Alma 36

Alma 36 is a very poetic (indeed the whole thing is one giant chiasmus) account from Alma the younger himself of his conversion. It’s also a very powerful, and powerfully written, chapter; any paucity of comments by me today should not be taken as a reflection on the chapter itself, which is very worth reading.

Alma begins (and ends, in chiastic fashion) his account by talking of God delivering the Israelites and his own forefathers, and the importance of remembering them. There’s a point in verse 3 in particular that stood out to me today (my emphasis):

And now, O my son Helaman, behold, thou art in thy youth, and therefore, I beseech of thee that thou wilt hear my words and learn of me; for I do know that whosoever shall put their trust in God shall be supported in their trials, and their troubles, and their afflictions, and shall be lifted up at the last day.

Note what it doesn’t say: it does not say that those who put their trust will be spared trials and troubles and afflictions. Rather Alma states that those who put their trust in God will be supported in their trials and so forth. The very last phrase should not be forgotten either: “and shall be lifted up at the last day”. This is speaking of salvation and resurrection, of course, but I think also speaks to the promise that God will deliver us from our trials, troubles and afflictions. It just might not be immediately. God will deliver us in his time, and in the meantime will support us through those periods. Good examples of that pattern can in fact be seen in those very episodes Alma speaks of remembering; for instance, the deliverance of his own father and his people involved a period in which they were strengthened to bear their burdens in their captivity, and then a miraculous deliverance from captivity.

A question came to mind as I read Alma’s own account of the angelic visit that lead to his conversion:

For I went about with the sons of Mosiah, seeking to destroy the church of God; but behold, God sent his holy angel to stop us by the way.

And behold, he spake unto us, as it were the voice of thunder, and the whole earth did tremble beneath our feet; and we all fell to the earth, for the fear of the Lord came upon us.

But behold, the voice said unto me: Arise. And I arose and stood up, and beheld the angel.

And he said unto me: If thou wilt of thyself be destroyed, seek no more to destroy the church of God.

And it came to pass that I fell to the earth; and it was for the space of three days and three nights that I could not open my mouth, neither had I the use of my limbs.

And the angel spake more things unto me, which were heard by my brethren, but I did not hear them; for when I heard the words—If thou wilt be destroyed of thyself, seek no more to destroy the church of God—I was struck with such great fear and amazement lest perhaps I should be destroyed, that I fell to the earth and I did hear no more.

(Alma 36:6-11, my emphasis)

It’s verse 11 that particularly raised the question. Alma recounts that when he heard the statement that “If thou wilt of thyself be destroyed, seek no more to destroy the church of God”, he was so affected by it that he fell and didn’t hear the rest of the words of the angel. So the question is why did the angel keep speaking?

Perhaps the answer to this is that they “were heard by my brethren” (namely the sons of Mosiah). Perhaps those words were really aimed at them. Considering how they changed their lives around at this point too, perhaps they were the target of this angelic ministry as much as Alma was.

As I’ve mentioned before with Alma, he’s very good at conjuring the potential horror of judgment and damnation, perhaps in part because he’s already felt that experience, and it’s here in this chapter we really see it:

But I was racked with eternal torment, for my soul was harrowed up to the greatest degree and racked with all my sins.

Yea, I did remember all my sins and iniquities, for which I was tormented with the pains of hell; yea, I saw that I had rebelled against my God, and that I had not kept his holy commandments.

Yea, and I had murdered many of his children, or rather led them away unto destruction; yea, and in fine so great had been my iniquities, that the very thought of coming into the presence of my God did rack my soul with inexpressible horror.

Oh, thought I, that I could be banished and become extinct both soul and body, that I might not be brought to stand in the presence of my God, to be judged of my deeds.

And now, for three days and for three nights was I racked, even with the pains of a damned soul.

(Alma 36:12-16)

It is this experience, however, that causes him to remember his own father’s teachings, and which leave him desperate enough to call for help:

And it came to pass that as I was thus racked with torment, while I was harrowed up by the memory of my many sins, behold, I remembered also to have heard my father prophesy unto the people concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world.

Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death.

(Alma 36:17-18)

And as a result he experiences the power of the gospel, as he feels the joy of forgiveness and deliverance:

And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more.

And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!

Yea, I say unto you, my son, that there could be nothing so exquisite and so bitter as were my pains. Yea, and again I say unto you, my son, that on the other hand, there can be nothing so exquisite and sweet as was my joy.

Yea, methought I saw, even as our father Lehi saw, God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels, in the attitude of singing and praising their God; yea, and my soul did long to be there.

(Alma 36:19-22)

It’s worth reflecting that it is not the angel that converted him. The angel simply allowed him to realise his own sins. It is that consciousness of sin that cause him to turn to Christ, and that turn to Christ led him to be spiritually reborn and feel the joy of the gospel.

Alma 15

Just a few short comments today, which seems a bit fitting for the way that this chapter comes almost as a breather after the sermon in chapters 8-13, and then the dramatic events of chapter 14.

Verse 3 caught my attention:

And also Zeezrom lay sick at Sidom, with a burning fever, which was caused by the great tribulations of his mind on account of his wickedness, for he supposed that Alma and Amulek were no more; and he supposed that they had been slain because of his iniquity. And this great sin, and his many other sins, did harrow up his mind until it did become exceedingly sore, having no deliverance; therefore he began to be scorched with a burning heat.

