Friday, December 30, 2011

Verse by Verse: Isaiah 56

I've had this post in mind since I began this blog. I finally feel ready to write it.

Sometimes one of the big frustrations for members of the Church who experience same-sex attraction is that while there are great recent materials and modern general authority statements regarding SSA, the canon of scripture seems relatively silent regarding our plight. In many regards this is true, but one of the points of my blog has been to show that the scriptures still offer great support for us. While all of the other scriptures I've shared here so far have great application to members of the Church who experience same-sex attraction, I've found Isaiah 56 very meaningful personally because I believe that it is not only applicable, but in many ways intended for or addressed to our special little demographic within the covenant people. This is incredibly rare in scripture!

Like my similar post on the first chapter of James a few weeks ago, I'd like to approach not only a couple verses, but rather a whole chapter verse by verse. Of course, this chapter is actually much shorter than the first chapter of James, and in fact I'm not even going to touch the last four verses, as they actually belong with chapter 57 and have little to do with the theme of 56. So, here goes Isaiah 56:1-8, considered verse by verse in the same format as that earlier post:

Background: The book of Isaiah breaks down into 2 distinct parts, often considered 2 completely separate books. The first portion includes chapters 1-39, followed by the second half, often referred to as Deutero-Isaiah comprising 40-66. Some have contended that these two halves were actually written by different people--the second being a man decades or even centuries after Isaiah's death. I highly disagree (if you want to debate that subject, email me). But I digress. The reason I'm telling you this is that there IS a distinct difference between the first and second books of Isaiah. The first is rather condemning, the second rather merciful. I could detail a lot of other significant differences, but bear in mind that this chapter comes from the second portion, and is thus filled with great spiritual promises. This is a very happy chapter, and I turn to it often for strength. I hope you find some great strength in it too. Here goes:

1 Thus saith the LORD, Keep ye judgment, and do justice: for my salvation is near to come, and my righteousness to be revealed. 
2 Blessed is the man that doeth this, and the son of man that layeth hold on it; that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, and keepeth his hand from doing any evil.

Commentary: The chapter begins with a few conditions for the promises about to be expounded upon. Interestingly, Isaiah has not yet explained his intended audience yet, which he usually does right away. I think he's just especially trying to emphasize the importance of these conditions. He's going to spend most of the rest of the chapter unfolding tender mercies and promised blessings, but for now he needs us to know that we have to put forth a little bit of effort to claim all of them. The first verse's message is very simple: "Choose the right! There are good things just around the corner."

The second verse begins to foretell blessings to come, and then takes the time to very specifically mention one particular commandment: honoring the sabbath. I cannot honestly tell you why this particular commandment is singled out, but I can testify that observance of it has very directly helped facilitate the blessings outlined in this chapter in my own life. I live for the sabbath day. I have a very busy life and love having a day that I don't have to worry about homework or work or so many other cares life brings. Those who drag worldly stresses onto the sabbath punish themselves! Preach My Gospel says the following about keeping the Sabbath: "When a community or nation grows careless in its Sabbath activities, its religious life decays and all aspects of life are negatively affected. The blessings associated with keeping the Sabbath day holy are lost" (PMG, p. 74). Notice also the second specified piece of this counsel in verse two to "keep your hand from doing any evil." Many potential applications here for sins that our hands commit. Find one applicable to you.

Now, with the foundation of counsel and conditions, Isaiah is prepared to address his intended audience:

3 Neither let the son of the stranger, that hath joined himself to the LORD, speak, saying, The LORD hath utterly separated me from his people: neither let the eunuch say, Behold, I am a dry tree. 

Commentary: So, Isaiah has revealed a two-fold audience. These blessings and promises will apply to the "son of the stranger," in other words, those born outside the covenant who convert to the gospel. He is comforting them because they feel like they are lesser members of the kingdom, separate from the lifelong members and thus rather discouraged. The second group is much more unique: Isaiah specifically counsels eunuchs who are part of the covenant people. These men are discouraged because they know the role of family in the gospel plan and feel like therefore they can't receive a fullness of gospel blessings because they are "dry trees" incapable of marrying or having children.

Isaiah was perhaps more aware than most if not all of his OT contemporaries the importance of his writings for our day. He writes a lot of things that weren't pertinent to his peers nearly at all, but which are vitally important to us today. Often he has applications for both time periods though, and this seems to be one of those times. The convert demographic is obvious enough in our day, but what about eunuchs? Well, while I don't personally know of any castrated latter-day saints in our day, I do know of faithful singles who, for no fault of their own (just as most eunuchs--who were typically made so at birth) may not have the opportunity to marry in this life. While I certainly hope to marry in this life, what if that just isn't the plan? Couldn't faithful saints who experience same-sex attraction and never marry be easily likened to these eunuchs in their desperate plight, worrying if the blessings of eternal family and exaltation will be withheld forever? What about faithful LDS women who are faithful and don't see marriage in this life, like Sister Barbara Thompson of the Relief Society general presidency? Perhaps the eunuch comparison may sound far-fetched to you right now, but keep reading. I believe that Isaiah wasn't just addressing a similar group of people; I believe he saw our day and wrote this letter to the eunuchs of his own with us in mind.

