2 Nephi 16
A Covenant Plan of Salvation
2 Nephi 16 (Isaiah Text & Commentary):
(Compare Isaiah 6)
Note** This chapter deals with Isaiah's call, either his initial call or a subsequent call to a major responsibility. According to Victor Ludlow, chapters 1-5 of Isaiah (2 Nep. 12-15) emphasize Israel's separation from "the master of the vineyard," while chapters 7-12 (2 Ne. 17-22) promise deliverance and the millennial day. Both themes are epitomized by Isaiah himself in chapter 6 (2 Ne. 16); he fears the Lord's judgment because of his own sins and yet is willing to serve the Lord because he knows that a latter-day remnant of Israel will believe and understand his prophecies. (IPSP, 126-27) The Book of Mormon reader might liken the importance of Isaiah's call being recorded to that of Lehi -- see 1 Nephi 8-14.
Isaiah Describes His Call to the Ministry
1 In the year that king UZZIAH died (or about 750-740 BC), I (Isaiah) saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up (or exalted), and his train (or his following -- followers, light) filled the temple.
2 Above it (or above the throne) stood the seraphim (or angelic beings); each one had six wings (symbolic of power to move, act, etc., in God's work -- see D&C 77:4); with twain (or two wings) 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 (repeated three times meaning "the very best"), is the Lord of Hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.
4 And the posts (or the foundations) of the door (or gate into the Lord's presence) moved (or shook) at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke (symbolic of God's presence, as at Sinai -- see Exodus 19:18).
5 Then said I (Isaiah): Wo is unto me! for I am undone (that is, I feel unworthy of being in the presence of the Lord; because I am a man of unclean lips (that is, I am imperfect and inadequate in the covenants which I have declared!); and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for mine eyes have seen THE KING, the Lord of Hosts (the Savior).
6 Then flew one of the seraphim unto me, having a live coal (Heb., "glowing stone"--symbolic of the God's power to cleanse "by fire") in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar (representing Christ's sacrifice or atonement);
7 And he laid it upon my mouth (that is, he applied the Atonement to me), and said: Lo, this has touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged.
8 Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying: Whom shall I send, and who will go for us (implying plural deity)? Then I (Isaiah) said: Here am I; send me (or in other words, the cleansing power of the atonement has given me the needed confidence to accept the call--see 1 Ne. 3:7).
9 And he (the Lord) said: Go and tell this people--Hear ye indeed, but they understood not; and see ye indeed, but they perceived not (or in other words, Isaiah's task is to testify and teach the people in such a way that by his writings they will be held accountable even though their wickedness keeps them from understanding or perceiving the message to the fullest degree).
10 [As a consequence of the people's rejection of the Lord's message] Make the heart of this people fat (in other words, emphasize their insensitivity to the spirit), and make their ears heavy (or in other words, emphasize their inability to hear or understand the word of the Lord), and shut their eyes (the symbolic conduits of light to the soul) (in other words, emphasize their rejection of the light of Christ) lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and be converted and be healed. (which spiritual attributes the people are not worthy of without repentance) (Perhaps Isaiah is hinting here as to the manner in which he would emphasize these consequences for not obeying the Lord's commandments. That is, through the use of literary parallelisms and symbolic terms, he would document his message in such a way as to hold the people accountable, and be incontrovertible, yet extremely hard to understand to the fullest degree without the spirit of prophecy.)
11 Then said I: Lord, how long (that is, how long of a time period will this message have to cover)? And he said: Until the cities be wasted without inhabitant, and the houses without man, and the land be utterly desolate (or until the destruction of Israel) ;
12 And the Lord have removed men far away, for there shall be a great forsaking in the midst of the land (that is, this people will be forsaking or giving up their land, their houses, their property, etc.).
13 But yet there shall be a tenth (or a remnant of the house of Israel--a tithe--the Lord's portion), and they (or this remnant) shall return, and shall be eaten (or pruned, as by animals eating the limbs, leaves and branches; that is, the Lord will cut out apostate generations so new ones may have a chance), as a teil-tree (or as a tree associated with covenant-making and capable of re-establishing itself from only a stump), and as an oak (which has the same properties as a teil-tree) whose substance (or life potential--like sap) is in them when they cast their leaves (that is, even though the tree in winter might look dead, when the springtime comes the sap--or "blood" of the tree--will rise and the life will return to the tree); so THE HOLY SEED shall be the substance thereof (alluding first to the Savior or "life source", and secondly to the consecrated remnant--or "stump"-- of the house of Israel which shall be restored after being cut down--see Deut. 7:6).
Note** This return of a remnant of Israel might also apply to the gathering of Israel in the latter days .
