2 Nephi Chapter 19
In chapters 19 and 20, the historical setting still involves the Assyrian conflict of 736 to 701 BC. For a review of these events, see the supplementary article, The Historical Setting for the Book of Isaiah. By the time chapter 19 begins, Ahaz has ignored Isaiah's warning not to form an alliance with Assyria, and the confederation between Judah and Assyria is an accomplished fact. In these chapters Isaiah warns specifically of the impending captivity of the northern ten tribes, and he prophesies also of a later Assyrian attack upon the southern kingdom. This latter siege did occur under the leadership of the Assyrian Sennacherib.
The Immanuel prophecy is further elaborated in chapter 19 as Isaiah prophesies of a "new light" and a new leader for Israel. Again, the old question of what time period Isaiah had in mind is raised. Was he foretelling a new leader to appear in his own time-perhaps young King Hezekiah-or was he prophesying of the Savior's birth some 700 years hence. If Isaiah thought his prophesying applied to his own time, it seems probable that the giver of the revelation had in mind a dual meaning, as any Immanuel of his own day was surely only a type and a foreshadowing of the deliverer to come in the meridian of time.
Chapter 19 is a translation of the same materials that are contained in Isaiah chapter 9 of the King James Version of the Bible. It may be outlined as follows: Verses 1-7 are a continuation of the messianic prophecy in chapter 18. Verses 8-21 consist of a prophecy of judgment against the northern kingdom of Israel. This judgment was, of course, fulfilled by the Assyrian conquest and exile between 732 and 722 BC.
1 Nevertheless, the dimness shall not be such as was in her vexation, when at first he lightly afflicted the land of Zebulun, and the land of Naphtali, and afterwards did more grievously afflict by the way of the Red Sea beyond Jordan in Galilee of the nations.
verse 1 "Nevertheless, the dimness shall not be such as was in her vexation, when at first he lightly afflicted the land of Zebulun, and the land of Naphtali" The word "nevertheless" links this verse with the prophecies in chapter 18. In this phrase Isaiah refers to two separate time periods in Israel's history: a former darker period and a later time of relative light.
The former time is likely the gloomy period of Isaiah's own life ("in her vexation," during her great trouble or period of distress) when the Assyrians were afflicting (albeit relatively "lightly") the Israelites particularly the northern kingdom of Israel and especially those living in two lands located to the west and southwest of the Sea of Galilee, Zebulun and Naphtali (see the illustration, Territories of the Tribes). It is in these lands where Jesus will spend most of his mortal ministry. These lands were occupied by the first major tribes to be later crushed and deported to Assyria.
The latter time period (when "the dimness shall not be such as was in her vexation") probably refers to the time of Christ's mortal ministry which was a time of blessings and light. Matthew noted that during his time Jesus dwelt in Capernaum, a city that was located "in the borders of Zabulon and Nephthalim," as a fulfillment of this prophecy (Matthew 4:13-16).
The New International Version of the Bible renders this phrase: "There will be no more gloom for those who were in distress."
There are other possibilities for the identity of the former dark period and the later time of light. These include: (1) The darkness is Assyria and the light is King Hezekiah who was victorious over Assyria. (2) The darkness may represent Israel's wickedness and apostasy, and the light symbolizes the dramatic religious reform that took place after Ahaz's death under the leadership of both Hezekiah and Isaiah. (3) The dark, again, is wickedness and apostasy, and the light is the ministry of Jesus Christ (see Matthew 4:12-16). (4) Even a latter-day setting may be applicable. The darkness is the time of great destruction before the Savior's second coming. The light is the Millennium when Christ shall reign personally upon the earth.
As the following verses unfold, note how all five interpretations might apply.
"Nevertheless, the dimness shall not be such as was in her vexation" Here Isaiah refers to Israel and says that in the later time period there will be no gloom for "her" (Israel) to compare to that which afflicted her in the former time. While in the former time (Isaiah's day) Israel was afflicted by Assyria, Isaiah promises that in the latter time period Israel will know no such gloom.
