Monday, November 4, 2013

Chapter 24: "The Windows from on High Are Open"--Always

When Elder David A. Bednar announced in General Conference that he would speak about the "imagery of the 'windows' of heaven," I sat up a little straighter. (Hey, I'm a former English major; it's not often you hear apostles discuss literary devices.) He taught, "Windows allow natural light to enter into a building. In like manner, spiritual illumination and perspective are poured out through the windows of heaven and into our lives as we honor the law of tithing." This was a new insight for me, but I have long loved this phrase--the windows of heaven--at least in part because biblical prophets use it in what seem like diametrically opposed ways.

Malachi uses the phrase to describe the means by which a loving Heavenly Father blesses his faithful children (see also 2 Kings 7:2). But the windows of heaven also dispense divine punishment. In Noah's day, when the Lord announced his intention to cleanse the earth of wickedness, "the same day were all the fountains of the great deep broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened" (Genesis 7:11). To paraphrase Malachi, rain came down and there was not "room enough to receive it," but I seriously doubt that Noah's contemporaries saw this deluge as "a blessing" (Malachi 3:10).

Isaiah also describes the windows of heaven opening to mete out God's wrath. He warns, "Fear, and the pit, and the snare, are upon thee, O inhabitant of the earth. And it shall come to pass, that he who fleeth from the noise of the fear shall fall into the pit; and he that cometh up out of the midst of the pit shall be taken in the snare: for the windows from on high are open, and the foundations of the earth do shake" (Isaiah 24:17-18). Tying Malachi back to Noah and Isaiah provides a different perspective on the windows of heaven. Rather than thinking about heaven's windows as a source of blessings, we see them as a means by which we receive the natural consequences of our actions. The windows of heaven are always open, and we are blessed--or admonished--on a daily basis and in accordance with our actions.

The "subtle but significant" blessings God grants to the faithful are so numerous that we may not have "room enough to receive" them; but the trials and tribulations that inevitably afflict covenant breakers and the wicked are similarly numerous and have drowned the damned in a flood of affliction. The windows of heaven are always open, and it is our privilege to decide--in accordance with God's promises--what will come out of them.

Truly, great are the words of Isaiah!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Chapter 31: Against "a Multitude of Shepherds"

"The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want" (Psalm 23:1).

There is, perhaps, no better-known verse of scripture in the Old Testament than the opening line of David's twenty-third psalm.  And because David--the shepherd king--was a type of Christ, we tend to think of the Lord in those terms. During his mortal ministry, Jesus declared, "I am the good shepherd," and prophets from Nephi to Paul, from Peter to Mormon, have referred to him in those terms (John 10:14; see also D&C 50:44, Hebrew 13:20, 1 Peter 2:25, 1 Nephi 13:41, Mormon 5:17). 

Even Isaiah refers to the coming Messiah as a shepherd (40:11), which is why the violent imagery of Isaiah 31:4 seems so surprising. In chapter 31, Isaiah is again warning Israel not to trust in Egypt for deliverance: "Woe to them that go down to Egypt for help" (31:1). Isaiah is the only voice, seemingly, raised in opposition to an alliance with Egypt; the "shepherds" of Israel are leading God's children astray by urging them to trust "the Egyptians . . . and not God" (31:3).

It is in this context that Isaiah introduces what is, perhaps, his most surprising metaphor: "For thus hath the Lord spoken unto me, Like as the lion and the young lion roaring on his prey, when a multitude of shepherds is called forth against him, he will not be afraid of their voice, nor abase himself for the noise of them: so shall the Lord of hosts come down to fight for mount Zion, and for the hill thereof" (31:4). Readers familiar with the story of David--a shepherd--killing a lion to save his sheep (1 Samuel 17:34-36) should be shocked at this metaphor. Why does Isaiah figure the Lord as a roaring lion rather than in his more familiar role as a protective shepherd? I suspect that this choice is meant to emphasize the fact that God will not allow false prophets (those shepherds advocating an alliance with Egypt) to lead his people astray. This metaphor also recalls Elisha's counsel when the Syrian army surrounded the prophet in the city of Dothan. When Elisha's servant sees the Syrian host surrounding them he is alarmed, but Elisha comforts him: "Fear not, for they that be with us are more than they that be with them."

