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2 Nephi 15
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2 Nephi 15
Jerusalem Compared to a Vineyard
2 Nephi 15:1–4
1 And then will I sing to my well-beloved a song of my beloved, touching his vineyard. My well-beloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill.
2 And he fenced it, and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a wine-press therein; and he looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes.
3 And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, betwixt me and my vineyard.
4 What could have been done more to my vineyard that I have not done in it? Wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes it brought forth wild grapes.
In Jacob 5 we will read the allegory of the olive tree. While that allegory emphasizes the olive tree, Jacob 5:3 declares: “For behold, thus saith the Lord, I will liken thee, O house of Israel, like unto a tame olive tree, which a man took and nourished in his vineyard; and it grew, and waxed old, and began to decay.”
Jacob’s olive tree is in a vineyard, and in this chapter of Isaiah (corresponding to Isaiah 5), Israel is compared to a vineyard. Where Jacob’s tree has wild branches, Isaiah’s vineyard has wild grapes.
The message of the two allegories is clearly parallel, extending to the statement of the Lord of the vineyard that “what could have been done more to my vineyard that I have not done it?” This language appears as a direct reference, if not a quotation, in Jacob 5:47: “But what could I have done more in my vineyard?” Note that Jacob refers to the vineyard, not to the olive tree. We are seeing an intentional paralleling of the two accounts, and Jacob will use Isaiah as an unstated but—to a discerning audience—unmistakable reference to prophetic unity of message with Zenos’s allegory.
2 Nephi 15:5–7
5 And now go to; I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard—I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up; and I will break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down;
6 And I will lay it waste; it shall not be pruned nor digged; but there shall come up briers and thorns; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.
7 For the vineyard of the Lord of Hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah his pleasant plant; and he looked for judgment, and behold, oppression; for righteousness, but behold, a cry.
Isaiah may be relating a parable, but he wants to make certain that it is understood. Thus, in verse 7 he declares that the vineyard is the house of Israel, and the vines themselves are the people of Judah.
Unlike the allegory in Jacob, which uses the branches of the olive tree to speak of dispersal and gathering, Isaiah uses this allegory to speak of initial destruction. The Lord of the vineyard is saddened by the wild grapes, and therefore tears down the protective wall. Remembering that Isaiah was the prophet during the Assyrian invasion, this allegory describes the destruction to the house of Judah that came as part of that invasion. It is probable that by the time Isaiah wrote this, much of the destruction had already happened. Perhaps Isaiah was quoting an older allegory and pointing out how it had been fulfilled.
Woes and Judgements
2 Nephi 15:8–10
8 Wo unto them that join house to house, till there can be no place, that they may be placed alone in the midst of the earth!
9 In mine ears, said the Lord of Hosts, of a truth many houses shall be desolate, and great and fair cities without inhabitant.
10 Yea, ten acres of vineyard shall yield one bath, and the seed of a homer shall yield an ephah.
Isaiah has begun to describe the destruction of the vineyard, and continues here, and will continue in further verses in this chapter. There are two destructions here. The first is a parallel of cities, and the second of harvest.
For the cities, Isaiah quotes something that might be considered a sign of wealth—a city with a large number of dwellings. This would be a large, and probably wealthy city. These would be, as Isaiah calls them, great and fair cities. From that favorable description comes the reversal—they will be left without inhabitants.
The second reversal is in the minimal production of the fields. It is not stated that a bountiful harvest is good, nor need it be. That is understood. That implication of bounty is countered by the indication that, regardless of the size of lands under cultivation, the yield will be poor. A poor yield and a large population declares famine.
2 Nephi 15:11–15
11 Wo unto them that rise up early in the morning, that they may follow strong drink, that continue until night, and wine inflame them!
12 And the harp, and the viol, the tabret, and pipe, and wine are in their feasts; but they regard not the work of the Lord, neither consider the operation of his hands.
13 Therefore, my people are gone into captivity, because they have no knowledge; and their honorable men are famished, and their multitude dried up with thirst.
14 Therefore, hell hath enlarged herself, and opened her mouth without measure; and their glory, and their multitude, and their pomp, and he that rejoiceth, shall descend into it.
15 And the mean man shall be brought down, and the mighty man shall be humbled, and the eyes of the lofty shall be humbled.
The contrasts continue. The first is a “wo”, pronounced upon those who rise up early in the morning. That is normally, particularly in an agricultural community, a positive trait. However, Isaiah indicates that this typically admirable trait has been perverted, for rather than rise early to work, the children of Israel rise early to drink and make merry. Rather than work at any time, Isaiah says that this lasts until the night.
Next comes the sounds of music, which can be a praise to God. However, in the hands of the children of Israel, the music is not praise for the Lord—is not a paean to the operation of his hands. It rather becomes the soundtrack to feasting and self-indulgence.
