Thursday, February 12, 2015

New lessons from Isaiah’s words about a book that is sealed

I was reading along in Isaiah and I hit those verses in Isaiah 29 that in our church are commonly spoken of as referring to the behavior of Charles Anthon concerning the gold plates—“I cannot [read them]; for it is sealed” and I wondered if there might be more meaning to be gotten from this section if we think of it also as though Isaiah were speaking of the people in his day.

10 For the Lord hath poured out upon you the spirit of deep sleep, and hath closed your eyes: the prophets and your rulers, the seers hath he covered.
11 And the vision of all is become unto you as the words of a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one that is learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I cannot; for it is sealed:
12 And the book is delivered to him that is not learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I am not learned.
13 ¶Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men:
14 Therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvellous work among this people, even a marvellous work and a wonder: for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid. (Isaiah 29:10-14)

If we shift our perspective to see what Isaiah was saying to his own people, we can see that Isaiah came down hard on those who had become so blind and deaf to the truth that when they read the scriptures—that which Isaiah calls “the vision of all” the prophets—they had no idea what any of it meant.  It was a sealed book to them.

Furthermore, this sad state was everywhere in his society.  If Isaiah took the scriptures to someone who was learned and asked them to read it and tell him what it meant, the learned said, “I don’t know” because it was beyond his comprehension… or perhaps the learned didn’t want to believe the things in it that condemned his favorite sins, so he would tie himself in interpretive knots and eventually have to give up and confess he didn’t know.

On the other hand, if Isaiah took the scriptures to the unlearned, and asked him to interpret them, the unlearned made excuses that he didn’t have the training and thereby justified himself in not reading it at all.

So from top to bottom, no one in Isaiah’s day knew the scriptures.  And yet, they claimed to draw close to God.  What can you say about a society that claims they are close to God but who don’t understand or read the scriptures?  They are actually far from God and are learning and believing the precepts of men instead.

And God can’t have this.  He can’t let it go on forever, so He cleans things up with chastisements and punishments and so forth.  If the people could understand how God really works, they would know what He was doing and be comforted, but because their views are so twisted, it is going to look to them like something horrible is happening.  It will look like God has forsaken His people completely.  That’s quite a marvelous work and wonder, for God to work and yet for His people to think He’s completely missing from the world’s arena.  It’s a mystery what God is doing; no one sees it or understands.  The wise man’s wisdom can’t account for it, and the prudent men are found to be anything but.

While the prophecy about Charles Anthon happened once, this other view continues to be useful to us today because it warns us how important it is to understand the scriptures and live by their righteous principles.  We must not let the words of the prophets become like a sealed book to us.

Elsewhere in the same chapter, there are words of hope for those who study the scriptures and try to live by them:

18 ¶And in that day shall the deaf hear the words of the book, and the eyes of the blind shall see out of obscurity, and out of darkness….
24 They also that erred in spirit shall come to understanding, and they that murmured shall learn doctrine.  (Isaiah 29:18-24)


Rozy Lass said...

The same kind of blindness and deafness occurs today. I exchanged comments with a few people on a conservative news blog wherein they INSISTED that Paul's list of priesthood offices (Eph. 4:11-14) was really a list of gifts in the same way that he listed spiritual gifts in 1 Cor. 12:1-11. They flat out told me I was WRONG and that my church is a cult, etc. etc. My thought was that "there are none so blind as will not see." Thanks for sharing your insights.

Michaela Stephens said...

That's gotta be frustrating. At least you shared the truth with them.