“Beside Me There Is No Saviour”

Isaiah 40–49

LDS manual: here


We’re now in the second of our three Isaiahs, which is why he’s called “second Isaiah”, or “Deutero-Isaiah“.

This section of Isaiah is notable for two new ideas. One innovation is that all the other gods are imaginary. It used to be that other gods — Dagon, Chemosh, and the whole panoply —  were still considered to exist, Jehovah just didn’t like them very much.

Exodus 18:11 Now I know that the LORD is greater than all gods.
Judges 11:24 Wilt not thou possess that which Chemosh thy god giveth thee to possess?
Psalm 86:8 Among the gods there is none like unto thee, O Lord.

But at this point, Isaiah has Jehovah / Jesus flatly denying the existence of other gods. Monotheism asserts itself.

Isaiah 44:6 Thus saith the LORD the King of Israel, and his redeemer the LORD of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God.
44:7 And who, as I, shall call, and shall declare it, and set it in order for me, since I appointed the ancient people? and the things that are coming, and shall come, let them shew unto them.
44:8 Fear ye not, neither be afraid: have not I told thee from that time, and have declared it? ye are even my witnesses. Is there a God beside me? yea, there is no God; I know not any.

46:5 To whom will ye liken me, and make me equal, and compare me, that we may be like?
46:6 They lavish gold out of the bag, and weigh silver in the balance, and hire a goldsmith; and he maketh it a god: they fall down, yea, they worship.
46:7 They bear him upon the shoulder, they carry him, and set him in his place, and he standeth; from his place shall he not remove: yea, one shall cry unto him, yet can he not answer, nor save him out of his trouble.

And here’s another innovation: This religion is meant to be for everyone. It used to be that Judaism was a tribal religion, and you’d only join it by being born in it, being captured into it, or maybe being married into it. If you didn’t want to join, the Jews didn’t give a crap. It wasn’t for you.

Now, Isaiah says that everyone will eventually accept the supremacy of the Hebrew god. It became a universalising religion.

45:21 Tell ye, and bring them near; yea, let them take counsel together: who hath declared this from ancient time? who hath told it from that time? have not I the LORD? and there is no God else beside me; a just God and a Saviour; there is none beside me. 45:22 Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else.
45:23 I have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, That unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear.

The main problem I see with universalising religions is that they aren’t very good at playing with others. They’re dismissive of other religions that are at least as silly as they are, and as such, they commit the fallacy of special pleading.

Of course, now that Jehovah / Jesus has declared himself to be the Only God in the Universe, and taken on all the credit for creating all the good stuff, he also has the responsibility for all the bad stuff.

45:7 I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.

Main points from this lesson

When did this author write?

There’s a big clue to when Deutero-Isaiah wrote: He talks a lot about the Babylonian king Cyrus — a real up-and-comer at the time — which would have been meaningless to a reader before 550 BCE.

44:24 Thus saith the LORD, thy redeemer, and he that formed thee from the womb, I am the LORD that maketh all things; that stretcheth forth the heavens alone; that spreadeth abroad the earth by myself;

44:28 That saith of Cyrus, He is my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure: even saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid.

So we can date Deutero-Isaiah to somewhere between 550–539 BCE, and according to Whybray, probably towards the end of that period.

That’s a bit of a problem for Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon. Nephi was meant to take the plates of Laban and leave Jerusalem in 600 BCE. But in the Book of Mormon, Nephi quotes Isaiah at some length. It would be possible for him to quote Proto-Isaiah (who did his thing in the 8th century BCE — well before the alleged Nephi), but not Deutero-Isaiah, who — remember — wrote around 550–539 BCE, some 50 years after Lehi and family would have left Jerusalem.

So Nephi couldn’t have quoted Deutero-Isaiah. Does he? In fact, he does, from this very lesson.

1 Nephi 20Isaiah 48
1 Nephi 21Isaiah 49

How do Mormon apologists explain the unlikely appearance of Deutero-Isaiah in the Book of Mormon? Here’s one explanation they kick around at FAIR: All of Isaiah was written by the same guy at the same time, which is how Nephi came to have it. But when Cyrus came around, people in the Old World tinkered with Isaiah’s text to make it clearer that he’d been talking about Cyrus, and that’s what fooled scholars into thinking that the second part was written later. At this point you kind of have to wonder what a lunkhead God is, to allow his word to be tinkered with through generations of editors. And this explanation still doesn’t explain the abrupt stylistic changes between the two Isaiahs.

