2 Nephi Chapter 21
2 Nephi 21:6-9 Conditions during the Millennium. The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the young lion and fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.
On the night of September 21, 1823, the prophet Moroni visited the seventeen year old boy Joseph Smith, Jr. in his log cabin family home in Manchester, New York. Among the several items Moroni taught Joseph was, ". . . he quoted the eleventh chapter of Isaiah, saying it was about to be fulfilled" (JS-H 1:40). Isaiah 11 is a translation of the same materials from which this chapter was translated.
This chapter begins with Isaiah's prophesying of new trees or leaders who will emerge out of the house of Israel to bless the earth.
Before beginning this chapter, let's briefly clarify a couple of background items. First, Jesse was the father of the ancient King David. He was of the tribe of Judah and resided in Bethlehem. He was thus the ancestor of all of the kings of Judah and also of Jesus Christ. If someone descends from Jesse, then they, at least in part, have Jewish origins.
Next, there is the tree analogy used by Isaiah. Picture in your mind's eye a stout tree with a solid root structure under the ground. Protruding from the ground is a trunk, stump, or "stem." Branches, shoots, or "rods" are growing out of that trunk. When the tree is used as an analogy to illustrate genealogical succession, the sequence is root to trunk to branches, or root to stem to rod.
The roots of Isaiah's tree represent the descendants of Jesse. Jesse himself is the ancestor of the roots, and therefore, in our analogy, we may consider him the seed of the tree from which the roots sprang. The trunk or "stem" of the tree, which is referred to as the stem of Jesse, represents one particular descendant of Jesse. In modern revelation, we are told that this is Jesus Christ: "Who is the Stem of Jesse spoken of in the 1st , 2d, 3d, 4th, and 5th verses of the 11th chapter of Isaiah? Verily thus saith the Lord: It is Christ" (D&C 113:1-2).
Chapter 21 prophesies of one or perhaps two latter-day descendants of Jesse who are also descendants of Jesus Christ. They are represented in the tree analogy as branches, "rods," or shoots of the trunk. The trunk, again, is the stem of Jesse. There is one confusing aspect of Isaiah's tree analogy. In addition to the terms "branch" and "rod" which refer to these two latter-day descendants of Jesse, he also uses the term "root of Jesse." According to the tree analogy, one might think that a "root" is an ancestor and not a descendant. Here, however, the opposite is true. These two "roots" of Jesse are, in fact, descendants and not ancestors. Don't be confused by this use of the word root. In the Old Testament, "root" is often used to mean offspring and not ancestor. Therefore in this chapter we need not always assume the conventional succession of root to trunk to branch, and "root of Jesse" does not mean Jesus's ancestor but rather his descendant.
Isaiah, at one point refers to the fact that one of these branches will grow out of the roots of Jesse. Here the roots of Jesse are in fact the descendants of Jesse, and these two latter-day servants will be at least in part descendants of the tribe of Judah.
Now, let us speculate for a moment regarding the identity of this latter-day descendant of Jesus Christ-this branch of the stem of Jesse-or perhaps there are two latter-day descendants of the Savior. This descendant, or these two descendants, are mentioned in verses 1 and 10 of 2 Nephi 21.
The first is mentioned in verse 1 and is referred to by Isaiah as a "rod" or "branch." We are taught in modern revelation that this individual is "a servant in the hands of Christ, who is partly a descendant of Jesse [of Jewish descent] as well as of Ephraim, or of the house of Joseph, on whom there is laid much power" (D&C 113:3-4). Some have speculated that this "branch" might be Joseph Smith, Jr. Others have suggested an alternate identity.