[Alan C. Miner, Step by Step through the Book of Mormon: The Covenant Story, Vol. 2. Adapted from David J. Ridges, Isaiah Made Easier / The Book of Revelation Made Easier, 1994]
2 Nephi 16:4 The Posts of the Door Moved:
According to Michael King, at the beginning of his ministry, Isaiah was taken to the temple to meet the Lord and receive his commission to teach the people. Much of the imagery used by Isaiah reflects an intimate understanding of the ceremony and symbolisms of the tabernacle as well as of latter-day temples. Isaiah uses this understanding to teach the ordinances of the temple that are necessary so that God may fulfill his covenant with members of the house of Israel and provide them a way to return to him.
Isaiah "saw the Lord sitting upon a throne" surrounded by seraphim, or cherubim. As "the posts of the door moved," Isaiah became self-conscious and felt unworthy to enter into the Lord's presence. Isaiah no doubt had an understanding of the tabernacle and knew that only the high priest, on the Day of Atonement, was allowed to enter the Holy of Holies, or presence of the Lord. As the high priest approached the entrance of the Holy of Holies, he encountered the veil, on which were embroidered cherubim, which symbolized sentinels to guard the way into the presence of God. In order to enter, the priest would strike the posts with blood from an animal that had been slain as atonement for the sins of the people.137 Perhaps this was what Isaiah witnessed as he described the posits of the door moving. He realized that he was being invited to enter into the presence of the Lord. It is no wonder that he would exclaim, "Woe is me! for I am undone. . . for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts" (Isaiah 6:5). [Michael L. King, "Isaiah's Vision of God's Plan to Fulfill His Covenant," in Covenants Prophecies and Hymns of the Old Testament, pp. 169]
2 Nephi 16:6 A Live-Coal:
According to Hoyt Brewster, the "live coal" (2 Nephi 16:6) was a symbol of God's cleansing power. Through its touch, Isaiah's sins were "purged" and he was sanctified to perform God's work. . . . The Hebrew word for "live coal" is ritzpah, translated as a "glowing (incandescent) stone." (See Isaiah: Prophet, Seer, and Poet, 131) [ Hoyt W. Brewster, Jr., Isaiah Plain & Simple, p. 46]
2 Nephi 16:6 Taken with tongs from off the altar (Illustration): Canaanite horned altar or incense burner from Megiddo in ancient Palestine (c. 1900 B.C.) in the Rockefeller Museum, Jerusalem. This distinctive style of altar was also used by the Israelites (see Leviticus 4:7; 1 Kings 1:50; 2:28). Courtesy LaMar C. Berrett. [Daniel Ludlow, Encyclopedia of Mormonism, p. 188]
2 Nephi 16:6 Taken with tongs from off the altar (Illustration): Four-horned incense burner from Monte Alban Period I (Southern Mexico)] This illustration shows the similarity in style with the four-horned Hebrew altars. [Joseph Allen, Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon, p. 88]
2 Nephi 16:7 This Has Touched Thy Lips; and Thine Iniquity Is Taken Away:
According to David Bokovoy, in the process of cleansing Isaiah so that he could leave behind the impurities of his people and receive introduction into the assembly, one of the seraphim purified Isaiah's mouth with a live coal taken directly from the celestial altar (Isaiah 6:6-7). Isaiah could now fully participate with the heavenly host in offering praises to the Lord. He had become a member of the heavenly court. In the ancient Near East, mouth cleansing rituals held considerable significance.138 In Mesopotamian ritual prayers, for example, mouth purification symbolized total and complete purity. A biblical scholar Victor Horowitz has noted, "A large portion of the [Mesopotamian] sources . . . raise the possibility that the washing of the mouth or the purity of the mouth has independent significance as a characteristic granting or symbolizing special divine or quasi-divine status to the person or object so designated. The pure mouth enables the person or object to stand before the gods or to enter the divine realm, or symbolizes a divine status."139 [David E. Bokovoy, "The Calling of Isaiah," in Covenants Prophecies and Hymns of the Old Testament, pp. 136-137]
2 Nephi 16:8 Whom Shall I Send . . . Here Am I; Send Me:
David Bokovoy writes that due to the Savior's centrality in the plan of salvation, the Book of Mormon teaches that "all things which have been given of God from the beginning of the world . . . are the typifying of [Christ]: (2 Nephi 11:4). This declaration demonstrates one of the roles that prophets such as Isaiah fulfill. Elder Bruce R. McConkie explained:
No doubt there are many events in the lives of many prophets that set those righteous persons apart as types and shadows of their Messiah. It is wholesome and proper to look for similitudes of Christ everywhere and to use them repeatedly in keeping him and his laws uppermost in our minds.140
From this observation we learn that many of the events that occur in a prophetic life are meant to serve as typology of the Savior. Isaiah's commission to the service of God symbolized the election of Jehovah, the premortal Messiah, as our Lord and Savior. The details of Isaiah's vision suggest the he, like many other visionaries from the ancient Near East, received an invitation to attend a meeting of the heavenly council. Ancient texts from the world of the Bible reveal that the people of the Near East believed in a heavenly council or divine assembly that governed the affairs of the universe.
