Saturday, September 27, 2014

Old Testament Lesson 37: Thou Hast Done Wonderful Things

Much of Isaiah is treasured for it's allusion to Christ and his life.
Today's study of Isaiah, instead of taking us through each chapter, focuses on several specific Messianic passages in Isaiah highlighting the wonderful things Christ will do and has done.

Isaiah 22:22 From one perspective Isaiah is discussing a man named El-iakim (which means "one whom God will raise"). In this verse it suggests he will take over the role of treasurer/finance minister from Shebna and have the keys to the city of David and will be a very powerful man. But on another level he is alluding to the Christ. Christ will take on the keys to the spiritual House of David, the priesthood keys and the keys of sealing. What else does Christ have the power to open and shut? (Hell, Spirit World) See also Rev 3:7-8,20 and John 14:6
Christ is the key to getting back to our Father in Heaven.

Isaiah 24:21-22 Having told the people that there is no escape for the wicked v.17-18. Isaiah repeats this notion but with one extra little detail. What is the other detail he adds. Who are the prisoners Isaiah refers to here? What hope can they cling to? Who will visit them?
v.23 What kind of light can confound the moons light and shame the suns light? As a prisoner left alone in darkness for an extended period of time, what would it be like to suddenly feel this light?

Isaiah 25:1-4; 32:1-2 How does Isaiah describe Christ in these passages:
  • a strength to the poor and needy in his distress
  • a refuge from the storm
  • a shadow from the heat
  • a hiding place from the wind
  • a covert from the tempest
  • as rivers of water in a dry place
  • shadow of a great rock in a dry land
What do these passages teach us about times when we are struggling?

Isaiah 25:6-8 "in this mountain" could refer to the geographical area Isaiah was preaching from but it also alludes to the Lord's kingdom and to the our modern temples. It is here where the chosen and elect will receive the benefits of salvation
a feast of fat things
a feast of wines on the lees
the veil of spiritual darkness and unbelief will be lifted
death will be overcome
all of our tears will be wiped away
rebuke of his people taken from off the earth
The last 3 items definitely have pertinence to the atonement and resurrection.

How can temple attendance help us receive these blessings? Who does it say will provide these blessings? Revelations 21:3-4 gives us more insight into what causes our tears that the Lord will wipe away. Notice he doesn't just stop us crying - he wipes the tears from our face. This is not just a public and infinite atonement - it is a personal and intimate atonement as well.

Isaiah 28:16 How is Christ our tried stone and our sure foundation? cf. Heleman 5:12, Doctrine and Covenants 50:44
Why will "he that believeth NOT make haste"? Compare to Isaiah 24:17-19.

Isaiah 29:4, 10-11,14,18 Bringing forth of the gospel in the latter-days through the restoration and the Book of Mormon is a marvelous work and a wonder that will heal the spiritually deaf and blind.
Isaiah 30:19-21 such beautiful comforting words of promise to the righteous and to the repentant. Is life meant to be easy?

From these few passages we see Jesus Christ as the key to returning to our Father in Heaven. It is  only through him. He is our light in the darkness, our hope, our protector and our saviour. He loves us. He is our tried and tested and sure foundation and he has restored his gospel in these latter days to bring to pass the purposes of the great plan. If we put our trust in his teachings, following his way and accepting his atonement in our lives we will not only feel the effects in our lives, we will see him.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Old Testament Lesson 36: The Glory of Zion Will be a Defense

So who was Isaiah? We have few clues. The bible tells us that he was the prophet during the time of 4 Judean kings - Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah. He was a prophet for a span of close to 50 years, maybe more. And there is some suggestion that Hezekiah was his son-in-law and that Hezekiah's son Manasseh (Isaiah's grandson) killed Isaiah by putting him in a hollowed out tree trunk and having him sawn in half (cf Heb 11:37). So much for being able to enjoy your grandkids!

Isaiah's name means "Jehovah is salvation" and it is clear his name, ministry and life were meant to help point to Christ. Now before we start studying Isaiah it might be worth noting that 16 chapters of Isaiah are quoted in the Book of Mormon. For the next 5 lessons we will be studying Isaiah. The Saviour encouraged us to study Isaiah in 3 Nephi 23:1-3 ( I know some of us would prefer he had said the Book of Jarom or Omni) but interestingly although Nephi encourages a study of Isaiah also, he seems to recognize that people not of Isaiah's time and culture would struggle to understand his words. 2 Nephi 25:1-4. According to Nephi what is the key to understanding Isaiah?
The Great Isaiah Scroll of Qumran
Isaiah 1 we are told is a vision Isaiah had concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
What is the state of the people in v.2-4? rebellious, ignorant, sinful, evildoers, corrupted, gone away backward. Dumber than the dumbest animals - ox and ass.
What does that phrase "gone away backward" suggest?

