O Virgin Daughter of Babylon

Isaiah 47

An entire chapter of Isaiah is dedicated to the demise of Babylon. This is a refreshing break from the previous theme of God verses the idols, but that one full chapter would be dedicated to this theme seems significant.

It’s what Babylon represents and what it has represented. Babylon thought it could avoid the tragic ends of widowhood and childlessness.

It’s this image, so common, that Babylon represented: that a of a naive and beautiful young woman, who vainly hoped to avoid the hardships of mortality.

In verse 6, the Lord acknowledges his wrath upon the house of Israel, and that he allowed the House of Israel to be delivered into the hands of Babylon, but that this in no means was yet a justification for Babylon’s wickedness or cruelty towards the Lord’s people.

Because of Babylon’s sorceries and enchantments (superstitions), they are left without children or spouse.

Q: Why does a belief in the truth preserve family life?

Truth is law and law is the reality of things as they really are. These are the principles of life that define our reality. Family life only exists in obedience to the laws of life. Where we choose not to abide by laws, there family life ceases to exist.

A Definition of Babylon

How shall we define Babylon?

For thou hast trusted in thy wickedness: thou hast said, None seeth me. Thy wisdom and thy knowledge, it hath perverted thee; and thou hast said in thine heart, I am, and none else beside me.

Verse 10

What is wickedness? Why would one trust in it? From the above verse, we see that the fruits of wickedness includes a false self-confidence, an assurance that “none seeth” the bad things that we do. Wickedness takes abuse of wisdom and knowledge, and uses it for personal gain, instead of recognizing it as a sacred stewardship. The biggest issue with wickedness is the false reality that there is none else; this idea that we exist alone.

If there is any one reality that the stars bear witness to, it is that we are not alone in the universe.

One more day on this particular chapter, Babylon, because she trusted in her wickedness, she will not, she cannot be kept from evil:

  • Therefore shall evil come upon thee; thou shalt not know from whence it riseth
  • mischief shall fall upon thee; thou shalt not be able to put it off
  • desolation shall come upon thee suddenly, which thou shalt not know

(Verse 11)

Babylon has six sources of its wickedness:

  • Enchantments
  • Sorceries
  • Astrologers
  • Star Gazers
  • Monthly Prognosticators
  • Merchants

In the absence of truth, in the absence of priesthood and its power, superstitions take its place. (The ground will be covered, but with what?) Babylon is accused of being in association with all these since her youth. And none of these have the power to save them from the destruction that follows falsehoods and lies.

The truly interesting thing about all these is that they yet exist in our time. Though Babylon is no more, just a distant memory, her vices exist still among all societies that refuse to follow the truth.

My Counsel Shall Stand

Isaiah 46

This theme of idols verses God is repeated again in this chapter. Do we not put our confidence in dead works today just as much as they did in antiquity? Our idols are now electric powered. They are capable of artificial intelligence. And yet somehow, naively, these works of our hands are to be endowed with power enough to save us? From what?

In verses 3 & 4, there are reminders of the Lord’s goodness and care for us which extends from our birth and infancy all the way to old age.

The prevalent theme of this chapter is the reality that the words of God uttered from the beginning of time will be fulfilled even until the very end of time. Every word of God shall be fulfilled. God is not a liar. God is in all things an honest being. He says things as they are and as they will be. This is a very interesting characteristic of His Being.

This also reminds me of the introduction to the Doctrine and Covenants: “what I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken…” Anyone familiar with the God of the Old Testament could immediately recognize this same Being in the Doctrine and Covenants. “…though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled.” (Doctrine and Covenants 1:38)

…for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me,

Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure:

Verses 9 &10

“I will place salvation in Zion for Israel my glory.” (vs 13)

What this seems to suggest is that the salvation of Israel will come from Zion. Zion was historically established much earlier than Israel. Both represent sacred covenants with God, and it seems quite fitting that Zion be employed to redeem Israel: the one that has successfully established a gospel-centered society helping the other that has struggled, but also longed for a gospel-centered society.

After praying about this, I think that the real point in saying all this is to show Israel, that the Gospel that they are to follow will not be far from them, or impossible to obtain. There will be no delay (comparatively) in obtaining all that God has promised to give to those who follow him.

Welcome Message

“Welcome Message,” President Russel M. Nelson, April 2021 General Conference – Saturday Morning Session

Not even having read this message yet, the only thing that I have done is prayed to understand the words of the Prophet. In reading the title, which appears mundane and unimpressive, there is a micro-sermon on inclusion. Everyone is welcome in this Church and to this conference.

