Saturday, November 17, 2012

Isaiah 1:7-9 -- "Your Country Is Desolate"

"Your country is desolate, your cities are burned with fire: your land, strangers devour it in your presence, and it is desolate, as overthrown by strangers.
"And the daughter of Zion is left as a cottage in a vineyard, as a lodge in a garden of cucumber, as a besieged city.
"Except the Lord of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like unto Gomorrah."

To me these verses portray a very hopeless state of destruction.  While I've not experienced such things personally, images of war and destruction that I have seen are conjured up in my mind.  It is a very lonely, hopeless, overwhelming scene, especially, I imagine, to one who has turned from the hope of the Lord.

We begin with verse 7.  This is a prophecy of the coming destruction.  At Isaiah's time the Holy Land was divided into two kingdoms--the North Kingdom, or Israel, and the South Kingdom of Judah.  The North Kingdom's capital was Samaria and the South Kingdom's capital was Jerusalem.  Assyria overtook the North Kingdom and it's people were taken captive and scattered abroad, becoming the lost 10 tribes of Israel.  The Assyrians also came to attack Judah, but were unable at the time to overtake Jerusalem.  (See 2 Kings 18-19)  Later, the city of Jerusalem would be overtaken by Babylon, the temple destroyed, and the people taken into captivity.

In verse 7, Isaiah speaks of this destruction.  Not only did they lay waste to their cities, but the "strangers" have come in and "devoured" it.  This describes not only the political overtaking of the land as Gentiles came in, took the people captive, and scattered them abroad, but also the spiritual overtaking, which began with the House of Israel's disobedience, but continued as their sacred places were destroyed and the heathen practices came in and corrupted the correct teachings and practices given from God.  Truly, they were also left spiritually desolate.

In 2 Kings 18:11-12, it talks of the Assyrian takeover of the North Kingdom saying:

"And the king of Assyria did carry away Israel unto Assyria, and put them in Halah and in Habor by the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes:  Because they obeyed not the voice of the Lord their God, but transgressed his covenant, and all that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded, and would not hear them, nor do them."

They were destroyed because they rebelled against the Lord.  Perhaps this is the reason that the city of Jerusalem was spared from the Assyrian attack.  At the time the king, Hezekiah, was a righteous king, who "did that which was right in the sight of the Lord" (2 Kings 18:3).  He destroyed the idols and trusted in God to save his people.  He sought out Isaiah, the prophet, and the Lord performed a miracle to save Jerusalem.  (See 2 Kings 19:31-35.)

But Judah fell into apostasy and eventually they too were overtaken and destroyed.  In Lamentations, Jeremiah laments the state of Jerusalem.  His words portray the physical and spiritual destruction.  In Lamentations 1:1,3-6 he echoes the same feelings and sentiments of that of Isaiah, saying:

"How doth the city sit solitary, that was full of people!  how is she become as a widow!  she that was great among the nations, and princess among the provinces, how is she become tributary!...
"Judah is gone into captivity because of affliction, and because of great servitude: she dwelleth among the heathen, she findeth no rest: all her persecutors overtook her between the straits.
"The ways of Zion do mourn, because none come to the solemn feasts: all her gates are desolate: her priests sigh, her virgins are afflicted, and she is in bitterness.
"Her adversaries are the chief, her enemies prosper; for the Lord hath afflicted her for the multitude of her transgressions: her children are gone into captivity before the enemy.
"And from the daughter of Zion all her beauty is departed: her princes are become like harts that find no pasture, and they are gone without strength before the pursuer."

He continues to describe the spiritual destruction in Lamentations 2:5-6, 10:

"The Lord was as an enemy: he hath swallowed up all her palaces: he hath destroyed his strong holds, and hath increased in the daughter of Judah mourning and lamentation.
"And he hath violently taken away his tabernacle, as if it were of a garden: he hath destroyed his places of the assembly: the Lord hath caused the solemn feasts and sabbaths to be forgotten in Zion, and hath despised in the indignation of his anger the king and the priest....
"The elders of the daughter of Zion sit upon the ground, and keep silence: they have cast up dust upon their heads; they have girded themselves with sackcloth: the virgins of Jerusalem hang down their heads to the ground."

Yet the Lord was merciful.  In Isaiah 1:8 it refers to the "daughter of Zion," meaning the city of Jerusalem.  It says that she "is left as a cottage in a vineyard, as a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, as a besieged city."  I found a good explanation of cottage at  It defines it such:  

        (1.) A booth in a vineyard (Isa. 1:8); a temporary shed covered
        with leaves or straw to shelter the watchman that kept the
        garden. These were slight fabrics, and were removed when no
        longer needed, or were left to be blown down in winter (Job
        (2.) A lodging-place (rendered "lodge" in Isa. 1:8); a
        slighter structure than the "booth," as the cucumber patch is
        more temporary than a vineyard (Isa. 24:20). It denotes a frail
        structure of boughs supported on a few poles, which is still in
        use in the East, or a hammock suspended between trees, in which
        the watchman was accustomed to sleep during summer.

Donald W. Parry in his book, Visualizing Isaiah, explains:  "All that remains in Jerusalem after its destruction are cottages and huts. Jerusalem, which once housed the mighty spiritual fortress—God's temple—is now like a cottage."

