Jacob 7

It’s about time I finished this book!

Well, I’ve actually read Jacob 7 multiple times since beginning this “reading through” series, but I’ve never actually managed a post on it. The first pause of posts happened right after Jacob 5, something I don’t believe is a coincidence in light of the fact that I wrote about 20,000 words on that chapter for The Book of Mormon and its relationship with the Bible. I then went back to do Jacob 6 late last year, but again never quite did the final chapter. This should never be taken as a reflection on those chapters, or Jacob 7 itself though. For one thing, there’s the warning in 1 Nephi 19:7:

For the things which some men esteem to be of great worth, both to the body and soul, others set at naught and trample under their feet. Yea, even the very God of Israel do men trample under their feet; I say, trample under their feet but I would speak in other words—they set him at naught, and hearken not to the voice of his counsels.

Hopefully I’m not trampling Jacob under my feet, as in any case I do see much of value in it, and also believe there’s bound to be things of value that I can’t see. If I were to try and come up with an excuse, it would be that I’ve written about it elsewhere, which is true of Jacob 7 as well. That chapter factors into my consideration of Jacob’s personality here. Furthermore, there’s an excellent article by Duane Boyce, which responds to some recent readings of Jacob 7, which I happen to comment on very briefly here (better to read his article though). So while I do not waver from my opinion that the scriptures can be a boundless reservoir, I must sometimes plead human weakness in finding it difficult to see what else is there.

However, since I do believe they are a inexhaustible well, I decided to make the effort anyway, and read Jacob 7 today.

Several things stood out to me:

  1. Sherem is one of the three figures in the Book of Mormon commonly referred to as Anti-Christs, alongside Nehor (Alma 1) and Korihor (Alma 30). The text itself uses that title only for Korihor (Alma 30:6, 12), but it may be seen as a fair title since the one thing that seems to unite the teaching of these figures is their opposition to the idea of Christ, although this is inferred in the case of Nehor (Alma 21:7-8 indicates that his followers, if not Nehor himself, rejected Christ, and may reflect his teachings. Alma 1 doesn’t comment on the issue, although his teaching that all will be saved does imply less emphasis on sin and thus the need for an atonement, which may be why Book of Mormon prophets teach about that so much). They come from three very different directions though: Nehor teaches a form of universalism (linked to his teaching that Priests teach what is popular), Korihor outright rejects God in favour of materialism, while Sherem in contrast claims to be motivated by the need to keep the law of Moses and reject the blasphemy of worshipping another being (leading to suggestions – and I can’t remember who made it, but it was done a while back, that Sherem may have had Deuteronomy 13:1-5 in mind).
    What struck me while reading this time, however, was the description of Sherem as “learned” and having “a perfect knowledge of the language of the people” (Jacob 7:4). We are accustomed to seeing those as good things, and the whole conceit of things like a debate is presumably that learning and eloquence deployed in such an environment can help lead to truth. But the example of Sherem indicates that such learning and eloquence can in fact be deployed to untrue ends (the track record of actual debates – and human responses to them – suggests likewise). Misused knowledge and artful presentation may be used to advance falsehood as much as truth. It is perhaps no coincidence that it was Jacob, speaking elsewhere, who warned that the learned may assume they are wise and reject God’s counsel, but that to be learned is good “if they hearken unto the counsels of God” (2 Nephi 9:28-29).
  2. Another thing to note is Jacob’s inherent humility in calling upon God’s intervention, which stands out when one compares the episode with Alma’s boldness in a similar confrontation with Korihor (Alma 30:49). I think it is indicative of Jacob’s character that he emphasises “not my will be done… And thy will, O Lord, be done, and not mine” (Jacob 7:14).
  3. Finally, I note again Jacob’s comments that his people were “a lonesome and a solemn people” and “did mourn out our days” (Jacob 7:26). It makes me wonder what he spoke about with Enos that Enos refers to as “the joy of the saints” (Enos 1:3), assuming no intervening generations. That’s a subject I’ve spoken about before, as linked above, but it does really emphasise that Jacob, despite his righteousness and faithfulness, had a hard life, and that simply because we follow the gospel, we can’t expect “happily ever after”. Well, at least not in this life.

