Isaiah 3 talks about the destruction of Jerusalem, and those prophesies were fulfilled in 587 BC (Babylonians) and 70 AD (Romans). Those prophesies also apply to the millennial day, and it is Isaiah 4 that confirms it.
Many of Isaiah’s prophecies have more than one fulfillment, usually at least one literal fulfillment in that day and time (back then), and at least one spiritual, symbolic fulfillment later on. These other fulfillments always point to Christ, either to His coming the first time as a baby and Messiah or His second coming as King.
The timeline for His return (Revelation 11:2; Daniel 7:25; Revelation 11:3-13; D&C 45:48):
- Coalition of Gentiles will lay siege to Jerusalem for 3.5 years
- Two prophets will hold back the attack by priesthood power
- The two prophets will be killed, and half of Jerusalem will be conquered
- There will be an earthquake
- Before the rest of Jerusalem can be destroyed, the two prophets will resurrect
- The Savior will appear on the Mount of Olives
- The Jews will gather around Him, but He will “withhold His glory” (Hebrews 13:2)
- Someone will notice His wounds, and the people will ask Him
- He will explain (Zechariah 13:6; D&C 45:51-53)
- The Jews will realize the Messiah did come to their ancestors
- The Jews will mourn for 30 days
- There will be a cleansing, and then peace
In the context of 2 Nephi 13 (Isaiah 3) already having its temporal, literal, in-the-day fulfillment, we know to take its symbols into 2 Nephi 14 (Isaiah 4) for the spiritual fulfillment in our day and time. We know 2 Nephi is about these latter-days of the latter-days in which we now live.
So we continue the metaphor of the ladies, as begun in the previous chapter, and we use the symbols of them to understand the people of the last days. We know this is for all people, and not really just about women specifically, because the Lord is using the style of Hebrew poetry to describe His relationship with His covenant people like a marriage relationship. It’s classic language, and meant to describe the covenant people, not just women in general.
So it starts: “And in that day, seven women shall take hold of one man, saying: We will eat our own bread, and wear our own apparel; only let us be called by thy name to take away our reproach” (verse 1).
These women (symbolizing the covenant people) are humbled by their situation (the state of the world at the time, the environment over which they have no choice, and their life experiences resulting from the choices they did make).
The man is a groom, and symbolizes the Lord.
The women are brides-to-be, and symbolize people in process of choosing the covenant. Not just born into it, and not just knowing the covenant, but in process of doing the work to become covenant people.
For the literal interpretation, I love these women because they are industrious and able (and willing) to provide for their own needs. They are self-reliant! They are self-reliant physically, financially, and emotionally. They love the man, but also can take care of themselves. It is an interdependent relationship where they appreciate and care for him without being clingy or dependent in an unhealthy way. They are not all whiny and needy and bothering the man; they are simply being obedient and taking care of business. And the man loves her for it (see Isaiah 54). These women, in that day, will know how to do what is right because it is right, and love him for it and love their task, without all the crazy trauma-drama of our day. It will be different, somehow. There is a footnote in Isaiah that indicates that then, in those last-days of the last-days, social perceptions will be so different than now. So much so, that women (of the covenant) will be “reproached” for not being married or having children. Being married and having children will mean more to them than anything else, so much that they will be willing and able and prepared to provide for themselves and their children without depending on him to do it for them. Their marital status will be according to the laws of God (the Law of Sarah reinstated), and not the laws of men as we know them today.
But, back to the spiritual interpretation and historical context of the people in Isaiah’s time, what has happened to these ladies, or, rather, to those who should be the covenant people, is that they are not acting like it. The ladies should be married, but they are not. The covenant people should be within the covenant, but they are not – because they have been unfaithful (worshipping idols).
2 Nephi 12:12-13 describes how false idols did not give any real protection, and so the people who worshiped them or depended on them were destroyed.