Several Old Testament verses mention a latter-day "branch" or leader who will stand witness of the Lord's final victory in the last days (see, for example, Zechariah 3:8-9; Jeremiah 23:3-8; and Jeremiah 33:15). Some of these Old Testament references even give this latter-day prophet a name-David (Ezekiel 37:21-28 and Hosea 3:4-5). Therefore, this servant referred to in 2 Nephi 21:1 (and in Isaiah 11:1) may be Joseph Smith, Jr., or perhaps a great leader of Israelite descent named David who will live in the last days and who will be an instrument in the Lord's hand to help fulfill his divine plan before the Millennium. Church leaders in this final dispensation have even referred to this latter-day David. For example, Joseph Smith said, "The throne and kingdom of David is to be taken from him and given to another by the name of David in the last days, raised up out of his lineage" (HC, 6:253). Orson Hyde, in his dedicatory prayer on the Mount of Olives, said, "Raise up Jerusalem . . . and constitute her people a distinct nation and government, with David thy servant, even a descendant from the loins of ancient David to be their king" (HC, 4:457).
The second mention of a branch descending from the stem of Jesse is in verse 10. Here he is referred to as the "root of Jesse." Again, in modern revelation we are taught that he is "a descendant of Jesse, as well as of Joseph, unto whom rightly belongs the priesthood, and the keys of the kingdom, for an ensign, and for the gathering of my people in the last days" (D&C 113:5-6). It is generally held that this servant is Joseph Smith, Jr., or any one or all of those who have held the office of prophet/president of the latter-day Church of Jesus Christ. As we marshal evidence to support this suggestion, keep in mind the characteristics of this servant outlined in D&C 113:5-6 quoted above. They are: He is a descendant of Jesse and Joseph. He is a rightful heir to the priesthood and a holder of the keys to the kingdom. His work will become an ensign to the nations, and he will have a role in the gathering of Israel in the last days. Review the Book of Mormon prophecy regarding a descendant of the ancient Joseph who would also be named Joseph and who would do a great work of salvation among the Israelites to bring them to the knowledge of God's covenants in the last days (2 Nephi 3:6-11; 2 Nephi 3:14-15). Certainly this Joseph of 2 Nephi 3 is Joseph Smith, Jr. His patriarchal blessing identifies him as a descendant of Ephraim, the son of ancient Joseph. There is less evidence that Joseph was a descendant of Jesse, but there were occasions in early church history when some of the brethren, including Joseph Smith, claimed that they shared lineage with Jesus Christ (see Life of Heber C. Kimball, 185; JD, 4:248; Journal of President Rudger Clawson, 374-75; Ivins Journal, 21). We know from modern day revelation that Joseph received the priesthood and was given the keys of that priesthood including the keys of the gathering of Israel (D&C 110). Certainly the Church today is an ensign to the world.
It is interesting to note that in Jewish tradition there are two "saviors" or "messiahs." These are "Messiah ben David" (a messiah descended from David) and "Messiah ben Joseph" (a messiah descended from Joseph).
1 And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
verse 1 The "stem of Jesse" is Jesus Christ.
Here is prophecy concerning a great latter-day servant or leader whose identity is speculated upon in the introductory remarks for this chapter. It is either Joseph Smith, Jr. or a latter day leader named David.
This verse is an example of synonymous parallelism, a Hebrew poetic device used frequently by Isaiah (see the supplemental article The Hebrew Language and the Book of Mormon). The same thing is said twice but with different wording:
(a) And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse,
(b) And a branch shall grow out of his roots.
Thus we see that "rod" and "branch" are synonyms. A "rod" is a new growth or shoot of a plant. Also we learn that according to Isaiah's tree analogy, the branch (or rod) may grow out of its trunk (or stem) or it may also grow directly out of its roots. Thus, both the "rod out of the stem of Jesse" and the "branch [which] shall grow out of his [Jesse's] roots refer to a latter-day descendant of Jesus Christ.
verses 2-5 These verses describe some important characteristics of the great latter-day servant introduced in verse 1. This leader is likely Joseph Smith, Jr. But if he turns out to be the latter-day David, he might not even be a member of the latter-day Church of Jesus Christ. Indeed, he might not even be a Christian!
2 And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord;
3 And shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord; and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears.
verses 2-3 His gift of discernment among other gifts will come through the influence of the Spirit of God, the Holy Ghost.
"fear of the Lord" This might well be translated, "reverence for the Lord." The Spirit shall teach him easily this reverence for the Lord.
verse 3 This servant shall judge or "reprove" (correct) others by what the Spirit teaches him, not by what he sees and hears with his physical senses.
