A Latter-day Saint Reading of Isaiah: The Example of Isaiah 6

By Paul Y. Hoskisson

Hoskisson, Paul Y., “A Latter-Day Saint Reading of Isaiah: The Example of Isaiah 6” in Sperry Symposium Classics: The Old Testament, ed. Paul Y. Hoskisson (Provo and Salt Lake City: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, and Deseret Book 2005), 209–225.

A Latter-day Saint Reading of Isaiah: The Example of Isaiah 6

Paul Y. Hoskisson

 

Paul Y. Hoskisson is professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University.

Because Isaiah remains imposing and obscure, a few more words of help for the Latter-day Saint student of Isaiah might be justified.

At least six factors contribute to the difficulties modern readers encounter in understanding Isaiah.[1] First, Isaiah wrote to a great extent in poetry,[2] and poetry is by nature obscure, if not cryptic, even to the native speaker of the poetic language.

Second, Isaiah, when not writing in poetry, often wrote in elevated Hebrew literary style. As with all literatures, Hebrew is endowed with its own esoteric peculiarities that could escape even Isaiah’s contemporary readers. These same peculiarities often baffle the modern reader also.

Third, Isaiah is removed culturally from our day. Isaiah’s contemporaries wore different clothes, ate different foods, read from right to left, lived between the superpowers of Egypt and Assyria, and were deeply embroiled in petty squabbles with neighbors. References to Isaiah’s culture in his writings leave most modern readers out of the picture.

Fourth, Isaiah is removed in time from our day. Though this may seem similar to cultural distance, it is actually a different dimension. For instance, contemporary Western readers of Japanese poetry, however removed in culture and literature from Japan, still may have contact with and access to living informants both here in the United States and on the isles of native Japanese culture in Asia. Though this does not alleviate all problems, it does eliminate many. With Isaiah, however, we must content ourselves with a few scraps of Hebrew literature, some contemporary documents,[3] and no living informants.

Fifth, Isaiah draws heavily on scripture and doctrine outside his time and place. To understand and appreciate these embedded allusions, it is necessary to be familiar with more than the times and culture of Isaiah. In this respect, Latter-day Saints have a distinct advantage because of our extended scriptural database.

And sixth, Isaiah was above all else a prophet. Though eloquent, well versed and culturally astute,[4] this would supply only the medium, not the content of his book. To understand the content it is necessary to realize that he spoke from the higher ground of his prophetic insights and visions. This does not mean that the book of Isaiah must remain enigmatic to those of us who do not stand on the same ground. On the contrary, in some cases history has recorded the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophetic statements and one need not, therefore, be a prophet to understand the visions given to Isaiah. In addition, and more important, the same prophetic insights and visions given to Isaiah are available to Latter-day Saints.[5]

These six potential impediments to an understanding of Isaiah can be turned around and employed as tools in the hands of the serious student of Isaiah. Equipped with some knowledge of the poetry, literature, culture, and history of Isaiah’s time, and with an awareness of the scriptures, doctrine, prophetic insights and vision available to Isaiah, we can study and enjoy Isaiah and glean from his writings wisdom for our day.

Using Isaiah 6 as an example, these six points will be employed, though not in any particular order or frequency, to help elucidate the text.[6] In the conclusion, an example of a specific application of each of these six points will be given.

 

Isaiah 6:1 “In the year that king Uzziah died.”

It was the usual practice in Isaiah’s time to date events by the regnal year of a king. Here, Isaiah dates the theophany recorded in the verses that follow to the year in which King Uzziah died, about 742 B.C.[7] Isaiah’s contemporaries would have been able to relate this date to events in their lives and thus perhaps been able to relate to the setting in time of this vision. However, Isaiah’s dating of his theophany was not intended solely for his contemporaries. He also wrote for those who were to follow, and the dating of this vision was intended to help the subsequent readers place it in the times in which it was given.

