Come Follow Me: Isaiah 13–14; 24–30; 35 “A Marvellous Work and a Wonder”

Lots of people don’t like Isaiah…but the prophets who wrote our scriptures sure did.

The Book of Isaiah is quoted more often in the New Testament, Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants than any other Old Testament text. While many modern readers find its poetic style confusing, familiarizing ourselves with Isaiah helps us better understand the other books of scripture in our canon.

No other prophetic book is more often quoted in the Christian New Testament or in the Dead Sea Scrolls of the Jewish sectarian Qumran community, and no other book appears more frequently in the Jewish annual lectionary and no other Old Testament book more often in contemporary Catholic and Protestant lectionaries.

—Patricia K. Tull, Isaiah, Women’s Bible Commentary by Carol A. Newsom, Sharon H. Ringe and Jacqueline E. Lapsley

Isaiah is the most quoted Old Testament prophet in the Book of Mormon and arguably the most quoted Old Testament prophet in the Doctrine and Covenants as well.

—Terry B. Ball and Spencer S. Snyder, Isaiah in the Doctrine and Covenants, Scott C. Esplin, Richard O. Cowan & Rachel Cope, eds., You Shall Have My Word: Exploring the Text of the Doctrine and Covenants

Why were ancient and 19th century prophets so into Isaiah? One of these Isaiah-philes, Nephi from the Book of Mormon, explained:

7 But behold, I proceed with mine own prophecy, according to my plainness; in the which I know that no man can err; nevertheless, in the days that the prophecies of Isaiah shall be fulfilled men shall know of a surety, at the times when they shall come to pass.
8 Wherefore, they are of worth unto the children of men, and he that supposeth that they are not, unto them will I speak particularly, and confine the words unto mine own people; for I know that they shall be of great worth unto them in the last days; for in that day shall they understand them; wherefore, for their good have I written them.
2 Nephi 25:7-8

23 And I did read many things unto them which were written in the books of Moses; but that I might more fully persuade them to believe in the Lord their Redeemer I did read unto them that which was written by the prophet Isaiah; for I did liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning.
1 Nephi 19:23

  • Why should we study Isaiah?
  • What resources and strategies have helped you to study and understand Isaiah?

Isaiah was a prophet in Jerusalem during the 8th century BC, during the reigns of King Ahaz and King Hezekiah, and speaks of empires that threatened Jerusalem at various time periods, including Assyria, Babylon and Persia. Scholars divide Isaiah into three parts. First Isaiah (Isaiah 1-39) focuses mostly on the Assyrian empire. We will be reading today from the second half of First Isaiah. (See Patricia K. Tull, Isaiah,  Women’s Bible Commentary by Carol A. Newsom, Sharon H. Ringe and Jacqueline E. Lapsley)

Much of the Book of Isaiah is written in poetry and song, and many modern religious songs and hymns incorporate imagery and poetry from Isaiah. I will include some of these modern songs in my lesson today.

“As a woman with child, that draweth near the time of her delivery”

In Isaiah 13, Isaiah predicts the destruction of Babylon by Medes.

Isaiah used Babylon as a symbol of the world and its wickedness. So when Isaiah speaks of Babylon he refers to both the empire of that name and spiritual Babylon. God issued a call for His forces to gather together to overthrow Babylon. …The significance of the incident is more clearly indicated by considering the imagery of the term Babylon in a spiritual sense. The call is for the “sanctified ones” (Isaiah 13:3), the Saints of the latter days, to gather together and join with God in overthrowing wickedness (Babylon) from the world.

Old Testament Student Manual: Isaiah 13-23 “A Voice of Warning to the Wicked”

I have commanded my asanctified ones, I have also called my bmighty ones for mine anger, even them that rejoice in my highness.

The noise of a multitude in the mountains, like as of a great people; a tumultuous noise of the akingdoms of nations gathered together: the Lord of hosts mustereth the host of the bbattle.

Isaiah 13:3-4

Isaiah describes the suffering of Babylon (which represents the wicked world) as like that of a woman in labor.

Therefore shall all hands be faint, and every man’s heart shall amelt:

And they shall be afraid: pangs and sorrows shall take hold of them; they shall be in apain as a woman that btravaileth: they shall be amazed one at another; their faces shall be as flames.

