Old Testament Lesson 38 (Isaiah 40–49)
The information in these chapters of Isaiah is so expansive, and covers so many topics, that it is impossible to provide an article of normal length to cover them. Thus, this week’s article is nearly twice as large as usual. Teachers should carefully select those things that the Spirit indicates will be of greatest value to their class members.
GOOD TIDINGS FOR ZION (Isaiah 40–41)
The Second Coming of Christ
● “Comfort ye my people” (Isaiah 40:1–2). Jerusalem’s days of trial and sadness are over, because the Lord has come (spoken as if it had already occurred).
— “The message of comfort to Jerusalem, ‘that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned,’ clearly refers to the latter days. The Anchor Bible translates this line ‘that her sentence is served, her penalty is paid.’ Judah was to be sent through the ‘furnace of affliction’ (48:10), so the message given here is to be fulfilled after she has been through the furnace. A look at history and at present-day circumstances shows her still to be going through that furnace. The rest of the chapter also supports a Second Coming time period.”1
● “The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, prepare ye the way of the Lord” (Isaiah 40:3–5).
— This verse refers to John the Baptist, but, as with so many other Old Testament prophecies, it has an additional meaning. The Savior clearly identified the “voice in the wilderness” as John the Baptist (Matthew 3:3; John 1:23; 1 Nephi 10:8–9). But if this forerunner was to prepare the way for the person who was to tell Jerusalem that times of trial were over (Isaiah 40:1), then the prophet clearly could not be referring only to John the Baptist’s mortal ministry.
● Earthquakes will change the face of the land, and all flesh will see it together (Isaiah 40:4–8).
— Elder Joseph Fielding Smith said that before the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ in his glory, there will be a mighty earthquake, so destructive that mountains will be made low, valleys will be elevated, and rough places made as a plain. It will be so violent that the sun will be darkened and the moon will be turned to blood. The waters will be driven back into the north countries and the lands joined as they were before the days of Peleg.”2
— There will be “a new heaven and a new earth” (Ether 13:9).
— “All flesh Is grass” (vv. 6–8). The spring rains in Canaan, called the “latter rains” (Jeremiah 3:3), fall through April and May. During these rains the grass springs up in Israel as a spontaneous, green carpet over the land in such abundance and splendor that it seems it could never fail. Within a very short time the rains end, however, and the fierce summer heat turns the grass brown almost over night. It simply seems to disappear across the barren hills. That withered, lifeless grass was the metaphor Isaiah chose to describe the wicked whose ways are so attractive to the world but cannot endure, and will eventually be like dried grass before a blazing fire. (D&C 101:24–25).
God’s Great Wisdom and Power
● “Zion” in the high mountain (Isaiah 40:9). Orson Pratt said that this scripture was a prophecy concerning the Lord’s Zion that would be built up upon the earth before he comes in his glory. The prophecy indicated that “the people called Zion” would go to the high mountain territory (the mountain valleys of Utah and nearby areas). He further said that Joseph Smith had predicted the same thing and concluded: “Thus the prophecy was uttered—thus it has been fulfilled.”3
● God is mighty and yet still tender (Isaiah 40:10–11).
— Strength: “His arm shall rule for him” (v. 10).
— Tenderness: “He shall feed his flock like a shepherd” (v. 11).
— Many numbers from Handel’s Messiah come from Isaiah 40.
● “Measured” waters and “comprehended” dust (Isaiah 40:12–27). This is Isaiah’s poetic way of saying that God knows the world so intimately that he knows even the measure of the waters of the ocean and the dust of the earth. He emphasizes through the use of contrasts the greatness of God and the nothingness of nations and their gods.
● One of the names of God (Isaiah 40:28). Elder Bruce R. McConkie said: “In the same sense in which one of the Lord’s names is Endless and another Eternal, so Everlasting is also an appellation of Deity. (Moses 1:3; 7:35; D&C 19:10). He is called the Everlasting God (Gen. 21:33; Isa. 9:6; 40:28; Jer. 10:10; Rom. 16:26; D&C 133:34), signifying that he endures forever, for ‘his years never fail.’ (D&C 76:4).”4
● The Word of Wisdom promises reflect these verses from Isaiah (Isaiah 40:28–31). Those who “wait upon the Lord” will receive these blessings. Isaiah is amazed at how young people in those days will abuse their health and strength.
● Israel in the “isles” (Isaiah 41:1, 5). From time to time the Lord has led away remnants of Israel to “isles” from which he will eventually gather them before the second advent of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Americas are one of these isles (See also 2 Nephi 10:20–21; 1 Nephi 19:10, 16; 1 Nephi 21:8). Nephi referred to their location as “these isles of the sea,” which they may indeed have been in his day, before the great changes that occurred at the time of the great destructions that accompanied the crucifixion of the Savior (1 Nephi 22:3–4; 2 Nephi 10:8).
