Isaiah in the Book of Mormon
A period of Judean apostasy was followed by a partial restoration in the century between Isaiah's death and Lehi's departure from Jerusalem. After Isaiah's death, King Manasseh and his son, King Amon, continued their wicked leadership and evil ways by practicing idolatrous worship in the Jerusalem temple, commanding human sacrifices to the pagan god Molech, and ordering the destruction of scriptural records.1 By the time Jeremiah was reaching adulthood and Lehi was a child in the regions near Jerusalem, the devout followers of Jehovah in Judah had undergone decades of evil rule and persecution. After more than half a century of wicked, idolatrous rule, a young, devout King Josiah came on the throne in 640 B.C. and immediately instituted many religious reforms. With the encouragement of the prophet Jeremiah, he ordered the cleansing and repairing of the temple. He reinstated the Mosaic law and religious holidays, and he oversaw the recovery of scriptural records and the making of new copies of the scriptures.2 It was probably during this period of religious reformation and the replacement of destroyed copies of the scriptures that the brass plate edition of religious writings was made and then acquired by Laban in Jerusalem.
The main source of scriptures available to the Lehite community came from the brass plates of Laban, which contained Old Testament and other records down to the time of the prophet Jeremiah, an older prophet contemporary with Lehi (1 Nephi 5:10-22; 13:23). Nephi, Mosiah, King Benjamin, and others used the brass plates to teach their families and various groups. For example, Nephi taught his brothers from the brass plates soon after they arrived in their new land (1 Nephi 19:21-22; 22:30). Mosiah, the first Nephite king over the land of Zarahemla, apparently used the brass plates to teach the people of Zarahemla (Omni 1:7-17). Mosiah's son, King Benjamin, was also familiar with the Old Testament writings of Isaiah because he taught his sons directly from the brass plates (Mosiah 1:3). Alma understood the historical significance of the brass plates and their teachings, which helped with missionary work among the Lamanites. He also appreciated their prophetic future to serve as a lasting witness, as he carefully instructed his son, Helaman, prior to delivering these records into his hands (Alma 37:3-12). Of all the prophetic writings available on the brass plates, Isaiah was the major resource quoted throughout the Book of Mormon. As will be seen in later chapters, Nephi, Jacob, Abinadi, and the Savior cited important passages from Isaiah as they taught the Book of Mormon peoples.
Isaiah: The Prophet for All the House of Israel
Isaiah was the last major Old Testament prophet to speak to all the Israelite tribes while they were still concentrated in their ancestral lands of inheritance. In 722-21 B.C., about halfway through Isaiah's ministry, the northern kingdom of Israel was attacked and destroyed by the Assyrians, and tens of thousands of Israelites were relocated to the northeastern and other regions of the Assyrian Empire (2 Kings 15:29; 16:27-29; 17:1-6; 18:9-12). Facing this invasion, some Israelites fled south to the kingdom of Judah, where King Hezekiah built refugee settlements for them. (This migration of Israelites south to Judah may explain how Lehi and Ishmael ended up in the Jerusalem area even though their ancestry originally lived in the Manasseh-Ephraim tribal areas in central Israel.) Other Israelites remained in their original tribal homelands and inter married with various foreigners imported by the Assyrians. This mixture of Israelites and foreigners became the ancestors of the Samari tans. Thus, by the time Lehi and Ishmael and their families left Jerusalem around 600 B.C., distant relatives and members of their Manassehite and Ephraimite tribes were already scattered throughout western and central Asia into at least four other segments:
- Israelite groups living in various areas of the Assyrian Empire.
- Members of the ten tribes who had already migrated northward into central Asia.
- The northern Israelites and foreigners developing into the Samaritan community in the Israelite homelands.
- The Israelites then living as citizens of the kingdom of Judah.
