“Turning the Hearts of the Jews to the Prophets and the Prophets to the Jews” by Avraham Gileadi
B’nai Shalom Presentation by Avraham Gileadi, 3rd April 2014
As some of you may know, this year’s Feast of Passover, which occurs on April 15th through 22nd, coincides with the first of four consecutive blood moons or total lunar eclipses on the main Jewish feastdays of Passover and Tabernacles of this year, Passover and Tabernacles of next year, with a total solar eclipse occurring at the Jewish New Year, also next year. We may thus expect to see important developments for the Jewish people this year and the next. Back-to-back blood moons on Jewish feastdays occurred in 1492, when the Jews were expelled from Spain; in 1948, when the State of Israel was founded; and in the 1967 Six-day War, when Israel captured the Old City of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount.
We might have guessed that God commanded the feast of Passover to be observed “throughout your generations” as “an ordinance forever” (Exodus 12:14) not just to commemorate Israel’s release from bondage in Egypt but also as a type or foreshadowing of an end-time deliverance from bondage and from the taskmasters who would enforce it. Even as we speak, therefore, an end-time Pharaohand his taskmasters in this land are implementing the very enslavement the prophet Isaiah predicted when he quotes the Lord as saying, “My people are taken over without price; those who govern them act presumptuously, and my name is constantly abused all the day long” (Isaiah 52:5).
Still, the Lord promises to reverse his people’s circumstances when they repent of their transgression, as it further says, “Awake, arise; clothe yourself with power, O Zion! Put on your robes of glory, O Jerusalem, holy city. No more shall the uncircumcised and defiled enter you. Shake yourself free, rise from the dust; sit enthroned, O Jerusalem. Loose yourself from the bands around your neck, O captive Daughter of Zion. Thus says the Lord: You were sold without price, and you shall be redeemed without money” (Isaiah 52:1–3).
Because bondage is a covenant curse—a consequence of a people’s collective guilt—they must endure it until it has served God’s purpose of cleansing them of their iniquities. Only at that point does God release them from bondage through another “one like unto Moses,” as it says, “Behold, I say unto you, the redemption of Zion must needs come by power; Therefore, I will raise up unto my people a man, who shall lead them like as Moses led the children of Israel. For ye are the children of Israel, and of the seed of Abraham, and ye must needs be led out of bondage by power, and with a stretched–out arm. And as your fathers were led at the first, even so shall the redemption of Zion be. Therefore, let not your hearts faint, for I say not unto you as I said unto your fathers: Mine angel shall go up before you, but not my presence. But I say unto you: Mine angels shall go up before you, and also my presence, and in time ye shall possess the goodly land” (D&C 103:15–20). This end-time deliverance from bondage thus occurs at a new exodus to Zion that is patterned after the old.
By eating the bitter herb at the Passover Seder and dipping the lowly vegetable in salt water we remember the bitterness and tears of Israel’s ancient bondage but thus also anticipate a repeat performance of bondage to enemies and of an end-time deliverance—deliverance by virtue of a divine Passover Lamb: “the Lamb of God” that was “slain from the foundation of the world” (John 1:29, 36; Revelation 13:8; Moses 7:47) of which the ancient Passover Lamb was a type. In short, God has in part commanded us to observe these appointed feasts to guide us through a time of trouble, because as he dealt with his people in the past so he will again when history repeats itself. Celebrating Passover, therefore, prepares us to participate in historic events that are even now unfolding.
The prophet Jeremiah foresaw these things when he says, “Behold, the days come, says the Lord, that it will no more be said, the Lord lives, who brought the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt. But the Lord lives, who brought the people of Israel from the land of the north and from all the lands where he had driven them. And I will bring them again into the land that I gave their fathers” (Jeremiah 16:14–15; 23:7). When do people say, “The Lord lives, who brought the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt”? They say it when celebrating Passover! In other words, the end-time deliverance of God’s people out of bondage in an exodus out of all the world will so surpass Israel’s ancient exodus and deliverance that only the new will be celebrated in the millennial age.
