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2 Nephi Chapter 20

This chapter is a translation of the same materials found in Isaiah chapter 10 in the King James Version of the Bible. It may be outlined as follows: Verses 1-11: Because of the sins of Israel, the Lord permits the Assyrian army, the Lord's rod, to war against the apostate Israelites. Verses 12-19: Because of its pride and overzealousness, Assyria will then be destroyed by her enemies. The fire that will destroy Assyria foreshadows the fire that will destroy the wicked at the second coming. Verses 20-27: A remnant of Israel will return to their lands of promise and "unto the mighty God." Verses 28-32: The march of the great Assyrian army southward towards Jerusalem. As the army traveled it sacked and destroyed all towns and villages in its path. Verses 33-34: Jehovah, as the great forester, uses his mighty iron ax to chop down Assyria's armies as they approach Zion.

verses 1-2 Isaiah continues his warnings and exhortations of the northern kingdom. Particularly he focuses on those leaders who proclaim laws and regulations that oppress the poor and needy.

1 Wo unto them that decree unrighteous decrees, and that write grievousness which they have prescribed;

verse 1 This verse is more clearly translated: "Woe to those who decree iniquitous decrees, and the writers who issue oppressive decrees."

"Wo" is severe distress and anguish resulting from God's judgments.

One of the major themes found in Isaiah's writings is the concept that the covenant people have social and moral obligations. Particularly did he stress the responsibility of society to care for the needs of its less fortunate members, especially the widows and orphans. He condemned the rich who oppressed the poor.

"unrighteous decrees" These are unjust laws which serve the rich and powerful while preying upon the weak, such as the fatherless and the widows.

"write grievousness" To write oppressive laws.

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!

verse 2 "Judgment" here means justice.

"To take away right from the poor" means to rob the poor of their rights.

These unrighteous leaders who create unjust laws (verse 1) prey upon the socially deprived, including the needy, the poor, the widows, and 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?

verse 3 The Lord changes the pronoun from "they" used in verses 1-2 to "ye" referring to the wicked leaders of Samaria. Because of the wickedness of Samaria's leaders, the Lord, through Isaiah, warns them that in the coming onslaught, they will be left bereft of divine help.

"The day of visitation" and "the desolation which shall come from far" refer to the day of punishment or the coming onslaught against the kingdom of Israel by Assyria. Second meanings for "the day of visitation" and "the desolation which shall come from far" might be the Lord's second coming and the desolation or destruction that will precede that second coming.

"to whom will ye flee for help?" This is a rhetorical question, showing that during the day of visitation the wicked will have no one to turn to for help, for they will have rejected God.

"and where will ye leave your glory" This phrase may be restated, "and where will you hide your wealth?" At the day of judgment, one's riches will be meaningless and will not assist in saving one's soul.

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.

verse 4 "bow down under the prisoners" In the desperation and fear produced by the coming onslaught, some Israelites, having been left bereft of divine help, will try to escape by hiding among their fellow Israelite prisoners, and they will even hide among the slain.

"For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still." Again, the oft-repeated, two-fold promise. See its interpretation in the commentary for 2 Nephi 19:12.

5 O Assyrian, the rod of mine anger, and the staff in their hand is their indignation.

verse 5 The Lord is speaking in verses 5-7. A less confusing translation is, "Ah, Assyria, the rod of my anger, the staff of my fury!" (Revised Standard Version). "O Assyrian" refers to the king of Assyria as well as to his nation. Here the Lord reveals that he has allowed Assyria to become a powerful nation, a "rod" and "staff" that will smite and chasten, so that he might utilize that nation to mete out his judgments upon various deserving nations, especially apostate Israel. But Assyria, her leaders, and her armies will soon be destroyed according to God's plan.

The latter-day application is that Assyria represents the wicked nations of the last days that will worship idols and false gods and goddesses, war against Israel, and eventually be consumed by the Lord's glory and majesty during the second coming.

