Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Book of Mormon Lesson 10: "He Inviteth All to Come unto Him" 2 Nephi 26-30

Book of Mormon Lesson 10: "He Inviteth All to Come unto Him"
2 Nephi 26-30

In this lesson, we find Nephi continuing to comment (pesher) on the teachings of Isaiah, using them to make sense of his own people as a lost tribe of Israel and its relationship with Christ and the forthcoming Gentile world.

Destruction for the Nephites
2 Nephi 26

Nephi begins by paraphrasing something that Malachi would also state centuries later in the Bible.

“Wherefore, all those who are proud, and that do wickedly, the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of Hosts, for they shall be as stubble” (2 Ne 26:4, Malachi 4:1).

Malachi foresaw the destruction of the world, as well as the destruction of the Jews in Jerusalem for rejecting Christ.  Nephi would also make this statement in regards to his own people.  When the people rejected the mortal Christ, destruction would befall not only the Jews, but also Nephi’s descendants.

“And they that kill the prophets, and the saints, the depths of the earth shall swallow them up, saith the Lord of Hosts; and mountains shall cover them, and whirlwinds shall carry them away, and buildings shall fall upon them and crush them to pieces and grind them to powder.
And they shall be visited with thunderings, and lightnings, and earthquakes, and all manner of destructions, for the fire of the anger of the Lord shall be kindled against them, and they shall be as stubble, and the day that cometh shall consume them, saith the Lord of Hosts.
O the pain, and the anguish of my soul for the loss of the slain of my people! For I, Nephi, have seen it, and it well nigh consumeth me before the presence of the Lord; but I must cry unto my God: Thy ways are just” (2 Ne 26:5-7).

For the righteous, however, they will largely be saved from such destruction, and be in place to see the glorified and resurrected Savior visit the remnants of the Nephites.  In so doing, Nephi also shows a template for our own day.  When the end of days occurs, there will also be great natural and man-made destructions.  The wicked will burn as stubble for rejecting the prophets, both those in the scriptures, as well as the living ones.  In this instance, it may denote not just LDS prophets, but any inspired person who is a warning voice to the world to return to faith, repentance and obedience in Christ.  The telestial people will be destroyed, while the celestial and terrestrial will be rescued by Christ.

Interestingly, the destructions Nephi describes includes mountains rising up and burying people, and tornadoes carrying them off. It also notes that many will die because their buildings will fall upon them and crush them.  In modern days, we see such destruction occurring during earthquakes (like the great earthquake in Haiti), most died when buildings collapsed upon them.  Imagine an earthquake large enough to topple sky scrapers in New York and elsewhere.

God always sends human voices to warn of destruction prior to the voice of disaster itself. Destruction is not thrust upon mankind because God is jealous or angry, but because he is just and merciful.  To allow the world to continue in wickedness means allowing innocents to be born into evil times.  God uses the concept of creative destruction.  He destroys chaos, so that he may reinstate order, peace, love and joy.

“But the Son of Righteousness shall appear unto them; and he shall heal them, and they shall have peace with him, until three generations shall have passed away, and many of the fourth generation shall have passed away in righteousness” (2 Ne 26:9).

After the destructions in the last days, we too will have a Millennial experience, dwelling with the Savior in peace and healing.  Nephi provides the template for us to understand and to apply in our own time.

At the end of the Nephite Millennium, Satan is loosed and many return to their evil ways.  Through their pride, they embrace wickedness and selfishness. Because they sell their salvation for a mess of pottage (“for naught”) they ripen for destruction.  So it will be at the end of the great thousand year Millennium we look forward to.  Satan won’t be loosed because God lets him loose, but because men will again become prideful and seek their own solutions and ways.  They will let him into their lives, and it will quickly grow like wildfire.  That is how it works today.  Evil becomes popular, and everyone wants their own part of that popularity and power.

Again, the world of the Nephites (and the whole world at the end of the Millennium), will be ripe for final destruction.  Having known the resurrected Christ and his apostles, many will have become sons of perdition, knowingly and joyfully rejecting the Savior and embracing evil.  Mormon will later describe how wretched many will have become, resorting to torture, cannibalism and murder as tokens of honor (Moroni 9).  Loving Satan more than God, they will proclaim themselves “Master Mahan” (perhaps meaning: Master Destroyer),  for the riches and power of their enemies will have come to them (Moses 5:28-33).

Such destruction leaves the land readied for a new people.  After the Millennium, the world will be cleansed and become a place for the celestial.  After the end of the Nephites, the promised land will become the place for a new and humble people, the Gentiles.

But Nephi sees that the Gentiles would also become proud and wicked.  While they will have many churches, they will reject revelation and miracles.  They will believe of Christ, but reject Christ’s greatest gifts and powers.  As Isaiah noted, they would honor God with their lips, but their hearts would be far away.  Because of this, God would have to bring about a “marvelous work and a wonder” in the last days of the Gentiles (Isaiah 29).

Nephi made a list of things mankind should do to follow God.  Interestingly, it begins with the concept of serving God rather than seeking money or getting gain.  Selfishness and pride, priestcraft,  are the beginning of all evil.  People are to be charitable, which is the antonym of pride and selfishness (2 Ne 26:29-32).

