Sunday School Lesson #36

September 4, 2006 | 22 comments
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Lesson 36: Isaiah 1-6


Scriptural Background

The Savior tells us, “great are the words of Isaiah” (3 Nephi 23:1), and he commands us to search them diligently. (Towards the end of Book of Mormon history, Mormon repeats that command: Mormon 8:23.) Nephi tells us that his soul delights in Isaiah (2 Nephi 11:2), but he also tells us that many of his people did not share his experience: “Isaiah spake many things which were hard for many of my people to understand” (2 Nephi 25:1). Many of us have had the experience of Nephi’s people rather than Nephi. Nephi explains why his people don’t understand Isaiah: First, he says, “They know not concerning the manner of prophesying of the Jews” (2 Nephi 25:1). Then he adds, “The words of Isaiah are not plain unto you, nevertheless they are plain unto all those that are filled with the spirit of prophecy” (2 Nephi 25:4). We need two things to understand Isaiah: we must understand the manner of prophesying of the Jews and we must have the spirit of prophecy.

If we wish to understand Isaiah (and the scriptures tell us that we must*), Nephi suggests, we have to learn how the Jews prophesied (2 Nephi 25:5). To some degree that is what we have been doing the last week or two. Think about Hosea’s and Joel’s prophesies. To understand them, we had to think in terms of types and shadows, seeing a particular event as revealing something about another event or even about more than one other event. Though that is not the only thing that characterized the prophesies of Nephi’s age, it was perhaps the most important. Also important were poetic and rhetorical devices of various sorts, including chiasmus, which many have heard of.

This use of poetic and rhetorical devices is the consequence of the ways that the Israelites thought about language. For them, language reveals the world, not just be referring to things in it, but by revealing its structure. For example, the similarity of words or the fact that words share a common root allows us to see something about the structure of the world. We can see this in Numbers 15:38-40, which instructs the Israelites to wear fringes or tassels on their shawls in remembrance of the commandments. To us the designation of fringes as such a reminder, is arbitrary. Anything else could have done the same thing. For the Israelites, however, the fact that both the word for “fringes” and the word for “obedience” have the same consonants shows that the two are connected.** Rhetorical and other linguistic effects do the same thing: they reveal things about the world that we might otherwise overlook. Of course, many of these linguistic effects are lost or modified in translation. Whatever the difficulty that the ancient Israelites might have had understanding Isaiah, for us that difficulty is multiplied several fold by the fact that we do not understand that way of seeing the world, at least not immediately, and we almost all are reading a translation.

The Kabbalah relies heavily on this Israelite way of thinking about the world, but not all those who have this view are kabbalists. Of course, we no longer think about the world in these terms, but if we are to understand the First Testament, particularly, and, to a lesser degree, the Second and the book of Mormon, we need to understand that this way of thinking about language and the world is at the heart of biblical thinking. The use of types and shadows, poetical and rhetorical figures, and word play is not an accidental feature of biblical writing. It is the way that biblical writers showed their understanding of the world and the revelation of God in the world.

The second thing that Nephi tells us we need to understand Isaiah, the spirit of prophecy, shows how we are to look for such things as types and shadows. Revelation 19:10 defines the spirit of prophecy as “the testimony of Jesus.” We can understand that phrase in two, related ways, as “the testimony that Jesus is the Christ” and as “the testimony that Jesus bore,” in other words, the gospel he taught. Though we often focus on the first meaning, and it is not irrelevant, the second meaning is more important as we read Isaiah: as we read, we ought to look for events that we can understand as types of the things that Jesus taught, as well as events in his life and in the events most associated with his reign. Nephi’s testimony is that the words of Isaiah, better than the words of Moses (and, presumably, other Old Testament prophets) will work to convince us that Jesus is our Redeemer (1 Nephi 19:23).

Recall that the plague of locusts in Joel refers to an actual plague of locusts as well as to the invasion of the Assyriansand to other destructions, so speaking of that plague can lead Joel to speak not only of it, but also of the last days, as he does in Joel 2:28-32. Thus, by reading Joel’s prophecy with the spirit of prophecy–with an eye on the good news of Jesus Christ and the events associated with that gospel–we understand what Joel’s prophecy means, both for those living at the time of Joel and for ourselves. We must read Isaiah in the same way.

That requires that we learn something about the particular events about which Isaiah speaks. For just as knowing that Joel was speaking of a plague of locusts helped us understand better what he had to say about our own day, knowing something about the historical events that are more-or-less contemporary with Isaiah’s prophecy will help us understand better what Isaiah is speaking of and how we can understand those with the spirit of prophecy, in other words, as types and shadows of other events.