I am part of a global family of disciples of the Christ. This was the take-home message at the end of my mission. The sister at the airport who I had never met during my two years as a missionary giving me a parting gift for my service to her country as an emissary of the Lord Jesus Christ; the YSA sister that I met once in Liberia on an exchange; these disciple of the Christ in the far-flung regions of this beautiful earth, connected by covenant, these are your brothers and sisters.

There is an invitation here to consider what has changed in my thinking since the start of the pandemic. This invitation (actually not, but made in the form of an observation) is two-fold:

  • What things didn’t I know before the pandemic?
  • What did I previously know but gained new insights on, or was brought to consider it in a different light? (“Some lessons that I knew before have been written on my heart in new and instructive ways.”)

(Answer later)

Pres. Nelson starts his remarks by pointing to Christ and testifying of how he and his counselors see the Lord directing his work in very personal ways. Things are speeding up. The Lord is directing the “hastening of his work.” Pres. Nelson is telling us what is going on. This is different than in times past, where I’ve heard other say the Lord is directing his work. There is a speeding up process, steps forward in significant ways.

Testimonies are built in our homes. “Testimonies are best cultivated in the home.” I’m going to need to let that sit on me for a few days. If testimonies are best cultivated in the home, what does that mean? Living life in a gospel-oriented fashion. Facing challenges with gospel perspective and insight.

He talks about the renovation process or what it means to “dramatically increase the study of the Gospel in our homes” by referencing what is happening to the Salt Lake Temple right now.

The Lord needs a people worthy and willing to prepare the world for the Second Coming of the Lord.

But the core of his open is message was on repentance.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is a gospel of repentance. Because of the Savior’s Atonement, His gospel provides an invitation to keep changing, growing, and becoming more pure. It is a gospel of hope, of healing, and of progress. Thus, the gospel is a message of joy! Our spirits rejoice with every small step forward we take.

Connecting repentance to joy… our spirits rejoice when they are growing, that growth happens when we are repenting. Oh this is so hard to grapple with personally!

Welcome to general conference and to the privilege of hearing the voice of the Lord.

Why would we want to hear the voice of the Lord, if it wasn’t to change?

Look Unto Me

Isaiah 45

Isaiah starts chapter 45 with a prophecy of a future king, Cyrus, who will be raised up of the Lord, though he know it not. Or rather, this king, Cyrus “the Great” would not the Lord. That Isaiah could prophecy this future king’s reign, especially as it pertained to the overthrowing of one kingdom and the rise of a new kingdom, the Lord knows all of this from the beginning: “I the Lord do all these things.” (vs. 7)

This chapter is amazing. Continuing to reinforce this reality that God is capable of all that he decrees, juxtaposed to the idols of men’s fashioning that are literally dead objects that can do nothing. Though God is hidden from man’s view, he does that which is righteous always. (See vs. 19)

Thus saith the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, and his Maker, Ask me of things to come concerning my sons, and concerning the work of my hands command ye me.

Verse 11

Or in other words, ask me what you will, of things past or future. I am able to show it to you.

Those that persist in the construction of idols, they will end in confusion. (Even movies are idols. The construction of great pageantry that is to what end?) On the other hand are those that will persist in helping the Lord to save Israel. Of those the Lord promises: “ye shall not be ashamed nor confounded world without end.” (vs. 17)

(Spend one more day on verse 20-25. I understand them, but I am having a harder time articulating what this means at this moment to me.)

“Ye that are escaped of the nations.” What labors of man are there that are not to the end of idol worship, or better yet, that set men up to worship the works of their own hands, instead of God? Is this not most of modern labor the uprising of man, a metaphorical tower of Babel? If so, if this be true, then how applicable are the words of Isaiah to even a modern world, who’s priorities haven’t changed for a very long time.

“There is no God else beside me; a just God and a Savior.” We are either worshiping this true and living God or we are not. If it were so, if it were otherwise, he would have told us as much. I am also contemplating what it means to belong to the only church that God has claimed as His own. If it be true, what a humbling statement it is! What privilege is ours if indeed we do belong to the Church that He established for the completion of his covenants with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. What a sacred trust is ours if this is the only authorized organization that the true and living God has placed his stamp of approval upon. How lightly I sometimes in the past have let those words just roll of my lips, without even the slightest consideration of the full ramifications of such a statement, divisive and otherwise.

What I am saying is that if, in truth, I belong to the Church of Jesus Christ as established by Himself personally, perhaps some reconsideration of my personal relationship to it (the Church) is in order. Do I regard it as an organized entity founded by Divinity itself? How does that change my relationship to it?