“For none of these iniquities come of the Lord; for he doeth that which is good among the children of men; and he doeth nothing save it be plain unto the children of men; and he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile” (2 Ne 26:33).

God wishes to break down all divisions among men.  Satan, through priestcraft, wishes to cause division and contention.  Satan wishes to force mankind to do his bidding.  God invites man to his table, to eat of his banquet, denying none who will believe in Christ and repent.  

Restoration and Continued Apostasy
2 Nephi 27-29

Nephi takes the words of Isaiah 29 and makes them his own.  Where Isaiah sees Jerusalem besieged by Assyrians and Babylonians, Nephi sees the destruction of his own people.  Where Isaiah sees the destruction as a warning to future generations to repent and follow God, Nephi sees it as the literal unfolding of the Restoration in the last days, wherein the Lord will deliver the gold plates to Joseph Smith to translate.

It becomes a “marvelous work and a wonder” because for Isaiah, the people will be restored via the words of prophets, such as Daniel, Zechariah, and Malachi, but primarily through Jesus Christ.  As you can review in lesson 1 regarding the Deuteronomist changes made to Judaism, many spiritual things were removed from the faith.  Many Jews would disbelieve angelic visitations, miracles, etc., but the restoration of ancient concepts would sound familiar to the humble.

So it is with the restoration of the gospel.  The words of the Book of Mormon sound familiar to the humble reader.  Still, with the restoration would come more churches and organizations that would seek their own answers.  Instead of seeking divine revelation, many seek the philosophies of men with scripture mingled into it.  As Isaiah would explain, they do honor God with their lips, but their hearts are far removed.  Why? Because they seek God on their own terms, rather than on God’s terms.  

And what terms are those?  “A Bible! A Bible! We have got a Bible, and there cannot be any more Bible” (2 Ne 29:3).  They insist on having only a part of God’s word, which they can neatly fit into their own belief systems and creeds.  Horizontal religion has replaced vertical religion, as justifications are made to interpret the Bible in a particular way.

Such competing philosophies as Armenianism vs Calvinism; baptism by sprinkling, immersion, or none at all; God as an incomprehensible Trinity or as a Godhead; Gifts of the Spirit or no gifts for Christians today; and many other concepts that divide mankind from their God and true worship.

It is clearly understandable to see why the young Joseph Smith determined the contention and conflicts could not be settled by an appeal to the Bible.  Since Joseph’s  day, many other Christian religions have sought to increase their vertical connection with God via personal experiences with the Holy Spirit.  Still, it is a very far cry from the concept of modern prophets and apostles who can speak in God’s name in an authoritative manner - an official and authoritative priesthood, as well as the “priesthood of all believers” who can be personally guided by the Spirit..  

“...that every man might speak in the name of God the Lord, even the Savior of the world;
That faith also might increase in the earth;
That mine everlasting covenant might be established;
That the fulness of my gospel might be proclaimed by the weak and the simple unto the ends of the world, and before kings and rulers” (D&C 1:20-23).

That the restoration of the gospel has revealed ancient concepts that were at one time lost, is undeniable.  Whether it is “proof” that the LDS Church is true, is another issue, as evidence does not necessarily connote proof.  Such can only be settled by an appeal to the Lord in personal prayer.  Still, many on earth close their minds and ears to the possibility that the Lord would deliver more of his word to the world.  They rely upon the warnings of their preachers or a quick review of Mormonism to determine its validity.  However, for those who have studied it and compared it to ancient concepts for decades, we see that it can be and must be seriously measured through deeper study and prayer.

The Coming Millennium
2 Nephi 30

Nephi explains Isaiah’s vision of the final destruction of the wicked, and the blessings of the period of righteousness that will follow.

“And it shall come to pass that the Lord God shall commence his work among all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, to bring about the restoration of his people upon the earth.
And with righteousness shall the Lord God 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.
For the time speedily cometh that the Lord God shall cause a great division among the people, and the wicked will he destroy; and he will spare his people, yea, even if it so be that he must destroy the wicked by fire”

God will actually cause, or allow a great division to occur between the righteous and the wicked. It is at this time that one will be able to tell the difference between the wheat and the tares. The wicked will be those who insist that their wickedness is righteousness, and seek to impose it upon others.  Sadly, they will have convinced themselves that their philosophies are good, and that God either approves of them, or should approve of them if he is to be a righteous God.  But as with Sodom and Gomorrah, God has shown patience with the wicked, awaiting their destruction until the very end, when they seek to force their evils upon society.  In the last day, the wicked will literally be burned at his coming, because of the greatness of Christ’s glory on his return.  In doing so, the righteous will be saved.  

It will be like the days of Sodom and Gomorrah, when the righteous will be led out from among the wicked.  And it will be as the days of Israel in Egypt, when after all the warnings from Moses and all the destructions of warning they received, there is a final destruction of the first born of Egypt and Egypt’s army - or its future posterity and its power will be torn down.  Finally, it will be as in the days of the Nephites at Jesus’ death.  There will be great upheavals and destructions, and only the righteous will survive.
“And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins.
And then shall the wolf dwell with the lamb; and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf, and the young lion, and the fatling, together; and a little child shall lead them” (2 Ne 30:8-12).