Israel Will Be Restored and Blessed
● The righteous man from the east (Isaiah 41:2). John saw a vision similar to Isaiah’s and spoke of this righteous man of the east as an “angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God” (Revelation 7:2). The Lord revealed to Joseph Smith that this angel of the east was “Elias which was to come to gather together the tribes of Israel and restore all things” (D&C 77:9).
— Elder Bruce R. McConkie said: “Who has restored all things? Was it one man? Certainly not. Many angelic ministrants have been sent from the courts of glory to confer keys and powers, to commit their dispensations and glories again to men on earth. At least the following have come: Moroni, John the Baptist, Peter, James and John, Moses, Elijah, Elias, Gabriel, Raphael, and Michael. . . . Since it is apparent that no one messenger has carried the whole burden of the restoration, but rather that each has come with a specific endowment from on high, it becomes clear that Elias is a composite personage. The expression must be understood to be a name and a title for those whose mission it was to commit keys and powers to men in this final dispensation.”5
● God will not forsake us (Isaiah 41:10). This is the Lord’s comforting assurance to Israel.
● The wisdom of the wicked is futile (Isaiah 41:21–29). The Lord challenged the wisest of the world to produce the smallest insight into the future (vv. 21–23) and reminded them that the greatest of their works are “nothing” (v. 24), and that in the end their values “are all vanity” and will only bring “confusion” (v. 29).
● The gospel light will go forth to the Gentiles (Isaiah 42:9–16).
— The truths and the keys of former days will be restored in the dispensation of the fulness of times (v. 9).
— Isaiah describes the singing of a “new song” after the restoration of the gospel (v. 10). The song is called the “song of the Lamb” (D&C 133:56–57).
— Using the metaphor of childbirth he described the restoration of the earthly kingdom following a long period of apostasy, during which the heavens had been sealed (v. 14; Revelation 12:1–2, 13, 17).
— The Church will be restored in the last days, before the destruction that will make the mountains as plains and dry up the waters, and before the return of the scattered tribes of Israel (vv. 15–16). The light of the gospel will dispel the darkness they have so long endured.
— The restored gospel will not be taken again from the earth, and the Lord will not forsake his own (v. 16; Isaiah 2:2–3; 11:11–16; 29:14–15, 18–19; Daniel 2:44–45; Joel 2:25–29).
● “A new thing” in the wilderness (Isaiah 43:18–21; 35:1–10). After recalling the destruction of the Egyptians before his day (v. 3), and predicting the destruction of Babylon in his own future (vv. 14–17), Isaiah spoke of a miraculous time when the destruction would be reversed and the desert would “blossom as the rose.”
— Elder LeGrand Richards said: “Isaiah said: ‘Behold, I will do a new thing,’ and as far as my understanding of this scripture is concerned, that new thing was the great principle of irrigation. It is true the Saints had to make the canals, they had to make the ditches, they had to put in the dams, but the land might have remained arid had not the Lord put into their minds the inspiration to do this very thing, and that is what Isaiah saw that the Lord would do.”6
● The gathering of Israel will be a universal event (Isaiah 43:4–13). Isaiah used east, west, north, and south to symbolize “all the nations” throughout the world to which Israel was scattered and from which she will be gathered (vv. 5–6, 9). “I will work, and who shall hinder it? ” is how the Prophet Joseph Smith corrected the words “let it” (v. 13). (JST, Isaiah 43:13).
● Israel was delivered into bondage for her own good (Isaiah 43:14–17).
THE FUTILITY OF WORSHIPING IDOLS
● The folly of idol worship (Isaiah 41:29; Psalm 115:4–8).
— A modern reminder of the futility of worshiping the things of this world (D&C 1:16).
— Those who pay homage at the feet of idols are deaf and blind to the gospel message and its light (Isaiah 42:17–25, especially vv. 17–18). The Prophet Joseph Smith corrected vv. 19–22 to show that it is not the servant who is blind, but scattered Israel, who have adopted the idols of their neighbors. (JST Isaiah 42:19–22).
● The idolatry of Israel poetically described by Isaiah (lsaiah 44:13–20).
— Some wood from trees was made into gods to be worshiped.
— Other wood from the same source was used for domestic purposes.
— Isaiah thus illustrated the foolishness of worshiping idols.
