This will sound crazy, but my favorite experiences with Isaiah have come while reading him to a three or five year old.
The first such experience came with my daughter when she was three. It was the first time we had attempted to read the scriptures with a child. She enjoyed some of the stories of Nephi’s family (sometimes because we acted them out with her Little People toys) but she always got a bit bored with the sermons. How can you act those out? Where is the story in those?
We didn’ t know how she would handle Isaiah, but to our surprise she loved it. She can picture a temple that looks like a mountain, or a mountain that looks like a temple. She laughed at Isaiah describing someone having to eat the dust off of someone’s feet. I had no idea how rich and creative the images were until we read Isaiah with a three year old!
I am especially intrigued by how well my son just did with 1 Ne 21, which is Isaiah 49. First, we had already read Nephi teaching his brothers about how they are like a tree branch being broken off from the big tree in Jerusalem. (Again, that people are like trees and branches is a lot easier for a kid to picture than an adult!) I was shocked as we got to 1 Ne 21 and I read the words:
And again: Hearken, O ye house of Israel, all ye that are broken off and are driven out because of the wickedness of the pastors of my people; yea, all ye that are broken off, that are scattered abroad, who are of my people, O house of Israel.
“Well, no wonder Nephi likes Isaiah!” was all I could think. He’s set us up nicely, hasn’t he? He has already mentioned several times in the book that they are like a branch broken off and planted elsewhere. And here Isaiah speaks directly to those of Israel who are broken off. If I had never had to talk about the branch-tree image with my five-year-old son, I might never have heard these words so clearly!
When we got to verses 14-23, the images really became interesting to my five-year-old. Jerusalem is personified – it talks!
Jerusalem thinks that God has forgotten it. This makes sense when we think of everything Lehi and Nephi have just said about Jerusalem. They are leaving it because it will be destroyed, and people who live there will be destroyed or taken away to another city. The city will be empty. It will feel forgotten and forsaken.
Next we read this:
15 For can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee, O house of Israel.
Think of how this image sounds to a young child, especially since we have a nursing baby in the house: God is like a Mommy who never forgets about a baby needing to eat! That meant a great deal to my son.
How will God remember the city? What does the city want? It wants people to live in it and be God’s special city again. So, suddenly lots of people come:
18 Lift up thine eyes round about and behold; all these gather themselves together, and they shall come to thee. And as I live, saith the Lord, thou shalt surely clothe thee with them all, as with an ornament, and bind them on even as a bride.
There are so many people, they are saying “Hey, I need more space! Hey! Where am I going to live?” Where are all these people coming from?
Jerusalem asks the same question:
21 Then shalt thou say in thine heart: Who hath begotten me these, seeing I have lost my children, and am desolate, a captive, and removing to and fro? And who hath brought up these? Behold, I was left alone; these, where have they been?
22 Thus saith the Lord God: Behold, I will lift up mine hand to the Gentiles, and set up my standard to the people; and they shall bring thy sons in their arms, and thy daughters shall be carried upon their shoulders.
23 And kings shall be thy nursing fathers, and their queens thy nursing mothers; they shall bow down to thee with their face towards the earth, and lick up the dust of thy feet; and thou shalt know that I am the Lord; for they shall not be ashamed that wait for me.
These people are actually children of Jerusalem, but they were raised by “nursing fathers” and “nursing mothers.” Think of “a nurse” in a traditional sense – a nurse is a babysitter. Someone that raises the children while the mom tends to other matters. A nanny. God explains that these people filling up Jerusalem are her children afterall, they were just raised by a nurse, a babysitter – the Gentiles. Now they are coming home to be with their real mother.
All of these are images that speak very clearly to a child. By having to use my imagination and put it into words my son understood, Isaiah became much easier for me to understand too.
So, if you want to see if it helps you understand Isaiah better, try allowing the images of Isaiah to become as creative as a child’s story book.