Isaiah 3:1 speaks of the (1) devastating punishment that would befall Judah for her disobedience. But our main focus will be on (2) how some translations and manuscripts coincide with the Inspired Version; and on (3) the scriptures and prayer as our stay and our staff. But ultimately, (4) it is the Lord who is our Stay and our Staff.
“For, behold, the Lord, the Lord of hosts,
doth take away from Jerusalem, and from Judah,
the stay and the staff,
the whole stay staff of bread, and
the whole stay of water—”
Such drought and famine would come about in an excruciatingly literal form, whose horrors are beyond description. It would also be a spiritual drought and famine; whose devastating effects are even more painful. The Lord would take away Jerusalem’s support in terms of food and shelter, military defense, and every semblance of dignity (see Rain in Due Season). One of the great messages of the Old Testament is that man should not lean on his own strength, nor on the philosophies of men.
“For, behold, the Lord, the Lord of hosts, doth take away from Jerusalem, and from Judah.” The more literal translation of the Hebrew (𝔗) would be “For behold, Adonai Yahweh Tzevaoth” that is, “For behold, the Lord Jehovah of Hosts.” The Lord, He who rules the armies of heaven has decreed what devastating punishment would befall upon Jerusalem and Judah. ¶ “The stay and the staff, the whole staff of bread, and the whole stay of water.” Or rather: “…stay [מַשְׁעֵן] and staff [וּמַשְׁעֵנָה], the whole staff or bread, and the whole stay of water.”
It is interesting to note here, that the Targum (𝔗) agrees with the Prophet Joseph Smith, in keeping the parallelism between stay and staff. In Hebrew, these words are the masculine and feminine versions of מַשְׁעֵן based on the root (שׁען) that means to lean on for support. The Aramaic expression is “…stay (סָמֵיך) and support (וְסָעֵיד), the whole stay of food and the whole support of drink.” The Aramaic roots for these words are סמך and סעד respectively and mean to either give or obtain support, help, strength, and so on.
Spurrell’s Old Testament English translation (which is supposed to follow Boothroyd1) corresponds exactly with that of the Book of Mormon: “… [Every] stay and support: The entire staff of bread, And the entire stay of water.” (I say supposed, because the Kennicott-Boothroyd manuscript I have does not include the suggested variants and rather matches the Masoretic Text (𝔐).)
The Spanish Reina Valera 2009 (also see RVA 1909 & 1960, but interestingly, not the RVA 1906) also coincides with the Book of Mormon and JST: “… quita de Jerusalén y de Judá el sustento y el socorro, todo sustento de pan y todo socorro de agua” (doth take away from Jerusalem and from Judah, the sustenance and the relief, the whole sustenance of bread, and the whole relief of water).
Scriptures and Prayer
Returning to stay and staff (מַשְׁעֵן וּמַשְׁעֵנָה), we should note that many languages label words as masculine or feminine, and on occasion, some words may be both. Some languages that have female and male genders include Hebrew, Arabic, Aramaic, Spanish and French. Stay could be translated as bastón, or walking cane. An staff, if we were to make up a word in Spanish that does not exist, we could translate as bastona. So we would have bastón y bastona, stay and staff.
In Hebrew, such usage is given to indicate completeness, ALL support of any kind would be the idea of מַשְׁעֵן וּמַשְׁעֵנָה. In Isaiah 3:1 we have the notion that Judah and Jerusalem would be completely destitute.
Back when I was spending much time on this particular chapter, around the year 2000, I was meditating one morning while I was showering on how much I loved prayer and scripture study. “How could I begin to explain how important these things are in my life?” I pondered. Then the sweet force of the Spirit brought these words to my mind, “They are your stay and your staff” (Isaiah Testifies of Christ, 3rd Edition).
A few days later I read this from Lightfoot in Geike, “The idea of eating, as a metaphor for receiving spiritual benefit, was familiar to Christ’s hearers, and was as readily understood as our expressions of ‘devouring a book,’ or ‘drinking in’ instruction. In Isaiah 3:1, the words ‘the whole stay of bread,’ were explained by the Rabbis as referring to their own teaching (Chagiga), and they laid it down as a rule, that wherever, in Ecclesiastes, allusion was made to food or drink, it meant study of the law, and the practice of good works (Midrash, Koheleth). It was a saying among them — ‘In the time of the Messiah the Israelites will be fed by Him’ (Sanhedrim). Nothing was more common in the schools and synagogues than the phrases of eating and drinking, in a metaphorical sense. ‘Messiah is not likely to come to Israel,’ said Hillel, ‘for they have already eaten Him’ — that is, greedily, received His words (Horae Hebraicae et Talmudicae) — ‘in the days of Hezekiah.’ A current conventionalism in the synagogues was that the just would ‘eat the Shechinah.’2 It was peculiar to the Jews to be taught in such metaphorical language. Their Rabbis never spoke in plain words, and it is expressly said that Jesus submitted to the popular taste, for ‘without a parable spake he not unto them’ (Mark 4:34).”3
We also have examples of prophets being asked to eat the scriptures in a literal way: “And he said unto me, Son of man, cause thy belly to eat, and fill thy bowels with this roll that I give thee. Then did I eat it; and it was in my mouth as honey for sweetness” (Ezekiel 3:3); and “And I went unto the angel, and said unto him, Give me the little book. And he said unto me, Take it, and eat it up; and it shall make thy belly bitter, but it shall be in thy mouth sweet as honey. And I took the little book out of the angel’s hand, and ate it up; and it was in my mouth sweet as honey: and as soon as I had eaten it, my belly was bitter” (Revelation 10:9–10).