2020 Edit:

For those paying attention to my other posts, there’s this recurrent strain of argument that has, amongst other things, been pushing the idea that Laman, Lemuel, and importantly for this chapter, Sherem, were sincere and pious opponents, motivated by “Deuteronomist” ideals. There’s issues I have with this, and the broader reconstruction of supposed “Deuteronomism” and the implicit or sometimes explicit labelling of the books of Deuteronomy, the Deuteronomistic History, and even in some cases the entire Old Testament as something to be regarded with suspicion.

Anyway, back to Jacob 7: as I mention above, there is a case (I think a solid one) that Sherem has Deuteronomy 13:1-5 in mind, based on Jacob 7:7, in which he publicly claims that he is acting in favour of the Law of Moses, and against what he describes as converting the law into worship “of a being which ye say shall come many hundred years hence”. Of course, the mere fact that he appears to be reading Deuteronomy 13 in this way doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with the passage, any more than there’s anything wrong with the scriptural passages Satan attempted to misuse in his temptation of the Saviour. Hence Shakespeare’s “the devil can cite scripture for his purpose”.

This being the case, the question emerges as to how sincere Sherem was. It’s a question that Duane Boyce’s article linked above addresses (responding to other claims on that issue). It should be pointed out that it is entirely possible for someone to be sincere, and yet very wrong about ultimate things. I think Paul, prior to his conversion on the road to Damascus, was undoubtedly sincere and operating out of a misplaced zeal.

Here I think Sherem’s last words are worth quoting:

And it came to pass that he said unto the people: Gather together on the morrow, for I shall die; wherefore, I desire to speak unto the people before I shall die.

And it came to pass that on the morrow the multitude were gathered together; and he spake plainly unto them and denied the things which he had taught them, and confessed the Christ, and the power of the Holy Ghost, and the ministering of angels.

And he spake plainly unto them, that he had been deceived by the power of the devil. And he spake of hell, and of eternity, and of eternal punishment.

And he said: I fear lest I have committed the unpardonable sin, for I have lied unto God; for I denied the Christ, and said that I believed the scriptures; and they truly testify of him. And because I have thus lied unto God I greatly fear lest my case shall be awful; but I confess unto God.

And it came to pass that when he had said these words he could say no more, and he gave up the ghost.

(Jacob 7:16-20)

I think in reading these words it’s quite easy to feel sympathy for Sherem: I did when I first read these words several decades ago. This passage gives every appearance – at a stage in which there is little to be gained from lying – of sincere penitence. But when one approaches the question of “was Sherem sincere?”, one should keep in mind that Sherem – like many of us – is a moving target. By Sherem’s own testimony here, in his earlier teachings he had “lied unto God”; while sincere here, his own account argues that he was less than completely sincere earlier.  That he may be a sincere and even sympathetic figure on his deathbed doesn’t, and shouldn’t, garb earlier words and works with a sincerity and integrity that he disclaims for himself. Yet at the same time, we need not let those earlier acts rob us of the possibility that here, at the last, he was being truthful and sincere.

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; much 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).

2020 Edit:

This chapter (meaning Isaiah 14, which 2 Nephi 24 quotes), most notably features the Lord’s judgment upon “Lucifer”. Some have taken this to mean the Adversary, some the King of Babylon, some other figures. Which is correct? For anyone following so far, the answer should suggest itself: both possibilities can be absolutely correct. Isaiah is addressing the tyrants of his day (Sennacherib, king of Assyria), the future tyrants from Babylon and maybe other figures in the future, all of whom are types of the original who sought to usurp the highest authority and deprive men of their agency.

And it shall come to pass in that day, that thou shalt take up this proverb against the king of Babylon, and say: How hath the oppressor ceased, the golden city ceased!

