Section 113 Isaiah Interpreted

Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual, (2002), 283–184


Historical Background

In January 1838 the Prophet Joseph Smith fled from Kirtland to escape the enemies who were seeking his life. He traveled to Far West, Missouri, where he arrived on 14 March 1838. He wrote:

“On the 14th of March, as we were about entering Far West, many of the brethren came out to meet us, who also with open arms welcomed us to their bosoms. We were immediately received under the hospitable roof of Brother George W. Harris, who treated us with all possible kindness, and we refreshed ourselves with much satisfaction, after our long and tedious journey, the brethren bringing in such things as we had need of for our comfort and convenience.

“After [our] being here two or three days, my brother Samuel arrived with his family.” (History of the Church, 3:8–9.)

The Prophet included in his history some answers from the Lord to questions on the book of Isaiah. It is not known who asked the first questions—it may be that the Prophet asked them on his own behalf. The final questions came from Elias Higbee.

Section 113 was first published in the 1876 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants.

Isaiah writing

Some of Isaiah’s writings are clarified by Doctrine and Covenants 113.

Notes and Commentary

D&C 113:1–2. Why Was Christ Referred to As the “Stem of Jesse”?

The Hebrew word which was translated into English in the King James Version of the Bible as stem means “the stock which remains in the earth after the tree is cut down” (Smith and Sjodahl, Commentary, p. 738). Another writer points out that Isaiah 11:1 is Hebrew poetry:

“Literally translated into common English, the poetic couplet here would be:

“‘There shall come forth a branch from the trunk of Jesse:

“‘Indeed, a shoot from his roots shall bear fruit.’

“Since the line of Jesse is the royal line of kings from David’s time on, is there any question as to who this ‘branch’ is?” (Rasmussen, Introduction to the Old Testament, 2:45.)

The branch and the stem are both Christ (see Jeremiah 23:5–6; 33:15–17). These terms refer to Christ’s being of the lineage of King David, the son of Jesse (see Luke 1:32; Acts 2:30; 13:22–23; Romans 1:3).

D&C 113:3–6. Who Are the “Rod” and the “Root” Spoken of by Isaiah?

One might assume “that the ‘rod’ was Joseph Smith, believing that the Prophet, out of modesty, hesitated to name himself directly. None of us would question that Joseph was destined to become a great ‘servant in the hands of Christ’. Moreover, if we assume that he was the ‘rod’ or ‘servant’, observe how very well such an identification fits in with Moroni’s mission of explaining to the latter-day Prophet his part in Isaiah’s great vision of the future. As the ‘rod’ or ‘servant in the hands of Christ’, Joseph Smith fits naturally into Isaiah’s prophecy, and it is easy to understand why Moroni quoted and explained Isaiah 11 to him. [See JS—H 1:40.]

“Despite this reasoning, we still have the uneasy feeling that better proof of Joseph Smith’s being the ‘rod’ should be available. I believe there is better proof and that it is found in Doctrine and Covenants 113:5–6. …

“In order to assess this explanation intelligently, let us turn to Isaiah 11:10: [quoted].

“A closer translation of the original may be given here:

“‘And it shall come to pass in that day, that the root of Jesse, that standeth for an ensign [sign, signal] of the peoples, unto him shall the nations seek; and his resting place [refuge, residence] shall be glorious.’

“Quite obviously the ‘root of Jesse’ is a man, a descendant of Jesse and Joseph (as the Lord explains), who seems to have a great mission to perform in connection with gathering the remnant of Israel, as explained in Isaiah 11:11–16. [Most likely] the ‘rod’ of verse 1 and the ‘root of Jesse’ of verse 10 refer to the same man, Joseph Smith. If the ‘rod’ in D&C 113:4 is the ‘servant in the hands of Christ, who is partly a descendant of Jesse as well as of Ephraim, or of the house of Joseph,’ note that in verse 6 he seems to be more closely defined as a ‘descendant of Jesse, as well as of Joseph, unto whom rightly belongs the priesthood, and the keys of the kingdom, for an ensign, and for the gathering of my people in the last days.’ (Italics added.) Who better fits the description of the words in italics than Joseph Smith (see D&C 27:12–13; 86:8–11; 110:1–16; 115:18–19). He rightly holds the priesthood and its keys by lineage, and surely no one disputes the fact that the keys of the ‘gathering of my people’ were conferred on him by Moses in the Kirtland Temple, April 3, 1836.” (Sperry, “The Problem of the ‘Rod’ and the ‘Root of Jesse’ in Isaiah 11,” Improvement Era, Oct. 1966, pp. 869, 914–15.)

In certain scriptures Christ is referred to as the “Root of David” (Revelation 5:5; 22:16). According to Elder Bruce R. McConkie, “This designation signifies that he who was the Son of David was also before David, was pre-eminent above him, and was the root or source from which the great king in Israel gained his kingdom and power” (Mormon Doctrine, p. 657; see also Matthew 22:44–45).

The explanation of Isaiah 11:10 given in Doctrine and Covenants 113 implies that while Christ is the root of David, he is not the root of Jesse mentioned by Isaiah. There are two reasons for this conclusion. First, the Lord through the Prophet Joseph Smith in verse 2 identifies Christ as the stem of Jesse; he does not identify Christ as the root of Jesse. Second, verse 6 indicates that the root of Jesse is a servant of Christ to whom keys are given “in the last days” to gather Christ’s people.