Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Isaiah 29:Truth in a modern world

This chapter is one of the chapters of Isaiah quoted by Nephi (2 Nephi 27).  The Nephite record contains significant corrections our biblical record, with the former revealing significant prophecies about the Book of Mormon, especially concerning the sealed portion, which contains “a revelation from God, from the beginning of the world to the ending thereof.”  These things have not been revealed to the world as of yet because of “wickedness and abominations”. 

The most interesting part of this chapter to me is nearly identical to the Nephite record, however I will quote from 2nd Nephi, due to a subtle difference in the rendering:

26  n: Therefore, I will proceed to do a marvelous work among this people, yea, a marvelous work and a wonder, for the wisdom of their wise and learned shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent shall be hid.

To trust in those who are learned to interpret and declare doctrine to us is nor more or less than trusting in the arm of flesh.  It is true we are directed to obtain learning and knowledge, but:  “to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God.”  (2 Nephi 9:29)  We are also instructed to teach by the spirit, for “if it be by some other way it is not of God”. (D&C 50:17-20

In the world we see an intense war against the word of God.   On one of the fronts the war is fought on intellectual and scientific grounds.  I’ve seen the Book of Mormon itself attacked on this front with some pretty significant attacks developing lately.  One that comes to mind claims that the genetic record does not indicate Israelite heritage among native Americans.   These are very sophisticated and convincing arguments to the “wise and prudent”. 

Certain segments of the Christian world are fighting back.  One notable effort is the push to put so-called intelligent design on school curriculum.  In the end, however, I believe this particular effort will fail because the religionists are fighting the battle on the scientist’s terms.   Despite the claims, there simply aren’t solid scientific arguments to support the existence of God or the truthfulness of scripture, and I don’t think God ever intended his word to be verified through scientific method.   Instead, the word must be verified by the standard of faith.  When people pay the price through study, prayer, and faithful obedience, then they become privileged to understand the truth.  This method of learning truth is very non-scientific and seems foolish and untenable to those who hold only to the scientific method.  

In chapter 28, Isaiah explained how knowledge would be taught through children and with “stammering lips”.   Similarly, the prophet Alma says this:

Alma 37:6 Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise.

Faith and the revelations of the spirit seem like a small and simple thing to those who use science to discount religion.  One day, the world will be convinced by the objective proof they desire, but only to their condemnation.  When Christ shows up in clouds of great glory, the time of grace will have passed for the skeptics, while those who learned by faith will experience a joyful reunion with their Lord. 

Let us press on, then, convinced by the power of the Holy Ghost that what we believe is true.  Let us work to convince others as well, not by sophisticated argument, but by pure testimony and love unfeigned.  In the end, all the wisdom of the world, which threatens like dark clouds on the horizon, will come to nothing and the truth will be left standing alone, like the sun in a clear summer sky.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Isaiah 28- Drunkenness

The first line of this chapter is an attention-getter:

            Woe to the crown of pride, to the drunkards of Ephraim

 Ephraim?  Drunk?  This reminds me of a verse in the next chapter, which I will quote from 2 Nephi 27:4:

 For behold, all ye that doeth iniquity, stay yourselves and wonder, for ye shall cry out, and cry; yea, ye shall be drunken but not with wine, ye shall stagger but not with strong drink.

 Who are the drunkards of Ephraim?   They are those that stumble and stagger in the gospel, intoxicated by worldly philosophies.  Interestingly, they are “crowned with pride”.    Once beautiful, they are now a “fading flower”. 

These references to Ephraim apply to both past and present.  Speaking of the present, we have hope that not all of Ephraim will be lost, though many stumble.  The Lord says that there will be a residue (v5), and that instead of a crown of pride, they will wear the Lord as a crown.   The Lord will also be their judgment and the one who fights their battles.   What a contrast from the worldly standards of beauty, justice, and power. 

Isn’t it interesting how this message comes up again and again?  The folly of Israel is their reliance on things of the world!   Consider these verses from 2 Nephi 28, (which chapter happens to be a commentary on Isaiah 29):

20 For behold, at that day shall he rage in the hearts of the children of men, and stir them up to anger against that which is good.

 21 And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well—and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell.

 Verse 20 says that some people will rage against that which is good.  I think this sounds like a fair description of the wicked organizations and philosophies of the world, which more and more are openly warring against principles of good.

Verse 21 sounds like the “drunkards of Ephraim” described above.  These are members of the church who do not rage against that which is good, but instead they are pacified by the devil, led into thinking that everything is OK in Zion.    They count that fact that they are not openly warring against righteous principles as a badge of righteousness for themselves.  They look at the material blessings abundantly given in their lives and assume these are also an evidence of righteousness, thus they wear their pride as a crown.   

