2 Nephi 25
A Covenant Plan of Salvation
2 Nephi 25-27 (Nephi's Commentary on Isaiah, Chapter 29):
According to Cleon Skousen, one of the greatest treasures in the Book of Mormon is Nephi's inspired commentary on Isaiah, chapter 29, which is contained in 2 Nephi, chapters 25-27. . . . By placing the Isaiah text on one side of the page and the pertinent passages from Nephi's commentary on the other side, we get a whole new insight into the extent of Isaiah's knowledge concerning both ancient and modern America. . . . It is astonishing that the prophecies of Isaiah in the eighth century B.C., and the parallel prophecies of Nephi in the sixth century B.C., should have been so completely, literally and immaculately fulfilled in the nineteenth century A.D. A careful analysis of the above texts will disclose at least twenty separate conditions which had to be met in order to make these prophecies come true. (See Skousen, The Fourth Thousand Years, pp. 592-602) [W. Cleon Skousen, Treasures from the Book of Mormon, Vol. 1, pp. 1372-1380]
2 Nephi 25-30 [Nephi's Interpretation of Isaiah (2 Nephi 12-24)]:
According to John Welch, Nephi's extensive quotation of the prophecies of Isaiah (Isaiah 2-14) is found in 2 Nephi 12-24. These thirteen chapters of Isaiah are quoted to supply Isaiah as a third witness to the things that Nephi and Jacob have said (see 2 Nephi 11:3). These Isaiah chapters are then interpreted by Nephi in 2 Nephi 25-30. Here in these interpretive chapters, Nephi draws individual words and phrases from Isaiah (2 Nephi 12-24) to corroborate and substantiate his now familiar four-phased prophetic view:
1. Christ's coming;
2. his rejection and the scattering of the Jews;
3. the day of the Gentiles; and
4. the restoration of Israel and the ultimate victory of good over evil.
[John W. Welch, "Getting through Isaiah with the Help of the Nephite Prophetic View," in Isaiah in the Book of Mormon, pp. 28-30]
2 Nephi 25-30 (Isaiah's and Nephi's Theme of Pride):
According to David Seely, one key to understanding Isaiah is to become familiar with the common themes he addresses. The poetry of Isaiah is like a musical fugue that intertwines several different themes. A reader unfamiliar with this style may feel lost with so many themes being treated at once, but one of the easiest and most effective ways to study Isaiah is to read for a specific theme and then follow that theme throughout the Isaiah passages and the accompanying commentary by the Book of Mormon prophets. . . .
The sin of pride is identified by both Isaiah and Nephi as the common denominator in the fall, destruction, and scattering of all the nations and peoples discussed in Isaiah's prophecies. Table 1 (see illustration) names each of these groups and Table 2 gives at least one passage representative of each group's acceptance of rejection of the Messiah and his gospel, and contains Isaiah's condemnation of each group's pride.
