I Clothe the Heavens with Blackness
The Lord explains to Israel why they have been cast aside, carried off into exile. God has divorced their mother because of her infidelity. She has slept with Baal and other idols, and the children have called upon the idols as their father, rather than their true Eternal Father. Jehovah has cast them off, but is willing and able to restore them when they are ready to change from their evil ways.
2 Wherefore, when I came, was there no man? when I called, was there none to answer? Is my hand shortened at all, that it cannot redeem? or have I no power to deliver? behold, at my rebuke I dry up the sea, I make the rivers a wilderness: their fish stinketh, because there is no water, and dieth for thirst.
When God came to Israel, no one was at the door to greet him. When he called out, all had left their true home, and entered into the temples of the idols. They left God, thinking there was greater power with the idols, who allowed them to live sinful lives as long as they worshiped at their altars. Yet it is God who has the power to redeem and deliver Israel. When God rebukes, or rather removes his holy protection, the waters dry up and all things die from famine and drought. They have left his protection, and in depending upon idols to protect themselves have brought destruction upon themselves. Yet, even in being destroyed, they do not return to God to be delivered.
3 I clothe the heavens with blackness, and I make sackcloth their covering.
Here we see Isaiah using poetic imagery to show just how dreadful things will be for apostate Israel. Sackcloth was literally mourning clothing that was made from the poorest of materials, often from goat’s hair. The heavens clothed in blackness suggests that things are so bad that even the heavens are in mourning because of the death of Israel. This ties into literal prophesy for the last days, when we are told the stars will not give their light, the sun will be turned black and the moon turned blood red (Rev 6:12, Isa 13:10, Jere 4:28). Even like the destructions in the last days, Israel’s apostasy and destruction shocks the heavens and earth, the angels weep, and only hope in future deliverance and redemption can bring them back from despair.
11 Behold, all ye that kindle a fire, that compass yourselves about with sparks: walk in the light of your fire, and in the sparks that ye have kindled. This shall ye have of mine hand; ye shall lie down in sorrow.
The heavens have been darkened and the wicked seek to lighten the way with sparks. Matthew Henry noted:
“Sinners are warned not to trust in themselves. Their own merit and sufficiency are light and heat to them. Creature-comforts are as sparks, short-lived, and soon gone; yet the children of this world, while they last, seek to warm themselves by them, and walk with pride and pleasure in the light of them. Those that make the world their comfort, and their own righteousness their confidence, will certainly meet with bitterness in the end. A godly man's way may be dark, but his end shall be peace and everlasting light. A wicked man's way may be pleasant, but his end and abode for ever will be utter darkness.”
We walk in much darkness in this life. Yet only those who truly trust in God will be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. He becomes their light. The sparks or tiny lights of the sinner may convince them they are seeing clearly, but they are unable to truly see what is ahead of them: destruction and sorrow.
Look Unto Abraham your Father
1 Hearken to me, ye that follow after righteousness, ye that seek the Lord: look unto the rock whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye are digged.
2 Look unto Abraham your father, and unto Sarah that bare you: for I called him alone, and blessed him, and increased him.
3 For the Lord shall comfort Zion: he will comfort all her waste places; and he will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving, and the voice of melody.
God calls upon Israel to look to where they truly come from and where they currently are. The rock is their heritage of prophets and patriarchs. They are now standing in a pit, which they dug themselves with shovels of sin. The more they worship idols and sin, the deeper their pit becomes. Yet they can still be reached.
They are called upon to look to their father Abraham. Abraham was called alone. In a previous lesson on Abraham we noted how Jehovah was given Israel as his assigned kingdom by Elohim. Rather than seek out a people that were already well established in the land, Jehovah selected one man to build a new nation from scratch, built upon faith in the Lord God. Abraham was Jehovah’s friends, as we discussed in the last lesson. God is calling upon all of Israel to be his friend, and to receive all the blessings of being Jehovah’s offspring.
And while Israel is now scattered to the nations, the Lord foresaw the reestablishment of Zion and its abandoned treasures. The wilderness would bloom as a rose, and be as holy and peaceful as the Garden of Eden. Here is the secret to establishing a Zion and a Zion people: they must look to Abraham’s example, and follow it.
4 Hearken unto me, my people; and give ear unto me, O my nation: for a law shall proceed from me, and I will make my judgment to rest for a light of the people.
5 My righteousness is near; my salvation is gone forth, and mine arms shall judge the people; the isles shall wait upon me, and on mine arm shall they trust.
6 Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look upon the earth beneath: for the heavens shall vanish away like smoke, and the earth shall wax old like a garment, and they that dwell therein shall die in like manner: but my salvation shall be for ever, and my righteousness shall not be abolished.
Isaiah makes it clear that God shall bring forth a new law. This is not the Mosaic law, which already came from God, but a new law that will establish Zion as God’s chosen place, giving the righteous a place of rest and light. This law was brought forth by Christ during his mortal ministry. He came to fulfill the law of Moses, replacing it with the higher law. No more would animals be sacrificed, as the Messiah would be the final sacrifice. It is He who has the power to redeem and deliver.
