2 Ne 20 The Lord uses the king of Assyria to destroy Israel but protects Judah from Assyrian conquest
This chapter of Isaiah is much easier to understand after reading 2 Kings 18-19. These chapters give the historical background for the conflict between the king of Assyria and Hezekiah, the king of Judah. They also show the relationship between Hezekiah and Isaiah. Many doctrinal themes contained in chapter 20 are also found in 2 Kings.
2 Ne 20 Isaiah uses the Hebrew form of poetry called chiasmus
Many of Isaiah's prophecies and many other prophecies in the Book of Mormon use chiasmus. The significance of this poetic form is that it emphasizes the center concept in a crescendo-decrescendo fashion. The doctrinal climax is found in the middle. This chapter is a good example of how the most important concept is emphasized by the arrangement of the text.
"After his fourfold warning to Israel, Isaiah continues his discourse in the form of a poetic prophecy. He gives warning to both Assyria and Israel in a poem structured in introverted parallelism (chiasmus). The poem encompasses the entire chapter and can be outlined as follows:
A. The wicked will bow down (vs. 1-4)
B. Assyria raised by the Lord (5)
C. The Assyrian king speaks against Jerusalem (6-11)
D. The Lord will punish proud Assyria (12-14)
E. An ax is used as a tool (15)
F. The Lord is a burning fire in the land (16-17)
G. Out of all the shrubs-only a remnant remains (18-19)
H. A remnant of Israel shall return to the Lord (20-21)
G.' Out of the "sands of the sea"-only a remnant returns (22)
F.' A divine consumption is in the land (23)
E.' A rod is used as an instrument (24-26)
D.' Assyria's yoke will be lifted (27)
C.' Assyrian army approaches Jerusalem (28-32)
B.' Assyria humbled by the Lord (33)
A.' The haughty will be cut down (34)"
(Isaiah: Prophet, Seer, and Poet, by Victor L. Ludlow, p. 161)
"If chiasmus can be convincingly identified in the Book of Mormon, it will testify of the book's ancient origin. No one in America, let alone in western New York, fully understood chiasmus in 1830. Joseph Smith had been dead ten full years before John Forbes's book was published in Scotland...If the Book of Mormon is found to contain true chiastic forms in an ancient style, then is not the book's own repeated claim to be the product of an ancient culture veritably substantiated?" (John W. Welch, Book of Mormon Authorship, 41-42 as taken from Commentaries on Isaiah in the Book of Mormon, ed. by K. Douglas Bassett, [American Fork, UT: Covenant Publishing Co., 2003], 154)
2 Ne 20:1-2 Wo unto them that...take away...that widows may be their prey, and that they may rob the fatherless!
Spencer W. Kimball
"We hear reports from time to time of older men and women who, in the sunset of their lives, are neglected by their families and their neighbors. Those who are both poor and old often suffer doubly. We hope family members, quorums, Relief Society officers, bishops, and others, using the Lord's own way, will make certain that they are not inadvertently neglecting such needy people. The ways the world has of helping the poor are not often the Lord's way. We must render help in the Lord's way, but let us do it!
Be certain that we are proceeding appropriately to learn of such instances where people need help of one kind or another. Please don't assume that such individuals will always make their needs known. Often those who need help most are the last to make it known.
The ones about whom I am particularly speaking are those who will suffer in silence because they are proud or because they do not know what to do. Surely sensitive home teachers, visiting teachers, quorum leaders, and bishops can be more effective in both ascertaining and responding to the needs of these individuals." (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, edited by Edward L. Kimball [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982], 368.)
2 Ne 20:4 Without me they shall bow down under the prisoners
Since the Israelites had rejected the Lord, He would no longer protect them. Moses had learned centuries before that man is nothing without the help of God, 'for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed' (Moses 1:10). As individuals or as a nation, we cannot afford to live "without the Lord." If we try, we will likely suffer the same fate as the Israelites.
