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Book of Mormon Lesson #9: “My Soul Delighteth in the Words of Isaiah,” 2 Nephi 11-25 (Sunday School)

Posted by joespencer on February 13, 2012

We come now, as I’ve been saying from the beginning and have reiterated again and again, to the most privileged and central part of Nephi’s record. To miss Isaiah in the Book of Mormon is to miss the Book of Mormon.

I take as my task in this post, then, to work carefully through what seems to me to be the focus of Nephi’s quotation of Isaiah in 2 Nephi 12-14. Also included in this lesson, as laid out in the manual, are chapters 11 and 25, the former being Nephi’s brief introduction to the Isaiah chapters and the latter being the first of Nephi’s follow-up comments after the fact. For my purposes, I want to consider 2 Nephi 25 along with 2 Nephi 26-30, so I won’t be dealing with it until next week. I know this seems strange since it’s in 2 Nephi 25 that Nephi supposedly provides the “keys to understanding Isaiah.” I’m less convinced that Nephi’s doing anything of the sort there. Isaiah’s plenty understandable on his own, and what Nephi has to say in 2 Nephi 25 is more for his own people and the beginning of what he goes on to say in the chapters following than for us as readers of Isaiah. (Indeed, I think 2 Nephi 26-27 is more help for those struggling with Isaiah than anything in 2 Nephi 25.) So I’ll leave all that for later.

Here’s how I’d like to proceed:

(1) First, I want to take up a handful of structural comments, making clear all over again where the “Isaiah chapters” fit into Nephi’s overarching record, as well as picking out a few structural elements at work in the Isaiah chapters themselves.
(2) Second, I want to take up the privileged center of the Isaiah quotation, Isaiah 6:1-8 or 2 Nephi 16:1-8, and put it into relation with both 1 Nephi 1 and 2 Nephi 31.
(3) Third, I want to address the remainder of Isaiah 6 (verses 9-13) and put them in dialogue with especially Isaiah 8 (within the larger setting of Isaiah 7-12) in order to make clear what seems to be Nephi’s central focus in these chapters.
(4) Fourth, I want to say a bit about Isaiah 2-5 (2 Nephi 12-15) and Isaiah 13-14 (2 Nephi 23-24) in order to set up a few other thematic emphases in Nephi’s quotation.

I think I can let these four tasks suffice. The real punchline, as I’ve already suggested, will actually come in Nephi’s following contribution, 2 Nephi 25-30, where Nephi gives us the clearest possible sense of what he’s up to with Isaiah. So keep your eyes peeled for that next bit.

Structures

I’ve gone over the details concerning the structure of Nephi’s record several times in earlier posts, but let me spell them out again at this point. First, it must be recognized that Nephi’s larger record is consciously divided into four parts: (1) 1 Nephi 1-18, the “creation” of the Lehite people in a new world; (2) 1 Nephi 19 — 2 Nephi 5, the “fall” (splitting up) of the Lehite people resulting in a cutting off of one group from the presence of the Lord; (3) 2 Nephi 6-30, the “atonement” of the Lehite people prophesied in terms of an eventual reconciliation of the Lamanites with the Lord; (4) 2 Nephi 31-33, the “veil” to be passed through on the way to God’s presence is connected with baptism, etc. I’ve said much too much about all of this over the course of many posts, so I’ll let interested readers who haven’t seen those follow the links above. I’ll add only this reminder: Nephi says in the first verses of 1 Nephi 19 that the “atonement” stretch of his record constitutes the “plain and precious” and the “more sacred things,” indeed, it seems, the only actually commanded part of his entire production.

The “atonement” stretch of Nephi’s record is, in turn, divisible into three obvious parts: (a) 2 Nephi 6-10, Jacob’s sermon; (b) 2 Nephi 11-24, Isaiah’s writings; (c) 2 Nephi 25-30, Nephi’s prophecies. These three messengers, who come after the “fall” (indeed, immediately after the building of the Nephite temple!), provide an outline of what it means to be reconciled to God and so to be prepared to enter into the Lord’s presence, specifically for the Lamanites (on whom the prophecies are principally focused). It’s significant, I think, that Elder Holland writes of them the following: “Standing like sentinels at the gate of the book, Nephi, Jacob, and Isaiah admit us into the scripture presence of the Lord.” (See Christ and the New Covenant, 36.) There is, moreover, an unmistakable focus in these twenty-five “atonement” chapters (as I tried to make clear in my last post): Isaiah. Jacob quotes from and comments on Isaiah. Nephi quotes from and comments on Isaiah. And Isaiah is, well, Isaiah. The most privileged part of Nephi’s record is this massive (twenty-five-chapter!) exposition of Isaiah. To miss this is to miss everything about Nephi’s intentions.

The Isaiah chapters themselves, to be found in 2 Nephi 12-24, might be further analyzed in terms of structure. The easiest and first way to break them up is in terms of the chapter breaks in the original Book of Mormon. (I find it fascinating that the original chapter breaks don’t match up with the KJV chapter breaks.) If one does that, we end up with the following: (i) 2 Nephi 11-15 (= Isaiah 2-5, plus a few introductory words from Nephi); (ii) 2 Nephi 16-22 (= Isaiah 6-12); (iii) 2 Nephi 23-24 (= Isaiah 13-14). It isn’t terribly difficult to see a pattern in these groupings: (i) prophecies against Judah (2 Nephi 11-15); (ii) Isaiah’s call to preach and subsequent turn to the written word (2 Nephi 16-22); (iii) prophecies against Babylon (2 Nephi 23-24). The last of these three sections echoes the first, answering the destruction of Judah with a destruction of Judah’s enemies—all of that then anticipating the message of Second Isaiah, the kind of texts covered in Jacob’s sermon. The second and focal bit takes up the series of events that mediate the destruction of Judah and the redemption of Judah (through the destruction of Babylon), namely, the production of a sealed book intended for a later time—all of that then anticipating the message of Isaiah 29, the text covered in Nephi’s prophecies immediately following the Isaiah chapters. From these details, I think it’s clear how perfectly these specific Isaiah chapters fit into the story the larger “atonement” stretch has to tell.

Overall, then:

(1) 1 Nephi 1-18, the “creation” of the Lehites
(2) 1 Nephi 19 — 2 Nephi 5, the “fall” of the Lehites
(3) 2 Nephi 6-30, the “atonement” for the Lamanites
___(a) 2 Nephi 6-10, Jacob’s sermon (on Isaiah’s prophecies about Judah and Babylon)
___(b) 2 Nephi 11-24, Isaiah’s actual words
______(i) 2 Nephi 11-15, Isaiah’s prophecies against Judah
______(ii) 2 Nephi 16-22, Isaiah’s production of a sealed book
______(iii) 2 Nephi 23-24, Isaiah’s prophecies against Babylon
___(c) 2 Nephi 25-30, Nephi’s prophecies (on Isaiah’s prophecies about a sealed book)
(4) 2 Nephi 31-33, the “veil” discourse, principally on baptism

Hopefully this is clear.

Isaiah’s Call to Prophesy

I want to begin with just the first eight verses of 2 Nephi 16 (= Isaiah 6). My intention here is to get clear on Isaiah’s call narrative, which is probably among the most familiar bits of these Isaiah chapters. I think it’s crucial, though, because it will bring out other connections in Nephi’s larger record, connections that will force us to look again at the structures just sorted through. Along the way, of course, I’ll have a bit of theological fun as well.