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.

verse 6 The emphasis here is that the Lord is doing the sending. He is allowing Assyria's army to have success as they come against the northern kingdom of Israel to whom the Lord refers as "a hypocritical nation" (because they will not keep their covenants) and "the people of my wrath" (they are to be punished because of their hypocrisy). The "spoil" is the money, land, and other valuable possessions which the victorious Assyrians will take from their victims-their "prey." The Assyrians will stomp or walk upon them ("tread them") in the filth or refuse of the streets ("the mire"). The "spoil" and "prey" also allude to the prophetic name of Isaiah's son, Maher-shalal-hash-baz, which name means Quick to the plunder, swift to the spoil. This suggests that Isaiah's earlier prophecy as communicated in the name of his son finds at least partial fulfillment in Assyria's capturing and plundering of Israel.

verses 7-19 Here Isaiah, in eloquent poetic style, castigates the Assyrian king for failing to realize that only through the Lord's behest has Assyria been allowed to come to power. Because he has attributed his power to his own virtues, Assyria's army will themselves feel the hand of the Lord in punishment.

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.

verse 7 "Howbeit he meaneth not so, neither doth his heart think so" However, the Assyrian king does not understand, in his heart and mind, the real perspective of this event as stated in verse 6. He does not comprehend whence his power comes.

"in his heart it is to destroy and cut off nations not a few" He intends to go on destroying several other nations, even the world, for his own purposes, not the Lord's. He means to gain glory and riches for himself.

8 For he saith: Are not my princes altogether kings?

verse 8 In verses 8 and 9, the Assyrian king is the speaker. The Assyrian king asks, "Are not my commanders all 'kings' and deserving of their own conquered lands which they can rule over"? His implication is also, "Am I not the king of kings"?

9 Is not Calno as Carchemish? Is not Hamath as Arpad? Is not Samaria as Damascus?

verse 9 The Assyrian king does not distinguish among his various conquests-he sees no divine purposes. They are all only conquests. Calno, Carchemish, Hamath, and Arpad are Mesopotamian, Syrian, and Israelite cities already captured by Assyria. Is not Samaria, the land of the ten tribes of Israel, just another of my conquests like Damascus in Syria?

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?

verses 10-11 Now the Lord is speaking. He says, in effect, "I have extended my power even to pagan kingdoms ("kingdoms of the idols" with their "graven images,"-artistic representations of animate creatures such as paintings or statues which serve as idols or objects of worship) whose worship of idols even exceeds that of the apostate Israelites. I have empowered even them so that my purposes might be carried out. As I have allowed Samaria to be destroyed to purge it of its wickedness and apostasy, so will I do one day to Jerusalem."

"My hand hath founded" might be interpreted, "my power has reached or been extended to."

"whose graven images did excel them of Jerusalem and of Samaria" The Lord, in order to accomplish his purposes, has even extended his power to pagan countries which worship more idols than do the Israelites. The Lord here condemns Israel for her apostasy-"her idols."

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.

verse 12 After the Lord has allowed Assyria to punish the Israelites including Jerusalem ("Mount Zion" refers to the temple of Jerusalem and the mountain upon which it stood), he will then deal with the king of Assyria who claimed victory due to his own strength and did not rightfully give credit to the Lord. The phrase "stout heart" here means "proud; resolute; obstinate" (Webster's 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language).

As was implied in the preceding verse, the Lord states again that Jerusalem will actually be attacked by Assyria as was Samaria. This prophesied invasion took place in 701 BC when the Assyrian commander Sennacherib besieged Judah and Jerusalem. He captured or destroyed many settlements in Judah. Before Jerusalem could be taken, however, the Lord sent a terrible epidemic illness through the Assyrian army camp killing many and causing them to have to beat a hasty retreat.

The Lord will punish the Assyrian king for "the fruit of the stout heart"-his evil works and arrogant boasting-and "the glory of his high looks"-his haughty pride-both of which are demonstrated in verses 13 and 14.

As mentioned in the previous paragraph, partial fulfillment of this promise of punishment came when an "angel of the Lord went out, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians," destroying 185,000 people while they were besieging Jerusalem in 701 BC (2 Kings 19:35).

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;

verse 13 The king of Assyria said: "I have been able to conquer because of my own strength."

"for I am prudent" "I am wise and have good judgment."

"I have moved the borders of the people" "I have done away with the borders between nations. I have joined their lands with my own kingdom."

"like a valiant man" Assyria's king boasts that he has succeeded in robbing them of their properties, goods, and treasures "like the courageous man that I am."

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.

verse 14 The Assyrian king continues saying, "As I raided the 'hen house,' no one dared lift a finger to stop me." He boastfully claims he had gathered the riches of peoples he conquered as one gathers eggs from an abandoned nest.

