CLICK HERE to read 2 Nephi 8.
Jacob’s “covenant speech” continues in chapter 8, and it parallels Isaiah 51 which can be split up into three poems:
Verses 1-8: Creation (The Plan of Salvation)
Verses 9-16: Prophets (The Way of Salvation)
Verses 17-23: Zion (Israel’s History and Destiny: Salvation)
These layers all culminate in the promise of salvation, which is a great relief after the previous chapter.
But, like the last chapter, it isn’t automatic. We have to wake up, look, receive, act, do the work of obtaining that salvation. Even though it is waiting for us, we must do the work to receive it.
This is the message of Isaiah’s poetic words, of which Jacob reminds us as he starts reciting the first poem:
“Hearken unto me, ye that follow after righteousness. Look unto the rock from whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit from whence ye are digged” (verse 1).
This is both type and shadow. The Savior is the “rock”, while Satan wants to drag us down to the pit. This is metaphorical language we know from recent chapters.
In applying this to ourselves, we know that the substance from which we are made is our Heavenly Parents and the covenants we have made to love them by doing the work to return back to them. This is what we should be made of, and it is the substance of which we are carved – shaped – created – sanctified as the Spirit works in us as we choose our covenants.
The hole of the pit is how far we have come since being “rescued”. As a convert, this is easy for me to see in lots of ways. I know the pit I was in before, and how great a hole He had to dig to rescue me out of there. This is the working of the atonement – not in a looking-back-like Lot’s wife kind of way, but in an acknowledging that the atonement has brought me out of that pit kind of way.
“Look unto Abraham, your father, and unto Sarah, she that bare you; for I called him alone, and blessed him” (verse 2).
This is covenant language.
Look to our covenants!
Our covenants shape us, mold us, create us into who we are promised to become.
As we are obedient to our covenants, He will bless us with that becoming-ness.
“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” (verse 3).
This is our comfort: that it is possible to return to the presence of our Heavenly Father.
This is our comfort: that he has dug us out of that pit.
This is our comfort: that the atonement changes us, that we are being created out of rock – solid substance built on the Savior.
This transformation of our wilderness into Eden, our desert into a garden – this is the work of the atonement. It is the Great Exchange of our sins, lost-ness, and chaos (wilderness and desert) for His righteousness (Eden, garden, His presence). It is the exchange of our separation from God for our at-one-ment with Him.
This is our joy and gladness, to be reunited – embraced by – the Lord once more.
In His presence will we find joy and gladness, and give thanks!
“Hearken unto me, my people; and give ear unto me, O my nation; for a law shall proceed from me, and I will make my judgment to rest for a light for the people” (verse 4).
To return to His presence, we must keep our covenants.
Listen and do; go and do.
It is by His covenants, through His covenants, that He does protect and provide for us.
It is by His covenants, through His covenants, that He does make a way for us to return to Him.
It is by these laws (of the covenants) that we are judged (as to whether we have followed the way to return to Him).
In this way, His laws are a light to our path, leading to His rest (presence).
“My righteousness is near; my salvation is gone forth…” (verse 5).
He is near, waiting to justify us, waiting to give us His righteousness, waiting to save us.
But we must look and see. We must open our minds, ears, and hearts to receive.
“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” (verse 6).
His salvation is forever.
This is not just a permanent, un-ending state.
His salvation, what He offers, has already been defined in the earlier Isaiah verses as like a garden, like Eden itself.
Eden was the heart of creation, producing fruit and life of all kinds.
This isn’t just a state of non-death.
It is the ongoing process of creation.
His salvation is forever means even the very act of creation will continue, like a garden that continues to produce.
But righteousness – the Great Exchange of the atonement, so that we are at-one, His righteousness is required for that garden-state-of-being.
We all will have immortality; His resurrection accomplished that.
But we must exchange what is in us that is not of God – that must be exchanged for His righteousness if we are going to return to His presence, going to get to live in this garden, going to get to be this garden, the garden that continues creation by continuing to (re)produce.
What qualifies us for the ongoing celestial style living that is eternal life – as in the process of eternal living – more than just only immortality (never dying)?
The next verse tells us:
“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” (verse 7)..
How do we qualify?
By becoming like Him.
How do we become like Him?
By listening and doing what He says.
That verse says “ye that know righteousness” – this is not for those who are not members of the church, or who do not know or understand. This is for the church, for the covenant people, for those who do know and understand!
Who are the people that know righteousness?
“the people in whose heart I have written my law”
Again, He is speaking directly to the covenant people, to those who have already received His law!
We can see it better in Hebrew, where this word righteousness is tsedeq, which is the root for the name “Melchizedek”.
That is what qualifies us!
The second poem then begins, and it is about how the Lord – who is faithful in keeping His covenants (and so is both our example as well as already fulfilling His promises to us) – has worked with the children of Israel. Specifically, we get the story of the deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt. This is what ties this poem in with the first poem, because we know this crossing of the Red Sea was the mikveh, or baptism, for the Israelites. So the covenant language continues, through the use of symbols for ordinances.
“Awake, awake! Put on strength, O arm of the Lord; awake as in the ancient days. Art thou not he that hath cut Rahab, and wounded the dragon?” (verse 9).
This is a prayer, this is the people crying out to the Lord. They are asking for His protection and deliverance, by acknowledging it was the Lord who “cut our arrogance” (Rahab) and killed the Pharaoh (dragon). Interestingly, it says “wounded” the dragon, which refers to the type of Christ in that the Pharaoh’s wound was the death of his firstborn son and the loss of all the Israelites who chose to leave. In the same way, Heavenly Father experienced the death of His firstborn, but it as in order to bring all His children home again.
“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?” (verse 10).
Just as the Israelites passed through the Red Sea unharmed, so we will pass through mortality unharmed (though not without its own difficulties). But we are unharmed only when we do the work of keeping our covenants, because it is our covenants that free Him up to protect and provide for us.
“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” (verse 11).
So it is by His power, His plan, His way, His Light – that we are able to pass through mortality and return to His presence.
This will be our joy.
“Holiness shall be upon their heads” = Holiness to the Lord, the House of the Lord.
We will be holy because we will become His people.
He will comfort us, because we will be home. We will no longer be in exile, or captive, or in bondage.
We will be home.
The third poem in the final verses of this chapter
He will say to us, “Thou art my people” (verse 16).
This is the ultimate at-one moment, to be claimed as His people, the people of the covenant, the people of Holiness, the House of the Lord..
Verses 18-21 compare the rebellious people – those of us who should know better – as the sons of the drunken woman. The drunken woman is Jerusalem (a feminine word in Hebrew), which symbolizes all of us who are of the covenant, but in a stupor, not worthy, careless, staggering, distracted by excess, and unable to speak (not testifying). When we act like that, we deserve the rebuke of God. Because we area already the covenant people, so we should already know better.
If we do not wake up, and if we do not step up, then we will be delivered over to those who oppress us.
We must wake up: “awake, awake, put on thy strength, O Zion” (verse 24).
We must be purified, sanctified, justified, so that we can be made holy.
And this is done through ordinances (participating frequently and often) and keeping our covenants.