2 Nephi Chapter 15
Chapter 15 is a translation of Isaiah's writings which are also found in Isaiah chapter 5. This chapter may be outlined as follows:
Verses 1 through 7 comprise the parable of the vineyard, sometimes called the Song of the Vineyard. Isaiah's parable of the vineyard has been described by various commentators as a "little masterpiece," "a passage of singular beauty and grace," and "the finest example of the prophet's art and skill in the whole book of Isaiah. In this parable, Isaiah illustrates that although God has done everything possible for his people, they still reject him. This is one of many scriptural parables and allegories used to describe the relationship between the Lord (the owner of the vineyard) and the house of Israel (the vineyard). See, for example Romans 11:17-24; Jacob 5; and D&C 101:43-62. It is also a love poem (verse 1) that features the bridegroom (the Lord) and his bride (the house of Israel).
Verses 8 through 25 contain a series of six pronouncements, or six woes, upon wicked Israel. In this section Isaiah lists Israel's major sins and warns of destruction, desolation, and scattering. Again, the foreseen destruction may find its fulfillment on at least four different occasions: (1) From 732-722 BC when the Assyrians routed the northern kingdom of Israel in Samaria and carried their most influential citizens captive back to Assyria. Also in 701 B.C., Assyria destroyed much of Judah and besieged Jerusalem. (2) In 586 BC Jerusalem was captured by the Babylonians. (3) In AD 70 Jerusalem was demolished by the Romans. (4) In the latter days there will be the battles against Jerusalem and the destruction of the wicked by fire at the time of the Lord's second coming.
Finally, verses 26 through 30 conclude the chapter with the promise of an ensign to the nations, a gathering of Israel, and a mighty army of soldiers (or missionaries) bringing peace to Israel.
The symbolism in the parable of the vineyard includes the following:
vineyard-the House of Israel
choice vine-the people of Israel from whom the Lord expects much
choice grapes-the righteous of the House of Israel
wild Grapes-the wicked Israelites who have broken their covenant.
master of the vineyard-Jehovah
1 And then will I sing to my well-beloved a song of my beloved, touching his vineyard. My well-beloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill.
verse 1 "And then" It is interesting to note that the King James version of this verse (Isaiah 5) begins with the word "now" instead of "and then." The Book of Mormon's inspired modification temporally connects this verse to the previous chapter and identifies the time period being referred to in chapter fifteen as the future rather than the days of Isaiah. While Isaiah may be speaking of the specific judgments and destructions to come upon Judah, the pronouncements of judgment and the promises spoken of in verses 26 through 30 definitely have an apocalyptic flavor-that is, they refer to the last days just before the Lord's second coming.
"will I sing" The first person is Isaiah. He is about to sing a love song to his "well-beloved" master of the vineyard, Jehovah. The parable of the vineyard begins as a love song. Isaiah speaks (sings) about the vineyard and its master using third person narration. The vineyard represents the house of Israel, and its master is the Lord Jehovah.
"touching" Touching is better translated "concerning" or "about."
"vineyard" This term represents the house of Israel, the Lord's covenant people in all ages.
"very fruitful hill" This is better translated "very fertile hill." The Hebrew literally means "a horn, a child of fatness," likely referring to a horn-like mountain peak with exceptionally fertile soil. This is a metaphor for the promised covenant land of Israel where God planted his vineyard, or the house of Israel.
Isaiah is about to sing a love song to the Lord. Isaiah's song will describe the destruction of the vineyard which represents the scattering of the tribes of Israel. What destruction was Isaiah prophesying of? Here's one of those double, triple, or even quadruple applications. He may have had reference to Assyria's conquering of the northern kingdom, Babylon's conquering of Judah, Rome's conquering of Judah, or the Lord's great destruction of the wicked at his second coming.
2 And he fenced it, and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a wine-press therein; and he looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes.
verse 2 "he fenced it" The master put up a fence and planted the best available grape vines which represent the people of the house of Israel. He has great expectations of these vines.
An alternate reading is based on the fact that the Hebrew reads yerazeqehu which is "he dug up the soil" rather than "fenced it" (Brown, Driver, and Briggs, Hebrew and English Lexicon, 740).
"choicest vine" The Lord lovingly cultivated his vineyard and planted in it the "choicest vine" which represents the people of the house of Israel, or perhaps more specifically the tribe of Judah. The "choicest vine" in Isaiah's time was a special variety, the soreq bluish-red grape instead of the more common variety, the gephen grape. The soreq produced a red wine famous for its bouquet and taste.
