CLICK HERE to read 2 Nephi 16.
This chapter compares to Isaiah 6.
These chapters are the last of this group (2 Nephi 11-16) of chapters referring to Isaiah’s preaching about coming judgment. His sermons in these chapters have referred to the immediate destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon in that day, and it refers to the judgment to come in the last days. The hope that comes from these chapters is that in both cases (back when Jerusalem was destroyed by Babylon and judgment in the last days), the Lord promises to remember His people that have truly remembered Him. The next few chapters (2 Nephi 17-24) will be the prophecies about HOW the Lord will remember (provide, protect, and preserve) His people (humble and obedient covenant-keepers).
Nephi continues to use Isaiah’s words to preach because Nephi and his siblings and their families know of Isaiah as a contemporary prophet in their day, and so Nephi is able to point out how their father, Lehi, being led out of Jerusalem before Babylon destroyed it was part of the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah. The Lord led Lehi and his family out of Jerusalem, and so he and his descendants were “remembered” (provided for, protected, and preserved).
So even how the background of this chapter reminds us that the Lord has already kept His promises, and will continue to do so, emphasis is added by reading of Isaiah’s vision of the Lord and remembering Lehi’s vision that warned him to take his family and leave (1 Nephi 1). Together, they are “two witnesses” of this particular prophesy (His promise), or this particular characteristic of the Lord (that He remembers His people).
So the first verse of this chapter opens with the vision of Isaiah, in which he saw the Lord:
“I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple.”
This takes us back a few chapters to 2 Nephi 11:1-3, where we have Nepih’s testimony that he saw the Lord, and that his brother Jacob also saw Him.
That’s three witnesses.
The words of Nephi, Jacob, and Isaiah make up about 135 of the 143 pages of the “small plates” (1 Nephi through the book of Omni) (Book of Mormon manual, chapter ten). Taking D&C 17:1-4 into context, we now understand that the purpose of these “small plates” has been to establish how we got the Book of Mormon (where the plates came from through the story of Lehi and his family), and to establish it as another testament of Jesus Christ (Elder Holland). This lays the foundation for teaching the doctrine of Christ in the Book of Mormon that comes later in the “large plates”.
(CLICK HERE to read about the different “plates”.)
As the three witnesses establish the Book of Mormon, we are still in context of Nephi urging us to liken Isaiah’s words (and all scriptures) to ourselves.
In 2 Nephi 11:8, Nephi has just given the reason why he is quoting and teaching the words of Isaiah:
“And now I write someof the words of Isaiah, that whoso of my people shall see these words may lift up their hearts and rejoice for all men. Now these are the words, and ye may liken them unto you and unto all men.”
We need to apply them to our own lives, in today’s world. So part of what this first verse tells us, is that we should also be seeking the Lord, not just to be doing what He says or following His example… but also seeking to truly see Him, know Him, and develop our testimony that He is real, He lives, and that He is who He says He is.
And when we know who He is, we cry out to each other (testify!) “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory” (verse 3).
This caught me by surprise this morning, in that I know He is “Lord of Hosts” as in “Lord of all Beings”, but the literal, actual word also caught me in that as we love others the way He loves us, we “host” them. We invite them, we care for them, we welcome them. It caught me in that way, as I have been studying and learning about that recently.
Also, the whole earth is “full of His glory” because of His great atoning sacrifice. His glory is to bring about the immortality and eternal life of all of us. And so the whole earth being full of His glory means that He has done this, that He has kept His promise, that we have all been (will be) changed by that Great Exchange of Him taking from us what is not of God, and filling us with His righteousness. This is His work and glory (Moses 1:39).
“And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him…”
The “posts of the door” remind me of Revelation 3:12 where the Lord says that those who take upon themselves His name, He will make as the pillars of His temple.
Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name.
So again, it is the Lord’s covenant people – those who not only made, but also kept their covenants – these people are moved at the Lord’s voice.
But the posts of the door being moved is the opening of the door.
So His covenant people move – open and receive – His words when they come.
It’s the reminder that a matriculation ceremony does not mean that you have graduated, but rather that you have met the prerequisites to enter the college for advanced learning. It is not graduation; you are not finished. You are just eligible to enter. It’s just the beginning of your progress.
These days matriculation ceremonies have been reduced to online enrollment.
But in the old days when tradition was both passed down and honored, matriculation ceremonies were a big deal. The ceremony was a beautiful and formal event. See this example, from the Mona Lisa Smile movie:
The matriculation ceremony was not graduation, but initiation. It’s just the beginning.
To get from enrollment to graduation is quite a process.
It requires change and attaining what one was not before that change, or transformation, happens. It requires change beyond what one was before.
I love that in Isaiah’s example, he focuses on his “unclean lips”.
Our words come out of our heart, often revealing what is in us before we even realize it is there.
The cleansing of words is a cleansing of the heart.
And one cannot cry “Holy, Holy, Holy” to the Lord until one’s words (and heart) has first been cleansed.
The cleansing is the prerequisite to the matriculation ceremony.
So we see, in a few short verses, the unfolding of the plan of salvation, the entirity of the Gospel and all its ordinances, beginning with the principle of repentance:
“Wo is unto me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips; and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips” (verse 5).
Note that he must be cleansed not only of himself, but also of the people around him.