Isaiah Passages Cited in the Book of Mormon
Soon after Lehi's family settled in their new lands, they received instruction from Nephi, who quoted important passages from Isaiah's writings on the brass plates. In later Book of Mormon times, Jacob, Abinadi, and the resurrected Savior also quoted portions of Isaiah's writings. Approximately one- third of Isaiah's sixty- six chapters are found in the Book of Mormon. Two large blocks of these writings (chapters 2-14 and 48-54) are scattered among four Book of Mormon books (1 Nephi, 2 Nephi, Mosiah, and 3 Nephi). In addition, Isaiah 29 is quoted in 2 Nephi. The following chart shows where these twenty- one Isaiah chapters are found in the Book of Mormon:
Isaiah 2-14 in 2 Nephi 12-24 = 13 chapters
Isaiah 29 in 2 Nephi 27 = 1 chapter
Isaiah 48-49 in 1 Nephi 20-21 = 2 chapters
Isaiah 50-51 in 2 Nephi 7-8 = 2 chapters
Isaiah 52 in 3 Nephi 20 = 1 chapter
Isaiah 53 in Mosiah 14 = 1 chapter
Isaiah 54 in 3 Nephi 22 = 1 chapter
Additional Isaiah verses, mostly from the same chapters cited in the chart above (see bold italics below), are scattered throughout the Book of Mormon (* denotes Isaiah passages that are paraphrased, not directly quoted, in the Book of Mormon):
Isaiah 5:26* in 2 Nephi 29:2
Isaiah 11:4 in 2 Nephi 30:9
Isaiah 11:5-9 in 2 Nephi 30:11- 15
Isaiah 11:11a* in 2 Nephi 25:17a; 29:1b; compare 25:11
Isaiah 22:13* in 2 Nephi 28:7- 8
Isaiah 25:12* in 2 Nephi 26:15
Isaiah 28:10, 13* in 2 Nephi 28:30
Isaiah 29:3-4* in 2 Nephi 26:15- 16
Isaiah 29:5* in 2 Nephi 26:18
Isaiah 29:14a* in 1 Nephi 14:7a; 22:8a; 2 Nephi 25:17b; 29:1a
Isaiah 29:15a* in 2 Nephi 28:9b
Isaiah 29:21b* in 2 Nephi 28:16a
Isaiah 40:3* in 1 Nephi 10:8
Isaiah 45:18* in 1 Nephi 17:36
Isaiah 45:23* in Mosiah 27:31
Isaiah 49:22* in 1 Nephi 22:8; 2 Nephi 6:6
Isaiah 49:23a* in 1 Nephi 22:8b; 2 Nephi 10:9a
Isaiah 49:23 in 2 Nephi 6:7
Isaiah 49:24-26 in 2 Nephi 6:16- 18
Isaiah 52:1a* in Moroni 10:31a
Isaiah 52:1-2 in 2 Nephi 8:24- 25
Isaiah 52:7* in 1 Nephi 13:37; Mosiah 15:14-18; 27:37
Isaiah 52:7-10 in Mosiah 12:21- 24
Isaiah 52:8-10 in Mosiah 15:29-31; 3 Nephi 16:18- 20
Isaiah 52:10* in 1 Nephi 22:10- 11
Isaiah 52:12* in 3 Nephi 21:29
Isaiah 52:13-15* in 3 Nephi 21:8- 10
Isaiah 53:8, 10* in Mosiah 15:10- 11
Isaiah 54:2b* in Moroni 10:31a
Isaiah 55:1* in 2 Nephi 26:25
Isaiah 55:1-2 in 2 Nephi 9:50- 51
Of the Isaiah passages that are directly quoted, about a third of the verses have major differences when compared to the King James Version of the Biblethat is, they have wording changes or additions that significantly change or enlarge the meaning of the verse. Another third of the Isaiah verses in the Book of Mormon have minor wording or punctuation changes that do not alter the verse's meaning. The last third are exactly the same as the corresponding Biblical passages. The Book of Mormon renditions of Isaiah are more complete and accurate than the biblical translations, partially because the Book of Mormon translation is based upon an earlier set of Isaiah's writings. The brass plates were written around 600 B.C., while the earliest Isaiah scrolls available for Bible translators come from the Dead Sea Scrolls, which were written around 100 B.C. In addition, the prophetic gifts of Joseph Smith help provide a more clear, correct, and contemporary translation.
The Book of Mormon serves as a helpful tool to better understand Isaiah's writings. As already mentioned, its Isaiah passages come from an earlier copy of Isaiah's words. In addition, the Book of Mormon prophets not only quote Isaiah but they also often give inspired commentary on why Isaiah's prophecies are important and how Isaiah's words will be fulfilled in the latter days. The important areas of Isaiah's prophecies will be discussed below. The personal application of Isaiah's words, especially in the latter days, will be highlighted as the individual Isaiah chapters are discussed later in this book.