I was really struck by that phrase of “having no deliverance”. Without Christ and his gospel, Zeezrom, and indeed all of us, don’t have any deliverance from our sins. And here we’re not speaking necessarily of the consequences of those sins, but simply the guilt from them. The guilt had become intense enough as to torture Zeezrom, and to physically debilitate him.

Of course, thankfully there is a deliverance: in Zeezrom’s case, Alma and Amulek appeaing, and healing him in the name of Christ, and for us to, in that Christ can deliver us from the guilt of our sins too.

I like verse 16 and 17 for difference reasons:

And it came to pass that Alma and Amulek, Amulek having forsaken all his gold, and silver, and his precious things, which were in the land of Ammonihah, for the word of God, he being rejected by those who were once his friends and also by his father and his kindred;

Therefore, after Alma having established the church at Sidom, seeing a great check, yea, seeing that the people were checked as to the pride of their hearts, and began to humble themselves before God, and began to assemble themselves together at their sanctuaries to worship God before the altar, watching and praying continually, that they might be delivered from Satan, and from death, and from destruction

Verse 16 really underlines the message communicated elsewhere, especially in the gospels, as to the price one may have to pay as a disciple of Christ. There’s little Amulek didn’t have to give up (and so no surprise that Alma felt the need to help him in verse 18). But while that’s a heavy burden Amulek had to carry, it’s also one we might be called upon to carry too. The gospel calls for us to be willing to sacrifice everything if need be.

Verse 17 hasn’t really attracted my attention before but it did this time, and I’m not even quite sure why. There’s a lot there, I think, in the notion of pride being checked, and consequent humility. Likewise I think there’s something powerfully urgent in the description of the people “watching and praying continually, that they might be delivered from Satan, and from death, and from destruction”. These were people who didn’t simply pray for what they wanted or desired, but who recognised the desperate frailty of their existence, and the peril which they faced, and so at all times earnestly sought heaven’s protection.

Mosiah 21

And now we catch back up to the “present” after the flashback scene (just before we embark on another flashback scene with Alma!). There’s a few things in this chapter that caught my eye today.

The first is in verses 24-26:

But when he found that they were not, but that they were his brethren, and had come from the land of Zarahemla, he was filled with exceedingly great joy.

Now king Limhi had sent, previous to the coming of Ammon, a small number of men to search for the land of Zarahemla; but they could not find it, and they were lost in the wilderness.

Nevertheless, they did find a land which had been peopled; yea, a land which was covered with dry bones; yea, a land which had been peopled and which had been destroyed; and they, having supposed it to be the land of Zarahemla, returned to the land of Nephi, having arrived in the borders of the land not many days before the coming of Ammon.

We could have perhaps inferred this before, but this seems to be the first time it is clearly stated: those who’d set off to obtain help from Zarahemla and found the destroyed cities of the Jaredites instead thought they actually had reached Zarahemla. But rather than being their last source for help, they found nothing but ruins and evidence of an extinct people. It must have seemed truly hopeless (it’s like that scene in Battlestar Galactica – the “new” one – where they find “Earth” only to find it a nuked out wasteland). So when Ammon and party announced that they actually were from Zarahemla, there must have been some (good) emotional whiplash.

Next is perhaps a more minor note, but verse 28 reads:

And now Limhi was again filled with joy on learning from the mouth of Ammon that king Mosiah had a gift from God, whereby he could interpret such engravings; yea, and Ammon also did rejoice.

However, in the 1830, the line (the 1830 edition doesn’t have verses) reads a little differently:

And now Limhi was again filled with joy, on learning from the mouth of Ammon that king Benjamin had a gift from God, whereby he could interpret such engravings; yea, and Ammon also did rejoice.

IMG_20200515_134836257

See!

What’s going on here? Is this a mistake? Well that’s possible (the Book of Mormon, after all, disclaims inerrancy on its very title page). That’s probably why it got changed to Mosiah in the 1837 edition, although Benjamin is also on the printer’s manuscript (see Royal Skousen’s Analysis of Textual Variations part 3, in which he goes into this verse in some detail in pp. 1418-1421. As he notes, Ether 4:1 similarly originally read Benjamin and not Mosiah). It could of course be an error on Mormon’s part. However, it’s possibly not an error at all and should read Benjamin. Note that in Mosiah 6 it is recorded that after abdicating (becoming King Emiritus?), “king Benjamin lived three years and he died” (Mosiah 6:5). And Ammon’s party were sent to find the colonists after the people started nagging the king “after king Mosiah had had continual peace for the space of three years” (Mosiah 7:1). In other words, it’s possible that Benjamin was still alive when Ammon and his party set off, although the time frame is tight (especially for Ether 4:1, which also requires Benjamin to still be alive, if only for a short time, when Ammon returns; but again, that might actually be possible). Of course, the correct reading here matters little in terms of the principles that are being taught, but it’s interesting to think about.

A final thing that stood out to me while reading today comes from Ammon and his party’s reaction to the events they’ve been told about:

….and they also did mourn for the death of Abinadi; and also for the departure of Alma and the people that went with him, who had formed a church of God through the strength and power of God, and faith on the words which had been spoken by Abinadi.

Yea, they did mourn for their departure, for they knew not whither they had fled. Now they would have gladly joined with them, for they themselves had entered into a covenant with God to serve him and keep his commandments.

