Few have enough faith to correctly prophesy what will happen to them within the next week, but Isaiah's prophecies are amazing. They apply to the house of Israel from his time unto the end of the earth. They apply not just to him and his day but to every chapter in the history of the house of Israel. The fact that his prophecies have many applications is not evidence that we don't understand his original intent; it is evidence that his prophecies are so great that they can apply to any branch of the house of Israel at any given time in history. Hence, we 'ought to search these things...for great are the words of Isaiah' (3 Ne 23:1).
"Isaiah 49 is a most remarkable prophecy, one intended by the spirit of revelation to embrace multiple fulfillments. The Book of Mormon version of the prophecy (1 Ne. 21), which contains significant textual restorations, greatly enhances our understanding of Isaiah's message and the workings of the spirit of prophecy. The text is a marvelous messianic prophecy, as well as a detailed description of Joseph Smith and the Story of the latter-day restoration... Since Nephi lived a considerable time before the coming of Christ, it was appropriate that he view this prophecy primarily as it applied to the coming of the Savior. Since we live a considerable time after Christ's mortal ministry, it is appropriate that we see this prophecy primarily as it applies to events of our day. Isaiah's detailed knowledge of the latter-day restoration, the role of Joseph Smith, and the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, sustain this conclusion. The word of God is most durable. We will here interpret the prophecy as it applies to the Prophet Joseph Smith, for such was the pattern of our Lord in the interpretation of Isaiah he gave among the Nephites (see 3 Nephi 21:9-11)." (Joseph Fielding McConkie and Robert L. Millet, Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon, 4 vols. [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1987-1992], 1: 157)
Isaiah 49:1 Listen, O isles, unto me; and hearken, ye people from far
Nephi loved Isaiah. He was a master at applying Isaiah's writings to his little branch of the olive tree. Therefore, it is no coincidence that the first two Isaiah chapters that Nephi copies for his audience are Isaiah 48 and 49. Nephi felt like this chapter was written for him. He didn't think of himself as having landed on the huge American Continent. He left Jerusalem, sailed across the ocean and landed on what he thought was an island. Of course, it was not by our understanding of geography, but it was to him, "for the Lord has made the sea our path, and we are upon an isle of the sea" (2 Ne. 10:20).
Nephi's branch is just one of the many branches broken from the olive tree and planted elsewhere in the vineyard. Isaiah, understanding the scattering, speaks to them all, wherever they might be across the globe. Apparently, Lehi's family was not the only branch carries by the sea to "an isle of the sea." (See "Israel in Asia," Ensign, Jan. 1971, 73)
Isaiah 49:1-3 The Lord hath called me from the womb
Israel was foreordained by the Lord to be his peculiar people. The house of Israel was called from before the foundation of the world. It is fair to say that every soul born into that lineage was foreordained to that bloodline in the pre-mortal sphere.
Bruce R. McConkie
The concept of a chosen and favored people, a concept scarcely known in the world and but little understood even by the saints of God, is one of the most marvelous systems ever devised for administering salvation to all men in all nations in all ages. Israel, the Lord's chosen people, were a congregation set apart in preexistence. In large measure, the spirit children of the Father who acquired a talent for spirituality, who chose to heed the divine word then given, and who sought, above their fellows, to do good and work righteousness-all these were foreordained to be born in the house of Israel. They were chosen before they were born. This is the doctrine of election. They were true and faithful in the premortal life, and they earned the right to be born as the Lord's people and to have the privilege, on a preferential basis, of believing and obeying the word of truth. Believing blood, the blood of Abraham, flows in their veins. They are the ones of whom Jesus said: "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand." (John 10:27-28.) (The Millennial Messiah: The Second Coming of the Son of Man [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1982], 182)
Isaiah 49:2 in the shadow of his hand hath he hid me
The Lord has kept and preserved Israel as a sharp sword, or a perfected arrow. Especially since the scattering, the blood of Israel has often been hidden from view. The blood lines may have been lost to mortals but not to the Lord. A good example of this phenomenon is the statement of Brigham Young regarding Joseph Smith's bloodline. Joseph Smith was born into a gentile nation, but he was not a gentile.
