There is a joke told of a soldier that always carried a small Book of Mormon with him in his front shirt pocket. One day the soldier was shot in the chest and recovered by his comrades. They frantically ripped open his jacket to assess his wounds only to find that he had miraculously avoided injury. The bullet had been stopped by his pocket sized Book of Mormon. His comrades rejoicing at the soldier’s good fortune handed him the book for his inspection. Upon thumbing through the book the soldier replied with a smile and a shrug, “Seems nothing gets past Isaiah.”
The Book of Mormon is filled with the plain and precious teachings of the Gospel. It also holds many precious truths that are not readily available to the casual reader. The Lord used parables for similar reasons. Certain truths are only received by those that diligently seek them, and are withheld from those that will not seek, or who are not prepared to receive them. The words of Isaiah require effort and study, not just passive reading, therefore please strive to keep your mind sharp and focused for this next section.
Nephi gave an interesting tip regarding understanding Isaiah:
Yea, and my soul delighteth in the words of Isaiah, for I came out from Jerusalem, and mine eyes hath beheld the things of the Jews, and I know that the Jews do understand the things of the prophets, and there is none other people that understand the things which were spoken unto the Jews like unto them, save it be that they are taught after the manner of the things of the Jews.[i]
According to Nephi, the key to understanding the words of Isaiah is to understand the people to whom Isaiah spoke – the House of Israel. Previously we reviewed the House of Israel and each sub-member, namely:
- The Jews
- The House of Joseph (Ephraim and Manasseh)
- The main body of the Lost Ten Tribes
- Scattered members of the House of Israel
If we read Isaiah’s words from the perspective and history of the House of Israel, Nephi says they will make more sense. The purpose of this section is to assist the reader to understand the words of Isaiah from this perspective, particularly as Isaiah’s words apply to Nephi’s latter-day vision. In so doing, I hope the reader will come to understand why the Savior gave such singular praise to Isaiah’s words and commanded their diligent study. In addition to studying these things from the perspective of the House of Israel, and the Lord’s covenants to them, one must seek the inspiration of the Holy Ghost. Therefore, as you read this section, listen to the thoughts and impressions that come to you. Such an exercise will bring you significant insights. It is always better to drink directly from the source whenever possible.
Most of what is known about Isaiah comes from his own writings. Isaiah was the last known prophet to the entire House of Israel, and his life and family were given as a warning and a sign to the Northern Kingdom of Israel. He was married to a woman he referred to as the prophetess, and we know that they had at least two sons. By express command of the Lord, the names of Isaiah’s children were given as signs to the ten tribes of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, that they would be carried off into captivity in Isaiah’s lifetime.
Isaiah’s oldest son’s name was Shear-Jashub, which translates into, “A Remnant Shall Return”, meaning that in the latter-days the remnant that would survive the Assyrian slaughter would both return unto the Lord, and return unto the knowledge of the world. The younger son’s given name was Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz, which translates to “Spoil quickly, plunder speedily,” referring to the fact that the pending Assyrian invasion that would carry the ten tribes away was imminent.
Isaiah was the prophet to Judah during the reign of King Hezekiah – one of Israel’s most faithful kings. It was during Hezekiah’s reign, and under the oversight of Isaiah, that the Jews would rededicate themselves to the covenants they had made with the Lord. On Hezekiah’s first day as King, he ordered the Temple to cleaned and Israel’s priests to be re-sanctified – for both had fallen into darkness under the stewardship of Israel’s previous wicked kings. Once the temple was dedicated Hezekiah sent a joyous proclamation to all Israelites inviting them to come to the House of the Lord to celebrate the passover. The following passages taken from 2 Chronicles 29 provide insights into the status of the Northern Kingdom.
And Hezekiah sent to all Israel and Judah, and wrote letters also to Ephraim and Manasseh, that they should come to the house of the Lord at Jerusalem, to keep the passover unto the Lord God of Israel. So the posts went with the letters from the king and his princes throughout all Israel and Judah, and according to the commandment of the king, saying, Ye children of Israel, turn again unto the Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, and he will return to the remnant of you, that are escaped out of the hand of the kings of Assyria.
And be not ye like your fathers, and like your brethren, which trespassed against the Lord God of their fathers, who therefore gave them up to desolation, as ye see. Now be ye not stiffnecked, as your fathers were, but yield yourselves unto the Lord, and enter into his sanctuary, which he hath sanctified for ever: and serve the Lord your God, that the fierceness of his wrath may turn away from you. For if ye turn again unto the Lord, your brethren and your children shall find compassion before them that lead them captive, so that they shall come again into this land: for the Lord your God is gracious and merciful, and will not turn away his face from you, if ye return unto him.
So the posts passed from city to city through the country of Ephraim and Manasseh even unto Zebulun: but they laughed them to scorn, and mocked them. Nevertheless divers of Asher and Manasseh and of Zebulun humbled themselves, and came to Jerusalem.