"built a tower" The Lord built a watchtower in the midst of the vineyard which was a common practice in ancient Palestine. From the "tower" watchmen, could watch for impending danger to the vineyard, such as wild animals or thieves. Metaphorically, these watchmen are the prophets who watch for impending danger and evil and then warn the children of Israel (Ezekiel 3:17; Ezekiel 33:1-7; D&C 101:43-62). Some have speculated that the "tower" might refer to Solomon's temple.
"also made a wine-press therein" The Lord expected an abundant harvest, so he also made a winepress, a machine used to press grapes into wine. The winepress is a powerful image or symbol of Jesus's atonement (Isaiah 63:1-6; D&C 76:107).
"it brought forth wild grapes" He looked for the vineyard to produce choice grapes, but instead, it produced only "wild grapes" (from the Hebrew word meaning stinking, sour, worthless things)-which are bitter and virtually useless for pressing into wine. The Hebrew phrase for "wild grapes" might better be translated "sour grapes" (Brown, Driver, and Briggs, Hebrew and English Lexicon, 93). Choice grapes represent the righteous. Sour grapes symbolize those who have fallen from the covenant and left God's kingdom.
3 And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, betwixt me and my vineyard.
verse 3 Notice now that the first person is no longer Isaiah, but rather the Lord. In the final verses of this chapter, Isaiah will switch back to a third person narration.
"O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah" Although the inhabitants of Judah are the immediate audience for Isaiah's song, the song may be sung to all Israel throughout all generations.
"I pray you" Please.
"judge . . . betwixt me and my vineyard" "Betwixt" is archaic for "between." The Lord appeals to his audience. He is about to ask, "What could I have done more?"
4 What could have been done more to my vineyard that I have not done in it? Wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes it brought forth wild grapes.
verse 4 The Lord addresses Isaiah's reading audience and asks them to judge between the master and the people of the house of Israel represented by the vineyard. They will certainly judge the master blameless and above reproach, and they will empathize with his disappointment in the small, sour grapes. A poignant comparable verse evidences the Lord's great compassion: "The Lord of the vineyard wept, and said . . .. What could I have done more for my vineyard?" (Jacob 5:41).
"when I looked that it should bring forth grapes" This might be more smoothly translated "when I hoped that it would bring forth grapes."
"it brought forth wild grapes" The wild or sour grapes symbolize evil people who reject Christ and his atonement. These sour grapes will be trodden down by the Lord in great fury at the time of his second coming, causing his robe to be red (D&C 133:50-51).
5 And now go to; I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard-I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up; and I will break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down;
verse 5 The expression "go to" is generally a positive expression of send-off and an encouragement similar to "God speed" or "good luck." Its use here is puzzling.
The "hedge" and the "wall" signify God's protection of the house of Israel. God will remove them so that wild beasts and invading armies may trample the vineyard. He will allow his people to be destroyed by their enemies.
"Eaten up" is from the Hebrew leba'er which means "to be burned" or "consumed" (Ibid., 128-29). This may refer to the eventual burning of the wicked of Israel at his second coming.
6 And I will lay it waste; it shall not be pruned nor digged; but there shall come up briers and thorns; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.
verse 6 Finally, the master resolves that he will destroy the vineyard. Rather than uprooting the vines, however, he simply tears down the protective walls and allows travelers to trample, and animals to eat up the vines. This process of abandoning the vineyard exemplifies the judgments of God, who usually doesn't destroy or severely punish a wicked person, but rather simply leaves him alone to face the challenges of life and the buffetings of Satan without the protection of the Spirit.
"it shall not be pruned nor digged" The master will not hoe, weed, or otherwise cultivate. In other words, he will remove the blessings usually given to those in his earthly kingdom.
"briers and thorns" These represent the world and its inhabitants bereft of the Lord's blessings which he is wont to bestow upon the people of his kingdom. Here this phrase may be a metaphor referring to another people displacing the covenant people. For example, following 722 B.C., pagan peoples were introduced into the northern kingdom (2 Kings 17:24), and after the destruction of the temple by the Romans in AD 70 foreign peoples inhabited the lands of the southern kingdom.
"I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it." We have our first indication that this Lord of the vineyard is more powerful than a normal mortal landowner. "Rain" represents revelation and the word of God.