It’s interesting that Ammon has a desire to unite with the church Alma organised, although he’s already made a covenant with God during King Benjamin’s sermon. There’s a couple of more examples coming up in the next few chapters, but what I feel this really illustrates is some important differences between what “the Church” meant here and what it tends to mean to us today. We think in terms of one, singular, formal organization, and perhaps have a very monolithic picture in which it encompasses all our religious endeavours (and maybe we go too far in that sometimes; it’s in modern scripture that we are told that we should not need to be “command[ed] in all things”, and should “do many thing of [our] own free will”, D&C 58:26-27). But that’s certainly not the case with the “Church” (which, it should be remembered, is generally translating words that can be rendered as “congregation” and “community”) in other dispensations. The early Christians, for instance, continued to worship at the temple (and thus recognised the authority of the priesthood there) after the resurrection of Christ. Likewise here: King Benjamin is a seer, and an inspired man who received specific revelation from an angel on what to teach people, and taught his people so they might enter into a covenant with God. But he didn’t organize a church like Alma did, and so one who has entered into a covenant under the instruction of King Benjamin sees no contradiction in wanting to join Alma’s church, and recognises the divine hand and authority behind both.

Easter Saturday

A few years ago, during a particularly challenging and emotionally turbulent period of my life, I found myself at Easter thinking about the disciples, and how they must have felt on Friday night and then the Saturday following the crucifixion. I wrote:

I find myself thinking about how a small group must have felt on a friday evening almost two thousand years ago. The scriptures are almost silent about that Friday evening and the Saturday. We know the events of earlier, but that group didn’t understand them yet, and so wouldn’t have understood that the suffering they had witnessed would lead to good. And the victory of the Sunday Morning was both so far away and unimagined. What did they feel, I wonder, at this point when despair must have been at its greatest? How did Simon Peter feel, believing perhaps that he’d never have the chance to make right his denial of his master, that he irrevocably lost? What did they do on that Saturday in that moment of grief and uttermost sorrow? And could they have remotely imagined that in the space of a couple of days this would be turned all upside down, and their mourning turned to joy?

The New Testament is indeed mostly quiet about this Saturday (with only the appeal for guards for the tomb by the Chief Priests and Pharisees in Matthew 27:62-66 perhaps falling on it). Compared to the events of the Friday, and those that were to come on the Sunday, perhaps it doesn’t matter much in terms of Christ’s work (at least on Earth – in the world of spirits he was quite busy!). But I think it does matter from a human perspective. That sense of crushing disappointment, of abandonment, of grief, of hopes unfulfilled and dashed; these are feelings we can understand (as my own despair of the time helped me to), because they are feelings that – at least in some stages in our life – in some way we tend to tangle with as well.

There is a bit more scriptural material to work with for this time in the New World, where the Nephites had a voice speak to them from the heavens, with Christ declaring himself and announcing why his judgments had fallen upon their cities (3 Nephi 9:1-10:7). However, as to the condition the people were in during this period, we have this passage in 3 Nephi 8:20-25:

And it came to pass that there was thick darkness upon all the face of the land, insomuch that the inhabitants thereof who had not fallen could feel the vapor of darkness;
And there could be no light, because of the darkness, neither candles, neither torches; neither could there be fire kindled with their fine and exceedingly dry wood, so that there could not be any light at all;
And there was not any light seen, neither fire, nor glimmer, neither the sun, nor the moon, nor the stars, for so great were the mists of darkness which were upon the face of the land.
And it came to pass that it did last for the space of three days that there was no light seen; and there was great mourning and howling and weeping among all the people continually; yea, great were the groanings of the people, because of the darkness and the great destruction which had come upon them.
And in one place they were heard to cry, saying: O that we had repented before this great and terrible day, and then would our brethren have been spared, and they would not have been burned in that great city Zarahemla.
And in another place they were heard to cry and mourn, saying: O that we had repented before this great and terrible day, and had not killed and stoned the prophets, and cast them out; then would our mothers and our fair daughters, and our children have been spared, and not have been buried up in that great city Moronihah. And thus were the howlings of the people great and terrible.

The disciples in Jerusalem were in emotional darkness; the people here were in literal darkness, thick clouding darkness that prevented any spark or fire. But they too wrestled with grief, with regret, and with despair. Could there be any hope? Could light ever come again?

Following the voice from the heavens, all they can do is mourn again (3 Nephi 10:8):

And now it came to pass that after the people had heard these words, behold, they began to weep and howl again because of the loss of their kindred and friends.

Yet in just the next two verses (vv. 9-10):

And it came to pass that thus did the three days pass away. And it was in the morning, and the darkness dispersed from off the face of the land, and the earth did cease to tremble, and the rocks did cease to rend, and the dreadful groanings did cease, and all the tumultuous noises did pass away.
And the earth did cleave together again, that it stood; and the mourning, and the weeping, and the wailing of the people who were spared alive did cease; and their mourning was turned into joy, and their lamentations into the praise and thanksgiving unto the Lord Jesus Christ, their Redeemer.

What perhaps most struck me when I first thought about this was that, as bad as the disciples must surely have been feeling, in but a few short hours their grief would be turned to joy, the source of their sadness turned into one of jubilation. We the readers know this: we may have read or heard the story before, we can turn the page and look ahead. But they had no way of knowing or imagining this. As Mary Magdalene was weeping and pleading with the gardener to tell her where the body of her Lord had been moved (John 20:15), could she have at all expected to get the answer she was about to get in the next few seconds? One which must surely have upturned and overturned all that she had felt (the Gospel does not record her emotional reaction, but we can imagine it; certainly the Saviour then had to urgently tell her not to touch him, vv. 16-17). Deliverance, euphoria, relief, all close at hand, but unimaginable in the moment of despair.

