Fasting and prayer are interwoven. In a recent post, we answered the question, “What does Isaiah have to say about fasting?” Here, we will explore prayer in the Book of Isaiah using selected verses and a variety of translations.
In the LDS Bible Dictionary it states, “Prayer is nowhere specifically commanded as a duty in the law, and prayers were not prescribed…[prayer] is, however, certain from the nature of things, and from the custom in later times, that prayer accompanied sacrifice. …Before the first generation of mankind had passed away, men began to call upon the name of the Lord (Gen. 4:26; Moses 5:4). Prayers, whether with (Gen. 12:8; 13:4) or without (Gen. 20:7) sacrifice, were constantly offered by the patriarchs to God.”1
Approach God with Confidence
The most profound example of prayer in the days of Isaiah is his own vision in Isaiah 6. During prayer, Isaiah saw the Lord on his throne. However, he did not imagine that anyone could see God and live to tell about it; still, he found the courage to approach God to speak with him. It was then that God called Isaiah to be a prophet to Judah and all of Israel, but Isaiah felt unfit. He told the Lord that he was both unqualified and unworthy to receive the call.
In response, the Lord sent angels to him, helping him partake of the Savior’s Atonement. Isaiah described this by explaining that a seraph took a live coal from the altar of the temple and laid it on his mouth. Then the Seraph said: “Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged” (verse 7).
Like so many others who have come to Christ, Isaiah’s prayer was his introduction to God’s love through the Atonement. In the answer, he came to know the nature of God, in the form of a loving Father, which made Him approachable to the prophet.
When we truly know and understand that we are a children of God with a Father in Heaven who loves us and who knows our needs, we see God more as a loving parent rather than a fearsome force. This knowledge makes speaking with Him in prayer easier, like calling home to a parent who wants to know what you’ve been up to, both good and bad.
Praise the Lord
1 …O LORD, I will praise thee:
though thou wast angry with me,
but thine anger is turned away,
and thou comfortedst me.
2 Behold God, God is my salvation;
I will trust, and not be afraid:
for the LORD JEHOVAH is my strength and my song;
he also is become my salvation.2
(This quotation from the Dead Sea Scrolls is taken from Opening Isaiah)
Have you taken time to praise the Lord for your redemption and forgiveness of your sins?
Isaiah 25:1-6: God will swallow up death in victory.
1 O Lord, you are my God;
I will exalt you; I will praise your name,
for you have done wonderful things,
plans formed of old, faithful and sure.
2 For you have made the city a heap,
the fortified city a ruin;
the foreigners’ palace is a city no more;
it will never be rebuilt.
3 Therefore strong peoples will glorify you;
cities of ruthless nations will fear you.
4 For you have been a stronghold to the poor,
a stronghold to the needy in his distress,
a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat;
for the breath of the ruthless is like a storm against a wall,
5 like heat in a dry place.
You subdue the noise of the foreigners;
as heat by the shade of a cloud,
so the song of the ruthless is put down.
6 On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine,
of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.
(This quotation from the English Standard Version)
Have you ever lost a loved one and felt inclined to thank God for his victory over death?
Isaiah 26 is “a prayer in which the people of God are portrayed as an offering to the Lord. This prayer contains several stages. First, the Lord blesses the righteous (verse 7). Next, the people explain that they wait for the Lord to bring judgments upon the wicked and salvation to the righteous (verses 8-11). It then appears that he describes the Millennium (verses 12-15), and then portrays the events immediately preceding it (verses 16-18). He concludes with a beautiful promise of the Resurrection (verse 19). The entire prayer begins with Isaiah’s petition for all of Israel:”3
7 The path of the righteous is level;
you, the Upright One, make the way of the righteous smooth.
8 Yes, Lord, walking in the way of your laws,
we wait for you;
your name and renown
are the desire of our hearts.
9 My soul yearns for you in the night;
in the morning my spirit longs for you.
When your judgments come upon the earth,
the people of the world learn righteousness.
10 But when grace is shown to the wicked,
they do not learn righteousness;
even in a land of uprightness they go on doing evil
and do not regard the majesty of the Lord.
11 Lord, your hand is lifted high,
but they do not see it.
Let them see your zeal for your people and be put to shame;
let the fire reserved for your enemies consume them.
12 Lord, you establish peace for us;
all that we have accomplished you have done for us.
13 Lord our God, other lords besides you have ruled over us,
but your name alone do we honor.
14 They are now dead, they live no more;
their spirits do not rise.
You punished them and brought them to ruin;
you wiped out all memory of them.
15 You have enlarged the nation, Lord;
you have enlarged the nation.
You have gained glory for yourself;
you have extended all the borders of the land.
16 Lord, they came to you in their distress;
when you disciplined them,
they could barely whisper a prayer.[b]
17 As a pregnant woman about to give birth
writhes and cries out in her pain,
so were we in your presence, Lord.
18 We were with child, we writhed in labor,
but we gave birth to wind.
We have not brought salvation to the earth,
and the people of the world have not come to life.
(This quotation from the New International Version)
Donald Parry asks, “When will this prayer be uttered?” He then answers, “This prayer or one like it has been offered by the righteous since the beginning of the world, for it sets forth their desires for God’s judgments. The prayer should also represent our desires.”4
Isaiah 21:8: Isaiah waits on the Lord.
