Isaiah 54-56; 63-65
Sing O Barren!
1 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 than the children of the married wife, saith the Lord.
Isaiah foresaw the day when Israel will be restored. For centuries it was old, haggish, barren, childless, banished. But the time would come when she would be more plentiful than other nations that have seemed to prosper. In its restoration, Israel would come forth as a young, beautiful and fertile bride, bringing forth a host of healthy children.
For some LDS this verse has another connotation. We believe in eternal marriage and family, and for those righteous women who do not have the chance to marry or have children in this life, they will receive the full desires of their hearts in the next life. As many of them in this life grow old and barren, they too will be restored to their youthful graces and able to bring forth children and creations under God’s guiding and restorative hand.
Restoration is a key theme in these chapters of Isaiah. In the last days, both physical and spiritual Israel shall be restored. We see a partial fulfillment of physical Israel’s restoration in the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. We will see the remainder of physical Israel return as well:
“26 And they who are in the north countries shall come in remembrance before the Lord; and their prophets shall hear his voice, and shall no longer stay themselves; and they shall smite the rocks, and the ice shall flow down at their presence.
27 And an highway shall be cast up in the midst of the great deep.
28 Their enemies shall become a prey unto them,
29 And in the barren deserts there shall come forth pools of living water; and the parched ground shall no longer be a thirsty land.
30 And they shall bring forth their rich treasures unto the children of Ephraim, my servants.
31 And the boundaries of the everlasting hills shall tremble at their presence.
32 And there shall they fall down and be crowned with glory, even in Zion, by the hands of the servants of the Lord, even the children of Ephraim.
33 And they shall be filled with songs of everlasting joy.
34 Behold, this is the blessing of the everlasting God upon the tribes of Israel, and the richer blessing upon the head of Ephraim and his fellows.
35 And they also of the tribe of Judah, after their pain, shall be sanctified in holiness before the Lord, to dwell in his presence day and night, forever and ever.” (D&C 133)
The Lost Tribes of Israel will return from their hiding place in the north countries and take their rightful place in spiritual and physical Israel. Whether that hiding place is a literal and specific location, or whether they are scattered among several nations awaiting to be gathered, we do not know. They are, after all, Lost to us.
The children of Ephraim, which includes the majority of Latter-day Saints, who through baptism have been adopted into the spiritual and physical tribe of Ephraim (son of Joseph), will be prepared to receive the tribes and give them an inheritance among them. Judah will have to suffer the pain of Armageddon and being rescued by Jesus Christ, before they will recognize the wounds in his hands and realize that they did crucify their Messiah.
Enlarge the Place of thy Tent
“2 Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thine habitations: spare not, lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes;
3 For thou shalt 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.”
For an ancient tribal society, the description is full of symbolism. Many Israelites dwelt in tents, especially as they watched over their flocks. Israel was a people who specialized in raising sheep and goats, and had been for centuries. Desert life required that the tent was taken up each time a new pasture was sought, and then camp set up again. In good times, a family could obtain larger tents to dwell within. These required longer cords or ropes to tie them down. The stakes used would have to be stronger, and embedded deeper. During difficult weather, such as sand storms with high winds, the strength of the tent, cords and stakes could mean the difference between life and death.
Today, the Church calls the center gathering place Zion, and the major supporting congregations are called stakes (similar to an archdiocese). As the Church grows and expands, it builds new stakes that are firmly tied to the central tent or place, Stakes are formed throughout the world, tapped into Gentile soil in many places. Through the stakes of Zion, Zion herself can influence the world for good. It becomes a refuge from the sand storms of life, allowing people a lifeline or cord to the tent of salvation.
“11 O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted, behold, I will lay thy stones with fair colours, and lay thy foundations with sapphires.
12 And I will make thy windows of agates, and thy gates of carbuncles, and all thy borders of pleasant stones.
13 And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of thy children.
14 In righteousness shalt thou be established: thou shalt be far from oppression; for thou shalt not fear: and from terror; for it shall not come near thee.
15 Behold, they shall surely gather together, but not by me: whosoever shall gather together against thee shall fall for thy sake.”
The description of the stones being laid symbolizes the stones laid out on the high priest’s breast plate: the Urim and Thummim. Zion shall be a place of revelation and power from God. The entire place will be a Urim and Thummim! Children will not only be taught by their parents, but the Lord will teach them through the Spirit of God. Zion will be a place of peace and order. While the world is filled with terror and oppression, Zion’s children will dwell without fear. God will defend Zion from its enemies, and it will be the only safe place in the last days:
“7 And the glory of the Lord shall be there (in Zion), and the terror of the Lord also shall be there, insomuch that the wicked will not come unto it, and it shall be called Zion.
