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2 Nephi 27
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2 Nephi 27
Destruction of the Wicked
2 Nephi 27:1–2
1 But, behold, in the last days, or in the days of the Gentiles—yea, behold all the nations of the Gentiles and also the Jews, both those who shall come upon this land and those who shall be upon other lands, yea, even upon all the lands of the earth, behold, they will be drunken with iniquity and all manner of abominations—
2 And when that day shall come they shall be visited of the Lord of Hosts, with thunder and with earthquake, and with a great noise, and with storm, and with tempest, and with the flame of devouring fire.
The current chapter, 2 Nephi 27, is the final part of the original chapter that encompassed chapters 25 through 27. The first verse of this chapter continued without break from the end of our Chapter 26. In Chapter 26, Nephi had begun to interweave his vision and understanding with references and quotations from Isaiah 29. That same process continues in this chapter.
Nephi had been speaking of the last days, but specifically the last days in which the Book of Mormon would be brought to light. That continues to be the reference in this chapter. This chapter continues the focus on the coming forth of the Book of Mormon.
It is possible that the last phrase of verse one, “they will be drunken with iniquity,” looks forward to when Nephi will quote Isaiah 29:9 (see 2 Nephi 27:4), which mentions humankind in the last days being drunk, but not with wine.
The second verse quotes most of Isaiah 29:6. It is possible that Nephi sees this as a prophecy related to the destructions in 3 Nephi. Those do precede the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, although by about one thousand eighteen hundred years. All of the prophecy is in Nephi’s future, so he may or may not have been clear on how much time separated the events.
2 Nephi 27:3–4
3 And all the nations that fight against Zion, and that distress her, shall be as a dream of a night vision; yea, it shall be unto them, even as unto a hungry man which dreameth, and behold he eateth but he awaketh and his soul is empty; or like unto a thirsty man which dreameth, and behold he drinketh but he awaketh and behold he is faint, and his soul hath appetite; yea, even so shall the multitude of all the nations be that fight against Mount Zion.
4 For behold, all ye that doeth iniquity, stay yourselves and wonder, for ye shall cry out, and cry; yea, ye shall be drunken but not with wine, ye shall stagger but not with strong drink.
Our verses 3 and 4 quote Isaiah 29:7 through 9. When Orson Pratt versified the Book of Mormon, he attempted to keep quoted Isaiah chapters and verses as they appear in the King James Version of the Bible. That was not possible in this case because this is no simple quotation. It is a mixing of quotation and additional contextual explanation and examination. Therefore, we have two verses where the Bible has three.
Nephi also slightly modified Isaiah 29:7 to make it clear that this applies to nations which fight against Zion. Isaiah had used the more poetic “Ariel, even all that fight against her and her munition.”
These verses envision those in the days before the appearance of the Book of Mormon. They are like one who is hungry and eats plenty in a dream, but the ephemeral food of the dream does not really satiate the hunger. The idea that the soul has an appetite refers to the spiritual yearnings natural to the soul that comes from God. In Nephi’s reading, that hunger will be filled with the Book of Mormon.
A Sealed Book Comes Forth
2 Nephi 27:5–6
5 For behold, the Lord hath poured out upon you the spirit of deep sleep. For behold, ye have closed your eyes, and ye have rejected the prophets; and your rulers, and the seers hath he covered because of your iniquity.
6 And it shall come to pass that the Lord God shall bring forth unto you the words of a book, and they shall be the words of them which have slumbered.
Verse 5 quotes, with slight modifications, Isaiah 29:10. The use of this verse is important for two reasons. The first is that it applies to the last days when humankind is spiritually asleep. In Isaiah, the sleep follows up on the image of the hungry man who only eats in a dream. Iniquity has closed their eyes so that they do not see.
What is important in Nephi’s context is that this has led to the rejection of the prophets and the unbelief in the seers. In particular, the mention of the seers should resonate with the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. It is therefore not surprising that right after noting the rejection of prophets and seers, Nephi no longer quotes Isaiah, but expands Isaiah into the context of Nephi’s vision of the last days in which the words of his people would come to the gentiles.
Isaiah, verse 11, mentions that a book will be brought, but the rest of Nephi’s sentence is his own contextualizing.
2 Nephi 27:7–9
7 And behold the book shall be sealed; and in the book shall be a revelation from God, from the beginning of the world to the ending thereof.