Of the Easter period we remember Good Friday and the Easter Morning: the moments of great sacrifice, and the moments of joy, catharsis and blessing, but for those who passed through it, Saturday must have loomed large. And in our own life, we have our times of sacrifice, and our times of deliverance, but we may spend a good while in the Easter Saturdays of our life, where darkness surrounds us, hope has fled, and deliverance impossible. We are not like the readers of the Gospels; we cannot turn the page and look ahead and see the morning to come. Yet perhaps the message of Easter Saturday we can take into such times is that deliverance will come. It may not come the very next day (as it did for the disciples), and it may well come in ways that we cannot expect or anticipate (as did, in fact, happen for the disciples), but it will come. For those of us in the Easter Saturdays of life, Easter Morn will come, and if we hold on until that dawn – whether it be the very next day or at the time of the final judgment itself – our mourning will be turned to joy, and our lamentations into praise and thanksgiving.

2 Nephi 22

And in that day thou shalt say: O Lord, I will praise thee; though thou wast angry with me thine anger is turned away, and thou comfortedst me.

(2 Nephi 22:1//Isaiah 12:1)

I’ve mentioned before that I tend to worry about messing things up. It’s comforting to know that – while we may well do things that displease the Lord – He is merciful and forgiving, and always prepared to receive and comfort us if we repent.

2020 Edit:

This chapter – the quotation of Isaiah 12 – is very short, as Isaiah 12 is, an artefact of imposing the Isaiah chapter divisions upon the lengthy quotation in 1879. As such, I can pretty much quote it in full, and I’m going to:

And in that day thou shalt say: 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 has become my salvation.

Therefore, with joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation.

And in that day shall ye say: 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//Isaiah 12)

Why quote this in full (other than because I can)? Because this chapter really serves as a conclusion, a summary and even a punctuation to many of the preceding chapters, which have laid out both forthcoming judgments to come upon Israel for her wickedness, but also the future deliverance, found above all else in the figure of Christ, the Holy One of Israel, who will restore and redeem Zion. And true to the way that Isaiah can, and should, be read as having multiple fulfilments, as being filled with types and antitypes, it can apply to each of us individually too (as I did in my original post). I suspect Nephi did too; the whole statement that “Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid” is reminiscent of his own words in 2 Nephi 4:19 that “nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted”. Likewise this chapter is echoed in his declaration in the same passage that:

Rejoice, O my heart, and cry unto the Lord, and say: O Lord, I will praise thee forever; yea, my soul will rejoice in thee, my God, and the rock of my salvation.

(2 Nephi 4:30)

The Lord is praiseworthy; despite our individual and collective rebellions and weaknesses, he is merciful, and has provided for our salvation and our joy. In him we can trust, and not be afraid. And trust is the crucial thing: trust is what separates true and living faith from simple belief. The devils believe God exists, and tremble (James 2:19), for they did not trust him and rebelled against him. Likewise we might believe about him (that he exists), but not in him (that we trust him, and place our confidence in him). But we need to have that confidence and trust in him to follow him, to take us through what may seem some very strange roads and through the valley of the shadow of death itself. If we let go at that point, out of fear and doubt in his judgment, we will be lost. But if we hold on, trusting in his guidance, trusting that whatever trials we may go through, and indeed submitting to all things he sees fit to inflict upon us, then he will bring us safely through to the other side. For he is our strength and our song: he, and he alone, has the capacity and full will to save us, and will if we trust him enough to let him.

2 Nephi 20

For though thy people Israel be as the sand of the sea, yet a remnant of them shall return; the consumption decreed shall overflow with righteousness.

For the Lord God of Hosts shall make a consumption, even determined in all the land.

Therefore, thus saith the Lord God of Hosts: O my people that dwellest in Zion, be not afraid of the Assyrian; he shall smite thee with a rod, and shall lift up his staff against thee, after the manner of Egypt.

For yet a very little while, and the indignation shall cease, and mine anger in their destruction.

(2 Nephi 20:22-25//Isaiah 10:22-25)

This passage reminds me of the passages in 1 Peter 4:17 and D&C 112:25:

For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?

(1 Peter 4:17)

And upon my house shall it begin, and from my house shall it go forth, saith the Lord;

(D&C 112:25)

Ancient Israel, because of her pride, idolatry and complacency, came under judgment, often by the means of the wicked nations surrounding it before they in turn received a reckoning. But I do not think Isaiah’s words apply only to ancient Israel, and likewise Peter warns and we’re told in the latter-days that God’s judgment will fall upon us (“the house of God”) first. Mere membership of his kingdom will not spare us from this process; indeed it makes us more accountable. But God’s judgment also serves as a cleansing and a sifting process, and the remnant who are left will be far more faithful. The question, I guess, is how we respond to that process and which direction we are sifted in.

2020 Edit:

Here in 2 Nephi 20//Isaiah 10, the Lord speaks about how he will use “Assyria” (literally Assyria the first time around, but a type of other such rulers and regimes in the future) as a means of bringing judgment upon his own people, for a time:

O Assyrian, the rod of mine anger, and the staff in their hand is their indignation.

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.

(2 Nephi 20:5-6//Isaiah 10:5-6)

However, this wasn’t and will not be the “Assyrian’s” intention:

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.

(2 Nephi 20:7//Isaiah 10:7)

Thus the Lord can make use of the wicked and the unwitting, those who think they are fulfilling their own desires, to accomplish his work, which reminds me of this statement by Mormon in Mormon 4:5:

But, behold, the judgments of God will overtake the wicked; and it is by the wicked that the wicked are punished; for it is the wicked that stir up the hearts of the children of men unto bloodshed.

