Wednesday, September 14, 2011

2 Nephi 8: Jacob quotes Isaiah 51 to teach about death and the resurrection (not just the gathering)

Jacob takes what seems like a crazy detour when he quotes Isaiah 50 - 51 in 2 Nephi 7 - 8 which seem to be about the gathering of Israel then launches into a discourse in 2 Nephi 9 on the resurrection and the final judgment. For many years I wondered why Jacob took the trouble to quote Isaiah if he was only going to ignore it and not comment on it.

The last time I worked my way slowly through 1 Nephi and 2 Nephi, I tried to figure out what purpose the extensive quotations of Isaiah were, so as I was reading Jacob talk about the resurrection after quoting Isaiah, I wondered if maybe I should go back to the quoted Isaiah in 2 Nephi 8 and see if I could find anything that could referred to the resurrection.

The first thing I noticed as I read through was that Isaiah exclaims, “Awake! Awake!” three times in three different places. Suddenly I realized that this could refer to the resurrection as well as awaking from spiritual death by repenting.

Awake, awake! Put on strength, O arm of the Lord (v9) Isaiah is telling Jesus Christ to resurrect!

Awake, awake, stand up, O Jerusalem, which hast drunk at the hand of the Lord the cup of his fury—thou hast drunken the dregs of the cup of trembling wrung out (v17) Isaiah is telling Jerusalem to be resurrected, and it seems these people have had to suffer for their sins, since the verse refers to fury and trembling. I can only conclude that these must be the people who crucified Jesus. They’ve spent a long time trembling in fearful anticipation of the anger of the Lord that will come upon them at the final judgment.

Awake, awake, put on thy strength, O Zion; put on thy beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city (v24) Here Isaiah is bidding the righteous saints to arise. When they take up their bodies again as a beautiful garment, they will be glorified in holiness.

But maybe I’m getting ahead of myself here. If Isaiah teaches about the resurrection, he also must teach about death first. (So we’ll save the rest of the resurrection stuff for after the death stuff, ‘kay?) And there is a lot in that chapter that points out the inevitability of death.

Look unto the rock from whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit from whence ye are digged. Look unto Abraham, your father, and unto Sarah, she that bare you (v1-2) It’s the old story—we return to where we come from. We came out of dust and to dust we will return. We were born from Abraham and Sarah, and we will return to them, just as they returned to their fathers.

Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look upon the earth beneath; for the heavens shall vanish away like smoke, and the earth shall wax old like a garment; and they that dwell therein shall die in like manner. But my salvation shall be forever, and my righteousness shall not be abolished. (v6) Even the heavens and the earth will die and everything in them. (In contrast to this, we are told, salvation and righteousness is eternal.)
7 Hearken unto me, ye that know righteousness, the people in whose heart I have written my law, fear ye not the reproach of men, neither be ye afraid of their revilings.
8 For the moth shall eat them up like a garment, and the worm shall eat them like wool. But my righteousness shall be forever, and my salvation from generation to generation. (2 Nephi 8:7-8)
Here we are also told that death will come to those who revile against the truth just as it comes to everyone else. This group of people are mentioned particularly because they will suffer the second spiritual death as well as physical death; they die as to things pertaining to righteousness.

Art thou not he who hath dried the sea, the waters of the great deep; that hath made the depths of the sea a way for the ransomed to pass over? (v10) Here Isaiah speaks to Christ and refers to the miracle when Israel passed through the Red Sea on dry ground to escape the Egyptians. How does this relate to the idea of the inevitability of death? Well, if we think of the experience of going through the Red Sea as experiencing death, then it teaches us that the Lord’s redeemed people make it through death okay to the promised land (celestial kingdom). But just like the Egyptians’ stubbornness led to their death in the Red Sea, those who do not accept the redemption Christ made for them will suffer the second death.

