Sunday, July 10, 2011

Great Are the Words of Isaiah: Chapter 22

At the end of chapter twenty-two, Isaiah speaks of a steward, Eliakim, in Messianic terms as the savior of Judah:

"And I will clothe him with thy robe, and strengthen him with thy girdle, and I will commit thy government into his hand: and he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Judah. And the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; so he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open. And I will fasten him as a nail in a sure place; and he shall be for a glorious throne to his father's house. And they shall hang upon him all the glory of his father's house, the offspring and the issue, all vessels of small quantity, from the vessels of cups, even to all the vessels of flagons" (22:21-24).

This beautiful metaphor describes the Savior as a source of strength that will support all of the trials and tribulations of his covenant people; he will carry burdens both large (flagons) and small (cups). He can carry those burdens because he, unlike us, is able to support them--he is "in a sure place." The word sure here is a translation of the Hebrew verb 'aman, and with this word Isaiah seems to be drawing a distinction between Christ's ability to bear our burdens and the inability of (even great) mortal men. When Moses was confronted by the complaints of Israel in the wilderness he, in turn, complained to the Lord:

"Have I conceived all this people? have I begotten them, that thou shouldest say unto me, Carry them in thy bosom, as a nursing father beareth the sucking child, unto the land which thou swarest unto their fathers? . . . I am not able to bear all this people alone, because it is too heavy for me" (Num. 11:12, 14).

Moses cannot bear the burden (massa'; Num. 11:11) that Christ will bear (massa'; Isa. 22:25). He cannot act as a "nursing father," which is another translation of 'aman. But Christ--who has "conceived all this people" is "able to bear all this people alone." He is our foster-father (another possible translation of 'aman) who adopts us into his family, who carries and nourishes us like a nurse: "For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:26); "as newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the [W]ord, that ye may grow thereby: if so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious" (1 Pet. 2:2-3). Christ is 'aman--or, perhaps, as Joseph Smith transliterated, Ahman.

In the Journal of Discourses Orson Pratt recorded "one revelation that this people are not generally acquainted with. I think it has never been published, but probably it will in the Church History. It is given in questions and answers. The first question is, 'What is the name of God in the pure language?' The answer says, 'Ahman'" (2:342). Of course, while that particular revelation may not have been included in the Doctrine and Covenants, its substance was; Christ refers to himself in the Doctrine and Covenants as "your Redeemer, even the Son Ahman" or Son of God (78:20). It seems quite likely to me that the Hebrew verb 'aman (which, like Ahman, bears more than a passing resemblance to the Egyptian name for God, Amon)--a word that describes a nourishing father--is a linguistic descendant for "the name of God in the pure language."

The Book of Mormon prophet Jacob seems to have recognized this connection between Ahman, the name of God, and the Hebrew aman. Before his first sermon (on Isaiah!) Jacob tells the Nephite people "I will read you the words of Isaiah . . . that ye may learn and glorify the name of your God" (2 Ne. 6:4). He proceeds to quote two verses from Isaiah (49:22-23), including the promise that "kings shall be thy nursing fathers [aman]" (2 Ne. 6:7). In the Hebrew from which he was reading on the brass plates, this verse of Isaiah would have answered Jacob's promise to teach the Nephites "the name of your God," as he explained the nurturing nature of a Heavenly Father (aman/Ahman) who would gather scattered Israel together again.

When we read Isaiah 22:23, then, we might do so in the following manner: "And I will fasten him [Christ] as a nail in Ahman's place." Christ is the nail that bears us (all those vessels) up, that keeps us in the proximity of Ahman, in a manner analogous to the way in which a servant was bound to his master by a nail thrust through his ear into the doorpost of his master's house (Ex. 21:6; Deut. 15:17). No one else, not even Moses, was strong enough to take Christ's place as the nail; mere mortal men, Ezekiel explains, are like a flexible vine: "Shall wood be taken thereof to do any work? or will men take a pin of it to hang any vessel thereon?" (Ez. 15:3).

Only by accepting Jesus Christ as the Nail in a sure ('aman, Ahman, foster father, nourishing) place can we be saved; we must give ourselves up to his mercy and strength as a vessel and burden that we cannot bear alone.


Jenny said...

Thanks for having such insight--I especially like Isaiah and no longer dread reading his writings.

Alana said...

You maketh me to think husband. That's a good thing