When it comes to history, the Book of Isaiah is broken into three parts: chapters 1-39 deal with the pre-exile period of Israel and Judah, chapters 40-56 focus on the exile of Judah and Israel, and the final chapters look at the post-exile period of Judah and Israel. Since only Judah has returned from exile, we can see in these sections a dual fulfillment - once with Judah returning from exile (twice - 500 years before Christ, and in the 20th century), and in the return of the Lost Tribes of Israel in these last days. There is also a spiritual component to this, as well. When any person has rebelled against God, they go into spiritual exile and remain there until they are fully repentant and ready to embrace God again.
In this lesson, we’ll discuss Israel’s period in exile and the hope and promise of a return.
Voice in the Wilderness
“1 Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.
2 Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.
3 The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”
The people have been justly punished for their apostasy. Now in exile, the Lord seeks to give them hope of a better day. Comfort yourselves during your trials and tribulations in knowing that God will end the struggles, the penitent will be forgiven, and God will reward the humble with a great reward.
“The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness” is most recognized by Christians as being John the Baptist, preparing the way of Christ’s first coming in the flesh. But it is also reminiscent of Isaiah and other prophets who cried repentance to the people. It is just as important to cry repentance to an evil generation, or to call upon an exiled people to prepare themselves to return to the promised land of their fathers. In these last days, Joseph Smith and modern prophets become the voice in the wilderness, calling upon people to repent, to come unto Zion and her stakes and stand in holy places, and to prepare for the Second Coming of Christ.
“8 The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.
9 O Zion, that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God!
10 Behold, the Lord God will come with strong hand, and his arm shall rule for him: behold, his reward is with him, and his work before him.
11 He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.”
All things end, except for the things of God. Even the warm summer months that bring the fruits of the harvest will wain in the winter months ahead, when all sleep their quiet sleep of death. But Zion and Jerusalem are the cities and dwelling places of God’s true people. For an exiled people, the thought of returning to the promised land is a good tiding. Israel is commanded to “get thee up into the high mountain” where the righteous worshiped, offered sacrifice on holy altars to Jehovah, and were called his people. The people of Judah are to prepare their cities as holy places that can behold God. While God has prepared mountain tops, gardens, and temples as holy places where heaven meets earth, and where God and man commune; the vision is to make all of the promised land a place where one can know God.
We can see in this not only the return of Judah in Ezra and Nehemiah’s day, but the return of all the tribes of Israel, and the spiritual gathering of Israel in the last days. While the Jews await the construction of the temple in Jerusalem, LDS temples now number 134 in operation and soon will be numbering 150 temples with those under construction. Temples dot the lands, allowing righteous people to stand on holy ground and commune directly with God in his divine sanctuary. In previous lessons, we’ve discussed holy temples and holy spaces, where mankind could stand in God’s presence and know him. These were special places that greatly impacted the lives and testimonies of Adam, Enoch, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Isaiah, and many of the ancient prophets in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, John the Revelator stood in God’s presence and had the cosmos revealed to him. In ancient Christian texts, Paul and others were lifted into the heavens and into God’s presence. In the Book of Mormon, we find Lehi, Nephi, Jacob, the Brother of Jared, and many others standing in God’s presence and being changed by the experience. In the last days, the Father and the Son appeared to a teenager, changing him from country farmer to Prophet of the Restoration.
God calls all of us through his ancient and modern prophets to repent and return to holy places, where he can commune with us, carry us in his bosom and bless us, even amidst a world of turmoil and warfare.
“18 To whom then will ye liken God? or what likeness will ye compare unto him?
19 The workman melteth a graven image, and the goldsmith spreadeth it over with gold, and casteth silver chains.
20 He that is so impoverished that he hath no oblation chooseth a tree that will not rot; he seeketh unto him a cunning workman to prepare a graven image, that shall not be moved.
21 Have ye not known? have ye not heard? hath it not been told you from the beginning? have ye not understood from the foundations of the earth?
22 It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in:
23 That bringeth the princes to nothing; he maketh the judges of the earth as vanity.”
Anciently the rich made idols and gods of silver and gold. The poor had them whittled out of hard wood. Today, we make idols and gods from precious metals, woods, plastics, and rock stars. We worship the things made by our own hands, or that someone else made and sold to us. We believe our material possessions can save us and bring us true and lasting happiness. But even the best workman cannot prepare a graven image that cannot be moved, damaged, or destroyed. All man made things shall end eventually, including the nations that now seem so very strong and impenetrable can suddenly collapse and replaced as global leader.