Christ’s judgment is based upon both justice and mercy. For those who trust upon him, his mercy is sufficient to save them from hell fire. And to the extent that a person seeks after Christ’s redemption is the level that his mercy fully extends in saving the person. So mercy has Christ reaching out to all and giving them as much salvation as he can give them . Justice comes in that we only receive the level of salvation and deliverance that we want. This comes from our actions, words, thoughts, and desires. If we only desire the minimal salvation, we will live our lives barely giving Christ any thought and will not think often on our sins or repenting of them. If we have great desires to follow Christ, he will redeem us to a higher glory of salvation, according to the true desires of our hearts.
Trust in God the Creator
9 Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord; awake, as in the ancient days, in the generations of old. Art thou not it that hath cut Rahab, and wounded the dragon?
10 Art thou not it which hath dried the sea, the waters of the great deep; that hath made the depths of the sea a way for the ransomed to pass over?
11 Therefore the redeemed of the Lord shall return, and come with singing unto Zion; and everlasting joy shall be upon their head: they shall obtain gladness and joy; and sorrow and mourning shall flee away.
12 I, even I, am he that comforteth you: who art thou, that thou shouldest be afraid of a man that shall die, and of the son of man which shall be made as grass;
13 And forgettest the Lord thy maker, that hath stretched forth the heavens, and laid the foundations of the earth; and hast feared continually every day because of the fury of the oppressor, as if he were ready to destroy? and where is the fury of the oppressor?
14 The captive exile hasteneth that he may be loosed, and that he should not die in the pit, nor that his bread should fail.
15 But I am the Lord thy God, that divided the sea, whose waves roared: The Lord of hosts is his name.
16 And I have put my words in thy mouth, and I have covered thee in the shadow of mine hand, that I may plant the heavens, and lay the foundations of the earth, and say unto Zion, Thou art my people.
God uses patterns in Creation and Destruction. In creating the world, the tradition is that Jehovah had to subdue the sea serpent/dragon Rahab. In another passage, Isaiah foresees Jehovah defeating its twin Leviathan in the last days (Isa 27:1, see also Rev 12). God must destroy, or at least subdue Chaos in creating Order and Righteousness. The chaos of the oceans with its sea serpent had to be subdued in order to form land and life. In casting Lucifer out of the Garden with a curse, and in binding him for the thousand year Millennium, we see that Jehovah defeats the Dragon/Sea Serpent twice. This is necessary to accomplish his plans. The Sea Serpent is Chaos, trying to destroy all things for eternity. God destroys in order to reform things into a higher order.
Reminiscent of the Creation is the Exodus, where God created a new covenant people by destroying Egypt. Egypt with its many gods and idols represented chaos and the serpent (see Ezekiel 32:2). Slavery also represents chaos, and these had to be destroyed to create a new order of things: Israel. God brought the ransomed Israel across the chaos of the Red Sea to safety, while destroying their Egyptian serpent. Then, Israel was given the law of Moses as a new order in which to live and serve God in his order.
Every time God creates, he is creating or planting a heaven, laying the foundation of an earth or a great work, and creating a Zion people. Creation means bringing order out of chaos. When God gives commandments, they are a protection. He is creating order, which can guide and protect the people from chaos and harm. Yet, when they abandon the laws of God, chaos floods in destroying society and the benefits of the order and protection given it.
18 There is none to guide her among all the sons whom she hath brought forth; neither is there any that taketh her by the hand of all the sons that she hath brought up.Jerusalem is called to awake from its chaotic sleep and realize just what troubles they are really in. When society stops following the basic principles and doctrines God has established for an orderly society, it corrodes. There is no one who can truly lead them, for how does one rule over chaos? All that is left them is desolation, destruction, famine and death by sword.
19 These two things are come unto thee; who shall be sorry for thee? desolation, and destruction, and the famine, and the sword: by whom shall I comfort thee?
Yet in the final verses, God states that the day will come when he will remove the cup of affliction from Jerusalem and give it to those who afflict Israel. Why? Because through great trial Israel will repent and seek the Lord’s way once again, while others will ripen in iniquity, choosing chaos over the freedom God offers in his order.
Put on Thy Strength, O Zion!
1 Awake, awake; put on thy strength, O Zion; put on thy beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city: for henceforth there shall no more come into thee the uncircumcised and the unclean.
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.
3 For thus saith the Lord, Ye have sold yourselves for nought; and ye shall be redeemed without money.
This chapter continues the concepts of the previous chapter’s ending verses. The time will come when God will call upon Zion and Jerusalem, the two holy cities, to lift themselves from the dirty ground, shake the dust off themselves, and glory in God’s splendor. No longer will they be bound down in sin and chaos, but be redeemed and restored to their former glory.
We begin to see physical Israel gather together in Jerusalem in our day. The nation of Israel stands once again, though its existence remains fragile because of its enemies that surround it. In these last days, Spiritual Israel also has been restored, with the stakes of Zion being established through out the world. These too remain in a fragile existence, as they are beholden to kings and rulers to allow the small congregations of Saints to gather and worship. Yet as they seek to serve God, he will strengthen their little footholds on the earth, making them greater than their numbers.