As a consequence, the Assyrians have come and taken the children of Israel into captivity. Assyria’s conquest of the northern kingdom of Israel literally carried away the ten tribes, so Isaiah is giving the reason for that terrible defeat and consequence. The ending of verse 13 speaks of the honorable men who are famished and of the multitude who thirst. That is intended to contrast with the feasting with the accompaniment of the musical instruments in the previous verse.
Next, the land of the dead has opened her mouth, opened her entrance, and the supposed pomp and glory with which the children of Israel had deceived themselves results only in their death.
Finally, Isaiah reprises his reference to the “mean man” and to the “mighty man” (as referenced in 2 Nephi 12:9 and Isaiah 2:9). Where they had previously bowed before idols, they will be truly bowed and humbled by their true God.
2 Nephi 15:16–19
16 But the Lord of Hosts shall be exalted in judgment, and God that is holy shall be sanctified in righteousness.
17 Then shall the lambs feed after their manner, and the waste places of the fat ones shall strangers eat.
18 Wo unto them that draw iniquity with cords of vanity, and sin as it were with a cart rope;
19 That say: Let him make speed, hasten his work, that we may see it; and let the counsel of the Holy One of Israel draw nigh and come, that we may know it.
Isaiah emphasizes that his destruction comes as a result of God’s righteous judgment against a sinful house of Jacob, which has strayed from following God’s path. In verse 17 we get the continuation of contrasts. These are not very clear to modern readers because we miss some of the assumptions. The idea is that the domesticated animals will graze, but will be doing it in what were inhabited places. One translation suggests a contrast between sheep and goats, rather than sheep and strangers, as in the King James Version translation.
There are poetic parallels in drawing iniquity with cords, and sins with rope. The point is not that there is a difference, but rather that all sins might be drawn to us.
Verse 19 is sarcastic. Those who have been drawing sin with cords of vanity will say that the Lord should hasten his work, “that we may see it.” Isaiah subtly declares that they are seeing it, but that they miss it. They may say the right things, but what they are doing denies what they say.
2 Nephi 15:20–24
20 Wo unto them that call evil good, and good evil, that put darkness for light, and light for darkness, that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!
21 Wo unto the wise in their own eyes and prudent in their own sight!
22 Wo unto the mighty to drink wine, and men of strength to mingle strong drink;
23 Who justify the wicked for reward, and take away the righteousness of the righteous from him!
24 Therefore, as the fire devoureth the stubble, and the flame consumeth the chaff, their root shall be rottenness, and their blossoms shall go up as dust; because they have cast away the law of the Lord of Hosts, and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.
Isaiah intensifies his message by a series of wo-statements, each of which creates a contrasting pair. After pronouncing a wo upon those who call evil good, darkness light, and sweet bitter, Isaiah defines them as those who are “wise in their own eyes.” These are they who might be wise in the ways of the world, but who have become blind to the ways of the Lord.
The reversals in verse 22 contrast the assumptions of those who are mighty. Rather than be mighty in tasks or events of worth, they are mighty only in drinking.
Verse 23 reprises and expands on verse 21’s wo to those who are wise in their own eyes. They are those who reward wickedness and deny righteousness.
Therefore, says verse 24, the “fire devoureth the stubble, and the flame consumeth the chaff.” This is a recognizable image from farming. At the end of the season, the fields are burned, and the burning will eventually reestablish nutrients in the soil. Thus, the Lord is declaring that the children of Israel have reached their sad harvest, and that the Lord will burn them with Assyria, for the ultimate purpose of creating a stronger Israel.
2 Nephi 15:25–30
25 Therefore, is the anger of the Lord kindled against his people, and he hath stretched forth his hand against them, and hath smitten them; and the hills did tremble, and their carcasses were torn in the midst of the streets. For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.
26 And he will lift up an ensign to the nations from far, and will hiss unto them from the end of the earth; and behold, they shall come with speed swiftly; none shall be weary nor stumble among them.
27 None shall slumber nor sleep; neither shall the girdle of their loins be loosed, nor the latchet of their shoes be broken;
28 Whose arrows shall be sharp, and all their bows bent, and their horses’ hoofs shall be counted like flint, and their wheels like a whirlwind, their roaring like a lion.
29 They shall roar like young lions; yea, they shall roar, and lay hold of the prey, and shall carry away safe, and none shall deliver.
30 And in that day they shall roar against them like the roaring of the sea; and if they look unto the land, behold, darkness and sorrow, and the light is darkened in the heavens thereof.
Isaiah poetically defines the burning of Israel. In verse 25, he notes that Yahweh continues with his righteous anger. That his hand is stretched out still refers to his destructive anger. In that righteous anger, the Lord will use other nations of the earth to exact his judgment upon Israel.
Thus, Yahweh calls the nations from afar. In this case, Assyria, but in prophetic language for the children of Lehi, the Babylonians. The coming armies will be strong and powerful, not sleeping, but enacting destruction. The result will be darkness and sorrow upon the land.
This ends a chapter in the original Book of Mormon. While it appears gloomy, we should remember the image of the fields which return after the burning of the stubble. That hope remains, even if not specifically stated.
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