Lesson 39: “How Beautiful Upon the Mountains” #BCCSundaySchool2018

1920px-Antonio_Balestra_-_Prophet_Isaiah.jpgLesson Objective: To seek a “teacher’s tongue” and an “open ear.” To be moved to our feet in spreading a message of peace.

Scriptures:Isaiah 50–53; Mosiah 14–15

Introduction: Let me start this lesson plan by making a strong recommendation that everyone read Jason K’s “Jesus in Isaiah 52:13–53:12” from February 24, 2014, because Jason’s treatment of this week’s Sunday School lesson is well worth reading again. Here is a taste from Jason’s treatment of these scriptures: “I believe that this text in particular illustrates the way that our habitual ways of reading scripture can rob us of great spiritual insight. Too often we come to the text with the ‘answer’ already in mind and then look to the text to confirm us in what we already know. Ironically, this approach can leave us with a far less robust version of the answer than we might obtain if we tried to read without a prior commitment to the outcome. In other words, an orthodox approach to scripture doesn’t always serve orthodoxy well.” Reading his alternative perspective on these chapters from Isaiah is well worth your time.

Now I will try to add something worthwhile of my own to the conversation, as we prepare our hearts for Sunday’s lesson.

What’s Going on in These Chapters?
Isaiah 49–54 prophecy the restoration of Zion. Isaiah 50 reads like a courtroom script, in which Zion is symbolized by a Mother, who has been “put away” because of Israel’s “transgressions” and “iniquities.” It’s an interesting and startling metaphor, particularly because I ache so much for any kind of a mother-figure in the scriptures. There is something particularly horrible about a mother-figure being denied her children because of their sin. Thus Isaiah opens a bit gloomily, desperately.

Discussion Question: Why does Isaiah use a mother as a metaphor for Zion here? How does this symbolism appeal to our pathos?

Some background on the organization of this section of Isaiah: Isaiah 50:4–9 is known as the Third Servant Song (the First Servant Song is found in Isaiah 42:1–4, and the Second Servant Song is found in Isaiah 49:1–6). The traditional Jewish interpretation of these “servant songs” is that the “servant of the Lord” in these passages is Israel; Christians generally interpret the servant as Jesus Christ. The Fourth Servant Song begins at Isaiah 52:13 goes through 53:12. The voices vary in tone and purpose, but my understanding is that the voice is meant to the be the same in persona.

In Isaiah 50, the servant declares (and this is all from the NRSV, which I include here as a contrast to the King James version, since I think looking at multiple translations can prompt us to see new things in the text):

The Lord God has given me
the tongue of a teacher,
that I may know how to sustain
the weary with a word.
Morning by morning he wakens—
wakens my ear
to listen as those who are taught.
The Lord God has opened my ear,
and I was not rebellious,
I did not turn backward.
I gave my back to those who struck me,
and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard;
I did not hide my face
from insult and spitting. (Isaiah 50:4–6)

I appreciate the sensory images in this prayer and testimony. God gives the servant “the tongue of a teacher” and provides the tongue with words to say by “waken[ing]” and “open[ing]” the servant’s ear. While others strike his cheeks, yank his beard, and spit into his face, God continues to bless his tongue and ears.

Discussion Question: Have any of you ever experienced a moment when you felt your ears “wakened” and “opened” by God? How can we live our lives to be receptive to God’s gift of a teacher’s tongue and a listener’s ear?

In chapter 51, the servant calls for us to listen, if we seek the Lord—if we seek righteousness. He tells us to look to our heritage and to the past to remember the promises God made as well as the promises yet unfulfilled:

Look to the rock from which you were hewn,
and to the quarry from which you were dug.
Look to Abraham your father
and to Sarah who bore you;
for he was but one when I called him,
but I blessed him and made him many.
For the Lord will comfort Zion;
he will comfort all her waste places,
and he will make her wilderness like Eden,
her desert like the garden of the Lord;
joy and gladness will be found in her,
thanksgiving and the voice of song.

