Peace to the Righteous

Week Forty: Isaiah 50–57

The righteous perisheth, and no man layeth it to heart: and merciful men are taken away, none considering that the righteous is taken away from the evil to come.(Isaiah 57:1, KJV)

When my husband, Timber, died in April 2008, a kind sister distributed envelopes to members of our ward, asking that they write a memory of Timber and return the envelopes to me. Two or three years later, as I was sitting in sacrament meeting, a couple behind me tapped my back. They had not returned their envelope in 2008, they said, but had recorded some thoughts and wondered if I was still interested in receiving their envelope so many years later. “Why, yes, of course,” I responded.

The following Sunday, which happened to be Timber’s birthday, they handed me the large, white 8 1/2 by 11″ envelope with this explanation:

“When Bishop Dick died, we were profoundly upset. He was such a good man and had helped us through a difficult period in our marriage. We felt our marriage might not have survived without his counsel. We could not understand why the Lord had allowed his passing. It bothered us and we could not make peace with his death. During this troubled period we were reading together some talks of Brigham Young. [In one, he spoke] to the families of men who had died while serving missions for the Church. What Brigham Young said made sense. It felt like an answer to our questions and brought peace to our confused and troubled souls. We hope it will speak to you as well.”

Gratefully, I accepted the envelope and, later that evening, read its contents – including the talk by Brigham Young. In it, he allowed that the families of these elders who left earth during their missions might feel outrage or confusion as to why the Lord would call home their beloved husband or son or father when he was so selflessly serving the Lord and others, and was so needed and loved by his family. President Young went on to observe that these men were truly righteous souls, having sacrificed much to share the Gospel in the midst of many other responsibilities and distractions. Then he said:

“Sometimes individuals of exceptional virtue and honor attract the attention of Satan. He works extra hard to lure them because they are powerful tools in God’s hands. Recognizing this danger, the Lord sometimes chooses to take them from the earth at the height of their righteous endeavors to protect them from the possibility that Satan, with all his wiles, could deprive them of their well-deserved eternal rewards.”

“…merciful men are taken away, none considering that the righteous are taken away from the evil to come.”

This verse in Isaiah 57:1, reinforced the comfort I felt in understanding, from Brigham Young’s talk,that, for reasons I may never know in this life, my wonderful husband,Timber; our delightful daughter, Charity Sunshine; and our adorable baby boy, Lincoln Justice, were perhaps protected by being taken from this earth so precipitously.

The first 33 chapters of the book of Isaiah are believed to largely be the work of the original Isaiah, the son of Amoz. Isaiah was the confidant of several kings of Israel, including Hezekiah, whose scribes are usually credited with recording Isaiah’s sermons and transcribing them. Isaiah spent a lot of his prophetic time denouncing the proud and powerful so it is interesting that he is believed to have come from an aristocratic background. Though his substance is quite revolutionary, Isaiah’s style consistently manifests the artful and powerful poetic parallelism characteristic of very educated Hebrew writing.

However, because the issues and individuals mentioned in the book of Isaiah span almost 300 years, it is thought that the writings grouped under the heading of Isaiah actually can be attributed to several prophets, perhaps in an attempt to piggyback off of their predecessor’s venerated reputation. Isaiah 57 is believed to have been written by Trito-Isaiah, or “third” Isaiah. Regardless, these inspired records spoke not only to the people of Israel…both in exile and in Jerusalem…they speak to us now, promising much that is yet to come.

In chapter 57, Isaiah goes on to warn that while we remain living here on earth, we will be held accountable for the choices we make. He castigates those who glibly go about their lives pandering to earthly power and belittling the ways of the Lord. The image Isaiah paints of those who obsequiously bow down to false gods is not a pretty one:

“Over whom do you gape with your mouth and stick out your tongue? Are you not children of crime, seed of lies? Who go into heat over gods under every lush tree, slaughtering children in wadis.” ( Isaiah 57:4-5; The Hebrew Bible, translated by Robert Alter)

There is only disdain and denunciation of those who indulge their lusts and seek pleasure by pursuing the perverse practices of false gods. In contrast, the Lord proclaims that it is the humble who will be welcome in His domaine:

“I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite heart and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.”
( Isaiah 57:15; KJV)

The importance of repentance to our happiness is clarified as this chapter closes. Even those who have gone after false gods can return … when they fall, broken, before the Lord, he will be merciful, for they are all his children:

“I. . . shall heal him: I will lead him also, and restore comforts unto him and to his mourners.” (Isaiah 57:18)

When we sing in the hymn “Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee”:

“Oh hope of every contrite heart, oh joy of all the meek. To those who fall, how kind thou art, How good to those who seek. ” We are singing the very slightly modified words of Isaiah 57:15,16, about the peace that reaches the repentant.

In contrast, “the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mud and dirt. There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked.” (Isaiah 57: 20, 21 KJV) Though we may, like Job or Abinidi, be subjected to tests that try our souls, if we cling to our Heavenly Father, His lasting peace and comfort will be our prize.

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