"and afterwards did more grievously afflict by the way of the Red Sea beyond Jordan in Galilee of the nations" This phrase suggests that at some unspecified later time, God will "more grievously afflict" Israel. This is confusing since the first phrase of the verse promises a gloomy former time and a less gloomy later time. The Hebrew verb which is here translated "more grievously afflict" is kaved which literally means "make heavy." Translators differ as to the meaning of this verb in the context of this verse. It would seem that a more plausible translation is one that is used in more modern translations of the Bible. These contain the idea that the Lord will "make glorious" (Revised Standard Version) or "exalt" (Avraham Gileadi) Israel in the later time period. These modern translations are more consistent with the next verse and also more compatible with the gospel writer's interpretation of the verse (Matthew 4:12-16).
In the later time period, where is this "brighter day" supposed to begin? The King James Version of Isaiah 9:1 indicates that it will occur "by way of the sea, beyond Jordan in Galilee of the nations." This might be more clearly rendered "on the sea route by the Jordan in the Galilee." Matthew felt that this phrase referred to Capernaum, the town on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 4:13-16). In these verses, Matthew presents the fulfillment of the prophecy found in Isaiah 9:1-2. Matthew felt that the cause of the happier time was Jesus Christ's moving to Capernaum to begin his ministry (Matthew 4:13-16).
The inclusion on the brass plates version of the adjective "Red" in this verse-"by way of the Red Sea" is confusing. Perhaps Isaiah had in mind a broader land area.
2 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.
verse 2 Keep in mind that Isaiah never specifically spells out the times of the former (when "the people . . . walked in darkness" and when "they . . . dwell in the land of the shadow of death") and later (when "the people . . . have seen a great light" and when "upon them hath the light shined") time periods. In your consideration of the next few verses, keep in mind the specific possibilities for these periods discussed in the commentary for verse 1.
Here Isaiah further describes the contrast between these two time periods. In the former time the people "walked in darkness" and "[dwelt] in the land of the shadow of death." The land of the shadow of death is a land peopled by those who do not know Jesus Christ and his gospel; therefore, they walk in darkness. These phrases describe a people in a condition of apostasy and captivity. In the later period they "have seen a great light" (they have heard of Christ), and "upon them hath the light shined." Whether the context is spiritual or political or personal or social is not specified (cf. John 1:5).
If the later time period was indeed to be in Isaiah's future, which seems likely, note that in this verse Isaiah refers to it as if it had already happened ("have seen a great light" and "upon them hath the light shined"). This is common verb usage among Hebrew prophets I have often referred to-the "prophetic perfect" verb tense.
3 Thou hast multiplied the nation, and increased the joy-they joy before thee according to the joy in harvest, and as men rejoice when they divide the spoil.
verse 3 Isaiah is still referring to the later time period spoken of in verses 1 and 2 when the people will experience great joy and great light. A proper interpretation of this verse and the verses that follow depends to some extent upon which specific time and place Isaiah had in mind for this future blessed period. Again, the possibilities are discussed in the commentary for verse 1 in this chapter. If he is referring to Hezekiah, then this verse describes the Israelites' joy at their deliverance. If he is describing a righteous people fighting against wickedness, then the verse describes their joy as they find success. If Isaiah is prophesying of Jesus Christ, then this verse describes his many followers rejoicing over the spiritual blessings he will provide.
"Thou hast multiplied the nation" This phrase seems to be connected to the Abrahamic covenant, wherein the righteous were promised a great multiplication of their posterity (Abraham 3:14; cf. Isaiah 26:15; Nehemiah 9:23).
