This week we conclude our study of some of the teachings of the prophet Isaiah. Of course it is my hope that in the weeks and months ahead that you keep on studying from his great book because we only had a chance to scratch the surface. In fact, since Christmas is only 53 days away, in preparation for that holiday, you may want to listen to the words of Isaiah as they are recounted in Handel’s Messiah.
Now over the past couple of weeks we have focused on a number of inspiring passages that should help point us to Christ, which is what Isaiah truly wanted. In fact, in today’s lesson we’re going to talk about Isaiah’s specific counsel for us, the Latter-day Israelites—encouragement that will help us prepare for the Second Coming of the Savior and his great millennial reign on the earth.
But before we do that, we’re going to erect a tent.
(Take out fiberglass tent pole segment, about 15 feet long, and try to hold up without it swaying.)
Well, this pole isn’t exactly stable is it? If we were to throw a big piece of cloth, like a parachute, over this to create a tent, while it might be tall, it isn’t very wide and not many of us could fit inside it. A single pole and a piece of cloth does not make a very good tent. I think we might need some ropes.
(Take out four rope pieces and hook them to the top of the pole. Distribute a rope to four people and see if that makes the pole more steady.)
Well, that’s better. Now if we threw the lightweight parachute over it, it would certainly make for a better tent, even though it wouldn’t be too stable. We really need a much stronger pole; one that is unshakable and unmoveable. And I think we will need a lot more ropes. And each rope needs to be staked down deep into the ground. And then the tension on each rope needs to be carefully adjusted so that it doesn’t pull too lightly or too firmly; either way it brings down the entire tent.
Then what if we wanted to make the tent even bigger so that the entire ward could fit underneath it. What would we do? We would need to raise the center pole even higher. We would need more tentage to provide more covering. We would need more ropes and more stakes. And we would need more able-bodied workers to help erect this tent, all of whom are carefully following instructions and doing their absolute best to work with each other and not against each other.
So it is with the house of Israel. In the early days of the original tent, the Church of Jesus Christ, the one built in the Holy Land by Jesus himself, Jesus was the center pole of the Church. This pole represents priesthood authority and the keys to administer priesthood ordinances. It is a high pole and a strong pole because it receives revelation on behalf of the entire church. Someone perched at the top of that pole could see out and see the storms that were brewing and instruct the people to repair that hole here or tighten the cords there. The cords represent the line of authority that reach the highest point and each of the 12 apostles were a given an end of a cord and sent forth to different parts of the land to drive a stake into the ground to anchor the tent so that it would shelter the believers from the storms of the world.
But as we know, not too long after the resurrection of the Savior, because of a number of factors—including the decentralization of priesthood leadership, persecution from without and corruption from within, and not to mention the lack of canonized scriptures for everyone, and the inability for leaders to communicate and travel quickly over long distances—the church was not able to remain standing.
In fact, different factions vied for control and dominance. Some wanted to only let the indigenous children of Israel into the tent rather than anyone who was willing to be baptized and enter the tent doors. Others disputed which additional ordinances were necessary and who was authorized to perform them.
The members were young and inexperienced, and Satan threw everything he possibly could at them. The storms were relentless. The winds never ceased. It seemed like the challenges would never end. And to make it worse the people began irritating each other; they were frazzled and frayed and thought they were merely hanging on by a thread. In that state they became confused as to whose leadership they should follow. Many of the righteous leaders and followers were persecuted, kidnapped or driven from the tent, and martyred. It was a dark period of time. The storms that came from Satan and the government and the people of the materialistic world pretty much tore that tent completely apart, and the few remaining believers had to fend for themselves.
In fact, that tent was ripped apart into a number of shreds. Some took a piece here and built a smaller tent or church. Others took a piece there and built the church they desired. They were all sort-of similar to the original, as far as they could recollect, but just didn’t have all of the same parts. So they looked different. And they felt different. And many tried to make do with the best they had. Of course some tried to use the Church to increase their own power and influence and began to practice priest-craft. It wasn’t long before the Spirit of the Lord was grieved over the wickedness and pride that had crept in to the people and their leaders, and so He withdrew. And without a center authority that was strong, righteous, and receiving revelation from on high, the church fell head over heels into apostasy.
