Isaiah is the great prophet who warned Israel of the Assyrians. Jeremiah is the great prophet who warned Judah of the Babylonians. Their missions parallel each other in terms of warning of impending destruction. In both cases, the Lord used a Gentile king as his weapon of destruction. Isaiah prophesied of the Assyrian king (Tiglath Pileser III and Shalmaneser) who would destroy the northern kingdom. Jeremiah prophesied of the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar who would destroy the southern kingdom. In both cases, the conquering king’s success would go to their heads (Dan. 4:30-31). In both cases, the Lord punished them for not acknowledging Him as the source of their strength, “Shall the axe boast itself against him that heweth therewith?” (Isaiah 10:15) “Behold, I will punish the king of Babylon and his land, as I have punished the king of Assyria” (Jer. 50:18).
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 records that the Lord allowed Assyria to become a strong nation to enable it to be the medium through which he would mete out his judgments upon various nations, especially the wicked northern kingdom of Israel.” (Isaiah: Prophet, Seer, and Poet, by Victor L. Ludlow, p. 161)
2 Nephi 20:1-2 Wo unto them that…take away…that widows may be their prey, and that they may rob the fatherless!
In the same Psalm which says, “ye are gods, and all of you are children of the most High,” is the charge to take care of the poor, needy and fatherless.
How long will ye judge unjustly, and accept the persons of the wicked? Selah.
Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy.
Deliver the poor and needy: rid them out of the hand of the wicked. (Ps. 82:2-4)
The leaders of the northern tribe had completely forgotten this charge. Those who should have been protecting the weak were instead preying upon them. Those who should have been feeding the poor were instead taking food from them. There aren’t many sins that anger God more than abusing a position of power in the neglect of the poor, fatherless, and needy.
Joseph F. Smith
I do not think there is any organization in the Church of greater importance than that of the Bishopric. They are indeed fathers to the people. It is their duty to look after the widow, the fatherless, the poor, the needy, the sick and the afflicted. They are expected to not only be temporal fathers of the people, but spiritual fathers also. A double duty rests upon them with mighty force. It is their business to look after the erring as well as the feeble, and to feel after those who are inclined to stray from the paths of virtue and honor. (Conference Report, April 1907, 4)
Ezra Taft Benson
We urge you, particularly priesthood brethren and Relief Society sisters, to be sensitive to the needs of the poor, the sick, and the needy. We have a Christian responsibility to see that the widows and fatherless are assisted. "Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world" (James 1:27). (Conference Report, April 1984, 7)
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 Nephi 20:4 Without me they shall bow down under the prisoners
The wicked Israelites will be punished by the Assyrians. The imagery here is that the people will be brought low; they will be made prisoners, and they will be slain, but the leaders of the Israelites will be placed even beneath them—beneath the prisoners—under the dead corpses of the people they were supposed to lead in judgment and righteousness. In life, they were above the people; in punishment they will be below them. And that’s not all! The Lord has more punishments in store.
2 Nephi 20:5 O Assyrian, the rod of mine anger
The kings of Assyria are likened to a punishing 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, Tiglath-pileser III and Shalmaneser, primarily. 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 Nephi 20:8 Are not my princes altogether kings?
“Tiglath Pileser III brought the Assyrian empire out of the period of instability it had entered after the death of Adad-nirari III in 783 BC, much to the fear of Assyria's enemies… Upon conquering a new territory, an Assyrian official would be put in charge to supervise and ensure Assyrian interests and tribute were maintained.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phoenicia_under_Assyrian_rule#Campaigns_of_Tiglath_Pileser_III.2C_745.E2.80.93727_BC
Tiglath-Pileser III is quite proud of himself. He has destroyed many city-states and set up his friends as kings. “Haven’t I made all my princes kings to rule over those cities I have conquered? Not only am I great, but I have made my princes great as well!”
2 Nephi 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 waste Calno just as I did Carchemish? Haven’t I destroyed those of Hamath like I beat those of Arpad?”
“Tiglath Pileser III created the first professional army in history…. he then marched west into Syria and punished the kingdom of Arpad, which had been Urartu’s ally, in 741 BCE. He lay siege to the city for three years and, when it fell, he had it destroyed and the inhabitants slaughtered. He then divided Arpad’s kingdom into provinces under the rule of Assyrian governors (who were eunuchs, as per his policy) and deported huge segments of the population to other regions… Tiglath Pileser III is commonly cited as the Assyrian king who first instituted the policy of deportation.” (http://www.ancient.eu/Tiglath_Pileser_III/)
2 Nephi 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.’
2 Nephi 20:15 Shall the ax boast itself against him that heweth therewith?
How frequently is this pattern seen today? Great athletes blaspheme the name of God and admire themselves above all. Politicians take credit for everything good that happens whether they deserve it or not. Celebrities spread spiritual pollution and atheism all the while trying to save the earth and ocean from physical pollution.
One of the greatest sins that man 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 Rulon G. Wells
“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)
Marvin J. Ashton
We should let others become aware of our accomplishments by observation rather than by our boasting or flaunting them before the world. Boasting diminishes credibility and too often alienates friends, family members, and even those who may observe us from a distance…
Recently at a women's conference, a speaker told about how he had been successful in land development and how everything he had touched had turned to gold. He had also tried to live a faithful life and had been an active servant in the gospel. Eventually he was called as a mission president. After a very effective mission, he had subsequently returned home. Then a combination of changing interest rates and other business factors caused his once-prosperous business to plummet. In fact, he lost nearly everything.
Telling the story, this man said, "I realized that I'd become quite boastful—that while I felt I had a testimony of Jesus Christ, in my mind I had brought about all of these wonderful things through my hard work, intelligence, and so forth. But when hard times hit, I began to realize how offensive I must have been to others and to my Heavenly Father to assume that I had brought all of these good things on my own. I felt like I'd lived a life of arrogance and boasting." (The Measure of Our Hearts [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1991], 53)
2 Nephi 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)
2 Nephi 20:20-22 the remnant of Israel…shall return
The 10 tribes get “lost” when they are captured and taken to Assyria. Isaiah is prophesying of the beginning of this captivity but he sprinkles some good news into the gloom and doom—a remnant 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. Ephraim has become mixed with all the nations of the earth, and it is Ephraim that is gathering together. 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 Nephi 20:24 O my people that dwellest in Zion, be not afraid of the Assyrian
Returning to the political situation, the Jews had great reason to fear the fate of their brothers to the north. In time, they were threatened by the Assyrian emissaries. 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 Nephi 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 Nephi 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 Nephi 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)