Isaiah's analogy illustrating the extent of the people's joy in this later time period might cause you to raise an eyebrow. They will be as happy as people are at harvest time or as happy as men are when they are dividing the spoils of battle-the territory or goods taken from a defeated foe. Since this later time period is apparently a time of righteous rejoicing, perhaps Isaiah should have reconsidered this latter analogy.
verses 4-7 These verses explain three reasons why the people's joy shall be increased in this later time period. The first (verse 4) is that the Lord has relieved Israel of its yoke of oppression. The second (verse 5) is that the tools of war shall be destroyed or burned and war will be no more. The third (verses 6-7) is that a child will be born who will establish his righteous government and establish peace among the nations.
4 For thou hast broken the yoke of his burden, and the staff of his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor.
verse 4 The "his's" in this verse refer to Israel. A "yoke," of course, is a device to enable one to carry a heavy burden. These burdens might also be carried across one's shoulders with a "staff." To brake the yoke or the staff is to relieve Israel of "his" problems. The "staff of his shoulder" refers to a taskmaster's staff used to smite slaves." It is a symbol of oppression. The "rod of his oppressor" is bondage.
Depending, again, on Isaiah's intent, this verse describes the defeat of the Assyrians, the defeat of wickedness, or the victories which Jesus's ministry will bring. Perhaps most aptly it describes the destruction of the wicked in the latter days that the commencement of the Savior's earthly reign during the Millennium.
5 For every battle of the warrior is with confused noise, and garments rolled in blood; but this shall be with burning and fuel of fire.
verse 5 The Revised Standard Version of the Bible renders the verse: "For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood [or stained with blood] will be burned as fuel for the fire."
Boots, garments, weapons, chariots, and other items used during a holy war were not to become part of the booty or spoil of the victors. Such property was under a ban and had to be burned with fire (Joshua 7:23-26; Joshua 11:6; Joshua 11:9; Psalm 46:9; Ezekiel 39:9-10). The specific application of this verse may be something like: The tools of the nations' armies will burn when the Messiah comes to rule. Symbolically and prophetically, the tools of war may refer to all unclean and corruptible things that will be burned with fire at Jesus's glorious second coming (3 Nephi 25:1; D&C 64:23-24).
6 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.
verse 6 "For" This is a transitional word that means because. It connects the preceding verses to the idea that follows. The joy of the nation has increased, the yoke of the people has been lifted, and oppression and warfare have been removed because Jesus has become the king and now reigns.
"unto us" Unto the house of Israel.
The phrase "unto us a child is born" is actually more accurately translated from the Hebrew "a child has been born to us." Here is yet another use of the prophetic perfect verb tense.
Clearly the verse refers to a messianic figure, a deliverer. As has been discussed earlier, some scholars believe that the leader being promised in this verse was Hezekiah. Indeed, Hezekiah was a righteous king and helped to bring Judah to a higher spiritual plane. He also brought some measure of peace to the land. It seems almost certain, however, that if Isaiah was writing of Hezekiah, then he viewed him as a "type" of the future Messiah-a symbol of Jesus Christ.
This verse describes some of the titles and roles of the deliverer. While some might apply to Hezekiah, they seem much more appropriately applicable to the Savior.
The titles "child" and "son" refer to his divine parentage. Not only was he the "only begotten" that is, the only man born into mortality as the product of a mortal mother (Mary) and an immortal father-God the Father, but he is also the "Firstborn" that is, the first intelligence in the premortal world to be clothed in a body of spirit by the process of divine procreation.
"the government shall be upon his shoulder" This phrase refers to the vesting right of a king who, during his coronation, has the robe of authority placed upon his shoulders.
"Wonderful, Counselor" Even though a comma is placed between these two titles, the Hebrew reading apparently dictates that these two names be used together as "Wonderful Counselor" without the comma. "Wonderful" therefore is an adjective modifying "Counselor" and not a separate title on its own. A counselor is an advocate, one who argues cases in court. Jesus is our advocate with the Father (John 17:3; 3 Nephi 19:19-29).
"Mighty God" "Mighty" suggests warrior and refers to his role in overcoming the nations and all forms of oppression.
"Everlasting Father" We know that Jesus Christ did apply the titles "Son" and "Father" to himself. He specifically said to the brother of Jared: "Behold, I am Jesus Christ. I am the Father and the Son" (Ether 3:14).