4 For thus saith the LORD unto the eunuchs that keep my sabbaths, and choose the things that please me, and take hold of my covenant;
5 Even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give unto them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off. 

Commentary: The conditions of the blessings for the eunuchs are reasserted, including an additional reference to the sabbath day. Then, the Lord makes a beautiful promise: the promise of temple blessings. He has reminded them earlier that they are not "dry trees." They have eternal potential and can receive the same eternal blessings, and to prove that to them, he tells them to take the blessings of their temple covenants as a reminder of what the Lord is willing to give them. By the way, to underscore the relevance of verse 5 to our temple covenants, it's worth noting that the word "place" is an erroneous translation that would be better rendered "hand." Thus, the Lord invites the eunuchs to come to his house (the temple) and receive by covenant a HAND and a NAME. In short, the endowment becomes God's down-payment on the blessings of eternal exaltation including roles in eternal families that go beyond merely those "of sons and of daughters" (implicitly, those of husbands/fathers and of wives/mothers).

By the way, the use of the word "daughters" itself implies an extended audience beyond just the eunuchs he's addressed expressly in these verses, since all eunuchs were male and therefore saying "daughters" (which is rare enough in scripture even when eunuchs aren't involved) doesn't make sense unless others are implied. Remember that while verse 3 addressed both converts and eunuchs, verses 4 and 5 address only the eunuchs, just as the next 2 will address specifically the converts:

6 Also the sons of the stranger, that join themselves to the LORD, to serve him, and to love the name of the LORD, to be his servants, every one that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, and taketh hold of my covenant;
7 Even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar; for mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people. 

Commentary: Like the eunuchs, recall that the converts were depressed because they felt like they were unable to be full participants in the Kingdom. Perhaps their past lives filled them with guilt, or perhaps they were mistreated by others of the covenant. Either way, they had thoughts very similar in many ways to those of the eunuchs, and the Lord actually promises them the same blessing! He explains it in a different way, but in verse seven he promises the blessings of the temple as a reminder of their eternal inheritance. The beautiful thing about the Hebrew poetic synonymous parallelism created by verses 4-5 in parallel with 6-7 is that while they say basically the same thing, the different explanations of the same thing expand our understanding. In other words, 4-5 may be addressed to the eunuchs, but the converts actually can directly own those verses because they are told the same thing in parallel. Likewise, the eunuchs may take meaning from verses 6-7. And this "eunuch" intends to. :)

Verse seven contains what is perhaps the most meaningful phrase to me personally from the entire chapter: "their sacrifices shall be accepted." All faithful covenant keepers make sacrifices, and it is very touching to me when the Lord takes time to acknowledge that fact. After all, our small sacrifices mean very little compared to His Great Sacrifice. And yet He cries with us in the pain of the things that are hard for us to part with, but which must go if we are to live with Him forever. When I first read this chapter with a realization of its application to my plight, I had actually been having some rather depressing thoughts. In the first place, I had been unhealthily dwelling far too much on fantasies (non-sexual) of what it would be like to be with a man. The idea was actually (and still sometimes is) so beautiful to me. Of course, it is mingled with lots of other guilt and confusing emotions too, but I fully recognize and believe that temporally I could be very happy living in a long-term monogamous relationship with a man. But I have already made a decision to lay that desire on the altar of sacrifice. That's what I'd been thinking and reminding myself of my commitment to when I found this chapter and read the sweet reassurance that my sacrifice was accepted of the Lord. And do you know what? I am not sad at all about the choice I've made. In fact, I find lots of happiness also in the thought of being in a long-term (that is, eternal) relationship with an elect daughter of God. I truly do desire that very deeply and find happiness in chaste fantasies about that life as well. And what if I don't attain that in this life? Yet will I not say to the Lord that I am a barren tree. I will trust Him and rely on the blessings of my temple covenants as a reminder of the celestial rewards to come. And that makes me happy.

One last verse to tie it all together:

8 The Lord GOD which gathereth the outcasts of Israel saith, Yet will I gather others to him, beside those that are gathered unto him.

Commentary: The end of verse seven talked about the Lord's house being for all people, and the chapter concludes with this similar verse of counsel to the converts and "eunuchs" who perceive themselves as outcasts in the Kingdom. He gathers us too! And He will gather others not yet of the covenant, who also need to be made welcome here. All people are different. All people have struggles. Most people would be blown away to learn some of the trials I've been blessed with in this life. Likewise, if I knew what each person around me struggled with I would probably be equally amazed. There is no cause to "judge another, when I walk imperfectly," for we would do well to remember that "in the quiet heart is hidden sorrow that the eye can't see" (Hymn 220). The Lord wants us to make room for everyone in the kingdom, be they convert, eunuch, or anyone else. Begin today to widen the scope of your embrace for God's children. God wants to have all of His children back.

My best,



  1. You are truly gifted with the scriptures. I need to do better at reading them. I have honestly never read the Old Testament. I have read the Book of Mormon many times, but I usually skip the Isaiah parts because I won't understand it unless someone explains it to me. There is truly much spiritual treasure for me to find if I can be a little more diligent. I think it's so great that you are able to find so many ways to liken the scriptures to yourself. It's even greater that you share it--Thank you.

  2. Ob, great respect for you! Your blog is inspirational.


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