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Come, Follow Me (Isaiah 40-49)

This is one in a series of reviews of the weekly lessons found in the Come, Follow Me for Individuals and Families published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. To link to all of the 2022 teachings, click here. Bold face type in this article comes from the Church’s curriculum. (Note: Not every sentence written in the curriculum is being reviewed.)

September 19-25

Isaiah 40–49

Jesus Christ can comfort me and give me hope.

It must have been discouraging, even devastating, for the Israelites to find themselves captive in Babylon. Many may have wondered if they had forever lost their place as God’s chosen, covenant people. As you read Isaiah 40–49, look for passages that might have provided comfort and hope. For each passage you find, ponder and record what the Lord might be saying to you in these verses. Here are a few verses you might start with:

40:11, 29–31:

Isaiah 40:11 says that the Lord GOD protects His flock like a shepherd does with his sheep, which is certainly a foreshadow of Jesus (John 10:11-18). Verses 30-31 talk about those who trust in the Lord (the right Lord) will “soar” like eagle, run and not be weary, and walk and not faint.

Isaiah 40:28 is not referenced here (just missed by one verse). It says,

Hast thou not known? has thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is worthy? there is no searching of his understanding.

In his book Answers to Gospel Questions, tenth President Joseph Fielding Smith wrote that Isaiah referenced “everlasting God” as meaning

from the eternity past to the eternity future as far as man’s understanding is concerned, from preexistence through the temporal (mortal) life unto the eternity following the resurrection (2:127).

How convenient that “eternity” starts at the “preexistence” but does not go before that time when God supposedly was a human on another realm. So “everlasting God” is only “everlasting” as much as we can fathom? This is nt what the passage says.

41:10–13, 17–18:

I notice that verses 14-16 were left out of this passage. They say,

14 Fear not, thou worm Jacob, and ye men of Israel; I will help thee, saith the Lord, and thy redeemer, the Holy One of Israel. 15 Behold, I will make thee a new sharp threshing instrument having teeth: thou shalt thresh the mountains, and beat them small, and shalt make the hills as chaff. 16 Thou shalt fan them, and the wind shall carry them away, and the whirlwind shall scatter them: and thou shalt rejoice in the Lord, and shalt glory in the Holy One of Israel.

Some commentators even believe that the word “worm” is a term of endearment, if you can believe that. In comparison to God, humans are nowhere close to the the holiness of God.

42:6–7:

In these verses, Jeremiah quotes God as saying He has made Judah as “a covenant for the people and a light to the nations.” Why? So, he said, that blind eyes can be opened and prisoners can be released. Acts 13:47 cites Isaiah 49:6, a verse with a similar theme. This is when the message of the Gospel turned to the Gentiles. It was not a prophecy about the LDS Church or is certainly not referring to anyone living in the 21st century.

43:1–7, 25:

Verse 25 reads, “I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins.” I find this interesting because the God of Mormonism requires the person to forsake the sin to be able to keep any “blotting out of transgressions.” Listen to how 11th President Harold B. Lee puts it:

The miracle of forgiveness is available to all of those who turn from their evil doings and return no more, because the Lord has said in a revelation to us in our day: “Go your ways and sin no more; but unto that soul who sinneth [meaning again] shall the former sins return, saith the Lord your God’ (D&C 82:7). Have that in mind, all of you who may be troubled with a burden of sin (The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 120. Brackets in original).

Lee’s successor, Spencer W. Kimball, explained,

This progress toward eternal life is a matter of achieving perfection. Living all the commandments guarantees total forgiveness of sins and assures one of exaltation through that perfection which comes by complying with the formula the Lord gave us (The Miracle of Forgiveness, 208-209. See also church manual The Life and Teachings of Jesus and His Apostles, 1979, 386).

Critiquing those who would cite Ephesians 2:8-9 and claim that salvation comes by faith alone, Kimball stated on page 206,

One of the most fallacious doctrines originated by Satan and propounded by man is that man is saved alone by the grace of God; that belief in Jesus Christ alone is all that is needed for salvation.

He also said on page 212, “And incomplete repentance never brought complete forgiveness” (The Miracle of Forgiveness). According to Mormonism, the onus is on the back of the individual Latter-day Saint if he or she hopes to get transgressions “blotteth out.”

I find it interested Isaiah 43:10-11 is not discussed in this analysis (although these verses are mentioned alter in the chapter). It reads,

Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen: that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he: before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me.  I, even I, am the Lord; and beside me there is no saviour.

Mormonism teaches that there is no other God besides Him. Notice, “before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me.” This is a teaching straight from the founder of Mormonism, Joseph Smith:

Yet what do we do with how Joseph Smith himself who taught that there are many gods before and after God, as contradicted by Isaiah 43:10? Tenth President Joseph Fielding Smith explained, “The Prophet taught that our Father had a Father and so on. Is not this a reasonable thought, especially when we remember that the promises are made to us that we may become like him? (Doctrines of Salvation 1:12).