Historical Background

Isaiah’s name means “help or deliverance of God.” We know very little about him.Word Biblical Commentary (24:xxv-xxvi) summarizes what we do know:

Isaiah was a prophet who lived and worked in Jerusalem from about 750 to 700b.c. All that is known of him is contained in a few passages of the book that bears his name.

Isaiah is said to have worked under four Judaean Kings (1:1): Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. A marvelous picture of the future of Jerusalem (2:1-4) and a chilling description of Babylon’s fall (13:1-22) are directly attributed to him.

He and his son Shear-Yashub carried God’s message to Ahaz about 734b.c. (7:1-17). Another son bore a shatteringly symbolic name,Maher-shalal-hash-baz “Swift-plunder hastening-booty” (8:1-4). Isaiah was divinely commissioned to walk about Jerusalem unclothed as a walking sign of God’s displeasure with Jerusalem’s pro-Egyptian policies (ca. 714b.c. chap. 20). And he prophesied Jerusalem’s deliverance from Sennacherib’s siege in 701b.c. (chaps. 36-37 = 2 Kgs 18:13-19:37), was a witness of Hezekiah’s recovery from a mortal illness (chap. 38 = 2 Kgs 20:1-11), and delivered the Lord’s condemnation of Hezekiah’s hospitality for Merodach-Baladan’s delegation from Babylon (chap. 39 = 2 Kgs 20:12-19).

We also have various traditions about Isaiah, though all seem to begin long after he lived. According to tradition, his father, Amoz, was also a prophet and the brother of King Amaziah. Tradition also says that Isaiah was executed by King Manassah, the son of Hezekiah. According to the Talmud (a collection of Jewish oral teachings compiled in written form after the time of Christ), Isaiah’s many prophecies were compiled into one book by King Hezekiah or his scribes.

Like most Old Testament prophecies, Isaiah’s were probably delivered orally and written down afterward. That explains another reason that ancient prophets used rhetorical, poetic, and other linguistic devices: they were a way of helping people listening to the prophet understand and remember without a written record.

When Syria and Israel (Ephraim) were at war with Judah, Isaiah assured King Ahaz that both would be destroyed by Assyria, but he warned him against seeking help from Assyria. (See Isaiah 7.) The war with Syria and Ephraim was only a harbinger of what was to come, for at the time (the 8th century B.C.), the two great powers of the region, Egypt and Assyria, were vying with each other for control. Their wars would be fateful for Judah, who was situated immediately between the two. (The Assyrian-Egyptian war did not end until 670 B.C., when the Assyrian king, Esarhaddon, conquered Egypt.)

In 732 B.C., Assyria took Damascus, the capital of Syria, and ten years later (722 B.C.) Assyria conquered Samaria (Israel). Assyria was at Judah’s door and threatening. For all intents and purposes, Judah was under Assyria’s control, though it had not yet been conquered. In about 708 B.C., in response to a new vigor in Egypt generated by the rule of Ethiopian kings there and with the resulting revitalized army, Judah was tempted to ally itself with Egypt and assert its independence from Assyria–this in spite of the fact that previous alliances with Egypt had always ended in disappointment and even ruin for Israel. Isaiah warned King Hezekiah against making the alliance with Egypt. His advice was to submit to the Assyrians and trust in God, but Hezekiah did not take Isaiah’s advice. (For the story of Hezekiah, see 2 Kings 18-20 and 2 Chronicles 29-32, as well as Isaiah 36-39 and Jeremiah 15:4.) Before the Assyrian king, Sennacharib, invaded Judah, Hezekiah fell ill. Isaiah told him to prepare to die, but in answer to the king’s prayer, Isaiah told him that the Lord had added fifteen years to his life. In 701 B.C., Sennacharib overran all of what remained of Israel. This may have been at least partly in response to the new alliance between Egypt and Judah. The Assyrian army was threatening Jerusalem in Judah, but Isaiah promised Hezekiah that the Assyrian army would be destroyed, as they were when 185,000 of their men were miraculously killed in one night.

That victory, however, was only temporary. Slightly more than 100 years later, in 587 B.C., Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, which had replaced Assyria as the dominant power in the region, captured and destroyed Jerusalem, taking its inhabitants captive into Babylon.

Isaiah 1

The Jerome Biblical Commentary says that Isaiah 1 is a brilliant synopsis of the whole message of Isaiah.

