After the judgments in the last chapter, the consequences for those who do not choose to become covenant people, it is great relief and deep comfort to read of the mercy that comes to those who do choose to become covenant people – by being born into the covenant, through personal conversion as one grows up in the church, or adult converts (“strangers” in verse 1).
“For the Lord will have mercy on Jacob, and will yet choose Israel” (verse 1). Here, of course, the names Jacob and Israel are symbolic of the covenant, and so this promise of mercy is for all who are of the covenant.
The promises in verse two have both temporal and spiritual meaning. It is a promise that these scattered people will one day be gathered again, and it is a promise that this entire experience of being scattered and then gathered is a type of our mortality. We had to leave the presence of our Heavenly Father to come to earth for mortality, but He promises to gather us back home again. He promises. That promise is His part of the covenant; our part is to keep up our end of the deal, to keep our promises, to behave like covenant people.
It’s like when you drop off children at school, and expect them to follow your rules until they get home again, even though they are away from home.
Heavenly Father has dropped us off at school, and expects us to behave the same as we would if we were still at home in His presence.
Isaiah says that the Jews will have help returning to Israel, that other nations will help them physically return to Israel (verse 2). In our dispensation, this was fulfilled with the British Mandate securing actual land and organizing the literal return of the Jews to Israel.
Each time the Jewish people repent and turn to the Lord, their good behavior so draws “Gentiles” toward them and their plan of happiness that many converts come with them. Each time Israel was restored to their land, many converts came with them. This is further evidence of the gathering. See 2 Nephi 24:2 for a more complete translation.
Note also that there are two lands of promise (Palestine and America). Israel is promised peace (verse 3). He promises that the persecutions and oppressions of mortality will come to an end, that the hard part of mortality will finish. This, again, is both temporal and spiritual, with many layers to it.
Primarily, when we are acting like the covenant people we are, He does lighten our load and help us even on the hard days. He wants us to have peace and joy. He wants us to enjoy life. He does not take away the hard parts of life because we need these experiences to progress; however, He does lighten the load of it so that we might more easily bear it.
There is also the layer of the reign of peace the Lord will bring with Him when He returns following the calamities and increased catastrophes of the last days.
“And it shall come to pass in that day that the Lord shall give thee rest, from thy sorrow, and from thy fear, and from the hard bondage wherein thou was made to serve” (verse 3).
He knows we have hard days. He knows mortality is not easy.
That’s part of the plan. It serves a purpose to teach us and shape us. The more we submit to that plan, the more shape-able and teach-able we are. The more teachable we are, the more joy we find even in those hard lessons, and the more peace we have as we experience them – even in the midst of those very hard days.
He promises Israel that Babylon will not win, even though Israel will very nearly be destroyed and certainly will be scattered. The people will say, “How hath the oppressor ceased!” (verse 4), and they will rejoice in their freedom. Wicked rulers (verse 5) and unrighteous governments will no longer oppress the people (verse 6).
“The whole earth is at rest, and is quiet; they break forth into singing” (verse 7).
Why are the people singing? Because the evil ones have been overthrown, and shown for fools.
The layers here are tricky. The cypress or fir trees are the hard wood representing stubborn-ness and reluctance to acknowledge what is wrong (so therefore slow to repent). The cedars are old and tall trees, representing false traditions passed down. If you go back to Isaiah 9, there is this message of what was nourishing (fig trees) being replaced by what is impressive (cedars). Later in Isaiah 44, the prophet will describe what fools the people are for worshiping idols (verse 13) carved out of the same wood used to make the axe that chopped down the trees (verse 12).
But when the fools have learned their lessons (we are all fools), and when the people have turned to Him, we will all together rejoice in the atonement as we are transformed for our foolish selves into righteous children of holiness.
When Cyrus of Babylon fell, it says that hosts of the dead rose to meet him who had sent so many to an early grave (verse 9), and that even then they will be astonished that he had lost and were as weak as they are (verse 10). The mighty warrior king will be deceased, with his body food for worms (verse 11).
This reminds Isaiah of another time when the people rejoiced at the overthrow of evil. Isaiah recalls now the story of how Lucifer got kicked out of Heaven for trying to steal the glory from God:
“How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! Art thou cut down to the ground, which did weaken the nations! For thou has said in thy heart: I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the Most High. Yet though shalt be brought down to hell…” (verses 12-15).
