isaiah's writing styles

I’m still studying Isaiah in my spare time, when I can find it, and I’ve just had some really cool discoveries lately. I realize that these great findings of mine could easily be found by reading a commentary on the Book of Isaiah, but I prefer to locate them for myself — they have far greater meaning, and I won’t quickly forget them (or the experience of enlightment).

Just the other day, I think it was Monday, I was itching for some reason to sit down again and just read a little bit, and see if I could pick something up. It was a long day full of work and other crazy stuff, and by the time I had a second to do anything, it was midnight and I was ready to go to bed. But I flipped open my Bible casually, and just started at Isaiah 1. I won’t go into much detail of what I found, but while I was reading it, the Spirit of the Lord fell upon me for a bit, and something just clicked in my brain. I recognized Isaiah’s writing style a little bit.

The chapter is written using a lot of groups of similar sayings. Nearly the entire chapter can be broken down using them. It’s really cool, and quite poetic, as I’m guessing that was the prophet’s intent. For a quick example, see verse 4, how he describes the people in four parts, then lists their actions in three parts following that:

  1. Ah sinful nation
  2. a people laden with iniquity
  3. a seed of evildoers
  4. children that are corrupters /
  5. they have forsaken the Lord
  6. they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger
  7. they are gone away backward

There’s examples like that all over.  Really cool.  For a quick recap of some of the important parts of the gospel, see v16-17, grouped in similar pairs:

  • cease to do evil / learn to do well
  • seek judgment / relieve the oppressed
  • judge the fatherless / plead for the widow

Anyway … none of that is what I wanted to write about right now, but it does give the background a bit to his writing style that I recognized while reading this morning, in Isaiah 2.

Again, the experience was nearly similar … I was just reading along, mostly for just interest and comfort, and I noticed all of a sudden that he uses pairs a lot, or repetition to say the same thing, but with different words.  It’s actually really helpful, because his writings can be really confusing sometimes, but if you notice that he’s saying the same thing twice, then you have a greater pool of comparison to draw from.

It starts in verse 3, and goes from there.  I only copied a few examples, because once you understand the principle, its really easy to see.

  • the mountain of the Lord / the house of the God of Jacob (v3)
  • he will teach us of his ways / we will walk in his paths (v3)
  • he shall judge among the nations / shall rebuke many people (v4)
  • they shall beat their swords into plowshares / their spears into pruninghooks (v4)

Another thing I picked up on is, often times after prophecies, he will give either his own testimony or an admonition or invitation to follow the Lord.  In that example, verse 5 does that: “O house of Jacob, come ye, and let us walk in the light of the Lord.”

I know it’s easy to read the Bible and it can sound like the Lord is just itching to blow us all to smithereens because we are wicked and going to hell.  The way I see it is that God is trying to tell us the natural consequences of our lives if we do not refrain from sin.

For example, if you are trying to teach your children not to run out in front of cars in the middle of the street, what kind of language do you use to stress the importance of the lesson to them?  You might do something like raise your voice, or use colorful descriptions to get the point across — if you get hit by a car, your brains will be splattered all over their dashboard, and your spleen will be on the curb … for example :).

Just the same way, the Lord is trying to warn us of the bad things, in a stressed tone, that will happen.  It’s not meant to scare or frighten us, just to communicate the seriousness of the consequences.

That was the spiritual lesson I was getting from reading Isaiah, chapter two.  I still think there’s something I’m mising from it overall, as I can feel it just out of reach, so I came here to write in my blog in an attempt to see if I maybe I could find it.  We’ll see, I suppose.

I did want to recount what I summarized the chapter’s lesson as, though.  Rather than try to describe it all over again, I’ll just copy verbatim what I put in my notes this morning:

Reading Isaiah 2, he warns against the proud quite a lot (v6-22), warning them what will happen at the time of the Second Coming.  I think Alma 12:14 summarizes it nicely: “we would fain be glad if we could command the rocks and the mountains to fall upon us to hide us from his presence.” [Note: read the whole chapter for clarity, I imagine my snippet probably doesn’t make much sense out of context to a visitor.  It’s part of a bigger sermon … he is discussing the wicked there, not all people everywhere.]

The message seems to be that, while they are rich in their worldly accounts (v7) and they have sought after a life of worldliness (v8), that when the the Lord comes, they will not be forgiven (v9), and they will in agony seek to separate them (the works of their hands) from themselves (v20-21).  The Lord will bring them all low, and He alone will be exalted, and destroy their riches, and their wicked works (the idols [represent] the results of their hands) (v17-18).

When we stand before the Lord, everything that we have sought [for] with worldly desires will mean nothing.

See also 2 Nephi 9:28-30Isaiah 2 is also the first chapter quoted by Nephi [in the Book of Mormon] (2 Nephi 12).