Isaiah similarly predicts this end-time exodus and deliverance when he says, “In that day my Lord will again raise his hand to reclaim the remnant of his people—those who shall be left out of Assyria, Egypt, Pathros, Cush, Elam, Shinar, Hamath, and the islands of the sea. He will raise the ensign to the nations and assemble the exiled of Israel; he will gather the scattered of Judah from the four directions of the earth” (Isaiah 11:11–12); “Do not fear, for I am with you. I will bring your offspring from the east and gather you from the west; I will say to the north, Give up! to the south, Withhold not! Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth” (Isaiah 43:5–6);
“Say to the captives, Come forth! and to those in darkness, Show yourselves! They shall feed along the way and find pasture on all barren heights; they shall not hunger or thirst, nor be smitten by the heatwave or the sun: he who has mercy on them will guide them; he will lead them by springs of water. All my mountain ranges I will appoint as roads; my highways shall be on high. See these, coming from afar, these, from the northwest, and these, from the land of Sinim. Shout for joy, O heavens; celebrate, O earth! Burst into song, O mountains! The Lord is comforting his people, showing compassion for his afflicted” (Isaiah 49:9–13).
“Go forth out of Babylon, flee from Chaldea! Make this announcement with resounding voice; broadcast it to the end of the earth. Say, the Lord has redeemed his servant Jacob. They thirsted not when he led them through arid places: he caused water to flow for them from the rock; he cleaved the rock and water gushed out” (Isaiah 48:20–21); “Let the ransomed of the Lord return! Let them come singing to Zion, their heads crowned with everlasting joy; let them obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing flee away” (Isaiah 51:11).
Do the descendants of Ephraim who assimilated into the Gentiles (Hosea 7:8) realize that God has appointed them a stewardship toward the tribe of Judah to make these things known to them? In a revelation given through the prophet Joseph Smith, God commands them to “Seek diligently to turn the hearts of the children to the fathers, and the hearts of the fathers to the children; and again, the hearts of the Jews unto the prophets, and the prophets unto the Jews; lest I come and smite the whole earth with a curse, and all flesh be consumed before me” (D&C 98:16–17).
In classic Hebrew prophetic style, the synonymously paralleled wording of this commandment equates the “fathers” with the “prophets” and the “children” with the “Jews.” This revelation, in other words, identifies the Jews of today as the children of the prophets. It is to those prophets, therefore—who are the Jews’ own ancestors—that the descendants of Ephraim are to “seek diligently” to turn their hearts.
But what does such a commandment actually entail? Although we know that “the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them” (1 Nephi 3:7), we also know that, as Nephi says in reference to the words of Isaiah, “The Jews do understand the things of the prophets, and there is none other people that understand the things which were spoken unto the Jews like unto them, save it be that they are taught after the manner of the things of the Jews” (2 Nephi 25:5).
Because few if any Ephraimites have been taught the “manner of the Jews” or Jewish methodology for analyzing the scriptures so as to relate to the Jews on their own level, the commandment to seek diligently to turn the hearts of the Jews to the prophets and the prophets to the Jews presents a huge challenge. The Jews have so long been exposed to attempts to convert them to a Gentile version of their own scriptures that any attempt to create a spiritual dialogue with them that isn’t based on the revelation Joseph Smith received will fail miserably—and has failed miserably.
In fact, in their desire to be politically correct in the world the descendants of Ephraim have neglected the commandment they have received and in recent years have all but shut down interaction with the Jews. And yet, in their present perilous circumstances—with the rise of hostile Muslim nations bent on Israel’s destruction and with rampant worldwide anti-Semitism—the Jews need us terribly. They should know and be made to feel they have a friend in Ephraim, the birthright tribe. In their current historical crisis, even Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is advising Israelis to read the Hebrew prophets, because the prophets have the answer both to the Jews’ immediate peril and to the entire Jewish restoration that the prophets have foretold. As with Esau, who despised his birthright, what use is Ephraim’s birthright unless Ephraim is willing to exercise it (Genesis 25:32)?