Back in Isaiah 28, we learn in verse 7 that even leaders in the church are not exempt from this drunkenness, thus all must be on their guard so they are not lulled away.   So why is it so easy to be lulled away?  Isaiah gives some hints here:

v9 – Correct precepts will be taught by children.  I interpret "children" as referring to new converts and those who are humble.  It is tempting to disdain the words of those who are humble and converted in favor of the flattering words from the learned and articulate,  Those priests who puff themselves up are attractive and easy to listen to.

v10 – Correct precepts have to be learned slowly and deliberately.    It is a common phallacy to think that because the precepts of Christianity are so simple, they can be learned in a short time.    The understanding and adoption of these simple precents takes a lifetime of concentrated effort.   There is a progression to understanding.  Isaiah says "line upon line" and "precept on precept".   Jesus himself "increased in wisdom and in stature" (Luke 2:52).  This slow learning process can become an obstacle to us if we do not expect it and resolve to do what it takes to learn.   In the parable of the tower, Jesus taught that there is a great price to be paid to be a disciple and we must be willing to pay all of it.  (Luke 14:25-33)

v16 – Christ must be the cornerstone of our faith.  It’s easier to have faith in worldy peace and security.  Christ’s peace is different than freedom from hardship.   However, people often hope for and expect to be free from their troubles.  The come to the gospel thinking their troubles will go away and then become disenchanted when they realize life is still a struggle.   What we should be looking for is the peace of mind that comes from hope in Christ.  Then our trials will be bearable.

v21-22 – The Lord’s work appears so strange that we are tempted to mock it.  God's ways are not man's ways.  Here are some examples:  God loves his enemies, He gives important jobs to the underqualified, He prefers private recognition over public praise, and he does not attain excellence through competition.   There are many more, but these examples are enough to make the point.  The world is such a powerful and present influence, that it is difficult to not bias our view of spiritual things according to our worldly frame of reference.  This is perhaps most acute when it comes to accepting and following the Lord's chosen leaders here on the earth.  We read in the scriptures how people hated the prophets and found fault with them, how the prophets themselves were insecure of their own abilities.  Yet, that is easy to forget when our present-day leaders struggle with their own weaknesses.  We want so badly to find leaders with no flaws in them, but none of those exist. 

And so we see a little snapshot of what we are up against.  Isaiah’s message to the saints is very clear:  be careful!  Have some humility and learn patiently from everyone around you.  Trust in Christ and his ways and understand that just because something doesn't make immediate sense to you, it doesn't mean that it is wrong or foolish.  The Lord's works are strange and difficult to comprehend.  Cast off your pride and seek after Him will all of you might. 

Finally, Isaiah warns us that the law of the harvest will eventually be applied to us.  The cummin (weeds) will be separated from the grain, and then the Lord will come in his glory.  Who will abide his coming?




Thursday, March 08, 2007

Isaiah 27 - Smoke on the water

A few thoughts come to my mind from this highly symbolic chapter. 

My first thought is more of an inquiry and has to do with the symbology of the leviathan and the sea.  The leviathan comes up in several places in the bible, most notable Job 41 where it is described in some detail.    There is an interesting mention of it also in the apocryphal book of Enoch:

60:7-8 And that day will two monsters be parted, one monster, a female named Leviathan in order to dwell in the abyss of the ocean over the fountains of water; and (the other), a male called Behemoth, which holds his chest in an invisible desert whose name is Dundayin, east of the garden of Eden.

The dominion of the leviathan over the waters is what interests me the most.  It reminds me of these verses from 1 Nephi 14:

11 And it came to pass that I looked and beheld the whore of all the earth, and she sat upon many waters; and she had dominion over ball the earth, among all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people.

12 And it came to pass that I beheld the church of the Lamb of God, and its numbers were few, because of the wickedness and abominations of the whore who sat upon many waters; nevertheless, I beheld that the church of the Lamb, who were the saints of God, were also upon ball the face of the earth; and their dominions upon the face of the earth were small, because of the wickedness of the great whore whom I saw.

This image of evil upon the waters comes up repeatedly in the scriptures.  It seems to me that the Leviathan is a metaphor for the organized forces of evil upon the earth.  Their influence is broad (and deep) and represent a significant hinderance to the advancement of the kingdom of God.  Isaiah prophecies that the Lord with his strong sword (truth!) will triumph over leviathan and slay the dragon. 

This leads me to the second thought that comes to me out of this chapter- as if to answer how he will slay the dragon, the Lord reveals through Isaiah the conditions of Israel at some future time:  The Lords “vineyard” will be watered and protected.  In the end it will blossom and bud, filling the “face of the world with fruit”.   This is similar to what Nephi saw: the saints of God will be upon the all the face of the Earth and their earthly dominion will be small because of the great wickedness of evil organizations.  Nephi then makes this observation:

14 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, beheld the power of the Lamb of God, that it descended upon the saints of the church of the Lamb, and upon the covenant people of the Lord, who were scattered upon all the face of the earth; and they were armed with righteousness and with the power of God in great glory.