Table 2 also shows that the theme of pride is an important and recurring theme throughout the Isaiah passages that Nephi quotes. The theme of pride is also central to Nephi's own prophecy in 2 Nephi 25-30, which prophesies the futures of the Jews, the Lehites, and the Gentiles. Nephi describes how the Messiah will present himself to each of these peoples and how in each case the main reason for their rejection of the Messiah and his gospel is pride. Ultimately, however, through the revelation of the Book of Mormon to the gentiles, each group will repent of its pride, be brought back to a knowledge of the Messiah, and enter into a covenant with the Lord. Table 3 (see illustration) outlines Nephi's progression through the group's reactions to the Messiah and the gospel, giving representative passages of their attitudes and action. [David Rolph Seely, "Nephi's Use of Isaiah 2-14 in 2 Nephi 12-30," in Isaiah in the Book of Mormon, pp. 152-160]
2 Nephi 25-30 (Isaiah's and Nephi's Theme of Pride) [Illustration]: Table 1. Isaiah's Prophecies in 2 Nephi 12-24, Parallel to Isaiah 2-14 / Nephi's Prophecies in 2 Nephi. [David Rolph Seely, "Nephi's Use of Isaiah 2-14 in 2 Nephi 12-30," in Isaiah in the Book of Mormon, p. 154]
2 Nephi 25-30 (Isaiah's and Nephi's Theme of Pride) [Illustration]: Table 2. The Theme of Pride in 2 Nephi 12-14 (Parallel to Isaiah 2-14). [David Rolph Seely, "Nephi's Use of Isaiah 2-14 in 2 Nephi 12-30," in Isaiah in the Book of Mormon, pp. 157-158]
2 Nephi 25-30 (Isaiah's and Nephi's Theme of Pride) [Illustration]: Nephi's Prophecy: Pride in 2 Nephi 25-30. [David Rolph Seely, "Nephi's Use of Isaiah 2-14 in 2 Nephi 12-30," in Isaiah in the Book of Mormon, pp. 159-160]
2 Nephi 25:1 For They Know Not Concerning the Manner of Prophesying among the Jews:
According to Donald Parry, Nephi addresses his latter-day audience specifically in 2 Nephi 25 concerning Isaiah's writings, giving us five keys to help facilitate in their comprehension. As the chart below illustrates, these keys include being filled with the spirit of prophecy, living righteously in the last days, and understanding the geography and rhetorical tradition of the Jews. (Source: Donald W. Parry, "Nephi's Keys to Understanding Isaiah (2 Nephi 25:1-8)," in Isaiah in the Book of Mormon, ed. Donald W. Parry and John W. Welch. Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1998, 47-65) [John W. Welch and J. Gregory Welch, Charting the Book of Mormon: Visual Aids for Personal Study and Teaching, F.A.R.M.S., commentary for Chart 84]
2 Nephi 25:1 For they know not concerning the manner of prophesying among the Jews (Illustration): Chart: Five Keys to Understanding Isaiah Given in 2 Nephi 25. [John W. Welch and J. Gregory Welch, Charting the Book of Mormon: Visual Aids for Personal Study and Teaching, F.A.R.M.S., Chart 84]
2 Nephi 25:1 Now I, Nephi, do speak somewhat concerning the words which I have written (Illustration): "Outlines of Passages Quoting Isaiah," [John Gee, "Choose the Things That Please Me": On the Selection of the Isaiah Sections in the Book of Mormon," in Isaiah in the Book of Mormon, p. 76]
Note* When Nephite prophets quoted Isaiah, they followed a regular pattern. The pattern they used in citing and interpreting Isaiah in the Book of Mormon may be standardized as follows:
B. Citation of a passage of scripture
C. Quotation of parts of the text and interpretation of the passage by explaining and defining terms
D. Conclusion by quoting the closing verses of the section.
In speaking about the prophecies of Isaiah, Nephi mentions that, "Isaiah spake many things which were hard for many of my people to understand; for they know not concerning the manner of prophesying among the Jews" (2 Nephi 25:1). According to John Sorenson, Nephi's comments imply that although Nephi's group set about to reproduce some aspects of civilization as they recalled it from the land of Jerusalem, there were certain aspects of Israelite life that Nephi was happy enough to let die out because he considered them evil. [John Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, F.A.R.M.S., p. 141] In addition, Nephi’s comments might imply that with all the effort expended in the trek through the wilderness and the establishment of a settlement in the land of Nephi, his people might not have had the opportunity for intense scriptural education.
