Isaiah 10 and 2 Nephi 20 are a brutal chapters, following the Assyrians conquering Israel, including some of Judah. However, the Lord says there is still time for repentance and choosing to become people of the covenant (being born into it is not enough). This opportunity is why He did not allow Assyria to completely wipe out the tribes of Israel; however, we know from history that they will not take advantage of this opportunity. Babylon will soon finish the job Assyria started. In the same way, there is a double layer for latter-days now, as time is running out for our opportunity to truly become covenant people through repentance and obedience.
The Book of Mormon Seminary Manual for this chapter says:
As you read this chapter, think of ways that Isaiah’s words might apply to the Lord’s people in the last days and to those who persecute them. The teachings in this chapter may also be likened to a person who has turned from the Lord and feels God’s judgments upon him or her and who wonders if there is any hope for a return to Him.
So this chapter opens up with the description of those who are attacking God’s people, and descriptions of what makes them “wicked” as opposed to Gods’ people being “obedient”.
Verse 1 opens with the first descriptor of the “wicked”, stating they “decree unrighteous decrees”. This means they give orders that are not righteous, or make rules that are not righteous. We see this today, as society and culture and even governments begin to establish rules that are not righteous. We see this today, a society and culture moves outside the “Order” of the priesthood, and the consequences and calamities that come from being outside that Order.
The next descriptor in verse one is that the “wicked” “write grievousness which they have prescribed”. This means that they are causing injustice and sorrow. We know that injustice causes sorrow, and it is fiercely evident in our world today. Injustice means violating the rights of others through action (our behaviors) or treatment (our interactions). In the world today, there are injustices against those who are women, against those who want to have children, against children, against those who want the freedom to practice their religion as they see fit. If we are not careful, we can even cause injustice against others even within the church: anytime we are filled with pride or let Satan fill us with anger, we can cause injustice. Being a screaming parent instead of a nurturing one is injustice against your children. Unrighteous dominion or abusive practices is injustice against those in your family. Neglecting your home teaching or visiting teaching is injustice. Being bitter or negative or “murmuring” instead of creating a safe and loving home environment is injustice. Judging others instead of loving them causes injustice. Failing to give your Fast offering (or actually fast in some way) is injustice against the poor. All of these have serious consequences.
Isaiah describes it in the next verse: “to turn away the needy… to take away the right from the poor… that widows may be their prey, and that they may rob the fatherless…” (verse 2). These are all examples of injustice at a level we can do something about, and should be doing something about.
Then, he says, the problem is no one knows who to turn to for help. Those experiencing injustice will not have the trust or understanding or hope to be able to turn to those they are assigned to, because those people already neglected their duties. And those who are assigned to care for others (we all are, whether it is by “order” of our family, through mission work, or through specific callings – including home or visiting teaching), these people will not be able to turn to the Lord for help because they have disqualified themselves from receiving it (by not caring for the people assigned to them). This is serious stuff!
“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?”
Then Isaiah begins to get specific in his prophecy, talking about the enemies headed toward Jerusalem. He says they will conquer and scatter the people along the way, but the Lord will stop them before they destroy Jerusalem (this is Assyria still, not yet Babylon). We know this was fulfilled in Isaiah 36 and 37. The Lord sends the enemies to bring about the repentance of his “hypocritical nation” (verse 6). The enemies plan “to destroy” and cut off the nations of Israel (verse 7).
The people of holiness have rejected holiness, and so removed themselves from His protection. Instead of having the Lord to fight their battles, they are now exposed to their enemies – and on their own to fight against them (Exodus 14:14; Deuteronomy 1:30; Deuteronomy 3:22; Deuteronomy 20:4; Joshua 10:42; Joshua 23:3; D&C 98:37).
The enemies of the Lord want to conquer specific cities of Israel, and covert them to their wicked ways. They want to taint the covenant, destroy it, pull people out of it. This happens specifically in war back in that day of Isaiah’s time, and happens ever so subtle-ly in our day. The conquered “cities” are families. War is war, and that war rages on.