Spiritually, the house of Israel (the vineyard) became a wasteland through apostasy and rejection of the kindnesses, love, and care of the Master of the vineyard. God would not have laid waste the vineyard had it been fruitful.
7 For the vineyard of the Lord of Hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah his pleasant plant; and he looked for judgment, and behold, oppression; for righteousness, but behold, a cry.
verse 7 This final verse of the parable gives its interpretation: The vineyard represents the House of Israel. The "pleasant plant" or choice vine is the people of Israel from whom the master expects much. It may also represent Judah whom the Lord expected to provide leadership to Israel.
The people of Judah will receive a punishment commensurate with their sins. The last three lines of this verse are a type of word play that cannot be appreciated because of the translation into English. Isaiah illustrates the irony of Judah's disobedience by using words in Hebrew which sound alike but have opposite meanings:
and he looked for judgment (justice), [Hebrew: mishpat]
but behold, bloodshed; [Hebrew: mispach]
for righteousness, [Hebrew: tsedakah]
but behold, a cry (a cry of distress)! [Hebrew: tse'akah]
(from the New American Standard Bible, emphases added)
The irony here is that the Lord expected much of the tribe of Judah, but his expectations were not to be realized. Thus he (the Lord) looked among the people of Judah for justice (fair play, consideration), but he saw only bloodshed. The Lord had promised Israel that he would hear them cry (Exodus 22:23; Genesis 18:20-21).
This style of parable is a powerful device in which the audience unknowingly condemns itself before they realize that they themselves are the ones being spoken about. Isaiah's parable of the vineyard condemns Israel for failing to serve the Lord.
verses 8-25 Now Isaiah will accuse Israel by presenting "six woes" or six specific areas in which Israel has serious spiritual troubles or deficiencies, and thus stands condemned before the Lord. Specifically, "woe" means severe anguish and distress resulting from God's judgments, which will come upon the guilty in all ages of the world, including our own. He also pronounces three major punishments that are to fall upon Israel-the desolation of their land, their scattering throughout the world, and the hell of spirit prison.
verses 8-10 The first woe speaks out against the improper use of land.
8 Wo unto them that join house to house, till there can be no place, that they may be placed alone in the midst of the earth!
verse 8 In ancient Israel there was a law governing ownership of property called the "law of the Jubilee." This law specified that a family's lands were to remain with that family as a perpetual inheritance and were not to be sold. Although drought, sickness, or economic setback might require a farmer to sell his land or indenture himself to cover his losses, the year of Jubilee, every fifty years, was established during which all debts were forgiven and lands returned to the original owners. A Zion society is based upon the individual ownership of property and cannot exist when a wealthy few monopolize the land and means of production.
In Isaiah's time, this law was abused by wealthy landowners who bought up lands until those lands bordered one another ("join house to house") thus creating a monopoly. Thus the poor small farmers were displaced as their lands were absorbed and the wealthy farmer had sole ownership of large tracts of land. The poor, meanwhile, having no land ("there can be no place"), were forced to move to the cities or live on the property as indentured servants or slaves. Judah's penalty for this practice is to be "placed alone in the midst of the earth" or scattered among the nations of the earth.
The expression "join house to house," then, has the general meaning to covet and to steal other people's property or to obtain property through legal but unethical means. Or even to take any advantage of others for material gain.
Monte Nyman, in his book Great are the Words of Isaiah (43-44), suggests that the phrases "join house to house" and "no place, that they may be placed alone in the midst of the earth" imply a warning against that a people's or any people's allowing a strong form of central government to control property thus forfeiting individual rights.
9 In mine ears, said the Lord of Hosts, of a truth many houses shall be desolate, and great and fair cities without inhabitant.
verse 9 The Lord had told Isaiah (in his ears) that the day would come when the beautiful and lavish homes of the wealthy few would be uninhabited. This would occur because the land would be cursed by the Lord and become unproductive, desolate, and uninhabitable.
Brother Nyman (Ibid.) further suggests that this verse confirms the warning that if Judah gives up her individual personal freedoms to a strong central government, her people will be scattered-her "great and fair" cities will be left desolate.
10 Yea, ten acres of vineyard shall yield one bath, and the seed of a homer shall yield an ephah.
verse 10 The meager harvest which the land would yield is graphically portrayed.
The phrase "ten acres" is derived from the Hebrew phrase "ten yokes." "Ten yokes" is the amount of land ten yoke of oxen can plough in a day and equals about five modern-day acres.