On June 30, 1916 the First Presidency published "The Father and the Son: A Doctrinal Exposition by the First Presidency and the Twelve" (see Talmage, Articles of Faith, 465-73). In this exposition they acknowledge that Christ is not our literal parent, but that in scripture he is referred to as our "Father" for three of reasons. These include:
1. He is our Father since he is the Creator. "That Jesus Christ, whom we also know as Jehovah, was the executive of the Father, Elohim, in the work of creation is set forth in the book Jesus the Christ, chapter 4. Jesus Christ, being the Creator, is consistently called the Father of heaven and earth in the sense explained above; and since His creations are of eternal quality. He is very properly called the Eternal Father of heaven and earth" (Ibid).
2. Jesus is the "Father" of those who abide in his gospel and thereby become heirs of eternal life. In a revelation given through Joseph the Prophet to Emma Smith the Lord Jesus addressed the Emma as "my daughter," and said: "for verily I say unto you, all those who receive my gospel are sons and daughters in my kingdom" (D&C 25:1). In many instances the Lord has addressed men as his sons (D&C 9:1; D&C 34:3; D&C 34:121:7).
3. Jesus is the "Father" by divine investiture of authority. In all His dealings with the human family Jesus represents the Father and possesses the Father's full power and authority. To the Jews he said: "I and my Father are one" (John 10:30; see also 14:10; 17:11, 22). Also he said, "I am come in my Father's name" (John 5:43; see also 10:25). The same truth was declared by Christ himself to the Nephites (see 3 Nephi 11:27; compare 9:15; 19:23; 28:10), and has been reaffirmed by revelation in our present dispensation (D&C 50:43). This is true of Jesus and the Father in premortal life as well as during and after the Savior's mortal sojourn. In other words, God the Father and his firstborn spirit Son, whether acting as the premortal Jehovah or later as the resurrected Lord, were so unified in mind and will that what one thought, said, and did, the other one thought, said, and did-exactly.
It wasn't simply exalted status, superior knowledge, or intense power and influence that made Jesus God in our premortal existence. If that were so, then Lucifer's claim to that very position (Moses 4:1-2; Abraham 3:27-28) would have had some validity, for he possessed a lofty and exalted position among the Father's spirit children (D&C 76:25). Another ingredient was requisite for Godhood. One had to be endowed and invested-indeed, ordained-with the power and authority to speak and act as God the Father. To speak and act in the place of God the Father was not an honor that could be arrogated unto oneself, as the story of Satan's attempts shows us.
President Joseph Fielding Smith taught the following:
All revelation since the fall has come through Jesus Christ, who is the Jehovah of the Old Testament. In all of the scriptures, where God is mentioned and where he has appeared, it was Jehovah who talked with Abraham, with Noah, Enoch, Moses, and all the prophets. He is the God of Israel, the Holy One of Israel; the one who led that nation out of Egyptian bondage, and who gave and fulfilled the Law of Moses. The Father [Elohim] has never dealt with man directly and personally since the fall, and he has never appeared except to introduce and bear record of the Son (Doctrines of Salvation, 1:27).
We may add yet a fourth reason for referring to Jesus Christ as the Father. In his role of Jehovah, God of the Old Testament, he became known as the God or Father of Heaven.
"Prince of Peace" Christ is part of God's royal family. He is a prince who shares the throne with the Father. He eliminates war and contention and reigns over a peaceful kingdom.
7 Of the increase of government and peace there is no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of Hosts will perform this.
verse 7 Here Isaiah describes the duration of the reign of the deliverer of Israel. He will reign eternally.
"Of the increase of government and peace there is no end" This new sovereign government and the peace which accompanies it shall have no end.
"upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth, even forever" On the throne and over David's kingdom (the house of Israel), his rule-that of the deliverer-will be organized with a terrestrial (during the Millennium) and later a celestial order ("to order it") and established by virtue of justice and righteousness forever.