Of course, hundreds of years before this ever happened Isaiah saw it. Nephi saw it. Jeremiah, who we’ll start studying next week, saw it. As did many, many other prophets, seers, and revelators dating all the way back to Adam. But they also saw a vision of the future when a great restoration would take place; when all of the original properties of that tent would be recreated, when it would become an even bigger structure that would grow, one person at a time, a family here and a family there, over hundreds of years, until it eventually covered the entire earth.
Now how we get to that time from here? How we build up this Church and Kingdom of God until it encompasses the entire earth, and what that will look like? That is the subject of the rest of Isaiah. It was one of his favorite topics, and should be ours as well. Because we are, truly, the laborers who will work to expand this tent. And if we don’t do it, or if we aren’t willing to do it, then sit back on your laurels and get ready to watch it happen, because it will happen! Zion, which includes the actual city of the same name as well as the temple-recommend worthy people who are worthy to dwell there—regardless of where they eventually live—it will be established. With or without you!
So let’s see what Isaiah has to say on this marvelous topic.
Enlarge the Place of Thy Tent
Let’s look at the first three verses of chapter 54. We’re going to start off my looking at the Lord’s covenants with Israel, comparing them to a marriage relationship.
1. Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear; break forth into singing, and cry aloud, thou that didst not travail with child: for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, saith the Lord.
2 Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thine habitations: spare not, lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes;
3 For thou shalt break forth on the right hand and on the left; and thy seed shall inherit the Gentiles, and make the desolate cities to be inhabited.
The barren woman in verse one is Israel or any Israelite, modern or otherwise, who has not yet brought forth the full fruits of her covenants. It is someone who is unable or unwilling to produce spiritually strong offspring for the Lord. The woman has been separated from her husband, the Lord, because of her wickedness. Thus, she has not had children.
Isaiah tells her that the Lord will have other children from a different woman. This other woman can be interpreted as the remnants of the original Israelites, like those tries who were lost to the North or those who emigrated to the New World, or those righteous gentiles who joined the faith and were adopted into the Lord’s family. As a result the Lord will raise up posterity outside of the Holy Land that is even greater than those in the Holy Land. In fact, the Lord’s family will continue to grow and expand through Gentile cities until it fills the whole earth.
Now let’s go back to verse 4 and read on through verse 10, because Isaiah is going to give some words of comfort to the barren Israel.
4 Fear not; for thou shalt not be ashamed: neither be thou confounded; for thou shalt not be put to shame: for thou shalt forget the shame of thy youth, and shalt not remember the reproach of thy widowhood any more.
5 For thy Maker is thine husband; the Lord of hosts is his name; and thy Redeemer the Holy One of Israel; The God of the whole earth shall he be called.
6 For the Lord hath called thee as a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit, and a wife of youth, when thou wast refused, saith thy God.
7 For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee.
8 In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the Lord thy Redeemer.
9 For this is as the waters of Noah unto me: for as I have sworn that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth; so have I sworn that I would not be wroth with thee, nor rebuke thee.
10 For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee.
Isn’t that beautiful! It is my testimony that the Lord, our Redeemer, will ALWAYS show everlasting kindness and mercy to his covenant people. He promised Father Abraham that he would, and the Lord never breaks his promises.
So let’s go back and apply these scripture to us. We are the children of the desolate woman and it is our job, as stated in verse 2, to enlarge the tent. Again, it says:
Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thine habitations: spare not, lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes;
As we’ve already discussed, the tent is Zion or the Church of Jesus Christ. So what are the stakes? President Ezra Taft Benson said:
The term stake is a symbolic expression. Picture in your mind a great tent held up by cords extended to many stakes that are firmly secured in the ground. The prophets likened latter-day Zion to a great tent encompassing the earth. That tent was supported by cords fastened to stakes. Those stakes, of course, are various geographical organizations spread out over the earth. Presently, Israel is being gathered to the various stakes of Zion (“Strengthen Thy Stakes,” Ensign, Jan. 1991, 2).