Purposes for Quoting Isaiah in the Book of Mormon
The prophets Nephi, Jacob, and Abinadi and the resurrected Savior all cite Isaiah's words as they teach in the Book of Mormon. Their primary use of the Isaiah passages is threefold:
- To instruct the house of Israel about her covenant promises and their fulfillment.
- To emphasize key events and prophecies relating to the latter days.
- To highlight significant messianic prophecies of Isaiah.
The first primary purpose of the Book of Mormon is to teach the remnants of Israel "that they may know the covenants of the Lord, that they are not cast off forever" (title page, second paragraph). Isaiah's passages especially fulfill this purpose by teaching Israel about her covenants and prophecies. As examples of covenant teachings, Isaiah 48 contains the elements of a covenant contract, and Isaiah 49 includes major covenant promises for the house of Israel. Nephi cited these chapters shortly after his people arrived in the New World, teaching his family about their significant covenant promises (1 Nephi 22:7-12). Later, after Jacob had quoted Isaiah 50 and 51, he stated that he had read these things that they "might know concerning the covenants of the Lord that he has covenanted with all the house of Israel" (2 Nephi 9:1). Centuries later, the resurrected Savior used Isaiah 52 and 54 as He delivered His law and covenant teachings (3 Nephi 15-16) and His covenant people discourse (3 Nephi 20-22). Jesus promised that as the words of Isaiah are fulfilled, "then is the fulfilling of the covenant" (3 Nephi 20:12; compare v. 46). Thus, Isaiah's writings in the Book of Mormon provide important teachings about the Lord's covenants to the house of Israel.
Isaiah's writings also record notable prophecies associated with God's kingdom in the last days. The significance of temples and priesthood leadership (2 Nephi 12/Isaiah 2), God's judgments of His children in Zion (2 Nephi 13- 15/Isaiah 3-5), the apocalyptic invasion of armies from the north toward Jerusalem (2 Nephi 20/Isaiah 10), the impact of key servants and prophets (2 Nephi 21/Isaiah 11), the downfall of spiritual Babylon (2 Nephi 23-24/Isaiah 13- 14), and the impact of the Book of Mormon and other sacred records coming from the dust (2 Nephi 27/Isaiah 29) are all quoted by Nephi before he provides additional, inspired commentary about the last days in 2 Nephi 25-33. These prophecies of Isaiah highlight many significant events that have occurred or will occur in different parts of the world. With Nephi's insights, these prophecies and promises help us to understand the fulfillment of God's work in the latter days so we can know that God has not forgotten us.
After teaching Israel about covenants and prophecies, another major purpose of the Book of Mormon is "to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ" (title page, second paragraph). Abinadi and Nephi quoted Isaiah as they delivered their important witnesses of Christ and His atonement. The most powerful messianic passage of Isaiah is the "suffering servant song" of chapter 53. The prophet Abinadi cited this chapter as he taught King Noah and his priests (Mosiah 14). Abinadi's inspired commentary helps us understand how Christ can make intercession for His followers, as promised by Isaiah (Mosiah 15). Additional messianic prophecies of Isaiah, chapters 6-9, were quoted by Nephi as a prelude to his great testimony about Christ (2 Nephi 16-19, 25, 31- 33). Isaiah is used as a powerful tool to strengthen prophetic witnesses about Christ in the Book of Mormon.
Studying Isaiah in a Book of Mormon Perspective
As mentioned above, the Book of Mormon has two major purposes: to teach and to testify. The Book of Mormon is first intended to teach God's chosen people about their history, covenants, and prophecies. And second, building on that foundation, it is to testify to Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, who manifests Himself to the whole world (title page, second paragraph). In the Book of Mormon, various prophets and the Savior not only teach about different covenant relationships, but they also highlight special covenant prophecies to be fulfilled in the last days. In a variety of settings, the Book of Mormon prophets also provide prophetic insight into the life and mission of Jesus Christ. In conjunction with these covenant teachings, prophecies, and messianic witnesses, passages from Isaiah are often quoted. Thus, to better appreciate the value and meaning of Isaiah passages in the Book of Mormon, the reader should ask this question: "What can I learn from this Isaiah passage that will help me better understand three essential doctrines?" The doctrines are:
- God's covenants with the house of Israel.
- Prophecies of the last days.
- The Savior's calling and mission.