Isaiah's metaphor is a reminder that one on God's side is always a majority; the roaring of a lion and a single servant of God will always be a more reliable guide to righteousness than the collective wisdom of men, false shepherds relying on the philosophies of men.

Truly, great are the words of Isaiah!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Chapter 30: "Their Strength Is to Sit Still"

One of Isaiah's recurring refrains is a warning to Israel: Don't place your trust in Egypt. Threatened by the Assyrian empire, Israel's leaders seek safety in a political and military alliance with the once-mighty Egyptians. But Isaiah instructs Israel in what seems like every other chapter that the Egyptians are powerless to save them.

His divinely inspired warnings are particularly powerful--and ironic--in what is now chapter 30 of his writings. In verses 6 & 7, Isaiah foresees an exodus of the faithless "into the land of trouble and anguish, from whence come the young and old lion, the viper and fiery flying serpent, they will carry their riches upon the shoulders of young asses, and their treasures upon the bunches of camels, to a people that shall not profit them. For the Egyptians shall help in vain, and to no purpose: therefore have I cried concerning this, Their strength is to sit still." I love this image--of Israelites carrying their treasure to a people ultimately powerless to aid them--because it perfectly captures our own modern temptations. 

When Isaiah prophesies about the latter days, a time with which members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints should be especially concerned, he foretells a time when the nations of the earth will bring their treasures to Zion, seeking salvation: "Who are these that fly as a cloud, and as the doves to their windows? Surely the isles shall wait for me, and the ships of Tarshish first, to bring thy sons from far, their silver and their gold with them, unto the name of the Holy One of Israel, because he hath glorified thee" (Isaiah 60:8-9). This prophecy is clarified in the Doctrine and Covenants: "And they shall bring forth their rich treasures unto the children of Ephraim, my servants. . . . And there shall they fall down and be crowned with glory, even in Zion, by the hands of the servants of the Lord, even the children of Ephraim" (D&C 133:30-32). 

The commandment of the Lord--both anciently, from the mouth of Isaiah, and in modern times, from the mouths of President Monson and his predecessors--is to stand firm or, in Isaiah's case, "sit still"  in Zion. Rather than taking our treasure to other peoples, hoping to buy their help and our own security, the Lord asks us to remain firm and trust in him; if we do so, the promise is that others will come to us, bringing their worldly goods with them, seeking for spiritual security!

To "sit still," waiting for the Lord's promised blessings and deliverance requires tremendous faith, as Isaiah acknowledges. But the Lord has promised that "in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength" (Isaiah 30:15). The apostle Paul, speaking to new converts, reiterated this call to quiet faith in the Lord's power to deliver: "Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompence of reward" (Hebrews 10:35). The ancient Israelites who ignored Isaiah's warning lost their homeland and all their worldly goods--without securing their own security; conversely, those who trusted in the Lord's promises were able to remain in their homes safely.

For Latter-day Saints, the promise is even more striking: those "who stand still, [will] see the salvation of the Lord" in miracles no less efficacious than the parting of the Red Sea for ancient Israel (Exodus 14:13). The point is perhaps best illustrated by a miracle that occurred in my life some five years ago. At the time, I was a graduate student making almost nothing. Thanks to the generosity of my in-laws, who let us live with them, we managed to cover our expenses--but we didn't have an abundance of spare cash. Our family was growing, and as the birth of our third son approached, we realized that soon we would no longer fit in the small sedan that had served our needs thus far. When I shopped around for a van that would accommodate our family, they were all out of our price range. Rather than burdening our family with debt, my wife and I took the matter to the Lord in prayer; an impression that we should not attempt to purchase a new vehicle at that time came clearly--counsel that was very difficult to accept, particularly for my wife, who felt constrained by a lack of transportation options. Shortly thereafter, a woman whom I had met once--and who my wife hadn't had regular contact with for years--called us up to offer us her minivan as a gift. The Lord, she said, had told her that we needed it more than her. Because we had been "still" rather than running after a solution that we could not afford, we were well positioned to accept her gift while still retaining our meager resources.