Isaiah 13:7-8

Isaiah repeats this imagery in a song recorded in Isaiah 26.

16 Lord, in trouble have they visited thee, they poured out a prayer when thy chastening was upon them.
17 Like as a woman with child, that draweth near the time of her delivery, is in pain, and crieth out in her pangs; so have we been in thy sight, O Lord.
18 We have been with child, we have been in pain, we have as it were brought forth wind; we have not wrought any deliverance in the earth; neither have the inhabitants of the world fallen.
Isaiah 26:16-18

April Young Bennett maternity photo first pregnancy
“A woman with child, that draweth near the time of her delivery” (That was me.)

Isaiah never gave birth, but I did, and I think the pain of labor is an excellent metaphor for the sorrow of the penitent. Maybe his wife helped him with developing that metaphor. She was also a prophet (Isaiah 8:3).

If any class members have experienced childbirth, you might ask if they would like to share their experience with the pain of labor.

Invite class members to read this excerpt from a journal article about childbirth and these scriptures about sorrow for sin, while considering these questions:

  • How is the pain of labor similar to or different from other kinds of pain?
  • How is the pain of sorrow for sin like the pain of labor?

Labour pain can be described as a paradoxical experience; one that is excruciating and yet desirable because of its positive outcome — the birth of a child.

If a woman can sustain the belief that her pain is purposeful (i.e. her body working to birth her baby), if she interprets her pain as productive (i.e. taking her through a process to a desired goal) and the birthing environment is safe and supportive, it would be expected she would experience the pain as a non-threatening, transformative life event. Changing the conceptualisation of labour pain to a purposeful and productive pain may be one step to improving women’s experiences of it.

…Unlike other acute pains that are usually associated with injury or pathology, labour pain is part of a normal physiological process. …Labour may be painful in order to drive appropriate behaviour in the woman and others. That is, to capture the labouring woman’s attention and motivate her to seek help and safety.

—Laura Y. Whitburn, Lester E. Jones, Mary-Ann Davey & Susan McDonald (February 2019) The nature of labour pain: An updated review of the literature. Women and Birth 32(1)

Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made asorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing.

10 For agodly bsorrow worketh crepentance to dsalvation not to be repented of: but the esorrow of the world worketh death.

2 Corinthians 7:9-10

aFor his anger endureth but a moment; in his favour is life: weeping may endure for a night, but bjoy cometh in the morning.

Psalm 30:5

13 Yea, I did remember all my sins and iniquities, for which I was atormented with the bpains of hell; yea, I saw that I had crebelled against my God, and that I had not kept his holy commandments…

17 And it came to pass that as I was thus aracked with torment, while I was bharrowed up by the cmemory of my many sins, behold, I dremembered also to have heard my father prophesy unto the people concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world.

18 Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, ahave mercy on me, who am bin the cgall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting dchains of edeath.

19 And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my apains bno more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more.

20 And oh, what ajoy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!

21 Yea, I say unto you, my son, that there could be nothing so exquisite and so bitter as were my pains. Yea, and again I say unto you, my son, that on the other hand, there can be nothing so exquisite and sweet as was my joy.

Alma 36:13, 17-21

  • What is the difference between godly sorrow and the sorrow of the world?
  • How does the sorrow of the world “work death”?
  • How can we avoid the sorrow of the world?
  • What should we do if our sorrow does not “flee away” when we repent?

“Judgment and righteousness”

i.e., social justice

As Chapter 13 continues and Isaiah describes the destruction of Babylon by Medes, Isaiah shifts away from metaphors into a more literal account of the horrors of war which is disturbing and graphic.

16 Their achildren also shall be dashed to pieces before their eyes; their bhouses shall be cspoiled, and their wives ravished.

17 Behold, I will stir up the aMedes against them, which shall not regard silver; and as for gold, they shall not delight in it.

18 Their bows also shall dash the young men to pieces; and they shall have no pity on the fruit of the womb; their eye shall not spare children.

