CLICK HERE to read 2 Nephi 7.
This chapter parallels Isaiah 50. Remember that Isaiah’s teachings would be familiar to both Jacob and the Nephites from the copies of scripture they had and from Isaiah being the prophet around the time Jacob’s father, Lehi, took his family out of Jerusalem.
Jacob’s teaching to the Nephites, the big Covenant Speech, continues in this chapter, as he quotes chapter 50 in which Isaiah preaches in first person as if he were the Messiah. Isaiah wasn’t confused and thinking that he was, but he was just delivering the message of the Lord in first person directly to the people. However, chapter 50 of Isaiah almost cannot be understood fully without reading it along with chapter 51, because the chiasm goes through both chapters, pulling them together as one unit:
These are beautiful verses, and ones I need to read often.
They are verses where the Lord reminds us we are not forgotten.
At the end of chapter 49, the Lord says, “Shall the prey be taken from the mighty or the lawful captive delivered?” (verse 24).
This means “who can take the prize away from the winner? Who still needs saving if they are already safe?”
These are rhetorical questions the Lord is asking, patiently responding to our disbelief that He is enough for us, that His great atoning sacrifice was big enough – even for me.
So chapter 49 is about how Zion (the Lord’s covenant people), symbolized by Jerusalem, will put itself into captivity (symbolized by Babylon), by thinking – murmuring, even – that the Lord has forgotten them.
We put ourselves in bondage, into captivity, into misery, when we believe the Lord has forgotten us.
But, whether we believe it or not, the Lord has not forgotten us. Ever.
In 2 Nephi 7, Jacob opens with the verses that continue the Lord’s urging us to believe Him.
“Yea, for thus saith the Lord: Have I put thee away, or have I cast thee off forever? For thus saith the Lord: Where is the bill of your mother’s divorce?” (verse 1).
Here the Lord is asking the rhetorical questions continued from Isaiah 49. He is asking if we really believe He is just going to quit on us, give up on us, let us go. Do we really believe He is just trying to get rid of us? Like seriously, really, after Gethsemane and the crucifixion and the whole entire atonement process, now He is just going to give up?
But, if we are separated from Him, what caused it?
Is it because His atonement wasn’t big enough?
It is our not obeying the laws of the covenant, or not living up to the privileges of the covenant. This is the divorce: our straying from, leaving, or abandoning the covenant. It’s not because His atonement isn’t big enough, but because we are using our agency to not believe it, to not apply it, to not consider it adequate for us.
Maybe the atonement is great for other people, but I am too naughty, too bad, too far lost, too far gone, so it doesn’t count for me.
FALSE, says the Lord.
“To whom have I put thee away, or to which of my creditors have I sold you? Yea, to whom have I sold you? Behold, for your iniquities have ye sold yourselves, and for your transgressions is your mother put away” (verse 2).
Again, He has not put us away. He has not sent us away. To the contrary, He is constantly and consistently inviting us to Him.
But it is the apostasy of Israel, or our own iniquities, that separate us from God.
And when we are separated, we are not at-one.
When we sin, or fail to live up to our covenants, we are selling ourselves.
Interestingly, in the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for “iniquity” in this case is most often associated with specific forms of idolatry: pride from money (or dependence on it so that you are in bondage to debt or failing to fulfill family obligations because you are working too much) and adultery (in our day this would include emotional attachments to someone who is not our spouse and also pornography).
Breaking our covenants isn’t just about being bad, and more than just slacking off. It’s about not living up to the privileges and promises HE offers – about not doing our part so that He is not able to do His part.
Romans 9:31 describes this as when the people “did not attain the law of righteousness”.
This reminds me also of Romans 3:23, where we “come short of the glory of God”.
His promises of the covenant, dependent upon our keeping our part of the covenant, is His glory. His presence is His glory. The immortality and eternal life (celestial-ness) is His glory.
When we come short or do not attain, this is breaking our covenants.
This is removing ourselves from His presence.
This is selling ourselves.
Because we ourselves have done it to ourselves, we cannot blame God for quitting on us or abandoning us.
