8 ¶Now go, write it before them in a table, and note it in a book, that it may be for the time to come for ever and ever:
9 That this is a rebellious people, lying children, children that will not hear the law of the Lord:
10 Which say to the seers, See not; and to the prophets, Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits:
11 Get you out of the way, turn aside out of the path, cause the Holy One of Israel to cease from before us.
12 Wherefore thus saith the Holy One of Israel, Because ye despise this word, and trust in oppression and perverseness, and stay thereon:
13 Therefore this iniquity shall be to you as a breach ready to fall, swelling out in a high wall, whose breaking cometh suddenly at an instant.
14 And he shall break it as the breaking of the potters’ vessel that is broken in pieces; he shall not spare: so that there shall not be found in the bursting of it a sherd to take fire from the hearth, or to take water withal out of the pit.
15 For thus saith the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel; In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength: and ye would not.
16 But ye said, No; for we will flee upon horses; therefore shall ye flee: and, We will ride upon the swift; therefore shall they that pursue you be swift.
17 One thousand shall flee at the rebuke of one; at the rebuke of five shall ye flee: till ye be left as a beacon upon the top of a mountain, and as an ensign on an hill. (Isaiah 30:8:17)
Isaiah points out the problem first—the Israelites didn’t want to hear the truth, so they were persecuting the prophets. Then he tells them the consequences of this rebellious behavior and he uses two different images to do it.
The first image is of a high mud brick wall with a break in it, though Isaiah calls the break “a breach.” We are to imagine a break in this wall that causes it to lean precariously over the ground (and whoever is standing below) and which will eventually topple and fall suddenly without warning.
The second image is of a clay pot being broken with such great violence that there is not a single shard of it left to do anything useful with, not even to move hot coals for the fire or scoop water with.
Why are these images used? How do they teach us about the consequences of persecuting the prophets who tell the truth about sin?
Persecution is a relationally aggressive way of trying to persuade others to do what one wants. It tends to escalate and become a pattern of behavior when it is perceived to be successful. But it is not something that can be depended upon to secure peace because other parties opposed learn to do it too, and the kinds of things that people think call for persecution can shift with incredible speed. The persecuting group can easily become the next to be persecuted by another group of unrighteous people who have just as strong feelings and no compunction in attacking viciously. So in that way, to depend upon persecution as a tactic (or “trusting in oppression and perverseness,” as Isaiah calls it) is as precarious as standing under a wall with a break at the top, which will break suddenly with no warning. At any moment the same thing could fall on the persecutor and smash them to smithereens, leaving them broken psychologically.
For those of us who are persecuted, Isaiah tells us a key for enduring: “In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and confidence shall be your strength.” Returning is Isaiah’s term for repentance. If there is anything we are doing wrong, repentance will fix it and then any legitimate fault we might be persecuted for will disappear. The most important thing is that we find spiritual salvation, even if the persecution doesn’t stop. (Not that we wouldn’t be happy if it did!) Furthermore, “quietness and confidence” refers to how we are to express ourselves, rather than with shrillness, outrage, and spreading fear, uncertainty, and doubt. We can observe how the prophet and apostles speak of the issues, with calm discipline and careful reasoning.
If we can’t do that, then we will run away from the problems and issues and we’ll get chased here and there by even a hint of trouble. A thousand of us will run at the rebuke of one incident of persecution until we can find the strength from the atonement to repent and take a stand and become a beacon on a mountain and an ensign on a hill.