Isaiah 54-56; 63-65
Isaiah was a prophet for many ages. He was first and foremost, however, a prophet for his own times. The first 39 chapters of his writings were primarily directed to the House of Israel in his own day as well as the surrounding nations. There are, however, scattered throughout these chapters prophesies regarding the future. Though much of these writings were for Isaiah’s own time period, Nephi urged his reader to apply these teachings to any time period in which Isaiah’s writings are read (1 Ne. 19:23; 2 Ne. 11:8). Chapters 40-66 are prophecies primarily directed to the House of Israel in the latter-days. Whereas chapters 1-39 center primarily on Israel’s transgressions that led to their scattering, chapters 40-66 focus on Israel’s latter-day gathering and the millennial reign of Jesus Christ providing hope for the future. This focus of this article concerns Isaiah 54-56 and 63-65.
In this, and the succeeding chapters, Isaiah’s prophetic eye looked forward to the great gathering of Israel and their restoration to the land promised to Abraham. These latter-day events will be so impressive that, as Jeremiah said: “the days come, saith the LORD, that it shall no more be said, The LORD liveth, that brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt; But, The LORD liveth, that brought up the children of Israel from the land of the north, and from all the lands whither he had driven them: and I will bring them again into their land that I gave unto their fathers” (Jer. 16:14-15). But to understand these prophecies, it is necessary that a discussion regarding the process of the scattering and gathering be given.
The Doctrinal Foundation of the Scattering and Gathering of Israel
It is imperative that any deliberation on the scattering and gathering of Israel begin with a doctrinal foundation: the Abrahamic covenant. Abraham was promised that he would have a posterity and that his posterity would be given a land where they could worship God the way He intended. Further, his posterity was promised that they would have the right to receive the gospel and that they would become a blessing to all the nations of the world (see Abr. 2:6-11).
Joseph Fielding Smith explained that one way Abraham’s posterity would be a blessing to all the nations of the world would be accomplished through the scattering of Israel. “Through the scattering of Israel among all nations by which the blood of Israel was sprinkled among the nations, and thus the nations partake of the leaven of righteousness, on condition of their repentance, and are entitled to the promises made to the children of Abraham” (Doctrines of Salvation, 3:246-247; emphasis added).
Therefore, as part of the covenant God made with the House of Israel (see Deut. 27-28; Josh. 8, 24) the Lord declared that if Israel broke the covenant, the Lord would “scatter the[m] among all people, from the one end of the earth even unto the other.” They would for a long period of time remain in an apostate condition. The Lord said they would “serve other gods, which neither th[ey] nor thy fathers have known, even wood and stone.” Having forsaken God, their lives would be miserable. He said to them: “And among these nations shalt thou find no ease, neither shall the sole of thy foot have rest: but the LORD shall give thee there a trembling heart, and failing of eyes, and sorrow of mind: And thy life shall hang in doubt before thee; and thou shalt fear day and night, and shalt have none assurance of thy life: In the morning thou shalt say, Would God it were even! and at even thou shalt say, Would God it were morning! for the fear of thine heart wherewith thou shalt fear, and for the sight of thine eyes which thou shalt see” (Deut. 28:64-67).
Though this punishment will not last forever, it would be the means of blessing the gentiles. How? Joseph Fielding Smith explained: “The Lord always turns punishments to the accomplishment of his purposes. The scattering of the Israelites among all nations was a punishment inflicted upon them, but a great blessing extended to the nations among whom they were scattered. . . .the scattering of Israel, especially the descendants of the ten tribes who mingled with the Gentile nations, the blood of Abraham had been mixed with the blood of the Gentiles, and in this way the Gentiles have been brought into the seed of Abraham, and are therefore entitled to receive, on conditions of their repentance, all the blessings promised to the seed of Abraham” (The Restoration of All Things, p.129-137).
The Process of the Scattering of Israel
Accordingly, when the House of Israel apostatized from the covenant, they were scattered throughout all the nations of the earth (see Jer.9:16 Ezek. 20:23; 22:15; 36:19; Amos 9:9; 1 Ne. 22:3-5; 3 Ne. 5:24; 20:12-13). The process of mixing Israel’s blood among all the nations of the earth took several hundreds of years. This seems to be one of the reason the long night of the apostasy lasted as long as it did.