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!

verse 15 Shall the axe vaunt itself over him who swings it? Shall the saw place itself above him who cuts with it? Just as these questions are silly, it would be just as absurd if the rod should manipulate him who wields it or if the staff should lift itself as though it were not an inanimate object. In other words, the king of Assyria functioned as mere rod and staff in the hand of the Lord to smite the unrighteous deserving, yet he sought to aggrandize himself and to assume the role of world leader on his own supposed merits.

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.

verse 16 The specific punishments to be meted out by the Lord to the Assyrian king are spelled out: The Lord will send among his "fat ones" (those with abundance) leanness (poverty and deprivation). He will "send a wasting sickness among his stout warriors" (Revised Standard Version). Perhaps Isaiah is prophesying here of the specific malady which befell the Assyrian army when they laid siege to Jerusalem in 701 BC. See the commentary for verse 12 above.

"under his [the Assyrian king's] glory he [the Lord] shall kindle a burning like the burning of a fire" The haughty pride of the Assyrian king will be burned up and destroyed.

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;

verse 17 This verse symbolically states that the God of Israel will burn or destroy Assyria. The Lord is "the light of Israel" and Israel's "Holy One."

The first two phrases of the first line of this verse state the same idea and are an example of synonymous parallelism wherein the second phrase restates the idea expressed in the first phrase. The idea is that the God of Israel will do the burning, the destroying.

The antecedent of the pronoun "his" in the first line is "Israel." Thus, the reference is to Israel's Holy One, or to the God of Israel.

"shall devour his thorns and his briers" In this second line, the antecedent of the pronoun "his" is Assyria. In a figurative single day the Lord will destroy Assyria. "Thorns" and "briers" are metaphor for the wicked. The "thorns" and "briers" in this verse and the "forest" and "fruitful field" in the following verse when combined with one another seem to signify the whole of Assyria-complete annihilation-of both "soul and body."

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.

verse 18 The "forest" represents the people, in this case the people of Assyria, and the "field" symbolizes the world. The destruction of the forest and the field signifies the totality of destruction, as does their destruction "both soul and body."

"they shall be as when a standard-bearer fainteth" In battle the "standard-bearer" was the man who carried the flag which served as a focal point and rallying cry to keep the warriors organized. Without the standard-bearer and his standard, the fighting men were likely to be reduced to a state of ineffective chaos.

19 And the rest of the trees of his forest shall be few, that a child may write them.

verse 19 After the destruction of Assyria, the "trees" of her "forest," which figuratively represents the number of surviving Assyrians, will be so few that even a child could "write them"-list them or count them. Some time later Assyria was destroyed so completely by Babylon and Persia that Assyrians ceased to be a distinct people.

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.

verse 20 Here Isaiah again prophesies that scattered Israel will one day return to the Lord and their promised land. The theme of a "remnant" returning is a recurrent theme in Isaiah's writings. A "remnant" of Israel implies those that are remaining-those that are still inclined to seek out the Lord after the physical and spiritual scattering (apostasy) which will befall the house of Israel.

Isaiah's "remnant" may be divided into two groups. First, there is the "historical remnant." These are perhaps the scattered Israelites of ancient Palestine who remained in Assyria or Babylon after the sieges and destructions between 732 and 722 BC and that in 587 BC. Some eventually returned to their lands and to their temple. Isaiah also promises the return of a future righteous remnant. We may refer to this latter group as the "eschatological remnant." Eschatology (pronounced es-kat-ólogy) is the study of "last things." Thus, this remnant will return to the Lord and to Zion in a latter-day setting following the great wars of destruction that will occur before the Lord's second coming.

"it shall come to pass in that day" What "day" is being referred to here? As discussed in the introduction to 1 Nephi chapter 20, there are only two major gatherings of Israel known to us which followed Isaiah's day. The first was in 538 B.C. when the Israelites were released from captivity in Babylon by Cyrus the Persian. The only other gathering is now occurring in this final dispensation as missionaries of the Savior's Kingdom on earth spread the gospel, and those who are converted gather to Zion.

"such as are escaped of the house of Jacob" These are members of the house of Israel who will "survive" the desolation and ruin of the physical and spiritual scatterings of Israel. These are the righteous "remnant" who are inclined to return again to the Lord. You might also want to review the various "scatterings" of Israel discussed in the introduction to 1 Nephi chapter 20. These scatterings will occur between 732 and 722 BC when the northern kingdom of Israel will be captured by Assyria; in 587 BC when the southern kingdom of Judah will be crushed by Babylon; and in AD 70 when the Romans will destroy Jerusalem.

