A Lesson Given In



D. Calvin Andrus
12 January 1993
9 July 1991


I would like to start out this evening by reading Edgar Allen Poe's "Annabel Lee." Please close your eyes and feel the message of the poem. [READ POEM] This is a poem about impossible love, which is why it means so much to me. When I was a freshman and sophomore in high school, I had a big crush on a cheerleader that was two years older than me. I was a nerdy nobody and she was the one of the prettiest, most popular girls in school. When my English teacher had us read "Annabel Lee" a light clicked on. While situation was different, the mood was the same. The pain of a love that will not be. The ability of a poet to express feelings is indeed great. Please hold that thought. I will come back to it in a few minutes. Before I do, however, I want to give you six keys to understanding Isaiah.


The text of Isaiah was written as poetry. Translating poetry is harder than translating plain text. The reason is that in addition to meaning, normal (western) poetry has meter and rhyme. In translating poetry, one has to choose which of the three to preserve, the meaning, the meter, or the rhyme. For example, look at the following translations of the Ensy Wensy Spider.

Translating Poetry is Not So Easy
The ensy wensy spider
Went up the water spout
Down came the rain
And washed the spider out
Out came the sun
And dried up all the rain
And the ensy wensy spider
Went up the spout again
La araña pequeña
Se fué a pasear
Cayo la llúvia
Y tuvo que nadar
Sálio el sol
Y el agua se secó
Y la araña pequeña
De nuevo empesó
The little spider
Went for a walk
The rain fell 
And she had to swim
The sun came out
And the water dried up
And the little spider
Started again

Who can guess what the King James Translators tried to preserve in Isaiah, the meter, the rhyme, or the meaning? You are right--the meaning. Which means most of the beauty of the original is lost. But in the end, I guess we would rather have the meaning, rather than the poetry.

Let me pass around Avraham Gileadi (1982) The Apocalyptic Book of Isaiah  (Provo, Utah: Hebraeus Press) which tries much harder to preserve the poetry of Isaiah. Let me give an example here.

Two Translations of Isaiah 29:13-14
King James Gileadi
Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people 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: But my Lord says, Because these people
   approach me with the mouth
and pay me homage with their lips,
   while their heart remains far from me--
their piety toward me consisting of
   commandments of men learned by rote--
Therefore, hehold, I will proceed to do a marvellous work among this people, even a marvellous work and a wonder: for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid. therefore it is
   that I continue to astound the people
   with wonder upon wonder
rendering void the knowledge of their sages,
   the intelligence of their wise men insignificant.

Poets have another trait. They are always searching for just the right word to make their poem have just the right meaning. Let us read e. e. cummings' poem entitled, "In Just-." Besides removing capitalization and punctuation, what else has e. e. cummings done? Right. He has made up his own words--like, mudluscious and puddlewonderful. You should not be surprized then, to find out that the book of Isaiah contains the largest vocabulary of any book in the Bible!

Let me make one other point about Isaiah as a poet before moving on to the second key to understanding Isaiah. He used a literary device known as chiasmus. This device can be thought of as nested parallelism. It takes the form:

:  B
:  :  C
:  :  :  D
:  :  :  :
:  :  :  D
:  :  C
:  B

Let's look at two simple examples.

Isaiah 11:13

Isaiah 55:8
(King James)
A - Ephraim will not
:  B - envy Judah
:  B - nor Judah
A - resent Ephraim.

A - For my thoughts
:  B - are not your thoughts
:  B - neither are your ways
A - my ways saith the Lord.

And one somewhat complex example:

Isaiah 2:3-5 (KJV)
A,B,C - Come to the house of the the God of Jacob . . . and we will walk in His paths
:  D - And he shall judge among the nations
:  :  E,F - And they shall beat their swords into plowshares
:  :  E,F - And their spears into pruninghooks:
:  D - Nation shall not lift up sword agains nation
A,B,C - O house of Jacob, . . . let us walk in the light of the Lord

(For mor details see Ludlow, Victor L. (1982) Isaiah: Prophet, Seer, and Poet. SLC, Utah: Deseret Book Company, pp. 31-39.)