8 Wherefore, because of the things which are sealed up, the things which are sealed shall not be delivered in the day of the wickedness and abominations of the people. Wherefore the book shall be kept from them.
9 But the book shall be delivered unto a man, and he shall deliver the words of the book, which are the words of those who have slumbered in the dust, and he shall deliver these words unto another;
Isaiah 29:11 begins: “and the vision of all is become unto you as the words of a book that is sealed.” Nephi takes the idea of a sealed book being delivered and expands on that part of Isaiah until 2 Nephi 27:15, which will finally return to the ending of Isaiah 29:11, where it begins by saying of the sealed book: “which men shall deliver to one that is learned.” Until that time, Nephi focuses on the one to whom the book is initially delivered.
That man we know was Joseph Smith, and Joseph Smith must have been able to see himself in this prophecy. Nephi’s vision of the tree of life included a vision of the coming forth of other records from the scattering of Israel, recorded in 1 Nephi 13:39–41. That vision was much more generic, suggesting that Nephi received more clarity or another vision that is otherwise unrecorded. The specificity of his elucidation of Isaiah 29 exceeds what he appears to have understood from the vision of the tree of life.
Verse 9 indicates that the future book, which is the Book of Mormon, will be delivered to a man who would deliver the words of the book. By the time Joseph dictated this sentence, he had been translating for months and certainly understood that he was enacting this prophecy. In the history of the translation process, however, it appears that he originally thought that delivering the words of the book might mean finding one who could translate. That effort led to the mission to the learned men of the East, which will be the fulfillment of the second part of Isaiah 29:11.
2 Nephi 27:10–11
10 But the words which are sealed he shall not deliver, neither shall he deliver the book. For the book shall be sealed by the power of God, and the revelation which was sealed shall be kept in the book until the own due time of the Lord, that they may come forth; for behold, they reveal all things from the foundation of the world unto the end thereof.
11 And the day cometh that the words of the book which were sealed shall be read upon the house tops; and they shall be read by the power of Christ; and all things shall be revealed unto the children of men which ever have been among the children of men, and which ever will be even unto the end of the earth.
These verses continue to discuss Joseph Smith. He will receive a book that is sealed. This verse is easy to confuse with the sealed portion that Joseph will later be told not to translate. At this point in the story of the coming forth, the entirety of the Book of Mormon is sealed by the inability of anyone to read it. Nevertheless, there will come a time when it will be translated, and then they “shall be read upon the house tops.” The message will be declared.
When it says that he would not deliver the book, that phrase clearly does not mean the meaning nor words of the book. That is the point of its having been written. Rather, this is an admonition not to deliver the plates. The verses following these two will discuss who may and who may not see the plates. Therefore, this injunction is that the plates shall not be delivered up.
There is still content on the plates which remains sealed, or which remains untranslated and untransmitted. That will come forth in even later days. The only hints we have about that content is that it will contain prophecies concerning the end of time. Perhaps they are prophecies that will be best understood only after they are fulfilled, and the seal will be broken to show how the events fit into the prophecies. For now, we do not know, because they remain sealed.
2 Nephi 27:12–14
12 Wherefore, at that day when the book shall be delivered unto the man of whom I have spoken, the book shall be hid from the eyes of the world, that the eyes of none shall behold it save it be that three witnesses shall behold it, by the power of God, besides him to whom the book shall be delivered; and they shall testify to the truth of the book and the things therein.
13 And there is none other which shall view it, save it be a few according to the will of God, to bear testimony of his word unto the children of men; for the Lord God hath said that the words of the faithful should speak as if it were from the dead.
14 Wherefore, the Lord God will proceed to bring forth the words of the book; and in the mouth of as many witnesses as seemeth him good will he establish his word; and wo be unto him that rejecteth the word of God!
Although the two previous verses indicated that Joseph should not show the plates, these three verses modify that statement. The plates will remain “hid from the eyes of the world,” but “three witnesses shall behold it, by the power of God, besides him to whom the book shall be delivered.” There is no mistaking this for an instruction to show the plates to the three witnesses. It also indicates that they should see it by the power of God. Based on the difference between the testimonies of the three and the eight witnesses, the power of God provided a spiritual context in which they saw the plates. The eight, not mentioned here, would see them in a more mundane context.