This reminds me of D&C 88, which is all about the priesthood and things not for this blog on 2 Nephi. But suffice it to say that the reason we must be cleansed not only of ourselves but also of the people around us in our time is because of the setting-apart (being made holy) that must happen.
I would go so far as to say that the “unrighteous” is not others, but ourselves.
The unveiling of God coincides with our own sanctification.
Celestial-ness is not out-there, in the future, but in process now, as we meet the prerequisites and begin the matriculation ceremony.
This is why love is above all other things. Because just as D&C 88 holds the pattern of the priesthood, so also must we all live in the pattern of the Savior. Our final sanctification is only possible through “saving” others through charity, the pure love of Christ.
Becoming like Him isn’t just about going to the Temple a couple of times and being good in between visits. We must deliberately work to become sanctified through our covenants. The biggest mistake we most frequently make is thinking our covenants are about what NOT to do, when really they are about what we should be doing, how we should be living, what changes we should be making, and above all else – how we interact with others. This is the work of redemption: to gather through the invitation of love and the demonstration of love through service.
The work of the atonement is the work of doing for others what they cannot do for themselves.
And not because they don’t deserve it, but because there is such deep love for them, that you can see their potential and who they will become.
It’s not about being so good that others are helped.
It’s about loving so well that others are changed.
That’s how the Savior loves us.
Isaiah sees it in his vision, when a hot coal is laid in his mouth, to cleanse him of those unclean lips. It’s like those difficult and dark experiences of mortality that teach us and cleanse us and change us. It’s the fire of the Spirit, which does purify and sanctify us by the power of the atonement.
“And he laid it upon my mouth, and said: Lo, this has touched thy lips; and thing iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged” (verse 7).
This verse has always been one I have begged for, because I have often needed my lips cleansed. It is an intimate verse, when cleansing of self and cleansing from those around us is deep and thorough and pure. It is the “set apart”-ness that makes us holy. It is the story of when Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, and told them that his true disciples would be differentiated from the fakers by who is truly loving others, and loving them well (see John 13:34,35). That is what makes us clean “every whit” (John 13:10).
And so our sin is “purged”, and our sins our forgiven.
That is the atonement.
When we love others, truly and well, we act out the atonement in His name.
This is always the pattern of how the Lord works in us.
He gives to us, so that we can give to others.
He prepares us, so that we can “go and do”.
This is how it has always been.
Isaiah (now cleansed) hears “the voice of the Lord, saying: Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then I said: Here am I; send me.” (verse 8).
So many layers here!
First, it is the layer of being a type of Jehovah. We know that when Heavenly Father presented His plan for us to come to earth, it was Jehovah who volunteered to be the one to atone for us (see Abraham 3:27-28).
This was our premortal covenant: He would atone for us, and we would testify of it.
In the same way, Isaiah now is sharing his premortal experience of being called as a prophet to testify of Christ.
Elder Holland said:
“Isaiah is by every standard the messianic prophet of the Old Testament and as such is the most penetrating prophetic voice in that record. He, more than any other witness in the Old World, saw and wrote and prophesied of the Savior’s coming both in the meridian of time and again in the latter days. He is quoted more often in the New Testament, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and contemporary documents such as the Dead Sea Scrolls than any other Old World prophet. …
“It would seem even from Isaiah’s name (‘Jehovah saves’ or ‘The Lord is salvation’) that he was prepared at birth—or, more accurately, from before birth—to testify of the Messiah, bearing witness of the divinity of Christ in anticipation of both his first and second comings”
(Christ and the New Covenant: The Messianic Message of the Book of Mormon , 75–76, 77–78).
If we are likening the scriptures to our own lives, then we know that we also were prepared premortally to testify of Christ.
This is our “go and do”, being sent from the premortal realm, so that we can return to Heavenly Father’s presence and report that we did according to His plan.
This is our offering to Him, the offering that can only be given through the use of agency (our ability to choose). Our offering to Him is choose to love Him, and demonstrating that love by loving others well.
This love is part of our testimony, and without it words mean nothing.
Our soft hearts soften the hearts of others. Our seeing helps others to see. Our hearing helps others to hear. Our understanding helps others to understand, so that they can “be converted and be healed” (verse 10).
The ultimate healing is the at-one-ment.
This is our salvation, to return to the presence of our Heavenly Father.
Isaiah compares us to “an oak whose substance is in them when they cast their leaves”. Just as an oak tree drops acorns, and even though those acorns are only little seeds and not yet trees, the substance of the tree is already inside them. As the acorn breaks open into a sapling, the sapling will grow and grow until it is also a tree. While not yet a tree, the acorn holds within it the potential to become a tree.
Because it is made of the same substance.
“So the holy seed shall be the substance thereof” (verse 13).
And so we, the children of our Father-in-Heaven, hold within us the divine potential to become like Him.
Following the example of our Savior now, in our choices and interactions, helps us to be at-one with who we truly are, holding within us the divine substance of our Father.
Following the example of our Savior now, in our choices and interactions, helps us to be at-one with others, knowing the divine substance of our Father is also in them. This also helps them to begin to align themselves toward being at-one with our Father, like tuning forks responding to each other.
Following the example of our Savior now, in our choices and interactions, helps us to be at-one with our Father by being who He created us to be: acorns in process of becoming trees, seeds of God, “children of the most High” (Psalm 82:6).