Sunday School Lesson 9

February 23, 2004 | 2 comments
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Lesson 9: 2 Nephi 11-25

This week’s study questions are a little longer than usual but much shorter than
last week’s.

Chapter 11

Verses 2-3: Nephi tells us he has two reasons for delighting in the words of Isaiah and writing them down: he can liken them to his people, and Isaiah, like Nephi and Jacob, is a witness of Christ, so that the three stand together as witnesses of him. What reasons might there be for the words of Isaiah to be given to us? For other reasons, see 1 Nephi 19:23; 2 Nephi 11:2-6, 8; 2 Nephi 25:3.

Verse 4: What does it mean for something to typify another thing? Nephi says that everything typifies Christ. What does that mean? How, for example, does the natural world typify him? How do we go about seeing everything else as typifying Christ?

Verse 5: What covenants is Nephi referring to? The Abrahamic covenant? Covenants with the children of Israel? Covenants with Lehi?

Verses 6-7: Why would there be no God if there is no Christ? If, as Joseph Smith taught, we are co-eternal with God, why does our existence depend on the creation?

Verse 8: Why would Nephi want his people to rejoice for all men? Why does he want them to see how these things can be likened not only to the Nephites but to all men? What might such rejoicing and concern indicate? (Compare Enos’s experience—1:9. What brought about Enos’s concern?)

Chapter 12

This begins Nephi’s long quotation from Isaiah, extending from here to the end of chapter 24. As he recorded his brother’s sermon, which included chapters from Isaiah that Nephi asked Jacob to read aloud, Nephi seems to have been inspired to record more of the words of Isaiah. Since these chapters were on the brass plates and the brass plates were available to the Nephites, why did Nephi copy them onto his own plates? Since there are only slight variations between these chapters as they are recorded here and as we have them in the King James Version of the Bible, why do you suppose they were recorded for us?

When you find Isaiah’s writings difficult, remember that the Nephites too found Isaiah difficult to understand because Nephi didn’t teach them how to understand the prophesying of the Jews since he was worried that they might pick up some of their ways of sinning in the process (2 Nephi 25:1-3). In spite of the difficulty of reading Isaiah if we do not understand better Hebrew ways of prophesying, we can learn a great deal by reading slowly and trying to connect each verse to that which has come before and those which follow, as well as by paying close attention to the symbols Isaiah uses. If we want to understand how Nephi and Jacob understood Isaiah, we must do two things: First, we need to see the ways what we read typifies Christ and the ways in which God and Christ have revealed themselves in history. Second, we need to understand how Isaiah’s prophecies are about covenants. (See 2 Nephi 9:1.)

If you have the study questions for Isaiah 2-6 (Lesson 36, 2002), you may find them helpful for these chapters. If you don’t have them, let me know and I’ll send a copy. Rather than try to cover all of these chapters, I will focus on only parts of two, chapters 19 and 25, one chapter from Isaiah and the chapter in which Nephi talks about studying Isaiah.

Chapter 19

Verse 2: Why does the prophet use a past tense “have seen” to describe something in the future? One way to understand this light literally is as the light from the destruction by fire of the Assyrians. On the other hand, the symbolism of light is fairly obvious. What might the relation be between the literal and the symbolic meanings?

Verse 4: The verse says “thou hast broken the yoke of his burden.” To whom does “his” refer? (“Yoke of his burden” and “staff of his shoulder” may mean the same thing.) It is relatively easy to think of literal meanings for this verse, but what might be some spiritual readings? From what spiritual burden and spiritual oppressor will Israel be saved? What would that have meant to those who heard Isaiah prophesy? To the Nephites? To us?

Verse 6: This is one of the most famous verses in Isaiah (and perhaps one of the most famous verses in scripture, thanks to Handel). As a result, we may read it, overconfident that we understand fully what it means. Consider a couple of questions: The verse begins with “for,” or “because,” so it must explain something which came in the verses before—what? Why does Isaiah focus on Christ as a child? What does it mean to say that the government will be on the shoulders of the Christ child? What is the alternative? In other words, what would it mean for the government not to be on his shoulders? Do the names used here have particular significance? (Why, for example, speak of Christ as a child, as the verse does in the beginning, and then use the title of “Father”?)

Verse 7: What is an increase of government? After the phrase, “peace there is no end,” it is difficult to understand this verse. Looking at an a more modern translation of Isaiah 9:7 may help you make sense of it. What is it that is coming on David’s throne and kingdom? How will that order his kingdom? (Some translators use “establish” instead of “order”—and “uphold” instead of “establish.”) How will this thing which is coming upon the throne of David establish (or uphold) that throne with judgment and justice? The sentence, “The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this,” is ambiguous. It could refer to either the zeal for the Lord, or the Lord’s zeal for his people. What understandings are created by each of these possibilities? Does one seem more likely, or are they both useful?

Verses 8-21: Notice that there are three balanced sections within these verses, each ending in the phrase, “For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.” (The sections are verses 8-12, 9-17, and 18-21.) Does the repeated ending tell us something about how we are to understand the sections it ends? These verses are some of the most poetic in scripture; they clearly show Isaiah’s artistic ability. Why does Isaiah write so poetically? Why not present the material in a more straightforward way? Is Isaiah’s use of poetic language essential to his message, or just his idiosyncracy?

Chapter 25

Verses 1-3: Because he knows they will not understand, not having been taught to understand this kind of prophecy, Nephi appends his quotation with an explanation.

Verse 3: What does Nephi think is the point of these chapters from Isaiah? Does that differ from our usual way of understanding these chapters? If so, how?