It was decreed in the counsels of eternity, long before the foundations of the earth were laid, that he, Joseph Smith, should be the man, in the last dispensation of this world, to bring forth the word of God to the people, and receive the fulness of the keys and power of the Priesthood of the Son of God. The Lord had his eyes upon him, and upon his father, and upon his father's father, and upon their progenitors clear back to Abraham, and from Abraham to the flood, from the flood to Enoch, and from Enoch to Adam. He has watched that family and that blood as it has circulated from its fountain to the birth of that man. He was fore-ordained in eternity to preside over this last dispensation. (Discourses of Brigham Young, selected and arranged by John A. Widtsoe [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1954], 108)
Isaiah 49:3 Thou art my servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified
The Lord will be glorified through the house of Israel in the sense that the kingdom of God on earth is administered through the house of Israel. Therefore, all converts to the gospel of Jesus Christ must be adopted into this great family. John the Revelator explained that those who are sanctified by Jesus Christ are made 'kings and priests unto God' (Rev 1:6). This phrase could be rendered kings and priests in the house of Israel for it is through the house of Israel that the Lord establishes his church and reigns in his kingdom, for now and for all time. If the entire kingdom of God is run through the administration of the house of Israel, then the Lord is truly glorified by his servant, Israel.
Isaiah 49:5 the Lord... formed me from the womb that I should be his servant
Joseph Smith taught, "Every man who has a calling to minister to the inhabitants of the world was ordained to that very purpose in the Grand Council of heaven before this world was." (Teachings, p. 365) This is the underlying principle being discussed. Those born into the house of Israel received that lineage by the principle of foreordination (Rom 11:2; Eph. 1:4-5), and so were all the prophets called to preach to them. Certainly, this applies to Israel, Isaiah, Jesus, Joseph Smith, etc. We should also include Jeremiah, for the word of the Lord to Jeremiah was, "Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations." (Jer. 1:5)
Isaiah 49:6 I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles
Who was this "light to the Gentiles"? The term is certainly appropriate for the Savior, "the light of the world" (John 8:12) and for Paul (Acts 13:47). But let's consider for the moment how this scripture also applies to Joseph Smith. Joseph of Egypt was told, "But a seer will I raise up out of the fruit of thy loins; and unto him will I give power to bring forth my word unto the seed of thy loins-and not to the bringing forth my word only, saith the Lord, but to the convincing them of my word" (2 Ne 3:11). Two other scriptures which confirm this include Moroni's statement regarding Joseph Smith, "blessed be he that shall bring this thing (the Book of Mormon) to light" (Mormon 8:16), and the D&C, which teaches that those who administer the priesthood in the last days (obviously Joseph Smith is the best example) are blessed, "Therefore, blessed are ye if ye continue in my goodness, a light unto the Gentiles, and through this priesthood, a savior unto my people Israel" (DC 86:11).
"Section 86 of the Doctrine and Covenants was revealed to Joseph Smith in December of 1832, only two and one-half years after the organization of the Church. It is one of many revelations that grew out of the Prophet's study of the Bible...Perhaps Joseph had never considered the fact that he might have been mentioned in scripture by biblical prophets. Nonetheless he certainly knew by this time that the infant latter-day Church was the kingdom of God and that its continued success was sure. "D&C 86:8"D&C 86:9"D&C 86:10"D&C 86:11Doctrine and Covenants 86:8-11 made known yet other truths that brought greater emphasis to the mission of the Prophet and his work. Among other things, it brought to light the fact that Joseph Smith and his fellow workers of the lineage of ancient Joseph were the fulfillment of the great revelation recorded in "Isa. 49:1Isaiah 49. It seems, in fact, reasonable to conclude that the 'Israel' mentioned in Isaiah's prophecy refers to the specific tribe that was to preside in the last days-the tribe of Ephraim. At the head of that tribe-and presiding under the Lord's direction over latter-day Israel-stands the Prophet Joseph Smith. "Isa. 49:1Isaiah 49 speaks of him and of the church that was restored through his service.