Isaiah 13:16-18

The tone is not mocking, but chillingly matter of fact. It may stand as a reminder that war’s tragic victims are inevitably society’s most physically vulnerable, the very women and children in whose names aggressive nations sometimes claim to fight. It also reminds us that war destroys first the elements of a society that give it human meaning: our beloved offspring (who are babes to their mothers, whether still in their arms or already bearing arms), hope for the future, security, safety. It reminds us that no civilization, however powerful, is secure enough to claim immunity to what it might inflict on others. This theme of the divine defeat of all arrogance is repeated in the following chapter, in the artfully narrated celebration of a tyrant’s demise.

—Patricia K. Tull, Isaiah,  Women’s Bible Commentary by Carol A. Newsom, Sharon H. Ringe and Jacqueline E. Lapsley

This concern for the most vulnerable people within any population is a theme in the Book of Isaiah. Isaiah calls for social justice repeatedly.

What is social justice?

What we can see in the Bible, and in particular in Isaiah, is that God is bound to the nation of Israel by a covenant relationship. This covenant, made at Sinai, shows the people how to have a right relationship to God, how to treat each other in genuinely human ways, and how to be good stewards of the earth’s resources. Social justice is a term used by Isaiah and other prophets as a way of summarizing all the diverse instructions in the covenant. So here, the term social justice is defined by the detailed instructions in the covenant for treating other people in a genuinely human way.

—Peter J. Gentry (2013) Sizemore Lectures I: Isaiah and Social Justice, Midwestern Journal of Theology 12.1

  • What does it mean to treat other people in a genuinely human way?
  • Why must we treat other people as humans to stay on the covenant path?

There are many references to social justice in Isaiah, but to see them, we need to understand some things about Hebrew poetry.

Now according to the Hebrew poetry—which is based upon placing lines in parallel pairs—justice is matched in the first line by righteousness in the second. Normally in prose when the words justice and righteousness are coordinated, they form a single concept or idea: best expressed in English by the term social justice. This is a figure of speech known as a hendiadys, one concept expressed through two words. The word-pair becomes an idiom expressing a single thought that is both different and greater than just putting the two words together. Just as one cannot analyse ‘butterfly’ in English by studying ‘butter’ and ‘fly’, so one cannot determine the meaning of this expression by analysing ‘justice’ and righteousness’ separately. Hebrew poetry, however, allows such a word-pair to be split so that half is in one line of the couplet and half in the parallel line. The word pair justice and righteousness is central to the discourse of Isaiah and occurs some eighteen times, always at key points in the discourse.

—Peter J. Gentry (2013) Sizemore Lectures I: Isaiah and Social Justice, Midwestern Journal of Theology 12.1

Here are some examples of mentions of social justice within chapters 13-35, our assigned readings for this week. Note that the King James Version of the Bible often uses the term judgment where other translations use the term justice. These scriptures state that social justice is the Lord’s pattern of rule.

And in amercy shall the bthrone be established: and he shall sit upon it in truth in the tabernacle of David, judging, and seeking judgment, and chasting drighteousness.

Isaiah 16:5

With my soul have I desired thee in the night; yea, with my spirit within me will I aseek thee bearly: for when thy cjudgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness.

Isaiah 26:9

The Lord is exalted; for he dwelleth on high: he hath filled Zion with judgment and righteousness.

Isaiah 33:5

The words judgment and justice are often used as rather harsh terms—as the opposite of mercy. But the concept of social justice incorporates grace, compassion and mercy.

18 ¶ And therefore will the Lord await, that he may be gracious unto you, and therefore will he be exalted, that he may have mercy upon you: for the Lord is a God of bjudgment: blessed are all they that cwait for him.

19 For the people shall dwell in aZion at Jerusalem: thou shalt weep no more: he will be very gracious unto thee at the voice of thy cry; when he shall hear it, he will answer thee.

20 And though the Lord give you the bread of aadversity, and the water of affliction, yet shall not bthy teachers be removed into a corner any more, but thine eyes shall see thy cteachers:

21 And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, awalk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left.

Isaiah 30:18-21

In the verses below, we learn more details about how the Lord implements social justice in his reign.

And it shall come to pass in the day that the Lord shall give thee rest from thy sorrow, and from thy fear, and from the hard bondage wherein thou wast made to serve,

¶ That thou shalt take up this aproverb against the king of bBabylon, and say, How hath the oppressor ceased! the cgolden city ceased!