By 742 B.C. Israel and Judah had already had contact with the Assyrians. At least as early as 853 B.C., Israel had been involved with other Syro-Palestinian states in a coalition that had opposed an Assyrian campaign led by Shalmaneser III into the area of the Levant. Several times in the latter half of the ninth century, the Assyrians ventured close to Palestine, but it was not until Tiglath-pilezer III seized the Assyrian throne in 744 B.C. that the Judean kingdom was brought into the orb of Assyrian might. 2 Kings 15:19–20 records the rendering of tribute by Menahem of Israel and Azariah (Uzziah) of Judah to Tiglath-pilezer.[8]

Because Isaiah saw beyond his day, we must not stop examining the history of his day when we reach the supposed year of the composition of chapter 6. About ten years after ascending the Assyrian throne (734–732 B.C.), Tiglath-pilezer returned in force to Syria- Palestine, laid waste the Syrians with their capital in Damascus, and humbled Israel, capturing all of the Northern Kingdom except the city of Samaria and taking into exile the northernmost tribes. Tiglath-pilezer’s successors, first Shalmaneser V, then Sargon II, and finally Sennacherib, destroyed Samaria and exacted tribute from Judah (by 720 B.C.), forced the remainder of the Northern Kingdom into exile, moved non-Israelites into the vacuum (by about 716 B.C.), laid waste all of Judea except Jerusalem (701 B.C.), and carried thousands of Judeans into Assyrian exile (701 B.C.).

Isaiah lived to see all of this and more. Israel as a political entity ceased to exist. Judah was reduced to servility and would remain so until the reign of Josiah, long after the death of Isaiah. Assyria would totally dominate Palestine and beyond into Egypt, and would continue to do so until well into the last quarter of the seventh century. Such is the historical milieu connoted by the introductory line of this chapter.

 

Isaiah 6:1 “I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple.”

In the introduction (verses 1–8) to what has traditionally been labeled the call to the ministry (verses 9–13), Isaiah related features of the theophany he experienced. Here, as throughout most of the Bible, the translators of the King James Version have made a partial and helpful interpretation of the Hebrew text.[9] Thus, the Lord he sees is not a worldly master but his heavenly master, God, who was seen in His earthly palace, the temple. These phrases pose no problem for most students of literature: God’s throne is exalted and His train, not to be taken as a literal extension of His robe but rather as a symbol of His glory and majesty, fills His earthly palace.[10]

 

Isaiah 6:2 “Above it stood the seraphim.”[11]

Hebrew dictionaries define a seraph in the Old Testament as a mythological being with six wings.[12] The fact, however, that the word “seraphim” is not attested elsewhere in the Old Testament may suggest that Isaiah employed the word here in a unique meaning. As Isaiah and his schooled contemporaries knew, the meaning of the root from which this noun is formed denotes in its verbal aspect to burn or be fiery.[13] Knowing this, Latter-day Saints should have no trouble recognizing that seraphim represent celestial beings who attend God at His throne.[14] (See the explanation of Revelation 4:6 in D&C 77:2.)

 

Isaiah 6:2 “Each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly.”

Based on the explanation in Doctrine and Covenants 77:4 of the three sets of wings of the beasts in Revelation 4:6,[15] Latter-day Saints should recognize that the wings of the seraphim symbolize power. The latter set of wings signify the ability to move. The connotation of the former two sets of wings requires a certain amount of speculation. The word used here for feet in Hebrew, regel, is employed, though infrequently, in the Old Testament as a euphemism for genitalia in particular and their functions in general.[16] Therefore, it would not be amiss to suggest that the second set of wings covered the nakedness of the seraphim. It has been suggested that the first set of wings covered the faces of the seraphim to hide them from the majesty of the Lord[17] and therefore had the power to protect the seraphim from the glory of God.

Even without the help of the Doctrine and Covenants but with a little knowledge of the ancient Near East, it is possible to come to the same conclusions; namely, that wings in the ancient Near East stood for power. For instance, in Malachi 4:2 the sun of righteousness shall “arise with healing in his wings”; i.e., the Son of righteousness will come with the power of healing. There are also numerous examples of winged, supernatural creatures in the ancient Near East, not the least of which is the uraeus. From Tell Halaf there is also an example of a six-winged creature.[18]

 

Isaiah 6:3 “And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.”