Even though the eight witnesses are not specifically mentioned, it is declared that “in the mouth of as many witnesses as seemeth him good will he establish his word.” The eight will be among them. Also among them is Mary Whitmer, who told the story of having been shown the plates by an older gentleman who showed them to her to ease her mind from the burden of hosting those who were translating. Emma Smith saw them covered with a cloth, and moved them during her cleaning chores, and, at least once, ran a finger on the edge and described the plates as rustling.
2 Nephi 27:15–18
15 But behold, it shall come to pass that the Lord God shall say unto him to whom he shall deliver the book: Take these words which are not sealed and deliver them to another, that he may show them unto the learned, saying: Read this, I pray thee. And the learned shall say: Bring hither the book, and I will read them.
16 And now, because of the glory of the world and to get gain will they say this, and not for the glory of God.
17 And the man shall say: I cannot bring the book, for it is sealed.
18 Then shall the learned say: I cannot read it.
At this point, Nephi returns to his source in Isaiah. Isaiah 29:11 reads: “And the vision of all is become unto you as the words of a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one that is learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I cannot; for it is sealed.” Verses 15 through 18 of 2 Nephi 27 begin with Isaiah’s words but expand upon them. More context is given.
Some of the context here appears to have been supplied from the fulfilled prophecy of Martin Harris’s trip to the learned men in the East. Part of the story, as it has come to be known, has Charles Anthon asking that the book be brought to him. That is not a feature of Isaiah, and its presence here may come for the understanding of how that prophecy was fulfilled. The translation may have been affected by the extra knowledge gained through having seen the fulfillment of the prophecy.
Nephi returns closer to the Isaiah source by noting that the learned man cannot read the sealed book.
2 Nephi 27:19–20
19 Wherefore it shall come to pass, that the Lord God will deliver again the book and the words thereof to him that is not learned; and the man that is not learned shall say: I am not learned.
20 Then shall the Lord God say unto him: The learned shall not read them, for they have rejected them, and I am able to do mine own work; wherefore thou shalt read the words which I shall give unto thee.
Verse 19 returns even closer to the Isaiah source, from Isaiah 29:12: “And the book is delivered to him that is not learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I am not learned.” The visit to Dr. Mitchell and Dr. Anthon had happened before the process of translation had begun, and the best indication is that even after the loss of the 116 pages, the translation picked up in Mosiah. Thus, this part of Nephi’s text had seen its fulfillment months prior and had time to be processed.
The most important result of Martin Harris’s trip to the scholars was that the translation would not occur through the scholarly world. It would come through the unlearned, and Joseph Smith understood that he fit that description. He would need to learn another way to translate, and he did. Although the scholars could not do it, God declares in verse 20, “I am able to do mine own work; wherefore thou shalt read the words which I shall give thee.
This is no longer prophecy as much as direct communication to Joseph. It is Joseph who would literally read the words which God would give him to be able to dictate the translation. Even though Joseph had already been doing this by the time this verse was translated, it must still have come as an important confirmation of the way in which he was accomplishing the task that had been given to him.
2 Nephi 27:21–23
21 Touch not the things which are sealed, for I will bring them forth in mine own due time; for I will show unto the children of men that I am able to do mine own work.
22 Wherefore, when thou hast read the words which I have commanded thee, and obtained the witnesses which I have promised unto thee, then shalt thou seal up the book again, and hide it up unto me, that I may preserve the words which thou hast not read, until I shall see fit in mine own wisdom to reveal all things unto the children of men.
23 For behold, I am God; and I am a God of miracles; and I will show unto the world that I am the same yesterday, today, and forever; and I work not among the children of men save it be according to their faith.
In further instruction to Joseph, the Lord reiterates that Joseph is not to translate the “things which are sealed.” They are intended to come forth, but only in the Lord’s due time.
The next instruction is that when the translation has been completed, Joseph should gather the three promised witnesses. After their witness, “then shalt thou seal up the book again, and hide it up unto me.” After the witnesses, the plates would be hidden from view again. It is believed that they were taken back to heaven, rather than committed to some secret earthly hiding place.
The Lord reiterates that the parts that were not translated will eventually come forth, but only according to the faith of the children of men, and only at an undetermined future date.
A Marvelous Work and a Wonder
2 Nephi 27:24–26
24 And again it shall come to pass that the Lord shall say unto him that shall read the words that shall be delivered him:
25 Forasmuch as this people draw near unto me with their mouth, and with their lips do honor me, but have removed their hearts far from me, and their fear towards me is taught by the precepts of men—
26 Therefore, I will proceed to do a marvelous work among this people, yea, a marvelous work and a wonder, for the wisdom of their wise and learned shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent shall be hid.
