Isaiah 8

Isaiah 8:1 Take thee a great roll, and write in it with a man’s pen

Ancient scripture was written on parchment or papyrus and then rolled together around a stick.  This is especially important in understanding the stick of Judah as the Bible and the stick of Joseph as the Book of Mormon spoken of in Ezekiel 37:

Moreover, thou son of man, take thee one stick, and write upon it, For Judah, and for the children of Israel his companions: then take another stick, and write upon it, For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim, and for all the house of Israel his companions:

And join them one to another into one stick; and they shall become one in thine hand.”  (Ezek. 37:15-17; see also Jer. 36:2)

Isaiah 8:3 Then said the Lord to me: Call his name, Maher-shalal-hash-baz

Like Shearjashub, Isaiah’s other son was given a name with prophetic significance. The name warns of imminent destruction; the name means literally, “to speed the spoil, he hasteneth the prey,” and it has reference to the imminent destruction of Syria, Israel, and Judah. The use of the term, “prophetess,” is used to refer to Isaiah’s wife. It is not meant to indicate a prophetic calling, although there were female prophets in the Old Testament. (See Ex 15:20, Judges 4:4, 2 Kings 22:14, and Nehemiah 6:14.)

The sad part about this story is what happened to Isaiah’s children at school.  They must have been teased for their strange names.  The other kids, David, Nathan, and Saul were not too kind to Shearjashub and Maher-shalal-hash-baz.  Prophets have trials, but it is no fun to be a son with a prophetic name.  The same applies in our dispensation.  In Kirtland in 1834, Reynolds Cahoon asked the Prophet Joseph to bless and name his newborn.  He was given the name of the Brother of Jared, Mahonri Moriancumr Cahoon!  The lesson?  Don’t let a prophet name your children if you want them to have a normal name.

Isaiah 8:4  before the child shall not have knowledge to cry… the riches of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria shall be taken away

Repeated from the last chapter is the theme that Isaiah’s children won’t grow very large before destruction comes.  Shearjashub, Isaiah said, would not arrive at the age of accountability before the kings would be dethroned (Isaiah 7:16).  It’s the same idea with Maher-shalal-hash-baz.  Isaiah is prophesying that before he will be old enough to say “Mommy” or “Daddy” the kingdom of Syria (whose capital is Damascus) and the kingdom of Israel (whose capital is Samaria) will be destroyed by the Assyrians.

Isaiah could be referring to either the capture of the Israel and Syria described in 2 Kings 15:29 or the final destruction of Israel which occurred about ten years later, circa 722 BC, (2 Kings 17:6). The timing of these chapters suggests the former interpretation.  The external history of the Assyrians gives their version of the events described in 2 Kings 15:29. From the Cuneiform Text of Pul:

“His noblemen I impaled alive and displayed this exhibition to his land. All his gardens and fruit orchards I destroyed. I besieged and captured the native city of Reson [Rezin] of Damascus. 800 people with their belongings I led away. Towns in 16 districts of Damascus I laid waste like mounds after the flood.

“Bet-Omri [Israel] all of whose cities I had added to my territories on my former campaigns, and had left out only the city of Samaria. The whole of Nephtali I took for Assyria. I put my officials over them as governors. The land of Bet-Omri, all its people and their possessions I took away to Assyria.

“They overthrew Pekah their king and I made Hosea to be king of them.” (Keller, The Bible as History, p. 245 as taken from Ludlow’s Isaiah: Prophet, Seer, and Poet, p. 158).

Isaiah 8:6 Forasmuch as this people refuseth the waters of Shiloah

The term, “Shiloh”, is first used to refer to the Messiah in Genesis 49:10. The name means, “he to whom it belongs,” and refers to Jehovah. The entire reason that the Lord brought the Assyrians to destroy the kingdom of Israel was because they had rejected the Lord, ‘For so it was, that the children of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God…And they rejected his statutes, and his covenant’ (2 Kings 17:7,15). It is apparent that ‘the waters of Shiloah that go softly’ represent the Lord and his kindness. These had been rejected in favor of two wicked kings, Rezin and Pekah (Remaliah’s son).

