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Lesson Plan for Isaiah 13-14; 24-30; 35

"The Lord loves effort." - President Russell M. Nelson (1)

A story from Hugh Nibley:

"Years ago when I wrote the 1957 priesthood manual, An Approach to the Book of Mormonthe committee turned down every chapter. But President [David O.] McKay overruled the committee on every chapter. He said that if it’s over the brethren’s heads, let them reach for it. He left every chapter just as I had it. The committee fumed at the mouth and protested, “We can’t have it!” President McKay turned right around and said, “We jolly well can have it! Let them work at it a little.” (2)

I give these thoughts at the outset because they set the stage for our study of Isaiah.

Isaiah is notoriously known for being hard to understand. He is, arguably, the greatest prophetic writer to ever live. Religious and secular scholars alike both proclaim his literary genius and that his poetry is unmatched in the ancient near eastern world. In addition, scholars proclaim Isaiah's writings are some of the most important within the Jewish and Christian traditions.

Isaiah in Hebrew means, "God saves" (yesha'yahu). Isaiah prophesied for 40 years, during the reign of 4 kings (Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah) within the southern kingdom of Judah. If you recall, Isaiah showed up in previous readings when King Hezekiah went and sought out his counsel regarding the impending invasion from Assyria (see 2 Kings 19-20). The book so titled after him is probably a compilation of his writings put together by his disciples after his death. Rabbinical tradition holds that Isaiah dies by being sawn in half while hiding in a tree from the wicked King Manasseh. Christian tradition holds that Isaiah's death, therefore, is referred to in Hebrews 11:37.

In the New Testament, by Christ, Isaiah is the most quoted prophet by a large margin (Psalms and Deuteronomy are quoted just as often but these weren't necessarily written by a singular prophet). It, therefore, shouldn't come as a surprise that Isaiah is also the most quoted prophet in the Book of Mormon, at least by Nephi and in 3 Nephi. For Latter-Day Saints, probably the best place to start with Isaiah is actually within the Book of Mormon. The Savior himself said of the words of Isaiah:

(Have someone read 3 Nephi 23:1-3)

"And now, behold, I say unto you, that ye ought to search these things. Yea, a commandment I give unto you that ye search these things diligently; for great are the words of Isaiah. For surely he spake as touching all things concerning my people which are of the house of Israel; therefore it must needs be that he must speak also to the Gentiles. And all things that he spake have been and shall be, even according to the words which he spake."

The Savior gives a commandment here to the surviving Nephites, and, by us reading it, to us to search the writings of Isaiah diligently. Isaiah is the only prophet, that I am aware of, that the Savior speaks so glowingly of their writings when He said, "Great are the words of Isaiah".

Question: Why would the Lord command us to search Isaiah diligently if Isaiah's writings are so hard to understand? I thought the gospel was simple and Isaiah appears to really complicate things...

Elder John A. Widstoe once said:

"It is a paradox that men will gladly devote time every day for many years to learn a science or an art, yet will expect to win a knowledge of the gospel, which comprehends all sciences and arts, through perfunctory glances at books or occasional listening to sermons. The gospel should be studied more intensively than any school or college subject." (Evidences and Reconciliations, p.16-17)

In the scriptures we are getting ready to read in a moment, Nephi says in one breath that even his own people think the writings of Isaiah are hard to understand and then a few breaths later says the words of Isaiah are plain. He also gives us tips on how we understand Isaiah.

(Have someone read 2 Nephi 25:1-7)

"Now I, Nephi, do speak somewhat concerning the words which I have written, which have been spoken by the mouth of Isaiah. For behold, Isaiah spake many things which were hard for many of my people to understand; for they know not concerning the manner of prophesying among the Jews. For I, Nephi, have not taught them many things concerning the manner of the Jews; for their works were works of darkness, and their doings were doings of abominations. Wherefore, I write unto my people, unto all those that shall receive hereafter these things which I write, that they may know the judgments of God, that they come upon all nations, according to the word which he hath spoken. Wherefore, hearken, O my people, which are of the house of Israel, and give ear unto my words; for because the words of Isaiah are not plain unto you, nevertheless they are plain unto all those that are filled with the spirit of prophecy. But I give unto you a prophecy, according to the spirit which is in me; wherefore I shall prophesy according to the plainness which hath been with me from the time that I came out from Jerusalem with my father; for behold, my soul delighteth in plainness unto my people, that they may learn. Yea, and my soul delighteth in the words of Isaiah, for I came out from Jerusalem, and mine eyes 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 understand the things which were spoken unto the Jews like unto them, save it be that they are taught after the manner of the things of the Jews. But behold, I, Nephi, have not taught my children after the manner of the Jews; but behold, I, of myself, have dwelt at Jerusalem, wherefore I know concerning the regions round about; and I have made mention unto my children concerning the judgments of God, which hath come to pass among the Jews, unto my children, according to all that which Isaiah hath spoken, and I do not write them. But behold, I proceed with mine own prophecy, according to my plainness; in the which I know that no man can err; nevertheless, in the days that the prophecies of Isaiah shall be fulfilled men shall know of a surety, at the times when they shall come to pass."

