President Russell M. Nelson has invited the youth of the Church to be one of the swift messengers that Isaiah spoke about. I wanted to share the beautiful context of those words with you.
Studying Isaiah has strengthened my love for the Savior, my testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith and of the restored Church. Isaiah 18 is one of my all-time favorite chapters. It is amazing to find testimonies of this chapter of Isaiah from those who are not of our faith yet mirror those of the Brethren. So much so that you may think that everyone I have quoted is a member of the Church.
Isaiah 18 has given much difficulty to those outside The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This article is a summary of Isaiah 18 from Isaiah Testifies of Christ. (Please refer to my book for a complete and detailed bibliography.)
President Joseph Fielding Smith stated: “No one understands this chapter, but the Latter-day Saints.” He furthermore explained: “This chapter is clearly a reference to the sending forth of the missionaries to the nations of the earth to gather again this people who are scattered and peeled. The ensign has been lifted upon the mountains, and the work of gathering has been going on for over one hundred years.1
One man who wrote shortly before the restoration of the Gospel and who was undoubtedly inspired in regards to ISAIAH 18, was Samuel Horsley, from Great Britain: “[ISAIAH 18] Is a description of some people, or another, destined to be principal instruments in the hand of Providence, in the great work of the re-settlement of the Jews in the Holy Land; a description of that people, by characters by which they will be evidently known, when the time arrives … the time of the completion of the prophecy was very remote, when it was delivered, and is yet future [these words were written in 1799], being indeed the season of the Second Advent of our Lord.”2
While Horsley was able to see into the future in the most accurate way, I have also included the words of some of the most eminent Isaiah scholars. None of these were members of the Church, except for the Brethren quoted.
1. WOE to the land shadowing with wings, which is beyond the rivers of Ethiopia:
A misunderstanding of this chapter has led many to mistranslate the Hebrew word הוֹי into a “woe.” President Joseph Fielding Smith explained: “The chapter shows clearly that no woe was intended, but rather a greeting … A correct translation would be, ‘Hail to the land in the shape of wings.’”
Barnes says that the Hebrew הוֹי “may be a mere interjection or salutation, and would be appropriately rendered by ‘Ho!’”
Elder Hyrum Smith, the Prophet’s brother, explained that North and South America are the symbols of the wings (History of the Church, 6:322–323).
President Joseph Fielding Smith said, “[America] is the land ‘shadowing with wings’ spoken of by Isaiah that today is sending ambassadors by the sea to a nation scattered and peeled, which at one time was terrible in the beginning. Now that nation is being gathered, and once again they shall be in favor with the Lord.”3
A Targumic translation used by Gill, has, “to the land to which they come in ships from a far country, whose sails are stretched out, as an eagle that flies with its wings.” ¶ Which [is] beyond the rivers of Ethiopia. The key word here is beyond. Henderson explains that such Hebrew expression “always signifies what lies beyond some sea, river &c. which is supposed to be between it and the person speaking.” Just pick up a world globe and follow the line from Israel to the rivers of Cush (Ethiopia) and beyond the seas. Where does it take you? To America.
2. That sendeth ambassadors by the sea, even in vessels of bulrushes upon the waters, saying, Go, ye swift messengers, to a nation scattered and peeled, to a people terrible from their beginning hitherto; a nation meted out and trodden down, whose land the rivers have spoiled!
The early Brethren knew quite a bit about Hebrew. President Joseph Fielding Smith taught: “The meaning is vessels of speed.” Gesenius, the Jewish Hebraist explained it as: “to absorb, to drink up, to swallow” as it is “poetically applied to a horse as it were swallowing the ground in his rapid course (see Job 39:24).
The Chilean novelist Ramón Pacheco (in Episodios de la Guerra del Pacífico) used the expression in a similar way, “Todas estas ideas acudían en tropel a su mente, mientras su caballo bebía el espacio en su carrera.” Essentially, something like, “All these ideas stampeded to his mind as the horse swallowed space in its galop.”
Joseph Fielding Smith’s translation, a vessel of speed—either seagoing or airplane, that moves swiftly and seems to swallow the ocean in its magnificent speed.
These fast vessels, then, would come from North and South America with ambassadors of truth to gather Israel from all over the world. Faussett suggests these ambassadors would be sent to Jerusalem. Please, not that while we speak of Judah, this gathering is taking place throughout the world and individuals from all the tribes are being gathered, beginning with Ephraim.
Horsley has, “First, the prophet calls upon these people [referred to in the first verse]; he summons them to attend to him; then he declares, for what immediate purpose they are summoned; viz. to be the carriers of a message.” Horsley goes on to explain that these are very particular people, not just any people, for God has commissioned them with this mighty message. One might well add that they were sent with ‘authority and commission’ (Acts 26:12).”
Henderson correctly says, “The prophet calls upon these to go with all celerity … to announce the wonderful interposition of Jehovah for the deliverance of the Jews.” Who can these be save those ordained and commissioned and entrusted to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the world?
All of these thoughts remind us of the words of John: “And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, Saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters” (Revelation 14:6–7).
