Why did Isaiah write that the Lord said “Beside me there is no God” and “There is none beside me” (Isa. 44:6; Isa. 45:21) when there are three personages in the Godhead?
To better understand the Lord’s words in Isaiah 44 and 45, we must first identify who is speaking. The passage indicates that it is “the king of Israel,” the “Lord of Hosts” ( , visiting professor of ancient scripture, Brigham Young University, and , professor of engineering, Ricks College.Isa. 44:6)—“a just God and a Saviour” (Isa. 45:21). This is the God of the Old Testament, the Great I Am—Jehovah.
Through Latter-day scripture, we know that Jehovah was the premortal name for Jesus Christ. “Behold,” Jesus told the Nephites, “I am he that gave the law, and I am he who covenanted with my people Israel.” (3 Ne. 15:5; see also D&C 38:1–4.)
Jehovah, or Jesus Christ, is known by many other names. One of these is the Son, meaning the Son of God the Father. (See 1 Ne. 11:18–21.) In 1916, the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve explained that “Jesus Christ is the Son of Elohim both as spiritual and bodily offspring; that is to say, Elohim is literally the Father of the spirit of Jesus Christ and also of the body in which Jesus Christ performed His mission in the flesh.”
They went on to declare that because of this unique relationship with God the Father, “Jesus the Son has represented and yet represents Elohim His Father in power and authority. This is true of Christ in His preexistent, antemortal, or unembodied state, in the which He was known as Jehovah,” as well as in mortality and today in his resurrected state. “The Father placed His name upon the Son,” the First Presidency and Quorum of Twelve continued, “and Jesus Christ spoke and ministered in and through the Father’s name; and so far as power, authority and Godship are concerned His words and acts were and are those of the Father.” (In James R. Clark, comp., Messages of the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6 vols. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965–75), 5:27, 31–32.)
Invested with this kind of authority, Jehovah can rightly speak to Israel as though he were the Father in matters involving their learning, understanding, and salvation. He was thus invested with the power of the Father in creating the earth and in his role as the Messiah—the Christ, the Anointed One—in performing the infinite and eternal atonement. He embodies the fulness of the Father’s power, and in his role as the Mediator speaks and acts for the Father.
Jehovah also speaks properly and authoritatively as the Father in his role as (1) the Creator—the Father of the heavens and the earth—and (2) the Father of all who accept the gospel covenant and take upon themselves his name, whereby they are “born again” as his sons and daughters and adopted into his family. (See Messages of the First Presidency, 5:26–34.)
Keeping in mind, then, that though the Father and the Son are separate beings, the Son, by divine investiture of authority, can speak as though he were God the Father—and, in fact, in certain of his roles is a Father—let us look at Isaiah 44:6 [Isa. 44:6] and Isa. 45:21.
One way to examine these passages of scripture is to examine other scriptures on the same topic. One of the passages relevant to this topic is Exodus 20:3–5, part of the Ten Commandments, in which the Lord states that Israel should have no other gods before him and that he is “a jealous god.” In other words, Jehovah possesses deep and sensitive feelings for his covenant people and is greatly interested in their welfare. In return, he requires their faithful obedience; their hearts should be set on no other object of worship than on him. [Ex. 20:3–5]
This concept is expressed beautifully in Deuteronomy 6:4–5, where we read: “Hear, O Israel; The Lord [Jehovah] our God is one Lord:
“And thou shalt love the Lord thy God will all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.” [Deut. 6:4–5]
The original five Hebrew words of Deuteronomy 6:4 translate into English as “Yahweh, our God, Yahweh, One.” The word one (as distinguished from many) is used to communicate to Israel that Jehovah is the God of their salvation and that he should be the sole object of their reverence, worship, and obedience.
Taken in context, these scriptures all teach covenant Israel that Jehovah (Jesus Christ) is sovereign as far as eternal salvation is concerned. No other being exists by whom Israel or the rest of the world can gain salvation.
The key issue here is Israel’s recurrent temptation to worship false gods. Moses and other prophets of ancient Israel had declared to the people that Jehovah was the only true and living god. In that day, however, as in other periods of history, each region had its local deities, and it was customary to honor each one with idols, shrines, and rites. The Israelites often succumbed to the temptation to participate in these rites—to their own spiritual harm and to their detriment as a covenant people.
Isaiah 44 and 45 make it clear that it is both foolish and wrong for Israel to “set up the wood of [a] graven image, and pray unto a god that cannot save.” (Isa. 45:20.) Such a god could neither protect them physically nor bless and redeem them spiritually. Only Jehovah could and can do that. The only God for Israel is Jehovah. Israel is his peculiar people; they belong to him by covenant and have a special mission. To fulfill that mission, the children of Israel, then and now, need to worship the God of Israel with all their hearts, minds, and strength. (See Matt. 22:37; D&C 59:5.)
The God of Israel is Jehovah. He speaks for and by the power of the Father. With the Holy Ghost, these two divine beings constitute the Godhead—the only true object of worship for mankind. “Our Godhead consists of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,” Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote. “They are supreme over all, and though they administer their kingdoms through a hierarchy of appointed angels … , in the ultimate sense these members of the eternal Godhead are the only Gods with whom we have to do. We worship the Father, in the name of the Son, by the power of the Holy Ghost. We follow the Son as he follows his Father. We labor and strive to be like the Son as he is like the Father, and the Father and Son and Holy Ghost are one. For these holy Beings we have unbounded love, reverence, and worship.” (The Promised Messiah, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1978, p. 13.)
It is vital, then, that Israel have no other gods before, after, or in place of Jehovah. It is he who atoned for the sins of all who have or ever will reside upon the earth. In this context, to worship or revere any other god would be to commit idolatry and to denigrate his supreme act of love for the children of our Heavenly Father.
Perhaps we should ask ourselves: If we know that Jehovah, or Jesus, is the Christ, and if we have taken upon ourselves his holy name through baptism, with what devotion should we worship him? With what watchfulness and rigor should we learn of him and keep his commandments? With what purity of heart should we remember him? With what introspection and caution should we avoid worshipping the “gods” of this world?
As we answer these questions, we gain a greater understanding of the Lord’s declarations to Isaiah that there is no other object than He that is worthy of our devotion and worship.