2 Nephi 23 tweet: God calls army 2 destroy Babylon. No light in heaven. Children + YM 2b dashed, man rarer than Au. Babylon shall b as S&G and left desolate.
2 Nephi 24 tweet: King of B down, earth rests + sings. Hell greets king of B – ru the man? King of B will b cast out + cut off. Poor 2 trust in Zion.
So, at last we come to the end of the Isaiah chapters. Isaiah will dominate the remainder of Nephi’s writings, but his direct quotation of Isaiah pretty much comes to an end with 2 Nephi 24 (although he will draw heavily on Isaiah 29 in 2 Nephi 27). In this post I’ll cover 2 Nephi 23–24 (Isaiah 13–14). As described previously, these two chapters made up a single chapter in the original edition of the Book of Mormon – Nephi’s editorialising that made Isaiah 13–14 into the third of three successive stories about Judah’s destruction and redemption.
In the previous chapters of Isaiah (i.e. 2 Nephi 12–22), we’ve been reading about the situation in Judah in the eighth century B.C. At this time, the dominant world power was Assyria and by the end of 2 Nephi 22 / Isaiah 12, Judah has been reduced to a righteous remnant led by a messianic figure. So it’s somewhat jarring, that without any warning, Isaiah suddenly jumps to the sixth century B.C. The Assyrian empire has essentially collapsed and Babylon has replaced it as the dominant world power. Isaiah 13–14 is contemporary history for Nephi; by the time of his childhood, Judah is more or less under Babylon’s thumb – much of the remnant of the earlier Isaiah chapters is now in Babylonian exile.
Joe Spencer describes it in this way:
It’s striking to have these two stories of sorts side by side, isn’t it? Isaiah 6–12 tells the story of Judah’s experience with Assyria. Isaiah 13–14 tells the story of Judah’s experience with Babylon. The one focuses on surviving the invasion in one’s own land, with a remnant surviving to bear witness of God’s fidelity to any Judean king who fulfils God’s expectations. The other focuses on being rescued from exile in a foreign land, with a remnant returning to bear witness of God’s democratic work among those Gentiles who assist God’s covenant people.1
So what is Isaiah’s prophecy against Babylon? To get a sense of the impact this prophecy would have had on its original audience, it’s worth bearing in mind that this oracle would have been spoken and that verse 1 is an editorial edition to provide context for the reader. But to those who first heard this prophecy, there would have been nothing in the first half of the revelation to indicate that Isaiah was prophesying against Babylon. Imagine then the growing sense of apprehension among the audience as the prophecy developed. Isaiah speaks of an army that will destroy the whole land (2 Ne 23:5). So great will be the destruction that in the heavens there will be only blackness (2 Ne 23:10). The destruction will be so widespread that those men who remain will be as rare as gold (2 Ne 23:12). And those who do remain will only live to see their children killed and their wives raped (2 Ne 23:16). At this point no doubt there was a fearful wonder among the listeners – upon what nation will these horrors fall? Only after so much horrific description do we get this: “And Babylon! The glory of kingdoms! The beauty of the Chaldees’ excellency – shall be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah!” (2 Ne 23:19). Can you imagine the stunned silence? Babylon the great is the last nation anyone would have been expecting the prophet to have been talking about. As Spencer puts it, “That would be like predicting England’s downfall in the early nineteenth century, or that of the United States in about 1999!”2
After the prophesied destruction of Babylon the nation, in Isaiah 14 / 2 Nephi 24 we read of what will befall the king of Babylon. The imagery of this chapter is vivid, but in conclusion I want to focus on verse 19 in which the king of Babylon is described as “an abominable branch” who will be “cast out of thy grave.” Again, it is Spencer who points out that branches have been a common theme in the Isaiah chapters that Nephi quotes. In fact, he suggests that the three stories Nephi tells using Isaiah 2–14 are in fact stories about three branches:
In Isaiah 2–5, we saw a focus on a “beautiful and glorious” branch that’s providing fruit both “excellent and comely” to those “escaped of Israel” (2 Ne 14:2) … Then in Isaiah 6–12, we saw a focus on a branch “grow[ing] out of [the] roots” of the otherwise dead stump of Judah, on which “the Spirit of the Lord” rests in power (2 Ne 21:1–2) … It might be the same messianic figure from before, or it might be the remnant of Judah itself … [Lastly] Isaiah 13–14, where we’re seeing a focus on “an abominable branch” that’s thrown out to rot, while “the remnant,” barely surviving, thrives elsewhere (2 Ne 24:19).3
And what is the upshot of all of this? Nephi ends his quote of Isaiah with these words:
[T]he Lord hath founded Zion, and the poor of his people shall trust in it. (2 Nephi 24:32)
Which seems a hopeful message after so much destruction. With that we come to the end of this stretch of Book of Mormon Isaiah. Over the last several posts we’ve considered Isaiah largely in the context in which it would have been originally given. But of course, Nephi didn’t just have in mind the original fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecies, but also, in light of his own far-reaching vision, how Isaiah’s prophecies might be likened to latter-day Israel. And so the next few posts will look at just how Nephi does that in the remaining chapters of 2 Nephi.
Next week’s reading: 2 Nephi 25
- Joseph Spencer. The Vision of All: Twenty-five Lectures on Isaiah in Nephi’s Record, p.219