After I joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the first benefit I noticed from reading the Book of Mormon before going to sleep, was that I slept better. Before joining the Church, it was the reading of the Book of Mormon from cover to cover over a four-day period that changed my stony heart into one of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26).
Over the years, my love for the scriptures would increase. Elder B. H. Roberts taught that “It requires striving—intellectual and spiritual—to comprehend the things of God—even the revealed things of God. In no department of human endeavor is the aphorism ‘no excellence without labor’—more in force than in acquiring knowledge of the things of God. The Lord has placed no premium upon idleness or indifference here … the truth here contended for—achievement in divine things, progress in the knowledge of them, comes only with hard striving, earnest endeavor, determined seeking.”4
I have flown over Yosemite National Park and seen the whole of it in a few minutes. Certainly, there is much to be said for this approach. But I have also climbed to the top of Half Dome using the cables
that are provided and have spent much time hiking with a backpack over this beautiful park. There have been days when we only crossed paths with one couple, as we were enjoying a less visited portion of the wilderness. And then there are spots of the park that are full of people yet the beauty is so powerful that this is not a detriment.
So also, we can read through the Scriptures quickly, as I did the first time I devoured the Book of Mormon, much like flying over Yosemite National Park; or we can take years to do the same. If my records are correct, it has taken me over eight years to complete the Book of Mormon this last reading.
The time before, I wrote in my journal, “I finished the Book of Mormon again. But there was something more powerful in this reading of the Book of Mormon than any since I have been a member of the Church. I have been trying to think and determine why it is that this happened to me. As I have begun again, I can already see that that same power in its reading is with me. I am grateful for the Lord’s tender mercies and although I am not totally sure why this may be happening, I am most grateful for this blessing.”
I think that what happened to me is that I fell in love with the Book of Mormon. Through the reading of her pages, I have seen the promises made by latter-day Prophets and General Authorities come to pass. Elder Marion G. Romney taught: “From almost every page of the book, there will come to them a moving testimony that Jesus is indeed the Christ, the Son of the living God, our Redeemer and Savior. This witness alone will be a sustaining anchor in every storm. In the Book of Mormon, they will find the plainest explanation of Christ’s divine mission and his atonement to be found anywhere in sacred scriptures.” Perhaps because of my Jewish heritage, this testimony of the Savior is my most cherished possession—one that I do not take for granted.”
There is another reason for reading the Book of Mormon every single day. Elder K. Brett Nattress promised: “I am grateful for the gift of the Book of Mormon. I know that it is true! It contains the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I am unaware of anyone who is diligently reading the Book of Mormon each day with pure intent and with faith in Christ who has lost their testimony and fallen away. Moroni’s prophetic promise carries with it the key to know the truth of all things—including having the ability to discern and avoid the deceptions of the adversary” (See Moroni 10:4–5).
President Kimball testified, “I find that all I need to do to increase my love for my Maker and the gospel and the Church and my brethren is to read the scriptures. I have spent many hours in the scriptures. … I cannot see how anyone can read the scriptures and not develop a testimony of their divinity and of the divinity of the work of the Lord, who is the spokesman in the scriptures” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball (2006), 59–68).
I suppose I inherited the Jewish approach to the study of the Scriptures. There are sometimes weeks where I will read the same passage over and over and just meditate upon these few words. In this last reading of the Book of Mormon, I have used the free app Citation Index, wherein almost every verse in the Scriptures has a link to General Conference and the Journal of Discourses, and what the Brethren have had to say about that particular verse. I also love to read and re-read the same passage over and over in one sitting, as a special sweetness comes over me when I do that.
A few weeks ago, I read this note from Rabbi Morris H. Kertzer (in Beholding the Tree of Life: A Rabbinic Approach to the Book of Mormon by Bradley J. Kramer), and it made me think of my Yosemite analogy: “[We] Jews spend a long time on a page. We do not read rapidly through a biblical text, so much as we read a single verse or two, and then let our eyes meander through various commentaries on the page, playing with the various ways Jews in times past have read the passage before us. …[In this way] any given page of the book in our hands is like a guided tour through the inner landscape of the collective Jewish soul: all the way from the ancient Aramaic alternative version of the biblical text itself, to the medieval mystics and rationalists, with stop-off points in classical rabbinic sources along the way.”