Yet while the “Assyrian” will prevail for a while, the fact he has unwittingly been used as an instrument of God will not spare him punishment for his own misdeeds:

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.

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!

Therefore shall the Lord, the Lord of Hosts, send among his fat ones, leanness; and under his glory he shall kindle a burning like the burning of a fire.

And the light of Israel shall be for a fire, and his Holy One for a flame, and shall burn and shall devour his thorns and his briers in one day;

And shall consume the glory of his forest, and of his fruitful field, both soul and body; and they shall be as when a standard-bearer fainteth.

And the rest of the trees of his forest shall be few, that a child may write them.

(2 Nephi 20:12, 15-19//Isaiah 10:12, 15-19)

The closing verses of this chapter are interesting too:

He is come to Aiath, he is passed to Migron; at Michmash he hath laid up his carriages.

They are gone over the passage; they have taken up their lodging at Geba; Ramath is afraid; Gibeah of Saul is fled.

Lift up the voice, O daughter of Gallim; cause it to be heard unto Laish, O poor Anathoth.

Madmenah is removed; the inhabitants of Gebim gather themselves to flee.

As 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.

Behold, the Lord, the Lord of Hosts shall lop the bough with terror; and the high ones of stature shall be hewn down; and the haughty shall be humbled.

And he shall cut down the thickets of the forests with iron, and Lebanon shall fall by a mighty one.

(2 Nephi 20:28-34//Isaiah 10:28-34)

This list of places is a list of places approaching Jerusalem, representing the approach of the Assyrian army in its attempt to conquer Jerusalem, Nob presumably being the closest point and perhaps within sight (its site is uncertain, although one Major Wilson proposed Mount Scopus as a possible location; the latter was certainly used as a vantage point by the Romans in their successful conquest of Jerusalem in AD 70). The Assyrians approached close enough to put the city under siege, until they were miraculously delivered:

Then the angel of the Lord went forth, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians a hundred and fourscore and five thousand: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses.

So Sennacherib king of Assyria departed, and went and returned, and dwelt at Nineveh.

And it came to pass, as he was worshipping in the house of Nisroch his god, that Adrammelech and Sharezer his sons smote him with the sword; and they escaped into the land of Armenia: and Esar-haddon his son reigned in his stead.

(Isaiah 37:36-38, reproduced with little change in 2 Kings 19:35-37)

And the Lord sent an angel, which cut off all the mighty men of valour, and the leaders and captains in the camp of the king of Assyria. So he returned with shame of face to his own land. And when he was come into the house of his god, they that came forth of his own bowels slew him there with the sword.

(2 Chronicles 32:21)

What’s striking, and perhaps applicable for later (and yet future?) fulfilments, reading the original invasion as a type of such trials, is that the Lord’s deliverance only came after the Assyrians had successfully made their way close to the city. Only at what might have been the last possible point before they were in the city itself, at the point where to many all may have already seemed lost, did God step in.

 

2 Nephi 17

And it came to pass in the days of Ahaz the son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, king of Judah, that Rezin, king of Syria, and Pekah the son of Remaliah, king of Israel, went up toward Jerusalem to war against it, but could not prevail against it.

And it was told the house of David, saying: Syria is confederate with Ephraim. And his heart was moved, and the heart of his people, as the trees of the wood are moved with the wind.

Then said the Lord unto Isaiah: Go forth now to meet Ahaz, thou and Shearjashub thy son, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool in the highway of the fuller’s field;

And say unto him: Take heed, and be quiet; fear not, neither be faint-hearted for the two tails of these smoking firebrands, for the fierce anger of Rezin with Syria, and of the son of Remaliah.

Because Syria, Ephraim, and the son of Remaliah, have taken evil counsel against thee, saying:

Let us go up against Judah and vex it, and let us make a breach therein for us, and set a king in the midst of it, yea, the son of Tabeal.

Thus saith the Lord God: It shall not stand, neither shall it come to pass.

(2 Nephi 17:1-7//Isaiah 7:1-7)

Personally I find it really easy to worry about future events. Not the big events funnily enough: I’m not unduly worried about future cataclysms, war or the collapse of western civilisation despite the fact that I think all of that will happen. I guess that feels like it’s all in God’s hands, and indeed even a vindication of his teachings and promises.

But the little, personal, stuff I find really easy to worry about. I guess I have less of a conviction of any of that fitting into some grand divine plan, or worry I may forfeit blessings through imperfection. And many of these are areas in which I know I don’t do well, and where my imagination can conjure up outcomes and scenarios I find very concerning, even though they haven’t happened and may never happen.

So I guess I find a bit of reassurance in this passage: there was actually a genuine threat here (Judah was comparatively weaker than the Northern Kingdom, let alone it being allied to Aram-Damascus as well). Yet despite the dangers that posed, the fears were ultimately unnecessary because God was in control of events. It is God who is the ultimate antidote to such fears of the future.

2020 edit:

I find it somewhat amusing to read what I wrote four years ago, because many of the hypothetical scenarios that my mind conjured that I worried about… did happen. In fact, it was about a year after this I remember laying out to a friend what I thought a worst-case scenario would be in terms of the outcome of events that week (that were in turn the culmination of months and years), and despite even I thinking that combination of events was unlikely, the worst-case scenario unfolded before my eyes. Apparently – contrary to what near everyone advised me – I wasn’t being nearly pessimistic enough!