When working with seminary kids, one of the things we explain to them is that Satan likes to move the line we draw in the sand, so we think we are not sinning because we have not crossed the line. We know what the line in the sand is, and we are coverted-enough, covenanted-enough, good enough not to cross that line. Except Satan likes to move that line over, so that we are doing what we should not be doing – though we never actually cross that line.
In verse 8, the Lord asks “are not my princes altogether kings?” Again, we have both temporal (physical, surface, Aaronic) and spiritual (deeper, Melchizedek) teachings here. The immediate issue of that day is that the Assyrian king (Sennacherib now) would conquer so many cities (46) that he could not make enough kings in the land. The leaders would be princes, but united as kings under Sennacherib. The deeper spiritual layer we can apply to ourselves is that we can allow the adversary to make us his puppets, or we can be the princes and kings (and princesses and queens) we were created to be.
Verse 9 is the one that confirms Sennacherib is the Assyrian king being talked about, because it means Isaiah wrote this piece between the time Syria and Israel were conquered but before Judah had fallen. He is saying that the cities of Judah are next, and will fall, because they have not turned to the Lord in humble repentance.
There is no more time to repent and not go into bondage. They can still repent, and the Lord will lighten their bondage, but the time has passed to escape it entirely.
After having conquered the powerful “idols” and the wicked people in Syria and Israel, Sennacherib will think it is easy to conquer Judah as well (verse 10-11). God will allow Sennacherib to fulfill his own purposes, even though it will hurt the Jews, because these are the consequences they have chosen – but after this, God will also punish Sennacherib for thinking the power was all his own (verse 12).
“For he saith: By the strength of my hand and by my wisdom I have done these things; for I am prudent…” (verse 13). The Lord says that Sennacherib will take the riches and treasures of the people like one gathers eggs from chickens, and the violation and destruction will be so swift that the people cannot even “cluck in protest or peep” (verse 14). The Lord knows Sennacherib is a fool for thinking the power was his own and not given to him by God, and says that it is as foolish as an ax thinking it is powerful (rather than the man who swings it), a rod thinking it is stronger than the one who swings it, or a staff not knowing it is made out of wood (verse 15).
He is the one who gives us life, and brings life to us: “under his glory he shall kindle a burning like the burning of a fire” (verse 16). That fire could be the consequences of sin, and its purifying process that brings us back to at-one-ness. That fire could be the Holy Spirit that warns us, guides us, corrects us, and instructs us along the way – preventing destruction and scattering the moment we begin to heed its promptings.
So these verses are not warnings against Judah like the first verses, but rather these are warnings against Assyria – that while they will be a tool used by God to let the Jews suffer the consequences they have chosen, treating people that way is still against God’s laws and they will pay the price for doing so. Regardless of purpose, all behavior has consequences and there are always penalties for living and behavior outside God’s laws. Isaiah says that when it is time for Assyria to be “burned” for their bad behavior, it will be done (by the Lord) quickly and suddenly (verse 17), and to such extent that Assyria as a nation will be destroyed and cease to exist (verse 18).
“And the light of Israel (Christ) shall be for a fire, and his Holy One for a flame (The Prophet = the flaming sword), and shall burn and shall devour his thorns and his briers in one day; And shall consume the glory of his forest, and of his fruitful field, both soul and body” (verses 17 and 18).
This is not just the destruction of Jerusalem when the Babylonians came.
This is the end-of-the-world fire, that will come to cleanse the earth like the Holy Spirit comes to us after baptism. This is the end of the latter-days, when Christ returns, and all his settled, and His Law is established again.
Then, in that day, we will “stay upon” (depend upon) the Lord, not our enemies.
Isaiah then skips to the future, saying that one day Assyria will be so extinct that even a child could tell its brief history (verse 19). In that time, the children of Abraham will understand, agree, and declare the truth of the Lord (verse 20). Isaiah could see that it would take a very long time for the “remnant of Jacob” to return to the Lord, but that eventually they finally would (verse 21). By this time, the promise to Abraham would be fulfilled, that the Lord’s covenant people (us!) would be “as the sand of the sea” (verse 22), though still – even of these (us!) – only a few would choose to return to Him (verse 23).