On Sunday, 3 June 2018, President Russell M. Nelson taught the youth of the Church that no greater work exists upon the earth today than the gathering of Israel. He asked and committed each youth to join the swift messengers spoken about in Isaiah by helping gather Israel on both sides of the veil.
To a nation scattered and peeled. Ibn Ezra, the prominent Jewish commentator, has, “The Israelites are meant, that have been dragged from their homes like sheep, until they were flayed from the dragging.” Rosenberg, also leaning on the Rabbis, explains: “They are instructed to go to Israel, which is heretofore a nation pulled by the gentile nations from all sides, and torn.”
Horsley says it refers “to a people forcibly torn from their country, and carried into captivity … a people plundered of their wealth, and stripped of their power … Thus both of these participles may more naturally be applied to the Jews, in their present condition, than to any other nation of any other time.”
To a people terrible from their beginning hitherto. According to Gesenius, the word terrible in Hebrew rather means to be feared. Other related words include dreadful, venerable, and admirable, to name a few. It implies, then, that the people of Israel in the beginning were admired and feared. The Targum has, “Unto a people that was mighty in times past, and shall be so in time to come.”
A nation meted out and trodden down, whose land the rivers have spoiled. Some exegetes think of the punishment that Israel has had to live through. When it comes to the rivers, the idea may well be that Israel is divided in two by the Jordan River. Others think that this expression is also about invading forces (water is used elsewhere in Isaiah to indicate invasion).
3. All ye inhabitants of the world, and dwellers on the earth, see ye, when he lifteth up an ensign on the mountains; and when he bloweth a trumpet, hear ye.
Rather than a trumpet, the shofar, שׁוֹפָר.
Kimhi explains: “So will the Israelites be gathered from all countries at the time of the salvation, and the nations will bring them and gather them as though the standard was raised and the shofar sounded.”
Barnes has, “These are to be regarded as the words of the prophet summoning all nations to attend to that which was about to occur.” Gill writes in part, “All the men of the world are here called upon, either by the Lord, or rather by the prophet, to be eye and ear witnesses … the news of it should ring through the earth, and be as plainly heard as when a trumpet is blown.”
Horsley continues, “We have now heard messengers summoned. We have heard a command given to them, to go swiftly with the message. We have heard the people described to whom the message was to be carried. It might be expected, we should next hear the message given to the messengers in precise terms … An ensign, or standard, is lifted up on the mountains—a trumpet is blown on the hills—… the trumpet of the Gospel. … the effect of the summons, in the end, will be universal.”
Elder Orson Pratt said, “The Lord, then, was to lift the ensign on a land that was far off from where the Prophet lived; and that ensign, we are told, should be set up on the mountains, and that, too, on a land shadowing with wings.”
Horsley adds, “The prophecy announces the display of God’s power and providence, which should be notorious to the whole world; and particularly, I think, alludes to a renewed preaching of the Gospel, with great power and effect in the latter ages.” That is, the good news or Gospel of Jesus Christ, and the restoration of His Church upon the earth through the instrumentality of His prophet, even Joseph Smith.
4. For so the LORD said unto me, I will take my rest, and I will consider in my dwelling place like a clear heat upon herbs, [and] like a cloud of dew in the heat of harvest.
This is an allusion to the fact that the children of Jacob were about to be harvested and her branches scattered to every corner of the globe and her fruit destroyed. At the time of Isaiah, the Lord was beginning the pruning process. This has reference to the suffering that the house of Israel would be subjected to before her glorious redemption. At this place Horsley well observes, “This verse seems to describe a long suspension of the visible interpositions of Providence in the affairs of this world, and in favour of this people, under the image of that stillness and stagnation of the atmosphere, which takes place in the extreme heats of the latter end of summer … The sentiment is that, notwithstanding the long cessation of extraordinary manifestations of God’s power, his providence is not asleep.”
The figure of the cloud similarly indicates that the Lord would permit harm to come upon her people Israel, in the way of her being dispersed among the nations.
5. For afore the harvest, when the bud is perfect, and the sour grape is ripening in the flower, he shall both cut off the sprigs with pruning hooks, and take away [and] cut down the branches.
Once again, this figure speaks of the scattering of Israel. Horsley explains, “These words express, not simply sprigs and branches, but ‘useless shoots,’ ‘luxuriant branches,’ which bear no fruit, and weaken the plant; and properly such shoots and branches of a vine.” Does this remind you of Jacob 5?
The children of Israel are now ripened in iniquity and the pruning has begun in earnest, and the branches have been scattered throughout the world, as threatened in Rain in Due Season (see Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28–30).
Note especially the language about cutting and casting in the Lord’s acceptance of the temple built by Solomon. “But if ye shall at all turn from following me, ye or your children, and will not keep my commandments and my statutes which I have set before you, but go and serve other gods, and worship them: Then will I cut off Israel out of the land which I have given them; and this house, which I have hallowed for my name, will I cast out of my sight” (1 Kings 9:6–7a).
