We may have noticed that when Book of Mormon prophets make predictions about the time preceding the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, they base them on the words of Isaiah. Nephi, Jacob, and Jesus, for example, quote a third of the Book of Isaiah as they interpret, nuance, or expand upon different aspects of Isaiah’s message. Most notably, they treat Isaiah’s many and diverse prophecies as if they depict a single end-time scenario. Although Isaiah is speaking about ancient nations and events, Book of Mormon prophets apply them to the end-time.
As Jews, or descendants of Jews, Book of Mormon prophets were taught in all the “learning of the Jews” (1 Nephi 1:1–2). Inheriting the Jewish typological worldview, they regarded many historical events as typifying what would happen in the end-time. Even to this day, Jews still apply the prophecies of Isaiah to two scenarios simultaneously—Isaiah’s day or soon thereafter and the end-time. Their scriptures teach that principle: “The thing that has been, it is that which shall be, and that which has been done is what shall be done” (Ecclesiastes 1:9).
Isaiah’s layered literary structures, typological patterns, and rhetorical devices indeed confirm the Jewish interpretation of Isaiah’s writings, turning the entire Book of Isaiah into an allegory of the end-time (Avraham Gileadi, Isaiah Decoded: Ascending the Ladder to Heaven). When giving keys for interpreting the words of Isaiah, Jesus restates this same typological principle: “All things that he spake have been and shall be, even according to the words which he spake” (3 Nephi 23:3). Two time frames of Isaiah’s prophecy thus apply—ancient and end-time.
A complaint Jehovah makes against his end-time people, however, is that they pay almost no attention to Isaiah’s words, or to the great vision of the end from the beginning that Isaiah reveals in that manner: “You have heard the whole vision; how is it you do not proclaim it?” (Isaiah 48:6). Didn’t Jesus teach that Isaiah “spake as touching all things concerning my people which are of the house of Israel”—past, present, and future—making it a “commandment” to “search these things diligently” (2 Nephi 23:1–2; emphasis added), not just to read or study them?
When Jehovah says, “I foretell the end from the beginning, from ancient times things not yet done” (Isaiah 46:10), isn’t he saying that the historical events Isaiah talks about that occurred in his day—in “the beginning”—foreshadow what happens at “the end” of the world? Applying Hebrew typological principles, therefore, Isaiah predicts thirty new versions of events that occurred in the past—“in ancient times”—as history repeats itself in one grand end-time drama (Avraham Gileadi, Windows on the Prophecy of Isaiah).
Certainly, Book of Mormon prophets didn’t spend time inscribing so many of Isaiah’s writings on the Small Plates of Nephi merely because they are of historical interest or teach intriguing symbolisms. They also didn’t do the “searching” of Isaiah’s words for us that is essential for anyone to understand them. Although Book of Mormon prophets give keys and provide helpful explanations, they leave it to the reader to figure out Isaiah’s words on his own. We as well as them needed to pay that price or Jesus would not have made it a commandment.
To his end-time covenant people, Jehovah says, “Never mind the prophecies of bygone events; do not dwell on things of the past. See, I do a new thing; it is now springing up” (Isaiah 43:18–19). As a work addressed specifically to end-time readers, the Book of Mormon follows the same principle of including in its history only those things that most typify the end-time. Containing less than a hundredth part of Nephite history (Jacob 3:13), the Small Plates of Nephi were limited to what Book of Mormon prophets saw would most benefit readers in that day.
Literary patterns in the Book of Isaiah reveal many layers of meaning, but only if we allow them to tell us what they mean and not use them as a prooftext for things we believe. Word links, for example, tie together all parts of Isaiah’s prophecy, prohibiting our interpreting any one passage on its own. Codenames identify the chief characters who act out Isaiah’s end-time drama. Literary structures convey their own message over and above what we read on the surface. Conjoined events, linked together domino fashion, reveal an end-time sequence. And so forth.
These literary features act as checks and balances for interpreting Isaiah’s message, transforming his prophecy into a single integrated whole. Thus, the same God who atones for “transgressions” (Isaiah 6:7), who forgives “iniquity” (Isaiah 33:24), who occasions “peace” (Isaiah 45:7), and who “heals” all who repent (Isaiah 19:22), is the same God who redeems his people: “He was pierced for our transgressions, crushed because of our iniquities; the price of our peace he incurred, and with his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5; emphasis added).
Dealing with “all things” relating to God’s people Israel, Isaiah’s writings teach the fullness of the gospel of Messiah. For Israel and for the world, rebirth on ascending levels of spiritual progression was made possible precisely because he “made his life an offering for guilt” (Isaiah 53:10), “was cut off from the land of the living for the crime of my people to whom the blow was due” (Isaiah 53:8). So great was his condescension that his people didn’t know him: “Truly you are a God who dissembles himself, O Savior, God of Israel” (Isaiah 45:15).