Insights Into Isaiah: A Marvelous Work

Join us in another roundtable discussion of Isaiah 29 with four BYU scholars

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Richard Draper, Paul Hoskisson, Michael Rhodes, and Ray Huntington, consider Isaiah 29, which describes a “voice from the dust” that becomes a “marvelous work and a wonder.”

Richard: Welcome to another series of our discussions on the writings of Isaiah. I’m Richard Draper, associate dean of religious education, and with me are colleagues from the Department of ancient scripture. We have with us, brother Paul Hoskisson. Good to have you here today Paul.
Paul: It’s good to be here.
Richard: Michael Rhodes. Thank you for coming, Michael.
Mike: Good to be here, Richard.
Richard: And Ray Huntington, glad you’re here, Ray.
We’re going to spend this hour talking about just one chapter, but a chapter that deserves the time and that is chapter 29. Ray, what’s the background here. Put this chapter in its setting, would you?
Ray: You know, it just fits nicely with the previous chapters in my opinion. Isaiah has been talking prophetically about the last days, about the second coming, but throughout these chapters, he’s been talking about the impending destruction of Israel and Judah. Here in this chapter, he gets very specific in the early goings and begins to talk about the destruction of Jerusalem.
Richard: In Isaiah 28, we’ve got a good strong warning against the destruction of Ephraim. So, in Isaiah 29, now we’re going to change the world.
Ray:

We’re going to change focus and now Isaiah is going to be talking about the destruction of Jerusalem, I assume at the hands of the Babylonians. But within this as well, he also wants to talk about the voice of those that will be left in the dust, in other words, the record of Judah.

Talking here in verse 4, he is talking about a speech that will come out of the ground, a voice that will begin to speak. And we often interpret that as the Bible.

I think that’s fair game, but he also talks about, in these early goings on, about that people are going to be so unreceptive to that word, that they have put themselves sort of in a drunken stupor and they have gone to sleep, so to speak. And thus, because the Bible has been rejected, what do we need? We need the book of Mormon.

Just, for our readers, I think 1 Nephi 13 is just such a good chapter to tie in to this because just briefly in verse 34, it talks about the Bible, it talks about the fact that plain and precious truths have been taken out of the Bible and it also talks about the fact that the gentiles have stumbled, because the Bible could be taken in so many different ways that the Lord says that because of those things, in so much that I will bring forth unto them in My own power, much of My gospel which will be plain and precious, saith the Lord. And thus, we have this wonderful prophecy written some 2,700 years ago about the coming forth of the book of Mormon, in great detail.

Richard: And we like to just mention too, though there is no doubt there was actual material taken out of the early documents, as the Bible, either before or as the Bible was being formed and therefore never made it into the New Testament witness. It is also true that plain and precious things are taken away as we rationalize away the law of God and so on. Ray made a bridge to the book of Mormon. What else have we got there, Mike?
Mike:

Well, this gives us a perfect example of many plain and precious things that have been removed because Isaiah 29 in the Bible has 29 verses, the Joseph Smith Translation of that same Isaiah, 29, has 35 verses and in 2nd Nephi, the end of chapter 26 and 27, has 54 verses.

So, in fact, quite a bit of the plain and precious things that Isaiah wrote in this very chapter were removed. To compare them helps in understanding Isaiah much better. And so, we get firsthand evidence in the very book that he says you don’t understand in the Bible, the evidence, why we don’t understand the Bible because it’s the things have been removed and through the book of Mormon that he prophesies about in this very chapter, we get that enhanced version of Isaiah 29 so that we can much better understand it.

Richard:  So, this really becomes a case study of what was removed and now it shows us the power of the book of Mormon in getting it back in place.
Ray:  And having it returned.
Richard: Now let’s just start chapter 29 verse 1. Paul will you pick up there.
Paul: Yeah, this is a good introduction to the whole theme of this chapter, 1 through 6 here in verse 1:

Woe to Ariel, to Ariel, the where David dwelt, add ye year to year, let them kill sacrifices.