The Book of Mormon reveals that in an attempt to save apostate Israel, the Lord took select groups of Israel and placed them in various places throughout the earth where they were privileged to retain the gospel. This was portrayed in the allegory found in Jacob 5. However, eventually these remnants lost the gospel through apostasy (see Jacob 5:30-40). Thus, the whole world, scattered Israel included, were in a state of darkness for several hundred years. Finally, after America had been colonized, and a country was founded that secured the right of religious freedom, the Lord saw fit that he would fulfill his covenant that he made with Abraham.
The Process of the Gathering of Israel Completed in Phases
The gathering of Israel commenced when the gospel was restored to the earth on April 6, 1830 and when Moses “committed unto [Joseph Smith] the keys of the gathering of Israel from the four parts of the earth, and the leading of the ten tribes from the land of the north” (D&C 110:11).
Joseph Smith taught that the gathering of Israel consists of joining the Church and receiving the ordinances of the house of the Lord. Joseph Smith asked the Church, “What was the object of gathering the Jews, or the people of God in any age of the world?” He answered: “The main object was to build unto the Lord a house whereby He could reveal unto His people the ordinances of His house and the glories of His kingdom, and teach the people the way of salvation; for there are certain ordinances and principles that, when they are taught and practiced, must be done in a place or house built for that purpose” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 308).
The gathering of Israel is a process rather than an event. In an area conference talk given in Lima, Peru, in February 1977, Elder Bruce R. McConkie outlined the process of the gathering of Israel. The Ensign printed the talk under the direction of President Spencer W. Kimball (see heading, Ensign, May 1977, pp. 115). Elder McConkie explained that the gathering of Israel would be accomplished in three phases:
Phase I — From the First Vision, the setting up of the kingdom on April 6, 1830, and the coming of Moses on April 3, 1836, to the secure establishment of the Church in the United States and Canada, a period of about 125 years.
Phase II — From the creation of stakes of Zion in overseas areas, beginning in the 1950’s to the second coming of the Son of Man, a period of unknown duration.
Phase III — From our Lord’s second coming until the kingdom is perfected and the knowledge of God covers the earth as the waters cover the sea, and from then until the end of the Millennium, a period of 1,000 years. (“Come, Let Israel Build Zion,”Ensign, May 1977, pp. 115).
In Phase I, the main purpose for the saints gathering to America, the western states in particular, was because that was where the temples were. President Kimball taught, “Now, in the early days of the Church we used to preach for the people to come to Utah as the gathering process largely because that was the only place in the whole world where there was a temple” (Proclaiming the Gospel, p.99). But eventually, as the Church grew, the Church built temples in other parts of the world. The Brethren then told the saints to stay where they were and build up Zion in that part of the world. Of this, President Kimball said, “The Saints are no longer to come to a single place. In 1955, Sister Kimball and I went to Europe. We spent six months touring all of the missions in Europe. The people were still laboring under the impression that they should come to America for the gathering process. The burden of our sermons to them was, ‘Stay where you are. You have received the gospel. The blessings will be brought to you. It will not be long until you have stakes, and the Brethren will come across the ocean to visit you. Eventually temples will come, and you will have all the blessings of Zion’ “ (Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p. 438-439).
We are currently living in Phase II. Phase I and II deal with Israel gathering first to the church through baptism and then to the temple. Of this, President Kimball taught: “Now, the gathering of Israel consists of joining the true church and their coming to a knowledge of the true God. Any person, therefore, who has accepted the restored gospel, and who now seeks to worship the Lord in his own tongue and with the Saints in the nations where he lives, has complied with the law of the gathering of Israel and is heir to all of the blessings promised the Saints in these last days.” (Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p. 438-439). Finally, he said, “Many people have been holding their breath waiting to see the gathering of Israel. We are in Israel and are being gathered” (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p. 439)
In Phase III, after the Lord’s second coming, the ten tribes who will have been gathered into stakes of Zion throughout the world, will be led back (D&C 110:11) or restored to (Article of Faith 10) to their tribal inheritances in the land of Israel (see D&C 133: ). At that time, the ten tribes led by the tribe of Ephraim, the remnant of the ancient northern kingdom of Israel, will be reunited with the remnants of the southern kingdom of Judah, where they will become “one nation in the land upon the mountains of Israel” (see Ezek. 37:22). Because the seed of Abraham will have become “as the sand which is upon the sea shore” (Gen. 22:17), the land of Israel, the ancient place of their inheritance, “shall even now be too narrow by reason of the inhabitants: (Isaiah 49:19). Therefore, the whole earth “shall be given unto them for an inheritance” (D&C 45:58).