"The zeal of the Lord of Hosts will perform this." This phrase, also found in 2 Kings 19:31 and in Isaiah 37:32, is a promise that the Lord will use his strength to fulfill his word.
8 The Lord sent his word unto Jacob and it hath lighted upon Israel.
verse 8 Isaiah's attention is now turned to the rebellious northern kingdom with its dominant tribe of Ephraim and its capital in Samaria. It also has application to the covenant people of our day.
"The Lord sent his word unto Jacob and it hath lighted upon Israel." The Lord sent his warnings to "Jacob" (the house of Israel), particularly to "Israel" (the northern Kingdom of Israel). The Lord has begun to send his judgments against the northern kingdom, and those judgments will eventually punish the entire kingdom of Israel if they fail to repent.
The initial part of the Assyrian invasion has already occurred with the deportation of major portions of the northernmost Israelite tribes, Zebulun and Naphtali (again, see the illustration, Territories of the Tribes). The kingdom of Israel has had a taste of the Lord's judgment but apparently has not learned or profited from it.
In the next several verses, the Lord issues four specific warnings. He warns against pride (verses 9-12); against the wickedness of the leaders (verses 13-17); against selfishness and the lack of love and kindness (verses 18-21); and against neglecting the poor and needy-social injustice (2 Nephi 20:1-4). Each of these specific warnings is part of a single prophecy but is divided structurally with an identical poetic refrain at the end of each section: "For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still." This prophecy has a dual fulfillment: first, when the ancient kingdom of Israel was destroyed, and second, when the world will be destroyed at the time of the second coming of Christ.
9 And all the people shall know, even Ephraim and the inhabitants of Samaria, that say in the pride and stoutness of heart:
verse 9 The terms "Ephraim" and "Samaria" are used by Isaiah to refer to Israel's Northern Kingdom. The dominant tribe is Ephraim, and the capital city is Samaria.
"stoutness of heart" Pride or haughtiness. The opposite is "a broken heart and a contrite spirit" (3 Nephi 9:20).
10 The bricks are fallen down, but we will build with hewn stones; the sycamores are cut down, but we will change them into cedars.
verses 9-10 "Hewn stones" are stones shaped with tools. "Sycamores" are fig trees. The people are bragging.
One might expect those of the northern kingdom ("Ephraim and the inhabitants of Samaria") to learn important lessons from the destruction occurring around them. These lessons might include humility, appropriate fear, and a desire to repent. Instead, these northern Israelites betray pride and arrogance of heart by boasting that they will rebuild a civilization more glorious and luxurious than the one that is beginning to be destroyed.
11 Therefore the Lord shall set up the adversaries of Rezin against him, and join his enemies together;
verse 11 Keep in mind that at this time, Rezin was the king of Syria residing in Damascus. Isaiah outlines the consequences of Israel's pride. First, Rezin's enemy, Assyria, would overthrow Syria. Assyria would then unite the conquered Syrians with the conquered Philistines. The Philistines were enemies of Israel who lived in the south of Palestine near the Mediterranean coast. At this time in history, the Philistines had been subdued by Assyria. Then these united enemies of Israel will turn against Israel.
The antecedent of "him" and "his" in this verse is not clear. It is likely Israel.
12 The Syrians before and the Philistines behind; and they shall devour Israel with open mouth. For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.
verse 12 Together the Syrians, Philistines, and Assyrians will sweep into the kingdom of Israel and swallow it up with one gulp. The Syrians are located "before" (in the northeast), and the Philistines are "behind" (in the west).
"they shall devour Israel with open mouth" This phrase is symbolic of the attack of a lion. The prophets often compare warring nations to lions that mangle and destroy. Israel, in this phrase refers not to the entire house of Israel, but to the northern Kingdom of Israel.
"For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still." See the commentary for 2 Nephi 15:25. Likely the idea is intended that while the Lord's judgment and punishment still hang over the people, his hand is always stretched forth to help them and receive them if they accept him.