"Our religion incorporates every act and word of man. No man should go to merchandising unless he does it in God; no man should go to farming or any other business unless he does it in the Lord. No man of council should sit to judge the people but what should judge in the Lord that he may righteously and impartially discern between right and wrong, truth and error, light and darkness, justice and injustice. Should any legislature sit without the Lord? If it [does], sooner or later it will fall to pieces. No nation ever did live that counseled and transacted its national affairs without the Lord, but what sooner or later went to pieces and came to naught. The same is true of all the nations that now live or ever will live." (Discourses of Brigham Young, ed. by John A. Widstoe, p. 9)
2 Ne 20:5 O Assyrian, the rod of mine anger
The kings of Assyria are likened to a rod in the hand of the Lord. It was through these kings that the Lord brought judgment upon the kingdom of Israel. This phrase refers to more than one king as at least three were spoken of at this time, Tiglath-pileser, Shalmaneser, and Sennacherib. Later in the chapter the kings of Assyria are likened to other tools-the ax, the saw, the rod, and the staff (v. 15).
2 Ne 20:6 I will send him against a hypocritical nation
The hypocritical nation spoken of is the kingdom of Israel. It is likely that at the time this prophecy was given, this hypocritical nation had already been sacked and taken northward. This is recorded in 1 Kings 17:6, 'In the ninth year of Hoshea the king of Assyria took Samaria, and carried Israel away into Assyria, and placed them in Halah and in Habor by the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.' This is how the 10 tribes get lost; they are taken to the north by the Assyrians. Other than the description here, we have no idea where they have been taken. It is commonly understood that they were subsequently scattered all over the earth and probably a cohesive group was led further north.
"...the Other Tribes did become 'lost' to Judah's record-keepers-not simply because they were taken captive, but also because they left their captivity and went forth 'into a land further distant,' numerous of them undoubtedly choosing to settle in the lands through which they traveled.
"Since that time-particularly in the last few centuries-attempts to locate and identify the Other Tribes have been numerous. At different times and by a variety of Christian authors the Other Tribes of Israel have been identified with the Japanese, Chinese, Turks, Ethiopians, Persians, Yemenites, Nestorians, Afghans, Arabians, Britons, Kassites of Russia, Hindus and Buddhists of India, Scythians, Cimmerians, Celts, Kareens of Burma, North and South American Indians, Australians, and Eskimos. Indeed it is possible that remnants of the Other Tribes may have spread out and became part of all these peoples in fulfillment of the prophecies that Israel would spread itself throughout many countries." (Vern G. Swanson, "Israel's 'Other Tribes,' " Ensign, Jan. 1982, 29-30)
2 Ne 20:7 he meaneth not so, neither doth his heart think so
The king of Assyria was given a specific charge from the Lord-'to take the spoil' (of Israel) and 'to take the prey' (prisoners), 'and to tread them down like the mire of the streets.' In this venture, the king of Assyria was acting as a tool in the Lord's hand. It was not the Lord's doing to have him destroy all the other neighboring nations. The phrase, 'he meaneth not so, neither doth his heart think so', means that the will of the king of Assyria was not the same as the will of his Maker. Sennacherib did not understand that the Lord had planned for him to capture only Israel. Instead, his plan was to conquer as many people as he could, 'nations not a few,' and to destroy them completely. He even falsely assumed that the Lord had sent him to destroy the kingdom of Judah, 'The Lord said to me, Go up against this land, and destroy it' (2 Kings 18:25).
2 Ne 20:9-12 Is not Calno as Carchemish? Is not Hamath as Arpad?
Now the king of Assyria is beginning to brag about his military conquests. To paraphrase, he is saying, "didn't I destroy Calno just as I did Carchemish? Haven't I beaten those of Hamath like I beat those of Arpad?"