“Enlarge the Place of Thy Tent”
Isaiah 54 takes place within the setting of Phase II and III. The prophecy begins with a statement that the promise given Abraham that his posterity would become more numerous than the stars of the heaven or the sand upon the seashore: “Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear; break forth into singing, and cry aloud, thou that didst not travail with child: for more are the children of the desolate [i.e., scattered Israel] than the children of the married wife [i.e., Israel before her scattering], saith the LORD” (54:1). This promise was fulfilled because of Israel’s scattering among the nations of the world.
Because the House of Israel would become so numerous, it would be necessary to “Enlarge the place of thy tent” (54:2). The imagery of this verse is that of a tent. The tents of the ancient world, similar to that of the modern Bedouin, were capable of enlargement, to meet the needs of a family increasing in size. This would require adding more sections (curtains) and lengthening the ropes (cords) and securing the tent-pegs (stakes) in order to support the larger structure.
After the gospel was restored and Israel began to gather, the Lord told the modern Church, “For Zion must increase in beauty, and in holiness; her borders must be enlarged; her stakes must be strengthened; yea, verily I say unto you, Zion must arise and put on her beautiful garments” (D&C 82:14). In these early days of the Church, Phase I of the gathering process, the Lord was not satisfied with a small body of Saints gathered together in a few places in America. Indeed, the Lord’s plan is to gather Israel into bodies throughout the world, creating a world-wide Zion.
President Harold B. Lee, in his opening address of the April 1973 General Conference (reported in the Enisgn July 1973, pp. 2-6), spoke of this subject. After creating the center place of Zion, the Lord intended to enlarge the borders of Zion by increasing her stakes. President Lee stated: “The borders of Zion, where the righteous and pure in heart may dwell, must now begin to be enlarged. The stakes of Zion must be strengthened. All this so that Zion may arise and shine by becoming increasingly diligent in carrying out the plan of salvation throughout the world” (p. 3). He continued: “While the Church was in its infancy, the Lord pointed to a time when those earlier gathering places would not have room for all who would be gathered for reasons for which he declared that his church should be united. Here are his words:
‘For thus shall my church be called in the last days, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints.’ And then this command: ‘Arise and shine forth, that thy light may be a standard for the nations.’ (D&C 115:4–5)”.
Then speaking of our day, President Lee said: “Today we are witnessing the demonstration of the Lord’s hand even in the midst of his saints, the members of the Church. Never in this dispensation, and perhaps never before in any single period, has there been such a feeling of urgency among the members of this church as today. Her boundaries are being enlarged, her stakes are being strengthened. In the early years of the Church specific places to which the Saints were to be gathered together were given, and the Lord directed that these gathering places should not be changed, but then he gave one qualification: ‘Until the day cometh when there is found no more room for them; and then I have other places which I will appoint unto them, and they shall be called stakes, for the curtains or the strength of Zion.’ (D&C 101:21).”
He then quoted from a talk given by Elder Bruce R. McConkie given in an area conference in Mexico City (a talk similar to the one he gave in Lima, Peru). “At the Mexico City Area Conference last August, Elder Bruce R. McConkie of the Council of the Twelve, in a thought provoking address, made some comments pertinent to this subject, and I quote a few sentences from his address:
“ ‘Of this glorious day of restoration and gathering, another Nephite prophet said: ‘The Lord … has covenanted with all the house of Israel,’ that ‘the time comes that they shall be restored to the true church and fold of God’; and that ‘they shall be gathered home to the lands of their inheritance, and shall be established in all their lands of promise.’ (2 Ne. 9:1–2.)
