Four Keys to Interpreting Isaiah

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Used with permission from Steven Montgomery, this is his a summary of Avraham Gileadi’s book, The Book of Isaiah: A New Translation with interpretive keys from the Book of Mormon, prepared by Steven Montgomery.

Four Keys of Interpretation:

  1. Spirit of Prophecy (see 2 Nephi 25:4)
  2. Letter of Prophecy (see 2 Nephi 25:5)
  3. Searching (see 3 Nephi 23:1)
  4. Types (see 3 Nephi 23:2)

Regarding the “letter of Prophecy,” the Jews rely on interpretive devices such as types and shadows, allegorical language, literary patterns, underlying structures, parallelism, double meaning, keywords, code names, and many other mechanical tools. Below are some governing structures:

Governing Structures:

        1. Near Eastern

          • Egyptian: Sinuhe Story: Trouble at Home, Exile Abroad, Happy Homecoming
          • The Monomyth or Hero Journey: Separation, Initiation, Return
        2. Ugaritic (Ugarit is an ancient city in Syria)

          • Myth of Baal and Anath: The themes of Apostasy, Judgement, Restoration, Salvation as found in Isaiah parallel the Babylonian themes of Threat, War, Victory, and Feast.
          • One Ugaritic cycle encompasses the whole book of Isaiah:
            1. Apostasy———-   Isaiah 10-34
            2. Judgment———   Isaiah 10-34
            3. Restoration——–  Isaiah 30-59
            4. Salvation———-  Isaiah 60-66
          • Local Ugaritic themes exist throughout Isaiah. Several examples:
            Apostasy Judgment Restoration Salvation
            Isaiah 1:20-23 Isaiah 1:24 Isaiah 1: 25-26 Isaiah 1:27
            Isaiah 1:28-29 Isaiah 1:30-31 Isaiah 2:2-3 Isaiah 2:4-5
            Isaiah 57:11 Isaiah 57:12-13 Isaiah 57:13-14 Isaiah 57:15
            Isaiah 57:16-17 Isaiah 57:17 Isaiah 57:18 Isaiah 57:19
      1. Zion Ideology

        • General: Encompassing the whole book of Isaiah
          • Destruction or Judgement of the wicked———-Isaiah 1-36
          • Deliverance or establishment of the righteous—–Isaiah 40-66
          • At the appearance or ascension to the throne of a righteous Davidic King—–Isaiah 37-39
        • Local: Every time Isaiah mentions ZION these ideas come together. The Davidic King mostly appears under a pseudonym: Ensign, Staff, Hand, Arm, Righteousness, etc. (Note: Under the Davidic Covenant God pledges to protect the King’s people as long as the King remains loyal. Under the Sinaitic Covenant, every person has to be loyal to merit protection. The Davidic Covenant follows the pattern of ancient near eastern covenant of grant between a suzerain and vassal king–the suzerain protects the people of the vassal king as long as the vassal king remains loyal, for example, King Hezekiah in Isaiah 37:33-36 and Isaiah 38: 2-6)1
      2. Covenantal Malediction and Benediction

          • Covenantal Malediction—–Isaiah 1-39
          • Covenantal Benediction—–Isaiah 40-66
      3. Bifid Chiastic Structure (original to Isaiah)Forms of Speech (small literary patterns)

        • Ruin and Renascence (Isaiah 1-5; 34-35)
        • Recalcitrance and Compliance (Isaiah 6-8; 36-41)
        • Punishment and Deliverance (Isaiah 9-12; 41-46)
        • Humiliation and Exaltation (Isaiah 13-23; 47
        • Suffering and Salvation (Isaiah 24-27; 48-54)
        • Disloyalty and Loyalty (Isaiah 28-31; 55-59)
        • Disinheritance and Inheritance (Isaiah 32-33; 60-66)
      4. Forms of Speech

Lawsuit (Isaiah 1:10-20) Messenger Speech [Thus says the Lord] (Isaiah 7:3-9; 30:8-17)
Woe Oracle (Isaiah 5:8-24) Prophetic Lament [How?] (Isaiah 1:21)
Priestly Sermons (Isaiah 8:11-17; 51:1-8) Parable (Isaiah 5:1-7; 27:2-6)
Song of Salvation (Isaiah 12:1-6; 26:1-6) Proclamation of Judgement?
Ethical Sermon? The Parable?
Commission Formula* (Isaiah 6:9) Proclamation Formula* (Isaiah 28:23; 49:1)
Oath Formula* (Isaiah 14:24; 62:8; 45:23) Revelation Formula* (Isaiah 7:3; 8:3; 21:16)
Prophetic Call Narrative (Isaiah 6:1-13) Prophetic Symbolic Actions (Isaiah 20:1-6)
Prophetic Lawsuit (Isaiah 1:2-3, 18-20) Prophetic Vision (Isaiah 6)
Judgment Oracle* (Isaiah 3:12; 29:13-14) Recognition Formula* (Isaiah 45:3; 49:23)
  1. Parallelism (the smallest structure)

    • Synonymous Parallelism
    • Antithetical Parallelism [contrasts one word or idea with another] (Isaiah 45:7)
  2. Metaphors

• Key Words: Individual metaphorical terms such as Sea, River, Razor, Light, Hand, Ensign, Staff, Anger, Litter
• Transcendent Drama: Struggle between the Archtyrant and the Davidic King

  1. Hebrew Language—Several Examples:

  • Seraph: Fiery or Holy Ones
  • Consummation: Fulness
  • Mist: Denotes the presence of the Lord
  • Undone: Struck dumb (As in the Egyptian opening of the mouth ceremony)
  1. Searching (3 Nephi 22:1)

  • Reading between the lines: Isaiah is not to be fully understood simply by reading the words. We must search them out and make connections, study things out in our minds, and otherwise read between the lines.

Not found in Gileadi’s book, The Book of Isaiah: A New Translation with interpretive keys from the Book of Mormonbut he mentions these forms of speech in an article published in the book, Isaiah and the Prophets: Inspired Voices From The Old Testament, by Monte S. Nyman.

*Donald W. Parry, in a review partly laudatory and partly critical of Gileadi’s book, mentioned these forms of speech as examples where Gileadi fell short of making a complete list of prophetic speech forms.


Author:  Steven Montgomery | Happily married and father of four (2 natural sons, 1 step-son, 1 step-daughter), Steven is an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He has a bachelor’s of science degree in political science and has been involved in politics for more than thirty years and has been a candidate for political office or party office on a number of occasions, including a bid for the state legislature and the U.S. Congress. He runs the “Perfect Law of Liberty” website and has taught American National Government, U.S. History, and Political Economy for several years at a private high school in Utah.

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I am a retiree from Scouting. There I blogged for VoiceOfScouting.org, a site with more than 250,000 readers. During 42 years in the workplace, I've had many years senior level management with the BSA, professional associations, and high tech user groups. My background includes capital fundraising; outdoor adventure program development; property and construction management; event/conference planning; risk management and safety; lobbying federal, state and local government agencies; public relations; strategic planning; member advocacy and staff/volunteer training. Along the way, I have also taught Gospel Doctrine Classes and been both the ward and stake Sunday School President. In these settings, I have seen teachers and class members minimize Isaiah, a book Christ has commanded us to "search diligently." (3 Ne 23:1) With that in mind, I will do my best to explore and post my discoveries about the book of Isaiah. I am not a Bible scholar; like you, I read Isaiah in the Old Testament cycle of study in LDS Gospel Doctrine Classes and again in the Book of Mormon Cycle, so this is a whole new scripture adventure for me.

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