Abraham and Sarah’s story is not without complications, and I have a hard time remembering Sarah without also remembering Hagar. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. But even with these complicated feelings that I associate with this story, there is also something hopeful and sublime about the progression and expansion of human families, of adoptions, of the connection all of the human race together into one family of Zion.

In the wake of the new studies that predict catastrophic consequences of manmade climate change to the earth’s environment, I read with a tentative hope the verses, “the Lord will comfort Zion; he will comfort all her waste places,” and I could not help but read that with the promise of God’s help as mankind attempts to heal and repair the ecological systems affected by our pollution, our selfishness, our sins. Perhaps the Mother Zion threatened to be taken away from us due to our iniquities is the earth Herself. The servant tells us, “But all of you are kindlers of fire, / lighters of firebrands. / Walk in the flame of your fire, / and among the brands that you have kindled!” (Isaiah 50:11). Isaiah prophesied that we would be burned by the fires that we ourselves had kindled—climate change certainly seems like an appropriate example of one type of fulfillment of this prophecy.

But the servant also brings us hope:

For I am the Lord your God,
who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar—
the Lord of hosts is his name.
I have put my words in your mouth,
and hidden you in the shadow of my hand,
stretching out the heavens
and laying the foundations of the earth,
and saying to Zion, “You are my people.”

We are again promised with words in our mouths and protections of God’s hand. In spite of our mistakes and iniquities, God stretches out to us and calls us “my people.”

Discussion Question: How does the promise of being “hidden . . . in the shadow of [God’s] hand” make you feel? Have you felt this protection before?

The title of this lesson comes from Isaiah 52:7:

How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,
who brings good news,
who announces salvation,
who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices,
together they sing for joy;
for in plain sight they see
the return of the Lord to Zion.

Discussion Question: What does it mean to be a messenger that “announce[s] peace”? What can peaceful missionary work look like?

Mosiah and Isaiah

The Fourth Servant Song is declared by Abinadi in Mosiah 15 to be about Christ. It could be productive to have your classes compare Mosiah 14 with Isaiah 53, to see that Abinadi quotes the entirety of the chapter verbatim, translated just like the King James version of the Bible, which was how Joseph Smith knew and cherished these scriptures.

I’d like to make a plug here for JKC’s excellent analysis of Mosiah 15. This post is an excellent read and does better justice for Abinadi’s teaching of the Godhead and the Atonement than I will do here.

Should we read Isaiah 53 to be about Christ, we learn that he was a humble and lonely person:

“For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground; he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him there is no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows; yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:2-3, KJV)

Discussion Questions: Compare Mosiah 14–15 with Isaiah 53.

  • What kind of man do these scriptures describe Christ to be?
  • What does this mean that Isaiah wrote these words hundreds of years before Christ’s birth, and that Abinadi preaches explicitly of Christ in Mosiah chapter 15 nearly 150 years before Christ’s birth?
  • What does Abinadi add to Isaiah’s proclamation about how “beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of those that are still publishing peace” (Mosiah 15:16). How can the gospel message ultimately be a message of peace?

With peace, I would conclude the lesson. The most beautiful messages we could share with each other and those around us are messages publishing peace. It strikes me that it is the feet that are beautiful rather than the mouths—those who spread messages of hope solely via Facebook status updates are perhaps less impactful than those who spread these messages actively, with moving feet, with active participation in activities and programs that combat oppression and promote safety and publish peace.

These chapters from Isaiah teach us that while God can speak words into our ears and give us the tongue of a teacher, it is up to us to get up on our feet and move to action.

From the BCC Archives

Comments

  1. Suomalainen says:

    Lovely,thank you.

  2. Great work here, Grover. I love the theological work that you invite the class to do with your thoughtful questions.

  3. Thank you. In addition, I have sometimes found it helpful to use music to being and/or close such a Sunday School class. Here I’d find on youtube and download to be able to play John Stainer’s “How Beautiful upon the Mountains” sung by the Manchester Chorale and/or Mendelssohn’s “How Lovely are the Messengers” sung by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Sometimes I wish I were still teaching so I could prompt a lesson such as Grover has outlined here.

  4. Thank you.

  5. Great post, Grover. Thanks for the mention on that old post of mine.

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