This straightforward praise expresses the sanctity and majesty of God and needs no further comment.

 

Isaiah 6:4 “And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried.”

To understand what is intended by these words, it is necessary to know a few things about the construction of buildings in the ancient Near East. Large doors, such as the doors to a temple, did not have hinges as we know them; the leaves of the door were attached to a large post which itself pivoted in a socket (usually stone) top and bottom.[19] Thus, if the post was to bear the weight of the large doors, often covered with metal,[20] it had to be one of the more massive and solidly anchored wooden pieces in the structure. If this post moved at all, it could be caused only by a powerful force. In other words, the voice of the seraph, “the one who cried,” was strong enough to cause the door post to move. The equivalent metaphorical statement in English would be that the roof was raised by the sound of his voice.

 

Isaiah 6:4 “And the house[21] was filled with smoke.”

While it could mean that the Lord, after initially showing Himself to Isaiah, hid His face from him, it is more likely that this wonderfully obtuse poetic metaphor indicates the Lord’s presence, as it clearly does in Exodus 19:18 and 2 Samuel 22:9.[22]

 

Isaiah 6:5 “Then said I, Woe is me! For I am undone; because I am[23] a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.”

It was a fairly common belief in the ancient Near East that one could not look upon the countenance of a god and still live.[24] In addition, Isaiah added a new dimension for his audience to this theme, the fear that being a person of unclean lips—i.e., personal unworthiness to receive this theophany (not just because of the things that came out of his mouth but a general unworthiness)—would worsen the matter and that somehow his association with a ritually unclean people would taint him even more. Even though Isaiah, at this point, stood perhaps at the incipient stage of his calling, it must have been this latter fear that would have concerned Isaiah more than the former fear.

 

Isaiah 6:6–7 “Then flew one of the seraphim unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: And he laid it upon my mouth and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged.”

To remove Isaiah’s unworthiness, to make him fit to stand in the presence of the Lord, one of the seraphim touched his lips with a live coal from the altar. The realization of the significance of this symbolic act derives from an understanding of the altar and its use under the law of Moses. The purpose of the sacrifices under the law of Moses was to look forward through this similitude to the cleansing sacrifice of Jesus Christ and the Atonement that would purge all sins from the lips of those who stand before God.[25] The live coal from the sacrificial altar represents the element that makes the burnt offering possible, the element that cleanses our soul, fire. With this cleansing Isaiah is able to stand with confidence in the presence of the Lord.

 

Isaiah 6:8 “and[26] I heard the voice of the Lord,[27] saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, here am[28] I; send me.”

The surface meaning is clear, Isaiah has answered the call of the Lord to serve as His messenger to the house of Israel. However, without the aid of other scripture it would be nearly impossible to understand fully the Lord’s question and Isaiah’s response. Students of the scriptures will immediately be reminded of the exchange recorded in Abraham 3:27, in which God asked in the council in the premortal life, “Whom shall I send?” to save His people. In answering, “Here am I, send me,” Christ indicated His willingness to carry the message of salvation to God’s children and accomplish the Atonement. By using similar language in this exchange, Isaiah is indicating to those who have ears to hear not only acceptance of his calling to be the bearer of God’s message but also the nature of that message, namely, salvation for his generation.[29]

 

Isaiah 6:9–10 “And he said, Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not. Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed.”[30]

The message of the Lord to Isaiah for the people is at best enigmatic but not totally opaque. However, before the message can be examined for its intent, the plain meaning of the words must be established; that is, what do the ears, eyes, and heart symbolize? In Hebrew literature the ear was the organ of understanding, the eye was the organ of perception, and the heart was the organ of thought.[31] Normally these are the organs that would have been utilized to make the people aware of the Lord’s word to them (for example, see 1 Nephi 12:17). Thus, Isaiah is told to tell the people that they have the physical capacity to understand and perceive God’s message but that they do not. If they had the ability to comprehend the message and they did not, it must mean that the people chose not to comprehend.