Verse 4: To whom are the prophecies of Isaiah plain? What does that say about the Nephites? What does it say about us? What would it take to have the spirit of prophecy? Is that limited to particular persons or callings, or is it a gift anyone may have?

Verse 5: In verse 4 Nephi said his soul delights in plainness. Here he says his soul delights in Isaiah. Does that mean that Isaiah is plain? (He does say, after all, that the Jews understood Isaiah.) What would it mean to be “taught after the manner of the things of the Jews”? Has Nephi been so taught? Jacob? Nephi’s people?

Verse 7: What does Nephi means when he speaks of “my plainness”? His plainness compared to what? How does he describe his plainness, and why is that description important?

Verse 8: What reason does Nephi give for the writings of Isaiah being of value in the last days? Why does Nephi address particularly those who don’t think Isaiah’s work to be valuable? What does he mean when he says he will confine his words to his own people?

Verses 9-19: Nephi gives an overview of the scattering, gathering, re-scattering, and regathering of Israel, including an account of Christ’s first coming. Is this intended as only a restatement of what he has quoted in Isaiah? If so, why did he quote so many chapters from Isaiah? Or is it something like an outline or interpretive key to the book, something given to help us understand Isaiah better, but not to take its place? If that, can you think of specific things you wouldn’t have understood without this overview?

Verse 20: How does the reference to the miracle of the bronze serpents on Moses’ staff serve as a testimony that what Nephi has said is true?

Verse 23: What are the two purposes for Nephi’s writing? How does the Book of Mormon persuade us to believe in Christ? How does it persuade us to be reconciled to God? What does it mean to be saved by grace? (Compare 2 Nephi 31:19; Mosiah 2:21; and Luke 17:7-10.) Why does Nephi’s point about being saved by grace follow his statement of his purposes for writing? Why make that point here?

Verse 25: What does it mean that the Law of Moses is dead to them? What does it mean that they keep the law though the law is dead to them? Is he teaching the same thing that Paul teaches in various places, such as Romans 3:20-24 (footnote b)? What does it mean to be alive in Christ? What does it mean to say that they do what they do “because of the commandment,” especially if the law is dead to them?

Verse 27: Why do their children have to know the deadness of the law in order to have life in Christ? Why must they look forward to that life? It makes sense to say that must look forward to the coming of Christ, but why do they have to look forward to life in him? What does he mean when he says that after Christ fulfills the law they will not need to harden their hearts against him? Does that mean they harden their hearts because of the law? If so, how so? If not, why not?

Verses 28-29: In the middle of 28, Nephi says “the right way is to believe in Christ and deny him not.” At the beginning of 29, he says the same thing. Why is that repetition necessary?

Verse 29: What does it mean to bow down to Christ? How do we do that in our lives now? What does worship mean here? What does it mean to be “cast out”?

Verse 30: What might this verse say about our own “law”?

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2 Responses to Sunday School Lesson 9

  1. Sc on February 23, 2004 at 1:20 pm

    Verses 6-7: Why would there be no God if there is no Christ?

    Nephi seems to be doing a nutshell summation of Lehi’s argument in 2 Nephi 2.

  2. William Morris on March 8, 2004 at 3:42 pm

    My ward is a bit behind — we had this lesson yesterday.

    Although we didn’t cover this in the lesson, I’m fascinated by 2 Nephi 25:1-8. As Jim mentions, Nephi has his reasons for not teaching the Nephites the prophesying of the Jews, but this whole rhetorical move is brilliant for latter-day readers as well. Again, proof that either it’s just too convenient or that Nephi was writing for our day. Nephi speaks to the pragmatic, plain-is-good discourse prevalent in Mormonism. We seem to be a people that also glories in plainness. We like our gospel to be practical [and practice-ble]. Nephi gives props to that particular discourse. But we are also the people that is suppossed be in preparation for the events leading up to the Second Coming — events that most likely will be on such a scale and so disruptive as to make practical Gospel discourse problematic — not that the principles still won’t be in play, but dramatic events need a dramatic discourse to help people cope with and wrap their minds around them.

    In including the Isaiah chapters while also explaining the virtures of plain-speaking, Nephi has it both ways, and, I think, really appeals to the modern LDS reader. Yes, I hear complaints and jokes about Isaiah, all the time, but people still try to approach this text — or at least they do in the Sunday School classes I’ve been — there’s no doubt that the average Mormon reader pays more attention to Isaiah and his prophecies than he would if Isaiah didn’t show up in the Book of Mormon.

    I think Verse 7 best captures what I’m trying to say here: But behold, I proceed with mine own prophecy, according to my plainness; in the which I know that no man can err; nevertheless, in the days that the prophecies of Isaiah shall be fulfilled men shall know of a surety, at the times when they shall come to pass.

    —-
    Bonus commentary: one verse that popped out at me from the Isaiah chapters, 2 Nephi 15:18:

    18 Wo unto them that draw iniquity with cords of vanity, and sin as it were with a cart rope;

    I love the imagery — the idea of seeking after sin as actively as you would draw water from a well. I don’t know what a cart rope is, but my guess is that it’s pretty thick, or in other words, more than sufficient to handle the task, — I mean, that’s hilarious. Isaiah’s sardonic take on this made me laugh inwardly yesterday in class. And then the idea of vanity being the cords with which people in our day [or other days — as I understand it many of these verse can apply to a variety of historical moments] — strikes me as very insightful. As I look at the world, I see people who are sinning not just out of some weakness or private lust, but out of vanity, out of the desire to be seen as a sinner — I think that as the private and public world continue to collide [reality tv, anyone?] this will become more common.