“The Prophet Isaiah Foretells Christ’s Birth” (detail), by Harry Anderson
“Great are the words of Isaiah,” said the Savior during His ministry on the American continent (3 Nephi 23:1). “My soul delighteth in the words of Isaiah,” said Nephi (2 Nephi 25:5, 2 Nephi 11:2). And Moroni urged us, “Search the prophecies of Isaiah,” adding, “behold, I cannot write them” (Mormon 8:23). About a third of the book of Isaiah is reproduced in the Book of Mormon, but Moroni clearly wants us to study all of Isaiah’s words, not only the chapters which he and his predecessors quoted.
For the next five weeks, we are going to follow these admonitions and study the book of Isaiah.
If you would like some practical tips, see my blog post Understanding Isaiah. That post also contains links to all of my posts about Isaiah, organized by chapter, in case you want to see what I’ve written about specific passages.
So what’s going on in the first twelve chapters? Note that eleven of these chapters (2-12) also appear in 2 Nephi 12-22. Nephi tells us that he is quoting these chapters in order to teach us about Jesus Christ. So let’s see what they say:
- Chapter 1 – Isaiah calls Israel to repentance, telling them that their hearts are no longer with God, that they are merely going through the motions of religious observance. But he reaffirms that God will forgive them if they repent.
- Chapter 2 – Isaiah contrasts those who come to “the mountain of the Lord’s house” and walk in His light from those who hide in “the holes of the rocks” and “the caves of the earth.”
- Chapter 3 – Isaiah prophesies that pride will be the downfall of Judah. He testifies that worldly possessions cannot provide stability.
- Chapter 4 – Judah will become holy when God washes away its filth. Every home will be a sanctuary, like the ancient tabernacle.
- Chapter 5 – Isaiah’s parable of the vineyard, followed by six warnings (“woes”).
- Chapter 6 – Isaiah describes how he was called to be a prophet.
- Chapter 7 – Isaiah tells King Ahaz not to be afraid of the armies of Israel and Syria. He also provides a sign that God will be with him.
- Chapter 8 – Isaiah tells the people of Judah to trust God and not to be obsessed with conspiracies. God’s voice may be quiet, like the waters of Shiloah in their city, but it is the key to their deliverance.
- Chapter 9 – The Messiah will bring light, even in the midst of darkness. Israel will be scattered, but Isaiah repeatedly testifies that God will not forget them: “His hand is stretched out still.“
- Chapter 10 – The king of Assyria, Sennacherib, will claim credit for his expanding empire. But when the empire falls, he will recognize how fleeting success can be.
- Chapter 11 – God will raise up leaders to gather Israel after they have been scattered by the Assyrians. He will establish an “ensign for the nations” to signal the gathering.
- Chapter 12 – Two psalms of praise
How do these chapters teach us about Jesus Christ? I would suggest the following strategy for reading them: Think of the challenges facing Isaiah’s people as a metaphor for your own life. We all need God’s grace to overcome the challenges we face, both external and self-inflicted. As Isaiah’s people face invading armies as well as their own sins, how do his words help them to exercise faith in God and receive His saving power?