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2 Nephi 25
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2 Nephi 25
Prophetic Likening of Isaiah
2 Nephi 25:1–2
1 Now I, Nephi, do speak somewhat concerning the words which I have written, which have been spoken by the mouth of Isaiah. For behold, Isaiah spake many things which were hard for many of my people to understand; for they know not concerning the manner of prophesying among the Jews.
2 For I, Nephi, have not taught them many things concerning the manner of the Jews; for their works were works of darkness, and their doings were doings of abominations.
Although Isaiah has rightfully earned a place as the near pinnacle of biblical poetry, it is also possible that Nephi’s emphasis on Isaiah came from his scribal training where Isaiah would have been used as an important teaching text. Combining a familiarity with the obvious parallels Nephi would have seen between the Assyrian invasion and the Babylonian invasion that he had lived through, Isaiah was also very relevant. As a people separated from their land, Isaiah’s themes of the return were significant.
Nevertheless, the people to whom Nephi wrote did not have that background. While modern readers sympathize, we often don’t realize the implications of Nephi’s statement. It is certainly possible that his people didn’t understand Isaiah because he had not taught his children, but it seems strange that Nephi’s and Jacob’s children might not understand it well, since their fathers did. It is more likely that the ones who did not understand were the indigenous populations that formed a large part of the Nephite culture at that time.
These new Nephites would be taught the important aspects of the Hebrew religion, but not the sins that had led to the Assyrian and Babylonian destructions. The very fact that Nephi used Isaiah tells us that the problem wasn’t Isaiah, but rather the sins of the people that Isaiah declared were the reason for the Assyrian invasion.
Those collective cultural sins were the part of the Jewish teachings that were not passed on. Faithfulness to the gospel was a good thing, and that was certainly taught.
Nephi Teaches With Plainness
2 Nephi 25:3–4
3 Wherefore, I write unto my people, unto all those that shall receive hereafter these things which I write, that they may know the judgments of God, that they come upon all nations, according to the word which he hath spoken.
4 Wherefore, hearken, O my people, which are of the house of Israel, and give ear unto my words; for because the words of Isaiah are not plain unto you, nevertheless they are plain unto all those that are filled with the spirit of prophecy. But I give unto you a prophecy, according to the spirit which is in me; wherefore I shall prophesy according to the plainness which hath been with me from the time that I came out from Jerusalem with my father; for behold, my soul delighteth in plainness unto my people, that they may learn.
From the beginning of 1 Nephi to 2 Nephi 5, Nephi wrote of sacred things as couched in the history of the origin of the Nephites as a new people. He included a sermon from his brother than began to shift the focus from history to theology. At this point, he begins to explain why the long passages from Isaiah have been included. They are relevant to the reason he is currently writing. It appears that he finished his discussion of sacred history. He wrote all that had been included in the header for the book of 2 Nephi.
At this point, he writes “unto my people, unto all those that shall receive hereafter these things which I shall write.” What Nephi will do from now to the end of 2 Nephi, which is the end of his personal writing, is describe how the words or Isaiah underscore the message Yahweh declares to all nations.
Nephi also speaks of plainness. For Nephi, this means an understanding that is informed by the spirit of prophecy. Understanding prophecy requires a connection to the source of that prophecy. Thus, Nephi will speak in plainness because he has such a connection to the author of prophecy. He declares that he does this that his people, and future readers, may learn what they might not otherwise have understood.
2 Nephi 25:5–6
5 Yea, and my soul delighteth in the words of Isaiah, for I came out from Jerusalem, and mine eyes hath beheld the things of the Jews, and I know that the Jews do understand the things of the prophets, and there is none other people that understand the things which were spoken unto the Jews like unto them, save it be that they are taught after the manner of the things of the Jews.
6 But behold, I, Nephi, have not taught my children after the manner of the Jews; but behold, I, of myself, have dwelt at Jerusalem, wherefore I know concerning the regions round about; and I have made mention unto my children concerning the judgments of God, which hath come to pass among the Jews, unto my children, according to all that which Isaiah hath spoken, and I do not write them.
Verse 5 explains that Nephi delights in Isaiah because he came from Jerusalem, and he understands the things of the Jews. This is not a clear declaration that he was trained to understand such things, but scribal training provides a logical backdrop to the reason that Nephi might suggest that he understands these things of the Jews. Certainly, his use of Isaiah has previously suggested that his brothers did not fully understand those particular things of the Jews.
