Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Isaiah 25: Feasting on fat Things

Isaiah begins this chapter with praise to God.   Reflecting on the previous visions, he talks about the destruction of great and proud cities.   On the face of it, it seems shallow to praise the Lord for a heavy hand, so I think that the fallen city images in v2 are symbolic of the evil organizations and combinations of the world, brought low in their ripeness. 

In verse 4 we learn who it is the Lord lifts up and protects:  The poor, the distressed, those beset by the storms of the world.    The relief to them will be like when a cloud covers the sun on a hot day, or being in a sturdy home during a storm.   This is a great blessing offered to us, and in this blessing is a reminder that the peace the Lord gives is “not as the world giveth”.  The Lord is not inclined to take away our trials, but rather provides a way for us to endure them.  Isaiah expresses his joy and praise even though he was in the midst of great turmoil.  He knew that he must experience death, but death is “swallowed up in victory”.  What is this victory?

Verse 6 speaks of a feast of various things including “wines on the lees”.  It happens that my dad mentioned this phrase to me about the same time I was studying this chapter.  It means wine that has been allowed to sit with the sediments and yeast for longer than usual.  This gives the wine a richer, warmer flavor and would be akin to the fatted calf, being prepared especially for a feast.    This phrase is repeated in section 58 in the Doctrine and Covenants:

  8 And also that a feast of fat things might be prepared for the poor; yea, a feast of fat things, of wine on the lees well refined, that the earth may know that the mouths of the prophets shall not fail;

  9 Yea, a supper of the house of the Lord, well prepared, unto which all nations shall be invited.

  10 First, the rich and the learned, the wise and the noble;

  11 And after that cometh the day of my power; then shall the poor, the lame, and the blind, and the deaf, come in unto the marriage of the Lamb, and partake of the supper of the Lord, prepared for the great day to come.

This passage in turn links us to the parable of the marriage feast found in Matthew 22:1-14.  The order of the invitations is very interesting.  First, the privileged and noble are invited, but these scoff at the invitation, so the Lord swings the doors open and invites the poor and humble.   One way we can view the marriage feast is that it represents the reconciliation with God that the Savior provided through His atonement.   The joy of this reconciliation will be sweet indeed- like a marvelous feast laid out with the best food and the best wine, specially prepared for that moment. 

Let’s keep this reconciliation in mind as we return to Isaiah verse 9:

And it shall be said in that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us: this is the LORD; we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation.

In that day, we will (gladly) say, “this is our God; we have waited for him”.   How long will we have to wait?  Long enough that when he comes we will be ready to receive him with joy, welcomed as a Savior.     This scripture has dual meaning.  The first and more obvious meaning is the great and dreadful day of the Lord for which all of the Earth is waiting.  Pretty much all Christians are anticipating this event, which will surely happen.  However, there is another coming of Christ that we must be aware of, but which is largely denied by the world.   To illustrate, I will quote a few scriptures:

2 Nephi 11:3  2 And now I, Nephi … will liken [Isaiah’s] words unto my people … for he verily saw my Redeemer, even as I have seen him.

Moses 7:4 And I saw the Lord; and he stood before my face, and he talked with me, even as a man talketh one with another, face to face;  

Genesis 32:30 And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.

Rev 3:20 - Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.

John 14:23 - Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.

D&C 130:3 John 14:23—The appearing of the Father and the Son, in that verse, is a personal appearance; and the idea that the Father and the Son dwell in a man’s heart is an old sectarian notion, and is false.

One day, we will literally be reconciled with God, as a people collectively, and as people individually.   Joseph Smith taught this principle beginning at the day of the first vision when the Father and the Son appeared to him.   The ministers of the day were flabbergasted and incensed by his claims.   That God should actually appear, that one of us should talk with him face to face, this was nothing short of blasphemy.  This is understandable because they had been conditioned by centuries of spiritual darkness to believe that the heavens were shut.    Lucifer, our common enemy, has ever fought against this doctrine.   One of his great lies is to convince us that we cannot be reconciled with God in the literal, glorious way that God intends.   Our enemy has done this both overtly (the heavens are shut) and subtly (visions and miracles are for the prophets).  Yet, we are warned not to deny miracles and the gifts of god.  The greatest of all of these is to stand confidently in His presence.      