He explained that there is an infinite regression of gods that never ends:

Our Father in heaven, according to the Prophet, had a Father, and since there has been a condition of this kind through all eternity, each Father had a Father, until we come to a stop where we cannot go further, because of our limited capacity to understand” (Doctrines of Salvation 2:47. Italics in original).

Apostle John A. Widtsoe put it this way:

Joseph Smith the Prophet declared that there is a plurality of gods. An indication of such plurality runs through the scriptures, ancient and modern. In the very beginning of time Adam and Eve were promised that they should “be as gods” (Gen. 3:5) and Jesus reminded the Jews that in their scriptures it was written “ye are gods.” (John 10:34.) Paul spoke of “lords many and gods many.” (1 Cor. 8:5.) Modern revelation presents the same truth when it says “according to that which was ordained in the midst of the Council of the Eternal God of all other gods before this world was.” (D. & C. 121:32) (Evidences and Reconciliations, 53-54).

Someone might say, “Well, the general authority did use some supporting verses.” Why, yes he did, but it’s all out of context, it should be said. For more on those prooftexts, consider:

Genesis 3:5

John 10:34

1 Corinthians 8:5

Notice, those gods referenced above existed before God and will come after Him as well. Concerning exaltation, one church manual explains:

By definition, exaltation includes the ability to procreate the family unit throughout eternity. This or Father in heaven has power to do. His marriage partner is our mother in heaven. We are their spirit children, born to them in the bonds of celestial marriage (Achieving a Celestial Marriage, 1976, 129).

This continuation of future gods continues into eternity:

These are some of the blessings given to exalted people: 1. They will live eternally in the presence of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ (see D&C 76:62). 2. They will become gods (see D&C 132:20–23). 3. They will be united eternally with their righteous family members and will be able to have eternal increase. 4. They will receive a fulness of joy. 5. They will have everything that our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ have—all power, glory, dominion, and knowledge (see D&C 132:19–20) (Gospel Principles, 2009, 277).

These ideas are not taught in the Bible, including Isaiah 43:10. See more on the question Can People Become Gods? as well as Crash Course Mormonism: God the Father.

44:1–4, 21–24:

Once again, verses expounding on monotheism and God being only one are conveniently left out. Verses 6 and 8 read,

Thus saith the Lord the King of Israel, and his redeemer the Lord of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God.

Fear ye not, neither be afraid: have not I told thee from that time, and have declared it? ye are even my witnesses. Is there a God beside me? yea, there is no God; I know not any.

In addition, Isaiah 45:5-6 states, “I am the Lord, and there is none else, there is no God beside me: I girded thee, though thou hast not known me. That they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none beside me. I am the Lord, and there is none else.” The same idea is repeated in verses 14, 18, and 22, the latter which is part of this passage.

In the immediate context, these passages are talking about the worship of idols that were taking place–Baal and Asherah, for instance, were Canaanite gods, while Bel (Marduk) was a Babylonian god. Still, the message is clear–there is no God before God nor is there one after Him. “I know not any” makes mockery who claims additional gods could even exist. A Latter-day Saint might argue that these are only saying that our God is the only one we are to worship. Yet that is not what is being said. These verses mean that there is only one God in existence, in reality, and not even talking about the false gods that are worshiped.

46:3–4:

Missing is Isaiah 46:9, which says, “Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me.”

How could you share these messages with someone who needs encouragement or hope? (see Isaiah 40:1–2).

What I would share is that there is only one God in existence. Mormonism’s pantheon of gods–regardless of whether or not the people worship more than one god today–are not true gods. Either God the Father (Heavenly Father) is the one and only God, or He is not.

However, if we are to take the Bible seriously, we see in Psalm 90:2 that God is from everlasting to everlasting. This is not just time in this universe but forever. A Latter-day Saint could check to see how LDS scripture actually supports this point, including Mosiah 3:5 and Moroni 8:18 in the Book of Mormon. Even D&C 20:17 says that “by these things we know that there is a God in heaven, who is infinite and eternal, from everlasting to everlasting the same unchangeable God, the framer of heaven and earth, and all things which are in them.”

While I do not hold to Mormonism’s unique standard works, I think these passages show that Joseph Smith–at least in the early years of the church–believed in a God taught in the historic Christian church.

Isaiah 41:8–13; 42:1–7; 43:9–12; 44:21–28; 45:1–4; 48:10; 49:1–9

“Thou art my servant.”