Verse 6 tells us that Nephi did not teach his children after the manner of the Jews. Even though this is in the context of teaching religious teachings, it is an important aspect of our modern expectations for what we might see of the Old World in the Book of Mormon. Critics of the Book of Mormon might suggest that we ought to see elements of the Old World in the New World material culture, but Nephi clearly states that this might not be the case. If Nephi intentionally doesn’t inform the second generation of the things of the Jews, there is little likelihood that such cultural influences ought to be seen in the New World.
2 Nephi 25:7–8
7 But behold, I proceed with mine own prophecy, according to my plainness; in the which I know that no man can err; nevertheless, in the days that the prophecies of Isaiah shall be fulfilled men shall know of a surety, at the times when they shall come to pass.
8 Wherefore, they are of worth unto the children of men, and he that supposeth that they are not, unto them will I speak particularly, and confine the words unto mine own people; for I know that they shall be of great worth unto them in the last days; for in that day shall they understand them; wherefore, for their good have I written them.
It is not unusual for some Latter-day Saints to suggest that Nephi is offering a commentary on Isaiah. That is not what he is doing, and he declares as much. What he has said is that Isaiah prophesied, and that Isaiah is difficult for one to understand without having the spirit of prophecy. Nephi declares that his spirit of prophecy delights in plainness, and here declares that he will proceed with his own prophecy—and do so in that plainness. This is not a commentary on Isaiah but will be similar to the way Jacob used Isaiah. Nephi will be giving his own prophecy for his own people, but touching Isaiah as a foundation upon which Nephi’s prophecy is built.
In verse 8, the things which are of worth unto the children of men is the ultimate part of Isaiah’s prophecies. Nephi knew that the Assyrian invasion had happened, and that Babylon had invaded. He knew by his father’s revealed declaration that Jerusalem had been destroyed. None of these elements were still prophecy from Isaiah. What continued to be prophecy was the theme of the return and the final victory of the Messiah. Those are the things of worth to Nephi’s people, either to those present with him or to those reading his words in the future.
2 Nephi 25:9–11
9 And as one generation hath been destroyed among the Jews because of iniquity, even so have they been destroyed from generation to generation according to their iniquities; and never hath any of them been destroyed save it were foretold them by the prophets of the Lord.
10 Wherefore, it hath been told them concerning the destruction which should come upon them, immediately after my father left Jerusalem; nevertheless, they hardened their hearts; and according to my prophecy they have been destroyed, save it be those which are carried away captive into Babylon.
11 And now this I speak because of the spirit which is in me. And notwithstanding they have been carried away they shall return again, and possess the land of Jerusalem; wherefore, they shall be restored again to the land of their inheritance.
Nephi begins to focus on the parts of Isaiah’s prophecies that had not yet been fulfilled. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they will focus on the Messiah.
At this point, Nephi knows that there has been a scattering. With the revealed reality of the destruction of Jerusalem, what he knows is that there is a scattered Jerusalem. Thus, one of the first prophecies awaiting fulfillment is the return of Israel to Jerusalem. Therefore, in verse 10 he notes the destruction of Jerusalem and the carrying away of many of the Jews to Babylon.
That constitutes a revealed reality. Now, in verse 11, Nephi speaks “because of the spirit which is in me.” That spirit tells him that there will be a return to Jerusalem. This comes as a partial fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecies that a remnant would return.
2 Nephi 25:12–13
12 But, behold, they shall have wars, and rumors of wars; and when the day cometh that the Only Begotten of the Father, yea, even the Father of heaven and of earth, shall manifest himself unto them in the flesh, behold, they will reject him, because of their iniquities, and the hardness of their hearts, and the stiffness of their necks.
13 Behold, they will crucify him; and after he is laid in a sepulchre for the space of three days he shall rise from the dead, with healing in his wings; and all those who shall believe on his name shall be saved in the kingdom of God. Wherefore, my soul delighteth to prophesy concerning him, for I have seen his day, and my heart doth magnify his holy name.
In verse 12 Nephi uses the phrase “wars, and rumors of wars.” That phrase is seen in Matthew 24:6 and Mark 13:7. In the New Testament it is a precursor to the last days. Nephi himself used those terms before, in Nephi’s great vision of the future of the world. In 1 Nephi 12:2 and 21 they preceded the Nephites dwindling in unbelief. In 1 Nephi 14:15–16 they appear in the more familiar end-of-days scenario, that time in connection with the war with the great and abominable church. Although the English phrase depends upon the King James Version of the New Testament, Nephi uses wars as a precursor to the advent of the Messiah, the first coming when the Messiah will appear to the Nephites, and the second at the end of days.
