During His ministry among the Nephites, Jesus said to them, “Yea, a commandment I give unto you that ye search these things diligently; for great are the words of Isaiah” (3 Nephi 23:1). About six-hundred years before, the prophet Nephi said that in order to “more fully persuade [my brethren] to believe in the Lord their Redeemer I did read unto them that which was written by the prophet Isaiah” (1 Nephi 19:23). Later, after quoting thirteen chapters from Isaiah, Nephi wrote, “Wherefore, they [Isaiah’s prophecies] are of worth unto the children of men … for I know that they shall be of great worth unto them in the last days; for in that day shall they understand them” (2 Nephi 25:8). Let’s take Nephi at his word and do our best to try to understand the book of Isaiah.
Isaiah (whose name means “Jehovah saves” or “the Lord is Salvation”) was a prophet in the southern kingdom of Judah, ministering around 740-700 BC. So, chronologically we are now back in Jerusalem in the days before the conquering and carrying away of the Jews by the Babylonians.
Of the 66 chapters in Isaiah, 21 are quoted in the Book of Mormon. Moreover, Isaiah is the most quoted prophet in the New Testament and in the Doctrine and Covenants. Even if you do not feel fully comfortable with the book of Isaiah, you can learn to love his most important messages. Some of the most helpful aids for understanding Isaiah are:
- Before each chapter, read the chapter heading (as given in the LDS version of the King James Bible).
- Always look for Christ and messages about Him.
- Isaiah used a great deal of symbolism, so think about what the symbols may represent. Keep in mind that some symbols (and some prophecies) could have more than one interpretation.
- Personalize Isaiah’s teachings about repenting and coming unto the Lord.
- Remember that Isaiah spoke of many different time periods, and he often moves backward or forward in time. For example, Isaiah’s writings cover:
- the past history of the Israelites, as well as their then-current state of affairs, along with their future
- the mortal life and mission of Jesus Christ
- conditions and events of the last days
- the Second Coming
- the Millennium
Isaiah 1 “Let Us Reason Together”
- As Isaiah begins, what does he say in 1:2-4 to the children of Israel about their past?
- What does he say about their present, in 1:5-9, 13-14, 21-23?
- More significantly, what does Isaiah say about their potential future, in 1:16-20, 25-27?
- Which verse or verses in chapter 1 seem to speak directly to you? Why?
Isaiah 2 “In the Last Days”
Again, the chapter heading is a key, telling us that in verses 1-3 Isaiah is prophesying of the temple(s) that would be established in the last days, and that “all nations shall flow” to these temples and will be taught in God’s ways. Additionally, Isaiah saw in vision the two world capitals during the Millennium—“Zion” (the New Jerusalem, to be in Jackson County, Missouri), and old Jerusalem, in the modern state of Israel (verse 3).
- According to verses 4-5, what other things are prophesied for the Millennium?
- What things are highlighted in verses 6-9? (these could be taken to refer to conditions in Isaiah’s day, but also in our day). Note that in 2 Nephi 12:9—the companion verse for Isaiah 2:9—it states that “the mean man boweth not down, and the great man humbleth not himself.”
- According to verses 10-12, 17-20, what will happen to those who refuse to humble themselves?
Isaiah 3-5 Zion and Her Daughters
- In 3:1-5, Isaiah bewails the ongoing problems in the kingdom of Judah, including drought, famine, poor leadership, pride, contention, wickedness, and lack of charity toward the poor (see also 10:2).
- Next, Isaiah details the wickedness among the “daughters of Zion,” describing their attitudes, behavior, and consequences in 3:16-26; 4:1 (see also 10:1).
- Then we suddenly jump to some of the blessed conditions that will prevail during the Millennium. Find these in 4:2-6.
- In 5:1-7 the Lord compares the house of Israel to a vineyard that He planted, but it yielded only wild fruit, so He spoils it.
- 5:9-25 contains a long list of evils among Israel, with warnings of the consequences:
- Those who loved to eat, drink, and be merry (verses 11-12; see also 2 Nephi 28:8).
- The lack of spiritual knowledge among the people of Israel (verse 13; see also Alma 12:10-11).
- Those who mock the Lord by saying, “Let him make speed, and hasten his work, that we may see it” (verse 19; see also Helaman 16:13-23).
- Those who “call evil good, and good evil” (verse 20); can you think of examples of this in our day?
- Allowing the guilty to go free through bribery, while punishing the innocent (verse 23).
- Outright rejection of the Lord’s laws and words (verse 24).
What do you think Isaiah would say if he were to return to earth in our day?
Isaiah 6-8 Isaiah’s Call
- As with many prophets, Isaiah’s ministry began with a visitation from the Lord. Read how Isaiah described his visionary experience in 6:1-5.
- Note in 6:8 one way in which Isaiah was a type of Jesus Christ (see Abraham 3:27).
- Isaiah 7:14 records the prophecy of the birth of Jesus Christ to a virgin (see Matthew 1:18-23).
- What did Isaiah tell the people of Israel, in 8:9-15, 19-20, after they had attempted to seek safety by creating political alliances? The Lord is and ever will be our only true, safe sanctuary.
Isaiah 9-12 When Jesus Comes
Many of Isaiah’s prophecies relate to the last days, the Second Coming, and the Millennium. Look for the following significant prophecies:
- According to 9:2-3, what impacts would Jesus Christ’s mortal ministry have? (Note that the Book of Mormon version of verse 3 eliminates the word not; see 2 Nephi 19:3)
- According to 9:6-7, what things will result from Jesus Christ’s second coming?
- What things will happen at the Second Coming, according to 10:3, 6-7, 17, 20, 33?
Note that Isaiah 11 was quoted by the angel Moroni to young Joseph Smith in September 1823 (see JS—H 1:40). Isaiah 11 is also treated in Doctrine and Covenants 113, from which we learn that the “Stem of Jesse” (Isaiah 11:1) is Jesus Christ, while the “rod” (Isaiah 11:1) and the “root of Jesse” (Isaiah 11:10) are referred to in D&C 113:3-6, and identified by some LDS commentators as Joseph Smith. Continue looking for:
- 11:10-12—things that are to happen in the last days, in preparation for the Second Coming.
- 11:2-5—things attendant to the Second Coming of Christ.
- 11:6-9; 12:1-6—conditions on earth during the Millennial reign of Jesus Christ.
Which verses in Isaiah 11:6-9; 12:1-6 stir you the most, as you anticipate life during the Millennium?