Whether the wolf will literally dwell with the lamb is not certain.  What is certain is that the Millennium will be a time of peace for all God’s creatures who have not rebelled against him.  With the wicked destroyed, the righteous will finally have their peace and joy.


Joe Spencer’s BoM lesson 10: http://feastuponthewordblog.org/2012/02/21/book-of-mormon-lesson-10-he-inviteth-all-to-come-unto-him-2-nephi-26-30-gospel-doctrine/

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Book of Mormon Lesson 9: “My Soul Delighteth in the Words of Isaiah” 2 Nephi 11–25

Book of Mormon Lesson 9: “My Soul Delighteth in the Words of Isaiah”   
2 Nephi 11–25

In this lesson, we will delve further into the book of Isaiah. As mentioned previously, this was extremely important to Nephi.  The Jewish law required witnesses, at least two and preferably three.  Here, Nephi honors that requirement, showing that he has three witnesses of the future birth and atonement of Jesus Christ: himself, Jacob and Isaiah.

Given that the Old Testament lessons discuss much of Isaiah, I refer you to the following link on the Old Testament lesson for Isaiah 1-6 (covering 2 Ne 12-16) from my blog: http://joelsmonastery.blogspot.com/2010/09/ot-gospel-doctrine-lesson-36-glory-of.html

A Virgin Shall Conceive
2 Ne 17-18

In this chapter, the Lord warns Ahaz, king of Judah, that the northern kingdom of Israel/Ephraim and the kingdom of Syria were seeking to thwart the balance of power in the region by attacking Judah and replacing Ahaz as king.  But God will not allow it to happen.  Isaiah foresees that Ephraim would no longer be a nation within 65 years.  

As a sign that God would preserve Judah, Isaiah proclaims:

“Therefore, the Lord himself shall give you a sign—Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and shall bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil and to choose the good.
For before the child shall know to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land that thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings” (2 Ne 17:14-16).

For Ahaz, this is simply a prophecy that a maiden would bear a son, as a sign that Syria and Israel would fail and that their two kings would fall from power even before the child was born.  In Hebrew, the term for “virgin” or בתולה can also mean a young maiden, so this did not have to be an immaculate conception. According to scholars, Ahaz could have interpreted this to mean his own child, the Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser, or as I prefer to view it: Hezekiah, who would see the king of Assyria “pass through Judah; he shall overflow and go over, he shall reach even to the neck; and the stretching out of his wings shall fill the breadth of thy land, O Immanuel” (2 Ne 18:8).

Hezekiah would barely stave off Assyria’s siege, but would be considered one of the greatest and most righteous kings of Judah.

For Isaiah’s prophecies, however, there are often multiple fulfillments of prophecy.  For Nephi, the virgin would be Mary, which he had seen in vision (2 Ne 11) giving birth to the Savior.  The term “Immanuel”  עִמָּנוּאֵל  means “God [is] with us.”  

Nephi understands things regarding the destructions of Israel from the prophecies of Isaiah:

“And as one generation hath been destroyed among the Jews because of iniquity, even so have they been destroyed from generation to generation according to their iniquities; and never hath any of them been destroyed save it were foretold them by the prophets of the Lord” (2 Ne 25:9).

In chapter 18, Isaiah discusses the great destruction awaiting Ephraim at the hands of Assyria. When the Assyrians are at your door, only God can save.  No confederacy of nations can avoid the destruction foreseen by God’s prophet (2 Ne 18:9-12).  We cannot save ourselves from the enemies that surround us. Only by heeding the teachings of the law and the prophets and calling upon God can man hope to have the Lord protect them (2 Ne 18:16-20).

In spiritual terms, we are surrounded by overwhelming demonic forces.  Men seek to associate themselves with those they believe can help or protect them.  In doing so, they do not seek God’s help, nor do they seek to live righteously.  God eventually leaves them to their own devices, which never are enough, and they eventually go through destruction.

Unto Us a Child is Born
2 Nephi 19-20

“Nevertheless, the dimness shall not be such as was in her vexation, when at first he lightly afflicted the land of Zebulun, and the land of Naphtali, and afterwards did more grievously afflict by the way of the Red Sea beyond Jordan in Galilee of the nations.
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.
Thou hast multiplied the nation, and increased the joy—they joy before thee according to the joy in harvest, and as men rejoice when they divide the spoil.
For thou hast broken the yoke of his burden, and the staff of his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor.
For every battle of the warrior is with confused noise, and garments rolled in blood; but this shall be with burning and fuel of fire” (2 Ne 19:1-5).

Those facing destruction still have the hope of a restoration.  Ephraim and also Judah will not have to walk forever in darkness.  This seems to bring us back to Jacob and the Isaiah passage of the previous lesson.  They speak of the destructive Creation of God in forming the earth.  God battled the sea dragon Rahab and darkness, in order to bring order out of chaos.  Here the people who have walked through the chaos of death and darkness now see a “great light.”  The chaos of battle is replaced by the consuming fire and light of God to recreate everything as new.

