CLICK HERE to read Isaiah 41.
This chapter is very, very important for us because it is written directly to us. We know from 2 Npehi 10:20 that whenever Isaiah talks to the people of the “islands”, he is referring to us in the Western Hemisphere. Isaiah could see that the people, specifically the Latter-day Saints of the restoration, would be afflicted and persecuted. Those who persecuted would be led by secret combinations, and be confused and misguided, while the Saints would be led by prophets and know the truth and be strengthened to endure (see Skousen, p. 533).
Isaiah says the Lord knew that the Western Hemisphere was to be kept hidden from Europe and Asia until it was time to prepare for the restoration (verse 1; see 2 Nephi 1:8-9). The land would be reserved for a people with freedom and liberty, so that the full Gospel could be restored (3 Nephi 21:4). When the Lord bids the people to “come near”, it is because they have accepted the full Gospel and are repentant – even submissive to His restored ordinances through holy temples. When the Lord tells them to “speak”, that is the testifying of the atonement and the restored gospel, that it might be given to the whole world so that everyone can be blessed (or receive the consequences for rejecting what was offered, see D&C 43:23-30).
The temple covenants and laws we live are the same as given to Abraham. Abraham himself experienced persecution and affliction, even having to leave the land of his fathers in order to be obedient to the covenants he had made with the Lord (verse 2; see Genesis 11:31; 12:1; Abraham 2:1-6). But for his faithfulness, the Lord did promise many blessings (see Genesis 12:2-3; 15:18; Abraham 2:8-11). The Lord kept these blessings, even helping Abraham pass through dangerous territories (verse 3) and have children. Abraham was prepared for and chosen by the Lord for all these things in the premortal life (verse 4; see Genesis 18:19; Abraham 3:22-23).
In the same way, the Saints in the Western Hemisphere will see what the Lord can do, and respond to him (verse 5). The people will act in faith, working together, to create a country in which the Lord can restore the full Gospel with all its authority and power (verse 6). No matter how bad the affliction or persecutions, nothing will be able to shake the Church now that it has been re-established (verse 7). The Lord has already made his promises to Abraham, and nothing can change that. These promises include that it will be his literal descendants who bring about this great and final restoration (verse 8; see also Abraham 2:11; D&C 103:17; 132:30-31) by restoring the priesthood to the earth in the latter-days. His promises will be fulfilled, no matter how the rest of the world rejects His message or those who testify of it.
Fear thou not: for I am with thee:
be not dismayed; for I am thy God:
I will strengthen thee;
yes, I will help thee;
yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.
Verse 10 is familiar because of our songs, and it is a reminder of the Abrahamic covenant. It is also a call to step up our righteousness, for in context it means that we will be protected by the power of the priesthood. While the authority is given by leaders who receive inspiration that the person is worthy and prepared, only personal righteousness (by the power of the atonement and instruction of the Spirit) can grant the power of the priesthood.
Notice again the words to the song:
The lyrics (by John Keith, 1787):
- How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said—
To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?
- “Fear not, I am with thee, oh, be not dismayed,
For I am thy God, and will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
Upheld by My gracious, omnipotent hand.
- “When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow;
For I will be with thee thy trouble to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.
- “When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace, all-sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not harm thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.
- “The soul that on Jesus doth lean for repose,
I will not, I will not, desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.”
Everything is by God’s design, even the challenges and struggles and opposition and oppression we face. Sometimes, like in the previous chapter, it is consequences we have earned and so our penance we must pay. Other times, like in this chapter, affliction and persecution is used to consume” in us (verse 4 of the song) or purge out of us all that is not-of-God, so that we may be left pure and holy like a refined gold – because He thinks we are something of value.
As we are faithful to who He calls us to be, He is able to bless and protect us. Even when we experience challenges and difficult things in life, even persecution or affliction, those things are used for our good. It is difficult usually in the moment to see or understand what that good is, but we can trust in it and know that He has promised to work it all together for our good (Romans 8:28). Just as He promised the Jews, those who persecute and attack will be used for our good, but also pay the consequences of treating us badly (i.e., how the Babylonians conquered the Assyrians, and the Persians conquered the Babylonians, etc.). We may experience difficult or even painful times, but eventually those who oppress, afflict, or persecute will be “ashamed and confounded” (verse 11).
We may even choose the right by trying to teach them and testify to them, offering the true goodness that we have found. Those that do convert and discover the truth for themselves, and so also find righteousness, will no longer war against us (verse 12). He will help us to fulfill this mission, even of loving our enemies, forgiving those who hurt us, and letting go of personal attacks that we may “hold our peace” (verse 13). Even when we have nothing else, and are a humble and lowly as a worm, with few resources and little social or political power, still the Lord will help us (verse 14). He has promised.
Specifically, the Lord sends us as missionaries (“teeth”) to discern between the harvest and the chaff, believers and those who reject the prophets, that all may be “safely gathered in” (verse 15). Those who do not accept this message will be blown away, like chaff in the wind, having no real roots to attach them to the Savior (verse 16). False traditions have no power or authority, and true faith is evidenced by submission to His ordinances just as the Savior Himself did submit even though He had no other need for such cleansing.
Isaiah says there will be a time when the Saints are driven out, even to a land without good water, and the people will cry out to the Lord for help and He will help them (verse 17). Isaiah says the Lord will make “the wilderness a pool of water”, and the people will find rivers from the mountains to help irrigate (verse 18). By so doing, even the desert will thrive (verse 19). Brigham Young said this was fulfilled when the early saints were forced to go west, settling in the desert valley with only salt water to be found. The early pioneers damned up the streams coming from the mountains, irrigating 150,000 acres of the valley below. These saints knew the Lord had heard the prayers, helped them work hard, and blessed their sincere efforts (verse 20).
Isaiah then calls out to the people, daring them to think of a reason God is not powerful enough to do these mighty things (verse 21). He challenges those who are rejecting the prophets to see if they can predict the future any better, or lead a great people any more accurately with such protection and provision (verse 22). Likewise, no false idol can describe in detail the history of all the world the way the Lord can teach it (verse 26). No other idol or false deity has kept promises the way the Lord has, and every word the Lord has spoken will be fulfilled in detail (verse 23). Only the Lord is truly a god, and able to do these things (verse 24). False idols are silent, unable to answer any of these challenges (verse 28), giving the true evidence that they are not real and can do nothing (verse 29).
We are chosen of God, the Prophet is chosen of God, the people of holiness are chosen of God – not because we are good or perfect or finished or righteous, but because we call upon Him, and so have access to His righteousness and His power (verse 25). But even then, having His power and righteousness serves a purpose: to testify of it, and to deliver it to those around us (verse 27). This is our premortal covenant, renewed by the Abrahamic covenant in mortality: that the Lord will make atonement for us, and we will testify of it.