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!

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