Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Looking at Jacob’s quotations of Isaiah

Looking at 2 Nephi 8 in which Nephi quotes Jacob’s quotation of Isaiah, I noticed there were different sections that started with “Hearken unto me, ye that follow after righteousness,” or an equivalent, and that each section had its own principle that Isaiah was trying to get across and which Jacob (and Nephi) wanted their own people to internalize.

I want to look at the first of these sections:

1 Hearken unto me, ye that follow after righteousness. Look unto the rock from whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit from whence ye are digged.
2 Look unto Abraham, your father, and unto Sarah, she that bare you; for I called him alone, and blessed him.
3 For the Lord shall comfort Zion, he will comfort all her waste places; and he will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the Lord. Joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving and the voice of melody. (2 Nephi 8:1-3)

First, what does Isaiah mean when he tells the righteous to look to the rock they were hewn from and the hole they were dug from?  I suspect this is a metaphorical expression similar to saying someone is a chip off the ol’ block.  It’s exhorting them to look to their parentage.  In the second verse, Isaiah confirms this with an elaboration, “Look unto Abraham, your father, and unto Sarah, she that bare you.”   Isaiah wanted to encourage his people to follow the righteous example of Abraham and Sarah, Israel's great ancestor and ancestress.

But follow their example how?  I think Isaiah wanted his people to consider a particular feature of Abraham and Sarah’s example and the third verse gives a clue—that the Lord would turn Zion’s wilderness into an Edenic garden and make it a happy, thankful place.  Something can’t become a garden unless it first was a wilderness.  So we might ask ourselves what part of Abraham and Sarah’s life this promise is analogous to.

I think Isaiah is hinting at the Lord’s command to Abraham (and Sarah) to leave their families and the home they were used to and sojourn in the wilderness in a strange land.  We take it for granted that Abraham obeyed the command to leave, and we don’t think too carefully about what obstacles, fears, and real dangers they faced to obey.  The Book of Abraham tells us they left an idolatrous family after Abraham came into conflict with idolatrous priests who tried to kill him.  But to leave the family network and go someplace totally different was stepping into the unknown.  Would they find peace?  Would they find good pasture for their animals?  Would they find friends?  Would they be safe?

I think the principle Isaiah was trying to teach was that although it probably looked to Abraham like he was walking into a desert, and although it looked to others as though he would have a terrible, hard life, the Lord helped Abraham so that he had a very good life (although it was also criss-crossed with trials).

Thus, by extension Isaiah wanted to teach Israel the spiritual lesson that while calls to repentance seemed to require them to leave all the pleasure behind and go into an ascetic desert, denying themselves of all ungodliness, the Lord would make that wilderness into an Edenic garden, with much that is good and beautiful and holy to be happy about.

That promise continues for us today.  From Babylon’s viewpoint, Zion always looks like a cheerless waste, a desolate solemn place where no one has any fun at all.  But the Lord makes Zion a garden, a place of joy and thanksgiving, which none but the holy can enjoy.  So we should never be afraid to give up our favorite sins and vices because there are much better things awaiting us, things that we will not be able to appreciate without the sacrifice.

So what will you leave behind?  I’m going to give up certain media choices that haven’t been very uplifting.  I’m going to trust that the Lord will help me find better things with which to entertain myself.