Isaiah 8:8 the Lord bringeth upon them the waters of the river…even the king of Assyria

In verse 6, the Lord had been referred to as the “waters of Shiloah.” Isaiah continues the water theme by likening the king of Assyria to the great river Euphrates.  The imagery is as follows:  the living waters of Shiloah go softly, peacefully giving life to the Jews.  The Assyrians are going to hit more like a tsunami.  The armies of the Assyrians overcome the kingdom of Israel like the flood of an overflowing river. The destruction would completely overcome them. The kingdom of Judah would also be attacked but would survive the flood of Assyrians.  The imagery is that the floodwaters ‘shall reach even to the neck’ (v. 9)—almost drowning Judah. The fact that the head remained above water means that the head of Judah, Jerusalem, would be spared. (See Commentary for Isa. 7:17).

“Isaiah describes and then contrasts two forms of waters—the soft, rolling waters of Shiloah, located near the temple mount of Jerusalem, and the waters of the Euphrates, a great river that often floods out of control. The waters of Shiloah are controlled and inviting, whereas the Euphrates is dangerous and destructive. The waters of Shiloah bring life to those who drink them; the Euphrates brings death to those who are swept up in its flood. Isaiah's images of the two waters are symbolic: the former represents Jesus, the King of Heaven, who is likened to the waters of life; the latter is the king of Assyria, who leads his great, destructive armies and ‘cover the earth [like a flood . . . and] destroy the inhabitants thereof’ (Jer. 46:8). Inasmuch as the inhabitants of Judah had rejected Jesus, or the waters of Shiloah, the Lord set upon them the king of Assyria, or the strong and mighty waters of the river that would overflow their banks and cover the entire land with its destruction.” (Donald W. Parry, Jay A. Parry, and Tina M. Peterson, Understanding Isaiah [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1998], 83)

Isaiah 8:8 he shall reach even to the neck

The Assyrian tsunami will destroy Israel and Syria; it will flood the land of Judah.  The imagery is that the Assyrians will take all the cities around but not the capital.  The kingdom of Judah, then, is likened to a man in a flood who is barely able to keep his head (Jerusalem) above water.  The Jews will be as fearful as a man on the verge of drowning.

Isaiah 8:8 his wings shall fill the breadth of thy land, O Immanuel

Immanuel means “God with us,” and refers to the mortal Messiah (2 Ne 17:14) The Lord spent most of his mortal ministry in the land of Galilee—the same area which is about to be overrun by the Assyrian armies. “The whole of Nephtali I took for Assyria.” (Keller, The Bible as History, p. 245)  When the 12 tribes settled Canaan in the days of Joshua, the tribe of Naphtali was given the land on the west side of the Sea of Gailee (see map 3). Therefore the term “thy land, O Immanuel” is referring to the area of Galilee where the Lord performed his work as the Messiah. The same interpretation applies to Isaiah 9:1-2.

Isaiah 8:9-13 Associate yourselves, O ye people, and ye shall be broken

The theme of these five verses is that the Lord does not approve of the military alliances which the kingdoms of Israel and Judah are making. The Lord has taught them in the past to trust in Him. He has even fought their battles. In a battle between the children of Israel and the Amorites ‘the Lord discomfited them before Israel, and slew them with a great slaughter at Gibeon…the Lord cast down great stones from heaven upon them unto Azekah, and they died: they were more which died with hailstones than they whom the children of Israel slew with the sword…And Joshua said unto to them, Fear not, nor be dismayed, be strong and of good courage: for thus shall the Lord do to all your enemies against whom he fight’ (Joshua 10:10-11,25).

If the children of Israel had continued to worship the Lord, He would have continued to fight their battles in just as dramatic a fashion. When the Lord is fighting your battles, you do not need the help of neighboring nations. Nevertheless, the kingdom of Israel had made an alliance with Syria, and the kingdom of Judah had made an alliance with Assyria. They had begun to put their trust in the arm of flesh instead of the Lord. Hence the counsel, ‘Sanctify the Lord of Hosts himself, and let him be your fear and let him be your dread’ (v. 13).

