Featuring Andrew Skinner as host, with Richard Draper, Terry Ball, and Victor Ludlow
Andy: Welcome to another in our continuing series of discussions on the scriptures of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints. Today we will be discussing passages from the great prophet Isaiah. Joining me are members of the faculty of the Department of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University. Across the table from me Professor Richard Draper. Nice to be with you Richard.
Richard: Good to be with you Andy, thanks.
Andy: To his right Professor Terry Ball, also a professor in the Department of ancient scripture. Welcome Terry.
Terry: Thank you.
Andy: And to my left Professor Victor Ludlow. Nice to be with you Victor.
Victor: Thank you. Good to be here.
Andy: Well brethren, we begin by noting that the chapters we want to discuss today, Isaiah 44 and 45, have a similar theme as other passages that we’ve looked at before. Namely that Jehovah is the great redeemer of Israel, He is the king of Israel, but there is a new dimension added to these chapters. Not only is he the redeemer of Israel but he’s also the pattern for one that he is going to call in the future, who like him will physically deliver Israel from their problems. That is the gentile King Cyrus the Great, Cyrus of Persia.
These chapters give us a chance to talk a little bit about some of the historical dimensions of Israel’s captivity, as well as the doctrine that the great prophet Isaiah was trying to teach to the people.
The first six or eight verses of Chapter 44 begins by Isaiah telling Israel that Israel is God’s chosen people and that he will pour out his spirit upon them as long as they are righteous and certainly in a coming messianic age. We get some of the same kinds of identifiers that we’ve seen in other passages. Verse 6, for example of Chapter 44, ‘thus saith the Lord the King of Israel and his redeemer The Lord of Hosts. I am the first. I am the last and beside me, there is no God.’ So, there is an immediate continuity with past passages that we have looked at before.
Richard: I might say this just putting Chapter 44 in Context. Chapter 43 ends with one of the most gating denouncements upon Israel because they have been blind because they will not see, and the Lord says in Chapter 43, verse 28, ‘because of these things, therefore I profaned the princes of the sanctuary,’ and so on. Then we turn the page and immediately we read into the words. Yet, now, here, O Jacob, I’m willing to forgive the past. Everything you have done in the past and we can begin anew right now and therefore this section really begins with a hope of Jehovah reaching out to try and draw Jacob now to him.
Andy: Isn’t it pretty typical of the way the patterns in scripture work. There is the call to repentance but always the yearning to have Israel return to God and God saying it doesn’t matter. I’ll forgive you, I’m your god, I’m your king. Just come back to me.
Victor: It’s not just the pattern of the scriptures. It’s the purpose of the Scriptures. Verse 7 here, ‘who I shall call and so declare, and set it in order for me, since I appointed the ancient people?’ of these things were coming and so forth. So, in other words these things are there but I am telling you these things are part of the purpose of scriptures, is to get this witness and these prophecies in the record.
All right, you’ve been disobedient. Here’s what’s going to come. Let’s make sure it gets in the record and let’s see how this happens because this will end up being a vindication not only for a prophet, is he really truly prophesying and foretelling that which is correct. But of God himself and his abilities, not only in this physical restoration and redemption that Cyrus is going to bring forth in this chapter and the next one. We see it carry over, but of course, the far greater redemption He brings is from death and hell eventually.
Terry: Well said. Another thing I think is going on in these first few verses as you read through what Jehovah will do for his people; you get the feeling that he’s a God that has power. He can move and do things for them.
Then in the middle of the chapter he’s going to talk about how all these things men do to try and build idols, is like you have to build idols but I built you. So, starting in Chapter 44 we read in verse 1 things like you’re Israel, ‘whom I have chosen …and formed thee from the womb, in verse 2, which will help thee,’ again in verse 3, ‘whom I have chosen. I will pour water upon him that is thirsty and floods upon the dry ground, I will pour out my spirit upon the seed and my blessings upon thine offspring,’ verse 5[–7], ‘I am the Lord’s, and another shall call himself by the name Jacob, another shall subscribe with his hand unto the Lord and surname himself by the name of Israel.’ [verse 6] ‘Thus, saith the Lord, the King of Israel and his redeemer the Lord of the hosts. I am the first. I am the last and beside me there is no God.’ …I call, …and I declare, and …I appoint. Here is a God who has agency. He can act and move and direct and then. What a startling contrast that is as he starts to describe how they build an idol, how the men raise up trees and beat gold and do all this stuff and their idols can’t do anything.