2 Nephi 25:4 The Spirit of Prophecy:
According to Donald Parry, the expression "the spirit of prophecy" belongs almost exclusively to the Book of Mormon, being listed there more than twenty times, against one single attestation of the quote, or phrase, in the bible (found in Revelation 19:10). the definition of the phrase, as presented in scripture, has reference to the testimony of Jesus. So, that is to say, if you have a testimony of Jesus and are worthy, you have the spirit of prophecy. Joseph Smith understood this well, and frequently made reference to it in his sermons. For example, on one occasion, Joseph Smith explained:
Salvation cannot come without revelation; it is in vain for anyone to minister without it. No man is a minister of Jesus Christ without being a Prophet. No man can be a minister of Jesus christ except he has the testimony of Jesus; and this is the spirit of prophecy. Whenever salvation has been administered, it has been by testimony.164
Nephi explained to his brethren that the prophecies of Isaiah "were manifest unto the prophet [Isaiah] by the voice of the Spirit; for by the Spirit are all things made known unto the prophets, which shall come upon the children of men according to the flesh" (1 Nephi 22:2). Add to this statement, a statement made by John Taylor: "these scriptures evidently show that the testimony of Jesus was the very principle, essence, and power of the spirit of prophecy whereby the ancient prophets were inspired."165 [Donald W. Parry, "Isaiah's Prophecies of Jesus Christ, Zion, and the Millennium," F.A.R.M.S., p. 15]
2 Nephi 25:10 Immediately After My Father Lehi Left Jerusalem:
Nephi commented that the destruction of Jerusalem "should come upon [the Jews], immediately after my father left Jerusalem" (2 Nephi 25:10). According to Randall Spackman, this verse seems to imply that Jerusalem was destroyed the very next year after Lehi left. [Randall Spackman, "An Introduction to Book of Mormon Chronology," F.A.R.M.S., p. 12]
Note* If Nephi wrote this verse at the most between 40 and 55 years after Lehi left Jerusalem (Jacob 1:1), what does immediately really mean in terms of days, months, or years? [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]
2 Nephi 25:13 After he is laid in a sepulchre for the space of three days he shall rise from the dead (Illustration): He Is Risen. "Behold they will crucify him; and after he is laid in a sepulchre for the space of three days he shall rise from the dead, with healing in his wings." Artist: Del Parson. [Thomas R. Valletta ed., The Book of Mormon for Latter-day Saint Families, 1999, p. 130]
2 Nephi 25:16 They Shall Believe in Christ, and Worship the Father in His Name, with Pure Hearts and Clean Hands:
In regards to ancient temple prayer rituals, John Tvedtnes writes that there is symbolism in raising the hands in prayer. The gesture exposes to God both the breast and the palms of the petitioner to show that they are pure (clean). This is reflected in one of the temple hymns found in the Bible, Psalm 24, which Donald W. Parry has suggested may relate to a prayer circle:166
Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully. (Psalm 24:3-4)
The message of the Psalm is clear: In order to enter into the temple (the "hill of the Lord," called "the mountain of the Lord's house" in Isaiah 2:2), one must have clean hands and a pure heart.167 In other words, both acts (represented by the hands) and thoughts (represented by the heart) must reflect righteousness, along with the lips that utter the prayer.168 This is probably what the author of Job had in mind when he wrote, "prepare thine heart, and stretch out thine hands toward him" (Job 11:13). Note also Lamentations 3:41, "Let us lift up our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens." [John A. Tvedtnes, "Temple Prayer in Ancient Times," in The Temple in Time and Eternity, F.A.R.M.S., p. 84]
2 Nephi 25:19 The Messiah Cometh in Six Hundred Years from the Time My Father Left Jerusalem:
[See the commentary on 1 Nephi 10:4]
2 Nephi 25:19 His Name Shall Be Jesus:
According to Ariel Crowley, one of the primary, startling, and distinguishing characteristics of the Book of Mormon, often assailed by its critics, is its use of the proper name "Jesus" (2 Nephi 25:19; Mosiah 3:8; Alma 7:10) as applied to the expected Messiah, many years before his birth.
There can be no doubt that the name Jesus is the English rendition of the Hebrew name Joshua. This name was borne by the illustrious successor of Moses who brought the children of Israel into the promised land (Exodus 24:13). . . . The original name of the first Joshua was Oshea (Numbers 13:16), and with prophetic significance, this name was changed by Moses to Jehoshua. The change had the effect of converting the meaning of the name from saving to Jehovah is Salvation. In later times Jehoshua was called Joshua or Jeshua, whence came the Greek form Iesous (Jesus in English) which is always used in the Greek version of the Old Testament current in the time of Christ. . . . When the name Joshua is mentioned in the New Testament, it is found written in the form Jesus (Hebrews 4:8; Acts 7:45).