"A few brief comments regarding some key phrases in Isaiah's words will enable us to understand the prophecy and its fulfillment.
"'Called me from the womb' (v. 1): From the days of the Patriarchs, ancient Joseph and his descendants had been singled out to stand at the head of the house of Israel (see Gen. 37:5-11; 48:13-20; 49:26; Deut. 33:16-17). This was their foreordained calling. An important part of that calling included the challenge to be saviors of their brethren of Israel, just as their forefather Joseph had been a temporal savior in ancient times. Jeremiah prophesied concerning Ephraim's role in the latter-day gathering. As presiding tribe, it would be he who would announce to all that the time of the gathering and return had come (Jer. 31:6)...
"'A polished shaft . . . in his quiver' (v. 2): Joseph Smith himself provided an interpretation that may show the fulfillment of this scripture: 'I am like a huge, rough stone rolling down from a high mountain; and the only polishing I get is when some corner gets rubbed off by coming in contact with something else . . . all hell knocking off a corner here and a corner there. Thus I will become a smooth and polished shaft in the quiver of the Almighty.' Thus Joseph Smith viewed himself as a polished shaft in the Lord's quiver, perhaps in direct fulfillment of Isaiah's words.
"'To bring Jacob again to him' (v. 5), 'to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel' (v. 6): As has been discussed already, it was the commission of the birthright children of Joseph to bring about the gathering of Israel in the last days. Ephraim's leader, Joseph Smith, was the one to whom the keys of the gathering were restored (D&C 110:11), and it will be under the authority of those keys that the gathering will continue. Jeremiah explained that it would be 'the watchmen upon the mount Ephraim' that would cry, 'Arise ye, and let us go up to Zion unto the Lord our God' ("Jer. 31:6Jer. 31:6). In modern revelation the Lord has affirmed that 'they who are in the north countries' will return and receive their blessings under the hand of 'the children of Ephraim' (D&C 133:26-34). Today it is, with extremely few exceptions, the children of Ephraim and his brother Manasseh-who constitute the Lord's Church-who are taking the gospel message to the scattered remnants of Israel and who thus are gathering their brethren.
"'A light to the Gentiles' (v. 6): Nephi and others taught how the great blessings of the last days would be made available not only to the house of Israel, but to the Gentiles as well (see 1 Ne. 22:8-11). Indeed, the gospel is to be taken by Ephraim and his brethren in the dispensation of the fulness of times to all people (see JS-M 1:31; D&C 42:58). Once again, the tribe of Ephraim and Joseph Smith stand out as the main participants in this work. In the fullest sense, Jesus Christ is the 'light'-not only to the Gentiles, but to all nations. The Church today has a commission to bear his message; thus it reflects his light.
"Section 86 (vv. 8-11) clarifies Isaiah's prophecy and identifies Joseph Smith and his co-workers of the tribes of Joseph-the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints-as the fulfillment of these words from Isaiah. These are they 'with whom the priesthood hath continued through the lineage of [their] fathers-For [they] are lawful heirs, according to the flesh, and have been hid from the world with Christ in God' (D&C 86:8-9). Having been foreordained long ago to this calling, and having inherited it through lineal descent, Ephraim's children now are no longer 'hid from the world' (D&C 86:9) 'in the shadow of [the Lord's] hand' but are at the forefront of the Lord's work in the last days: to restore scattered Israel to the covenant blessings, and to bring the message of the gospel to the Gentiles. The Lord concluded his revelation to Joseph and the Church: 'Therefore, blessed are ye if ye continue in my goodness, a light unto the Gentiles, and through this priesthood, a savior unto my people Israel' (D&C 86:11)." (Robert L. Millet and Kent P. Jackson, eds., Studies in Scripture, Vol. 1: The Doctrine and Covenants [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1989], 328-330)
Isaiah 49:9 That thou mayest say to the prisoners, Go forth
This refers to those spirits in spirit prison. Before Christ's ministry in spirit paradise, there was a great gulf fixed which separated those in spirit paradise from those in spirit prison, see Lu 16:22-26. After Christ had established missionary forces among the righteous spirits, that gulf was bridged to some degree so that missionary work could begin among the spirits in prison. Those who accept the gospel of Jesus Christ will be released from prison. Whether this happens at their resurrection or at some earlier time is unclear. What is clear is that it was the Savior's ministry in the world of spirits which makes it possible for them to "Go forth."
