It would be difficult to cover all of 2 Nephi 11-25 in a 40 minute class period, so I will post some ideas from my book Isaiah for Airheads on two of my favorite Isaiah chapters from 2 Nephi:
- 2 Nephi 12, which speaks of the latter-day temple
- 2 Nephi 16 where Isaiah receives his call
2 Nephi 12
2 Nephi 12:2. “The mountain of the Lord’s house” This phrase refers to the temple. According to the LDS Bible Dictionary: “Whenever the Lord has had a people on the earth who will obey his word, they have been commanded to build temples” (“Temple,” 781). Temples were the center of religious life among the house of Israel, but after Solomon’s temple was destroyed in A.D. 70, and as a result of the apostasy, temple worship ceased on the earth. (Interestingly, when Jews go to their synagogue in our day, they often call it going to “temple.”) The point and importance of this verse is that when temples are again built on the earth, it is a sign that the Restoration has begun and the Millennium is near.
2 Nephi 12:2. “Top of the mountains” The verse sounds a little redundant—“the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains.” Perhaps you’ve seen the movie the Church produced called Mountain of the Lord. It tells the story of the beginnings of the Salt Lake Temple from the perspective of a newspaper reporter who’s come to Utah to interview President Wilford Woodruff just before the dedication. At the end of the movie, the reporter mentions that he came across the definition of the word Utah— it’s a Ute Indian word that means “top of the mountains.” That makes this verse very interesting (especially since the Saints wanted to name their state Deseret, but were forced by the U. S. Congress to call it Utah). Thus, we could restate at least one interpretation of Isaiah’s words, “The temple will be established in Utah.”
Elder Bruce R. McConkie mentioned other ways in which these words of Isaiah are fulfilled: This has specific reference to the Salt Lake Temple and to the other temples built in the top of the Rocky Mountains, and it has a general reference to the temple yet to be built in the New Jerusalem in Jackson County,Missouri. Those in all nations, be it noted, shall flow to the houses of the Lord in the tops of the mountains, there to make covenants out of which eternal life comes. (A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, 539)
Mountains have been called “nature’s temples” for several reasons. Mountains are where one can meet God “halfway.” Prophets throughout time have communed with God in the mountains, and Jesus himself did so (see Mark 6:46). Similarly, temples are places that require effort to reach. Someone once said, “If you see a man on top of a mountain, he didn’t fall there.” In addition, mountains, like temples, provide glorious views and infinite perspectives that can’t be found anywhere else on earth.
2 Nephi 12:3. “Teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths” Within the temple, we are taught the Lord’s ways and how to walk in his paths. In contrast, Lehi saw a great and spacious worldly “temple.” Those who gave heed to the world’s ways soon wandered off, getting lost in “strange roads” and “forbidden paths” (1 Nephi 8:28, 32).
2 Nephi 12:3. “Out of Zion shall go forth the law” President Gordon B. Hinckley taught, “I believe that [this] prophecy [2 Nephi 12:2–3, 5] applies to the historic and wonderful Salt Lake Temple. But I believe also that it is related to this magnificent [Conference Center] hall. For it is from this pulpit that the law of God shall go forth, together with the word and testimony of the Lord” (“This Great Millennial Year,” Ensign, November 2000, 69).
2 Nephi 12:3. Two world capitals This verse mentions both Zion and Jerusalem. Are they the same place? Zion, of course, will be wherever the pure in heart are gathered. But modern prophets have also interpreted Zion to mean the New Jerusalem to be built in Jackson County, Missouri. The old Jerusalem will also be a world capital during the Millennium.
2 Nephi 12:4. “Swords into plow-shares, and their spears into pruning- hooks” In the millennial day, weapons for killing will be turned into tools for living. Can you imagine how many farm implements could be made out of an aircraft carrier? In 2005, the United States Department of Defense budget totaled 401.7 billion dollars. Imagine what can be done for the poor in all the world when millennial peace reigns and the inhabitants of the earth shall not “learn war any more?”
2 Nephi 12:5. Isaiah leaves the millennial day, and goes back to his own time with an invitation and an observation. Twenty-seven centuries after Isaiah, the same situation exists. Latter- day Israel has also been invited to walk in the light of the Lord, but a modern revelation laments that “every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god, whose image is in the likeness of the world” (D&C 1:16).
