The Savior said “great are the words of Isaiah,” (3 Nephi 23:1) while Nephi told us “Isaiah spake many things which were hard for many of my people to understand; for they know not concerning the manner of prophesying among the Jews” (2 Nephi 25:1). Yet the Savior also declared “a commandment I give unto you that ye search these things diligently” (3 Nephi 23:1). Searching Isaiah should be a priority for us. No other book is joked about as much as Isaiah due to the difficulty understanding his writings, yet Nephi said when the Lord gives a commandment, he prepares a way for us to accomplish the purpose of that commandment. Not only that, with this post, you’ll discover why Nephi said, “for I know that they shall be of great worth unto them in the last days; for in that day shall they understand them…” (2 Nephi 25:8)
Isaiah can be confusing and cryptic to understand, yet I have learned for myself that once you have a basic grasp on the overarching story of Isaiah, and some of the history of the region, there are a couple of commentaries available that make Isaiah truly one of the plainest books. Coupled with Scripture Notes software, you’ll find joy in searching the words of Isaiah and recording all the insights you learn.
There are many ways to study Isaiah, but I’ll share my brief journey into the topic, the resources I found that opened this world up to me, and you can prayerfully consider how you want to approach it.
Isaiah was a prophet in Israel during the tenure of several different kings. He understood the political and religious circumstances of his day, and his prophecies encompassed multiple layers of meaning. Sometimes they referred to things in his day, sometimes the Savior’s day, and often a parallel of our modern day events proving the phrase “history repeats itself”. A study of Isaiah is a study of world history and future prophecy, using the names of ancient places to represent modern ones.
(links are further down along with my recommended study order)
1) Isaiah audio commentary: Several years ago (possibly when I was going to be teaching Isaiah in Gospel Doctrine class) I got started with Isaiah after purchasing and listening to Avraham Gileadi’s analytical commentary mp3’s. I would listen to about one a day for a couple months and make notes as I went through them. This was extremely valuable for me. I learned so much and have all those notes in my Scripture Notes application right next to my verses so I never lose it. I love this commentary because Dr. Gileadi is both extremely well versed in Hebrew, but he’s also studied Jewish culture and history. He has received many endorsements for his work, but here’s a couple notable ones that tell you he knows his stuff.
“Dr. Gileadi is the only LDS scholar I know of who is thoroughly competent to teach the words of Isaiah” – Dr. Hugh Nibley
“Dr. Gileadi’s work will render obsolete almost all the speculations of Isaiah scholars over the last one hundred years, enabling scholarship to proceed along an entirely new line, opening new avenues of approach for others to follow” — Professor Roland K. Harrison, Wycliffe College, Toronto, Canada.
2) Isaiah video vignettes: One of my daughters wanted to understand Isaiah better a few years ago so we started reading Isaiah. It wasn’t the easiest thing to do but then I discovered a new resource. Dr. Gileadi had produced some videos he called “vignettes” into themes on Isaiah. There were seven of these twenty minute videos which was essentially a slide show of phrases or verses from Isaiah set to music and imagery. I thought we’d try one out for Family Home Evening one week and after watching the first one, everyone wanted to continue with them, including my youngest child (then 10 years old). I think we watched three of them that night which was an hour of Isaiah! We then finished the remaining four videos soon after. These are a great introduction to Isaiah’s teachings.
3) Mike Stroud’s BOM Podcast: Recently, a retired CES (Church Education System) teacher named Mike Stroud has been posting a Book of Mormon verse by verse audio commentary podcast on Podomatic.com and his Isaiah chapters have given me a much greater understanding of why Nephi chose those dozen chapters to put into the Book of Mormon. Out of all of the things Nephi could have included from the brass plates onto the metal plates he was inscribing, why did he choose these chapters (2 Nephi 12-24)? The Book of Mormon was written for our day so when you understand these chapters, you understand it’s the synopsis of what is about to happen in our time. The replay of the rise of the king of Assyria, fallen treaties, the falsity of trusting in the arm of flesh, the destruction the Lord brings about to cleanse the earth and protect his covenant people, the redemption of Zion, and the millennial peace. After these chapters, which we sometimes affectionately refer to as “the wall,” Nephi expounds further on them in 2 Nephi 25-30 with an inspired commentary on the latter-days. Mike is a gifted teacher and has a wealth of knowledge that he brings to these podcasts. He really helps make these things clear.
