In the previous chapter, Isaiah took us from understanding how our enemies (even Satan) attack(s) us, to what that looks like when we are not behaving like covenant people, to the Lord’s call for our repentance, to how He brings us at-one again.
The next step in this pattern, of course, is going to point us to the Savior so that we can become.
Isaiah opens this chapter with describing how the Messiah will be born of the Jews, and that “the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge…” (verse 2).
But we, as Latter-day Saints, also know that this chapter (and the next one) are specifically about the latter-days and the millennial reign of Christ. We know because Moroni said so (JSH 1:40)! But did you ever wonder why this is the chapter that Moroni repeated to Joseph Smith so many times, and took the time to explain right from the beginning when he was only a boy? It is because Joseph Smith is the “rod of Jesse” described in verse 10, the one whom the Lord used to restore the priesthood and the keys of the gathering (D&C 113:6).
This is one of the reasons this chapter was hard to understand before the restoration of the full Gospel. This whole chapter is full of symbols, four in particular, that are restoration symbols of the Latter-days, and hard to understand without the context of the full Gospel.
- The “stem of Jesse” is Christ (D&C 113:2).
- The “rod” is the priesthood in general, but also has a specific interpretation which has not yet been given. It will be a specific person, a servant of Christ, with much priesthood power. We will recognize the person when that specific task is completed.
- The “branch” is a leader of the Jews in the Latter-days (Jeremiah 23:5), one not yet identified but who will be named David. He will lead the people back to the Lord (Ezekiel 34:23-24) and even build the Temple (Zechariah 6:12-13). He will be the one to gather the Ten Tribes in America for their blessings (D&C 133:26-32) and lead them back to Palestine, finally reuniting the two kingdoms back into one (Ezekiel 37:22-24). He will still be in leadership when the Savior returns at the great battle of Armageddon.
- The “root of Jesse” is Joseph Smith (D&C 113).
This chapter is packed!
The Book of Mormon Seminary Manual says this chapter has a theme:
God has the power to make great things come out of that which appears devastated.
But it has taken time to unfold, to fulfill every piece of the prophecy. When Jesus was born, Israel was like a “stump” of what it had been, but out of His ministry and life and great atoning sacrifice, a “branch” has grown, and life will come (verse 1).
And when life really comes, in contrast to the injustice and sorrow of the last chapter, we read what it will be like in the day when the Lord reigns the Earth:
“But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth… and righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reigns” (verses 4 and 5). This is Christ, who will have such Spirit with Him, that He will be wise and good and mighty in governing the people. He will have great knowledge and understanding but also real humility before the Father.
As marvelous as it is to read of this day that will soon come, we are called to “establish Zion” now in our own lives. We should be seeking to live righteously now, including caring for the poor. We should be reproving what is not of God, and testifying of what is of God. Now. We should be meek now. We should be faithful, now.
He governs now by the priesthood, or the “rod of His mouth”.
But then in that day, as in our hearts now, He will judge the people not on outward appearances, but on the intent of the heart. By His Spirit and His words (scriptures), or “the breath of His lips”, wickedness will be revealed and removed, consumed, gone. He does cleanse us internally and will cleanse the Earth physically of all that is not-of-God.
When the Earth is restored to its intended state-of-being, there will be physical changes in the dynamics of all living creatures because we will no longer be in the fallen state in which we now exist. Isaiah says:
“The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the young lion and fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the suckling child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice’s den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (verses 6-9).
The Lord will be there for the Jews as promised, but also for the Gentiles.
For all, His “rest” (presence!) will be glorious!
He will gather His people, and He will do so by setting up an ensign for the nations. An ensign is a standard, a sign, something that points the way. It’s like a flag or a symbol, but rich in meaning and in such a way that causes understanding.
We even have the literal Ensign, the church magazine in which living prophets and apostles guide us in the present day. General Conference is an ensign, warning us and guiding us and teaching us what we need to know in these latter-days.
Even in the 2011, Elder Holland told us that General Conference is part of the fulfillment of these prophesies, even of the “trump” being sounded. That’s a serious statement, in many ways. Both in power of General Conference, and in the timing – as we know the trump being sounded is the final thing that happens in the latter-days of the Latter-days.
But the reason for the sounding of His trumpet is not just to announce His arrival, but also part of gathering His people “from the four corners of the earth” (verse 12).
Being ready now is part of being spiritually gathered.
Being ready now is part of being physically gathered soon.
Attending our meetings on Sundays, attending the Temple regularly and often, and living our lives as covenant people is part of being gathered already.
Part of living as covenant people is living at-one with each other. Verse 13 talks about how the twelve tribes of Abraham will no longer bicker and quarrel and cause such problems for each other. Joseph Smith said that the animals will not be tamed until we first tame ourselves, and that “friendship… is designed to revolutionize and civilize the world, and cause wars and contentions to cease” (Smith, Teachings, p. 316).
We know from the Book of Mormon, how the children of one father destroyed generations after generations because they could not live at peace with one another, could not be at-one. I say again:
The Nephites were not the good guys, and the Lamanites were not the bad guys.
The Nephites were hot and cold and had trouble being consistently faithful.
The Lamanites were consistent, but rejected the peace the gospel brings.
They destroyed each other in war because they could not be at-one.
It was not about who was right and who was wrong.
The whole point was that they needed each other.
We need each other.
We need the atonement to make us at-one.