Okay, so a quick explanation about that last part — when Nephi, the first prophet-author of the Book of Mormon (an entire civilization is named after him, the Nephites) was writing, he included a lot of writings of Isaiah, since they had taken a contemporary copy of their scriptures with them when they left Jerusalem (600 B.C.).  So, they are a more ancient source of Isaiahs writings that we have, compared to the Bible.  The chapters are nearly exact, except that you can see very small snippets that were removed from the Bible text.  In every instance, the phrases shed a little light on the verses.  I’ll include some here, with the additions — or mormon sauce as my friend Josh calls it :) — in bold so you can see the differences.  They are small, but helpful.

  • 5. O house of Jacob, come ye and let us walk in the light of the Lord; yea, come, for ye have all gone astray, every one to his wicked ways.
  • 6. Therefore, O Lord, thou hast forsaken thy people, the house of Jacob, because they be replenished from the east, and hearken unto soothsayers like the Philistines, and they please themselves in the children of strangers.
  • 10. O ye wicked ones, enter into the rock, and hide thee in the dust, for the fear of the Lord and the glory of his majesty shall smite thee.
  • 12. For the day of the Lord of Hosts soon cometh upon all nations, yea, upon every one; yea, upon the proud and lofty, and upon every one who is lifted up, and he shall be brought low.
  • 13. Yea, and the day of the Lord shall come upon all the cedars of Lebanon, for they are high and lifted up; and upon all the oaks of Bashan;
  • 14. And upon all the high mountains, and upon all the hills, and upon all the nations which are lifted up, and upon every people;
  • 16. And upon all the ships of the sea, and upon all the ships of Tarshish, and upon all pleasant pictures.
  • 19. And they shall go into the holes of the rocks, and into the caves of the earth, for the fear of the Lord shall come upon them and the glory of his majesty shall smite them, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth.
  • 21. To go into the clefts of the rocks, and into the tops of the ragged rocks, for the fear of the Lord shall come upon them and the majesty of his glory shall smite them, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth.

Well, it looks like the stuff there unintentionally, for my part, focused on how the Lord is going to smite everyone.  Whoops. :)  More accurately, though, those that are really wicked and evil.

I think it’s interesting that the scriptures that were trimmed are ones that absolve the wicked of the fruits of their works, and downplay the coming of the Lord.  I hate saying something like that, because it sounds snotty, when really I’m just trying to document an intellectual curiosity.  But I also know from experience, that when I do something wrong, usually one of my first inclinations is to rationalize it away, so that my guilt will not be intense.  I don’t like holier-than-thou attitudes any more than the next person.  I need the help of Christ as much as the next man, if not more, because I know more, and am therefore more responsible.

Ah, anyway, good stuff.  I’m loving my good ole scripture study time.  It’s one of the few luxuries I have these days, with the little time I have available to me.  I know the Lord is trying to teach us important stuff in the scriptures, not just doomday prophecies.  You have to really dig to find the lessons, sometimes, but when you do, you appreciate them all the more.  It’s fascinating stuff, methinks. :)  Good times.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “isaiah's writing styles

  1. Personally, I love your homemade scripture about the spleen on the curb. Good stuff, Steve.

  2. So you *might* know I have this impatient tendency to want to skip to the end and then work backwards. :-T Can’t say how well that serves me in life, but it does help me out sometimes in understanding textbooks and scriptures.

    The last verse sounds like a bit of a post script rebuke and insult to Satan, who wouldn’t get a life when he had the chance (and that’s why he’s always trying to get us to donate ours to his cause).

    So here we have people throwing their worthless idols to the moles and bats. These creatures are their neighbors, actually, because these people are clamoring for the caves and holes: the darkest places they can find in an attempt to escape the day of the Lord, when His light shines everywhere… illuminating everything, revealing the truth. At that point there’s no hiding the idiotic things we did while we stumbled around in the dark.

    But, you know, darkness is the absence of light, and without that light, what are we supposed to do? Amass riches? Make ourselves idols? Try to become great in the dim-sighted eyes of men?

    There’s a pretty significant difference in verse 9 that turns everything around:

    Isaiah 2:9 And the mean man boweth down, and the great man humbleth himself: therefore forgive them not.

    vs

    2 Nephi 12:9 And the mean man boweth not down, and the great man humbleth himself not, therefore, forgive him not.

    You’d think if someone meant to leave the word “not” out of that verse, they would have taken out all three instances. Interesting.

    But working backward from there, all of us, the mean (average) and even the great, must bow down and humble ourselves or we will not be forgiven, in spite of all our riches and accomplishments. Because every one of us has gone astray. And as we humble ourselves, He will judge and rebuke us according to His law and word, but this is how we will find His peace. We can go to the house of God. We can learn His ways, and walk in His paths and in his light.

    Anyway. So if you look at it that way, it’s a scripture of hope. We can choose to walk in the light and enjoy its benefits now, and when more light comes, we’ll welcome it. :)

  3. Oh, missed one other difference on verse 9: “them” vs “him” — the latter seems to make it more personal and individual. Anyway. Thanks for sharing your insights.

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