2 Nephi 16:1-4

The scene, it seems, is the temple, and the situation is one that can only be the Day of Atonement. The Day of Atonement, remember, is a once-a-year event under the Law of Moses, a day when all Israel came to the temple fasting. It was the one day in a year when anyone was allowed into the Holy of Holies, and only the High Priest went in. The rites began with a cleansing of the temple through the blood of a number of sacrifices, and then through the blood of a goat (one of two, the other having the sins of Israel conferred on it and then sent to wander in the desert). Before the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies to come, as was expected, before the Lord Himself, incense was used to fill the Holy of Holies with smoke so that the Lord’s figure would be obscured, allowing the High Priest not to die upon seeing the Lord face to face. Isaiah’s call, it seems, is happening on such an occasion.

It is, moreover, the occasion of a king’s death: “in the year that king Uzziah died.” This is doubly significant. On the one hand, it has been shown that coronations of new kings in Judah took place in connection with the Day of Atonement (as Mosiah’s later seems to have done in the Nephite tradition). Hence, on the Day of Atonement when the new king is to be crowned after the death of Uzziah, Isaiah sees not Jotham (Uzziah’s son) on the throne, but the Lord Himself. Isaiah is given, at the time of coronation, to see that the real king is not the mere puppet in Jerusalem, but the Lord. On the other hand, it’s of some importance that all this takes place specifically with Uzziah’s death. Uzziah had, due to his entering the temple in the wrong way, been struck with leprosy. As Uzziah passes on, Isaiah finds himself taking Uzziah’s place, being inappropriately in the temple. Just as Uzziah, he is struck with uncleanness, and goes about announcing his uncleanness in the prescribed way. But unlike Uzziah, who spends the rest of his life as a leper, Isaiah is cleansed through divine intervention, in a passage we’ll be coming to later.

All that for set-up. What do we actually find going on in the text?

In the year that king Uzziah died, I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphims. Each one had six wings: with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. (2 Nephi 16:1-2)

Here’s the scene as it initially appears. So far, the only way Isaiah’s included in the scene is as a pure eye. The focus, at first, is entirely on what is seen. And what’s seen? We have the Lord sitting on a throne, surrounded by heavenly attendants, the seraphim. Before saying anything about the details, we ought to be reminded of another passage in Nephi’s record: 1 Nephi 1:8. Remember Lehi’s first visions: after an encounter with a pillar of fire, Lehi went to bed, only to be carried away in a vision, in which he saw the heavens open, and he saw God sitting on a throne surrounded with numberless concourses of angels. They were praising, as these are (as we’ll see in verse 3). Lehi and Isaiah, it seems we are meant to understand, had something like the same vision. (One can point to Amos 3:7, where “secret” should be more literally translated “council,” to suggest that all prophets have a vision of this throne-and-attendants scene—see similar visions in Ezekiel, Revelation, etc.) Perhaps still more importantly, this scene will be repeated in 2 Nephi 31, when Nephi promises, through the veil/baptism experience, that the faithful will be able themselves to acquire the “tongue of angels” and shout praises to God. We’ll be coming to all this in more detail further along.

What else needs to be said about these first two verses? First, what’s this “train” business? The word in Hebrew means “hem of a robe,” so “train” needs to be thought about in the sense we speak of the train of a bridal gown. The Lord, seated on a throne, is clothed in abundant and royal clothing. Just the very hem of His robe is enough to fill the temple. (This talk of filling will become a theme in this chapter: note that the seraphim, in verse 3, will be talking about the earth being filled with glory, etc.) If that’s clear, a word on “high and lifted up.” This phrase is drawn quite directly from the chapters just preceding this one, which we’ve not yet addressed here. 2 Nephi 12 especially recounts a whole series of things that are high and lifted up that will be brought low when the Lord is eschatologically exalted. There’s here in Isaiah’s vision a kind of anticipation of the eschaton, it seems.

Finally, what about the seraphim themselves? It’s simple enough to say that they’re angels, but the word in Hebrew literally means “fiery flying things” (the same word appears in the narrative about the poisonous serpents in the Book of Numbers). The emphasis is on their otherworldliness. Each has six wings. We can guess, along with D&C 77, that wings here, as in Revelation, signify the power to act, etc., but there’s more than just that going on, since some of the wings are used for other purposes: to cover the face and to cover the feet. To cover the face? The image is that of a veil. To cover the feet? Well, once one knows that in Hebrew, “foot” or “feet” is a euphemism for the private parts, it’s clear that the image is that of a fig-leaf apron or some such thing. Those in the Lord’s presence are veiled and covered, veiling their face before the face of the Lord and covering their shame before the Holy One.

That’s the visual. What next?

And one cried unto another and said: Holy! Holy! Holy is the Lord of Hosts! The whole earth is full of his glory! And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke. (2 Nephi 16:3-4)

The angels are, as already noted, shouting praises to their God: thrice-holy is the Lord of Hosts! The Lord’s glory spills out into the whole earth (the whole land)! But what’s really interesting here is less what the angels are saying than that they’re speaking—especially when God isn’t. The first two verses of the chapter give us only silence, God enthroned and saying nothing; the next two verses give us a great deal of chatter and noise, the angels going on and on. Perhaps this seems a minor point, even a distraction, but it’s worth noting because of what’s going to happen beginning in verse 5: everything will be focused on language. At any rate, the angels, significantly, are talking to each other. They praise God, but praise God to each other (“one cried unto another,” often translated as “they cried to each other”). They aren’t speaking directly to God, at least as Isaiah first experiences them, nor are they talking to Isaiah.

And all these voices get things moving: “the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke.” The voices themselves seem to effect an earthquake, or to have some kind of effect on the posts of the door (what door? the veil of the temple?), and they’re followed by a sudden billowing of smoke. The smoke is, interestingly, an important element (already mentioned) of the Day of Atonement, but it comes at entirely the wrong time. The smoke (incense) is supposed to fill the Holy of Holies before anyone enters the presence of the Lord. Isaiah, as a kind of unfortunate High Priest, has stumbled into the presence of the Lord, and only then does smoke fill the room and obscure the vision. It’s too late: Isaiah’s seen what he wasn’t to see.

All this puts him in a rather awkward position, as the next verse makes clear.

2 Nephi 16:5-8

Isaiah responds in desperation:

Then said I: Woe me! For I am undone! Because I, a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips—for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts! (2 Nephi 16:5)

Having seen what humans aren’t to see (remember the warning in Leviticus that the smoke must be in place, lest the High Priest die!), Isaiah announces his own imminent doom: “I am undone!” He prepares himself, as it were, for complete destruction.

But what’s really curious is the reaon he gives for his unworthiness: “I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.” I’ve already mentioned the possible connection with leprosy. But there’s more than just that going on here. The Hebrew word for “language” is, significantly, “lips” (this is the word translated as “language” throughout, for instance, the Tower of Babel story). Isaiah is a man of unclean lips, a person who employs only a human language, who cannot speak the language of the angels he’s now hearing. And remember that even those angels in God’s presence who do speak a clean language don’t look at God—they cover their faces with a pair of wings. Isaiah cannot speak the angelic tongue and yet he has gone beyond the angels in looking quite directly at God.

