“But the Word of our God shall stand for ever” Isaiah 40:8

Isaiah 40:8

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I was in love with Isaiah 40:8, as the sweet words would ring through my mind, “The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.” Until one day, I came to know exactly why I loved this verse so very much. Let us take this journey together, beginning with Isaiah 40:3 (although we could also profitably consider Isaiah 40:1-2, as well as Isaiah 40:9). It is my hope that the Spirit will whisper to you what it has whispered to me.

“The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” Isaiah 40:3

Painting of Ibn Ezra
Abraham ben Meir Ibn Ezra was one of the most distinguished Jewish biblical commentators and philosophers of the Middle Ages

Ibn Ezra says: “These words are addressed to all nations.” The voice that cries in the wilderness is also one that invites all to come unto Christ—“whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same” (D&C 1:38) for “Behold, that which you hear is as the voice of one crying in the wilderness—in the wilderness, because you cannot see him—my voice, because my voice is Spirit; my Spirit is truth; truth abideth and hath no end; and if it be in you it shall abound” (D&C 88:66).

These verses continue to clarify that if we are faithful, we shall see God: “And if your eye be single to my glory, your whole bodies shall be filled with light, and there shall be no darkness in you; and that body which is filled with light comprehendeth all things. Therefore, sanctify yourselves that your minds become single to God, and the days will come that you shall see him; for he will unveil his face unto you, and it shall be in his own time, and in his own way, and according to his own will” (D&C 88:67–68).

This verse lays out the first hint regarding the coming verses which all of Christendom loves but often does not understand, which culminates in verse eight. We hear a voice crying in the wilderness; it is the voice of John the Baptist. He was sent as an Elias to prepare the way of the Lord in the meridian of time. And then in the latter-day, through the restoration of the Priesthood, he helped lay out the way for the Second Coming.

What is John the Baptist and the Prophet Joseph Smith proclaiming in their role as Elias? That the time has come! That the Savior is about to make His presence known! The light would shine in darkness yet the darkness would not comprehend it (John 1:5). In contrast, in the latter-day, the whole world would see the glory of the Lord and comprehend it together.

This verse is frequently and correctly quoted as an allusion to the Lord’s first coming. In the meridian of time John the Baptist was asked: “Who art thou? that we may give an answer to them that sent us. What sayest thou of thyself? He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias.” (John 1:22b–23).

Keith explains that these verses have a strong application to the Second Advent: “While, therefore, the Baptist is to be regarded as the voice, what he did cry is not to be limited to the coming of Christ in his days.”

Conferring of the Aaronic PriesthoodOn 15 May 1829, John the Baptist also played a vital role in the Restoration by conferring the Aaronic Priesthood upon the Prophet Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery.[1] John the Baptist acted through the spirit of Elias,[2] preparing the way for the conferring of the Melchizedek Priesthood and all things that had to be restored before the Second Coming.

In Doctrine and Covenants we read: “Hearken, and lo, a voice as of one sent down from on high, who is mighty and powerful, whose going forth is unto the ends of the earth, yea, whose voice is unto men—Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. The keys of the kingdom of God are committed unto man on the earth, and from thence shall the gospel roll forth unto the ends of the earth, as the stone which is cut out of the mountain without hands shall roll forth, until it has filled the whole earth. Yea, a voice crying—Prepare ye the way of the Lord, prepare ye the supper of the Lamb, make ready for the Bridegroom” (D&C 65:1–3).

“Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain:” Isaiah 40:4

“Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low:” In 3 Nephi 8, we read of the great geological upheavals at the time of the death of our Saviour. In the Second Coming, the scene will likewise be one of great cataclysms. Beside the physical changes, the low and humble followers of Christ shall be exalted while the prideful made low.