Ariel here is obviously being used as a symbol for Jerusalem, and of course, this is not just Jerusalem itself. It’s also being symbolically used as the people of God and what the people of God are supposed to be doing. So, in verse 2

Yet I will distress Ariel…

that is Jerusalem and the people of God,

… and there shall be heaviness and sorrow, and it shall be unto me as Ariel.

Now in verses 3 through 5, the Joseph Smith translation makes a little minor change which I think is important. In verse 3,

And  I will camp against her

This has got to be referring back to the city, that is to Jerusalem, to God’s people.

And  I will camp against her round about and will lay siege against her with a mount, and I will raise forts against her and she shall be brought down.

That is Jerusalem, and the people of God shall be brought down,

And shall speak out of the ground. And her speech shall be low out of the dust, and her voice shall be as one that hath a familiar spirit out of the ground and her speech shall whisper out of the dust. 

The word familiar spirit here, implies of course to the casual reader that the words of God will have a familiar spirit. And that’s absolutely true.

In King James English and also from the Hebrew text, the original meaning behind this is of someone who speaks from the dead.  We see that in the episode in 1 Samuel 28, verses 7 through 9, where Saul goes to visit the witch of Endor, and asks her to use a familiar spirit to get Samuel to come back from the dead. Where Samuel is called a familiar spirit. That is someone who comes back from the dead.

That’s exactly what this is talking about, that the words and the speech of God’s ancient covenant people will speak from the dead. We will have the Bible and it will talk to us and we will be able to read it. In verse 5, however,

Moreover the multitude of her strangers shall be like small dust, and the multitude of the terrible ones shall be as chaff that passeth away: yea, it shall be at an instant suddenly.

and then there’s another small change in the Joseph Smith translation,

For they shall be visited of the Lord of hosts.

That is, those people who will be driven like chaff and so on and so forth,

With thunder and with earthquake, 

and so on. And then we launch into verse 7, with those who fight against Jerusalem and his people.

Richard Paul, let me just interrupt to ask a question. The word Ariel. What are we looking at there? Can you translate that for us?
Paul Well, there are several opinions about what it really means. It can be the lion of the Lord, the lion of God. It also consonantly looks very much like the word for the hearth, the place of your hearth, which is a not a bad symbolism either for Jerusalem and God’s people. It’s where they are at home, etc.
Richard Okay, very good. Verse 7

Then the multitude of all the nations that fight against Ariel, even all that fight against her and her munition, and that distress her, shall be as the dream of a night vision.

So apparently what’s happened is, in the first part, we’ve got some kind of rejection that is to say where the Lord is saying, Ariel, you’re going to be brought down and so on. And then in verse 7, it looks like we’ve got a change of scenery, a shift, right?

Ray: When we talk about it, who are we talking about, verse 5 up here, ‘for moreover, the multitude of thy strangers shall be like small…’ Are we talking about Israel’s enemies over time, Assyria, Babylon?
Mike: That’s the way I take it. They’ll be like chaff, just blown away.
Paul: Well, that is the multitude and the JST makes that change, ‘the multitude of her strangers,’ that is Jerusalem’s strangers, shall be like the small dust. That is yes, those who are strange to Jerusalem will…
Richard: Foreigners, those who would come against her. It’s just simply not going to work. Okay. And given that, then we move right into this thing that you talked a little about Ray, and that is that these people kind of go into a drunken stupor and this beautiful image, ‘and it shall be even as when a hungry man dreameth. And behold, he eateth, but when he awaketh, his soul is empty. And when thirsteth he dreameth, and behold, he drinketh, but when he awaketh, and behold he is faint and his soul hath appetite, so shall the multitude of all nations that shall fight against…’ They will dream of big things, but it is only…they’re just not going to come to pass. Mike…
Mike: No substance to it at all.
Richard: Yeah, exactly right.
Mike: The spirit of deep sleep and drunkenness that even with this speech out of the dust that the world has, that is the scriptures, it’s not enough. And enhanced, that transitions into the next thing, why we need this other book.
Richard: And the answer to that is…
Paul: The warning there too at the beginning of verse 9, where we transitioned now into this prophecy about the book of Mormon, the JST adds at the beginning of verse 9, ‘for behold, all you who do iniquity, stay yourselves and wander, cry…’ Those who’ve rejected…God’s people have rejected the message of the restoration. Stay ourselves and wonder. Cry out because you’re drunk, but not with wine.