But Isaiah’s desperation passes soon, because one of the angel’s intervenes:

Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar, and he laid upon my mouth, and said: Lo, this hath touched thy lips. And thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged. (2 Nephi 16:6-7)

One of the seraphim comes to Isaiah with a cleansing coal, purifying his lips, giving him to speak with the tongue of angels. His uncleanness gone, he can presumably speak the angelic tongue.

Whence the coal in question? There is only one obvious answer, given that the setting is the Old Testament temple: the only burning altar inside the temple is the altar of incense, and we’ve already witnessed the smoke it’s putting out. Now a coal is brought from the altar of incense and pressed to Isaiah’s lips. It’s specifically a stone taken from the altar symbolizing the true order of prayer, always ascending up immediately before the veil of the temple, that is pressed to Isaiah’s lips in order to give him to speak an angelic tongue. (It’s probably, moreover, of significance that it’s a white stone that’s pressed to his lips … .)

With all this, there’s both a looking back and a looking forward—a looking back from 2 Nephi 16 to 1 Nephi 1 and a looking forward from 2 Nephi 16 to 2 Nephi 31. Remember that the Book of Mormon opened, as mentioned above, with a vision not unlike Isaiah’s. Lehi’s first visions included a scene not unlike this of Isaiah’s, but Lehi experienced what might be regarded as only the first part of what Isaiah experienced. Lehi saw the heavens open, and he saw God enthroned and enthronged. But there’s no strong indication that he had a chance to join the chorus. There’s the looking back. What of the looking forward? In 2 Nephi 31, as Nephi’s record comes to a close, there will be talk of the gift to be granted to those who follow Jesus wholly: they will be given to speak with the tongue of angels and shout praises to the Holy One of Israel. Nephi talks there, as it were, about only the end of Isaiah’s experience, the full reception of the gift of speaking the angelic tongue. Here, between those two textual extremes, we find the account that weaves them together: Isaiah seeing the throne scene, and then receiving the tongue of the angels that allows him to join the throng himself. He goes from seeing, Lehi-like, the whole thing unfolding at a distance to receiving, Nephi-like, the actual gift of shouting praises like the angels from Lehi’s vision.

But there’s another effect, one that will have further consequences later:

Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying: Whom shall I send? And who will go for us? Then I said: Here! I! Send me! (2 Nephi 16:8)

We’re quick to point out the parallel between Isaiah’s language and that of the Savior in the Book of Abraham. But there’s more than just that going on. It’s of importance, I think, that suddenly the Lord is speaking. A moment ago, the throne room was all a chatter because of the angelic chorus of praise, while the Lord sat in serene silence. Now, all of sudden, the angels cease their talk and the Lord Himself begins to talk. It could of course be that the Lord has suddenly taken over the conversation. But it could also be that Isaiah’s acquisition of the power to angelic speech has changed what he hears: the angels’ talk gives way to the Lord’s address. A moment ago, Isaiah could hear only angels; now he can hear the Lord directly. Put another way, it’s only now that Isaiah can hear the call that has likely been being issued all along.

Isaiah responds to that call, and that will get him into a rather sticky situation, one that I’ll take up separately. For the moment, what I hope has been made quite clear is the way that the first eight verses of this chapter tie together the larger structure of Nephi’s record. It opens, it comes to its climax, and it closes with the same theme and sequence: the acquisition of the tongue of angels. Isaiah can’t be overlooked, since it’s he who paves the way from 1 Nephi 1 (distant looking) to 2 Nephi 31 (intimate reception).

Isaiah’s Rejection and the Call to Write

Isaiah offers himself for the as-yet-unidentified task the Lord asks about. Had he known what was coming, I wonder whether he would have been so eager. Here it is, as found in the Book of Mormon:

Go and tell this people: Hear ye indeed, but they understand not; and see ye indeed, but they perceive not. Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes—lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert and be healed. (2 Nephi 16:9-10)

The task? To preach to a people that has been—divinely, intentionally—hardened against the message. Readers generally, and Latter-day Saint readers in particular, have been disturbed by this passage. God wants Isaiah’s hearers to be hardened against his message? God intentionally hardens their hearts against the very words He Himself is sending through the prophet? Something’s screwy here! But I agree with Gerhard von Rad (who is the absolute must-read on this passage—see his discussion of Isaiah in the second volume of his Old Testament Theology) that the text should be understood in precisely the way it presents itself: God has hardened the people against the message He sends to them through Isaiah. God wants them to have blind eyes, deaf ears, uncomprehending hearts, “lest they … convert and be healed.”

But why? Well, that’s the real question. And we’ll come to the answer. First, though, notice how radical this really is by noting Isaiah’s expressed concern and the Lord’s shocking response:

Then said I: Lord, how long? And he said: Until the cities be wasted, without inhabitant, and the houses without man, and the land be utterly desolate, and the Lord have removed men far away—for there shall be a great forsaking in the midst of the land. (2 Nephi 16:11-12)

Read the exchange closely. Says Isaiah: “Wait, what? How long is this bizarre, self-contradictory divine intervention going to go on? This is just a passing matter, right? A prophetic illustration that will be over shortly so that I can explain the meaning of the parable, right?” Says the Lord: “No, you’ve misunderstood. This is your prophetic mission: to preach to an intentionally hardened people, and to do so until their rebelliousness results in their exile. That’s what I’m after here.” Why all this? What could the Lord be doing?

The beginning of an answer comes in verse 13, where the Lord adds a crucial (though difficult) further word:

But yet in it there shall be a tenth, and they shall return and shall be eaten—as a teil tree, and as an oak, whose substance is in them when they cast their leaves. So the holy seed shall be the substance thereof.

What? A glance at other handy translations, or even at the Hebrew, makes this a bit easier to make sense of. Here’s the NRSV:

Even if a tenth part remain in it, it will be burned again, like a terebinth or an oak whose stump remains standing when it is felled. The holy seed is its stump.

A little clearer now? (Let no one disparage using another translation to help out!) The point, it seems, is this: Even if some remain behind in Jerusalem after mass exile, they can expect destruction. No one gets out of the coming disaster. But. But what? But the destruction of a tree leaves behind a stump, and stumps—if the roots are still alive—can sprout new branches. And so the Lord announces at the end of the passage: “The holy seed is its stump.” That stump is indeed going to sprout again, and there will be a new branch, a new beginning, a remnant.

So what is the Lord doing through Isaiah’s paradoxical prophetic task? He’s creating a remnant, setting up exile and disaster in order to isolate a people who will become the foundation of a new or even eschatological community. But then a new question: How will that eschatological community know where to begin? To that Isaiah will provide an answer further along in 2 Nephi 17-22 (= Isaiah 7-12). To which I now turn, and I’ll do it in bits and pieces.