During the reign of Hezekiah, after Israel had been captured, the Assyrian king sent emissaries to the Jews to subject them to their king. Three men (named Tartan, Rabsaris, and Rabshakeh) came to the Jews to taunt them and command them to submit to Assyrian authority or be destroyed as the other nations had been. Part of their argument was that the Jews had no one who could help them. Egypt would not save them. Certainly, their god could not save them. They mocked the Jews declaring that their god was no more able to save them from the Assyrians than the gods of the other nations were able to save them. They asked, 'Where are the gods of Hamath, and of Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim, Hena, and Ivah? Have they delivered Samaria out of mine hand?' (2 Kings 18:34) This is the same argument as in verse 11, 'Shall I not, as I have done unto Samaria and her idols, so do to Jerusalem and to her idols.' The response of the Jews and Hezekiah is to seek protection from the Lord and counsel from Isaiah. They are promised the Lord's protection and receive it in a most dramatic way (v. 26).
2 Ne 20:12-14 I will punish the fruit of the stout heart of the king of Assyria
The pride of the Assyrian king is repugnant to the Lord. He will not allow him to destroy the kingdom of Judah. Instead, he promises Assyrian destruction. This comes because the Assyrian king had taken all the credit for his military successes, 'For he saith: by the strength of my hand and by my wisdom I have done these things; for I am prudent.'
This pride is similar to the pride of the wicked Nephites in the last battles with the Lamanites:
'And in the three hundred and sixty and second year they did come down again to battle. And we did beat them again, and did slay a great number of them, and their dead were cast into the sea.
And now, because of this great thing which my people, the Nephites, had done, they began to boast in their own strength, and began to swear before the heavens that they would avenge themselves of the blood of their brethren who had been slain by their enemies.
And they did swear by the heavens, and also by the throne of God, that they would go up to battle against their enemies, and would cut them off from the face of the land.
And it came to pass that I, Mormon, did utterly refuse from this time forth to be a commander and a leader of this people, because of their wickedness and abomination.' (Mormon 3:8-11)
2 Ne 20:15 Shall the ax boast itself against him that heweth therewith?
One of the greatest sins that a servant of the Lord can commit is the sin of ingratitude. This sin encompasses a spiritual blindness to the works of the Lord. In the latter days, the Lord has eloquently expressed this concept, 'And in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things, and obey not his commandments' (DC 59:21). This is the sin of the king of Assyria-that he did not recognize the hand of the Lord in his military successes.
Elder Rudger Clawson
"I have wondered sometimes, while traveling in the midst of this people, whether we really understand what the Lord is doing, whether we comprehend His great purposes, and can recognize His hand. I am sure of one thing-that there are many who are numbered with the Church, particularly among the young, who are passing through life without a serious thought. I have seen it in families, in wards and in stakes, that their minds seemed to rest more particularly upon the pleasures of life and the things of the world. And yet the Lord said in the very beginning of this dispensation that He was about to commence a marvelous work and a wonder; that it should be something out of the ordinary; that it should be of such a character as to attract attention in the world, so much so that men would be led to exclaim 'Truly it is a marvelous work.'" (Conference Report, Oct. 1901, p. 7)
Elder Rulon G. Wells
"This gospel...teaches first and foremost faith in God. It teaches men and women to turn their hearts to Him, that they may derive wisdom and understanding and the inspiration of His Holy Spirit. It teaches men and women to put their trust in Him, and to acknowledge His hand in all things. 'In nothing doth man offend God, or against none is His wrath kindled, save those who confess not His hand in all things, and obey not His commandments,' not only in our prosperity but in our adversity: not only in our fortune but in our misfortune not only in life but also in death. What would we be if there was no such thing as sorrow in this world? what would men and women be in character? They would be unsympathetic; they would not love their fellow men: they would not have those fine traits of character, those noble qualities of heart and of mind, were it not for the fact of the trials they have to endure, the adversity that they have to put up with, and the difficulties they have to encounter. We would not progress; we would not be progressive beings if it were so; but thank the Lord that His hand is in all these things. Those things which sometimes seem to be our greatest sorrows will be sanctified for our good, and often have the purpose in the wisdom of the Almighty of bringing us nearer to Him. The one thing for us always to remember is the Lord our God, and recognize His hand in all things, and if we will do that every misfortune, every difficulty that may come to us, every adversity that overtakes us, will be a blessing though it be in disguise, for nothing of our experiences in mortal life will be in vain; all will have its purpose and all will go to make up our character." (Conference Report, Oct. 1912, p. 24)
2 Ne 20:17 the light of Israel shall be for a fire
The Assyrian army is going to attack Jerusalem only to be devoured by the Lord as a flame would devour thorns and 'briers in one day.' The significance of this event is underscored by the chapter heading which reads, the "Destruction of Assyria is a type of destruction at the Second Coming."
