Isaiah 50-53

I am the law and the light. Look unto me, and endure to the end, and ye shall live; for unto him that endureth to the end will I give eternal life.. This is the law and the prophets, for they truly testified of me. [1]

The book of Isaiah has been called a “fifth gospel” because it testifies in detail of the Christ who should come with power to save.  Isaiah prophesied with remarkable precision how and why the Savior would bring about the Atonement; thus, the purpose of this lesson is to help us understand the meaning of His Atonement in our lives.

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I also testify of Jesus Christ and of His saving power. I know him as a Savior to whom I look for unfailing help. For me, the Savior is a very close and daily reality, because I have learned how much I need Him and how unshakably trustworthy He is.

The Atonement as Isaiah explains it is really quite simple.

Every one of us is a perishing soul in one sense or another, and the Messiah comes to rescue perishing souls.

Everyone perishes physically, but He restores life to every one through the resurrection.

Everyone perishes spiritually, but He can restore us to eternal life: if we repent, Jesus takes the punishment due to us for our sins and errors — which is eternal death. 

Everyone perishes emotionally sooner or later — from heartaches, incapacities, sicknesses, loneliness, neglect — but in His arms we find love and peace the world cannot provide.

How Beautiful upon the Mountains

In explaining Isaiah’s message, the Book of Mormon puts it plainly:

If not for the redemption which he hath made for his people, which was prepared from the foundation of the world, I say unto you, were it not for this, all mankind must have perished. [2]

But because of this redemption, Isaiah sings joyfully:

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth! [3]

A closer translation of the original Hebrew might go like this:  “How beautiful (navu) upon the hills are the feet (or footsteps) of Him who declares peace, who announces goodness, who declares salvation (yeshuah), who announces to Zion that Elohim reigns as king.”  Interestingly, Isaiah declares that the feet of the Lord are “nauvoo,” or beautiful, upon the hills of Zion. More important is the fact that Isaiah actually announces the name of the coming Messiah in this passage: Yeshuah, which is the Hebrew word we render as the name Jesus.

So is the person spoken of in this passage Christ Himself or someone who declares the gospel of Christ? It is both. The Book of Mormon explains that the prophets “are they who have published peace, who have brought good tidings of good, who have published salvation; and said unto Zion: Thy God reigneth!  And O how beautiful upon the mountains were their feet!  And again, how beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of those that are still publishing peace! And again, how beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of those who shall hereafter publish peace, yea, from this time henceforth and forever!”

But it is not only the prophets who are “beautiful upon the mountains” — “And behold, I say unto you, this is not all. For O how beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that is the founder of peace, yea, even the Lord, who has redeemed his people; yea, him who has granted salvation unto his people.” [4]

The “founder of peace” is the One whose feet are “beautiful upon the mountains” — and by association, those who live by and carry His message are also “beautiful upon the mountains.”  In somewhat indirect poetic form, Isaiah explains the mission of the “founder of peace,” and to get a clear understanding of Isaiah’s message in this lesson, we must turn to the Book of Mormon, where the prophet Abinadi explains the passages we are studying this week.

The Lord hath made Bare His Holy Arm

In vision Isaiah sees the coming day when the “arm of the Lord,” who is Christ, would be revealed to the world:  

The LORD hath made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God…

To whom is the arm of the LORD revealed? For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. [5]

After reciting Isaiah 53 from memory, Abinadi explains the meaning of this passage to the wicked Zeniffites — that the Messiah will come into the world in the form of an ordinary man, unremarkable in appearance but embodying the hope of new life, “a root out of dry ground”:

Now Abinadi said unto them: I would that ye should understand that God himself shall come down among the children of men, and shall redeem his people. [6]

He was Wounded for Our Transgressions

Isaiah then prophesies the sufferings of Christ as if they are present before him:

He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.  Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we likesheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to theslaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.. [7]

 And Abinadi clarifies the meaning of this passage:

[The Son of God] suffereth temptation, and yieldeth not to the temptation, but suffereth himself to be mocked, and scourged, and cast out, and disowned by his people. And…   he shall be led, yea, even as Isaiah said, as a sheep before the shearer is dumb, so he opened not his mouth. Yea, even so he shall be led, crucified, and slain, the flesh becoming subject even unto death, the will of the Son being swallowed up in the will of the Father.  And thus God breaketh the bands of death, having gained the victory over death; giving the Son power to make intercession for the children of men — having ascended into heaven, having the bowels of mercy; being filled with compassion towards the children of men; standing betwixt them and justice; having broken the bands of death, taken upon himself their iniquity and their transgressions, having redeemed them, and satisfied the demands of justice. [8]

Therefore, the Messiah must suffer to earn the right to stand between ourselves and the demands that justice makes of each of us. Because “we like sheep have gone astray… every one to his own way,” we are each eternally lost without this great Interceder.

I Hid Not My Face from Shame and Spitting

Isaiah uses imagery from the ordinances of Solomon’s temple to illustrate how the Atonement is to take place.

Once a year on the Day of Atonement, the high priest of the temple would set apart two goats, both to represent the figure of the anointed Savior — one goat to bear sins away and the blood of the other to be sprinkled on the altar of the temple as a sin offering.

