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2 Nephi 12
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2 Nephi 12
The House of the Lord Shall be Established in the Mountains
2 Nephi 12:1
1 The word that Isaiah, the son of Amoz, saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem:
When Orson Pratt worked on the 1879 edition of the Book of Mormon, one of the things he did was to make it easier to compare the Isaiah chapters in the Book of Mormon with those in the Bible. Thus, he created the chapters and verses as they were in the King James Version, allowing for the modifications where the Book of Mormon text differed from the original.
The creation of the new chapters makes sense to Bible readers, but it obscures the very different way that the original chapters were created. Our Chapter 12 of 2 Nephi was not originally separated from the text we have in our Chapter 11. That was a change Pratt made to replicate the Bible’s chapters.
Similarly, the original Chapter VIII included all our chapters 11 through 15. That was the introductory statement and chapters 2 through 5 of Isaiah. The original Chapter IX covered Isaiah chapters 6 through 12. There was a different principle at work in the original chapters, and even though the text of these chapters closely follows the King James Version text of the Isaiah chapters, they did not similarly reflect the way they were broken into chapters.
Dr. John Gee examined the breaks in the original chapters and noted that they conform to a different, and older, logic. They begin with the general equivalent of “he said. . .” Dr. Gee also noted that the chapters were triggered by this statement at the beginning of a new section rather than anything at the end. That is, regardless of the reason the previous chapter might have appeared to end, this statement of authorship triggered the beginning of the new chapter.
Although the Isaiah chapters are obviously very close to the King James Version text, it is interesting that the chapters themselves had a different logic behind them, and a logic that corresponds to an older concept of creating chapters.
The insertion of chapters from Isaiah begins with Isaiah 2 rather than Isaiah 1, which does not appear in the Book of Mormon. Many scholars suggest that Isaiah 1 is a later introduction, and that Chapter 2 begins a separate unit. The Book of Mormon begins with that separate and complete unit.
2 Nephi 12:2–3
2 And it shall come to pass in the last days, when the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills, and all nations shall flow unto it.
3 And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths; for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
The repetition the word mountain is intentional. When Isaiah says that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, he is speaking of the ultimate place of authority. It is literally the Lord’s house, which we understand as a temple.
In the ancient world, mountains might substitute as a sacred location to commune with God. Moses went up a mountain. The height of the mountain symbolically touches heaven. The particular temple that Isaiah describes is not only in the top of the mountains, but “exalted above the hills.” That phrase might suggest the temples in other nations dedicated to other gods. They might have their temples, but the Lord’s house is above all. It is a mountain where the others are hills.
The physical location of the temple need not actually be in the mountaintop. It is there symbolically. As the place where God might dwell, it is also the place from which God’s word, and God’s law, will flow to all peoples.
For Isaiah, there was a temple in Jerusalem, and therefore Jerusalem could be a substitute source of authority. The king might be in Jerusalem, but the it was ultimately the temple that provided the king’s authority.
2 Nephi 12:4–5
4 And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plow-shares, and their spears into pruning-hooks—nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
5 O house of Jacob, come ye and let us walk in the light of the Lord; yea, come, for ye have all gone astray, every one to his wicked ways.
Isaiah is clear that it is God in his temple who is the judge. The law goes forth from God, and therefore it is God who can, and does judge humankind. This is a picture of a future date, understood from the ultimate peace where humans will learn war no more.
It is also clear that the peace is a future state because Judah is not yet ready. It has all gone astray. Thus, this chapter will be a rebuke of the house of Jacob’s failure to appropriately live the law, even though they do have a house of God in their midst.
2 Nephi 12:6–8
6 Therefore, O Lord, thou hast forsaken thy people, the house of Jacob, because they be replenished from the east, and hearken unto soothsayers like the Philistines, and they please themselves in the children of strangers.
7 Their land also is full of silver and gold, neither is there any end of their treasures; their land is also full of horses, neither is there any end of their chariots.
8 Their land is also full of idols; they worship the work of their own hands, that which their own fingers have made.
Isaiah uses poetic language to describe the plight of the house of Jacob. He says that God has forsaken his people. That is correct in emphasis, and perhaps in the evidence of the short term, but it is not true of God’s overall faithfulness to his part of the covenant.
The conditions Isaiah described indicate the ways in which Israel has allowed outside influences to lead them astray. They have received influences from outsiders to the east, and rather than listen to Yahweh’s prophets, they listen to common soothsayers. When Isaiah chides them for listening to soothsayers “like the Philistines,” it is intended to be an insult.
Nevertheless, Isaiah understands why Israel is interested in these influences. The other nations are rich and powerful. There is no end to their treasures. There is no end to their military might. However, Isaiah words that in addition to their lands being full of silver and gold, they are also full of idols. When Isaiah says that they worship the work of their own hands, he is suggesting that they worship gods with no true power. Isaiah mentions these idols and gods because inviting the alluring cultural advantages of wealth can bring with it those idols and foreign gods, to the detriment of remembering their true God.
