Writings of Isaiah to covenant Israel are of 'great worth'

The most significant recommendation of Isaiah's writings comes from the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. "Ye ought to search these things, yet a commandment I give unto you that ye search these things diligently; for great are the words of Isaiah (3 Ne. 23:1)."

Who was he? Isaiah lived in Jerusalem. His name means "salvation is of Jehovah (Christ)." He was indeed a great prophet. His writings record that he was called of God (Isa. 6:1-8). He was the chief prophet leader of his day. Other prophets and ministers to the peoples of the land of Judah worked under his direction, such as Micah. He was a seer as is evidenced by many of his prophetic declarations for he truly knew "of things which are past, and also things which are to come (Mosiah 8:17)."He is one that Nephi testifies had seen the Savior (2 Ne. 11:2). He was a husband and father in Israel. His wife is called in his writings a "prophetess" (Isa. 8:3), which means she was the wife of the prophet. He had at least two sons - Shearjashub (Isa. 7:3) and Mahershalalhashbaz (Isa. 8:3). He also had the special mission as a counselor and adviser to kings, to which he was divinely appointed. He administered unto Uzziah, Jotham (Isa. 1:1), Ahaz (Isa. 7:3), and Hezekiah (Isa. 37:5-6; 38:4-5; 39:3, 8); all kings over the kingdom of Judah or the southern kingdom of the people of Israel.

For whom did he write? And about whom? And why? "Isaiah spake concerning all the house of Israel (2 Ne. 6:5)." (See also 3 Ne. 23:2). "The gentiles, they of whom the prophet has written (2 Ne. 6:12)." (See also 2 Ne. 9:1-2.)

In other words, he wrote to covenant Israel; those who had made covenants under priesthood authority with God, those who were members of the Church of Jesus Christ in that day. Because covenant Israel were the recipients of his ministry he spoke to them on the basis that they had a fundamental understanding of the teachings and doctrines of the gospel of Jesus Christ as a part of the Law of Moses (see D&C 84:26-27). He taught them in the context that they understood the purpose of life and the plan of salvation and the basic principles and ordinances of the gospel. He wrote to teach them those truths and to prophesy concerning them; to strengthen them and to warn them; to bless covenant Israel. Therefore, he used expressions, doctrines, and principles with which they were familiar. Indeed it was a writing for those inside the covenant, not those outside who were not members.

What did he teach? What are some of the major messages or themes of his writings? He taught of the Messiah and of the comings of the Messiah, or of Jesus Christ; both of His first coming (see Isa. 7:14, 9:6-7, 11:1-5, 53, 61); and of His second coming (see: Isa. 30-35; 63-64; 66); and of the judgments, including the cleansing of the earth from wickedness and the eventual establishment of Zion and the millennial reign (see Isa. 2, 51, 52:1-2, 55-62, 65).

He prophesied concerning the restoration of the gospel in the latter-days, including the gathering of Israel (see Isa. 43-44, 48-49); the coming forth of the Book of Mormon (see Isa. 29) and the calling and mission of the Prophet Joseph Smith (see Isa. 11:2-9). He taught the doctrines and principles of the gospel.

Examples include: repentance (see Isa. 1); fasting and the Sabbath day (see Isa. 58), and of the great mission of the "Holy One of Israel," even Jesus Christ as Creator, Redeemer, and Savior (see Isa. 17:7, 41:14, 43:14). And finally he taught concerning the prophetic destiny of the House of Israel. He told of their challenges and warned of the judgments to come in his own day. He spoke of the scattering of Israel because of the wickedness and apostasy of these people. He foretold the gathering of Israel that was to come. Because he wrote to covenant Israel of those things that pertain to them, his messages have been cited by the prophets of all ages.

The most frequently quoted book of the Old Testament by Christ and His apostles was the Book of Psalms. The second most quoted from the Old Testament record were the writings of Isaiah. These two books were used in Jesus' and the apostles' day because they were the ones most familiar to the common people, most of whom were illiterate and had only come to know of scripture through memorization, learned by recitation and by song. These two books were most easily used by them because they were written in poetic form. All of the Psalms and over 60 percent of Isaiah is written in poetic form. It might be noted that this is one of the reasons that the Book of Isaiah is somewhat difficult for us to read in an English translation because the power of the poetic form is not well transmitted in the translations.

Isaiah's writings were loved by the Book of Mormon prophets. Over 30 percent of the writings of Isaiah are cited in its pages. The writings of Isaiah also find focus in the Doctrine and Covenants (see D&C 113 [Isaiah 11, 52]; D&C 101 [Isaiah 65]; D&C 133 [Isaiah 35, 51, 63-64]). Not only is Isaiah cited in these additional scriptural writings, but the prophet writers of those books also provide for us inspired commentary on the passages they cite. These provide insights to the meaning of his passages by Nephi, Jacob, Mormon, and even Christ Himself.

For some, Isaiah seems a difficult challenge to understand. The temptation is ever present to look outside of the writings of Isaiah for help and understanding. Some have presumed that an understanding of the language in which it is written [Hebrew] is a prerequisite or that special training is required in linguistics or in literature. Others have assumed a need to understand the traditions and history of the ancient peoples. While these are helpful, they are quite often a diversion from the heart of Isaiah's message which results in confusion and misinterpretations.

