Sometimes I have a hard time sitting in Gospel Doctrine because people are so rigid in their beliefs. If they were initially taught a concept then that is what they believe, even if current knowledgeable scholarly study proves the inaccuracy of that initial belief. Hugh Nibley used to say that students didn’t want to learn anything new — when he brought up some new meaning, they would say, “well I’ve never heard that before!”
As I’ve been studying the scriptures, I have come to expand on the meaning of “a marvelous work and a wonder.” Sometimes, it appears that “marvelous” means a catastrophic event such as the destruction of a city.
Today, when someone says “marvelous” it means something good, similar to our word “awesome.” But words do not always carry the some meaning over the years. I decided to look at the word “marvelous” in the scriptures and see how the ancient writers used it. Of course, we need to take into account that the authors of the scriptures wrote in different languages, so we have a translation issue too. Plus we have to keep things in context.
I grew up in the LDS church and was taught that the “marvelous work and a wonder” was the Book of Mormon and the church. Especially since Le Grand Richards wrote a book titled as such:
When I wrote the book A Marvelous Work and a Wonder as a missionary tool, I chose the statement of Isaiah when he said, “Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men.” Then he goes on: “Therefore, behold, I [the Lord] will proceed to do a marvellous work among this people, even a marvellous work and a wonder: for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid.” (Isa. 29:13–14.) The message of this great church is that marvelous work and a wonder that Isaiah saw would come forth when men would teach for doctrine the precepts of men. (What the Gospel Teaches, Le Grand Richards)
The idea that Isaiah was referring to the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the establishment of His church (and no more) was further promulgated when Ezra Taft Benson said,
Seven centuries before the birth of Christ, Isaiah foresaw and foretold the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ in these latter days. He declared it would be a “marvelous work and a wonder” to all mankind (Isa. 29:14). When Jesus appeared to the Nephites in America, He confirmed the prophecy of Isaiah in these words: “For my sake shall the Father work a work, which shall be a great and a marvelous work” among the people of the land of America in the last days (3 Ne. 21:9). April 6, 1830, in the state of New York, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had its beginning in this dispensation, a beginning that went largely unnoticed by the world. A small number of men and women, including the Prophet Joseph Smith, gathered in the home of Peter Whitmer, Sr., to witness and participate in the official organization of the Church. Today there are over 4 1/2 million members in eighty-one countries. We now look in retrospect on 150 years of the history of the Church and are led to exclaim with Isaiah, “Truly the work is marvelous and wonderful!” (A Marvelous Work and Wonder, Ezra Taft Benson)
Although the establishment of the Church in 1830 was a beginning, Isaiah is speaking of a future time in the last days — the time when the remnant of Lehi’s people receive the gospel from the gentiles, and the House of Israel is restored and the real Zion begins in preparation for the world to transition from its telestial state to its terrestrial state. Although Joseph Smith brought forth the Book of Mormon, and tried to take the message to the remnant — the Native Americans — he was not able to establish Zion. The work began, but the marvelous work and wonder is yet to come. And marvelous means more than the good news, it means destruction.
To marvel over something is to be astounded — to be filled with wonder and astonishment. One way to uncover the meaning is to do word search of “marvelous” in the scriptures.
For Example: “marvelous” describes events concerning the destruction of Jerusalem when Nephi explains:
Therefore, I would that ye should know, that after the Lord had shown so many marvelous things unto my father, Lehi, yea, concerning the destruction of Jerusalem, behold he went forth among the people, and began to prophesy and to declare unto them concerning the things which he had both seen and heard. 1 Nephi 1: 18
Looking at how ancient scriptures have been translated as “a marvelous work and a wonder” we find that the meaning can be confusing — as in King James Version of Isaiah 29: 13 – 14
Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men:
Therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvellous work among this people, even a marvellous work and a wonder: for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid.
The NIV and Gileadi translation of these scriptures use the wording, “wonder upon wonder”:
But my Lord says, Because these people approach me with the mouth and pay me homage with their lips, while their heart remains far from me—their piety toward me consisting of commandments of men learned by rote—therefore it is that I shall again astound these people with wonder upon wonder, rendering void the knowledge of their sages and the intelligence of their wise men insignificant. (Isaiah 29: 13 -14 , Gileadi translation)
The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught.Therefore once more I will astound these people with wonder upon wonder; the wisdom of the wise will perish, the intelligence of the intelligent will vanish.” (NIV)
The Book of Mormon writers seem to point to an end-time yet to come:
And after our seed is scattered the Lord God will proceed to do a marvelous work among the Gentiles, which shall be of great worth unto our seed; wherefore, it is likened unto their being nourished by the Gentiles and being carried in their arms and upon their shoulders. 1 Nephi 22:8
But behold, there shall be many—at that day when I shall proceed to do a marvelous work among them, that I may remember my covenants which I have made unto the children of men, that I may set my hand again the second time to recover my people, which are of the house of Israel; 2 Nephi 29:1
And the Lord will set his hand again the second time to restore his people from their lost and fallen state. Wherefore, he will proceed to do a marvelous work and a wonder among the children of men. 2 Nephi 25:17
These “marvelous” things seem to point to the great destructions in society when the earth is tired of corruption and ready to advance to it’s terrestrial life. And I suppose there will be those who help move this forward, and those who will fight against it — wanting to keep life as it is.