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: Huldah the Prophetess

Author’s Note

King Josiah ruled Judah in Jeremiah’s and Zephaniah’s time. Tradition has Jeremiah teaching in the streets, Zephaniah teaching in the synagogues, and Huldah the prophetess preaching to women gathered to hear her outside the temple wall.

Josiah’s father and grandfather had led the people into idolatry, but Josiah’s desires were righteous. He began to turn his people away from idols and to repair and restore the temple.

During the temple renovation, Hilkiah, the high priest, found a scroll that had been hidden for safekeeping and long since forgotten. It contained the Law, the Torah (Genesis through Deuteronomy). Tradition dates it to Moses’ time and says it was open to a passage in Deuteronomy which prophesied destruction if the people disobeyed the Law. (See Deuteronomy 28:15-68.)

Knowing his people’s idolatry and shaken by the prophecy, Josiah sent Hilkiah and others to Huldah for her counsel.

She responded, “Thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will bring evil on this place, and upon the inhabitants thereof, even all the curses that are written in the book . . . because they have forsaken me” (2 Chronicles 34:24-25; 2 Kings 22:16-17).

However, she had happier words for Josiah himself: because of his righteousness and humility, this destruction would not be in his lifetime.

Jewish history says Josiah summoned his people to the temple, stood on a platform, and read to them from the Law, and the people renewed their covenant to serve the Lord.

There is no further Old Testament reference to Huldah the prophetess. Josiah reigned righteously for 13 more years, until 609 BC. The prophesied destruction came 22 years later, after new wickedness — without repentance.

Short Take: “Fear Not, I Am with Thee”

Author’s Note

Much of Isaiah’s writing applies to the modern House of Israel – that is, to us. God knows each of us perfectly. He knows the good and the bad, all our baggage, and all the things we’ve done and will yet do to foul up his work on us and on others. Yet he says:

Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness. . . .

. . . I the Lord thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not; I will help thee.

. . . Fear not, . . . I will help thee, saith the Lord, and thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel. (Isaiah 41:10-14)

Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine.

When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.

For I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour. . . .

. . . I have loved thee. . . .

Fear not: for I am with thee. (Isaiah 43:1-5)

Short Take: Elijah’s Post-Miracle Depression

Author’s Note

After calling down fire from heaven, Elijah commanded 450 false priests to be slain. King Ahab’s wife, Jezebel, was enraged and swore to kill Elijah. Elijah fled to the wilderness “and sat down under a juniper tree: and requested for himself that he might die” (1 Kings 19:4).

Rather than rebuking the prophet for a bad attitude – wanting to give up and die after a glorious miracle – the Lord sent help. An angel brought Elijah food and water for 40 days, until he had hiked to Mount Horeb and settled in a cave.

Eventually, the Lord asked, “What doest thou here, Elijah?” Still discouraged and depressed, Elijah explained how hard he had worked and how badly things had gone, then complained that he was the last righteous person in Israel (1 Kings 19:10).

The Lord invited him outside to observe a wind, an earthquake, a fire, and finally a still small voice (1 Kings 19:11-12). He repeated his question, and Elijah repeated his complaint.

Still the Lord did not rebuke him. Instead, he said there were 7000 faithful people in Israel. He put Elijah back to work, sending him to anoint two kings and to call and train Elisha to replace him several years hence (1 Kings 19:15-18).

I conclude that the Lord is more interested in helping us through our bad days and weeks than rebuking us, even when our attitude decays. He is patient, helpful, and kind.

Short Take: Do We Praise Enough?

Author’s Note

One verse of a favorite modern psalm begins, “Praise to the Lord! Oh, let all that is in me adore him!” (“Praise to the Lord,” Hymns, 1985, #72).

When we pray, we routinely thank God for blessings and ask for more, for ourselves and others; we may not even think of praising him. At least we do some of that when we sing.