2 Nephi 17

There’s a sudden jump, with the beginning of chapter 17, from the specific setting of Isaiah’s temple experience to what historians refer to as the Syro-Ephraimite crisis. Here’s the situation, set out in sketchy detail in 2 Nephi 17:1-2: Assyria is the major world power, the empire constantly expanding its borders, and it’s now on its way into Palestine. Assyria will campaign through Palestine by heading from the north end of things (Damascus) down through Israel (the Northern Kingdom) and Judah (the Southern Kingdom) on its way toward Egypt. The kingdoms in the North—not only Israel but also Syria (the Aramaeans)—are obviously concerned, and so they begin to do what all little kingdoms do in the face of such a threat: they set up a league of smaller kingdoms in order to stand against the imperial power that can crush them if they fight each on its own. The little league of nations obviously has a lot invested in getting as many of the small kingdoms on its side as possible, but that presents each of these small nations with a choice: Side with the league and fight against empire, or establish a treaty with the empire itself in order to be spared, though that means selling out one’s neighbors? Judah, under Ahaz (the grandson of Uzziah), doesn’t join the league of nations taking shape, but also doesn’t immediately establish ties with Assyria. The consequence? Syria and Israel determine to go to war against Jerusalem in order to depose Ahaz and replace him with their own choice of king, someone who will join forces with them against Assyria.

There’s the crisis: Judah is facing war from its small neighbors, Syria and Israel, because it hasn’t decided to join with them against imperial Assyria. And this gets everyone scared.

In the thick of this, Isaiah gets a message from the Lord:

Go forth now to meet Ahaz (thou and Shear-jashub thy son) … and say unto him: Take heed and be quiet. Fear not, neither be fainthearted for the two tails of these smoking firebrands [these once-aflame sticks that have now gone out], … [because they] have taken evil counsel against thee, saying: Let us go up against Judah and vex it. … Thus saith the Lord God: It shall not stand, neither shall it come to pass. … [For] within threescore and five years shall Ephraim be broken, that it be not a people. … If ye will not believe, surely ye shall not be established. (2 Nephi 17:3-9)

The message, I think, is clear: Ahaz is not to worry about the threat from the league of nations, because Assyria will destroy them—including, importantly, Israel, the Northern Kingdom (Isaiah will live to see that happen). Now the Lord says to Ahaz, presumably through Isaiah, to “ask … a sign of the Lord” (2 Nephi 17:11), which Ahaz refuses (in what seems to be mock piety) to do so. Then we get this:

Therefore, the Lord himself shall give you a sign: Behold, a virgin [literally, young woman] shall conceive and shall bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. … For before the child shall know to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land that thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings. … The Lord [shall] shave with a razor that is hired by them beyond the river, by the king of Assyria, the head and the hair of the feet [of Israel and Syria]; and it shall also consume the beard. (2 Nephi 17:14, 16, 20).

What is the sign? We’re very quick to read this as a prophecy of Jesus’s birth. There’s nothing wrong with typological interpretation, but I think it’s actually pretty clear (1) that Isaiah didn’t mean any such thing and (2) that Nephi didn’t read any such thing into Isaiah’s words. Why? Well, in context it’s pretty clear that the baby needs to be born immediately, since the point of the sign is that before the child in question is old enough to tell the difference between good and evil, both Syria and Israel will be deprived of their kings by the “hired razor” that is Assyria. Isaiah is not referring to events seven hundred and some-odd years later, but at events in his own immediate future. And how do we know Nephi isn’t taking all this typologically? Well, for that argument, you’ll have to see my book, since I dedicate more or less the whole thing to arguing that point!

For the moment, the point is hopefully clear, though: Judah is being told to keep aloof and not to worry about banding up against Assyria.

Also, we’ve been introduced to two children: Shear-jashub (Isaiah’s son, who accompanies him to see Ahaz) and Immanuel (the child to be born according to the sign—it’s not unlikely that this child is also Isaiah’s). The name of the first means “The Remnant Shall Return,” which will become quite important; the name of the second means “God Is with Us,” which also seems to be important. We’ll see where all that leads.

2 Nephi 18

With the opening of the next chapter, we get yet another child introduced, this one also Isaiah’s son. Isaiah is told first to write the name of the child, Maher-shalal-hash-baz, which means “Destruction Is Imminent.” And then he goes and has the child (his wive conceives, and he’s told to name the child Maher-shalal-hash-baz). Why all this? After the names of the last chapter (“The Remnant Shall Return” and “God Is with Us”), this child’s name sounds a bit ominous: “Destruction Is Imminent.” Well, the answer comes quickly:

This people refuseth the waters of Shiloah that go softly, and rejoice in Rezin [Syria's king] and Remaliah’s son [Israel's king]. (2 Nephi 18:6)

The people, despite Isaiah’s warning to Ahaz, side with the league of nations. And what is the consequence?

Now, therefore, behold: The Lord bringeth up upon them [Judah] the waters of the river, strong and many, even the king of Assyria and all his glory. And he shall come up over all his channels, and go over all his banks—and he shall pass through Judah. (2 Nephi 18:7-8)

Hence, destruction is imminent. So Isaiah tells the people to go ahead with their league, but warns them of the consequence:

Associate yourselves, O ye people—and ye shall be broken in pieces. … Take counsel together—and it shall come to naught. (2 Nephi 18:9-10)

But what does Isaiah think should be done instead? He explains quite clearly:

For the Lord spake thus to me with a strong hand, and instructed me that I should not walk in the way of this people, saying: Say ye not “A confederacy!” to all to whom this people shall say “A confederacy!” [That is, don't agree with the people on the strategy of joining the league of nations.] Neither fear ye their fear, nor be afraid. Sanctify the Lord of Hosts himself, and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. And he shall be for a sanctuary—but for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offense to both the houses of Israel, for a gin and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many among them shall stumble and fall and be broken and be snared and be taken. (2 Nephi 17:11-15)

When everyone is scrambling to amass as much earthly power as possible, Isaiah says that he’s putting his entire trust in the Lord. The Lord is the only sanctuary, but the very safety of the Lord is danger and destruction to a people who refuse to trust in Him.

Okay, all of this is helpful history, but what has it to do with Isaiah’s prophetic call? Well, this: Isaiah has been called to preach a message of repentance to a people who have been hardened against it. And what is the result? Destruction is now imminent—though God is with them, and a remnant, after all the ill that’s coming, will return. (Note that verse 18 will talk about how these named children are “signs” and “wonders.”) And then the most important development in all this. What does Isaiah do, now that his message has been completely rejected, now that he has delivered the message to his own contemporaries without effect? His mind turns to the people still to come, to the remnant that will come later. And so he turns from oral prophecy to the written word:

Bind up the testimony! Seal the law among my disciples! And I will wait upon the Lord, that hideth his face from the house of Jacob, and I will look for him. (2 Nephi 17:16-17)

Isaiah’s God is the God who hides His face, as announced in 2 Nephi 16, in Isaiah’s commission. But what is the result? Isaiah turns to the time when God’s face will be revealed. Isaiah waits. And in order to wait for that later time, he turns to the task of writing—not only of writing, but of sealing up what he writes so that it can be opened and unsealed by that generation that is ready for the message. (Isaiah comes back to all this in Isaiah 29, which is the text Nephi will be taking up at length in 2 Nephi 26-27.) The text is entrusted to the “disciples,” in a passage that anticipates Isaiah 50 (quoted in Jacob’s sermon; see my comments in my post on that).