But then that’s the way of things, and the way of this life, and yet doesn’t overthrow God’s ultimate reassurances. We have in this chapter one very famous messianic prophecy (v. 14, and I think the Septuagint translated it right, and Matthew applied it rightly, for anyone wondering), but Christ’s coming wouldn’t resolve the forthcoming attack by Israel and Syria (that would be resolved by the Assyrians, which admittedly God arranged). Nor would it resolve the Assyrians in turn, nor the Babylonians after that who would destroy Jerusalem and take the survivors into captivity, doubtless the worst-case scenario for many living in Jerusalem before 586 BC.

But what it did do, when it happened, was pave the way for the victory over sin and death, the greatest victory over the most fundamental problem we all face. Likewise we may experience all manner of trials, some of which we may receive divine assistance to overcome, and others which he will permit to sorely try us. Yet if we hold out faithful, his ultimate promises are sure, and whatever we face in this life will hardly compare to all that he will grant us in the next.

2 Nephi 8

Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look upon the earth beneath; for the heavens shall vanish away like smoke, and the earth shall wax old like a garment; and they that dwell therein shall die in like manner. But my salvation shall be forever, and my righteousness shall not be abolished.

(2 Nephi 8:6//Isaiah 51:6)

So much of what I find myself worried about, or thinking about or even simply curious about is in the grand scheme of things so impermanent. As the Lord speaks through Isaiah here, even the earth and the heavens are fleeting and will pass away. So why do I expend so much energy and so much thought and so much emotion of that which does not last, good or bad? While some of those things must take their proper place, surely what I should be most worried about is those things which are permanent, such as the Lord and the salvation he offers?

Edit 2020:

This chapter continues the quotation from Isaiah, now covering Isaiah 51 and 52:1-2. Much of this chapter seems to be offering reassurance, that despite any present trial or suffering Zion (and by analogy us) will be redeemed, and emphasising both the ephemerality of those things that trouble us, and the power of God in contrast. Thus in addition to the verse quoted above there’s some other powerful passages along the same lines:

Hearken unto me, ye that know righteousness, the people in whose heart I have written my law, fear ye not the reproach of men, neither be ye afraid of their revilings.

For the moth shall eat them up like a garment, and the worm shall eat them like wool. But my righteousness shall be forever, and my salvation from generation to generation.

(2 Nephi 8:7-8//Isaiah 51:7-8)

It can be natural to worry about what other people think or say about us or to us, but these are likewise temporary things, and it is God’s opinion, and the consequences that flow from that, that are of lasting import. Verse 12-13 likewise touch on this point.

Verses 9-11 are particularly interesting:

Awake, awake! Put on strength, O arm of the Lord; awake as in the ancient days. Art thou not he that hath cut Rahab, and wounded the dragon?

Art thou not he who hath dried the sea, the waters of the great deep; that hath made the depths of the sea a way for the ransomed to pass over?

Therefore, the redeemed of the Lord shall return, and come with singing unto Zion; and everlasting joy and holiness shall be upon their heads; and they shall obtain gladness and joy; sorrow and mourning shall flee away.

This is mostly a reference to the Exodus, Rahab being Egypt and the dragon (Hebrew: תַּנִּֽין tannin, lit: sea monster/serpent) can be seen as standing for Pharoah (although it has a whole host of other allusions, to the widespread – indeed near ubiquitous – myth of the chaoskampf and ultimately, I believe, to the pre-Earth struggle against the original “dragon”). The Exodus, due to its scale and spectacular nature, has become the preeminent example of God using his power to deliver his people, and so is used here as reassurance that God can and will deliver Zion in the end. Indeed, Jeremiah 16:14-15 makes an even more striking point in this regard:

Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that it shall no more be said, The Lord liveth, that brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt;

But, The Lord liveth, that brought up the children of Israel from the land of the north, and from all the lands whither he had driven them: and I will bring them again into their land that I gave unto their fathers.

That is God’s work in gathering and delivering Israel in the last days will be so spectacular and miraculous that it, and not the Exodus, will henceforth become the example of God’s power.

There’s some interesting and significant differences between the passage as quoted in this chapter and as found in the Bible in verses 19-20 (underlined is text that is substituted for text in curly brackets, while bold text is found only in the BoM):

These two sons {things} are come unto thee, who shall be sorry for thee—thy desolation and destruction, and the famine and the sword—and by whom shall I comfort thee?
Thy sons have fainted, save these two; they lie at the head of all the streets; as a wild bull in a net, they are full of the fury of the Lord, the rebuke of thy God.

As these verses read in the bible, the two “things” that come to Israel are “desolation and destruction”, and “the famine and the sword” (two pairs). A couple of small differences make the verses here read quite differently: it is two sons who come to Israel, who shall be sorry for the desolation and destruction that have happened to it, and shall be a means of God to help Israel. These two, unlike the other sons, will not faint in the face of these perils. These two may well be connected to the two witnesses of Revelation 11. It’s an interesting example of how some fairly small insertions and substitutions can communicate new meanings (as for where such differences come from, I find it quite funny that commentators tend to ascribes such differences either to an original text – which for reasons I outline here and in tBoM&irwtB I find quite unlikely – or to Joseph Smith. It doesn’t seem to cross many minds that it might be the likes of Jacob and Nephi – and in a sense, God himself – doing it).