Justin Martyr, a Samaritan, following the example of Jesus, began at Moses, in an effort to enlighten Trypho the Jew (Dialogue with Trypo, Ch. 75, 89), and said:
. . . Thus it is written: 'And the Lord spake to Moses, Say to this people, Behold, I send my angel before thy face to keep thee in the way, to bring thee into the land which I have prepared for thee. Give heed to him, and obey him; do not disobey him; for he will not draw back from you; for my name is in him.' [compare Exodus 23:20-21] Now understand that he who led your fathers into the land is called by this name Jesus and at first was called Auses (Oshea). For if you shall understand this, you shall likewise perceive that the name of Him who said to Moses "for my name is in him' was Jesus.
[Ariel L. Crowley, About the Book of Mormon, pp. 91-92]
Note* Thus we see that it is Jesus (Joshua) who leads the children of Israel (the children of Christ) into the Promised Land. This fact was lost on the Jews of Lehi's day as well as the Jews at the time of Christ: "But their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same veil untaken away in the reading of the Old Testament: which veil is done away in Christ." (2 Corinthians 3:14) [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes] [See the commentary on the name Abraham -- 1 Nephi 22:9; see also the commentary on the name Israel -- 1 Nephi 15:18]
2 Nephi 25:19 His Name Shall Be Jesus Christ, the Son of God:
According to Joy Osborn, in the Book of Mormon we read of angels revealing the name of Israel's Messiah as "Jesus Christ" to Nephi, to his brother Jacob, and later to King Benjamin (see Mosiah 3:5-13) hundreds of years before the birth of Christ. Nephi, a descendant of Joseph, Ephraim and Manasseh wrote of the future coming of the Messiah:
For according to the words of the prophets, the Messiah cometh in six hundred years from the time that my father left Jerusalem; and according to the words of the prophets, and also the word of the angel of God, his name shall be Jesus Christ, the Son of God. (2 Nephi 25:19)
Moreover, King Benjamin revealed that according to the angel, "he shall be called Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of heaven and earth, the Creator of all things from the beginning; and his mother shall be called Mary" (Mosiah 3:8). That the mother of Jesus would be called by the name of Mary would also be declared by Alma (see Alma 7:7-14), some eighty-three years before the actual event.
Could the early Book of Mormon prophets have known that the future Messiah would be named Jesus Christ, and that his mother would be named Mary? The statements made by Nephi earlier, and King Benjamin's proclamation that an angel from God had revealed to him the name of Jesus Christ, and that his mother's name would be Mary, more than a hundred years before the birth of Christ, has been cited by critics of Joseph Smith, and the Book of Mormon, as proof that the book is a forgery, and a fraud, plagiarized from the Bible, and that Joseph Smith was a false prophet.
Others have been a little more kind and scholarly in their judgments, but nonetheless dubious. Dr. James H. Charlesworth, head of the Pseudepigrapha Institute at Duke University, who edited two impressive volumes of Pseudepigrapha, published by Doubleday in 1985, is recognized as one of the worlds great authorities on the Pseudepigrapha. In an essay entitled, "Messianism in the Pseudepigrapha and the Book of Mormon," Dr. Charlesworth states: "At the outset we should recognize that, as with the Pseudepigrapha, the Book of Mormon contains lengthy sections that look very Jewish and others that look peculiarly Christian" (p. 124). Professor Charlesworth declares that in the Book of Mormon, we find what most critical scholars would call clearly Christian phrases; that is, the description is so precise that it is evident it was added after the event. . . . The specific details are the clarification that the Messiah will be called 'Jesus Christ,' that his mother will be called Mary, that salvation is through faith - indeed faith on his name - that many will say he has a devil, that he will be scourged and crucified, and finally that he will rise on the third day from the dead.
