CLICK HERE to read 2 Nephi 17.
This chapter compares to Isaiah 7.
This chapter, and all the way through chapter 24, is the next section in Isaiah’s teachings: his prophesies.
This chapter begins the prophecies about the birth of the Messiah.
The prophesies come in the midst of political context, all of which is unfolding prior to the Babylonian captivity that would destroy Jerusalem. Isaiah prophesies of this, and as he does so there is a double layer to his prophesy. First, the immediate captivity about to happen when Jerusalem is destroyed, but also the later destruction that will come at the end of times.
Specifically for the tribe of Ephraim (the northern kingdom of Israelites), this destruction was fulfilled in 721 BC, when Assyria conquered them. They were “scattered” when they were carried away, so that other tribes also became known as “the lost tribes” (See 2 Kings 17:22–23 and 3 Nephi 15:15; 17:4).
But the Lord, through Isaiah the prophet, sends a message of hope to His people:
“Take heed, and be quiet; fear not, neither be faint-hearted…” (verse 4).
This message was for the people of Isaiah’s time, and for the people of the latter days.
“Take heed” – do what He says, for that is the way of protection and provision and preparation. Heeding His instruction is what will safely get us there. He will show us the way.
“Be quiet” – listen to Him! “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). Let Him be the God that He is, and know He will do His job. He will take care of things, so let Him.
“Fear not” – we are commanded to act in faith, not from fear. Part of knowing who He is includes acting in faith in response to that knowledge. That demonstrates obedience, and demonstrates our faith. The Scriptures tell us to “fear not” 87 times, and “be not afraid” 28 times. This “fear not” commandment is given to us more than any other commandment. We cannot know the joy that comes from His presence, or experience the peace that He brings, if we are afraid.
“Neither be faint-hearted” – be strong in the Lord! Accept (ACT in FAITH!) the strength that he offers. Be empowered by Him (through the atonement and through the Temple). Be strong and of good courage!
This whole verse echoes what Joshua said:
“Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest” (Joshua 1:9).
The Isaiah talks about how some of the tribes, including Ephraim, have taken “evil counsel” against their brother, Judah. This takes us back to the politics of war that is happening around them, and Isaiah explains who the “evil counsel” is, and who is above that. So we see who they are in “cahoots” with, and who the leader of the whole mess is.
But, really, the underlying causes is the same as what we see throughout the entire Book of Mormon: contention. Contention causes war and destruction.
The Lord says, “Stop it.”
Really, in verse 7, He says, “It shall not stand, neither shall it come to pass.”
Because contention is not of God, He will not let it come to fruition.
There will be natural consequences from those acting outside of His Order, His will, His way, but they will not ultimately – in the end – succeed in their plans because their plans are not of God.
Not only will He put a stop to the bad behavior, but then Isaiah prophesies that the tribe of Ephraim will be scattered, so much so that it will seem “broken”, in less than “threescore and five years”. A “score” is twenty years, so he is saying this will happen in less than sixty-five years. We know, from history, that it did happen right at sixty-five years, but also the symbolic message is that the people who caused the contention will suffer the consequences and be scattered. So an entire generation will be gone and scattered because of their behavior. This reminds us of the Israelites wandering in the desert for all those years with Moses, until the whole generation – every one of them – had passed away, so that it was their children who actually received the promised land, or temporal blessings that came from their deliverance. This all connects back to the previous chapter, and why we must be cleansed (set apart) from not only who we were before we truly chose the covenant, but also from the people of our generation.
So the Lord makes it clear that we only be established if we believe (verse 9). Our parents being in the covenant isn’t enough. Going through the motions of the covenant isn’t enough. We must be truly living it, which is to believe and be acting in faith in response to what we know to be true. Always, action is required.
So then come the famous words of WHO we believe IN, and it comes through a covenant.
A covenant is when we agree with God that we will both do something.
He promises He will do something, and we promise we will do something.
Always, when a covenant is made, there is both a “sign” and a “token” given. Signs and tokens are both literal and symbolic. They serve as reminders to both parties – both to God and to His people – of what has been promised, and their obligation to each keep up their end of the deal.
The difference between a sign and a token can get pretty in depth, but for now we can keep it sweet and simple.
A sign is a symbol that a promise has been made.
A token is a symbol of what that promise is.
So it kind of overlaps, yet is different.
The best place to read about this, or the most famous example, at least, is reading about the rainbow given after Noah’s ark finally lands. The story is in Genesis 9. We all have seen rainbows, but that chapter in Genesis holds their meaning and history.
The Lord made a covenant with Noah. The Lord promised never again to destroy the Earth by water-floods. Noah and his family promised to be obedient and raise their children to be obedient.
The sign of that covenant was the rainbow.
The “sign” of the rainbow reminds us that a promise was made. It’s beautiful, it’s pretty, it catches our breath. We drag people outside to see it, we love them, we celebrate them. They make us feel as happy as butterflies. Because we know it is a sign of love, that He chooses not to destroy us. So it is a sign to us and to God, a reminder to us and to God, that a promise was made.
But there is also a token within the sign. It is a bow. Of all things, it is in the shape of a bow. As in, a bow and arrow.
This is part of the sign, the token part of the sign.
This rainbow itself is a “sign” in that it is a reminder that a promise has been made.
But the shape it takes – that of a bow – is a “token” of WHAT the promise was exactly. The promise is that we would not be destroyed by water, ever again. So the WHEN is after rain, because that is part of the promise. But the WHAT is in its shape: a bow, from a bow and arrow. A bow is a sign of death, and the bow-after-the-rain is given as a token in that it is set facing heaven, not facing us. He has turned away (bow pointing up instead of at us) the bow-after-the-rain.
He has turned away destruction-through-rain.
But we know from science that it only happens when the sun pierces through, and the storm is finished and on its way.
So is judgment stayed only because the Son was pierced.
“He was pierced for our transgressions…” (Isaiah 53:5).
That’s how signs and tokens become symbols to us not only that promises have been made, but what those promises are.
And that’s how all of them point to the atonement, which was the ultimate and premortal covenant (that the Lord would provide the atonement, and we would testify of it).
When we are baptized, as the Earth was, He does turn away destruction.
And so here, Isaiah says that the Lord gives us a sign:
“Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and shall bear a son, and shall call us name Immanuel” (verse 14).
A sign is being given, which means a covenant is being made.
The sign will be an “impossible birth” made possible, in that a virgin shall conceive.
This points to the token, which is that our spiritual birth, or conversion, (re-entering Heavenly Father’s presence) is impossible, because “all have fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) EXCEPT THAT the Lord does make the impossible possible. Through Him, the impossible is made possible, and through Him we are able to return to our Heavenly Father (because she did bear this son).
And the name, which goes with covenants, is given: Immanuel, which means God with us.
God being with us is part of what is the-impossible-made-possible.
Like a bow pointed away from us, it is a sign of love.
In fact, it is the completing of love, because it is the at-one-ment. Because now, not only is the bow pointed away from us, but the one who holds it has come near to us and does embrace us and is with us.
That’s the reason rainbows make us happy: because it is a a sign of love… love that makes us at-one again.