“And the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain:” Henderson has: “That עָקֹב is not to be taken in the acceptation of hill or acclivity, but in that of crooked, is evident, both from the primary meaning of מִישׁוֹר,[3 its opposite.” Speaking of the Second Advent, President Joseph Fielding Smith felt that this scripture along with Isaiah 54:10 and others support the fact that “The land of Zion and the land of Jerusalem shall be turned back into their own place and the sea be driven back to the north, and the earth be as it was before it was divided.”[4]

“And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see [it] together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken [it].” Isaiah 40:5

The hints about the meaning of Isaiah 40:8 continue to mount. ¶ “And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed.” The glory of the Lord will be revealed in many ways, including the restoration of His Church. When the Savior comes for the second time, in that day will His glory be made fully manifest. “They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (cf. Habakkuk 2:14). Wade says that the Glory of the Lord is “the visible splendour that indicated the Divine Presence.”

“And all flesh shall see [it] together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken [it].” Henderson says regarding all the flesh: “בָּשָׂר, flesh, is used metonymically of all animated beings, but especially of man; hence כָּל־הַבָּשָׂר, or כָּל־בָּשָׂר, means all mankind.”

As we turn to Luke 3, the JST has, “As it is written in the book of the prophet Esaias; and these are the words, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, and make his paths straight. For behold, and lo, he shall come, as it is written in the book of the prophets, to take away the sins of the world, and to bring salvation unto the heathen nations, to gather together those who are lost, who are of the sheepfold of Israel; Yea, even the dispersed and afflicted; and also to prepare the way, and make possible the preaching of the gospel unto the Gentiles; And to be a light unto all who sit in darkness, unto the uttermost parts of the earth; to bring to pass the resurrection from the dead, and to ascend up on high, to dwell on the right hand of the Father, Until the fulness of time, and the law and the testimony shall be sealed, and the keys of the kingdom shall be delivered up again unto the Father; To administer justice unto all; to come down in judgment upon all, and to convince all the ungodly of their ungodly deeds, which they have committed; and all this in the day that he shall come; For it is a day of power; yea, every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; And all flesh shall see the salvation of God” (JST Luke 3:4–11).

Elder McConkie[5] points us to: “For as the light of the morning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west, and covereth the whole earth, so shall also the coming of the Son of Man be” (JS–Matthew 1:26).

“The voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry? All flesh [is] grass, and all the goodliness thereof [is] as the flower of the field:” Isaiah 40:6

Painting of Joseph Addison Alexander
Joseph Addison Alexander was a Biblical Scholar at the Princeton Theological Seminary in the early 1800’s. He published multiple books on the writings of Isaiah

Alexander writes: “That two distinct speakers are here introduced, seems to be granted by [almost] all interpreters . . . There is a pleasing mystery, as Hitzig well observes, in the dialogue of these anonymous voices, which is dispelled by undertaking to determine too precisely who the speakers are. All that the words necessarily convey is, that one voice speaks and another voice answers. Interpreters are universally agreed that the last clause contains the words which the second speaker is required to utter [i.e., proclaim].”

A voice is heard, “Cry!”  This is a command to speak out or proclaim a message that comes from God Himself. A second voice—received by a disciple of Christ—inquires, “What shall I cry?” While we are not sure which prophet is receiving this message—Isaiah or John the Baptist or Joseph Smith—at the end, the command has been delegated to each disciple of Christ to proclaim the divinity of our Savior and the restoration of His Church. We are to proclaim these truths fearlessly and humbly.

The voice said, Cry. The Targum has, “The voice of one crying, Prophesy!” And he said, What shall I cry? The Targum has, “He answered and said, What shall I prophesy?”

“All flesh [is] grass, and all the goodliness thereof [is] as the flower of the field:” Cheyne, leaning on Weir, shows us a similar expression, found in Isaiah 2:22b: “man, whose breath is in his nostrils.” Ibn Ezra quoted from Psalms: “As the flower of the field, ‘which flourisheth in the morning and groweth up, but is cut down and withereth in the evening’ (Psalm 90:6).”

Rashi, in Rosenberg, has: “All those who are haughty—their greatness shall be turned over and become like grass.” Speaking of the haughtiness of some of the leaders of the United States at the time of Joseph Smith we have (D&C 124:3–10):  “. . . for they are as grass, and all their glory as the flower thereof which soon falleth” (D&C 124:7b).