4 But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked.
verse 4 He shall judge fairly the poor and the lowly.
An alternate translation of "righteousness" is "equity."
"and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth" With fairness he will arbitrate for the lowly of the earth.
"with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked" The eloquence and power of this latter-day servant will be something to behold.
5 And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins.
verse 5 A "girdle" is the innermost piece of clothing.
Righteousness and faithfulness shall be characteristic of him-as a girdle or band about his "loins" and "reins." "Loins" anciently referred to the genital parts which were regarded as the seat of strength or procreative power. His "reins" refers to his waist.
verses 6-9 These verses mark a sudden change in the subject. These are the classic and oft-quoted verses which describe the millennial period of peace between wild and domestic animals and between people and potentially dangerous animals. Satan will be bound, righteousness will prevail, and knowledge of the gospel will fill the earth.
6 The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the young lion and fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.
verse 6 This verse mentions six animals. Three are wild carnivores (wolf, leopard, lion) that ordinarily would feed on the three tame animals (lamb, kid, calf).
"the calf and the young lion and fatling together" The term "fatling" may refer to any young animal (calf, kid, lamb, or pig) which is being fattened before being slaughtered. In commenting upon the use of the word "fatling" here, Parry, Parry, and Peterson, in their book Understanding Isaiah, wrote: "The King James Version translation of fatling is probably incorrect. The Jerusalem Bible suggests 'calf and lion cub feed together,' replacing fatling with the verb feed" (119). One problem with their suggestion is that the word fatling is also found here in the Book of Mormon.
"a little child shall lead them" Little children will not only feel safe and secure among the ordinarily ferocious beasts but will have control over them and lead them.
7 And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
verse 7 "the lion shall eat straw like the ox" There will be no shedding of blood during the Millennium by man or beasts. Carnivores will become herbivores. During the Millennium, "the enmity of man, and the enmity of beasts, yea, the enmity of all flesh, shall cease from before my face" (D&C 101:26).
8 And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice's den.
verse 8 The label "asp" may refer to any of a number of poisonous snakes. A "cockatrice" in biblical writings is an unidentified deadly serpent, also probably a poisonous snake.
9 They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.
verse 9 In all of the Lord's kingdom, nothing hurtful or destructive will occur. Enmity will be removed from the earth, and peace, love, and kindness will rule. The term "holy mountain" may refer to the entire earth in its temple-like condition. The earth shall be filled with devotion to the Lord just as water fills the great seas.
"the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord" Nephi cited this verse and explained that "all things shall be made known unto the children of men," including "things of all nations," "secret" things, "work[s] of darkness," and things that have been revealed (2 Nephi 30:15-18).
10 And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek; and his rest shall be glorious.
verse 10 Here is introduced the second of the two latter-day servants discussed in the introductory remarks for this chapter. He is at least in part a "root" or descendant of Jesse and the tribe of Judah. He is generally understood to be the prophet Joseph Smith, Jr.
"[he] shall stand for an ensign of the people" In the ancient Near East, the ensign or banner was a royal symbol which had the function of rallying an army of supporters. In this instance, this "root" of Jesse shall serve as the Lord's ensign and rally people to the Lord's cause.
"to it shall the Gentiles seek" Perhaps a better translation of this phrase is, "he shall be sought by all nations." The implication is that this servant's task is to summon a nation of righteous Israelites from all the nations of the world where they live in captivity and dispersion. This servant is the Lord's right hand (see verse 11) who serves as the Lord's agent for gathering his people.
"his rest shall be glorious" This is the first mention in the Book of Mormon of the rest of the Lord. What is his rest? Ultimately, to enter into the rest of the Lord refers to reaching the end of our probationary state when the test of mortality is over and the struggles of life are done. For some, this would occur at death. For others, the probationary state continues through both phases of our probation-both our mortal life and our time in the spirit world prior to our resurrection (HC, 1:252). These will enter into the rest of the Lord at their resurrection. The ultimate and absolute rest is to dwell or rest with the Lord for eternity (Alma 57:36; Alma 60:13). It is to first pass from this mortal existence into paradise where you may find "rest" or freedom from the afflictions of mortality. Subsequently you will inherit a fulness of celestial glory and live eternally in his presence. This rest is the same as having one's calling and election made sure. It is celestial, "glorious," and "the fulness of his glory" (D&C 84:24).