Verse 24 serves to move the text back to the Isaiah source. Verses 25 and 26 are essentially quoted from Isaiah 29:13 and 14.
Verse 25 speaks of those who pay lip service to the Lord. It was a theme Isaiah had introduced with the hungry man who only ate in dreams. There is the image of worship, but in truth humanity is far from the Lord. Isaiah says it of the children of Israel. Nephi expands it to his descendants and even to the gentiles.
The solution is that the Lord will do a marvelous work and a wonder. That marvelous work is what Nephi has just described as the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. Isaiah picks up on his theme that the wisdom of the learned is insufficient. That is recontextualized to mean that it is insufficient to just bring forth the marvelous work.
2 Nephi 27:27-28
27 And wo unto them that seek deep to hide their counsel from the Lord! And their works are in the dark; and they say: Who seeth us, and who knoweth us? And they also say: Surely, your turning of things upside down shall be esteemed as the potter’s clay. But behold, I will show unto them, saith the Lord of Hosts, that I know all their works. For shall the work say of him that made it, he made me not? Or shall the thing framed say of him that framed it, he had no understanding?
28 But behold, saith the Lord of Hosts: I will show unto the children of men that it is yet a very little while and Lebanon shall be turned into a fruitful field; and the fruitful field shall be esteemed as a forest.
These verses are quoted, with minor variations, from Isaiah 29:15–17. In Isaiah, this is a social criticism of those who have caused the destruction of the Assyrian invasion. They have not done the work of the Lord and sought to hide it from the Lord. Yahweh declares that he does see, and that he knows all their works.
Yahweh also declares that there will come a time when he will create reversals of his own. Lebanon will become a fruitful field, and the fruitful field so thick as to become as a forest.
For Joseph Smith, this would have been seen in the context of the reception of the Book of Mormon. There were many who would not accept the marvelous work, but the Lord declares that he knows their works, and that the Book of Mormon would become the reason for the fruitful fields. In this case, the fruitful fields are those which yield souls to the heavenly harvest.
2 Nephi 27:29–32
29 And in that day shall the deaf hear the words of the book, and the eyes of the blind shall see out of obscurity and out of darkness.
30 And the meek also shall increase, and their joy shall be in the Lord, and the poor among men shall rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.
31 For assuredly as the Lord liveth they shall see that the terrible one is brought to naught, and the scorner is consumed, and all that watch for iniquity are cut off;
32 And they that make a man an offender for a word, and lay a snare for him that reproveth in the gate, and turn aside the just for a thing of naught.
These verses quote from Isaiah 29, with only minor changes. They correspond to Isaiah 29:18–21. In both Isaiah and in Nephi, this is a description of the power of the words of the book. Because of the words of the book, the spiritually blind will be able to see beyond the world’s darkness.
That the meek “shall increase” means that they will become greater, more important. It is, for them the same kind of reversal as the blind seeing.
The Lord’s adversary will be defeated, and all those who do the adversary’s work: the scorners, those who proclaim themselves to be the judges of iniquity; and those who judge harshly. There will be a reversal where all those who turn aside the just, will themselves be turned aside.
2 Nephi 27:33–35
33 Therefore, thus saith the Lord, who redeemed Abraham, concerning the house of Jacob: Jacob shall not now be ashamed, neither shall his face now wax pale.
34 But when he seeth his children, the work of my hands, in the midst of him, they shall sanctify my name, and sanctify the Holy One of Jacob, and shall fear the God of Israel.
35 They also that erred in spirit shall come to understanding, and they that murmured shall learn doctrine.
This chapter also ends the longer chapter in the 1830 edition. The reason for the ending is not that Nephi is through with his discussion, but rather that the quotation from Isaiah is finished. When we finish these three verses, we reach the end of Isaiah, Chapter 29. That triggered the chapter ending.
Isaiah had been describing the reversal of fortune that the words of the book will bring. These verses continue to show the power of the Lord as manifest through that marvelous work. Even though there will be times when the children of Israel will be beaten low, yet will the Lord be exalted. For Yahweh, it is also a reversal, “he shall not now be ashamed.”
The result of the marvelous work and a wonder, the result of the words of the book—which in Nephi is clearly the Book of Mormon—will bring all to understanding. Even those who before erred, or before murmured, will learn true doctrine through the Book of Mormon.
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