 

2 Nephi 7

Yea, for thus saith the Lord: Have I put thee away, or have I cast thee off forever? For thus saith the Lord: Where is the bill of your mother’s divorcement? To whom have I put thee away, or to which of my creditors have I sold you? Yea, to whom have I sold you? Behold, for your iniquities have ye sold yourselves, and for your transgressions is your mother put away.

Wherefore, when I came, there was no man; when I called, yea, there was none to answer. O house of Israel, is my hand shortened at all that it cannot redeem, or have I no power to deliver? Behold, at my rebuke I dry up the sea, I make their rivers a wilderness and their fish to stink because the waters are dried up, and they die because of thirst.

(2 Nephi 7:1-2//Isaiah 50:1-2)

Sometimes its just gratifying to know that – while we often sell ourselves by our iniquities – we are not cast off forever, and that God always has the power to redeem and deliver.

2020 Edit:

Perhaps amusingly, it is much the same verses that leapt out at me today as did when I wrote the original post. They summarise a key point of this passage, however: God is not unfaithful, and does not abandon us. We often abandon him, like Israel did many times, but God will continue trying to reach out, being faithful to his covenant, and has the power to do so.

This chapter is a quotation of Isaiah 50, although the way this chapter’s beginning and ending synchronise with the chapter divisions in Isaiah is an artefact of the post-1879 chapters; in the 1830 edition 2 Nephi 6-8 are all one chapter.

A key part of this chapter, as it is for these chapters in Isaiah, is this image of a servant, one described here as being given “the tongue of the learned” to address the people (v.4), who listens to the Lord and does not rebel nor turn back (v. 5), and who the Lord will help(v. 9). Many of these words can apply at least in part to a number of prophetic figures, as I mentioned in the post on 1 Nephi 21//Isaiah 49. As I discussed there, however, and as can be seen in things like Abinadi’s interpretation of Isaiah 52:7 in Mosiah 15:14-18, many of these prophecies can simultaneously apply to a range of prophetic servants or such servants generally, and at the same time apply above all else to Christ himself. In this chapter, it is perhaps verse 6 and 7 that show this most clearly, where the servant states:

I gave my back to the smiter, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair. I hid not my face from shame and spitting.

For the Lord God will help me, therefore shall I not be confounded. Therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed.

And again, much as in 1 Nephi 20-21//Isaiah 48-49, the consequences of continuing to reject the Lord and refusing to obey the voice of his servant are laid out, here in verse 11:

Behold all ye that kindle fire, that compass yourselves about with sparks, walk in the light of your fire and in the sparks which ye have kindled. This shall ye have of mine hand—ye shall lie down in sorrow.

Those that “kindle fire” – which as fire provides both light and warmth, suggests those that seek guidance and security from sources other that God – will be left to their own devices, indeed to my ear it seems suggested that they’ll be damaged by the very sparks they kindle, and ultimately receive sorrow when they could have received joy.

For those interested in the textual differences between this chapter and Isaiah 50 in the KJV, see pp. 396-398 in the appendix of The Book of Mormon and its relationship with the Bible. Perhaps one the most substantial additions/substitutions in this passage is the addition of “O house of Israel” in verse 2 and the substitution of “O house of Israel” into verse 4, clearly indicating that it is the house of Israel that is not cast off forever (and so resisting any supercessionist reading of this chapter). Another substantial addition is the whole clause of “and I will smite him with the strength of my mouth” to verse 8, indicating that the theme of judgment is likewise never that far away.

1 Nephi 22

For the time soon cometh that the fulness of the wrath of God shall be poured out upon all the children of men; for he will not suffer that the wicked shall destroy the righteous.

Wherefore, he will preserve the righteous by his power, even if it so be that the fulness of his wrath must come, and the righteous be preserved, even unto the destruction of their enemies by fire. Wherefore, the righteous need not fear; for thus saith the prophet, they shall be saved, even if it so be as by fire.

Behold, my brethren, I say unto you, that these things must shortly come; yea, even blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke must come; and it must needs be upon the face of this earth; and it cometh unto men according to the flesh if it so be that they will harden their hearts against the Holy One of Israel.

For behold, the righteous shall not perish; for the time surely must come that all they who fight against Zion shall be cut off.

1 Nephi 22:16-19

I sometimes joke that one of the biggest things I’ve learned from my thesis is that one of the major themes of the Book of Mormon is “judgment is coming”. Except it’s not a joke, not really: judgment is coming. God will hold us all accountable, and for our civilisation – unless it repents – that accountability is coming quicker than people think.

However – as I mentioned with 1 Nephi 1 – God’s acts of judgment in the Book of Mormon are often deliverance for others. Much of 1 Nephi 22, and many other parts of the Book of Mormon, are about how the Lord will remember his covenant with scattered Israel. Here it is made clear that the Lord will protect and deliver the righteous: that protection, however, will come in the form of divine judgment upon the wicked. Mercy and justice, judgment and deliverance are mirror images of each other, two sides of the same coin of divine providence.

2020 Edit:

I’m picking out things that stuck out to me this time round, but it several cases they are things I’ve noticed before, and in some cases written at length on (from a more academic perspective) along with other stuff in chapter 3 of the much aforementioned book. This is Nephi’s “commentary” on the quoted material of 1 Nephi 21-22//Isaiah 48-49. I use “commentary” loosely, since it’s not a systematic commentary by any means, but rather (in response to questions by his brothers) Nephi expands upon some of its meaning in a passage that also draws upon a range of other scriptural references (Isaiah, Deuteronomy, something akin of Malachi, Psalms & so on) and his own visionary experiences, all interwoven together.

