A better way of understanding these chapters can be found after they are quoted. “I write unto my people…that they may know the judgments of God, that they come upon all nations, according to the word which he hath spoken” (2 Nephi 25:3). Seen from this perspective of “you-can’t-escape-the-judgments-of-God,” these quoted chapters become much clearer and we see indeed that both Israel and gentiles are smitten for their wickedness. We see that the Lord punishes Israel for their sins by allowing other nations to afflict them. We see that the Lord doesn’t let those other nations get away with afflicting Israel either, but destroys them too, if they don’t repent.
But the funny thing is, this suddenly suggests to us the reason we can rejoice in these words of Isaiah’s. For those of us who are righteous who are afflicted by the wicked, these chapters are great news, since they reinforce the principle that the wicked (in or out of Israel) will not get away with the evil they do, even if it seems all society combines to keep them from getting their just desserts. We are the covenant people of the Lord, and we will need to remember these things as wickedness gets worse and worse all around us.
Another important point to remember, though, is that they are also a warning to us, lest we be among the wicked because of hypocrisy. These principles were at work when some of early restored church polluted their inheritances in Missouri and were scourged by the people around them. Then the people of Missouri were scourged during and after the Civil War. These principles are still at work. If we do not repent of our sins, the Lord will allow other people to afflict us (and then He will chasten and destroy them).
The sins of Israel in Isaiah’s day are denounced in these chapters, and they are similar to the church’s sins in our day. There is no end to our clutter that we treasure (2 Ne. 12:7), we worship the work of our hands (our careers) (2 Ne. 12:8), we are proud and don’t humble ourselves (2 Ne. 12:9), we allow children to bully and boss us around (2 Ne. 13:4-5), our men don’t take responsibility (2 Ne. 13:6-7), our women are proud and more concerned about what they wear and looking foxy than anything else (2 Ne. 13:16-23), our families bought too much house and got too deep in debt and caused a housing bubble (2 Ne. 15:8-9), we have so much spiritual music but we don’t ponder the Lord’s work (missionary work) (2 Ne. 15:12), we’re tied to our favorite sins and drag them around with us rather than letting them go by believing in Christ and repenting (2 Ne. 15:18), we wish the Lord would hurry the fulfillment of prophecies that we aren’t willing to help with (and thus are unworthy to see) (2 Ne. 15:19), we still think some things are good that the Lord abhors and hate things the Lord loves (2 Nephi 15:20), and we think we know everything about the gospel (2 Ne. 15:21). If you read these chapters, there are REAL CONSEQUENCES for these sins, and they come just as naturally as night follows day!
Another thing that makes Isaiah confusing in these chapters is that he mixes his prophecy of one-time events with prophecy that depicts patterns of events that occur over and over again. Nephi takes a different approach after these chapters; he prophesies with plainness by giving a chronological sweep through coming events so that future readers can identify important watersheds of history. This is why an exact one-to-one comparison of the Isaiah chapters and Nephi’s prophecy is not possible and leaves a reader feeling like Nephi was quoting with no intention of interpreting it for us. (He is interpreting, just in a different way.)
Another thing that makes it tricky to understand these chapters is actually the chapter headings. Sometimes the headings are helpful, but in a few places, the assumptions we make about the meaning based upon the chapter heading blurb make it difficult to read any other possible meaning into the text. Important features are left out that can help us tie the whole mass together. Since I realized this, I decided to try to write my own chapter headings for 2 Ne. 12-24. (I used what was there already and added or removed as I thought good.) See if they help you catch sight of what Isaiah was trying to say in those chapters.
2 Ne. 12—Isaiah sees the latter-day temple, gathering, and millennial judgment and peace—the ways Israel has gone astray delineated—the proud and wicked shall be brought low at the Second Coming.
2 Ne. 13—The irresponsibility of Israel’s men rebuked—Judah and Jerusalem shall be punished for their disobedience—The daughters of Zion are cursed and tormented for their worldliness.
2 Ne. 14—Zion shall be redeemed and cleansed in the millennial day—They shall be protected by the Spirit and find refuge in the temple.
2 Ne. 15—The Lord’s vineyard (Israel) shall be desolate and his people shall be scattered—Their sins delineated—Woes and wars shall come upon them in their apostate condition.
2 Ne. 16—Isaiah sees the Lord—Isaiah’s sins are forgiven—He is called to prophesy—He prophesies the rejection by the Jews of Christ’s teachings—A remnant shall return.
2 Ne. 17—Ephraim and Syria wage war against Judah—Ahaz rebuked for not believing in the Lord’s promise and power—Christ will be born of a virgin—Judah’s unbelief brings war and decline upon the land.
2 Ne. 18—Israel’s destruction is imminent for refusing the Lord—Christ shall be as a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense—Seek the Lord, not peeping wizards—Turn to the law and to the testimony for guidance.
2 Ne. 19—Isaiah speaks Messianically—The people in darkness to see a great Light—Unto us a child is born—He shall be the Prince of Peace, reigning on David’s throne—For refusing to heed Christ, Israel will be destroyed.
2 Ne. 20—Injustice brings destruction by Assyria—Destruction of Assyria is a type of destruction of wicked at the Second Coming—Few people shall be left—The Lord’s people are not to be afraid of the wicked—the remnant of Jacob shall return in that day.
2 Ne. 21—Stem of Jesse (Christ) shall judge in righteousness—The knowledge of God shall cover the earth in the Millennium—The Lord will raise an ensign and gather Israel.
2 Ne. 22—Gathered Israel sings the song of redeeming love—Israel will praise the Lord for what He has done—He shall dwell with them.
2 Ne. 23—Destruction of Babylon is a type of destruction at Second Coming—The Lord’s anger is not on those who rejoice in Him—It shall be a day of wrath and vengeance—Babylon (the world) shall fall forever.
2 Ne. 24—Israel shall be gathered and enjoy millennial rest—Lucifer cast out of heaven for rebellion and shall be bound during the Millennium—Israel shall triumph over Babylon (the world).
For me, this really helped me see the pattern that Isaiah was conveying. You notice that gathering and scattering happens several times. Nephi points it out too when he says:
And as one generation hath been destroyed among the Jews because of iniquity, even so have they been destroyed from generation to generation according to their iniquities; and never hath any of them been destroyed save it were foretold them by the prophets of the Lord. (2 Nephi 25:9)I also began to see joyful things interspersed among all the sin and destruction.
- The temple is established in the mountains
- Zion redeemed and cleansed
- Israel is protected by the Spirit and finds refuge in the temple
- Prophets are called
- Turn to the law and to the testimony for guidance
- The people in darkness will see a great Light
- The Lord’s people are not to be afraid of the wicked
- The remnant of Jacob shall return when the Lord raises an ensign
- The wicked will be destroyed
- Christ shall judge in righteousness
- The knowledge of God shall cover the earth
- Gathered Israel sings the song of redeeming love and praises the Lord for what He has done
- Christ will dwell with his people
- The Lord’s anger is not on those who rejoice in Him
- Lucifer shall be bound
- Israel will triumph over Babylon