Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Isaiah 29

"Low out of the dust"

Isaiah 29:4 says, "And thou shalt be brought down, and shalt speak out of the ground, and thy speech shall be low out of the dust, and thy voice shall be, as of one that hath a familiar spirit, out of the ground, and they speech shall whisper out of the dust."

There seem to be two meanings from this verse. First, Jerusalem was humbled to the dust and scattered. In this humiliated condition, she wrote to the world the consequences of sin. She warned those of future generations of the fate of those who embrace wickedness.

The second meaning is more literal. Records of the fallen people are buried in the earth and are then published to the world as a warning. The Book of Mormon is believed to be one of these records. Other records (from the Ten Tribes of Israel) are to come forth as prophesied in 2 Nephi 29:13.

Dreams of Eating

I've always found this description of the wicked very interesting. They are and will be obsessed and bent on the destruction of Israel and the Lord's people, but they will not succeed. The Lord will make it appear to them that they will conquer over Israel, but in reality, they will not. It will be as a man who is hungry and who is dreaming. He dreams of food and in his dream, he eats and is filled, until he awakes. Then his discovers it was all a dream and the satisfaction that was his is gone.

So great will be their hatred that they will be drunk and stagger like an inebriated man.

The Sealed Book

Simply put, Isaiah 29:11 is a reference to Martin Harris delivering the text of the Book of Mormon to Charles Anthon (see LeGrand Richards, “Value of the Holy Scriptures,” Ensign, May 1976, 82).

Isaiah 29:12 is a reference to Joseph Smith translating the Book of Mormon (see Mark E. Petersen, Conference Report, October 1970, pp. 138-142).

Removed Hearts

One of the first sentences that began the Restoration was "they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof" (JS-History 1:19).

Isaiah 29:13 says, "this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear (regard or reverence) toward me is taught by the precept of men."

What does this all mean? Simply stated, it means apostasy; both generally and individually. People have become fundamentally separated from our Heavenly Father. We preach and teach and teach and preach, but do nothing. We do not acknowledge the power and authority of God. We do not strive to become true disciples of Christ. We may learn and teach all the correct doctrines, but if we do not act the part of a disciple of Christ, then our hearts are far from God.

Neal A. Maxwell once taught, "Of necessity, of course, we are to teach and learn the doctrines. We would be spiritually stranded without them and, likewise, without the saving and exalting gospel ordinances, because “in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest.

“And without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh” (D&C 84:20–21).

"So it is that discipleship requires all of us to translate doctrines, covenants, ordinances, and teachings into improved personal behavior. Otherwise we may be doctrinally rich but end up developmentally poor" (Neal A. Maxwell, “Becoming a Disciple,” Ensign, June 1996, 12).

The only way we can truly become disciples of Christ is to have our will swallowed by the will of the Son.

Neal A. Maxwell continues in another address, "I am going to preach a hard doctrine to you now. The submission of one’s will is really the only uniquely personal thing we have to place on God’s altar. It is a hard doctrine, but it is true. The many other things we give to God, however nice that may be of us, are actually things He has already given us, and He has loaned them to us. But when we begin to submit ourselves by letting our wills be swallowed up in God’s will, then we are really giving something to Him. And that hard doctrine lies at the center of discipleship. There is a part of us that is ultimately sovereign, the mind and heart, where we really do decide which way to go and what to do. And when we submit to His will, then we’ve really given Him the one final thing He asks of us. And the other things are not very, very important. It is the only possession we have that we can give, and there is no lessening of our agency as a result. Instead, what we see is a flowering of our talents and more and more surges of joy. Submission to Him is the only form of submission that is completely safe.

"This ought to be more obvious to us than it is sometimes, brothers and sisters, because developmentally, as well as doctrinally, all the other commandments hang, as Jesus said, on the two great interactive commandments:

“Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.

“This is the first and great commandment.

“And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

“On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matt. 22:37–40). (Neal A. Maxwell, “Insights from My Life,” Ensign, Aug 2000, 7)

The key to his teaching in the above quote is where he says, "There is a part of us that is ultimately sovereign, the mind and heart, where we really do decide which way to go and what to do." Now getting back to what the Savior said to young Joseph Smith, "they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me." Is that not what the Savior really wants … our hearts; our wills? Is that not at the root at what He was trying to restore to the earth?

Every day, we should be praying and asking our Father, "what doest thou want me to do today? What is Thy will for me?" If we can truly, sincerely seek and follow God's will every day (and not hide counsel we receive from God … see Isaiah 29:15), then we will obey the first and great commandment.

PS: Also read my commentary in the Book of Mormon about this chapter. See 2 Nephi 26 and 2 Nephi 27

Friday, February 15, 2008

Isaiah 28

Precepts, Lines, Here and There a Little

Much like learning a language or math or any science, we do not learn everything at once. We begin with the basics and then we begin to dig deeper. Learning the gospel is similar. We begin with the basics and then our knowledge is added upon.

"Precept upon precept; line upon line; here a little, and there a little" (Isaiah 28:10).

Ludlow elaborates on this concept. He teaches that precepts are eternal principals. Lines are commandments based upon those eternal principals and "here a little" is a fence or personal law designed to help individuals keep the commandments.

To clarify, he gives an example.