The prophet Nephi in the Book of Mormon tells us that he did not instruct in language, history, custom, or tradition as a prerequisite to assisting his people in understanding Isaiah. He gave the key for all who are to study his writings. "Hearken, o my people, which are of the house of Israel, and give ear unto my words; for because the words of Isaiah are not plain unto you, nevertheless they are plain unto all those who are filled with the spirit of prophecy according to the spirit (2 Ne. 25:4)." To be filled with "the spirit of prophecy" is to have simply "the testimony of Jesus [Christ] (Rev. 19:10)." If an individual has a testimony through the power of the Holy Ghost of the divine mission of Jesus Christ and His gospel restored, he has the foundation necessary to assist him in understanding Isaiah. Then the types, parallelism, and dualisms of the book are properly understood and interpreted.

Elder Bruce R. McConkie has written that there is a "fallacy of relying on learning and intellectuality, rather than upon the Spirit and upon an overall understanding of the plan of salvation. Those who turn to the original tongues for their doctrinal knowledge have a tendency to rely on scholars rather than on prophets for scriptural interpretations. This is perilous; it is a sad thing to be numbered with the wise and the learned who know more than the Lord."1

The prophets and scriptures are witnesses that the Book of Isaiah is authored by one writer, not multiple authors as some scholars theorize. These false interpretations are based upon a limited definition of the ability and function of a prophet.

Why is the study of Isaiah so important for us? Again the prophet Nephi provides the answer. "In the days that the prophesies of Isaiah shall be fulfilled men shall know of a surety, at the times when they shall come to pass. Wherefore, they are of worth unto the children of men, and he that supposeth that they are not, unto them will I speak particularly and confine the words unto mine own people; for I know that they shall be of great worth unto them in the last days; for in that day shall they understand them; wherefore, for their good have I written them (2 Ne. 25:7-8)."

This is a significant challenge for every reader of the writings of Isaiah that they might "know of a surety of the times when they shall come to pass," because of the promise "for in that day shall they understand them" and they have been provided "for their good." To be in tune with the Spirit of the Lord and to have a basic understanding of the history of Israel and the principles of the gospel is an adequate foundation upon which to search the truths of this great prophet's writings.

An additional suggestion that may be helpful is to use the LDS Edition of the King James Version. The chapter headings of Isaiah provide an abbreviated outline or overview of the content of the chapter. The footnotes will guide you to many of the prophetic commentaries provided in the other standard works of the Church. There are helpful entries in the Bible Dictionary and when the prophet discusses historical issues a quick glance at the maps at the back of the book will provide an understanding of the localities in which he labored or was speaking of. (See also: Bruce R. McConkie, "Ten Keys to Understanding Isaiah," Ensign, October 1973, pp. 79-83.) Another helpful approach is to read this portion of the prophets aloud.

As one weighs the potential sources, we should go first to the prophets, living and past, as our primary source. Again, Elder Bruce R. McConkie provides this helpful counsel: "Every teacher becomes an interpreter of the scriptures to his hearers. We are to preach, teach, expound, and exhort. But our explanations must be in harmony with the prophets and apostolic utterances, and they will be if they are guided by the Spirit. Remember that these are the chief officers placed in the Church to see that we are not tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine (Eph. 4:14)."2

Here is a brief sampling of what might be expected to be uncovered in the writings of Isaiah: the principles of agency; accountability and repentance (Isa. 1:16-20); latter-day temples (Isa. 2:2-3); the warning about those who distort the truth, who "call evil good, and good evil " (Isa. 5:20-21); the raising of an Ensign to gather Israel (Isa. 11:11-12); the characterization of Lucifer (Isa. 14:12-17); the testimony of the resurrection (Isa. 25:8); the principle of faith (Isa. 26:3); the reminder of how gospel truths are learned, "precept upon precept; line upon line" (Isa. 28:9-10); the declaration that the restoration would be a great marvelous work and a wonder (Isa. 29:13-14); the desert should blossom as a rose (Isa. 35:1); the challenge that we should "strengthen . . . the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees" (Isa. 35:3); that we are to bear testimony of the Savior, Redeemer and Holy One of Israel (Isa. 43:10-15); that we would be chosen "in the furnace of affliction" (Isa. 48:10); the term stake used in the Church today is based on a metaphor of securing a desert tent in Isaiah's day (Isa. 54:2); the warning that we neglect not our relationship with God, "seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near" (Isa. 55:6); the reminder of God's greater powers and capacity, "my thoughts are not your thoughts " (Isa. 55:8-9) that we come to understand the purpose of fasting and also learn to "call the sabbath a delight" (Isa. 58); and that the taking of the gospel to those who have lived upon the earth was ushered in by the Savior after His resurrection (Isa. 61:1-3).

This brief listing suggests something of the complete range of topics for covenant Israel that are available through searching the pages of Isaiah.

Remember the Savior said the writings of Isaiah are of "great worth." Life and the gospel teaches us that those things that are of most worth require effort and diligence but they also bring great rewards.

Elder Boyd K. Packer provides this caution and promise concerning one's study of the writings of Isaiah. He said: "The prophecies of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah loom as a barrier, like a roadblock or a checkpoint beyond which the casual reader, one with idle curiosity, generally will not go. Perhaps only after you read the Book of Mormon and return to the Bible will you notice that the Lord quotes Isaiah seven times in the New Testament; in addition the apostles quote Isaiah forty more times. One day you may revere these prophetic words in Isaiah in both books. The Lord had a purpose in preserving the prophesies of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon, notwithstanding they become a barrier to the casual reader."3

The message of the prophets, past and present, invite all to prayerfully and with real intent engage in mining the great treasures found in the writings of Isaiah.

1Bruce R. McConkie, "The Bible, A Sealed Book," CES New Testament Symposium, 17 August 1994, p. 3.

2Ibid., p. 7.

3Boyd K. Packer, "The Things of My Soul," Ensign, May 1986, p. 61.

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