Isaiah takes center stage in the chapters we are studying this week. I would dare say there are many people who gloss or skip over these chapters when the read the Book of Mormon, not unlike Leviticus and Numbers in the Old Testament. However, as I summarize the different focal points of Nephi’s selections from Isaiah, I hope that you can see the longing Nephi exposes that his children and posterity do not forget who they are and God’s plan for them. Nephi is determined to prove to his children that the Messiah will come to redeem them all.
I see this similarly to a grandparent’s dying memoir to his family to help them know the things that are most important. Nephi, who has always loved Isaiah (Isaiah was a rediscovered prophetic hero at the time Lehi and Nephi lived in Jerusalem), probably spent most of his time studying from his teachings. These chapters represent a foundation to Nephi’s own words to his posterity. He is using the pattern of witnesses to strengthen his own testimony of the coming of Christ. Nephi begins by telling us that he and Jacob both have seen the Messiah, and His coming in the future. Then he will spend his final words using Isaiah as well.
If you feel it is difficult to study the “Isaiah Chapters” I hope this summary can help you understand, at the very least, what Nephi is trying to teach and say to his posterity.
CHAPTERS FOR STUDY WEEK 8 – 2 Nephi 11-25
– Estrangement from God is a feeling we all experience and something we must face in our journey to find the Lord.
– God has provided a path to being being reunited with him in Jesus Christ, the Messiah.
– It is essential for us to share and write down our experiences with God and Christ for our posterity to truly find their own faith in Jesus Christ.
History and Context:
– Dualism – Studying Isaiah requires two fundamentally different types of reading. He uses dualism, which is a term that means his writings are talking about present day matters, and about prophetic, symbolic, or esoteric matters at the same time. I have found the best way to study that is to learn the context and details of his present-day events first. Then to look at what he is saying in relation to our own lives, or society, or future events. There will be certain principles and ideas that will permeate both readings and those are the keys to Isaiah’s words.
– Isaiah was a prophet sometime between 740 BC and 686 BC. His teachings were probably controversial at the time, and many of them were lost after the Northern Kingdom of Israel was wiped out. Some believe they may have even been hidden. In any event, his writings were discovered again during the time of Jeremiah and were immediately found to be prophetic and valuable. There are three sections of Isaiah with references to time periods that make it seem that three different authors wrote the 66 chapters of the Book of Isaiah. However, it is just as likely that with compilation timing and editing after that fact may have caused some of this confusion, as during the time of Jeremiah there was a massive effort to compile all historical and prophetic teachings since David with the Torah. Isaiah is famous for his Messianic writings as well and that is the primary reason Nephi is so interested in what he has to say.
This has three important ramifications for the Latter-day Saints:
- Nephi’s generation would have been enamored with the “new” teachings of Isaiah and so it is not surprising that Nephi needed plates with Isaiah’s teachings, but also that he spent so much time studying them.
- Isaiah is the most quoted prophet in all scripture, including being quoted often by Jesus Christ. So, there are important things in his words.
- Joseph Smith’s translation process would have likely included his understanding of Isaiah at the time of translation, which would have been from the KJV. There are times in the translation they are the same and other times they are different, but ultimately using words and phrases that Joseph was familiar with to explain what Nephi was attempting to convey is part of translation. I believe that Joseph often interjected his interpretation of the revelation he was experiencing into the translation.
– A key historical even that is essential to understand with studying Isaiah is the destruction of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Centuries after Israel settled their lands, the 12 tribes had their land appropriated to them based on familial lineage. In the Northern Kingdoms, Ephraim and Manasseh held the largest land area, but they were surrounded by most of the other tribes. Only Judah and Benjamin were considered part of the Southern Kingdom (Levi did not get land, they were the stewards of the priesthood). Over time the 10 tribes of the North became called Israel and the South became called Judah (later Jews). They had different kings, fought all the time, had different opinions on doctrine and temple worship.