One of the goats, known as the “scapegoat,” was crowned with red thread and driven into the desert to carry away the sin of Israel. According to the scholar Margaret Barker, “People pulled out the goat’s hair as it was led away.. In the Epistle of Barnabas there is a quotation from an unknown source about the scapegoat: ‘Spit on it, all of you, thrust your goads into it, wreathe its head with scarlet wool and let it be driven into the desert.’” [9]

The rite of the scapegoat, according to Isaiah, was a heartrending foreshadowing of the sufferings of the Messiah: “I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting.” [10]

The high priest slaughtered the second goat and poured its blood into a vessel which he then carried into the Holy of Holies of the temple. There he sprinkled the sacrificial blood on the altar to atone for “the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions in all their sins.” [11]

He hath poured out his soul unto death

The blood of the goat represented the blood of the great high priest who would sacrifice Himself for the sins of Israel. Again according to Barker, “For the great Atonement, the blood/life of the goat ‘as the Lord’ was a substitute for the blood/life of the high priest (also as the Lord), who thus carried the sin of the people himself as he performed the ordinance. The role of the high priest, the Lord, was to remove the damaging effect of sin.” [12]

After the Atonement took place, Paul explained to the Hebrews that Jesus had entered heaven — the holy place — to present His own blood as payment for our sins. “Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.” [13] This explains Isaiah’s words: by pouring out his blood on the altar, the Savior “hath poured out his soul unto death.” [14]

The connection between the temple ordinance of the scapegoats and the Atonement of Christ will become clear to the house of Israel when He returns to the earth. The writer of the Epistle of Barnabas predicts, “When they see him (Jesus) coming on the Day, they are going to be struck with terror at the manifest parallel between him and the goat… They shall see him on the Day, clad to the ankles in his red woollen robe, and will say, ‘is this not he whom we once crucified and mocked and pierced and spat upon?’” [15]

Isaiah too foretells the astonishment they will feel when Israel finds that Jesus Christ, whom they mistreated and rejected, is the great Redeemer, who “sprinkles” his redeeming blood not only upon Israel but upon all nations: “Behold, my servantshall deal prudently, he shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high. As many were astonied [astonished] at thee; his visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men:  So shall he sprinkle many nations.”

He Shall See His Seed

Isaiah teaches that those among the nations who accept His offering become members of the family of Christ: “It pleased [chafets] the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see hisseed.” [16]

In a closer rendering of the Hebrew word chafets, God was not “pleased” to see His Son suffer, but rather He “bent” or “inclined” to bring about the Atonement. Once the great redemption is made, eternal life is assured to “his seed.” Abinadi interprets Isaiah:

Now what say ye? And who shall be his seed? Behold I say unto you, that whosoever has heard the words of the prophets, yea, all the holy prophets who have prophesied concerning the coming of the Lord — I say unto you, that all those who have hearkened unto their words, and believed that the Lord would redeem his people, and have looked forward to that day for a remission of their sins, I say unto you, that these are his seed, or they are the heirs of the kingdom of God. For these are they whose sins he has borne; these are they for whom he has died, to redeem them from their transgressions. And now, are they not his seed? [17]

Joint heirship with Jesus Christ is perhaps the greatest blessing of the Atonement to all those who accept it.

Surely He Hath Borne Our Griefs and Carried Our Sorrows

Still, there is more to learn about why the Messiah must suffer. Isaiah teaches that Messiah is “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief”; the grief He is acquainted with is our own, for “surely he hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.”[18] The prophet Alma comments: 

He shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities. [19]

The Atonement Alma speaks of is not just the “loosing of the bands of death” nor is it only the “taking upon himself our iniquity and transgressions.” The Atonement of the Savior provides more than salvation from death and sin. In carrying out the Atonement, the Savior also “suffered pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind… that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people.”

Jesus knows intimately what it means to be, in the words of Isaiah, “despised and rejected of men, oppressed and afflicted.” He is God, the greatest of all, and yet he “carried our sorrows” so that he might know in exquisite detail what we go through and how to help us.  This “carrying of sorrows” is also completely individual. He does not carry them in the sense that a train carries a load of freight from many sources; He carries us individually, singly, knowing deeply and thoroughly the troubles of each one that He might help each one. Elder Merrill J. Bateman touchingly describes this “carrying of sorrows”:

For many years I thought of the Savior’s experience in the garden and on the cross as places where a large mass of sin was heaped upon Him. Through the words of Alma, Abinadi, Isaiah, and other prophets, however, my view has changed. Instead of an impersonal mass of sin, there was a long line of people, as Jesus felt “our infirmities”  “(bore) our griefs, … carried our sorrows … (and) was bruised for our iniquities” … He learned about your weaknesses and mine. He experienced your pains and sufferings. He experienced mine. I testify that He knows us. He understands the way in which we deal with temptations. He knows our weaknesses. But more than that, more than just knowing us, He knows how to help us if we come to Him in faith. [20]

I can add my testimony as well that Jesus Christ does know how to help us. He has helped me daily in ways too numerous and in some ways too personal to recount. I am convinced that if we really understood the Atonement of Jesus Christ as Isaiah did, we too would sing of the beauty of the Savior upon the mountains. I am convinced that if we really understood the Atonement of Jesus Christ, our sorrows would be lifted. For there is no death, there is no sin, there is no sorrow in Christ.

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[1] 3 Ne. 15:9-10.

[2] Mosiah 15:19.

[3] Isa. 52:7.

[4] Mosiah 15:14-18.

[5] Isa. 52:10; 53:1-2.

[6] Mosiah 15:1.

[7] Isa. 53:3-7.

[8] Mosiah 15:5-9.

[9] Barker, 54.

[10] Isa. 50:6.

[11] Lev. 16:16.

[12] Margaret Barker, The Great High Priest. London: T&T Clark Ltd, 2003, 53.

[13] Heb. 9:12.

[14] Isa. 53:12.

[15] Cited in Barker, 54.

[16] Isa. 53:10.

[17] Mosiah 15:10-12.

[18] Isa. 53:3-4.

[19] Alma 7:11-12.

[20] Merrill J. Bateman, “A Pattern for All,” Ensign, Nov. 2005, 74.