While Judah embraced the call to rededicate themselves, the Kingdom of Israel mocked Hezekiah and his invitation. Nevertheless some came, and their obedience would literally save their lives. I suspect that Lehi’s ancestors were among those of Manasseh that humbled themselves, and yielded to the invitation to rededicate their lives unto the Lord, leaving their family and friends to return to Jerusalem and to the Lord. Within five years of this invitation the Northern Kingdom of Israel would be crushed under the foot of the Assyrians, and they would disappear from our history books.
Sadly, the righteousness of the people under King Hezekiah was not to last long after the king’s death. Tradition holds that Isaiah sealed his testimony as a martyr, being stuffed into a hollow log and sawn asunder by the order of Hezekiah’s wicked son Manasseh. However, death could not silence him. Isaiah would go on to become the most quoted prophet of all time. His prophecies are quoted in the Old and New Testaments, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price. Christ made particular mention of Isaiah throughout his ministry in both Jerusalem and the Americas. It was through Isaiah’s words that Jesus Christ himself would announce his Messiahship.
Christ further validated Isaiah, stating that he saw all things concerning Israel, including their latter-day interactions with the Gentiles.
And now, behold, I say unto you, that ye ought to search these things. Yea, a commandment I give unto you that ye search these things diligently; for great are the words of Isaiah. For surely he spake as touching all things concerning my people which are of the House of Israel; therefore it must needs be that he must speak also to the Gentiles. And all things that he spake have been and shall be, even according to the words which he spake.[ii]
This is the only time in scriptures where the Lord has noted the works of a specific prophet with such high praise, and with the command to diligently study them. The Lord himself states, that Isaiah saw all things concerning the House of Israel which, of necessity, includes the latter-day gathering and restoration of the Lost Ten Tribes. In a subsequent section of this book, we will make a more particular focus on Christ’s message surrounding Isaiah’s latter-day message.
Isaiah’s writing style was both advanced and beautiful, for his day and our own. His words are full of layered meaning. Often times, the words he wrote applied to the events of his day on one level, and to the events of the latter-days on another. Therefore a single verse may mean multiple things to multiple generations, thousands of years apart. It would, therefore, be unwise to limit the meaning of a verse to a particular time and place, or to disregard any and all other possible meanings. Until we sit at the feet of the Great Jehovah, the best teacher regarding the words of Isaiah will be the still small voice of the Holy Ghost. Carefully consider and seek such promptings as you continue your study.
Alma certainly had access to the writings of Isaiah and was very familiar with his particular style of writing and layered meanings. Consider the words of Alma regarding the same.
And now Alma began to expound these things unto him, saying: It is given unto many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him. And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full.[iii]
Therefore, if you will diligently apply yourself to understand the words of Isaiah, you will learn great things. Things you are supposed to know, having been commanded by the Lord to seek them out. In Isaiah’s own words he said:
The Lord God hath given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season unto thee, O House of Israel.[iv]
Unless we make a diligent study of Isaiah’s words, particularly those that were selected by Nephi, we are living far beneath our privileges as latter-day saints, and will miss Isaiah’s timely message for us – to our detriment. Such are amongst the Book of Mormon’s greatest and most awe-inspiring messages. By not doing so we take lightly the gift the Lord has given us.[v]
Because Isaiah saw all things pertaining to the House of Israel, he addresses the whole House of Israel together. Both people and geographical locations are taken into consideration. When Isaiah refers to Judah or to Jerusalem he is referring to the Jews. When Isaiah uses the term Israel or Jacob he is often referring to the Northern Kingdom. However, with care, the reader can determine if Isaiah’s message is a blanket statement regarding all twelve tribes or, as is often the case, if he is referring to the Lost Tribes of Israel in particular. When Isaiah uses the term Assyria, it is also often associated with the Lost Ten Tribes, as it was Assyria that conquered and captured them. When Isaiah uses the term Zion, he typically is referring to the House of Joseph and the American continent. However, Mount Zion, is also a location in Jerusalem and may have reference to the Jews. A careful reading of the text should make clear which is which. Striving to identify to which audience Isaiah is referring is key to unlocking the meaning of his words.
To facilitate the reader’s study, verses from different chapters of Isaiah discussing similar topics have been grouped in an effort to provide a more holistic illustration of concepts. This compilation of verses is not meant to be comprehensive. Furthermore, to avoid redundancy, not every verse of Isaiah’s teachings regarding a given topic is included. The purpose of this book is to highlight events regarding the latter-day gathering of Israel. For a more complete understanding you must study the from the source. I therefore encourage the reader to study each verse selected in its original context. Consider, as well, the reasons why Nephi would have chosen the particular passages for transcription. Now let us begin our study of this great visionary man.
-Chapter Seven- -Chapter Nine-
[i] 2 Nephi 25:5
[ii] 3 Nephi 23:1-3
[iii] Alma 12:9&10
[iv] 2 Nephi 7:4
[v] D&C 84:55-62