Isaiah 50


Like so many other Isaiah passages, chapter 50 is included in the Book of Mormon (2 Ne. 7). This time, it is not Nephi that is quoting Isaiah; it is his brother Jacob, but the whole thing was Nephi's idea:

I will read you the words of Isaiah. And they are the words which my brother has desired that I should speak unto you. And I speak unto you for your sakes, that ye may learn and glorify the name of your God.

And now, the words which I shall read are they which Isaiah spake concerning all the house of Israel; wherefore, they may be likened unto you, for ye are of the house of Israel (2 Ne. 6:4-5)

Isaiah 50:1 Where is the bill of your mother's divorcement?

In this verse, the relationship between the Lord and the House of Israel is compared to the relationship between husband and wife and the relationship between master and servant. The Lord asks the house of Israel if He is responsible for the dissolution of the relationship. This could be proven if the Israelites had received the bill of divorcement. This document was required by the Law of Moses to prove the divorce between a man and a woman (see Deut 24:1-4 and Matt 19:7-8). The rhetorical question posed obviously implies that they had received no such document because the Lord had not rejected them but that the children of Israel had rejected Him. The same implications applies to the relationship between master and servant, "for your iniquities have ye sold yourselves."

"In the time of Isaiah, if a man was pressed by his creditors, he had the possibility of relieving his debt by selling his children as slaves. (Ex. 21:7; Neh. 1-5; "Matt. 18:25Matt. 18:25.) And if he died, a creditor might take his children as payment. (2 Kgs. 4:1.) This slavery was not permanent; the person was indentured to work for a fixed number of years. In answer to the question 'To whom has the Lord ever been in debt?' Isaiah answers that the Lord is indebted to no one and therefore has not been forced to sell Israel; Israel's separation and captivity is her own fault." (Victor L. Ludlow, Isaiah: Prophet, Seer, and Poet [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1982], 420)

Jeremiah repeats this imagery, explaining that the children of Israel were "divorced" from the Lord in two great phases represented by their being taken captive by their enemies. The first occurred when the northern Kingdom (Israel) was sacked by the Assyrians. The second was when the southern Kingdom (Judah) was sacked by the Babylonians. Jeremiah's comment laments that the house of Judah should have repented when they saw what happened to their sister, Israel. Instead, they "played the harlot":

...Hast thou seen that which backsliding Israel hath done? She is gone up upon every high mountain and under every green tree (to practice idolatry), and there hath played the harlot (by making love to other gods).

And I said after she had done all these things, turn thou unto me. But she returned not. And her treacherous sister Judah saw it.

And I saw, when for all the causes whereby backsliding Israel committed adultery I had put her away (sacked by the Assyrians), and given her a bill of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah feared not, but went and played the harlot also. (Jer 3:6-8)

Isaiah 50:1 for your iniquities have ye sold yourselves

"In questioning His children about why they have become separated from Him, the Lord asks them to present evidence that it was his choice. 'Where is the bill of your mother's divorcement, whom I have put away? Or which of my creditors is it to whom I have sold you?' To His own questions the Lord answers, 'Behold, for your iniquities have ye sold yourselves and for your transgressions is your mother put away' (50:1). The reasoning reminds us of the profound counsel, 'If you find yourself further from God today than you were yesterday, ask yourself, who moved?'

"We can be assured that the sincere answer to such a question will always be the same. God is ever present and willing to guide, bless, and even forgive those who are striving to live and follow Him. He is constant. He does not move away from us but waits with open and anxious arms to embrace those who have used their agency to wander away from Him, should they choose to return and repent. Indeed, He became the Servant to make possible such a reunion and reconciliation." (Terry Ball and Nathan Winn, Making Sense of Isaiah, [SLC: Deseret Book, 2009], 143)

Isaiah 50:2 Is my hand shortened at all, that it cannot redeem?

Jeffrey R. Holland

These children will have a happy home and sealed parents yet. In the last days that bill of divorcement against their mother will be set aside, and so will the demands of any creditors. The Lord is in debt to no one, so neither will his children be. He alone can pay the price for the salvation of Israel and the establishment of Zion. His wrath is turned away, and he will not castoff his bride or allow her children to be sold into slavery.