One may argue that a person may also achieve a relative rest from the rigors of mortal probation while he is still here in mortality. There may be two types of this relative rest:
1. Those who fully accept the gospel and abide in its truths may be granted by the Spirit of the Lord a growing and blessed state of peace and security during this life. It is freedom from the confusion and fear that is engendered by false and apostate religious doctrines. It is a comfortable assurance that you have found the truth. It is the blessed knowledge and confidence that you are considered worthy of exaltation. This knowledge, or rest, can only come by personal revelation from the Spirit of God. This rest is closely related to, or even identical to, the gift of hope.
2. There is perhaps a second type of this relative rest. It is the personal privilege of being received into the personal presence of the Lord while one is still mortal. This is really the privilege of being sealed up to eternal life by the Second Comforter, the Savior himself in person. Concerning the higher priesthood, the Lord taught: "And this greater priesthood administereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God. Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest. And without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh; For without this no man can see the face of God, even the Father, and live. Now this Moses plainly taught to the children of Israel in the wilderness, and sought diligently to sanctify his people that they might behold the face of God; But they hardened their hearts and could not endure his presence; therefore, the Lord in his wrath, for his anger was kindled against them, swore that they should not enter into his rest while in the wilderness, which rest is the fulness of his glory" (D&C 84:19-24). Moses desired to make available to Israel the highest privilege of the priesthood-the privilege of seeing the face of God, of coming directly into the divine presence. However, because of Israel's disobedience, the Lord said, "I have sworn in my wrath, that they shall not enter into my presence, into my rest, in the days of their pilgrimage" (JST-Exodus 34:2).
Are we actually going to rest in heaven? While this verse may not refer to the rest which is freedom from labor, let's hope there will also be some of that type of rest as well!
11 And it shall come to pass in that day that the Lord shall set his hand again the second time to recover the remnant of his people which shall be left, from Assyria, and from Egypt, and from Pathros, and from Cush, and from Elam, and from Shinar, and from Hamath, and from the islands of the sea.
verse 11 "in that day" This refers to our day, or the last days.
"the remnant of his people which shall be left" After the scattering of the house of Israel, only a "remnant"-a few-will be left who are inclined to accept the gospel of Jesus Christ and gather with the saints.
12 And he shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.
verses 11-12 These two verses are parallel in their meaning and further define the role of the latter-day servant in gathering Israel and serving as an ensign to the world. Actually these verses refer to the second gathering of Israel. The first took place when the Lord led his people out of bondage in Egypt, or perhaps following the Babylonian captivity. The second gathering is now in progress as Israel gathers to the gospel and to the stakes of Zion. Appropriately, Moses, who led the first gathering from Egypt, was entrusted with the keys of the gathering of Israel which he restored to the prophet Joseph Smith in the Kirtland Temple in 1836 (D&C 110:11). During this second gathering, as opposed to the first, the remnants will return from all directions. This fact is depicted or symbolized by the several different countries mentioned which surrounded ancient Israel. Assyria is modern Iraq; Egypt and Pathros are Egypt; Cush (or Nubia) is Ethiopia; Elam is Iran; Shinar is Iraq; Hamath is Syria. This list of countries metaphorically represents the entire world, the "four corners of the earth." God will gather the covenant people from all the nations of the earth to his covenant lands.
The "islands of the sea" is the symbolic designation for widely scattered Israel.
Since we know that these two verses are parallel in meaning, we can see that the Lord's "hand" and his "ensign" are synonymous. They both personify the Lord's latter-day servant.
Again in verse 12, "Israel" refers not to the entire house of Israel, but to the northern Kingdom if Israel.
