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2 Nephi 16
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2 Nephi 16
2 Nephi 16:1–4
1 In the year that king Uzziah died, I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple.
2 Above it stood the seraphim; each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly.
3 And one cried unto another, and said: Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of Hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.
4 And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke.
Nephi begins a new section of quotations from Isaiah. The original chapter includes our current chapters 16 through 22. Where the previous chapter was thematically united by the prophecies of the destruction associated with the Assyrian invasion, the topic has clearly changed at this point. Isaiah is discussing the temple, but the purpose is simply to highlight the source of his continued prophecy of the difficult political situation in Judah.
This description of the temple and God’s presence in that temple is intended to poetically attempt to render the majesty of God rather than provide a journalistic description. Thus, Yahweh is appropriately seated upon his high throne, and the fabric of his garment fills the temple.
The seraphim are heavenly beings, described so that we will recognize that they do not belong to the human realm. They are there to praise God, perhaps filling in symbolically for the heavenly choruses that often accompany visions of Yahweh in the scriptures.
We humans expect that a door will move, and could easily move with a strong wind. The power of Yahweh’s voice is such that even the supporting portals move. The suggestion that the temple is filled with smoke is intended to be an image invoking the majesty of Yahweh’s actual presence in the temple.
2 Nephi 16:5–7
5 Then said I: Wo is unto me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips; and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts.
6 Then flew one of the seraphim unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar;
7 And he laid it upon my mouth, and said: Lo, this has touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged.
Isaiah is in this vision in the temple and is afraid that he, as a sinner, has entered the presence of God. In Isaiah 52:11 the Lord commands that the children of Israel “touch no unclean thing. . . be ye clean, that bear the vessels of the Lord.” The vessels referenced are temple vessels. Thus, Isaiah is declaring that he is in a position that should not be.
The solution is that one of the seraphim brings a coal from the altar and lays it upon Isaiah’s mouth. There are two images here. The first is that there is a burnt sacrifice on the altar. Burnt sacrifices atone for sin. Therefore, the seraphim declares: “this has touched thy lips; and the iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged.” Isaiah has been offered as though he were a sacrifice, and cleansed through a symbolic burnt sacrifice.
The second image is that the coal is placed on his lips. This symbolically cleanses his speech, and perhaps declares that his words truly represent Yahweh’s.
2 Nephi 16:8–10
8 Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying: Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then I said: Here am I; send me.
9 And he said: Go and tell this people—Hear ye indeed, but they understood not; and see ye indeed, but they perceived not.
10 Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes—lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and be converted and be healed.
The symbolic sacrifice that cleansed Isaiah allows him to stand before Yahweh. Isaiah declares that Yahweh called him as his prophet. Yahweh asked who would go, and Isaiah declared that he would.
The message is to tell the children of Israel to see and hear truth. Each of those commands is followed by the sad declaration that Israel is unable to do so. The message is that Israel has not lost its ability to hear or see, indeed, they have not lost the scriptures, through which they hear the word of the Lord. However, they do not correctly interpret what they see and hear in the record of God’s world.
The solution is to shut off their senses and require that they understand with their hearts—that they be converted and healed. Isaiah has delivered messages of destruction coming to a people who had ceased to correctly follow Yahweh. The solution is to return to faithfulness. They are to shut themselves off to the senses that tempted them with the trappings of the world and return to the God who knows and dwells in their hearts.
2 Nephi 16:11–13
11 Then said I: Lord, how long? And he said: Until the cities be wasted without inhabitant, and the houses without man, and the land be utterly desolate;
12 And the Lord have removed men far away, for there shall be a great forsaking in the midst of the land.
13 But yet there shall be a tenth, and they shall return, and shall be eaten, as a teil tree, and as an oak whose substance is in them when they cast their leaves; so the holy seed shall be the substance thereof.
Isaiah clearly understands that there is a destruction coming, and so he asks Yahweh how long it will last. The Lord declares that it will continue until the cities are wasted. That isn’t a time period, but rather an event. It continues the gloomy forecast we saw in the last set of Isaiah chapters.
In this case, there is a turning to the hope at the end of the destruction. Some shall return. That it is a tenth, the Lord’s portion, is symbolic of the righteousness of those who will be allowed to return. Returning the agricultural imagery that began with burning stubble, Yahweh likens Israel to an oak and a terebinth. Both of those trees might be cut to a stump, but will grow new life from that stump. Thus, the holy seed will emerge from the destroyed stump of Israel.
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