Andy: That’s a nice point that you make because in the first part of the chapter The Lord says I have chosen you. And then in the middle part say verses 9 –23, The Lord is saying now you choose me, don’t choose idols, choose me. I have chosen you the one true God. Now you choose me.
Victor: But instead you have chosen these things you mold with your hands.
Terry: What I really love is the sarcasm as he’s talking about the futility of trying to worship an idol here too. Three times he makes this point. As he talks about how they cut down a tree and this is what they do with the tree starting in verse 15.
He says, ‘a man takes a part thereof and warms himself and kindleth and baketh bread,’ and then another part he worships. Parts used for fuel, parts used for cooking and the parts you worship. Then he says the same thing in verse 16, ‘he burneth part thereof in the fire, with part of it he eats and parts of it he warms himself, and then in verse 17, ‘the residue thereof he maketh a God. And then one more time he says in Verse 19, ‘and none considereth in his heart.’
Now let’s see I’ve burned part of it in fire. Ye have also baked bread on the coals thereof. I’ve roasted flesh and eaten it. Shall I make the residue thereof an abomination. Shall I fall down to the stock of a tree. Can’t you see how unreasonable it is to use part for fuel, part of it to cook with and then to worship the rest.
Richard: And then let me just bring this up. Going back to verse 8, which is a moral corollary. The Lord is this active agent as opposed to the idols that are non-active agents. The moral corollary there is for Israel, this is the message. ‘Fear ye not neither be afraid.’ I am the act of God and therefore if you worship me you have nothing to fear. Just do it my way.
Terry: And if you don’t worship him, and worship idols you do what he says in verse 20. This image is just perfect. I love it. An idol worshiper is like someone eating ashes, ‘He feedeth on ashes. A deceived heart hath turned him aside, that he cannot deliver his soul, no say, is there not a lie in my right hand.’ I assume the right hand is the one you’re eating with. So here you are, you’ve got a handful of ashes. You’re really hungry. You’re trying to satiate your hunger and you say, mmm, ashes and you start eating the ashes and you can eat the ashes and your hunger can be satiated. But what, you’re not nourished you’re not fed, you’ll still starve to death. You can have a belly full of ashes and still die of malnutrition.
Andy: It’s good for roughage. It’s not much of nutrition.
Terry: How is that like worshiping idols or isn’t that that interesting. People can invest all their time and effort in pursuing happiness to make a thing more important than God. And in the end, it’s not there for them.
Victor: It’s just an empty hollow. The vanity.
Terry: It can’t deliver.
Andy: And it’s so easy the way you’ve explained this, is so easy then to look at modern Israel. This is the case in ancient Israel. How are we doing as modern Israel. Do we hold up for ourselves these idols that are really ashes and then do feed ourselves on the ashes and then wonder why our lives aren’t turning out the way we want them to.
Victor: And then another part of contrast in here this talks about liars and those that have wisdom and knowledge, like he does of the personal truth. I mean you think of the father of lies and the things that he would have us believe and follow. And then the man of truth and his wisdom and his foretelling and his bringing to past what he’s promised. That’s another act and counteract that’s going on back and forth here. So, he’s really laying things out in their extremities. You can take the God that has created you and is trying to help you to these things that you create and ends up in empty ashes. You can take lies, or you can take truth. He’s really helping us to see the opposite, sort of, when it comes to these little decisions, it shouldn’t be any major dilemma to choose.