The Lord hath broken the staff of the wicked, the scepters of the rulers.

He who smote the people in wrath with a continual stroke, he that ruled the nations in anger, is persecuted, and none hindereth.

The whole earth is at rest, and is quiet; they break forth into singing.

Yea, the fir trees rejoice at thee, and also the cedars of Lebanon, saying: Since thou art laid down no feller is come up against us.

(2 Nephi 24:4-8//Isaiah 14:4-8)

Both Assyria and Babylon bestrode the nations, moving entire populations in a gigantic programme of ethnic cleansing to subjugate any who tried rebellion. Yet within centuries they were no more, backwaters and ruins, unable to further oppress those they had ruled over. Likewise the Adversary has oppressed mankind, both individually and collectively, taking us into captivity through sin, and inspiring any tyrant he can. Yet the time will come when he will no longer have any power to tempt or otherwise influence the hearts of men, while humanity will be delivered from the captivity of death and hell with which he has sought to trap us through the power of Christ’s redemption.

Hell from beneath is moved for thee to meet thee at thy coming; it stirreth up the dead for thee, even all the chief ones of the earth; it hath raised up from their thrones all the kings of the nations.

10 All they shall speak and say unto thee: Art thou also become weak as we? Art thou become like unto us?

Thy pomp is brought down to the grave; the noise of thy viols is not heard; the worm is spread under thee, and the worms cover thee.

(2 Nephi 24:9-11//Isaiah 14:9-11)

Those the Assyrians and Babylonians slew can likewise point to the fact that in the grave these mighty kings have become just like those they conquered. In the final judgment, the Adversary too will be reduced, no longer possessing the power and influence he once had.

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, that did shake kingdoms?

And made the world as a wilderness, and destroyed the cities thereof, and opened not the house of his prisoners?

(2 Nephi 24:12-17//Isaiah 14:12-17)

For all their pride and ego, for all that they sought to conquer, the kings of Assyria and Bablyon are likewise subject to death, in the which they shall appear rather pathetic figures, causing those who see them thereafter to wonder that they caused so much trouble. So too with the Adversary: he literally sought to usurp God, demanding God’s honour and power, and so he lost he previous high estate and was cast down. And he shall be cast down yet further.

All the kings of the nations, yea, all of them, lie in glory, every one of them in his own house.

But thou art cast out of thy grave like an abominable branch, and the remnant of those that are slain, thrust through with a sword, that go down to the stones of the pit; as a carcass trodden under feet.

Thou shalt not be joined with them in burial, because thou hast destroyed thy land and slain thy people; the seed of evil-doers shall never be renowned.

(2 Nephi 24:18-20//Isaiah 14:18-20)

While the remains of many kings lie in rest in ornate tombs, the King of Babylon here will not. His remains shall lie unmarked, and his memory abandoned. These verses apply with even more force to the Adversary: all those who lived on earth, no matter what they did with it, will be resurrected and re-receive a physical body, their “house”. But the Adversary and those who followed him in the war in heaven lost their first estate, and so never gained and will never regain a body, so that their spirits will be diminished and without habitation. Whatever slings they throw at us in this life, they will lose – indeed they have already lost – their war against the Almighty. His power is greater, and so whatever trials we’re going through now, we can draw closer to him for protection, trusting that he will deliver us, and defeat the enemy of our souls.

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.

2020 Edit:

It may be of interest to note that one of the basis by which many biblical scholars claim to distinguish between “first” and “second” Isaiah (chapter 40 onwards) is that in the first the enemy is Assyria, and in the second it is Babylon. Yet in both this chapter and the chapter following, it is Babylon that receives the most prominent mention.

There are some passages here too that speak more in terms of a cosmic disaster, of the sort that is perhaps more clearly associated with the second coming:

Behold, the day of the Lord cometh, cruel both with wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate; and he shall destroy the sinners thereof out of it.

For 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.