"He describes Assyria as coming from the North; oppressive and ruthless; a law unto itself; militaristic and bent on world domination; imposing its yoke of servitude on other nations; encroaching on the world by degrees, swallowing up territories; and setting all the surrounding peoples in fear of it. When the world is ripe in iniquity, Assyria suddenly bursts forth like a flood. With its alliance of nations, it sweeps over the entire earth, conquering, destroying by fire and by the sword, leaving havoc and disaster in its wake-capturing the whole world. Only Zion/Jerusalem, a safe place for the Lord's righteous, does Assyria not conquer. Assyria invades even Egypt, the other great superpower; Assyria penetrates Egypt and ravages her land.
"After a few years of war and oppression, Assyria lays siege to Zion/Jerusalem, where a remnant of Israel take refuge. Then occurs Assyria's demise. Because of his covenant with Israel, and because the righteous of his people remain faithful through much trial and tribulation, the Lord utterly destroys the Assyrian army. The 185,000 men who perished overnight in the days of King Hezekiah...serve as the historical type of a latter-day Armageddon...." (Abraham Gileadi, The Book of Isaiah: A new Translation with Interpretive Keys from the Book of Mormon, 72-73 as taken from Commentaries on Isaiah in the Book of Mormon, ed. by K. Douglas Bassett, [American Fork, UT: Covenant Publishing Co., 2003], 162-163)
2 Ne 20:20-22 the remnant of Israel...shall return
The gathering of Israel is a doctrine so important and fundamental that it is included in our articles of faith, 'We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes' (A of F 10). Even before Israel has been completely scattered, Isaiah prophesies of their return in the latter-days. Hereby, the terrible destruction and captivity of Isaiah's day will be turned to joy.
"The prophets which have been shut up in the north country with the nine and a half tribes led away by Shalmanezer, King of Assyria, thousands of years ago, will come in remembrance before God; they will smite the rocks and mountains of ice will flow down before them, and those long lost tribes will come forth in your day and mine, if we live a few years longer, and they will be crowned under the hands of the children of Ephraim-the elders of Israel who dwell in the land of Zion. And by and by the testimony of the gospel will be sealed among the Gentiles, and the gospel will turn to the whole house of Israel, and the judgments of God will back up the testimony of the elders of this Church, and the Lord will send messengers who will go forth and reap down the earth." (The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, edited by G. Homer Durham [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1969], 114.)
"A remnant of the people of Israel are to be saved, and they will yet be gathered together. 16:109.
Ephraim has become mixed with all the nations of the earth, and it is Ephraim that is gathering together. 2:268.
"We are gathering the people as fast as we can. We are gathering them to make Saints of them and of ourselves." (Discourses of Brigham Young, selected and arranged by John A. Widtsoe [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1954], 121.)
2 Ne 20:24 O my people that dwellest in Zion, be not afraid of the Assyrian
Returning to the political situation of Hezekiah, the Jews were threatened by the Assyrian emissaries (see commentary for 2 Ne 20:9-12). At the time, the Assyrians were much more powerful than the kingdom of Judah. Hezekiah's response was as follows, 'he rent his clothes, and covered himself with sackcloth, and went in the house of the Lord' (2 Kings 19:1). Hezekiah then did the right thing-he asked the prophet, Isaiah, for advice. Isaiah responded, 'Thus saith the Lord, Be not afraid of the words which thou hast heard, with which the servants of the king of Assyria have blasphemed me. Behold, I will send a blast upon him, and he shall hear a rumour, and shall return to his own land; and I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land' (2 Kings 19:6-7).