— “Is there not a lie in my right hand?” (v. 20). Since the right hand is the covenant hand, this phrase implies that one who continues to seek treasures, or to worship false gods, becomes blinded to the truth and cannot recognize that his covenants are broken and become to him as lies that will condemn him at the last day.
● Idols are just idols, but Christ is God (Isaiah 46). The poetic refrain of this chapter is at once familiar and new. It is a good example of how the Eastern mind is taught. The same theme is repeated again and again with only slight variations. In this manner the listener is driven to the inescapable conclusion of the teacher. Isaiah was a master of the technique. v. 9Isaiah enumerated the ways the Lord had been solicitous of Israel and has left her with only one conclusion: “I am God, and there is none like me.”
THE REDEEMER OF ISRAEL (Isaiah 42–44)
The Mission of Jehovah
● Isaiah 42:1–4 “The Servant” is given power of judgment (v. 1), and is he upon whose law the isles shall wait (v. 4)—the Mediator of Israel and the Savior of the Gentiles. Matthew cited this passage to show why Christ did not seek an earthly kingdom (Matt. 12:15–21).
— The spirit of judgment was to be withheld until the Day of Judgment (v. 3). The imagery of the bruised reed and smoking flax means that even though he comes in judgment, it is not to destroy souls but to save them. The phrase “smoking flax” is translated by Keil & Delitzsch as a “glimmering wick” and explained as follows: “He does not completely break or extinguish. . . . He [will] not destroy the life that is dying out, but He will actually save it; His course is not to destroy, but to save.”7
— The phrase “he shall bring forth judgment unto truth” (v. 3) was interpreted by Keil & Delitzsch as “such a knowledge, and acknowledgment of the true facts in the complicated affairs of men, as will promote both equity and kindness.”8
● The Savior is the light of the world and “of the Gentlies” (Isaiah 42:5–9). The Savior’s hand is extended to strengthen, support, and protect covenant Israel (v. 6). Also, every covenant person becomes a light to the world by holding up the light of the Savior through faithfully living his commandments.
— This prison and its prisoners (v. 7) refers to those who respond to the gospel and are exalted (both living and dead). They are as prisoners set free, whether they are in the world of spirits or on earth.
● The prisoners shut up in spirit prison shall be visited by the Lord (Isaiah 24:22).
— Christ was sent to open the spirit prison (Isaiah 61:1–3).
— Christ preached to the spirits in prison after his crucifixion (1 Peter 3:18–20).
— Christ preached to those who did not hear of him during mortality (D&C 76:72–74).
— He did not go to them personally, but organized and sent others (D&C 138:35–46).
— The Prophet Joseph Smith said: “Here then we have an account of our Savior preaching to the spirits in prison, to spirits that had been imprisoned from the days of Noah; and what did He preach to them? That they were to stay there? Certainly not! Let His own declaration testify. [Luke 4:18; Isaiah 42:7] It is very evident from this that He not only went to preach to them, but to deliver, or bring them out of the prison house . . . Thus we find that God will deal with all the human family equally, and that as the antediluvians [those who lived before the Flood] had their day of visitation, so will those characters referred to by Isaiah, have their time of visitation and deliverance, after having been many days in prison.”9
Jehovah Is Our Savior
● Christ is the true God and Savior of Israel, and though they forsook him, he did not forget them but called them to return to him and promised he yet would own and prosper them (Isaiah 43:1–4, 8–28; 44:1–8, 21–27; JST Isaiah 43:13).
● Jesurun (Isaiah 44:1–2). The Lord called this faithful servant “Jesurun,” (or Jeshurun), which is the Hebrew word for “upright” or “righteous.”
● Isaiah speaks in past tense of the Atonement (Isaiah 44:21–22). He had already seen it in vision, although it had not yet occurred. He declared that the Atonement had been made, and that Israel’s redemption was predicated upon her return to him.
● There is no God or Savior but the Lord (Isaiah 45:5–12).
— A poetic reference to the restoration in the latter days, when revelation would come down from heaven and the Book of Mormon would be taken out of the earth (v. 8).
PROPHECIES CONCERNING CYRUS (Isaiah 44–45)
Cyrus, King of Persia (Isaiah 44:21–28)
● At the time Isaiah prophesied, Babylon had not yet come to power. More than 100 years would pass before Babylon would carry Judah into captivity.
● Isaiah revealed the Lord’s plan for Judah’s restoration to their homeland under a king called Cyrus. At the time Isaiah spoke his name, Cyrus was not yet born.