Verse 1: This introductory verse tells us that the vision Isaiah has received is “concerning Judah and Jerusalem.” What does that mean? Why isn’t it also about the northern kingdom, Israel? This verse is one of the indications that Isaiah is a collection of prophecies rather than only one prophecy. (See, for example, the similar heading for chapter 2.)

Verses 2-15: A lawsuit is announced: witnesses are summoned (the beginning of verse 2); the person bringing the suit is named (last half of verse 2); he gives a brief of his charges (verses 2-3) and he announces the accused (end of verse 3); testimony is given by witnesses (verses 4-9); and testimony is given by the plaintiff (verses 10-15). Why is a lawsuit an appropriate response to a broken covenant?

Verses 2-4: Why does the Lord compare Judah to children and to farm animals?

Verses 5-6: Here is a better translation of the beginning of verse 5: “Where would you like to be struck?” How does that change our understanding of verse 6? What is the image here?

Verse 7: This verse and the three which follow probably describe Sennacherib’s invasion well–he claimed to have destroyed 46 walled cities and villages without number in his attack. Does it have application to our personal lives as well as to events in history?

Verse 8: The “daughter of Zion” is probably Jerusalem. As in many poor countries today, vineyards and gardens had small huts or platforms in them in which someone could sit during the day and sleep during the night to assure that the crop wouldn’t be stolen, a humble version of the tower in the vineyard of which the Savior speaks in the parable of the wicked husbandmen (Matthew 21:31-39, Mark 12:1-8). What is the Lord saying about Jerusalem?

Verses 9-10: What is the point of the comparison of Judah to Sodom and Gomorrah? What does it mean to say that a remnant is left? Why is the command to “hear” addressed to therulers of Sodom and thepeople of Gomorrah? What does the command to hear mean? How do we hear the Lord?

Verses 11-17: We see here what the Lord wants his people to hear. In verse 11, is the Lord saying that he does not want them to perform temple sacrifice? (Compare 1 Samuel 15:22, Amos 5:21-24, Hosea 6:6, and Jeremiah 7:21-23.) How does the beginning of verse 13 explain the Lord’s objection to their sacrifices? (The word translated “vain” could also be translated “empty” or “deceitful.”) What is the relation between religious ritual and practice, on the one hand, and righteous living, on the other? (Recall the charge of Micah 2.)

Since it was common for people to pray by lifting their hands above their heads toward heaven, the reference to spreading one’s hands in the first part of verse 15 is a reference to prayer. How are Judah’s hands full of blood (15)? The condemnation of verses 11-15 is followed by the Lord’s demand in verses 16-17. What does it mean to put away one’s evils from before the Lord’s eyes?

Verse 18: This is one of the most famous verses in the Bible, though the clause “Come now, and let us reason together” is almost always used contrary to its meaning in this verse. The verb translated “reason” means “to decide” or “to judge.” (See Genesis 31:37 for another use of the same verb.) So, this famous clause means something like, “Let us take up your case in court.” With that in mind, how do you explain the verse as a whole? What outcome is the Lord predicting for the lawsuit that he has instigated?

Verses 19-20: This is the essence of the Lord’s promise in Isaiah as well as in the Book of Mormon. How does this promise fit with what we saw taught in Ecclesiastes and in Job? Is there a contradiction? Does this promise have anything to do with why Isaiah was Nephi’s favorite prophet? It isn’t difficult to imagine Laman and Lemuel using this verse against Lehi and Nephi: “Look,” they might say, “The Lord has promised that if we are good, we will prosper. We are living in Jerusalem and prospering. Why should we believe that he wants us to leave this situation and move into the desert toward a land we know absolutely nothing about?” Given this verse, how might Lehi or Nephi have answered this imaginary argument? What in our own lives might be comparable to leaving a comfortable situation and moving into the desert?

Verses 22-23: The Lord repeats his condemnation. Can you explain the metaphors of verse 22? Why is adultery so often used as a metaphor for apostasy? To what kinds of problems does verse 23 point?

Verses 24-27: The Lord tells Judah what his response will be. Who are the enemies of whom he will be avenged (24)? What does the metaphor of purging away dross suggest will happen to Judah (25)? Why is the promise that the judges and counselors will be restored an important promise (26)? What does the Lord say that it will take for Judah to become righteous?

Verses 28-31: The Lord’s condemnation in 22-23 was followed by his promise. Now he pronounces woe against the unrighteous. What does it mean to forsake or abandon the Lord (28)? How has Judah done that? How do we do it? Note: “tow” in verse 31 means “tinder.” In that verse, to what is Isaiah referring? What is like tinder and, so, easily burned?

Isaiah 2

Isaiah 2-4 form one, discreet unit.

