Friday, February 17, 2012

Book of Mormon Lesson #9 "Great Are the Words of Isaiah"

2 Nephi 11-24

(If you haven't used it already, here is a link to a previous post on Isaiah.)

NEPHI’S INTRODUCTION TO ISAIAH

“And now I, Nephi, write more of the words of Isaiah, for my soul delighteth in his words.  For I will liken his words unto my people, and I will send them forth unto all my children, for he [Isaiah] verily [truly] saw my Redeemer, even as I have seen him.  And my brother, Jacob, also has seen him as I have seen him; wherefore, I will send their words forth unto my children to prove unto them that my words are true.  Wherefore, by the words of three, God hath said, I will establish my word.  Nevertheless, God sendeth more witnesses, and he proveth all his words.”  (2 Ne. 11:2-3)

Nephi taught the law of three witnesses to all of us, and particularly to Joseph Smith, although it wasn’t until Joseph got to Ether 5 that he prayed for three witnesses to the Book of Mormon.

We also see in this chapter of the Book of Mormon why the Nephites did not have such trouble accepting Christ when he came:  They had retained a clear understanding of the purpose of the Law of Moses and had not allowed it to become an end in itself, unrelated to Christ:

“Behold, my soul delighteth in proving unto my people the truth of the coming of Christ; for, for this end hath the law of Moses been given; and all things which have been given of God from the beginning of the world, unto man, are the typifying of him.”  (2 Ne. 11:4)

Whereas we often look upon 2 Nephi as the place we get stuck when reading the Book of Mormon because of the dreaded “Isaiah chapters,” Nephi offered us the option of rejoicing in them.

“And now I write some of the words of Isaiah, that whoso of my people shall see these words may lift up their hearts and rejoice for all men.  Now these are the words, and ye may liken them unto you and unto all men.”  (2 Ne. 11:8)

Probably none of us understand all of the Isaiah passages yet, but all of us understand some of them.  (Our reading assignment is so huge, probably the writers of the manual didn’t expect us to understand them all, either.)  Those of us who live to be 100 can perhaps eventually have a comprehensive understanding of these scriptures.   For now, though, rather than worrying about the details and interpretations of so many specific prophecies, we can simply search for and mark those which cause our hearts to “rejoice for all men.”  I’ll share some of my favorites here:

THE WORK OF THE LATTER-DAY SAINTS

The very first passage of Isaiah that Nephi included here is one of the most beautiful and encouraging.  Whereas we often hear reports of evil, of war, of crime, of abuse in the media input we receive every day, Nephi offers us a most heartening view of the latter-days which could cause even the most cynical heart to rejoice.

“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.  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.”  (2 Ne. 12:2-3)

Well, that is definitely cause to rejoice:  the distinguishing feature of the latter-days will be the temple.  And not just a single temple in Salt Lake City, although the scripture uses the singular:  all nations will flow unto the temple, so it is a single type of building Isaiah refers to, located in all nations.  And many people, not just a select few, will invite each other to come to the temple and learn of God.  The law that will go forth from Zion includes both the spiritual laws of the Church of Jesus Christ and the temporal laws of free governments established by God.

And if that wasn’t great enough news, look what comes next:

“And he [the Lord] 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.” (2 Ne. 12:4)

Wow!  People who were formerly enemies will work together to nourish and strengthen each other!  But that has already happened in many instances.  And always, it is due to the actions of Christlike individuals.

The perfect example of the influence of one Latter-day Saint to “beat swords into plowshares” is found in the story of Gail “Hal” Halvorsen, a.k.a. “The Candy Bomber .” 


At the end of WWII, the U.S. Air Force pilot, a Latter-day Saint from northern Utah, flew unauthorized missions of mercy over blockaded Germany, dropping candy to the starving German children in little parachutes made of the many handkerchiefs he brought along when he shipped out from the U.S. because he had had a bad cold at the time.  He had been a perfectly obedient military man, so no one suspected him of disobeying orders. 