How spiritually sick are the people? v.5-6 the whole head and the whole heart (leaders and the people) and notice what ails them - head is sick (unrighteous) hear is faint (weak and unrighteous), from head to toe it is ridden with wounds bruises and putrefying sores that have not been bound and closed or soothed with ointment. Based on that analogy what are the people sorely lacking? A good doctor? (cf Psalms 147:3). Who could heal them? And yet they hadn't even applied a band-aid yet. Why do people avoid repentance and healing?

What does he tell the people to do that are in this state? v.16-19 Repent, clean up.
v.18 "come now, and let us reason together" When? NOW. Don't delay.

v.29-30 alludes to the shrines set up and built with oak trees in gardens for idol worship
v.30 tow=tinder

Then he moves away from them and starts discussing the last days.
Isaiah 2:2-4 mountain of the Lord house to be established in the tops of the mountains.
It is interesting to note that when the Salt Lake valley was first settled, those that settled there wanted to call the region Deseret. However the US government in granting statehood insisted it be called Utah in common with their practice of naming states after the tribal people common to that area. Little did they realize they were helping fulfil this prophecy in Isaiah. Utah in the Ute language means "the top of the mountains".

Zion and Jerusalem to be the two centres of the Millenium. One the legal and judicial centre (constitutional) and one the spiritual centre (scriptural).
A world of peace and happiness is shown where there is no more war.

Why did Isaiah share this vision of the last days after telling people how sick they were? v.5  has the answer but try comparing to 2 Nephi 12:5 it's an invitation. You are wicked and suffering the calamities of your wickedness but there is a better way and one day it will be better. You can experience this if you walk in his light.

v.6-9 But currently you get your light and replenishment from psychics, eastern philosophies, marrying outside of the temple, your focus is on money, you have more cars and armies than you know what to do with, and you have sports idols, pop idols, movie idols and worship man-made things. Even your poor are proud! You give more credence to your own things than to the things of God. Google and Wikipedia are valued more than scripture. Which did you use more this week? We are far from the simple desire of the Lord's prayer - "give us this day our daily bread!" We chase riches and build armies in our vain efforts to self-preserve and forget the great Deliverer has promised us salvation and preservation if we just trust in Him.

What is the advice given if that is your state or condition in life - Hide! Crawl under a rock and hide! (cf Alma 12:14)

v.10. Why?
v.11-17 Because all the mighty and proud will be brought low. Cedars of Lebanon, Oaks of Bashan, Ships of Tarshish. All trees. Trees represent man. No matter how great you are, how powerful, how good-looking, how rich, He will bring you down!
v.10 and v.19 why will they hide? For fear - they will recognize he is greater than anything they put their trust in. Notice also it will be too bright for them..where do they go to hide? In dark places. Will their idols save them? No! v.20 in fact they are thrown to moles and bats. What do moles and bats have to with this? They also live in darkness and are blind!

And what is the lesson the Lord would have us learn from all of this? v.22  "Cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils..." We are nothing, we live - carried along by a mere puff of air. Can we save ourselves? NO. Only he who is mighty to save can save mankind, through the great atonement.

Notice that Isaiah 2 has two great heights that can be reached in life - the tops of the mountains where you will find the Lord's house OR the loftiness of man (pride). Which are you closest to scaling?

Isaiah 3 is a continuation of the vision Isaiah had and here he is told in vision that the Lord will take away his support from the people. He will no longer feed them, taking away the wise and replacing them with immature leaders v.1-4

v.16-26 even the women are guilty of pride and being followers of fashion more than faithful followers of their God. They will be shamed and their families torn apart by war.

How great will be the desolation and destruction according to Isaiah 4?   7 women will ask 1 man to give them his name. Don't feed or clothe us just let us belong. (v.1) Only the righteous will be left in Jerusalem and Zion.
v.5-6 Every home (dwelling place), every congregation of his people (assembly) shall be protected by a pillar of fire at night, and by a cloud and smoke during the day. What else will be there - a tabernacle (temple). How is it described? As a shadow from the sun and heat, a cover from rain and storms and a place of refuge. Could we use a place to get away from the storms and the stresses of our life? Could we do with having a place of refuge and protection for us? Go to the temple!