And then Isaiah begins to talk about the time when his writings are unsealed (and he’ll come right back to this very same theme in Isaiah 29, with exactly the same sort of discussion):

And when they shall say unto you, “Seek unto them that have familiar spirits, and unto wizards that peep and mutter,” should not a people seek unto their God for the living to hear from the dead? To the law! And to the testimony! And if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them! (2 Nephi 17:19-20)

What’s all this about? Familiar spirits, for those not acquainted with the occult, are animals used as channels for spirits—apes or frogs who are charmed so that the dead can speak using their body. In the anticipated day, it seems, there will be two ways people might respond. Some will remember that Isaiah prophesied all these things, and they’ll hope to conjure him up—seeking out familiar spirits, looking for wizards, etc. They’ll hope to create a seance in which Isaiah himself can be brought back to tell them what to do. But the people should be seeking unto their God, not these dark arts. So what should they do instead? To the law! And to the testimony! To the sealed text! They have Isaiah’s words already, but they would rather seek out the dead prophet himself. (Boy, does that sound like modern biblical criticism. But I’ll leave that discussion for another time.) The time will come when the book should be read, but most will be looking everywhere else but the book. And perhaps that’s not surprising: the book is, after all, sealed.

And the result is that they walk around “fret[ting] themselves and curs[ing] their king and their God and look[ing] upward” (2 Nephi 17:21), finding only “trouble and darkness, dimness of anguish” in the earth (2 Nephi 17:22).

2 Nephi 19

But then a sudden change:

Nevertheless, the dimness shall not be such as was in her vexation [at Assyria's hands] … . The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light! … For unto us a child is born! (2 Nephi 19:1-2, 6)

Here again we have to be very careful in interpretation, since we’re long accustomed to interpreting this Christologically. And here again let me be clear that there’s nothing wrong with typological interpretation: we should feel quite free to play around with the way that what Isaiah talks about here can be taken as so many types or shadows of Christ. At the same time, however, it doesn’t appear that Isaiah’s immediate focus was actually on events still so far in the distance—and there’s no evidence that Nephi saw Isaiah here in typological terms. We’ve been watching a very particular story unfold: due to Judah’s rejection of Isaiah’s message to Ahaz, Assyria would come through Judah and cause a great deal of trouble. What happens now at the beginning of chapter 19 is not a sudden abandonment of the story for a prophecy of the coming Christ, but the prophetic anticipation of the way the trouble with Assyria is going to come to an end. While Israel will be completely deprived of its king during the Assyrian conquest (indeed, Israel will be destroyed and scattered), Judah will survive because it will receive a new king, one that has already been born to be Judah’s deliverer. And who, then, is the child already born? In a word: Hezekiah. Hezekiah will be the one who holds Assyria at bay (see 2 Kings 18-19 and Isaiah 36-37, where that story is told).

If Judah has the promise of deliverance with Hezekiah, Israel has no such promise. Indeed, Isaiah immediately goes on to warn them of what’s coming to them. I’ll let those unfortunate prophecies, occupying the remainder of the chapter, speak for themselves.

2 Nephi 20

After so much bad news for the Northern Kingdom, Isaiah returns to Judah’s deliverance, giving a bit more of the back-story:

O Assyrian, the rod of mine anger … . I will send him against a hypocritical nation, and against the people of my wrath will I give him a charge to take the spoil and to take the prey and to tread them down like the mire of the streets. Howbeit he meaneth not so, neither doth his heart think so, but in his heart it is to destroy and cut off nations not a few. For he saith: Are not my princes altogether kings? … As my hand hath found the kingdoms of the idols, and whose graven images did excel them of Jerusalem and of Samaria, shall I not, as I have done unto Samaria and her idols, so do to Jerusalem and to her idols? (2 Nephi 20:5-11)

The idea here is, I think, clear. The Lord employs Assyria as a tool, sending it against Judah, as it was sent earlier against Israel. But Assyria, convinced that it does what it does in its own power, determines to do to Judah what it did to Israel—against the Lord’s desires. So Assyria tells itself that it can do to Jerusalem (Judah) what it did to Samaria (Israel).

But the Lord intervenes against Assyria for its pride:

Wherefore, it shall come to pass that when the Lord hath performed his whole work upon mount Zion and upon Jerusalem, I will punish the fruit of the stout heart of the king of Assyria, and the glory of his high looks. For he saith: By the strength of my hand and by my wisdom I have done these things, for I am prudent. … Shall the ax boast itself against him that heweth therewith? Shall the saw magnify itself against him that shaketh it? As if the rod should shake itself against them that lift it up! Or as if the staff should lift up itself as if it were no wood! (2 Nephi 20:12-15)

The king of Assyria gets himself into trouble by thinking that he’s the one really behind all that’s going on here. And so once Assyria has accomplished what the Lord actually wills, then Assyria will fall. As if the tool could tell off the person using it!

And what will be the result of this punishment of Assyria for Judah?

And it shall come to pass in that day that the remnant of Israel, and such as are escaped of the house of Jacob, shall no more again stay upon him that smote them, but shall stay upon the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, in truth. The remnant shall return—yea, even the remnant of Jacob—unto the mighty God. For thou thy people Israel be as the sand of the sea, yet a remnant of them shall return. The consumption decreed shall overflow with righteousness. (2 Nephi 20:20-22)

All this manipulation of history (what Isaiah often calls the Lord’s “plan”) results in the construction of the remnant, which we’ve already been talking about. All we’ve said has been anticipating this. And here the name of Isaiah’s son (Shear-jashub, The Remnant Shall Return) comes back into the story: the remnant will return to the mighty God.

This remnant theme is crucial, and I’ve said a bit about it in previous posts. Here we learn that it’s a deliberate construction on the Lord’s part—that the destructions visited on Judah are deliberate and aimed specifically at creating or producing this remnant. Israel begins as a numerous people (“as the sand of the sea”), but the crucible of history reduces such a large people, a people collectively rebellious against their God and the covenant (they “stay upon him that smote them,” upon Assyria), to a mere remnant, but a righteous remnant (they “stay upon the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, in truth”). It’s in this sense that “the consumption decreed,” the destruction announced, will end up “overflow[ing] with righteousness.” Even such horrible events will result in goodness.

There’s a lot to be said about the remnant. I’ve linked in previous posts to the series of posts I did a couple years ago on the remnant theme in the Book of Mormon. It’s worth mentioning also that this becomes a major part of Paul’s thought in especially the epistle to the Romans. For now, though, I’ll just leave this introduction of theme as it is.

The last part of chapter 20 is a beautiful piece of work—a dramatic anticipation of the arrival of Assyria to conquer Jerusalem (from Aiath to Migron, thence to Michmash and on to Geba; Ramah gets scared, and Gibeah flees while Gallim mourns and Anathoth cries loud enough for Laish to hear; then down goes Madmenah while the people of Gebim get out of town…), but then the army can’t get past the last little bit:

And yet shall he remain at Nob that day. He shall shake his hand against the mount of the daughter of Zion, the hill of Jerusalem. (2 Nephi 20:32)

And then comes the culmination of this whole sequence beginning in chapter 16.

2 Nephi 21

Assyria’s attempt to conquer Jerusalem, when the Lord’s will was only that it conquer Samaria, results in failure, and leading the people through this dangerous time has been Hezekiah, the child of promise and an actually righteous king. Now we come back to Hezekiah in chapter 21 with a prophecy not at all unlike the one in chapter 19. But now there’s a connection that takes us all the way back to chapter 16:

And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. (2 Nephi 21:1)

What’s this? There’s a dead stump (“stem”) in Jerusalem that suddenly sprouts a new branch. Remember the dead stump the Lord told Isaiah about at the end of his prophetic commission? Here it is, sprouting as promised, sprouting to produce the king who rules over the remnant.