It is at this point that Isaiah points towards that great light:

“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.
The Lord sent his word unto Jacob and it hath lighted upon Israel” (2 Ne 19:6-8).

The creation of the earth, the creation of man and of all other things were created from chaos.  Now would come the “the Word unto Jacob”  to create a government, or an ordered status to all things, bringing light out of darkness.

All those who cling to the darkness will be destroyed, even as Assyria’s collapse was foreseen by Isaiah.  In the last day when the Savior comes in power, the wicked will be cast off so that the world may obtain its greatest order of peace and joy.

Christ and the Millennium
2 Ne 21-22

Isaiah clearly points this part of his prophecy to the Millennium.  While Hezekiah or Josiah could suffice as great and righteous kings coming from  “a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots” (2 Ne 21:1) who judged the poor with mercy, etc.,  there has been no moment since the garden of Eden when the “wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid” (vs 6).

Instead, we see a prophecy that foresees the once strong nation of David returning to its former glory, even as in the Millennium the world will appear as the Garden of Eden once was.

Nebuchadnezzar as Lucifer
2 Nephi 23-24

Babylon is seen as the great enemy of Jerusalem and Judah.  It is only because of the wickedness of Judah that the Lord would allow Babylon to venture forth and destroy his holy temple.  Even the powerful Assyrians were held at bay about a century before, as God was still on Judah’s side.

Babylon extended itself throughout the known world, carrying intelligent people off to serve in the king’s house (cf Daniel 1) and others to populate various areas decimated by Nebuchadnezzar’s powerful army.  Nebuchadnezzar saw himself as another Nimrod, whose conquests and wealth were legendary. It was Nimrod who built the Tower of Babel in an attempt to conquer the only realm left to overthrow: God’s kingdom.  Today, one can see the foundations of the ancient tower that Nebuchadnezzar began to rebuild but never finished.

Today, we see the beliefs of the world extending throughout every section of the earth.  Just a few decades ago, new ideas in New York City or Los Angeles would take many years to enter into rural communities.  Now, what happens today in the Hollywood is known instantly throughout the world, and people seek to emulate it on Facebook, Twitter and other media.  Anyone can become the next American Idol or X Factor.

Such a world of chaotic noise will also fall. It is foreseen by Isaiah.  Babylon was destroyed twice before in Nimrod’s and the Nebuchadnezzar’s day.  Today, the world that rejects Christ and his gospel, while embracing hedonism and gods of chaos, extremes and wealth, is the new Babylon.  It too will fall.

In the destruction of Babylon, we will see a new creation of order out of chaos.

In this prophecy, we see Nebuchadnezzar’s fate:

“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.
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.
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.
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?
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 Ne 24:6-20)..

Nimrod, Nebuchadnezzar and Satan all sought to “ascend above the heights of the clouds” and replace the Most High God.  The “stars of God” are the divine sons of God that these wished to have power over.  Nimrod sought to kick the stars of God out of heaven. Nebuchadnezzar sought to control all of mankind, God’s children here on earth. Lucifer sought to be higher than the divine beings, including the angels and even God.  The “mount of the congregation, in  the sides of the north” has to do with God’s holy and divine company, including the archangels, seraphim, and others (cf Isaiah 6:1-6).

We persuade all men to come unto Christ
2 Nephi 25

Nephi then comments on the passages in Isaiah.  This is his pesher or commentary of how Isaiah’s words can apply to his people and to the concepts he wishes to bring forth.  Just as Israel would be destroyed, it would be gathered again in the last days.  Just as Babylon would be destroyed, so would the world be destroyed in the last days.

And as there are physical destructions, so are there spiritual ones.  We can die spiritually, but can also be reborn spiritually through the atonement of Christ. We are surrounded by poisonous serpents that seek to spiritually destroy us.  Our only rescue is to look upon the brass serpent of Moses, even Jesus Christ.

“For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do” (2 Ne 25:23).

Some see this passage as saying we have to earn our own salvation.  However, when viewed along with all that which is written in the Book of Mormon, we find that is not so.  The phrase “after all we can do” can have a variety of meanings.  For example, when the apostle John Taylor directed the translation of the Book of Mormon into German, he phrased it “in spite of all we can do.”  Later in the Book of Mormon, a group of converted Lamanites are encouraged by their king to bury their weapons of war as a covenant of peace with God.  This king explained that all they could do is repent (Alma 24:11).  In reality, we are saved by the grace of Christ after we believe on his name and repent of our sins.  We do not earn salvation, for it is a free gift.  The resurrection comes upon all people, and the atonement applies to all who repent and believe in Christ’s name.  Yes, greater rewards are given to those who are faithful in keeping commandments, but later when we read the sermons of King Benjamin and Alma, we shall see that we really do nothing to save ourselves.

For this reason, we share the Book of Mormon with an unbelieving world, as another testimony of Christ:

“we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins” (2 Ne 25:26).