“Look unto me, and be ye saved.” These final verses are witness of Christ’s infinite and real ability to save and to the reality that in the end of times, our times, men will come unto Christ and take on themselves that the strength of Christ that he has to offer.

“Every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear.” Why? Because the way of Christ, the strength that comes from looking to Jesus Christ is the only way. All will eventually come to this realization.

That Confirmeth the Word of His Servant

Isaiah 44

I have read through this last few chapters with clarity and ease of understanding. Why? Surely the Spirit of the Lord is upon me in these days, but I feel that I have done little, nay, nothing to merit such a blessing. So it is with the Lord.

Continuing with the theme of contrast between God and the graven images of men’s creation, the Lord illustrates again how He is able to sustain Israel through famine and drought. He continues to address the folly of those men who will craft such idols and fix their worship upon them. The Lord concludes this chapter with a wonderful reminder to Israel of their redemption:

…I have formed thee; thou art my servant: O Israel, thou shalt not be forgotten of me.

I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions, and, as a cloud, thy sins: return unto me; for I have redeemed thee.

Verses 21-22

New day, I’m re-reading this chapter again. The first thing that strikes me as curious is the distinct relationship between Jacob (Israel) and the Lord. Jacob is called His servant. So the inherent relationship expected of the Lord is that Jacob will do the Lord’s work, not just believe in Him as the Christ or our Redeemer, those of the House of Israel are to do something with our faith in Him, we are to do His work.

Another new day, I am sitting with the verses 3 – 5. Isaiah says that the Lord will pour out water to them that are thirsty. The dry ground shall be covered as with a flood. That’s not a small amount of water. And then he starts talking about posterity and the children and how the Lord’s blessing will be upon the children, so much so that they will want to take Christ’s name upon themselves.

There are two responses that I have to this. The first is: Yes, of course this is happening. This has happened. The second is a call to action. It is a stirring reminder of the work that is yet to be performed. It is up to me to publish the Good news to my own children and to as many others as will believe.

At the end of the chapter, I am hearing the same voice that is found in Section 1 of the Doctrine and Covenants, that is the voice of Christ stating that he will “[confirm] the words of his servant.” And I know this. I absolutely know this is true.

Ye Are My Witnesses

Isaiah 43

This chapters starts with a statement of ownership. Israel belongs to the Lord. The Being that is both responsible for their creation and the details of that creation, He it is who also has concerned Himself with Israel’s redemption. (I am thinking of my own family formed under covenant with Him and my wife.) Is my attitude of responsibility the same as His? What is my level of commitment to those things which I have helped to create?

Again, Isaiah is returning to this theme that is continual among his writings: that besides God, there is no other God. No idols, no false gods, nothing in this world is in comparison to the Creator of all of it. So to illustrate to the people of his day, and maybe as much to our day of “political equality” for all, we find phrases like: I will give Egypt a ransom for you. Ethiopia and Seba are what I am willing to pay for you. The greatest nations of the earth are nothing in comparison to you, my tiny flock of witnesses, because you believe.

Those of us that believe, we are the chosen servants of the Lord to bear witness of Him. (See verse 10) There is no other god. There is none who can deliver me out of His hand. (See verse 13) This reminds me of my move to Marshall. Almost as it were, God was picking us up with his own hands and carrying us safely to another place, I just had to not violate the protective covenants that had brought me thus far! I remember thinking that about the Sabbath day. What a protection that has been for me. Keep the Sabbath day holy, and you will always be protected, strengthened, and empowered to do good. Why? Because God is behind it all! He’s the funding source. He’s got your back when you follow Him, because He is really there. (See verse 11)

The Lord clearly states that with Israel He is doing something new. It is uncharted territory. So though we know that we are following God into something new, something different, something not known of this world, Israel does grow weary of their constant dependence upon God. (see verse 22) The Lord ends this chapter by pointing out how we have made him to serve with our sins. There is a bit of irony in this observation because it is He that has blotted out our transgression, and declared that he will not remember our sins. Then a commandment, “put me in remembrance.” (vs. 26)

This commandment seems to me both logical and easy to observe.

He Shall Bring Forth Judgment

Isaiah 42

The first four verses of this chapter, while illustrating the gentle and caring nature of the Christ, also sets for the scope of a significant future event: the gentiles will be brought to judgment. (I don’t feel that this is a condemnation of the gentiles or a reference to a future judgments against them as a people.)

Verse 4 talks about the Savior having set judgment in the earth, and the isles waiting for his law. This is what causes me to think that when these verses talk about the gentiles being brought to judgment, what is meant here is that those most removed from God (those not of the house of Israel), are brought to understand the true principles on which they should judge for success in their own lives. Everyone shall be brought to understand how to make good judgments.

