2 Nephi 24

For the Lord will have mercy on Jacob, and will yet choose Israel, and set them in their own land; and the strangers shall be joined with them, and they shall cleave to the house of Jacob.

(2 Nephi 24:1//Isaiah 14:1)

While a quotation from Isaiah (and this verse is quoted word for word, unlike say verse 2), this verse manages to encapsulate one of the major messages of the Book of Mormon. Despite misdeeds, trials and tribulations, God has not forgotten Israel, and will have mercy upon them and keep His covenants with them; meanwhile salvation for the Gentiles required becoming part of the House of Israel. While there were exceptions, this was not a common view at the time of the publication of the Book of Mormon; most of Christianity was supercessionist at least in part, believing that the Gentile Church had replaced or was the true continuation of Israel. The Book of Mormon declares the opposite: Israel has not been forgotten, God is about to fulfil his covenants with them in restoring them spiritually and physically, and that the Gentiles need to repent or face the judgment of God.

God’s long suffering, mercy and faithfulness towards a people to whom he has made promises can of course be reassuring to us on a individual scale. Despite the elapse of hundreds of years, God had not forgotten Israel. Likewise, despite our own personal weakness and wanderings, he will not forget us (Isaiah 49:15-16) and “he is faithful that promised” (Hebrews 10:23).

2 Nephi 23

And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldees’ excellency, shall be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah.

It shall never be inhabited, neither shall it be dwelt in from generation to generation: neither shall the Arabian pitch tent there; neither shall the shepherds make their fold there.

But wild beasts of the desert shall lie there; and their houses shall be full of doleful creatures; and owls shall dwell there, and satyrs shall dance there.

And the wild beasts of the islands shall cry in their desolate houses, and dragons in their pleasant palaces; and her time is near to come, and her day shall not be prolonged. For I will destroy her speedily; yea, for I will be merciful unto my people, but the wicked shall perish.

(2 Nephi 23:19-22//Isaiah 13:19-22)

It’s not been unknown for believers in Western nations to see their nation as inheritors of or as a new Israel. This is perhaps best known in the case of the United States (so much so that commentators have assumed – wrongly – that the Book of Mormon is in the same tradition), but it’s also appeared in different forms in England (such as during the Commonwealth).

Yet I can’t help but feel (and believe the Book of Mormon’s own passages support this) that when the Book of Mormon quotes such passages of Isaiah as above, it is treating Western nations not as the new Israel, but the new Babylon or Assyria. Which cities, after all, are the Babylon or Nineveh of our times? Which cities are “the glory of kingdoms” today?

Such passages should and must be taken as a warning, especially against placing any confidence or finding any security in such current greatness. Nineveh and Babylon were glorious and mighty in their day, but such worldly glory and power were fleeting. It will be fleeting for us, too.

2 Nephi 21-22

Chapter 22 was so short I decided to include that in today’s reading as well.

They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.

(2 Nephi 21:9//Isaiah 11:9)

2 Nephi 25-30 have a lot more to say about this topic before recapitulating parts of Isaiah 11 in 2 Nephi 30, but just reading this verse today brought this to mind again. One of the keys to the future millennial state described in Isaiah 11 is knowledge. I guess one doesn’t typically thing of peace, including between the different parts of creation (v.6-8) as a result of knowledge, but that is what is described here. Of course, this is not simply academic knowledge, but “the knowledge of the Lord”, and 2 Nephi 25-30 have a lot more to say about that.

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.

 

2 Nephi 20

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.

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 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.

(2 Nephi 20:16-22//Isaiah 10:16-22)

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.

2 Nephi 19

The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.

… For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder; and his name shall be called, Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.

Of the increase of government and peace there is no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of Hosts will perform this.

(2 Nephi 19:2, 6-7//Isaiah 9:2, 6-7)

I’ve spent some time (okay, a lot of time) on this blog lamenting particular developments in the world. And I’m pessimistic about the current future of Western civilization. But the message of the gospel is ultimately one of hope, on both a personal and a collective level. Through Christ, each of us personally can be saved from sin and death, and He promises to “wipe away every tear” of his people (Revelations 21:4), and make right all our sorrows. Collectively, there will come a time when He will reign, and the Earth will be at rest, and governed in peace and justice. Bad stuff may happen in the meantime, but these too will pass; while the immediate future may sometimes be dim, God’s light will shine, and will shine forever. And if we are faithful, we will be blessed to walk in that light forevermore.