Isaiah is further told, according to the King James Version, to make the people’s organs of thought dull, to cause their organs of understanding to be clumsy, and to close their organs of perception so that the people would not use them and be cured by the divine message.

The reading of these verses, however, is not difficult because of the literary devices used by Isaiah but rather by the theological hurdles it poses. How can a loving God commission His prophet to prevent the people from being cleansed from their uncleanness by causing their organs of comprehension to be ineffective? Because of this theological improbability, exegetes have proposed various solutions, most of which are improbable or implausible.[32]

The best solution to this theological difficulty derives from a knowledge of the Hebrew grammatical forms used in this passage. The King James Version rests on the usual reading of the Hebrew hiph’il form of the three verbs involved. Normally the hiph’il conjugation has a causative meaning, and thus the translation “make the heart . . . fat.” However, one of the modes of the hiph’il connotes a declarative,[33] and would yield the translation “declare the heart of this people to be fat.” Thus, the New English Bible for this passage reads, “This people’s wits are dulled, their ears are deafened and their eyes blinded, so that they cannot see with their eyes nor listen with their ears nor understand with their wits, so that they may turn and be healed.” This rendering would eliminate the theological difficulties imposed on the passage by reading a causative, because it would no longer be God through His prophet who makes the people incapable of realizing their moral turpitude. Isaiah becomes rather God’s appointed accuser of the people.

 

Isaiah 6:11 “Then said I, Lord, how long?”

Is it possible that Isaiah was not only asking for more details of his mission, but that he was allowing his humanness to show? Well might one ask the Lord, if one had the necessary chutzpah, for how many years he was to deliver this message.

 

Isaiah 6:11–12 “And he answered,[34] Until the cities be wasted without inhabitant, and the houses without man, and the land be utterly desolate, and the Lord have removed men far away, and there be a great forsaking in the midst of the land.”[35]

The Lord’s answer that Isaiah must continue his message until the land be devastated and empty can only mean that for as long as Isaiah was alive he was to deliver that message.[36] During Isaiah’s lifetime, the land was never totally devastated or emptied. If this theophany took place in 742 B.C., it would be several years before Tiglath-pileser would devastate the Northern Kingdom. Between 725 and 705 B.C., Shalmaneser V and Sargon II would finish what Tiglath-pileser had started in the Northern Kingdom and also attack Judea. In 701 B.C. Sennacherib would devastate all of the walled cities of Judea except Jerusalem. Jerusalem never fell to the Assyrians and the Assyrians did not empty the land but left the poorest social strata to occupy it. If the land was ever emptied, it would have been under Nebuchadnezzar (see 2 Chronicles 36:20) around 586 B.C., at least eighty years[37] after Isaiah’s death. But even then it would seem that not all the local population was deported, as 2 Kings 25:12 and 22 report. If a total depopulation of the land is to be sought for, it might be during the Bar Kokhba rebellion against Rome beginning about in AD 132. However, even this brutal suppression of Judah did not completely empty the land.[38]

 

Isaiah 6:13 “But yet in it shall be a tenth, and it[39] shall return, and shall be eaten: as a teil tree, and as an oak whose substance is in them, when they cast their leaves: so the holy seed shall be the substance thereof.”

Well did Jacob in the Book of Mormon declare “that none of the prophets have written, nor prophesied, save they have spoken concerning Christ” (Jacob 7:11). In this verse Isaiah recorded one of the more clear prophecies concerning the Messiah. The Lord declared to Isaiah that after he had given his message of accusation all the days of his life and after the land had been devastated and Isaiah was dead, there would be a tenth[40] of the people who would return to the land of Palestine.