Joel’s Monastery on Isaiah 1-6: http://joelsmonastery.blogspot.com/2010/09/ot-gospel-doctrine-lesson-36-glory-of.html

Immanuel: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immanuel

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Book of Mormon Lesson 8: “O How Great the Goodness of Our God” 2 Nephi 6-10

Book of Mormon Lesson 8: “O How Great the Goodness of Our God”
2 Nephi 6-10

Why does Nephi have Jacob and Isaiah’s teachings in his book?
2 Nephi 6

We may sometimes wonder why Nephi and Jacob quote Isaiah so much, or why Nephi includes Jacob’s teaching in his own book.  There is a reason.  For Nephi, he will later explain that Jacob, Isaiah and he (Nephi) all had something in common: each is a personal witness of the Lord Jesus Christ.  In adding the three together, Nephi is combining three witnesses together of Jesus’ premortal existence and his forthcoming role as Messiah and Savior of the world.  The Hebrew law of witnesses is an ancient concept that Nephi and the Lord took seriously.

Secondly, Nephi understands the concept of pesher or Midrash.  These were ancient commentaries that often included quoting a scriptural text, and then commenting on it in a way to apply it to the commenter’s day. A perfect example of this is the Dead Sea Scroll, Habakkuk Pesher or Commentary (1QpHab).  In the pesher, written in the first century BC, the Book of Habakkuk is quoted and explained in a manner that fit the Qumran people of the later era.  The term “Kittim” described by Habakkuk as the Babylonians, is now likened to the Roman Empire. Other concepts taught by Habakkuk in our Bible are adapted to the Jewish experience in Roman times, with conflicts between Israel and Gentiles creating other foes, such as the Wicked Priest and the Teacher of Righteousness.

Just as we see this practice of quoting and then reinterpreting the scripture in the Habakkuk pesher and various other ancient commentaries, we see Nephi and Jacob doing the same thing. That Nephi and Jacob quoted Isaiah so extensively is actually evidence of the Book of Mormon’s veracity. Among the copies of scripture found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, there were more fragments of Deuteronomy and Isaiah than any other books of the Old Testament.  These are probably the two books of scripture used most by Nephi in his books: writing often concerning Moses and even comparing Lehi and himself to Moses (see previous lessons), and Nephi and Jacob’s peshers on Isaiah.

That Jacob’s pesher quotes chapters of Isaiah that discuss the Gentiles connection with Israel, and then explains how it applies in his commentary, reminds us of the  Book of Habakkuk and the Habakkuk Pesher discussing the gentile intrusion into Israelite lands.  In this instance, however, it is regarding the Gentiles returning Israel back to its former glory, as children carried on Gentile shoulders (2 Nephi 6:6-12).

I Clothe the Heavens with Blackness
2 Nephi 7, Isaiah 50

The Lord explains to Israel why they have been cast aside, carried off into exile.  God has divorced their mother because of her infidelity.  She has slept with Baal and other idols, and the children have called upon the idols as their father, rather than their true Eternal Father.  Jehovah has cast them off, but is willing and able to restore them when they are ready to change from their evil ways.
“Wherefore, when I came, was there no man? when I called, was there none to answer? 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 the rivers a wilderness: their fish stinketh, because there is no water, and dieth for thirst” (vs 2).

When God came to Israel, no one was at the door to greet him.  When he called out, all had left their true home, and entered into the temples of the idols.  They left God, thinking there was greater power with the idols, who allowed them to live sinful lives as long as they worshiped at their altars. Yet it is God who has the power to redeem and deliver Israel.  When God rebukes, or rather removes his holy protection, the waters dry up and all things die from famine and drought.  They have left his protection, and in depending upon idols to protect themselves have brought destruction upon themselves.  Yet, even in being destroyed, they do not return to God to be delivered.

“I clothe the heavens with blackness, and I make sackcloth their covering” (vs 3).

Here we see Isaiah using poetic imagery to show just how dreadful things will be for apostate Israel.  Sackcloth was literally mourning clothing that was made from the poorest of materials, often from goat’s hair.  The heavens clothed in blackness suggests that things are so bad that even the heavens are in mourning because of the death of Israel.  This ties into literal prophesy for the last days, when we are told the stars will not give their light, the sun will be turned black and the moon turned blood red (Rev 6:12, Isa 13:10, Jere 4:28).  Even like the destructions in the last days, Israel’s apostasy and destruction shocks the heavens and earth, the angels weep, and only hope in future deliverance and redemption can bring them back from despair.

“Behold, all ye that kindle a fire, that compass yourselves about with sparks: walk in the light of your fire, and in the sparks that ye have kindled. This shall ye have of mine hand; ye shall lie down in sorrow” (vs 11).

The heavens have been darkened and the wicked seek to lighten the way with sparks.  Matthew Henry noted:

“Sinners are warned not to trust in themselves. Their own merit and sufficiency are light and heat to them. Creature-comforts are as sparks, short-lived, and soon gone; yet the children of this world, while they last, seek to warm themselves by them, and walk with pride and pleasure in the light of them. Those that make the world their comfort, and their own righteousness their confidence, will certainly meet with bitterness in the end. A godly man's way may be dark, but his end shall be peace and everlasting light. A wicked man's way may be pleasant, but his end and abode for ever will be utter darkness.”