Hezekiah next received another messenger from the Assyrian king, repeating the threats of his servants. Next, 'Hezekiah went up into the house of the Lord, and...prayed...O Lord God of Israel...I beseech thee, save thou us out of his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that thou art the Lord God, even thou only' (2 Kings 19:14-19). That the prophecy of Isaiah was fulfilled and the prayer of Hezekiah was answered will be seen in the next verses.
2 Ne 20:25 For yet a very little while, and the indignation shall cease
Isaiah speaks of the Assyrian king's invasion of the kingdom of Judah. He had very brief success against some of the cities north of Jerusalem as listed in verses 28-32 (Aiath, Migron, Michmash, Geba, Ramath, Gibeah, Gallim, Laish, Anathoth, Madmenah, Gebim). This is the indignation spoken of. The Lord would not let this success continue for long. Through Isaiah, He had promised Hezekiah, 'He shall not come into this city, nor shoot an arrow there...For I will defend this city, to save it, for mine own sake, and for my servant David's sake' (2 Kings 19:34).
2 Ne 20:26 a scourge...according to the slaughter of Midian
The judgment of the Lord is about to come upon the Assyrian king and army. The destruction prophesied is likened to two other events in which the Lord showed a mighty hand in defeating the enemies of the children of Israel-the slaughter of Midian and the exodus from Egypt.
As the slaughter of Midian may not be as familiar as the story of the exodus, it is useful to review what the Lord did in this battle. The story is found in Judges 7. It tells the story of when Gideon led the armies of Israel against the Midianites and the Amalekites. Gideon led an army of 32,000 against an enemy that was so numerous that the scriptures describe it as follows, [they] 'lay along in the valley like grasshoppers for multitude; and their camels were without number, as the sand by the sea side for multitude' (Judges 7:12). Nevertheless, the Lord wanted to show the Israelites his great power. He instructed Gideon to send home any who were scared. 22,000 troops left, leaving him with an army of 10,000. The Lord replied, 'The people are yet too many' (Judges 7:4), so He commanded that Gideon use only those troops who drank water like a dog, lapping it up with their tongues. Gideon was left with an army of 300 men. This army of 300 then surrounded the enemy, each with a trumpet in one hand and a torch in the other hand. In unison, they blew their trumpets. The opposing army, thinking they were surrounded by the enemy, arose in a great confusion. They began to kill each other in a great slaughter. Those that remained fled, only to be cut down by Gideon's pursuing band of 300.
This is an excellent example to strengthen the courage of the Jews as they were greatly outnumbered by the Assyrians. How the Lord destroyed such a great Assyrian army is described as follows, 'And it came to pass that night, that the angel of the Lord went out, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians an hundred fourscore and five thousand: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses. So Sennacherib king of Assyria departed, and went and returned, and dwelt at Nineveh' (2 Kings 19:35). So we see that the prophecies of Isaiah were fulfilled to perfection for he said that the 'Holy One...shall devour his thorns and his briers in one day' (v. 17 italics added) and 'the Lord of Hosts shall lop the bough with terror; and the high ones of stature shall be hewn down' (v. 33).
2 Ne 20:32 he shall shake his hand against the mount of the daughter of Zion
Sennacherib's army had taken stronger cities than Jerusalem. He had no reason to think he would not be successful as he approached the city. So when he arrives just north of the city, he shakes 'his hand against' Jerusalem. But Isaiah had a message for this boastful ax and shaking rod:
'This is the word that the Lord hath spoken concerning him; the virgin the daughter of Zion hath despised thee, and laughed thee to scorn; the daughter of Jerusalem hath shaken her head at thee.
Whom hast thou reproached and blasphemed? And against whom hast thou exalted thy voice, and lifted up thine eyes on high? even against the Holy One of Israel.
...therefore I will put my hook in thy nose, and my bridle in thy lips, and I will turn thee back by the way by which thou camest...
Therefore thus saith the Lord concerning the king of Assyria, He shall not come into this city, nor shoot an arrow there, nor come before it with shield, nor cast a bank against it. By the way that he came, by the same shall he return.' (2 Kgs. 19:21-33)