This remnant is symbolized in the King James Version by dormant trees,[41] signifying that this rest of the house of Israel will be spiritually fallow. The key to understanding that this verse also refers to Christ lies in the words “the holy seed.” As Paul states in Galatians 3:16, the “seed” referred to in the Old Testament is Christ.[42] And it is that “seed” that comprised the substance, that is, the life of Israel, here symbolized by trees. In other words, the Messiah of Israel would be born of the spiritually dormant remnant of Israel living in the land of Palestine, and He is the life substance of Israel.[43]

As depressing as Isaiah’s message for the people could have seemed to him, the Lord did not leave him reason for despair. Isaiah was told that after his death, a remnant of the house of Israel would be in Palestine, and out of this rest would come the promised Messiah, the life and light of God’s chosen people in Israel and on the isles of the sea.[44]

Conclusion

Each of the stumbling blocks to an understanding of Isaiah has been utilized as a stepping-stone to a greater comprehension of his message.

First, poetry. The poetic imagery of the ears, eyes, and heart in verses 9 and 10 as used in the Bible, when comprehended, contribute to our appreciation and understanding of the passage. These organs are seen as representing the potential for understanding, perceiving and comprehending.

Second, literary style. The use of the word “seraphim,” otherwise unattested in the Bible or elsewhere in Semitic literature, would have been immediately understood by his audience as a figure of fire or light. This ability to coin new words (if indeed Isaiah was the first to employ seraphim) from the basal forms by using existing patterns is characteristic of Semitic literature.

Third, cultural distance. Today doors are not usually constructed using a heavy beam which pivots top and bottom and from which the leaves of the door are hung. Normally we make the hinging mechanism as unobtrusive as possible. (Witness the glass doors today seemingly without hinges but which pivot top and bottom.) Without knowing that the posts of the doors were among the most sturdy beams in any edifice, the significance of the door posts moving would probably not occur to us.

Fourth, time differential. With the simple statement, “In the year that King Uzziah died,” Isaiah is able to convey to his contemporary readers and those in the future the political, military, religious and cultural setting of his theophany. By learning of the times involved we can approximate in our own minds the milieu in which Isaiah composed his beautiful verses.

Fifth, scripture and doctrine. The poetic imagery of “the house was filled with smoke” can more easily be understood in combination with other Old Testament scriptures recording the presence of the Lord on earth. A knowledge of the doctrine of the Atonement and how it is shadowed in the law of Moses and the law of sacrifice make it possible to comprehend the significance of the live coal and its effect on Isaiah’s uncleanness.

And sixth, prophetic vision. Because Isaiah had the vision to see what his calling meant for his generation, based on his knowledge of the calling of the Messiah in the premortal life, he was able to reply, “Here am I, send me.” The Lord gave Isaiah further insight when He told him that the Messiah would arise from among the rest that remained after the great destructions following Isaiah’s death. When one realizes that Isaiah could speak from the higher ground of prophetic vision, then one can begin to comprehend the gospel message in Isaiah.

Each potential stumbling block to an appreciation of Isaiah can become the stepping-stone to a comprehension and love of one of the greatest prophets and poets who ever lived on this earth.

 

[1] See a similar discussion in Victor L. Ludlow, Isaiah: Prophet, Seer, and Poet (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1982), 135–37.

[2] See the New English Bible attempt to indicate this by putting the sections its editors deemed poetic in verse form.

[3] All extant Hebrew inscriptions contemporary with any section of the Old Testament, let alone with Isaiah, would require much less space than this article.

[4] The poetry of Isaiah is to be compared with Shakespeare’s, Goethe’s, Dante’s, and Pushkin’s in its beauty and use of the language.

[5] This is one of the main points made by Elder Bruce R. McConkie, “Ten Keys to Understanding Isaiah,” Ensign, October 1973, 78–83.

[6] How this chapter fits in with the other words of Isaiah will not be discussed here. The reader is referred to the standard commentaries on the Bible for this information.

I acknowledge my debt to R. B. Y. Scott, “The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 1–39,” in G. A. Buttrick, et al., eds., The Interpreter’s Bible (New York and Nashville: Abingdon, 1956), 5: 204–12. I referred in the preparation of this paper quite often to this source. However, if I have relied only on this source for a particular point, I have given due credit.

[7] The date is, of course, only approximate. King Uzziah also bore the name Azariah (see 2 Kings 15, for instance).

