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).

2020 Edit:

This is the beginning of a 13 chapter-long quotation of Isaiah, by far the longest of the explicit quotations. Some of the quoted chapters exhibit greater variations from the KJV (& Masoretic Text) than others, so 2 Nephi 21//Isaiah 11 is identical to that found in the KJV, while 2 Nephi 12//Isaiah 2 – today’s chapter – shows a number of significant variations, beyond that spoken about above.

Some, as mentioned above, emphasise this theme of judgment, as in verse 10 (bold are additions relative to the KJV, text in triangular brackets is omitted from the Book of Mormon):

O ye wicked ones, enter into the rock, and hide thee in the dust, for the fear of the Lord and <for> the glory of his majesty shall smite thee.

Others emphasise other elements, such as the changes in verse 9:

And the mean man boweth not [ET/1830 omit: not] down, and the great man humbleth himself not [ET omits: not], therefore, forgive him {them} [ET: them] not.

The insertions of not here are interesting, because it changes the problem from the mean and great man bowing themselves (presumably to idols, in keeping with verse 8), to one of they not bowing themselves (a problem of pride). Both elements are a concern of Isaiah, and the textual differences here may leave verse 9 less consonant with verse 8, but they do leave it more in keeping with some of the passages that follow:

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.

(2 Nephi 12:11//Isaiah 2:11)

And the loftiness of man shall be bowed down, and the haughtiness of men shall be made low; and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day.

(2 Nephi 12:17//Isaiah 2:17)

And especially:

And the mean man shall be brought down, and the mighty man shall be humbled, and the eyes of the lofty shall be humbled.

(2 Nephi 15:15//Isaiah 5:15)

With the changes to 2 Nephi 12:9//Isaiah 2:9, 2 Nephi 15:15//Isaiah 5:15 becomes the perfect counterpoint: the mean man shall be brought down and the mighty man humbled after all. It should be noticed that both idolatry and pride are condemned in Isaiah and in the Book of Mormon; what the Book of Mormon variant does here is shift some of the emphasis more towards a condemnation of pride, but it is not introducing nor removing either strand of Isaiah’s critique.

One thing I did find striking in reading this chapter today, however, was that despite all the emphasis the chapter places on the forthcoming judgment and destruction to come upon the proud and idolatrous, that the chapter opens instead with what comes after that, with a description of the Temple in its rightful place (for surely “top of the mountains” and “exalted above the hills” has a social meaning, not merely a geographical one), with all peoples looking towards it for guidance, and being blessed with peace:

And it shall come to pass in the last days, when the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills, and all nations shall flow unto it.

And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths; for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and 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 12:2-4//Isaiah 2:2-4)

It is this vision of righteousness and peace that the quotation begins with, rather than the process by which it will get there, even if it ultimately devotes more textual space to the latter. It begins not by describing the way things are, and what needs to be done about that, but by describing how things should be, the ideal that is God’s design. And perhaps that’s what we need to accomplish anything: to start in the first place with a vision of what things can and should be.