A harvest of grapes from this much land would ordinarily yield dozens of gallons of wine. In its cursed condition, however, this parcel of land yields only one "bath." A "bath" is a Hebrew unit for measuring liquid and equals about five and one half gallons or one barrel of wine.
A "homer" is a Hebrew unit of capacity-about six bushels. A "homer" of seed will yield only one "ephah" of seeds when harvested. An "ephah" is just over a bushel. Thus the ground yields only one sixth of the expected harvest.
verses 11-17 The second woe condemns those who, with evil intent, eat, drink, and make merry.
11 Wo unto them that rise up early in the morning, that they may follow strong drink, that continue until night, and wine inflame them!
verse 11 This verse condemns alcohol abuse. It is well recognized today that a man who feels a need for alcoholic drink in the morning hours is in an advanced stage of alcoholic addiction. After drinking all day, he is roaring drunk by evening. "There shall be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die; and it shall be well with us" (2 Nephi 28:7).
12 And the harp, and the viol, the tabret, and pipe, and wine are in their feasts; but they regard not the work of the Lord, neither consider the operation of his hands.
verse 12 This verse condemns not only the people's drinking, but the riotous lifestyle associated with it. At their feasts they had musical instruments for merry making.
A "viol" or lyre is a type of harp with three to twelve strings. A "tabret" or timbrel is a type of drum or tambourine. A "pipe" is a flute.
"feasts" In this context "feasts" does not refer to religious feasts and festivals but to bacchanalian (a drunken feast) revelry.
Worldly music, lightmindedness, and a raucous lifestyle displaces in their minds the things of the Spirit.
13 Therefore, my people are gone into captivity, because they have no knowledge; and their honorable men are famished, and their multitude dried up with thirst.
verse 13 "my people are gone into captivity" Note the use of the "prophetic perfect" verb tense. Even though he is prophesying of events in the future, Isaiah speaks in the past tense. This was common verb construction form among the Hebrew prophets.
This verse teaches us that this worldly lifestyle and its attendant disregard of spiritual understanding ("knowledge") leads to "captivity," hunger, and "thirst" (Alma 12:9-11).
On a personal or physical level, alcohol leads to physical addiction ("captivity") and continual craving ("thirst"). On a national level, the Lord warns of consequent captivity by the Assyrians (they captured the northern ten tribes between 732 and 722 BC), the Babylonians (they captured Judah in 587 B.C.), and perhaps others. This because the "honorable men" or leaders failed to listen to the prophets. On a spiritual level, this lifestyle leads to spiritual captivity with hunger and "thirst" representing a loss of the Spirit. "Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord" (Amos 8:11). The wicked lack an understanding of Jesus Christ and the power of his atonement. They do not partake of the "bread" (John 6:33; John 6:48) and "waters" (Jeremiah 2:13; Jeremiah 17:13; 1 Nephi 2:9; Ether 12:28) of life which refer to Jesus Christ.
14 Therefore, hell hath enlarged herself, and opened her mouth without measure; and their glory, and their multitude, and their pomp, and he that rejoiceth, shall descend into it.
verse 14 The people's raucous lifestyle will cause the spirit prison ("Sheol" or "hell") to swell its ranks ("enlarge herself, and opened her mouth without measure") with the merry makers (those "that rejoiceth") and all their trappings ("their glory . . . and their pomp").
15 And the mean man shall be brought down, and the mighty man shall be humbled, and the eyes of the lofty shall be humbled.
verse 15 Both the "mean man" (the common, average, or ordinary man) and the "mighty man" (the haughty man of some worldly prominence and ability) shall be humbled in "hell." All wicked individuals, regardless of social status, will be humbled when God's judgments come upon them.
"the eyes of the lofty shall be humbled" This phrase refers to those who covet, lust, and are greedy.
16 But the Lord of Hosts shall be exalted in judgment, and God that is holy shall be sanctified in righteousness.
verse 16 This verse contains two parallel statements separated by a comma.
"the Lord of Hosts shall be exalted in judgment" This statement stands in sharp contrast to the idea in the previous verse that wicked men will be brought and humbled. A reminder that in spite of all manner of apostasy and worldliness, that eventually the Lord, Zion, and the things of the Spirit will prevail. This prevalence will begin at the Lord's second coming.
"God that is holy shall be sanctified in righteousness" The New International Version of the Bible presents a better reading of this phrase: "God will show himself holy by his righteousness."