Verses 1-5: Compare these verses to Micah 4:1-5. How do you explain what you see in that comparison? What promise is made in these verses? When and how do we see it fulfilled? Must we wait for it to be fulfilled in the future? In other words, is there any sense in which we live in this condition now? How would Isaiah’s audience have understood this prophecy? It isn’t unusual to speak of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but here we have only “the God of Jacob.” Why? “The law” and “the word of the Lord” are parallel at the end of verse 3. Do they mean the same thing? If so, what might that say about what the word “law” means here? What does one do with plowshares and pruning hooks? How is it significant that the weapons of destruction are turned into plowshares and pruning hooks rather than some other utensil that is not a weapon? How is verse 5 a conclusion to verses 1-4?

Verses 6-9: The prophet has been speaking to Judah in the previous verses. To whom is he speaking here? “They please themselves in the children of strangers” means “They make covenants with foreigners.” What is wrong with that? Do we do anything that is parallel?

Verses 10-21: Verse 11 is a synopsis of these verses. What sin does it describe?

Verse 22: What is the prophet saying to the Lord?

Isaiah 3

This chapter shows us the decline of civilization, law, and order in Judah, and it interprets that decline as theresult of God’s judgment rather than its cause: Judah is living in chaos because of its sin. That isn’t the way we usually think about the relation between sin and decline. What do you make of that difference?

Verses 1-4: Who does Jerusalem stand for? Judah? What is the Lord taking? From whom is he taking it? What does verse 1 have to do with verses 2 and 3? Is verse 4 predicting something good or something bad? How can you tell?

Verses 5-7: What will be one result of the absence of leadership in Judah?

Verses 8-12: In verses 10 and 11, notice that the righteous and the wicked get the same reward, namely what they have produced. Verse 12 repeats the material of verses 1-4.

Verses 13-23: In verses 14-15, we see the Lord make the same charge against Judah that he made through the prophet Joel: they oppress the poor. How is oppression of the poor a type or shadow of apostasy as well as a sin in itself? What judgment is the Lord pronouncing on Judah’s leaders (13-14)? What are “stretched forth necks and wanton eyes”? What does it mean to say that the women are “mincing” as they walk (16)? How is the accusation against the women the same as that against the men? What do their sins have in common? What does the Lord threaten in verse 17? How is the threat of verses 18-23 related to their sin?

Verses 24-26: Verse 24 is a summary of what will happen to women and verse 25 is a summary of what will happen to men. Verse 26 sums up what will happen as a whole.

Isaiah 4

Verse 1: Compare this verse to 3:6. Is there any reason to think that perhaps this verse should have been placed in chapter 3 rather than chapter 4?

Verses 2-6: As verses 3-4 make clear, this is another description of the Messianic age. What is the point of the cloud by day and the fire by night? (Compare Exodus 13:21.) What does this image tell us about what is to come? In the Book of Mormon, verse 5 is slightly different than it is here. (See 2 Nephi 14:5.) What does the Book of Mormon version include that we do not see here? What difference does that make?

Isaiah 5

Verses 1-2: Compare this parable of the vineyard to Jacob’s account of Zenos’s parable in Jacob 5. What does Isaiah focus on and why?

Verses 3-6: How does this differ from Zenos’s parable? Why?

Verse 7: We see a play on words here that cannot be captured in translation: the Lord looked for judgment (mishpat), but he found only oppression (i.e., bloodshed–mishpach); he looked for righteousness (tzaqa) and found instead a cry of distress (saqa). What is the point of that word play? In other words, what does it teach us?

Verse 12: Like the other prophets, Isaiah teaches that God is involved in history and that part of the sin of Israel is not to see that. How dowe see his hand in history?

Verses 7-25: What are the two complaints that the Lord makes of Judah in verse 7? The Lord expands on these two points, indicting Judah on six counts in verses 8-25. First count: they “join house to house” (8-10). What does that mean? Second count: they are drunken and self-indulgent (11-17), ignoring the work of the Lord. Verse 13 says they are captive “because they have no knowledge.” In how many ways can we be in captivity? What does it mean to be captive for want of knowledge? The word “knowledge” translates a Hebrew word that could also be translated “cunning” or “know-how.” What is the implication of that translation? Or it could also be translated “without knowing why.” What is the implication of that translation? Third count: they “draw iniquity with cords of vanity,” in other words slender or useless cords (18-19). Little sins gradually lead to great ones. Fourth count: they wilfully pervert goodness and truth (20). Fifth count: they are arrogant, thinking themselves wise. What is the difference between wisdom and prudence? (21). Sixth count: they are self-indulgent and they twist justice for their own purposes (22-23). When might these counts apply against us?

