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If you think understanding the passages from Isaiah is like trying to find your way through a dense dark forest, then you'll appreciate the enjoyable Isaiah for Airheads. After many years of personal study and preparations, John Bytheway has created and mapped out the “Isaiah National Forest.” He offers the reader 'four guides, four trees and four keys — useful tools for approaching any Isaiah chapter, specifically those found in 2 Nephi. In addition, he explains latter-day relevance for each chapter and shows how these scriptures can strengthen our homes, families, and testimonies. A talk CD is included in the back of the hardcover book, featuring John's unique teaching style. After reading and listening to Isaiah for Airheads, you'll echo the feeling, “great are the words of Isaiah!”
Click here to download your free study guide to Isaiah from John Bytheway.
- Published: August 2006
About the Author
John Bytheway is a bestselling author, favorite speaker, and part-time instructor at Brigham Young University. His many titles include Heroes: Lessons from the Book of Mormon; Standards Night Live; Isaiah for Airheads; A Crash Course in Teenage Survival; Behind Every Good Man and his most recent book, Of Pigs, Pearls & Prodigals. He has also created numerous talks on CD, many of which are combined in The John Bytheway Collection, Vols. 1 and 2.
John served a mission to the Philippines and holds a master’s degree in Religious Education. He and his wife, Kimberly, have six children.
From Airhead to "A-ha!"
The Gospel Doctrine Disconnect
It’s happened to all of us. We walk into Sunday School, and we see written on the blackboard: “Great are the words of Isaiah,” and we think to ourselves, Oh, great . . . the words of Isaiah.
For many of us, the Isaiah chapters are just a barrier in the Book of Mormon—something we have to “get through” to get to the rest. Only the Hebrew scholars get it and understand it. There’s even an old joke about an LDS soldier whose life was saved because a Book of Mormon was in his shirt pocket. When asked how such a small book could stop a bullet, the soldier replied, “Hey—nothing gets through Second Nephi.”
It’s kind of a sad joke because we must get through Isaiah, and not just “get through it” but enjoy it, learn from it, and be blessed by it, because Jesus really did say “Great are the words of Isaiah.” In fact, he said, "A commandment I give unto you that ye search these things diligently; for great are the words of Isaiah" (3 Nephi 23:1; emphasis added). So this becomes really serious because to search Isaiah is one of the Savior’s commandments! And if we love the Lord, as we do, then we want to keep his commandments.
Who Do We Think We Are?
So our first step is to change our attitude—rather than just “getting through” Isaiah, let’s “get from” Isaiah. Let’s not get bogged down, let’s get fired up! We don’t need to be Hebrew scholars—we are sons and daughters of God with the gift of the Holy Ghost, for crying out loud! Scriptures are a gift from God, and children of God should never be intimidated by scripture. Isaiah is not a trial, it’s a treasure! The fact that you’re reading this book testifies that you’re eager to understand Isaiah and your heart is already prepared.
This change in our attitude makes searching Isaiah a lot more fun. Isaiah is a treasure hunt—it’s a challenge—and there’s a greater sense of satisfaction when you do a little detective work and can finally say, “Hey, I get this, I understand this!”
As we all know, when the Lord gives a commandment, he prepares a way. And you and I can have one of two reactions to the Lord’s commandments—we can echo Laman and Lemuel, “It is a hard thing you have required of us,” or we can echo Nephi, “I will go and do . . .” (1 Nephi 3:5–7). Nephi brought these chapters to us at the peril of his life, and we’ll probably have to answer to him and to the Lord if we just skip them.
Remember too that Jesus’ book list is short. How many books has He actually commanded us to read? His book list is a lot shorter than Oprah’s. He has not commanded us to see every movie, watch every game, or read every book on The New York Times bestseller list. His reading list is sorted by author, not by sales. Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4). The books he has commanded us to read and search were all written by God through his prophets.
“And they said of their instructor, Behold, his head is an empty void, and out of
his ears leaketh much air”
As a new Book of Mormon instructor at BYU, when I got to the Isaiah chapters, I would just start with the first chapter and plow on through, explaining what I knew as I went. Sometimes students would ask thoughtful, serious, and wonderful questions. More often, after a particularly difficult Isaiah passage, they’d ask very pointed questions, like, “What does that mean?”
These students (or more likely their parents) paid tuition, and they wanted to know. C’mon “professor” Bytheway, what does that mean? (I’d quickly explain that I wasn’t a professor, just an instructor, as if that would satisfy them.) At times, I felt like a complete airhead. And that’s why I’ve entitled this book “Isaiah for Airheads,” which is a commentary on my brain, not yours.