From Abraham's description of these events, we learn that the Lord needed a savior to resolve the crisis that would occur as a result of humanity's mortal existence. In this grand assembly, the Lord petitioned his council with the question, "Whom shall I send?" (Abraham 3:27).
Like Jehovah before him, Isaiah was addressed by the leader of the assembly with the perennial question, "Whom shall I send?" (2 Nephi 16:8; Isaiah 6:8). Then, with the very words used by Jehovah, the creator of the universe, Isaiah responded with the proposal, "Here am I; send me" (v. 8). This response, first articulated by Jehovah in the premortal council, is often connected with the calling of the Lord's anointed.141
The exact verbal exchange between God, Jehovah, and Isaiah during the meetings of the divine assembly parallels statements recently discovered in cuneiform tablets from Mesopotamia. An analysis of these tablets reveals that the details pertaining to Isaiah's vision, as well as those featured in the book of Abraham, reflect a well-established pattern in antiquity. In Akkadian, the language of ancient Babylon and Assyria, the phrase mannam luspur, or "Whom shall I send," occurs in a number of documents.
For the people of the Near East, the divine assembly described by Isaiah represented the ultimate authority in the universe. The discovery of several cuneiform tablets from Ugarit and Mesopotamia has allowed scholars to retrace the central features of this institution.142 A comparative analysis of these traditions suggests several motifs as commonly featured elements in the tales of the assembly. These stories often include the following scenario: first, a crisis would occur; this crisis would then force the high god to call upon the council for volunteers to resolve the dilemma; various proposals would then be considered; when at last, all hope for resolution seemed lost, a winning suggestion was made and a savior commissioned.143 [David E. Bokovoy, "The Calling of Isaiah," in Covenants Prophecies and Hymns of the Old Testament, pp. 129-136]
2 Nephi 16:9 [Isaiah Told the People] Hear Ye Indeed, but They Understood Not:
According to Donald Parry and John Welch, Isaiah was specifically commanded by the Lord to speak precisely in such a way that his recalcitrant audience would "hear . . . but understand not" and would "see . . but perceive not" (2 Nephi 16:9). God wanted Isaiah to tell the people enough to warn them, but not to tell them enough to let them comprehend what was really going on (see 2 Nephi 16:10-11). Isaiah carried out this assignment masterfully, making it hard for almost everyone to understand what he was talking about. Then how can Isaiah best be taught and understood? The answer is the Book of Mormon itself. The use of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon is not a shallow or superficial importing of extraneous material into an illogical context. In each case, it is clear that the Book of Mormon teachers were intimately, deeply, and profoundly immersed in the meanings of these Isaiah texts. If modern readers can only understand why and how Nephi, Jacob, Abinadi, and Jesus interpreted and used Isaiah, the insights in the Book of Mormon will do much to clarify what the Isaiah chapters are all about. Intriguingly, Nephi rejoiced in the "plainness" of Isaiah (2 Nephi 2 Nephi 25:4) and knew that Isaiah possessed great knowledge of the Messiah, for he had seen the Redeemer as had Nephi (see 2 Nephi 11:2). By using Nephi, his fellow prophets, and the words of Christ as our guide, hopefully the writings of Isaiah can become plainer and simpler to us. [Donald W. Parry and John W. Welch, "Introduction," in Isaiah in the Book of Mormon, pp. vii-viii]
2 Nephi 16:10 Heart . . . Ears . . . Eyes:
It is interesting to note that all of the phrases in 2 Nephi 16:10, such as "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," are culturally applicable to the process of making a people accountable -- see Galatians 6:7, and Revelations 20:12.
It is also interesting that these phrases are listed in a chiastic style of Hebrew parallelism:
A. Make the heart of this people fat,
B. and make their ears heavy,
C. and shut their eyes--
C' lest they see with their eyes,
B' and hear with their ears,
A' and understand with their heart,
[Donald W. Parry, The Book of Mormon Text Reformatted according to Parallelistic Patterns, F.A.R.M.S., p. 84]
2 Nephi 16:13 Teil-Tree:
Terebinth, turpentine tree (Heb. ela, Isaiah 6:13, AV "teil tree"; Hosea 4:13, "elm"). The Palestine terebinth (Pistacia terebinthus var. palestina, or P. palestina) is a small tree occurring very frequently in the hills. The terebinth was one of the trees under which sacrifice and offerings were made "because their shade is good" (Hosea 4:13). [Tyndale House, The Illustrated Bible Dictionary , Vol. 3, p. 1592]
According to Hoyt Brewster, although the branches of Israel will have been broken off the main tree and scattered--casting off their dead and dried up leaves--the stump of the tree will yet produce edible fruit. . . . The potential to produce life ("substance") remains in the old tree. The Teil tree, as used in this context, is "a rare English word for lime or linden tree . . . [ Hoyt W. Brewster, Jr., Isaiah Plain & Simple, p. 61]