2 Nephi 12:6. “Replenished from the east” means to have partaken of false eastern religions; “soothsayers” are like fortune tellers. Pleasing themselves in the “children of strangers” means to intermingle and marry with those not of covenant Israel. (Fortune tellers and psychics still exist today— remember the “Psychic Friends Network” that used to advertise on TV? They finally went bankrupt, causing comedians to ask, “With all their psychic powers, shouldn’t they have known they would be going out of business?”)
2 Nephi 12:7. Horses and chariots. Horses and chariots are often mentioned to signify military might and are listed along with treasures and idols in these verses. Relying on military power alone for peace and security is a form of idolatry. President Spencer W. Kimball observed:
When enemies rise up, we commit vast resources to the fabrication of gods of stone and steel— ships, planes, missiles, fortifications— and depend on them for protection and deliverance. When threatened, we become anti- enemy instead of pro- kingdom of God. . . . We forget that if we are righteous the Lord will either not suffer our enemies to come upon us— and this is the special promise to the inhabitants of the land of the Americas— or he will fight our battles for us. (Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, 417)
2 Nephi 12:9. “Mean man boweth not down” In statistics, the word mean means “average.” In this verse, mean means the average or common man doesn’t bow down to or worship God— see footnote 9b.
2 Nephi 12:10. “Enter into the rock, and hide thee in the dust” The unrepentant will wish to hide when the Lord comes. A similar thought is expressed by Alma: “In this awful state we shall not dare to look up to our God; and we would fain be glad if we could command the rocks and the mountains to fall upon us to hide us from his presence” (Alma 12:14).
2 Nephi 12:12. “The Day of the Lord” A day of judgment. There are many days of the Lord, of which the Second Coming is one.
2 Nephi 12:13. “Cedars of Lebanon” Why would the Lord come down so hard on trees? In Isaiah, trees are often metaphors for people. The legendary cedars of Lebanon came to symbolize the proud and “lifted up” on the earth.
2 Nephi 12:16. “Ships of the sea” The day of the Lord will come down on cruise ships and luxurious pleasure craft on the Mediterranean Sea. “Pleasant pictures” may refer to insignia on the sails of the ships or to the elaborately carved figureheads on the bows of the ships, which were often images of false gods, or this may simply be another way of referring to the ships themselves (see Reynolds and Sjodahl, Commentary on the Book of Mormon, 1:325–26; Brewster, Isaiah Plain and Simple, 20).
Book of Mormon scholars get very excited about 2 Nephi 12:16, because it comes as close to a “proof” that the Book of Mormon is an ancient book as anything could. If you’ll look at footnote 16a, you’ll see that the Greek Septuagint (the oldest existing Greek text of Isaiah, about A.D. 500–1000) contains only the phrase “ships of the sea.” The oldest existing Hebrew text (or Masoretic text, dated about 250 B.C.) contains only the phrase “ships of Tarshish.” The Book of Mormon restores both phrases, showing that it came from an older text of Isaiah than either existing text (i.e., from the brass plates). There is no evidence that Joseph Smith had access to the Septuagint, and he couldn’t read Greek at the time anyway! The only explanation is that these phrases appear because the Book of Mormon is indeed an ancient record and was in fact translated by the gift and power of God.
2 Nephi 12:19. “And they shall go into the holes of the rocks” See the comments above on verse 10.
2 Nephi 12:20. Moles and bats. A couple of ideas may apply here. Moles and bats live in darkness, and those who worship idols may be trying to hide their idols where they won’t be discovered. Also, moles and bats are blind, and in this verse they correspond with those who are spiritually blind.
2 Nephi 12:21. “Ragged rocks” An interesting contrast. The righteous meet openly on the “top of the mountains” to be with God, while the wicked seek the clefts of the ragged rocks to hide from God.
2 Nephi 12:22. “Cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils” In other words, cease relying on man, who received his life, the breath of his nostrils, from God (see Moses 3:7). Rely instead on God, the giver of life. The footnote for this verse (Isaiah 2:22) in your LDS Old Testament says, “Cease depending on mortal man; he is of little power compared to God.”
