Thou Art My Servant, Oh Israel

Isaiah 49, See also 1 Nephi 21

The first thought that impresses me in this reading is that the Lord is behind it all. It is His name’s honor that will be achieved in the end. “Kings shall see and arise, princes also shall worship, because of the Lord that is faithful,” (vs. 7)

At a different time and a different season in my life I was able to extract much more out of these verses than I have in the present season of my life. But then, what I am now discovering I never understood before.

This session of study started with a comparison of the two chapters. Notable, 1 Nephi 21 starts with a more detailed explanation of the target audience: “all ye that are broken off, that are scattered abroad, who are of my people, O house of Israel.”

The first two verses sound like a reference to the Savior: “from the bowels of my mother hath he made mention” and “he hath made my mouth like a sharp sword”, etc. But then in verse 3, Isaiah sounds to be very deliberately shifting focus to address Israel: “Thou art my servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”
Are we talking about the Savior of the world or are we talking about Israel? Answer: both.

Here’s where the shift in my thinking takes place: I have always looked at Israel as sort of like God’s pet project. “At the end of the day, Israel will be saved.”

But no, Israel is not God’s pet project, but rather for Israel to take its rightful place in the work of God is for Israel to take its place as the Lord’s servant, and if a servant to the Lord, then also a partner, an equal. Christ and His servant, Israel, should be equal and one in the same.

God’s scope is much broader than just Israel. Israel is suppose to be the tool by which the rest of the nations are to be redeemed. And oh, what a frustrating prospect, it seems at times, to have to drag Israel along. ( See vs. 4 )

(The following are notes that were taken when I studied 1 Nephi 21 many years ago. It helps me to understand what’s going on in the rest of this chapter. )

Verses 16-26

These are some exciting verses that illustrates the surprise of a desolated House of Israel at the righteous posterity that will be raised up to possess the promised land.

Verse 16 is profoundly moving and encouraging. The Lord describes his capacity to remember us in terms of his suffering and crucifixion by saying, “I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands.” This is the evidence that the Lord Jesus Christ gives that he will not forsake His people and that He will honor the covenant that He has made with the House of Israel.

What follows are reassuring words of hope in the promise of a righteous posterity.

  • “Thy children shall make haste against thy destroyers,”(vs 17). This seems to suggests that whatever was a struggle for us in our day and time shall be much easier to overcome for the next generation that is brought up in righteousness.
  • “Lift up thine eyes round about and behold; all these gather themselves together, and they shall come to thee,” (vs 18). This reminds me that there are many that long for the ways of the righteous, and many will find them.
  • The actuality of such a posterity yet comes as such a surprise to the remnant of the house of Israel that they ask “Who hath begotten me these, seeing I have lost my children. ” (vs 21).

Verse 22 picks up as an answer to the question posed in verse 21: how is it that Zion had any children if everyone of her natural children had been destroyed? The answer is pivotal to understanding the purposes of the Lord in the last days and how exactly it is that the Lord will redeem His people.

The answer:

Behold, I will lift up mine hand to the Gentiles, and set up my standard to the people; and they shall bring thy sons in their arms, and thy daughters shall be carried upon their shoulders.

Verse 22

Footnotes on “standard”include additional references to this final work (see footnote – Ensign). The standard is also called an ensign. Important doctrines related to the establishment of this final standard or ensign: The work is to be initiated among the gentiles, and it is of such as scope that it will reach the ends of the earth. This is a global work. Yet it is extremely individual.

This particular final point is strongly impressed upon my mind. We are dealing with the salvation of God’s family, and in the end, it shall be as it was in the beginning–available to all. The atonement of Christ works for all men; Jew, Gentile, Tongan, Chinese, Ethiopian, Russian, Israeli, Palestinian, Scandinavian, Brazilian, Indian, French, Nigerian, Australian, American, and all. It is almost impossible for us to comprehend as mortals that all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of God (see Isaiah 52:10, Mosiah 15:31, or Doctrine and Covenants 133:3). But this is the work of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

Then this chapter concludes with these words of encouragement: “For I will contend with them that contendeth with thee, and I will save thy children,” (see vs. 25). This is the faith, the hope, the promise that inspires the work to be accomplished. This is the strength to scale an insurmountable mountain.

In these closing verses are assurance to go ahead with the fight that we are to wage against the forces of this world. There is also the reminder that this is in part why our Lord is also referred to as our Savior, our Redeemer, and the Mighty One of Jacob.

Footnote: There is something about myself personally that has always resonated with the idea of a global church family. I like being a part of a family that spans the globe. This idea feels to be a part of my purpose or personal mission.

The Lord Thy God… Teacheth Thee To Profit

Isaiah 48

Isaiah’s audience in this chapter is setup in verse one: members of the house of Israel by covenant (baptism) who swear by the name of the Lord, but not in truth, nor righteousness.

How could one find themselves in such a position? Perhaps born into a community of believers but they themselves are just going through the motions. (This is a perpetual problem indeed for any faith community that seeks to extend itself beyond one generation.)

The Lord is quick to point out the purposes behind the prophecies given to the house of Israel and it is for the expressed reason so that they would not have means were with to give credit to their idols.

Oh how the Lord is trying to teach us how to profit and prosper in this life. Why did he lead the children of Israel out of Egypt and Babylon? Twice they were led into captivity. Twice did the Lord redeem his covenant people.

It is not simple or mindless task to keep the commandments of God. In fact, it is something of a challenge given the variables of life: time, energy, resources. It’s a perfect storm. It is a perfect convergence of forces to test our faith.

The Lord loves those that will declare his word. (vs. 14)

What are the assumptions that the natural man tells himself when he flees from his Maker?

  • God cannot be found, or is hiding from me.
  • God is not interested in my temporal success or welfare.
  • God doesn’t understand my immediate circumstances.

If the opposite were true on all three of the above counts, what would change about our relationship to God? If I knew that he were deeply invested in my success and well-being and that He could be found doing these things well, how would this change my regard for Him in prayer?

This is Christ talking to me in these verses. It is the Savior who says “I have not spoken in secret from the beginnings.” It is Jesus who says to me “I am the Lord thy God which teacheth thee to profit, which leadeth thee by the way that thou shouldest go.” They are His commandments that bring peace like a river and righteousness like the constant lapping waves of the sea.

I am dealing with a God who is 100% faithful. His way is sure.

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.