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In Our Ward: Lesson 36: The Glory of Zion Will Be a Defense

By: Ardis E. Parshall - September 26, 2010

Lesson 36: The Glory of Zion Will Be a Defense

Isaiah 1-6

Purpose:

(Adapted:) To help class members understand what brought about the downfall of ancient Israel, and to consider the applicability of that experience to modern Israel.

Lesson Development

We will begin our study of the prophecies of Isaiah today by going much farther back in the history of Israel, to the days when the Lord, through Moses, presented the Law to Israel under which they would live and through which they would fulfill the covenant God had made with Abraham. The children of Israel are just about to enter the Promised Land, full of enthusiasm and commitment to serve God faithfully, the Lord warns them what will happen to them many generations in the future. Let’s read Deuteronomy 4:25-28:

25 When thou shalt beget children, and children’s children, and ye shall have remained long in the land, and shall corrupt yourselves, and make a graven image, or the likeness of any thing, and shall do evil in the sight of the Lord thy God, to provoke him to anger:

26 I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that ye shall soon utterly perish from off the land whereunto ye go over Jordan to possess it; ye shall not prolong your days upon it, but shall utterly be destroyed.

27 And the Lord shall scatter you among the nations, and ye shall be left few in number among the heathen, whither the Lord shall lead you.

28 And there ye shall serve gods, the work of men’s hands, wood and stone, which neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell.

What witnesses does the Lord call upon to remember his words to Israel? [The heavens and the earth.]

The heavens and the earth are not witnesses as we think of that term literally – they are not conscious beings and will not literally speak in human language to condemn Israel in the day when it would turn against God. Why, though, are “the heavens and the earth” such a good symbol to serve as metaphorical witnesses? [They will endure much longer than any human life span, so will still be there to “see” the Lord’s warning be fulfilled. Also, they are as unchanging as the Lord is; man can do little or nothing to change their course or purpose.]

Now let us turn to Isaiah, chapter 1. Isaiah notifies Israel that the day foretold in the beginning of their existence as a people has finally arrived. Verse 2:

1 Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the Lord hath spoken, I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me.

With these words, the Lord announces that he is, in effect, going to hold a trial, a lawsuit – the case of Jehovah v. Israel.

He will be the plaintiff, the party who has been wronged.

His chosen people, the people of Israel, will be named as the defendant, the party who has done wrong.

He will charge the defendant with a long list of crimes, and name the penalty for each crime.

He will call witnesses, and present his evidence against the defendant.

Finally, he will call for a judgment, a decision as to whether the defendant is guilty or innocent.

Keep in mind that Isaiah’s prophecy is meant chiefly for the Israel of his day, but secondarily for our day. As we go through the Lord’s arraignment of ancient Israel, let’s also consider how his charges could apply to us as modern Israel – how would we stand today if the Lord put us on the same trial?

In verses 3 and 4, the Lord makes clear who the plaintiff in this trial is, and who is the defendant, and gives us a summary of his indictment against the defendant:

3 The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib: but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider.

4 Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corruptors: they have forsaken the Lord, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward.

In what ways are the dumb animals – the ox and the ass – more faithful than Israel? How is Israel unlike the animals in these two ways? [Unlike the ox, Israel has forgotten who has paid the purchase price for us – our “owner” in a sense; unlike the ass, Israel has forgotten who sustains Israel, and who provides the very food they eat.]

We will come back to chapter 1 a little later. Right now, let’s skip ahead to chapter 5 and read a summary of the Lord’s case against Israel:

1 Now will I sing to my wellbeloved a song of my beloved touching his vineyard. My wellbeloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill:

2 And he fenced it, and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a winepress therein: and he looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes.

3 And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, betwixt me and my vineyard.

4 What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it? wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes?

5 And now go to; I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard: I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up; and break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down:

6 And I will lay it waste: it shall not be pruned, nor digged; but there shall come up briers and thorns: I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.

7 For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah his pleasant plant: and he looked for judgment, but behold oppression; for righteousness, but behold a cry.

This parable is symbolic, just as we talked about a couple of weeks ago, and requires us to look beyond the surface of the words. In this parable, the Lord describes Israel as a vineyard.