Isaiah's call is to place confidence in God rather than in worldly goods; after all, isn't our Lord the source of all wealth? His portrayal of Israelites running, with their treasures, to the Egyptians for security provides a wonderful contrast to the example of Lehi and his family. When Lehi learned of Jerusalem's impending destruction, his response was to leave behind that which could not possibly save him--his wealth--and to place absolute faith in the Lord. In this particular case, Lehi could not physically "sit still," but his reliance on God for direction is the equivalent of spiritually "sitting still." And, of course, his family eventually recouped all of the wealth they had left behind--and more--in the promised land. The promises associated with "sitting still" and waiting on the Lord in faith (rather than trusting in and seeking after worldly goods) are perhaps best summarized by Jacob: "before ye seek for [or trust in] riches, seek ye for the kingdom of God. And after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them; and [because] ye will seek them for the intent to do good--to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted" (Jacob 2:18-19).

Today--more even than in Isaiah's day--there are marvelous blessings promised to those who will "sit still" in Zion. We are no longer tempted to place our confidence in Egypt, but a tendency to trust in material and monetary solutions to the challenges of life remains strong. Isaiah--as always--has the answer: "in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength."

Truly, great are the words of Isaiah!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Chapter 23: "Traffickers Are the Honourable of the Earth"

The twenty-third chapter of Isaiah, which foretells the destruction of a maritime trading hub named Tyre, seems to be a section with little--if anything--to offer the modern reader. After all, Tyre's destruction by the Babylonians (also foretold in Ezekiel 26-28) was accomplished some 2,500 years ago! But Isaiah's explanation as to why the Lord would destroy Tyre sheds insight into spiritual principles that are still quite relevant today.

One of the most important keys to understanding Isaiah's condemnation of Tyre is recognizing the implicit comparison he draws between the burden (massa) assumed by the Messiah in Isaiah 22:21-25 and the burden (massa) of Tyre. Isaiah prophecies that the Messiah will be "as a nail in a sure place" on which all the wealth--the "offspring" or "glory of his father's house"--will be supported (22:23-24). When that nail is removed, Isaiah writes that "the burden that was upon it shall be cut off" (22:25). Here the wealth that was initially a symbol of God's covenant people becomes a burdensome load; the removal (death) of the nail (Christ) relieves the people of that great weight (sin) in a beautiful representation of the Atonement. These verses, as in other passages from the Bible and extra canonical writings, represent wealth as a source of oppression.

Recognizing the burdensome nature of wealth is key, because prosperity is the "burden of Tyre" (23:1). Tyre, a thriving Mediterranean seaport whose commercial success made her "a mart of nations" (23:3) is a symbol of all wealth, a symbol that Ezekiel, one of Isaiah's prophetic successors, elaborates on at length: "with silver, iron, tin, and lead, they traded in thy fairs. Javan, Tubal, and Meshech, they were thy merchants: they traded the persons of men and vessels of brass in thy market. They of the house of Togarmah traded in thy fairs with horses and horsemen and mules. The men of Dedan were thy merchants; many isles were the merchandise of thine hand: they brought thee for a present horns of ivory and ebony. Syria was thy merchant by reason of the multitude of the wares of thy making: they occupied in thy fairs with emeralds, purple, and broidered work, and fine linen, and coral, and agate" (Ezekiel 27:12-16).

All of this is to say that when Isaiah prophesies the destruction of Tyre, he is teaching Israel about the dangers of wealth. Tyre is "the crowning city, whose merchants are princes, whose traffickers are the honourable of the earth," and "The Lord of hosts hath purposed it"--the city's burden of destruction--"to stain the pride of all glory, and to bring into contempt all the honourable of the earth" (Isaiah 23:8-9). In other words, the purpose of Tyre's destruction is to send a message about the futility of wealth and the mercantile (mercenary) lifestyle that seeks for fulfillment in riches. In the context of the previous chapter's portrayal of wealth as that burden which shall be alleviated by the death of the Messiah, this vision of Tyre's destruction becomes a warning against making wealth and the wealthy "the honourable of the earth" when it is the servant leader of Isaiah 22--and not "merchants"--who is the true prince.