The first stakes of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were organized in 1834 in Kirtland, Ohio, and in Clay County, Missouri. As the Church grew, more stakes were added as commanded by the Lord (D&C 101:20–21). Today there are 3,103 stakes located throughout the world, with 18% or 573 of them here in Utah. But 3,103 stakes are not yet enough. Fifteen million alive members are not enough either, considering there are 7 billion, 126 million others who are not. That’s a ratio of 1 to 476. The odds are not in our favor. But that’s our mission, should we choose to accept it or not.
How do we do what Isaiah said and “lengthen thy cords and strengthen thy stakes”?
We do that by sparing not, pouring everything we can into the work of salvation.
- We serve as full-time missionaries.
- We help support full-time missionaries.
- We share the gospel with our colleagues, friends, and neighbors.
- We humbly accept callings whenever they come, no matter what they are for, whether we think they are inspired or not. And then we serve in those callings to the best of our abilities.
- We develop our personal spiritual strength.
- We provide service outside of church to your neighbors and fellow citizens.
- In short, we live our lives as best as we can, trying each day to bring a little light to a darkened world. All of these things strengthen our stakes.
How can stakes bless people’s lives? The Lord gives us the answer in the Doctrine and Covenants:
5 Verily I say unto you all: Arise and shine forth, that thy light may be a standard for the nations;
6 And that the gathering together upon the land of Zion, and upon her stakes, may be for a defense, and for a refuge from the storm, and from wrath when it shall be poured out without mixture upon the whole earth.
President Ezra Taft Benson said,
Stakes are organized to assist parents ‘who have children in Zion’ to teach them the gospel of Jesus Christ and administer the ordinances of salvation (see D&C 68:25). Stakes are formed to perfect the Saints. (Teachings of ETB, p150)
How are the stakes of Zion places of defense and refuge for us? To answer this, let me share with you some thought from some of our prophets. First, in Commerce, Illinois, on Tuesday, June 2, 1839, Joseph Smith said:
The time is soon coming, when no man will have any peace but in Zion and her stakes. (TPJS, p161)
Wow, if the time was soon coming back in 1838, it must certainly be upon us now, 175 years later. President Benson said this about our stakes:
Stakes are a defense for the Saints from enemies both seen and unseen. The defense is provided through priesthood channels that strengthen testimony and promote family solidarity and individual righteousness. (Teachings of ETB, p150)
And Elder Bruce R. McConkie said this:
These stakes are part of the church structure, and all who forsake the world and who seek to be one with those of Enoch’s day gather into the stakes of Zion, where they find refuge from the carnality and evils of the world. (A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, p333)
The Gathering of Israel
Who is invited to join with us in the stakes of Zion and find refuge? All of Heavenly Father’s children are invited. Let’s read that for ourselves.
1 Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.
Every one is invited that has a spiritual thirst or a desire for the things of eternity. This thirst is quenched by coming to the “waters,” accepting the gospel, and gathering to the stakes of Zion.
Of course, some people try to quench this thirst in other ways. Let’s read the next verse.
2 Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness.
Rather than coming to the living waters, many spend their time, money, and efforts in pursuit of the pleasures and things of the world, but they “satisfieth not.” Of course those who repent are always invited to partake of the living waters. And if they repent the Lord “will have mercy” upon them. Let’s read that now.
3 Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David.
4 Behold, I have given him for a witness to the people, a leader and commander to the people.
5 Behold, thou shalt call a nation that thou knowest not, and nations that knew not thee shall run unto thee because of the Lord thy God, and for the Holy One of Israel; for he hath glorified thee.
6 ¶Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near:
7 Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
8 ¶For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.
One of the books that I’ve read in preparation to teach these lessons is a book called Great Are the Words of Isaiah by Monte S. Nyman. Here’s what brother Nyman said about these verses. He said:
These verses seem to clearly describe the times of the Gentiles when those who are not of Israel will be given the opportunity to come and be numbered with Israel. The strangers are those not of Israel who represent the gentile nations where the gospel is restored. The eunuchs, literally those who could not produce offspring, may refer to those who have no posterity in the Church and no other relatives who will join; yet they will become the sons or daughters of Jesus Christ.” (Great Are The Words of Isaiah, p218)
The concept of gathering, as taught by Isaiah and other prophets, is an exciting thing to contemplate. We are living in the day when these prophecies are being fulfilled. We can have a role in this gathering as we do our part to build up Zion.