What purpose did the Lord have in planting his vineyard? [2: He looked that it should bring forth grapes – that is, he expected it to be productive, to return him a profit for all that he put into it]

Instead of producing grapes that were of any use to the Lord, however, the vineyard has brought for “wild grapes.” What might he mean by that? [Israel has not been obedient but has gone its own way and has failed to produce what the Lord asked of it.]

And therefore, the Lord calls for the trial of his suit to begin: “O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, betwixt me and my vineyard.” If the Lord is victorious in his lawsuit, he seeks redress for his grievances: he will be released from the covenant, and break down the vineyard, stop the rain that makes it fruitful, and cause it to spring up with briers and thorns – isn’t that a picturesque way of announcing that he will abandon Israel to its destruction? Can there be any doubt what will befall Israel if it is found guilty of the Lord’s charges?

And what are those charges? Let’s go through a few of those that he sets out in Chapter 5.

Count One of the indictment: verse 8:

8 Woe unto them join house to house, that lay field to field, till there be no place, that they may be placed alone in the midst of the earth!

What might the Lord mean by “joining house to house and field to field”?

But the Lord isn’t condemning wealth just for existing, is he? Doesn’t he rather focus on the evil consequences that can sometimes arise from wealth? If some have amassed great fortunes – joining house to house – is there a risk that there will be “no place” for the poor? [Note that in ancient economies and on up through the Industrial Revolution, there really was a fixed, limited amount of wealth in the world – the more than one person had, the less there was available for everyone else. But in modern economies, wealth generates new wealth in the form of inventions and ideas and increased production.] Does the modern economy relieve us of the possibility that we might be guilty of this charge? What does it mean that the guilty rich “may be placed alone in the midst of the earth”? [If no better ideas are offered, suggest that it means wealth and power are focused on the few, and that the suffering masses are ignored and uncared for – the powerful are “alone in the midst of the earth” in that sense.]

Count Two of the Lord’s indictment is found in verses 11-14:

11 Woe unto them that rise up early in the morning, that they may follow strong drink; that continue until night, till wine inflame them!

12 And the harp, and the viol, the tabret, and pipe, and wine, are in their feasts: but they regard not the work of the Lord, neither consider the operation of his hands.

13 Therefore my people are gone into captivity, because they have no knowledge: and their honourable men are famished, and their multitude dried up with thirst.

14 Therefore hell hath enlarged herself, and opened her mouth without measure: and their glory, and their multitude, and their pomp, and he that rejoiceth, shall descend into it.

What is the Lord charging here? What sins does he say Israel is guilty of? [Sensual sins and pleasures of the flesh, pride and vanity of the world in all its forms]

“My people are gone into captivity … they have no knowledge …” – Can you think of places in modern scripture where the Lord warns against being led into captivity because of ignorance, or through seeking wisdom from the wrong sources?

[Suggestions:

D&C 89:4

… In consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days, I have warned you, and forewarn you, …

2 Nephi 9:28

O that cunning plan of the evil one! O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish.

Romans 1:22

22 Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, …]

Third Count of the Lord’s indictment is found in verses 18-19:

18 Woe unto them that draw iniquity with cords of vanity, and sin as it were with a cart rope:

19 That say, Let him make speed, and hasten his work, that we may see it: and let the counsel of the Holy One of Israel draw nigh and come, that we may know it!

“Cords of vanity” are silly little things, frivolous little strings that have not much consequence in themselves. But one thing a silken thread can do is pull a small string onto the scene. And that small string can pull a fine cord. And that fine cord can pull a slender rope. And that slender rope can pull a bigger rope … and on and on until finally, we have a thick cart rope on our hands.

What is the Lord condemning with this image? If we’re talking about modern Israel rather than ancient Israel, what examples can you suggest of a small indiscretion that might lead to a bigger one that might leader to serious transgression?

Fourth Count of the Lord’s indictment is found in verse 20:

20 Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!

This is a verse that comes to my mind almost every time I read the op-ed page in the newspaper, or read Time or Newsweek where sociologists or dieticians or political philosophers are explaining their latest claims that so often go against the teachings of the gospel.

Can you think of some examples where the world calls something good that the Lord or his prophets have called evil?

More importantly, can you think of any instances where – perhaps by emphasizing something that the gospel calls good – we as Latter-day Saints might actually be promoting evil? [Refer back to the class discussion on gospel hobbies where one truth is emphasized to the exclusion of other truths, and to Elder Oaks’ talk about our strengths sometimes becoming our weaknesses – e.g., allowing compassion to cause someone to excuse sin)

Fifth Count of the Lord’s indictment, as found in 21:

21 Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!