Isaiah 8:10 Take counsel together, and it shall come to nought… God is with us

Let’s paraphrase this verse, “Let your mighty men counsel how to defeat the enemy; let them ask for help from Assyria, but they will not get any.  All of their planning and counseling will be no good.  Their misguided plan will fall flat because they forget that God is with us and is ready to fight our battles if we will put our trust in him.”

Isaiah 8:14 a stone of stumbling, and for a rock of offense

A man who stumbles on a rock falls on his face. He may rise from the dirt, curse, and kick the offending stone, but in doing so he only further bruises himself. The rock is never injured; the man has neither the power nor the strength to destroy the rock. He can either use it to build his house or cast it aside to be trodden under foot of men.  If he overlooks the rock, his misfortune comes by looking beyond the mark, whereby he misses the rock completely, stumbles clumsily, and falls spiritually. For the Israelites, the path of righteousness was obstructed by just such a ‘stone of stumbling’ and ‘rock of offense.’

The Lord of Hosts became a stumbling block for the Jews both in the days of Isaiah and in the days of his mortal ministry. They were offended with by the wisdom, power, and authority of Jesus of Nazareth. This stumbling came because they did not understand the reason the Law of Moses was given. As Paul explained ‘Because they (the Jews) sought it (the law of righteousness) not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone; As it is written, behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed’ (Rom 9:32-3).

   ‘But behold, the Jews were a stiffnecked people; and they despised the words of plainness, and killed the prophets, and sought for things that they could not understand. Wherefore, because of their blindness, which blindness came by looking beyond the mark, they must needs fall; for God hath taken away his plainness from them, and delivered unto them many things which they cannot understand, because they desired it. And because they desired it God hath done it, that they may stumble.’ (Jacob 4:14)

Neal A. Maxwell

A stumbling block is defined as involving ‘something repugnant to one's prejudices’ (The Oxford English Dictionary)…A stumbling block of the Jews of Jesus' day, for instance, was their expectations about what the Messiah would do, such as emancipating them politically. To them, Jesus was not an emancipator, and his death was an unfulfilling stumbling block. This irony had been prophesied. The Greeks, on the other hand, regarded the whole idea of a resurrecting messiah as foolishness. (A Wonderful Flood of Light [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1990], 71)

Bruce R. McConkie

When the stone of Israel comes, he shall be a sanctuary for the righteous; they shall find peace and safety under the shelter of his gospel; but he shall be a Stone of Stumbling and a Rock of Offense (as also a gin and a snare) to the rebellious and disobedient in Jerusalem and in all Israel. They shall stumble and fall because of him; they shall take offense because of his teachings and be condemned and broken and snared and taken for rejecting them. During his mortal ministry, our Lord discussed this very prophecy with his disciples and said that "on whomsoever this stone shall fall, it shall grind him to powder." (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965-1973], 3: 293)

Isaiah 8:16-17 Bind up the testimony, seal the law among my disciples

The scriptures are rolled around a stick and then bound so as not to unwind.  The law of God was written and sealed with a wax seal, signifying God’s seal of approval.  This is the imagery.  What is the application?

What do you do if you are the minority?  What if all around you are turning away from God and you are the only one who is staying faithful?  Isaiah was in that position.  It’s a tough position to be in; your only consolation is to hold on to the truth.  You must hold on to the iron rod—to your testimony and to the commandments.  Perhaps a latter-day interpolation would read, “hold on to the scriptures and cling to your covenants that you may be sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise.  I will wait on the Lord.  I will put my trust in him.  Though he turns his back upon this rebellious people, still, I will seek his face.”

Robert D. Hales

“The Lord is the ultimate caregiver. We must surrender ourselves to the Lord. In doing so, we give up whatever is causing our pain and turn everything over to Him…When pain, tests, and trials come in life, draw near to the Savior. ‘Wait upon the Lord,…look for him’ (Isa. 8:17; 2 Ne. 18:17). ‘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’ (Isa. 40:31). Healing comes in the Lord’s time and the Lord’s way; be patient.