I have a better explanation: The Book of Mormon was entirely made up. One advantage of this explanation is that it neatly resolves all the problems with assuming the church is true, with no contradictions. You can apply this to Isaiah too, and this makes things a lot easier. Once you realise it’s all made up, it saves you from trying to make any sense out of Isaiah. Ahhh. More time on a Sunday.

Additional teaching ideas

Did the sun go back ten degrees?

Here’s a story I thought I’d missed out on telling. It’s the one about the prophet miraculously turning the sun back. It happened in 2 Kings, I didn’t cover it and I thought it was too late. But like a lot of Bible stories, it comes back into the mix later. So here it is in 2 Kings 20, as a sign to Hezekiah that he’d be healed.

2 Kings 20:7 And Isaiah said, Take a lump of figs. And they took and laid it on the boil, and he recovered.
20:8 And Hezekiah said unto Isaiah, What shall be the sign that the LORD will heal me, and that I shall go up into the house of the LORD the third day?
20:9 And Isaiah said, This sign shalt thou have of the LORD, that the LORD will do the thing that he hath spoken: shall the shadow go forward ten degrees, or go back ten degrees?
20:10 And Hezekiah answered, It is a light thing for the shadow to go down ten degrees: nay, but let the shadow return backward ten degrees.
20:11 And Isaiah the prophet cried unto the LORD: and he brought the shadow ten degrees backward, by which it had gone down in the dial of Ahaz.

Oh, wait, sorry — as a sign that Jehovah / Jesus would defend the city against the Assyrians.

Isaiah 38:4 Then came the word of the LORD to Isaiah, saying,
38:5 Go, and say to Hezekiah, Thus saith the LORD, the God of David thy father, I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears: behold, I will add unto thy days fifteen years.
38:6 And I will deliver thee and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria: and I will defend this city.
38:7 And this shall be a sign unto thee from the LORD, that the LORD will do this thing that he hath spoken;
38:8 Behold, I will bring again the shadow of the degrees, which is gone down in the sun dial of Ahaz, ten degrees backward. So the sun returned ten degrees, by which degrees it was gone down.

This is the subject of a well-known urban legend so silly that even Answers in Genesis doesn’t recommend that Christians use it. In the legend, NASA scientists are puzzled when their calculations don’t come out right, and they discover the missing day and 40 minutes — right there in the Bible!

It’s just a story, but it makes you wonder: What would really happen if Jehovah / Jesus actually made the sun go back in the sky — or rather, made the earth spin the other way?

Well, first the earth would have to stop spinning. That would play havoc with all of us critters on earth, because stopping the earth wouldn’t stop the atmosphere. And that would mean that the surface of the earth would be scoured clean by winds of 1,100 mph. Everything not anchored to bedrock would be blown away. It would be the worst hurricane ever.

If the earth then spun the other way — even for 40 minutes — it would play all kinds of hell with the earth’s magnetic field, the oceans, the Coriolis effect, and therefore the world’s climate.

So did Jehovah / Jesus do all this just to impress a king with a boil? Well, if he did, let’s just say that no one would have survived to write the Bible.

What else does Isaiah get wrong?

The earth is a circle
Apparently spheres weren’t a thing in ancient Israel.

40:21 Have ye not known? have ye not heard? hath it not been told you from the beginning? have ye not understood from the foundations of the earth?
40:22 It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in:

But wait — couldn’t a ‘circle’ also mean a sphere? Well, probably not. Here’s some analysis of other biblical verses that indicate that in saying circle, the writer was going along with a body of thought that said the earth was flat like a pizza, and not round like a globe.

Stars never fail

40:26 Lift up your eyes on high, and behold who hath created these things, that bringeth out their host by number: he calleth them all by names by the greatness of his might, for that he is strong in power; not one faileth.

Actually, stars are failing all the time, about 275 million per day, estimated over the whole universe.
We estimate at about 100 billion the number of galaxies in the observable Universe, therefore there are about 100 billion stars being born and dying each year, which corresponds to about 275 million per day, in the whole observable Universe.

Handel’s Messiah and Isaiah

The libretto of Handel’s Messiah pulls text liberally from this section of Isaiah, to the point where one can hardly read the thing without having Handel run through your head.

This is kind of a difficult area for me. I perform in a production of the Messiah every year, and every year I sort of grind my teeth over the text. How’s an arts-minded atheist supposed to grapple with this? As for me, I wrote a cartoon about it, which you can check out here.