Tuesday, May 25, 2010

House of Jewels: Four possible interpretations of Isaiah 54:11-12

Isaiah has some very beautiful language in this chapter. He speaks of Zion as a barren woman and bids her to enlarge her house for the children who will come. I will concentrate on two particular verses and describe some of the possible ways of interpreting them while still retaining their doctrinal power and correctness.
11 O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted, behold, I will lay thy stones with fair colours, and lay thy foundations with sapphires.
12 And I will make thy windows of agates, and thy gates of carbuncles, and all thy borders of pleasant stones. (Isaiah 54:11-12)
First, I think we can interpret this as a promise of literal heavenly mansions. This isn’t hard when we remember that Christ spoke of many mansions in His Father’s house and that He would go and prepare a place for us. These verses are like a window into heaven to watch the building process. As the righteous mourn over wickedness and repent, every godly tear shed adds a jewel to their celestial mansion. “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).

Second, I think that we can interpret this as a promise of a glorious resurrection. In verse two, Isaiah speaks of a tent (a temporary home), but in verses 11-12 he speaks of a glorious building, something much more permanent. This corresponds with our knowledge that the mortal body is a temporary home to our spirit, but the resurrected body will be the permanent home of our spirit.

Further, the architectural features that are described by Isaiah—stones, foundations, windows, gates, and borders—can roughly correspond to parts of the body. The foundation on which the body stands is the feet. You could think of the “stones” as the toes. The windows to our soul are definitely our eyes. The gates could be our mouth. Our borders, as the outside of our body, could be our arms, our profile or shape, or our skin. You may think I’m stretching a little as I come up with these connections, but the overall interpretation of these verses as a testimony of the resurrection is still valid.

A third interpretation of these verses is as a promise of the restoration of the gospel and the organization of the church. Previous dispensations were begun and faded away like a tent raised in the wilderness which later collapsed in sandstorms. Verses 11-12 give the Lord’s promise that he would lay the foundations of this gospel dispensation with jewels and treasures (representing priceless truths) and continue to add more and more jewels in every feature. This is certainly true; in every feature of our faith we find value.
Stones and foundations = knowledge of God’s nature (through direct revelatory experience and through additional scriptures revealed), priesthood authority and keys
Windows = prophets, seers, and revelators through which light and guidance from God is transmitted
Gates = priesthood ordinances such as baptism whereby people enter the kingdom of God
Borders = sphere of stewardship and responsibility (callings), ward and stake boundaries, and most literally, the smallest branches of the church at the very outskirts

Really the jewels can represent three different things:
  • The truths restored
  • The good works from the people gathered as God works through them
  • The people themselves who are gathered
A fourth interpretation pertains to our families. God lays the precious foundation through temple marriage between a man and a woman. “I will make a man more precious than fine gold; even a man than the golden wedge of Ophir” (Isaiah 13:12). “Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies” (Proverbs 31:10). In this family, the woman becomes the jeweled gates through which treasured children are added. “And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of thy children” (Isaiah 54:13). Truly, who can find a peaceful, obedient child? For they are more prized than pearls. And all the borders of the righteous family grow and grow as it adds more generations.


We have seen that there are multiple interpretations of these two verses of Isaiah and they can be discerned through our testimony of the gospel, of the restoration, of the sanctity of the family, of the resurrection, and of the promise of a place in the celestial kingdom.


LeAnn said...

I enjoy reading your thoughts on these bibical verses. As we all know sometimes the bible can be hard to understand. I think your thoughts are very valid.
Blessings to you! LeAnn

meyerprints said...
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Anthony E. Larson said...

All well and good, as far as it goes. But here's the kicker: Where does all that imagery come from? Is it simply a creative choice of Isaiah's part? Or is there something traditional and cultural going on here and throughout Isaiah? Finding out how Isaiah and the people of his time understood this imagery is probably more useful than assigning meaning to it from our modern point of view. That's why I emphasize the value of learning the systematic imagery used by all the prophets, including Joseph Smith. They all used the same imagery, which drew on a single, ancient source--an origin, by the way, that they shared with all ancient cultures. I find that knowing that allows anyone to better interpret Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, John in Revelation and the teachings of the Savior. Without that background, we see their teachings in two dimensions rather than three. I recommend that study to you if you are serious about fully understanding the prophets.

Michaela Stephens said...

Anthony, you seem to take exception to my method of likening Isaiah to us. Perhaps some of my interpretations struck you as stretching too far. This is understandable. The cultural approach to a text is important.

However, I feel that there are many ways of looking at the words of Isaiah (and other scriptures for that matter) and that if we read through the lens of our testimony, we can learn things that the author never thought of intending to say but which are no less valid. As long as we read through our testimonies and resist any interpretation that would tempt us to sin, we are all right.

Perhaps you would favor us with your view of the text?

Michael W. Towns, Sr. said...

The beauty of the scriptures, particularly special sections of scripture such as Isaiah, is that our understanding of the passage can often rest on something as simple as the Holy Spirit suggesting ideas to our minds.

There are many levels to scripture study. There is no "one" correct interpretation, provided that the Spirit guides our hearts and minds.

I stumbled on this blog and I think it's great. Please keep up this great work.

Michael Towns