When Lucifer loses his power, so does his illusion of a kingdom fall apart, like a mirage that fades away. The people will wonder how such an illusion had them so shaken (verse 16) and how something so false made the world a wilderness, destroyed cities (families), and kept people prisoners (verse 17).
Seeing this pattern actually explains the murmuring brothers pattern. Just like Jacob and Esau, and then Isaac and Ishmael, and Nephi and his brothers, so was the pattern premortally. Heavenly Father’s firstborn son was Jehovah, and another early born son was Lucifer. In Abraham 3:23-28, we read of one of the FIRST councils in Heaven, in which Heavenly Father was holding a council to select a leader for the structuring of our planet. Both Jehovah and Lucifer volunteered, but Jehovah was selected.
Notice that it says only that Lucifer kept not his first estate, and many followed him (Abraham 3:28). He was not yet cast out, and he was there to participate in the creation of our world.
But then there is a SECOND council in Heaven (Moses 4:1-3), in which we adopted Heavenly Father’s plan of salvation and selected a redeemer. This time Lucifer spoke up first, volunteering for redeemer, and promising not one soul would be lost. Destroying agency and forcing compliance was his pattern (which is why we should be so careful of it ourselves), and he thought this was so good that he wanted credit for being God (D&C 29:36).
Only then, when Lucifer argues with Heavenly Father about how to do it, does the Savior step in as advocate and redeemer, defending Heavenly Father’s plan and sustaining Him as God and saying it must be done Heavenly Father’s way.
Heavenly Father then says: “behold, my Beloved Son, which was my Beloved and Chosen from the beginning…”, meaning Jehovah was chosen at the FIRST council, even though it is not announced until the SECOND council.
Jehovah was called at the Second Council for the job he qualified for during the First Council.
Jehovah was chosen (Second Council) to redeem the earth because He first did the work to create it (First Council).
He qualified for the calling because He first established the kingdom.
Verse 18 does not just mean each family will have its own tomb. That’s just the poetic piece. He is talking about natural consequences and chosen kingdoms. We will live in the kingdom we choose (verse 18). We choose that future kingdom by the choices we make now.
The adversary has made his choices as well, and so has been kicked out even beyond the grave (verse 19). He will have no burial (verse 20), which we know also because we know he has no body. He lost that opportunity when he got kicked out of Heaven. He and his followers missed the chance to come to Earth to receive bodies like the rest of us that chose Jehovah’s plan, and so with no body there will be no burial.
This has been part of the plan, all along.
His “children” are those who were also cast out (verse 21). Isaiah says they also will not be resurrected since they do not have bodies (“they do not rise”), will not receive celestial inheritance (“nor possess the land”), and cannot create families (“fill the face of the world with cities”).
However, the Lord knows those who do the work to become His covenant people, and He will deliver them from the adversary and His destruction (verse 22). He will destroy what is not-of-God that His people might flourish (verse 23). “The Lord of Hosts hath sworn, saying: Surely as I have thought, so shall it come to pass; and as I have purposed, so shall it stand – ” (verse 24).
There are also the literal fulfillments of these verses about Babylon. He said the land would be destroyed, and it was. He said the king and his descendants would “never be renowned” (verse 20), and they are not noticed or remembered (verse 21), with the whole family wiped out (verse 22). The kingdom was so destroyed that the Euphrates River swept through and left behind small ponds in the city (verse 23).
So whether speaking of the spiritual conquering of Satan, or the temporal conquering of Babylon, the Lord reminds us that He will win. It’s part of the plan, and He has promised it (verse 24).
There is comfort and strength in this promise, for we know that no matter how bad things get, we already know the end of the story. The Lord is going to win, and everything is going to be okay. Knowing the end of the story helps us keep doing what we are asked to do.
We do that by making and keeping covenants, which happens in the Temple, or in the “mountains” (verse 25). It is by our righteousness that Satan will be bound and rendered powerless. It is the atonement of the Savior that has accomplished it, and enables and empowers us to do so, but it is our actual doing so that completes the mission.
The adversary will have no more power when we stop giving it to him.
“This is the purpose that is purposed upon the whole earth…” (verse 26).
The whole purpose of Earth was for us to come here to receive our physical bodies, to be organized into families, and to learn to make good choices (that demonstrate our love through obedience). That’s the plan, and no one can stop that plan (verse 27). He has not forgotten us, and He has not abandoned us. He is ever present, helping us fulfill our purpose.
The Lord has done His part, which was to atone for us, and we must do our part, which is to testify of that atonement. That’s how Zion is established, and “his people shall trust in it” (verse 32).
Because He promised.