I appreciate the grandeur of scope that Isaiah paints in reminding me of the nature of God in verse 5. This is followed by what is primarily a reference to Christ. However, a small part of me feels that this is also a reference to those that are covenanted to serve Christ as we engage in his work. Whether it is Christ or his servants the effects are the same, because it is Christ that does the real heavy lifting regardless.

Verses 10 – 12 talk of the various location and ways in which the people will praise the Lord through songs of praise.

Verses 13-15 illustrate the power of God unto destruction. It is an aspect of his character that I don’t easily associate with a God who is also kind and merciful. Verse 14 gives a sense of his timeline. Just as gardens need peaceful conditions in order to thrive, so has the Lord provided a quiet dwelling space for his “garden”. But seasons end. Destruction is a part of the clean-up process to be able to start over, to start anew.

“Cry as a travailing woman”, “destroy and devour at once.” These are the way that God describes his acts of destruction. “I will make waste mountains and hills, and dry up all their herbs; and I will make the rivers islands, and I will dry up the pools.” These are destructive forces. Yet even the fact that God can state exactly what he intends to accomplish in his destruction suggests that this is both controlled and calculated. This is not a God, who in a fit of anger, goes on an uncontrollable rage of destruction that knows no bounds or end. Within the mortal scope of things, it very well could be all-consuming and beyond our bounds of comprehension, but not to God. In a sense, it is simply a matter of scope.

This chapter ends with a discussion of the deaf and blind in spiritual matters. I feel that I am there, perhaps being a little too deaf or blind to the words shared in this last General Conference.

One more day of reading this chapter from top to bottom. Thoughts that impress me again, how gentle is the Lord that he won’t even harm a bruised reed, or the weakest of the weak things of this world. Yet at the same time there are verse in here that talk of sudden destruction, destroying and devouring at once.

This is about the covenant to gather Israel. The Lord would gather his people. He really wants this for his children. He would purge them, cleanse them, compel them to consider his ways, but they remain in blindness, remain deaf. It is a hard thing to fulfill this covenant.

Fear Not

Isaiah 41

This chapter starts with a pickup where the last chapter ended, but having read verse 1 multiple times now, the thought is the same: gardens need time to grow. When the Lord is telling the islands to keep their silence, He’s giving His child the space to grow: “Let them renew their strength.” Give them space to grow in the Gospel light!

Verse 2 talks of a “righteous man from the east” receiving authority over nations. I feel this is a reference to Christ. The subsequent 3 verses are direct reference to this as well.

Verses 6 and 7 talk of neighbors helping and encouraging one another. But on deeper consideration, those that are encouraging each other in these verses are building idols with their own hands.

As I go deeper into this chapter, there is this profound sense of friendship, comradery, and interest from the Lord in those that embark in his service. He is talking to his servant, Israel, the direct offspring of the Lord’s friend, Abraham.

The strongest feelings I have as I review these verses again is the sense that opposition is so minor, so insignificant compared to the strength that the Lord offers. Repeatedly, the Lord tells his servant: fear not.

They That Wait Upon The Lord

Isaiah 40

This chapter starts off with a declaration of comfort towards Jerusalem, whom the Lord says has already suffered double for her sins. This is not a sermon of fire and brimstone. Rather, this is a testimony of the peaceable things of the Kingdom of God.

A Voice Crying in the Wilderness

This chapter is where we find the first reference to the phrase: “The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness” which is first attributed to John the Baptist. But here it is given in connection with events that pertain to the Second Coming of Christ.

Back at the beginning of the chapter, I’m asking myself who are the pronouns directed towards. Is this Isaiah speaking of what he has heard from the mouth of God? Is he speaking in Messianic terms, that is, is this what Christ has heard from the mouth of His Father? Someone is receiving a mandate from God to speak comfort to His people. Then its not Isaiah or Christ saying this is what God has said, or this is what “my” God has said, but the possessive pronoun used here is this is what “your God” has said.

So you who are of the house of Israel, your God has a message for you: Be comforted, and know that you are forgiven. Now prepare the way of the Lord.

All Flesh Is Grass

The passing of humanity, its temporary state, is emphasized here. The Lord compares it to the grass of the field, and the good works of humanity as a flower that soon fades away. Isaiah emphasizes this point for three verses and then states: “but the word of our God shall stand for ever.”

The works of humanity are temporary, the word of God is eternal. Such a more profound investment of time is made when we labor for our God, and the forward motion of His work! For what man, at any point in all of history, has outlived his days? The answer: none.

