John Bytheway and Darryl Discover Isaiah 48 The Scriptural Meaning of Hearken, as Explored by John Bytheway


John Bytheway joins Darryl to explore the meaning of hearkening and other gems within Isaiah 48 and 1 Nephi 20.

John: We approach 1st Nephi chapter 20, which is Isaiah 48. It’s really helpful to read the last few verses of 1st Nephi 19 where Nephi kind of sets up. In verse 22, he says, “that I might more fully persuade them to believe in the Lord their Redeemer. I did read into them that which was written by the Prophet Isaiah. For I did liken all scriptures unto us that it might be for our profit and learning.”  In verse 24 of 1st Nephi 19 he then says, “hear ye the words of the Prophet who are remnant of the house of Israel, a branch who have been broken off, hear ye the words of the Prophet which were written unto all the house of Israel, and liken them unto yourselves. That ye may have hope as well as your brother and from whom he have been broken off, for after this manner, has the prophet written.”

Darryl: So, John, I found this very interesting that Royal Skousen and some other Book of Mormon scholars have pointed out that these three verses in chapter 19 are actually in a chapter the way Joseph Smith dictated it, that has all of 48 and 49 in it. So, it was great that you read that introduction. That helps us all realize we ought to capture those last three verses. Thanks.

John: Oh yes. And one of the great things about having a prophet comment on another prophet is Nephi is almost telling us this is what I want you to get from this. And then here come the actual words of Isaiah.

Darryl: You know, and what I find is the fact that Nephi offers so much commentary, he might be our best single source of commentary on the book of Isaiah.

John: And if we’re going to have a commentary on a prophet, it’s kind of nice that it would be another prophet.

Darryl:  I agree.

John: Instead of an airhead.

Darryl: So, should we jump right in?

John: Sure. Let’s take a look.

Hearken and Hear This: Exploring Isaiah’s Commandment

John: In verse 1 of 1st Nephi chapter 20, it says “hearken and hear this.” Hearken means more than just hear. Hearken is hear and do, hear and obey. “Oh, house of Jacob who are called by the name of Israel that are come forth out of the waters of Judah or out of the waters of baptism.” Now, that’s not in the Old Testament, but it is here in the Book of Mormon, “depart out of the waters of baptism, who swear by the name of the Lord, make mention of the God of Israel, yet they swore not in truth nor in righteousness.”

Darryl: So, at the beginning of that verse, you notice that the word “hearken”, that wasn’t there in the King James version. So, what do you have to tell us about hearken?

John: Hearken means listen. If I say clean your room and you hearkened, that means you cleaned your room. Now I don’t normally order you to clean your room, but that means you did it. Whereas “hear” is I heard it, but I didn’t do it.

Darryl: So, there’s some obedience tied to hearken?

John: Yes, it’s a stronger word than “listen up”.

Darryl: Now we don’t really know if Nephi is the one who put the word “hearken” in, or if that’s something that got dropped from scribal error.

John:  Maybe “Mr. Go and Do” put it in there because he not only heard but he did.

Darryl: Let’s keep going.

John: “They call themselves of the holy city, but they do not stay themselves upon the God of Israel.” I remember my sisters all used to sew, and they had these things called a fabric stay and I always think of that when I think of that idea of stay.

Darryl: I always put a little stay in my shirt…

John: Yes, to rely, “to stay upon the God of Israel, the Lord of hosts, the Lord of hosts is his name.” So, you know, it’s one thing to talk about and then say it belonged to him, but to really rely on him instead of on yourself, it’s just kind of the theme that’s coming up next.

Nephi’s Motive to Include Isaiah

Darryl: So, let me ask this question. When I got through these first two verses, it made me want to ask: is Nephi having to describe this in reformed Egyptian, in the gold plates. What would be his motive to include anything from Isaiah when he knows that we have the Bible because he gives evidence of that later in the Book of Mormon?

John: I myself wonder if it wasn’t for his people. If you go backward in 1 Nephi 19 to verse 3, it says, “the things which were written should be kept for the instruction of my people who should possess the land and also for other wise purposes which purposes are known unto the Lord.”