In verse 13, Nephi relies upon his previous vision to describe what happens when Yahweh, as the Messiah, becomes mortal. He will be crucified. Nevertheless, he will rise from the dead and become the salvation of humanity.
Nephi declares that he delights in prophesying about this Messiah, and indeed the message of this atoning Messiah will be one of the most consistent themes in his writing, and a dominant theme throughout the Book of Mormon.
2 Nephi 25:14–15
14 And behold it shall come to pass that after the Messiah hath risen from the dead, and hath manifested himself unto his people, unto as many as will believe on his name, behold, Jerusalem shall be destroyed again; for wo unto them that fight against God and the people of his church.
15 Wherefore, the Jews shall be scattered among all nations; yea, and also Babylon shall be destroyed; wherefore, the Jews shall be scattered by other nations.
The children of Israel had a perception of history that was cyclical. Knowing the past could inform the future because history ran in cycles and many important events repeated. The people of Mesoamerica were even more attuned to cycles of history. Not only might events recur, but elements of creation recurred. Thus, in the setting of a Mesoamerican culture, it would have been easily understood that a destruction of Israel by the hand of the Assyrians would similarly apply in Lehi’s day to the destruction of Jerusalem by the hand of the Babylonians. Nephi declares that it will happen again in the time of the Messiah. Verse 15 mentions Babylon, but here as a symbol of the nation that would destroy Jerusalem. It is an association based on Nephi’s experience with Babylon but will also reference first the Romans who would again scatter the Jews from Jerusalem, as well as all future opponents to Yahweh.
The Lord Will Restore Israel in the Latter Days
2 Nephi 25:16–17
16 And after they have been scattered, and the Lord God hath scourged them by other nations for the space of many generations, yea, even down from generation to generation until they shall be persuaded to believe in Christ, the Son of God, and the atonement, which is infinite for all mankind—and when that day shall come that they shall believe in Christ, and worship the Father in his name, with pure hearts and clean hands, and look not forward any more for another Messiah, then, at that time, the day will come that it must needs be expedient that they should believe these things.
17 And the Lord will set his hand again the second time to restore his people from their lost and fallen state. Wherefore, he will proceed to do a marvelous work and a wonder among the children of men.
After the scattering which followed the crucifixion and resurrection of the Messiah, Yahweh will again gather the children of Israel. This continues to be a fulfillment of Isaiah’s theme of the return of a righteous remnant. In this future case, the righteous remnant will be defined by having learned of the true mission of the Messiah. They will acknowledge the Son of God and the atonement. Their hearts will be turned to the atoning Messiah.
To accomplish this, the Lord “will set his hand again the second time to restore his people from their lost and fallen state.” This is not simply a return to Jerusalem, but a return to the true understanding of who the Messiah is. In Nephite understanding, the Messiah is Yahweh. Thus, Israel is being restored to the true understanding of their God.
The “marvelous work and a wonder” refers to bringing scripture to light.
2 Nephi 25:18–19
18 Wherefore, he shall bring forth his words unto them, which words shall judge them at the last day, for they shall be given them for the purpose of convincing them of the true Messiah, who was rejected by them; and unto the convincing of them that they need not look forward any more for a Messiah to come, for there should not any come, save it should be a false Messiah which should deceive the people; for there is save one Messiah spoken of by the prophets, and that Messiah is he who should be rejected of the Jews.
19 For according to the words of the prophets, the Messiah cometh in six hundred years from the time that my father left Jerusalem; and according to the words of the prophets, and also the word of the angel of God, his name shall be Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
In the previous verse, verse 17, Nephi declared that Yahweh would do a marvelous work and a wonder. Here he defines that the marvelous work and a wonder would be that Yahweh would bring his words to them, for the purpose “of convincing them of the true Messiah.”
The future Jews will already have all the scriptures that Nephi had known, as well as others from after the time that Nephi left Jerusalem. The marvelous work would not be the Torah. That had already been provided, and the Jews had already misunderstood how it foretold the atoning Messiah. The marvelous work would be the Book of Mormon. It is interesting that here it would come to convince the Jews of the Messiah, and the Book of Mormon’s title page would also indicate that it was for the convincing of the “Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God.”
