In chapters 13-23, Isaiah predicts the rise and fall of nine different kingdoms. All of this has already come true and happened as he predicted. All these apply to us in our day, also, we must remember.
The first two chapters (13 and 14) are devoted to the rise and fall of Babylon. Babylon is the country that finally conquered Assyria after Assyria had conquered Syria, Israel, and Judah. Babylon was mostly under King Nebuchadnezzar (think Daniel and the Lion’s Den, and also Ezekiel the Prophet), and he is the one who destroyed Solomon’s Temple (“the First temple”) in 587 B.C. Babylon ruled until being conquered by the Persians, who literally invaded overnight. Isaiah named Cyrus as their leader 175 years before Cyrus was born (Isaiah 44:28; 45:1). Cyrus was aware of this story, and allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem in 538 B.C. Unlike the Assyrian king before him, Cyrus honored God the best he knew how and so the Lord promised to bless him (verse 3).
Isaiah’s “burden” in this chapter (verse 1) is a burden of a message. It is the prophecy that he carries to the people. It is the message he delivers to the people from the Lord. This burden-message is notice that judgment has been declared, and the consequences are in process of unfolding. It is like the judge reading out the sentence at the end of a trial, excepting that the Lord is always inviting us to repentance – that’s why He sends the messenger, the prophet, instead of just carrying out the sentence right away. He always – because He has promised to do so – He always sends a prophet to warn us before judgment comes.
Notice also that the Lord reveals this to the prophet in open vision. It is not a whispering of the Spirit or quiet revelation. Isaiah did see what was going to happen.
This is Isaiah doing his prophet-ness, giving the final warning to the people.
And it is gruesome.
It reminds me of the second to the last paragraph of the Family Proclamation, in which the Prophet and Apostles declare:
We warn that individuals who violate covenants of chastity, who abuse spouse or offspring, or who fail to fulfill family responsibilities will one day stand accountable before God. Further, we warn that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets.
That is a “burden”.
That is a burden-message which says, if you don’t repent, it’s gonna get ugly.
And we are seeing already, how as “the world” escalates, so do the consequences or “calamities”. This is why we have a Prophet who warns us, waiting for us to repent and return to being at-one with our Heavenly Father as made possible by the atonement.
Here in verse 1, Isaiah is giving the burden, the message, to the people that while they (Syria and Israel v. Judah and Assyria) are squabbling amongst themselves instead of being at-one with the Savior by being at-one with each other, all of them are going to be destroyed by Babylon. Their power plays are illusions, and their political gains are waste. Time is up, and all of them are going to lose.
This is their last chance (verse 2).
A “banner” was a standard or symbol of the King. The “high mountain” is the Temple. So we have the standard (symbols and tokens and signs and laws) being lifted in the Temple, raised up and acknowledged. Then a voice that exalts unto them and shakes their hand, so “that they may go into the gates of the nobles”.
The nobles are us, we who were premortally prepared for the covenants and ordinances required for us to return to our Heavenly Parents (Abraham 3:22-23).
The gates are like the old city gates, the place where the community met and judgments of court were held. It is not actually inside the palace, and not actually where the King lives. The gates are not doors or gates as we think of them, but a series of rooms in which cultural and judicial preparation was made in order to qualify to actually enter the great hall where the king’s throne sat.
This is a gathering of His people, a gathering of His house.
It is not just a gathering of His people, but a selection of determining exactly which people are His, the judgment of who gets to petition the King in His actual presence. It is the place where civil matters were settled, where people of different classes could mingle amongst each other, and where contracts were signed and business completed and marriages arranged.
But the gathering in the gates is still preparatory for actually entering the king’s presence.
And there will be a great noise, a “noise of the multitude in the mountains”, as His people are gathered and celebrating and rejoicing.
But there is also purpose in the gathering. The purpose to gather in the city gates is to protect the kingdom itself, or to request permission to enter it. Those who enter are a part of its protection, and here the Lord is using his prophet to call His people to battle (verse 3). The city is the kingdom of Holiness, and His people are those righteous saints who testify of it and sacrifice all to establish it, develop it, and defend it (verse 4; see also Zephaniah 3:8).
He calls them now to deliver the justice that those not-of-Holiness have chosen instead of mercy (verse 5).