But it is God that has been there since before the foundation of the earth. He is the only one with control over all the earth. People are like insects, and their creations are minuscule compared to His ability to create worlds, create life, resurrect and save mankind.
“28 Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? there is no searching of his understanding.
29 He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength.
30 Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall:
31 But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”
Man grows old and grows weary. His ideas often have flaws that are picked apart by others. Our material goods and our wisdom cannot save us from disease, poverty, trials and death. However, God can bless the righteous with miracles in their lives, renewing their strength, allowing them to “mount up with wings as eagles” in strength, power and beauty. They can walk and not faint. While the earthly body eventually gives way, God’s promise is an eternal one. The things of man rust and rot. While we may die, God can raise us again as upon the wings of eagles through resurrection, and we shall never hunger, thirst, nor faint again.
Seed of Abraham my Friend
“1 Keep silence before me, O islands; and let the people renew their strength: let them come near; then let them speak: let us come near together to judgment....
4 Who hath wrought and done it, calling the generations from the beginning? I the Lord, the first, and with the last; I am he.
5 The isles saw it, and feared; the ends of the earth were afraid, drew near, and came.
6 They helped every one his neighbour; and every one said to his brother, Be of good courage....
8 But thou, Israel, art my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham my friend.
9 Thou whom I have taken from the ends of the earth, and called thee from the chief men thereof, and said unto thee, Thou art my servant; I have chosen thee, and not cast thee away.”
God foresaw the great gathering in the last days of Israel from the isles of the sea (which for them would include the Americas). It would be a trying time, but each would strengthen one another in their fears, and gather to the feet of the Holy One of Israel.
The 17th century British Presbyterian minister and Bible commentator, Matthew Henry noted:
“Can any heathen god raise up one in righteousness, make what use of him he pleases, and make him victorious over the nations? The Lord did so with Abraham, or rather, he would do so with Cyrus. Sinners encourage one another in the ways of sin; shall not the servants of the living God stir up one another in his service? God's people are the seed of Abraham his friend. This is certainly the highest title ever given to a mortal. It means that Abraham, by Divine grace, was made like to God, and that he was admitted to communion with Him. Happy are the servants of the Lord, whom he has called to be his friends, and to walk with him in faith and holy obedience. Let not such as have thus been favoured yield to fear; for the contest may be sharp, but the victory shall be sure.”
Can our heathen or material gods save us? Henry showed that righteous men of God, such as Abraham and Cyrus (who returned the Jews to Israel), were able to do so. I find it interesting in he notes that “sinners encourage one another in the ways of sin”, as we live in a day where many call “evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Isa 5:20). Should the righteous be too afraid to speak up for righteousness? And should we not encourage one another to stand firm and strong in the things of God?
“Abraham, by Divine grace, was made like to God, and that he was admitted to communion with Him.” Isaiah’s point is that we all need to leave our worlds of exile among the sinful nations and return to God’s holy station, where we can commune with Him, be His friend, and share in his Divine grace being made like unto Christ himself.
“10 Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.”
We can hear these great words in the second stanza of the wonderful hymn, “How Firm a Foundation.” The hymn teaches us that though great trials attend us, God is there with us. If we stand firm on the foundation, we will be delivered. What is the foundation?
“Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone” (Ephesians 2:19-20).
Christ is the chief part of the foundation, with assistance from living and ancient prophets and apostles. Isaiah would be part of that foundation, whose writings prophesied of Christ, the Restoration, and the return of Israel in the last days during times of great trials and tribulations. God is able to create rivers in the desert, move mountains, plant trees, give manna from heaven and water from rocks. He is able to perform the miracles needed for a believing people. However, the wicked he will destroy, even as he foresaw the destruction to come from the northern countries of Assyria and Babylon.
Sing Unto the Lord a New Song
God compares his precious Messiah to the righteous and covenant people of Israel. Both are chosen for a special work, called in righteousness, promised to be held in God’s hand. Both are to “bring judgment unto truth” and be a “light of the Gentiles.” Israel failed their calling and duty to perform as the elect and holy people of God. But the Messiah would come bringing the fullness of the gospel and salvation to both the Jews and Gentiles. He will not only save the living, but provide salvation to the dead (1 Peter 3:18-22, 4:6). The Messiah, Jesus Christ, would be the fulfillment of the promise and covenant of Israel.