In 740 BC, around the beginning of Isaiah’s ministry, Assyrians began taking cities in the Northern Kingdom captive and deporting them around the world. This culminated withe complete occupation, destruction, and scattering in 722 BC. King Ahaz of Judah was able to negotiate, with the help of Isaiah, a truce with the Assyrians and continue living in their land. Later, after their captivity by the Babylonians in 587 BC, Judah was granted the ability to resettle their lands. The Northern Tribes were never granted the ability to resettle and they eventually were scattered around the world.
– Jesse is the father of King David, and it was prophesied that the Messiah would come from Jesse and David.
– There is some complication to how Nephi, and some other prophets describe Jesus Christ, rather than the Messiah in the Book of Mormon. Old Testament prophets did not write in Greek (Jesus Christ is the Greek translation of the Anointed One). They would have used Yaweh or Messiah, and likely that was common in Nephi’s time. However, Nephi and Jacob both testify to having interacted with Jesus face-to-face and therefore their knowledge would have been more explicit than most Old Testament prophets. In addition, Joseph Smith knew they were talking about Jesus Christ and had experienced Jesus face-to-face himself and could have interjected his knowledge into the translation.
Also, keep in mind that Nephi explains that differences in the languages of the Jews make their teachings harder to understand. This is absolutely true of languages. Nephi says specifically in later verses that his desire to make things more simple and plain so it is easy for his posterity to understand. I think we all benefit from that.
My Soul Delighteth – Introduction 2 Ne. 11-12
Nephi delights in proving to his posterity that Christ will come to redeem all humankind. Nephi delights in proving to his posterity that all humankind would perish without Christ’s redemption.
Isaiah also taught people in a similar circumstance (war, conflict, refugees, beaten down, and afraid). Isiah taught his people that war and conflict can be turned to peace and prosperity through following Christ’s ways, but unfortunately following those ways are not easy, even for believers.
Human Nature is to Rebel Against the Ways of God – 2 Ne. 12-15
All of us stray from God, but why?
- New Philosophies are more appealing than “stale tradition.”
- Wealth, Materialism, Success, Power, Prestige, and Status are more desirable than God’s ways.
- Hatred and Pride are more convenient than humility and compassion.
However, all those things will either be destroyed, lost, proved meaningless, or hurt us and those we love. Life will humble us no matter what we choose. This as an effort to turn our hearts back to God and Jesus Christ.
In Isaiah’s time when the fall came, most of the leadership and skilled people were either killed or taken captive. This could also have been true regarding the split with Nephi and his brothers, or later conflicts that killed leaders. In either event, the leadership vacuum in Isaiah’s time was filled with evil leaders who led the people further away from God. These leaders taught the people to follow the things that led them away from God in the first place – philosophies of men, wealth, pride, power, hatred, etc.
The fate of the Isaiah’s people, and Nephi’s if they follow that path (all of us really) is that of being humbled in greater magnitude at some point. The society will fail, and people will grow to hate and fight with each other. Nephi is worried about this result, having seen it in a vision, and so he is warning his people of the fate of Israel at the time of Isaiah. Isaiah had already seen this happen.
While there is hope, because there is always a small branch of people who are humble and believe in God and His ways, conflict and war will always lead to the powerful and rich taking advantage of the poor and humble. This angers God and is the wrong way to live life. Accumulation of wealth, evil actions, and selfishness are not the purposes of life, but without the ways of God they are the natural directions humankind will go.
The Mighty God – 2 Ne. 16-20
Nephi likely saw some of himself in Isaiah. Isaiah is called as the mouthpiece of the Lord to King Ahaz. However, Isaiah feels unworthy to take on the role. Through a vision, like Nephi, Isaiah is purified and sees the Lord before beginning his ministry. In chapters 17 and 18 Isaiah recounts a story about trying to convince Ahaz to trust the Lord and that the Assyrians will only destroy the Northern Kingdom if Ahaz follows Isaiah’s counsel.
In order to prove his instructions are from God, Isaiah uses a dualistic prophesy of a child being born right then that would not be able to choose right from wrong before the Northern Kingdom would be destroyed. In this prophesy, Isaiah also introduces the child Immanuel being born to a young woman in the future. He will move into the prophecy of Immanuel after finish the present story of the desolation that comes to the Northern Kingdom and that the responsibility to follow the Lord’s ways will be upon Judah.