2 Nephi 17-18

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.

 

2 Nephi 18

Associate yourselves, O ye people, and ye shall be broken in pieces; and give ear all ye of far countries; gird yourselves, and ye shall be broken in pieces; gird yourselves, and ye shall be broken in pieces.

Take counsel together, and it shall come to naught; speak the word, and it shall not stand; for God is with us.

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; 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.

(2 Nephi 18:9-13//Isaiah 8:13)

Unfortunately the people of Judah were prone to react to future fears the way we do: to seek for security elsewhere. They sought it in alliances (hence the warning not to “associate yourselves” and “a confederacy”). For us, I guess we can end up looking for that security in wealth, power, status or even our relationships. But like the ancient Judahites, any real, eternal, security, can really only come as we draw closer to God.

2 Nephi 16

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 seraphim; each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly.

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.

Then said I: Wo is unto me! for I am undone; because I am 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 16:1-5//Isaiah 6:1-5)

I can’t say that I’ve seen the Lord directly, and I don’t know anyone personally who has. I do know that I’ve found the thought terrifying at times. Like Isaiah, we’re all unclean in some way, and so the thought of coming into the presence of a being who is so Holy and beyond our comprehension – let alone the actual experience – is unsettling. At least for me; some people seem far more relaxed about the prospect. I’m not sure if that’s proper spiritual confidence (D&C 121:45) or complacency; I guess it varies. I suspect that when one realises ones own state and who God is, then unless one has received the confidence spoken of in D&C 121:45, some degree of consternation like Isaiah’s is the only proper response. This is particularly the case when we realise that one day, all of us will come into the presence of God to be judged.

Fortunately the Lord is merciful, and able to cleanse us:

Then flew one of the seraphim unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar;

And he laid it upon my mouth, and said: Lo, this has touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged.

(2 Nephi 16:6-7//Isaiah 6:6-7)

2 Nephi 15

This chapter includes one of the few places where the KJV reading of Isaiah is undoubtedly superior to what we find in the Book of Mormon; most of the time the textual differences serve to make the text more understandable, or emphasise some particular element or interpretation. In 2 Nephi 15:8, however, we find the following:

Wo unto them that join house to house, till there can be no place, that they may be placed alone in the midst of the earth!

(2 Nephi 15:8)

The correct meaning of this can be inferred, but it is plainer when we turn to the KJV. A textual comparison of the two shows the following:

Wo unto them that join house to house <that lay field to field>, till there can be no place, that they may be placed alone in the midst of the earth!

(2 Nephi 15:8//Isaiah 5:8, where bold indicates text found only in the BoM, and <triangular brackets> text found only in the KJV)

Thus the KJV reads:

Woe unto them that join house to house, that lay field to field, till there be no place, that they may be placed alone in the midst of the earth!

(Isaiah 5:8)

That crucial line “that lay field to field” makes clear that we’re not talking here of some specific condemnation of buying the neighbouring property and knocking it through, but rather the accumulation of property, especially at the expense and displacing of others (“that they may be placed alone in the midst of the earth”). That’s something we definitely see in the Bible – perhaps the most gratuitous example being the murder of Naboth so that Ahab could seize his ancestral inheritance (1 Kings 21) – and in our time too. I confess my first thought was “eminent domain!”, but setting my animus against Trump aside, this is not just a danger for the rich and powerful. Covetousness and heaping up of possessions are a spiritual danger, especially when they come by means of diminishing others.

Of course, possessions are not the only thing that can be a danger – we can also be distracted by our pleasures, our entertainments and the vain things of the world:

Wo unto them that rise up early in the morning, that they may follow strong drink, that continue until night, and wine inflame them!

And the harp, and the viol, the tabret, and pipe, and wine are in their feasts; but they regard not the work of the Lord, neither consider the operation of his hands.

Therefore, my people are gone into captivity, because they have no knowledge; and their honorable men are famished, and their multitude dried up with thirst.

Therefore, hell hath enlarged herself, and opened her mouth without measure; and their glory, and their multitude, and their pomp, and he that rejoiceth, shall descend into it.

(2 Nephi 15:11-14//Isaiah 5:11-14)

While it’s drink and music and feasting that are mentioned here it can surely apply to any pleasure or luxury that can consume our time and our mental attention. I guess I’d better cut back on Magic: The Gathering

2 Nephi 13-14

For behold, the Lord, the Lord of Hosts, doth take away from Jerusalem, and from Judah, the stay and the staff, the whole staff of bread, and the whole stay of water—

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.