Just as Joseph in Egypt, who ruled under Pharaoh, served as a savior to his brothers when a seven-year famine swept the land, so the descendants of Joseph were destined to serve as saviors to Israel’s twelve tribes before the coming of Messiah to reign on the earth. Instead of looking back and dwelling on events of the past this coming Passover, therefore, let us look forward to what lies ahead.
Mormon speaks of the descendants of Ephraim who have come through the Gentile lineages as those “who have care for the house of Israel, that realize and know from whence their blessings come” (Mormon 5:10). Jacob speaks of them acting as a “father” to the house of Israel (2 Nephi 10:18), which is precisely the role of a birthright son—the same role Joseph fulfilled by saving his brothers in the day of their distress.
In the end-time exodus of Israel’s twelve tribes to the old and new Jerusalems that the prophets have foretold, the spiritual kings and queens of the Gentiles—the descendants of Ephraim, who are identified as “the fulness of the Gentiles” (Genesis 48:19; Romans 11:25; 1 Nephi 10:14; 3 Nephi 16:4)—are to bring the house of Israel in their bosoms and carry them on their shoulders in their journey home from their worldwide exile. Says Isaiah, “Thus says my Lord Jehovah: I will lift up my hand to the Gentiles, raise my ensign to the peoples; and they will bring your sons in their bosoms and carry your daughters on their shoulders. Kings shall be your foster fathers, queens your nursing mothers” (Isaiah 49:22–23; cf. 1 Nephi 21–22; 22:6–8; 2 Nephi 6:6–7).
If today’s Ephraimites aren’t going to do what Joseph their ancestor did for his brothers, then who are those “servants” of the Lord of the vineyard in Zenos’ allegory of the olive tree whom he commands to gather up the natural branches and graft them back into their own olive tree (Jacob 5:52–62; cf. Romans 11:24)? Will all these prophecies simply fulfill themselves? Or must some Ephraimites rise to the occasion and fulfill them? How do we suppose the Jews and others of the house of Israel will respond to attempts to graft them in unless their hearts are turned toward the prophets, their own ancestors, who predicted it? But if the tribe of Ephraim isn’t versed in the scriptures enough to comprehend these prophecies and how to implement them, how can they possibly be fulfilled?
Based on a prophecy by Zechariah, some people believe that the Jews won’t believe in Jesus until he appears to them on the Mount of Olives and they see the wounds in his hands and feet (Zechariah 12:10; D&C 45:51). But that idea is based on a misunderstanding of Zechariah’s prophecy. When Jesus appeared to the Nephites, he predicted that the Jews as a whole would believe in him and call upon the Father in his name, after which they would be gathered home to Jerusalem, the land of their inheritance.
He says, “I will remember the covenant which I have made with my people; and I have covenanted with them that I would gather them together in mine own due time, that I would give unto them again the land of their fathers for their inheritance, which is the land of Jerusalem, which is the promised land unto them forever, saith the Father. And it shall come to pass that the time cometh, when the fulness of my gospel shall be preached unto them; And they shall believe in me, that I am Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and shall pray unto the Father in my name. Then shall their watchmen lift up their voice, and with the voice together shall they sing; for they shall see eye to eye. Then will the Father gather them together again, and give unto them Jerusalem for the land of their inheritance” (3 Nephi 20:29–33; 21:27–28; cf. Isaiah 52:8, 12). We might ask who the “watchmen” are that Jesus mentions if not those who gather the house of Israel in the new exodus from the four parts of the earth.
Because today by far the majority of Jews still lives outside their Promised Land, the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy is still future. Nephi’s brother Jacob likewise speaks of the Jews as a whole first believing and then being gathered, when he says, “And now, my beloved brethren, I have read these things that ye might know concerning the covenants of the Lord that he has covenanted with all the house of Israel—That he has spoken unto the Jews, by the mouth of his holy prophets, even from the beginning down, from generation to generation, until the time comes that they shall be restored to the true church and fold of God; when they shall be gathered home to the lands of their inheritance, and shall be established in all their lands of promise” (2 Nephi 9:1–2).
