Mormons believe and teach that Isaiah 29 prophesies the Book of Mormon:
“Woe to Ariel, to Ariel, the city where David dwelt! Add ye year to year; let them kill sacrifices. Yet I will distress Ariel, and there shall be heaviness and sorrow: and it shall be unto me as Ariel. And I will camp against thee round about, and will lay siege against thee with a mount, and I will raise forts against thee. And thou shalt be brought down, and shalt speak out of the ground and thy speech shall be low out of the dust, and thy voice shall be as of one that hath a familiar spirit, out of the ground, and they speech shall whisper out of the dust (Isaiah 29:1-4 KJV)
This, they say, is a coded reference to coming events in America. Ariel, the city of Jerusalem, is to be virtually destroyed sometime in the future (“Add ye year to year, let them kill sacrifices”, or as the NIV puts it, “let your cycle of festivals go on. Yet I will besiege Ariel”). Then, claims the Mormon apostle LeGrand Richards, “[Isaiah] seems to be carried away in a vision to witness a similar destruction of the cities of Joseph, ‘and it shall be unto me as Ariel’”. (A Marvellous Work and a Wonder, p.67-69).
Isaiah, then, is seeing in vision the destruction of Jerusalem and a similar destruction of Book of Mormon cities, the cities of Joseph. It cannot be Jerusalem spoken of here, it is reasoned, because the plight of whoever is being besieged is being compared with the plight of Jerusalem.
These people will be brought low and would speak out of the ground. Their speech would be “low out of the dust”. LeGrand Richards reasons, “The only way a dead people could speak ‘out of the ground’…would be by the written word, and this the people did through the Book of Mormon. Truly it has a familiar spirit, for it contains the words of the prophets of the God of Israel”. The prophet goes on:
“And the vision of all is become unto you as the words of a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one that is learned, saying, read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I cannot; for it is sealed. And the book is delivered to him that is not learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I am not learned. Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as these people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men: Therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvellous work among this people, even a marvellous work and a wonder: for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid.” (Isa.29:11-14 KJV).
Here is the Book of Mormon, whose bringing forth is counted “a marvellous work and a wonder” by the LDS Church. A sealed book understood only by revelation and not by the wisdom of men; shades of Prof. Charles Anthon. Typically, they have decoded this vision with very little reference to the facts.
Ariel is Ariel
Ariel certainly is Jerusalem and her destruction is foreshadowed in this vision. God’s people had turned to an alliance with Egypt to against Assyria. God warned them that their dependence on political alliances instead of on Jehovah would be their destruction; Assyria would be the downfall of Jerusalem. In their arrogance they refused to believe Isaiah and were judged for holding their cycle of festivals and offering their sacrifices, having a semblance of religion, but ignoring God’s mouthpiece.
“And it shall be unto me as Ariel”, (v2).
What shall be as Ariel? Jerusalem shall be as Ariel. Jerusalem shall be as Jerusalem? It makes no sense! Yes it does. The Old Testament prophets used a variety of literary and rhetorical devices, to lend vividness and emotion to their messages. Through these devices they expressed their theological themes. The most common technique they used was wordplay.
Wordplay might involve the repetition of a single word with the same sense as in Hosea 8:3, 5. Verse three tells us that Israel had rejected (zānah) what is good by breaking her covenant with God (v.1) and turning to idolatry. Consequently the Lord rejected (zānah) Samaria’s calf-idol (v.5) which would be broken to bits in judgement (v.6). This wordplay draws a direct correspondence between God’s response and the sin that prompted it.
It can involve the repetition of a single word in a different sense (explicit polysemantic). Isaiah 1:19-20 is a very good example. The LORD promises that if the people obey (vv 16/17) they will eat (tờkēlû) the good things of the land. However, if they rejected God’s demands they would be destroyed (tukklu) (let. eaten or devoured) by the sword. The use of the idea of eating in the two senses highlights the contrast between the promise and the threat.
It can involve the use of a single word with two meanings (implicit polysemantic). In Amos’ time those who rebelled against the prophet expected to be delivered by the LORD, such deliverance described by the word nāsal. In Amos 3:12, however, Amos uses the same word to describe Israel being not saved but salvaged as a sheep might be from the mouth of a wolf. Israel would not be triumphantly delivered (nāsal) but salvaged (nāsal) drawing out the contrast between what they expected and what would happen and injecting the prophecy with irony.
Then we come to the word play used in Isaiah 29. This involves two or more words with identical sounds (homonymy). The Hebrew word for Ariel (ar-ee-alẻ) sounds like the Hebrew word for altar hearth (har-alẻ). In Ezekiel 43:15 we come across the same word to describe an altar hearth.
“She [Jerusalem] will be to me like an altar hearth.” (NIV)
Jerusalem, after the fighting and bloodshed of siege warfare, shall be turned into a virtual “altar hearth”. This is exclusively Jerusalem’s fate being prophesied. Her people will be brought low to beg for mercy with their faces in the dust. This is a gruesome picture of defeat at the hands of a brutal enemy.
“…and thy voice shall be, as of one that hath a familiar spirit, out of the ground, and thy speech shall whisper out of the dust” (v4)
This is a most unfortunate misuse of scripture by the Mormon Church. In Isaiah 8:19 Jehovah expressly forbids his people to “seek unto them that have familiar spirits”. These are mediums and spiritualists. Tragically, in their crisis, Judah had turned, not only to political alliances for safety but to mediums. They boasted that they had made a bargain, or covenant, with death and that, “when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, it shall not come unto us” (Isa.28:15).
This bargain was a form of necromancy, or consultation with the dead. God made it clear that there would be no protection for them in such bargains, “Your covenant with death shall be disannulled and your agreement with hell shall not stand; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, then ye shall be trodden down by it” (Isa.28:18). Judah expected to escape death but would, herself, speak as from the realm of the dead, “out of the dust”.
A Sealed Book
What about the sealed book? This is simply saying that God’s word had become to them like a sealed book. The key to understanding this is the previous verse:
“For the Lord hath poured out upon you the spirit of deep sleep, and hath closed your eyes: the prophets and your rulers, the seers hath he covered. And the vision of all is become unto you as the words of a book that is sealed…”
The book is God’s word that had become closed to them because God had closed their eyes (the prophets and seers). Their own wisdom in understanding these events would fail them, for the book
“[is delivered] to one that is learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I cannot, for it is sealed. 12 And the book is delivered to him that is not learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I am not learned.”
Neither the learned nor the ignorant could read what God had sealed.
A Marvellous Work and a Wonder
God will perform wonder upon wonder (Isa.29:14 NIV) among his people, the result of which will be that the wisdom of the wise will perish, the intelligence of the intelligent will vanish. All they have come to depend upon will come to nothing. What seems like wisdom to them will be shown to be folly. What seems safety will be no safety and, where they imagined they saw foolishness, i.e. in the words of the prophet, they would see God’s wisdom working its course. Paul uses part of this same text in reference to God’s provision of salvation through Christ:
“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” (1 Cor.1:18-19 NIV)
This, then, is the marvellous work and a wonder. It is the foolishness of God frustrating the wisdom of men, For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe…For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man” (Cor.1:25 NIV)