“ ‘Now I call your attention to the facts, set forth in these scriptures, that the gathering of Israel consists of joining the true church; of coming to a knowledge of the true God and of his saving truths; and of worshiping him in the congregations of the Saints in all nations and among all peoples. Please note that these revealed words speak of the folds of the Lord; of Israel being gathered to the lands of their inheritance; of Israel being established in all their lands of promise; and of there being congregations of the covenant people of the Lord in every nation, speaking every tongue, and among every people when the Lord comes again.’
“Elder McConkie then concluded with this statement, which certainly emphasizes the great need for the teaching and training of local leadership in order to build up the church within their own native countries:
“ ‘The place of gathering for the Mexican Saints is in Mexico; the place of gathering for the Guatemalan Saints is in Guatemala; the place of gathering for the Brazilian Saints is in Brazil; and so it goes throughout the length and breadth of the whole earth. Japan is for the Japanese; Korea is for the Koreans; Australia is for the Australians; every nation is the gathering place for its own people.’ ” (pp. 4-5).
Isaiah prophesies that the posterity of Abraham will become so numerous that they will “break forth on the right hand and on the left; and thy seed shall inherit the Gentiles, and make the desolate cities to be inhabited” (54:3). This will find its ultimate fulfillment during Phase III, the Millennium.
Isaiah equates Israel to “a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit” because in her youthful state she was “a wife of youth” who was “refused” (54:6). That is to say, because of Israel’s rebellion, she was scattered among the nations of the earth. But the Lord promised, “For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee” (54:7) So impressive will be Israel in her gathered condition that Isaiah equates her and her cities as being built with precious stones (54:11-15). When the Lord sets his hand to gather Israel in the last days, no force on earth will be able to withstand the work of the Lord. Isaiah says, “No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and their righteousness is of me, saith the LORD” (54:17). This reminds us of the Joseph Smith’s declaration in the Wentworth Letter: “the Standard of Truth has been erected; no unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing; persecutions may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble, calumny may defame, but the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear, till the purposes of God shall be accomplished, and the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done” (History of the Church, 4:540).
With the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints established in the latter-days, the standard of truth has been erected. It is an “ensign” lifted up to invite scattered Israel to come and receive of the blessings of the covenant again (Isaiah 5:26; 11:10). Isaiah said to latter-day scattered Israel: “Every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” This verse reminds us of the prophecy of Amos when he said scattered Israel would be living in a day when there was “a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD: And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the LORD, and shall not find it. In that day shall the fair virgins and young men faint for thirst” (Amos 8:11-13).
Isaiah urges scattered Israel to “Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David” (55:3). “That is to say: To all who will believe in him, the Lord of heaven will make the same covenant that he made with David, in that they too will know of their Messiah’ resurrection, and that the souls of all men are thereby raised from the grave” (Bruce R. McConkie, The Promised Messiah, p.274).
The restoration of the gospel in the latter-days is an act of mercy and kindness to the remnant of Israel who are scattered among the nations of the earth because of the transgressions of their fathers. With the gospel restored, it is now possible for Israel as well as gentile to come into a reconciled relationship with God and receive the fulness of his blessings. But receiving the blessings of God are based upon certain conditions. We must leave the world behind and come unto God. The Lord said in the Sermon in the Temple, “Yea, blessed are the poor in spirit who come unto me, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (3 Ne. 12:3). Isaiah exhorted his latter-day reader to “ Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon” (55:6-7). In the D&C 88:63, the Lord repeated that plea to latter-day Israel: “Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you; seek me diligently and ye shall find me; ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.”
To draw near unto the Lord is to seek out His ways and live them. Isaiah taught that the ways of the Lord are higher than that of the world: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither [are] your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (55:8-9). Ancient Israel forsook the ways of God and followed the ways of the world and therefore they forfeited the blessings they could have received. To receive those blessings, modern Israel must follow the ways of God rather than the world.
There are certain things we can do to determine how much worldliness is in our heart. For example, I often have my students read through “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” and list on a sheet of paper ALL the points made by the Lord relative to families. For each one of the Lord’s points, I have them list as many practices of the world that are contrary to the Family Proclamation. When we discussed this in one class, one student raised her hand and said, “This was a very frustrating assignment. I did not know how many of the world’s views there are. I didn’t realize how far off the track the world is relative to the Lord’s concept of the family.”