Ray: Like the Jewish translation, in verse 9, ‘stay yourselves and wonder.’ The translation in The Tanakh

[inaudible 00:11:51.02] is act stupid and be stupefied.
Richard: Oh, is that right?
Ray: Act stupid and be stupefied.
Paul: That’s a pretty good description of it.
Ray: It is, yeah, you’re acting stupid and you are going to be stupefied.
Richard: Again, what we see is, is the Lord coming in to assist these…they want to be reprobates. He’s going to let them be a reprobate. Verse 10, ‘for the Lord hath poured out upon you the spirit of deep sleep and hath closed your eyes, the prophets and your rulers, the seers, hath He covered.’ So, these people want iniquity so bad. And of course, we have to remember that the Hebrews do not view the curse of God as a hex. It is not something that is imposed upon people, but rather the curse of God is where he removes Himself and therefore allows the natural consequences to follow. Paul you had a point.
Paul: Yeah, I think that’s exactly that. The prophets and your rulers and the seers hath God covered, the JST adds, because of your inequities. That is, it’s what you’ve done that has caused this all to happen now and not that God has opposed a hex on you.
Mike: You’ve brought it upon yourself.
Ray: Well you think about it in terms of historical value. Think of the book of Mormon, Lehi, Jeremiah. Well, here’s Lehi, he’s removed out of Jerusalem. Other prophets were taken away. Poor old Jeremiah had to toughen it out, but God does come to a point where he’ll remove the prophets and revelation and…
Paul: And it isn’t just that Lehi’s removed from Jerusalem to start a new branch of the house of Israel, then Jeremiah is hauled off to Egypt, and we don’t hear much from him. Some of the ones that remain there, Urijah, he’s killed by the people, so they’re removed in many ways from the people.
Ray: Yeah, that’s a great point.
Mike: Okay. Now the next, basically verses 10 through 14 of Isaiah 29 are expanded enormously in 2nd Nephi, chapter 27. So, I think we should turn over.
Richard: Why don’t we go over there and take a look at the insights we get from that one.
Mike: In this section here, Isaiah, at least Isaiah as portrayed here in 2nd Nephi 27, uses the word ‘book’ 20 times and it’s all talking primarily about the book of Mormon, although certainly, it could have a reference to other books that come forth in the last day such as the doctrine and covenants, the Pearl of great price and so on. But this is a section on…the Jews are called the people of the book, right? And this is another book, this is another scripture that is to come forth and we are privileged to live in a time when we have access to that, that still clarifies and enhances the principles of the gospel for us.
Richard: Yeah, very good. So, what is the expansion here in 2nd Nephi, 27 that we don’t get in Isaiah.
Ray: I was going to say you get some great church history with Martin Harris and Joseph Smith, and Professor Hansen, in much richer detail here than you do in Isaiah’s chapter 29.
Paul: Yeah. I think beginning in 2nd Nephi, chapter 27 verse 6, you get the beginning of the parallel to Isaiah 29, 11. Earlier than that, you’ve got some nice parallels between Isaiah 29, 6 through 10, but the real expansion begins with Isaiah 29, 11, in Isaiah 27, 6.
Ray: Literally, are we talking here in verse 6, and again, we’re in 2nd Nephi, 27, but in verse 6 of that chapter, when he uses the term, the words of a book, literally, are we talking about the plates, the gold plates, the plates of gold?
Mike: Yeah, I think so. And they shall be the words of them which have slumbered. So, you know that particularly seems to have reference to the Jaredites and the Nephites, then that is the record of what we have in the book of Mormon.
Paul: And it goes back to pick up that same idea from Isaiah 29, 4, about people speaking from the death. Those familiar spirits are speaking to us through the words of this book.
Mike: And one thing that it really emphasizes, that is not clear at all from the text of Isaiah as we now have it, ‘the book shall be sealed and, in the book, shall be a revelation from God from the beginning of the world to the ending thereof.’
Paul: So, this is quite an expansion, this book from the record that we have otherwise.
Mike: Absolutely.