Isaiah 5:1-7 The Lord now compares his people to a vineyard. How did he look after it? Built a fence (protection and defence), gathered out the stones (made life a rich place to grow for us) planted the choicest vine (the best, the chosen people were given for their roots Abr. 3:22-23), built a tower in the midst (a place of gathering and a sign of God's presence in our midst - the temple), made a winepress (gave us challenges to bring the best out of us). What was the result - sour grapes! What was the Lord's reaction - take away the protection and stop looking after it.
v.8-24 a expansion on who these sour grapes are.
wo unto them that call evil good, and good evil:
Spencer W. Kimball
Jesus Christ our Lord is under no obligation to save this world. The people have ignored him, disbelieved him, failed to follow him. They stand at his mercy which will be extended only if they repent. But to what extent have we repented? Another prophet said, "We call evil good, and good evil." Men have rationalized themselves into thinking that they are "not so bad." Are they fully ripe? Has the rot of age and flabbiness set in? Can they change? They see evil in their enemies, but none in themselves. Even in the true Church numerous of its people fail to attend their meetings, to tithe their incomes, to have their regular prayers, to keep all the commandments. We can transform, but will we? It seems that we would rather tax ourselves into slavery than to pay our tithes; rather build protections and walls than drop to our knees with our families in solemn prayers night and morning. (Conference Report, Oct. 1, 1961, p.31)
v.25 his hand is still stretched out against them - there is more destruction to come.
v.26 in the last days an ensign will be lifted and people will gather to it swiftly with the aid of young lions (missionaries).
LeGrand Richards
Since there were no such things as trains and airplanes in that day, Isaiah could hardly have mentioned them by name, but he seems to have described them in unmistakable words. How better could "their horses hoofs be counted like flint, and their wheel like a whirlwind" than in the modern train? How better could "Their like a lion" than in the roar of the airplane? Trains and airplanes do not stop for night. Therefore, was not Isaiah justified in saying "none shall slumber nor sleep; neither shall the girdle of their loins be loosed, nor the latchet of their shoes be broken"? With this manner of transportation the Lord can really "hiss unto them from the end of the earth," that "they shall come with speed swiftly." (A Marvelous Work and a Wonder, p. 236)
Isaiah 6
Isaiah is called of God but feels unworthy of his call saying he has unclean lips and lives among people with unclean lips. How was Isaiah made worthy? v.6-7 Where did the coal come from? Why was it hot? What does the coal symbolize?

Once cleansed and purified Isaiah answered his call saying, "Here am, I send me" alluding to the Saviour's own mission call in the pre-existence.

Our first study of Isaiah has been a study full of symbols and imagery. But it is clear that the wicked are being called to repentance. The righteous are promised great blessings and all can still be saved through the cleansing power of the great atonement.
As we are cleansed, attend the temple and live the commandments we will find that the Lord's Glory will attend us and will protect us.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Old Testament Lesson 34: I Will Betroth Thee Unto Me in Righteousness

How does God love us? And how do we know God loves us? How do you know God loves you?
John 3:16 He loves us so much he gave his only begotten son
Ezekiel 16:1-14 He loves us so much he has saved us, washed us, cleaned us, dressed and clothed us, adorned us with fine jewellry, entered into a covenant with us, protected us, gave us the very best, fed us the very best, crowned us.

The scriptures are clear in showing us that God loves us. But I sometimes wonder if we maybe miss the overwhelming depth of that love.
One of the ways that God has tried to explain his love for us is by using marriage as an allegory for his relationship with us. Why would he use marriage to illustrate his love for us?

What other examples in the scriptures do we have where this allegory is used? (Genesis 2-3, Matthew 25:1-13, Ephesians 5:25-33, Ruth, Revelations )

What is a betrothal? Unlike a modern day engagement, a betrothal was as holy and sacred as the final marriage vows. It was a commitment to one another. Do we as latter-day saints enter into betrothal agreements?
Have a look at the sacrament prayers:
and witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son.
We take the bread as a reminder to us and a witness to others of the covenants we made at baptism to be willing to take upon us the name of Christ. Taking the bread (symbolic of his body) represents he and us becoming one spiritually.
When we take the water it represents his blood and is symbolic of us remembering and accepting his dowry that pays for us - the Atonement.

Every Sunday we are renewing our betrothal covenant with the Lord. We promised to become one with Him and our weekly sacrament is our reminder of that covenant and promise. How grateful he must be when he sees us renew that covenant each week.

It is obvious that the Lord takes marriage and betrothal and these covenants very seriously, that they have great depth of meaning to Him. It is clear he considers this a topic of great sanctity and sacredness. Which makes this next scripture all the more shocking in comparison.

Read Hosea 1:2, 3-4, 6, 8-9 WOW! I didn't see that one coming. What could possibly have happened that makes God want to order his prophet to marry a harlot and to curse the children of that marriage and to declare "for ye are not my people and I will not be yours"?