How, then, do we solve this paradox of two scriptures predicting two radically different scenarios of the Jews’ accepting Jesus as their Messiah? Zechariah gives the answer when he distinguishes between two categories of Jews: (1) the House of Judah as a whole; and (2) the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. These two categories happen to correspond with a majority of Jews today who are secular and with a minority of Jews who are religious. Zechariah says, “The Lord also shall save the tents of Judah first so that the glory of the house of David and the glory of the inhabitants of Jerusalem do not magnify themselves against Judah” (Zechariah 12:7).
Because religious Jews today “magnify” or aggrandize themselves against secular Jews for not keeping the Law of Moses—or what Rabbinic Judaism dictates is the Law of Moses—religious Jews will be received last of all. That is, they will accept Jesus as their Savior when he appears to them on the Mount of Olives, and the Mount of Olives cleaves in two (D&C 45:48). The Book of Mormon’s Title Page, on the other hand, may thus be referring to secular Jews when it says that the Book of Mormon is written “to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ.” If that “convincing” of the Jews and of others of the house of Israel hasn’t yet occurred, then it surely will when the book’s sealed portion and other sealed books come forth that are predicted “to sweep the earth as with a flood” (Moses 7:62; cf. 1 Nephi 14:26; 2 Nephi 26:17; 27:7).
Zechariah’s reference to the “tents of Judah” (Zechariah 12:7; emphasis added) further implies that the Jews as a whole will dwell for a time in the wilderness. This, the Jews again anticipate when they celebrate the feast of Tabernacles—Succoth—commemorating ancient Israel’s dwelling in temporary shelters in the Sinai wilderness. Ezekiel predicts just such an end-time sojourn in the wilderness for the house of Israel when he says, “I will bring you out from among the peoples and gather you out of the countries where you were scattered—with a mighty hand and with a stretched-out arm and with fury poured out. And I will bring you into the wilderness of the people, and there will I plead with you face to face. Just as I pleaded with your fathers in the wilderness in the land of Egypt, so I will plead with you, says the Lord God” (Ezekiel 20:34–36).
As for the religious minority of Jews today, both in Israel and around the world, they still hold the same opinion of Jesus that they did in his day. It is they, therefore, who will mourn for him whom they rejected, as it says, “Then shall the Jews look upon me and say: What are these wounds in thine hands and in thy feet? Then shall they know that I am the Lord; for I will say unto them: These wounds are the wounds with which I was wounded in the house of my friends. I am he who was lifted up. I am Jesus who was crucified. I am the Son of God. And then shall they weep because of their iniquities; then shall they lament because they persecuted their king” (D&C 45:51–53).
On the one hand, we are thus speaking of religious Jews whose understanding of the Hebrew prophets is essential for the descendants of Ephraim to learn if they would keep Jesus’ commandment to “seek diligently to turn . . . the hearts of the Jews to the prophets and the prophets to the Jews” (D&C 98:17). On the other hand, we are dealing with religious Jews who in their present state of unbelief are still “looking beyond the mark” in their rejection of Jesus (Jacob 4:14).
In short, while “the manner of the Jews,” as Nephi calls it (2 Nephi 25:5)—or the Jewish methodology for analyzing the words of the prophets—is necessary for the descendants of Ephraim to learn in order for them to fulfill their birthright role toward the Jews and others of the house of Israel, they are, paradoxically, to learn it from the unbelieving Jews who, to this day, as yet disavow Jesus!
Having studied “the manner of the Jews” in a yeshiva or rabbinic school in Jerusalem, then being baptized into the church, I have therefore made it my life’s work to teach and publish the Jewish methodology in the course of analyzing the words of Isaiah. Today’s Ephraimites, therefore, being provided with the literary tools for analyzing the words of the prophets according to “the manner of the Jews,” can now learn how to “turn the hearts of the Jews to the prophets and the prophets to the Jews” without needing to attend rabbinic school, where they would likely anyway be turned away.
What is important, however, is not my involvement or that of others in explaining the Jewish methodology or “manner of the Jews” but rather the fact that this knowledge is now readily accessible. Today’s Ephraimites, in effect, no longer have an excuse for not keeping Jesus’ commandment. Jesus’ adding to his commandment the words, “lest I come and smite the whole earth with a curse, and all flesh be consumed before me” (D&C 98:17), means that much is at stake for both Judah and Ephraim on whether Ephraim fulfills it. By fulfilling my part, I feel I have washed my garments of the blood and sins of this generation (cf. Jacob 1:19; D&C 88:74, 85, 138; 112:33).
