Old Testament Lesson 36 (Isaiah 1–6)
MISSION OF THE PROPHET ISAIAH
Isaiah’s Vision of the Lord
● Isaiah 6:1–4 Isaiah’s glorious vision of the Lord in the Holy of Holies of the Jerusalem temple. To understand this scripture we must understand the metaphors and figures of speech that Isaiah used to describe it:
— “In the year that King Uzziah died”—approximately 740 BC (v. 1).
— “I saw . . . the Lord.” Both John and Nephi testified that the Lord whom Isaiah saw was the premortal Jesus Christ (v. 1; John 12:41; 2 Nephi 11:2–3).
— Seraphs (Heb. seraphim) means “fiery ones” or serpents (v. 2; Numbers 21:6,8; Deuteronomy 8:15; Isaiah 14:29).
— Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “Seraphs are angels who reside in the presence of God, giving continual glory, honor, and adoration to him . . . The fact that these holy beings were shown to him [Isaiah] as having wings was simply to symbolize their ‘power, to move, to act, etc.’ as was the case also in visions others had received. (D&C 77:44).”1
— The Prophet Joseph Smith described them as beings who “dwell amid everlasting burnings.” They have “wings” a Hebrew term meaning “veils” or “covers.”
— With these “wings” they can veil or cover their “face,” Hebrew for “presence.”
— Also, they can hide their “feet” or “legs,” Hebrew for ”footing,” or “location.”
— They also have the power to “fly about,” meaning to move freely through space (v. 3).
— Holy, holy, holy: The Hebrew superlative method is to say it three times. The modern equivalent would be to say “most holy.”
— Posts of the door: Hebrew way of saying “the foundations” (v. 4).
— Filled with smoke: Hebrew symbol for the “presence and glory of God.”
— The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “God Almighty Himself dwells in eternal fire; flesh and blood cannot go there, for all corruption is devoured by the fire. ‘Our God is a consuming fire. [Deuteronomy 4:24; Hebrews 12:29].’ When our flesh is quickened by the Spirit, there will be no blood in this tabernacle. Some dwell in higher glory than others . . . Immortality dwells in everlasting burnings.”2
● Isaiah 6:5–7 Isaiah received a forgiveness of his sins.
— “Woe is me! For I am undone” is a figure of speech indicating Isaiah’s over-whelming feeling of unworthiness before God (v. 5).
— Coals: A Hebrew symbol for “cleansing” or “purging” (v. 6).
Isaiah Accepts His Call to the Ministry
● Isaiah 6:8–9 Isaiah accepted the call to minister to his people. Later in his writing, Isaiah described the inadequacy of words and even of the senses of mortal man to comprehend or describe heavenly things (Isaiah 64:4). Others who have experienced visions of the celestial realms have cited Isaiah in an attempt to explain their limited ability to tell of what they had been shown (1 Cor. 2:9; D&C 76:10).
— The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “Could you gaze into heaven five minutes, you would know more than you would by reading all that ever was written on the subject.”3
● Isaiah 6:9–13 The Lord warns Isaiah that the people will reject his message. We will discuss the details of this prophecy later on in this lesson.
APOSTATE CONDITIONS IN ISRAEL & THE WORLD
Apostate Conditions in Isaiah’s Day
● Isaiah 1:1–9 Israel’s rebellion against the Lord is total—illustrated by the references to head and heart, to the whole person from foot to head. In other words, the spiritual cancer had infested the whole body of Israel.
— “Holy One of Israel” (v. 4). This sacred title of the Savior is used for the first time in scripture by Isaiah. It appears about 30 times in his writings.
— A “cottage in a vineyard” (v. 8). When the vineyard and the cucumber crops were ready to harvest, small booths, or huts, were built in the fields so the owner or his servants could watch over the harvest and protect it from thieves or animals. These huts were generally crudely made and hastily erected. After the harvest, they were abandoned and quickly became dilapidated and forlorn relics of the harvest. Jerusalem was to be like that—once proud and useful, but now, through her own spiritual neglect, an empty and forlorn relic.4
— “Left unto us a very small remnant” (v. 9). This promises the preservation of the lineage of Judah for future time. Paul cited this passage in this same context (Romans 9:29; Isaiah 10:22).
