing, crying, shouting…  This certainly makes me think about my own devotions.  As the Lord comes more and more into my life, the stronger my love will be for Him and the more I will want to praise him and teach others about him.

As one final thought, the words in verse three reminded me of the conference address by Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin.

3 Therefore with ajoy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation.

Here is a portion of Elder Wirthlin’s conference address.

The Savior taught that "whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give . . . shall never thirst; [for it] shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life."

Fully understood and embraced, the gospel of Jesus Christ heals broken hearts, infuses meaning into lives, binds loved ones together with ties that transcend mortality, and brings to life a sublime joy.

President Lorenzo Snow said, "The Lord has not given us the gospel that we may go around mourning all the days of our lives."

The gospel of Jesus Christ is not a religion of mourning and gloom. The faith of our fathers is one of hope and joy. It is not a gospel of chains but a gospel of wings.

To embrace it fully is to be filled with wonder and to walk with an inner fire. Our Savior proclaimed, "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly."

Do you seek peace of mind?

Drink deeply of living waters.

Do you seek forgiveness? Peace? Understanding? Joy?

Drink deeply of living waters.

I look forward to a day when we will all sing aloud together about the mercies of the Lord.  A day when we will all live together in joy, because He will be in our midst.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Isaiah 11 - Lions, tigers, and bears...

The part of this chapter that gave me the most reflection was the poetry describing the state of things during the millennial reign of Christ:

6 The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.

7 And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

8 And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice’ den.

9 They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the dearth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.

There are some literal interpretations of this passage that relate it to the state of animal life in the millenium.  I don’t know whether actual lions will munch on grass with cattle- that whole picture seems strange to me.  Perhaps that will happen, but given the dual nature of many of the symbols of the scriptures, I think we can also apply these symbols to understanding the nature of man during the millennium.  There are all sorts of creatures here- wolves, bears, lambs, leopards, baby goats, calves, lions, fatlings, children, babies, snakes, etc.    Some are predators, some are prey, some are helpless, some are powerful.   But in the last days, none shall “hurt nor destroy in all [God’s] holy mountain”.   The first thing this means to me is that the concerns for the physical and spiritual safety for our families we have now will no longer be something to worry about when Christ is here.  The second thing that comes to mind, and this is pretty much conjecture on my part, is that while there is peace, there will still be the different kinds of people that there are today.  i.e.: Wolves, lions, leopards, snakes, etc. will still exist, but they will live peacefully, harmless to their fellow man.   It think this may say something interesting and subtle about the binding of Satan in the Millenium.   

The next thing that I think is significant is the reason that we will be able to live in this peaceful state:   “for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea”.  This phrase reminds me of one of my favorite scriptures in the Old Testament:

Jeremiah 31:34 And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.

When I ponder this, I think about the troubles that exist today, both inside the church (brothers) and outside the church (neighbors).  I think about how much effort is required to teach the principles of the gospel over and over again.  These principles are an invitation to come unto Christ, to know him.   I think this is meant to help us understand that knowing God is a whole lot more than knowing about Him.  I believe a sign that we truly know God is that we live in complete peace and harmony with our fellow beings.  No stealing or plundering of course, but also no slandering or gossiping, with a genuine measure of heartfelt kindness, patience, and forgiveness.  I heard a church leader say the job of a priesthood holder is to build others up.  I therefore think that the process of coming to know God goes hand in hand with the process of learning to be generous, kind, cheerful, and optimistic. 

May we all live in such a way that the world is better off because we are in it.