Isaiah 14:3-4

  • Why is oppression contrary to the will of God?
  • What kinds of oppressions exist in our modern societies?
  • How does the Savior provide “rest from thy sorrow, and from thy fear”?

1 O Lord, thou art my God; I will exalt thee, I will praise thy name; for thou hast done wonderful things; thy counsels of old are faithfulness and truth…

For thou hast been a strength to the apoor, a strength to the needy in his bdistress, a crefuge from the storm, a shadow from the heat, when the blast of the terrible ones is as a storm against the wall.

Isaiah 25:1, 4

  • Have you ever received a blessing that was like a safe shelter during a storm or shade on a hot summer day? What was that experience like?

To follow Christ’s example, we must seek social justice in our earthly systems of government.

If a king rules with righteousness and justice, protecting subjects like a refuge from the wind and shelter from the storm, ethical faculties among all will be restored: good vision, hearing, understanding, and speech will accompany justice in the land. Then, in contrast to a land where good is called evil and evil good (5: 20), truth will be evident to all: fools will no longer be considered noble, but true nobility will be seen for what it is.

—Patricia K. Tull, Isaiah, Women’s Bible Commentary by Carol A. Newsom, Sharon H. Ringe and Jacqueline E. Lapsley

Failures to enact social justice are sins perpetuated by entire societies through oppression, tyranny, and unjust policies and systems, not only by individuals acting alone.

At the beginning of his book, the prophet Isaiah convicts a “sinful nation, people laden with iniquity” (1:4). The society he describes is full of bribes (1:23), fixes itself on material wealth (2:7) and denies justice to orphans and widows (1:23). Even the worship of the people is meaningless without justice: “bringing offerings is futile; incense is an abomination to me” (1:13).

The prophet implores the people to “learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow” (1:17). As Christians, what do we to in response to this call to social justice? How can we be “repairers of the breach and restorers of the streets” (58:12)?

…The prophetic word exposes collective, societal sins, such as denying justice to orphans, widows and the poor.

—Mitchell Eithun, Isaiah and the Prophetic Call to a Just Society, November 21, 2019

  • How can we achieve social justice in our own society?

While sins against social justice are collective sins, each individual has a responsibility to do their part to promote social justice.

14 The sinners in Zion are afraid; fearfulness hath surprised the hypocrites. Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?
15 He that walketh righteously, and speaketh uprightly; he that despiseth the gain of oppressions, that shaketh his hands from holding of bribes, that stoppeth his ears from hearing of blood, and shutteth his eyes from seeing evil.

Isaiah 33:14-15

  • Which parts of the list given in verse 15 stand out to you?
  • How would you apply this to a real-life situations?

“A precious cornerstone”

Isaiah teaches that Zion is built on a precious cornerstone. In the New Testament, the apostle Paul identifies this cornerstone as Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:20). The architecture that is built on this cornerstone is social justice.

16 ¶ Therefore thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I lay in Zion for a afoundation a bstone, a tried stone, a precious ccorner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste.

17 Judgment also will I lay to the line, and righteousness to the plummet: and the hail shall sweep away the refuge of lies, and the waters shall overflow the hiding place.

Isaiah 28:16-17

  • Why must a Zion community, or a Christian church, promote social justice?

Isaiah writes about people who profess to be God’s people but fail to focus on social justice. Instead, they focus on what “is taught by the gprecept of men.” This wording is unclear in the King James translation, but other translations clarify that they are worshipping by memorizing rules made by humans. (See Bible Hub, Isaiah 29:13.)

13 ¶ Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people adraw near me with their bmouth, and with their lips do chonour me, but have dremoved their eheart far from me, and their ffear toward me is taught by the gprecept of men:

Isaiah 29:13

Jesus quoted this scripture when scribes and Pharisees criticized him for not enforcing certain handwashing rules.

Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying,

This people draweth nigh unto me with their amouth, and bhonoureth me with their lips; but their cheart is far from me.

But in vain they do aworship me, teaching for bdoctrines the ccommandments of men.

10 ¶ And he called the multitude, and said unto them, Hear, and understand:

11 Not that which goeth into the mouth adefileth a man; but that which cometh out of the bmouth, this defileth a man.

Matthew 15:7-11

  • How can focusing too much on rules distract us from pursuing social justice?
  • How can we redirect our focus?