We won’t spend much time on this one, as it overlaps somewhat some of what we have already discussed – unless someone has something more to add?

Sixth Count of the Lord’s indictment, found in verses 22-23:

22 Woe unto them that are mighty to drink wine, and men of strength to mingle strong drink:

23 Which justify the wicked for reward, and take away the righteousness of the righteous from him!

This count also overlaps with some of what we have already discussed, but it adds a new element: the perversion of justice, for the leaders of Israel “justified the wicked for reward” – they accepted bribes to influence their judgment.

We all know corruption when we see it in modern politics or government or business, so we won’t discuss those aspects right now. But do we recognize the same failure to judge righteous judgment in ourselves and our associates, to whatever extent it exists?

For example, the Old Testament is filled with injunctions to Israel to judge the widow and the orphan and the stranger that dwells among Israel. In modern English, the word “judge” often means “to condemn” – but that isn’t its sense in the scriptural language of the King James Bible. In ancient Israel, the widow, the fatherless, and the alien were the three types of people who were absolutely powerless – they had no man to stand up for them in the councils of Israel’s government to represent their interests and protect them from the oppression of the unrighteous. Their only hope was for the king, or sometimes the priest, to stand for them and give them justice.

This is an expectation that has been repeated to modern Israel, as when the Lord instructed Joseph Smith that the “widows and orphans shall be provided for, as also the poor” (D&C 83:6)

Do we do enough for those who cannot represent themselves in priesthood councils? What does the ward do to see that women who are alone, for example, have access to the powers of the priesthood?

If tickets to attend Conference were distributed this morning in priesthood meeting, as is usually the case, ask whether the interests of widows and single women were protected – did we have an opportunity to get tickets when we had no husband to claim them in priesthood meeting?

Alternately, tell the class about visiting teaching E.R. and her need for home teachers – is this a case of failing to deal justly with the widow?

And so Isaiah presented the Lord’s case against Israel, in greater detail and with more evidence than we have had time to review this morning.

The Lord won his suit against Israel, and Israel was found guilty of having broken the covenant. The Lord gave out his sentence, as we read in chapter 1,

27 And the Lord shall scatter you among the nations, and ye shall be left few in number among the heathen, whither the Lord shall lead you.

28 And there ye shall serve gods, the work of men’s hands, wood and stone, which neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell.

During Isaiah’s lifetime, the kingdom was conquered by its enemies, its people scattered among the nations, leaving Israel few in number. Those nations were heathen nations, serving gods of wood and stone, which could neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell – nor respond to the cries of suffering Israel.

Isaiah 5:25

25 Therefore is the anger of the Lord kindled against his people, and he hath stretched forth his hand against them, and hath smitten them: and the hills did tremble, and their carcases were torn in the midst of the streets. …

Yet even as the Lord condemned Israel and read out the sentence of destruction and captivity, he offered two signs of hope:

First, in the last days he would remember Israel and call her back from her scattering among the nations:

Isaiah 5:26-29

26 And he will lift up an ensign to the nations from far, and will hiss unto them from the end of the earth: and, behold, they shall come with speed swiftly:

27 None shall be weary nor stumble among them; none shall slumber nor sleep; neither shall the girdle of their loins be loosed, nor the latchet of their shoes be broken:

28 Whose arrows are sharp, and all their bows bent, their horses’ hoofs shall be counted like flint, and their wheels like a whirlwind:

29 Their roaring shall be like a lion, they shall roar like young lions: yea, they shall roar, and lay hold of the prey, and shall carry it away safe, and none shall deliver it.

And second, even as he was putting Israel to the trial, the Lord offered a way for Israel to escape destruction. Ancient Israel failed to take advantage of this offer, but it still stands as an offer to modern Israel.

Isaiah 1: 16-19

16 Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil;

17 Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.

18 Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.

19 If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land …

[Testimony]



9 Comments »

  1. Thanks. I had to miss Sunday School today, so it is good to get to read your lesson.

    This may be a strange comment, but as I read through your lesson, it gradually dawned upon me that you weren’t using the lesson structure out of the manual, so I went to read the manual, which starts:

    You may want to use the following activity (or one of your own) to begin the lesson.
    Explain that the Lord often repeats the same idea many times throughout the scriptures….
    Write on the chalkboard “Stand ye in holy places, and be not moved.”
    [Ask the class] What do you think this phrase means?