He is still there.
He is still waiting.
He is still inviting.
But we must answer when He calls.
“Wherefore, when I came, there was no man; when I called, yea, there was none to answer. O house of Israel, is my hand shortened at all that it cannot redeem, or have I no power to deliver?” (verse 2).
He is there, waiting and inviting. He wants us to answer, and He continues calling.
So more rhetorical questions: is His hand too short (too small, not big enough) to redeem us? Is He not strong enough, big enough, powerful enough, God enough to redeem us?
The Lord answers His own rhetorical question in Isaiah 59:1, when He says, “NO! My hand is not shortened!” and “Yes! I do hear your prayers!”
He is enough. His atonement is enough. Even for me.
D&C 35:8 says, “For I am God, and mine arm is not shortened; and I will show miracles, signs, and wonders, unto all those who believe on my name.”
He is there, waiting. The moment we believe, He will show us.
There is evidence of Him, but we must act in faith and look to see.
“I clothe the heavens with blackness, and I make sackcloth their covering” (verse 3).
A dark night is the opposite of His Light, the sheckinah of His presence.
Sackcloth was goatskin used in shame or mourning in the old days.
So He is speaking here of the shame and grief experienced when separated from His presence.
It is a rebuke! He is chastizing us for refusing His message. He is reminding us of His power. It is the twitter update version, in 140 characters or less, of the parable of the 10 Virgins. He came, and no one was home. He knocked, and no one answered. He called, and the phone just rang and rang and rang. He appeared, and no one saw.
He is waiting to give you everything that He has, but cannot until you accept the gift.
For us, it could be the call to faith – to really believe. It could be the call to service, to cheerfully and willingly do what He needs us to do so that He can accomplish His work. It could be the call to obedience, so that He can bless us through protection and provision. It could be the call to repentance, so that we might turn around and see Him, so that we might be embraced by Him so that we can again be at-one with Him.
“The Lord God hath given me the tongue of the learned…” (verse 4).
This reminds us of all the prophets, who like Moses, had some human-ish flaw so that they felt inadequate to be His messenger.
Yet still, they were called to the work.
We must, if we truly believe, we must know that His atonement was big enough – even for us.
“The Lord God hath given me the tongue of the learned…” (verse 4).
We know from Luke 21:15 that wisdom comes from the Lord.
The Hebrew in the Isaiah 50 parallel indicates “learned” as being “one who is qualified to teach others”.
This is premortal covenant language, speaking of one qualified to teach others by wisdom they receive through the Lord.
We are talking about testifying.
It reminds me also of 2 Nephi 9:28, which we will study in just a few chapters:
When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish.
We must open our ears to the Lord, and hearken (listen and obey!) to the counsel He gives us and sends to us. Then we must go and do.
The Hebrew for this verse in the Isaiah 50 parallel is this:
אדני יהוה נתן לי לשון למודים לדעת לעות את יעף דבר יעיר בבקר בבקר יעיר לי אזן לשמע כלמודים׃
The Jewish Bible in English translates it this way:
Adonai ELOHIM has given me the ability to speak as a man well taught, so that I, with my words, know how to sustain the weary.
How is that not a verse I need every morning before I go to work?!
How is that not a verse we should hold in our hearts before interacting with anyone, be it spouse or child, parent or friend?
This takes us to the “go and do” part, where we should be using that testifying to lift up the weary, to teach those who want to be taught, to make the world a better place, to bring ourselves and our families and those around us (within our “bounds” of “time and place”) to be more at-one with the Savior, more at-one with our Heavenly Father. We should be sustaining, comforting, and refreshing those around us. When we do so, we are becoming that Light, as we are led by the sheckinah-ness of the Lord.
Even me, with literal cochlear implants, I must turn them ON to hear.
Even turning them on isn’t enough – the batteries must be charged and connected.
And spiritually (all things are temporal and spiritual, right? even cochlear implants!), the question is not how well can I hear, but how well do I obey?
“The Lord God hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away back” (verse 5).