The saints will be armed, but not with guns, wealth, political prestige, or any other worldly form of power.  They will be armed with the power of God, which is distinct and different than the forms of power paraded before us in the media.  In fact, the worldly power so sought after by the evil organizations of the earth with be the very thing that causes there destruction:

15 And it came to pass that I beheld that the wrath of God was poured out upon that great and abominable church, insomuch that there were wars and rumors of wars among all the nations and kindreds of the earth.

The power of God is not the power of destruction.  It is the power to build and lift others, the power to adminster the ordinances of the kingdom, the power to bring about Zion.  Saints will fulfill their covenants to build the kingdom of God when they turn away from seductive worldly powers and rely on the arm of God.  When we can stop our obsessions with physical and financial security the spirit will have place in us to move us and use us according to the Lord’s will. 




Thursday, March 01, 2007

Isaiah 26: How to obtain peace

One of my favorite verses of scripture is John 14:27

27 Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.

The peace of the gospel is not as the world sees (and gives) peace.   Worldly peace is the absence of tumult, violence, persecution, etc.   I.e.: We are at “peace” when no one is trying to kill us, hurt us, or rob us.  We feel “peaceful” when it’s nobody is bugging us, we have plenty of cash, our health is good, etc.     Those of the world try to achieve worldly peace through the “securing” of it.   This security is obtained through wealth, arms, defenses, and other physical means.   Some icons of security I can think of are: tall fences, alarm systems, guard dogs, armies, super-weapons, spy satellites, insurance, retirement accounts, savings plans, private schools, gated communities, diets, health plans, etc.    The security these items promise is only an illusion.  In the end, these things cannot provide true security, true peace. 

As the Savior says, his peace is of a different kind than what we get from the world.   Indeed, by worldly standards those disciples who received the words in John 14:27 did not fare well.  Most were harangued and tormented until they were finally martyred.  Yet, we say they had peace.   How can that be?   

I think Isaiah is talking about this peace in chapter 26, where he mentions it by name and gives some interesting details.

  1 In that day shall this song be sung in the land of Judah; We have a strong city; salvation will God appoint for walls and bulwarks.

  2 Open ye the gates, that the righteous nation which keepeth the truth may enter in.

  3 Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee.

  4 Trust ye in the LORD for ever: for in the LORD JEHOVAH is everlasting strength:

Isaiah speaks of a “perfect peace” and compares it to a city with walls and bulwarks- familiar symbols of security.  But this city is not a city of bricks and mortar- it is a fortress of spirit made strong by the Lord and knowledge of His salvation (v1).  Only the righteous may enter in to this fortress (v2).  Only those who trust in the Lord and “keepeth the truth” may enjoy that peace (v2). 

Let’s continue this line of thought with a subtle point found in the following verses:

  12  Lord, thou wilt ordain peace for us: for thou also hast wrought all our works in us.

  13 O LORD our God, other lords beside thee have had dominion over us: but by thee only will we make mention of thy name.

  14 They are dead, they shall not live; they are deceased, they shall not rise: therefore hast thou visited and destroyed them, and made all their memory to perish.


  5  For he bringeth down them that dwell on high; the lofty city, he layeth it low; he layeth it low, even to the ground; he bringeth it even to the dust.

  6 The foot shall tread it down, even the feet of the poor, and the steps of the needy.

Certainly, there is a literal component to these verses.  The Lord has and will continue to bring down the lofty.   However, for most of God’s children, the lords of the earth do indeed have physical dominion over them.   More often than not, God does not literally (physically) bring down the tyrants that reign with blood and horror. And when they are brought down, it is after they have had plenty of time to work their iniquity.   It also is a rare event to see despots tread down by the very poor and needy that they oppress. 

These verses are better understood in the context of the spirit and the battle for dominion that goes on in the mind.  Though a man may have dominion over my body, he cannot have dominion over my spirit unless I give it to him.  I can defeat Babylon in my mind.  By choosing to give up my selfish desires- directing my attention to the meek, downtrodden, poor in spirit, naked, and hungry- I can quite literally fulfill these prophecies in my own mind.   The lords of Babylon will become dead to me, trodden under the foot of the poor, the memory of their despotism fading in the light of the everlasting gospel. 

The physical world in which we live, the thing often referred to as “reality”, is really an illusion.    According to our best scientific understanding of matter, the desk upon which I compose this email is made almost entirely of empty space!  One day, as we are promised in the scriptures, all that we see around us will “melt with fervent heat” as all the earth is rolled together as a scroll.  What will be left then from the old world?   Perhaps it will be our thoughts, our spirits, our memories of what went on before.     As a man thinketh, so is he.  In this mortal life, what we think is the only enduring reality.   What we say and what we do for the benefit of others will become the monuments of our souls. 

Remember what Isaiah says:

  12  Lord, thou wilt ordain peace for us: for thou also hast wrought all our works in us.

The peace of the Lord is a peace of mind, a peace of the spirit.  It is a gift to those who submit their will to God that He may do His work through them.   Let us submit our will to the Lord and let the needs of the poor and needy tread upon the lofty institutions of man, that we may have the true peace that is given by the lord Jesus Christ.