What tips does Nephi give here to help us understand Isaiah? (Hint: there are 5) (Also, write these on the board as the class identifies them)

1. Understand the “manner of prophesying among the Jews” (v. 1) (Isaiah 28:7-13)

2. Do not do “works of darkness” or “doings of abominations” (v. 2) (1 Nephi 15:6-11)

3. Be filled with the spirit of prophecy; "Liken the scriptures" (v. 4) (Isaiah 22:20-25)

4. Be familiar with the regions around Jerusalem (v. 6) (Isaiah 35:1-2)

5. Live during the days that the prophecies of Isaiah are fulfilled (v. 7) (JST Isaiah 29:11-16) (3)

For our lesson today, I hope to put these tips into action using the readings of Isaiah we had this past week. Hopefully, we can catch a glimpse of what Isaiah is trying to communicate to us.

Understand the "manner of prophesying among the Jews"

As stated earlier, Isaiah was a masterful writer and was very well educated in his day. He used Hebraic style in his poetry and writing to convey his message more powerfully. As we read it in English it is easy to miss these. In Hebrew, poetic parallelism is a hallmark of prophetic poetry. Isaiah used this tactic over 1,000 times in his writings according to scholars.  You might have read Isaiah and thought he was being redundant when he would say something in one line and then say something very similar in the next. In English, it appears that way because that is how our western mind works and it is extremely hard to translate and retain the purity of meaning. To the reader in Hebrew, it is like a diamond with light shining through it with all of its different facets on display.

Latter-Day Saint scholar, Taylor Holverson, explains why Hebrew poetic parallelism is important:

"In the most basic sense, Hebrew poetic parallelism is this. An idea is expressed. It is then expressed again. The beauty and power of this literary style is found in how the basic pattern is changed, amplified, used, or “mis” used by the author to make a point." (4)

In my opinion, there is no better example of this than in Isaiah 28:7-13.

(Have the class read it)

"But they also have erred through wine, and through strong drink are out of the way; the priest and the prophet have erred through strong drink, they are swallowed up of wine, they are out of the way through strong drink; they err in vision, they stumble in judgment. For all tables are full of vomit and filthiness, so that there is no place clean.

¶ Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts.

For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little:

For with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people.

To whom he said, This is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest; and this is the refreshing: yet they would not hear.

But the word of the Lord was unto them precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little; that they might go, and fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken."

Isaiah here, particularly in verses 10 & 13, masterfully uses poetic parallelism to teach 3 different principles at the same time. Scholars admit that these are some of the hardest verses to translate in Isaiah because Isaiah appears to have made up words to poetically make his point.

First of all, let's discuss the first principle taught here that we are all more familiar with.

Isaiah declares that the Lord will teach knowledge and doctrine to those who are weaned from milk. What does this tell us about gospel learning?

The Lord will teach line upon line and precept upon precept to us. Joseph Smith declared: "Saints may know all things as fast as he is able to bear them." (5) President Nelson taught this as well when he recently said: "Oh! There is so much more that your Father in Heaven wants you to know." (6)

... Now... back to Hebrew poetic parallelism.

You might have noticed that, contextually, these verses are speaking about the drunkard priests and prophets who went about spewing forth their vomitous teachings to the people. Isaiah does something brilliant here. If read carefully, Isaiah is telling us the complaints of these drunkard priests and prophets. Better translations render their complaints as, "He tells us everything over and over - one line at a time, one line at a time, a little here, and a little there."

It appears, therefore, that the covenant people of Israel thought Isaiah and the true prophets' teachings were very repetitive and got frustrated at that fact. The prophet Jacob in the Book of Mormon articulated this problem among the Jews in Jacob 4:14. He wrote:

"... [they] sought for things that they could not understand. Wherefore, because of their blindness, which blindness came by looking beyond the mark, they must needs fall; for God hath taken away his plainness from them, and delivered unto them many things which they cannot understand, because they desired it. And because they desired it God hath done it, that they may stumble."

How do we guard against this tendency?

In one way, Isaiah is telling us to be weaned from the milk and learn from the Lord. But, in another way, he is also warning against seeking after things we cannot understand. How do we reconcile both ideas?

Lastly, Isaiah uses Hebrew poetic parallelism in these same verses to convey how the Lord views the teachings of these drunkard prophets and priests. Other translations have this very differently than what we have previously read:

"For filth is upon filth, filth upon filth; vomit upon vomit, vomit upon vomit; a little here, a little there;" (7)

Again, Isaiah is using poetic parallelism while also sort of creating Hebrew words that are really hard to translate. The result is a brilliant and prophetic message about gospel learning, being wary of looking beyond the mark, and being wary of messages that are really filth carefully leading us down to hell (see 2 Nephi 28:21).