Certainly, those servants of God who seek diligently to turn the hearts of the Jews to the prophets and the prophets to the Jews are the ones who will graft the natural branches back into their own olive tree (Jacob 5:52–68). Like the sons of Mosiah, who persuaded the Lamanites to leave their traditions and embrace the truth (Alma 17:2; 26:3, 15), they will have prayed and fasted and searched the scriptures diligently, enabling them to relate to the Jews on their own terms. For the first time, in fact, the Jews might take them seriously, as until now no one has challenged the Jews solely on their own turf.
As a natural branch of the olive tree (Romans 11:24), the Jews brought forth the Bible in its purity (1 Nephi 14:23) long before the Gentile church removed from it “many plain and precious parts” and “many covenants of the Lord” (1 Nephi 13:20–40). Of the Gentiles, God thus says, “O fools, they shall have a Bible; and it shall proceed forth from the Jews, mine ancient covenant people. And what thank they the Jews for the Bible which they receive from them? Yea, what do the Gentiles mean? Do they remember the travails, and the labors, and the pains of the Jews, and their diligence unto me, in bringing forth salvation unto the Gentiles? O ye Gentiles, have ye remembered the Jews, mine ancient covenant people? Nay; but ye have cursed them, and have hated them, and have not sought to recover them. But behold, I will return all these things upon your own heads; for I the Lord have not forgotten my people. Thou fool, that shall say: A Bible, we have got a Bible, and we need no more Bible. Have ye obtained a Bible save it were by the Jews?” (2 Nephi 29:4–6).
Because this scripture specifically addresses God’s people “in Zion” (2 Nephi 28:21, 24), it is the end-time descendants of Ephraim who have come through the Gentile lineages who come under this condemnation. A revelation given through the prophet Joseph Smith affirms this: “Your minds in times past have been darkened because of unbelief, and because you have treated lightly the things you have received—Which vanity and unbelief have brought the whole church under condemnation. And this condemnation resteth upon the children of Zion, even all. And they shall remain under this condemnation until they repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon and the former commandments which I have given them, not only to say, but to do according to that which I have written—That they may bring forth fruit meet for their Father’s kingdom; otherwise there remaineth a scourge and judgment to be poured out upon the children of Zion” (D&C 84:54–58).
Isaiah, in fact, informs us that “a scourge and judgment” will be poured out on many of the children of Zion who are of the tribe of Ephraim. In an entire chapter devoted to Ephraim and its prophets, Isaiah says, “A hail shall sweep away your false refuge and waters flood the hiding place. Your covenant with death shall prove void, your understanding with Sheol have no effect: when the flooding scourge sweeps through, you shall be overrun by it. As often as it sweeps through, you shall be seized by it: morning after morning it shall sweep through, by day and by night [it shall seize you]; it shall cause terror merely to hear word of it” (Isaiah 28:17–19; cf. D&C 5:19). For those Ephraimites who believe his truth, on the other hand, God “lays in Zion a stone” (Isaiah 28:16; emphasis added)—an end-time seer—as an antidote to the flooding scourge that overruns the wicked.
Because the words of Isaiah form an integral part of the Book of Mormon and of many other scriptures, they provide the best scriptural text that originates with the Jews for turning the hearts of the Jews to the prophets and the prophets to the Jews. By enlightening us across the entire spectrum of spiritual truths, the words of Isaiah divide the doers—those who pay the price of searching them—from the judges, those who fall back on preconceived ideas and take issue with people who differ. By taking lightly Isaiah’s words, they take lightly the Book of Mormon (cf. 1 Nephi 19:7; 2 Nephi 33:2–3, 14; 3 Nephi 26:9–10; D&C 84:54–59), unaware that Isaiah’s words constitute a core fabric around which the Book of Mormon is woven—that quintessential concepts many scriptures share originate with Isaiah.