68 And it shall come to pass among the wicked, that every man that will not take his sword against his neighbor must needs flee unto Zion for safety.
69 And there shall be gathered unto it out of every nation under heaven; and it shall be the only people that shall not be at war one with another.
70 And it shall be said among the wicked: Let us not go up to battle against Zion, for the inhabitants of Zion are terrible; wherefore we cannot stand.
71 And it shall come to pass that the righteous shall be gathered out from among all nations, and shall come to Zion, singing with songs of everlasting joy.” (D&C 45)
So will be the power of Zion, once it is fully established. However, to have a true Zion requires more than just hanging a sign in front saying “Welcome to Zion.” It requires a people who are peacemakers and pure in heart. It requires a people who have fully repented of all sins, become united in righteous purposes, been filled with the love of Christ, and work diligently to build and establish Zion.
As Isaiah and Joseph Smith foresaw the great city of God in the last days, we know it will be brought to pass. The question is whether we will be among those who are readily building it or not.
Seek Ye The Lord While He May Be Found
Continuing on the concept of Zion being established as the Lord’s city among the wicked of the world, Isaiah emphasizes the concept of Zion as a gathering place for all those who are true believers.
“3 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.
4 Behold, I have given him for a witness to the people, a leader and commander to the people.
5 Behold, thou shalt call a nation that thou knowest not, and nations that knew not thee shall run unto thee because of the Lord thy God, and for the Holy One of Israel; for he hath glorified thee.
6 Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near:
7 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.”
As D&C 45 mentions, those among the wicked who repent will flee to Zion for safety. Here Isaiah confirms that concept, telling us that we must seek the Lord while he is near. Where shall he be found? Spiritually we find him on our knees in humble prayer. Physically, we flee the world to him by residing in Zion and her stakes. It is in these places where God resides. Why? Because in God’s holy city, today or anciently, one finds the temple of God. The temple is the house of God, God’s literal home on earth, where the penitent may enter into His presence and find him. And increasingly, we are being blessed with more and more temples centered in the stakes of Zion.
My Thoughts are not Your Thoughts
“8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.
9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.
10 For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater:
11 So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.”
We cannot fathom God’s thoughts. The philosopher Socrates wisely taught, “I know nothing.” He knew more than most people in his day, but compared to all the facts and truths in the universe, it was less than a drop in an ocean of truths. God knows all the truths and how they relate to one another. There are only two ways we can find God’s truths: scientific experimentation and revelation. The first is limited by our technological capability. We have yet to develop technologies to land on Mars, much less take a man to another solar system or galaxy. The latter is also limited, but not by technology. Instead, it is limited by our own limitations, closely held beliefs, prejudices, and our love for sin. Joseph Smith discovered that we learn “line upon line, precept upon precept” and not everything all at once. For most of us, one of Jack Nicholson’s characters was correct in stating, “you can’t handle the truth.” At least, we cannot handle all of the truth at once.
To receive revelation requires us to keep an open mind to all possibilities. God chose a young Joseph Smith to restore the Church, because the adults of his day already had closed their minds to such possibilities as seeing God face to face. Whether the issue is evolution, homosexuality, or whether Adam had a navel or not, we must be patient until God reveals his full will and mind on the issue, and then be open enough to accept the teaching. It may be that evolution may turn out right, partially right or absolutely wrong. But it is possible that creationism is also wrong. Until God fully reveals his mind, we must patiently keep an open mind to all possibilities.
Thankfully we are given prophets to guide us. Even as with us, they receive revelation “line upon line” meaning they also do not have all the answers. However, they have the foundational principles, doctrines and priesthood authority to counsel and guide us. They will not lead us astray from the truth so far that we cannot be exalted. There is safety in the councils of the Church. The cautious and prayerful deliberations between wise, talented, and righteous men of God may sometimes seem slow, but it ensures the Church does not make changes solely on politically correct reasons. The process of revelation requires more than just asking God, as Oliver Cowdery found out in his attempt to translate the gold plates (D&C 8-9). Joseph Smith had no concerns over refining or correcting previous revelations, as he received greater truths and insights through the process of continuing revelation.
Through it all, we need to remember that only God knows and understands all things. We should strive to defer to his will, rather than politicize and emotionally demand what we personally feel is right on any particular subject.