— Sidney B. Sperry said: “Numerous commentators deny that Isaiah could foresee Cyrus so clearly as to be able to call him by name. They commonly claim, therefore, that this part of Isaiah was written by someone during the Exile and after Cyrus had given Israel help . . . —in other words, after the event. Nevertheless, it is of great interest to find that the Jewish historian Josephus accepted Isaiah’s words and even quotes letters from Cyrus confirming the prophet’s predictions.”10
— Josephus wrote: “[God] stirred up the mind of Cyrus, and made him write this throughout all Asia:—‘Thus saith Cyrus the king.—Since God Almighty hath appointed me to be king of the habitable earth, I believe that he is that God which the nation of the Israelites worship; for indeed he foretold my name by the prophets, and that I should build him a house at Jerusalem, in the country of Judea.’
“This was known to Cyrus by his reading the book which Isaiah left behind him of prophecies; for this prophet said that God had spoken thus to him in a secret vision:—‘My will is, that Cyrus, whom I have appointed to be king over many and great nations, send back my people to their own land, and build my temple.’
“This was foretold by Isaiah one hundred and forty years before the temple was demolished. Accordingly, when Cyrus read this, and admired the divine power, an earnest desire and ambition seized upon him to fulfill what was so written. . . .”11
● Cyrus, the future Persian King, was called the Lord’s “Anointed” (Isaiah 45:1–4).
— Cyrus gained great riches from conquering Babylon—”gold and silver estimated by weight in this account to $284 million (v. 3).12
● The “ravenous bird from the east” refers to Cyrus, who was prophetically destined to humble Babylon swiftly and decisively (Isaiah 46:11).
● What is the Lord’s and what is man’s own? (Isaiah 45:12).
— President Spencer W. Kimball asked: “‘Do you feel generous when you pay your tithes? Boastful when the amount is large? Has the child been generous to his parents when he washes the car, makes his bed? Are you liberal when you pay your rent, or pay off notes at banks? You are not generous, liberal, but merely honest when you pay your tithes. Perhaps your attitudes are the product of your misconceptions.”13
— Elder Neal A. Maxwell said: “The submission of one’s will is really the only uniquely personal thing we have to place on God’s altar. The many other things we”give,” brothers and sisters, are actually the things He has already given or loaned to us. However, when you and I finally submit ourselves, by letting our individual wills be swallowed up in God’s will, then we are really giving something to Him! It is the only possession which is truly ours to give!”14
ISAIAH’S TESTIMONY AND WARNING
“Every Knee Shall Bow”
● One of many primary testimonies of Isaiah (Isaiah 45:14–25).
● The identity of the God of the Old Testament is clearly revealed:
— He is the Messiah, the Savior of the world (v. 15).
— He shall save Israel with an everlasting salvation (v. 17).
— He is the Creator (v. 18).
— He is just and is mighty to save (v. 21).
— There is no other name given by which man may be saved (vv. 21–22).
— His words are truth and righteousness (v. 23).
— Every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is the Christ (v. 23).
— He is the mediator for all the seed of Israel (v. 24).
“Go Ye out from Babylon”
● The Lord warned in our own day: “Go ye out . . . from Babylon, from the midst of wickedness, which is spiritual Babylon” (D&C 133:14). Spiritual Babylon is the perverted counterfeit of Jehovah. This chapter demonstrates as well as any scripture in the Old Testament the extent to which Satan has gone to achieve his eternal lie.
● Both the Babylonian empire and Spiritual Babylon will be destroyed (Isaiah 47)
— Babylon will be brought down to the dust (Isaiah 47:1).
— Babylon will become damned as a slave of her own evil nature (Isaiah 47:2–3).
— Babylon will fall from her favored place among men (Isaiah 47:5).
— Babylon will be denied the very thing she boasted of possessing children (subjects) and marriage (that which saved a woman from disgrace in a society) (Isaiah 47:9).
— Babylon will be destroyed by sources she knows not of (Isaiah 47:11).
— Babylon will be cleansed from the earth even as by fire (Isaiah 47:14).
The Importance of Isaiah 48–54
● Isaiah 48–54 includes some of Isaiah’s greatest work:
— 6 of the 7 chapters are found in the Book of Mormon.
— The other chapter (52) is found throughout the Book of Mormon.
— Many of the passages are explained in the Doctrine and Covenants as well.
PROPHECIES & METAPHORS OF ISRAEL’S FUTURE
Isaiah 48 is the first chapter of Isaiah quoted in the Book of Mormon and is found there as 1 Nephi 20. Every verse in the Book of Mormon reads differently from the way it reads in the King James text, and many of the differences are significant. It can be assumed that the Book of Mormon text is more correct. Compare verses 1–2, 6–7, 11, 14, 16–17, and 22 in both versions to see the significant changes.
