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Isaiah 56:1–8 The Nations Are Welcomed to God’s Covenant
All who keep God’s commandments are invited to receive His covenant and to worship in His temples. This invitation extends to the house of Israel, the “foreigner” (those outside of Israel’s bloodline), and the eunuch (those denied full fellowship with the Israelites according to the law of Moses [Leviticus 21:17–23; Deuteronomy 23:1–2]). This section places great emphasis on worshipping at God’s temples, as the following terms indicate: “My House” (twice), “My walls,” “hand and a name,” “everlasting name,” (56:5), “My covenant,” (56:6), “My Holy Mountain,” “House of Prayer,” “burnt offerings,” “sacrifices,” “altar,” and “House of Prayer” (56:7). In sum, during the last days, everyone on earth is invited to become part of covenant Israel by partaking of the gospel’s glorious blessings, and to worship at God’s holy temples (see also 2:1–4). Each and every temple is, indeed, “a House of Prayer for all peoples” (56:7).
foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord. “Foreigner” here is a technical term (nekhar in Biblical Hebrew), meaning one who is not part of the house of Israel. The meaning is clear—in the last days, all will be invited to partake of the gospel’s blessings (see also Ephesians 2:19). eunuch. An emasculated man, who, therefore, cannot beget children. Under the law of Moses, eunuchs were denied full fellowship with the Israelites (Leviticus 21:17–23; Deuteronomy 23:1–2). Eunuchs, like foreigners, will receive the full blessings of the gospel in the last days if they keep God’s commandments. I am a dry tree. A eunuch, like a dry tree, cannot bear fruit (have children). But faithful eunuchs will receive the Abrahamic covenant, which includes the promise of endless seed. Perhaps a eunuch also symbolizes one who has lost purpose in life or that God cannot bless him.
I will give to them in My House . . . a hand and a name. Both the hand and the name are significant components of sacred ritual in the Lord’s temples (Doctrine and Covenants 88:119–120; 130:11). My House. God’s house is His temple.
My Holy Mountain . . . My House of Prayer. God’s temple is called a “Holy Mountain” and the “House of Prayer” (see Psalm 27:4; Matthew 21:13; Doctrine and Covenants 109:16). House of Prayer for all peoples. God’s temples are for all who accept His covenants and obey His commandments.
I will gather others to it. God will gather many other people and nations to the temple, in addition to those who have already gathered.
Isaiah 56:9–12; 57:1–13a Israel’s Gross Wickedness
The Lord (and His prophet Isaiah) uses harsh words against Israel for its gross and repulsive wickedness. He first speaks to Israel’s leaders (56:9–12) and then to Israel’s people (57:3–13). He employs a variety of symbols, poetic parallelisms, and rhetorical questions to teach and enlighten us, the readers. He first compares Israel’s leaders to worthless watchmen, then to dogs, then to inept shepherds.
All beasts of the field, come to eat. The beasts likely refer to foreign nations that will invade Israel (see also Jeremiah 12:9). They will devour or destroy Israel, and God will permit this destruction, because of Israel’s wickedness.
watchmen are all of them blind. The watchmen are Israel’s leaders who were supposed to protect Israel—from approaching armies and from apostasy. But the leaders were blind—spiritually blind—and they failed to warn Israel. See also Ezekiel’s teachings of the watchmen (Ezekiel 33:2–6). they are all mute dogs. . . . The dogs have a mighty appetite. Isaiah compares Israel’s leaders to watch dogs that “cannot bark” to warn the people against the approaching enemy, which is wickedness. Therefore, the leaders are like “mute [watch] dogs”; also, the leaders are “dreaming . . . loving to slumber” (they are lazy), and “they never have enough” (they are greedy). See also 2 Nephi 28:3–9 and Mormon 8:31–33.
shepherds . . . turned their own way, each to his own gain. Isaiah compares Israel’s leaders to shepherds who do not care for their flocks; rather, they (the shepherds) are chiefly concerned about themselves and their own gain.
Come, let me take wine. . . . Tomorrow will be like today, or even better. The wicked leaders utter these words; this philosophical approach is similar to the saying “Eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (22:13; see also 2 Nephi 28:7–8).
no one understands that the righteous man is taken away from evil. In the midst of the scathing words against the wicked, Isaiah teaches an important doctrine regarding the state of the righteous, who die and are removed from evil; they “enter into peace” and find rest in the spirit world. He will enter into peace. Contrast this statement with 57:21.
The Lord speaks to the wicked using searing words. He enumerates their iniquities—gross sexual immorality, including adultery, prostitution, and carnal acts (57:3–4, 5, 8, 11), sorcery, belittling others, telling lies (57:4, 11), forgetting the Lord (57:11), false temple worship (57:6–7, 9), child sacrifice (57:5), and idolatry (57:12). In sum, Israel had committed spiritual adultery against their God. For powerful descriptions of spiritual adultery, see Ezekiel 16:1–63 and 23:1–49.
children of the sorceress, offspring of the adulterer and the prostitute. The Lord speaks symbolically—“children of the sorceress” and “offspring of the adulterer/prostitute” meant that Israel was greatly influenced by the sorceress (and also the adulterer and the prostitute) and her environment and practices. The wording is similar to the expression “She is a child of the sixties,” meaning that she was influenced by the 1960s.
Against whom are you making sport? Ultimately, against God Himself.
You burn with lust among the oaks. This refers to the evil fertility rites and apostate practices in the groves and high places. These rites sometimes included child sacrifice.
drink offering/cereal offering. Israel presented these offerings to idols rather than at God’s temple (Leviticus 6:14–18).
high and lofty mountain you have set your bed. “Mountain” here refers to false temple worship; “bed” implies sexual sins.
made wide your bed . . . their nakedness. Israel had enlarged its bed to include many others in the evil rituals that pertain to immoral sexual acts.
nakedness. The Hebrew word is yad (“hand”), which here is a euphemism for “nakedness.”
You journeyed to Molech. Molech was a false god of the Canaanite religion. you sent your envoys far away and sent them down, even to Sheol. Israel had sent envoys great distances to search out idols and false deities, even to Sheol, or the world of spirits.
groups of idols. The Hebrew reads qibbutz, literally “collection” or “assemblage,” but some commentators hold that the text implies a collection of idols, so “of idols” is added to the translation. the wind will lift all of them; a breath will take them away. Israel worshipped a variety of idols, but in the end the idols will be destroyed as easily as the blowing wind rustles the leaves of a tree or as one breathes.
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