A question faced early on is a question that may seem outwardly familiar (v. 1):

And now it came to pass that after I, Nephi, had read these things which were engraven upon the plates of brass, my brethren came unto me and said unto me: What meaneth these things which ye have read? Behold, are they to be understood according to things which are spiritual, which shall come to pass according to the spirit and not the flesh?

A number of readers have seen this question, dividing between things “according to the spirit” and others to “the flesh”, as addressing the perceived divide between literal & allegorical interpretation of scripture, one which was an issue in Joseph Smith’s day, although that’s principally because it’s been a live issue since the early years of the Christian era and before (e.g. Philo of Alexandria, Origen and so on). Of course, it can be a mistake to see a hard divide between these in the first place: with typology, things can be both literal and allegorical. But it’s also not quite the issue that is faced here. Consider verse 6:

Nevertheless, after they shall be nursed by the Gentiles, and the Lord has lifted up his hand upon the Gentiles and set them up for a standard, and their children have been carried in their arms, and their daughters have been carried upon their shoulders, behold these things of which are spoken are temporal; for thus are the covenants of the Lord with our fathers; and it meaneth us in the days to come, and also all our brethren who are of the house of Israel.

As I point out on pp. 139-140 of tBoM&irwtB (I really need a better acronym), Nephi interprets the imagery of the children (interesting enough this should be sons, as it is in 1 Nephi21:22/Isaiah 49:22, but this would be an easy mistake to make if one were working in any Semitic languages) and daughters being carried in the Gentiles arms and shoulders as temporal events (as opposed to spiritual), but said arms and shoulders are not literal, they are metaphorical. The two divisions do not exactly tally up.

It’s also worth noting that Nephi resists such a sharp divide in the first place in his initial response (vv. 2-3):

And I, Nephi, said unto them: Behold they were manifest unto the prophet by the voice of the Spirit; for by the Spirit are all things made known unto the prophets, which shall come upon the children of men according to the flesh.

Wherefore, the things of which I have read are things pertaining to things both temporal and spiritual; for it appears that the house of Israel, sooner or later, will be scattered upon all the face of the earth, and also among all nations.

Thus he emphasises that the prophecies were made manifest by the Spirit, but concern events that happen “according to the flesh“. Then Nephi goes further, stating that the things he read are about things “both temporal and spiritual” (and indeed, both at the same time, I’d say).

However, the fact that such details were manifest to the prophets in the first place by the Spirit also implies that interpretation should come from the same source, and here I think it’s important to recognise the significance of Nephi using his visions alongside wider scripture to interpret. Because academia likes big words I referred to that as a Hermeneutic of Revelation. The principal however is quite simple: understanding revelation requires revelation. The implication is that we too likewise need to be able to access the same resource when we study scripture, to gain understanding through the Spirit.

Nephi of course addresses the big topic of the past several chapters, namely the redemption and gathering of Israel, and conversely the judgment and destruction that come upon those that have oppressed them. It’s worth noting here that the designation “a mighty nation among the Gentiles” (v. 8), which seems a clear reference to the United States (and about which I’ve seen some more patriotic readers wave metaphorical flags) is not a compliment. It is the designation used when it talks about the scattering of the descendants of Book of Mormon peoples: “and by them shall our seed be scattered”. This is after quoting Isaiah, speaking of how Israel will be redeemed, and that “the prey be taken from the mighty” and “the captives of the mighty shall be taken away” (1 Nephi 21:24-25//Isaiah 49:24-25, my emphasis). Unlike many 19th century American perspectives (which saw the colonists and the US as the new Israel), this passage paints them instead in the role of the new Assyrians and Babylonians, historic oppressors and scatterers of Israel. Hope for the Gentiles rests in the same place as it does for Israel, in the “marvelous work” that God will begin amongst the Gentiles, which will be of “worth” to them, providing they repent (vv. 8-9; Jesus speaks even more explicitly about this subject, including some pretty dire things for the Gentile nations, in 3 Nephi 16, 20-21).

Tying up with what I wrote in the original post, my eye was caught once more on verse 16:

For the time soon cometh that the fulness of the wrath of God shall be poured out upon all the children of men; for he will not suffer that the wicked shall destroy the righteous.

This is a very… blunt verse. It perhaps caught my attention because of several recent conversations I’ve been part of, in which people expressed the opinion (and believing said opinions were substantiated by several currently popular LDS academics), that the idea of God’s wrath was some sort of mistaken idea we’ve inherited from Protestantism, that God doesn’t have wrath or anger, but solely expresses an accepting love. In short, sentiments I’ve already taken some issue with here, here and here. In short, I believe the essence of the problem is one of over-correction (a frequent problem for us mortals): some depictions of deity have indeed focused overmuch on God’s wrath and justice and hatred of sin, and not enough on his love and mercy and forgiveness. Such depictions were very influential (especially around the 17th century). But in many cases we’ve moved to the opposite extreme, to denying the existence of God’s wrath.

This verse addresses that twofold. On one hand it is one (though one of many) verses that speak of the topic in Restoration scripture, for those inclined to (unjustly) view the Bible with suspicion in this regard. But also it gets to one of the core parts of the issue: God will express his wrath “for he will not suffer that the wicked shall destroy the righteous“. A God without wrath is one that would accept the righteous being destroyed at the hands of the wicked, indeed in some conceptions not even expressing disapproval for doing so. A God who cares is a God who grieves, a God who demands better of us, and a God that is angry at atrocity. A God without wrath is a God without love, for those who need deliverance from oppression.