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Isaiah 1 The Vision of Isaiah–Introduction
Isaiah was God’s seer and prophet (37:2; 38:1; 39:3), who prophesied and ministered during the reigns of the four kings of Judah identified in this verse. Isaiah prophesied concerning “Judah and Jerusalem” and indeed the entire house of Israel (1 Nephi 19:24; 2 Nephi 6:5; 3 Nephi 23:2). He also prophesied concerning many other nations (see also chapters 13–23).
he saw. The Hebrew verb here (chzh) means “see in a vision.” Isaiah, the Seer, actually saw in vision many of the items that are written in his book. Joseph Smith spoke of Isaiah and other ancients and taught that their great visions came after they had received the Second Comforter (Teachings, 151).
Isaiah 1:2–5a God Charges Israel for Its Sins
God charges Israel for its various sins, including rebellion (1:2) and abandoning and despising Him (1:4). He calls Israel “children” (1:2; as does Isaiah 1:4) and compares them, through implication, to two brute beasts of burden—an ox and an ass (1:3). Brute beasts of burden rely on their master to feed and care for them, but even the beasts recognize their owners, though Israel does not know their master, the Lord. This section, like most of Isaiah’s writings, contains several beautifully articulated parallelisms.
Hear, O heavens! And give ear, O earth! Isaiah’s message is directed to both heaven and earth, or, rather, the inhabitants of heaven and earth (see also 49:13). Why? “Because the Lord has spoken!” (see also Doctrine and Covenants 76:1). rebelled. (Hebrew psh‘) also means “to transgress.”
Israel. The word Israel, which occurs 92 times in Isaiah, may refer to (1) the descendants of Jacob (Jacob was renamed Israel), (2) the political/religious entity of the ancient inhabitants of the Northern and Southern Kingdoms (the Israelites), or (3) to the Lord’s covenant people (hence, note the parallelism, “Israel . . . my people”).
Woe! The declaration woe is uttered against the wicked. people burdened with iniquity. This phrase expresses an eternal law: those who commit iniquity are carrying a burden. nation/people/offspring/children. Isaiah uses these four synonymous terms for ancient Israel and then pairs them with four synonymous words for wickedness—“sins,” “iniquity,” “evildoers,” and “corrupt.” abandon/despise/turned back. These three expressions set forth the normal outcome of those who commit wickedness—they “abandon” the Lord, they “despise” Him, and they turn their backs on Him. “abandon” (Hebrew ‘zv) can also read “forsaken.”
With these two questions, Isaiah employs an effective teaching technique called interrogating, or questioning, in order to drive home a point.
Isaiah 1:5b–9 Israel’s Spiritually Sick Condition: The People (1:5b–6) and the Land (1:7–9)
This section continues with the Lord addressing Israel’s spiritually sick condition.
The Lord uses several terms that describe a physically sick individual—“sick,” “diseased,” “no healthy part,” “wound,” “slash,” “blow”—but symbolically, He is referring to Israel’s spiritually sick condition. head/heart. The heart is the seat of love and the head is the faculty of understanding and reasoning. In their spiritually sick condition, ancient Israel had lost their love and their reasoning powers.
Israel’s land and cities have been destroyed because of the inhabitants’ wickedness.
daughter of Zion. Refers to Jerusalem and its inhabitants (Lamentations 1:6–8; 2:10; Zechariah 9:9). The great city of Jerusalem was wholly and completely destroyed so that she is now more like a “hut” or “temporary shelter in a cucumber field.”
Lord of Hosts. This important title occurs sixty-two times in Isaiah. Hosts generally refers to God’s angels—He is the Lord of a great multitude of angels. Lord of Hosts, here, and elsewhere, can also be translated “Lord of Armies,” referring to the Lord’s armies of angels. we would have been like Sodom. The speaker here—covenant Israel—compares herself to the ancient twin cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, which were destroyed centuries earlier because of their wickedness.
Isaiah 1:10–15 Condemnation against Israel’s Apostate Temple Practices
The Lord continues to speak against Israel and its great sins. In this section, He condemns Israel for its apostate temple practices. Temple terms in these verses include “sacrifices,” “burnt offerings,” “fat,” “blood,” “courts,” “offerings,” “incense,” “new moon,” “sacred assembly,” “festivals,” and “spreading forth your palms.” Israel was going through the motions of temple worship, but their worship was meaningless and empty, certainly not with pure hearts and righteous intent. Therefore, the Lord did not accept their offerings.
Sodom/Gomorrah. Isaiah compares Israel to the ancient people who inhabited Sodom and Gomorrah, cities that were destroyed because of gross wickedness.
burnt offerings . . . goats. A reference to the temple and its various sacrifices.
come to see My face. (Hebrew r’h, “to see”). One significant goal of temple worship was to see God’s face. Moses taught this doctrine to Israel but they “hardened their hearts and could not endure [God’s] presence” (Doctrine and Covenants 84:22–27). to trample my courts. Rather than walk uprightly and with respect in God’s holy temple courts, Israel was trampling (Hebrew rms) with disrespect. At His second coming, the Lord will symbolically “trample” (Hebrew rms) the wicked (63:3).