Beside Me there is no other Savior
Once the Messiah is called, God can tell Israel that they are now saved: “Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine” (Isa 43:1). He has now accepted those who embrace God and take upon themselves His name. LDS believe that Jehovah of the Old Testament was Jesus Christ himself, acting in place of God the Father as King of Israel. He foresaw the coming of the Messiah, because He would be that Messiah. Christians take upon themselves the name of Christ, seeking redemption and salvation through Jesus’ holy name.
As discussed in previous lessons, the ancient Hebrews believed thee was an ancient divine council of God the Father (El Elyon/Elohim), and his divine sons. Each of his top 70 sons was given a kingdom on earth to reign over as King and God of that nation. In Job chapter one, we see sons of Elohim (including the Adversary, Satan) going to Jehovah to challenge him for primacy over Israel. Jehovah won that battle of gods and powerful beings.
Jehovah began his nation by choosing Abraham, who became his friend, his ally, his divine son on the earth. Starting with just one man, Jehovah built up the premier holy nation. Though small compared to Egypt and other nations, it was powerful whenever the people relied on the arm of Jehovah. He was their firm foundation. Only when they turned to other gods, or made idols of gold and silver, did they falter and collapse as a people. No longer holy, they were no longer under Jehovah’s special protection.
Other nations struggled with their divine kings. The divine son, Yam, was dethroned and replaced by Baal among the Canaanites. And in Isaiah’s time, Baal would fall to the destructive forces of Assyria and its gods.
The Lord wanted to assure all of Israel,
“8 Bring forth the blind people that have eyes, and the deaf that have ears.
9 Let all the nations be gathered together, and let the people be assembled: who among them can declare this, and shew us former things? let them bring forth their witnesses, that they may be justified: or let them hear, and say, It is truth.
10 Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen: that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he: before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me.
11 I, even I, am the Lord; and beside me there is no saviour.
12 I have declared, and have saved, and I have shewed, when there was no strange god among you: therefore ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord, that I am God.
13 Yea, before the day was I am he; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand: I will work, and who shall let it?”
Jehovah was the first God of Israel, and no upstart was going to replace him. None was formed before him as God of Israel, and none would be after him. The Lord chose his servant, the Messiah, even himself, as God of Israel. He was and is the only Savior of Israel and of the earth. No other god, whether Baal or any idol was ever going to save them, nor replace Jehovah as their God. Jehovah repeats his holy name “I AM” (compare with John 8:58, Exodus 3:14).
During the Jewish exile, it would be God who would bring down the Babylonians. Daniel notes that Nebuchadnezzar went insane for mocking God, and the Babylonians fell to the Persian Empire. It would be Persia’s king Cyrus that would restore the Jews to the holy land. And in the last days, Babylon (or the wicked of the world) will fall again, allowing God to restore his people to Zion and Jerusalem and other holy places.
God describes how graven images are made. Men design them, work them in the fire, cast them, and create them with their own hands. While the temple in Jerusalem and other temples in the area looked similar, there was a major difference: In Jehovah’s temple was no graven image of himself. Instead, there was the mercy seat sitting between the two cherubim, with no image of God on the throne. He was the invisible God, or rather the God that was not made of gold, silver or wood. He was and is real, and no graven image could approach his glory.
“9 They that make a graven image are all of them vanity; and their delectable things shall not profit; and they are their own witnesses; they see not, nor know; that they may be ashamed.
10 Who hath formed a god, or molten a graven image that is profitable for nothing?
11 Behold, all his fellows shall be ashamed: and the workmen, they are of men: let them all be gathered together, let them stand up; yet they shall fear, and they shall be ashamed together.”
When God appears to them in glory, they shall see just how worthless their images and gods really are. They will be ashamed of their efforts. Rather than using their hands to worship God and serve others in Christian service, they spent their lives piling up riches and treasures, material gods that cannot save them.
It would not be these idols that would save them, but God through his servants. For the Jews in exile, Isaiah foresaw the prince of Persia, Cyrus, returning them to Jerusalem and commanding them to rebuild the temple. But this could only happen after Israel put away their strange gods, and not before.
“14 Thus saith the Lord, The labour of Egypt, and merchandise of Ethiopia and of the Sabeans, men of stature, shall come over unto thee, and they shall be thine: they shall come after thee; in chains they shall come over, and they shall fall down unto thee, they shall make supplication unto thee, saying, Surely God is in thee; and there is none else, there is no God.
15 Verily thou art a God that hidest thyself, O God of Israel, the Saviour.
16 They shall be ashamed, and also confounded, all of them: they shall go to confusion together that are makers of idols.
17 But Israel shall be saved in the Lord with an everlasting salvation: ye shall not be ashamed nor confounded world without end.