● Isaiah 1:11–15 Religious ceremonies without meaning or faith. These verses do not mean that the Lord rejected the law of Moses. The condemnation is of the hypocritical misuse of these religious activities—they fulfilled only the outward requirements and did not worship with full purpose of heart.
A Call to Repentance and Forgiveness
● Isaiah 1:16–20 The Lord is willing to forgive all their sins, no matter how egregious, and save them. Note the conditional nature of this promise and warning (vv. 19–20; D&C 64:34–35).
Conditions in the Last Days
● Isaiah 2:1–3 “The mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established.”
— President Harold B. Lee said, “The coming forth of his church in these days was the beginning of the fulfillment of the ancient prophecy when ‘the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains.’”5 “With the coming of the pioneers to establish the Church in the tops of the mountains, our early leaders declared . . . the beginning of the fulfillment of that prophecy.”6
● Isaiah 2:3 “Out of Zion shall go forth the law . . . the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.”
— Elder Joseph Fielding Smith said, “We are informed in the revelation given to Joseph Smith the Prophet, that the city of Zion and the New Jerusalem is one and the same. [D&C 28:9; 42:9; 45:66–67; 57:2; 58:7]. . . . Jerusalem of old, after the Jews have been cleansed and sanctified from all their sin, shall become a holy city where the Lord shall dwell and from whence he shall send forth his word unto all people. Likewise, on this continent, the city of Zion, New Jerusalem, shall be build, and from it the law of God shall also go forth. . . . These two cities, one in the land of Zion and one in Palestine, are to become capitals for the kingdom of God during the millennium.”7
● Isaiah 2:4–5 Establishment of the Millennium. The writings of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon include an additional phrase in verse 5: “Yea, come, for ye have all gone astray, every one to his wicked ways” (2 Nephi 12:5). This verse indicates a widespread apostasy in Israel and the return of Israel to the Lord before the Second Coming.
Conditions in Both Isaiah’s Day and the Latter Days (Dualistic Prophecies)
● Isaiah 2: 6–22 Spiritual problems in Isaiah’s day that will prevail again before the Second Coming.
— “Replenished from the east” means looking to the religious philosophies and the gods of world for wisdom and guidance instead of to the gospel (v. 6).
— “Hearken unto soothsayers”—false prophets who claim to foretell the future (v. 6).
— “They please themselves in the children of strangers” means joining the heathen nations in all their wickedness (v. 6).
— The land was “full of silver and gold”—people are wealthy and materialistic (v. 7).
— “Full of horses, neither . . . any end of their chariots” indicates reliance on military security instead of God. The horse was a symbol of warfare, as was the chariot (v. 7).
— The land was filled with idolatry then, and men still turn to false gods today, though their gods are no longer idols made of wood or stone (v. 8).
— The “mean man boweth not down, and the great man humbleth himself not” (v. 9). The Book of Mormon account of Isaiah’s writings (2 Nephi 12:9) shows that Isaiah was referring to men not worshiping the true God.
— The “cedars of Lebanon” and the “paks of Bashan” were the loftiest and most impressive trees in the ancient Middle East (vv. 11–13). They symbolized not only the great beauty of the land that would be destroyed but also the pride of men—which shall be brought low by the Lord.
— “Cease ye from man” is a warning about trusting merely in man (v. 22; 2 Nephi 4:34; 28:31; topical guide, s.v. “trust not in the arm of flesh”).
● Isaiah 3:5 Oppression of other people and failing to honor older people.
● Isaiah 3:9 No shame for sin.
● Isaiah 3:14–15 Taking advantage of the poor and failing to care for them.
● Isaiah 3:16–24 Outward physical beauty at the expense of righteousness and good character.
● Isaiah 5:8 Greedy desires to own more and more material things.
● Isaiah 5:11–12 Constantly seeking worldly pleasures instead of seeking the Lord and his work.