The key to a happy reconciliation is patience (2 Pet 1:6).   The prophet Nephi said that we must press forward with a perfect hope that one day God will keep his promised and reveal himself to us.  We are talking about a hard, constant, and pressing journey.   The scriptures term it as “enduring to the end”.   It begins when we are born again, resolved to live by all of God’s commandments no matter what the cost.  It ends… well we can’t really predict when it will end for us personally, but we can be assured we will know when the time comes, for it will be a victory over death.  May we all be victorious.






Friday, February 16, 2007

Isaiah 24: Reformatting the Earth

This chapter of Isaiah starts with a lengthy Chiasmus over-viewing the awful fate of the whole earth, of which everyone is subject regardless of their station in life (v3- “as with the buyer, so with the seller”).     In the day Isaiah describes, the Earth as we know it will be gone, everything consumed and the landscape left empty.   The celebrations and revelry silenced to make way for mourning.

The pinnacle verses of this chiasmus are 5-6:

5 The earth also is defiled under the inhabitants thereof; because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant.

 6 Therefore hath the curse devoured the earth, and they that dwell therein are desolate: therefore the inhabitants of the earth are burned, and few men left.

The reasons for the curse and destruction are plain:  disobedience and apostasy.   We know that this kind of activity happened during the great apostasy, which is past, but we have yet to see the destruction spoken of here.   There are a few verses that I think support this idea:


7 The new wine mourneth, the vine languisheth, all the merryhearted to sigh.  

 Joseph Smith was the fresh vessel into which the “new  wine” was poured, so I take the new wine to be the gospel, or the saints who have accepted it.  Christ is the vine, his influence is expressed among the children of men through the priesthood.   To say that the vine languishes, is not to say that Christ himself is languishing, but that his servants on the Earth become weak and dispirited.  As a consequence, the merryhearted, or the Saints who understand true happiness, are caused to sigh at what they see.  I wonder if we are not beginning to see that now.


13  When thus it shall be in the midst of the land among the people, there shall be as the shaking of an olive tree, and as the gleaning grapes when the vintage is done. 

The destruction of the wicked will leave a few righteous behind in isolated pockets.  This idea is echoed in v. 15 that says people will glorify the Lord from the isles of the sea, which is a metaphor for scattered Israel.

If we assume then, the idea that the destruction is as yet some future time, then we may also wonder about verse 5 and ask ourselves if we are changing the ordinances and breaking the covenants?    What ordinances might we be changing and how?    In our day, the Lord has restored all of the ordinances and covenants given through Abraham in what is termed the New and Everlasting covenant.  (See Gen. 17: 7, 13, 19, D&C 1: 15, 22, Isa. 24: 5)  These ordinances and covenants have been given many times in the past, and each time they fell into obscurity as the church fell into apostasy.   Today we are in the “last dispensation” of the gospel.  These ordinances and covenants will never pass away, but they will be under that same attacks as always.   Those who take them upon themselves must still take care not to alter them or forget them.

Thinking about the “languishing of the vine” leads us to understand the great feelings of sorrow Isaiah expresses in v16-23.   The destruction of the wicked is troubling to him, in part because they were so close to eternal life!   They had the gospel there in front of them and they rejected it.  Perhaps it is in an effort to save some of them that Isaiah uses strong language to describe the scale and magnitude of what will happen in the last days.  Nobody will escape it, especially the lofty and proud. 

The final verse if a very interesting punctuation to this whole gloomy chapter.  It speaks ever so briefly about the reigning of the Lord in Zion.   The glory of it will be so great that the sun and the moon shall be ashamed.   Given the contents of the next chapter, I think chapters 24 & 25 should probably go together in one document.   The nice thing about this verse is that it reminds us of what great things lie before us, which will give us hope through the dark times if we have faith the Lord will come.



Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Isaiah 23 - Wealth and fornication

This chapter contains prophecies of the decline and destruction of Tyre, a rich and important Phoenician trading city on the coast of Israel.   I’d like to center my comments on verse 17:

17 ¶ And it shall come to pass after the end of seventy years, that the LORD will visit Tyre, and she shall turn to her hire, and shall commit fornication with all the kingdoms of the world upon the face of the earth.

What is interesting to me is that Tyre is described as “fornicating” with all the kingdoms of the world.   I don’t know exactly what is implied by Isaiah here, but it is clear that as a consequence of the free trade and exchange of wealth happening in that city, it has given up something that should be pure and holy.    Likening this to myself, I think about the transactions I have with others and how often it can be tempting to lower a standard in the name of business, as if somehow I could separate business from spirituality.    For, if I can make that separation in my mind, I can justify all kinds of immoral activity on the grounds of what is good for the survival of the creature. 