18 For thus saith the Lord that created the heavens; God himself that formed the earth and made it; he hath established it, he created it not in vain, he formed it to be inhabited: I am the Lord; and there is none else” (Isa 45).
God will turn the riches of others over to his righteous people. They will not want if they put their trust in Him. God hides himself in the sense that he is the invisible God. He has no idol to represent him. But people who become his friends, even as Abraham, can commune with him, see him, and be with him. He is the Savior, Jesus Christ, and will crown the righteous in Israel with “everlasting salvation.” He is the Great “I AM”.
Babylon the Great is Fallen!
God has tough words for Babylon and Chaldee. He tells the Chaldeans they will no longer be known as the “lady of kingdoms” as they have prostituted themselves in sin and iniquity. Their hold on Israel is a temporary one, and as Israel grows in faith and righteousness, it shall rise in God’s strength. Meanwhile, the mighty and proud of the world shall collapse into ashes.
Babylon was a mighty nation once, reigning from Mesopotamia and into Egypt. But they collapsed anciently. Today, Babylon is the world of sin that surrounds us with its bare power and force. Many nations have signed their souls over to become part of Babylon and its worship of modern gods of materialism.
The day came when God called Judah out of the lands of their captors and restored them to Jerusalem. A new temple was built, and the people sought no longer after idols nor graven images. Sadly, in Jesus’ day, they will have replaced their worship of Baal with the worship of money and riches. This foreshadows our own day, when people give lip service to the Lord God of Israel, and focus their attentions on getting gain.
“20 Go ye forth of Babylon, flee ye from the Chaldeans, with a voice of singing declare ye, tell this, utter it even to the end of the earth; say ye, The Lord hath redeemed his servant Jacob.
21 And they thirsted not when he led them through the deserts: he caused the waters to flow out of the rock for them: he clave the rock also, and the waters gushed out.
22 There is no peace, saith the Lord, unto the wicked” (Isa 48).
God will lead Jacob through the dangers in the world, until they find themselves in safety in the promised land. But for the wicked, there is no true peace. In sowing sin, they will reap the whirlwind of discontent and terror.
The Messiah’s Calling
“1 Listen, O isles, unto me; and hearken, ye people, from far; The Lord hath called me from the womb; from the bowels of my mother hath he made mention of my name.
2 And he hath made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand hath he hid me, and made me a polished shaft; in his quiver hath he hid me;
3 And said unto me, Thou art my servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified.
4 Then I said, I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength for nought, and in vain: yet surely my judgment is with the Lord, and my work with my God.
5 And now, saith the Lord that formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob again to him, Though Israel be not gathered, yet shall I be glorious in the eyes of the Lord, and my God shall be my strength.
6 And he said, It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth.”
Isaiah’s divine calling resembled that of the Messiah. In Isaiah 6, we see him stand before the Divine Council, receiving his calling to restore Israel from God. He symbolizes the Messiah, as the Lord would be called to the position to save them. Yet, with both Isaiah and Jesus, Israel initially rejected them. But the words of Isaiah and the redemption of Christ flow into and among the Gentile nations, bringing salvation to all the earth. While it seems in the short term they have lost the battle for Israel, the war will be won by saving not only many in physical Israel, but all in spiritual Israel. Israel will not be forgotten forever.
“13 Sing, O heavens; and be joyful, O earth; and break forth into singing, O mountains: for the Lord hath comforted his people, and will have mercy upon his afflicted.
14 But Zion said, The Lord hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me.
15 Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee.
16 Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me.”
God will gather Israel; both the literal line of Jacob and the spiritual line, will be gathered in the last days.
“22 Thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I will lift up mine hand to the Gentiles, and set up my standard to the people: and they shall bring thy sons in their arms, and thy daughters shall be carried upon their shoulders.
23 And kings shall be thy nursing fathers, and their queens thy nursing mothers: they shall bow down to thee with their face toward the earth, and lick up the dust of thy feet; and thou shalt know that I am the Lord: for they shall not be ashamed that wait for me.”
God the Messiah, even Jesus Christ, is redeemer and savior of the whole world. He will save Israel, and offer salvation to the Gentiles. All who accept of his divine grace shall be saved from physical and spiritual death, and will dwell in peace and joy for eternity.
Matthew Henry bio- wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matthew_Henry
Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on Isa 41: http://www.christnotes.org/commentary.php?com=mhc&b=23&c=41
“How Firm a Foundation” sung by Mormon Tabernacle Choir: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pUqHXFA2_6w
Divine Council at Joel’s Monastery:
Other links on the Divine Council