It seems significant, in this context, that the destruction of Tyre--and thus the proof of wealth's corrupting futility--is delayed for seventy years: "And it shall come to pass after the end of seventy years, that the Lord will visit Tyre" with destruction (23:17). On the one hand, this seventy year reprieve is a matter of history: Tyre was conquered by the Assyrians at the end of their imperial powers in the seventh century BCE, and because of Assyria's decline enjoyed relative autonomy and self government until falling to the rising Babylonian empire approximately seventy years later in the sixth century BCE. This seventy year period is a matter of history, but it is also symbolic on at least two levels:

First, some scholars have suggested that this seventy year window foreshadows the seventy years of relative prosperity which Jerusalem would enjoy between the birth of Jesus Christ and the city's subsequent destruction in 70 AD. This parallel would make Tyre a symbol of all the wicked who reject the God of Israel  and are, eventually, destroyed as a result.

Second, this seventy year reprieve is a crucially important reminder that the consequences of our actions are not immediately apparent. For worshiping the false idol of wealth, Tyre will eventually be destroyed. But that destruction is not immediate and, in fact, withholding destruction for seventy years means that most of those currently living in Tyre will be dead long before that calamity comes to pass. One of the most important aspects of this twenty-third chapter in Isaiah, I think, is the fact that the prideful and materialistic people of Tyre are NOT punished in this life; rather, their future punishment is foretold.

Chapter 23 of Isaiah warns against the dangers of mistaking wealth for an end in and of itself rather than the means by which we can accomplish God's ends. When we cling to wealth it becomes a burden weighing us down and distracting us from the ultimate destination of this mortal journey. As such, these verses describing the (long accomplished) destruction of an ancient city actually carry a crucially relevant message for this, our day.

Truly, great are the words of Isaiah!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Chapter 52: "The Feet of Him that Bringeth Good Tidings"

When the wicked priests of King Noah wanted to stump/embarrass Abinadi, they asked him a question about Isaiah: "What meaneth the words which are written, and which have been taught by our fathers, saying: How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings?" (Mosiah 12:20-21). Of course, as Abinadi makes abundantly clear, he is NOT someone you want to play "Stump the Prophet" with. He launches into one of the finest discourses in all of the Book of Mormon and quotes (what we now think of as) the entire fifty-third chapter of Isaiah before concluding that "the prophets, every one that has opened his mouth to prophesy [. . .] are they who have published peace, [. . .] and O how beautiful upon the mountains were their feet! [. . .] 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" (Mosiah 15:14-18).

Abinadi identifies the Lord and his prophets as the individuals whose feet Isaiah refers to in 52:7; having learned my lesson from Noah's wicked priests I'm hardly interested in contradicting him, but I can't help feeling that by emphasizing the role of prophets over the Lord himself, Abinadi has missed or at least failed to clarify some of what Isaiah is trying to tell us. For starters, Isaiah makes it perfectly clear that his comments about "the feet of him that bringeth good tidings" (52:7) refer to events that will take place "in that day," (52:6), which is scripture speak for the Second Coming. What's more, Isaiah follows his description of feet on mountains with a prophecy that the Lord will "gather many nations" (JST 52:15), which is DEFINITELY a reference to the last days.

If we understand that Isaiah is describing the last days and the Second Coming in this chapter, his reference to feet on mountains makes a lot more sense (at least if you have access to the prophecies of Zechariah, which Abinadi probably did not). Zechariah explains that in the days immediately preceding the Second Coming Jerusalem will be surrounded by the armies of "all nations" (Zech. 14:2). At that point, he continues, "shall the Lord go forth, and fight against those nations, as when he fought in the day of battle. And his feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east, and the mount of Olives shall cleave in the midst thereof" (Zech. 14:3-4), and the inhabitants of Jerusalem will escape from the siege through the valley that will miraculously appear where the mount of Olives once stood. In other words, by descending from heaven and setting foot on the mount of Olives, the Lord "publisheth peace" (52:7) by preventing war and "shall bring again Zion" (52:8) when he returns to rule personally over the earth. This seems, to me, like the more immediate message that Isaiah was trying to convey, although I think that Isaiah's point is a good one; inasmuch as all prophets are, to some extent, types of the Savior, these words also apply to them as well.

