BYU’s Maxwell Institute published a paper by Avraham Gileadi where he advanced the thesis that Isaiah is a key to understanding the Book of Mormon. Naturally, he begins by pointing out that both books teach us a lot about each other and the better we grasp the one, the more thoroughly we will know the other.
A type is a symbol that foreshadows a future event. We can learn more about an event by studying the details of types or shadows that foreshadow that event.—Old Testament Seminary Teacher Manual
He states: “The Book of Mormon offers four keys essential for understanding Isaiah:
- the spirit of prophecy or the Holy Ghost;
- the letter of prophecy1 or the manner of the Jews;
- diligent searching of Isaiah’s words; and
- types, or the idea that events in Israel’s past foreshadow events in the latter days.
In the paper, he stated, “The last days portend both good and evil: Isaiah describes a glorious salvation on the earth for the Lord’s long-suffering people; but he also portrays a world ripening in iniquity that the Lord will destroy in a fiery holocaust, a war to end all wars.”
Gileadi explains that Nephite prophets tell that story, but in a way intended to teach us things about our time. “These events in the Book of Mormon, chosen out of the many that could have been included, help people in our time understand events that are to come—events that will fulfill Isaiah’s prophecies about our modern day.” He continued, “Matching these with their latter-day counterparts resembles putting together a jigsaw puzzle—every piece fits and adds to the picture”
Then he suggests a closer study of the Book of Mormon, which paints a living portrait of the “types of things Isaiah prophesied” for the end times “is not simply the story of what happened to Lehi’s family and others who journeyed to the Western hemisphere.”
For example, Isaiah prophesied a literal new exodus for the Lord’s people in the last days, one that resembles the ancient Exodus out of Egypt. He also foresaw a new Passover, a new coming down of God from Mount Zion (not Sanai), a further wandering in the wilderness, and a new conquest of the promised land—all new versions of things similar to what happened in Moses’ day.
Giledai finds more than thirty significant events that are reported in the Old Testament which could be “types” for the future events in our day. So, when Book of Mormon writers quote from Isaiah, we expect that they will share Isaiah’s use of these “types.”
This bears the question: “Why did Book of Mormon writers choose to tell about specific events in their history and not others?” It makes sense that those events had special meaning as lessons for us, many generations later, likely so that we could learn what we must watch for and do.
The Book of Mormon begins with Lehi’s family exodus: “the people in Jerusalem were ripening in wickedness; the Lord sent Lehi and others to prophesy coming destruction and captivity.” This happened again when King Mosiah lead a remnant of the Nephites through the wilderness until they discovered the people of Zarahemla and united with them (see Omni 1:12-19).
Zarahemla’s people, like Lehi’s family before, had journeyed in the wilderness (see Omni 1:15-16) and crossed the sea to this promised land. This same kind of thing ensued when Ammon lead the people of king Limhi through the wilderness to the land of Zarahemla (see Mosiah 22:11-13). Then to be sure the reader gets “the Exodus theme in the Book of Mormon, its writers quote many of Isaiah’s prophecies of the latter-day exodus out of Babylon (see 1 Nephi 20:20; 2 Nephi 8:10-11; 21:15; 3 Nephi 20:41-42).”
Gileadi explained that as our own latter-day exodus draws near, as Isaiah prophesied, “the Book of Mormon is there to help us recognize conditions preceding it.” That way having received “a pattern in all things” (D&C 52:14) from the past, and having received latter-day prophecies of an exodus by the Saints (D&C 103:15-20), we may be ready.
Here see that Isaiah prophesied about the last days, drawing on ancient “types.” In turn the Book of Mormon prophesied indirectly by highlighting certain aspects of its history that reinforce or echo those “types” used by Isaiah.
Gileadi stated, “The Lord’s judgments in the last days possess a twofold dimension at His coming, the Lord will both deliver (by an exodus) the righteous and destroy the wicked. This will take place in two separate stages:
- first, when His people are fully wicked, God will raise up their enemies to invade their lands and destroy many of them; and
- second, when the Lord’s purpose of punishing the wicked has been served, he will empower a righteous remnant of his people to overthrow those invaders.
Gileadi explained that using ancient Assyria as the “type” for an “oppressive latter-day superpower, Isaiah predicted that the Lord would raise up a new ‘Assyria’ as his instrument for destroying and taking captive his people.”
Since the Book of Mormon does not offer “a hundredth part of their history… this pattern of invasion and reconquest must have been essential for them to emphasize.” Gileadi askes: “Why does Book of Mormon writers play up individual episodes of their military history, such as the wars Moroni waged, and yet deliberately downplay others, such as King Benjamin’s great victory over the Lamanites (see Words of Mormon 1:13)?” Answering his own question, Gileadi says that, “Through wars, the Lord often destroyed the more wicked part of the Nephites but spared the righteous (see Omni 1:5-7; Alma 50:22).
Gileadi explained that “after many perished, the Lord strengthened the Nephites, and they overthrew their enemies and ousted them from the land (see Alma 2:1-3:3).” He continued, “When we look at thesewars,, we should not necessarily assume that as many battles will repeat themselves in our time. Just as several exoduses in the Book of Mormon may prefigure a single latter-day exodus—the exodus of which Isaiah prophesied—so several Nephite-Lamanite wars may symbolize a separate conflict between the Lord’s people and an alien power.”
He explained that the common elements of Book of Mormon battles “teach us about this great last war of which Isaiah prophesied:
- First, internal disagreements and secret combinations will weaken and divide the Lord’s people.
- Second, an alien power will invade the land, conquering and destroying, and seeking to impose its oppressive rule over the Lord’s people.
- Third, a righteous prophet-commander will lead an army of the Lord’s people against their enemies.
- Fourth, their cause will be to defend their freedom, their religion, and their families.
- Fifth, they will call on the Lord to assist them.
- Sixth, the hand of the Lord will be with them so that they will succeed in defeating their enemies and restoring peace.”
Gileadi summarizes with: “Each set of parallels in the Book of Mormon (of the exodus and war stories)…helps us to see a broader meaning behind Nephi’s statements that his people may ‘liken’ Isaiah’s words to themselves (see 1 Nephi 19:23-24; 2 Nephi 11:2, 8). Since Nephi saw the last days in vision, he established a pattern for recording history that would best serve the Lamanites in that latter day. …The Book of Mormon’s extensive use of such types helps to establish its authenticity as an ancient, sacred record written by prophets for the instruction of the Lord’s people in the last days.”
This article was taken from “Isaiah: Four Latter-day Keys to an Ancient Book,” by Avraham Gileadi, in Isaiah and the Prophets: Inspired Voices from the Old Testament, ed. Monte S. Nyman and Charles D. Tate Jr. (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1984), 119–38.
1 Randal S. Chase, Old Testament Study Guide, Pt. 3: The Old Testament Prophets (Making Precious Things Plain) (Volume 9), Amazon, p 44