Sometimes, after our class discussion, my students would walk out the door muttering, “I’m still as confused as ever,” to which I would reply, nodding wisely, “Yes, but now we’re confused on a higher level and about more important things.”
“Forest? What forest? I don’t see a forest in here, just a bunch of trees . . .”
Later, I realized that this “plow-through-the-Isaiah-chapters” approach was like “missing the forest for the trees.” We use that expression to describe someone who’s so caught up in the details that they miss the larger picture. After teaching the Isaiah chapters a few times, I began to notice some prominent themes (this is one of the great benefits of teaching—the teacher often learns more than the student). I began to see the forest of Isaiah, and it was beautiful. I began to notice grand, important, and recurring themes that helped me better understand the words of this great prophet. I noticed what may have prompted the Book of Mormon prophets to quote Isaiah passages, and why. Now, after a decade of teaching, I look forward to these chapters, and I love watching my students experience “a-ha!” moments as we “get through” Second Nephi.
Now, a disclaimer. I wish that I could say, “After reading this book, you’ll understand Isaiah.” But that’s not possible. Isaiah is not a freebie—it’s not a no-brainer—even scholars disagree on the meaning of the things Isaiah said. Perhaps the Lord doesn’t want it to be easy. Someone once said, “What we obtain too easily, we esteem too lightly.” I suppose you’ve got to pay the price to obtain some blessings, but that’s okay. We like blessings, and we’re not afraid of work, as evidenced by the fact that we’ve turned off the TV and we’re reading a book.
Scenic Byway Ahead . . .
Let’s map out what we’re going to do in the rest of this book: We’re going to take a whirlwind tour through what we’ll call, “Isaiah National Forest.” How should we approach our visit to such an intimidating, expansive area?
Good question. Suppose we were to take a tour of a real forest, Yellowstone National Forest for example. As our bus takes the first “Scenic View” exit, how strange it would be for us to get out of the bus, run up to an individual tree, examine one or two of the leaves from a distance of two inches, then sprint back to the bus and tell the driver, “We’re through here—Scenic Pulloff #2, and step on it!”
Yet this is the way many of us experience Isaiah National Forest. We hear one or two passages in a class, mention one or two passages in a talk, without ever stopping to get the big picture. This kind of “drive by” scripture study never allows us to enjoy the view, to survey the landscape as a whole, or to see the colors and context of Isaiah National Forest.
So, before we get on the bus, we’ll become acquainted with Isaiah’s “Four Guides,” “Four Trees,” and “Four Keys.” I’ll also give you “Four Kingdoms” and “Four Events” to consider, which will give you a sense of the historical context in which these chapters were written. With these tools, we’ll have all the equipment we’ll need for our journey. Then, we’ll take a broader look at each Isaiah chapter in the Book of Mormon and using our tools, we’ll look for ways to understand them and apply them to our day.
by Megi - reviewed on February 05, 2008
This book is AWESOME! I get so excited every time I sit down to read it because I am actually understanding Isaiah for the first time in my life. John Bytheway makes it seem so simple and so applicable to my life. I knew it would be good because Bytheway is always good, but I didn't know how exciting it would be to really disover these scriptures as if I've never read them before. I don't have enough room in my margins to write all of the notes that I want. Thank you, Brother Bytheway!!
by Darral - reviewed on June 02, 2008
It is extremely difficult to write an easy to understand yet useful book on a difficult subject. Too little and too simplistic and it doesn't help; too much and too detailed and it overwhelms the lay reader. I think John Bytheway has achieved a useful balance for those who would like to be more comfortable with Isaiah, without becoming obsessive about it.
by Cory - reviewed on September 19, 2008
This book really helps you to understand Isaiah! It is amazing!
by Jamie - reviewed on March 20, 2009
This is a great read-along book for anyone who struggles with understanding Isaiah. It contains insights about all of the Book of Mormon Isaiah chapters and for me, it really opened Isaiah and made it exciting to read. Although we've been commanded to study and learn these particular passages, I've always felt as though I were standing on the other side of a locked door when it comes to them. This book presents the keys and gives a break-down that literally guides you through the chapters and helps the reader become independently engaged in unlocking these amazing treasures. I've read it completely through while following along with the scriptures and have begun again breaking them down a few verses at a time and then journaling about them so I can write my own commentary to help me better retain what I'm learning. In doing so, I've discovered why we are commanded to know them and understand them. Isaiah knew so much about our day and the calamities and challenges we would face as a people and particularly a nation. He also discusses what are now current worldwide events but in his day, future prophecy. These chapters are amazing and well worth the time to reveal!
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