The opening verse of Isaiah 56 states: “Thus saith the LORD, Keep ye judgment [Heb. justice], and do justice [Heb. righteousness]: for my salvation is near to come, and my righteousness to be revealed. Blessed is the man that doeth this, and the son of man that layeth hold on it; that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, and keepeth his hand from doing any evil” (56:1-2). “Keep justice and do righteousness is a dash of cold water in the face after the glowing promises of chas. 54 and 55. Reveling in the unconditional acceptance that those words convey, one would easily believe that the grace of God carries no obligations with it” (John Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah: Chapters 40-66, p. 455). But there are obligations. As noted previously, the gathering of Israel consists of joining the Church through baptism and receiving the temple ordinances. But it is not enough simply to receive these ordinances. It is necessary to keep the covenants associated with these ordinances. It is not enough to “buy wine and milk without money.” One must live the sayings of the Lord. It is not enough to pay lip service to the words of the prophets, it is imperative to live them. Doing the works of the Lord is only good if done for the right reason. A righteous or good person is one who does good works “with real intent.” Otherwise, “it is not counted unto him for righteousness”(see Moroni 7:5-6).
In 56:3-8, it is clear that as Israel gathers from among the nations of the world, there will some gentiles who are caught in the “gospel net” (see Matt. 13:47-49). Isaiah said, “The Lord GOD which gathereth the outcasts of Israel saith, Yet will I gather others to him, beside those that are gathered unto him” (56:8). But these verses also teach that the gentiles shall not be denied any blessings of the fulness of the gospel. In our day, the same message was taught by President James E. Faust, of the First Presidency, when he taught in October 1995 General Conference: “The Church is expanding at a tremendous rate. We now have stakes of Zion in a great many countries of the world, and most stakes have at least one patriarch. This growth permits many people across the earth the privilege of receiving patriarchal blessings. As President Joseph Fielding Smith stated, ‘The great majority of those who become members of the Church are literal descendants of Abraham through Ephraim, son of Joseph’(Doctrines of Salvation, 3:246).
However, Manasseh, the other son of Joseph, as well as the other sons of Jacob, has many descendants in the Church. There may be some come into the Church in our day who are not of Jacob’s blood lineage. No one need assume that he or she will be denied any blessing by reason of not being of the blood lineage of Israel. The Lord told Abraham, ‘And I will bless them through thy name; for as many as receive this Gospel shall be called after thy name, and shall be accounted thy seed, and shall rise up and bless thee, as their father. (Abraham 2:10)” (Ensign, Nov. 1995, p. 64; emphasis added).
As the chapter began, so it ends. Isaiah warns the covenant people in 56:9-11 to always remain vigilant. Just because they are the chosen and elect people of the Lord, does not mean their calling and election is sure. The Lord will allow his people to be destroyed by the beasts of the field (i.e., Israel’s enemies). In language reminiscent of Ezekiel 34, Isaiah speaks of Israel’s “watchmen” (i.e., their political and religious leaders) as being blind, ignorant, and dumb. In fact, it was because of the indolence of Israel’s leaders that the calamity of Israel’s destruction came upon them.
Isaiah 63-65 is divided into four divisions: (1) The second coming of the Savior and the destruction of the wicked (63:1-6); (2) a psalm (63:7-14); (3) a prayer (63:15 – 64:12); and (4), an answer (65).
Destruction of the Wicked
The second phase of the gathering of Israel ends with the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Upon His coming, Christ will destroy the wicked from the earth, and gathered Israel will then “inherit the Gentiles, and make the desolate cities to be inhabited” (Isaiah 54:3). Isaiah 63 speaks of the destruction of the wicked upon the Savior’s coming.
In the opening verses, we envision a watchman sitting atop the wall of a city (see Isa. 62:6) who observes a lone figure coming from the east. He asks the stranger two questions. Question: “Who is this that cometh from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah? this that is glorious in his apparel, travelling in the greatness of his strength?” Answer: “I that speak in righteousness, mighty to save.” Question: “Wherefore art thou red in thine apparel, and thy garments like him that treadeth in the winefat?” Answer: “I have trodden the winepress alone; and of the people there was none with me: for I will tread them in mine anger, and trample them in my fury; and their blood shall be sprinkled upon my garments, and I will stain all my raiment. For the day of vengeance is in mine heart, and the year of my redeemed is come” (62:1-12).