Richard: We may want to point out too that the portion that Joseph Smith was not allowed to translate, that sealed portion, is the vision of the brother of Jarrod, which is the revelation of the history of the world. So, we have this illusion, right here.
Mike: And plus, you’re recalling in 3rd Nephi, a Mormon is recapping what Christ said. And he says, you know, he taught them everything from the beginning to the end, and I haven’t included that either, which is basically the same thing that brother of Jarrod saw, and Lehi and Nephi saw. And all of the prophets basically see that same thing. At some future time, we hope to be able to see that sealed portion which will give us the complete divine history of the world.
Richard: We’ve got that promised in 2nd Nephi 27, ‘and the day cometh that the words of the book which were sealed, shall be read upon the housetops.’ What a wonderful moment to look forward to. The power in that thing.
Ray: It’s almost like a royal proclamation just given to everybody.
Paul: The reason they’re not given earlier, of course is explained in verse 8, ‘wherefore because of the things which are sealed up, the things which are sealed up shall not be delivered in the day of the wickedness and abominations of the people, wherefore the book shall be kept from them until they repent and become worthy of it.’
Richard: And then at that time we can open up the book and the book shall go forward. Just a question. Martin Harris goes to New York and he meets with certain scholars and so on, shows them the signs and the glyphs. To what degree were they capable of actually being able to translate what Martin Harris showed them.
Ray: To my understanding they weren’t. They didn’t have the ability to…
Mike: At that time, Egyptian had just barely, a few years before, been deciphered by Champollion in France. News of that decipherment had come to the Americas, but there was no scholar in America at that time who was capable of translating Egyptian and add to that, the fact is that the Egyptian on the plates is not Egyptian that even Egyptologist today could read, and so you’ve got the double whammy there. They couldn’t have known it if it were normally Egyptian and it wasn’t anyway, so they couldn’t have known.
Richard: It is interesting that whatever happened in New York, when Martin Harris comes back, he is so convinced that Joseph Smith is right, that he throws himself fully into the translation work and thus we see the fulfillment of the prophesy, right?
Paul: And including laying his farm on the line to help finance the publication of the book. He’s absolutely convinced after talking with the two professors in New York state that this is worth it and he’s going into it.
Mike: And I mean to the ultimate detriment of his marriage. His wife was dead set against it and in spite of her being against it, he, from this point on, is committed.
Richard: And it’s interesting too that here we get another aspect that we don’t see in Isaiah and that’s verse 12, ‘wherefore, at that day when the book shall be delivered unto the man of whom I have spoken, the book shall be hid from the eyes of the world, that the eyes of none shall behold it, save it be that three witnesses shall behold it by the power of God, besides him to whom the book shall be delivered and they shall testify to truth of the book and the things therein, and there is none other which shall view it, save it be a few.’ So again, we see an expansion on the text.
Mike: And we’re obviously talking about the three witnesses and the eight witnesses. And the distinction between them, the three witnesses will see it by the power of God, which they do. And the eight witnesses, Joseph Smith’s simply hauls the out, says, here they are, with no divine manifestation associated with this.
Paul: And others will witness the plates also, besides the three and the eights. So, when it says save it be a few, according to the will of God, well, He’s in charge and He’s going to let those see it who need to see.
Ray: And I think verse 14 confirms that, Paul, ‘for the lord God will proceed to bring forth the words of the book and in the mouth of as many witnesses as seemeth him good, will he establish his word.’ I mean he’s not done with the eight and three. He’s got more that are gonna be divine witnesses of this marvelous work.
Paul: And I think we get some of the historical material of Martin Harris in verse 15 too now. The parallel, the account that Martin Harris gives of these historical events.