"stay upon him that smote them" "stay upon the Lord" To "stay upon" is to remain faithful to. The righteous remnant of Israelites will not be "converted" to the Assyrian culture and its heathen ways, rather they will remain faithful to the Lord.

21 The remnant shall return, yea, even the remnant of Jacob, unto the mighty God.

verse 21 "The remnant shall return" This phrase recalls Isaiah's prophecy which he made in naming his son, Shear-jashub, whose name literally means "the remnant shall return." The word "return" also means "repent."

Exactly which remnant and precisely when they shall return and repent is not specified in this verse. While certainly a few Israelites taken captive into Assyria between 732 and 722 BC did escape and make their way back to their own land, there was no major gathering of the northern kingdom of Israel once they were taken captive. Isaiah was likely prophesying of a future "remnant" such as those Jews who returned from captivity in Babylon in 538 B.C. after the defeat of Babylon by Cyrus the Persian or even of the "eschatological remnant" spoken of in the commentary for the preceding verse who will gather to Zion in this final dispensation.

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.

verse 22 Insert the word "only" after "yet" for clarity. Though those born into the house of Israel are as numerous as the sands of the sea, only a relatively small number of them shall return to the Lord.

"the consumption decreed shall overflow with righteousness" "Consumption" implies massive destruction or annihilation of humanity (see also Isaiah 28:22 and Daniel 9:27). This devastation is decreed by the Lord due to apostasy, but eventually righteousness and restoration shall occur. The prophet Joseph Smith wrote: "The saints have not too much time to save and redeem their dead, and gather together their living relatives, that they may be saved also, before the earth will be smitten, and the consumption decreed falls upon the world" (TPJS, 330).

23 For the Lord God of Hosts shall make a consumption, even determined in all the land.

verse 23 For the Lord will carry out the complete destruction decreed upon the whole land. Again this applies to Assyria and later to Jerusalem (in both 587 B.C. and AD 70) and even later to all the earth in the last day.

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.

verse 24 O people of Zion don't be afraid of the Assyrians even when they smite you with the rod and lift up their staff against you as did the Egyptians. Isaiah promises Israel that the Lord will eventually relieve them of Assyrian oppression. The concept of Zion is always attached to a promised land, temple worship, and a covenant people who possess pure hearts.

"after the manner of Egypt" While Egypt often verbally threatened the area of Palestine, it never mounted a serious attack.

Assyria and Egypt were two of Israel's chief enemies in biblical times. They are also symbolic of the worldly powers that will fight against Zion in the last days. Isaiah tells those who dwell in Zion to trust God and be not afraid of the Assyrian, for his power will be temporary and limited. Eventually God will destroy the Assyrian and save the remnant of Israel.

25 For yet a very little while, and the indignation shall cease, and mine anger in their destruction.

verse 25 Israel was scattered because of her transgressions against God. But in due time-"yet a very little while"-the Lord's anger at the Israelites will cease and his wrath will be directed toward the destruction of Assyria.

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.

verse 26 "the Lord of Hosts shall stir up a scourge for him" To "stir up a scourge for him" is to lash him with a whip. After Assyria serves the Lord's purposes by smiting Israel, he will lash the Assyrians with a whip, meaning he will punish them for their pride and wickedness. The Lord will wield against the Assyrians a scourge as when he smote the Midianites at the rock of Oreb.

"according to the slaughter of Midian at the rock of Oreb" See Judges chapters 6-8 for a description of this event. The ancient Israelites were plagued at harvest time by "camel raids" by the Midianites who came from across the Jordan River to seize the hard-earned farm products of the Israelites, particularly those in the area just west of the Jordan and in the Jezreel Valley. The coming of these raiders was like a plague of locusts. There seemed to be little the Israelites could do to protect themselves against these invasions, so they fled with their produce into caves and mountain hideouts. In this desperate setting, the Lord called into service the Israelite Gideon. With the help of a mere three hundred men, hand picked by the Lord, Gideon led a surprise attack against the Midianite camp at the change of the guard-perhaps 10 p.m. Apparently the Midianites were provoked into self slaughter by the confusion produced by the unexpected attack. Gideon then pursued the surviving Midianites, caught them, and slew two Midianite princes "upon the rock Oreb." By this means did Gideon rid the Israelites permanently of the Midianite camel raids.