Proud Will Be Brought Down Low
2 Nephi 12:9
9 And the mean man boweth not down, and the great man humbleth himself not, therefore, forgive him not.
There are two important changes in this verse from the one in Isaiah, and both come from adding the word “not.” Isaiah said that the “mean man boweth down,” and that the “great man humbleth himself.” Apparently, Joseph understood this verse without reference to what came before, and he negated the phrases. Thus, in the Book of Mormon, the mean man and the great man are to be condemned because they do not bow down or humble themselves. That sentiment would be correct if it were Yahweh before whom they bowed and were humbled.
In Isaiah, that isn’t the case. The subject is the foreign idols, and Isaiah is condemning those of Israel who have welcomed the idols. They bow down before, and humble themselves before, the foreign idols. Therefore, they should not be forgiven.
When Isaiah notes both the mean man and the great man, he is using two extremes to suggest all those in between. The mean man is the poor or lowly person. The great man is the one with wealth and power. The combination of the two is a literary device that is intended to mean everyone. Isaiah is condemning the entire nation for accepting these foreign influences. Along with the wealth, they have accepted the foreign gods. That is not to be forgiven.
2 Nephi 12:10–12
10 O ye wicked ones, enter into the rock, and hide thee in the dust, for the fear of the Lord and the glory of his majesty shall smite thee.
11 And it shall come to pass that the lofty looks of man shall be humbled, and the haughtiness of men shall be bowed down, and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day.
12 For the day of the Lord of Hosts soon cometh upon all nations, yea, upon every one; yea, upon the proud and lofty, and upon every one who is lifted up, and he shall be brought low.
Isaiah has condemned the wicked actions of a house of Jacob gone astray. He now returns to the future picture. At that time when the Lord will establish peace, the wicked will be destroyed. Because Isaiah has just included the house of Jacob among the wicked, these are consequences that are to come upon them. They cannot escape by claiming that others are the guilty ones.
Therefore, they will fear the Lord. They will recognize that they have departed from God’s laws and will seek to avoid the coming punishment. There are many caves in Israel, and they were historically used as places of resort in times of trouble. Isaiah tells them that they will seek out such resort from the coming righteous wrath of God.
However, it is a wrath upon all the wicked, not just Israel. Those in Israel who are haughty will be brought down, but so will those in other nations. Yahweh is the Lord of Hosts, the God of the whole world, not just of the house of Jacob. Therefore, this final wrath is upon all the wicked.
2 Nephi 12:13–17
13 Yea, and the day of the Lord shall come upon all the cedars of Lebanon, for they are high and lifted up; and upon all the oaks of Bashan;
14 And upon all the high mountains, and upon all the hills, and upon all the nations which are lifted up, and upon every people;
15 And upon every high tower, and upon every fenced wall;
16 And upon all the ships of the sea, and upon all the ships of Tarshish, and upon all pleasant pictures.
17 And the loftiness of man shall be bowed down, and the haughtiness of men shall be made low; and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day.
These verses set up multiple sets of doubled ideas. It is a poetic form that is used for emphasis. Thus, the cedars of Lebanon are paired with the oaks of Bashan. The high mountains are paired with the hills. The high towers and fenced walls visually define important cities, as do the ships of the sea and ships of Tarshish.
The message is clarified and underscored in verse 17, where the loftiness of man shall be bowed down, and the haughtiness of men shall be made low. In all the images, something that appears tall will be brought down low. The images from the physical world are to show Yahweh’s dominance over the world, and his supremacy over even the mightiest of earth’s or man’s creations.
The real import, however, is that Yahweh judges humankind. Regardless of human accomplishments, they are for naught if one does not live according to Yahweh’s law.
Verse 16 speaks of the ships of Tarshish. The Book of Mormon adds “all the ships of the sea.” There is no indication that this is a restoration of an earlier reading. The parallelism suggests that there should be two images, and the “pleasant pictures” are certainly confusing. One scholar translates the “pleasant pictures” to mean “splendid vessels,” which fits the intended parallelism.
2 Nephi 12:18–22
18 And the idols he shall utterly abolish.
19 And they shall go into the holes of the rocks, and into the caves of the earth, for the fear of the Lord shall come upon them and the glory of his majesty shall smite them, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth.
20 In that day a man shall cast his idols of silver, and his idols of gold, which he hath made for himself to worship, to the moles and to the bats;
21 To go into the clefts of the rocks, and into the tops of the ragged rocks, for the fear of the Lord shall come upon them and the majesty of his glory shall smite them, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth.
22 Cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils; for wherein is he to be accounted of?
In the last days of Yahweh’s coming domination over all the earth, those idols that the children of Israel had thought so great will be demolished. Those who worshipped them, and those who have otherwise gone astray, will attempt to hide from Yahweh in caves. This reprises the earlier statement in verse 10 that the wicked would hide in the rocks.
When Isaiah concludes “cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils,” he is admonishing Israel, and us, to cease from exalting the things of humankind—to cease from admiring worldly riches, and worldly wealth. That “his breath is in his nostrils” indicates that such men and women are mortal, and that, in contrast, the Yahweh is eternal. We are not to trade the things of eternal worth for those of temporary comfort.
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