CLICK HERE to read Isaiah 51.
This chapter is for those of us in the latter days of the Latter-days. Isaiah is asking us to pay attention, being aware of all that was done to prepare us for these days (verse 1). Our covenants are the same covenants made with Abraham and his wife, here also a type of our Heavenly Parents as well (verse 2). This is the stuff we are made of, and this is our divine nature, and the prophet calls us to remember who we are – and who we can become.
We cannot forget this, no matter how hard things get. We cannot forget to nourish ourselves through the atonement, by the spirit, and with covenant keeping. Even when the world around us is like a desert, offering us nothing good or substantive, and even when it is a dangerous place – still we must remember our divine nature and the reality of His power to deliver us as promised – even unto peace, and joy, and happiness (verse 3).
His reign as King during the millennium will be different than worldly governments today. His law will be righteous and good, efficient and effective, just and merciful (verse 4). It is by obedience that we practice even now that we begin to obtain His righteousness (verse 5). This righteousness is not just about us being “good”, but about the fair treatment and good care of all those around us, making society a good and thriving place where all people have the liberty to be their best and reach their potential. We practice learning this now, and in this way are preparing for the Millennium, where our “strict rules” today will be a way of life then – but in a freeing way, not a burdensome way. All people will learn to rely on him, not just for His good political government, but also for our spiritual development. Just we each must cleanse ourselves of what is not-of-God, so also must the Earth cleanse herself of what is not-of-God (verse 6; see also Ether 13:8-12 and Revelation 21:1-5).
With this greater vision and our understanding of how the future will unfold, we have no reason to be afraid. Even when we are being mocked, misquoted, misunderstood, or teased, there is no reason to lose our grip on our hope in the future, our faith in what we know, or our love for those around us – even those not treating us well (verse 7). Skousen said (p. 636):
He pleads with them not to become discouraged or intimidated by the reproaches of the unconverted. They have ridiculed the sacred things of God from the beginning. The Lord calls upon his people to ignore their revilings. This is not easy to do. Revilings and persecution are bitter to bear. In fact, the Lord says that one of the qualities of the beatification of a human being who has matured in the Gospel is the ability to endure revilings and persecution (see 3 Nephi 12:10-12; Inspired Version Matthew 5:12-13).
Those who mock the truth will not win in the end (verse 7). When the entire history of the world is revealed and taught, those who have denied the truth will learn with the rest of us. Everything the Lord has said would happen will happen, and He will keep every promise He has made. We can be confident in these things, and so have no need to be distressed by those who don’t want to know or disagree, even if they disagree disrespectfully (verse 8).
Isaiah says that it will get difficult enough in the Latter-days that the Saints will plead for the Lord to show His power the way He did in days of old, and to grant them miraculous deliverance from those who persecute them (verse 9). They will declare their faith that the Lord was powerful for His people in the past, such as parting the Red Sea, and so will call on Him again to show forth His power (verse 10). He will answer their prayer, and promises the people again that He will deliver them and keep His promises and comfort His people (verse 12). This will be so amazing that people will barely even remember what happened at the Red Sea! Some of the celebration at His return will not only be rejoicing for His reign being established, but also the relief and celebration of being delivered from the persecution and affliction of the world (verse 11, see also D&C 45:71 and 66:11). Isaiah urges us to remember this, and not become “afraid of man and fearful of controversy or becoming unpopular” (Skousen, p. 637). While it is hard, we must not act as if the world has already won – because we know who will win, and that it will be “very good” (verse 13).
There will be hard times ahead, Isaiah says – clearly. He is not saying it will be easy. He is saying we must not forget the power of the Lord, and that He is on our side. It will be hard, and Isaiah is warning the people they will be taken captive. But if they will turn to the Lord, He will make sure they are not hungry and that they do not die in captivity. The Lord promises that if they will turn to Him, He can still deliver them even to restoring them to their land (verse 14).
A time out happens in verses 15 and 16, where the Lord speaks directly to Isaiah. Isaiah has suffered much for his testimony and as a Prophet of God verse (15). The Lord reminds Isaiah of how he has been protected and provided for by the Lord, and that all of these difficult experience serve the purpose of getting the gospel out to the people (verse 16). Isaiah’s words will not be wasted, and will be used for good for the gathering of His people, the people of holiness (gathering through temples!), as He says to us Thou art my people. Holiness to the Lord, the House of the Lord.
The Lord then speaks to the people of Jerusalem specifically, to those who have gathered there in obedience and in hope. The Lord reminds them that they have served this heavy sentence, a “double sentence”, He said a few chapters ago, because of their pride, lack of repentance, and poor choices (verse 17). They chose justice instead of mercy, and so have struggled all these years. But this double sentence will finally be complete in the Latter-days, and they will know the end of their sentence has come when the three and a half year siege on Jerusalem begins as part of the final battle.
The people will need to turn to the Lord, but it will be hard for them because there will be no leaders (verse 18). They have lost the rights and authority of the priesthood, having no ordained priests, the kohen scattered. The political crisis will be so bad that no one will want to step up to try and sort it out, and none will feel safe enough to do so. Skousen points out (page 639) that it may even mean they reject Prince/President David (see Isaiah 11), who will be there to lead the rebuilding of the temple (Zechariah 6:12-13). That could explain also how two prophets (two counselors, if David is part of a presidency – the stake presidency, or temple presidency, etc.) are killed in Jerusalem during this time just prior to the Savior’s appearance and the Jews recognition of Him. Or, these two priesthood holders may be area authorities (Revelation 11:3, 5-6) sent to “comfort” the people of Jerusalem (verse 19) after they see the suffering of the people under the Gentile (non-Jew) armies (verse 20; see Zechariah 4:1-3, 11-14 and D&C77:15).
This is why we must keep our eyes on the Lord and His righteousness, because losing sight of Him will make us “drunk” on worldly things and confused and unable to understand what is happening around us (verse 21). But we can understand, and these very worst things happening we will know are a sign that the people of Jerusalem are about to be liberated from these centuries of bondage and captivity and struggle “and they shall no more drink it again” (verse 22). They will have paid plenty in justice.
Then Isaiah promises them something. Just as in Isaiah’s day, where the Assyrians and Babylonians were used to deliver justice to God’s people, but then also held accountable for what they did to His people – so also in the Latter-days will these Gentile armies be held accountable for what they do to the Jews, even though the Lord uses them to deliver the justice that the Jews chose (instead of turning to Him and choosing mercy) (verse 23).
But it will be really bad before it gets better, almost destroying all the land and many of the people before they finally cry out to God (Ezekiel 38:14-18). When the Gentile armies attack, the prophets will use priesthood power to hold back the weapons for three and a half years (Revelation 11:3). Being authorities, they will have power over the elements, even withholding rain and send out plagues and diseases to bring the people to repentance (Revelation 11:5-6). When the three and a half years are over, the prophets will be killed and their bodies displayed for three and a half days (Revelation 11:7-9). After this time, they will be resurrected and it will cause all who see it to be afraid (Revelation 11:11-12). This is when fire will begin to consume all but one-sixth of the Gentile armies (Ezekiel 39:2), with that one-sixth escaping to the East (Joel 2:20). This is when the Mount of Olives will be divided, giving the people an escape route through the valley (Joel 3:2,12), and the Savior will appear and the Jews recognize Him finally as the Messiah (D&C 45:48-53).
We know these things, and the outline of the Order of things that will happen, and all that must be accomplished.
We know the Savior will keep His promises.
We know it will sometimes be hard for us.
But there is no reason to be afraid.
and know that I am God:
I will be exalted among the heathen,
I will be exalted in the earth.