View the post on Book of Mormon Central.
1. Read Isaiah as Poetry
One of the things that can make Isaiah confusing is its abstract and expressive language. Isaiah was both a prophet and a poet, so one of the things you can do to make his prophecies easier to grasp is to read Isaiah as poetry. BYU Professor Donald W. Parry published a book called Poetic Parallelisms in the Book of Mormon (available to read for free online!) that lays out the entire Book of Mormon into poetry verses and stanzas where applicable. For the Isaiah chapters in 2 Nephi, he breaks phrases and sentences into poetic lines, parallelisms, and chiasms to help you better visualize and appreciate the beauty of Isaiah’s poetry.
To learn how to identify and appreciate the Hebrew poetic devices in the Book of Mormon, watch minutes 0:51-3:02 of the video below.
2. Get an Overview of Isaiah’s Writings
One of the simplest ways to understand Nephi’s use of Isaiah, is to simply understand Isaiah. While that may seem like a daunting feat, there are resources that can help summarize and synthesize Isaiah’s prophecies, such as this summary video below, or helpful charts listed in the further reading. These charts are available for free in the ScripturePlus app and on the Book of Mormon Central Archive.
3. Use Nephi’s 5 Keys to Understanding Isaiah
Nephi provides a number of keys to help better understand the writings of the prophet Isaiah. These are:
- Understand the “manner of prophesying among the Jews” (2 Nephi 25:1)
- Do not do “works of darkness” or “doings of abominations” (v. 2)
- Be filled with the spirit of prophecy (v. 4)
- Be familiar with the regions around Jerusalem (v. 6)
- Live during the days that the prophecies of Isaiah are fulfilled (v. 7)
By better understanding these keys, readers of the Book of Mormon can come to more fully grasp the writings of Isaiah and why they are quoted so extensively by Nephi.
4. Understand Nephi’s Pattern in Selecting Isaiah Chapters
The books of 1 and 2 Nephi include eighteen chapters of the Book of Isaiah. Nephi included these passages in order to help readers understand important revelations from the Lord regarding his dealings with his children. Why did Nephi choose the specific chapters of Isaiah that he did? Using his vision recorded in 1 Nephi 11-14 as a framework, Nephi chose prophecies from Isaiah that served as a second witness to the vision of the future that the Lord had given him. BYU professor John W. Welch outlined four stages of this “Nephite prophetic view,” including: 1) Christ’s coming; 2) his rejection and the scattering of the Jews; 3) the day of the Gentiles; and 4) the restoration of Israel and the ultimate victory of good over evil. This insight helps readers interpret the words of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon and also provides a paradigm for understanding the prophetic outlook of the Book of Mormon prophets.
5. Look for Prophecies of the Restoration
Through the “Isaiah Chapters,” we’re not really just learning about Isaiah. We are also learning about Nephi and his people. Nephi likened Isaiah’s prophecies to his people and he made the prophecies his own in 2 Nephi 25–30. For example, In 2 Nephi 27, Nephi borrowed extensively from the language of Isaiah 29 to describe the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. In doing so, he was not quoting from Isaiah but re-appropriating his words for a different purpose. Look for ways that Isaiah’s words can be applied to the Nephites and the future restoration of the gospel.
6. Know that Both Nephi and Isaiah Testify of Jesus Christ
In 2 Nephi 11, Nephi declared that he would “for he verily saw my Redeemer, even as I have seen him. And my brother, Jacob, also has seen him as I have seen him; wherefore, I will send their words forth unto my children to prove unto them that my words are true” (2 Nephi 11:2–3). Ultimately, Nephi’s greatest purpose in using Isaiah is to testify of Jesus Christ.
Comparing Nephi’s vision of Christ’s coming in 1 Nephi 11 with prophecies found in Isaiah 2–14 (quoted in 2 Nephi 12–24) suggests that Nephi may have recognized his own prophecies in Isaiah’s words. Having the clarity of Nephi’s vision of the Savior helps us more easily recognize the Messianic allusions in Isaiah’s writings. As you read Isaiah, look for ways you can liken Isaiah’s prophecies to Jesus Christ.
7. Always Strive to Learn More
Studying the scriptures is a life-long pursuit. There is no need to get discouraged when we don’t understand difficult topics at first. As long as we are always looking to improve our knowledge and understanding of the gospel, we are on the right track.
See below for all the KnoWhys Book of Mormon Central has produced on the Isaiah chapters. There are 28 in total! Also check out Book of Mormon Central’s Resource Guide on this section, for a thorough bibliography of resources, so that you can dive deep into Isaiah.