If I could only get through those Isaiah chapters!

Growing up in the church I often heard members say that they did not understand Isaiah. I’m not sure if they were just repeating what they had heard others say or if they really felt this way. In fact, I recall a gospel doctrine instructor who started a lesson on Isaiah by expressing that same sentiment. He said that even after reading the manual that he was still not sure if he understood what he had studied that week. It did not evoke a lot of confidence in what he was about to teach.

In my scripture study I have come to the Isaiah chapters in 2 Nephi. I am not a professional gospel scholar. We have them in the church you know. We pay our CES instructors to study the scriptures so they can explain them to us. Of course that doesn’t happen in California where I live. We don’t have released time seminary here but we do have full-time institute directors for the three local colleges and university. A good bishop once told me, “Don’t be too impressed by their knowledge of the scriptures. They get paid to study and teach the gospel all day.”

Nevertheless, I am impressed by the many good commentaries and lessons provided by well prepared institute and seminary teachers who work diligently to understand and to teach the meanings of the Isaiah chapters in the Book of Mormon. It is the preparation of those CES employees who have helped me as I grew up to never really absorb that general attitude of so many in the church when they express that they just can’t understand those Isaiah chapters. I am fascinated by the prophecies of Isaiah. It fires my imagination as I read and ponder them.

I’m sure you’ve heard the story of the soldier who was carrying a serviceman’s copy of the Book of Mormon in his vest pocket when he was shot in the chest but not wounded. What had saved his life was that the bullet had been stopped by the paperback copy of the Book of Mormon in his pocket. Upon close inspection it was discovered that the bullet had been stopped precisely in the Isaiah chapters in 2 Nephi. He said, “You see, even a bullet can’t get through those chapters.” I am certain that this is a purely apocryphal story but it is entertaining nonetheless.

Nephi said that Isaiah’s words are plain to be understood by those who are filled with the spirit of prophecy. The Savior commanded us to study the words of Isaiah as they are of great worth. Nephi taught that he read the words of Isaiah to his brothers in order to more fully persuade them to believe in the Lord their Redeemer. The writings of Isaiah contain some of the most beautiful language describing the atonement of the Savior. This is found in Isaiah 53:

“He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.” What descriptive words.

The point of this post is that I believe many have been done a disservice in the church by some teachers who have believed this erroneous perception that the Isaiah chapters of the Book of Mormon are hard to understand. Sure it takes a little bit of extra effort to look things up and to read background commentaries of others but it has been my experience that it is well worth it. Isaiah truly knew the Lord and by reading and understanding his words we can know him too.

What do you think? Why do so many in the church repeat this saying that Isaiah is hard to understand?