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 on 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 in the days of Hezekiah.
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 or Ziggurat 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 social media. Anyone can become the next American Idol or social media star.
Such a world of chaotic noise will also fall. It is foreseen by Isaiah. Babylon was destroyed twice before in Nimrod’s and 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 power seekers wished to have control 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.
Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf noted:
"I wonder if sometimes we misinterpret the phrase “after all we can do.” We must understand that “after” does not equal “because.”All we can do is be reconciled to Christ through faith and repentance. This is not a one time thing, but a lifetime process that brings us ever closer to our Savior's presence.
We are not saved “because” of all that we can do. Have any of us done all that we can do? Does God wait until we’ve expended every effort before He will intervene in our lives with His saving grace?Many people feel discouraged because they constantly fall short. They know firsthand that “the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” They raise their voices with Nephi in proclaiming, “My soul grieveth because of mine iniquities.”I am certain Nephi knew that the Savior’s grace allows and enables us to overcome sin. This is why Nephi labored so diligently to persuade his children and brethren “to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God.”After all, that is what we can do! And that is our task in mortality!"
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).
Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, "The Gift of Grace": https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2015/04/the-gift-of-grace?lang=eng
Joel’s Monastery on Isaiah 1-6: http://joelsmonastery.blogspot.com/2010/09/ot-gospel-doctrine-lesson-36-glory-of.html