The Lord will destroy (“make a consumption”) all that is not of Him.
This is the ultimate setting-apart, the ultimate making Holy.
All that is not of Him will be destroyed. We know He is good, and He is truth, and He is love. All that is not, will be destroyed. All who have not done the work of becoming His people, will be destroyed.
This is not a mean, judgmental God. This is necessary work that a loving God must do to provide the place He promised to His people.
He wants to bring us home.
He wants us to succeed.
He wants to gather us from the destruction and scattering we have chosen, and He wants us to be His people again. He wants us at-one.
If we are living in Him, living in faith, acting in faith, there is no reason to be afraid.
There is no reason to fear our enemies, because we know the end of the story.
There is no reason to fear the hard days ahead, to fear the experiences of the latter days of the Latter-days, because we know the end of the story.
We know the end of the story.
“Therefore, thus saith the Lord God of Hosts: O my people that dwellest in Zion, be not afraid…” (verse 24).
Why? Because of that promise of the Great Exchange from Isaiah 22:23, 25, where He removes the burden of the curse (message of the curse earned) upon us while also giving us His righteousness (message of the promise given), making us His holy people.
We become His holy people by the power of the priesthood (“rod” in verse 26) and by temple ordinances (“highway” in D&C 133:25-28 and Jeremiah 16:14-15 that will come up again in a few chapters to be discussed at length).
Only in the temple, by priesthood power and authority, do we declare who He has called us to be (children of Holiness), who we have only been thus far, and call upon The Son for His atonement to bridge the difference. Only then are we physically (Aaronic) and spiritually (Melchizedek) changed into the people of Holiness, His House, a people preparing for celestial-ness by living it now (and empowered to do so).
“And it shall come to pass in that day that his burden (message of a curse) 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).
Anointing only happens when one is being set apart, to be made holy. It comes after the cleansing, and claims who or what is anointed as holy. It is preparation to service to God (and) or King. It is being consecrated in a new role, almost as a new being. It means chosen of God.
The Hebrew word for Messiah mashi’ah, which literally means “the anointed one”.
The covenant people are a chosen people.
He chooses us to become like Him.
This is what being a covenant people is all about, even our own anointing, which happened premortally (and then by physical ordinances in the temple for our physical bodies):
When the most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the the sons of Adam, He set the bounds of people according to the number of the children of Israel (Deuteronomy 32:8).
Skousen adds that these are the children “which were yet to be born but had already been numbered and anointed” (p. 238). He points out Paul spoke of this as well:
And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He did foreknow, he also did foreordain… and also call: and whom He called, them He also justified: and whom He justified, them he also glorified (Romans 8:28-30).
Alma also taught about our premortal preparation, ordinances, and covenants:
Being called and prepared from the foundation of the world according to the foreknowledge of God, on account of their exceeding faith and good works; in the first place being left to choose good or evil; therefore they having chosen good, and exercising exceedingly great faith, are called with a holy calling, yea, with that holy calling which was prepared with, and according to, a preparatory redemption for such” (Alma 13:3).
The final verses are geographic descriptions, the trail of an invading army closing in.
They are historical peoples, with characteristics that lead to consequences. While their story will continue to unfold, we can learn from them even now. We all have days that feel like this, when we began to drown, or suffocate, or are generally overwhelmed. Whether it is because of the daily stresses of life, or whether it is consequences of some great sin, the Savior calls to us, beckoning us to turn towards Him, urging us to trust Him, pleading with us to follow Him to safety. The atonement empowers and enables us to endure the challenges of mortality, and the atonement quickens our Spirit and our bodies to do all that is required.
This is our part of the covenant: to turn to Him.
This is His part of the covenant: to get us the rest of the way home.
Isaiah 40:31 says:
But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings as eagles;
they shall run, and not be weary;
and they shall walk, and not faint