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2 Nephi 20
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2 Nephi 20
2 Nephi 20:1–4
1 Wo unto them that decree unrighteous decrees, and that write grievousness which they have prescribed;
2 To turn away the needy from judgment, and to take away the right from the poor of my people, that widows may be their prey, and that they may rob the fatherless!
3 And what will ye do in the day of visitation, and in the desolation which shall come from far? to whom will ye flee for help? and where will ye leave your glory?
4 Without me they shall bow down under the prisoners, and they shall fall under the slain. For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.
These four verses more appropriately follow the theme of the previous chapter. In the 1830 Book of Mormon, there was no chapter break. That makes it easier to see the association of these condemnations of the sins of the children of Israel before the next theme, which will be the Assyrian invasion as a tool of Yahweh’s wrath.
Verse 1 is a paralleled phrase that is made more complicated in the King James Version. In some translations, “grievousness” is better translated as oppressive decrees. Thus, the paired ideas would be unrighteous decrees and oppressive decrees.
Verse 2 condemns those who do not appropriately care for the poor and needy. This includes widows and orphans. This set of people are those who are unable to take care of themselves.
Verses 3 and 4 highlight the problem of those who have strayed from Yahweh’s law. Without their God’s support, they will have nowhere to turn for salvation in the coming destruction. We have the repetition of the phrase that has been used before, that “his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.” As before, this is a reiteration of the idea that God’s wrath is still upon the children of Israel. The time for salvation from the destruction is not yet come.
2 Nephi 20:5–7
5 O Assyrian, the rod of mine anger, and the staff in their hand is their indignation.
6 I will send him against a hypocritical nation, and against the people of my wrath will I give him a charge to take the spoil, and to take the prey, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets.
7 Howbeit he meaneth not so, neither doth his heart think so; but in his heart it is to destroy and cut off nations not a few.
Isaiah moves to a new theme. In this case, Yahweh is discussing the Assyrian invasion. Isaiah has previously noted that Assyria is as a hired hand for Yahweh. That is the imagery here. The Lord speaks to the Assyrian and declares that Assyria is the means of the destruction that Yahweh had declared, initiated, and approved. It is the “rod of mine anger.” Yahweh notes that “I will send him against a hypocritical nation.” This is not Assyria’s war, but rather Yahweh’s.
Nevertheless, verse 7 notes that the king of Assyria does not realize that he is a tool rather than an initiator. Although Yahweh declares that it is God’s war, the Assyrian king does not think it is. The Assyrian king is bent on the destruction of nations and believes that this is just a part of that overall plan.
An important allusion comes in verse 6, where Yahweh says that he will charge the Assyrian “to take the spoil, and to take the prey.” This references the prophetic name of Isaiah’s son Maher-shalal-hash-baz, which means “hasten to the plunder and quick to the spoil.” The name of the second son will be invoked later in verse 21.
2 Nephi 20:8–11
8 For he saith: Are not my princes altogether kings?
9 Is not Calno as Carchemish? Is not Hamath as Arpad? Is not Samaria as Damascus?
10 As my hand hath founded the kingdoms of the idols, and whose graven images did excel them of Jerusalem and of Samaria;
11 Shall I not, as I have done unto Samaria and her idols, so do to Jerusalem and to her idols?
These are the words of the Assyrian king who believes that this war is his own idea, and that it is a representative of his worldly power. Thus, for the Assyrian king, he says: “are not my princes altogether kings?” He means that his nation is so powerful that his princes have the power that other kings might have. Of course, that places the Assyrian king as far above those kings in other nations, who are only as princes to him.
The list of cities is a list of cities already destroyed. It is a list that indicates the destructive power of the Assyrian army. Again, it is a vanity of the Assyrian king who believes that it is he, rather than Yahweh, who is behind this military success.
Verse 11 speaks of Assyrians destroying idols. In the mind of the Assyrian king, this would be conquering the nations as well as their gods, a familiar symbol in the ancient world. However, Yahweh has indicated that the children of Israel really have allowed some idols into their worship, and thus their destruction is part of Yahweh’s plan, not just the Assyrian king’s boasting.
2 Nephi 20:12–15
12 Wherefore it shall come to pass that when the Lord hath performed his whole work upon Mount Zion and upon Jerusalem, I will punish the fruit of the stout heart of the king of Assyria, and the glory of his high looks.
13 For he saith: By the strength of my hand and by my wisdom I have done these things; for I am prudent; and I have moved the borders of the people, and have robbed their treasures, and I have put down the inhabitants like a valiant man;
14 And my hand hath found as a nest the riches of the people; and as one gathereth eggs that are left have I gathered all the earth; and there was none that moved the wing, or opened the mouth, or peeped.
15 Shall the ax boast itself against him that heweth therewith? Shall the saw magnify itself against him that shaketh it? As if the rod should shake itself against them that lift it up, or as if the staff should lift up itself as if it were no wood!
The Assyrian king might think that it is his own power behind this invasion. But Yahweh declares that after his usefulness has ended, Yahweh will punish that king. Verses 13 and 14 are in the voice of the Assyrian king, boasting of his own strength and wisdom.