13 The envy of Ephraim also shall depart, and the adversaries of Judah shall be cut off; Ephraim shall not envy Judah, and Judah shall not vex Ephraim.
verse 13 During the gathering, all envy and enmity between Judah and the northern kingdom of Israel (Ephraim) will end.
"The envy of Ephraim also shall depart" The jealousy or enmity which Ephraim has for Judah shall cease to exist.
"the adversaries of Judah shall be cut off" The harassments or persecutions that Judah has leveled against Ephraim shall stop.
The final two phrases in this verse have the same meanings as do these first two phrases in keeping with the AB, AB form of parallelism.
To "vex" is to irritate or bother greatly.
14 But they shall fly upon the shoulders of the Philistines towards the west; they shall spoil them of the east together; they shall lay their hand upon Edom and Moab; and the children of Ammon shall obey them.
verse 14 Once reunited, this combined Israel will work together as a unit and prevail over their earlier enemies. These include the Philistines to the west, in the area which is now called the Gaza Strip. and also those enemies on the east which include Edom, Moab, and Ammon (today's Jordan).
"they shall fly upon the shoulders of the Philistines" The pronoun "they" refers to Israel-probably Ephraim and Judah together-as they overcome their ancient enemies Philistia, Edom, Moab, and Ammon. This description of Israel's victory over their ancient enemies is a type of latter-day Israel's overcoming the world. Edom, or Idumea, is a type of the world (D&C 1:36).
The combined forces of Ephraim and Judah shall "pounce on [or attack] the back of Philistia" (New Jewish Version).
"they shall spoil them of the east together" Together the combined forces of Ephraim and Judah shall plunder their enemies to the east.
"they shall lay their hand upon Edom and Moab" Edom and Moab will become subject to them. Also the "children of Ammon shall obey [become subject to] them."
15 And the Lord shall utterly destroy the tongue of the Egyptian sea; and with his mighty wind he shall shake his hand over the river, and shall smite it in the seven streams, and make men go over dry shod.
verse 15 The Lord will dry up the "tongue of the Egyptian sea." Various suggestions have been proffered for the specific identity of the "tongue of the Egyptian sea." It is not certain whether it is land or water. These suggestions include the western most "tongue" of the Red Sea (including the Gulf of Suez and the Gulf of Aqaba) and the delta of the Nile which protrudes as a "tongue" from the northern coast of Egypt into the Mediterranean Sea. The most attractive possibility, however, is the large inland sea created each spring as the Nile overflows its banks and floods a large area of the lower Nile valley. This sea forms a "tongue" of the Mediterranean Sea which protrudes far inland. This "tongue of the Egyptian sea" has indeed been dried up or "destroyed" by the building of the Aswan Dam with its consequent controlled Nile River drainage.
The Lord will "shake [raise] his hand over the river" (usually interpreted to be the Euphrates River) using the might of a great wind and divert it into seven small streams so that men might walk across it "dry shod," that is, without getting their shoes wet. Three elements in this passage-"mighty wind," "hand," and "go over dry shod"-recall the Israelites' miraculous crossing of the Red Sea (Exodus 14:21-22) and the Jordan River (Joshua 3:7-17). The same powers that guided the ancient Israelites out of Egypt will guide modern Israel out of Egypt and Assyria (both representing the world) to their gathering places.
The implication of this verse is that the Lord's power will insure that no force or obstacle will stop the latter-day gathering of Israel. He will prepare the way that the righteous remnant of Israel will be allowed to gather.
16 And there shall be a highway for the remnant of his people which shall be left, from Assyria, like as it was to Israel in the day that he came up out of the land of Egypt.
verse 16 Also the Lord will prepare a highway for the remnant of Israel coming from Assyria (the land on the other side of the Euphrates River). This "highway" will resemble the one prepared for Israel when it left the land of Egypt. This highway might be, in fact, literally a road, but the concept of "highway" might also refer figuratively to a mode of transportation such as airline travel or train travel. Obviously the Lord did not create a literal road for ancient Israel when they left Egypt, but he did prepare the way for them as they traveled to Palestine. He will do the same for gathering Israelites in the latter days.