● Apostate Israel was reminded of God’s foreknowledge (Isaiah 48:1–8).
— The Babylonian empire will be destroyed (Isaiah 47).
— 140 years before, Isaiah predicted Cyrus (Isaiah 44:28 –45:5, 13).
— Cyrus fulfilled the prophecy (2 Chron.36:22–23; Ezra 1:1–8).
— Men cannot hinder the Lord from accomplishing his will (D&C 121:33).
Metaphors of Israel’s Scattering and Gathering
● Isaiah 48:4
— “Brass brow”= Hard-headed.
— “Necks of iron” = Stiff-necked.
● Isaiah 48:9–11
— “Furnace of affliction” = Refining (purifying) of silver.
● Isaiah 48:18–19
— “Peace as a river” = Deep and continuous.
— “Righteousness as the waves of the sea = Strong and continuous.
— “Seed as the sand” = As numerous as grains of sand.
— Monte S. Nyman said: “[Isaiah] Chapter 49 is one of the most important chapters in the whole book of Isaiah, because it also clearly foretells the mission of the Latter-day Saints and the destiny of the land of America in connection with the house of Israel. Nephi interpreted the chapter as foretelling that the land of America would receive some of scattered Israel, while his brother Jacob applied it both to the Jews in Jerusalem and to the Gentiles. Chapter 49 is of such importance that it ought to be studied diligently by every member of the Church.”15
— The entire chapter of Isaiah 49 is quoted in 1 Nephi 21. Half of verse one is missing from the King James text—the statement that the scattering of Israel was a direct result of the wickedness of the religious leaders.
● Israel will be scattered to the “isles of the sea” (Isaiah 49:1).
— Nephi identified his people as those Isaiah was talking about (1 Nephi 22:4).
— Nephi called their land “these isles of the sea” (2 Nephi 10:20–22).
— America looked like islands at that time
● Three figures of speech about Israel’s future gathering: (Isaiah 49:2–3)
— A “mouth like a sharp sword”—words of power for the nations.
— Hiding Israel in “the shadow of his hand.” D&C 86:8–9 clarifies what this means.
— The “polished shaft” hidden in the Lord’s quiver.
— On one occasion, the Prophet Joseph Smith quoted a prophecy of Daniel concerning a small rock that would be hewn out of the mountain without hands and would roll forth until it filled the whole earth (Daniel 2:45). He then added the prophecy from Isaiah that described a “polished shaft” in the hands of the Lord (Isaiah 49:2). By using these scriptures, he was suggesting that he was the fulfillment of those prophecies.
● Three metaphors of Israel’s future gathering: (Isaiah 49:14–23)
— Attentive mother metaphor (Isaiah 49:14–15). Mothers can’t forget their nursing children (v. 15). As part of this metaphor, Isaiah made an allusion to the crucifixion and atonement (Isaiah 49:16). He has “engraved us in the palms of his hands”—literally and figuratively our “walls” (circumstances) are known continually by him.
— Growing family metaphor (Isaiah 49:18–21). So many people shall come that it will seem too crowded (v. 20). “Who hath begotten me these (v. 21). . . where had they been?”. This means:”Where in the world did all these people (Israelites) come from?”
— Nurturing parents metaphor (Isaiah 49:22–23).
— God will set up his “standard” (flag) indicating where to gather (v. 22).
— The Gentiles will “carry you upon their shoulders”—to get there (v. 22).
— The Gentiles will be “nursing fathers” and “nursing mothers” (v. 23). . . parents who protect a young child. Lamanites.
1. Monte S. Nyman, “Great Are the Words of Isaiah,” 141–142.
2. Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Elder Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols. [1954–56], 1:85; 2:317; D&C 49:23; 88:87; 109:74; 133:17–25, 44; Isaiah 54:10; Ezekiel 38:20; Revelation 16:15–20.
3. In Journal of Discourses, 15:48.
4. Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. , 243.
5. Mormon Doctrine, 221.
6. In Conference Report, Oct. 1948, 44–45.
7. Doctrine and Covenants Commentary, rev. ed. , 7:2:176.
8. Doctrine and Covenants Commentary, 7:2:176.
9. History of the Church, 4:596–597.
10. The Voice of Israel’s Prophets , 107–108.
11. Antiquities of the Jews, XI, 1, 2.
12. Adam Clarke, The Holy Bible . . . with a Commentary and Critical Notes, 4:178.
13. In Conference Report, Apr. 1968, 77.
14. In a Conference Talk, October 1995: “Swallowed Up in the Will of the Father”,” Ensign, November 1995.
15. “Great Are the Words of Isaiah,” 173–174.