Ann Madsen Shares Insights Into Understanding Isaiah (Part 1) Discover with Darryl

Ann Madsen

Darryl: Hi, I’m Darryl Alder with Today we have a scholar with us, Ann Madsen. We’re going to talk about a couple of different things about the book of Isaiah. Ann, let’s start with this question, how did you get interested in Isaiah?

Ann: I was teaching Isaiah at BYU, I’ve been teaching there for 44 years. In my Old Testament courses, I kept adding another lecture to Isaiah. Finally, my department chair called me in and he said, are you interested in teaching a class about Isaiah perchance? And I said, oh yes, I’d love to.

So, the next semester, I had a class in Isaiah as well as my Old Testament courses and I’ve always wanted to apologize to my first class because I had no idea what I was getting into. I had four lectures that I’d been giving in Isaiah when I was…and it’s a big book, so it required Ezekiel and Jeremiah, they all require more than one lecture. But when I taught that first course, I was running to keep up, I was having a hard time knowing everything and I didn’t know anything.

Darryl: You probably feel that way right now. I’m teaching Gospel Doctrine, and so are you, how do we teach all 66 books in five Sundays?

Ann: Well, you don’t, you have to really look through, and for me, it was glorious for me teaching Isaiah in Gospel doctrine because we’d come to the sections that were required to be read. I had my favorite parts in those sections that I thought were sort of gems that other people ignored and didn’t notice and wouldn’t notice if you were just reading through as a Gospel Doctrine teacher. But one of my favorites says, you will hear a voice behind you, saying this is the way, walk ye in it. And if that isn’t the most perfect example of personal revelation, I don’t know what is.

Darryl: So, I put a thousand hours into Isaiah and I’m troubled because Christ told us to search it diligently, and he commanded us to read it and I’m not sure I’m still there. So, can you give us some clues about how to study Isaiah and really get it, as members of the church?

Ann: Well, it’s more simple than it will sound, only it takes some diligent study to do it. First of all, I think you really need to know the history behind the time of Isaiah, because he uses his current context where he’s living the circumstances he knows and that the people know, and remember Nephi said, I speak in simple terms to my children because they weren’t there, they didn’t see what I saw.

Well, because he saw, he could understand Isaiah, he was living in the context of Isaiah. So, you have to kind of get yourself into the context. Secondly, that takes some doing, and then you have to look at the history, look at the kings of Judah that were serving then, Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, Hezekiah, and Manasseh, they were all the kings that lived in his time.

Darryl: So, are Kings and Chronicles enough, or do you need something else to understand history?

Ann: Well, Kings and Chronicles will help you, and the Bible Dictionary will help you. Look up the name of the country in the Bible dictionary…

Darryl: …or the name of the king. Both of those things really have helped me.

Ann: Then that’ll put it in history for you.

Darryl: So, one of the things I’ve appreciated is you have this book called, ‘Opening Isaiah—a Harmony.’ It’s rich with maps and that’s one of the clues that’s really helped me is when we’re talking about marching down from Mishmash to Nob, it’s like, what? So, I really appreciated those tools.

I know that we have maps in the Bible from the church, but they’re not quite as comprehensive. This seems to have a notion that every time we need a map, it appears.

Ann: Yea, the thing in here is what we decided to do was put a map in whenever there was a geographical location to be located. You don’t know when you start reading Isaiah where Amman is, where is Amman? Is it a big country, is it a small country? So, we have a big map in the beginning of the book, and then we have every time it’s brought up and you need to know there’s a map.

Darryl: So, I noticed, and I had never seen this before, ‘Opening Isaiah‘ was a DVD before it was a book that you did with Shon Hopkin.

Ann: They’re totally different.

Darryl: They are, but they have the same name. So, tell us how this helps us.

Ann: I called both of these things ‘Opening Isaiah’ and persuaded Shon (Hopkin) to call this one ‘Opening Isaiah’ because our idea (and my idea, to begin with), was, that you can’t learn about Isaiah unless you’re willing to open it. You have to not be afraid of it because we have this kind of culture in the church where people are scared to death of Isaiah.  You say the word and they just get frightened.

Darryl: In conference talks, we’ve even had general authorities say, when you’re reading the Book of Mormon if you can’t move on, skip over Isaiah, just read the chapter headings and move on.

Ann: You had no idea how I felt that day. I wanted to say, just give me five minutes. I can help, but I didn’t say that.

Darryl: I interviewed Victor Ludlow, and one of the things he said to kind of get a taste of Isaiah is to read all the chapter headings, you might stumble on one that’ll make you stop and read, and maybe that is a good idea.

Ann: No, I don’t think so. I love brother Ludlow, but I think that there aren’t shortcuts. Just look at that text, look at it, and I’m telling you, if you think about it, if you ponder it if you really let it sink into your heart, like chapter 6.

Chapter 6 is 12 verses, and every verse is so packed that if you just read it and you say, well, now I’ve read chapter 6, what were the seraphs, what was the little alter that he took the tongues and put on glowing coals on his lips? Where was all that? It’s in the temple. We read Isaiah 6 as the first thing we do in class.

Darryl: Because it’s his call. One of the things that happened to me when I read this is that I’ve had an experience in a sacrament meeting many years ago as we sang “Reverently and Meekly Now“, which is the only hymn I know of where Christ is singing the words to us. This poem is Him talking to us, and I felt the Savior’s grace and suddenly understood the atonement and when I read this, about how is it done, or, oh woe is me, and all the things that Isaiah said, I had all that feeling come back and I went, I can relate to this guy.

Ann: Of course. And we all can, because we’ve all had a moment. And also, that first line where it says, your King, Uzziah died, I saw the Lord. You need to stop there if you’re reading the book of Isaiah and just think for a minute. How did Isaiah feel? He felt like Joseph Smith.

Darryl: Just like his sacred grove, but it was in the temple.

Ann: He saw the Lord, so now go on and read the rest of it in that context. You’re in a conversation with the God of Heaven, you’re talking to him and he’s talking to you and you’re scared to death, ‘oh, woe is me,’ he says, ‘for I am a man of unclean lips, I live among a people of unclean lips.’ So, he’s really emotional.

Darryl: And at that time didn’t the Jews believe that if they saw God, they’d die.

Ann: If you’re not pure enough, you’d die.

Darryl: So, he probably assumed this was the end of life for him.

Ann: Well, in the middle of Isaiah, later, when he’s prophesying, he says, who can dwell in everlasting burnings? And then he goes on to say, he who has a clean heart, he who has this and who has that, and he knew that by experience because he’d had that experience himself, as a younger person, he wasn’t an old man.

Darryl: So, let’s go back into your new Opening Isaiah, it’s a harmony. I want to ask about the harmony part in because I feel like you gave me permission to use alternate translations. I don’t know why I thought it was naughty to look at translations other than the King James version.

Here is a sample of just one verse in the harmony of Isaiah 48 verse 5:

You use the New Revised Standard Version and said it’s in sort of a poetic form. Why did you choose that translation?

Ann: Because Isaiah is written in poetry, and poetry is not like our rhyming kind of poetry that has a rhyme at the end.

Darryl: Then why do we call it poetry if it doesn’t rhyme?

Ann: Because it has idea rhymes, the beginning of it, it begins in… parallelism is the method used to produce poetry in Hebrew; all Hebrew poetry and all prophetic poetry.

Prophecy in the Old Testament is all in poetry. We have the Psalms that are printed like poetry, so you look at them, and you can look at how a line and an idea in the first line matches the next line or has that contrast to it or has a relationship, and that’s what Hebrew poetry is like.

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