Andy: Right, from the foundation that he has laid in the first two thirds of Chapter 44. He then moves to reiterate the message again; the Lord Jehovah is the Redeemer. But he is also the pattern for another who is to come. I think that is so worthwhile. Maybe we could read beginning with verse 21, down through 28. Richard would you do that for us.
Richard: I’d be happy to. ‘Remember these, O Jacob and Israel for thou art my servant. I have formed thee, thou art my servant, o Israel thou shall not be forgotten of me. I have blotted out as the thick cloud thy transgressions and as a cloud thy sins. Return unto me for I have redeemed thee, sing o ye heavens for the Lord hath done it. Shout thee lower parts of the earth, break forth into singing ye mountains, o forest, and every tree therein for the Lord hath redeem Jacob and the glory and glorified Himself in Israel. Thus, saith the Lord, thy redeemer and he that formed thee from the womb. I am the Lord that maketh all things, that stretched forth the heavens alone, that spreadeth abroad the earth by myself, that frustrateth the tokens of the liars and maketh it diviners mad, that turneth wise man backward and maketh their knowledge foolish, that confirmith the word of his servant, that proformeth the counsel of his messengers, that sayeth to Jerusalem, thou shalt be inhabited. And to the city of Judah, ye shall be built and I will raise up the decayed places thereof, that sayeth to the deep be dry and I will dry up thy river, that sayeth of Cyrus, He is my shepherd and shall perform all my pleasure, even sing to Jerusalem, thou shalt be built unto the temple, thy foundation shall be laid.’
Andy: So, the lord is giving Israel kind of a hint of the coming attractions and ultimately ends up saying you’re going to run into some difficulty. But just as I am your redeemer I’m going to choose another and he’s going to redeem you physically like I redeem you spiritually and morally and emotionally and physically. And his name is Cyrus and the greatness about Cyrus is that he is going to act like a shepherd to my people. He’s going to be in my stead and he’s going to come and he’s going to rebuild Jerusalem which will have been destroyed and he’s going to rebuild the temple which had been laid in ruins by the coming Babylonians.
Victor: Put this into historical context, there’s no way in the flesh as a mortal that Isaiah could have known of Cyrus. They’re like a hundred and fifty years apart as far as coming along in the page of history. I mean that would be as difficult for us today to try to say, well who’s going to be the leader of Russia 150 years from now. Even if we aren’t even sure if there’s going to be a political entity like a Russia in 150 years from now. And yet here he is mentioned by name. First time. We will follow up with it here and because this is here and because we normal mortals can’t see the future. Some critics say, well this must have been added later, this must have been some later person to say this. But of course, we as mortals and Isaiah as a mortal cannot see the future. But that doesn’t mean that God can’t see in the future and He can through various means reveal what He knows to his servants, the prophets. He’s already mentioned about how He’s going to confirm the word of a servant and perform the counsel of his messengers back here in verse 26. So, He’s in essence saying, I’m going to tell you right now some things that only my servants would know. No one else would be able to know this and will tell you a little bit about this Cyrus, who’s going to come 150 years later.
Richard: From chapter 42, he has continually been hitting Israel with the fact that he is God because He knows the future. And here is probably in my estimation one of the most dramatic instances, talking about concrete instances of that very thing.
Andy: You mentioned the word that Isaiah is the only one that could see this because he is the prophet of the true and living God, and seeing into the future, and isn’t that the definition of a seer. I think of Moses. Chapter 6 verse 36. This particular scripture pertains specifically to Enoch, but it also pertains generally to all of the others that have been called by the Lord as seers. And it says of Enoch, ‘he beheld the spirits that God had created, and he beheld also things which were not visible to the natural eye. And from thenceforth came the saying, abroad in the land. A seer hath the Lord raised up unto his people.’ This is one of the great demonstrations of Isaiah, Ceric ability. He is a great and powerful seer as you say to be able to prophesy something that would come 150 years later.
Terry: There’s precedence for this too. There are other individuals whose surname was given long before they were born in mortality, particularly in the book of Mormon. We think of Joseph from second Nephi, chapter 3.
Richard: King Josiah King [inaudible 00:15:54.24] write.