I don’t think the Lord is tolerant of this kind of separation.  Temporal or spiritual, for the saints of God, it is all as one.   Our gifts, both of the material world and the spiritual world are to used for the same purpose and we cannot separate them out without incurring the displeasure of God.    As we consider the law of consecration and the law of sacrifice, every penny of our riches are to be considered Holy.  Imagine how differently we would live if we could all seriously imagine our money as sacred as the tithes and offerings given to the church and to the needy.    How would we feel if a church leader took sacred funds destined for the poor to purchase extravagances for himself?   Can we not imagine the Lord feeling the same way about us when we take what we has given us and squander it on luxuries and distractions?   

This is not to say that God wants us to live in poverty.  (Though some have interpreted the scriptures this way.)   I believe the key is to always seek for divine guidance in the use of what the Lord has given us.    It may very well be that God would like us to have a 127-inch plasma TV with theater surround-sound, but shouldn’t we get on our knees and talk to the Lord about it before we blow thousands of dollars of the sacred funds he has given us?   If we do that, what might happen?  To be sure, it will be something glorious!

Consider the sacrifices of the early Latter-Day Saints who were commanded, in their poverty and distress, to build a temple.    It was extremely hard for them.  Were the blessings worth it?  Judge for yourself:

D&C 124:55 And again, verily I say unto you, I command you again to build a house to my name, even in this place, that you may prove yourselves unto me that ye are faithful in all things whatsoever I command you, that I may bless you, and crown you with honor, immortality, and eternal life.




Friday, February 09, 2007

Isaiah 22 - Dead men walking

Let’s start a discussion of chapter 22 with verse 2:

2 Thou that art full of [noise], a tumultuous city, a joyous city: thy slain men are not slain with the sword, nor dead in battle.

Isaiah’s vision of Jerusalem is a vision of death, both spiritual and temporal.  It is terribly disappointing to him to see his people, who have been privileged to receive a long string of prophets, spoil their opportunity for salvation through their frivolity, greed, and lust.    Israel is already dead because they will not humble themselves in weeping and sackcloth. Instead they are living it up while they can.  Their iniquity is so severe that the Lord points out to Isaiah that death is the only thing that will stop it.

14… Surely this iniquity shall not be purged from you till ye die, saith the Lord GOD of hosts

The world around us is an accelerating top of stimulation and pleasure seeking.   I admit that sometimes I feel panicked when I see a better property, bigger house, nicer car, better career, etc.   I need to understand that this gut-level selfishness will destroy me if I do not master it.  I take heart in the prescription described by Isaiah in this chapter:  deep, soul-searching repentance and profound humility.   This repentance is the key to the power and grace of the Savior Jesus Christ, who is fastened as a “nail in a sure place” (v23) upon which hangs “all the glory of his father’s house” (v24). 

I feel to quote one of my favorite parables in conjunction with this chapter.  It is found in Luke 18:9-14:

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

10 Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.

11 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.

12 I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.

13 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.

14 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.

I testify of the truthfulness of this saying.  Heaven has ever been with me when I’ve been able to acknowledge my faults and honestly plead for mercy.   May we all find life as we approach God in repentance and humility.




Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Isiah 21: Falling Babylon

In chapter 21, we read about the fall of Babylon.  Given the trouble that comes from Babylon and all the unfavorable references to it in scripture, one would think that this would be a joyous thing to behold.  Who wouldn’t want to celebrate the destruction of a great enemy?  Not so with Isaiah:

3 Therefore are my loins filled with pain: pangs have taken hold upon me, as the pangs of a woman that travaileth: I was bowed down at the hearing of it; I was adismayed at the seeing of it.

4 My heart panted, fearfulness affrighted me: the night of my pleasure hath he turned into fear unto me.

Isaiah is deeply moved and troubled by this vision. What did he see?  How much love and compassion did he have for his enemy?   Love for an enemy is a characteristic of those who have Christ’s love inside them.  They are not delighted by the fall of the wicked, they are terribly sad at the destruction of god’s children.  This thought is reflected and stated in several places in scripture.  Here’s a few that come to mind:

-       Matthew 5:44  But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;

-       Moses 7:28 And it came to pass that the God of heaven looked upon the residue of the people, and he wept; and Enoch bore record of it, saying: How is it that the heavens weep, and shed forth their tears as the rain upon the mountains?
29 And Enoch said unto the Lord: How is it that thou canst weep, seeing thou art holy, and from all eternity to all eternity?