Nephi repeats the prophecy from the angel, recorded in 1 Nephi 19:8, that the atoning Messiah would come six hundred years from the time Lehi left Jerusalem. The timing between the when Lehi left Jerusalem to the suggested birth of Christ does not leave us six hundred years. Nevertheless, the Book of Mormon counts down six hundred years. The explanation is the use of either the Jewish lunar calendar, or the adoption of the Mesoamerican 360-day calendar. Shortening the years only by those few days over time would yield six hundred of those shorter years.
2 Nephi 25:20–22
20 And now, my brethren, I have spoken plainly that ye cannot err. And as the Lord God liveth that brought Israel up out of the land of Egypt, and gave unto Moses power that he should heal the nations after they had been bitten by the poisonous serpents, if they would cast their eyes unto the serpent which he did raise up before them, and also gave him power that he should smite the rock and the water should come forth; yea, behold I say unto you, that as these things are true, and as the Lord God liveth, there is none other name given under heaven save it be this Jesus Christ, of which I have spoken, whereby man can be saved.
21 Wherefore, for this cause hath the Lord God promised unto me that these things which I write shall be kept and preserved, and handed down unto my seed, from generation to generation, that the promise may be fulfilled unto Joseph, that his seed should never perish as long as the earth should stand.
22 Wherefore, these things shall go from generation to generation as long as the earth shall stand; and they shall go according to the will and pleasure of God; and the nations who shall possess them shall be judged of them according to the words which are written.
As Nephi has done previously, he uses scriptural events to inform his current events. In this case, he returns to Moses leading the children of Israel from Egypt, which also gives him the connection to Joseph who is Nephi’s lineage ancestor.
The message is about the atoning Messiah, so the event selected is salvation from death. Moses saved those who would have died from the serpent bite by having them look to a symbol. The implication is that the Messiah becomes the embodiment of that symbol. Moses providing water to a nation that otherwise would die of thirst. He saves them. Symbolically, the Messiah is that water, a connection John made explicit in John 4:10 and 11.
The Law Points to Christ
2 Nephi 25:23
23 For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.
The comments on this verse focus on two important elements. The first is the definition of grace, and the second will be the phrase that “we are saved, after all we can do.”
Grace is a fundamental element of the relationship between God and his children on earth. It might be best understood in a more modern translation of Romans 11:6, by Thomas Wayment: “And if it is by grace, then it is no longer by works; otherwise, grace is no longer grace.” Paul sets up an important dichotomy. Grace is not the same as works. If we obtain any blessing through our work, then it is not by grace.
The context of grace comes in the relationship of the ruler and those who he rules. The ruler provides benefits to those being ruled that are quite apart from anything that they might do for themselves. The ruler provides protection from outside dangers, in the ideal situation. That is not necessarily something that the individual can do.
This type of relationship was better understood in the ancient world where it dominated their reality in ways that are foreign to us. Faith was not just a belief, but a faithfulness, a consistency in applying the mutual rules of interaction. It was a type of loyalty to the one providing the benefits.
Thus, the grace of God is providing to us what we cannot do for ourselves. We cannot resurrect ourselves. Christ’s atonement provided that benefit universally. We cannot save ourselves. Christ’s atonement enables us to take advantage of repentance so that we can improve and become worthy of the heavenly kingdom.
Grace supplies what we cannot do, but that does not mean that there is no part that we should play in the relationship. Our faithfulness, our loyalty, our effort is required. Work is involved in the relationship, but not in the provision of the benefits. It is not a compensatory relationship.
If the definition of grace requires that it cannot be earned by works, why then does Nephi suggest that we have grace only after all that we can do? It cannot mean that grace is the filler of the gap between our effort and the end goal. That diminishes grace to something purchased with a loan. The true relationship comes from the original context, which is that we do have a requirement to work. That work is not to earn grace but is a witness of our loyalty and faithfulness.
The question we should have for Nephi is what he considered to be “all that we could do.” Nephi probably didn’t understand that he needed to clarify that for his future audience. He does clarify it, but waits until 2 Nephi 26:1, which was originally part of the same 1830 chapter. Nephi says: “And after Christ shall have risen from the dead he shall show himself unto you, my children, and my beloved brethren; and the words which he shall speak unto you shall be the law which ye shall do.”