It was while I was reading the Book of Mormon over twenty years ago that the spirit impressed on me that I needed to turn to my Jewish roots and study the book of Isaiah. At first, I did not understand much of what I was reading but with time, after I began to pay the price that Elder B. H. Roberts spoke about, an increased understanding came over me. While the Spirit made it clear that the Lord would not inspire me until I had studied what others had said about any particular verse, I was astonished that toward the end of my project there were times when the Spirit testified to me, before doing the research, what the meaning of a particular chapter was. At first, it took me seven months of study for each chapter of Isaiah and it took me over twenty years to complete the book Isaiah Testifies of Christ. Now I am working on Zechariah Testifies of Christ.
Another analogy I have shared with some of you is that the Scriptures are like a room in a house, but these rooms have doors and windows waiting to be opened so that we can explore additional rooms and discover more truth. But we do not study the Scriptures just so that we can know more; we also immerse ourselves in them so that we might be converted (Come, Follow Me—For Individuals and Families) and so we can come into the presence of God. We can try and live our lives so we have a double portion of the Spirit (2 Kings 2:9). When we come into the presence of God and when we are converted, we can better minister to those who are around us.
elucidated: “Since the scriptures come from the mind of Christ, they help us to have the Spirit, which brings us to a oneness of mind and heart with the Lord. Therefore, as you read and study and assimilate the words of the Lord through the scriptures, you are in the process of absorbing the mind of Christ. You begin to think as he thinks. You begin to feel as he feels. You begin to speak as he speaks. How can we know how well we are doing in our scripture reading? We can know we are doing well when we hear his voice (both in the scriptures directly and through revelation), when our hearts burn within us at hearing his word, when we receive the words of Christ into our bosoms, and when we receive them into our minds (and thus we learn how to feel as he feels and think as he thinks)” (Searching the Scriptures: Bringing Power to Your Personal and Family Study, p.122-123).
Scripture study and prayer go hand in hand. Truly they are twin sisters; our stay and our staff (מַשְׁעֵן וּמַשְׁעֵנָה). It is through prayer that we are also transported into the presence of God. President Russell M. Nelson told the youth, last June, that they needed to learn how to pray and how to receive answers to their prayers, “And nothing will make a bigger difference in your life than that!”
President Nelson further urged: “I promise you—not the person sitting next to you, but you—that, wherever you are in the world, wherever you are on the covenant path—even if, at this moment, you are not centered on the path—I promise you that if you will sincerely and persistently do the spiritual work needed to develop the crucial, spiritual skill of learning how to hear the whisperings of the Holy Ghost, you will have all the direction you will ever need in your life. You will be given answers to your questions in the Lord’s own way and in His own time. And don’t forget the counsel of your parents and Church leaders. They are also seeking revelation in your behalf.”
As a youth, decades ago, I was greatly blessed to hear these whisperings even before I joined the Church (although I have matching weaknesses in my life, along with this wonderful gift). But I am waxing loquacious, so I will explore the issue of prayer more in-depth on another occasion. For the moment I will just say that the whisperings of the Spirit are priceless. What price can we put on knowing that the Book of Mormon is true, that we belong to the Lord’s true Church, that God has heard our prayer, or that we are making the correct decision about something vital in our lives?
The Lord is My Stay and My Staff (יהוה משען לי ומשענתי)
Although the Spirit whispered to me years ago that Scripture study and prayer were my stay and my staff, I have come to the realization that truly the Lord is my Stay and my Staff (יהוה משען לי ומשענתי). This week I came across this wonderful statement from Elder Marion G. Romney: “You remember the occasion when Brother Newell K. Whitney … could not see the qualifications of a bishop in himself. The Prophet [Joseph Smith] said: ‘You need not take my word alone. Go and ask Father for yourself.’ At that slight rebuke, Brother Whitney went and asked the Lord. He heard a voice speak to him saying: ‘Thy strength is in me.’” Bishop Whitney accepted the call. Truly, the Lord is our Stay and our Staff.
 Boothroyd, Benjamin. Biblia Hebraica, or, the Hebrew scriptures of the Old Testament : without points, after the text of Kennicott, with the chief various readings, selected from his collation of Hebrew mss., from that of De Rossi, and from the ancient versions: accompanied with English notes, critical, philological, and explanatory. There may be other Kennicott manuscripts that may include the Targum and Book of Mormon variation.
 Transliteration of the non-Biblical Hebrew word שְׁכִינָה, from the root שׁכן meaning, “to dwell” or “reside”, and often used for the Divine Presence of the Lord (ISBE, Holman, Jastrow).
 Geike, Cunningham. Life and Words of Christ. Revised Edition, Volume II, 1896, p. 184.
 Elder Brigham Henry Roberts, The Seventy’s Course in Theology (1907-1912). Fifth year, p. iv.