Short Take: Skipped Are the Words of Isaiah?

Author’s Note

I recently baked some fresh Alaska salmon. It practically melted in my mouth. I almost didn’t need teeth.

But I also love steak. Think what I would miss if I avoided it, because it requires a lot more chewing.

Don’t skip the Isaiah chapters in the Book of Mormon.

This may help: remember we’re reading Hebrew poetry. Translation takes its toll, but even in English much of Isaiah’s poetry survives.

Hebrew poetry often repeats the same thought in different words. For example, we may think there will someday be two world capitals, one religious and one secular, because we read, “Out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (2 Nephi 12:3; Isaiah 2:3). Maybe – but he’s probably just saying the same thing twice.

A few verses later, we see more repetition. Isaiah describes Israel’s wealth, saying the land is full of silver and gold, then repeating (in different words), “Neither is there any end of their treasures.” Then he repeats the point – twice – by saying, “The land is full of horses,” (and) “neither is there any end of their chariots.”

The next verse uses this pattern to make and repeat a key point: (1) “Their land is also full of idols; (2) they worship the work of their own hands, [now he repeats that too] that which their own fingers have made” (2 Nephi 12:7-8; Isaiah 2:7-8).

Slow down. Take small bites. Chew your food.

It’s often beautiful. It’s frequently powerful. And – don’t be turned away – it’s poetry.

Short Take: Parallel Experiences

Author’s Note

In 1 Nephi 1 Lehi’s experience resembles Joseph Smith’s later experience with visions and the gold plates (see Joseph Smith – History), and foretells our own experience with the Book of Mormon.

Troubled by prophets’ warnings that Jerusalem must repent or be destroyed, Lehi prays “with all his heart in behalf of his people” (v. 5). Like Joseph, who prayed with a different question and later in penance for his own sins, Lehi sees a pillar of fire and hears much. Like Joseph, he is physically exhausted afterward (v. 6-7).

Another vision follows. In it a heavenly being (perhaps Christ) descends from heaven with twelve others. As Moroni to Joseph, they bring to Lehi a book. (See vv. 9-12.)

Lehi reads and learns of the imminent Babylonian captivity (v. 13) and other things. The book tells of God’s mercy, and “the coming of a Messiah, and also the redemption of the world” (v. 19).

Not coincidentally, this happens in the first chapter of a book we are commanded to read – a testament of Christ, and an account of the scattering and gathering of Israel – which was first delivered to our dispensation by an angel responding to earnest prayer.

Like Lehi and Joseph, we’re to teach what we learn from the book. We hope not to be threatened with death, as they were, but we can expect a common blessing with Lehi and Joseph nonetheless: as we read, we too will be “filled with the spirit of the Lord” (v. 12).

Short Take: “The Most Correct Book”

Author’s Note

The Book of Mormon’s title page suggests the book may contain “mistakes of men.” Joseph Smith called it “the most correct” book but didn’t call it perfect. Though written by God’s prophets and translated by God’s power, it actually cannot be perfect. Here’s why:

  • It is written in human language, which cannot fully describe divine things.
  • Human language constantly evolves. Many words don’t mean precisely what they meant two centuries ago.
  • The prophets could have written more perfectly in Hebrew, but had to use a simpler, more compact language to save space (Mormon 9:31-33).
  • The book is translated from language to language; in translation, any language pair poses challenges. Elsewhere, the Hebrew word describing Mary in Isaiah 7:14 could mean virgin or simply young woman. Other scripture says both apply, but what did Isaiah mean? The Russian word for evil also means angry, so whichever English translation I choose limits the meaning more than the author did.
  • We see the prophets themselves still learning, filling in gaps in knowledge with their opinions (Alma 40:19-21) or clarifying earlier writings after further revelation (3 Nephi 28:36-40).

Knowing all this helps us understand why we need so many accounts of the same gospel, prepares us to discover new meaning in familiar verses, and helps us not to be shaken when we encounter human imperfections in sacred texts. In the end, salvation is in the Word, not the words. (See John 5:39.)

Short Take: How Much Shall We Hope? For Whom? For How Long? Why?

Author’s Note

Mormon wrote that God’s ongoing work to save each of us will not cease, “so long as time shall last, or the earth shall stand, or there shall be one [soul] upon the face thereof to be saved” (Moroni 7:36).

The broken-hearted mother of a convicted murderer once asked a friend of mine, “Is there any hope for my son?” She knew stern scriptures on the subject.

The friend asked me. I answered, “I will not say that the infinite atonement is less than infinite. There is hope.” (See 2 Nephi 9:7; 25:16; Alma 34:12.)

How much, therefore, shall we hope? Far more than we do now.

How long shall we hope? Until the end of time, which is well beyond death. Until God has done everything that a god can do to save his child.