An Everlasting Name
Isaiah explains that God’s plan of mercy extends to all people in the last days. Even eunuchs, those who were castrated and placed in service in powerful men’s homes and armies would,
“3 Neither let the son of the stranger (Gentile), that hath joined himself to the Lord, speak, saying, The Lord hath utterly separated me from his people: neither let the eunuch say, Behold, I am a dry tree.
4 For thus saith the Lord unto the eunuchs that keep my sabbaths, and choose the things that please me, and take hold of my covenant;
5 Even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off.”
What is better than sons and daughters to a eunuch? A royal destiny, which would include sons and daughters! As explained in previous lessons, secret names were special names of power, rarely shared with anyone else, for then the receiver of the name would share in the full power of the secret name. What is the Everlasting Name? It is the name of the Messiah, YHWH or Jehovah, which was the sacred name Jews would not pronounce, but would replace with other terms, such as Adonai (Lord). Even eunuchs and Gentiles would be able to take upon themselves the name of God and receive of his personal power and divinity. Christians take upon themselves the name of Christ, and in doing so receive a place in God’s house.
The everlasting name “shall not be cut off” suggests that though a eunuch may have been castrated, losing his mortal ability to have children or become a member of the royal household, in God’s kingdom he would never be castrated or cut off from his divine position.
The True Law of the Fast
While not a part of the lesson (when has this stopped me before?), I wanted to discuss this section briefly.
“1 Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins.
2 Yet they seek me daily, and delight to know my ways, as a nation that did righteousness, and forsook not the ordinance of their God: they ask of me the ordinances of justice; they take delight in approaching to God.
3 ¶ Wherefore have we fasted, say they, and thou seest not? wherefore have we afflicted our soul, and thou takest no knowledge? Behold, in the day of your fast ye find pleasure, and exact all your labours.
4 Behold, ye fast for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness: ye shall not fast as ye do this day, to make your voice to be heard on high.
5 Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul? is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the Lord?
6 Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?
7 Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?
8 Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be thy rereward.
9 Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am. If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, the putting forth of the finger, and speaking vanity;
10 And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noonday:
11 And the Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.”
Clearly there seemed to be a major disconnect between the fasting the Israelites were doing, and what God expected of them. The first verses mention that they focused on the ordinances and delighted in approaching God, yet were condemned! Why? Because all their works were done on the outside, but on the inside they rang hollow. Not eating for a day is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is not the most important part of the Fast. And even today, many of the LDS do not recognize that. We fuss over ourselves or kids fudging a little on not eating during the ~24 hours of no food and drink, yet then scrimp on taking care of the poor and needy.
In our homes and church meetings we focus on learning the commandments, but in our business dealings with others, we don’t take a second thought on if we are not only dealing honestly, but mercifully, as well. We gloat over those we feel justly deserved their demise and struggles, and show no compassion or mercy. In the past several years as I’ve traveled and seen various wards of the Church, I’ve been highly impressed with the kindness of some, but horrified by the actions of other wards. I saw an entire cub scout pack shun a little boy with disabilities, because the adults did not want to deal with his problems. I’ve seen a woman sitting by the bed of her comatose husband, while the bishop and ward members never even bothered to make a phone call. Sadly, both of these instances occurred in Utah, where we would hope the members would be focused on becoming Saints, not only in word, but in deed.
Isaiah focused much on the problem of mankind seeking their own, getting gain, and trampling upon the poor and widows. Instead, the prophet begins his prophesies by focusing on this very theme:
“17 Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow....
23 Thy princes are rebellious, and companions of thieves: every one loveth gifts, and followeth after rewards: they judge not the fatherless, neither doth the cause of the widow come unto them.” (Isa 1)
We live in a day when government officials and the wealthy enrich themselves, while the poor are losing their homes and retirement hopes. Government bails out big banks and corporations, and then receives kick backs, bribes, re-election funds, and trips to ritzy locations around the world. Wealthy Americans (and compared to most of the world, most are wealthy) often forget the poor around them and in other countries, feeling they are at fault for poor choices that led them to poverty. In many cases that may be true, but it does not give us an exemption to serve the poor, fatherless, and widows.
Day of Vengeance
“1 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? I that speak in righteousness, mighty to save.
2 Wherefore art thou red in thine apparel, and thy garments like him that treadeth in the winefat?
3 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.