Verses 24-30: Isaiah describes the Lord’s response to the iniquity of Judah: they will be ripe for destruction (24); in his anger, the Lord has stretched his hand out against them and will continue to do so (in other words, he will punish them with his might–25); he will call a powerful nation to attack Judah (26-30). We understand verses 26-29 to be a prophecy of those called to Zion in the last days rather than a prophecy of Assyria’s attack on Judah. How is our understanding justifiable?

Isaiah 6

Verses 1-4: Isaiah’s vision of the glory of the Lord. Uzziah died in about 740, having reigned for forty years.

Verse 5: What is Isaiah’s response to the vision? How do you explain that response?

Verses 6-8: What does the glowing coal symbolize? Why is it significant that the seraph touches Isaiah’s mouth with the coal from the altar? How is his mouth significant? How is the altar significant? Why fire? As we have seen in previous chapters, Judah has been defiled. Now Isaiah has been cleansed, to be the one clean thing through which the whole can be cleansed. Compare verse 8 with Moses 4:1-2. (See also Abraham 3:27; Genesis 22:1 and 11; 31:11; 46:2; and Exodus 3:4.) Is Isaiah a type of Christ? How so?

Verses 9-10: What is Isaiah’s message to Judah? In these verses, it seems not to be “repent.” How should we understand what Isaiah is to say to Israel in verse 10?

Verses 11-13: The only way to end the sinful state of Judah is to destroy it and exile its inhabitants. How is this situation similar to that of the world at the time of Noah? How is the Lord’s response the same in both? How is it different?

Notes

*For more understanding of the importance of Isaiah in the latter-days, see also: 1 Nephi 15:20; 19:23; 2 Nephi 6:4-5; 2 Nephi 11:8; Helaman 8:20; 3 Nephi 20:11-12; and Joseph Smith History 1:40.

**De Caqueray, N. Cited in Marléne Zarader, The Unthought Debt: Heidegger and the Hebraic Heritage, trans. Bettina Bergo (Palo Alto: Stanford UP, 2006) 47.

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22 Responses to Sunday School Lesson #36

  1. Stephen M (Ethesis) on September 4, 2006 at 6:19 pm

    Well, let me add that where the KJV has them sinning by watering the wine down (which was a well accepted practice), a better translation is that they were watering down the beer — a definite no no.

  2. Jim F. on September 4, 2006 at 11:01 pm

    Stephen, I apologize for being obtuse, but I don’t get it.

  3. DENNIS MCKAY on September 16, 2006 at 7:11 pm

    I wonder why the Lord gives us his message partly through the mists of Isaiah? Why doesn’t he just make it clear and plain so we wouldn’t have to work so hard to get it.

    In part answer to my own question I would say that by making us work for the answer we are in effect making a choice and election to learn the word of God. If we are really keen on learning about God, and hence I would say not realy keen at all about living His laws, then we can let ourselves off the hook, so to speak, by not making the requisite effort to learn about Him.

    On the other hand considering the D&C, BofM, PofGP, it is all very clear in those works what our obligations are.

    And lastly, at Paris Eiffel Tower Conference in France ca. 1964 Elder Packard told us to go out into the world and look for eternal lessons in the workings of nature and man. Be observant, he said, and always ask yourself what can this experience teach me? Good advice. Dennis

  4. Robert C. on September 16, 2006 at 10:49 pm

    Dennis #3: I like your thought here, “I would say that by making us work for the answer we are in effect making a choice and election to learn the word of God.” Several of us at the Feast wiki have been chewing on this question for some time now (see esp. the “hardening theme” discussion for Isa 6:9). Actually, I would tweak your answer a bit, rather than “making us work” I think the point of Isaiah (and the parables of Christ, cf. Mark 4:12) is to make us turn to God for help. And I think that’s what we should be doing when we study the scriptures, turning to God for help in understanding him, his will for us, and how we should approach him. If the scriptures were all “easy,” it might be more tempting for us to rely on our own understanding of the scriptures and try to live their teachings without ever really approaching God (I think this is what Isa 29:13 is getting at, “draw near me with their lips but their hearts are far from me”). In other words, the difficulty of Isaiah (and the parables) is given for the purpose of making us undone as Isaiah himself is in 6:5….

  5. Laurel T on September 16, 2006 at 11:11 pm

    In reference to #3 & #4,
    Sometimes “easy” ends up being pretty simple. Isaiah has poetry and layers and multiple applications. He is indeed a lot of work, but what you can get out of that is much richer than the “simple” and “approachable” that is so availabe elsewhere. An intelligent and educated man with a long history as a prophet–you’d think there would be a lot to mine here. Would be surprising if there weren’t, in fact.