"as his rod was upon the sea so shall he lift it up after the manner of Egypt" This refers to the event described in Exodus 14:26-27 when the Egyptians were thwarted in their pursuing of the Israelites by the previously divided Red Sea's closing over them. Moses had used his rod to divide the Red Sea.

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.

verse 27 "His burden" and "his yoke" refer to the Assyrian oppression of Israel. "Thy shoulder" refers to the shoulder of Israel.

"because of the anointing" This phrase may be a Messianic prophecy of sorts. Jesus Christ is the "Anointed One" meaning that he is the one anointed of the Father to be his personal representative in all things pertaining to this earth. Because of this anointing, the ultimate yokes of damnation, physical death, and spiritual death will be lifted from the shoulder of mankind. Thus the deliverance of Israel from the Assyrians is a type or symbol of deliverance through Jesus Christ, the Anointed One.

verses 28-32 These verses prophesy of the progression of the Assyrian army toward Jerusalem. Many scholars believe that this prophecy was fulfilled when King Sennacherib invaded Judah in 701 BC. This section may also refer to a future campaign against Israel when some of the world's nations war against her. It is quite possible that this prophecy might be fulfilled in the last days.

28 He is come to Aiath, he is passed to Migron; at Michmash he hath laid up his carriages.

verse 28 Assyria's army passes through and likely conquers a series of towns on its way to Jerusalem.

"laid up his carriages" The army stores its equipment and supplies at Michmash, perhaps so that it will not be burdened as it approaches Jerusalem.

29 They are gone over the passage; they have taken up their lodging at Geba; Ramath is afraid; Gibeah of Saul is fled.

verse 29 "gone over the passage" This phrase means crossed over the pass-an unnamed mountain pass on its way to Jerusalem.

"they have taken up their lodging at Geba" The Assyrian army temporarily halts their advancements to rest at Geba.

"Ramath" Note that this town is called "Ramah" in the parallel verse in Isaiah 10:29. Did Joseph Smith err in dictating a "t" in the name of this town? It is of some interest that in a couple of later translations of this verse the name is rendered "Ramata" (Targum Pseudo-Jonathan version) and "Rameta" (Christian Syriac Peshitta version). Neither of these versions would have been available to Joseph Smith (Reexploring the Book of Mormon, edited by John W. Welch, Deseret Book Company and FARMS, 77).

"Gibeah" was the place of Saul's birth and his residence while he was king.

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.

verses 30-31 Other Israelite towns are occupied and routed. It was common for the prophets to refer to Near Eastern cities as "daughter of . . .." In verse 31 the phrase "is removed" means is in flight.

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.

verses 32 The Assyrian army is described as approaching so close to Jerusalem that they will be able to shake their fists at the city (threaten the city) and thus make a mockery of the temple, ancient Israel's chief religious symbol. The city of Nob is thought by Biblical scholars to have possibly been located on Mount Scopus, just a mile north and east of the city of Jerusalem.

As mentioned previously, it has been suggested that this description of the invasion of Jerusalem may have dual meaning-that is it may refer to both the historical event of Assyria's attack upon Jerusalem and also to an eschatological (latter-day) attack on Jerusalem by forces from the north just prior to the Lord's second coming. The argument for Isaiah's having in mind a future event here is strengthened by the fact that 2 Nephi 21, the chapter which follows, is definitely a prophecy to be fulfilled in the latter days.

verses 33-34 In these verses, Isaiah will symbolically compare the nation of Assyria to a mighty tree, particularly the trees (cedars) of Lebanon, and avers that the Lord will cut them down to preserve 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.

verse 33 The "Lord of Hosts" enters as a forester with an axe to prevent Assyria from destroying all his children.

"lop the bough with terror" The Lord will prune the boughs, or chop down the tree, with terrifying power. This includes Assyria's proud and haughty people. Haughty means proud and disdainful; having a high opinion of one's self with some contempt for others; lofty and arrogant; supercilious; imperious.

34 And he shall cut down the thickets of the forests with iron, and Lebanon shall fall by a mighty one.

verse 34 The Lord shall cut down the "forests" with iron (an axe), and Lebanon and its majestic trees (Assyria's leaders) will fall. Lebanon is a place noted anciently for its spectacular forests of cedar trees, which are often used as a type for pride (cf. 2 Nephi 12:13).

"a mighty one" This refers to Jehovah.

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