Behold Your God!

What do I feel? What do I realize when I read verses 9 -11? Verse 9 is a rallying cry to not hide the testimony of the Lord that is within me. Both Zion and Jerusalem are encouraged to lift their voices, be not afraid, and say “Behold your God!”

Verse 10 talks of how the Lord will come to establish his works at the end of times. What is that work? It is the same as is presently underway, only more so. Family history work, the work of knitting hearts together through temple covenants. The work of conversion to the Lord.

Verse 11 reminds me of how attentive the Lord is with his followers. Descriptions like feeding his flocks, gathering his lambs, carrying them in his bosom (or close to his heart), gently leading those that are with young; these paint a picture of a God who is gentle, loving, and kind.

This is the God that Israel is being brought to consider, a God who despite having a strong and mighty arm with power over all nations, who tenderly and mercifully is attentive to our needs. This is what you do with power, when you have it.

With Whom Took He Counsel?

Verses 12-25 offer a humbling set of questions and perspectives that illustrate in unquestionable terms the greatness of our God. As I read these questions, I’m asking myself: how could man even begin to comprehend such questions?

  • Who has measure the waters of the earth in his hands?
  • Who has measured the heavens with a ruler?
  • Who understands (comprehends) the dust of the earth and can assign it any form of measurement?
  • Who had weighed the mountains and hills with a scale?

In Isaiah’s day, no one would have even fathomed such a scale or scope of measurements. In our day, we accomplish such tasks only with tools of observation, but not with precise measurement.

But Isaiah doesn’t stop there. He continues with questions of the grand scope of God:

  • Who directs the Spirit of the Lord?
  • Who is a counselor, or director to the Spirit of the Lord?
  • Who does the Lord take counsel with?
  • Who teaches the Lord?
  • Who taught Him the path of judgment or knowledge?
  • Who showed Him the way of understanding?

We simply do not have answers to these questions. But to assume that they came from anyone within the known mortal realm is inconceivable.

But Isaiah doesn’t stop here. Now he shifts gears to a comparison perspective. To the Lord:

  • The nations of the earth are as a drop in a bucket.
  • The nations of the earth are counted as small dust on a scale.
  • The isles are as a “very little thing”.
  • Lebanon (and its cedar trees) are not worth burning.
  • The animals (beasts) there off are not enough for a burnt offering.
  • All nations before God are as nothing.
  • These nations are counted as less than nothing!
  • Vanity…

And yet, Isaiah doesn’t stop there. Understand oh man, that your idols whether of molten rock or wood not easily rotted, are nothing in comparison. Isaiah’s final set of comparisons equate men with grasshoppers, princes as nothing, judges of the earth as vanity. And all this that we may consider the grandeur of that Being in who we ought to place our strength

But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.

Verse 31

That He Might Know All that Was in His Heart

Isaiah 39

In my initial reading of this chapter, assuming that I am reading correctly, there are four things that strike me as curious and odd about this passage:

  1. My understanding is that Hezekiah is a righteous king. If being righteous, why did he share with his Babylonian visitors a display of all his wealth? (The action seems neither righteous nor wise.)
  2. Isaiah subsequently prophesies that all these treasures of Judah will be taken by the Babylonians and that his posterity will be made servants in Babylon. (That’s kind of alarming!)
  3. Hezekiah’s response is that the word of the Lord is good.
  4. Finally, Hezekiah concludes that in his days there will be peace and truth.

How does Hezekiah justify his own actions here ? What good does he see in the word of Isaiah that foretell the captivity of his family and the loss of the treasures of his kingdom?

There is an almost verbatim account of chapter 39 found in 2 Kings 20, and one additional verse of insight in 2 Chronicles 32:31.

Howbeit in the business of the ambassadors of the princes of Babylon, who sent unto him to inquire of the wonder that was done in the land, God left him, to atry him, that he might know all that was in his heart.

2 Chronicles 32:31

In my opening prayer to my morning study this morning, I was brought to consider a profound connecting point that is not expressed in these verses. Isaiah, the prophet who testified of Jesus Christ and His gospel, might have very meaningfully chose to highlight Hezekiah’s actions in this particular account because of how well it personified Christ’s Gospel:

Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?

(For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.

But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

Matthew 6:31-33

Perhaps what we have here is evidence of a king who has not placed his heart upon his riches, though “God had given him substance very much.” (2 Chronicles 32:29) So when Isaiah prophesies the removal of all his possessions by the Babylonians in the future, this is not of concern to Hezekiah because his heart was not upon his riches.

I still have questions at the end of this study that are unresolved, but I’m choosing to move on presently.