2 Nephi 12 tweet: Lord’s house in mountain tops, no more learning war. HoJ full of Au + Ag + idols. Proud 2b brought low, idols abandoned. Cease ye from man.

2 Nephi 13 tweet: In that day Judah will b desperate for leaders. But nobody wants the job. Daughters of Z condemned 4 mincing + tinkling.  

In last week’s post I outlined a few keys that I will try to use while reading Isaiah. One thing I didn’t mention but I think is also important to say upfront is that what I’ll try and do is first work out what Isaiah was saying about ancient Israel and then consider how Nephi may have been using Isaiah’s words to apply to the vision he himself saw of the latter days (see 1 Nephi 12–14). This will probably get a bit fuzzy at times as these two interpretations of Isaiah’s words aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive, i.e. Isaiah may at times also have seen in vision and had in mind a branch of Israel on the American continent in the latter days; but at the same time I don’t think we have to be wedded to the idea that Isaiah saw everything. I think Nephi felt at liberty to apply Isaiah’s words to his own vision – i.e. he likened them – in a similar way to how Moroni/Joseph Smith used the words of Malachi outside of their original context (but that’s a story for a another day). What I’m trying to say is that I’ll try and read Isaiah on his own terms and then see how Nephi utilised them for his own ends.

Over the next couple of posts I’ll consider 2 Nephi 12–14, which correspond with Isaiah 2–4. That is because these original Isaiah chapters would have made up a single oracle and so should be read together. As such, 2 Ne 12:1 is a superscript that applies to the whole of 2 Ne 12–14. Taken together, in these chapters we find frequent references to the day of the Lord, which is pictured as a day of disaster for proud Israel. However, in common with much of Isaiah, beyond the disaster there is also genuine hope of restoration and new prosperity.

Before getting into 2 Nephi 12, I just wanted to mention that I think it’s interesting that Nephi starts quoting/transcribing Isaiah from Isaiah 2 onwards. Biblical scholars believe that Isaiah 1 was actually a later addition to Isaiah’s book. That Nephi doesn’t use Isaiah 1 might suggest that this chapter was added to the book of Isaiah after Lehi’s family fled Jerusalem.

For LDS, 2 Ne 12:2/Isa 2:2 is one of Isaiah’s most iconic verses:

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

In this verse (and v3–4), Isaiah saw the future glory of Jerusalem (see also Micah 4:1–3). But we see in Nephi’s use of Isaiah a latter-day Zion on the American continent. We often consider the Salt Lake Temple as at least a partial fulfilment of these prophesy (although I think the original prophecy and Nephi’s use of it have much broader applicability). Therefore, I thought I would share the following quote from an old address by Jeffrey R Holland in which he likens the construction of that temple to the lives we are each building:

[In 1892] the prestigious Scientific American referred to this majestic new edifice [the Salt Lake Temple] as a “monument to Mormon perseverance.” And so it was. Blood, toil, tears, and sweat. The best things are always worth finishing. “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God?” (1 Corinthians 3:16). Most assuredly you are. As long and laborious as the effort may seem, please keep shaping and setting the stones that will make your accomplishment “a grand and imposing spectacle.” Take advantage of every opportunity to learn and grow. Dream dreams and see visions. Work toward their realization. Wait patiently when you have no other choice. Lean on your sword and rest a while, but get up and fight again. Perhaps you will not see the full meaning of your effort in your own lifetime. But your children will, or your children’s children will, until finally you, with all of them, can give the Hosanna shout.1

2 Ne 12:4 reads:

And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks—nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

This image – of weapons of war being converted into farming instruments – is striking and has transcended the scriptures. In 1957, Yevgeny Vuchetich created a sculpture inspired by the Isaiah verse. His sculpture was given by Nikita Krushchev to the United Nations in 1959 as a gesture of peace. This came at a time of considerable mistrust between the Soviet Union and the United States and was considered a brave gesture on the world stage. The sculpture remains there today in the North Garden at the UN headquarters in New York overlooking the East River.

un-garden

United Nations garden, New York.