We can indeed say with certainty that Jesus’ commandment to “search diligently” the words of Isaiah (3 Nephi 23:1) is more relevant today than ever before. Not only are we nearing the time that Isaiah predicts (cf. 2 Nephi 25:8–9), the “good news” Isaiah teaches (Isaiah 40:9; 41:27; 52:7; 61:1)—the gospel of Messiah—enlightens us on many key points of doctrine. By his “good news” Isaiah doesn’t mean the “preparatory gospel” that prevailed under the Law of Moses, but rather the same gospel Jesus taught that came down from the days of Adam, whose knowledge was had by prophets.
Jesus’ saying that Isaiah spoke of “all things” concerning his people Israel (3 Nephi 23:2) thus means that Isaiah teaches not only the higher law Israel rejected at Sinai but that he does so from ancient Israel’s perspective. It is that frame of reference we must recapture if we would comprehend Isaiah’s message in all its richness, not to mention the restored gospel itself. In order to turn the hearts of the Jews to the prophets and the prophets to the Jews, therefore, we must come to terms with the words of Isaiah. And to understand them for what they are, we must apply to them the Jewish methodology or “manner of the Jews.” Only then will the descendants of Ephraim be equipped to fulfill their obligation toward the Jews.
The words of Isaiah, which Jesus calls “great” (3 Nephi 23:1), reveal the covenantal context in which the gospel of Jesus Christ originated and in which it is deeply grounded, but which the great and abominable church of the devil attempted to do away (1 Nephi 13:20–40). That is why Book of Mormon prophets draw on Isaiah for their frame of reference when teaching God’s plan of salvation and when predicting end-time events. Their repeated references (three times seven or more) to God’s “fulfilling his covenants with the house of Israel” (1 Nephi 14:5, 8, 17; 15:18; 22:6, 9, 11;2 Nephi 6:12; 10:7, 15, 17; 29:1, 14; 3 Nephi 16:5, 11–12; 20:12, 22, 25–27, 29, 46; 21:4, 7) are an outgrowth of Isaiah’s covenant theology. Once Isaiah’s words are understood for what they are, all other scriptures, ancient and modern, fall into place. Hence Jesus’ commandment to search his words diligently (3 Nephi 23:1).
But if the descendants of Ephraim haven’t drunk deeply enough from the well of the Hebrew prophets so as to comprehend their own roots—falling short in perceiving the underpinnings of their own religion—then what will become of them when the “days of your probation are past” (Helaman 13:38) and, as Isaiah says, “we have not wrought salvation in the earth” to the degree our God has commanded us (Isaiah 26:18)? Shall such neglect not have serious consequences, as it did in the early Gentile church when it cut itself off from its Hebrew roots? As we have witnessed, the Gentile church’s severing its ties to the gospel’s origins after the passing of the apostles led to many precepts of men and other distortions entering into Christianity. We too mustn’t assume that similar corruptions can’t happen to us, as the moment we take that attitude they already are.
It is sad to see that even at this late date the descendants of Ephraim still don’t realize that the words of Isaiah present a deliberate spiritual challenge, not just a topic of casual interest. When accepted, that challenge rewards a person with a comprehension of the scriptures unequaled through the study of any other book. But when rejected, it leaves God’s people “in Zion,” too, clinging to “precepts of men” (2 Nephi 28:21, 24, 26)—popular ideas that lack a scriptural basis of fact. As Nephi predicts, such distortions will prove at least as divisive among us as they have been among sectarian Christians, leaving persons who believe those “precepts of men” vulnerable to fighting against Zion based on their false assumptions (cf. 2 Nephi 28:28; 29:14). In the end, God thus pronounces seven “woes” or covenant curses upon his people “in Zion” for denying his truth (2 Nephi 28:24–32).
Nor are the words of Isaiah purely of academic interest, lending themselves to the explication of this or that literary device, although these may serve as a starting point for learning Isaiah’s message. Of itself, academia can’t be construed as a celestial pastime but as a terrestrial one at best. For many, bookish learning creates a distraction from connecting with the true source of knowledge, an entrapment in which the disciples of erudition ceaselessly pursue learning but fail to gain a personal knowledge of God. If the nature of academia isn’t perceived as such, then those who eke out their years stalking its halls are likely to live spiritual half-lives that never see the light of day.