Throughout Isaiah 40–49 the Lord speaks of His “servant” and His “witnesses.” In some passages these words seem to refer to Jesus Christ (see Isaiah 42:1–7), others refer to the house of Israel (see Isaiah 45:4), and yet others refer to King Cyrus, who allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple (see 44:26–45:4). In each case, though, you might also consider how the passages apply to you as a servant and a witness of the Lord. For example, ponder questions like these:

Isaiah 41:8–13; 42:6; 44:21. What has the Lord called you to do? Consider formal Church callings as well as other covenant responsibilities to serve Him. How does He support you and “hold [your] hand” (Isaiah 42:6) as you serve? How has He “formed” you to become His servant? (see also Isaiah 48:10).

Remember, this passage is not referencing us in the 21st century. It is a common mistake made by those interpreting the Bible who seem to think that everything written in the Bible has application for them. It says very clearly in 41:8 that “Israel” is being addressed. Regarding 42:6 (God has called “you” for a righteous purpose), we can see in verse 9 that a prophecy is being given for a future event. This event actually took place because 42:1-4 is specifically a prophecy about Jesus. And Isaiah 48:10 (“Behold, I have refined thee, but not with silver; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction”) is written in the past tense.

As BYU professor Charles Harrell correctly points out,

A proof-text is a scriptural passage lifted out of its original context and given an interpretation other than that which was originally intended–or at least as can be determined by the most reasonable reading of the text (“This is my Doctrine,” 8).

And that’s what these texts have become as used here, as these verses do not have direct application to today’s Latter-day Saints.

Isaiah 43:9–12. In what sense are you a witness of Jesus Christ? What experiences in your life have shown you that He is the Savior?

It’s a great question (“how am I a witness of Christ”), but these verses have nothing to do with this question. Yet the teaching about how God as one  expressed in verses 10-11 is certainly true, not only in Old Testament days but even today.

Isaiah 49:1–9. What messages do you find in these verses that can help when your efforts and service seem to be “for nought, and in vain”? (verse 4).

Verse 1 says, “Listen, O isles, unto me; and hearken, ye people, from far; The Lord hath called me from the womb; from the bowels of my mother hath he made mention of my name.”

Latter-day Saints like to point to Jeremiah 1:5 as evidence for the the LDS preexistence. It says, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” Of course, this is talking about how God knew Jeremiah (not that Jeremiah somehow knew God as a spirit).
 
People get their names from their parents or guardians. This verse doesn’t mean that believers were not “chosen us in him before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4), or “called” as it says here. Jeremiah 1:5 says this calling–accomplished by God, not by us through supposed obedience in a previous spirit world–took place even before entrance into the womb. This act is accomplished by God, not by humans. We did not somehow choose the plan of salvation offered by Jesus over what was offered by Lucifer.
 
There is absolutely no evidence for spirit preexistence that can be documented from the Bible nor, for that matter, the Book of Mormon.
As far as verse 4, this is not talking specifically about each person who has ever lived but rather Isaiah the prophet.

Ideas for Family Scripture Study and Home Evening

Isaiah 40:28; 43:14–15; 44:6.

What names or titles of Jesus Christ do we find in these verses? What does each name teach us about Him?

Isaiah 40:28 says, “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.” Actually, Jesus did claim to be the “everlasting God” in John 8:58 when He said, “Before Abraham was, I am.” This is a direct reference to Exodus 3:14. Jesus also created all things (John 1:3; Col. 1:15-17), which is what God did. And here the authors do mention Isaiah 44:6, which says that there is no God but one. I am in complete agreement with these verses.

Isaiah 41:10; 43:2–5; 46:4.

These verses are reflected in the hymn “How Firm a Foundation” (Hymns, no. 85). Your family might enjoy singing the hymn together and finding phrases in it that are similar to phrases in these verses. What do these phrases teach us about Jesus Christ?

This is a traditional Christian hymn from the late 18th century, composed before Joseph Smith was even born or the entrance of the LDS religion. Notice the 1st verse:

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said,
To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?

Here is a Christian hymn where the foundation is not LDS prophets or anything else but the Bible (i.e., our foundation is found in “his excellent word” (the Bible). Since it was written before the Book of Mormon or other unique LDS scripture, this certainly is not describing those later books. The second part refers to how the Christian can flee to Jesus, even when life is turbulent. It is a wonderful hymn and, for those who like the teaching of J. Vernon McGee, the theme song to his radio program.

Conclusion

The writers of this curriculum are once again sloppy in their exegesis in this chapter. They have tried to apply the words given to Isaiah to the members of the church. Instead, they would have done better teaching us the core values of what these words meant 2700 years ago and the doctrinal teaching that God does not know of any other gods, either before or after Him. This is a direct contradiction of Joseph Smith and the teachings of the LDS Church. Again, I suggest that they pay more attention to properly interpreting the Old Testament passages and help their people how to do careful Bible study.

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