-       Mormon 6:17 O ye fair ones, how could ye have departed from the ways of the Lord! O ye fair ones, how could ye have rejected that Jesus, who stood with open arms to receive you!
18 Behold, if ye had not done this, ye would not have fallen. But behold, ye are fallen, and I mourn your loss.  

-       Matthew 23:37 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!

-       Isaiah 9:17 Therefore the Lord shall have no joy in their young men, neither shall have mercy on their fatherless and widows: for every one is an hypocrite and an evildoer, and every mouth speaketh folly. For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.

Yes, Babylon must fall, but I should try to see the terrible price of such a destruction.  It should cause me to weep to contemplate the sealing of the fate of countless of God's children caught up by the "mother of abominations."  If my eye is single to the glory of God, would not this contemplation spur me into action?   How much of my actions are influenced by pure compassion for the souls of people who would be considered by enemies?  That’s a hard question!   And yet, if there is ever to be peace in the world, it must be populated by people who believe the worth of a soul is great, even to the point of believing an enemy can be saved.  No wonder we need to have faith.  No wonder we need to have hope. No wonder we must be optimistic, pray for peace, renounce war, and try with our might to save as many of our brothers and sisters who will come out of the world!     


Thursday, February 01, 2007

Isaiah 20 - Naked and Barefoot

This chapter is a good example of where the gulf between our culture and the culture of Isaiah makes it difficult for us to grasp what is being communicated:

2 At the same time spake the LORD by Isaiah the son of Amoz, saying, Go and loose the sackcloth from off thy loins, and put off thy shoe from thy foot. And he did so, walking naked and barefoot.

3 And the LORD said, Like as my servant Isaiah hath walked naked and barefoot three years for a sign and wonder upon Egypt and upon Ethiopia;

It’s hard to fathom a prophet going around sans clothing for three whole years. I tend to think the understanding of what is meant has been lost in the translation.  Some bible scholars think that by refusing to wear the priestly vestments, Isaiah was also indicating the Lord’s frustration with the people and their misunderstanding of the mosaic law.  What does seem certain, though, is that whatever happened, it was done with the intent to punctuate what Isaiah had to say:   

4 So shall the king of Assyria lead away the Egyptians prisoners, and the Ethiopians captives, young and old, naked and barefoot, even with their buttocks uncovered, to the shame of Egypt.

5 And they shall be afraid and ashamed of Ethiopia their expectation, and of Egypt their glory.

6 And the inhabitant of this isle shall say in that day, Behold, such is our expectation, whither we flee for help to be delivered from the king of Assyria: and how shall we escape?

The prophesy indicates that Judah will not be able to rely on Egypt and Ethopia for help against the powerful aggressor, Assyria.   This is a reminder to me that we cannot rely on the arm of flesh to protect us from our enemies. The doom of those who rely on worldly power is slavery- domination by the world.  This prophesy highlights that fact by pointing out that even the people that Israel is tempted to rely on will themselves become captives to the Assyrians.

In present-day affairs, there is an obvious emphasis around us on physical security.  This reminds me of the following quote:

We are a warlike people, easily distracted from our assignment of preparing for the coming of the Lord. When enemies rise up, we commit vast resources to the fabrication of gods of stone and steel -- ships, planes, missiles, fortifications -- and depend on them for protection and deliverance. When threatened, we become antienemy instead of pro-kingdom of God; we train a man in the art of war and call him a patriot, thus, in the manner of Satan's counterfeit of true patriotism, perverting the Savior's teaching:

"Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;

"That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven" (Matthew 5:44-45).

We forget that if we are righteous the Lord will either not suffer our enemies to come upon us … or he will fight our battles for us …

A lest we think that we are immune from this thought in our domestic affairs:

Many people spend most of their time working in the service of a self-image that includes sufficient money, stocks, bonds, investment portfolios, property, credit cards, furnishings, automobiles, and the like to guarantee carnal security throughout, it is hoped, a long and happy life. Forgotten is the fact that our assignment is to use these many resources … to build up the kingdom of God … to bless others in every way that they may also be fruitful.

-       Spencer W. Kimball, The False Gods We Worship

Often times we might ask ourselves amid the external threats and troubles, “What are we to do?”  The answer is to be proponents of good more than enemies of evil.  Strength and protection lie in the positive power of doing good.    Fighting evil is fine and necessary, but it is not the same as doing good.