One more point regarding Isaiah's depiction of the Second Coming in these verses--he describes this event in language clearly meant, I think, to remind us of temple ordinances. When the Lord comes, "my people shall know my name" (52:6), and "they shall see eye to eye [face to face in Numbers 14:14]" with the Lord (52:8), and the Lord will make "bare his holy arm [. . .] and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God" (52:10). Why does Isaiah describe the Second Coming in these temple-centric terms? Two reasons, I think. First, Isaiah is literally seeing the universal opportunity to receive temple ordinances in the last days. Remember, because Israel collectively rejected the opportunity to receive their endowments in the wilderness, telling Moses, "let not God speak with us, lest we die" (Ex. 20:19), that virtually no one in ancient Israel received the fullness of temple ordinances as we know them today. In Isaiah's time only prophets and priests had that privilege; today "all the ends of the earth [have an opportunity to] see the salvation of our God" (52:10). Second, I think that Isaiah is reminding us that temple ordinances are literally a rehearsal for that day of judgment, that the temple is a time and opportunity to prepare to meet God precisely because we all will meet him in the day of judgment at the Second Coming. Those who have prepared themselves in the temple will have nothing to fear when the Lord appears; they will already have seen him "bare his holy arm"; they will already have seen "eye to eye" with him; they will already "know my name."

For those of "my people" who have prepared themselves in the temple, the Lord's arrival at the mount of Olives really will be "good tidings." For everyone else . . . well, let's just say that you don't want to be in that camp.

Truly, great are the words of Isaiah!

Chapter 50: "God Hath Opened Mine Ear"

In the first verse of this chapter the Lord answers the implied accusations of Israel. In response to their claim that the Lord has divorced them and sold them like slaves into bondage, God asks, "Where is the bill of your mother's divorcement, whom I have put away? or which of my creditors is it to whom I have sold you?" Of course, the Lord has NOT divorced or sold Israel; rather, Israel has sold itself into bondage: "Behold, for your iniquities have ye sold yourselves, and for your transgressions is your mother put away" (50:1). But Israel's voluntary slavery is "for nought" (52:3) as Isaiah makes clear some verses later. And why is their slavery "for nought"? Because the Lord has already given himself into slavery to pay our debts. 

In Deuteronomy the Lord explains the process by which an Israelite may voluntarily give himself into slavery: "And if thy brother, an Hebrew man, or an Hebrew woman, be sold unto thee, and serve thee six years; then in the seventh year thou shalt let him go free from thee. [. . .] And if it shall be, if he say unto thee, I will not go away from thee; because he loveth thee and thine house, because he is well with thee; Then thou shalt take an aul, and thrust it through his ear unto the door, and he shall be thy servant for ever" (15:12, 16-17). In other words, those who voluntarily gave themselves into slavery had their ears pierced as a token of their love for and service to those whom they serve.

With these verses in mind, Isaiah 50:5-6 takes on new meaning: "The Lord God hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away back. 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." These verses describe the Christ and the way in which he will be (mis)treated as a slave; we know that he is a slave because of the first phrase: "The Lord God hath opened mine ear." The verb "open" here might better be translated "engrave" (as it has been translated in Exodus 28:36, I Kings 7:36, and Zechariah 3:9) or, in our modern idiom, "pierce." Christ has willingly given himself as a slave in our place so that our backs would not have to receive the lashes of the smiter, so that our cheeks would not have to receive the spittle of antagonists. But if we, like Israel, refuse to acknowledge his sacrifice, we will ourselves become the slaves of sin.

In the Doctrine and Covenants Christ warns that "behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent; but if they would not repent they must suffer even as I; which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink—nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men. Wherefore, I command you again to repent, lest I humble you with my almighty power; and that you confess your sins, lest you suffer these punishments of which I have spoken" (19:16-20).

He reminds us, in effect, that he has already sold himself into slavery and that we need not endure spiritual and physical bondage--but those who refuse to acknowledge his sacrifice on our behalf must, like ancient Israel drink "at the hand of the Lord the cup of his fury; thou hast drunken the dregs of the cup of trembling" (Isaiah 51:17).

Truly, great are the words of Isaiah!