13 For the people turneth not unto him that smiteth them, neither do they seek the Lord of Hosts.
verse 13 Isaiah explains why the Lord allowed the northern kingdom to be overrun: The people did not turn to the Lord, nor did they seek him.
"him that smiteth them" This refers, of course, to the Lord. To "turn" is to repent.
14 Therefore will the Lord cut off from Israel head and tail, branch and rush in one day.
verse 14 "Head" represents the elders and old men of the community, and "tail" symbolizes false prophets (see the following verse). The "branch" is a palm branch, located high up on the tree, representing society's leaders. "Rush" is a stiff, grass-like plant and represents the common people. Again in this phrase, Israel refers not to the entire house of Israel, but rather to the northern Kingdom of Israel.
"in one day" Quickly.
15 The ancient, he is the head; and the prophet that teacheth lies, he is the tail.
verse 15 The Lord will cause the northern kingdom's leaders to be carried away captive.
16 For the leaders of this people cause them to err; and they that are led of them are destroyed.
verse 16 The northern kingdom's leaders are leading them astray, and both the leaders and those who are being led astray shall suffer the consequences.
17 Therefore the Lord shall have no joy in their young men, neither shall have mercy on their fatherless and widows; for every one of them is a hypocrite and an evildoer, and every mouth speaketh folly. For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.
verse 17 Virtually all in the northern kingdom are apostate and have incurred the Lord's wrath, even those whom the Lord ordinarily favors-the youth, the orphans, and the widows. Nearly all of them are hypocrites and evil doers and speak "folly" or foolishness.
"For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still" Again, the same two-fold promise found in 2 Nephi 15:25 and 2 Nephi 19:12 is given. For its interpretation see the commentary for 2 Nephi 19:12.
18 For wickedness burneth as the fire; it shall devour the briers and thorns, and shall kindle in the thickets of the forests, and they shall mount up like the lifting up of smoke.
verse 18 All of this wickedness in the northern kingdom will be consumed by the fire and the sword of the Assyrians. The destruction will sweep through the entire land including the forests with their thickets, briars, and thorns. Isaiah compares the wicked to undesirable plants such as briers, thorns, and thickets.
"They shall mount up like the lifting up of smoke" is better translated: "They shall all roll upward in a column of smoke" (Revised Standard Version).
The burning of the wicked here is a type and shadow of the burning that will occur at the Lord's second coming.
19 Through the wrath of the Lord of Hosts is the land darkened, and the people shall be as the fuel of the fire; no man shall spare his brother.
verse 19 The fire and smoke of the impending destruction will darken the land and the Israelites will be consumed in the fire.
"no man shall spare his brother" Even in the midst of this all-consuming destruction, the people will evidence their self centeredness by turning upon one another rather than looking out for one another.
20 And he shall snatch on the right hand and be hungry; and he shall eat on the left hand and they shall not be satisfied; they shall eat every man the flesh of his own arm-
verse 20 In the chaos of destruction there will be a great shortage of food, and the people will go hungry and will "snatch" and steal from one another whatever they can. Yet circumstances are so difficult that even then they will remain hungry even possibly to the point of cannibalism.
21 Manasseh, Ephraim; and Ephraim, Manasseh; they together shall be against Judah. For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.
verse 21 Since the northern ten tribes had broken away from Judah in 931 BC, in the north the tribe of Joseph had been the dominant and leading tribe. The expression "Manasseh, Ephraim; and Ephraim, Manasseh" implies that during the coming crisis the tribe of Joseph will be internally divided. Manasseh will fight against Ephraim, and Ephraim will contend against Manasseh. Only their common hatred of Judah will unite them in making war on the southern kingdom.
"For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still." Yet again, Isaiah repeats the two-fold promise found in 2 Nephi 15:25, 2 Nephi 19:12, and 2 Nephi 19:17. For an interpretation, see the commentary for 2 Nephi 19:12.