I would like you to close your eyes again while I read you another poem.

[Read Walt Whitman's "O Captian, My Captain"]

For most of you that was just a poem about a ship's captain. Does anybody know what occasioned Whitman to write this poem?  Good!  It was written for the funeral of Abraham Lincoln.  He was the captain of the ship of state.  Would one of you like to come up and read the poem again, while the rest of us think about Abraham Lincoln?

See how much more the poem means when we know what it is really about?  We had to add information from outside the poem itself in order for it to have deep meaning. Isaiah is the same. It is often metaphorical.  Once we add outside information it will make sense.  Let me give another example.

[Read Chris Fuller's "A Prophecy of Isaiah Concerning an Event."]

I suspect this did not make much sense to anybody. Now if I add some outside information, such as, this is a spoof of Isaiah and it describes a BYU basketball game, it makes more sense.

This is what we need to do to the real Isaiah. Add outside information to make sense of what is going on. Let me give a couple of real examples.


Isaiah knew Christ personally (as Jehovah). Nephi, who expended so much of his plates copying and interpreting Isaiah, also knew Christ personally. Because so much of Isaiah is about Christ . . .

Let us turn to several passages that refer to Christ's first coming.

Now let us read a verse that refers to Christ's second coming - 63:1-5.


The more we know about the scattering and gathering of Israel, the better we will understand Isaiah. We need to clearly understand the difference between the northern and southern Kingdoms of Israel. We need to know some of the ancient history of Assyria, Egypt, and Ethiopia. Both Nephi and Jacob in the Book of Mormon spend considerable time interpreting Isaiah for us.


There are more quotes from Isaiah in the scriptures than from any other prophet. This means the better we know the New Testament, the Book of Mormon, and the D&C the easier we will understand Isaiah. For an easy example, let us look at D&C 113 -- which interprets Isaiah chapters 11 and 53 for us.

The better we know the doctrines of the Gospel, the better we will understand Isaiah. Let us look at a few verses that relate to temple worship:

Now let us cruise some other verses that relate to a variety of gospel principles.


Isaiah is known as the Prophet's Prophet. Why is that? Because the book of Isaiah is full of prophecy about the 1st and 2nd comings of Christ, as well as the scattering and gathering of Israel. The book was given by the Spirit of Revelation, and is best understood through the same Spirit. The Spirit knew what He was saying when Isaiah wrote it. Surely He still understands it. He can reveal it to us. So what does it take? A gift of the Spirit. The gift of the Spirit of Revelation. Each of us can have it, if what? We prepare ourselves and we ask. It can happen!


In summary we learned about six keys to understanding Isaiah. They are:

Let me take you back to the beginning of the lesson (in a kind of chiasmic way). Remember why the poem "Annabel Lee" touches me? Why I can read it over and over and never get tired of it? Because 25 years ago I had a profound emotional experience with that poem. I was emotionally prepared for the message of the poem. Let me suggest that each of us can come to love Isaiah as much and more than I love "Annabel Lee." What does it take? We must be spiritually prepared before we attempt Isaiah. That preparation includes learning about Christ, Israel, and the Gospel. Then being prepared, if we ask, we will have spiritual experiences with the Spirit of Revelation that will change Isaiah for us forever.  Just as living a love-deprived life prepared me for "Annabel Lee" so too living a Christ-centered life prepares us for Isaiah.

Finally, let me bear you my testimony. Isaiah is not the first book of scripture we should read. But it will be the most profound. I have spent considerable time studying Isaiah, but it is clear I have not spent enough time. In fact, I need more spiritual preparation. In spite of that fact, I have had enough spritual experience with Isaiah to know that it is the word of God. It truly does testify of Christ.

I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

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