Dr. Charlesworth expresses the opinion that the sections which appear to be "Christian" additions to the Book of Mormon may have been added when Mormon abridged the records in the fourth century A.D, after the appearance of Jesus. Or, he says that Joseph Smith could have added these things to the records when he translated the Book of Mormon.
In view of this criticism one might ask, Is there any evidence in the ancient scriptures or writings to support the claim that the name of Jesus Christ, and also the name of his mother Mary was known and recorded by the ancient prophets?
Following the publication of the Book of Mormon, in 1830, many ancient manuscripts and writings have been discovered which prove the accounts given in the Book of Mormon to be a true record, and also prove that this remnant of Joseph did, indeed, have the records, plates, and writings of the ancient prophets of Israel, including the writings of Joseph. The list of ancient manuscripts, many of them recognized as ancient scripture, or canon, which show that the name of Jesus, and of his mother, Mary, was known and recognized by the ancient prophets, is long and impressive.
The Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah is one of the pseudepigraphal works of great importance in support of the Book of Mormon account. Scholars date these writings from between the Second Century B.C. and the Fourth Century A.D. Some believe it to be of Jewish origin and to be derived from a genuine original. Others see it as a Christian work. Charlesworth says there is good evidence that the Martyrdom was composed in Hebrew, whereas the Ascension seems to be a mixture of Jewish and Christian material.
Why have Biblical scholars decided that this vision of Isaiah is a mixture of Jewish and Christian material? Because in it Isaiah, who lived before 700 B.C., about 100 years before Nephi began the Book of Mormon record, was shown in visions and while being guided through the seven heavens the birth of the Savior - whom he says will be named Jesus Christ, and whose mother will be a virgin named Mary! Remember what Nephi wrote in the Book of Mormon about 600 B.C. concerning 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 verily 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 Nephi 11:2-3).
In the Bible, we have Isaiah's prophecy of the birth of Israel's promised Messiah: "Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel" (Isaiah 7:14). Immanuel in Hebrew meaning "With us is God." Matthew quotes the prophet Isaiah's statement as follows: "Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us" (Matt. 1:23).
In the Pseudepigrapha, in the Apocalypse of Baruch, Third Baruch, Greek version, an angel tells Baruch, companion and fellow prophet of Jeremiah, about 600 B.C.:
And God sent the angel Sarasael, and he said to him, Rise, Noah, plant the sprig, for the Lord says this: Its bitterness will be changed into sweetness, and its curse will become a blessing, and its fruit will become the blood of God, and just as the race of men have been condemned through it, so through Jesus Christ Emmanuel in it (they) will receive a calling and entrance into Paradise.
Whereas Isaiah prophesies that the Messiah will be called Emmanuel, meaning "with us is God," about one hundred years later an angel of the Lord tells Baruch that his name will be called Jesus Christ Emmanuel. Was the name Jesus Christ Emmanuel, as given by Baruch, changed to simply Emmanuel in Isaiah's prophecy? If so, who changed it and when was it changed? Was it changed by Manasseh, the wicked king of Judah, who had the prophet Isaiah killed, and the "name of God removed from the Torah"?
According to the words of Nephi in the Book of Mormon, they had with them the writings of the ancient prophets, and he states that, according to the words of these ancient prophets, the future Messiah would be called Jesus Christ. There is much evidence to prove both of these statements to be true. The most important recorded evidence comes from the great Christian historian Eusebius. Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea, c. 313-339, is recognized as one of the greatest of the early Church Fathers and Historians. Born at Caesarea, about 260 A.D., Eusebius wrote two great histories of the Church, covering it from the time of Christ to the days of Constantine.