Isaiah then goes on to explain that through Judah, and Mary, the Messiah would come to save and establish the Kingdom of God forever. This spiritual salvation was part of the dualistic way in which Isaiah taught. He is using real events to show the physical bondage, trials, and separation the people of Israel experienced. However, he is teaching us the importance of following God’s ways to overcome those trials spiritually. That Christ will come to save us spiritually.
Isaiah returns to the present, where Ahaz agrees to a deal with the Assyrians to avoid destruction, but the 10 Norther Tribes are scattered or destroyed. The people of Judah have chance to reconcile with God, but like the Northern Kingdom they fail to come back to the Lord.
The Stem of Jesse 2 Ne. 21-24
Isaiah speaks of the future again in chapters 21-22 where he explains that there will be a stem of Jesse (Christ) that will gather all of Israel back together. He will use a rod (prophets) to preach and save all of his people over time. In the last days, all of Israel will be gathered and rejoice in the Lord.
Isaiah finishes with more details on prophesying that the Babylonians will take over Judah and the people will be taken captive. This serves as both a prophecy for the actual experiences of Nephi and his family, but also a reminder that being a believer is an experience in trials and challenges. That the allure of convenience, wealth, pride, easiness, and the absence of growth is not God’s plan. These are all things Nephi feels he needs to warn his people about.
My Heart Doth Magnify His Holy Name 2 Ne. 25
Nephi takes back the narrative and I find it important to note that this is the first time that Nephi’s narrative turns to his present day. Up until this point he has been recounting things of the past decades and important selections from Isaiah and Jacob’s teachings. Nephi is giving his final testimony and his final teachings to his posterity. These are the words that matter the most to him.
At one point, Nephi makes it clear that the point of his ministry, and all prophetic ministries, is to magnify the Messiah in the people’s hearts. He then prophesies the coming of Christ around 600 years from when they fled Jerusalem, and prophesies, like Isaiah, that Christ will die for us and be resurrected. Nephi explains that his testimony is going to be more plain than Isaiah and that he wants all people to know Jesus Christ.
Why do we go astray from the Lord’s ways into our own ways? What can we do to humble ourselves when we think we know everything?
What can we do to simplify our spiritual experiences, and beliefs so they can be passed on to our children and posterity? Do we write in our journals so we can share with them one day?
When Nephi says we are saved by grace after all we can do, what does “all we can do” mean? What other things could it mean?
Key Moment or Scripture: 2 Nephi 25:23-26
23 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.
24 And, notwithstanding we believe in Christ, we keep the law of Moses, and look forward with steadfastness unto Christ, until the law shall be fulfilled.
25 For, for this end was the law given; wherefore the law hath become dead unto us, and we are made alive in Christ because of our faith; yet we keep the law because of the commandments.
26 And 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.
At the heart of what Nephi has been doing in creating his writings is keeping his posterity close to the Lord. It almost feels like Nephi is dying and you can feel the urgency in his writing. Nephi gives us, in my opinion, one of the most concise versions of what living the Gospel is to a believer.
- Believers must write and teach the gospel for it to be passed down through generations.
- Organized religion is flawed, but necessary to pass down teachings through generations.
- Reconciling our ways with the Lord’s way is the journey of life.
- We will fail in that journey, but if we believe and try (all we can do) then Christ’s grace will save us.
- The law reminds us to follow Christ, but because the law is not enough, we must preach, talk, and write about Christ with each other.
- We do this so we can all remember that no matter what we do, or where we have wandered (like Israel and Judah) God wants us back and has sacrificed all to redeem us.
The part I like the most is the rejoicing in Christ. Rejoicing requires a contrast in life with and without Christ. I can testify that my life is unquestionably more happy and better when I am communing with Christ in my life. If I compare to the times when I am communing with my own desires, pride, frustrations, and motives, it is easy to see how the gospel makes your life better even if the journey you are on is still hard.
I will be posting for weeks 9-10 on March 1 where we will study Nephi’s final teachings and testimony. Isaiah set the foundation and Nephi will tell us plainly his most important teachings.
- Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon by Brant Gardner
- Understanding the Book of Mormon by Grant Hardy