In verse 15, Yahweh makes it clear that the Assyrian king is only a tool for Yahweh’s righteous wrath. Yahweh declares: “shall the ax boast itself against him that heweth therewith?” Is the tool able to boast that it is better than the one who wields the tool? Assyria is only the tool, and the usefulness of that tool will have an end. There will be a time when, as verse 12 noted, Yahweh will have performed his whole work against Jerusalem.
2 Nephi 20:16–21
16 Therefore shall the Lord, the Lord of Hosts, send among his fat ones, leanness; and under his glory he shall kindle a burning like the burning of a fire.
17 And the light of Israel shall be for a fire, and his Holy One for a flame, and shall burn and shall devour his thorns and his briers in one day;
18 And shall consume the glory of his forest, and of his fruitful field, both soul and body; and they shall be as when a standard-bearer fainteth.
19 And the rest of the trees of his forest shall be few, that a child may write them.
20 And it shall come to pass in that day, that the remnant of Israel, and such as are escaped of the house of Jacob, shall no more again stay upon him that smote them, but shall stay upon the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, in truth.
21 The remnant shall return, yea, even the remnant of Jacob, unto the mighty God.
When Yahweh no longer has use for the Assyrian king, Yahweh will turn his ire upon Assyria, and as a prophecy of the last days, upon all nations who rise against Yahweh. Where previously the fire had burned Israel, in this reversal, the “light of Israel shall be for a fire, and his Holy One for a flame.” Thus, Yahweh becomes the defender of Israel and lights the fire of destruction against those who oppose Israel. The imagery of devouring thorns and briers had previously been applied to Israel but is now reversed and it is the opposing nations that are cleansed through fire.
In verse 19 the trees of the forests will burn and leave so few trees that even a child could count them. This may also be a reversal using the image of the child, which had previously been said to be the ruler in Israel. This too is reversed and the child image is used against the opposing nations.
Finally, verse 21 notes that a “remnant will return.” This is a reference to Isaiah’s son’s name, Shearjashub, which means “a remnant will return.” Yahweh has therefore given prophecy and declares how those prophecies will be fulfilled. There will be a time when the Lord ceases to use other nations as a tool against Israel, and a repentant Israel will become the dominant force rather than the one dominated.
The idea that a remnant would return will become an important theme for Nephi and Jacob in their sermons to their new people in the New World.
2 Nephi 20:22–25
22 For though thy people Israel be as the sand of the sea, yet a remnant of them shall return; the consumption decreed shall overflow with righteousness.
23 For the Lord God of Hosts shall make a consumption, even determined in all the land.
24 Therefore, thus saith the Lord God of Hosts: O my people that dwellest in Zion, be not afraid of the Assyrian; he shall smite thee with a rod, and shall lift up his staff against thee, after the manner of Egypt.
25 For yet a very little while, and the indignation shall cease, and mine anger in their destruction.
The Abrahamic covenant declared that Israel would be as the sands of the sea, and it is so. However, of those scattered sands, only a remnant would return. Isaiah earlier referred to them as a tithe. It was not an indication of number, but of dedication to the Lord. The idea of return and repent are both linked in Hebrew. Thus, the remnant would return and would be one that repented of the sins which led to Yahweh’s wrath and this destruction.
The message Isaiah delivers is to the righteous. He previously noted that the righteous need not fear, and that is repeated here. With the declaration that “thus saith the Lord God of Hosts,” Isaiah notes that although the Assyrians will “smite thee with a rod,” yet that will end, and there will be a time when that aggression will cease and the Lord will turn his anger upon the Assyrians.
2 Nephi 20:26–34
26 And the Lord of Hosts shall stir up a scourge for him according to the slaughter of Midian at the rock of Oreb; and as his rod was upon the sea so shall he lift it up after the manner of Egypt.
27 And it shall come to pass in that day that his burden shall be taken away from off thy shoulder, and his yoke from off thy neck, and the yoke shall be destroyed because of the anointing.
28 He is come to Aiath, he is passed to Migron; at Michmash he hath laid up his carriages.
29 They are gone over the passage; they have taken up their lodging at Geba; Ramath is afraid; Gibeah of Saul is fled.
30 Lift up the voice, O daughter of Gallim; cause it to be heard unto Laish, O poor Anathoth.
31 Madmenah is removed; the inhabitants of Gebim gather themselves to flee.
32 As yet shall he remain at Nob that day; he shall shake his hand against the mount of the daughter of Zion, the hill of Jerusalem.
33 Behold, the Lord, the Lord of Hosts shall lop the bough with terror; and the high ones of stature shall be hewn down; and the haughty shall be humbled.
34 And he shall cut down the thickets of the forests with iron, and Lebanon shall fall by a mighty one.
These verses describe the ending of the invasion. It lists the cities that Assyria will conquer, and that Assyria would finally come to Jerusalem itself as the remaining city to conquer. Thus, the Assyrian king will “shake his hand against the mount of the daughter of Zion, the hill of Jerusalem.”
That will be the end, however. At that point Yahweh will stop the destruction and turn Assyria away. That is what happened. Assyria did conquer all of Judah and encamp around Jerusalem, but Jerusalem itself was not taken. History suggests that there may have been a treaty, but Isaiah declares it a victory for Yahweh, however it happened.
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