Let’s read one more verse from this chapter before we move on. It is verse 10.
10 For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater:
As members of the Church, it is our duty–and greatest privilege—to share the gospel with those around us. As we do so, we enable this rain and snow to fall upon the parched tongues of many souls. When the Saints first arrived in the Salt Lake Valley, the land was almost a desert. One of the first things they did was to dam City Creek and turn the water upon the land. It wasn’t long until the land was green and producing “bread” for the Saints. So it is when we share the message of the gospel. We are turning living waters upon the soul. As the seeds of truth grow, they flourish and change lives for the better and lead souls to eternal happiness.
Let us contemplate one more passage before we leave this concept of the gathering of Israel to the stakes of Zion. It is found in Isaiah 60:1–3.
1 Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.
2 For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee.
3 And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising.
About these verses, the apostle Orson Pratt said:
The Zion that is here spoken of is called to ‘arise and shine, for the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.’ There is no one thing more fully revealed in the Scriptures of eternal truth, than the rise of Zion of our God in the latter days, clothed upon with the glory of God from the heavens–a Zion that will attract the attention of all the nations and kindreds of the whole earth. It will not be something that takes place in a corner on some distant island of the sea, or away among some obscure people; but it will be something that will call forth the attention of all people and nations upon the face of the whole earth. (JD, 16:78-79)
And that takes us to the last subject I’d like to cover in this lesson. And that has to do with Isaiah’s thoughts about the Millennium.
Throughout his writings, Isaiah testified that although there would be struggles, temptations, and suffering in this world, good would overcome evil in the end, and for the righteous, the future would be full of joy.
Let’s read Isaiah 64:1–4.
1 Oh that thou wouldest rend the heavens, that thou wouldest come down, that the mountains might flow down at thy presence,
2 As when the melting fire burneth, the fire causeth the waters to boil, to make thy name known to thine adversaries, that the nations may tremble at thy presence!
3 When thou didst terrible things which we looked not for, thou camest down, the mountains flowed down at thy presence.
4 For since the beginning of the world men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen, O God, beside thee, what he hath prepared for him that waiteth for him.
These verses are referring to the Second Coming of the Savior. The message of hope is found in that last verse where it talks about the things which the Lord has prepared for those who “waiteth for him” which is the period of time we call the Millennium. This is the thousand years when truth shall reign and righteousness shall abound upon the earth. Those who have prepared and looked forward to this time will be blessed by living in this marvelous society.
Isaiah also describes the conditions that will exist during the Millennium. Let’s jump there.
17 ¶For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind.
Elder Bruce R. McConkie has written extensively about this period of time. Here’s some of what he had to say about it.
The millennium is the age of renewal and regeneration when the Lord will ‘create new heavens and a new earth.’ So sweeping will be the changes, so radical the differences in the order of things, that the former heavens and earth ‘shall not be remembered, nor come into mind.’ (Isa. 65:17.) It will be a ‘day of transfiguration,’ a day ‘when the earth shall be transfigured’ (D. & C. 63:20-21), a day when the continents and islands shall again ‘become one land,’ when the mountains and valleys will no longer be found (D. & C. 133:22-24), when all things will return to their state of paradisiacal glory. (Mormon Doctrine, p495)
Conditions which prevailed in the Edenic day forecast similar conditions that will again prevail during the millennial era; and a revealed knowledge of millennial conditions gives an understanding of analogous conditions that prevailed when the earth enjoyed its first paradisiacal status. The same conditions will not prevail in every detail, but certain basic things will be similarly arranged. (Mormon Doctrine, p633)
Let’s turn back to Isaiah. Now in Isaiah 65:18-19:
18 But be ye glad and rejoice for ever in that which I create: for, behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy.
