The LORD Will Swallow up Death For Ever

I do my e-mail on Yahoo. Before they expanded the size of the mailboxes, my personal storage space was very limited, and so I rarely archived any of my old correspondence. But I did save the following question that was put to me back in 1998, and my response thereto:

Note Isa 25:6-9 where the Lord is to prepare a feast and destroy a “vail”. And note the spelling of veil/vale/vail. The GosDoc Class Member Study Guide on p24 has “vail” in quotes.

Can someone please explain this passage?

Why would the Study Guide put the word in quotes?

What is the feast? And what is to be destroyed?

Yeah Yeah Yeah I know what the manual says — I am looking for something which makes sense.

Here is the KJV of the passage in question:

6And in this mountain shall the LORD of hosts make unto all people a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined.

7And he will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering cast over all people, and the vail that is spread over all nations.

8He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the rebuke of his people shall he take away from off all the earth: for the LORD hath spoken it.

9And it shall be said in that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us: this is the LORD; we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation.

The word “vail” is simply an obsolete spelling for “veil.” Compare E.B. Howe’s anti-Mormon opus Mormonism Unvailed, to which Mormon historians delight in appending a sic. I assume the GD Class Member Study Guide put the word in quotes for the same reason, because the normative spelling is “veil.”

I’ll give you my take on this passage. I would understand “this mountain” in vss. 6 and 7 as either Mount Zion or the temple thereon. My personal reading of the feast of v. 6 is that it is the messianic banquet, such as that described in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The Hebrew here is very interesting. The verbs “and he will destroy” in v. 7 and “he will swallow up” in v. 8 are the same verb in Hebrew (bala’, literally meaning “swallow up,” and by extension “destroy”). The words “covering cast” are cognates in Hebrew: hallot hallot. The entire expression might be better rendered: “the surface of the
covering which covers over all the peoples.” Similarly, the words “vail that is spread” are cognates: wehammassekah hannesukah. This part of the verse might be better rendered: “and the veil which is veiled over all the nations.”

The “covering” and “vail” in verse 7 appear to refer to veils used in mourning death. That is, the LORD will figuratively destroy the veils used in mourning by overcoming death. (Or, perhaps the veils are shrouds covering the dead.) This meaning of overcoming death might be made clearer in English by using the word “shroud” in lieu of “vail.” Verse 8 continues the thought with “he will swallow up death in victory.” [The Hebrew does not actually say "in victory,"
but rather "for ever"; i.e., permanently.] I would understand the “tears” that the Lord will take away in verse 9 as being tears of mourning.

The imagery of “swallowing up death” is especially vivid, and calls to mind an inversion of Canaanite mythology, in which Death is portrayed as hungrily swallowing its victims. But here it is the LORD who will swallow up Death–for ever.

In any event, these verses can be read as offering a truly powerful image of the resurrection.

Comments

  1. Good stuff, Kevin! One of the things that Mark Ashurst-McGee talks a bit about in his thesis is the belief that Joseph Smith was born with a “caul” or “veil” over his face. I would imagine that the folk beliefs surrounding such veils are occidental in origination, but I am currious if there is any connection to the concept of the buriel shroud or other sacral veil imagery in anciant thought. Any idea?

  2. Kevin Barney says:

    Interesting; I had never heard that Joseph was born with a caul. I’ve heard of a popular superstition that those born with a caul will be gifted with second sight, which makes sense in Joseph’s case.

    On the other hand, in the mythology of Eastern Europe those born with a caul are destined to become vampires and werewolves!

  3. Couldn’t the vail also refer to an intelligence/knowledge/light/etc. related veil-removal as well, a la the Restoration? When v. 7 talks about the covering over all nations, it makes me think of apostasy (or Apostasy, if you prefer).

  4. In other words, one of the deaths being spoken of could also be spiritual, could it not?

  5. Very nice.

  6. Kevin Barney says:

    An interesting thought, m&m. I think the more straightforward reading, especially based on the first line of v. 8, is that this is talking about overcoming death. But v. 9 would seem to fit well with your intelligence/knowledge/light suggestion.

    If we’re talking about what Isaiah intended, then I guess the question is whether our modern Mormon conception of spiritual death is something that would work contextually for v. 8. If we’re talking about our own postmodern “likening unto us” reading of the passage, then I like your suggestion as another thoughtful take on it.

  7. Isaiah certainly had a way with imagery.

    Thanks Kevin.

  8. The “covering” and “vail” in verse 7 appear to refer to veils used in mourning death.

    I was reading a bit about vails/veils tonite and found this (note esp. v. 13-16). (I’m intrigued by the concept of Moses putting a vail over his face…might that be instructive of another meaning of a covering over a face having that spiritual symbolism as well?) I haven’t checked the original word form to see if it is the same as used in Isa., but thought it might be interesting to note anyway. My purpose is not to counter the point of the original post…just to possibly add to it. I personally don’t doubt that either and probably both deaths apply here. Isaiah rarely spoke only about one thing, after all. :)

  9. I lived in Saudi for a couple of years and would often wear a veil in addition to the headscarf I was rquired to wear when I went out. The veil is unique because it lets you hide and gives you a certain amount of anonimity (which is not necessarily a bad thing when you are a guest in a foreign land). When I think of the Lord stripping away the veil (of death) then, my experience immediately brings me to the thought that at the resurrection, there won’t be any hiding – no covering up, and everyone will see us for who we really are. All pretenses will also be stripped away.

    In a related note, my husband saw a women in a head scarf (alas, no face veil) the other day, and she was wearing a Korn t-shirt. Kinda didn’t seem to go together :-)

  10. When I think of the Lord stripping away the veil (of death) then, my experience immediately brings me to the thought that at the resurrection, there won’t be any hiding – no covering up, and everyone will see us for who we really are. All pretenses will also be stripped away.

    Nice thoughts.

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