Elder Neal A. Maxwell warns: “… we might myopically conclude that ‘all flesh is grass’ (Isaiah 40:6) … Isaiah’s words, however, pertain not to man’s worthlessness but to the transitoriness of this second estate.”[6]

“The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it: surely the people [is] grass.” Isaiah 40:7

Mankind is represented by a fading flower and withering grass. Mankind is upon the earth for an instant. The breath of the Lord—represented poetically as the dry, hot sirocco winds of the Middle East—is sufficient to cause these to wilt. The key to understanding Isaiah 40:8 is to contrast it to Isaiah 40:7.

We must focus on the fact that flowers and grass represent man, who often in his pride thinks he has dominion of all things in heaven and upon the earth. Yet we read in Doctrine and Covenants: “As well might man stretch forth his puny arm to stop the Missouri river in its decreed course, or to turn it up stream, as to hinder the Almighty from pouring down knowledge from heaven upon the heads of the Latter-day Saints” (D&C 121:33b).

“The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: Because the spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it:” Instead of spirit, the Peshitta has breath. This, once again, leads us to think of the hot, dry and devastating sirocco winds.[7]

That God has control of all of the elements is clear to me. In 1988, when Chile was experiencing a strong drought, I had prayed to the Father for rain, only to be told not to pray for rain—but to know when to pray for rain—as this was the Lord’s doing.

The grass and the flowers are left in wilted condition by the spirit of the Lord, or wind of the Lord, יהוה רוּחַ.

Surely the people [is] grass. The Targum has, “Surely the wicked among a people are considered like grass.” The Peshitta also makes the comparison, “this people is like grass (Lamsa) / herb (BPE). The meaning of the text is that the people may be compared to grass.

“The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.” Isaiah 40:8

As I mentioned in the introduction, for the longest time I loved this scripture without knowing why. If mankind is represented by the grass and the flowers, what is the representation of the word? I ask that you read and ponder it carefully before continuing.

The flower and the grass are chosen to represent a short lifespan, and represent the life of man. But the word of our God, וּדְבַר־אֱלֹהֵינוּ, “shall stand for ever.” So what does the Word stand for, I ask again?

I believe this clause has at least two beautiful meanings:

(1) what the Lord has spoken will come to pass, “my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same” (D&C 1:38b).

(2) Is not the expression word used in a special way in another scripture? “In the beginning was the Word (λογος), and the Word (λογος) was with God, and the Word (λογος) was God” (John 1:1).

So what does the Word stand for, I ask yet again?

The Word is the very Messiah, the Son of God the Eternal Father, even Christ Jesus who shall stand forever. I know this to be true with the deepest sentiment of my being. I bear the most solemn witness of this, that the Word represents Christ, the Holy One of Israel. This was revealed to me by the Holy Spirit years ago as I pondered over this scripture.

It is through Messiah that we can obtain comfort (Isaiah 40:1). In Spanish, the expression word is translated as “verb”, and Christ is called el Verbo Divino, or the Divine Verb. Please note that in Hebrew, there are no capital vs. lower case letters as they are all the same.

The Hebrew text (BHS) uses the expression “but-word-our Elohim,” (וּדְבַר־אֱלֹהֵינוּ) in contrast to the word of the Lord דְבַר־יהוה) ) “word-Yahweh” (e.g. Genesis 15:3; Isaiah 1:10). 1 Peter 1:24–25 needs to be considered with this understanding and the following capitalization: “For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: But the Word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the Word which by the gospel is preached unto you” (see also, AMP version in 1 Peter 1:25 and LITV in Isaiah 40:8). The Word that was preached unto you is Christ.

Alexander suggests: “The quotation in Peter confirms the supposition, here suggested by the context, that the words have reference to the preaching of the gospel, or the introduction of the new dispensation.” No doubt Alexander is correct, but the greater meaning is the announcement of the Word Himself, it is He who would stand forever.

Alexander continues: “[Peter] adds, and this is the word which is preached (εὐαγγελισθέν) unto you.” Once again, yes, but the more perfect Word is Christ Himself, “This is the Word which is preached unto you.”

