CLICK HERE to read Isaiah 43.
This chapter is important because it clarifies the differences between the roles of Elohim (Heavenly Father) and His people (of holiness), as well as the Savior who does bridge the gap between them. This begins after the previous chapter, which was about the destruction of the un-righteous just before the Millennium. In this chapter, the Lord tells the righteous not to be afraid, because they are His people (verse 1). If we have claimed the atonement and are at-one with His people (and so also at-one with Him), then we have no reason to be afraid.
Clarke (Commentary, 4:170) points out that this is the only time in the scriptures that God says “I have called thee by THY name” as opposed to the other times He says “I have called thee by MY name”. Because of this being the only time it is said this way, many people think it is an error. I like it, though, and think it makes sense. The first verse is in context of identifying the People of Holiness (see 1 Nephi 15), in comparison to the wicked receiving their judgment in the last chapter. While it is true that the People of Holiness are called after HIS name, part of becoming that people is receiving the “new name” given to us as part of covenant making (see Genesis 17; Isaiah 62:2; Isaiah 66:22; Revelation 2:17; Revelation 3:12; D&C 130:11). It makes sense, in the context of judgment having passed, that the wicked are cleansed from the Earth (previous chapter) and those who have become righteous (by the atonement) are called by their names (collectively after His name, the Man of Holiness).
This concept of being redeemed through saving ordinances is consistent with the next verse, where we gain access to His help and presence through the ordinances of baptism and confirmation. However, verse two also is a communal reminder, telling the history of the Israelites passing through the Red Sea. Yet it is not contained to historical context, as the purpose of this event was the community mikveh, or cleansing, the setting apart of the people in preparation of receiving the torah. Being in fire without being burned is a historical reference to Moses and the burning bush (Exodus 3) and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Daniel 3). But it is also a cross-reference to the Holy Spirit, which does cleanse us and sanctify us by correcting, instructing, guiding. These are the layers to verse two: that the Savior is capable of our physical protection, but also will keep His promises to prepare us for spiritual progression. He will save us because He is our Savior (verse 3):
For I am the Lord thy God,
the Holy One of Israel,
The Lord then goes on to make a marvelous promise: when we utilize the atonement to rid ourselves of what is not-of-God, and heed the Spirit to fill us with what is-of-God, and by so doing obtain His righteousness, then He will protect and preserve and prosper us. When we… He will… that’s a covenant! He says that even at the cost of those who will not repent and turn to Him, He will deliver us (verse 4). Furthermore, He promises that even when we are “scattered” (literally for Judah and Levi, figuratively for us), He will keep His promise to gather us again (verses 5-6). This is a promise given to all who are “called by name”, all who become People of Holiness (verse 7). Even those who will not yet look at what is right in front of them, and even those who refuse to hear the truth when it is presented to them, even for them He will keep His promise to gather them back to Himself (verse 8) – even those who rely on money, illusions of power, or other false gods to save them (verse 9).
All will acknowledge Him (verse 10)! This is our testimony, that we have a Heavenly Father, who is as real as you and I, but progress to perfection. This is our testimony, that our eldest brother Jehovah (who is separate and distinct from Heavenly Father) is the creator of this world (under the authority of our Father) and the Savior of the people of the people that live here (and many others). This is our testimony, that the Holy Spirit is what tethers us to our Heavenly Father until we can return to His presence once again. Skousen lists some of the things Heavenly Father has revealed to us about who He is (p. 560-561):
- Heavenly Father was not always a God (Smith, Teachings, p. 345);
- Heavenly Father became God “by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one; from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation” (Ibid, p. 346-347);
- His training included the experience of passing through a mortal probation… just as we are now doing… (Ibid, p. 345);
- One of the names for Heavenly Father is “Man of Holiness” (Moses 6:57; 7:35). He is an exalted and glorified being with a resurrected “body of flesh and bones as tangible as a man’s (D&C 130:22). His children are called MANkind, meaning that they belong to the family of this glorified being whose name is MAN. This is why Jesus is specifically called “the Son of MAN” [of Holiness] (Moses 6:57);
- Heavenly Father has a father who tutored Him just as He tutors us (Smith, Teachings, p. 373); and
- At a certain point in his eternal progression, our Heavenly Father was “ordained to organize matter” (Brigham Young, Journal of the Discourses, 15:137; quoted by President Kimball in April 1977 General Conference).
Heavenly Father will always be our God, for we will always be His children, His creation. Just as my parents will always be my parents, even when I grow up to be like them. Any good I do is to their credit for having raised me, and my wrongs are corrected and forgiven. Our families are after the same pattern as God.
Even in our progression, we will never “catch up” to God, or be as glorious as He is, for He continues to progress as well. Our righteousness adds to His glory, for our becoming holy is His “work and glory”. It is no different than me finally growing up enough to qualify to be a wife like my mother once was, but now she is already an expert at also being a grandmother. I can become as my mother once was, but I will never surpass her – she will always be my mother, always be ahead of me, and always be above me – and that is her good and rightful place.
But we cannot make any progress simply left to ourselves. God has not abandoned us. We cannot be perfect (whole) or even make progress on our own. We are weak, and make mistakes, and sin often. Even in trying to be holy, most of our time is spent cleansing ourselves of what is not-of-God. But Heavenly Father knew this, and provided a Savior as part of the plan (verse 11). This plan was taught to all people, both before and after the Savior came to fulfill His mortal (immortal!) mission (verse 12). The Lord has existed since before the first day of creation (verse 13), and in all things His role has been to redeem that which He created (verse 14). This is why He will return as King of all the Earth, because He has created and redeemed it (verse 15).
The Lord again reminds us of the history of the Israelites, how He led them safely through the Red Sea on dry land, swallowing up their enemies in the water. In the same way, He will lead this generation through a wicked world by our reliance on covenants with Him, even when wickedness is literally burned from the Earth (verse 16). The Lord will cleanse the Earth, purging it of all that is not-of-God (verse 17). This, He says, is going to be so amazing that people will not even remember the story of the Red Sea (verse 18).
In this day when the gathering begins, the Lord says He will make “rivers in the desert” (verse 19). Skousen says that “it is interesting that modern Jews returned to a wilderness and had to make it blossom as a rose. The Saints in the Zion of America also faced the same task in the Great Basin of the Rocky Mountains and the deserts of the nearby states where they settled” (p. 566). The Lord says that the land itself will be so redeemed that even the animals will thank Him (verse 20). In those days, the latter days of the Latter-days, the Lord will make the People of Holiness into a mighty people, and they will be filled with gratitude for all He has done for them (verse 21).
But for now, the Lord tells Isaiah He is upset with the people, grieving for them because they do not repent and do not ask Him for help (verse 22). He knows they are going to be conquered soon, and still the people do not turn to Him. They do not even perform the sacrifices at the temple anymore (verse 23), though they have sacrificed to false gods and idols instead (verse 24). Even still, He pleads with the people to turn to Him, telling them that He is the one who can atone for their sins and deliver mercy instead of justice (verse 25). He urges them to repent as a people, that He will even pray with them as He advocates for them before the Father (verse 26). He even explains to them that their sin is not so much malicious as neglectful and due to false traditions handed down by their ancestors (verse 27). He urges them to let traditions go, pray to Him directly, and to find the mercy He is waiting to give (verse 28).