In this month's issue of the Ensign magazine, President Uchtdorf states, "The teachings of our Heavenly Father are not the ordinary, predictable, run-of-the-mill kind you can pick up in paperback at the local bookstore" (Ensign, March 2012, "Why Do We Need Prophets?"). I have often wondered why it is so much harder to read the scriptures than to read a popular novel. Surely if God had so desired, He could have had the scriptures written in a more engaging format.
As if it wasn't hard enough, we have the writings of the prophet Isaiah, which are filled with obscure references to ancient cities and leaders; and where God often refers to Himself in the third person. I never thought I would ever understand Isaiah, much less appreciate or even memorize his words. It must be a sign that I am getting old because - for some reason - over the last several years Isaiah has started to "click" for me.
There are many articles about how to better understand Isaiah. Here are the things I've done that I think have made a difference for me.
- I have "stuck with it." I haven't given up. I have continued to read Isaiah's words, not only out of determination and obedience but because little by little I have found a verse here or a phrase there that has stuck in my mind and heart. So I guess you could say that if you stick with Isaiah, he will gradually stick to you.
- I bought a book to help me understand Isaiah. (The one I bought was Isaiah: Prophet, Seer, Poet by Victor Ludlow.) I don't necessarily think you need to buy a book to understand Isaiah, but it helped me understand the historical references enough to not be distracted by them.
- I stopped trying to understand Isaiah in a linear fashion, and started to read him as poetry. I hesitate to call Isaiah's words poetry, for they are much more than that. As one called to speak for God, I suppose you could consider Isaiah as God's poetry - sonnets to His children - at times to warn, at times to comfort, but always to teach and inspire.
- Paul said that "the natural man receiveth not the things... of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." On days when I am more of a "natural man," I would rather read a magazine or surf the internet than spend time in the scriptures. But at some point when I was ready, the Holy Ghost touched my heart as I was reading Isaiah chapter 53, and I now regard it as one of the greatest chapters in all of holy writ. I thought about quoting some of it here, but for those interested I would prefer that you open your Bible in a quiet place and savor it for yourself.
Was Jesus really bruised for my iniquities? Am I really healed by the stripes he received as He was viciously flogged? How long have I hid my face from Him, and esteemed Him not? These things indeed seem to be foolish and irrelevant until we ask, seek, and knock; and they are opened unto us.
Verily thou art a God that hidest thyself, O God of Israel, the Saviour. (Isaiah 45:15)
And he has hidden Himself in the words of Isaiah.