It appears, therefore, that the Lord teaches us by degrees and Satan does as well. How do we discern the difference? Isaiah brilliantly uses the Hebrew term for precept while also using the same term for vomit. I think that symbolically shows us that discernment is needed.

Read 1 Corinthians 2:9-14

Do not do “works of darkness” or “doings of abominations”

This principle is fairly straightforward. In the verses in 1 Corinthians 2, we learn that spiritual truths are only spiritually discerned. Nephi taught this same principle to his brothers when he asked, "Have ye inquired of the Lord?". He noted that they would perish because they harden their hearts and do not "ask in faith". He notes that when they do ask, they must "keep the commandments" (see 1 Nephi 15:6-11).

How does keeping the commandments qualify us for spiritual understanding?

Sin creates a lot of inner noise and squelches our ability to learn line upon line; to be weaned from milk.

Be filled with the spirit of prophecy (AKA "liken all scriptures unto us")

Read 1 Nephi 19:23

Nephi particularly really liked "likening" Isaiah unto himself and his people (see also 2 Nephi 11:2). Nephi also tells us that the writings of Isaiah are "plain unto all those that are filled with the spirit of prophecy" (see 2 Nephi 25:4). When we read Isaiah in Nephi's writings we see Nephi repurposing Isaiah a lot to fit his theological purposes. Nephi, in his tips about how to study Isaiah, uses the terms "likening", "prophecy", and "plainness" more than any other words. It is hard to define it, but it seems that Nephi is telling us that these three terms are linked closely together. He tells us in 2 Nephi 25:7 that he filters his prophecy through his "plainness". I interpret the "likening" therefore as plainness. 

What do we make of the spirit of prophecy then? What is it? Is it simply the same as simply being taught by the spirit. Perhaps...

We don't get a plain definition in scripture other than in Revelation 19:10 which says "the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy." The best statement I could find by a modern prophet is from Harold B. Lee who said:

"The spirit of prophecy is the gift by which [we] may have God revealed." (Stand Ye in Holy Places [1974], 155)

In other words, we must read Isaiah being filled with the testimony of Jesus. We liken the scriptures to ourselves when we learn from them personalized truths about how to have God or Christ revealed to us.

That takes us back to Isaiah. Read Isaiah 22:20-25.

"And it shall come to pass in that day, that I will call my servant Eliakim the son of Hilkiah:

 And I will clothe him with thy robe, and strengthen him with thy girdle, and I will commit thy government into his hand: and he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Judah.

And the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; so he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.

And I will fasten him as a nail in a sure place; and he shall be for a glorious throne to his father’s house.

And they shall hang upon him all the glory of his father’s house, the offspring and the issue, all vessels of small quantity, from the vessels of cups, even to all the vessels of flagons.

In that day, saith the Lord of hosts, shall the nail that is fastened in the sure place be removed, and be cut down, and fall; and the burden that was upon it shall be cut off: for the Lord hath spoken it."

Contextually, these verses are referring to government officials. Earlier in the chapter, Isaiah condemns Shebna for his pride in building a great tomb for himself. The Lord rebukes him and removed him from his office. In the verses we read, he is replaced by Eliakim who is described very messianically.

Where do you see the Savior in these verses? Or, in other words, let's use the spirit of prophecy and find Christ here.

Eliakim in Hebrew means "God will establish" or "may God raise". It points to the Savior's power to raise us from sin and death. Eliakim was possibly the great-great-great-grandson of king David (see Luke 3:30, not sure it is the same Eliakim, but it might be) (8). This would have made him an ancestor of Jesus Christ, as he was of the royal line of David. Eliakim is clothed in a robe and committed with the right to govern. He is also referred to as father to the Jews. This theme rings closely of the Messianic prophecy in Isaiah 9:6-7. Even further, Eliakim is given the key of the house of David which is also given to Christ (see Revelation 3:7). Isaiah says all the glory will hang upon Eliakim, just like how Jesus Christ was hung from the cross.

The "nail in a sure place" has an obvious sacred meaning for the nails driven threw the hands of the Savior and has sacred themes associated with it for those of us who have been through the ordinances of the Temple.

Be familiar with the regions around Jerusalem

Sometimes we might get the idea in scripture that geography has unimportant meanings. This might be a mistaken view as some LDS scholars have observed that over 1,000 verses in the Book of Mormon pertain directly to geography. There are only a little over 6,000 verses in the Book of Mormon.

The importance of geography in Isaiah is no different. The geographical findings should be used as a tool to point us even further to Christ and not become a sole fascination that causes us to look beyond the mark.