17 Then shall the lambs feed after their manner, and the waste places of the fat ones shall strangers eat.
verse 17 The destruction portrayed in earlier verses has become so complete that where the "vineyard of the Lord" once stood, lambs and goats now graze. The "waste places of the fat ones" likely refers to the now desolate lands, or ruins, of the once rich and prosperous but wicked covenant people ("the fat ones"), now inhabited by another people.
The warnings and judgments of this verse echo the words given by Moses in Deuteronomy. Moses told Israel that the Lord was giving them a bountiful land for which they did not need to work. Because it was a free gift, he warned them to "beware lest thou forget the Lord, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of Bondage" (Deuteronomy 6:12). He later warned them that if they did forget the Lord, then: "The Lord shall bring a nation against thee . . . and he shall eat the fruit of thy cattle and the fruit of thy land, until thou be destroyed" (Deuteronomy 28:49; Deuteronomy 28:51).
"strangers" The Hebrew scribe apparently mis-wrote gariym, "strangers" for gadiym, "goats." "Goats" parallels lambs in this synonymous parallelism.
verses 18-19 The third woe is directed against those who are wicked and mock God and his divine plan.
18 Wo unto them that draw iniquity with cords of vanity, and sin as it were with a cart rope;
verse 18 The third woe deals with the person who makes no attempt to hide his great iniquity. The common thief is at least recognized as such and is condemned for his sins by everyone. However, on a grander scale, the man who has won great material wealth, prestige, and status by his far greater iniquity wears the trappings of his iniquity with vain pride (he draws "iniquity with cords of vanity"). He pulls around his large burden of sins as animals pull a loaded cart (he pulls his "sin as it were with a cart rope").
19 That say: Let him make speed, hasten his work, that we may see it; and let the counsel of the Holy One of Israel draw nigh and come, that we may know it.
verse 19 He has lost the Spirit to the point where he has the incredible audacity to dictate to the Lord and challenge him and even presume to judge his works. Rather than humbly waiting upon the Lord and receiving a spiritual witness according to the Lord's schedule, the proud one throws a challenge with the same spirit as that offered to Alma by Korihor: "If thou wilt show me a sign, that I may be convinced that there is a God, yea, show unto me that he hath power, and then will I be convinced of the truth of thy words" (Alma 30:43).
"let the counsel of the Holy One of Israel draw nigh and come" Let's hear the advice or counsel of this supposed Holy One of Israel.
verse 20 The fourth woe speaks out against liars and those who fight against the things of God.
20 Wo unto them that call evil good, and good evil, that put darkness for light, and light for darkness, that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!
verse 20 The meaning of the fourth woe is clear and requires no amplification. Without the Spirit there can be no power of eternal discernment. Thus: Abortion is good-it is the right of a woman to do with her own body what she will. Giving birth to more than one or two children is evil. Domesticity is a stifling condition of woman who needs to get out of the house and become liberated. Physical appetites are normal and their mutual satisfaction, between "consenting adults," is the natural thing. Wealth, pleasure, and status are all to be sought for. "Wherefore, take heed, my beloved brethren, that ye do not judge that which is evil to be of God, or that which is good and of God to be of the devil" (Moroni 7:14).
verse 21 The fifth woe deals with conceited individuals who believe themselves to be wise.
21 Wo unto the wise in their own eyes and prudent in their own sight!
verse 21 In pronouncing the fifth woe, Isaiah warns that intellectualism is not necessarily wisdom. Man's understanding cannot supplant God's counsel. Man cannot lean on his own sophistication and logic in matters of the Spirit (see also 2 Nephi 9:28).
verses 22-23 The sixth woe accuses those who give bribes and belittle the righteous.
22 Wo unto the mighty to drink wine, and men of strength to mingle strong drink;
verse 22 In the sixth woe, Isaiah uses mockery, and he also employs the symbolism of "strong drink" as the antithesis of righteousness. He speaks to men who would boast of their strength. He, in effect, says, "You are strong and mighty and heroic and valiant all right-heroic at drinking wine, and champions at mixing drinks.
23 Who justify the wicked for reward, and take away the righteousness of the righteous from him!
verse 23 "justify the wicked for reward" You are drunk with your own ambition. To further your position, you would acquit the guilty for a bribe and deprive the innocent of his rights.