● Isaiah 5:20 Saying that evil things are good and good things are evil.
● Isaiah 5:21 Trusting in oneself instead of in God.
● Isaiah 5:24 Despising the commandments and word of God.
PUNISHMENT AND RESTITUTION
Wicked Judah Will Fall
● Isaiah 3:1–15 Noted officials and respected persons will fall because of their arrogance and sins.
— Oppression of other people and failing to honor older people (v. 5).
— No shame for sin (v. 9).
— “The shew of their countenance doth witness against them” (v. 9). Individuals radiate their spirit and attitude—manifesting the real person, good or evil.
— They have “eaten up the vineyard” (v. 14). The vineyard is a symbol of the chosen people (Isaiah 5:7), and the rulers of Israel were called to be watchmen over it. Instead, they had oppressed the people and consumed the vineyard.
The Haughty Daughters of Zion Will Fall (Dualistic Prophecy)
● Isaiah 3:16–23 In Israel and Judah, the women were proud and arrogant, and more concerned with their clothing, jewels, and personal appearance than with righteousness. These verses can also be applied in the latter days.
— “Stretched forth necks” is an ancient idiom describing haughtiness—pride in self and scorn toward others (v. 16).
— “Mincing (v. 16). . . and making a tinkling with their feet”. The women wore costly ornamental chains connecting rings about the ankles. These were often adorned with bells.
— “Discover their secret parts” is an idiom meaning that they would be put to shame (v. 17; Isaiah 3:17n).
— “Cauls (v. 18). . . round tires like the moon” were ornamental jewelry in the shape of suns and moons according to the fashions (and false religions) of that day.
● Other archaic terms were used in Bible translations to convey a message of the fashions that were popular among the worldly women in ancient times: (vv. 19–23).
— “muffler” = veil.
— “bonnet” = headdress.
— “tablets”= perfume boxes.
— “earrings”= charms or amulets.
— “nose jewels”= nose rings.
— “changable suits of apparel” = clothing for festivals only.
— “mantle” = overcloak.
— “wimples” = a type of shawl or veil worn over the head.
— “crisping pins” = erroneously rendered as hair curling implements. The original Hebrew word suggests a bag, like modern purses or handbags.
— “glasses” = most authorities translate as a metal mirror.
— “hoods” = turbans, head cover wrapped by hand.
● Isaiah 3:24–26 The Fruits of Transgression. The prophet contrasts their former beauty with the results of judgment. Because of their wickedness, the beauty, the pride, and the fashion shall become tragedy, disaster, and slavery.
— The “girdle” is replaced by a “rent” = the rope used to bind slaves.
— “Sackcloth” was black goat’s hair worn at times of great mourning.
— The “burning” refers to the branding that accompanied being a slave.
● Isaiah 4:1 In that day there will be a scarcity of men due to war. v. 1To be unmarried and childless in ancient Israel was a disgrace. So terrible will conditions in those times be that women will offer to share a husband with others and expect no material support from him.
Eventual Restitution and Salvation
● Isaiah 4:2–6 Zion will be beautified in preparation for the establishment of God’s kingdom.
— The “Branch of the Lord” is Christ, who will dwell in the midst of Zion (v. 2).
— “Washed . . . purged . . . burning.” Describes the purification of Zion in preparation for the establishment of God’s kingdom in the last days (v. 4; Isaiah 4:4n).
— “A place of refuge, and a covert from storm and from rain” (v. 6). In that day, the glory of Zion shall be her defense against all enemies.
The Wicked State of Judah in Isaiah’s Day
● Isaiah 5:1–7 Isaiah’s parable of the vineyard. The loss of protection for the vineyard, the neglect, and the effects of famine would result from Israel’s transgression.
● Isaiah 5:8–24 A lengthy description of their apostasy and willful sins:
— Greedy desires to own more and more material things (v. 8).
— President Spencer W. Kimball said, “For ten acres to yield one bath (about 8 1/4 gallons) and a homer of seed (about 6 1/2 bushels) only an ephah (about 1/2 bushel) shows how unproductive the land would become because of this wickedness.”