This doctrine is also found in Isaiah 24:22; 42:7 as well as Isaiah 61:1, "THE Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound."
Jeffrey R. Holland
"Christ brought freedom to mortal beings imprisoned by ignorance, sin, apostasy, and death. He also brought deliverance to those on the other side of the veil who had not heard the gospel but would receive it in their spirit prison. Peter taught this clearly, and the whole of section 138 of the Doctrine and Covenants is devoted to this glorious doctrine...On both sides of the veil, the captives rejoice and praise their God as Christ throws wide the prison doors." (Christ and the New Covenant: The Messianic Message of the Book of Mormon [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1997], 83)
Isaiah 49:13-15 can a woman forget her sucking child?
Certainly, those of the house of Israel must have felt like the Lord had forsaken them, given all the tribulation and persecution to which they were subjected. Nephi makes reference to one of these persecutions in the next chapter, "they shall be scattered among all nations and shall be hated of all men... the Lord God will raise up a mighty nation among the Gentiles, yea, even upon the face of this land; and by them shall our seed be scattered" (1 Ne 22:5,7). Their assumption, that the Lord had forgotten them, was incorrect. They, of course, had forgotten the Lord.
Jeffrey R. Holland
This poetic passage provides yet another reminder of Christ's saving role, that of protective, redeeming parent to Zion's children. He comforts his people and shows mercy when they are afflicted, as any loving father or mother would toward a child, but, as Nephi here reminds us through Isaiah, much more than any mortal father and mother could do. Although a mother may forget her sucking child (as unlikely as any parent might think that could be), Christ will not forget the children he has redeemed or the covenant he has made with them for salvation in Zion. The painful reminders of that watch care and covenant are the marks of the Roman nails graven upon the palms of his hands, a sign to his disciples in the Old World, his Nephite congregation in the New World, and to us in latter-day Zion that he is the Savior of the world and was wounded in the house of his friends. (Christ and the New Covenant: The Messianic Message of the Book of Mormon [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1997], 84)
The Lord is going to comfort Zion; He is going to have mercy upon her afflicted ones. But Zion said, 'The Lord hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me.' 'Can a woman forget her sucking child?' saith the Lord. 'Yea, she may forget, but I will not forget thee. Behold, I have graved thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me.' This refers to the building up of Zion in the last days; the gathering together of the people, preparatory to the coming of the Son of Man. (Brian H. Stuy, ed., Collected Discourses, 5 vols. [Burbank, Calif., and Woodland Hills, Ut.: B.H.S. Publishing, 1987-1992], vol. 1, Oct. 6, 1889)
Isaiah 49:19 the land of thy destruction, shall even now be too narrow by reason of the inhabitants
So great will be the literal gathering of Israel to the land of Jerusalem, that there will not be room for everyone. Here Isaiah refers to the children referenced in verses 17, 18, and 20 as coming to the land of Israel in such great numbers that even if they inhabit the waste places and most detested portions of the land, there will still not be room for them. This phenomenal growth continues to take place today. Some 1995 estimates had the population of Israel approaching 6 million. Ludlow shows how much growth has taken place since the organization of the church:
"This gathering of Israel through the aid of foreign nations is taking place today. Since the Church was restored in 1830, the Jewish population in the Holy Land has grown from seven thousand to over three million people. Whereas in 1830 only one out of five hundred Jews resided in Palestine, one out of five now live in the modern state of Israel." (Victor L. Ludlow, Isaiah: Prophet, Seer, and Poet, 1982, p. 414)
Isaiah 49:22 the Gentiles...shall bring thy sons in their arms, and thy daughters shall be carried upon their shoulders
Nephi gives a beautiful interpretation to this passage in 1 Ne 22:6-12.