[8] In these verses Tiglath-pilezer III is referred to by his Babylonian name, Pul. The Assyrian form of his name reads Tukulti-apil-ussur.

[9] The Hebrew text reads literally, “I saw my Lord sitting on a chair, high and lifted up, and his trains filled the palace/temple.” The Hebrew word hekal is used both for temple and for palace. It is a borrowed word into Hebrew, originally from a Sumerian word chain meaning, “large house.” The denotation of “my lord” is clearly God, and more specifically Jehovah. However, since the Old Testament does not usually distinguish between God the Father and God the Son (Elohim and Jehovah respectively in current Latter-day Saint usage), I will not delineate between the Father and the Son in this paper. The reader is well advised to turn to James E. Talmage, “The Antemortal Godship of Christ,” in Jesus the Christ (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1975), 32–41, for a discussion of the titles used for Jehovah and His relationship to the Father.

Throughout this paper, I will use the King James Version (hereafter cited as KJV) as a base text and will make divergences from it based on (unless otherwise noted) the Masoretic text of Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia, 2nd ed. (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1984).

[10] For the most complete discussion of the images in Isaiah 6, see Othmar Keel, Jahwe-Visionen und Seigelkunst, Stuttgarter Bibelstudien 84/85 (Stuttgart: Katholisches Bibelwerk, 1977), 46–124, with many ancient Near Eastern pictures and much literature.

[11] The “s” of the KJV is redundant. The “-im” on “seraph” is the Hebrew plural ending. The 1920 and 1981 editions of the Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 16:2 correctly read “seraphim” in place of previous Book of Mormon readings, including the Printer’s Manuscript (see Book of Mormon Critical Text I: I Nephi–Words of Mormon [Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1984], 183–86 [hereafter cited as Critical Text plus page number], for the Book of Mormon variants to Isaiah 6), and the KJV. I have omitted the spurious “s.”

[12] E.g., F. Brown, S. R. Driver and C. Briggs, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (Oxford: Clarendon, 1968), 977a (hereafter cited as BDB); and L. Koehler and W. Baumgartner, Lexicon in veteris testamenti libros (Leiden: Brill, 1958), 932b (hereafter cited as KB). Note that the former lists the singular as “[saraph],” meaning that the singular does not occur in the Old Testament; while the latter regards sariph as the singular and thus connects the plural here in Isaiah 6:2 and 6 with a singular in Isaiah 14:29 and 30:6, with the brass serpent in Numbers 21:8, and with the serpent in Deuteronomy 8:15 and Numbers 21:6.

The definition of seraph is therefore based mostly on the context here in Isaiah 6.

[13] From this basic meaning, no doubt, the related noun forms of this root in Deuteronomy 8:15, Numbers 21:6 and 8, and even in Isaiah 14:29 and 30:6 denote probably a serpent in the literal sense in the former passages and also as symbol in the latter two references. It would be easy to postulate that the name for a serpent would therefore be derived from a form of the root “to burn,” because the bite of a serpent is “fiery.” (Note, however, that this is a form of circular logic, not an uncommon but nevertheless faulty scholarly practice applied to poorly attested words, usually hapax legomenon, in dead languages.) The seraphim, in Isaiah 6:2, however, are not serpents, nor are they mythological beings.

[14] That they attend God at His throne rather than hover above the throne, as the KJV reads, becomes evident from two considerations. First, the pronoun “it” in the KJV is the translation for the Hebrew “him.” Therefore, the antecedent in the Masoretic text could be either God or the throne. (“Throne” in Hebrew is masculine. Because the word for throne is simply the word for seat, the context dictates whether throne or chair is the proper translation.)

Second, the use of the syntagm “stand above” to connote attending (as in Genesis 18:8, where Abraham ministers to three visitors; the King James Bible translates “stood by them” but the Hebrew reads literally “stood above them”) would indicate that the reading “Him” is preferred.

Thus, the seraphim are celestial beings who attend God at His throne. This has been properly recorded under “seraphim” in the Bible Dictionary.