Sadly, for ancient Israel just as it is today, war was a fact of life. The vision of the cessation of war in this verse is a remarkable one, and it is perhaps not surprising that it proved too remarkable for a later prophetic voice. In Joel 3:10 we find the vision being reversed. In this verse ploughshares and pruning hooks are to become swords and spears, in recognition of the continued conflict that afflicts mankind. Perhaps with Joel’s pessimistic inversion of Isaiah’s vision in mind, in the October 1946 General Conference just a year after the conclusion of World War II, J Reuben Clark spoke in the most condemnatory language concerning the tragedy of modern warfare. Speaking of the atomic bombing of Japan he said:

Then as the crowning savagery of the war, we Americans wiped out hundreds of thousands of civilian population with the atom bomb in Japan, few if any of the ordinary civilians being any more responsible for the war than were we, and perhaps most of them no more aiding Japan in the war than we were aiding America. Military men are now saying that the atom bomb was a mistake. It was more than that: it was a world tragedy. Thus we have lost all that we gained during the years from Grotius (1625) to 1912. And the worst of this atomic bomb tragedy is not that not only did the people of the United States not rise up in protest against this savagery, not only did it not shock us to read of this wholesale destruction of men, women, and children, and cripples, but that it actually drew from the nation at large a general approval of this fiendish butchery.

Thus we in America are now deliberately searching out and developing the most savage, murderous means of exterminating peoples that Satan can plant in our minds. We do it not only shamelessly, but with a boast. God will not forgive us for this.2

Thirty years later, another prophet spoke to the Latter-day Saints regarding the idolatry of war. President Spencer W Kimball said:

We are a warlike people, easily distracted from our assignment of preparing for the coming of the Lord. 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 antienemy instead of pro-kingdom of God; we train a man in the art of war and call him a patriot, thus, in the manner of Satan’s counterfeit of true patriotism, perverting the Savior’s teaching:

“Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;

“That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven.” (Matt. 5:44–45.)3

This condemnation by two modern prophets of a “warlike people” ought to shock us into realising how far we are from Isaiah’s vision of the end of war. I think communally/nationally-perpetrated violence ought to weigh more heavily on our consciences than it seems to.

Well that took longer than I expected to cover just 4 verses. To keep things moving along I’ll summarise the rest of 2 Nephi 12 and provide a brief overview of 2 Nephi 13. Essentially, Isaiah begins with a vision of what Zion will eventually become – a vision in which the Lord’s house will be established, out of which will go forth the word of God and the law that will govern a people who dwell in peace. But before then, God’s judgement will befall Israel for their idolatry and their trusting in the arm of flesh. How bad will things get for Israel? The Lord will take away all those they have relied upon for leadership: “the mighty man and the man of war, the judge and the prophet, and the prudent and the ancient, the captain of fifty and the honorable man and the counselor, and the cunning artificer and the eloquent orator” (2 Nephi 13:2–3). And in their place “children” and “babes” (2 Nephi 13:4) will rule over and oppress them. The people will be desperate for some kind of organisation but no one will want to be in charge of such a heap of ruins (somewhat reminiscent of the England manager’s job). Destruction is coming quickly to Israel and Jerusalem. Regarding what will happen next, Joe Spencer says the following:

And what does a city do, in ancient Near Eastern culture, when an army approaches? They send out the women to charm the approaching army, women who—and we ought to shudder at this—offer themselves as objects of rape, etc., in exchange for the deliverance of the city (we see this on occasion in the Bible, as we see similar things in the Book of Mormon). Here, though, it doesn’t work. Out come the women to charm the approaching army, but the Lord announces that all their finery will be replaced with sickness and stink, with ropes and sackcloth, while all the men “fall by the sword” (2 Nephi 13:16-26).4

This is a terrifying vision of what awaits Israel, both anciently and, according to Nephi, in the latter days. In the next post I’ll go back to 2 Nephi 12 to look more closely at what did/will precipitate this destruction. And we’ll look at the redemption promised in 2 Nephi 14.

Next week’s reading: 2 Nephi 12–14 (again)

  1. https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/jeffrey-r-and-patricia-t-holland_however-long-hard-road/
  2. J Reuben Clark, October 1946 Conference Report: https://archive.org/details/conferencereport1946sa
  3. https://www.lds.org/ensign/1976/06/the-false-gods-we-worship?lang=eng
  4. https://feastuponthewordblog.org/2012/02/13/book-of-mormon-lesson-9-my-soul-delighteth-in-the-words-of-isaiah-2-nephi-11-25-sunday-school/
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