Sunday, January 2, 2011

Great Are the Words of Isaiah: Chapter 52

When the wicked priests of King Noah wanted to stump/embarrass Abinadi, they asked him a question about Isaiah: "What meaneth the words which are written, and which have been taught by our fathers, saying: How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings?" (Mosiah 12:20-21). Of course, as Abinadi makes abundantly clear, he is NOT someone you want to play "Stump the Prophet" with. He launches into one of the finest discourses in all of the Book of Mormon and quotes (what we now think of as) the entire fifty-third chapter of Isaiah before concluding that "the prophets, every one that has opened his mouth to prophesy [. . .] are they who have published peace, [. . .] and O how beautiful upon the mountains were their feet! [. . .] And behold, I say unto you, this is not all. For O how beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that is the founder of peace, yea, even the Lord" (Mosiah 15:14-18).

Abinadi identifies the Lord and his prophets as the individuals whose feet Isaiah refers to in 52:7; having learned my lesson from Noah's wicked priests I'm hardly interested in contradicting him, but I can't help feeling that by emphasizing the role of prophets over the Lord himself, Abinadi has missed or at least failed to clarify some of what Isaiah is trying to tell us. For starters, Isaiah makes it perfectly clear that his comments about "the feet of him that bringeth good tidings" (52:7) refer to events that will take place "in that day," (52:6), which is scripture speak for the Second Coming. What's more, Isaiah follows his description of feet on mountains with a prophecy that the Lord will "gather many nations" (JST 52:15), which is DEFINITELY a reference to the last days.

If we understand that Isaiah is describing the last days and the Second Coming in this chapter, his reference to feet on mountains makes a lot more sense (at least if you have access to the prophecies of Zechariah, which Abinadi probably did not). Zechariah explains that in the days immediately preceding the Second Coming Jerusalem will be surrounded by the armies of "all nations" (Zech. 14:2). At that point, he continues, "shall the Lord go forth, and fight against those nations, as when he fought in the day of battle. And his feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east, and the mount of Olives shall cleave in the midst thereof" (Zech. 14:3-4), and the inhabitants of Jerusalem will escape from the siege through the valley that will miraculously appear where the mount of Olives once stood. In other words, by descending from heaven and setting foot on the mount of Olives, the Lord "publisheth peace" (52:7) by preventing war and "shall bring again Zion" (52:8) when he returns to rule personally over the earth. This seems, to me, like the more immediate message that Isaiah was trying to convey, although I think that Isaiah's point is a good one; inasmuch as all prophets are, to some extent, types of the Savior, these words also apply to them as well.

One more point regarding Isaiah's depiction of the Second Coming in these verses--he describes this event in language clearly meant, I think, to remind us of temple ordinances. When the Lord comes, "my people shall know my name" (52:6), and "they shall see eye to eye [face to face in Numbers 14:14]" with the Lord (52:8), and the Lord will make "bare his holy arm [. . .] and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God" (52:10). Why does Isaiah describe the Second Coming in these temple-centric terms? Two reasons, I think. First, Isaiah is literally seeing the universal opportunity to receive temple ordinances in the last days. Remember, because Israel collectively rejected the opportunity to receive their endowments in the wilderness, telling Moses, "let not God speak with us, lest we die" (Ex. 20:19), that virtually no one in ancient Israel received the fullness of temple ordinances as we know them today. In Isaiah's time only prophets and priests had that privilege; today "all the ends of the earth [have an opportunity to] see the salvation of our God" (52:10). Second, I think that Isaiah is reminding us that temple ordinances are literally a rehearsal for that day of judgment, that the temple is a time and opportunity to prepare to meet God precisely because we all will meet him in the day of judgment at the Second Coming. Those who have prepared themselves in the temple will have nothing to fear when the Lord appears; they will already have seen him "bare his holy arm"; they will already have seen "eye to eye" with him; they will already "know my name."

For those of "my people" who have prepared themselves in the temple, the Lord's arrival at the mount of Olives really will be "good tidings." For everyone else . . . well, let's just say that you don't want to be in that camp.


Jo Jo said...

I don't think Abinadi has missed or failed to clarify. I think instead he's doing a Princess Bride, Furthermore, as the wicked Priests could understand the prophet connection the most, but really up his sleeve Abinadi threw in the clincher, the Savior, as that's who they didn't believe in and Abinadi came full circle then.

Jenny said...

I liked this. Furthermore, I wouldn't want to play any version of "Stump" against YOU.

And you really can't go wrong when you find yourself in the temple at ANY time.