— Constantly seeking worldly pleasures instead of seeking the Lord and his work (vv. 11–12).
— “They draw sin and iniquity with ropes of vanity” is an idiomatic expression that means “they are tied to their sins like beasts to their burdens” (v. 18).
— Saying that evil things are good and good things are evil (v. 20).
— They are “wise in their own eyes”—trusting in themselves instead of in God (v. 21).
— They “justify the wicked for reward” (v. 23). Those who were guilty of crimes were declared innocent by bribed judges and other officials, whereas the innocent were found guilty so that they could be silenced or their property exploited.
— They despised the commandments and word of God (v. 24).
An Ensign to Be Lifted in the Last Days (A Royal Metaphor)
● Isaiah 5:25–30 The gathering of Israel in haste—with means not known in Isaiah’s day.
— Elder LeGrand Richards said, “Since there were neither trains nor airplanes in that day, Isaiah could hardly have mentioned them by name. However, he seems to have described them in unmistakable words. How better could ‘their horses’ hoofs be counted like flint, and their wheels like a whirlwind’ than in the modern train? How better could ‘their roaring . . . be like a lion’ than in the roar of the airplane? Trains and airplanes do not stop for night. Therefore, was not Isaiah justified in saying: ‘none shall slumber nor sleep; neither shall the girdle of their loins be loosed, nor the latchet of their shoes be broken’? With this manner of transportation the Lord can really ‘hiss unto them from the end of the earth,’ that ‘they shall come with speed swiftly.’”8
— A prediction of great destruction and death in Judah’s streets—yet the Lord’s hand is still offered to them in peace if they will take it (v. 25).
— An “ensign” or “banner” is a military symbol of a place to which to gather (v. 26).
— “Hissing” to the nations (v. 26). This idiomatic expression seems strange today. It describes a signal, such as a whistle, to summon someone to an event.
— The king of Assyria and his allies are called a “River” and “Sea”—well-known symbols of chaos and evil in Near Eastern mythology (v. 30).
Tree and Tenth Symbols
● Isaiah 6:9–11 A prophecy of the rejection of spiritual things by the Israelites, so that they would be left without excuse. The people claimed to hear and see, but they did not want to understand the spirit of the message.
— Keil and Delitzsch said, [The command to] “make the heart of this people fat, . . . their ears heavy, and shut their eyes” is used to describe the process of making the people accountable. The command, of course, refers to “their spiritual sight, spiritual hearing, and spiritual feeling” . . . “There is a self-hardening in evil . . . sin from its very nature bears its own punishment. . . . An evil act in itself is the result of self-determination proceeding from a man’s own will.”9
— The prophet Isaiah asked the Lord how long some men would be hardened against truth; the answer—until mortal man no longer exists (v. 11; Isaiah 6:11n).
● Isaiah 6:12–13 A prophecy of the scattering of Israel except for a very small remnant.
— The “tree”:The Hebrew term has three meanings, and “eaten” is only one of them. The verb’s primary meaning is “burned.”
— The word “substance” is also a secondary meaning. The primary meaning is “stump” or “that which is left standing.”
— Survivors are like a “terebinth” tree or an “oak” whose “stump” remains alive when the tree is “cut down” or “felled.”
— The “holy seed” is likened to the stump which has can grow into new tree after it is cut down.
— The “tenth”:The key word in this verse is the “tenth, “ which means “tithe.” The Hebrew word has a special ending, making it the “tithe of ya,” or Jehovah. This refers to the tithe of the tithe that the Levites paid. Thus: Only 1% of the people will remain when the tree is hewn down.
1. Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. , 702–703.
2. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Elder Joseph Fielding Smith , 367.
3. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 324.
4. Young, The Book of Isaiah, 1:55–56.
5. In Conference Report, Apr. 1973, 5.
6. “The Way to Eternal Life,” Ensign, Nov. 1971, 15.
7. Doctrines of Salvation, 3:69–71.
8. Israel! Do You Know? , 182.
9. Doctrine and Covenants Commentary, rev. ed. , 7:1:200–201.