6 Therefore my people shall know my name: therefore they shall know in that day that I am he that doth speak: behold, it is I.
God’s name is a secret name. Anciently, one received power by knowing the secret name of the other individual. For this purpose, Jacob sought to know the secret name of the Lord, but instead was given a new name of power of his own (Genesis 32:24-32). In the last days when God shares his name with mankind, they shall receive his power and glory in their lives. When God tells them “it is I” he is giving one form of his name to them, “I AM” or Yahweh/Jehovah. In these last days, Christians take upon themselves the name of Jesus Christ, Anointed Messiah. In this day, God seeks to reveal himself again to mankind.
How Beautiful Upon the Mountains
The Suffering Servant
In the Book of Mormon, the prophet Abinadi gives a powerful sermon to his wicked captors regarding Isaiah’s 52:7-10.
20 And it came to pass that one of them (the wicked priests) said unto him: What meaneth the words which are written, and which have been taught by our fathers, saying:
21 How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings; that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good; that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth;
22 Thy watchmen shall lift up the voice; with the voice together shall they sing; for they shall see eye to eye when the Lord shall bring again Zion;
23 Break forth into joy; sing together ye waste places of Jerusalem; for the Lord hath comforted his people, he hath redeemed Jerusalem;
24 The Lord hath made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God?
25 And now Abinadi said unto them: Are you priests, and pretend to teach this people, and to understand the spirit of prophesying, and yet desire to know of me what these things mean?
26 I say unto you, wo be unto you for perverting the ways of the Lord! For if ye understand these things ye have not taught them; therefore, ye have perverted the ways of the Lord.
27 Ye have not applied your hearts to understanding; therefore, ye have not been wise. Therefore, what teach ye this people? (Mosiah 12)
Today many do not understand the scriptures, because they have not pondered and prayed over them. They have not lived righteously in order for God to reveal the meanings to them in plainness. The wicked priests told Abinadi they taught the people the Law of Moses, yet Abinadi recited the Ten Commandments and showed them that they did not keep the key points of the Law of Moses. He explained that the Law of Moses pointed to Christ, and that he would redeem all mankind as the final sacrifice. Mosiah paints a marvelous picture of the “suffering servant” being fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
33 For behold, did not Moses prophesy unto them concerning the coming of the Messiah, and that God should redeem his people? Yea, and even all the prophets who have prophesied ever since the world began—have they not spoken more or less concerning these things?
34 Have they not said that God himself should come down among the children of men, and take upon him the form of man, and go forth in mighty power upon the face of the earth?
35 Yea, and have they not said also that he should bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, and that he, himself, should be oppressed and afflicted? (Mosiah 13)
Abinadi prepares us by sharing the testimony of Moses, even as a second witness to Abinadi. The suffering servant Christ has another witness that Abinadi employed:
1 Yea, even doth not Isaiah say: Who hath believed our report, and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?
2 For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground; he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him there is no beauty that we should desire him.
3 He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
4 Surely he has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows; yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.
5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.
6 All we, like sheep, have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquities of us all .
7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb so he opened not his mouth. (Mosiah 14, see also Isaiah 53).
We see a prophesy of the future Messiah, not coming in glory and power to rescue the covenant people from their physical oppressors, but from themselves. In his mortal state, he will suffer physically, being despised, rejected, and afflicted. Yet, many people are despised in mortality, and are even tortured and crucified. This Suffering Servant would do great things for the oppressed. He would save them from themselves. He would bear our griefs, seem cursed and afflicted of God, wounded for our sins, and beaten so we could be healed from our sins. Christ becomes not only the sacrificial lamb on the altar, but also the scape goat. Anciently, the high priest laid his hands upon the goats head and transferred all the sins of the people upon it, before leading it out into the desolate wilderness. Christ took upon himself our sins beginning in Gethsemane, when his pores dripped blood. Gethsemane and death upon the cross were his wilderness, where he proclaimed in his loneliness, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46, Psalms 22:1)
11 He shall see the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied; by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death; and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bore the sins of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
The righteous Suffering Servant suffers no more. His sacrifice allows him to divide the riches of eternity with those who stand strong in the faith of Jesus Christ. He bore the sins of all those who would repent, even saving the most wicked from eternal hell fire and damnation if they will but call upon God in Jesus’ name. The Messiah’s work, testified by Abinadi, Moses and Isaiah shows us that he is the primary focus when Abinadi proclaims:
18 And behold, I say unto you, this is not all. For O how beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that is the founder of peace, yea, even the Lord, who has redeemed his people; yea, him who has granted salvation unto his people;
19 For were it not for the redemption which he hath made for his people, which was prepared from the foundation of the world, I say unto you, were it not for this, all mankind must have perished.
20 But behold, the bands of death shall be broken, and the Son reigneth, and hath power over the dead; therefore, he bringeth to pass the resurrection of the dead. (Mosiah 15)
Matthew Henry’s Commentary: http://www.christnotes.org/commentary.php?com=mhc&b=23&c=50
Order out of Chaos: http://joelsmonastery.blogspot.com/2010/07/gospel-scholarship-order-out-of-chaos.html