We examine the Book of Mormon with urgency this year because its message is coming closer and closer to fulfillment. The quotations from Isaiah in 2 Nephi give us cause for concern because they foretell “the judgments of God” to come upon all nations.
At the same time, though, Nephi copies the words of Isaiah into his record because they bring him hope and joy. “My soul delighteth in his words,” says Nephi. “I write some of the words of Isaiah, that whoso of my people shall see these words my lift up their hearts and rejoice for all men” (11:2, 8). In this lesson, Nephi invites us to take delight in studying and likening to ourselves the words of Isaiah.
Why do we delight and rejoice in the words of Isaiah? Nephi cites two reasons:
- “My soul delighteth in proving unto my people the truth of the coming of Christ . . . that save Christ should come all men must perish” (11:4, 6).
- “And also my soul delighteth in the covenants of the Lord which he hath made to our fathers” (11:5).
These truths are delightful to the soul. Isaiah teaches hope in Christ beautifully and memorably, and that the sublime promises to the fathers are yet to be fulfilled in our own lives.
Isaiah teaches these central truths in powerfully allusive language and imagery that have baffled and intrigued readers for centuries. Yet once we become attuned to Isaiah’s poetry, his message is straightforward. We also have the advantage of the twenty-fifth chapter of 2 Nephi, which explains Isaiah’s message plainly and simply.
The passages Nephi quotes teem with allusions to historical figures and incidents that have little meaning to us today. Isaiah also uses poetic images that we don’t readily understand because we are far removed from his time. There are disorienting shifts of topic and tense. Nevertheless, with a little study and an understanding of Isaiah’s methods, it is not difficult to make sense of the passages. Furthermore, the words of Isaiah “are plain unto all those that are filled with the spirit of prophecy” – it is therefore essential to seek the Spirit to understand these sacred words (25:4).
Additionally, faithful temple-goers bring an extra dimension of understanding to these words of Isaiah. The Isaiah passages in 2 Nephi outline the entire plan of salvation as taught in holy places. In Isaiah, Israel rebels against God and is cast out of the promised land of Palestine into the world at large. Here Israel must struggle with affliction and adversity, learning the need to repent and look to Christ for a remission of sins. At length, Israel renews the ancient covenants and is restored to the new Zion, a new celestial identity.
The Story of Mankind
Brother Avraham Gileadi points out that “this pattern reflects the story of man himself. God casts Adam out of paradise, and out of his presence, into a dreary world. There Adam makes his way, comes to himself, and realizes who he is and what his destiny is to be. Then begins his struggle to return home. If he succeeds in returning to his Heavenly Father, he assumes great glory.”
Isaiah sees all of this in panorama as he is endowed with a celestial vision in the temple at Jerusalem. “I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphim.” The Holy of Holies in Solomon’s temple contained this throne. The vision took place at the time of incense, or at the time of prayer, for “the house was filled with smoke.” An angel purifies Isaiah’s lips with a coal from the altar of sacrifice, a symbolic rite that enables him to speak with inspiration. Thus, the vision of Isaiah takes place within the holiest precincts of the temple (16:1-6).
To a great extent, the Isaiah passages are about a fundamental controversy between this true temple of God and Satan’s attempt to counterfeit the temple. In Isaiah we encounter the “great and spacious building” that represents the temple of this world, the “golden city” in which money, pride, and the haughtiness of the hypocrite hold sway. Lucifer reigns here as if he were a god, the “son of the morning” who has fallen because of his pride. “I will ascend into heaven,” he says, “I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation. . . I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the Most High” (24:4, 13).
His “golden city” is typified by the kingdoms of this world, which he controls, such as Babylon, Assyria, and Sodom. Their rapacious kings symbolize Satan himself: the Assyrian king; the king of Babylon; and Rezin, the king of Syria. Their names are interchangeable: all are interested only in power, plunder, and self-aggrandizement. All are consumed with their own glory and greatness.
All nations, including Israel, are duped into spiritual bondage under the yoke of these “gods” of this world and into service in their temples of money. “Their land is full of silver and gold, neither is there any end of their treasures … Their land is also full of idols; they worship the work of their hands … and the mean man boweth not down, and the great man humbleth himself not” (12:7-9). It is a place of spiritual slavery: “the people shall be oppressed, every one by another, and every one by his neighbor” (13:5), particularly for the poor: “Ye beat my people to pieces, and grind the faces of the poor, saith the Lord God” (13:15).
The apostate Israelites also become slaves to sin, for they are shaved “with a razor that is hired, by them beyond the river [Euphrates], by the king of Assyria, the head, and the hair of the feet; and it shall also consume the beard” (17:20). In ancient times, captive men were shaven to indicate that they were slaves.