This is a great latter-day work also for the gathering of the house of Israel-a work which shall commence among the Gentiles. In ancient days the Lord commenced his work among Israel. The kingdom of heaven was preached among the Jews, but they proved themselves unworthy, and says Paul, "Lo, we turn to the Gentiles," and the kingdom was taken from the Jews and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof. The natural branches of Israel were broken off, and the branches of the wild olive tree-the Gentiles-were grafted in. But the Gentiles, since they were grafted in, 1800 years ago, have fallen after the same example of unbelief that the ancient Jews did, and they have lost the power and authority which they once possessed; and for many centuries they have had no apostles, no prophets, no angels from heaven, no power of godliness made manifest among them, and nothing but the teachings and precepts of men. But in the great latter-day work, the Lord begins where he left off-"the first shall be last, and the last shall be first." As the Jews, in ancient days were first, and the Gentiles last, so in the great latter-day work, the Gentiles will be first and Israel will be last. Hence the Prophet says, "Behold, thus saith the Lord God, I will lift up mine hand to the Gentiles, and they shall bring thy sons in their arms, and thy daughters upon their shoulders, and I will lift up my standard to the Gentiles." (Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. [London: Latter-day Saints' Book Depot, 1854-1886], 16: 85)
Isaiah 49:25 Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken away, and the prey of the terrible shall be delivered
The "captives" and "prey" referred to are members of the house of Israel. It doesn't matter how mighty or terrible their captors are, the Lord will deliver them.
Isaiah 49:7-26 Nephi's commentary on Isaiah 49
If Isaiah can be referred to as the prophets' prophet, then we ought to be interested to hear what other prophets thought of his writings-especially Nephi. The last chapter of 1 Nephi is nothing more than Nephi's commentary on Isaiah 49.
Verse 7 him whom man despiseth, to him whom the nation abhorreth (i.e. Israel)
And behold, there are many who are already lost from the knowledge of those who are at Jerusalem. Yea, the more part of all the tribes have been led away; and they are scattered to and fro upon the isles of the sea; and whither they are none of us knoweth, save that we know that they have been led away.
And since they have been led away, these things have been prophesied concerning them, and also concerning all those who shall hereafter be scattered and be confounded, because of the Holy One of Israel; for against him will they harden their hearts; wherefore, they shall be scattered among all nations and shall be hated of all men. (1 Ne. 22:4-5, emphasis added)
Verse 17 thy destroyers and they that made thee waste shall go forth of thee
And every nation which shall war against thee, O house of Israel, shall be turned one against another, and they shall fall into the pit which they digged to ensnare the people of the Lord. And all that fight against Zion shall be destroyed, and that great whore, who hath perverted the right ways of the Lord, yea, that great and abominable church, shall tumble to the dust and great shall be the fall of it.
For behold, saith the prophet, the time cometh speedily that Satan shall have no more power over the hearts of the children of men; for the day soon cometh that all the proud and they who do wickedly shall be as stubble; and the day cometh that they must be burned.
For the time soon cometh that the fulness of the wrath of God shall be poured out upon all the children of men; for he will not suffer that the wicked shall destroy the righteous.
Wherefore, he will preserve the righteous by his power, even if it so be that the fulness of his wrath must come, and the righteous be preserved, even unto the destruction of their enemies by fire. Wherefore, the righteous need not fear; for thus saith the prophet, they shall be saved, even if it so be as by fire.
Behold, my brethren, I say unto you, that these things must shortly come; yea, even blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke must come; and it must needs be upon the face of this earth; and it cometh unto men according to the flesh if it so be that they will harden their hearts against the Holy One of Israel.
For behold, the righteous shall not perish; for the time surely must come that all they who fight against Zion shall be cut off. (1 Ne. 22:14-19)
Verses 22-23 the Gentiles... shall bring thy sons in their arms... kings shall be thy nursing fathers...