In his History of the Church, Eusebius writes:
Both Jesus and Christ were names honoured even by God's beloved prophets of old, as I must now make clear. The extreme sanctity and glory of the name Christ was first proclaimed by Moses himself, . . . For in describing God's high priest, the most powerful of men, he called him Christ, and on this high-priestly office, which in his eyes surpassed all preeminence among men, he bestows as a mark of honour and glory the name of Christ. It is clear then that he understood the divine import of the name of Christ. Moses again was enabled by the Holy Spirit to foresee quite plainly the title Jesus: it, too, he felt to be worthy of special privilege . . . With equal clarity the prophets who came later named Christ in their prophecies, witnessing beforehand alike to the intrigue destined to be leveled against Him by the Jewish people, and to the calling of the Gentiles through Him. (Book 1, pp. 9- 10)
Now we can better understand Jesus' words to the Jews when he told them if they had believed the words of Moses they would have believed him - for Moses had testified of him. And we see now, from the writings of Eusebius, that Moses wrote a great deal more about Jesus than is found in our Bible. This also supports the Book of Mormon declaration that "many plain and precious parts" had been removed from the Scriptures. For Eusebius also states that the prophet Jeremiah and the psalmist David also knew and quoted the name of Christ.
It is most interesting, after reading these statements of Eusebius, to note the many statements made in the Pseudepigrapha and the apocryphal writings of the early prophets - which so many scholars have classed as "Christian interpolations," because they named Jesus, and in some cases, Mary, even as they are named in the Book of Mormon.
We have the statements of Isaiah, in the Vision of Isaiah, that he was shown the coming of the Lord Christ, who is to be called Jesus, and whose mother would be named Mary. In the Testament of Isaac, who, in speaking to his son, Jacob, declared: "And after this there shall come forth twelve giants. Then will come Jesus the Messiah from your descendants out of a virgin named Mary" (Pseud. V. 1, p. 907).
In the Testament of Adam, Adam tells his son, Seth - "You have heard, my son, that God is going to come into the world after a long time, (he will be) conceived of a virgin and put on a body, be born like a human being, and grow up as a child." And Adam tells Seth that while he was in Paradise, the Lord told him that he would be born of the Virgin Mary. And Adam speaks of the "majesty of our Lord Jesus the Messiah."
Then, in the MSS, known as the Life of Adam and Eve, we find an example of Christian doctrine much like that which Dr. Charlesworth had questioned being in the Book of Mormon. It states:
Then the most beloved Christ, Son of God, shall come upon the earth to revive the body of Adam and with him the bodies of the dead. And when he, the Son of God, comes, he himself will be baptized in the river Jordan, and when he has come out of the water of the Jordan, then he will anoint from the oil of mercy all who believe in him. And the oil of mercy shall be life. Then the most beloved Son of God, Christ, shall descend to the earth, and lead your father Adam to Paradise to the tree of mercy. (Vol. 11, p. 274)
In First Enoch, it states that in the beginning, before the creation of the earth, the Son of Man existed and was with the Father. He was given a name, and became the Chosen One of the Father. In the recently discovered Gospel of Philip, is this statement: "The name Jesus does not exist in any other tongue (than Hebrew), but he is always called Jesus. But Christ is Messiah in Syriac, while in Greek it is Christ." Dr. Nibley declares: "The Gospel of Philip says the Lord had one name, Jesus, which was the same for all people and all languages, while his Greek name of Christ was not used by the Syrians, who said "Messiah" instead; the name of Nazarene was a secret one whose real meaning was known only to his immediate followers." (Nibley, Enoch, p. 34)
Again we see where the things which seemed so far out and ridiculous in Joseph Smith's day, are the very things which now prove him a true prophet of God. And in the writings of Eusebius we can find many of the "plain and precious parts" which have been removed from the Holy Scriptures. We find verification for Nephi's statement. [Joy M. Osborn, The Book of Mormon -- The Stick of Joseph, pp. 255-264] [See the commentary on Mosiah 3:8] See Vol. 6, Appendix C]
2 Nephi 25:19 The Messiah Cometh . . . His Name Shall Be Jesus Christ, the Son of God:
