Cover image: Sacred Grove, by Brent Borup

“Behold, I will proceed to do a marvellous work among this people, even a marvellous work and a wonder,” says the Lord in Isaiah 29:14.

Latter-day Saints consider this verse a prophecy of the restoration of the gospel before the Lord comes again. The marvelous work (in Hebrew pala, a “surpassing or extraordinary miracle”) is the gathering of Israel to the temples in our day, a day when “they that erred in spirit shall come to understanding, and they that murmured shall learn doctrine” (Isa. 29:24).

But for us individually, the “marvelous work and a wonder” must take place within each of our hearts. We must be “gathered” personally, reunited in our innermost spirit with our personal Savior, Jesus Christ.

The Lord foretold the Restoration would come at a time when people would “draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men” (Isa. 29:13). Of course, the Lord described the people of Joseph Smith’s time in this way when He visited the young man in the Sacred Grove (see JS-History 1:19).

But this description fits all of us at one time or another. How often do we pray “with our mouths” but not our hearts? How many of us honor the Lord with our lips but not with our actions? How much of what we believe so intensely is actually just political propaganda or what Alma calls “ignorant traditions” (Alma 9:16)?

This lesson calls on us to examine our hearts, to what extent we might have “removed our hearts far from the Lord.”

Isaiah warns us to watch out for symptoms of waywardness in ourselves. While we casually condemn the distortion of true doctrine in other religions or the worldliness of the worldly, are we meandering along in a state of self-righteousness? Do we judge others based on a standard we don’t live up to ourselves? Are we priests and Levites who pass by the wounded and thank God that we aren’t like “them”?

For Isaiah, the major pitfall to be overcome is not danger from outside the Church but hypocrisy within. “Woe to the crown of pride,” he says, “to the drunkards of Ephraim” who “err in vision” and “stumble in judgment.” The drunkards of Ephraim are the children of the covenant, members of the house of Israel, not “heathens” or “Gentiles.” “They are drunken, but not with wine; they stagger, but not with strong drink” (Isa. 28:1, 3, 7; 29:9). These are Church members who stumble because of pride. “The Lord hath poured out upon you the spirit of deep sleep”—in other words, He says, “you are unconscious of your own hypocrisy.”

Isaiah protests the so-called “righteousness” of Jerusalem and holds it up to our view as a counterfeit. We are reminded of Laman and Lemuel, who couldn’t see any problem with their hometown: “We know that the people who were in the land of Jerusalem were a righteous people,” the two brothers said, “for they kept the statutes and judgments of the Lord” (1 Ne. 17:22).

What Laman and Lemuel did not discern was inauthenticity, conceit, and duplicity among the “brethren of the church” (1 Ne. 4:26).  Isaiah calls Jerusalem “the haughty people” who “grind the faces of the poor” (Isa. 3:15; 24:4). Because of them, he prophesies that the Lord will bring down “the lofty city, he layeth it low; he layeth it low, even to the ground; he bringeth it even to the dust” (Isa. 26:5). The “great and spacious building” was Jerusalem!

Of course, Jerusalem was literally pounded to dust by invaders in the ancient world. But the question for us is spiritual: How often do we exhibit lofty behavior? How deeply are we invested in hating the Samaritans? Do we wear the “crown of pride of Ephraim”? If so, we will eventually be brought low: “He shall bring down their pride” (Isa. 25:11).

Isaiah famously prophesies of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. It will “speak out of the ground,” a “book that is sealed” which the “learned” cannot read” (Isa. 29:4, 11). This prophecy was literally fulfilled when Martin Harris took a sample of the book to scholars who could make nothing of it (JS-Hist. 1:63-65).

But the question remains: Is the book “sealed” to us? The “learned” of Jerusalem got angry when Lehi “read the book” to them that he saw in vision. These respectable “elders of the Jews” knew the scripture, but their hearts were sealed against its message (1 Ne. 1:19; 4:22). Jesus noted the same thing among the elders of His time: “Why do ye not understand my speech? Even because ye cannot hear my word” (John 8:43). They had shut their hearts against the spirit of Christ.

What about our hearts? To what extent are our hearts open to “the book”? Isaiah says that in our day “shall the deaf hear the words of the book . . . the meek also shall increase their joy in the Lord, and the poor among men shall rejoice in the Holy One of Israel” (Isa. 29:19). The book unseals itself only to the meek and the poor—that is, to the literal poor and to the poor in spirit who come unto Him (3 Ne. 12:3).

By contrast, the book remains sealed to those who are full of contempt for the meek and the poor. It is closed to those who “trust in oppression and perverseness” (Isa. 30:12). The Hebrew word translated as “perverseness” is better rendered as “crookedness, craftiness, and cunning.”

Now, where are we in relation to “the book”?

Today, what stands in the way of the “marvelous work and a wonder”? According to a recent BYU graduation speaker, “You see recrimination, reproach, insults, and sarcasm. You see leaders at the highest levels . . . who bully and berate those with whom they disagree. You see families torn apart over political disagreements” (Arthur C. Brooks, “More Love, Less Contempt,” BYU Commencement Address, April 25, 2019).

The great obstacle to the “marvelous work” is what Brooks calls our “culture of contempt” that sees “people who disagree with us not as merely incorrect or misguided but as worthless.” Surely, if we see others as worthless, our hearts are far from Him who sees great worth in every soul (D&C 18:10). And we are not in a very good position to help gather Israel if we hold so many of our brothers and sisters in contempt.

Still, the “marvelous work and a wonder” will proceed in our lives as we open our hearts to the Lord and to our brothers and sisters. We must get on the covenant path ourselves: “An highway shall be there and a way, and it shall be called the way of holiness,” says Isaiah. “The redeemed shall walk there, the ransomed of the Lord” (Isa. 35:8-10), for this road is open only to those who accept Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice on their behalf.

Also, we should gather as many as we can to come with us on the “way of holiness.” The call is clear: “Strength ye the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees. Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not.” We help them overcome fear with the assurance that “God will come and save you” (Isa. 35:3-4).

To those who trust God, Isaiah says, “Thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left” (Isa. 30:21). President Russell M. Nelson has said, “Our Father knows that when we are surrounded by uncertainty and fear, what will help us the very most is to hear His Son, because when we seek to hear—truly hear—His Son, we will be guided to know what to do in any circumstance” (“Hear Him,” General Conference, April 2020).