Mike: Yeah. Learners will say, I can’t read it, it’s a sealed book.
Richard: And it’s interesting too, as Martin Harris gets back and begins to work with Joseph Smith, that the two of them suddenly pick up on this and say, oh, this is the fulfillment of scripture. I mean, they recognize what’s going on very, very rapidly and then are able to move forward with the assurance that this has all been prophesied, the Lord is moving forward in this day, meaning Joseph Smith’s day to bring forth the words of the book.
Mike: You know what else, in verse 16, it emphasizes, when Professor Anthon says, you bring that book here and I’ll translate it, and he says and now because of the glory of the world, and to get gain, will they say that and not for the glory of God. The scholar looking for glory and prestige and tenure, if you will, rather than looking for the glory of God and Joseph Smith, the unlearned man is able to translate it, underscoring the fact that this is a divine miraculous thing and not something that simply a scholar could accomplish.
Paul: I think there’s some irony here too that he’s called the one who’s learned. It really is the one who thinks he’s learned, because really, as you pointed out, he really doesn’t know enough to even begin to authenticate what Martin Harris has brought him. Yes.
Richard: Okay. Then just going back to Isaiah chapter 29, verse 18, ‘and in that day,’ here’s the consequences, okay, we’ve had the book initially that Israel has come down, they speak out of the ground, nobody pays attention to the book or to the words that are whispered from the ground. The Lord therefore restores this new book, the message comes forward and then verse 18, ‘and in that day shall the deaf hear the words of the book and the eyes of the blind shall see out of obscurity and out of darkness.’ How different from those who have slept and awakened to be thirsty, slept and awakened to be hungry. Paul?
Paul: Yes. This book that comes forth, the book of Mormon and the Bible together, and the one in your hand become the means by which people that have been deaf, dumb and blind, through all of these, the millennia, the apostasy, will be able to see again and hear again and recognize the will of the Lord. And I think it’s important to bring that back in here where Isaiah, after he’s introduced all of this, he ties it all together there in these last few verses of chapter 29.
Ray: I was going to say, I love his word choices as well. In verse 18, that it’s just not the people who ae in total darkness, but it’s people who will see out of obscurity, which is dimness. In other words, this book is for everybody and from time to time, we all have dim views of things, don’t we? We can all be blessed by the power of the book of Mormon. We don’t have to be in this absolute spiritual darkness to have the blessing of the book of Mormon.
Mike: I think it’s pivotal to recognize it verse 13 is a scripture that resurrected Christ when he appeared to Joseph Smith with the father in the first vision quoted directly, ‘for as much as this people draw near me with their mouth and with their lips, do honor me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precepts of men.’ Those very paraphrase somewhat…those very words were used by Christ in opening this dispensation, underscoring again just how important the words of Isaiah are.
Paul: And that’s why, because they’ve withdrawn themselves, that’s why you need the marvelous work and a wonder in verse 14, that the restoration of the gospel is in these latter days, and I think that leads into, near the end of the chapter, verse 22, ‘therefore, thus sayeth the Lord, who redeemed Abraham concerning the house of Jacob,’ that is Israel, ‘Israel shall not now be ashamed, neither shall his face now wax pale, but when Israel seeith his children, the work of mine hands,’ God’s hands,’ in the midst of him, they shall sanctify my name and sanctify the holy one of Jacob and shall fear the God of Israel.’ God has done this in the latter days. It’s His doing.
Richard: And therefore, we bring the testimony of the Bible alive now, as it will resurrect with the testimony of the book of Mormon and what happens out of that, Israel is no longer ashamed, the people are sanctified, and then at the end of verse 24, ‘now they can learn doctrine.’ Thank you for being with us. Appreciate it.
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