Those who are not His covenant people will be warned, are being warned now. The consequences, calamities, and disasters promised for the latter-days are happening now. It has already started. “Howl ye, for the day of the Lord is at hand” (verse 6).
The “day of the Lord” always means the Latter-days. So we know Isaiah knew that he was talking about our time, not just the destruction of Assyria by Babylon.
The Lord’s people need not be afraid, but those who are not His covenant people shall “be faint, every man’s heart shall melt” (verse 7). “And they shall be afraid; pangs and sorrows shall take hold of them; they shall be amazed one at another; their faces shall be as flames” (verse 8).
These flames are the lightning-fires of Elijah.
This is the same lightning-fire that will “destroy the sinners therefore out of ” the earth (verse 9).
This is different than becoming part of the Light-fire, the sheckinah of the Lord’s presence.
This is being destroyed by it rather than becoming it (see also D&C 29:14-21).
These are our choices: become the Light or be destroyed by its fire.
Even the universe is a part of His creation, and testifies of Him, and so will be released from their mission-of-testimony when the people reject that testimony (verse 10). The worlds will be moved back to their places (verse 13; see also D&C 34:8-9; D&C 49:23).
Brigham Young said (JoD 17:143) (see also Abraham 3:9 and 5:13):
When the earth was framed and brought into existence and man placed upon it, it was near the throne of our Father in heaven. And when man fell… the earth fell into space, and took up its abode in this planetary system, and the sun became our light… This is the glory the earth came from, and when it is glorified, it will return again unto the presence of the father.
The earth will not just return to its place, but it will be moved quickly. It will move so quickly that as it speeds through the universe, that it will seem the stars are falling from the sky as we pass them (verse 14; see also D&C 88:87).
This will be the sign that the people have rejected their opportunity to repent, and that they have chosen justice instead of mercy (verse 11). It will be such an intense experience that many will not survive (verse 14). Many will have fear-based responses that cause them to act out, even attacking their own families (verse 15). Few will act in faith and prepare for their meeting our Heavenly Parents again.
This is why the worth of souls is great (D&C 18:10), and why people are precious (verse 12). It’s not because we are so awesome that God really thinks we are valuable in and of ourselves. That’s not it at all. It’s that there are so few of us who truly follow Him, that we are of great value because of our rarity (Isaiah 24:6). Like precious stones, our value comes from our purity, and it is a rare treasure to find a pure stone that makes a rock a diamond – and diamonds only can be made under great heat and pressure (see this Girls Camp talk!).
Isaiah then goes on to describe not only the destruction and scattering that will come when Assyria takes over, but also the horrific scene of Babylon taking over (verse 16-19). This is the degree of heat and pressure now required to purify the Israelites. The same threat looms over us, for how many of these same traits exist in our day?
- people being “hunted” (objectified and idolized) (verse 14);
- people in crisis just because no one has cared for or guided them (verse 14);
- people turned to “protecting our own” instead of serving others (verse 14);
- people working for their own “inheritance” (savings, benefits) and so choosing careers based on what is necessary rather than what they have to offer (verse 14);
- people “stabbed in the back” instead of loved and cared for (verse 15);
- people who gossip and betray experiencing that karma of having a bad reputation for doing so (verse 15);
- children neglected, abandoned, and abused right in front of or even by their parents and families and neighbors (verse 16);
- families “plundered” and spoiled, ruined by the devastating effects of “war” in the home, destroyed by contention, with health and happiness stolen by divorce and development disrupted and delayed by chaos, addiction, and lack of attachment (verse 16);
- men in bondage to pornography, video games, and work addictions (verse 16; Nahum 3:10);
- women raped, wives swayed through inappropriate emotional attachments, and the mocking of marriage ordinances (verse 16);
- money being no help, finances in crisis, and families in debt (verse 17);
- young men corrupted before they reach adulthood, development of young men interrupted before missions, worthiness of young men destroyed before they can make temple covenants (verse 18);
- abortion (verse 18); and
- people choosing addictions even over custody of their children (verse 18).
Verse 17 jumps back to Babylon, where the children were literally dashed to pieces (verse 18), and the cities really were destroyed as completely as Sodom and Gomorrah had been (verse 19). No one would live there again (verse 20) except wild animals (verse 21).
Yet to those who repent, He will be merciful (see 2 Nephi 23:22).
It’s a promise.