The miracle also teaches us something about the redemption of Christ. He makes a way for those who believe in Him, but for those who do not, He hedges up their way and overthrows them.
12...Behold, who art thou, that thou shouldst be afraid of man, who shall die, and of the son of man, who shall be made like unto grass?
13 And forgettest the Lord thy maker... and hast feared continually every day, because of the fury of the oppressor, as if he were ready to destroy? And where is the fury of the oppressor? (2 Nephi 8:12-13)
The world fears death because the world is not prepared to die, not having repented. But the righteous should not fear death, if they have remembered the Lord all their lives. They don’t even need to fear those who threaten them.
19 These two sons are come unto thee, who shall be sorry for thee—thy desolation and destruction, and the famine and the sword—and by whom shall I comfort thee?
20 Thy sons have fainted, save these two; they lie at the head of all the streets; as a wild bull in a net, they are full of the fury of the Lord, the rebuke of thy God. (2 Nephi 8:19-20)
In these verses, Isaiah talks about the inevitability of death and how everyone is trapped by it “as a wild bull in a net.” It is kind of odd how he says this—“Thy sons have fainted, save these two” makes it seem like there are two sons who escape, but if we read carefully, we see that these two sons are “thy desolation and destruction,” also known as “famine and the sword.” It seems odd to call death and destruction “two sons,” but I suppose we could say figuratively that the fall of man gave birth to death and hell. All the rest of us will be caught in the “net”, lie in the streets, and be full of the fury of the Lord in the spirit world without the atonement to set us free.
22 Thus saith thy Lord, the Lord and thy God pleadeth the cause of his people; behold, I have taken out of thine hand the cup of trembling, the dregs of the cup of my fury; thou shalt no more drink it again.
23 But I will put it into the hand of them that afflict thee; who have said to thy soul: Bow down, that we may go over—and thou hast laid thy body as the ground and as the street to them that went over. (2 Nephi 8:22-23)
“Thou hast laid thy body as the ground and as the street to them that went over” is another very fancy way of personifying death. (Death makes everyone lay down in the street and stomps all over them.) The “cup of trembling and the dregs of the cup of my fury” refers to the soul suffering for their sins in spirit prison and trembling in anticipation of the Judgment day. When Isaiah says the Lord will plead the cause of his people and take that cup of trembling away and give it to those who walked all over them, he prophesies of Christ conquering death and hell through the atonement and resurrection. (It also refers to the Judgment day when all oppressors will be judged, but that’s for a different post.)

Okay. Back to the happy news of the resurrection! There are a number of different metaphors Isaiah uses to this end.

For the Lord shall comfort Zion, he will comfort all her waste places; and he will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the Lord. Joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving and the voice of melody. (v3) The wilderness and the desert in Isaiah’s day really was a completely desolate place with hardly anything living in it, so it makes an excellent representation of death. On the other hand, Eden, also known as “the garden of the Lord” made an excellent symbol for life. So when the Lord says He will comfort all the waste places of Zion and make Zion’s deserts into the garden of Eden, we are meant to understand that He means His people will be resurrected. (We can also read this as a literal prophecy about deserts blossoming, but that’s a post for another day.)

Therefore, the redeemed of the Lord shall return, and come with singing unto Zion; and everlasting joy and holiness shall be upon their heads; and they shall obtain gladness and joy; sorrow and mourning shall flee away. (v11) We are used to interpreting this as the gathering of Israel, but now we see that the return that is described in this verse can also mean the return of righteous spirits to their bodies. That will truly be a joyful day.

And I have put my words in thy mouth, and have covered thee in the shadow of mine hand, that I may plant the heavens and lay the foundations of the earth, and say unto Zion: Behold, thou art my people. (v16) The earth has already been created, so it seems odd that Isaiah would speak of the creation as something yet in the future. This should tip us off that he means the resurrection of the heavens and earth will be like the creation is occurring all over again!

Shake thyself from the dust; arise, sit down, O Jerusalem; loose thyself from the bands of thy neck, O captive daughter of Zion (v25) This is wonderfully literal about the resurrection. It teaches that members of the church (called “Jerusalem” and “Zion”) will be given power to come forth in the morning of the first resurrection. We’ll be able to get up out of our graves and shake the dust off our resurrected bodies. How cool is that!

From studying this chapter this way I have learned that blocks of scripture that refer to the scattering and gathering of Israel can also be used to teach about death and resurrection of the body. This gives us two levels of meaning to find!