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2 Nephi 17
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2 Nephi 17
2 Nephi 17:1–3
1 And it came to pass in the days of Ahaz the son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, king of Judah, that Rezin, king of Syria, and Pekah the son of Remaliah, king of Israel, went up toward Jerusalem to war against it, but could not prevail against it.
2 And it was told the house of David, saying: Syria is confederate with Ephraim. And his heart was moved, and the heart of his people, as the trees of the wood are moved with the wind.
3 Then said the Lord unto Isaiah: Go forth now to meet Ahaz, thou and Shearjashub thy son, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool in the highway of the fuller’s field;
Previous chapters of Isaiah have been poetic and prophetic. There was a different role for a prophet, one in which the prophet would advise the king. Isaiah was that type of a prophet, and this chapter shows that more common, less poetic function.
This chapter is about specifics of war. Isaiah is advisor to king Ahaz in Jerusalem. Two other nations, Syria and Remaliah, made an alliance and came against Jerusalem. They did not prevail, but the conflict is not over.
The Lord tells Isaiah that as the trees of the wood are moved with the wind, the persuasion of Syria is moving others to its side of the conflict. Thus, Yahweh sends Isaiah to meet with king Ahaz. It is important that Isaiah takes one of his sons, Shearjashub, to the meeting. Shearjashub’s name means “the remnant shall return.” Although the return of a remnant is hopeful, at this point the destruction and scattering have not happened. Thus, it foreshadows doom before the return of the remnant.
2 Nephi 17:4–9
4 And say unto him: Take heed, and be quiet; fear not, neither be faint-hearted for the two tails of these smoking firebrands, for the fierce anger of Rezin with Syria, and of the son of Remaliah.
5 Because Syria, Ephraim, and the son of Remaliah, have taken evil counsel against thee, saying:
6 Let us go up against Judah and vex it, and let us make a breach therein for us, and set a king in the midst of it, yea, the son of Tabeal.
7 Thus saith the Lord God: It shall not stand, neither shall it come to pass.
8 For the head of Syria is Damascus, and the head of Damascus, Rezin; and within threescore and five years shall Ephraim be broken that it be not a people.
9 And the head of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria is Remaliah’s son. If ye will not believe surely ye shall not be established.
The message to king Ahaz is that the two militant kings of Syria and Remaliah might have decided to come against Judah to set up their own puppet king. The comforting prophetic declaration is that “it shall not stand, neither shall it come to pass.” That had to have been extremely comforting to a king facing a possible invasion.
Not only will it not come to pass, but within sixty-five years Ephraim would not even be a separate people.
2 Nephi 17:10–16
10 Moreover, the Lord spake again unto Ahaz, saying:
11 Ask thee a sign of the Lord thy God; ask it either in the depths, or in the heights above.
12 But Ahaz said: I will not ask, neither will I tempt the Lord.
13 And he said: Hear ye now, O house of David; is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will ye weary my God also?
14 Therefore, the Lord himself shall give you a sign—Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and shall bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
15 Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil and to choose the good.
16 For before the child shall know to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land that thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings.
This interchange is interesting because the prophet tells king Ahaz to ask for a sign, which he declines to do, citing scripture that he would not tempt the Lord (see Deuteronomy 6:16).
Rather than praise Ahaz’s refusal to contradict scripture, Isaiah chastises him. Yahweh, through Isaiah, told him to request a sign, and rather than obey the living Yahweh, Ahaz had looked to the past, albeit scripture from the past. The point was that Yahweh was going to give Ahaz a sign that the prophecy of salvation would be fulfilled. Even though he would not ask, he is nevertheless given one.
The verse indicating that a virgin would conceive and bear a son is certainly known from the New Testament as a prophecy of the coming of Jesus, but in this context it is a sign to Ahaz that is intended to come to pass, perhaps in his lifetime. Earlier, there was an event that was declared to occur within sixty-five years. In this case, the birth of the child is used as a timing device. The child’s name, Immanuel, means “God with us,” and would be an indication of the fulfillment of the prophecy.
The child had not yet been conceived, but would soon, and before that child would learn good from evil, the threat of Syria and Remaliah would be totally eliminated.
2 Nephi 17:17–20
17 The Lord shall bring upon thee, and upon thy people, and upon thy father’s house, days that have not come from the day that Ephraim departed from Judah, the king of Assyria.
18 And it shall come to pass in that day that the Lord shall hiss for the fly that is in the uttermost part of Egypt, and for the bee that is in the land of Assyria.
19 And they shall come, and shall rest all of them in the desolate valleys, and in the holes of the rocks, and upon all thorns, and upon all bushes.
20 In the same day shall the Lord shave with a razor that is hired, by them beyond the river, by the king of Assyria, the head, and the hair of the feet; and it shall also consume the beard.
Unfortunately, although the threat that Syria and Remaliah will be destroyed, that threat will pale before the reason those two will be destroyed. Yahweh will bring upon Judah the king of Assyria.
In verse 18 we have the fly from Egypt and the bee from Assyria. Both Egypt and Assyria are enjoined in war, but Egypt is the lesser problem. The mightier, and more destructive, will be Assyria.
In verse 20 Isaiah discusses shaving with a razor that is hired. There are two parts to the image. The first is the part about being hired. That means that Assyria comes as an agent of Yahweh’s wrath. They will serve his purposes, hence they are as though they are hired for that task.
The shaving refers to an Assyrian practice of shaving captives. It is suggested that this might have two reasons. Perhaps one is hygienic, but a stronger reason is the second. For a culture where the male beard is associated with virility, shaving the beard is a humiliation. That humiliation fits the context of the prophecies of the destruction at Assyrian hands.
2 Nephi 17:21–25
21 And it shall come to pass in that day, a man shall nourish a young cow and two sheep;
22 And it shall come to pass, for the abundance of milk they shall give he shall eat butter; for butter and honey shall every one eat that is left in the land.
23 And it shall come to pass in that day, every place shall be, where there were a thousand vines at a thousand silverlings, which shall be for briers and thorns.
24 With arrows and with bows shall men come thither, because all the land shall become briers and thorns.
25 And all hills that shall be digged with the mattock, there shall not come thither the fear of briers and thorns; but it shall be for the sending forth of oxen, and the treading of lesser cattle.
These verses prophesy the extent of the destruction. While it might seem like a positive image that a man would nourish a young cow and two sheep, and, therefore, people would eat butter and honey, that is not the purpose of the image. There is only one young cow, not a herd. There are only two sheep, not a flock.
While the people might drink milk, it is intended to be an image of all that remains. The honey is likely wild, and requires effort to supply. That this is intended to be an image of want is confirmed in the next verses where the land will be filled with briers and thorns instead of fields.
The final verse speaks of the cattle feeding in what once were cultivated fields. It is an image that Isaiah used before in his descriptions of the Assyrian invasion.
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