Worse—as academia has shown again and again—if relied upon “for doctrine and for a testimony” (Isaiah 8:20), its “blind guides” of the blind (Matthew 34:24; Helaman 13:29) will entirely succeed in “changing the truth of God into a lie” (Romans 1:25), repeating patterns of the past that led to God’s people’s demise. The words of Isaiah are far more than this. They “render void the knowledge of their sages and the intelligence of their wise men insignificant” (Isaiah 29:14). Isaiah’s words are life-giving, grounding a person in a divine reality that empowers one for the contest between light and darkness before the coming of Messiah. As no one will be left standing on the sidelines, what certainty have those who disregard these things of what part they will play?
The words of Isaiah indeed account for every soul God has created, past and future, living and dead, showing their relationship to one another and to their Maker within a great hierarchy of spirits. The characters who appear in Isaiah’s writings, for example, aren’t solely of historical interest but additionally exemplify ascending and descending spiritual levels. In that way, Israel’s ancient history as Isaiah presents it serves as an allegory of the end-time and of God’s saving plan. Those who presume to pass over Isaiah’s words, judging them as irrelevant, archaic, or incomprehensible, thus put their own counsel before God’s to their own hurt and condemnation.
There is no question that the 1611 A.D. King James Version of the Bible and its use in Book of Mormon Isaiah passages has been a serious obstacle to understanding Isaiah. When the State of Israel was founded in 1948 and Hebrew again became a living language, much new scholarship brought to light clearer meanings of the ancient words. Because “many plain and precious parts” are lost in translation, not only in transmission, a modern translation of the Book of Isaiah became my first objective. Don’t the descendants of Ephraim subscribe to a belief in the Bible “as far as it is translated correctly” (A of F 1:8)? And didn’t Brigham Young declare that if any Christian could translate it better than the King James translators he was “under obligation to do so” (Journal of Discourses, 14:226)?
When analyzing the words of Isaiah according to “the manner of the Jews,” I use an entire array of literary tools: structural, typological, and rhetorical. In that way—because the Book of Isaiah provides its own internal checks and balances that are embedded in its literary features—I have hopefully avoided any and all “private interpretations” (cf. 2 Peter 1:20). By limiting myself to conclusions based on hard scriptural evidence, I have found that such a literary approach yields important meanings of Isaiah’s words that don’t appear from a surface reading of the text.
In fact, what one reads on the surface of Isaiah’s writings accounts for but a small portion of his total message. Seven overarching literary structures that are layered one upon the other yield their own indispensable data. Thirty typological events that are linked together domino fashion—a new Passover, new exodus, new wandering in the wilderness, etc.—tie together the Isaiah’s writings into a single intertwining tapestry. Word links, key words, and codenames create a subliminal prophecy within a prophecy.
Jesus thus affirms that “searching diligently” (3 Nephi 23:1; emphasis added)—not just reading or studying—is essential for understanding Isaiah’s words. Without that, how can one discuss them intelligently? How can the descendants of Ephraim turn the hearts of the Jews to the prophets and the prophets to the Jews without first searching the words of Isaiah until they gain a sufficient comprehension of them?
In the light of these things—as we are commanded to love God with our minds as well as our hearts and souls (Matthew 22:37)—I have analyzed Isaiah’s writings from the intellectual standpoint of the Jews but without resorting to intellectualism. Many times, as I would discover new literary features, I was required to completely reevaluate my former understanding of Isaiah’s writings until eventually I reached a plateau and felt confident about publishing the results.
Because the Book of Isaiah—like the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon, the large plates of Nephi, and the Book of Ether—reveals a vision of the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10), I am not certain but that our failing to comprehend Isaiah’s words before our time runs out and those records come forth may put us in danger of joining the unhappy throng who in that day will protest, “A Bible! A Bible! We have got a Bible, and there cannot be any more Bible” (2 Nephi 29:3), referring to that scripture’s end-time context, not to the time of the prophet Joseph Smith.
