Lesson 38: “Beside Me there Is No Saviour”
To help class members understand that Jesus Christ is incomparable in his devotion to his people and that he has a great work for them to do.
Recall for a moment a time when a little child came to you for help. Maybe she was crying because a little boy in the neighborhood had pushed her down, or maybe he was upset because the other children in kindergarten wouldn’t play with him. What did you do? Did you comfort the child and suggest ways he might be able to make friends with the other kids? Or did you tell him that one day he would be a grown man, married and with a full-time job, that he would have to resolve differences with his wife and that he would need to negotiate a place for himself in the power structure of the company he worked for? Why? Isn’t it true that far in the future she would need those advanced social skills? Then why not teach those skills when she was four years old?
We’ve just enjoyed another Conference, listening to the counsel of leaders. How much of their counsel was aimed at our lives today? How much of their counsel was directed not to us, but to people who will be born a thousand years from now? How much value would we find in their words if their talks were meant not for us and our lives today, but chiefly for some far distant day?
When we read scripture, especially prophecy, we are usually most concerned about what it has to say about our own day, and we usually forget to think about what those prophecies meant to the people in the day when they were given. But just as for us, the people in Isaiah’s day – even though they might have had a curiosity about the distant future – were primarily interested in what the prophets were telling them about their own time. Today I’ll ask you to try to think like an Israelite at the time of Isaiah, and consider what his prophecies meant to them as well as to us. It will add another layer of meaning to the prophecies we’re discussing.
Because Isaiah is a collection of prophecies, rather than a narrative of history, it would be easy to overlook what has happened to the Kingdom of Judah by the time we get to Chapters 40-49, our lesson for today. The first 39 chapters of Isaiah are filled with judgments against Israel and warnings of the fate that would soon fall on them. There is an abrupt change of tone beginning with Chapter 40, and the next chapters are filled with hope and comfort. Any idea what has happened to Judah in the time between chapters 39 and 40?
Babylon has conquered Judah and taken thousands of its people captive, in three different waves of deportations. They were driven away from Israel and resettled in villages and rural areas in the east, near Babylon. They no longer had their own government, but had to serve Nebuchadnezzar and later kings of Babylon. Some families would have been split apart as some people were taken in the first deportation while others were left behind until later deportations – the first in 598 B.C., the others in 586 and 582 B.C. They were driven away from their temple in Jerusalem, and you’ll remember from events in the books of Daniel and Esther that the Jews were not allowed to worship their God freely in Babylon. They would be in captivity about 60 years before Cyrus, the king of Babylon, allowed many of them to return to Israel. Sixty years doesn’t seem so long from our perspective, but remember – they didn’t know when they were enslaved how long they would be exiled from their land. And sixty years was long enough for virtually everyone who had been deported to have died in Babylon – the Jews who would later be allowed to return to Jerusalem would have had no memories of any other home than Babylon.
Under those conditions, why do you think the general tone of the prophet’s teachings changed from condemnation in the early chapters of Isaiah to comfort and hope in the next section?
Okay, let’s turn to some specific verses in Isaiah 40-49, and think both about the hope they offered to captive Judah, and what they have to say to us.
1. Isaiah teaches that the Savior is incomparable.
2. Isaiah describes the Savior’s incomparable qualities.
[3. The world (Babylon) competes with the Savior for our devotion.
4. Isaiah describes the mission of latter-day Israel.
I am focusing on points 1 and 2 in this lesson, without addressing 3 and 4.]
Isaiah, Chapter 40, begins with a hymn, one that is familiar to us all in large part because Handel set part of it to music in his “Messiah.” Let’s read verses 1-5:
1 Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.
2 Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.
3 ¶ The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
4 Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain:
5 And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.
“Judah,” the prophet says, “take comfort. Your battle is over, your sins are forgiven, your Lord is about to prepare a way for you to return home.”
How might captive Judah have received those words from the prophet? What would that promise have meant to them in their condition?
In our day, from our perspective 2500 years later, we see that the prophet is speaking not only of the return of Judah from Babylon, but also metaphorically of the coming of Jesus Christ in the meridian of time. In what ways can you see the predicted coming of the Savior as speaking comfort to mankind as a whole? (Are we not in exile ourselves, in a way?)
Let’s read verses 6 and 7:
6 The voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field:
7 The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass.
Gee, that sounds a little pessimistic to me! Isn’t it discouraging to be reminded that everything – from the grass in the field to the people themselves – will die and disappear? Ah, but read verse 8:
8 The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.
How does that change the mood of these verses? Judah would have heard those words as a promise that the Lord would keep his promise to deliver the captives. From our perspective, we read them as a promise that the Savior would come, to deliver us from our own captivity – just to be clear, what is our “captivity” in mortality?
9 ¶ O Zion, that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God!