In these verses, the Lord poses two rhetorical questions; questioning is a significant way to teach gospel truths.
it is an abomination to Me. Elsewhere in the Old Testament, abomination (Hebrew to‘evah) is used to refer to a man lying with a man (Leviticus 18:22; 20:13), sacrificing animals with blemishes (Deuteronomy 17:1); donating the wages of prostitution to the temple (Deuteronomy 23:19), sacrificing children (Deuteronomy 12:31), idolatry (Deuteronomy7:25; 13:15), and participating in various occult activities (Deuteronomy 18:9–14).
spread forth your palms. This sacred gesture, in the ancient temple setting, signifies prayer—hence the second line of the parallelism reads, “when you pray much.” Your hands are full of blood. After “full of blood,” one of the Dead Sea Isaiah scrolls reads, “your fingers with iniquity.” Scholars are divided as to whether these additional words belonged to Isaiah’s original text or were added by a scribe centuries later.
Isaiah 1:16–20 Israel Commanded to Repent and Cleanse Itself
Because the Israelites were in a spiritually sick condition (1:5–9) and a state of apostasy (1:10–15), God commanded them to repent and become clean. In this section, He uses nine command forms: “wash,” “purify,” “remove,” “stop,” “learn,” “seek,” “make,” “administer,” and “argue.” The forms work together to direct Israel to repent and to become spiritually clean.
The imperatives “wash” and “purify” speak to the temple system and “seek justice,” “administer justice,” and “argue the case” nuance the legal system. The Lord is directing His people to become temple worthy and to fix the broken legal system, especially as it pertains to those who were socially helpless.
Isaiah employs four similes, introduced with like or as, to make a point of comparison between sins, four colors (scarlet, white, red, and crimson), and the substances snow and wool, which are both also white.
let us reason together. Compare Doctrine and Covenants 50:10–12. “reason together” is technically a legal term in the Hebrew (ykhch), as if the Lord is calling the people to court. scarlet/red/crimson. Three colors on a similar spectrum of colors, all denoting sins and human blood. Contrast Christ’s perfect blood, which turns our red-like sins into the color of white.
In these two verses, God grants His people the choice between the Atonement and the sword. For a stylistic effect, the Lord uses the same verbal root in a wordplay, eat and eaten, in the parallelism—the obedient “will eat (Hebrew ’kl) the good things of the land”; the rebellious “will be eaten” (Hebrew ’kl) by the sword. Doctrine and Covenants 64:34 cites Isaiah 1:19: “The willing and obedient shall eat the good of the land of Zion in these last days.” obedient. The Hebrew shm‘ literally means “to hear.” “To hear in Hebrew also means to obey. sword. Symbolic of various weapons of war.
Isaiah 1:21–24a Lament for the Inhabitants of Jerusalem
Isaiah laments that Jerusalem’s inhabitants have committed gross sins and injustices and have become like dross and watered-down wine.
How. The word how (Hebrew ’ykh) here introduces a lament, similar to those in the book of Lamentations (see Lamentations 1:1; 2:1). Thus Isaiah, in the present passage, is lamenting for Jerusalem.
With strong words, Isaiah disparages the great city of Jerusalem (and its inhabitants). He compares it to a prostitute and refers to its murderers, rebels, and thieves. Furthermore, Jerusalem ignores the essential needs of both orphans and widows. prostitute. This may refer to actual prostitution, as well as to the immoral character of Jerusalem’s inhabitants.
Note that the three your pronouns (your silver, your wine, your rulers) refer back to Jerusalem.
Vindicating widows and orphans is part of the repentance process (see 1:17); and caring for orphans and widows constitutes pure religion (James 1:27).
Isaiah 1:24b–31 Zion to Be Redeemed, the Wicked Destroyed
In verses 24–26, the Lord presents four parallelisms; key synonymous expressions of the four are “My adversaries/ /My enemies; dross/ /slag; judges as at the first/ /counselors as at the beginning; City of Righteousness/ /Faithful Town. This section will find one fulfillment in the latter-days. On this see Joseph Smith, Teachings, 76, 92–93, 329.
Isaiah here and elsewhere presents multiple titles of God when he introduces a new revelation. The titles reveal different aspects of God’s character and disposition. the Lord, the Lord. “Lord” in lower case letters and “Lord” in upper case letters are two different words in Hebrew. “Lord” (Hebrew ’adon) denotes one who have power or authority over others; ’adon can also be translated “master.” “Lord” (Hebrew yhwh) is the name Jehovah in English (I am simplifying this). Mighty One of Israel. “Mighty One” (Hebrew ’br) denotes one who is both extremely strong and powerful. My adversaries/My enemies. The Lord’s enemies are those referred to in verses 23–24, which includes “rebels” and those do who do not properly assist the orphans and widows.
The Lord addresses Zion; He will cleanse and purify Zion, as dross (or waste) is removed from molten metal and as slag (stony waste matter) is separated from ore as it is smelting. avenge me of My enemies. (see Doctrine and Covenants 101:58; 103:35).
Joseph Smith taught that this verse has fulfillment in the period of the Restoration and the gathering of Israel, “when the Lord will restore His judges as at the first, and His counselors as at the beginning . . . when the city of righteousness shall be built.” (Teachings, 92–93). For the term “judge in Israel” see Doctrine and Covenants 107:72, 76.
Zion will be redeemed. See also Doctrine and Covenants 100:13. repentant ones. The Hebrew shwv denotes both “to return” and “to repent”; therefore, when we return to God, we are repentant.
Oaks and gardens were places where false gods were worshipped, but unrepentant idol worshippers and others would become the very thing that they worshipped. Verse 30 states, “You will be as an oak whose leaf withers, and as a garden without water.” A withered leaf and a waterless garden are valueless. Perhaps there is a reference here to Jesus Christ, who is the living waters—those who are wicked lack the living waters that only Jesus can provide.
strong one will be as tinder/his work as a spark. The evil person, although strong physically, is symbolically tinder (dry, highly flammable material), and his evil work is symbolically the spark that will burn him up.
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