At the risk of offending the world’s greatest poet, I’m going to bring up The Three Little Pigs. This fairy tale has hogged space in all our brains (sorry for the pun), and we all know its message: Don’t be lazy; it pays to work hard.

The Ugly Duckling teaches us not to judge by outward appearance. Chicken Little tells us not to make everything into an emergency. Little Red Riding Hood teaches us to be careful whom we trust. We have no problem extrapolating the lesson, even when it’s a pig or a chicken experiencing it.

Likewise, our world is filled with symbols. We all know the meaning of wedding rings, hearts, wise owls, dollar signs, rainbows, the Christian cross, the ankh, the Star of David, and a dozen different Christmas ornaments. In addition, there’s the o.k. sign, the Red Cross sign, recycling sign, danger sign, and the silhouettes on restroom doors. Company logos, emojis—our world is filled with symbols we never question.

Our church also uses many symbols. Just a few of them are the Angel Moroni, temples, stakes, the Sunstone, the Sacrament, the iron rod, the tree of life, CTR rings, the beehive, 12 oxen under a baptismal font, baptism itself and other sacred ordinances, covered wagons, missionaries, and our new logo featuring Thorvaldsen’s beautiful statue, The Christus.

At the dedication of the St. Louis Missouri temple, President Russell M. Nelson said, “In the temples, symbols are utilized to teach us spiritual things. For example, we admire that beautiful chandelier in the celestial room… Look at the many innumerable pieces in that chandelier, each one made beautiful as it reflects the light behind it. Can you see that each piece in that chandelier could represent some of the lineage of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob illuminated by the light of the Lord?” Mirrors facing each other in sealing rooms also represent our family ties, stretching forward and backward into eternity.

So how can we approach the symbolism in Isaiah?  I’ve found that if I slow down and research, verses open up and bloom like a rose (aha—more symbolism!). I’d rather understand 10 verses than zoom through and not grasp a single concept.

We also need to know the time period, as Isaiah lived during the reign of four kings and at the time when the ten tribes were scattered. He witnessed many battles and takeovers, and the consequences of people failing to repent. He had much to teach the people, so he used imagery they—but not necessarily we—would understand.

Isaiah speaks of tents, which represent the protection of the Lord. We have stakes that are similar. Tents in that day were often expanded or reduced as needed. When they expand, more righteous people are in the fold. When they shrink, there are not as many. At least tents are not completely unfamiliar to us. Can you imagine if this were reversed and people then were trying to understand the aviation symbols President Dieter F. Uchtdorf uses? Yet we all know exactly what he means. The Three Little Pigs would be completely flummoxed by today’s computer references. Every era has its own imagery.

In this wonderful, holy book that rings with truths about our Redeemer, it’s interesting to note that Isaiah refers to the Lord as both the lamb and as the shepherd. These are familiar references to most of us, and cause no confusion.

Nakedness refers to guilt or shame, a girdle represents strength, a robe stands for righteousness, white means purity, and Babylon means worldliness. I’m guessing every reader of this article could have guessed those.

But some are trickier. When Isaiah describes stubbornness, he paints us a great picture: “thy neck is an iron sinew.”  I’d much rather have that image; it’s more memorable. And he knew that. When he described Abraham’s seed as being as numerous as the sand, we get a distinct picture in our minds. It really adds to the lesson he’s teaching.

Just as a visitor to a country learns new idioms and comparisons, we are sort of time travelers to Isaiah’s era, and are confronting the phrasing of that world as well. Lucky for us there are many more resources to help us today. Books, podcasts, articles, and Conference talks are available at the touch of a button. And now I’m picturing one of The Three Little Pigs touching a button on his vest and going, “Huh?”

Don’t be afraid to study Isaiah. It’s just our same society sideways. So much of what he said applies to us directly, and is interwoven with the Book of Mormon. It’s a beautiful work of art, filled with vital messages we need, and one of those rare objects you can honestly call a Masterpiece.

Hilton teaches Seminary. She is also an award-winning playwright, and the author of many best-selling Latter-day Saint books. Those, her humor blog, and YouTube Mom videos can be found on her website.