8 …“My lord,
I stand continually upon the watchtower in the daytime,
and I am set in my ward whole nights:
This quotation is taken from Understanding Isaiah5
With a prayer in our heart, each of us can be diligent by keeping watch and waiting on the Lord.
Prayer Must Be Sincere
The habit of prayer will draw you to God and will actually help you come to know Him better. However, the habit of prayer should not be lazy one. The LDS Bible Dictionary explains, “It was the custom to pray three times a day, as did David (Ps. 55:17), Daniel (Dan. 6:10), and the later Jews. Prayer was said before meat (1 Sam. 9:13).
In Isaiah 1:2, God says, “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the Lord hath spoken.” As Isaiah continues to write in that chapter, He scolds Israel for their insincere prayers, beginning in verses 12–15:
“When ye come to appear before me, …bring no more vain oblations …they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them …and when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear”
So when God says “many prayers, I will not hear,” He probably means He may not be listening whenever we recite our rote blessing on the food or perform our kneel-and-dash bedtime prayer. “‘Making many prayers’ was a part of the corrupt religion of Israel under the later kings (Isa. 1:15).”6 And yet in this same chapter, Isaiah offers hope as he alludes to the effects of the Atonement in our sincere repentant prayer. He continues,
“18 Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.
19 If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land.”
In the later chapters of Isaiah the prophet taught,
6 Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near:
7 Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. (Isa. 55:6–7)
Isaiah teaches us that in spite of our unworthiness, the Lord is there.
1 Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear:
2 But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.(Isa. 59:1-2).
Pray with Faith
Hezekiah’s Jerusalem was in an imminent threat from the Assyrians; King Hezekiah prayed for deliverance of his people and Jehovah delivered them from the besieging Assyrians.
16 O Jehovah of Hosts, God of Israel, who sits enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. It is you who made the heavens and the earth…
17 O Jehovah, give ear and hear; O Jehovah, open your eyes and see. Listen to all the words Sennacherib has sent to mock the living God.
18 O Jehovah, the kings of Assyria have indeed destroyed all peoplesc and their lands, 19 committing their gods to the fire. For they were no gods, but mere works of men’s hands, of wood and of stone, and so they could destroy them. 20 But now, O Jehovah our God, deliver us out of his hand, that all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone are Jehovah.
(This quotation from the Isaiah Institute Translation)
In answer to this prayer, that night the angel of God slew a hundred and 85,000 Assyrian soldiers, but the king fell ill. Isaiah counseled the king to put his affairs in order because he was going to die. The King then offered a remarkable prayer (2 Kgs. 19:14; Isa. 38:9) as he lay on his deathbed.
2 Then Hezekiah turned his face toward the wall, and prayed unto the Lord,
3 And said, Remember now, O Lord, I beseech thee,
how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart,
and have done that which is good in thy sight.
And Hezekiah wept sore.
God sent Isaiah back to the king and promised that 15 years would be added to his life. This prayer of gratitude followed in part:
16 O Lord, by these things men live,
and in all these things is the life of my spirit:
so wilt thou recover me, and make me to live.
17 Behold, for peace I had great bitterness:
but thou hast in love to my soul delivered it from the pit of corruption:
for thou hast cast all my sins behind thy back.
18 For the grave cannot praise thee,
death can not celebrate thee:
they that go down into the pit cannot hope for thy truth.
19 The living, the living, he shall praise thee,
as I do this day: the father to the children shall make known thy truth.
Isaiah’s Intercessory Prayer
One of the most remarkable prayers recorded in Isaiah is found in chapter 64:1–2. In this prayer of intercession the prophet calls on the Lord:
“Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down,
that the mountains might quake at your presence—
as when fire kindles brushwood
and the fire causes water to boil—to make your name known to your adversaries,
and that the nations might tremble at your presence!
When you did awesome things that we did not look for,
you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. (Isaiah 64:1-2)“
In Jewish custom, the Bible Dictionary explains, “Smiting on the breast and rending of the garments signified special sorrow (Ezra 9:5; Luke 18:13).” But in this case ‘rend’ means to tear open heaven to reveal Himself to mankind so that the world would see God as Isaiah had seen Him!
In this prayer to ‘rend the heavens and come down’, I believe Isaiah was reflecting on his own vision in Isaiah 6:1–8, as explained above where he saw God on his throne, angels and his sudden awareness of his own sins. Tasting of God’s grace and feeling purged of sin, this intercessory pray is for all of us to have a similar glorious experience.
Regarding Isaiah 64, one writer in Christ for All Nations wrote,
“God wants us to approach Him in prayer with assurance and confidence in His all-sufficient provision. Today we can march boldly into the presence of God with a pure conscience and a heart full of faith, knowing that God has already destroyed everything that stands between Him and us by the blood of Jesus Christ. He truly has given us the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven.”7
Lastly, in Isaiah 56:7, Isaiah invites us to pray in the temple:
7 Even them will I bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer:
their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar;
for mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people.
1“Prayer,” LDS Bible Dictionary
2iAnn Madsen and Shon Hopkin, Opening Isaiah—a Harmony, Dead Sea Scroll Column, Isaiah 12, p 49
3 Victor Ludlow, Isaiah, Prophet, Seer, and Poet, Deseret Book Shelf
4 Don Parry, Understanding Isaiah, Deseret Book Company. Kindle Edition
5 Parry, ibid.
6 Ludlow, ibid.
7 in Christ for All Nations