Gill succinctly states, in referring us to Paul’s words and interpreting these to equate the Word with Christ: “and this is the word, which by the Gospel is preached unto you] – who seems to distinguish the word from the Gospel, by which it is preached, and to intend Christ the essential Word; who stands or abides for ever as a divine Person; in his office as Mediator, being Prophet, Priest, and King forever.”

Rawlinson, in Isaiah 40:6 well has: “The speakers … contrast the perishable nature of man with the enduringness and unchangingness of God. The point of their discourse is that ‘the Word of the Lord endureth for ever,’ and therefore the preceding promises (Isaiah 40:2, 5) are sure.” And then adds here in Isaiah 40:8: “Amid all human frailty, shiftingness, changefulness, there is one thing that endures, and shall endure—God’s Word.”

Luther, Calvin, Kay, Ironside and others also capitalize “The Word of our God,” but invariably mean the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Keith says, regarding these verses: “One voice should be represented as announcing the approach to earth of the King of righteousness.”

Gladly, Simeon says: “The ‘word of God’ here spoken of, may be understood as relating to Christ, who is often called by this name, and whose immutability is mentioned by the Psalmist in this very view (Psalm 102:11–12, 26–27). These verses provide additional proof: “My days are like a shadow that declineth; and I am withered like grass. But thou, O Lord, shall endure for ever; and thy remembrance unto all generations … They shall perish, but thou shalt endure: yea, all of them shall wax old like a garment; as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed: But thou art the same, and thy years shall have no end.”

Wordsworth, almost alone among the Gentile authors, boldly testifies: “… therefore the Word which ‘endureth for ever was made flesh’ (John 1:14) by the operation of the Spirit, and God was ‘manifested in the flesh.’ The Word, which is here contrasted with the Voice, is (in the highest sense) the Eternal Word, Who became Incarnate for us, and Whose Advent was heralded by ‘the Voice of one crying in the wilderness,’ and Who animates the written Word, and speaks in it.” Has the Spirit confirmed these truths to your heart and mind? Do you wish to rejoice and weep for joy?

The expression “but-word-our Elohim,” וּדְבַר־אֱלֹהֵינוּ is a clear instance where God the Eternal Father is mentioned in relationship to His beloved Son. Word and Elohim are title-names. Isaiah knew that the Scriptures would be corrupted by the hands of men, and left, along with the other prophets of God, hidden testimonies in verses like this. Yes, indeed, the Son of our Heavenly Father will stand forever! Even Christ Jesus! [8]

Please also note that Isaiah 40:9 also gives the context as that of the appearing Word, Behold your God!

Notes 

[1] JS–History 1:72.

[2] TPJS, pp. 335–336.

[3] Straight (KJV).

[4] Smith, Joseph Fielding. Church History and Modern Revelation. Salt Lake City, Utah: The Council of The Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 1946.

[5] McConkie, Bruce R. Bruce R. McConkie. The Millennial Messiah: The Second Coming of the Son of Man, pp. 418–419.

[6] Maxwell, Neal A. But for a Small Moment. Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1986. p. 88.

[7] I note that J. D. Michaelis (in Alexander) came to the same conclusion, calling it the “east wind.”

[8] It was after I was so inspired to understand Isaiah 40:8 that I looked at the footnotes of the LDS 1984 Holy Bible and found: “TG: Jesus Christ: Messenger of the Covenant.” It was probably Elder Bruce R. McConkie who put that note there. I was thrilled to have a second confirmation of the inspiration I had felt.

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Gregorio Billikopf belongs to the Llanquihue Branch, Puerto Montt Stake, in the south of Chile. He is the author of Isaiah Testifies of Christ and an emeritus academic of the University of California and professor of the University of Chile; author of Party-Directed Mediation: Facilitating Dialogue between Individuals and other books. Gregorio’s paternal grandparents are Lithuanian Jews and German Jews and on his mother’s side of the family he is Chilean. He found Christ through reading the Book of Mormon. You may contact him through bielikov2@yahoo.cl.

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