We walk in much darkness in this life.  Yet only those who truly trust in God will be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  He becomes their light.  The sparks or tiny lights of the sinner may convince them they are seeing clearly, but they are unable to truly see what is ahead of them: destruction and sorrow.

Look Unto Abraham your Father
2 Nephi 8, Isaiah 51

“Hearken to me, ye that follow after righteousness, ye that seek the Lord: look unto the rock whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye are digged.Look unto Abraham your father, and unto Sarah that bare you: for I called him alone, and blessed him, and increased him.For the Lord shall comfort Zion: he will comfort all her waste places; and he will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving, and the voice of melody” (vs 1-3).

God calls upon Israel to look to where they truly come from and where they currently are.  The rock is their heritage of prophets and patriarchs.  They are now standing in a pit, which they dug themselves with shovels of sin.  The more they worship idols and sin, the deeper their pit becomes.  Yet they can still be reached.

They are called upon to look to their father Abraham.  Abraham was called alone. In a previous lesson on Abraham we noted how Jehovah was given Israel as his assigned kingdom by Elohim.  Rather than seek out a people that were already well established in the land, Jehovah selected one man to build a new nation from scratch, built upon faith in the Lord God.  Abraham was Jehovah’s friends, as we discussed  in the last lesson.  God is calling upon all of Israel to be his friend, and to receive all the blessings of being Jehovah’s offspring.

And while Israel is now scattered to the nations, the Lord foresaw the reestablishment of Zion and its abandoned treasures.  The wilderness would bloom as a rose, and be as holy and peaceful as the Garden of Eden.  Here is the secret to establishing a Zion and a Zion people: they must look to Abraham’s example, and follow it.

“Hearken unto me, my people; and give ear unto me, O my nation: for a law shall proceed from me, and I will make my judgment to rest for a light of the people.My righteousness is near; my salvation is gone forth, and mine arms shall judge the people; the isles shall wait upon me, and on mine arm shall they trust. 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 for ever, and my righteousness shall not be abolished".

Isaiah makes it clear that God shall bring forth a new law.  This is not the Mosaic law, which already came from God, but a new law that will establish Zion as God’s chosen place, giving the righteous a place of rest and light.  This law was brought forth by Christ during his mortal ministry.  He came to fulfill the law of Moses, replacing it with the higher law.  No more would animals be sacrificed, as the Messiah would be the final sacrifice.  It is He who has the power to redeem and deliver” (vs 4-6).

Christ’s judgment is based upon both justice and mercy.  For those who trust upon him, his mercy is sufficient to save them from hell fire.  And to the extent that a person seeks after Christ’s redemption is the level that his mercy fully extends in saving the person.  So mercy has Christ reaching out to all and giving them as much salvation as he can give them . Justice comes in that we only receive the level of salvation and deliverance that we want.  This comes from our actions, words, thoughts, and desires.  If we only desire the minimal salvation, we will live our lives barely giving Christ any thought and will not think often on our sins or repenting of them.  If we have great desires to follow Christ, he will redeem us to a higher glory of salvation, according to the true desires of our hearts.

Trust in God the Creator
2 Nephi 8, Isa 51

“Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord; awake, as in the ancient days, in the generations of old. Art thou not it that hath cut Rahab, and wounded the dragon? Art thou not it which 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 shall be upon their head: they shall obtain gladness and joy; and sorrow and mourning shall flee away. I, even I, am he that comforteth you: who art thou, that thou shouldest be afraid of a man that shall die, and of the son of man which shall be made as grass; And forgettest the Lord thy maker, that hath stretched forth the heavens, and laid the foundations of the earth; and hast feared continually every day because of the fury of the oppressor, as if he were ready to destroy? and where is the fury of the oppressor? The captive exile hasteneth that he may be loosed, and that he should not die in the pit, nor that his bread should fail. But I am the Lord thy God, that divided the sea, whose waves roared: The Lord of hosts is his name. And I have put my words in thy mouth, and I have covered thee in the shadow of mine hand, that I may plant the heavens, and lay the foundations of the earth, and say unto Zion, Thou art my people.” (vs 9-16)

God uses patterns in Creation and Destruction.  In creating the world, the tradition is that Jehovah had to subdue the sea serpent/dragon Rahab.  In another passage, Isaiah foresees Jehovah defeating its twin Leviathan in the last days (Isa 27:1, see also Rev 12).  God must destroy, or at least subdue Chaos in creating Order and Righteousness. The chaos of the oceans with its sea serpent had to be subdued in order to form land and life.  In casting Lucifer out of the Garden with a curse, and in binding him for the thousand year Millennium, we see that Jehovah defeats the Dragon/Sea Serpent twice.  This is necessary to accomplish his plans.  The Sea Serpent is Chaos, trying to destroy all things for eternity.  God destroys in order to reform things into a higher order.

Reminiscent of the Creation is the Exodus, where God created a new covenant people by destroying Egypt.  Egypt with its many gods and idols represented chaos and the serpent (see Ezekiel 32:2).  Slavery also represents chaos, and these had to be destroyed to create a new order of things: Israel.  God brought the ransomed Israel across the chaos of the Red Sea to safety, while destroying their Egyptian serpent.  Then, Israel was given the law of Moses as a new order in which to live and serve God in his order.

