Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Isaiah 34: Vengence and Life

This chapter is an interesting microcosm of prophecy concerning the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. The important points appear to be 1) There will be a big destruction out of heaven, 2) Hypocrites need to fear the most, 3) The righteous are known and need not fear.

I’ll illustrate my observations with commentary on the major divisions of this chapter:

Verses 1-10:

These verses are prefaced with a warning that the whole earth should take note of what Isaiah is saying. And Isaiah’s message is that there is going to be a great destruction, so great that it will appear that even the heavens will shake and fall. The Lord’s vengeance will fall directly out of Heaven on “Idumea” and the “people of my curse”. Idumea refers to the Edomites who are the children of Esau. John Calvin felt that because of Esau’s relationship with Israel, this reference applies to those who appear to be of the religion of God, but are not true followers. This agrees with what is revealed in the Book of Mormon about the wrath of the Lord upon those who receive his choicest blessings and choose to cast them aside. This is further supported by the statement in verse 8 that the Lord’s vengeance is recompense for “controversy of Zion”. It appears the Lord is most angry not with the general unbelieving populace, but with the Saints who know better and turn away from Him.

Verses 11-15:

Isaiah employs wilderness metaphors to illustrate the completeness of the destruction to come. I can’t help but think about the use of animal imagery by other prophets such as Ezekiel and John the revelator. Scholars are divided as to the interpretation of the creatures mentioned, and I feel that Isaiah is concealing some important meaning here. Suffice to say that the institutions of men and the devil have numbered days.

Since the animals are coming in to possess Idumea, or the world, one likely interpretation is that the animals represent those righteous who are left over after the great destructions of God. The description of the animals in verse 14 suggest animals that are solitary and wild when found in nature. They dwell in islands and on deserts. Shall the righteous of our day be described in the same manner? Few and far between? Unbound to the laws and traditions of the world? Indeed, this is exactly the scene the scriptures paint for us over and over again.

Verse 16-17:

I believe these verses require modern revelation to understand completely, and I think they are important enough that I would like to interpret them part by part:

16 ¶ Seek ye out of the book of the LORD, and read:

The Book of the Lord in this verse refers to the Lamb’s Book of Life mentioned in Rev. 20: 12, 15 (see also D&C 128: 6-7) , Alma 5: 58, and D&C 132: 19

no one of these shall fail, none shall want her mate:

Those written in the Book of life shall not falter, especially when caught in the midst of the destruction of the second coming. Interestingly, those in this book shall also not want their mate. This could mean that there won’t be any desire to be married, but I think the correct interpretation is that those written in this book will have their mates and will therefore not be looking for them.

for my mouth it hath commanded, and his spirit it hath gathered them.

Who is in the Book? Those who follow the commandments of God and have heeded the still small voice of the Holy Ghost.

17 And he hath cast the lot for them,

God has prepared for the righteous their possession, and it is by his good will and pleasure that he does so.

and his hand hath divided it unto them by line:

The blessings of God do not come all at once- they come as knowledge comes, line upon line.

they shall possess it for ever, from generation to generation shall they dwell therein.

And the great news is that once the Lord bestows an inheritance, it is ours forever.

It feels like these days are close upon us. I pray that we will be found ready.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Isaiah 33: Our God is a consuming fire

One of the interesting clarifications in modern revelation is the description of heaven as a place of fire and burning. That is not to say it is the painful, remorseful, (and metaphorical) lake of fire and brimstone that is used to describe Hell, but a glorious and incomprehensible burning that only transfigured beings may abide. Here are some samples of what I am talking about:

D&C 130: 7 (6-7) 7 But they reside in the presence of God, on a globe like a sea of glass and fire, where all things for their glory are manifest, past, present, and future, and are continually before the Lord.

D&C 137: 2 (2-3) 2 I saw the transcendent beauty of the gate through which the heirs of that kingdom will enter, which was like unto circling flames of fire;

Heb 12:29 For our God is a consuming fire.

Knowing this, Isaiah asks, “Who shall dwell in devouring fire? Who among us shall dwell in everlasting burnings?” I’ve come to love the writings of Isaiah, because he always answers these questions with remarkable clarity and directness. This case is no different:

1) He that walketh righteously,

2) and speaketh uprightly;

3) he that despiseth the gain of oppressions,

4) that shaketh his hands from holding of bribes,

5) that stoppeth his ears from hearing of blood,

6) and shutteth his eyes from seeing evil;

As an exercise, I’ll give an interpretation of the above in the setting of the world we live in today. Who will receive the blessing of living in the Lord’s presence?

1) He that conforms the little daily actions of his life to the commandments of God

2) He that speaks only things that will benefit others

3) He that avoids acquiring wealth through dishonest or unfair practices

4) He that will refuse to put a price on his moral compass

5) He that refuses to entertain a morbid fascination with destruction and the misery of others

6) He that shuts out from his life the movies, songs, and shows that provide entertainment through the portrayal of vice.

I notice as I read these descriptions of the righteous that the first items mentioned are prescriptive. In other words, our religion and our loyalty to God is indicated first by the things that we do, and the character of these things is that they benefit others. The rest of the items are proscriptive; these are the impure things of the world we avoid as saints of God. In just a few short verses then, Isaiah gives a very clear picture of what it means to be in the world (daily acts of righteousness) but not of the world (remaining pure from worldly vices).

Isaiah, well acquainted with the tender mercies of the Lord, continues this passage on a very positive note- listing the blessings available to the righteous saints he has just described:

· He shall dwell on high:

· his place of defence shall be the munitions of rocks:

· bread shall be given him;

· his waters shall be sure.

· Thine eyes shall see the king in his beauty:

· they shall behold the land that is very far off.

These blessings fall into a special category I call the “promises of the Lord”. This phrase refers to the assurances of Eternal life mentioned throughout the scriptures. I think it is tempting when we review these promises to approach them only metaphorically, especially in the case of Isaiah, who is the master of metaphor. When interpreted as metaphors, these sayings are easier to embrace because we start to see the workings of God in the little things of our life. To be sure, I believe that is one of their purposes and I think that is a good starting place. We must not forget, however, that there is a literal, miraculous component to what is said here.

To illustrate what I am talking about, let’s take the last two bullets from the above list: “Thine eyes shall see the king in his beauty: they shall behold the land that is very far off.” Compare what Isaiah has said here to what was revealed to Joseph Smith in D&C 107:18-19:

18 The power and authority of the higher, or Melchizedek Priesthood, is to hold the keys of all the spiritual blessings of the church—

19 To have the privilege of receiving the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, to have the heavens opened unto them, to commune with the general assembly and church of the Firstborn, and to enjoy the communion and presence of God the Father, and Jesus the mediator of the new covenant.

These are the promises of the Lord laid out in plainness for whoever will hear them. In the scriptures we can read of many who have said the same things: Nephi, Mormon, Moses, Melchizedek, Enoch, and of course the Savior himself:

John 14:21 He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.

Before I finish, I wanted to leave off with one of my favorite quotes from Joseph Smith which I was reminded of my this chapter. It speaks of the importance of sincere, effective prayer in our own salvation:

"The things of God are of great import; and time, and experience, and careful, and ponderous, and solemn thoughts can only find them out. Thy mind, oh man, if thou wilt lead a man unto salvation, must stretch as high as the utmost heavens, and search into and contemplate the darkest abyss, and the broad expanses of eternity; thou must commune with God!" - Joseph Smith

Let us ponder these great words of Isaiah and conform our lives to principles of righteousness.