Darryl: That’s interesting. Terrell Davis did a thing on all the commentaries that the Book of Mormon did on Isaiah, so why Jesus used that, and why Alma used it with Abinadi, but Jacob kind of redoes this part and he kind of gives it as the codex for us saying, the Gentiles who come to America will be responsible for delivering the Gospel back to our people, the Lamanites, to all of the house of Israel and to all of the Jews. So that’s interesting that Nephi might be directing it just at his family.

John: I know, and we really think this is all written for us, for our day, but could it be that Nephi was talking to his own people as well.

Darryl: It could have just been a general conference to kind of scold them because Isaiah does a little bit of scolding, doesn’t he?

John: And it’s not that it doesn’t still apply to us and to everybody, but he’s talking, “I read to them,” it was to his people and I think we can benefit by looking at it that way as well as, okay, now what do I do with it today.

Isaiah and The Refiner’s Fire

Darryl: So, are there some other verses you want to highlight for us today?

John: In 1st Nephi, chapter 20? Absolutely.  “I have refined thee, I have chosen thee in the furnace of a…”

Darryl: That doesn’t sound like you’ve been chosen.

John:  No, do you know what it reminds me of, though? The hymn, ‘How Firm a Foundation.’  It’s one that we normally don’t sing because it’s underneath at the bottom.

Darryl: Oh, you mean where they have all the extra verses.

John: Yes, the extra credit verses. Let’s see, how does it go? “Though through fiery trials thy pathway may lie, my grace all sufficient shall be thy supply. The flame will not hurt thee. I only designed thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.”

Darryl: So, explain dross and gold, I don’t understand how things are refined. Do you?

John: Yes, “dross” is a metallurgy term and the impurities in the metal kind of float to the top. They’re the scum that you scrape off the top. And then what else you have is refined.

Darryl: So, what you’re saying is if we accept the furnace of affliction, God puts us in, He’ll scrape the scum off of us.

John: He burns the scum, some more than others, but he burns the scum out of us right.  An interesting thing is that later on, the Book of Mormon uses the word dross in kind of an interesting way. The poor among the Zoramites come up to Alma and say, what about us? They won’t let us worship in the synagogues. And, they were considered dross, it says.

Darryl: Sort of the leftovers there weren’t’ they?

John: Because they felt poor and they felt they were dross, but by the end of it, when Alma talks to him he says, you’re not dross if you’re poor. If you remember to say the prayers the way I’ve taught you, if you remember God and all these things, but then you don’t hearken and go help the poor, then ye are as dross.  And he says, no, you’re not dross because you’re poor, you’re dross because you’re not charitable. And that might be the only two times the word dross appears in the Book of Mormon, I have to check, but…

Darryl: So, what else is in this chapter that we ought to be paying attention to?

John: Just the fact that he’s scolding him, but he still loves him and he’s telling him, I haven’t forgotten you and you’re still my called and I’m going to send a servant to declare these words to you. You go to verse 18, “Oh, that thou hast hearken to my commandments, then had thy peace been as a river and thy righteousness is the waves of the sea.”  Calling them on their past, but also kind of giving us a promise to the future.

Darryl: So, I hiked up to Bridal Veil falls the other day. The falls were falling on one side and I was looking at the Provo river rush by. The whole sound was so soothing.

John: Yes. And I don’t know if it’s an accident that we use white noise to help us fall asleep. It’s the sound of constancy and it drowns out other sounds. And then thy righteousness is as the ways of the sea. I have these relaxation CDs I bought 20 years ago at home, and one of them is waves, pounding surf and one of them is a river. And interesting that he would use that same idea.

Darryl: It is, and it speaks volumes to me. Verse 22 has an interesting set of words in, about a dozen. The Book of Mormon says, “and notwithstanding, he had done all this and greater also. And then there is no peace, saith the Lord unto the wicked.” What are your thoughts on that?

John: I equate it with the “wickedness never was happiness” idea.  I’ve done all this, and I can do greater also. And I don’t know anything. But when I look at it, it sounds like you can’t feel good doing bad things. And the wicked, well the kind of peace I’m promising here will not come to the wicked unless you hearken.

Darryl: Well John, thanks a lot for joining us here today at

John: You bet.

Darryl: You have a good day.

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