4 For the day of vengeance is in mine heart, and the year of my redeemed is come.”
Bozrah is the ancient capital of Edom, in modern day southern Jordan. According to tradition, Bozrah was Esau’s main city he built after he departed from Canaan. Bozrah means “sheep fold.” The word Edom, another name for Esau, means “red.” Since Esau was known as the foil of Jacob/Israel and humbled the patriarch as he returned to Canaan, we will see that Israel again will be humbled at the coming at the great day of the Lord, the Second Coming. Who is this that is coming? Even God, who is mighty to save. Yet, the world needs purging, and so part of the saving required means a destruction of the wicked. All will have a chance to repent, but those who fight against Zion will be destroyed by God.
Since Christ suffered and carried the burden of our sins alone, he will judge the world. He is the only one able to judge the entire earth, as he is the one who has paid for all sins, if people will but believe and repent. For those who continue sinning and having murderous hearts, he will destroy them from off the face of the earth.
Praying for Deliverance
“1 Oh that thou wouldest rend the heavens, that thou wouldest come down, that the mountains might flow down at thy presence,
2 As when the melting fire burneth, the fire causeth the waters to boil, to make thy name known to thine adversaries, that the nations may tremble at thy presence!” (Isa 64)
Isaiah, representing Israel, prays for the Second Coming. The belief that the Messiah would come down and save the people from their oppressors becomes a key focus for the Jews during the Diaspora, after the Roman destruction of Jerusalem, and as a prayer by Jews, Christians and others today as we look forward to deliverance from the evil in the world. Such a coming of the Messiah would require vast changes to remove sin, such as melt the mountains, rip holes in the skies, and cause the nations to be so afraid as to stop fighting each other. As with the Creation, the Flood, Moses at the Red Sea, and other moments where God’s power brings order out of chaos, we see that destruction always precedes the new creation. God must destroy the chaos and evil to bring order, peace, safety and joy. In the Creation, God had to subdue the darkness and waters to create light and land, and God saw that it was good. Egyptian died so that the Lord could create a holy people. And the wicked will be destroyed off the earth in the last day, even as in the days of Noah’s flood, so that God can create Paradise. Isaiah notes,
“10 Thy holy cities are a wilderness, Zion is a wilderness, Jerusalem a desolation.
11 Our holy and our beautiful house, where our fathers praised thee, is burned up with fire: and all our pleasant things are laid waste.” (Isa 64)
The once holy cities and temple of God, fallen into apostasy, were made desolate. But from the ashes God would build a new Zion, a new Jerusalem, and temples that would fill the earth.
“17 For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind.
18 But be ye glad and rejoice for ever in that which I create: for, behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy.
19 And I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in my people: and the voice of weeping shall be no more heard in her, nor the voice of crying.
20 There shall be no more thence an infant of days, nor an old man that hath not filled his days: for the child shall die an hundred years old; but the sinner being an hundred years old shall be accursed.
21 And they shall build houses, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and eat the fruit of them.
22 They shall not build, and another inhabit; they shall not plant, and another eat: for as the days of a tree are the days of my people, and mine elect shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
23 They shall not labour in vain, nor bring forth for trouble; for they are the seed of the blessed of the Lord, and their offspring with them.
24 And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear.
25 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.” (Isa 65)
Once God has destroyed the wicked, the world will be ready to be transformed into the Garden of Eden. From the destruction, God will create a new cosmos and earth. Jerusalem and Zion will be built again as places of joy. There will no longer be sin, death or sickness, for Christ’s atonement and resurrection will have destroyed them. People will find new physical and spiritual life in Jesus. No longer will animals have the survival instinct, but will be renewed so that lions will be vegetarians, and mankind will be at absolute peace with one another.
Now is the time for each of us to prepare ourselves for that day of destruction and creation. Only the righteous can dwell in God’s city, as the wicked would seek to corrupt it. With the Restoration of the Gospel occurring in these last days, we are now in the process of preparing all things for the Second Coming of the Lord, Jesus Christ in glory and power. The city of Zion must be established once again as a place of refuge for the righteous, until Christ comes and destroys his enemies. In the meantime, we must be in the world, but not of the world. We must be the ensign or banner that waves before man, so that they know where to flee to when they have tired of the wickedness and are ready to be a people of peace and good. We must learn the correct fast, which means we seek out and rescue the poor, the widow and the fatherless. And today, we live in a time when many children do not have a father in the home. They need rescuing.
Isaiah’s main messages of the Messiah’s two comings, one as a humble and suffering servant, the other as the God of vengeance, are important for us to remember. Equally important is God’s expectations for us. Sacrifices and fasts are useless, if they do not permeate our skin and enter deep into our hearts to humble us and change us into true saints. Isaiah’s message is very important for us, as we live in the last days, and his warnings of destruction and final salvation through the Messiah are key to our eternal salvation.