Wherefore, the things of which I have read are things pertaining to things both temporal and spiritual; for it appears that the house of Israel, sooner or later, will be scattered upon all the face of the earth, and also among all nations...
Nevertheless, after they shall be nursed by the Gentiles, and the Lord has lifted up his hand upon the Gentiles and set them up for a standard, and their children have been carried in their arms, and their daughters have been carried upon their shoulders, behold these things of which are spoken are temporal; for thus are the covenants of the Lord with our fathers; and it meaneth us in the days to come, and also all our brethren who are of the house of Israel.
And it meaneth that the time cometh that after all the house of Israel have been scattered and confounded, that the Lord God will raise up a mighty nation among the Gentiles, yea, even upon the face of this land; and by them shall our seed be scattered.
And after our seed is scattered the Lord God will proceed to do a marvelous work among the Gentiles, which shall be of great worth unto our seed; wherefore, it is likened unto their being nourished by the Gentiles and being carried in their arms and upon their shoulders.
And it shall also be of worth unto the Gentiles; and not only unto the Gentiles but unto all the house of Israel, unto the making known of the covenants of the Father of heaven unto Abraham, saying: In thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed.
And I would, my brethren, that ye should know that all the kindreds of the earth cannot be blessed unless he shall make bare his arm in the eyes of the nations.
Wherefore, the Lord God will proceed to make bare his arm in the eyes of all the nations, in bringing about his covenants and his gospel unto those who are of the house of Israel.
Wherefore, he will bring them again out of captivity, and they shall be gathered together to the lands of their inheritance; and they shall be brought out of obscurity and out of darkness; and they shall know that the Lord is their Savior and their Redeemer, the Mighty One of Israel. (1 Ne. 22:3, 6-12)
Jacob (Nephi's little brother had a few things to say about this verse as well, see 2 Nephi 6)
And now I, Jacob, would speak somewhat concerning these words. For behold, the Lord has shown me that those who were at Jerusalem, from whence we came, have been slain and carried away captive.
Nevertheless, the Lord has shown unto me that they should return again. And he also has shown unto me that the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, should manifest himself unto them in the flesh; and after he should manifest himself they should scourge him and crucify him, according to the words of the angel who spake it unto me.
And after they have hardened their hearts and stiffened their necks against the Holy One of Israel, behold, the judgments of the Holy One of Israel shall come upon them. And the day cometh that they shall be smitten and afflicted.
Wherefore, after they are driven to and fro, for thus saith the angel, many shall be afflicted in the flesh, and shall not be suffered to perish, because of the prayers of the faithful; they shall be scattered, and smitten, and hated; nevertheless, the Lord will be merciful unto them, that when they shall come to the knowledge of their Redeemer, they shall be gathered together again to the lands of their inheritance.
And blessed are the Gentiles, they of whom the prophet has written; for behold, if it so be that they shall repent and fight not against Zion, and do not unite themselves to that great and abominable church, they shall be saved; for the Lord God will fulfil his covenants which he has made unto his children; and for this cause the prophet has written these things. (2 Ne. 6:8-12)
Verse 26 all flesh shall know that I the Lord am thy savior and thy Redeemer, the mighty One of Jacob
And the time cometh speedily that the righteous must be led up as calves of the stall, and the Holy One of Israel must reign in dominion, and might, and power, and great glory.
And he gathereth his children from the four quarters of the earth; and he numbereth his sheep, and they know him; and there shall be one fold and one shepherd; and he shall feed his sheep, and in him they shall find pasture.
And because of the righteousness of his people, Satan has no power; wherefore, he cannot be loosed for the space of many years; for he hath no power over the hearts of the people, for they dwell in righteousness, and the Holy One of Israel reigneth.
And now behold, I, Nephi, say unto you that all these things must come according to the flesh.
But, behold, all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people shall dwell safely in the Holy One of Israel if it so be that they will repent. (1 Ne. 22:24-28)