How do I apply 2 Nephi 12 to my own life? The Prophet Joseph Smith taught: What was the object of gathering the Jews, or the people of God in any age of the world? . . . The main object was to build unto the Lord a house whereby He could reveal unto His people the ordinances of His house and the glories of His kingdom, and teach the people the way of salvation; for there are certain ordinances and principles that, when they are taught and practiced, must be done in a place or house built for that purpose. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 307–8)
2 Nephi 16 Isaiah Receives his Call
2 Nephi 16:1. “In the year that King Uzziah died . . .” Kings usually serve until they die, and the years they reign mark an era. Uzziah (or Azariah in 2 Kings 14:21) reigned for 50 years and died in 740 B.C., the very year in which Isaiah began his ministry (2 Nephi 16 footnote 1b says “about 750 B.C.”)
2 Nephi 16:1. “I saw also the Lord” This is Isaiah’s call to be a prophet, and this vision has many elements common to the calling of other prophets.
2 Nephi 16:1. “His train filled the temple” The “train” refers to the hem of his garment, symbolizing that his robes, his power, his light filled the temple. A “train” can also be defined as something that follows and thus may refer to those who follow him (David A. Christensen, “Teaching Isaiah to Teenagers,” CES Symposium, 1991, audiotape).
2 Nephi 16:2. Seraphim These are angelic beings who are described as having wings. The Hebrew word from which seraphim was translated literally means “burning ones” (Book of Mormon Reference Companion, 366). The Doctrine and Covenants clarifies that wings are not literal but are symbolic of power to move or act quickly (see D&C 77:4). The term in Hebrew from which the word wings is translated can also mean “veils” (Gileadi, The Book of Isaiah, 35). The seraphim cover their faces and feet to show reverence, just as those who go to the temple cover their faces and heads.
2 Nephi 16:3. “Holy, holy, holy” There is no “good, better, best” in Hebrew, so instead of saying “holy” or “very holy” or “most holy,” the word “holy” is repeated three times— three is the superlative, the ultimate. You’ll also notice the Book of Mormon uses the word “wo” sometimes one, two, and even three times in a row. Three “woes” is the ultimate in “wo” (see 2 Nephi 9:27; Mosiah 3:12; 2 Nephi 28:15).
2 Nephi 16:4. “The posts of the door moved” Symbolic of the presence of the Lord, Sinai shook and smoked when Jehovah was there (see Exodus 19:18). Smoke is also symbolic of the glory of God and of the prayers of the people, which ascend (smokelike) to heaven (see Revelation 8:4).
In Hebrew, the suffix “-im” makes a word plural. So “seraphim” means more than one seraph. Isaiah 6:2 in the KJV incorrectly translates this word “seraphims” (which is like saying “geeses”), but the Book of Mormon gets it right. You’ll also be familiar with other Hebrew words with a plural ending, such as “cherubim” (more than one cherub) and “Urim and Thummim” (lights and perfections).
2 Nephi 16:5. “I am undone” Isaiah’s humble response to his call. These same feelings of inadequacy were also expressed by Moses and Enoch when they were called (see Exodus 4:10; Moses 6:31). Have you ever known anyone in our modern day to respond to the Lord’s call any differently? I’ve never heard a newly called bishop or stake president or General Authority ever respond to his call with a “I am totally prepared, I am ready to tackle this calling, and I’m fully qualified for the job.” You might hear that in politics or business, but never from servants of the Lord.
2 Nephi 16:6–7. “A live coal . . . upon my mouth” There is a beautiful symbol here. From what we know of the ancient temples, the live coal would have come from either the altar for burning incense or the altar for burning sacrifices. In either case, the altar is a symbol for the Atonement, and the glowing coal, with its burning, purifying power, was laid on Isaiah’s mouth. The image is painful to imagine, but it suggests a cleansing that calls to mind the often painful process of repentance and the sanctifying effect of the “refiner’s fire.”
2 Nephi 16:8. “Here am I; send me” These are the same words the Savior spoke to the Father in the premortal existence when He offered to become the Redeemer of the world (see Abraham 3:27), and other prophets have used them as well in accepting their ministries (see Genesis 22:1; Exodus 3:4; 1 Samuel 3:4–8).