So we have the reason for the impending scattering of Israel, and the scattering to the four corners of the world, and a long, long time being in the scattered condition, even all of summer and all of winter (representing the millennia involved since the scattering began, to the day when the restoration of the gospel and subsequent gathering would begin.
6. They shall be left together unto the fowls of the mountains, and to the beasts of the earth: and the fowls shall summer upon them, and all the beasts of the earth shall winter upon them.
Here we have an allusion to the horrible sufferings that the house of Israel would be subjected to, trampled by the “beasts of the earth” or the wicked who pretend to love Christ yet hate His people Israel.
Yet after the scattering, the gathering would begin through missionaries—or ambassadors of truth.
7. In that time shall the present be brought unto the LORD of hosts of a people scattered and peeled,and from a people terrible from their beginning hitherto; a nation meted out and trodden under foot, whose land the rivers have spoiled, to the place of the name of the LORD of hosts, the mount Zion.
In that time. This expression means in the latter days.
Present or gift. Gill has: “This explains what the present is, that shall be brought to the Lord; it is a people.” Ibn Ezra writes: “Israel, who has been dragged and flayed during the period of his captivity, will now be brought, to the honour of God, to His abode on Mount Zion.” Rabbi Rosenberg correctly explains: “The nations of the world will bring the Jewish people to God as a gift,” and then quotes ISAIAH 66:20: “And they shall bring all your brethren for an offering unto the LORD out of all nations upon horses, and in chariots, and in litters, and upon mules, and upon swift beasts, to my holy mountain Jerusalem, saith the LORD, as the children of Israel bring an offering in a clean vessel into the house of the LORD.”
Ironside has, “God’s heart is ever toward Israel and while He has permitted them to pass through such terrible sufferings throughout the long centuries of their dispersion … [yet] the day will surely come when, their transgressions forgiven and their hearts renewed, they will be restored to Himself and planted again in their own land—that land which so often the rivers have spoiled!”
Now mark Horsley’s words and inspired testimony: “They [the Jews] shall be converted to the acknowledgment of the truth, and they shall be brought to the place of the name of Jehovah, to mount Sion: they shall be settled, in peace and prosperity, in the land of their original inheritance. This then is the sum of this prophecy, and the substance of the message, sent to the people dragged about and plucked … The Jews, converted to the faith of Christ, will be unexpectedly restored to their ancient possessions. The swift messengers will certainly have a considerable share, as instruments in the hand of God, in the restoration of the chosen people. Otherwise, to what purpose are they called upon to receive their commission from the prophet? … This character seems to describe some Christian country, where the prophecies relating to the latter ages will meet with particular attention; where the literal sense of those, which promise the restoration of the Jewish people, will be strenuously upheld; and where there will be so successfully expounded, as to be the principal means, by God’s blessing, of removing the veil from the hearts of the Israelites.”
And from a people terrible from their beginning. Gill writes, “These descriptive characters, with those in the preceding clauses, are retained, to show that the same people are here meant as in ISAIAH 18:2.” At one time Israel was set up as the light of the world. Today, members of the Lord’s Church must be bold in declaring in great love the restoration of the gospel: “For they were set to be a light unto the world, and to be the saviors of men; And inasmuch as they are not the saviors of men, they are as salt that has lost its savor, and is thenceforth good for nothing but to be cast out and trodden under foot of men” (D&C 103: 9–10).
To the place of the name of the LORD of hosts, the mount Zion. The Targum clarifies this passage with, “Unto the place which is called by the name of the Lord of hosts, whose Shekinah (שְכִינְתֵיה) is in the mountain of Zion.” And so it is, these missionaries and ambassadors of truth will bring back Israel unto the Lord of Hosts—to the House of the Lord. The Mount Zion, הַר־צִיּוֹן, or in other words, the Holy Temple (ISAIAH 66:20).
Tears run down my cheeks as I make this summary for you, the readers of Search Isaiah. I have a testimony that Isaiah 18 is about the gathering of Judah and the rest of Israel. A few years after I joined the Church I asked my father (a Jew) and mother (Chilean), in separate letters, permission to carry out the work of gathering our ancestors from the other side of the veil, in the House of the Lord. My mother gave permission but my father said he was not able to do so.
I decided to honor my father’s request. So it is that my Jewish ancestors have been waiting for a very long time. Two months ago, March of 2018, my father was gathered unto his people (Genesis 25:8). It was on Palm Sunday. My wife and I live in the south of Chile. We were able to travel to Santiago and with my brothers and sisters accompany him to San Javier, about five hours south of Santiago, were we buried him on Tuesday. I had the privilege of dedicating his tomb. That Thursday I baptized and confirmed my wife and a young man for the first group of my Jewish ancestors. I knew some of them had accepted Jesus Christ as Savior and Messiah, on the other side of the veil.
1 Joseph Fielding Smith, Signs of the Times: Deseret Book Co., Salt Lake City, Utah, 1974, p. 54-55.
2 Critical Disquisitions on the Eighteenth Chapter of Isaiah: In a letter to Edward King, by Samuel Horsley.
3 Smith, Signs of the Times: