The opening verse of Isaiah 56 states: “Thus saith the LORD, Keep ye judgment [Heb. justice], and do justice [Heb. righteousness]: for my salvation is near to come, and my righteousness to be revealed. Blessed is the man that doeth this, and the son of man that layeth hold on it; that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, and keepeth his hand from doing any evil” (56:1-2). “Keep justice and do righteousness is a dash of cold water in the face after the glowing promises of chas. 54 and 55. Reveling in the unconditional acceptance that those words convey, one would easily believe that the grace of God carries no obligations with it” (John Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah:
hapters 40-66, p. 455). But there are obligations. As noted previously, the gathering of Israel consists of joining the Church through baptism and receiving the temple ordinances. But it is not enough simply to receive these ordinances. It is necessary to keep the covenants associated with these ordinances. It is not enough to “buy wine and milk without money.” One must live the sayings of the Lord. It is not enough to pay lip service to the words of the prophets, it is imperative to live them. Doing the works of the Lord is only good if done for the right reason. A righteous or good person is one who does good works “with real intent.” Otherwise, “it is not counted unto him for righteousness”(see Moroni 7:5-6).
In 56:3-8, it is clear that as Israel gathers from among the nations of the world, there will some gentiles who are caught in the “gospel net” (see Matt. 13:47-49). Isaiah said, “The Lord GOD which gathereth the outcasts of Israel saith, Yet will I gather others to him, beside those that are gathered unto him” (56:8). But these verses also teach that the gentiles shall not be denied any blessings of the fulness of the gospel. In our day, the same message was taught by President James E. Faust, of the First Presidency, when he taught in October 1995 General Conference: “The Church is expanding at a tremendous rate. We now have stakes of Zion in a great many countries of the world, and most stakes have at least one patriarch. This growth permits many people across the earth the privilege of receiving patriarchal blessings. As President Joseph Fielding Smith stated, ‘The great majority of those who become members of the Church are literal descendants of Abraham through Ephraim, son of Joseph’(Doctrines of Salvation, 3:246). However, Manasseh, the other son of Joseph, as well as the other sons of Jacob, has many descendants in the Church. There may be some come into the Church in our day who are not of Jacob’s blood lineage. No one need assume that he or she will be denied any blessing by reason of not being of the blood lineage of Israel. The Lord told Abraham, ‘And I will bless them through thy name; for as many as receive this Gospel shall be called after thy name, and shall be accounted thy seed, and shall rise up and bless thee, as their father.’ (Abraham 2:10)” (Ensign, Nov. 1995, p. 64; emphasis added).
As the chapter began, so it ends. Isaiah warns the covenant people in 56:9-11 to always remain vigilant. Just because they are the chosen and elect people of the Lord, does not mean their calling and election is sure. The Lord will allow his people to be destroyed by the beasts of the field (i.e., Israel’s enemies). In language reminiscent of Ezekiel 34, Isaiah speaks of Israel’s “watchmen” (i.e., their political and religious leaders) as being blind, ignorant, and dumb. In fact, it was because of the indolence of Israel’s leaders that the calamity of Israel’s destruction came upon them.
Isaiah 63-65 is divided into four divisions: (1) The second coming of the Savior and the destruction of the wicked (63:1-6); (2) a psalm (63:7-14); (3) a prayer (63:15 – 64:12); and (4), an answer (65).
Destruction of the Wicked
The second phase of the gathering of Israel ends with the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Upon His coming, Christ will destroy the wicked from the earth,and gathered Israel will then “inherit the Gentiles, and make the desolate cities to be inhabited” (Isaiah 54:3). Isaiah 63 speaks of the destruction of the wicked upon the Savior’s coming.
In the opening verses, we envision a watchman sitting atop the wall of a city (see Isa. 62:6) who observes a lone figure coming from the east. He asks the stranger two questions. Question: “Who is this that cometh from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah? this that is glorious in his apparel, travelling in the greatness of his strength?” Answer: “I that speak in righteousness, mighty to save.” Question: “Wherefore art thou red in thine apparel, and thy garments like him that treadeth in the winefat?” Answer: “I have trodden the winepress alone; and of the people there was none with me: for I will tread them in mine anger, and trample them in my fury; and their blood shall be sprinkled upon my garments, and I will stain all my raiment. For the day of vengeance is in mine heart, and the year of my redeemed is come” (62:1-12).
The lone figure is the Lord, Jesus Christ. It is His second coming. He has come to wreak vengeance upon the wicked of the world symbolized by Edom and Bozrah, the capital of Edom. “Edom was the perennial enemy of Judah, so much so that it came to represent all its enemies (cf. 34:5ff.; Ps. 137:7; Ezek. 35:10-15; Amos 1:6; Obad. 10-16)” (Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah: Chapters 40-66, p. 596). In later history, Edom was called Idumea which the Lord equated with “the world” in D&C 1:36.
Upon His second coming, the Savior will be “red in his apparel, and his garments like him that treadeth in the wine-vat” (D&C 133:48). This recalls his garments which must have been stained red by the blood He sweat in Gethsemane (Luke 22:44) when he took upon himself the sins of mankind. He alone experienced the horrible agony of Gethsemane. Hence, the phrase, “I have trodden the winepress alone.” Gethsemane (Heb., oil press) was the oil press of an olive orchard located on the Mt. of Olives. It was not uncommon (and still is the case in many places in modern Israel and Jordan) that vines were planted between the olive trees. This was so because it takes many, many years before an olive tree comes to full maturity. In the intervening years, the orchard was turned into a vineyard. So it would have been likely that the olive orchard where the Gethsemane was located where the Savior suffered probably also had a winepress. “Winepresses were hewn from bedrock to form a flat surface for treading. They consisted of a pair of square or circular vats arranged at different levels and connected by a channel” (Philip J. King & Lawrence E. Stager, Life in Biblical Israel, p. 100). The grapes were trodden by bare feet in the upper vat while the juice ran through the channel and collected into the lower vat.
The imagery of Christ having trodden the winepress alone is used to symbolize not only the suffering in Gethsemane, but also the destruction of the wicked upon his second coming.
“He has attacked the enemies of his people and trodden them under foot like grapes, so that their lifeblood has spurted out and spattered his garments” (Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah: Chapters 40-66, p. 597). He has done this, as the Savior says, because His second coming is a “day of vengeance” (63:4). The work of the atonement was not only to free man from sin but to free man from a sinful world. The earth is to be the place for the great millennial reign of Christ and the celestial kingdom for the righteous. Therefore, the wicked must be removed.
The psalm recorded in 63:7-14 displays the Lord’s wonderful loving-kindness and mercy through a reminiscence of Israel’s history. The first stanza begins with the foundation of Israel’s hope: their election as the Lord’s people (vss. 7-8). As Israel’s Savior, he bore their afflictions and redeemed them (vs. 9). Yet “they rebelled” against their God and made Him their enemy (vs. 10), for it was He that brought upon them the curses of the broken covenant including the scattering of Israel among all nations. In the second stanza the Lord remembers the first gathering of Israel in the days of Moses (vs. 11-13). The psalm ends with the recollection of the days of Joshua when the Lord brought Israel into the promised land like cattle being taken into a pasture to rest (vs. 14). Though not stated, the song creates the question: “Will the Lord repeat the mercy of the gathering again?”
Now comes a prayer, perhaps the combined prayer of scattered Israel best visualized before the restoration of the gospel. Having been scattered among the nations of the world and intermingled with the gentiles, Israel has lost their identity. Like the gentiles with no knowledge of their God (D&C 109:67), their lives have become miserable. This prayer is a plea for the Lord to remember them. The prayer begins with an appeal to the Lord to “Look down from heaven” with mercy towards scattered Israel (vs. 15). The prayer admits that there is no basis of such mercy from the Lord. Having broken the covenant, it is as if scattered Israel is no longer the seed of Abraham (vs. 16). But the fact of the matter is, the curse of the scattering has caused the remnant of Abraham to turn back to God and acknowledge that He is their everlasting redeemer (vs. 16).
The prayer continues with a lament, “O Lord, why hast thou suffered us to err from thy ways, and to harden our heart from thy fear?” (JST Isa. 63:17). Scattered Israel then pleads with the Lord to return them back to their lands of inheritance (63:17). The righteous of Israel’s past only had the temple for a brief period before it was “trodden down” by the Babylonians in 587 B.C. (63:18). “We [scattered Israel] are thine” they remind the Lord, not the gentiles who have destroyed Jerusalem and the temple (63:19).
This plea is more than just the redemption of Jerusalem. Scattered Israel is pleading to become free from the wicked influences of the world. Heber C. Kimball once prophesied that before the second coming of the Lord “the Saints will be put to the test that will try the very best of them. The pressure will become so great that the righteous among us will cry unto the Lord day and night until deliverance comes” (Quoted in Conference Report, October 1930, p.58). Therefore, scattered Israel pleads for the Lord to come and destroy the wickedness of the world that holds so many of God’s children in the chains of sin (64:1-3).
This second coming of the Lord and the destruction of the wicked so long waited for by Israel will inaugurate the great millennial reign of Jesus Christ. This period of bliss is beyond comprehension. Indeed, “since the beginning of the world men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen, O God, beside thee, what he hath prepared for him that waiteth for him” (64:4).
Upon the second coming, those who have been righteous shall be met by the Lord with rejoicing (JST Isa. 64:5). But Israel in their scattered condition are not ready for such a meeting. “But we have sinned; we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away” (JST Isa. 64:6). Living among the wicked of the world without the gospel, “there is none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee: for thou hast hid thy face from us, and hast consumed us, because of our iniquities” (64:7).
Scattered Israel needs the gospel to be restored to them that they might become ready for the second coming of the Lord. Therefore, in the prayer, Israel pleads: “But now, O LORD, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand. Be not wroth very sore, O LORD, neither remember iniquity for ever: behold, see, we beseech thee, we are all thy people” (64:8-9). The last phrase, “we are all thy people” is a plea for the Lord to remember the covenant made with Abraham that his posterity will receive the gospel. Further, the covenant promised that Abraham’s posterity would be given the land of promise. The prayers ends with a plea for that blessing to be fulfilled (64:10-12).
The Lord now answers their prayer. In response to their question, “O Lord, why hast thou suffered us to err from thy ways, and to harden our heart from thy fear?” (JST Isa. 63:17), the Lord states they hardened their own hearts and would not listen to him when he called (65:1-7). Therefore he rejected Israel and allowed their scattering in hopes to humble them. But, the Lord will at a future time, eventually gather a remnant of the seed of scattered Israel (65:8-10; 14-16). Nonetheless, “they who forsake the Lord” will feel the full brunt of the curses associated with the broken covenant (65:11-13).
With the second coming of Jesus Christ, the whole earth will be, in essence, recreated. Article of Faith states that the earth “will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory.” Therefore, the Lord states that “I create new heavens and new earth.” With this re-creation of a world innocent like Eden, “the former [sins?] shall not be remembered, nor come into mind”(65:17). In the millennial day, the Lord will rejoice in a rebuilt Jerusalem and a repentant people (65:18). Yet agency still exists and in this era of righteousness, there will be those who will not follow the fulness of the gospel but will settle for a terrestrial level of living. Of this, Joseph Fielding Smith wrote, “The inhabitants of the terrestrial order will remain on the earth during the millennium, and this class is without the gospel ordinances (Doctrines of Salvation, 3:63-65; cf., Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp.
268-269). In such a condition the person is “accursed” (65:20). Elder Smith stated: “The gospel will be taught far more intensely and with greater power during the millennium, until all the inhabitants of the earth shall embrace it. Satan shall be bound so that he cannot tempt any man. Should any man refuse to repent and accept the gospel under those conditions then he would be accursed” (Doctrines of Salvation, 3:64).
The millennium will be a day of joyful bliss and peace. There will be no war, no diseases, or none of the vicissitudes that plague the present world (65:21-23). “The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock: and dust shall be the serpent’s meat. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, saith the LORD” (65:25). Unlike the mortal world we live in, one of the most remarkable aspects of the millennium is that the Lord will bless his people before they ask (65:24).
We are fortunate to be living in the second phase of the gathering of Israel. We are witnessing a miracle greater than we can imagine. But for the gathering to succeed, we must not repeat the sins of our progenitors who, because of their transgressions, were scattered among the nations of the world. We must examine our lives and see if we have any rebellion in us. We must always live the words of the prophets and forsake the ways of the world. If not, we may find ourselves, like ancient Israel, once again scattered from the flock of the Lord’s people.