What is it that we should do? After the Messiah comes to them and shows them a new law, the Nephites will “do” the new law. Until that time, what do they “do”? They do the law of Moses. If we were to reword this part of 2 Nephi 25 to be clearer, it might say: “be reconciled to Yahweh. For we know that by his coming grace that we are saved. Until then we continue the law of Moses.” This is the precursor to his statement about what we should do after the Messiah comes.
2 Nephi 25:24–25
24 And, notwithstanding we believe in Christ, we keep the law of Moses, and look forward with steadfastness unto Christ, until the law shall be fulfilled.
25 For, for this end was the law given; wherefore the law hath become dead unto us, and we are made alive in Christ because of our faith; yet we keep the law because of the commandments.
As continued confirmation that continuing to perform the law of Moses is what the Nephites must “do” as they await the coming of the atoning Messiah, Nephi makes it explicit. Although they believe in the atoning Messiah’s mission, they still keep the law of Moses.
Nephi declares that the law is given to them to lead them to their faith in the coming Messiah. Later in the Book of Mormon there will be a phrase speaking of that which is to come. That will be the coming atoning Messiah.
There is no conflict in the belief that the future will hold important changes and the preservation of what has been commanded from the past. Nephi had begun this discourse by basing it on Isaiah, and thus declaring that the scriptures from the past have current, and future relevance. Therefore, that law also has current and future relevance, even though there is prophecy that the atonement will be enacted. Perhaps Nephi also understood that the Mosaic sacrifices for atonement would be done away with in Christ. However, until that time, atonement was still needed. The law that provided that sacrificial, communal atonement, was still needed.
2 Nephi 25:26–27
26 And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.
27 Wherefore, we speak concerning the law that our children may know the deadness of the law; and they, by knowing the deadness of the law, may look forward unto that life which is in Christ, and know for what end the law was given. And after the law is fulfilled in Christ, that they need not harden their hearts against him when the law ought to be done away.
Nephi has presented two important issues. The first is the atoning mission of the Messiah, an atonement that enacted grace. The second is the law of Moses, the works that Yahweh had required of the faithful. It was those works of sacrifice that created the conditions of atonement until the final atonement is enacted.
Nephi continues that message here, noting that they talk, rejoice, preach, and prophesy of the Messiah. They know that the ultimate atonement will come, and they rejoice in that future condition.
However, they also teach the law. Nephi speaks of the deadness of the law and of looking to the life in Christ. That is a parallelism that Isaiah would appreciate. It is easy to read this statement as saying that there is no value in the law, but the contrast is to the life in Christ. Thus, the “dead” is only meant as a precursor to life. It is an image of the cycle of death and resurrection. Thus, although they live the law now, the law will die and be resurrected with and through the Messiah into something much grander.
2 Nephi 25:28–30
28 And now behold, my people, ye are a stiffnecked people; wherefore, I have spoken plainly unto you, that ye cannot misunderstand. And the words which I have spoken shall stand as a testimony against you; for they are sufficient to teach any man the right way; for the right way is to believe in Christ and deny him not; for by denying him ye also deny the prophets and the law.
29 And now behold, I say unto you that the right way is to believe in Christ, and deny him not; and Christ is the Holy One of Israel; wherefore ye must bow down before him, and worship him with all your might, mind, and strength, and your whole soul; and if ye do this ye shall in nowise be cast out.
30 And, inasmuch as it shall be expedient, ye must keep the performances and ordinances of God until the law shall be fulfilled which was given unto Moses.
Nephi began this chapter speaking of Isaiah, which he used as a springboard into his own vision of the future of humankind. The important message of the future is the atoning mission of the Messiah, which has been the topic of the last several verses. Nephi ties this understanding to the future Jews in Jerusalem who would reject their Messiah. He tells his people: “behold, my people, ye are a stiffnecked people; wherefore I have spoken plainly unto you.” He declares that what he has said is “sufficient to teach any man the right way; for the right way is to believe in Christ and deny him not.” Therefore, his people should not do as the children of Israel will do in the future. They might deny their Messiah, but his people should not.
Nephi also defines how his people are supposed to understand this teaching. It is a prophesy for the future and promises a change in the future. However, until that change comes, they are to “keep the performances and ordinances of God.”
It is perhaps interesting that Nephi declares his young nation already a stiffnecked people. It will be a theme in Jacob’s discourse at the temple in Jacob’s own book. Once again, the rapidity with which the people of Nephi require reinforcing in the law of God, and the speed at which they became a prideful people, is suggesting of the mixing with the indigenous populations who have had a hard time leaving elements of their previous cultural understanding behind.
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