Isaiah's Term...........Ludlow's Term..........LDS Equivalent.........Example: Law of Life
precept..................principal..................higher law.................Life is sacred
line.......................commandment...........lesser law.................Thou shalt not kill
here a little.............fence......................personal law.............Do lot lose temper

This passage in Isaiah is also referenced in the D&C. D&C 98:11-12 reads, "And I give unto you a commandment, that ye shall forsake all evil and cleave unto all good, that ye shall live by every word which proceedeth forth out of the mouth of God.

"For he will give unto the faithful line upon line, precept upon precept, and I will try you and prove you herewith."

D&C 128:21 also references this passage.

Christ is the Stone

Undoubtedly, Isaiah 28:16 refers to Jesus Christ. "Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste."

The Book of Mormon expands upon this idea of Christ being the stone. Helaman 5:12 teaches, "Remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Remember, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yeah, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall."

If we build our life … the way we live … upon the teachings of Christ, we will not fall for the temptations of the devil and will we produce good fruit. We will be good fruit and will not be cast out at the last day (see Alma 5:36, 52).

The Lord's Strange Work

The Lord's strange work is to bring to pass the eternal life and immortality of man (Moses 1:39).

Isaiah gives a parable to explain and teach what the Lord's strange work is. He compares a farmer preparing the land, planting and harvesting the grain to the souls of men. Not all time should be given to preparation. Each step is necessary, planned and carried out.

To me, this parable is a bit difficult to understand. Ludlow does a wonderful job explaining it.

"The means by which the Lord prepares the earth for his coming might be questioned by some people, but Isaiah answers their concerns in the last verses of chapter 28. Verses 23-29 deal with a "parable of the farmer" written in poetry. They can be divided into two segments: Isaiah first describes the method of sowing grain and then carefully distinguishes the methods used for threshing different crops:

"23Give ear and hear my voice; listen and hear my words. Does he who plows for sowing plow continually? 24Does, he [continually] tear up and harrow his land? 25Does he not rather, after leveling the surface, scatter dill and sow cummin, put the wheat in rows, barley in the appointed places and rye around its border? 26His God correctly instructs and teaches him. 27Dill is not threshed with a threshing sledge, neither does a cart wheel roll over cummin; but dill is beaten out with a rod and cummin with a flail. 28Grain is crushed; he will not continually thresh it, but he rolls the wheels of his cart over it, since with his horses he cannot crush it. 29Even this comes from the LORD of hosts, who is wonderful in counsel and excellent in wisdom. (MLB)

"In verse 23, Isaiah uses four imperatives—give, hear, listen, and hear—to alert his listeners to this important parable, which portrays why the Lord acts as he does in preparing the children for their final state. (Compare Isa. 1:2 where some of the same imperatives are used.) Verse 26, inserted between the "sowing" and "threshing" sections, provides an important key for understanding the parable. Verse 29 provides a concluding key and witness about the Lord's wisdom in all his doings.

"Sowing requires preparation. The farmer must plow, harrow, and level the ground before planting, and yet must not spend too much time in these tasks or he will not have enough growing season left for the seeds to mature (vs. 23-25). After preparing the soil, he is ready to plant each seed in its proper place. The comparatively abundant seed of the dill (or black cummin, "fitches" in the KJV) and the common cummin are used as a spice and on the crust of breads. This seed is scattered carelessly in the fields while the more valuable grain seeds, wheat and barley, are sown more carefully in the middle of the fields. Finally, the coarse, inferior rye seed is sown on the edges of the fields, which give a much lower yield. The farmer does his work carefully, using different methods for the different crops he grows. (Kaiser, Isaiah 13-39, p. 260; IDB 1:843; 2:274.)

"The threshing process also requires careful planning and the correct choice of tools and technique. The dill and cummin seeds are so small that a threshing sledge or cart is inappropriate, since the seeds would be crushed or lost. A stick is used to thresh them (v. 27). The larger and coarser grains require a heavy cart pulled by oxen, horses, or donkeys to separate the seeds from the stems and husks. The cart should not roll over the grain too long, however, or the seeds will be crushed to powder. After the threshing, a mill will eventually be used to grind the grain into flour (v. 28).

"In both the sowing and the threshing, the farmer acts with wisdom taught to man by God (vs. 26, 29). God instructs man correctly through divine counsel and wisdom, which is "wonderful" and "excellent." In other words, the Lord provides the proper instruction so that the farmer may have a successful harvest.

"The key to understanding this parable is the analogy between the farmer's technique and God's plan for "harvesting" souls. God's activities are similarly purposeful, orderly, and discriminating. He cannot spend all of his time preparing the earth for his children; finally he must send them there. As people grow, they must have "threshing" or testing, which differs from person to person. The threshing process suggests three elements about God's plan: (1) sifting the grain from the chaff suggests the separation of the righteous from the wicked; (2) the harshness of the threshing process suggests suffering as a necessary condition for the emergence of good, worthy souls (good, clean grain); and (3) the care of the divine Harvester in dealing with the more precious kinds of grain suggests the particular attention the Lord would give to the house of Israel and those foreordained to special callings. (IB 5:321.) God will not punish (thresh) his children beyond what they deserve. Isaiah emphasizes God's perfect wisdom in sowing and threshing his children until he achieves a full, complete harvest. (See Rom. 11:33; Jacob 4:8-10.)