But by the time his superiors found out who was flying these unauthorized missions (a press photograph caught the number on his airplane tail), the benefit of the missions was being realized and he was not court-martialed as expected, but sent to a press conference instead (Andrei Cherny, The Candy Bombers, p. 352).  The U.S. military and many U.S. citizens joined in his efforts and dropped hundreds of pounds of candy and food to the starving Germans below.  “Halvorsen, the ordinary young pilot, would almost single-handedly transform how the citizens of defeated Germany’s capital saw the United States.” (ibid., p. 8)  (An excellent ABC news report about Halvorsen can be found at this link.  You may notice in the report that Brother Halvorsen credits the gratitude of the Germans as the factor that changed the countries’ relations, rather than his own heroism.  Additional video footage and the story narrated by Brother Halvorsen himself can be found on YouTube at this link .)

THE DEVASTATION OF THE WICKED

After reading the joyous actions of the Saints in the latter days, Isaiah wrote warnings against the wicked—they will desire to hide, all those material possessions they worshiped will be worth nothing to them, and “The Lord, the Lord of Hosts, doth take away from Jerusalem, and from Judah, the stay and the staff, the whole staff of bread, and the whole stay of water.”  (2 Ne. 13:1)  Because they have refused it, they will starve spiritually; they will give up the knowledge and comfort of Jesus Christ.  They will be easily overcome and humiliated.

But, back to more joyful prophecies about world-wide temples:

“When the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion [through the ordinance of baptism and the application of the Atonement]…, the Lord will create upon every dwelling-place of mount Zion, and upon her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day and the shining of a flaming fire by night; for upon all the glory of Zion shall be a defence.” (2 Ne. 14:4-5)

Back and forth go the prophecies, with warnings to the wicked, followed by wondrous miracles for the righteous.

“The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.  Thou hast multiplied the nation [the nation or House of Israel—the Church], and increased the joy—they joy before thee according to the joy in harvest, and as men rejoice when they divide the spoil.  For thou hast broken the yoke of his [Israel’s], and the staff of his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor…For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder; and his name shall be called, Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.  Of the increase of government and peace there is no end.”  (2 Ne. 19:2-7).

This is a government we won’t mind seeing increased—a theocracy which will bring endless peace.

“And it shall come to pass in that day that the Lord shall give thee rest, from thy sorrow, and from thy fear, and from the hard bondage wherein thou waste made to serve.” (2 Ne. 24:3)

OUR CHOICE

In the end, after all these prophecies, we read,

“And now, my brethren, I have spoken plainly that ye cannot err…there is none other name given under heaven save it be this Jesus Christ, of which I have spoken, whereby man can be saved.” (2 Ne. 25:20)

“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.”  (2 Ne. 25:26).

Nephi and Isaiah have given us a choice:  Do we seek after worldly things, do we put our trust in men, do we struggle against the commandments, do we follow secret evil ambitions expecting them never to be uncovered?  If so, we are choosing a wild course, a foundation sure to crumble, an outcome that will not be as we expect.  We are choosing the “waters of the river, strong and many,” the glory of worldliness that will eventually “come up over all his channels, and go over all his banks.” (2 Ne. 18:7)  The mighty Euphrates River is the reference here, a wild river, often out of control, flooding its banks, ruining the vegetation, drowning the creatures.

Flooding Potomac River

Or do we choose to turn to Christ and let him heal us, free us, and nourish us (2 Ne. 25:20)?  Do we help to build the temples of Mount Zion, do we beat swords into plow-shares, do we stand against evil?  If so we are choosing the softly rolling, predictable, controlled, life-giving River Shiloah (2 Ne. 18:6).

If we make the choice each day to trust in God, and let Jehovah be our strength and salvation, “Therefore, with joy shall [we] draw water out of the wells of salvation.”  (2 Ne. 22:3)


2 comments:

frateslm said...

I so enjoy your insights. The ending you chose really spoke to me. We choose healing or turbulance, like the waters of Shiloah (baptism) or raging flood waters of Satan's worldliness.

janel said...

Thank you for your perspective on Isaiah--that it's powerful, but also overwhelming, and that we should focus on the things that are clearly meaningful to us, and bring us to a better understanding of our Savior. Great lesson plan. I feel empowered to make my own after your model. Thanks.