Yet again it’s more than appropriate to read this typologically: this branch is the Messiah at the last day, returning to usher in a millennium of peace, etc. Interestingly, this time we actually have some indication that Nephi read this in something like that way. Nephi will quote parts of this chapter again in 2 Nephi 30, using them to describe the culmination of the covenant’s fulfillment at the last day. I think that’s important. While there’s no evidence that Nephi sees anything in Isaiah as pointing to the Savior’s first coming, he’s happy to adapt it to the purposes of thinking about the second coming—or rather, about the events surrounding the eschatological fulfillment of the covenant. Isaiah himself, of course, seems actually to have been reflecting on the peace that results when the Lord delivers Hezekiah’s Jerusalem from Assyria in a definitive way. The peace that results extends to the animals, the wolf dwelling with the lamb, etc. And even the Gentiles are given a place in the story when all the remnant is recovered, etc. But Isaiah’s poetic imagery describing events of his own times easily lend themselves to Nephi who insists on likening all this to his own prophetic anticipations of the history of the covenant. We’ll see in my next post exactly what Nephi does with all this—how for him it’s all over again a story of a sealed book that is meant for the people who will be around when the truest branch grows out of the dead stump left behind after the consumption—but for the moment, we’ll just celebrate with Isaiah the deliverance given.

2 Nephi 22

Isaiah’s celebration comes in the form of a song of praise:

O Lord, I will praise thee. Though thou wast angry with me, thine anger is turned away and thou comfortedst me. Behold, God is my salvation! I will trust and not be afraid, for the Lord Jehovah is my strength and my song. He also is become my salvation. Therefore with joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation. (2 Nephi 22:1-3)

There quickly follows another song of praise:

Praise the Lord! Call upon his name! Declare his doings among the people! Make mention that his name is exalted! Sing unto the Lord, for he hath done excellent things. This is known in all the earth. Cry out and shout, thou inhabitant of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel in the midst of thee! (2 Nephi 22:4-6)

It’s a beautiful way to end the story that’s been told in these seven chapters.

Judah and Babylon

So far, we’ve told two stories. The first was Isaiah’s encounter with God, resulting in his induction into the heavenly council. That story was particularly important because of the way it tied together the very beginning and the very end of Nephi’s record. The second story was that of the aftermath of that encounter—Isaiah’s actual commission (to preach to an intentionally hardened people) and the consequences during the Assyrian campaign (Isaiah’s turn from the oral to the written, and an initial deliverance—preceding the actual fulfillment of the destructions announced to Isaiah, those that would come with Babylon’s attack in the time of Nephi, about which we’ll be talking in this part of these notes). That story was particularly important because of the way it introduced the theme of writing into things, which will be Nephi’s principal focus with Isaiah. All this is closely tied to the rise of Babylon as a power, since it will be Babylon that will actually decimate Jerusalem and lead toward the construction of a remnant coming out of exile from Babylon, a remnant who will be prepared to read the sealed record of Isaiah. The rest of the Isaiah chapters are focused on this Babylonian story. I’ll take them up in order: 2 Nephi 12-15 first, and 2 Nephi 23-24 second.

Before turning directly to those texts, let me note just one thing. We’ve been dwelling, so far, on the events surrounding Hezekiah’s defense of Jerusalem against Assyria. That story is recounted, as I mentioned before, in Isaiah 36-37. What follows immediately after the presentation of that story in the Book of Isaiah is a story about the emissaries of Babylon (in Isaiah 38-39). Right after that story comes Second Isaiah, with its prophecies about returning from exile in Babylon to Jerusalem. What we’ll be looking at now is a kind of anticipation of those events. Just as chapters 38-39 of Isaiah follow on the heels of chapters 36-37, the story about the Syro-Ephraimite crisis and the threat of Assyria is here surrounded and contextualized by a story about Babylon. That’s what we’ll be looking at, first in terms of Judah’s destruction, and then in terms of Judah’s deliverance through the counter-destruction of Babylon.

2 Nephi 12

Every reader of Mormon scripture is familiar—too familiar—with the opening of 2 Nephi 12, Isaiah’s vision of “the mountain of the Lord’s house” being “established in the top of the mountains” in “the last days.” It’s a beautiful and crucial vision, though we as Latter-day Saints are too quick to interpret it as a straightforward vision of the construction of either the Salt Lake temple or the temple still to be built in Jackson County, Missouri. I don’t think Isaiah had anything so specific in mind. What we have here is instead a kind of general anticipation of the eschatological settling of the covenantal account. The end of things will be marked by the establishment of the temple above every mountain, with all the Gentile nations seeking out the truth there. From that temple, the Lord arbitrates among the nations, and the whole world gives itself over to peace, etc.

But the reason Isaiah begins with all this, it seems, is in order to set the glorious end of things over against the dereliction of his own times. Thus he turns immediately after the glorious anticipation to a people who have “all gone astray, every one to his wicked ways” (2 Nephi 12:5), a people invested in foreign religious practices, money-making, warmongering, idolatry (see 2 Nephi 12:6-9). And so Isaiah calls them all to hide from the eventual arrival of the Lord in judgment, the day when all high things will be brought low, so that the Lord alone is exalted (see 2 Nephi 12:10-18). Only then will the idols be abolished as the people hide in utter fear (see 2 Nephi 12:17-21). Things look ugly.

2 Nephi 13

But how bad will things get for Judah? The Lord deliberate takes away their supports—bread and water, presented as symbols of every type of social leader: “the mighty man and the man of war, the judge and the prophet, and the prudent and the ancient, the captain of fifty and the honorable man and the counselor, and the cunning artificer and the eloquent orator” (2 Nephi 13:2-3). In their place “children” and “babes” (2 Nephi 13:4), and everything becomes oppression. The people will be desperate for some kind of organization but no one will want to be in charge of such a heap of ruins (see 2 Nephi 13:6-7). Destruction is coming quickly to Jerusalem.

And what does a city do, in ancient Near Eastern culture, when an army approaches? They send out the women to charm the approaching army, women who—and we ought to shudder at this—offer themselves as objects of rape, etc., in exchange for the deliverance of the city (we see this on occasion in the Bible, as we see similar things in the Book of Mormon). Here, though, it doesn’t work. Out come the women to charm the approaching army, but the Lord announces that all their finery will be replaced with sickness and stink, with ropes and sackcloth, while all the men “fall by the sword” (2 Nephi 13:16-26).

2 Nephi 14

But, according to a pattern we’ve already seen, all this will lead to the construction of a small remnant, a group of survivors who will become the holy seed:

In that day shall the branch of the Lord be beautiful and glorious, the fruit of the earth excellent and comely to them that are escaped of Israel. And it shall come to pass: them that are left in Zion and remaineth in Jerusalem shall be called holy, every one that is written among the living in Jerusalem. (2 Nephi 14:2-3)

And that remnant will be guided as in the exodus, with a cloud of smoke by day and a pillar of fire by night (see 2 Nephi 14:5). Here there’s a clear anticipation of Second Isaiah, of the sort of text Jacob quoted and commented on his sermon. There’s an anticipation of an eventual exodus-like return to the promised lands, but only after devastating destruction.