The kingdom of this world worships wealth, symbolized by the jewelry of the “daughters of Zion” who also have become slaves of Satan: “their tinkling ornaments, chains, bracelets, bonnets, ear-rings, rings, nose jewels, the changeable suits, mantles, wimples, crisping-pins, fine linen,” etc. Sexual depravity holds sway: their sin is “even as Sodom,” and the daughters of Zion “walk with stretched forth necks and wanton eyes, walking and mincing as they go” (13:9, 16). They perversely “call evil good, and good evil”; they “put darkness for light, and light for darkness” (15:20).
The Lord allows these satanic kings to tempt and try his people; unfortunately, they fall prey. The congregation of Israel goes along willingly with the satanic system. Idolatry, impurity, oppression, and the pride born of wealth characterized the Israel of Isaiah’s day just as it did 100 years later in Lehi’s day. Isaiah knew that such people would not be allowed to remain in the land consecrated by covenant to the fathers. Just as the Lord banishes the unworthy from his holy temple, or Adam and Eve from the garden, he banishes Israel from the Promised Land.
As a token of this impending banishment, Isaiah gives his own child an ominous name: “Maher-shalal-hash-baz,” which literally means “hasten to the spoil, rush on to the prey.
” The satanic kings are about to sweep over Israel like a river of destruction. Because “this people [Israel] refuseth the waters of Shiloah that go softly [in other words, they refuse the gentle covenant of baptism, the token of “Shiloah,” the “Sent One” or Messiah] … the king of Assyria … shall come up over all his channels, and go over all his banks. And he shall pass through Judah; he shall overflow and go over, he shall reach even to the neck” (18:6-8). Shiloah, which in Hebrew means “sent forth,” was the name of the little brook that ran near the temple mount in Jerusalem. Ironically, because the people of Israel refuse those “soft waters,” they are overwhelmed by a raging flood, the ravenous armies of Assyria.
During Isaiah’s lifetime, in 721 BC, the northern kingdom of Israel fell to the Assyrian king (“the rod of mine anger” [20:5]) and the ten tribes were dispersed. From his vantage point in Jerusalem, Isaiah prophesies that the same fate awaits Judah at the hand of the Babylonian king, another type of Satan. “And thus the devil cheateth their souls … the devil will grasp them with his everlasting chains” (28:19, 20). In the long view, the same fate awaits all the wicked of every age, as Isaiah later points out.
The petty “gods” of this world are themselves dupes and are destined for destruction. Like Satan, they hold the world in slavery, vainly imagining that they truly are in charge. The king of Assyria “saith: By the strength of my hand and by my wisdom I have done these things … there was none that moved the wing, or opened the mouth, or peeped” (20:13-14). But he has simply been the Lord’s tool: “I will punish the fruit of the stout heart of the king of Assyria, and the glory of his high looks … Shall the ax boast itself against him that heweth therewith?” (20:12, 15)
In other words, the days of the tempter are numbered. Satan will fall, and his “great and glorious” kingdom with him. In fact, Isaiah predicts the fall of Babylon as a type and shadow of the end of this world system: “And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldees’ excellency, shall be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah. It shall never [again] be inhabited. . . I will destroy her speedily” (23:19, 20, 22). “How hath the oppressor ceased, the golden city ceased! (24:4).
In this way “I will punish the world for evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; I will cause the arrogancy of the proud to cease, and will lay down the haughtiness of the terrible … Every one that is proud shall be thrust through” ((23:11, 15), reminding us that “there is no … heart that shall not be penetrated” (D&C 1:2).
Meanwhile, because of sin, Israel will be separated from the presence and guidance of the Lord: “When they shall be hungry [for guidance], they shall fret themselves, and curse their king and their God, and look upward. And they shall look unto the earth and behold trouble, and darkness, dimness of anguish, and shall be driven to darkness” (18:21-22).
Not Without Hope
But just as Adam and Eve were not left without hope, neither is Israel. The hope and promise is that the Lord will remember the covenants he made with the fathers. Israel will be brought to repentance, and the true temple of Jesus Christ will rise again in the last days to be ready for his coming.
After their long dispersal in the desolate and mournful spiritual condition of this world, the covenant people will be humbled and gathered again. “The loftiness of man shall be bowed down, and the haughtiness of men shall be made low; and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day” (12:17). “And it shall come to pass in that day that the Lord shall set his hand again the second time to recover the remnant of his people.”
That remnant that recovers faith in the Lord will be gathered from the “four corners of the earth,” from the four cardinal points of the compass: from the north (“Hamath,” upper Syria); from the east (Assyria; “Shinar,” or Mesopotamia; “Elam,” or Persia), from the south (“Cush,” or Ethiopia), and from the west (Egypt and “Pathros,” which was a province of Egypt). Israel shall be at one: “Ephraim shall not envy Judah, and Judah shall not vex Ephraim.” The dispersed of the northern kingdom, or Ephraim, shall be reconciled with the house of Judah, or the dispersed of the southern kingdom. Likewise, Nephite and Lamanite shall be reconciled and be seated together in the latter-day temple (21:11-12).