According to Hugh Nibley, there were many false Messiahs, and the Jews got all excited about them because they had missed the real one. Here in chapter 25, Nephi talks about the Messiah. Specifically in 2 Nephi 25:19 he says: "His name shall be Jesus Christ, the Son of God." That, of course, is a translation meaning "Jesus" (the Savior) and "Christ" (the Messiah, the Anointed One). It's a very interesting thing--only the early parts of the Book of Mormon refer to the Messiah. It's here that Nephi starts referring the Christ. He calls him Christ from here on, but earlier he's always called the Messiah, which means the same thing, of course--the Anointed One. [Hugh W. Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, p. 328]
Note* Anointing is not only the manner in which a king is elevated to his position, it is also the manner in which a person is healed--see the commentary following this by Hugh Nibley on 2 Nephi 25:20. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]
2 Nephi 25:20 The Lord God . . . Gave unto Moses Power That He Should Heal the Nations after They Had Been Bitten by the Poisonous Serpents:
In chapter 25 of 2 Nephi, after Nephi has introduced the title "Christ" (the Anointed) for the Messiah, he then launches into the story of Moses leading the nation of Israel out of bondage in the land of Egypt. "The Lord God . . . gave unto Moses power that he should heal the nations after they have been bitten by the poisonous serpents, if they would cast their eyes unto the serpent which he did raise up before them . . ." (2 Nephi 25:20). Hugh Nibley asks, "Can someone please explain to us how he could heal them by the serpent if they had been made mortally ill by the bite of a serpent?" Remember, we are told [in Numbers 21:6-9] that the serpents came in great numbers and bit the people. Moses raised a brazen serpent on a staff, and whoever looked at the serpent would be healed. So by the curse the curse is removed? What is the point of that? And what do they mean by "washed white in the blood of the Lamb"? Why would the blood of the Lamb wash you white? [That is, both the example of a serpent healing and blood washing white seem paradoxical, so what is the explanation?] The key is ambivalent meaning. It's explained [scripturally] in the Book of Mormon and nowhere else what these things mean.
The serpent, of course, is the most ambivalent of emblems. You know what the caduceus is, the emblem of doctors. You know the caduceus is the two serpents intertwined, which is the sign of the healer. Aesculapius founded it, but it was originally the staff of Hermes. There were two serpents copulating on a staff. He picked it up and made it his symbol. The one stands for life and the other for death. There are always the two serpents. To this day in the Greek Orthodox Church, the Russian Orthodox Church, and the Serbian Church, the staff of the archbishop, head of the church, always consists of a cross with two serpents entwined on it. There are two serpents facing each other on the cross. It's a strange thing; they go back like this and face each other. All the episcopal staves and patriarchal staves of the Orient and the old eastern churches have the two serpents. One is life and the other is death, and you must have both--this opposition in all things. It's very clear among the Hopis in the snake dance. . . . and this is an Egyptian formula too. You must pass through the serpent. In this earth we must pass through the serpent; we go to the lowest stage. . . . But the two serpents are the serpents that oppose each other and they represent both parts of life. We have to have life, and we have to have death. On this earth the two go together. The bite of the serpent ends it, but by the serpent are we saved. Obviously, the reason the Egyptians take the serpent as a symbol of resurrection is that it sheds its skin and becomes really new and shiny every year. It leaves its old skin behind. Everything is left behind and out it comes like a new creature, reborn. It's one of the most striking symbols of rebirth. . . . Anyway, the ambivalence of the serpent is very ancient, and it's a symbol that was understood by the ancients. But a thing like that seems so contradictory to us; it's not so, though. [Hugh W. Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Semester 1, pp. 328-329] [Note* For a discussion on the symbolism of blood turning a garment white, see the commentary on 2 Nephi 5:21.] [Note* Moses was a symbol of Joseph Smith & Christ: see the commentary on 2 Nephi 3:9.] [See the commentary on Helaman 8:14-15]