"take away the righteousness of the righteous" You deprive the good man of his legal rights. You cheat him. Actually this expression may imply more than simply a warning against cheating others. "The righteous" is Jesus Christ (see 1 John 2:1; John 2:29). Isaiah condemns those who would refer to Jesus as only a "great teacher" or a "super star."
24 Therefore, as the fire devoureth the stubble, and the flame consumeth the chaff, their root shall be rottenness, and their blossoms shall go up as dust; because they have cast away the law of the Lord of Hosts, and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.
verse 24 After defining and pronouncing the six woes, Isaiah then pronounces the judgments which will rapidly come, one after another.
Stubble is straw left on the ground after harvest. Chaff is husk after the wheat is winnowed. The Lord has referred to the gathering of the saints as the "harvest" (see D&C 101:64). After the harvest, the stubble and chaff remain. Thus, this analogy likening the wicked to the stubble and the chaff is apt, and likening their fate to a stubble fire is certainly descriptive.
In the second part of the verse, an analogy is employed wherein an individual is likened to a plant. His "roots" are his progenitors, his "blossom" refers to his descendants. Since he has denied the Lord ("the Holy One of Israel"), he has denied the priesthood with its sealing power. This will result in a disintegration or decay ("rottenness," "blossoms shall go up as dust") of his family as an eternal unit (see JSH 2:38-39 and 3 Nephi 25:1-6). He will not be allowed posterity.
25 Therefore, is the anger of the Lord kindled against his people, and he hath stretched forth his hand against them, and hath smitten them; and the hills did tremble, and their carcasses were torn in the midst of the streets. For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.
verse 25 "he hath stretched forth his hand against them" It seems more likely that rather than the Lord's actively smiting his people, he simply withdraws his protective support leaving them vulnerable. He thus allows the natural enemies of the people to do the punishing.
"the hills did tremble" Even the earth's elements respond to the power of God.
"their carcasses were torn in the midst of the streets" The corpses of the people were regarded as garbage. The setting is likely one of war.
Isaiah concludes this verse with a two-fold promise: "For all this his anger is not turned away" and "his hand is stretched out still." Likely the idea is intended that while the Lord's judgment and punishment still hang over the people and there can be no mistaking his anger at them, his hand is always stretched forth to help them and receive them if they accept him. An analogous verse which confirms this interpretation is 2 Nephi 28:32: "Wo be unto the Gentiles, saith the Lord God of Hosts! For notwithstanding I shall lengthen out mine arm unto them from day to day, they will deny me; nevertheless, I will be merciful unto them, saith the Lord God, if they will repent and come unto me; for mine arm is lengthened out all the day long, saith the Lord God of Hosts."
Two modern translations support an alternate and quite opposite interpretation of the second of these two phrases. Today's English Version of the Bible renders them: "Yet even so the Lord's anger is not ended; his hand is still stretched out to punish." Also the Jerusalem Bible: "Yet his anger is not spent, still his hand is raised to strike."
verse 26-30 If taken in a contemporary historical context at the time of Isaiah, these verses probably describe the Assyrian army with all their terrible power. They struck with speed, seemed to need no rest, and did not pause long enough to take off their shoes. Their weapons were ready, their roar was like that of a lion, and when they seized their prey, none could stop them. Their destruction was so swift and complete that even in daylight, there was darkness (perhaps from the smoke of burning cities) and gloom (defeat) that hung over the people. God's judgment was wrought upon Israel by the Assyrians between 732 and 722 BC when Assyria conquered the northern kingdom in Samaria and carried away the Ten Tribes. Also in 701 B.C., Assyria destroyed much of Judah and besieged Jerusalem.
Scriptural evidence is strong, however, that Isaiah intended also another meaning for these verses. He apparently foresaw the latter days just prior to the Savior's second coming.
This section introduces two divine activities that will attract members of the house of Israel to gather to their lands of promise. He will hold up a flag, or standard, unto all the nations of the earth around which Israel may rally. Also he will attract the attention of Israel through a "hiss" or a whistle. These activities symbolize the manner by which the earth's inhabitants will be called to Zion in the latter days after they accept the gospel of Jesus Christ. We will learn in this section that nothing will impede those who come to Zion.
