Understanding Isaiah Using Nephi’s Keys

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Beginning this week in our “Come, Follow Me,” study guide, we will begin to encounter many passages quoted from the Book of Isaiah. This spells trouble for some Church members, while others will just skip these verses. But the team here at Search Isaiah hopes to help you along the way, beginning with some tools for understanding Isaiah in the Book of Mormon.

Turning first to the Book of Mormon Reference Companion, edited by Dennis L Largey, we get four tips on how to improve our understanding of Isaiah. Largey explained that after meticulously etching Isaiah’s words onto the plates (2 Nephi 12-24), Nephi penned eight insightful verses specifically for future readers (2 Nephi 15:1-8).

Nephi recognized the inherent difficulty some might face, acknowledging, “Isaiah spake many things which were hard for many of my people to understand” (2 Nephi 25:1). To bridge this gap, Nephi offered a set of keys to unlock Isaiah’s profound message, as follows:

1- Understand “the manner of the Jews” (2 Nephi 25:2).

Nephi’s emphasis on “the manner of prophesying among the Jews” appears to be a recurring theme woven throughout his eight explanatory verses (2 Nephi 15:1-8). This suggests the concept held significant importance for him. He employs various expressions, including “the manner of the Jews,” “the things of the prophets,” and “the manner of the things of the Jews,” reiterating the need to understand this unique aspect of Isaiah’s writing.

While Nephi’s exact intent remains open to interpretation, these references likely allude to several factors: literary devices common in Jewish tradition (e.g., prophetic speech forms, poetic parallelism, symbolic language), cultural nuances of the time, and historical and theological elements that shaped Isaiah’s prophetic style.

2- Be “filled with the spirit of prophecy (second Nephi 25:4, cf. Revelations 19 verse 10)

Nephi urges us to be “filled with the Spirit of Prophecy” (2 Nephi 25:4, cf. Revelation 19:10). Remember, he previously explained to his brothers that Isaiah’s prophecies were revealed “by the voice of the Spirit, for by the Spirit are all things made known to the prophets” (1 Nephi 22:2).

In essence, the Spirit of Prophecy both provides the words of revelation to the prophet and, when diligently sought, unlocks their interpretation for others.

The key to receiving this Spirit lies in Alma 17:2-3, where we find a formula: diligent scripture study, combined with much prayer and fasting.

3-Be familiar with the regions round about Jerusalem (2 Nephi 25:6)

Isaiah’s prophecies are deeply rooted in the Ancient Near East, referencing numerous geographical locations and physical features. Over 106 different place names paint a vivid picture of his world, encompassing cities like Jerusalem, Sodom, and Bozrah; nations like Egypt, Israel, and Moab; regions like Bashan, Galilee, and Naphtali; valleys such as Achor and Rephaim; mountains like Carmel and Lebanon; and even oases like Nimrim and Tamar.

Notably, some places appear frequently: Jerusalem is mentioned 48 times, Egypt 41, Moab 21, Samaria 8, Damascus 7, and Ethiopia 6.

4- Live during the days that the prophecies of Isaiah are fulfilled (2 Nephi 25:7–8)

Nephi’s prophetic insight shines brightly in his confident declaration, repeated in both verses 7 and 8, that Isaiah’s prophecies would find their true understanding and fulfillment in “the last days.” This wasn’t just an abstract prediction, but a call to action for future generations to look for their fulfillment. Numerous examples demonstrate the remarkable alignment between Isaiah’s pronouncements and the events of the last days.

Perhaps the most impactful fulfillment lies in the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, a testament to Isaiah’s prophecy in 29:4-11 (2 Nephi 27). This sacred record, emerging from a hidden continent, serves as a powerful witness to God’s enduring covenant with Israel and a beacon of light in these latter times.

Another striking illustration involves the establishment of temples, echoing Isaiah’s vision in 2:1-3 (2 Nephi 12:1-3). These sacred spaces, dedicated to personal growth and divine connection, stand as tangible symbols of the gathering of Israel and the fulfillment of God’s promise to be a “house of prayer for all people.”

Unlocking Isaiah’s Message: Beyond the Four Keys

While Nephi’s four keys offer valuable guidance, Jesus himself added another crucial element: searching. He didn’t just say “read,” he commanded the Nephites to “search them diligently” (3 Nephi 23:1). This active engagement, delving deeper into the text, unlocks deeper meanings and insights.

But the journey doesn’t end there. Here are some additional keys to consider:

  • Comparative Study: Examine how Isaiah’s words are used in the Book of Mormon, New Testament, and Doctrine and Covenants. This reveals how his prophecies resonated and were interpreted across different contexts and times.
  • Joseph Smith Translation: Explore the unique insights and clarifications offered in this inspired version of the Bible.
  • Doctrine and Covenants: Certain sections, like D&C 113, delve into Isaiah’s prophecies, offering additional explanations and interpretations.
  • Gospel Understanding: Elder McConkie wisely pointed out that as our understanding of gospel principles and the plan of salvation deepens, so does our appreciation for Isaiah’s message. (see “Ten Keys to Understanding Isaiah,” Elder Bruce R. McConkie, Ensign, October 1973)

Remember, these are not isolated tools, but a synergistic ensemble. By combining them with the four keys, we embark on a rich, multifaceted journey into the heart of Isaiah’s prophecies.

On this site, here are list of supporting posts for further study:

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Search Isaiah is a resource for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to dive into the book of Isaiah. By sharing a vast range of resources including study guides, articles, podcasts, and more, we hope to provide readers with ways to search the book of Isaiah. While Search Isaiah strives to support the mission of the Church, it is not affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Search Isaiah is supported by Mobaliz, an agency that supports organizations that are hastening His Work.

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