    What you see with Nephi (and many others) is what you get. We bring things to those scriptures, and the Spirit whispers to us, so that it isn’t _exactly_ the same each time, but I think that mostly we get reminded as we read the simpler texts. Because Isaiah isn’t simple narrative and easy ideas, as so many are, it is hard to think you’ve wrung all the meaning out of it at any given reading. I am grateful for the intelligent–and ambitious–to have something to chew on. (Much as I love Jonah, for instance, I’d hate for _all_ our scriptures to be that simplistic and straightforward.)

  6. BrianJ on September 17, 2006 at 12:24 am

    Re: difficulty understanding Isaiah:

    Nephi seems to think Isaiah’s manner was pretty clear to his original audience:

    “For behold, Isaiah spake many things which were hard for many of my people to understand; for they know not concerning the manner of prophesying among the Jews. For I, Nephi, have not taught them many things concerning the manner of the Jews….” (2 Nephi 25:1)

    I think a large reason why Isaiah is so difficult for us is that we, like the Nephites, just don’t understand ancient Hebrew. To add to that problem, we study Isaiah using the KJV, which was written in unfamiliar English (again, unfamiliar to us, not the KJV’s intended audience). Even a translation that merely inserts quotation marks is a big help (eg. RSV, NKJV), and even more helpful is one that uses modernized English (eg. NKJV, NET).

    Nephi goes on in Ch 25 to say that students of Isaiah need the “spirit of prophecy,” but I think that applies more to his people than to us. For one, he says (25:7) that in the last days people will see Isaiah’s prophecies happen and then they will be easy to understand. So Nephi is saying that we should have it easy–or at least easier. As an example, all those prophecies about the coming Messiah: much, much easier for us to understand than for any Nephite or Jew.

    Laurel T, I agree that the layers of teachings in the scriptures are wonderful. Thanks for distinguishing between “easy” and “simplistic.”

  7. Mark Butler on September 17, 2006 at 2:19 am

    I believe that one of the reasons why the form of Isaiah is superior is simple efficiency. Isaiah is already a long book, and writing it out in prose (to General Conference standards let’s say) would probably make it a dozen times longer.

    Another reason is that poetry the semantics of which is not obvious is much harder for translators to corrupt, because they really don’t understand what the text was properly intended to convey in the first place, so they are limited to delivering it pretty much word for word instead of spinning it theologically one way or another. It is pretty hard to spin the meaning of poetry – the poetic form is like an error correction code or redundancy check.

    Now I am sure that the Jews found Isaiah easier to understand than we do, but there is a lot of obscure stuff in there pertaining to the latter days that I am rather certain they did not understand in detail unless they too had the gift of prophecy. I imagine there are other things that they understood (and still understand) better than we – one of which is the basis of a prominent doctrinal controversy in the Church.

  8. Robert C. on September 17, 2006 at 9:02 am

    Laurel T: Good thoughts, I appreciate what you’re getting at. Though I have to quibble about Jonah being straightforward and easy. Relative to Isaiah, yes, but I still feel I could study just the book of Jonah all year and just barely scratch the surface!

    I’ve actuallly been a bit stuck on the arise/descend themes in Jonah (see verse 2 for some thoughts). In contrast to the “go” command Isaiah and other prophets—esp. Abraham—are given (see Isa 6:9 discussion for more), I think it’s interesting that Jonah’s command to go is preceded by arise. That is, when Isaiah is given his command to go in Isa 6:9, he is already standing and ready to go, whereas Jonah is not standing and ready but is told to arise/stand first….

  9. Robert C. on September 17, 2006 at 9:56 am

    Woops, sorry for the messed up links in #8. Here is the link for discussion of the arise theme for Jonah 1:2, and here is the discussion regarding go for Isa 6:9.

    I think the arise/sit idea in Jonah 1:2, 3:6, and 4:2 is particularly interesting in light of the troubling Isa 52:2: “Shake thyself from the dust; arise, and sit down, O Jerusalem: loose thyself from the bands of thy neck, O captive daughter of Zion” (emphasis added). Are we to understand the arising and sitting here in the same way as the king of Nineveh arising from his throne and sitting in ashes? If so, the king of Nineveh’s throne is akin to the dust that Jerusalem arises from.

