Our Come, Follow Me lesson this week includes more of The Dreaded Isaiah chapters. Before we sigh too heavily, though, we ought to remember the words of the Savior to the Nephites concerning the prophecies of Isaiah:
And now, behold, I say unto you, that ye ought to search these things. Yea, a commandment I give unto you that ye search these things diligently; for great are the words of Isaiah.
For surely he spake as touching all things concerning my people which are of the house of Israel; therefore it must needs be that he must speak also to the Gentiles.
And all things that he spake have been and shall be, even according to the words which he spake.
Furthermore, we learn from the Bible Dictionary: “Isaiah is the most quoted of all the prophets, being more frequently quoted by Jesus, Paul, Peter, and John (in his Revelation) than any other Old Testament prophet. Likewise the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants quote from Isaiah more than from any other prophet.”
In other words, there’s no getting around Isaiah, only through — so it’s better to learn to love him if that’s not your natural inclination.
At risk of sounding like a teacher’s pet at this point, I myself have developed a fondness for Isaiah as I’ve become more familiar with his writings. As such, we will be spending some time today with the section of his writing found in 2 Nephi 8.
BYU Professor Kent P. Jackson has said, “In the prophetic books, as a general rule, prophecies of judgment and punishment precede those of blessing and restoration. That organization is true of individual prophecies and chapters as well as of entire books.” This is just as true of Isaiah as of anyone. The section of Isaiah from which Jacob is quoting in these chapters is one that speaks of blessing and restoration, as seen here:
For the Lord shall comfort Zion, he will comfort all her waste places; and he will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the Lord. Joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving and the voice of melody. (2 Nephi 8:3; see also Isaiah 51:3)
Isaiah tended to use imagery and references that his readers would be familiar with; unfortunately for us, not all of those translated very well to our time, place, and language. Fortunately for us, this is not an example of that particular kind of reference — gardens, wildernesses, and deserts are still very much a thing in our day and age. In fact, I’ve found something of a modern, real-life parable that goes very well with this particular verse.
In 1904, Robert and Jennie Butchart moved from Ontario, Canada, to Vancouver Island to build a cement plant on a rich limestone deposit. Their venture was successful, but by 1912, the limestone had been exhausted, and they were left with an empty quarry as a backyard. Mrs. Butchart, however, dreamed of something better, and began bringing in topsoil via horse and cart. Little by little, she began to build her garden.
The Butchart Gardens expanded over the years; today, it includes 55 acres of gardens cared for by 50 full-time gardeners, and is a National Historic Site of Canada. And at its heart is that same Sunken Garden, transformed by the toil and vision of Jennie Butchart from dreary waste to, well, this:
So too can we have the dreary wastes, the deserts, and the wildernesses of our own lives transformed and beautified when we put ourselves into the hands of the Master Gardener. It’s an amazing promise, and we can have it! We just need to follow the plan He’s given us, some key points of which are laid out in the following verses.
Hearken unto me, my people; and give ear unto me, O my nation; for a law shall proceed from me, and I will make my judgment to rest for a light for the people. (2 Nephi 8:4, emphasis added)
The first of those steps is found right off in the following verse: hearken unto me. To hearken is not merely to hear, but to listen and to heed. You cannot follow the Lord’s instructions if you don’t know what they are, or if you’re only sorta paying attention when He gives them to you.
My righteousness is near; my salvation is gone forth, and mine arm shall judge the people. The isles shall wait upon me, and on mine arm shall they trust. (2 Nephi 8:5, emphasis added)
So you’ve hearkened. Good job! Now do you trust enough in the instructions you were given — and more importantly, in He who gave you those instructions — to actually follow through with them? Even when you can’t see the end from the beginning, as is likely? Even when the path ahead looks dangerous or painful?
About two years ago, some bad news crashed hard into my family and, more particularly, me. When I sought the Lord’s aid (“What can I do?”), He gave me a two-item to-do list. Completing that list took longer than I’d hoped it would, but the day did come when I went before Him again, full of bounding enthusiasm, asking, “What’s next?” The Spirit informed me, before I even got my answer, that I would not like it, and it would be both difficult and painful. Having hearkened to my previous instructions, as well as having spent many prior years (mostly) trying to keep the commandments, I had built up enough of a reservoir of trust that I was able to say, “I trust you; whatever it is, I’ll do it.” You can do this, too.
Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look upon the earth beneath; for the heavens shall vanish away like smoke, and the earth shall wax old like a garment; and they that dwell therein shall die in like manner. But my salvation shall be forever, and my righteousness shall not be abolished. (2 Nephi 8:6)
There’s not really any simple phrase to highlight in this one — the entire verse is a reminder that nothing in this world is permanent. Everything earthly will eventually decay and die, no matter how compelling, shiny, or alluring it is. If it can’t be filed under the heading of “the salvation and righteousness of the Lord,” it isn’t worth trading for with something that can. You must know the value of the things in your life so you can prioritize them properly.
Hearken unto me, ye that know righteousness, the people in whose heart I have written my law, fear ye not the reproach of men, neither be ye afraid of their revilings. (2 Nephi 8:7)
Another “hearken!” But this one is to remind us to pay attention to whom we choose to hearken. Note to whom He’s addressing this admonition: “ye that know righteousness, the people in whose heart I have written my law.” He’s talking here not just to “[His] people” or “[His] nation,” as He was previously, but specifically to those among His people who have already learned to hearken, to trust, and to prioritize — in short, those with firm testimonies — and He’s warning them there is still danger to be had.
Let’s go back for a minute to the beautiful Butchart Gardens. It is, as I mentioned, maintained by a staff of fifty full-time gardeners, along with who knows how many part-timers. How long do you think that garden would last as a garden if they all up and quit one day — if they all looked around and said, “Well, it seems our work here is finished,” and left to do something else? As anyone who’s ever tried to care for even a simple yard can tell you, it would not take long at all for the weeds to encroach, the bugs to multiply, the paths to become broken, and the more delicate specimens to die from neglect.
There is a similar danger for those who have, with diligence and patience, cultivated a testimony — if you don’t maintain it, it will decay and wither and eventually die. And if you hearken not unto the Lord, but unto the reproaches and revilings of men, then your testimony which the world values not at all will also begin to seem less worthwhile to you; and you will, at best, neglect it.
And so, there are the steps: hearken, trust, prioritize, maintain. It’s a lot of work, but with that work come blessings that far outpace our own efforts: comfort, joy, gladness, thanksgiving, song. These are not circumstantial blessings; they may be had at any time and in any place, by anyone who wholeheartedly follows the Lord’s instructions to attain them. And those who do so find themselves the recipient of another similar blessing promised by the Lord through His prophet, Isaiah:
And the Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.
- Come, Follow Me – For Individuals and Families: Book of Mormon 2020: February 10-16
- “Like a Watered Garden” -Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, October 2001
- “Maintaining Spirituality” -President Marion G. Romney, October 1979
You can follow Angela on Twitter at @angelaisms.