10 Behold, the Lord God will come with strong hand, and his arm shall rule for him: behold, his reward is with him, and his work before him.
11 He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.
In other times and places, where the people of God have fallen into sin and apostasy, a command to “Behold your God!” might be a terrible thing. But to the captives of Judah, “Behold your God!” meant that Jehovah had not forsaken them, that he was coming to rescue them. They should not conceal that promise, but should shout it from the mountain tops.
The prophet then goes on to contrast the puny power of man to the great and incomparable power of Jehovah – the Savior. Who can teach anything to our God, he asks? Who can add anything to his knowledge and wisdom and judgment? The nations are nothing – you could sacrifice all the beasts in Lebanon, and it would not be a sufficient sacrifice to the glory of our God.
25 To whom then will ye liken me, or shall I be equal? saith the Holy One.
Elsewhere in these same chapters, the Lord asks Judah – and us – whether there is anything or anyone who is as great a God as Jehovah himself –
44:8 – Is there a God beside me?
46:5 – To whom will ye liken me, and make me equal, and compare me?
Why do you suppose the Lord would ask the same question so many times? What is he trying to get Judah – and us – to recognize?
Jehovah answers his own question several times in these chapters of Isaiah. “Is there a God beside me?”
43:11 – Beside me there is no saviour.
44:6 – Beside me there is no God.
45:5 – There is no God beside me.
46:9 – I am God, and there is none like me.
Jehovah – whom we know to be Jesus Christ, remember – gives many examples in these chapters of his power and his love for his people. As we read these, think both what these reminders must have meant to captive Judah, and also what they mean to you yourself. [List the following scriptures on the board so that people can be finding them; as they are read, ask for discussion – especially discussion that testifies as to how class members have experienced the various types of divine love described in these verses.]
Isaiah 40: 28-31:
28 ¶ Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? there is no searching of his understanding.
29 He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength.
30 Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall:
31 But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.
17 When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue faileth for thirst, I the Lord will hear them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them.
18 I will open rivers in high places, and fountains in the midst of the valleys: I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water.
16 And I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not; I will lead them in paths that they have not known: I will make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight. These things will I do unto them, and not forsake them.
1 But now thus saith the Lord that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel, Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine.
2 When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.
5 Fear not: for I am with thee: I will bring thy seed from the east, and gather thee from the west;
6 I will say to the north, Give up; and to the south, Keep not back: bring my sons from far, and my daughters from the ends of the earth;
7 Even every one that is called by my name: for I have created him for my glory, I have formed him; yea, I have made him.
21 ¶ Remember these, O Jacob and Israel; for thou art my servant: I have formed thee; thou art my servant: O Israel, thou shalt not be forgotten of me.
22 I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions, and, as a cloud, thy sins: return unto me; for I have redeemed thee.
23 Sing, O ye heavens; for the Lord hath done it: shout, ye lower parts of the earth: break forth into singing, ye mountains, O forest, and every tree therein: for the Lord hath redeemed Jacob, and glorified himself in Israel.
18 For thus saith the Lord that created the heavens; God himself that formed the earth and made it; he hath established it, he created it not in vain, he formed it to be inhabited: I am the Lord; and there is none else.
19 I have not spoken in secret, in a dark place of the earth: I said not unto the seed of Jacob, Seek ye me in vain: I the Lord speak righteousness, I declare things that are right.
3 ¶ Hearken unto me, O house of Jacob, and all the remnant of the house of Israel, which are borne by me from the belly, which are carried from the womb:
4 And even to your old age I am he; and even to hoar hairs will I carry you: I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry, and will deliver you.
8 Remember this, and shew yourselves men: bring it again to mind, O ye transgressors.
9 Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me,
10 Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure:
11 Calling a ravenous bird from the east, the man that executeth my counsel from a far country: yea, I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it.
12 ¶ Hearken unto me, ye stouthearted, that are far from righteousness:
13 I bring near my righteousness; it shall not be far off, and my salvation shall not tarry: and I will place salvation in Zion for Israel my glory.
13 ¶ Sing, O heavens; and be joyful, O earth; and break forth into singing, O mountains: for the Lord hath comforted his people, and will have mercy upon his afflicted.
14 But Zion said, The Lord hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me.
15 Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee.
16 Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me.
I see in Isaiah a type of the Plan of Salvation: His prophecies open with Israel – us – at home. God’s people are then sent away from their homes into a strange and harsh environment. After a lifetime in exile, the Saviour promises and provides a way for us to return home where we can once again walk with our God. It is this middle period – this time of exile – that most concerns us. It is easy for us to see that Judah needed a saviour, one who would redeem the captives and bring them safely home. [Testimony of Jesus as the Saviour who in just as literal a fashion as he brought ancient Judah home will do the same for us, sustaining us in all the ways we have just discussed during mortality.]