Every time God creates, he is creating or planting a heaven, laying the foundation of an earth or a great work, and creating a Zion people.  Creation means bringing order out of chaos.  When God gives commandments, they are a protection.  He is creating order, which can guide and protect the people from chaos and harm.  Yet, when they abandon the laws of God, chaos floods in destroying society and the benefits of the order and protection given it.

There is none to guide her among all the sons whom she hath brought forth; neither is there any that taketh her by the hand of all the sons that she hath brought up. These two things are come unto thee; who shall be sorry for thee? desolation, and destruction, and the famine, and the sword: by whom shall I comfort thee?” vs 18-19)

Jerusalem is called to awake from its chaotic sleep and realize just what troubles they are really in.  When society stops following the basic principles and doctrines God has established for an orderly society, it corrodes.  There is no one who can truly lead them, for how does one rule over chaos?  All that is left them is desolation, destruction, famine and death by sword.

Yet in the final verses, God states that the day will come when he will remove the cup of affliction from Jerusalem and give it to those who afflict Israel.  Why? Because through great trial Israel will repent and seek the Lord’s way once again, while others will ripen in iniquity, choosing chaos over the freedom God offers in his order.

Put on Thy Strength, O Zion!
2 Nephi 8:24-25

“Awake, awake; put on thy strength, O Zion; put on thy beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city: for henceforth there shall no more come into thee the uncircumcised and the unclean. “Shake thyself from the dust; arise, and sit down, O Jerusalem: loose thyself from the bands of thy neck, O captive daughter of Zion”.

The time will come when God will call upon Zion and Jerusalem, the two holy cities, to lift themselves from the dirty ground, shake the dust off themselves, and glory in God’s splendor.  No longer will they be bound down in sin and chaos, but be redeemed and restored to their former glory.

We begin to see physical Israel gather together in Jerusalem in our day.  The nation of Israel stands once again, though its existence remains fragile because of its enemies that surround it.  In these last days, Spiritual Israel also has been restored, with the stakes of Zion being established through out the world.  These too remain in a fragile existence, as they are beholden to kings and rulers to allow the small congregations of Saints to gather and worship.  Yet as they seek to serve God, he will strengthen their little footholds on the earth, making them greater than their numbers.

Understanding the Covenant of Christ
2 Nephi 9

And now, my beloved brethren, I have read these things that ye might know concerning the covenants of the Lord that he has covenanted with all the house of Israel” (2 Ne 9:1).

Isaiah explains the covenants that God has made with the house of Israel. Anciently, covenants were made with some individuals such as Abraham. However, under the Law of Moses, covenants were made with the nation.  Here though, Jacob is attempting to redefine the covenant on an individual basis for the Nephites.

What the Jews did not understand, and had lost because of the changes done by the Deuteronomists and temple priests from King Josiah’s time forward, was the true temple worship, with the covenants and ordinances done therein. Teachings such as the temple being the place for the Presence of God was lost.  The symbolism that expected a Messiah that would pay for the sins of the people was lost.  Many key teachings were lost among the Jews as they changed the worship to focus primarily on animal sacrifice and the 613 laws of Moses, instead of these being symbols of the eternal covenant.

So, Jacob explained the important matter of the eternal covenant of Christ with his Israelite family.

"Wherefore, it must needs be an infinite atonement—save it should be an infinite atonement this corruption could not put on incorruption. Wherefore, the first judgment which came upon man must needs have remained to an endless duration. And if so, this flesh must have laid down to rot and to crumble to its mother earth, to rise no more” (2 Ne 9:7).

Animal sacrifices do not make an infinite atonement. The twisted and apostate Jewish temple worship could not save anyone.  Moses’ teachings would lead us to Christ, but were not the source of atoning salvation.  Without Christ’s atonement, death would be eternal. We would not resurrect.  We could not be placed in a redeemed and sinless state, wherein we could dwell in God’s presence, represented by the ancient temple.

O the wisdom of God, his mercy and grace! For behold, if theflesh should rise no more our spirits must become subject to that angel who fell from before the presence of the Eternal God, and became the devil, to rise no more.And our spirits must have become like unto him, and we become devils, angels to a devil, to be shut out from the presence of our God, and to remain with the father of lies, in misery, like unto himself; yea, to that being who beguiled our first parents, who transformeth himself nigh unto an angel of light, and stirreth up the children of men unto secret combinations of murder and all manner of secret works of darkness.O how great the goodness of our God, who prepareth a way for our escape from the grasp of this awful monster; yea, that monster, death and hell, which I call the death of the body, and also the death of the spirit” (2 Ne 9:8-10).

Here is how important the covenant is with Christ. Had he not atoned for us, we not only would remain as spirits forever, unable to resurrect, but we could not progress.  Without progression, we would eventually succumb to the stagnation offered by Satan. Shut out from the presence of God, unable to access the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying power, we would not have the agency to choose life over death.  Christ becomes our rescue from the eternal monsters of death and hell. Death of the body and death of the spirit.  Hell is to be forever out of the presence of God’s presence, light, and truth. It is to remain forever in a state of darkness, unable to grow, because Satan will not and cannot give us agency or choice.