The analytical mindset that is indispensable for “searching” the scriptures—for putting aside preconceived ideas; thinking carefully through concepts; discerning and tracing vital scriptural links between one word or idea and another; perceiving why the prophets express things in a particular manner; treating their words with deference, not lightly; accepting their definitions of things rather than imposing our own; likening their words to ourselves, the positive and the negative; adding our belief and personal commitment to doing what God exhorts us in their writings—these things become ever more critical to make an integral part of our spiritual makeup as the times in which we live become more compelling and all must fall back on their own testimonies of the truth.
When our testimonies have an indissoluble basis in all the scriptures God has given us—of which Isaiah’s words constitute the core—when we have assimilated the “pattern in all things” that Isaiah and the Hebrew prophets teach (D&C 52:14), and when we can confidently fit all scriptures into one great whole and know how each relates to the others, perhaps then and only then will Ephraim be prepared for the role God expects Israel’s birthright tribe to perform during the tumultuous times that lie ahead—when, if it were possible, even the elect will be deceived (Matthew 24:24).
Did you know that the Book of Mormon’s recurring references to God’s “great and marvelous work,” his “setting his hand the second time” to “gather his ancient covenant people,” his “baring his arm” in judgment, and his destruction of all who “fight against Zion” are things that originate in the Book of Isaiah (cf. Isaiah 11:11; 29:7–8, 14; 52:10)? Although they may appear as unrelated ideas in Isaiah’s writings, the Book of Mormon conjoins them as if each forms an essential component of one great end-time drama. That itself teaches us about searching the words of Isaiah.
As every passage in the Book of Isaiah is inextricably linked to others in his writings, they—taken together, not separately—portray an entire scenario of events that precedes Messiah’s coming to reign on the earth. And because Isaiah’s context for these events is an end-time context, not the time of the prophet Joseph Smith, it is that end-time context we must apply to the Book of Mormon’s exposition of them. Indeed, understanding Isaiah’s writings helps in understanding the Book of Mormon itself, precluding the likelihood of our assuming a particular passage means one thing when in reality it means something different when viewed within its holistic framework.
The effect of paying the price of searching diligently and ultimately understanding Isaiah’s message, in fact, is so profound that it resembles conversion to the gospel itself. Our minds and hearts are impacted to our inmost being as our comprehension takes an exponential leap and we encounter spiritual emotions we had not known before. To feast on the words of Isaiah is indeed to feast on the words of Christ, which, if we do, God’s promise is that he will enlighten us (2 Nephi 32:3–6).
The alternative may best be summed up in Nephi’s final unhappy lament: “The Spirit stoppeth mine utterance, and I am left to mourn because of the unbelief, and the wickedness, and the ignorance, and the stiffneckedness of men; for they will not search knowledge, nor understand great knowledge, when it is given unto them in plainness, even as plain as word can be” (2 Nephi 32:7).
If God has enough confidence in the tribe of Ephraim to confer on Ephraim the job of turning the hearts of the Jews to the prophets and the prophets to the Jews lest he comes and smites the earth with a curse and all flesh be consumed (D&C 98:16–17), then it is my hope that enough Ephraimites will accept that challenge, though the rest may incur God’s curse. I know that time is running out, as even now the earth is beginning to be smitten with a curse and many of God’s creatures are perishing. I pray that those whom God has chosen to serve as saviors to the house of Israel from before the foundation of the earth will “awake and arise” to their divine callings (D&C 133:10).
This feast of Passover and in subsequent ones, as well as in future feasts of Tabernacles (how many are left, I don’t know), let us do more than remember the miracles God wrought formerly on behalf of his people. Let us additionally recall that some among our ancestors rose to the occasion to make those miracles possible, and that through our emulating them in fulfilling Ephraim’s birthright obligation toward Judah, the day will surely come when “Ephraim will no longer envy Judah, nor Judah resent Ephraim” (Isaiah 11:13)—when they will see eye to eye in the matter of the Messiah who was born of the Jews and together bring to pass the house of Israel’s restoration.
This I say in the name of Messiah. Amen.