[15] Note that the “beasts” of Revelation 4:6–9 is the KJV translation of the Greek word zoon, meaning not necessarily an animal, as “beast” would indicate, but rather any being that has life. (Latin vita, Greek zoe, and English quick are related words having to do with being alive. See “gwei—” in The American Heritage Dictionary, ed. William Morris [Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1981], 1519).

[16] Perhaps one of the better examples is in Judges 3:24. The KJV slavishly translates “feet,” but the intent of the passage is that Eglon was relieving himself, literally, “pouring out his feet” (see the New English Bible for a translation reflecting this reading of the Hebrew text; see also Exodus 4:25).

[17] Interpreter’s Bible, 208.

[18] For this see Keel, figure 28. For numerous other examples of winged creatures in the ancient Near East, see Keel, passim.

[19] For a picture of two of these ancient Near Eastern door socket stones, see J. B. Pritchard, ed., The Ancient Near East in Pictures Relating to the Old Testament (Princeton: Princeton, 1954), nos. 750 and 751.

[20] For a picture of the remains of the massive, bronze-covered door of Shalmaneser III from Balawat (now located in the British Museum), see Eva Strommenger, Fünf Jahrtausende Mesopotamien (Munich: Hirmer, 1962), figures 209–214. Note that the doors of Solomon’s temple were covered with gold (see 1 Kings 6:31–35).

[21] The house here, of course, designates the house of God.

[22] Note that “cloud,” which filled the temple of Solomon at its dedication and which also signifies the presence of the Lord (see 1 Kings 8:10), is connected with smoke in Exodus 14:19–25. In this latter account, the Israelites are guided and protected by a pillar of fire at night and a cloud by day; that is, the cloud by day is the smoke of the fire which is visible at night.

[23] In most Book of Mormon editions (including the 1981), the account of Isaiah 6 (2 Nephi 16) reads as in the King James Version. However, the Printer’s Manuscript, the Printer’s Manuscript Corrected and the 1830 edition all read, “I a man,” leaving out the copula “am.” This reflects the absence of a copula in the Hebrew Text (Masoretic) and speaks against a slavish copying of the King James Version by the Prophet Joseph Smith during the process of translation from the Gold Plates. See also note 28.

[24] See the story concerning Samson’s parents in Judges 13:21–23. The incident in the Book of Mormon involving the brother of Jared being struck with fear because he had seen the finger of the Lord (see Ether 3:6) illustrates this same concept.

[25] This is also operative under the law of sacrifice given to Adam and his posterity.

[26] The KJV, probably to avoid repetitions that grate on the ears of native English speakers (see the incipit of verses 3, 4, 7, and 9), translates the Hebrew conjunction waw with “also.” This word used as a conjunction in English could easily convey the idea that hearing the word of the Lord that follows is incidental to the cleansing. An accurate translation, as I have rendered it here, though grating on the sensitivities of English speakers, should convey the sequential nature (expressed by the use of the waw-consecutive) of the events Isaiah reported.

[27] The Hebrew here is the plural form of “lord” plus the first person singular pronominal suffix and should be translated as “my lord.” Since the denotation of “my lord” and the KJV “the Lord” is identical and the differences in the connotations of these terms are insignificant, I have let the KJV stand.

[28] The Printer’s Manuscript and the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon read, “here I.” This speaks against a slavish copying of the King James text in the translation process of the Book of Mormon. See also note 23.

[29] If this interpretation is correct, this would also indicate that Isaiah had access to an account of the council in the premortal life not presently extant from Bible times. Perhaps this was one of the plain and precious things taken away from the Old Testament, as explained in 1 Nephi 13:26, 28, and 40.

[30] Compare the New Testament quotations and paraphrases of this part of Isaiah with Matthew 13:14–15; Mark 4:12; Luke 8:10; John 12:40; Acts 28:26–27; and Romans 11:8. Note that the post-1830 editions of the Book of Mormon read for this verse in 2 Nephi 16:10 (see Isaiah 6:10) “be converted.” The Printer’s Manuscript and the 1830 editions read as the KJV (see the Critical Text, 184–5).

