CLICK HERE to read 2 Nephi 20.
This chapter compares to Isaiah 10.
2 Nephi 20 is a brutal chapter, 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 and 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 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 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. But 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 converted-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.
One of the most common ways I see this in my office, something I deal with every single day in my office, are people who think they are not having affairs because they have not yet had sex with someone other than their spouse. However, their emotional attachments are absolutely a kind of affair. They have not yet crossed the line, which is having sex with someone other than your spouse, but they are engaged in all the other affair-behaviors. They are emotionally attached to someone outside their primary relationship, outside their covenant relationship. They are keeping secrets from their spouse. They are texting “the other person” and telling them about their marriage problems, fantasizing about being with the other person, and sharing these kinds of intimate details. They may even fantasize with the other person about meeting together, away from their “real life” problems. They may go so far as to actually meet for lunch or have a date, “but nothing really happened” and “no line was crossed”. They text, they email, and they facebook. The both know the details of the other person’s marriage, why they are unhappy, and become the emotional support for the other person “surviving” their marriage instead of working with their spouse to heal and strengthen it. Maybe they only talk on the phone about “neutral” topics, but it is emotional support that should be coming from the spouse. Even though the conversations and texts are “neutral”, they are kept secret from the spouse because the person wants to “possess” the relationship, keep it as if it were their own, keep it as if it were real, rather than give up something that feels good to them in the moment.
Usually it is with someone they have known since before their marriage, and so has a fairytale feel to it in contrast to the hard work of everyday life. This illusion is dangerous, and makes for a slippery and subtle slope. It often happens at developmental stages (kids going off to college, job changes, etc.), where it is easier to live in this fairytale illusion instead of doing the hard work to develop new skills with a changing family and shifting roles. It usually takes 5-7 years to complete this affair cycle, and by then there is little left of the family as they once knew it.
In some ways, this is the most dangerous kind of affair, because it is much more difficult to break off. An actual, physical affair that “crosses the line” has a line where you can stop and say, “whoa, I crossed the line…” and go back to the green of covenant behavior (even though you cannot undo what has been done, and there will be much work to repair the damage caused). But when the line is pushed and pushed and pushed, the person’s heart becomes hard against anything being wrong with what they are doing “because no line has been crossed”. They usually are hungry or offended when confronted, because they firmly believe no line has been crossed. At this point, they use this “offense” as an exit strategy from their relationship, and fuel is added to the fire of the illusion in which they want to escape until they somehow justify the concerns of others as causing the chaos resulting from their own behavior. They may become even more passive aggressive (affairs are a very passive aggressive way to deal with problems in a marriage, rather than working them out directly), punishing those around them who try to stop them or cutting off those who detect their secrets.
Physical affairs have concrete behaviors that can be stopped and specific patterns that can be confronted. It is hard work, yes. Even after the affair is stopped, there is a lot of work to do to repair the original relationship.
But in many ways, emotional affairs are worse. They are a subtle entanglement Satan uses to destroy relationships by removing both trust and emotional connection upon which a relationship is built. Emotional affairs are dangerous in the way pornography is dangerous, in that Satan uses it not only to remove agency, but also to remove the ability to physically function in the body by physically responding to that which we are designed to respond.
This is not only destroying a marriage, but un-doing the work of God.
It’s no wonder that when Isaiah mentions the city comparisons, the example he uses specifically is idolatry. Anything we set above God, or what God has designed, is idolatry. He’s not going to put up with that, and He will bring destruction and scattering to get the attention of His people, to lead them to repentance so that He can reclaim them. It is a harsh and difficult journey, but it is a healing one.
“For he saith: By the strength of my hand and by my wisdom I have done these things; for I am prudent…” (verse 13).
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.
“And my hand hath found as a nest the riches of the people; and as one gathereth eggs that are left have I gathered all the earth” (verse 14).
But it is HIS work of redeeming US. He is the one who is good, and He is the one who gives us HIS righteousness. He is the one who moves us, gives us purpose, and uses us to accomplish His work.
“Shall the ax boast itself against him that heweth (swing it through the air) therewith? Shall the saw magnify itself against him that shaketh it? As if the rod should shake itself against them that lift it up, or as if the staff should lift up itself as if it were not wood?”
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.
“And the light of Israel shall be for a fire, and his Holy One for a flame, 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.
“And it shall come to pass in that day, that the remnant of Israel, and such as are escaped of the house of Jacob, shall no more again stay upon him that smote them, but shall stay upon the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, in truth” (verse 20).
In that day, the “remnant shall return, yea, even the remnant of Jacob, unto the mighty God” (verse 21). These are the people of the Lord who have been scattered, the people who have repented, and in a way, even the rest of the lost tribes of Israel.
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.
“For the Lord God of Hosts shall make a consumption, even determined in all the land” (verse 23).
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.
“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.