Andy: And then Mary, the mother of Jesus.
Richard: They knew her name.
Andy: Well, somebody talk to us a little bit about Cyrus of history. Cyrus in history emerges about 559BC. He starts out as the ruler of a small province, but then fairly rapidly in a period of 20 years or so ends up the king of what comes to be known as the Persian Empire. What else do we know about Cyrus?
Terry: He was viewed as a very magnanimous leader compared to ancient rulers at that time.
Victor: Most of the modern rulers of Middle East.
Terry: Were thought to be quite bloodthirsty and demanding, but Cyrus was rather magnanimous. Apparently when he conquered Babylon, he does so quite easily and then again as a type for the Savior, we had this great deliverer who conquers Babylon and we think what Babylon represents to us today, he conquers Babylon and sets the people free and helps them rebuild.
Victor: So, he comes from the east, he comes from what anciently was known as Persia, today would be the area of Iran. Comes into Mesopotamia anciently would be Assyria and then later Babylon which is Iraq today. And as Terry mentioned one of the more beneficence tolerant, I think tolerant is a good word to describe these types of rule. He tried to accommodate to different communities and nationalities that had been oppressed by the Babylonians and others and seems to have been well favored by a lot of people. It’s also in the setting of Ezekiel particularly Daniel in the old testament. He appoints Daniel as one of his chief administrators in his kingdom and so it’s all in that setting that comes some 150 to 200 years after that time of Isaiah.
Terry: And apparently, he was aware of this prophecy somehow.
Andy: In fact, it’s too bad that Chapters 44 and 45 are broken apart by a chapter subheading, because Chapter 45 verse 1 moves right in to the prophecy that then is picked up years later by Josephus who tells us that in fact yes, Cyrus did come to learn about Jehovah’s prophecy about himself and it had an impact on him. Terry why don’t you read for us verses 1 through 4 of Chapter 45, because this is the great prophecy of Cyrus, who is the only Gentile King to be described as a messiah, or as an anointed one in the old testament, please.
Terry: So, verse one begins ‘thus saith the Lord to His anointed’ and of course that’s the root word for Messiah or the Greek born Christ, ‘thus saith the Lord to His anointed, to Cyrus whose right hand I have holden, to subdue nations before him. I will lose to loins of kings to open before him the two leaved gates and the gate shall not be shut,’ to loosen the loins means they’re going to be afraid of him. They’ll open up the gates to let him come in, which is how he ends up taking Babylon eventually. ‘I will go before thee and make the crooked places straight, I will break in pieces the gates of brass and cut in sunder the bars of iron. I will give thee the treasures of darkness and hidden riches of secret places, that thou mayest know that I, the Lord, which call thee by thy name, am the God of Israel. For Jacob, my servant’s sake and Israel my said Israel mine elect, I have even called thee by thy name. I have surnamed thee, though thou hast not known me’
Richard: Again, it shows the graciousness of God, Cyrus is not a Jehovah worshipper. He’s not there and yet because I think of Cyrus’ character, his nature, the Lord now reaches out and touches him and honors him with this title, the anointed one. And you are now anointed to do my work. My grace now reaches out to you and then the idea is, now you be gracious to my people.
Terry: Here’s what I’ve done for you. Now here’s what you have to do for me.
Andy: It’s interesting that within just a couple of verses, Cyrus has been called, Jehovah’s shepherd or the Lord’s Shepherd. He’s also been called the Lord’s anointed. He clearly is a figure that points us to Jesus Christ. He clearly is a type and a shadow of the coming Messiah in the dispensation. And to me again, I know this is repetitive but the fact that he’s a gentile King. This is not an Israelite that’s getting all these titles and is being described the things that he will do in the future. This is a gentile King.
Terry: Cyrus must have been surprised when he heard this. I imagine he was thinking, I did all of this and now he’s been told, no you didn’t. God did it. You were just his tool.
Victor: Yeah and he could have even been a little sceptic at first. Imagine him, recently conquered Babylon and to have a delegation of Jews come to him and say our prophet Isaiah had something to say about you, how you’re going to free our people and let us go back and build our city. Oh really.