“Our Savior waits for us to come to Him through our scripture study, pondering, and prayer to our Heavenly Father….As we are strengthened and healed, we can then lift and strengthen others with our faith.” (Ensign, Oct. 1998, 18-19)

Isaiah 8:18 I and the children whom the Lord hath given me are for signs and for wonders

The Lord isn’t going to waste time with Isaiah and his family.  They are to be a sign to the Jews.  Their names are a sign of impending destruction.  Their collective existence is a sign that it is not too late if they will only repent.  Isaiah, a name which means “Jehovah saves,” was established as a prophet to the nations. His sons were given “for signs and wonders” because they were given names of prophetic significance. Shearjashub means “the remnant shall return,” and Maher-shalal-hash-baz, which means “to speed the spoil, he hasteneth the prey,” was given to the children of Israel as a sign from the Lord that they would soon be destroyed. 

Isaiah 8:19-22 they shall say unto you: Seek unto them that have familiar spirits

People with “familiar spirits” read Taroh cards; they are the psychics, palm-readers, soothsayers, wizards, etc. In Isaiah’s day, people sought those with “familiar spirits” as psychics. The people believed in them more than in the Lord. This is another example of their rejection of a higher power. As Isaiah asked, ‘should not a people seek unto their God for the living to hear from the dead?’ The Lord is the only source of true light. If the people seek wisdom from those with no light, they will only behold ‘darkness and dimness of anguish.’

From the 1981 Old Testament Institute Manual, pp 145-6:

“The expression ‘familiar spirits’ is not an accurate term to convey the significance of the Hebrew term used anciently. The Hebrew word ob means ‘a leather bottle or bag’ (see William Gesenius, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, p. 15). This object was used by the practitioners of necromancy, a deceptive craft of pretended communication with the dead. The art involved a kind of ventriloquism wherein the voice or message of the ‘departed spirits’ was called forth from the bag or sometimes a pit. (See G. Johannes Botterweck and Helmer Ringgren, Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, 1:131, 133-34) The peeping (chirping) and muttering (twittering) somewhat like birds was intended to invoke the departed spirits or to convey the pretended message (see Young, Book of Isaiah, 1:318). The Lord warned Israel and Judah of such deceptions early in their history (se Leviticus 19:31; 20:27; Deut 18:10-11). President Joseph Fielding Smith in commenting on these ancient practices gave this warning that applies even today:

“To seek for information through…any way contrary to the instruction the Lord has given is a sin. The Lord gave positive instruction to Israel when they were in the land of their inheritance that they were to go to him for revelation and to avoid the devices prevalent among the heathen nations who occupied their lands…

“All through the Bible, the New Testament as well as the Old, the Lord and his prophets have expressed their displeasure when the people turned from the Lord to ‘familiar spirits.’” (Answers to Gospel Questions, 4:33)

Orson F. Whitney

“To those in quest of spiritual light, this word of counsel: Seek it only in the Lord's appointed way. Follow the advice of the Apostle James and the example of Joseph the Prophet. Never go upon the Devil's ground. Keep away from all deceptive influence. One may believe in hypnotism, without being a hypnotist, without surrendering one's will to the will of the person exercising that power—a very dangerous power when wielded by an unprincipled possessor. In like manner, one may believe spiritualism real, without becoming a spiritualist, without attending ‘séances,’ without consulting ‘mediums,’ without putting trust in planchettes, ouija boards, automatic pencils, false impersonations, or in any way encouraging the advances of designing spirits, who thus gain an ascendancy over their victims, leading them into mazes of delusion, and often into depths of despair. Go not after them; and if they come to you, put them to the test. ‘Try the spirits.’ (1 Jn. 4:1) If they speak not according to revealed truth, if they conform not to divine standards, ‘it is because there is no light in them.’ (Isa. 8:20)” (Saturday Night Thoughts [Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1921], 311 - 312)

Isaiah 8:21 And they shall pass through it hardly bestead and hungry

When captured Israelites are taken through Assyria as prisoners, they will be consumed with darkness, hunger, and despair.  Had they looked to the source of light and spiritual food, they could have avoided the darkness and hunger.  Instead, they will curse their king and their God because traditionally it had been the king and Jehovah who kept them safe.