As for the shortening of his hands, the scriptures repeatedly testify that the reach of God's arm is more than adequate, the extent of his grace entirely sufficient. He can always claim and embrace the Israel that he loves. In spite of their unfaithfulness, his hand remains constant, not shortened or slackened or withheld. (Commentaries on Isaiah in the Book of Mormon, ed. by K. Douglas Bassett, [American Fork, UT: Covenant Publishing Co., 2003], 32-33)

Isaiah 50:2-3 at my rebuke I dry up the sea, I make the rivers a wilderness

Brigham Young

He is our Heavenly Father; He is also our God, and the Maker and upholder of all things in heaven and on earth. He sends forth His counsels and extends His providences to all living. He is the Supreme Controller of the universe. At His rebuke the sea is dried up, and the rivers become a wilderness. He measures the waters in the hollow of His hand, and meteth out heaven with a span, and comprehendeth the dust of the earth in a measure, and weigheth the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance; the nations to Him are as a drop in a bucket, and He taketh up the isles as a very little thing; the hairs of our heads are numbered by Him, and not a sparrow falleth to the ground without our Father; and He knoweth every thought and intent of the hearts of all living, for He is everywhere present by the power of His Spirit-His minister the Holy Ghost. He is the Father of all, is above all, through all, and in you all; He knoweth all things pertaining to this earth, and He knows all things pertaining to millions of earths like this. (Journal of Discourses, 11:41)

Isaiah 50:4 The Lord God hath given me the tongue of the learned

From verse 4 to the end of the chapter, the scripture speaks of one who was given "the tongue of the learned." Like many Isaiah prophecies, this has a dual fulfillment. In this instance, it refers to both Isaiah and Jesus Christ. In the case of the latter, the fulfillment of this prophecy is found in John, for "the Jews marvelled, saying, How knoweth this man letters, having never learned?" (John 7:15) Yet, Jesus and Isaiah went to a private school-one which far outclassed the rabbinical tradition of the Pharisees. Their teacher was God; their subject was the truth; their learned tongue was literally a gift of God by the spirit of prophecy and revelation.

Isaiah 50:5 The Lord God hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious

The meaning here is that the Lord had given both Isaiah and Jesus Christ specific callings by speaking to them, thereby opening their ears. After receiving their callings from the Lord they had the option to reject or accept their responsibilities. Like Jonah, they could have run away, but both chose to be obedient and not turn their back on the Lord.

Isaiah's imagery is appropriate for us as well. We are all born in a carnal world, essentially spiritually deaf. For worldly people have hard hearts, "and their ears are dull of hearing" (Acts 28:26). In order to hear the things of the Spirit, we must be humble and obedient. When we are, the Lord literally opens our ears to the truth. Hence, Jesus repeatedly exhorted his listeners, saying, "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear" (Matt 11:15). When this process is complete, we can declare as did Isaiah, "The Lord God hath opened mine ear (to the things of the Spirit), and I was not rebellious."

Isaiah 50:6 I gave my back to the smiters... I hid not my face from shame and spitting.

This obviously has reference to the mortal ministry of Jesus Christ. Jesus of Nazareth was scourged according to the Roman practice of scourging (Matt 27:26):

"Flogging was a legal preliminary to every Roman execution, and only women and Roman senators or soldiers (except in cases of desertion) were exempt. The usual instrument was a short whip...with several single or braided leather thongs of variable lengths, in which small iron balls or sharp pieces of sheep bones were tied at intervals...For scourging, the man was stripped of his clothing, and his hands were tied to an upright post. The back, buttocks, and legs were flogged either by two soldiers (lictors) or by one who alternated positions. The severity of the scourging depended on the disposition of lictors and was intended to weaken the victim to a state just short of collapse or death. After the scourging; the soldiers often taunted their victim." ("On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ," Journal of the American Medical Association, Mar. 1986, vol. 255, no. 11, p. 1457)

The phrase, 'I hid not my face from shame and spitting', is fulfilled twice. When Jesus was before Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin, he was spat upon. This happened again at the hands of the Roman soldiers:

'Then did they (the members of the Sanhedrin) spit in his face, and buffeted him; and others smote him with the palms of their hands,

Saying, Prophecy unto us, thou Christ, Who is he that smote thee?' (Matt 26:67-68)

'And when they (the Roman soldiers) had platted a crown of thorns, they put it upon his head, and a reed in his right hand: and they bowed the knee before him, and mocked him, saying, Hail, King of the Jews!