[31] It should be clear from this passage alone, though there are enough other examples in the Old Testament to put this question beyond dispute (despite the fact that the Old Testament is not always consistent in this usage).

[32] Perhaps the best of these solutions for Latter-day Saints has been pointed out by Victor Ludlow in his book, Isaiah: Prophet, Seer, and Poet. Quoting from the New Jewish Version, which he accepts as a correct rendering of the Hebrew (Masoretic text and 1QIsª of Qumran), he explains that the reflexive inserted in the last phrase by the New Jewish Version means that the people would attempt “to heal themselves, which is impossible, especially in a spiritual context, since healing and forgiveness come only through Christ.”

Other exegetes have proposed, for example, that “the imperative [‘make the heart fat’] is used here idiomatically to express a future certainty,” and “the prophet is commanded to declare the will of the Lord, even though the result will be that men’s unwillingness to respond will develop into stubborn opposition, eventually making their response impossible” (The Interpreter’s Bible, 211–12). This, however, does not remove the theological stumbling block.

[33] See Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar, edited and enlarged by E. Kautzsch, second English edition by A. E. Cowley (Oxford: Clarendon, 1970), §53c. This declarative mode of the Hebrew hiph’il is no doubt related to the factitive use of the š-Stamm in Akkadian, on which see Wolfram von Soden, Grundriss der akkadischen Grammatik, Analecta Orientalia 33/47 (Rome: Pontificium Institutum Biblicum, 1969), §89c.

[34] Note that the Masoretic text, the Septuagint, the Syriac, the Targum, and 1QIsª all read with the Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 16:11, “said,” instead of the KJV “answered” (see Critical Text I, 185). This again speaks against a slavish copying of the KJV during the Book of Mormon translation process.

[35] Here again the Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 16:12, varies somewhat from the KJV. Whereas the latter reads (with the Masoretic text and the Septuagint), “and there be a great forsaking in the midst of the land” the former reads, “for there shall be a great forsaking in the midst of the land” (see Critical Text I, 185).

[36] This manner of dealing with men who trouble the Lord with questions should be familiar to Latter-day Saints from the story of the Prophet Joseph Smith. The Prophet importuned with the Lord in 1843 “to know the time for the coming of the Son of Man” and received as answer that if he lived until he was eighty-five years old he would “see the face of the Son of Man; therefore let this suffice and trouble me no more on this matter” (D&C 130:14–15). In other words, the Lord put Joseph off because He knew that Joseph would not live to be eighty-five years old and therefore could safely say that if the Prophet would live to be that age he would see the Second Coming.

[37] This is based on the estimate that Isaiah could have lived until 672 B.C. If he started his prophetic career in 742 and was twenty years old at the time and lived until he was ninety years old, he would have died in 672.

[38] See H. H. Ben-Sasson, ed., A History of the Jewish People (Cambridge: Harvard, 1976), 330–35.

[39] Against the Masoretic text, the Septuagint, and the Syriac, and hence the King James Version “it,” 2 Nephi 16:13 and the Targum read “they” (see Critical Text I, 185).

[40] The figure “a tenth” here need not be taken in a strictly literal sense. In Isaiah’s day, a tenth could also have been a figure of speech for a small percentage of the population.

[41] “And as an oak whose substance is in them, when they cast their leaves” points to a tree that is still alive—i.e., has its substance in it—but bears no leaves and thus is in a dormant stage. For the tree as a symbol of Israel, see Joseph F. McConkie, Gospel Symbolism (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1985), 10–11. See also the parable of the olive tree in Jacob 5 and the olive tree in Romans 11:16–24.

[42] See also Abraham 1:4.

[43] With this verse the Lord informs Isaiah that the remnant in Israel, after the Assyrian and Babylonian depredations, would be as barren trees, yet in this remnant the Holy Seed, the Lord, would be the eternal memorial of Israel.

[44] See Isaiah 61:3 for the tree becoming alive spiritually in latter days.