2 Nephi 14 tweet: 7:1 women 2 men. Holy remnant 2b left after judgement. Cloud by day, fire by night. Tabernacle will be a refuge.
In the last post I ended up focusing on one of Isaiah’s most iconic verses in which he prophesied of a day when there would be no more war. But arguably the main thrust of 2 Nephi 12 / Isaiah 2 is a condemnation of Israel’s idolatry. So in this post I’ll look more closely at what Isaiah is saying about idolatry and how that might be relevant in the 21st century. And I’ll finish with a summary of 2 Nephi 14 in which Isaiah prophesies that in spite of the destruction that will come upon Israel, a remnant will return.
Broadly speaking, Isaiah’s condemnation of Israel follows a formula by using two refrain-like phrases to give a structure to the whole. The first is found in verses 9, 11 and 17 and speaks of humanity being humbled:
9 And the mean man boweth not down, and the great man humbleth himself not, therefore, forgive him not.
11 And it shall come to pass that the lofty looks of man shall be humbled, and the haughtiness of men shall be bowed down, and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day.
17 And the loftiness of man shall be bowed down, and the haughtiness of men shall be made low; and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day.
The second phrase is found in verses 10, 19 and 21 and pictures those who are left after the coming destruction hiding among the rocks in hope that they might escape God’s anger:
10 O ye wicked ones, enter into the rock, and hide thee in the dust, for the fear of the Lord and the glory of his majesty shall smite thee.
19 And they shall go into the holes of the rocks, and into the caves of the earth, for the fear of the Lord shall come upon them and the glory of his majesty shall smite them, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth.
21 To go into the clefts of the rocks, and into the tops of the ragged rocks, for the fear of the Lord shall come upon them and the majesty of his glory shall smite them, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth.
The parallels within these two sets of verses are not only obvious, in verses 11 and 17, and in 10, 19, and 21 they contain identical phrases. Taken together, the passage as a whole brings together two basic Isaianic themes: the vanity of human self-confidence and the folly of worshipping false Gods.
In the last post, I included a quote from Spencer W Kimball in which he described those he was addressing as a “warlike people”. Those remarks came in the broader context of a First Presidency message entitled The False Gods We Worship, which does pretty much what it says on the tin.1 It is a seminal message, perhaps akin to Ezra Taft Benson’s sermon on pride.2 President Kimball said:
As I study ancient scripture, I am more and more convinced that there is significance in the fact that the commandment “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” is the first of the Ten Commandments.
Few men have ever knowingly and deliberately chosen to reject God and his blessings. Rather, we learn from the scriptures that because the exercise of faith has always appeared to be more difficult than relying on things more immediately at hand, carnal man has tended to transfer his trust in God to material things. Therefore, in all ages when men have fallen under the power of Satan and lost the faith, they have put in its place a hope in the “arm of flesh” and in “gods of silver, and gold, of brass, iron, wood, and stone, which see not, nor hear, nor know” (Dan. 5:23)—that is, in idols. This I find to be a dominant theme in the Old Testament. Whatever thing a man sets his heart and his trust in most is his god; and if his god doesn’t also happen to be the true and living God of Israel, that man is laboring in idolatry.
The Lord has blessed us as a people with a prosperity unequaled in times past. The resources that have been placed in our power are good, and necessary to our work here on the earth. But I am afraid that many of us have been surfeited with flocks and herds and acres and barns and wealth and have begun to worship them as false gods, and they have power over us. Do we have more of these good things than our faith can stand? Many people spend most of their time working in the service of a self-image that includes sufficient money, stocks, bonds, investment portfolios, property, credit cards, furnishings, automobiles, and the like to guarantee carnal security throughout, it is hoped, a long and happy life. Forgotten is the fact that our assignment is to use these many resources in our families and quorums to build up the kingdom of God—to further the missionary effort and the genealogical and temple work; to raise our children up as fruitful servants unto the Lord; to bless others in every way, that they may also be fruitful. Instead, we expend these blessings on our own desires, and as Moroni said, “Ye adorn yourselves with that which hath no life, and yet suffer the hungry, and the needy, and the naked, and the sick and the afflicted to pass by you, and notice them not.” (Morm. 8:39.)1
We should remember that President Kimball was primarily addressing the Latter-day Saints. With this in mind, practically speaking, in what ways might we be guilty of transferring trust in God to material things? What do you think President Kimball means when he says that “many people spend most of their time working in the service of a self-image”? That should prompt us to ask the question, for what do I labour? I think it’s too easy, instinctive perhaps, to say “for the kingdom, of course”. But I think it requires a bit more self-analysis and self-honesty to get to the heart of what truly motivates us to work.
On this subject – of why we work – Hugh Nibley said the following:
Modern revelation has some interesting things to say about idlers: “Let every man be diligent in all things. And the idler shall not have place in the church” (D&C 75:29). We are all to work in the kingdom and for the kingdom. “And the inhabitants of Zion also shall remember their labors, inasmuch as they are appointed to labor,… for the idler shall be had in remembrance before the Lord” (D&C 68:30) … This refers to all of us as laborers in Zion, and “the laborer in Zion shall labor for Zion; for if they labor for money they shall perish” (2 Nephi 26:31). That is the theme here: “Now, I, the Lord, am not well pleased with the inhabitants of Zion, for there are idlers among them; … they also seek not earnestly the riches of eternity, but their eyes are full of greediness” (D&C 68:31). An idler in the Lord’s book is one who is not working for the building up of the kingdom of God on earth and the establishment of Zion, no matter how hard he may be working to satisfy his own greed. Latter–day Saints prefer to ignore that distinction as they repeat a favorite maxim of their own invention, that the idler shall not eat the bread or wear the clothing of the laborer.3
Between President Kimball and Hugh Nibley there’s plenty there to think about regarding idols and idlers. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts.
To conclude, I’ll finish with some thoughts on 2 Nephi 14. Verses 1 and 2 read:
And in that day, seven women shall take hold of one man, saying: We will eat our own bread, and wear our own apparel; only let us be called by thy name to take away our reproach. In that day shall the branch of the Lord be beautiful and glorious; the fruit of the earth excellent and comely to them that are escaped of Israel.
These two verses are contained in a single paragraph in the original version of the Book of Mormon. Furthermore, there is no chapter break in the original version between our current 2 Nephi 13:26 and 2 Nephi 14:1 (more on this in the next post). Therefore, this paragraph (i.e. 2 Nephi 14:1–2) might be viewed as a transition between themes, with verse 1 looking backward to the preceding text and acting as a summary re. the daughters of Zion, and verse 2 announcing a new theme, namely the glory that will come from the Lord’s judgement. What the rest of 2 Nephi 14 makes clear is that the Lord’s judgement on Israel will lead to the construction of a small remnant, a group of survivors who will become the holy seed:
And it shall come to pass, they that are left in Zion and remain in Jerusalem shall be called holy, every one that is written among the living in Jerusalem. (2 Ne 14:3)
This remnant will be guided as in the exodus. The “cloud of smoke by day and the shining of a flaming fire by night” in verse 5 seems to be a clear reference to the experience of Israel with the Lord during their travels in the wilderness:
And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night. (Exodus 13:21)
Isaiah seems to be suggesting that there will be an eventual exodus-like return of Israel to the promised lands. But only after devastating destruction.
These themes will be picked up again in 2 Nephi 15.
Finally, it’s also worth noting that Isaiah 4:5–6 were quoted by Moroni to Joseph Smith with reference to the last days.4
Next week’s reading: 2 Nephi 15