“A marvellous work”

14 Therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a amarvellous bwork among this people, even a marvellous work and a wonder: for the cwisdom of their wise men shall dperish, and the eunderstanding of their fprudent men shall be hid.

Isaiah 29:14

Isaiah 29:14 will sound familiar to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) because it is quoted once in the Book of Mormon (2 Nephi 27:26) and six times in Doctrine and Covenants (D&C 4:1; 6:1; 11:1; 12:1; 14:1; 18:44).

Nephi quotes it while prophesying about the publication of the Book of Mormon. Doctrine and Covenants quotes it to describe the restoration of the gospel and motivate church members to participate in the work of the gospel.

Now behold, a amarvelous work is about to come forth among the children of men.

Therefore, O ye that embark in the aservice of God, see that ye bserve him with all your heart, might, mind and strength, that ye may stand cblameless before God at the last day.

D&C 4:1-2

Faith in Every Footstep, an LDS hymn written to commemorate the sesquicentennial of the trek of the Mormon pioneers to the Salt Lake Valley, draws from Isaiah’s poetry.

Faith in Every Footstep by K. Newell Dayley, performed by the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square

  • How do Isaiah’s writings relate to the restoration of the gospel?
  • Why are marvelous and wonder good words to describe the restoration of the gospel?

“Line upon line”

Isaiah 28:9-10 is another verse that is quoted in the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants.

9 Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts.
10 For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little:
Isaiah 28:9-10

But for many people who were raised LDS like myself, this is verse is most memorable for being quoted in a song in the LDS-themed musical, Saturday’s Warrior.

Line Upon Line, from Saturday’s Warrior by Lex de Azevedo

  • What does this scripture teach us about how we learn?
  • Why do we need to learn in this way?
  • How does this verse apply to personal revelation?
  • How does it apply to the church as a whole?

Read these verses from the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants which quote Isaiah 28:10.

  • How do these interpretations add layers of meaning to Isaiah’s words?

29 Wo be unto him that shall say: We have received the word of God, and we aneed bno more of the word of God, for we have enough!

30 For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, aprecept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn bwisdom; for unto him that creceiveth I will give dmore; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have.

2 Nephi 28:29-30

11 And I give unto you a commandment, that ye shall forsake all evil and cleave unto all good, that ye shall live by every word which proceedeth forth out of the mouth of God.
12 For he will give unto the faithful line upon line, precept upon precept; and I will try you and prove you herewith.

D&C 98:11-12

19 Now, what do we hear in the gospel which we have received? A voice of gladness! A voice of mercy from heaven; and a voice of truth out of the earth; glad tidings for the dead; a voice of gladness for the living and the dead; glad tidings of great joy. How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of those that bring glad tidings of good things, and that say unto Zion: Behold, thy God reigneth! As the dews of Carmel, so shall the knowledge of God descend upon them!
20 And again, what do we hear? Glad tidings from Cumorah! Moroni, an angel from heaven, declaring the fulfilment of the prophets—the book to be revealed. A voice of the Lord in the wilderness of Fayette, Seneca county, declaring the three witnesses to bear record of the book! The voice of Michael on the banks of the Susquehanna, detecting the devil when he appeared as an angel of light! The voice of Peter, James, and John in the wilderness between Harmony, Susquehanna county, and Colesville, Broome county, on the Susquehanna river, declaring themselves as possessing the keys of the kingdom, and of the dispensation of the fulness of times!
21 And again, the voice of God in the chamber of old Father Whitmer, in Fayette, Seneca county, and at sundry times, and in divers places through all the travels and tribulations of this Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints! And the voice of Michael, the archangel; the voice of Gabriel, and of Raphael, and of divers angels, from Michael or Adam down to the present time, all declaring their dispensation, their rights, their keys, their honors, their majesty and glory, and the power of their priesthood; giving line upon line, precept upon precept; here a little, and there a little; giving us consolation by holding forth that which is to come, confirming our hope!

D&C 128:19-21

April Young-Bennett
April Young-Bennett
April Young-Bennett is the author of the Ask a Suffragist book series and host of the Religious Feminism Podcast. Learn more about April at


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