Through this experience, the covenant people realize that false idols – depending on people and things instead of God – offered no help at all (2 Nephi 13:18).
So now, in this first verse of Isaiah 4, the daughters of Zion – the covenant people – are humbled as they ask to be married again, as they do the work of choosing the covenant.
This could be us anywhere on the continuum. It could be us remembering to go back and sit down and read our scriptures, or crawling into bed only to get back out because we forgot to get on our knees first. It could be the reunion and healing of friends becoming at-one again. It could be serious repentance, public or private, and the humility that comes through that process. Regardless, it is cleansing. Cleansing enough to lead to at-one-ness again.
“In that day shall the branch of the Lord be beautiful and glorious… And it shall come to pass, they… shall be called holy… When the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion” (verses 2-4).
When Isaiah says “the branch of the Lord”, it also implies there are other branches that make up the tree! This is huge! Abraham’s blessings apply to the twelve tribes of Ishmael as much as the twelve tribes of Isaac. We know that there were “other righteous men” like Abraham who also obtained the same promises for their children. Thinking bigger than just cousins, we know that the “branch that runs over the wall” (Genesis 49:22) refers to the wall of water, meaning those who came to America. Thinking even bigger, than just countries, we know this is only one planet of many blessed with those same promises.
Also, if we were reading this in Hebrew, it would indicate new growth. Not just other growth, but new growth. If we go back to the awesome ladies of the last days, the industrious ones willing to take care of business just to raise their children, this would also have the layer of meaning that the children born to these ladies will be “glorious and beautiful”.
This concept seems confirmed by the next verses where it says the “fruit of the earth” will be “excellent and comely”, and seems to refer also to when the Earth is renewed, and again as it was meant to be. This seems confirmed in Isaiah 10:2, where it talks about the “escape” of Israel, meaning that they have been released from some great captivity.
“And it shall come to pass” means that it will. We must have faith that it will. He promised. It is His work and glory to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of all of us, and He has promised He will do that work. So we must humble ourselves enough to submit to Him enough to let Him do that work. When we do, He gets credit for bringing about the work (because we could not do it, only He can do it), and so in this way it adds to His glory. Our progression is also His progression. He leads us to become more like Him, while also constantly leading the way ahead of us.
It is like me and my mother. I could work to finish high school like she did, but by the time I did, she had already moved on. So I could then work to finish college like she did, but by then she had already moved on. So I could then work to finish grad school, but by then she had already moved on. She leads the way, and even as we grow close together, she is still ahead of me. She will always be my mother. No matter how much progress I make, I can never catch up to her. She will always be my mother, and no amount of progress changes that. But I can “inherit” my own Emily World by doing what she showed me how to do, like staying in school and getting an education.
Then, in verse three, when it says they “shall be called holy”, it means “set apart”. It means physically and spiritually distinct from the world around them. They are changed, separated, set apart, made holy. This is the becoming a people of the covenant; this is becoming the House of the Lord (Holiness to the Lord).
He is the one who cleanses us so that we may be made holy.
It is the Great Exchange of Isaiah 22, where we nail up our sins and transgressions and all that is in us that is not of God. Then the Savior does the work of the atonement, which is threefold:
1.) To cleanse us of that which is not of God;
2.) To “cut off” or remove the curse we brought upon ourselves because of those things; and
3.) To replace that with His righteousness.
This righteousness develops in us further through obedience, by the power of the Holy Spirit who does sanctify us and refine us, always through correction and instruction and guidance.
“by the spirit of judgment and by the spirit of burning” (verse 4).
We can either use the spirit of judgment before we make choices, and use it to make good ones, or we can experience it after the choice, as part of the remorse and/or consequences of our sins (either from within or from the judgment of others).
We can either sense the burning in our hearts when the Spirit is trying to teach us, correct us, or guide us, or we can sense the burning in our hearts after choices that cause us to burn with guilt or remorse. Either way, there will be burning.