Several Old Testament prophets lives were used as similitudes or "object lessons" for the children of Israel and indeed, for us also. For example, Abraham was commanded to offer his son Isaac. Moses delivered his people. Jonah's experience in the belly of the great fish reflected the Lord's period of time in the Spirit World. The period of growth of Isaiah's son was used as a direct illustration of the time period Israel had left before Assyria would attack Damascus (Isa. 8). One of the most dramatic examples of such an object lesson was Ezekiel.
Ezekiel was asked to create a model of the city of Jerusalem being besieged by an invading army complete with a little miniature battering ram to represent the prophesied invasion to come! He was then told to lay down (with bare arms) by this model in public on his left side for 390 days, representing the number of years that the Northern Kingdom had been wicked. Next, he was to lay down (with bare arms) by the model on his right side for 40 days, representing the number of years that the Southern Kingdom of Judah had been wicked. He was also given specific things to eat and very specific cooking instructions. He was supposed to make bread from a mixture of grains and beans and lentils, but he was to bake it on a fire made of dried human excrement. For some reason, Ezekiel didn't like that idea too well and protested to the Lord. The Lord was merciful and allowed Ezekiel to cook his bread with dried cow chips instead of human ones! 
What was the Lord's point? The Israelites must have been horrified to see a prophet eating bread cooked over cow chips! The Lord needed to shock them just to get their attention because they had ceased to listen through the normal channels. The point was to show the people exactly how disgusting and gross their behaviour was to the Lord and how unclean they had become - the whole reason they would soon be invaded and over-run. What an object lesson!

Similarly, Hosea's marriage was to serve as an object lesson. So what was that object lesson with Hosea?
Hosea's marriage to the unfaithful Gomer symbolized God's covenants with Israel. The children - Jezreel (God scatters), Lo-ruhama (Not having obtained mercy) and Lo-ammi (Not my people) were the fruits of that unfaithful union. Clearly he's telling the people they have been unfaithful and the fruits of their infidelity to him would be that they would be scattered without mercy and would no longer be His people. 
What infidelity were the children of Israel guilty of? How can we avoid these temptations today? When the Lord likens this to marriage what is he suggesting is the key to avoiding temptation? (What is the first and great commandment?) LOVE the Lord they God with all thy heart, might mind and strength. How do you think the Husband feels? 

Now compare Hosea 2:1-13 with Hosea 2:14-23. Even though the wife had been unfaithful, the husband still loved her and wanted her back. In today's society that is often seen as weakness. Why would the husband take the unfaithful wife back? What does the Lord promise if his unfaithful wife returns? see also Hosea 2:19-20, 23.
v.14-15  The Valley of Achor is a valley north of the Jezreel Valley.  It is the route out of the wilderness into the heart of the land.  The word Achor means "trouble."  So the husband will use the route of trouble to bring Israel back to him, as the Lord often uses trials as a means of encouraging us to return to or to strengthen our relationship with him.

V. 23 is very reminiscent of a renewed marriage vow.
Why is this promise important and what does it teach us about God's love?

“Though we are incomplete, God loves us completely. Though we are imperfect, He loves us perfectly. Though we may feel lost and without compass, God's love encompasses us completely. ... He loves every one of us, even those who are flawed, rejected, awkward, sorrowful, or broken.” 
― Dieter F. Uchtdorf

In Hosea 3 the husband is instructed to purchase his wife. Her value at this time is the lowest of all values - that of a slave. This might not seem very romantic, it may appear in this time and age to objectify the woman and treat her as nothing more than a piece of property. However this was the law and the culture. And more importantly this man was willing to pay the price literally. Is there any doubt his love for her? When we understand how this purchase symbolizes our own ransom paid by the Saviour, can you see the depth of mercy and love exhibited? Can you feel the redeeming love? 
1 Peter 1:18-19

Elder Henry B Eyring says of Hosea's story,
"This was a love story. This was a story of a marriage covenant bound by love, by steadfast love...The Lord, with whom I am blessed to have made covenants, loves me and you...with a steadfastness about which I continually marvel and which I want, with all my heart, to emulate"
Covenants and Sacrifice (CES Symposium 15 Aug 1995)

I know that God loves us. I know that his arms of mercy extend far beyond my faults and my understanding. Like Elder Eyring I wish to and I strive to emulate the love He shows us. It simply stuns me and humbles me and fills my heart with gratitude that despite all of my weaknesses and all of my mistakes he still loves me and still wants me back. 

O to grace how great a debtorDaily I'm constrained to be!Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,Bind my wandering heart to Thee:Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,Prone to leave the God I love;Here's my heart, O take and seal it;Seal it for Thy courts above.Come Thou Fount, v.4
For those that feel this love does not extend to them please know that it does.