And I will give children unto them to be their princes, and babes shall rule over them.

And the people shall be oppressed, every one by another, and every one by his neighbor; the child shall behave himself proudly against the ancient, and the base against the honorable.

(2 Nephi 13:1-5//Isaiah 3:1-5)

This passage has often been on my mind for the last decade, when I consider our current paucity of talent and leadership. The recent bout of Trumpism simply amplifies it. Our civilisation certainly had its flaws and sins in earlier years, and none of our great leaders were perfect (they’re as human as we are). But consider the following speech: whatever one may think of Ronald Reagan, I think it should be clear that even setting aside Trump, the substance of this speech is far greater than that produced by any of his successors today. When we do consider Trump, I think one should see that there is a world of difference between a speech which appeals to our better instincts, and incoherent rants that appeal to the worst:

 

On to 2 Nephi 14:

And it shall come to pass, they that are left in Zion and remain in Jerusalem shall be called holy, every one that is written among the living in Jerusalem—

When the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and shall have purged the blood of Jerusalem from the midst thereof by the spirit of judgment and by the spirit of burning.

(2 Nephi 14:3-4//Isaiah 4:3-4)

I’ve commented a lot on God’s judgments in the most recent posts (I don’t know if that reflects my state of mind or simply Isaiah!), but what I think this passage underlines is that this process of judgment is not simply to punish, though there will be those who will be. God also intends to refine us, if we will let ourselves be refined. For those who endure, God’s actions will cleanse and sanctify us. Holiness is possible, if we submit to God’s will and endure what he sees fit to inflict upon us.

2 Nephi 12

And it shall come to pass that the lofty looks of man shall be humbled, and the haughtiness of men shall be bowed down, and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day.

For the day of the Lord of Hosts soon cometh upon all nations, yea, {shall be} upon every one; yea, upon the {that is} proud and lofty, and upon every one who {that} is lifted up, and he shall be brought low.

Yea, and the day of the Lord shall come upon all the cedars of Lebanon, for they {that} are high and lifted up; and upon all the oaks of Bashan;

And upon all the high mountains, and upon all the hills, and upon all the nations which {that} are lifted up, and upon every people;

(2 Nephi 12:11-14//Isaiah 2:11-14, bold indicates text not found in the KJV, underlined text indicates substitutions for text in curly brackets)

Pride is a major theme of the Book of Mormon, which depicts pride as the pre-eminent source of evil. Much of the narrative of the Book of Mormon shows the dangers of pride. But the book not only warns against pride – it also warns that the time left for such pride is limited, and a reckoning is coming. It is little surprise that the Book of Mormon quotes Isaiah so much, since that too warns of God’s judgment upon the proud. When one looks at the textual differences between Isaiah as quoted in the Book of Mormon and in the King James Version, however, its striking that many of the textual differences stress this impending judgment: both the imminence (“soon cometh upon all nations”) and the universal scope (“upon all the nations” and “upon every people”) of this divine wrath are emphasised above.

While there’s obviously a personal application to this, and maybe personal pride is what I and maybe others should be most concerned about, in my current sombre mood I can’t help but reflect on our culture as a whole. When I read Isaiah, and read (as I will once again in forthcoming chapters) of divine judgment coming upon rich and proud cities, I can’t help but see not ancient Babylon or Tyre, but our own cities and our own wealth. Even in the recent political commotion, when people are perhaps shocked a little out of complacency and the assumption that nothing bad can happen to us, the response seems to be one of rage and enmity. Humility is derided and mocked. Yet perhaps there’s more to be learned personally from this too: that in all these things, big and small, grand or personal, salvation will come from humble acceptance of the Lord’s will. Angry striving and proud self-assertion will not change our fate, but will only bring upon us the Lord’s judgment. And that applies to any of us, for:

O house of Jacob, come ye and let us walk in the light of the Lord; yea, come, for ye have all gone astray, every one to his wicked ways.

(2 Nephi 12:5//Isaiah 5, bold as above)

Yet while much of this chapter warns all of us about the Lord’s forthcoming judgments, it does also promise an age of peace. The Lord will “rebuke many nations”, but after that – and I believe this must apply to our own personal conflicts and the weapons of our pride as much as it does actual weapons – “they shall beat their swords into plow-shares, and their spears into pruning hooks – nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (2 Nephi 12:4//Isaiah 2:4).