As will be seen when the specific Isaiah chapters are discussed later, one or more of these purposes will connect to each chapter. In addition, a variety of other valuable purposes and teachings can be gleaned from the Isaiah passages. Some of them will be discussed later, but many of them will be discovered by you, the reader, as you diligently study and ponder the words of Isaiah. Here are five suggestions to help in this studying, pondering, and learning from the scriptures.
1. Place the material in a historical context. Always remember to study Isaiah within its unique Book of Mormon setting. Be sure to read at least the preceding verses, if not the whole preceding chapter, to appreciate what events led up to the Isaiah material being quoted. Read the chapter headings of the Book of Mormon chapters to be studied. Then read the Isaiah material. Study the Isaiah material in smaller units, usually as clusters of verses or individual chapters or, at most, a small group of chapters. Finally, be sure to read the verses (and sometimes the chapters) immediately following the Isaiah passages where prophetic commentary is often given! The advice given by the prophet Joseph Smith applies in this context. To help unlock the meaning of the Savior's parables in the scriptures, he said, have a key by which I understand the scriptures. I enquire, what was the question which drew out the answer, or caused Jesus to utter the parable?"3 Both Jesus, in His simple parables, and Isaiah, in his symbolic poetry, carefully hide the principal spiritual meaning. To open up that spiritual meaning, it is helpful to appreciate the historical context in which the message was originally given. As you read the Isaiah passages in the Book of Mormon, try to understand not just what was said but also why and in what context it was said.
2. Review the major or important ideas in your mind. After you have read the Isaiah passage, ponder about what for you, at this time, are the significant concepts that you remember from this material. Ask yourself, "What is the Lord saying to us in this Isaiah passage?" Identify the particular message of greatest value for you. See if you can connect parts of the passage to any of the three major purposes (covenants, prophecies, Christ) described earlier. Or, ask if there is something of personal value to you in this passage. Can you "liken" any of the messages unto yourself? (1 Nephi 19:23-24). Can you sense the hand of God or His feelings toward you or others of His children in this passage? These are the essential questions you must ask yourself if you really want to glean God's relevant messages out of the Isaiah passages in the Book of Mormon.
3. Study one small section of the material, just a few verses at a time. This is where you go back and not just reread but also study some key verses. These could be those verses highlighting the major message for you. It could be the least understood portion of the reading, or just a portion that you feel you want to study in greater depth. Reread those verses in their context and then use the footnotes at the bottom of the page. Note any Hebrew (Heb.) clarifications or Joseph Smith Translation (JST) insights. Read all the verses cross- referenced in the footnotes in their own scriptural context. Look up the topical guide (TG) entries, and see if any other Isaiah passages deal with the same theme; then read those passages. Skim through the other listings in that TG entry and see if other passages in the standard works provide key insights for that concept. Reread the verses and consider if there might be any terms or names that might be in the Bible Dictionary; see if any of them are listed. Prepare a brief outline of the key ideas (or words) within that section of verses. Try to identify any poetic patterns or parallelisms. Reread the section and ponder how it fits not only within its Book of Mormon context but also in a latter- day setting. Review and ponder how these additional insights into the Isaiah passage help enrich your understanding of God's word and its application to you.
4. Highlight a message or lesson from the passage. Identify at least one message or lesson that you can draw from this Isaiah passage. It may be something you have learned or a connection you have made to other scriptures. It can be a perspective or moral objective that you could share with family or friends. Using the oft- quoted words of Mormon, you could summarize the material starting with the phrase, "and thus we see." Finish that phrase by adding a lesson that you have gleaned from the passage. Glean valuable insights and spiritual treasures from the Isaiah passage that will help you (and others) with increased faith and commitment.
5. Finally, during this whole process, follow Moroni's important fourfold admonition of how to study the scriptures: as you read the material, remember God's words and works, ponder these things and how they relate to you, and pray with real faith and sincerity! (Moroni 10:3-5).
As you apply these suggestions, you will be pleasantly surprised at how much you will learn in your studies of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon!
- 2 Kings 21:1-22; 2 Chronicles 33:1-10, 21-24; Ginsberg, Legends of the Jews 4:279- 81.
- 2 Kings 22-23; 2 Chronicles 34-35; Ginsberg, Legends of the Jews 4:281- 83.
- Joseph Smith, Teachings, 276- 77.