For whom shall we hope? For ourselves, surely, and for everyone we love. Indeed, for every other human soul. For the lost, the confused, and the apparently hopeless. For the lazy, distracted, proud, addicted, self-righteous, belligerent, rebellious, and, yes, for the criminal. For the lost sheep, the lost coin, the prodigal sons and daughters, and the vilest of sinners. (See Luke 19; Mosiah 28:4.)

Why shall we hope? The Savior said, “I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands” (Isaiah 49:16; 1 Nephi 21:16).

Short Take: “Your Words Have Been Stout Against Me”

Author’s Note

When Jesus visited the Nephites after his resurrection, he filled in some gaps in their own records (3 Nephi 23:6-13), then gave them some of the words of Malachi.

In Malachi 3 and 3 Nephi 24 the Lord has two complaints against his people; both are relevant today. First, “Ye have robbed me.” In several familiar verses he promises to shower us with blessings, if we will be faithful in tithes and offerings (3 Nephi 24:7-13), showing that God matters more to us than money.

His second, less-quoted complaint is, “Your words have been stout against me.” His people gripe that living the gospel doesn’t do them any good. It is in vain; there is no profit in it. They think this because they look at the proud and judge them to be happy. They complain that success comes to the wicked, who are able to tempt God without immediate punishment (3 Nephi 24:14-15).

The problem here is that God’s people have the wrong heroes, admire bad examples, and let their envy of the world’s temporary rewards distract them from the hope and joy which are eternally in Christ. Yet there is hope. Those who repent of this, the Lord says, “shall be mine . . . and I will spare them” (3 Nephi 24:17).

Short Take: The King’s Prayer

Author’s Note

King Lamoni’s father, a Lamanite, is learning the gospel from Aaron. He wants immortality and eternal life. He wants the Holy Ghost to change his wicked heart. Aaron tells him he must call upon God.

As he prays, notice that there is no pretense. He doesn’t pretend to faith or knowledge that he doesn’t have. He doesn’t try to impress Aaron or save face with his servants. He’s unafraid to use the if word, where God’s very existence is concerned. He starts where he is, as he is, with desire, a bit of hope, and the early symptoms of faith.

He prays, “O God, Aaron hath told me that there is a God; and if there is a God, and if thou art God, will thou make thyself known unto me. . . .”

Notice also that he already knows the exact price of what he wants: “I will give away all my sins to know thee, and that I may be raised from the dead, and be saved at the last day” (Alma 22:18).

We could do worse than to pray like a Lamanite.

By the way, the results in this case were spectacular.

Short Take: It’s Okay to Be Human

Author’s Note

Tucked between splendid sermons and dramatic events in scripture is something we often overlook: down time for God’s exhausted servants. The Lord once put Elijah on a program of diet and exercise before sending him back to work (1 Kings 19:4-8). When starving Alma first went to Amulek’s home (Alma 8:27), he “tarried many days,” regaining his strength, before preaching again.

Thereafter, Amulek preached with Alma and experienced miracles, but he, too, was still human. Publicly joining Alma cost him his wealth and influence. Worse, his friends and family, including his father, rejected him (Alma 15:16). This took its toll. Eventually, Alma took Amulek to Alma’s own house, “and did administer unto him in his tribulations, and strengthened him in the Lord” (Alma 15:18). Then they went back to work.

A final, different example: Captain Moroni misinterpreted the government’s lack of support for his army and wrote a blistering letter to the Nephite leader, Pahoran. He didn’t know the Nephite capital city had fallen. In his mature and gracious reply, Pahoran wrote, “You have censured me, but it mattereth not; I am not angry, but do rejoice in the greatness of your heart” (Alma 61:9).

We could wisely, patiently, and kindly make similar allowances for our own and others’ humanity, and be less inclined to judgment and more determined to see the good.

Short Take: A Psalm of Alma

Author’s Note

In the “Psalm of Nephi” (2 Nephi 4:6-15), Nephi laments “the temptations and sins which do so easily beset me” (2 Nephi 4:18). But then he contemplates the blessings of God to him, and sorrow turns to joy and determination.

In Alma 31 we see Alma grieving for his people’s wickedness. He goes among the Zoramites to “try the virtue of the word of God” (v. 5). Seeing their wickedness up close, he is astonished and cannot contain his sorrow.

In what we might call a psalm of Alma, he cries out, “O how long, O Lord, will thou suffer that thy servants shall dwell here below in the flesh, to behold such gross wickedness among the children of men?” (v. 26). He pleads for strength, comfort, and patience for himself and his companions. Then he prays:

“O Lord, wilt thou grant unto us that we may have success in bringing them again unto thee in Christ. Behold, O Lord, their souls are precious, and many of them are our brethren; therefore, give unto us, O Lord, power and wisdom that we may bring these, our brethren, again unto thee” (vv. 34-35).

Love and determination replace sorrow. He blesses his companions, and they get to work, “filled with the Holy Spirit” (v. 36) and having their afflictions “swallowed up in the joy of Christ” (v. 38). It is a pattern for righteous action in a wicked world.