26 And he will lift up an ensign to the nations from far, and will hiss unto them from the end of the earth; and behold, they shall come with speed swiftly; none shall be weary nor stumble among them.
verse 26 "he will lift up an ensign to the nations" In these latter days the Lord will lift up an "ensign to the nations" from afar off which will inspire and exhort members of the house of Israel to gather to their promised lands. The word "ensign" means a signal, a standard, a flag, or a rallying point. This "ensign" is the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. Various aspects of the restored gospel which will serve as a "standard" to the world in that day are: (1) The gospel teachings and covenants will serve as "a standard for my people, and for the gentiles to seek to it" (D&C 45:9). (2) The powers of the priesthood including missionary work will serve as "an ensign, and for the gathering of my people in the last days" (D&C 113:6). (3) The Book of Mormon will "hiss forth [whistle or ring out] unto the ends of the earth, for a standard unto my people, which are of the house of Israel" (2 Nephi 29:2). (4) Zion. The people that gather unto the Church in that latter day will live a lifestyle that contrasts with that lifestyle lived by the rest of the world. Thus the people themselves will serve as an "ensign" to the nations (see D&C 115:5-6).
Using this "ensign," the Lord will signal or whistle or "hiss," unto Israel who are scattered in all parts of the earth. This will doubtless occur by the promptings of the Spirit.
Then, "they shall come with speed swiftly"-scattered Israel shall gather to Zion swiftly.
In this dispensation, the initial gathering to Zion (on the western hemisphere) and to Jerusalem has been slow and fraught with much trial and suffering. Certainly the pace of gathering is quickening, however. Perhaps the suggestion is implicit herein that the day will come when the pace of gathering will be even more accelerated.
verses 27-29 Imagine yourself in Isaiah's day being shown in vision the latter-day gathering of Israel which will surely take place by modern modes of transportation. You would, of necessity, describe the phenomenon using symbols extant in your own day.
27 None shall slumber nor sleep; neither shall the girdle of their loins be loosed, nor the latchet of their shoes be broken;
verse 27 Those gathering to Zion will come so fast-on an airplane-that during their journey they will not have to sleep or grow weary, and they won't even have to change clothes en route! The "girdle of their loins" is their waist cloth. "Nor the latchet of their shoes be broken." Isaiah obviously did not foresee the role of the present government's TSA.
28 Whose arrows shall be sharp, and all their bows bent, and their horses' hoofs shall be counted like flint, and their wheels like a whirlwind, their roaring like a lion.
verse 28 Once gathered in Zion, this mighty army of the Lord will turn their attention to spreading the gospel throughout the world. Armed with God's power (the priesthood) and his word, their "arrows are sharp" and "all their bows bent" with excitement. A "bent bow" is one that is strung and ready.
In Isaiah's day, it was not customary to shoe horses with metal shoes. Thus firmness and solidity of a horses hoof-"like flint"-was a very desirable quality. Here Isaiah comments on the quality of this army of missionaries. Not only are they strong but fast ("wheels like a whirlwind") and bold ("their roaring like a lion").
29 They shall roar like young lions; yea, they shall roar, and lay hold of the prey, and shall carry away safe, and none shall deliver.
verse 29 This army of young missionaries ("young lions") shall preach with authority ("roar).
The phrase "carry away safe" is translated correctly from the Hebrew. The Hebrew verb carries with it the idea of "to place in safety or to escape from danger." This is awkward for modern translators or commentators. How can a lion lay hold of prey and carry it away "safe"? Some modern translations have omitted the idea of "safety." Being aware of the verse's latter-day and missionary context, however, it is easy to understand. The "prey" or converts shall be "carried away" safe to Zion. Zion will serve as "a defense, and . . . a refuge from the storm, and from wrath when it shall be poured out without mixture upon the whole earth" (D&C 115:5-6).
"none shall deliver" No one will take their "prey" from the gathering missionaries.
30 And in that day they shall roar against them like the roaring of the sea; and if they look unto the land, behold, darkness and sorrow, and the light is darkened in the heavens thereof.
verse 30 "they shall roar against them" They refers to the young lions, the young missionaries. These missionaries will "roar" or preach against them, or those who would try to take their prey from them (see the phrase "none shall deliver" in the previous verse).
Some, of course, will not believe. The missionaries will encounter, in that day, considerable corruption. They shall preach ("roar") against the wicked and the wickedness. This verse presents a contrast between the light of the gospel and the darkness of the apostate condition of the earth. Much evil and darkness will shroud the light of God's work in the last days. The "land" is the land of the wicked which will contain great sin and wickedness to the point of "darkness and sorrow." Spiritual light will not be found among these unrighteous peoples.