    Also, this seems related to Job’s “repent of dust and ashes” in Job 42:6. That is, if Job is indeed repenting of dust and ashes instead of in dust and ashes (as per discussion at link), then this forms an interesting parallel with the way Jerusalem is to arise “from the dust” in Isa 52:2.

    And I think this forms an interesting contrast with the recently studied “strip her naked” phrase in Hosea 2:3. The picture this is painting for me is that, Ideally, we will arise from our secular thrones, the dust of this world, and repent on our own and dress ourselves in humility (sackcloth and ashes) after which God clothes us in the robes of the priesthood. If we do not repent voluntarily, God will strip us of our secular dust and we will be left naked and helpless against the storms of nature (God’s wrath, foreign armies, etc.) and perhaps then we will be forced to be humble enough to acknowledge God (a la “every knee shall bow and confess Christ”)….

  10. Laurel T on September 17, 2006 at 11:37 pm

    About Isaiah being difficult– I spent much of my life watching people switch off mentally, or wander into the next room when Neal Maxwell spoke in conference, just as I was hunkering down to listen carefully. I miss what he could bring–his insights, his linguistics, his comparisons and conclusions. He WAS a lot of work, but so worth it. I still enjoy the GConf. talks, but I mourn his absence. Maxwell had a basic message for everyone, but sprinked through the talks was a phrase or cross reference that opened up whole worlds–gems to gather up and be enlightened by, or simply pass on by.

    So, in the scriptures we certainly have room for Jonah, for Nephi, for Micah and glad for them–but Isaiah (like Maxwell) once you’ve seen what he offers, you’ll never be the same.

  11. Clinton on September 19, 2006 at 1:57 pm

    I enjoyed, as always, your discussion on the Old Testament. I thought I would make one small comment.

    “The Kabbalah relies heavily on this Israelite way of thinking about the world, but not all those who have this view are kabbalists.”

    It has become fashionable within Mormon litature to use the word kabbalah interchangeably with symbolic or plays on words. Although Kabbalah does make heavy use of symbols and word play, the terms are in no way interchangable.

  12. nhilton on September 21, 2006 at 1:44 pm

    What is going on in Ch. 1:31? “tow” is not tinder, but rather a tuft of inflamable fibers = something that DOES NOT burn. Are the “strong” the righteous remnant or the haughty wicked? What/who is the “maker”? And together they burn they burn but is it to destruction like the wicked or strength like the righteous? None shall quench them, does this mean the righteous prevail or the wicked have no rescue?

  13. Robert C. on September 21, 2006 at 4:25 pm
  14. nhilton on September 21, 2006 at 4:48 pm

    RC #13: So where does the footnote get its HEB = “as a tuft of inflammable fibers”? This definition changes the possible meaning drastically.

  15. Mark Butler on September 21, 2006 at 5:23 pm

    Plants of all types are invariably used to signify families and societies in Isaiah and elsewhere in the scriptures. Nothing to do with material constructions per se. Different plants are used to signify the different moral character of different families, tribes, nations, with the higher branches being the leaders or parents and the lower, smaller ones being the children / subjects etc.

    Now the sap or fluids flowing through the vines or stems of various plants is a symbol of the Spirit. So a plant described as thorns, etc., is a family or society that has lost the Spirit, is spiritually dead, and thus is fit to be burned.

    Now Christ is the true stem. I am the vine and yea are the branches, etc. Now a plant that is growing too rapidly at the branches is a symbol of pride, i.e. the branches are taking too much strength unto themselves, relative to the structure that supports them (generally their family heritage). Thus the cedars of Bashan and so on.

  16. Mark Butler on September 21, 2006 at 5:31 pm

    I mean larger branches being the parents / leaders. So in a patrarchy Abraham/Sarah would be at the root, then Isaac/Rebekah then Jacob/Leah/Rachel then twelve branches for the twelve tribes of Israel and so on.

    So we might say that true family trees are descendancies. Pedigrees are an ego-centric abstraction.

  17. Robert C. on September 21, 2006 at 7:58 pm

    nhilton #14: Inflammable means the same thing as flammable or combusitble—is your question based on thinking that inflammable means not flammable, or am I misunderstanding your follow-up question?

    I should explain also that I’m reading the KJV phrase “and the maker of it as a spark” very differently. The NASB translates this “his work also a spark,” the NRSV “and their work like a spark,” the NET “their deeds like spark.” If I knew Hebrew better or knew more about shaking out flax I could comment about the plausibility of your reading, as it is I’m just offering what other translators have said….

