Have you ever read the Book of Mormon, and found yourself skipping the part where Nephi quotes directly from the Book of Isaiah? Why do we do this? Or if we do read it, do we treat it like a distance runner would face a difficult, steep upward climb of a race? We force our way through it, and are almost relieved when we come out the other side.
When I have done this in the past, I think it was due to the symbolic nature of Isaiah’s writings. The surface meaning of Isaiah’s message is uncomfortable for readers. His references to the Messiah are pretty straight forward, but his references to war and latter-day conflict leave the reader wondering what lies in store for his or her offspring. I experienced this same feeling when I was reading Isaiah 13.
15 Every one that is found shall be thrust through; and every one that is joined unto them shall fall by the sword.
16 Their children also shall be dashed to pieces before their eyes; their houses shall be spoiled, and their wives ravished.
My first reaction as I read these verses was to suppose that it was the enemies of the Lord that would be doing this—dashing children to pieces and thrusting people through. But, then I looked back in the chapter to clarify the point, and was surprised to find that it was not the bad guys doing it, but it was the armies of the Lord himself. So, I found myself scratching my head, and did not want to believe it. But, there it was clearly stated.
3 I have commanded my sanctified ones, I have also called my mighty ones for mine anger, even them that rejoice in my highness.
4 The noise of a multitude in the mountains, like as of a great people; a tumultuous noise of the kingdoms of nations gathered together: the LORD of hosts mustereth the host of the battle.
5 They come from a far country, from the end of heaven, even the LORD, and the weapons of his indignation, to destroy the whole land.
6 ¶ Howl ye; for the day of the LORD is at hand; it shall come as a destruction from the Almighty.
7 Therefore shall all hands be faint, and every man’s heart shall melt:
8 And they shall be afraid: pangs and sorrows shall take hold of them; they shall be in pain as a woman that travaileth: they shall be amazed one at another; their faces shall be as flames.
9 Behold, the day of the LORD cometh, cruel both with wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate: and he shall destroy the sinners thereof out of it.
After reading this, my mind was troubled because I realized that the dashing to pieces was being done by the armies of the Lord. My problem in dealing with this conflict was comparing this cruel God described by Isaiah with the merciful and kind God of the New Testament embodied in the mortal ministry of Jesus Christ. As I struggled with this dilemma over the course of several weeks, I finally reached an epiphany that helped clarify and resolve this conflict in my mind. It created a complete paradigm shift in my thinking. Likewise, as a bi-product, it made me feel much better about the message contained in the Book of Isaiah.