And he cometh into the world that he may save all men if they will hearken unto his voice; for behold, he suffereth the pains of all men, yea, the pains of every living creature, both men, women, and children, who belong to the family of Adam. And he suffereth this that the resurrection might pass upon all men, that all might stand before him at the great and judgment day” (2 Ne 9:21-22).

The covenant is that Christ is sacrificed, bringing about the resurrection and the atonement, in exchange for us promising to believe on his name, repent, and be baptized (vs 23-24).  We have what should be an easy choice: accept and follow Christ and receive eternal life, or refuse to accept his atonement and suffer in darkness and turmoil, simply because we would not make the covenant with Jesus.

O, my beloved brethren, remember my words. Behold, I take off my garments, and I shake them before you; I pray the God of my salvation that he view me with his all-searching eye; wherefore, ye shall know at the last day, when all men shall be judged of their works, that the God of Israel did witness that Ishook your iniquities from my soul, and that I stand with brightness before him, and am rid of your blood.O, my beloved brethren, turn away from your sins; shake off the chains of him that would bind you fast; come unto that God who is the rock of your salvation” (2 Ne 9:44-45).

Here, Jacob uses some parallelism.  He shakes his garments at us, showing he is clean of our sins because he has done his part to warn us.  He then pleads to us to shake off the chains that bind us to Satan.  In many ancient ascension/temple texts, there is a change of garment.  In ancient writings regarding them, Isaiah and Enoch, in ascending to heaven, are given a new garment to place upon themselves, prior to entering into God’s presence.  This garment represents taking upon oneself the covenants and ordinances (including baptism) we need to make with Christ.  But to put it on, we must first remove the garment that represents our earthly, sinful life, and become a new person in Christ.

Perish in the flesh
2 Nephi 10

For behold, the promises which we have obtained are promises unto us according to the flesh; wherefore, as it has been shown unto me that many of our children shall perish in the flesh because of unbelief, nevertheless, God will be merciful unto many; and our children shall be restored, that they may come to that which will give them the true knowledge of their Redeemer” (2 Ne 10:2).

There is the concept that has been taught by some General Authorities that suggests that if faithful parents teach their children and they go wayward, that they will eventually be restored by God.  Prior to this rescue, they will first have to “perish in the flesh” so that they can be saved in the spirit.

In D&C 19:10-20, the Lord commands us to repent or suffer even as he did.  For those who go astray, they will suffer in hell until they repent, whether that suffering requires a few days or several centuries.  The prophet Alma explains how such a painful experience drove him to repentance and a return to faith. Alma notes that he suffered until he remembered the words of his father, and he repented.

We read on this:

“The Prophet Joseph Smith declared—and he never taught a more comforting doctrine—that the eternal sealings of faithful parents and the divine promises made to them for valiant service in the Cause of Truth, would save not only themselves, but likewise their posterity. Though some of the sheep may wander, the eye of the Shepherd is upon them, and sooner or later they will feel the tentacles of Divine Providence reaching out after them and drawing them back to the fold. Either in this life or the life to come, they will return. They will have to pay their debt to justice; they will suffer for their sins; and may tread a thorny path; but if it leads them at last, like the penitent Prodigal, to a loving and forgiving father’s heart and home, the painful experience will not have been in vain. Pray for your careless and disobedient children; hold on to them with your faith. Hope on, trust on, till you see the salvation of God.”Orson F. Whitney, in Conference Report, Apr. 1929, 110.

Joseph Smith explained:

Hence God hath made a provision, that every spirit in the eternal world can be ferreted out and saved, unless he has committed that unpardonable sin, which can not be remitted to him. That God has wrought out a salvation for all men, unless they have committed a certain sin.Every man who has got a friend in the eternal world can save him unless he has committed the unpardonable sin, so you can see how far you can be a savior. A man can not commit the unpardonable sin after the dissolution of the body, and there is a way possible for escape. Knowledge saves a man, and in the world of spirits a man cannot be exalted but by knowledge; so long as a man will not give heed to the commandments, he must abide without salvation.” – Joseph Smith, KFD, Apr 7, 1844, Times and Seasons Minutes

Such is the promise and covenant we have with Christ that it maximizes salvation and eternal joy.


Matthew Henry’s Commentary: http://www.christnotes.org/commentary.php?com=mhc&b=23&c=50

Order out of Chaos: http://joelsmonastery.blogspot.com/2010/07/gospel-scholarship-order-out-of-chaos.html

Joe Spencer’s lesson 8: http://feastuponthewordblog.org/2012/02/08/book-of-mormon-lesson-8-o-how-great-the-goodness-of-our-god-2-nephi-6-10-sunday-school/

Joel’s Monastery blog on Old Testament lesson 39, Isaiah 50-53: http://joelsmonastery.blogspot.com/2010/10/ot-gospel-doctrine-lesson-39-how.html

“Our Wayward Children” post at Millennial Star blog: http://www.millennialstar.org/our-wayward-childrens-salvation/#comments