Many people dread reading the Isaiah chapters of the Book of Mormon. There’s no doubt, Isaiah’s writings aren’t the easiest to understand, but John Bytheway helps readers navigate the Isaiah chapters in his book Isaiah for Airheads. Here are five useful tips to help you discover the hidden gems in the Book of Mormon.
1. Change Your Attitude
Our first step is to change our attitude—rather than just “getting through” Isaiah, let’s “get from” Isaiah. Let’s not get bogged down, let’s get fired up! We don’t need to be Hebrew scholars—we are sons and daughters of God with the gift of the Holy Ghost, for crying out loud! Scriptures are a gift from God, and children of God should never be intimidated by scripture. Isaiah is not a trial, it’s a treasure! The fact that you’re reading this book testifies that you’re eager to understand Isaiah and your heart is already prepared.
This change in our attitude makes searching Isaiah a lot more fun. Isaiah is a treasure hunt—it’s a challenge—and there’s a greater sense of satisfaction when you do a little detective work and can finally say, “Hey, I get this, I understand this!”
2. Remember the Lord Will Prepare a Way
For because the words of Isaiah are not plain unto you, nevertheless they are plain unto all those that are filled with the spirit of prophecy (2 Nephi 25:4).
This verse usually brings the response, “Well, that’s easy for you to say, Nephi. You were a prophet!” And most of us feel we could never be like Nephi. Hey, not so fast. Don’t sell yourself short. You may not be large in stature, but you’re a child of God with the gift of the Holy Ghost.
John the Revelator taught that the testimony of Christ is the spirit of prophecy (see Revelation 19:10).
Do you have a testimony of Christ? Of course you do. How did you get it? It must have come by revelation. Therefore, you have the spirit of prophecy.
The Prophet Joseph Smith taught:
"If any person should ask me if I were a prophet, I should not deny it, as that would give me the lie; for, according to John, the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy; therefore, if I profess to be a witness or teacher, and have not the spirit of prophecy, which is the testimony of Jesus, I must be a false witness; but if I be a true teacher and witness, I must possess the spirit of prophecy, and that constitutes a prophet" (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 269)
Joseph Smith also taught that “God hath not revealed anything to Joseph, but what He will make known unto the Twelve, and even the least Saint may know all things as fast as he is able to bear them” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 149).
In your righteous desire to search the words of Isaiah, as Jesus has commanded us to do, the Lord will “prepare a way”.
3. Utilize Your Resources
"I know that they shall be of great worth unto them in the last days; for in that day shall they understand them; wherefore, for their good have I written them" (2 Nephi 25:8).
Nephi makes an intriguing statement, which begs a question: Why? Why will we understand Isaiah in the last days?
Perhaps it is because we will notice the things Isaiah prophesied happening all around us. We’ll witness the growth of the Church and the gathering of Israel. Perhaps the Lord will pour out his Spirit upon us as we follow the prophets by more faithfully studying the scriptures. Perhaps it’s because we’ll have more resources to help us understand Isaiah than ever before.
For example, we have:
1. Restoration scriptures, which help clarify Isaiah’s meaning, such as the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price.
2. In printings since 1981, a synopsis at the beginning of each Isaiah chapter in the Book of Mormon, which contains Nephi’s Keys to Understanding Isaiah helpful summaries and doctrinal points. Also, the footnotes in the Book of Mormon and in Isaiah add clarifying comments and point us to other references.
3. The LDS Bible Dictionary, which contains articles on Isaiah, the kingdom of Israel and the kingdom of Judah, Babylon, Assyria, and more.
4. Maps of the Holy Land in the back of the scriptures.
5. Modern prophets who have commented on Isaiah in their writings and in general conferences of the Church.
6. Books and articles from faithful LDS scholars in which they analyze for us Isaiah’s meanings.
In short, there has never been a better time for us to search—not skim, not skip, not avoid— but really search Isaiah. Now that we have our map, now that we know our four guides, the four trees to look for, and are equipped with Nephi’s four keys, we are ready to enjoy the richness and beauty of Isaiah.
4. Come to Understand the House of Israel
I am convinced that one of the reasons we have difficulty understanding Isaiah is that we don’t fully grasp the concept of the house of Israel— its members’ identity, their obligation, their scattering, and their gathering. We are very good at talking about our identity as children of God, but perhaps not as good at accepting the idea of being part of a chosen lineage within God’s family.
Brother Robert L. Millet, an influential teacher in my life, has suggested some reasons for this hesitancy to embrace our identity as a covenant people:
"I sense frequently among young and old a lack of covenant-consciousness, not necessarily in regard to the covenants and ordinances required for salvation, but rather a lack of appropriate kinship and identity with ancient Israel and with the fathers—Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—and the responsibilities we have inherited from them."
I am convinced that many years of careful and prayerful study of scripture—particularly the Old Testament and the Book of Mormon—will not only bring people to understand in their minds the origins and destiny of the descendants of Jacob, but will also cause them to know in their hearts what it means to come to earth through a chosen lineage and what God would have them do to be a light to the world, particularly to so many who are in spiritual darkness.
5. Slow Down
If I were to offer my own key to understanding Isaiah, it might be two words: “slow down.” You simply can’t read Isaiah as fast as you read the other books in the Book of Mormon and keep the same level of comprehension. I can’t tell you how many times my problem with a verse was solved when I simply read it slowly. It helped me to sort out the pronouns, divide past tense from future tense, check the footnotes, and better grasp “the manner of prophesying among the Jews.”
Reading these Isaiah passages slowly (rather than skipping or skimming them) will change you from a casual reader to a serious student.
President Boyd K. Packer has written:
“The prophecies of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah . . .loom as a barrier, like a roadblock or a checkpoint beyond which the casual reader, one with idle curiosity, generally will not go. . .
Perhaps only after you read the Book of Mormon and return to the Bible will you notice that the Lord quotes Isaiah seven times in the New Testament; in addition, the Apostles quote Isaiah forty more times. One day you may revere these prophetic words in Isaiah in both books. The Lord had a purpose in preserving the prophecies of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon, notwithstanding they become a barrier to the casual reader” (Things of the Soul, 8).
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Pick up your copy of John Bytheway's fun-filled guide to the Isaiah chapters today at Deseret Book or deseretbook.com.