    I do think your question about whether the strong being righteous or not is a good one to pose regarding Isa 28:2: “the Lord hath a mighty and strong one, which as a tempest of hail and a destroying storm . . . shall cast down to the earth with the hand”—is the mighty and strong one here the Assyrian army (as I think most commentators would say) or is it a servant of the Lord as suggested by D&C 85:7? I do think that there’s a case to be made that the Lord’s arm in Isaiah refers to both the Assyrian king and to the Lord’s servant

    Interestingly, Nephi seems to use the Lord’s outstretched arm in a way that connotes mercy not just judgment in 2 Ne 28:32 (see discussion of this here). However, I’m beginning to think that justice/judgment and mercy more like synonymns than juxtaposed terms. The hardening theme in Isa 6:9-10 and Mark 4:12 and many other passages suggest that God actively participates in causing confusion when we do not accept light and truth. This kind of justice or judgment seems to be applied to us so that we will be more confused and thus perhaps more likely to humble ourselves and repent. Perhaps this not much different than just saying that God is the author of justice (by giving the law a la 2 Ne 9:25) and mercy….

  18. Jim F. on September 21, 2006 at 11:46 pm

    Clinton, I don’t think I used “Kabbalah” to mean “symbolic” or “plays on words,” did I? I was referring to the book by that name, thus the article, “the” and the capital “k.” Or am I misunderstanding your point?

    nhilton: As Robert C points out, “inflammable” means “will burn,” “will enflame.” That is a common confusion.

    Mark Butler: I don’t disagree that plants are used to refer symbolically to families, but why should we believe that they are used that way invariably? That claim seems too strong.

    Robert C: It is interesting to understand justice and mercy as synonyms rather than juxtaposed terms. If that is true, and I have a hunch that you’re onto something, then our mercy and grace may be quite different than we usually think of them.

  19. nhilton on September 22, 2006 at 5:35 pm

    Isaiah 2:5 is a pivotal verse when comparing Isaiah 2:1-5 & Micah 4:1-5, I believe. Isaiah is speaking to members of THE church, God’s supposed people, who’s responsibility it will be to be the instruments of instruction mentioned in v. 3. He’s issuing a call in v. 5. TO US!

    Jim, I loved your question re: farm tools being made from weapons of war. I hadn’t ever really asked myself the question WHY not something else, before. The planting metaphore continued! Beautiful imagry in creating, growing vs. the destruction we’ve just read about in Ch. 1+, esp. 1:30. The primary song, “The Prophet Said To Plant A Garden” rings in my head here : )

    5:19 appears to me to be people wishing for the 2nd Coming to come. These are the same people refered to in v. 18. Are these people drawing the curtain with cords of vanity, hoping to conceal their sin? What is meant by the last line of v. 18?

  20. nhilton on September 22, 2006 at 5:46 pm

    Robert C & Jim F, thanks for correcting my misunderstanding of the ENGLISH language, not to mention the Hebrew I keep trying to understand! Yes, I thought “inflamable” meant “could not burn.” Ha! Like why couldn’t they have just written “flammable?!” Glad my misunderstanding was cleared up before I stood before a class. It just goes to show how sensitive language is and imperative that we understand the meaning of the words written. This was another answer to my perpetual prayer for humility. : )

  21. YL on September 22, 2006 at 7:38 pm

    Sometimes we give up on understanding Isaiah because part of understanding him requires that we know the political and spiritual reality of the Jerusalem and surrounding areas of his day. Of course, scriptures have their current and timeless meanings: current meaning for current circumstances, and timeless meaning in similar circumstances throughout the ages. Admittedly it would be better if we knew the exact context in which Isaiah was speaking, but we can still get a lot out of Isaiah if we just consider his messages in the context that we are more familiar with: our day. In fact, I wonder if that’s how we should begin when we read Isaiah: don’t worry about his times right now, and, instead, interpret him according to our events. Although this appoach will not give us a complete understanding of Isaiah, it’s a beginning. That has helped me to enjoy Isaiah more.

    Mark Butler, I enjoyed your comment 9. Even though translators changed some things in Isaiah [differences in Book of Mormon’s Isaiah chapters & Old Testament Isaiah chapters], I think far more of Isaiah would have been lost if he had spoken plainly. Although we usually stress the word “precious” [and appropriately so] when we discuss that many “plain and precious” truths were lost, the word “plain” is important. Perhaps, that’s why much of the Bible was written with allegory and allegory and poetry to make it less “plain” and, thus, less vulnerable to being changed or deleted. I suspect that the Bible would have been far more changed if all of it had been “plain.”

  22. Don on September 23, 2006 at 11:32 pm

    YL – That was a master thought about how much more of the Bible would have been changed had it been made \”plain\” Thank you.