Week Thirty Eight: Isaiah 13–14; 24–30; 35
When first reading the Book of Mormon as a 19 year old investigating the church, I felt like rejoicing with Nephi as he declared:
“Yea, and my soul delighteth in the words of Isaiah, for I came out from Jerusalem, and mine eye hath beheld the things of the Jews and I know that the Jews do understand the things of the prophets, and there is none other people that understands the things that were spoken unto the Jews like unto them…”
(2 Nephi 25:5)
This passage explained why the Isaiah passages in the Book of Mormon, confusing to many, were the most lucid and powerful passages I, a daughter of Jewish Holocaust survivors, encountered when taught by missionaries so many years ago. When I recognized these scriptures were from the Old Testament, I was confused, but I felt God’s voice so very clearly in the form and substance of these chapters from Isaiah, that soon I felt it was beshert, which in Yiddish means part of a divine plan, that these clarifying verses of the Bible were brought to my attention by reading the Book of Mormon at a moment of significance in my life.
The poetic power of Isaiah’s writing communicated directly to my spirit, bypassing the typical rational route through the brain. Poetry can impress truth on the human mind in an indelible and indescribable way. While Isaiah, and those who recorded his teachings, did share specific historical, moral and prophetic counsel, the record of Isaiah is a supreme example of using poetic prowess to convey insight into the Lord’s power, majesty and vision for mankind; insights inaccessible through prose alone.
The rhythms of a beautiful poem by the Irish poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, evoke for me some of this poetic power.
BY GERARD MANLEY HOPKINS
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
The Book of Isaiah, a book of prophetic poetry, is the most quoted book of scripture in the scriptures. Jesus and others reference Isaiah 70 times in the New Testament and, in the Book of Mormon, 425 of the 1292 verses of Isaiah are quoted.
Chapters 30 and 35 of Isaiah are reflective of his two-fold prophetic message. To warn, and to comfort. First, in chapter 30, he warns the Children of Israel:
” Woe to the rebellious children, saith the Lord, that take counsel, but not of me; and that cover with a covering, but not of my spirit, that they may add sin to sin….( Isaiah 30:1)
…..therefore have I cried concerning this, Their strength is to sit still.”
Much of Isaiah’s record is a fierce reprimand. God’s people have given sacrifices but not given them with the attitude the Lord requires, a broken heart and a contrite spirit. Proud and scornful, they are deceitful and “despise his word and trust in oppression and perverseness” Isaiah 30:12.
Continuing in chapter 30, the Lord, through Isaiah, lays out one of the great metaphors of the Old Testament, that of the broken clay pot. In 30:14 we read:
“…and he shall break it as the breaking of a potter’s vessel
that is smashed so ruthlessly
that among its fragments not a shard is found
with which to take fire from the hearth,
or to dip up water out of a cistern.”
Broken shards, if they were large enough, could be usefully recycled to shovel water, oil or fire or even to scratch wounds, as demonstrated by Job. But this will not be the case with Israel when the Lord has shattered it. The irredeemably broken pot is an important symbol in Judaism. Tikun Olam, or the repairing of the shattered world, moves faithful Jews to do what they can to help fix the problems in the world. This powerful principle connects directly to the imagery of Isaiah’s shattered pot. Though the pot can only be reconstituted by God himself, it is a work in which the righteous are called to participate.
Then, in Chapter 35, with comforting confidence, Isaiah paints a word picture of how the Lord will resurrect the land and regather His people.
1)…the solitary place shall be glad…and the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose.
2) It shall blossom abundantly and rejoice even with joy and singing:…they shall see the glory of the Lord and the excellency of our God.
The parallels with Zion in the Old World and New are obvious. The desert blooming and singing in both Israel and Utah is a remarkable, very visible, duplicate blessing for those who have sought to follow God’s guidance under challenging circumstances.
3) Strengthen thee the weak hands and confirm the feeble knees. ( I have felt this kind of miraculous restoration after a hip replacement surgery as has a beloved pianist friend after a surgery for her hands.)
4) Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not: behold your God will come…: he will come and save you.
5) Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the dead shall be unstopped.
6) Then shall the lame man leap as an hart and the tongue of the dumb sing: for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert.
10) And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
These promises were in part fulfilled in the meridian of time when The Savior walked the earth, part fulfilled when the Saints came to the Salt Lake Valley, part fulfilled with the reestablishment of Israel in the Middle East, …but these promises remain to be fully realized in the millennial future. It is my prayer that we each may live with a truly broken heart, a contrite spirit and an eye single to His glory, in anticipation of the glorious fulfillment of these elevating promises in the name of the Messiah. Amen.