And I will punish the world for evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; I will cause the arrogancy of the proud to cease, and will lay down the haughtiness of the terrible.

I will make a man more precious than fine gold; even a man than the golden wedge of Ophir.

Therefore, I will shake the heavens, and the earth shall remove out of her place, in the wrath of the Lord of Hosts, and in the day of his fierce anger.

(2 Nephi 23:9-13//Isaiah 13:9-13)

The textual variations in verse 15 likewise push interpretation to a wider setting (and place, as is typical for the Book of Mormon, a greater emphasis on pride):

Every one that is proud {found} shall be thrust through; yea, and every one that is joined to the wicked {unto them} shall fall by the sword.

(2 Nephi 23:15//Isaiah 13:15, underlined text is substituted in the BoM for text in curly bracked as found in the KJV)

All of which points to this prophecy having wider application that Babylon alone (although Babylon is indeed in ruins, and has been for many centuries). As I indicate in my original post, this is a warning not just for Babylon, but one we should take seriously too.

2 Nephi 21

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.

2020 Edit:

In 2 Nephi 21//Isaiah 11, the focus shifts somewhat. Previously much of what we have been reading has covered all manner of incidents from the time of Isaiah, with the ultimate fulfilment being Christ and the events around him. Here, however, the focus seems squarely on the figure of Christ, the gathering of Israel and the millennial condition he will bring about.

Note, however, that Isaiah continues to elide time together, so that we read the following in verses 2-4:

And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord;

And shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord; and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears.

But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked.

Much of this can be regarded as applying to Christ’s first appearance, his mortal ministry. Yet in verse 4 it moves on to speaking of how “he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked”. This can really only apply in full to the Second Coming.

Likewise, the next few verses clearly speak of the Millennial state, and yet these verses are placed in front of those speaking of the gathering of Israel (which chronologically, based on other revelation, at least in part precedes that state):

The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the young lion and fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.

And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice’s den.

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 21:6-9//Isaiah 11:6-9)

In essence, it is perhaps no surprise that the people at the time of Christ expected a great deliverer who would rescue them from tyranny by slaying the wicked and bringing about this idyllic state. It would be natural to conflate Christ’s first and second appearance, because Isaiah does so too. The difference is that in Isaiah’s case it’s intended to be hard to understand (see 2 Nephi 16//Isaiah 6 and 2 Nephi 25:4), and per 2 Nephi 25:7-8, only fully understood in the last days after they have all be fulfilled.

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 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.

2020 edit:

As is true, really, for all of these chapters, 2 Nephi 19//Isaiah 9 shows the same trait that Isaiah displays of speaking in such a way that his words are applicable to multiple different situations, separated by thousands of years, at the same time. Thus on one hand he’s addressing the situation the nation of Judah faces there and then, with Israel (the Northern kingdom) and Syria allied against it, and promises deliverance for Judah and judgment on those that oppose it. His words about a forthcoming ruler can surely apply in part to the next king, Hezekiah, who would indeed be one of the greatest and most righteous kings that Judah would ever have. There have likewise presumably been many situations since affecting Israel to which these words can be applied. But of course the complete fulfilment of these verses, the antitype to the type, the one who would be a “great light” (beginning in the tribal lands of Zebulun and Naphtali – which includes Nazareth – and Galilee), who would be the one who would be rightfully called “the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace”, is Christ, both on his mortal ministry and in his reappearance and forthcoming millennial rule yet to come.

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 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)

2020 edit:

I’m sure quite a few people have spotted it, but it should be noticed here how Isaiah becomes a type of Christ:

Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying: Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then I said: Here am I; send me.

(2 Nephi 16:8//Isaiah 6:8)

However, there are some interesting facets to the commission Isaiah is given:

And he said: Go and tell this people—Hear ye indeed, but they understood not; and see ye indeed, but they perceived 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 be converted and be healed.