And they spit upon him, and took the reed, and smote him on the head.' (Matt 27:29-30)

Isaiah 50:7 Therefore have I set my face like a flint

Flint is a material used to make fire by striking a rock or steel against the flint to make sparks. Jesus face was set as flint when he was struck in the face and head during the beating he received, "And some began to spit on him, and to cover his face, and to buffet him, and to say unto him, Prophesy: and the servants did strike him with the palms of their hands" (Mark 14:65).

Bruce R. McConkie

"They spat in His face; they smote Him with rods; they struck Him with their closed fists and with their open palms. In the fertility of their furious and hateful insolence, they invented against Him a sort of game. Covering His eyes, they hit Him again and again, with the repeated question, 'Prophesy to us, O Messiah, who it is that smote thee.' So they wiled away the dark cold hours till the morning, revenging themselves upon His impassive innocence for their own present vileness and previous terror; and there, in the midst of that savage and wanton varletry, the Son of God, bound and blindfold, stood in His long and silent agony, defenseless and alone. It was His first derision-His derision as the Christ, the Judge attainted, the Holy One a criminal, the Deliverer in bonds." (Farrar, p. 654.)

This night, as time seemed to stand still, the prince of devils worked his will through those mortal devils who submitted their wills to his. It seems clear enough that among those degenerate humans who so reveled in their base and evil sport were members of the Sanhedrin itself. Matthew records that the members of that council said, "He is guilty of death," and his very next words are: "Then did they spit in his face, and buffeted him; and others smote him with the palms of their hands." That is, the members of the Great Council, the legal lights and leaders of the people, spurted their foul spittle into the face of their Messiah, while others, their servants and menials, struck him with physical force. Mark also seems to differentiate between those who did the spitting and the buffeting and "the servants" who did the striking. Luke speaks as though the soldiers-"the men that held Jesus"-were the ones who mocked and smote him. This truly was their hour, and they were enveloped in darkness! (The Mortal Messiah: From Bethlehem to Calvary, 4 vols. [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1979-1981], 4: 159)

Isaiah 50:7-9 the Lord God will help me

It's impossible to know what Jesus was thinking as he was being brutally mocked. Perhaps Isaiah was given a glimpse into the Lord's mindset. Perhaps the Master thought of this passage as the villainous blows landed:

the Lord God will help me, therefore shall I not be confounded. Therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed.

And the Lord is near, and he justifieth me. Who will contend with me (at the last day)? Let us stand together (for now I stand alone). Who is mine adversary? Let him come near me, and I will smite him with the strength of my mouth (in the day of vengeance, for vengeance is mine, saith the Lord)

For the Lord God will help me. And all they [who condemn me this day] shall wax old as a garment, and the moth shall eat them up.

Isaiah 50:8 Who is mine adversary? Let him come near me, and I will smite him with the strength of my mouth.

This has reference to the judgments that will come upon the wicked in the last days. The Lord has said that "Vengeance is mine, I will repay" (Rom 12:19). In this instance, the vengeance of the Lord is patiently held in reserve for approximately 2000 years. Then the wicked will receive their just reward. Isaiah describes the wicked in verses 9-11 and then promises, "This shall ye have of mine hand-ye shall lie down in sorrow."

This is a good example of how Isaiah speaks Messianically. In verse 7, he is referring to an event which took place during Christ's mortal ministry. In verse 8, he is referring to an event which will take place during His Second Coming. This is commonly done in Isaiah's and other prophets' writings. There is no statement which makes it clear that these events will occur in two separate appearances or that the Messiah will be crucified before any of the apocalyptic punishments will be administered. In the meridian of time, there was confusion about what things the Messiah would do. The Jews expected Christ to destroy their enemies and become a political leader. They had a history of military heroes who were referred to as saviors (Neh 9:27). The Messiah was expected to come to deliver the Jews from the oppression of the Romans. Without the benefit of hindsight, it would have been difficult to know which prophecies referred to Christ's first coming and which applied to his second unless one had seen it in vision as had Nephi and Jacob.

Isaiah 50:11 Behold, all ye that kindle a fire... This shall ye have of mine hand; ye shall lie down in sorrow

Hugh Nibley

The idea is that those who have foolishly started such fires will themselves perish by them. (The Prophetic Book of Mormon [Salt Lake City and Provo: Deseret Book Co., FARMS, 1989], 304)