This gives us a good image of how this once beautiful, powerful city is now become like a frail, temporary cottage.  Yet, even in this state, we see the mercy of the Lord as Isaiah continues in verse 9 to say that unless the Lord of Hosts had left them a small remnant, they would have been like Sodom and Gomorrah, which were utterly destroyed. 

"The Lord of hosts" is also commonly referred to as the Lord of Sabaoth, which means hosts.  This was a title given to Jehovah.  According to the Bible Dictionary, "the hosts were the armies of Israel, but also included the angelic armies of heaven."  Often in Isaiah, his use of "Assyria" refers more broadly to the world in a political sense and "Babylon" refers to the world in a spiritual sense.  The Lord of Hosts then is the Lord of armies, in both a political and spiritual sense.  He fights against Assyria and Babylon with his earthly and heavenly armies.  I like a reference given in the Bible Dictionary of 2 Kings 6:14-17 that illustrates these heavenly armies:

"Therefore sent he (the king of Syria) thither horses and chariots, and a great host: and they came by night, and compassed the city about.
"And when the servant of the man of God (Elisha's servant) was risen early, and gone forth, behold, an host compassed the city both with horses and chariots.  And his servant said unto him, Alas, my master! how shall we do?
"And he answered, Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them.
"And Elisha prayed, and said, Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see.  And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha."

D&C 5:14 also gives us some insight into the army of the Lord:

"And to none else will I grant this power, to receive this same testimony among this generation, in this the beginning of the rising up and the coming forth of my church out of the wilderness--clear as the moon, and fair as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners."

There is a battle for the souls of men.  The Lord fights to save His children and bestow upon them eternal life and Babylon, or the world, and the devil fight to take them captive and lead them down to hell.  There are literal earthly and heavenly armies the Lord uses in this fight, but there are also the symbolic armies.  We often refer to the missionaries sent out to proclaim the gospel as the "army of heaven."  All faithful saints are enlisted in this army as we raise our standard to the world and proclaim His gospel to its inhabitants.  In this fight, we too, we have the protection and guidance of the heavenly hosts, who are united in this cause.

As Joseph Smith taught, "The heavenly Priesthood will unite with the earthly, to bring about those great purposes; and whilst we are thus united in one common cause, to roll forth the kingdom of God, the heavenly Priesthood are not idle spectators, the Spirit of God will be showered down from above, and it will dwell in our midst."  (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pg. 232.)

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Isaiah 1:5-6 -- "The Whole Head Is Sick"

"Why should ye be stricken any more?  ye will revolt more and more: the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint.
"From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment."

In verse 5, the Lord asks: "Why should ye be stricken any more? ye will revolt more and more: the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint."

The Lord's people have continually been chastened due to their iniquity.  He has taught them over and over the way to live, through obedience to His commandments, and admonished them that disobedience and wickedness leads to death and destruction, of both a spiritual and temporal nature.  A good example of this is in Numbers 11:6-9.  As the people of Israel began to murmur against the Lord, he sent fiery serpents among them, which bit them.  Many died.  The people were chastened and came to Moses asking him to pray unto the Lord to take away the serpents.  The Lord then told Moses to make a serpent of brass and put it on a pole and "every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live."

In Helaman 8:14-15, Nephi speaks of Moses, explaining the significance of this experience.  "Yea, did he not bear record that the Son of God should come?  And as he lifted up the brazen serpent in the wilderness, even so shall he be lifted up who should come.  And as many as should look upon that serpent should live, even so as many as should look upon the Son of God with faith, having a contrite spirit, might live, even unto that life which is eternal."

The way is simple.  Look and live.  Look unto Christ and live.  And yet, here in Isaiah 1:5 as in many other instances, the Lord asks, "Why should ye be stricken any more?"  In Ezekiel 18:30-31, the Lord echoes this sentiment saying, "Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin.  Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel?"

To me, it is almost as if we can hear a sense of frustration.  These children that the Lord loves and wants to bless, continue to turn away from Him.  Because He loves them, He must once again chastise them, so that they will come to Him again.  The way is simple, yet they choose their own way, resulting in pain and suffering.  "Why should ye be stricken any more?" the Lord asks.

Yet they continue to revolt and the Lord proclaims "the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint."  A couple scriptures lend some understanding to this.  The first is Mosiah 12:27:  "Ye have not applied your hearts to understanding; therefore, ye have not been wise."  The second is D&C 8:2-3:  "Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart.  Now, behold, this is the spirit of revelation; behold, this is the spirit by which Moses brought the children of Israel through the Red Sea on dry ground."

We need our head and our heart to understand spiritual things.  Here in Isaiah, the Lord proclaims of His children that their whole head is sick and the whole heart faint.  They have completely turned from the Lord and will not seek His peace and understanding of His ways.

He continues this condemnation in verse 6, saying:  "From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it;" -- the whole body is sick and full of iniquity, there is no good in it.

"...but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores; they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment."  What are these wounds and bruises and putrifying sores?  It is the iniquity and sins of the people.  I like Isaiah 53:4-5.  Speaking of Christ, it says:  "Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.  But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed."

The very same imagery of wounds and bruises are used here to show that Christ has taken upon himself our iniquities.  He is the binding for our wounds, His atonement is the ointment that will heal us.  Yet in verse 6, the Lord proclaims that His children's iniquity has completely taken over, they are filled with wounds which have not been closed or bound up or had ointment applied to them.  No attempt has been made to be healed.  By this He is speaking metaphorically of His atonement.  They have not applied His atonement in their lives, they do not look to Him to be healed.