D&C 58:1 says that this hearkening is not just for obedience, but that through the process of hearkening we can learn from Him what He wants for us and what He has promised for us. We can know Him, ourselves, and His purpose for us. This is huge and amazing, but we must listen to understand.
Part of listening is doing.
When the Savior says He was not rebellious, He is taking us to Gethsemane, where He prayed “not my will” and where He submitted to His Father’s will.
He submitted to His Father’s will, to the greater purpose, to the plan His Father had for all His children, even when it was great sacrifice to Him.
“I gave my back to the smiter, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair. I hid not my face from shame and spitting” (verse 6).
He endured physical lashings, cultural disrespect (pulling out hairs from the beard), public shame, and the personal offense and gross-ness of spitting.
We, like Him, should be obedient despite the persecution that may come at us, and no matter its form.
“For the Lord God will help me, therefore shall I not be confounded. Therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed” (verse 7).
He is our help.
Not being confounded means no one can argue against us.
No matter what other people may say, no matter how others may bring up our past, no matter the persecution that may come…
If we have faith enough to believe atonement is big enough – even for us – then we can be at-one with Him.
When we are at-one with Him, then He has removed the curse that we earned (mercy, see Isaiah 22:23,25) because He has already taken our punishment for us.
Because He has already done it, it is finished. It is all said and done. No one can argue against us because the price has been paid.
In this way, the Lord has justified us.
“And the Lord is near, and he justifieth me” (verse 8).
This brings us to Romans 8:32, which shows that His justification of us is not only mercy (removing the punishment we deserved by taking it for us), but also grace (giving us what we do not deserve).
He wants to give us everything.
Everything He has, He wants to give to us.
“Who will contend with me? Let us stand together” (verse 8). I love this because He is showing how those who argue against can be made at-one.
“Who is mine adversary? Let Him come near me, and I will smite him with the strength of my mouth” (verse 8).
The strength of His mouth is His words.
His words are His instructions and promises of the covenant, which say He will crush the adversary through the atonement.
Satan is called the adversary because he is adverse (against) the atonement. He doesn’t want the atonement to be an option, and so he will try to make us adverse to it, even if by thinking it is not big enough for us, or we are too bad, or we are not good enough.
But the Savior, the Savior Himself, declares that we are right. This is Him justifying us, declaring us to be right, declaring us to be holy, declaring us to be His.
We are right because of that great exchange in Isaiah 22:23,25. We are “right” because of His righteousness. We are “right” because He has declared (justified) us to be right.
“For the Lord God will help me. And all they who shall condemn me, behold, all they shall wax old as a garment, and the moth shall eat them up” (verse 9).
We must trust in the Lord’s provision and protection.
We must believe that He has a plan for us, that we can discover our purpose, and that He will enable us to accomplish that purpose.
In this way, the Lord asks one more rhetorical question in verse 10:
“Who is among you that feareth the Lord, that obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh in darkness and hath no light?”
Who can come to know the Lord, and not obey Him?
How can we obey Him, and not know Him better?
How can you walk a path toward light, and it not get lighter along the way, the closer you get to that light?
The parallel verse in Isaiah 50:10 adds: “let him trust in the name of the Lord, and stay upon his God.”
That “stay” means “be supported by”.
So even in the process of learning who God is, and learning how to obey Him, we must have faith in the atonement and let Him support us along the way, throughout this journey.
“Behold all ye that kindle fire, that compass yourselves about with sparks, walk in the light of your fire and in the sparks which ye have kindled. This shall ye have of mine hand—ye shall lie down in sorrow.”
This final verse of this chapter would be confusing if we didn’t understand the parallel poetry going on. Now, instead of comparing human learning against the wisdom of God, the Lord is saying that we can only walk by His light. If we make up our own light, we will be burned. Doing things our own way will lead to destruction. We must do it His way to succeed, and doing so will bring us provision and protection.
When we listen and do what the Prophets tell us, and when we heed (act on) the promptings of the Holy Spirit, we will walk in Light. We will enjoy the presence of the Lord, and He will provide for us and protect us along the way as we do His work, as we testify of Him. That’s the covenant.