And then all this begins again in the next chapter.

2 Nephi 15

Turning from this first (three-chapter) oracle against Judah, Isaiah takes up another in chapter 15. He begins this time with a song, a love song as was sung in connection with the harvest and associated feasts (likely the feast of tabernacles). It’s a straightforward parable: the Lord plants Judah as a vine in the midst of Israel, but only bad fruit is produced; consequently, the Lord breaks down the hedge (Israel) and allows for the trampling of the vine (Judah). It’s bad news for all (see 2 Nephi 15:1-7).

And then comes a series of woes, of direct accusations, justifications of the destruction:

(1) The people have bought up all the land so that the poor have to pay rent (verses 8-10)
(2) The focus is on constant play and party, without any interest in what God is doing historically (verses 11-17)
(3) The people want signs to prove to themselves that the prophets are serious (verses 18-19)
(4) Everything is turned around backward—good as evil, evil as good (verse 20)
(5) No one sees his or her own ignorance (verse 21)
(6) Drunkenness is a constant pursuit (verses 22-23)

And the result?

Therefore is the anger of the Lord kindled against his people, and he hath stretched forth his hand against them and hath smitten them. And the hills did tremble, and their carcasses were torn in the midst of the streets. (2 Nephi 15:25)

How is this to happen? The Lord calls for nations to come and destroy them—“nations from far,” “from the end of the earth” (2 Nephi 15:26). These warring nations “come with speed swiftly” (2 Nephi 15:27), prepared in all perfection for war. They come with arrows on the string, galloping at full speed in their chariots and sounding the war cry as they come to battle (see 2 Nephi 15:28). They seize their prey and carry it off (see 2 Nephi 15:29), leaving behind only “darkness and sorrow” (2 Nephi 15:30).

(Parenthetically, let me note that there’s absolutely nothing right about the popular idea among Latter-day Saints that these verses are describing missionary work, that Isaiah saw trains carrying missionaries to the whole world—hoofs like flint, wheels like a whirlwind, a roar like a lion, etc. The imagery is unmistakably that of war, with weapons held by those coming in chariots behind their horses, yelling as they come to battle. At any rate, we should be noting that it all ends in darkness and sorrow. Points for creativity for that interpretation, but it just isn’t a good interpretation of the text.)

Here there’s no talk even of a remnant, though this chapter does open onto Isaiah’s prophetic commission, and that will introduce the theme of the remnant. At any rate, it’s clear that all this gives us Judah’s destruction, and that all this looks specifically to the destruction of Judah under Babylon. A miserable end.

Except that Babylon will be overthrown in turn.

2 Nephi 23

Skipping now to the “burden of Babylon” provided in 2 Nephi 23-24, we see that the Lord has something to say about delivering Judah.

Yet again the Lord is mustering the nations to war, just as in 2 Nephi 15. But this army is made up of angels: the Lord’s “sanctified ones,” His “mighty ones” (2 Nephi 23:3). Coming “from a far country, from the end of heaven” (2 Nephi 23:5), this divine army comes speedily to destroy Babylon after their destruction of Jerusalem. How bad will it be? “The stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light. The sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine” (2 Nephi 23:10). And it gets quite ugly: “Their children also shall be dashed to pieces before their eyes. Their houses shall be spoiled and their wives ravished” (2 Nephi 23:16).

At any rate, it all culminates in the collapse of Babylon:

And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldees’ excellency, shall be as when overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah. It shall never be inhabited, neither shall it be dwelt in, from generation to generation. (2 Nephi 23:19-20)

And why all this? Because, says God, “I will be merciful unto my people” (2 Nephi 23:22). But this only becomes fully clear in the next and final chapter of Isaiah quoted here.

2 Nephi 24

Isaiah promises:

For the Lord will have mercy on Jacob and will yet choose Israel and set them in their own land. And the strangers will be joined with them, and they shall cleave to the house of Jacob. … And they shall take them captives unto whom they were captives, and they shall rule over their oppressors. And it shall come to pass that, in that day, that the Lord shall give thee rest from thy sorrow, and from thy fear, and from the hard bondage wherein thou wast made to serve. (2 Nephi 24:1-3)

All of that is quite good news. But there’s more, because now we get to hear Judah’s song mocking Babylon. It goes on for twenty verses. It begins with Judah simply celebrating the fact that “the oppressor” has “ceased,” with “the scepters of the rulers” broken (2 Nephi 24:4-5). But then, they sing, the whole earth joins in the song of mockery. And the whole creation sings about the arrival of the king of Babylon to the underworld:

Hell from beneath is moved for thee [the king of Babylon] to meet thee at thy coming. It stirreth up the dead for thee, even all the chief ones of the earth. … All they shall speak and say unto thee: Art thou become weak as we? … Thy pomp is brought down to the grave. (2 Nephi 24:9-11)

Then comes the really famous part of the song, which we tend to read typologically—not as pointing to Christ, but as pointing to Satan:

How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning? Art thou cut down to the ground which did weaken the nations? For thou hast said in thy heart: I will ascend into heaven! I will exalt my throne above the stars of God! I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation in the sides of the north! I will ascend above the heights of the clouds! I will be like the Most High! Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit. They that see thee shall narrowly look upon thee and shall consider thee and shall say: Is this the man that made the earth to tremble? (2 Nephi 24:12-16)

The king of Babylon has fallen from the highest heights to the lowest depths, and all because he was convinced he could do everything on his own strength—just like the king of Assyria before him.

Next the kings of all the nations Babylon conquered—the kings that he put to death—get a chance to mock the now-fallen king. They lie in glory, at least, but the king of Babylon is “cast out of [his] grave like an abominable branch” (2 Nephi 24:19). And so the song ends with a call to put the Babylonian king’s children to death, to “cut off from Babylon the name and remnant” (2 Nephi 24:22). Note that while Judah and Israel are left, after all their destructions, with a remnant, Babylon is to be left with no such thing.

And all this, strangely, brings the power of Assyria (discussed in the chapters immediately preceding this oracle) to a complete end (see 2 Nephi 24:24-25), since this was “the purpose that is purposed upon the whole earth” (2 Nephi 24:26). And all this, we’re finally told, was announced “in the year that king Ahaz died” (2 Nephi 24:28). And with that, everything comes to an end.

12 Responses to “Book of Mormon Lesson #9: “My Soul Delighteth in the Words of Isaiah,” 2 Nephi 11-25 (Sunday School)”

  1. kirkcaudle said

    I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t actually laugh out loud while reading your 2 Nephi 15 commentary on globalized missionary work.

  2. Karen said

    I really enjoyed this post and I’ve got a much better handle on Isaiah now. Thanks!

    A few thoughts:

    1) I see Isaiah’s assignment slightly differently. Rather than seeing Israel as purposefully hardened by God, it seems to me that Israel chose to harden their hearts themselves, and then God is deciding to push that all the way to its conclusion. It’s still a harsh move, but one with more agency. :) God could send Isaiah to be plain, to coax, to try to make things easy so they hang on a little longer, but instead He sends Isaiah to give them more and more to reject. They are still choosing to reject it, like God knew they would, and this results in destruction, scattering, and the opportunity to create a remnant. Same end outcome, same goal, but with a slight twist to the beginning of the story.