2 Nephi 16:9. Tell this people, “Hear ye indeed, but they understood not” In other words, the people will hear, but they won’t understand. If you read this verse slowly, you will notice that the words “hear ye indeed” are written in present tense, and the words “they understood not” are obviously written in past tense. The Lord is telling Isaiah what to do, then prophesying about the result.
2 Nephi 16:10. “Make the heart of this people fat” This is a confusing phrase. Why would the Lord ask Isaiah to “make” the hearts of the people fat? Wouldn’t the Lord want Isaiah to make their hearts open to the truth? Doesn’t the Lord want the people to listen? On the surface, it appears as if the Lord is telling Isaiah to cause the people to reject his words. The Lord knows the hearts of the children of Israel. This statement is a prophecy to Isaiah that the children of Israel will exercise their own agency and reject his message of repentance. This is not the Lord’s desire, but it is what will happen. (Book of Mormon Reference Companion, 367)
It all comes down to the meaning of the word make in this verse. Because of some peculiarities in the Hebrew language, this has been translated “Make the heart” while some scholars believe it should be “Declare the heart of this people to be fat” (see Paul Y. Hoskisson, “A Latter-day Saint Reading of Isaiah in the Twentieth Century,” 216). A fat heart is one that is insulated or hardened against the truth (kind of a spiritual “hardening of the arteries”). The New Testament repeats this verse a little more clearly, showing that the people themselves (not the prophet), closed their eyes: “For the heart of this people is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them” (Acts 28:27).
2 Nephi 16:10. See, hear, understand, be converted and healed This is the great promise of the gospel and the merciful mission of the Savior, but it is often rejected. As pointed out earlier, Isaiah’s name means “Jehovah is salvation,” but sadly, some simply won’t see, hear, understand, and be healed by the Great Healer.
2 Nephi 16:11. “How long?” Isaiah wonders how long the love of the Savior will be rejected. The answer is not a happy one. Isaiah 6:11, footnote a states, “The prophet wonders how long men will be so, and the Lord answers: until mortal man is no more.”
2 Nephi 16:12. “Removed men far away” The consequence of rejecting the Lord is to be scattered. This verse alludes to perhaps both the Assyrian captivity of the northern kingdom of Israel in 721 B.C., and the Babylonian captivity of 587 B.C. (And maybe even the destruction of Jerusalem, which occurred after the Savior’s resurrection in A.D. 70)
2 Nephi 16:13. A tenth shall return The trees mentioned here, the oak and the teil-tree, can have all their leaves eaten off, can even be chopped down, but will regenerate because the sap or substance is still within (see Terry B. Ball, “Isaiah’s Imagery of Plants and Planting,” 29).
2 Nephi 16:13 “The holy seed shall be the substance thereof” Latter- day Saint Old Testament scholar Paul Y. Hoskisson has written:
As Paul states in Galatians 3:16, the “seed” referred to in the Old Testament is Christ. And it is that “seed” that comprised the substance, that is the life of Israel, here symbolized by trees. In other words, the Messiah of Israel would be born of the spiritually dormant remnant of Israel living in the land of Palestine and He is the life substance of Israel. (“A Latter-day Saint Reading of Isaiah in the Twentieth Century,” 218)
Applying 2 Nephi 16 to our lives: This chapter describes the prophetic calling of Isaiah. As modern covenant Israel, we have also been called to bear the ministry in our day. Each of us also voiced our “Here am I, send me” in the premortal existence, and we repeat it every time we accept a calling on this earth.
The central message of all of Isaiah is contained in this chapter— come to Christ, see, hear, understand, be converted and be healed, and that is the message that we as covenant Israel are to carry to the world. Why would anyone refuse that invitation? Who wouldn’t want the healing power of the Savior in their life? Sadly, some will not hear. How long will it be that way? Until the very end. But our commission remains the same. Mormon told his son Moroni that he should not cease to labor, even though his work seemed to be in vain (see Moroni 9:6). Again, our calling is not to be successful in all things, but to be faithful in all things. For how long? Until the very end.
For commentaries on the other Isaiah chapters in the Book of Mormon, see Isaiah for Airheads.
Kelly Smith says
I truly love your comments of this chapter. I love Isaiah and cherish its wonderful message.