Artwork by Lauren Blair

Do you remember how Jacob was reading from the prophet Isaiah? Jacob and Nephi really liked Isaiah. Of course, they had never met Isaiah. All they had was a book. A book God had given them. A book they almost left in Jerusalem, but God really wanted them to have this book so he sent Nephi and Lamen and Lemuel and Sam back to get it. Do you remember that brass book? Well Nephi and Jacob really liked the book and in particular they liked Isaiah. 

Of course, Isaiah wasn’t the only prophet in the book. There were a whole bunch of prophets, but Isaiah was their favorite. Isaiah wrote a lot of stuff we call poetry because it doesn’t make much sense right away. But Jacob and Nephi really liked his poetry because they felt that they could relate with it.  

RELATE (a definition)

To relate is to put on the same pair of shoes. So if you have ever tried on your mother’s heels and slipped and tripped and said, “wow, these are slippy, trippy shoes.” Your mother could reply, “child, I relate with you.”

And if dark clouds are twirling and thundering in the distance. Big and dark and empty like your stomach before dinner—rumbling and tumbling and maybe a little grumpy. Then you could say, “Clouds, I relate with you.”  

Well Nephi and Jacob could relate with Isaiah. Isaiah kept writing about his people, his city, his family. They were doing all sorts of bad things. God had made them wealthy but the people were using their money to buy big and unnecessary treasures for themselves rather than helping the poor. God had given them a land full of animals and resources. But they had taken the horses and the resources and turned them into weapons, like chariots. God had given them life and a body like his own body: legs, shoulders, head, and hands. But the people had used their hands to make sculptures of pretend Gods that didn’t even look like them. In short, they had taken everything God had given them and walked away without even thanking him for it. 

This made Isaiah sad. The people believed they had made their own wealth because they were smart. They believed that they won their own wars because they were strong. And they believed that they were successful because they were righteous. But it wasn’t any of those things. It was because of God. 

And so Isaiah went from feeling sad to feeling angry. He was so angry he wanted God to punish the people so that they would know they were being bad. And so they would know that without God they weren’t very smart or strong or righteous. They were nothing without God. 

But God shook his head and told Isaiah to go and preach repentance to the people so that they could be happier. Because God knew that when people start believing that they are their own reason for success, then they start believing that they are their own reason for failure. They begin to think that they deserve what happens to them. And living like this is very sad and very lonely because it misses grace. 

GRACE (a definition)

Grace is realizing that everything is given to you like a birthday present. It’s not really deserved. It’s not really earned. It’s a gift. And it’s given by someone who loves you. And knowing this makes all the difference. And so no matter what it is, whether it’s fame and money or baldness or cancer, you can have the strength to unwrap it and say, “Thank you God.” 

Grace is what the people were missing. Even Isaiah got so caught up in what his people were doing wrong that he too missed grace. He didn’t want to preach to them because he knew they might listen. And if they listened, they would hear the truthfulness of God. And then they would repent. And Isaiah knew God well enough to know that if the people repented, God would heal them, no matter what. 

3 thoughts on “Isaiah who wrote about grace (2 Nephi 11-25)

  1. I’ve been loving your beautiful writing and the lessons you distill with these retellings and have been reading them to my children. I’m not sure on the last paragraph of this one though.
    I can’t quite get behind casting Isaiah as a Jonah who doesn’t want the people to repent. I’m assuming you are paraphrasing from 2Nephi 16/Isaiah 6 for this bit, and I understand how we want to avoid reading this as God giving the people over to judgment and in wrath or spite causing them to be blind/deaf “lest they be converted.” That is just too inconsistent with what we know about the loving nature of God and the message of grace you are trying to share. However, it does seem to pretty clearly be God speaking, and Isaiah’s “send me” together with his question “Lord, how long?” make it pretty clear that he does want to preach and doesn’t want the people to be blind either.
    I’ve gone back and studied and wrestled with it quite a bit and I feel that the Lord is mixing a forewarning to Isaiah in with his command to go preach. He seems to be saying “You need to go preach even though they are not going to listen to you. In fact, the more you preach to them the more stubborn they will get and the less they will want to admit they need to be healed, but you need to keep preaching anyways.” Then Isaiah is asking “how long” he has to keep trying to preach to people who won’t really listen and God answers “Until there is not even one person left to try and save.”
    Was I understanding your intent and its sources correctly? Is Isaiah 6 what you had in mind, or was it a different passage you were basing that paragraph on? If so does my reading work, or if not what was your rational for saying Isaiah didn’t want the people to repent? I’ve never heard him accused of that before now.

    1. You make some good points. I’m happy to reconsider. In defense of the slant I applied to the passage, I think we’d want to discuss what it means for God to be speaking here. Is God actually speaking or is Isaiah putting words into God’s mouth in the same way any poet might put words into God’s mouth. If it can be seen as being mediated by Isaiah and Isaiah’s understanding in some way, then I think there is space to put some of the credit into Isaiah for what God is saying if that makes sense. Anyways, I’ll definitely reread and reconsider. Thanks!

      1. I’ll have to look into the idea of “poetic license” more. It would certainly help account for some of the troubling word choice, especially the use of imperatives in verse 10. A major reason why I still don’t think these are just Isaiah’s words though is that this specific passage gets quoted so many times in other books of scripture. Specifically, Jesus uses them to explain his parables as a teaching method, which seems to say that even if Isaiah infuenced the phrasing, he is acknowledging and owning the content as his own.

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