Like modern hymns, the Psalms are heartfelt expressions of praise, among other things, written in poetry which partially survives translation. For example, Psalm 100 – affectionately called “Old Hundredth” in some Christian circles – is subtitled, “A Psalm of Praise.” It reads:

Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands. Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence singing. . . . Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name. For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations.

The last Psalm in the book urges us thirteen times to praise the Lord. This psalm and the book end with these words:

Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord. Praise ye the Lord. (Psalm 150:6)

Here’s a thought: If the Psalms don’t make us want to praise the Lord, we’re probably reading them wrong.

Short Take: Here Am I

Author’s Note

When Samuel heard his name one night, he thought Eli was calling him. He answered, “Here am I.” Eli had not called; he sent Samuel back to bed. It happened again and again. Finally, Eli said it must be the Lord, and Samuel should say next time, “Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth.” Samuel obeyed, and marvels followed. (See 1 Samuel 3:1-10.)

Long before Samuel, Abraham, Jacob, and Moses answered in turn, when the Lord called: “Here am I” (Exodus 3:1-4; Genesis 22:11; 31:11; 46:2).

In the Hebrew Bible, what Samuel, Moses, Abraham, and Jacob said, when the Lord called, was “hineni” (pronounced “hee-NAY-ee” or “hee-nen-EE,” depending on which rabbi is reading which verse).

Besides mere presence or location, hineni suggests devotion, service, and determination. Hineni implies what Samuel said the fourth time: “Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth.” Samuel was listening, and he was the Lord’s willing servant. I’m told that hineni also suggests, “This is where I take a stand. This is what I stand for.”

So I ask myself, and you could ask yourself, Is the Church just a nice place to spend time on Sunday? Or do I present myself there, as God’s willing servant? What of my prayers, my neighborhood, my home? Am I just there, or am I the Lord’s willing and obedient servant there?

Short Take: Agency and the Alternative

Author’s Note

We’re taught of a premortal grand council (Joseph Smith used the term), where all of our Heavenly Father’s spirit children learned his plan and chose whether to press forward with Jehovah or to rebel with Lucifer. (See Job 38:7.) I could be wrong, but I cannot imagine so consequential a choice being required of us in the same meeting where we first heard of the plan. Agency itself, to say nothing of justice, required that we understand and ponder the plan and its implications before choosing our path irrevocably. So I imagine the grand council as the culmination of many meetings in which we listened, discussed, and asked countless questions. (This level of knowledge left ample room for faith in Christ, in part because his atoning sacrifice and resurrection were not yet accomplished.)

Some thought they knew better than God. This era of instruction provided time and opportunity for them to develop their arguments, preach their principles, and consolidate support among their spirit siblings. The war in heaven (Revelation 12:7-8) was a war between their ideas and God’s. When Lucifer formally offered his alternative in the grand council – save everyone, and he gets the glory (see Moses 4:1-4) – a significant fraction of spirits likely were already firmly in his camp and prepared to rebel with him.

(To be continued.)

Short Take: Eight Tips for Loving the Old Testament

Author’s Note

Read with Your Mind

  • Slow down. We’re to learn and experience, not check a box or win a race. Read aloud sometimes, to force yourself to slow down and make sense of words and syntax.
  • Consult footnotes for different shades of meanings in Hebrew and insights from the Joseph Smith Translation (JST).
  • Other books of scripture are the best commentaries on the Old Testament. See how Old Testament passages are quoted and explained elsewhere in scripture.
  • Use Bible maps and the Bible Dictionary to put people and events in historical and geographical context.
  • If you don’t know a word, look it up. (This will not always help. King James’ English is centuries older than your dictionary.)
  • Remember, we’re reading a translation. No translation – no human language, really – is perfect.

Read with Your Heart

  • The people in the Old Testament are real people leading real lives in the present tense. Put yourself in their shoes. Consider how your own experience might be like theirs.

Read with the Spirit

  • Ask prayerfully for insight and understanding when you read. Gratefully welcome the Spirit when it comes and any insight it communicates. When it doesn’t come, study and ponder anyway.