2 Nephi 21 tweet: Stem of Jesse will judge righteously. Wolf+lamb, calf+lion, snake+child. Root of Jesse 2b ensign for Gs. Remnant 2b recovered 4 a 2nd time.
2 Nephi 22 tweet: All will sing praises: God is salvation + strength. Zion will sing unto God for great is the Holy One of Israel.
As it’s been a few weeks since I last posted and as we’re nearing the end of Nephi’s quotation of Isaiah, I’ll begin this post with an overview of Isaiah’s message to this point. I’ll then write a few thoughts on the meaning of Isaiah 11–12 / 2 Nephi 21–22, and the unique perspective we have on these verses because of Joseph Smith.
To recap where we have got to with Isaiah, I’ll essentially just provide the radio edit of a previous post. To make sense of Nephi’s use of Isaiah, it is useful to consider how the Isaiah chapters were grouped in the original Book of Mormon chapter divisions, i.e. how Nephi chaptered Isaiah’s prophecies:
Chapter VIII: 2 Nephi 11–15 (Isaiah 2–5)
Chapter IX: 2 Nephi 16–22 (Isaiah 6–12)
Chapter X: 2 Nephi 23–24 (Isaiah 13–14)
Joe Spencer points out that Nephi seems to want us to see these chapters of Isaiah as telling three successive stories:
Story 1: Isaiah 2–5 tells of Israel’s apostasy and of their failure to live up to the covenant God made with them, which leads to dysfunction from within Israel and oppression from external forces.
Story 2: Isaiah 6–12 tells of how God plans to use Israel’s waywardness and the strength of the Assyrian superpower to reduce the covenant people to just a remnant – a people within the people who will take seriously their covenant responsibilities.
Story 3: Isaiah 13–14 tells of the subsequent fall of Israel’s enemies, an event that makes way for the full redemption of the covenant people.1
As the chapters we are considering today mark the end of the original Chapter IX, or Story 2 (i.e. Isaiah 11–12 / 2 Nephi 21–22), I’ll just provide a brief recap of what we’ve covered of these chapters so far.
It’s not an easy message to get straight, but the second part of Nephi’s three-part Isaiah story works through the devastating process by which the Lord reduces Israel to a remnant that is able to make sense of Isaiah’s message and do the work of fulfilling the Abrahamic covenant by which the Gentile nations are converted to peace and the worship of the one true God. (I probably should have done this at the beginning of the Isaiah project, but before we finish with the Isaiah chapters I’ll provide an overview of Israel’s Abrahamic covenant responsibility.)
First we considered Isaiah’s message that Israel would be reduced to a remnant. Then we looked at the historical political circumstances that ultimately produced the remnant of Israel, namely the Syro-Ephraimite crisis. Finally, in the posts on 2 Nephi 18–20 we saw how this political crisis played out, first with the destruction of the Northern kingdom, Ephraim; second with the Southern kingdom, Judah, reduced to a remnant left on the brink of destruction; and finally, with the miraculous destruction of Assyria, which left Judah devastated but with a remnant just about still intact. And all of this history brings us to the end of Story 2, i.e. Isaiah 11–12.
Isaiah 11–12 / 2 Nephi 21–22
Before turning to a latter-day interpretation of these chapters and the prophetic insight provided by Joseph Smith, I’ll draw on Spencer’s commentary to provide an overview of what these Isaiah chapters would have meant for ancient Israel:
Assyria’s fall, coupled with the rise of a good Judean king, results in a time of remarkable peace. Isaiah famously talks here about the wolf dwelling with the lamb, the leopard lying down with the kid, the calf and the young lion and the fatling together, “and a little child shall lead them” (2 Ne 21:6). We pretty consistently jump straight from Isaiah’s words to the idea that there’s a millennium of peace coming someday soon. But let’s stick with Isaiah himself a while longer. From his own historical and political point of view, he’s been talking about the retreat of Assyria from its attempt at domination. And he’s been talking about there being a remnant of Judah present and prepared at that point to receive the prophet’s message. The peace he describes, with even the animals participating, is supposed to give us a sense of how utopian the era of the remnant is supposed to be. Things will finally turn around for Judah. Gentile nations will come seeking out the God of Israel – just as promised in Isaiah 2 – and “the Lord shall set his hand again the second time to recover the remnant of his people” (2 Ne 21:11). They’re returning “from Assyria and from Egypt and from Pathros and from Cush and from Elam and from Shinar and from Hamath and from the islands of the sea” (v11). In short, the survivors come from “the four corners of the earth” and “gather together” again in Judah (v12). There’s finally a remnant fully constituted and ready to understand the prophet’s message. Assyria, it turns out, has been rather useful, an effective tool that could be dispensed with at the end of the process. The remnant’s there, and Assyria’s out of the way.2
After so much destruction, this era of peace causes the remnant of Israel to burst into song, which we find Isaiah 12 / 2 Nephi 22: Just a couple of verses give us a flavour of this rejoicing:
Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid; for the Lord JEHOVAH is my strength and my song; he also has become my salvation. Therefore, with joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation. (2 Nephi 22:2–3)
To the historical interpretation of these verses, Joseph Smith adds additional understanding. When Moroni visited the 17-year old Joseph on 21 September, 1823, he quoted many biblical passages, including several from Isaiah. The longest quotation was from Isaiah 11, which Moroni said “was about to be fulfilled” (Joseph Smith—History 1:40). So while there may have been an historical fulfilment of Isaiah 11, Moroni’s words to Joseph Smith indicate that it would only truly be fulfilled in the latter days.3
To these words of Moroni, we also have a prophetic interpretation of some of the imagery in Isaiah 11 contained in D&C 113. From this section we learn that the Stem of Jesse is Christ, and that the descriptors in verses 2–5 apply to Christ. And we learn that the rod and root of Jesse is a servant of Christ, descended from Jesse and Joseph, who holds priesthood keys and power. It is significant that this servant is described as being both a descendant of Jesse (or perhaps Judah) and Joseph (or perhaps Ephraim) as part of Isaiah’s prophecy states that “The envy of Ephraim also shall depart …. Ephraim shall not envy Judah, and Judah shall not vex Ephraim” (2 Ne 21:13). The two rival kingdoms of Israel, north and south, are to be reunited after a long period of strife. This servant – a descendant of both Judah and Ephraim – will have power to help heal the divide.
Next week’s reading: 2 Nephi 23–24
- Joseph Spencer. The Vision of All: Twenty-five Lectures on Isaiah in Nephi’s Record, p.145–6
- Ibid. p.200