    My eyeballs started to roll back into my head at the thought of sitting in a class like that, but I wondered if it was just me, so I read that to my husband and asked what his reaction would be if a teacher started a lesson that way, and after clarifying that I meant what he would think, not what he would say, he replied, “This is going to be a very long lesson.” And he said that he would start looking for an escape route. (Does the nursery kid need to be checked? Is there some clerk business he needs to do?)

    Anyway, great lesson. I like your list of indictments. Did you end up asking the question about general conference?

    Comment by Researcher — September 26, 2010 @ 1:04 pm

  2. Yeah, this one stumped me for a couple of weeks. I thought at first it was just because it was Isaiah, and like many people I’m intimidated by Isaiah. But it wasn’t just me — the manual for these chapters bundles together about four totally unrelated, miscellaneous ideas. They picked out a few familiar verses with no context. If I had tried to follow the manual’s structure, I would have been stuck every ten minutes saying something like, “Okay, let’s stop talking about pornography now and start talking about accepting calls to the nursery when the bishop asks you to take your turn.” Ugh.

    Paul R is the one who came up with the suggestion to present these chapters as a trial (something all the commentaries contribute to), and Jim F’s outlines at T&S helped identify the parts. But that meant I had to adapt the stated lesson purpose, too — I usually try to keep the same purpose statement even if I play around with the material. This time, though, it was a case of teaching the scriptures, not teaching the manual.

    The conference ticket question didn’t work as well as I had hoped, for two reasons: the ward only got four tickets this year, so they weren’t offered to the general ward membership. And one woman cut me off by declaring from the start that tickets were distributed where they were most needed, and I didn’t think it was worth getting into an argument with her.

    Class members did really, really well with the social justice parts of the discussion, completely avoiding partisan political remarks while discussing the principles of caring for the poor and working toward a City of Enoch-like “no poor among us” world. One very conservative brother objected to that, dismissing everything that had been said so far with a bored, “Yeah, but the scriptures say that the poor will always be with us. Some people choose to be poor because they’re too lazy to work.” Immediately there were hands up all over the room, with people wanting to say that that was no excuse for not caring for the poor, and statements about what our obligations are even if we can’t completely obliterate poverty. I was pretty proud of the whole class.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 26, 2010 @ 1:44 pm

  3. You did a great job, better than the lesson in my ward. I tried to bring up some social justice aspects in some coments I made (take that Glen Beck). I also mentioned that the parts in the first few chapters of Isaiah where the Lord says he is tired of Israel’s sacrifices and religious rituals because there is no social justice in the land and the rich opress the poor. I tried to point out that the modern equiviliant of those the Lord condems for empty rituals would be modern day, Temple recommend holding , active latter day saints who don’t have a true concern for the poor and do acts of Chirst like service.

    Don’t know how well that went over but I gave some of the other class members something to think about.

    Comment by john willis — September 26, 2010 @ 3:37 pm

  4. I wish I had been in your class, Ardis! That was terrific.

    One thing that stood out as I read these chapters this week were the promises of ultimate redemption that came almost immediately after the harsh punishments are described:

    1: 15 And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.

    followed by:

    1:18 Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.
    19 If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land . . .

    and

    1: 26 And I will restore thy judges as at the first, and thy counsellors as at the beginning: afterward thou shalt be called, The city of righteousness, the faithful city.
    27 Zion shall be redeemed with judgment, and her converts with righteousness.

    The terrible punishments to be meted out to the daughters of Zion:

    3:17 Therefore the Lord will smite with a scab the crown of the head of the daughters of Zion, and the Lord will discover their secret parts.

    . . .