The lone figure is the Lord, Jesus Christ. It is His second coming. He has come to wreak vengeance upon the wicked of the world symbolized by Edom and Bozrah, the capital of Edom. “Edom was the perennial enemy of Judah, so much so that it came to represent all its enemies (cf. 34:5ff.; Ps. 137:7; Ezek. 35:10-15; Amos 1:6; Obad. 10-16)” (Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah: Chapters 40-66, p. 596). In later history, Edom was called Idumea which the Lord equated with “the world” in D&C 1:36.
Upon His second coming, the Savior will be “red in his apparel, and his garments like him that treadeth in the wine-vat” (D&C 133:48). This recalls his garments which must have been stained red by the blood He sweat in Gethsemane (Luke 22:44) when he took upon himself the sins of mankind. He alone experienced the horrible agony of Gethsemane. Hence, the phrase, “I have trodden the winepress alone.” Gethsemane (Heb., oil press) was the oil press of an olive orchard located on the Mt. of Olives. It was not uncommon (and still is the case in many places in modern Israel and Jordan) that vines were planted between the olive trees. This was so because it takes many, many years before an olive tree comes to full maturity. In the intervening years, the orchard was turned into a vineyard. So it would have been likely that the olive orchard where the Gethsemane was located where the Savior suffered probably also had a winepress.
“Winepresses were hewn from bedrock to form a flat surface for treading. They consisted of a pair of square or circular vats arranged at different levels and connected by a channel” (Philip J. King & Lawrence E. Stager, Life in Biblical Israel, p. 100). The grapes were trodden by bare feet in the upper vat while the juice ran through the channel and collected into the lower vat.
The imagery of Christ having trodden the winepress alone is used to symbolize not only the suffering in Gethsemane, but also the destruction of the wicked upon his second coming. “He has attacked the enemies of his people and trodden them under foot like grapes, so that their lifeblood has spurted out and spattered his garments” (Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah: Chapters 40-66, p. 597). He has done this, as the Savior says, because His second coming is a “day of vengeance” (63:4). The work of the atonement was not only to free man from sin but to free man from a sinful world. The earth is to be the place for the great millennial reign of Christ and the celestial kingdom for the righteous. Therefore, the wicked must be removed.
The psalm recorded in 63:7-14 displays the Lord’s wonderful loving-kindness and mercy through a reminiscence of Israel’s history. The first stanza begins with the foundation of Israel’s hope: their election as the Lord’s people (vss. 7-8). As Israel’s Savior, he bore their afflictions and redeemed them (vs. 9). Yet “they rebelled” against their God and made Him their enemy (vs. 10), for it was He that brought upon them the curses of the broken covenant including the scattering of Israel among all nations. In the second stanza the Lord remembers the first gathering of Israel in the days of Moses (vs. 11-13). The psalm ends with the recollection of the days of Joshua when the Lord brought Israel into the promised land like cattle being taken into a pasture to rest (vs. 14). Though not stated, the song creates the question: “Will the Lord repeat the mercy of the gathering again?”
Now comes a prayer, perhaps the combined prayer of scattered Israel best visualized before the restoration of the gospel. Having been scattered among the nations of the world and intermingled with the gentiles, Israel has lost their identity. Like the gentiles with no knowledge of their God (D&C 109:67), their lives have become miserable. This prayer is a plea for the Lord to remember them. The prayer begins with an appeal to the Lord to “Look down from heaven” with mercy towards scattered Israel (vs.15). The prayer admits that there is no basis of such mercy from the Lord. Having broken the covenant, it is as if scattered Israel is no longer the seed of Abraham (vs. 16). But the fact of the matter is, the curse of the scattering has caused the remnant of Abraham to turn back to God and acknowledge that He is their everlasting redeemer (vs. 16).
The prayer continues with a lament, “O Lord, why hast thou suffered us to err from thy ways, and to harden our heart from thy fear?” (JST Isa. 63:17). Scattered Israel then pleads with the Lord to return them back to their lands of inheritance (63:17). The righteous of Israel’s past only had the temple for a brief period before it was “trodden down” by the Babylonians in 587 B.C. (63:18). “We [scattered Israel] are thine” they remind the Lord, not the gentiles who have destroyed Jerusalem and the temple (63:19).