19 And I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in my people: and the voice of weeping shall be no more heard in her, nor the voice of crying.
Everyone is glad. Everyone is rejoicing. There is no more weeping. There is no more crying.
And let’s continue in verse 20.
20 There shall be no more thence an infant of days, nor an old man that hath not filled his days: for the child shall die an hundred years old; but the sinner being an hundred years old shall be accursed.
In D&C 101:30, the Prophet Joseph also says that when people die during the Millennium their bodies will not sleep in the earth (while their spirits are in the spirit world), but that they will die and be resurrected “in the twinkling of an eye.” And the last part about the sinner being accursed simply means that those who don’t take advantage of the Savior’s atonement and repent must personally suffer for their sins while they are in the flesh before they can be resurrected. There is no time to do that in the Spirit World if they are resurrected in the “twinkling of an eye.”
Let’s continue with verse 21 through 23.
21 And they shall build houses, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and eat the fruit of them.
22 They shall not build, and another inhabit; they shall not plant, and another eat: for as the days of a tree are the days of my people, and mine elect shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
23 They shall not labour in vain, nor bring forth for trouble; for they are the seed of the blessed of the Lord, and their offspring with them.
People will enjoy the fruits of their own labors. This will be a day of great prosperity. Imagine how well society can function when selfishness and greed are removed. People willingly share what they have with each other. They are not forced to share. Their wealth is not seized and redistributed by a government authority. They do it because they have true love, pure charity, for their neighbors. Now let’s read verse 24.
24 And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear.
The Lord will answer the prayers of the people. Of course, he has always done this. But many prayers are answered on His time-table, not ours. In the millennium, this verse sounds to me like because we are so in-tune with what the Lord wants, our prayers are answered immediately or before we can even offer them. Now let’s continue with verse 25.
25 The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock: and dust shall be the serpent’s meat. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, saith the Lord.
And finally, we learn that even the beasts will set aside their enmity and get along with each other. In a Telestial world, the one that we live in now, this enmity is quite natural, especially when you consider that for thousands of years your species has been hunted and eaten by other species, and that, in order to survive, you too had to hunt and eat other species. That would certainly create enmity and distrust, wouldn’t it?
It would seem that all of that carnivorous behavior seems to go away when the earth is transformed into a Terrestrial world. So I probably wouldn’t start up a Sizzler franchise if I were you. Come to think of it, there are many, many people that will need to be retrained. Undertakers, taxidermists, veterinarians, doctors, nurses. However, if you’re a career politician or a lawyer—you don’t need to worry. You won’t be around. And I’m pretty sure you can still have your job in Spirit Prison for at about a thousand years. 🙂
In all seriousness, the closing chapters of Isaiah’s record present a beautiful picture of the Millennium, the thousand-year period of peace that will be ushered in by the Savior’s Second Coming.
Now let’s read one more passage before we close up this grand old book.
7 ¶I will mention the lovingkindnesses of the Lord, and the praises of the Lord, according to all that the Lord hath bestowed on us, and the great goodness toward the house of Israel, which he hath bestowed on them according to his mercies, and according to the multitude of his lovingkindnesses.
8 For he said, Surely they are my people, children that will not lie: so he was their Saviour.
9 In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them: in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; and he bare them, and carried them all the days of old.
Surely our Savior and Redeemer has shown each of us infinite amounts of loving kindness and boundless charity. So much so that it defies comprehension. How can someone love someone else so much? Why is Jesus so interested in the smallest details of our lives? Why was he willing to do so much when he knew it wouldn’t always be reciprocated? Why?
Because we are worth it to him. We are worth it our Heavenly Parents. We are worth redeeming. We are worth being bailed out time and time again. We are worth it—not because of what we have done, and not even because of what we can do—but because He loves us. How can we not love him back?
My brothers and sisters, I testify that as we strengthen the stakes of Zion and share the gospel with the world, the riches of eternity await us. We can look forward to the Second Coming of the Savior and the peace and joy that will exist during the Millennium. The prophecies of Isaiah encourage us to remember that it is a privilege to serve the Lord and that he always blesses his disciples.