    24 And it shall come to pass, that instead of sweet smell there shall be stink; and instead of a girdle a rent; and instead of well set hair baldness; and instead of a stomacher a girding of sackcloth; and burning instead of beauty.
    25 Thy men shall fall by the sword, and thy mighty in the war.
    26 And her gates shall lament and mourn; and she being desolate shall sit upon the ground.

    is followed with these beautiful promises in chapter 4:

    2 In that day shall the branch of the Lord be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the earth shall be excellent and comely for them that are escaped of Israel.
    3 And it shall come to pass, that he that is left in Zion, and he that remaineth in Jerusalem, shall be called holy, even every one that is written among the living in Jerusalem:
    4 When the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and shall have purged the blood of Jerusalem from the midst thereof by the spirit of judgment, and by the spirit of burning.
    5 And the Lord will create upon every dwelling place of mount Zion, and upon her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day, and the shining of a flaming fire by night: for upon all the glory shall be a defence.
    6 And there shall be a tabernacle for a shadow in the daytime from the heat, and for a place of refuge, and for a covert from storm and from rain.

    The destruction of the vineyard described in chapter 5 is followed by the promise of the ultimate gathering and redemption of Israel in the last five verses of that chapter.

    Overall, Isaiah’s harsh denunciations of sin are tempered by the invitation to repent and the promise of redemption–in words that show God as a loving and tender Father.

    Another issue–not quite on the topic the lesson manual suggests:

    I once had the chance to hear Norman Podhoretz speak about Isaiah. Besides his quip that Isaiah was not, as some maintained, a fund-raising letter for the Democratic Party, the point he made that I remember best was about the wrong lesson that many take from Isa. 1:11-14

    11 To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats.
    12 When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts?
    13 Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting.
    14 Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them.

    Many Jews, he said, understand this to mean that the temple and temple worship was no longer important to God–but Podhoretz pointed out that much of the rest of the book teaches just the opposite lesson: that temple worship is central to the worship of God.

    A good starting place is the very next chapter, Isa. 2:2-3

    2 And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.
    3 And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

    [And, speaking of repentance, I should probably repent for this long comment.]

    Comment by Mark B. — September 26, 2010 @ 6:00 pm

  5. How dare you bring up “social justice”!!! :-)

    I’ve wondered about the comments the fellow made about how we should not help the poor–poor will always be with us and people are poor because they are too lazy to work. Could we classify such an attitude as calling good bad and bad good?

    Comment by Steve C. — September 26, 2010 @ 6:42 pm

  6. john, I forget how “social justice” sounds to today’s ears. I live pretty much in the past, and it was a term that was freely used in church talks and lessons of two generations ago. But as long as we avoid ticking people off with the political baggage of the label, a lot of Latter-day Saints seem willing to give at least lip service to caring for those in need. My class certainly came up with a lot of different ways, not just financial, where the gospel imposes a duty to stretch outside of our own needs. That was a really rewarding part of the discussion!

    Doesn’t matter how long it is, Mark, thanks for writing this. Although I write out the whole lesson the way I intend it to go, more or less, it feels wrong to write out the testimony with which I often conclude a lesson. You’ve put it more eloquently, but some of what you write — redemption after repentance — was part of that. I wish we didn’t have to skip so quickly through the Old Testament. A lesson on these promises of redemption would go a long way toward an appreciation of Isaiah.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 26, 2010 @ 6:46 pm

  7. Steve, luckily I didn’t use the words “social justice”! People generally did a good job avoiding political talk, focusing on the principles rather than specific policies.

    If I were to say what that fellow said, knowing what I know about hard work and general intelligence not being any guarantee against poverty (people “choose to be poor,” huh!), I would cheerfully condemn myself for calling good evil and evil good. This man seemed to be repeated a pre-programmed response — it seemed to be an imposed position rather than a heart-felt understanding, if I can put it that way. So even while objectively he was calling good evil, I have to cut him some slack for not being fully responsible for what he was saying. (I know how condescending that sounds, sorry.) The responses to him, though, were certainly heartfelt, even passionate in a few cases.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 26, 2010 @ 7:13 pm

  8. Ardis: I agree with you about people with the “pre-programed” responses. We have some people in our unit like that who I feel believe they should be this way or that way on political issues and will make the pre-programed comments. But then when you listen to some of their other views you get a different picture of who they are. Those people aside, I really do think that the good/evil and evil/good cuts many ways. I think the prevailing attitude that the poor are poor because they are lazy or choose to be or trying to get something for nothing is one of many that fall in the good/evil and evil/good category.

    Comment by Steve C. — September 26, 2010 @ 8:08 pm

  9. I liked the “indictments,” too.

    Comment by David Y. — September 26, 2010 @ 11:23 pm

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