4) Historical sources: While listening to these podcasts, I wanted to understand the history of the area a bit better and discovered a nice write-up on it. It’s from a random source I found through a web search, and there’s probably many other write-ups you could find, but I thought this was well done aside from omitting the Biblical account of the destruction of the Assyrian army. I wrote the author, and he said it was intended to provide an historical account and not a Biblical commentary, but I thought as long as he was quoting other history from the scriptures, this should have been included. (FYI, the Assyrian army destruction by an angel is found in 2 Kings 19 and 2 Chronicles 32)
Now there are many resources out there that you can choose from, but I think these two commentaries above are a great way to get started. One thing I’m glad I did as well was to not copy many notes from Isaiah chapters using Dr. Gileadi’s commentary, over to the Book of Mormon because that left it blank for me to follow Mike Stroud’s commentary and make notes with it. Now I can compare chapters and notes right next to each other in Scripture Notes panes. This is something I look forward to doing very soon.
What is the time commitment to do all these things? I would estimate at least 80 hours. To take notes while listening to commentaries (and these two total about 40 hours) will involve pausing the commentary and typing out your thoughts. This isn’t a quick project, but it’s a great one to finally do the work you’ve been meaning to do to understand Isaiah (it’s also a commandment :)). (check the Scripture Notes FAQ for my preferred audio listening tools that support speed control)
1) Historical background: First, get a quick historical look at Isaiah by reading the Bible Dictionary entry, and reading the history of around his ministry on a Bible Chronology. You may want to jot a few summary notes down to keep handy like who the four kings were during Isaiah’s period of prophesying. Who was righteous and who was wicked? Etc…
https://www.lds.org/scriptures/bible-chron?lang=eng (after opening just hit ctrl/cmd-F and search for Isaiah to find him around 740 BC).
Next, you can read this history on the region to get a picture of the Assyrians in the North, then the Northern Kingdom of Israel and Syria in the middle, and the Southern Kingdom of Israel in the South. With that picture in mind, this will make more sense and help make sense of the politics Isaiah was dealing with.
One more historical resource which is really neat is at Timemaps.com. This site lets you examine the history of a nation over time using maps.
2) Vignette Videos by Dr. Gileadi: I would recommend you have your family enjoy the vignette videos by Dr. Gileadi. The reason for this is the videos are a great introduction to the text and themes. They are easy to get engaged with and help generate some excitement about Isaiah. Go here and the video links are on the right side.
3) Mike Stroud’s Book of Mormon Commentary: The reason I recommend Mike Stroud next, is the Book of Mormon contains twelve chapters Nephi felt were most important for our day. Going through these first is faster than doing the entire set of commentary on sixty-six chapters of Isaiah. Mike helps make these chapters very clear and with the brief historical view of Isaiah and the history above, you’ll finish these chapters excited to go through the full Isaiah experience.
To access Mike Stroud’s Book of Mormon podcast, visit:
If you only want to listen to the Isaiah chapters, scroll to podcast 37 on 2 Nephi 11-12, and go forward from there. You can download these podcast files (which is my preferred way to go and then play them in GOM Player), or listen to them online, or download the free Podomatic app on your cell phone and listen to them as you do anything else. Here’s a direct link to the starting point. Then keep going, making notes in Scripture Notes. 2 Nephi 25-30 contain Nephi’s commentary on the Isaiah chapters so it’s worth studying them as well as part of this exercise.
4) Dr. Gileadi’s Isaiah Commentary: Dr. Gileadi has a couple of websites with his content. First is his excellent commentary site:
On this site, you’ll find Dr. Gileadi’s modern retranslation of Isaiah, his analytical commentary audio, and the vignette videos. The site isn’t hard to navigate. If you click into a chapter of Isaiah you just press play on the audio controls on the right for the commentary. Keep Scripture Notes open in another browser tab (or another browser) and take notes while you listen. You can also click on Apocalyptic Commentary in the top nav bar and read the commentary as you go through the chapters. I don’t recommend just copy/pasting all the notes over, because it’s more powerful when you listen and summarize things in your own words.
Later, you can access Dr. Gileadi’s store site at https://isaiahinstitute.com. Here you’ll find additional books and audio to further your study when you’re ready.
5) Additional resources
This is a very cool site for studying Isaiah more in-depth. You can compare several translations of Isaiah including Dr. Gileadi’s work at the Hebraeus Institute, and access various commentaries. It’s complex enough to get started that the author of the site created some video tutorials you can watch for quick training. Very cool when you’re ready for more.
Finally, if you want to see a list of all the Isaiah quotations and paraphrases in the Book of Mormon, someone prepared this list of verses you can examine. It’s not entire chapters, but verses scattered throughout the book.
Now go and follow that commandment with renewed pleasure. Isaiah is waiting!
(Isaiah image Copyright: crisfotolux / 123RF Stock Photo)
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