Remember, too, that D&C 85:3 says the the only way to be prepared for the literal burning is to be qualified by being full-tithe payers (see also D&C 64:23).
So to be made holy, we must be made humble. We can either do this ourselves by giving God credit where it is due, or He can do it for us through external circumstances. We must also feel sorrow for sin, either vicariously through Scripture study (and so then not sinning, in effort to avoid the consequences we read about), or through experience following sinful choices we make. But then we see that not only is God “big enough” to cleanse us from all sin, but also there is power in making and keeping sacred covenants that protect us from evil (externally – from others against us, as well as internally – us making poor choices). All of this sets us apart, or makes us holy, so that we can become His people, His covenant people. Holiness to the Lord, the House of the Lord.
“And the Lord will create upon every dwelling-place of mount Zion, and upon her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day and the shining of a flaming fire by night; for upon all the glory of Zion shall be a defense” (verse 5).
This is Temple language!
Go back to this chapter using the symbolic language of marriage to describe the covenant relationship between the Lord and His people (see Ex. 19:5). As we enter a covenant relationship with Him (by LIVING it, not just going through the Temple once), we become a “holy people” (Deut. 14:2). We see this over and over again in the Old Testament, with the Hebrew qadosh (meaning holy) and another is hasid (meaning godly). In the New Testament it is the Greek hagios (meaning holy). As we choose Him, He does the work of making us holy. Then, as we offer ourselves to the Lord (Holiness to the Lord), we become His people (the House of the Lord).
So then read this verse again:
“And the Lord will create upon every dwelling place of mount Zion”
(at every place there is a Temple)
“and upon her assemblies”
(and at every meetinghouse, or, every time a ward gathers)
“the Lord will create… a cloud and smoke by day and the shining of a flaming fire by night…”
(His presence! This is the SHECKINAH!) (CLICK HERE).
This verse is again both temporal and spiritual.
The temporal promise is that every ward building is built after the pattern of the Temple, and so could quickly and easily be changed into one, even dedicated and consecrated as a Temple.
The spiritual promise is that when we “gather” at the Temple, or attend our ward meetings, He promises to bless us with His presence!
Remember that next time you have some lame-o speaker that isn’t skilled in speaking or making any sense. Turn off your murmuring heart, hush your lips, and just listen – let the Spirit speak to your spirit. It’s a promise.
But not only that!
Not only does He promise to bless us with His presence, but He promises that in that presence, we will receive guidance and instruction!
“upon all the glory of Zion shall be a defense”
His glory has already been defined as our immortality and eternal life, and we know that our participating (by making good choices and doing what He asks) is what accomplishes this (by our willingness to participate in the Great Exchange that He provides).
So our good choices (doing what He asks) actually do protect us!
This is amazing.
But still, there is more.
All things are both temporal and spiritual, and that is the temporal.
The spiritual lesson in the verse relates to D&C 124 and where Temples are built.
Temples are for our protection!
Making and keeping sacred covenants, and living in that way, offers both physical and spiritual protection.
But so does the Temple itself.
“And there shall be a tabernacle for a shadow in the daytime from the heat, and a place of refuge, and a cover storm and from rain” (verse 6).
The literal and physical fulfillment of this will be a return of the mantel that covered the Earth before the great flood. This mantle protected the Earth from the sun and the stormy weather cycle we know today. When it was removed after the flood, the first rainbows appeared (see Genesis 9:8-17 and this essay on 2 Nephi 17 that explains the signs and tokens of the covenant). When the mantle is returned, there will be no more rainbows (History of the Church 5:402, 6:254).
The spiritual fulfillment is the rest and protection that we experience when we go to the Temple, and when we live in such a way that we are keeping the sacred covenants we make there. But there will also come a time when it offers us physical protection as well. And while protecting us, He – as sheckinah – will also guide us.
He promises to show us the way, to lead us there back to His presence, even making possible a way for us to do all that is required of us to get there.
It’s a promise.