Chapter 22: "A Nail in a Sure Place"

At the end of chapter twenty-two, Isaiah speaks of a steward, Eliakim, in Messianic terms as the savior of Judah:

"And I will clothe him with thy robe, and strengthen him with thy girdle, and I will commit thy government into his hand: and he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Judah. And the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; so he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open. And I will fasten him as a nail in a sure place; and he shall be for a glorious throne to his father's house. And they shall hang upon him all the glory of his father's house, the offspring and the issue, all vessels of small quantity, from the vessels of cups, even to all the vessels of flagons" (22:21-24).

This beautiful metaphor describes the Savior as a source of strength that will support all of the trials and tribulations of his covenant people; he will carry burdens both large (flagons) and small (cups). He can carry those burdens because he, unlike us, is able to support them--he is "in a sure place." The word sure here is a translation of the Hebrew verb 'aman, and with this word Isaiah seems to be drawing a distinction between Christ's ability to bear our burdens and the inability of (even great) mortal men. When Moses was confronted by the complaints of Israel in the wilderness he, in turn, complained to the Lord:

"Have I conceived all this people? have I begotten them, that thou shouldest say unto me, Carry them in thy bosom, as a nursing father beareth the sucking child, unto the land which thou swarest unto their fathers? . . . I am not able to bear all this people alone, because it is too heavy for me" (Num. 11:12, 14).

Moses cannot bear the burden (massa'; Num. 11:11) that Christ will bear (massa'; Isa. 22:25). He cannot act as a "nursing father," which is another translation of 'aman. But Christ--who has "conceived all this people" is "able to bear all this people alone." He is our foster-father (another possible translation of 'aman) who adopts us into his family, who carries and nourishes us like a nurse: "For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:26); "as newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the [W]ord, that ye may grow thereby: if so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious" (1 Pet. 2:2-3). Christ is 'aman--or, perhaps, as Joseph Smith transliterated, Ahman.

In the Journal of Discourses Orson Pratt recorded "one revelation that this people are not generally acquainted with. I think it has never been published, but probably it will in the Church History. It is given in questions and answers. The first question is, 'What is the name of God in the pure language?' The answer says, 'Ahman'" (2:342). Of course, while that particular revelation may not have been included in the Doctrine and Covenants, its substance was; Christ refers to himself in the Doctrine and Covenants as "your Redeemer, even the Son Ahman" or Son of God (78:20). It seems quite likely to me that the Hebrew verb 'aman (which, like Ahman, bears more than a passing resemblance to the Egyptian name for God, Amon)--a word that describes a nourishing father--is a linguistic descendant for "the name of God in the pure language."

The Book of Mormon prophet Jacob seems to have recognized this connection between Ahman, the name of God, and the Hebrew aman. Before his first sermon (on Isaiah!) Jacob tells the Nephite people "I will read you the words of Isaiah . . . that ye may learn and glorify the name of your God" (2 Ne. 6:4). He proceeds to quote two verses from Isaiah (49:22-23), including the promise that "kings shall be thy nursing fathers [aman]" (2 Ne. 6:7). In the Hebrew from which he was reading on the brass plates, this verse of Isaiah would have answered Jacob's promise to teach the Nephites "the name of your God," as he explained the nurturing nature of a Heavenly Father (aman/Ahman) who would gather scattered Israel together again.

When we read Isaiah 22:23, then, we might do so in the following manner: "And I will fasten him [Christ] as a nail in Ahman's place." Christ is the nail that bears us (all those vessels) up, that keeps us in the proximity of Ahman, in a manner analogous to the way in which a servant was bound to his master by a nail thrust through his ear into the doorpost of his master's house (Ex. 21:6; Deut. 15:17). No one else, not even Moses, was strong enough to take Christ's place as the nail; mere mortal men, Ezekiel explains, are like a flexible vine: "Shall wood be taken thereof to do any work? or will men take a pin of it to hang any vessel thereon?" (Ez. 15:3).

Only by accepting Jesus Christ as the Nail in a sure ('aman, Ahman, foster father, nourishing) place can we be saved; we must give ourselves up to his mercy and strength as a vessel and burden that we cannot bear alone.

Truly, great are the words of Isaiah!