This plea is more than just the redemption of Jerusalem. Scattered Israel is pleading to become free from the wicked influences of the world. Heber C. Kimball once prophesied that before the second coming of the Lord “the Saints will be put to the test that will try the very best of them. The pressure will become so great that the righteous among us will cry unto the Lord day and night until deliverance comes” (Quoted in Conference Report, October 1930, p.58). Therefore, scattered Israel pleads for the Lord to come and destroy the wickedness of the world that holds so many of God’s children in the chains of sin (64:1-3).
This second coming of the Lord and the destruction of the wicked so long waited for by Israel will inaugurate the great millennial reign of Jesus Christ. This period of bliss is beyond comprehension. Indeed, “since the beginning of the world men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen, O God, beside thee, what he hath prepared for him that waiteth for him” (64:4).
Upon the second coming, those who have been righteous shall be met by the Lord with rejoicing (JST Isa. 64:5). But Israel in their scattered condition are not ready for such a meeting. “But we have sinned; we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away” (JST Isa. 64:6). Living among the wicked of the world without the gospel, “there is none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee: for thou hast hid thy face from us, and hast consumed us, because of our iniquities” (64:7).
Scattered Israel needs the gospel to be restored to them that they might become ready for the second coming of the Lord. Therefore, in the prayer, Israel pleads: “But now, O LORD, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand. Be not wroth very sore, O LORD, neither remember iniquity for ever: behold, see, we beseech thee, we are all thy people” (64:8-9). The last phrase, “we are all thy people” is a plea for the Lord to remember the covenant made with Abraham that his posterity will receive the gospel. Further, the covenant promised that Abraham’s posterity would be given the land of promise. The prayers ends with a plea for that blessing to be fulfilled (64:10-12).
The Lord now answers their prayer. In response to their question, “O Lord, why hast thou suffered us to err from thy ways, and to harden our heart from thy fear?” (JST Isa. 63:17), the Lord states they hardened their own hearts and would not listen to him when he called (65:1-7). Therefore he rejected Israel and allowed their scattering in hopes to humble them. But, the Lord will at a future time, eventually gather a remnant of the seed of scattered Israel (65:8-10; 14-16). Nonetheless, “they who forsake the Lord” will feel the full brunt of the curses associated with the broken covenant (65:11-13).
With the second coming of Jesus Christ, the whole earth will be, in essence, recreated. Article of Faith states that the earth “will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory.” Therefore, the Lord states that “I create new heavens and new earth.” With this re-creation of a world innocent like Eden, “the former [sins?] shall not be remembered, nor come into mind”(65:17). In the millennial day, the Lord will rejoice in a rebuilt Jerusalem and a repentant people (65:18). Yet agency still exists and in this era of righteousness, there will be those who will not follow the fulness of the gospel but will settle for a terrestrial level of living. Of this, Joseph Fielding Smith wrote, “The inhabitants of the terrestrial order will remain on the earth during the millennium, and this class is without the gospel ordinances (Doctrines of Salvation, 3:63-65; cf., Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 268-269). In such a condition the person is “accursed” (65:20). Elder Smith stated: “The gospel will be taught far more intensely and with greater power during the millennium, until all the inhabitants of the earth shall embrace it. Satan shall be bound so that he cannot tempt any man. Should any man refuse to repent and accept the gospel under those conditions then he would be accursed” (Doctrines of Salvation, 3:64).
The millennium will be a day of joyful bliss and peace. There will be no war, no diseases, or none of the vicissitudes that plague the present world (65:21-23). “The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock: and dust shall be the serpent’s meat. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, saith the LORD” (65:25). Unlike the mortal world we live in, one of the most remarkable aspects of the millennium is that the Lord will bless his people before they ask (65:24).
We are fortunate to be living in the second phase of the gathering of Israel. We are witnessing a miracle greater than we can imagine. But for the gathering to succeed, we must not repeat the sins of our progenitors who, because of their transgressions, were scattered among the nations of the world. We must examine our lives and see if we have any rebellion in us. We must always live the words of the prophets and forsake the ways of the world. If not, we may find ourselves, like ancient Israel, once again scattered from the flock of the Lord’s people.