Andy: Well in fact, I have the quote here from the Jewish historian Josephus who is writing the first century AD and he indicates that Isaiah’s prophecies themselves had this tremendous effect on Cyrus once he entered Babylon and saw the conquered Israelites and was shown by Israel’s prophets or Israel’s leaders his own sacred name in writing. This is what Josephus says ‘For he the Lord stirred up the mind of Cyrus and made him write this throughout all Asia, thus saith Cyrus the king since God Almighty hath appointed me to be king of the habitable Earth, I believe that he is that God, which the nation of the Israelites worship, for indeed he foretold my name by the prophets and that I should build him a house at Jerusalem in the country of Judea. This was known to Cyrus by his reading the book which Isaiah left behind him of his prophecies, for this Prophet said that God had spoken thus to him in a secret vision. My will is that Cyrus whom I have appointed to be king over many and great nations, send back my people to their own land and build my temple. This was foretold by Isaiah 140 years before the temple was demolished. Accordingly, when Cyrus read this and admired the divine power, an earnest desire and ambition seized upon him to fulfil what was so written.’ So that passage from Josephus, who is again writing 550 years after Cyrus did all these great things is very, very insightful. It gives a little insight into what Cyrus was feeling when he conquered the city.
Richard: And there’s a message here if you don’t mind me jumping in, with verse 5, which is now, to Cyrus, he just really said, let Cyrus know exactly what Cyrus is but does not forget that, ‘I am the Lord and there is none else. There is no God besides me, I girded thee, though thou hast not known me.’ Again, that idea that I am in charge.
Terry: Look how often he says that, the end of verse 6, ‘I am the Lord there is none else.’ The end of verse 7, ‘I, the Lord do all these things.’ Verse 8, ‘I the Lord have created it.’ Verse 14, ‘Surely God is in the end, there is none else, there is no God.’ Verse 18, ‘I am Lord, there is none else.’ Verse 19, ‘I declare things that are right.’ Verse 21, ‘there is no God beside me, a just God, a savior. There is none beside me.’ And then verse 25, ‘in the Lord shall all the seed of Israel be justified.’ Do you think he got the message?
Victor: I think so. To me, my favorite verse in this whole chapter is 23 because it’s alluded to and quoted in so many ways thereafter ‘he has revealed all these things. Eventually though, everyone will recognize that he has foretold these things and brought them to pass, for verse 23, he Lord speaking, ‘I have sworn by myself, the word has gone out of my mouth in righteousness and shall not return that unto me. Every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear,’ or take an oath or make a covenant.’ So eventually not just Cyrus, not just the people that Cyrus may have helped deliver politically, but everyone especially those that God has delivered spiritually, but even those that have been from whatever background, everyone, every knee he will bow and recognize, He is the God of this earth.
Richard: Just to pick up verse 15, piggybacking on what you’ve said. The Lord is God. He’s the one who operates, but it is interesting that verse 15 describes Him, ‘verily thou art a god that hidest thyself, O God of Israel, the Savior.’ The idols are very visible. You go up to the temple and there is the idol. But what did these visible idols do? Nothing. And yet here is God who is working behind the scene, who brings about absolutely everything, through the Spirit through his servants and brings about absolutely everything.
Terry: And the rest of the story, Cyrus does conquer Babylon. He does allow the Jews to return to Jerusalem. Never such a thing had ever happened before, where conquered people were allowed to return and not only were they allowed to return, but he finances their return.
Richard: And thus, we see that Jesus works through a Savior, the Jehovah works through a Savior to be a Savior and therefore that one phrase right at the end of verse 21, ‘he is just God and a Savior. There is none beside me.’
Victor: And in verse 25, ‘and in the Lord shall all the seed of Israel be justified and shall glory.’ Speak about a happy ever after.
Andy: Indeed. Well, and that’s the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ anciently and in modern times and the Lord is behind all of it. Thank you very much.