The temple of the last days is the centerpiece of Nephi’s long quotation. He begins his quotation from Isaiah with it and ends with it. “It shall come to pass in the last days, when the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills, and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths; for out of Zion shall go forth the law” (12:2-3).
This temple, which now stands in the heart of Salt Lake City, is today the lodestar and the very center of the promised gathering of Israel. As Joseph Smith prophesied, “before the great day of the Lord shall come, Jacob shall flourish in the wilderness, and the Lamanites shall blossom as the rose. Zion shall flourish upon the hills and rejoice upon the mountains, and shall be assembled together unto the place which I have appointed” (D&C 49:24-25).
Today, the headquarters of Zion truly flourishes around the great temple in the mountains of Utah, and the day of the Lamanite is unquestionably here as hundreds of thousands across the Americas join the Church.
Just as the ancient temple sat upon Mount Zion in Jerusalem, the latter-day temple will also be the focal point of Zion, which is the congregation of the pure in heart who repent and are faithful to their covenants (D&C 97:21). In the temple is safety from the ravages of the world and from the fiery judgments that God will rain upon the world: “Upon all the glory of Zion shall be a defence. And there shall be a tabernacle for a shadow in the daytime from the heat, and for a place of refuge, and a covert from storm and from rain” (14:5-6). “What shall then answer the messengers of the nations [the prophets of the Lord]? The Lord hath founded Zion, and the poor of his people shall trust in it” (24:32).
This redemption of Zion is made possible only through the sacrifice of the Messiah: “As the Lord God liveth, there is none other name given under heaven save it be this Jesus Christ … whereby man can be saved,” Nephi concludes (25:20).
The words of Isaiah that Nephi cherishes most are those that point to the coming of the “Only Begotten of the Father.” “All those who shall believe on his name shall be saved in the kingdom of God. Wherefore, my soul delighteth to prophesy concerning him, for I have seen his day, and my heart doth magnify his holy name” (25:13).
This is the profoundest connection Nephi feels with Isaiah; both have seen the Savior’s day, and both magnify his holy name.
After detailing at length the degradation of Israel, Isaiah goes to the king at Jerusalem and promises him a sign of Israel’s redemption. The king does not want to see this sign; he does not want to assent to the need for redemption. But Isaiah insists: “The Lord himself shall give you a sign – Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and shall bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (17:14). Nephi has also seen the “virgin, most beautiful and fair” who would become the “mother of the Son of God” (1 Ne. 11:15, 18).
Isaiah teaches that Jesus “shall be for a sanctuary.” The Savior is figuratively a temple; in him we find safety and refuge from the world; he is the “covert” or canopy that defends us from the storm. But he shall also be “for a stone of stumbling, and for a rock of offense” to the people of Israel, “and many among them shall stumble and fall” because they will not see their own need for a Savior” (18:14). Nephi explains that Israel will reject him “because of their iniquities, and the hardness of their hearts, and the stiffness of their necks” (25:12).
For this reason, Israel was “scattered among all nations,” and “scourged by other nations for the space of many generations … until they shall be persuaded to believe in Christ, the Son of God” (25:15-16). Nephi himself has seen the same vision: the rejection and crucifixion of Christ, followed by the dominion of the “great and spacious building,” or the counterfeit temple of Satan (1 Ne.11:32-35).
He also sees in great detail the process by which Israel would be humbled, and that the Book of Mormon itself would be the means by which the recovery of Israel would be brought about (see 1 Ne. 12-13).
Isaiah envisions the coming of the Savior as a renewal of light among those that dwell in darkness: “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.” The Savior’s light will break forth, according to Isaiah, in “Galilee of the nations,” and he will go forth to “break the yoke” and the “rod of his oppressor,” the satanic system that rules the world (19:1-4).
Then Isaiah gives us the greatest of Messianic prophecies: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder; and his name shall be called, Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of government and peace there is no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth, even forever” (19:6-7). Jesus Christ, the legitimate God of this world, shall ultimately overthrow the counterfeit Satan and sit upon the throne of his father David, giving order and peace as King of Zion forever (see Moses 7:47, 53).
This passage is ultimately Nephi’s reason for “delighting in the words of Isaiah.” He knows that his descendants will be scattered and scourged along with the rest of Israel, but he obtains a promise from the Lord that his own testimony of the triumph of Jesus Christ would be joined with Isaiah’s and “kept and preserved, and handed down unto my seed from generation to generation” (25:21). His testimony of Christ is the chiefest gift he has to offer his loved ones. “We labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God … We talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know” (25:23, 26). May we all do the same.
 Gileadi, Avraham. The Book of Isaiah: A New Translation with Interpretive Keys from the Book of Mormon. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1988, p. 8.
 Gileadi, p. 23.