Our Father calls us to be at-one with each other, and the atonement makes it possible.
Being at-one with each other is the only way to be at-one with our Father.
It is by the ordinances of the temple that we are gathered together, learning to be at-one with each other, and become at-one with Him.
In verse 11, Isaiah names all the countries of his time, simply trying to indicate that this “gathering” would be worldwide.
Verse 12 then clarifies something: the Ten Tribes are “outcasts”, meaning still intact as a group but rejected by general society in some way. However, the the Jews (kingdom of Judah) are “dispersed” by being scattered amongst the regular population all over the planet. Verse 13 says that the murmuring brothers pattern between Ephraim and Judah (just like Nephi and his brothers, just like Ishmael and Isaac, just like Jacob and Esau…), that finally this pattern would be broken and stopped. He says that Ephraim (us!), will be the first to be gathered from this dispersion and so we will have a great responsibility to help our brothers and sisters from the tribe of Judah (Jews).
President Heber J Grant (Improvement Era, June, 1921, p. 747) said:
“There should be no ill-will, and I am sure there is none at the heart of any true Latter-day Saint, toward the Jewish people. By the authority of the Holy Priesthood of God that has again been restored to the Earth, and by the ministration under the direction of the Prophet of God, Apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ have been to the Holy Land and have dedicated that country for the return of the Jews. And we believe that in due time of the Lord they shall be in favor of God again. Let no Latter-day Saint be guilt of taking any part in any crusade against these people. I believe in no other part of the world is there as good a feeling in the hearts of mankind toward the Jewish people as among the Latter-day Saints.”
Verse 15 teaches the at-one-ness again, promising the Arabs and Israelis that even they will one day be at-one, and have their own temple on the borders of Egypt, their own temple to begin the work for their own ancestors (verse 16). This makes so much sense! The Muslims and the Jews may often seem like enemies, but they are cousins. And all of it has been or will be fulfilled (and nothing more: for example, Israel has conquered Sinai twice and given it back because it was not part of their inheritance, and so it is not to be). The Muslims and the Jews are both descended from twelve tribes of two different brothers, but they share a grandfather: Abraham, who obtained blessings for all his children (see this blog on Diplomacy, Prayer, and Action).
When we read that there will be a “highway”, we know that this is more than just a new road being built. It is a temple! Isaiah 35:8-10 defines “highway” as “the way of holiness”. This is a temple!
It will physically mark the place where the Israelites crossed the Red Sea as Moses led them from captivity to the promised land. This was their mikveh, their baptism, their cleansing as a people in preparation to receive the Torah. This was the physical (Aaronic) ordinance of that place. The “an” is not just an article before the “highway” word. In Hebrew it means a road, telling us that it is a literal prophecy of a literal place, as much as the spiritual layers and implications. There is a road, even a canal in the works, trying to connect the Dead Sea and the Red Sea along this route. There must be two places because the kingdom had divided itself into the Northern and Southern kingdoms. These must be restored before they can then, each of them as a whole, be united.
We return only by the path from which we have come.
But it is even bigger than that: go back to verse 1, where we know the “stem of Jesse” is the Savior, and the “rod” being the Holy Priesthood, and “the stem of Jesse” is the prophet (Joseph Smith, with the rod being the scriptures he delivered to us). Out of this rod, those scriptures, the Book of Mormon, by the power and authority of the restored priesthood, the Savior has restored the ordinances of the temple, and we are that “branch”, that covenant people. Our Salt Lake City Temple is a type, or a preview of the temple that will stand where the salt lake of the Dead Sea now is! It’s a literal fulfillment of Hebrew poetry; it is the bicola unit of poetry in real life. The water will be gone (it is already shrinking enough they are trying to develop a canal) – D&C 133:23-27 says that all the land masses will be re-united into one great land mass – and in that place where the Dead Sea and/or where the Red Sea, or along that route, will be a temple in which the Arabs and the Egyptians and Assyrians and the Jews all work together, united by the atonement of the Savior. The places will be physically connected so that the people can become spiritually connected.
It will spiritually mark (the ordinances of the Melchizedek priesthood) the place where the divided tribes (all twenty-four) become at-one again by working together in temples, doing the work for their ancestors on the other side of the veil. These are the “lost” tribes: not just the ten “missing” tribes, but the twenty-four tribes of the two sons of Abraham (Ishmael and Isaac), with almost no ordinance work done for them because of dissension and contention passed down into false traditions just like we saw with the Nephites and Lamanites. Isaiah 19:23 says that they, the Muslims and the Jews, the Egyptians and the Assyrians, both sons of Abraham, will serve together as they work in the temple! Isaiah says (35:8-10) that even though the people have been foolish, like spoiled children bickering with each other), they will find peace in the temple. By preparing for the temple they will redeem themselves, and by working together in the temple they will redeem their ancestors.
And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads:
they shall obtain joy and gladness,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
Jeremiah (16:14-15) said that this temple (and the Arabs and Jews working together at the temple) will be so amazing, and so incredible, and so astonishing to the entire world that people won’t even talk anymore about how the Lord divided the Red Sea for Moses to lead the Israelites across. This will be a bigger miracle than that, and everyone will know it. The crossing of the Red Sea will only be remembered as a long-ago baptism, but the people themselves will be focused on their own temple ordinances and the ordinances for their Arab ancestors (see also D&C 133:26-32). That’s the power of the Gospel.