(2 Nephi 16:9-10//Isaiah 6:9-10)

What I find of particular interest about this (and this is an issue I discuss in chapter five of The Book of Mormon and its relationship with the Bible), is that a number of the conclusions biblical scholars have made about Isaiah, in terms of authorship and dividing it into multiple books, rest principally on the idea that certain elements must date to periods later than that of Isaiah himself. This is not because of a denial of the possibility of prophecy, but because certain elements would not be understandable to it’s contemporary audience. Thus John L. McKenzie wrote:

It is not a question of placing limits to the vision of prophecy but of the limits of intelligibility; even if the name were by hypothesis meaningful to the prophet, it could not be meaningful to his readers or listeners.

(Second Isaiah. Anchor Bible 20. 1968. Reprinted, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007).

What doesn’t seem to be noticed here is that an assumption has been made: that Isaiah’s writings were meaningful to his contemporary readers or listeners. We’ll see how Nephi rejects this assumption in 2 Nephi 25, but this passage here in 2 Nephi 16//Isaiah 6 should indicate that it’s not an assumption made within the text of Isaiah itself. Isaiah was not just sometimes writing about far off times, he was sometimes writing for far off audiences.

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. And 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 to the extent that we “regard not the work of the Lord, neither consider the operation of his hands”.

2020 edit:

It’s such a shame to rush over these chapters.

Anyway, one striking thing that occurred to me as I was reading today came as I was reading the latter part of the chapter, that I seriously begin to wonder means something quite different from the way many of us have taken it. I’m referring here to verses 25-30. Verses 26-27 are often taken as a reference to the gathering of Israel, as indeed the chapter heading does. But while there are plenty of references to the gathering of Israel in Isaiah, and the phrase “ensign to the nations” used in that context (see 2 Nephi 21:12//Isaiah 11:12), reading over these verses today in that context seemed to communicate something very different.

That passage in question:

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. For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.

And he will lift up an ensign to the nations from far, and will hiss unto them from the end of the earth; and behold, they shall come with speed swiftly; none shall be weary nor stumble among them.

None shall slumber nor sleep; neither shall the girdle of their loins be loosed, nor the latchet of their shoes be broken;

Whose arrows shall be sharp, and all their bows bent, and their horses’ hoofs shall be counted like flint, and their wheels like a whirlwind, their roaring like a lion.

They shall roar like young lions; yea, they shall roar, and lay hold of the prey, and shall carry away safe, and none shall deliver.

And in that day they shall roar against them like the roaring of the sea; and if they look unto the land, behold, darkness and sorrow, and the light is darkened in the heavens thereof.

The Lord’s “hand” being “stretched out still” is also oft misunderstood, as I’ve heard a number of people express the opinion that it is an expression of his mercy. And sometimes it does have that connotation, as in Jacob 5:47. But not here, since his hand is stretched out still because despite the judgments that have already been imposed upon his rebellious people, “his anger is not turned away”. That is, the Lord’s hand here is stretched out still in judgment.

Likewise when we read this passage as a whole, the “ensign to the nations” here is not summoning the outcasts of Israel; it is summoning an army “whose arrows shall be sharp, and their bows bent”, who “shall roar like young lions; yea they shall roar, and lay hold of their prey, and shall carry away safe, and none shall deliver”. This is akin to the warning that is given in Deuteronomy 29:49, that if Israel were not faithful to the covenant:

The LORD shall bring a nation against thee from far, from the end of the earth, as swift as the eagle flieth; a nation whose tongue thou shalt not understand;

In other words, this passage has less to do with the gathering, and more to do with the scattering. As is true for much of Isaiah, it is likely this doesn’t have one singular fulfilment. Indeed by the time Nephi quotes it it has already been fulfilled in the Assyrians who’d come in Isaiah’s day and also the Babylonians who Lehi and family narrowly avoided. There may be other fulfilment yet to come. But in any case this particular passage – unlike others – is not one of joyous redemption, but of God using the nations to punish those who rebel against his covenant.

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.