    2) I agree with you that the prophecy of a child being born to a virgin, in context, has to be a child born in Isaiah’s time for the chapter to make any sense whatsoever. But, if we realize that’s the case, I wonder what it would mean for someone to take up that verse and apply it to Christ’s situation, also? In other words, let’s leave it in the context and story as is, and realize what is being done with it. Now, if we take it up poetically later, when talking about Christ, and so make an allusion to Isaiah’s child, what does it say about Christ? Could we think about the enemies of Christ as being death and sin? That even before Christ was grown, the work was in motion to overcome death and hell? Something like that?

    3) I liked this explanation of typological readings in general: “And here again let me be clear that there’s nothing wrong with typological interpretation: we should feel quite free to play around with the way that what Isaiah talks about here can be taken as so many types or shadows of Christ. At the same time, however, it doesn’t appear that Isaiah’s immediate focus was actually on events still so far in the distance”

    4) You explain this about another prophecy of a child being born: “While Israel will be completely deprived of its king during the Assyrian conquest (indeed, Israel will be destroyed and scattered), Judah will survive because it will receive a new king, one that has already been born to be Judah’s deliverer. And who, then, is the child already born? In a word: Hezekiah. Hezekiah will be the one who holds Assyria at bay (see 2 Kings 18-19 and Isaiah 36-37, where that story is told). If Judah has the promise of deliverance with Hezekiah, Israel has no such promise.” Again, if we later allude to this while talking about Christ, what are we saying, poetically? That against the Devil we actually have a deliverer? A hope? That the fall was real, and we all sin (just like Israel chose to reject Isaiah’s words), but like then there is a King to help us and protect us?

    5) I can see how Nephi can more easily liken Isaiah to the last-days than to Christ’s mortal ministry, since for Nephi the last-days is when the covenant to his own people will be fulfilled. I am catching on more and more how Nephi sees his own people as a direct, authentic parallel to Isaiah’s people. When we try to “liken” Isaiah, we don’t think of setting up a parallel instance of the same covenant like Nephi does, but instead we try to apply it in a sort of “poetic” way to our individual situation (or to human-kind’s situation). But I really think it’s important and productive to see things as Nephi does: to understand Isaiah in terms of the covenant people and plan of history. And it’s a covenant and history that we, as individuals, are a part of.

    6) I’m still a bit curious about this sealed book that Isaiah writes. This is going to be discussed more in another post, right? I can see pretty clearly now how Nephi likens the pattern of scattering-gathering to his people, but I hadn’t realized that writing a book was also involved in that pattern. I know Nephi’s book (the Book of Mormon, obviously), but what is Isaiah’s book, exactly? The book of Isaiah? All of it? Some of it? Was it really hidden and sealed? I’ll be eager to see what comes in future posts.

  3. joespencer said

    A few responses, Karen:

    1. To be fair, I think Nephi sees Isaiah’s assignment in something like the way you describe it, as is clear from some slight changes made to Isaiah 29 in 2 Nephi 26-27. That said, I think it’s clear that the less-agency-based version is Isaiah’s intention (von Rad does a nice job showing how this fits into broader theological themes in the OT). So, I think we can feel free, to some extent, to make this a bit more palatable to our modern tastes, but Isaiah likely would have wondered at our version.

    2-4. I think the directions you’re going are the obvious ones, though I’m not myself inclined to doing such work and so don’t feel like I can draw any helpful conclusions.

    5. Yes. Yes. Yes.

    6. I highly recommend Edgar Conrad’s Reading Isaiah. He spells out all these details in full.

    • Karen said

      (about 2-4) To be honest, I’m not so inclined in that direction either, but I like Handel’s Messiah enough that I had to give it a try. :)

  4. Greg said

    I really like your comments on 2nephi 16. I guess I always have imagined that the coal was from the altar of sacrifice. You comment on lips being language is also interesting to me since I have long view this as Isaiah’s lips needing to be clean (purged with fire) so the holy word of God could be spoken from them.

  5. [...] #8: “O How Great the Goodness of Our God,” 2 Nephi 6-10 (Sunday School)Greg on Book of Mormon Lesson #9: “My Soul Delighteth in the Words of Isaiah,” 2 Nephi 11-25 (Su…Karen on Reading Nephi Reading Isaiah: Reading 2 Nephi 26-27 (Book Review)joespencer on Reading [...]

  6. [...] All to Come unto Him,” 2 Nephi 26-30 (Gospel Doctrine) « Feast upon the Word Blog on Book of Mormon Lesson #9: “My Soul Delighteth in the Words of Isaiah,” 2 Nephi 11-25 (Su…BrianJ on Reading Nephi Reading Isaiah: Reading 2 Nephi 26-27 (Book Review)Greg on Book of [...]

  7. Robert C. said

    Bravo again, Joe….

  8. Jordan said

    Going along with Karen’s #5, as I was preparing this lesson for tomorrow, I was really struck by the concept of the “remnant” as being very significant to Nephi. The Lehite people are portrayed as a remnant of the garment of Jacob, too, though it seems they’re not the remnant referenced here. But also, Nephi has already seen the vision of the ultimate destruction of his people, and yet he’s not left entirely without hope because of the “remnant” which will remain through his brethren’s seed, which is a large reason why Nephi’s writing. And as you mention, that’s another parallel with Isaiah, creating this book that he knows his own people might not read and understand right now (a theme we see throughout the Book of Mormon, even forward/back to the title page), but that’s intended as a testament to show them God’s plan for his people and how Isaiah’s/Nephi’s own people are supposed to fit in.

    (I assume these themes feature more in the next lesson, however.)

  9. mrswatkinsclass said

    This has given me so much to think about. Thank you.

    One note:
    2 Nephi 16:10, the word “hear” is cross referenced with Matt 13:14-15, leading into the parable of the sower, with the seed being received in the good ground and bringing forth 100 fold, 60 fold, and 30 fold.

    Maybe this is showing examples of that. Isaiah and Nephi are examplars of 100 fold (intimate reception), Lehi of 60 fold (distant looking), and interested searchers and doers of the word are the 30 fold. (Matt 13:23-But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit , and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.)

    At what level do you and I receive/hear the good seed or good word of the Lord? We can measure it by our fruits. It seems from Isaiah and Nephi’s examples that humbly receiving what is given, acknowledging our nothingness/nakedness before God, repenting, obtaining God’s grace, and accepting the call as a laborer, enable progression in the work and the ability to produce greater folds of fruit within God’s plan.

  10. Yvonne S said

    I liked much of what you wrote. As Christians we have a tendency to see everything through our own filter with out paying attention to original meanings. I have been looking for some place where someone actually said Isaiah saw our day. I haven’t been able to find it. I don’t believe he saw airplains or locomatoves taking missionaries out to find the scattered. That is what comes of proof texting. It doesn’t reaquire any study to do that and in my mind, at least, it is not what is meant by likening the original to us.

  11. Cutie said

    Cutie…

    [...]Book of Mormon Lesson #9: “My Soul Delighteth in the Words of Isaiah,” 2 Nephi 11-25 (Sunday School) « Feast upon the Word Blog[...]…

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