CLICK HERE to read Isaiah 56.
This is a beautiful chapter, precious to all who have ever been rejected, outside the norm, or limited by circumstances that others judge despite your own righteous efforts to be at-one with God and His people, and obedient to His plan. This chapter is first addressed to members and converts, teaching them that they need to turn to the Lord for strength and rely on Him to be transformed. The results of this plan of happiness is then compared to those outside the covenant, the wicked who have rejected the Gospel.
The Lord teaches first that we must be just in all we do, honest in our dealings with people and in our work, and wise in our behavior (verse 1). He will hold us accountable for our choices and our interactions. Part of our responsibility – and empowerment to keep these commandments – is to keep the Sabbath holy (verse 2). There are specific blessings related to these laws that enable and empower us to be more obedient.
Even converts (“strangers”), the Lord says, are as much a part of His people as those born into the covenant (verse 3). What makes a covenant person is an obedient person, regardless of being born into the covenant or being a convert. 3 Nephi 30:2 says that those who are baptized to a remission of their sins, and who receive the Holy Spirit, are “numbered with my people who are of the house of Israel”.
Verse 4 talks about eunuchs, or those unable to reproduce. This was a common practice in Isaiah’s time, to sterilize servants working for the women of a household. He applies it here also to those who are alone or without families, specifically offering comfort to those who are obedient to the covenants they are able to make thus far (verse 4). The Lord promises that they will receive their celestial inheritance also, and not be excluded (see also D&C 132:22-24, 55).
These same promises are given also to converts and their families. If people choose the covenant, and demonstrate their obedience to the covenant (obedience being the token) by keeping the Sabbath holy and living according to His laws, then even converts have access to the same blessings as those born into the covenant – even their children now also being born into the covenant (verse 6). Converts can obtain these blessings by going through the temple (verse 7) to be sealed for eternity, made possible by the Lord who keeps His promises – including His promise to gather us as we are faithful (verse 8). In the temple, He accepts us as His people of holiness.
We need these ordinances to be literally changed, for our obedience to be enabled, and to be empowered to endure. We are surrounded by a wicked world waiting to devour us (verse 9). The adversary wants to disqualify us and to cause us to despair. Those who do not respond to His call of hope and mercy, given through ancient and modern prophets, are not prepared for covenant making and so do not have access to those blessings. They are left to struggle on their own because they do not accept the Lord’s help, and they do not understand why life is so hard, and they do not know how to ask for help, and they distract themselves to avoid and numb out the struggle (verse 10). Lacking true spiritual nourishment, they are physically greedy – for food, or money, or power – looking out for themselves like predators instead of caring for others like shepherds (verse 11). They waste themselves and their resources, hoping tomorrow is better instead of doing the work to redeem themselves by accepting the redemption offered them by the Savior (verse 12).