Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Hugh Nibley on Isaiah

The following are a few excerpts from a piece by Hugh Nibley on the book of Isaiah.  The title is "Great are the words of Isaiah"   This stuff is amazing.  Click on the citation at the bottom for the full essay.  It's awesome.  

"There is nothing authoritarian about him (The Lord); he is constantly willing to discuss and explain. His most threatening statements are instantly followed by what seems a reversal of mood and judgment. He is always willing, ready, waiting, urging, patiently pleading; it is Israel that will not hear, it is they who break off the discussion and walk away, turning their back upon Him and asking Him to please be quiet."

"You can always find somebody who is worse than you are to make you feel virtuous. It’s a cheap shot: those awful terrorists, perverts, communists—they are the ones who need to repent! Yes, indeed they do, and for them repentance will be a full-time job, exactly as it is for all the rest of us."


(Addressing idols and idolatry)
"There is the famous story of the Eloquent Peasant from the Middle Kingdom in Egypt that tells how the rascally manager of an estate, when he saw a peasant passing by on his way to the market with a load of goods, cried out, “Would that I had some idol that would permit me to rob this man’s goods.” A dumb image would offer no opposition to any course he chose to take. That was the beauty of idols: they are as impersonal and amoral as money in the bank—the present-day as well as the ancient equivalent of a useful idol."

"For the rest of the time I want to talk about those human qualities Isaiah describes as pleasing to God and those qualities He despises. They both come as a surprise. As to the second, the traits and the behavior Isaiah denounces as the worst of vices are without exception those of successful people. The wickedness and folly of Israel do not consist of indolence, sloppy dressing, long hair, nonconformity (even the reading of books), radical and liberal unrealistic ideas and programs, irreverence toward custom and property, contempt for established idols, and so on. The wickedest people in the Book of Mormon are the Zoramites, a proud, independent, courageous, industrious, enterprising, patriotic, prosperous people who attended strictly to their weekly religious duties with the proper observance of dress standards. Thanking God for all He had given them, they bore testimony to His goodness. They were sustained in all their doings by a perfectly beautiful self-image. Well, what is wrong with any of that? There is just one thing that spoils it all, and that is the very thing that puts Israel in bad with the Lord, according to Isaiah. The Jews observed with strictest regularity all the rules that Moses gave them—”and yet . . . they cry unto thee” and yet they are really thinking of something else. “Behold, O my God, their costly apparel, . . . all their precious things . . . their hearts are set upon them, and yet they cry unto thee and say—We thank thee, O God, for we are a chosen people unto thee, while others shall perish” (Alma 31:27–28; emphasis added)."

"He describes the party people, the fast set: “Woe unto them that rise up early in the morning, that they may follow strong drink; that continue until night, till wine inflame them!” (Isaiah 5:11). They are stupefied by the endless beat of the Oriental music that has become part of our scene: “And the harp, and the viol, the tabret, and pipe, and wine, are in their feasts: but they regard not the work of the Lord, neither consider the operation of his hands” (Isaiah 5:12). And of course there is the total subservience to fashion: “Because the daughters of Zion are haughty, and walk with stretched forth necks and wanton eyes, walking and mincing as they go” (Isaiah 3:16)—in the immemorial manner of fashion models. An instructive list of words from the boutiques that only the fashion-wise will know tells us that “the Lord will take away . . . their cauls, and their round tires like the moon, the chains, and the bracelets, and the mufflers, the bonnets, and the ornaments of the legs, and the headbands, and the tablets, and the earrings, the rings, and nose jewels” (Isaiah 3:18–21), and of course clothes, “the changeable suits of apparel, and the mantles, and the wimples, and the crisping pins” (Isaiah 3:22). Their beauty aids will defeat their purpose as their hair falls out and their perfumes are overpowered (see Isaiah 3:24)."

 Nibley, Hugh W., “Great Are the Words of Isaiah” in Sperry Symposium Classics: The Old Testament, ed. Paul Y. Hoskisson (Provo and Salt Lake City: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, and Deseret Book 2005), 177–195.

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