The big geographical or geo-political terms used by Isaiah are as follows:

Jerusalem - refers to the capital of the southern kingdom of Judah.

Ephraim/Samaria - refers to the northern kingdom of Israel or its capital city.

Assyria - the empire to the north of Ephraim that scattered the northern kingdom and almost took down the southern kingdom in King Hezekiah's day.

Babylon - the empire that conquered Assyria and eventually took the southern kingdom captive and scattered them. 

Cyrus - the King of Persia (Persia eventually conquered Babylon) who allowed the Jews to return to their great city in Jerusalem and rebuild the temple and city walls (we read about this in Nehemiah).

Ariel - a term that describes Jerusalem as being the central place where the Lord's House sat.

If time permits, Isaiah 35:1-2 is a great example of how understanding the regions around Jerusalem can enhance our understanding. The places referred to here are secondary to the terms I listed above, but they have powerful meanings about the restoration of the Lord's covenant people in the last days. Donald W. Parry has a great commentary on it that can be found here.

Live during the days that the prophecies of Isaiah are fulfilled

Have someone read JST Isaiah 29:11-16 (these verses do not appear in our scriptures).

"And it shall come to pass, that the Lord God shall bring forth unto you the words of a book; and they shall be the words of them which have slumbered.

And behold, the book shall be sealed; and in the book shall be a revelation from God, from the beginning of the world to the ending thereof.

Wherefore because of the things which are sealed up, the things which are sealed shall not be delivered in the day of the wickedness and abominations of the people. Wherefore, the book shall be kept from them.

But the book shall be delivered unto a man, and he shall deliver the words of the book, which are the words of those who have slumbered in the dust; and he shall deliver these words unto another, but the words that are sealed he shall not deliver, neither shall he deliver the book.

For the book shall be sealed by the power of God, and the revelation which was sealed shall be kept in the book until the own due time of the Lord, that they may come forth; for behold, they reveal all things from the foundation of the world unto the end thereof. 

And the day cometh, that the words of the book which were sealed shall be read upon the housetops; and they shall be read by the power of Christ; and all things shall be revealed unto the children of men which ever have been among the children of men, and which ever will be, even unto the end of the earth."

The JST continues on and gives us a more plain prophecy of the Martin Harris and Charles Anthon exchange from Church History (can be read here).We learn from Isaiah and Joseph Smith's translation of Isaiah's words that the coming forth of the Book of Mormon is the beginning of a Marvelous Work and a Wonder (some translators render the phrase "Wonder upon Wonder").

How is Isaiah's message about Christ, the restoration, the Book of Mormon, and the redemption of Israel a "Wonder upon Wonder"?


Isaiah can help us understand the greater meaning behind the term "restoration" when speaking about the restoration of the Gospel. For those with eyes to see, the Abrahamic covenant is everywhere in Isaiah. His message is about the Savior's plan to scatter and gather Israel. According to Elder LeGrand R. Curtis Jr, "we... joyously participate in the ongoing Restoration by helping to gather Israel." (9)

This was Isaiah's vision. His words, according to the Savior, are "great". They are great because they point us to the main purpose of the Gospel. Isaiah vividly paints the picture of destruction and scattering. He also vividly tells a story of hope. Isaiah understood quite well that the struggle Israel had to go through was necessary for our (and their) eventual salvation. It is the same for all of us personally when we realize God is always "playing the long game". The following quote from J. Spencer Fluhman is a microcosm of the larger-scale message Isaiah gives us. We can gain perspective for ourselves when we see God's plan prophesied long ago coming to fruition in our day:

"This intellectual and spiritual work can be difficult. It can be exhausting. I know some of you are tired. You are not sure you can keep at it. You go ahead and find some stillness today. Gather your strength today. Rest up today, because tomorrow we ride for Zion. And it is not quite Zion if you are not there. Remember, you don’t ride alone. Step back and consider the thousands around you. Consider the thousands who preceded you. Consider the unnumbered hosts yet to come. You don’t ride alone.

This path takes courage and vision, yes. It takes faith, and faith will always be counterintuitive in this world. So is love. Why believe or hope or care when the data seem so often stubbornly trailing in other directions? Faith, hope, and charity are audacious in such a world as this. But make no mistake, we will find the place that God for us has prepared, even if it seems far away today. Just when your strength is flagging, you will catch the glint of some gleaming tower off in the distance, and you will sense that God is there. He is. Keep going. God is playing the long game, and we should too, if we understand the scale of the struggle. The ride will not end and the Restoration will not conclude until every daughter and son of God who will come has been safely gathered into the Lord’s extended, covenantal embrace." (10)


  1. Well written! Not sure about a thousand geographical verses in the Book of Mormon, unless you include terms like "Israel" "heaven" and "way" as though used geographically rather than symbolically.


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