Fallen from Heaven – 2 Nephi 24:12-20

12 How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! Art thou cut down to the ground, which did weaken the nations!
13 For thou hast said in thy heart: I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north;
14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the Most High.
15 Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.
16 They that see thee shall narrowly look upon thee, and shall consider thee, and shall say: Is this the man that made the earth to tremble, that did shake kingdoms?
17 And made the world as a wilderness, and destroyed the cities thereof, and opened not the house of his prisoners?
18 All the kings of the nations, yea, all of them, lie in glory, every one of them in his own house.
19 But thou art cast out of thy grave like an abominable branch, and the remnant of those that are slain, thrust through with a sword, that go down to the stones of the pit; as a carcass trodden under feet.
20 Thou shalt not be joined with them in burial, because thou hast destroyed thy land and slain thy people; the seed of evil-doers shall never be renowned.
(2 Nephi 24:12-20, Isaiah 14:12-20)

It is so hard to avoid hubris. A little prestige, a position of authority, a small amount of wealth can so easily go to our heads and give us the illusion of far greater power than we actually have. We also have the illusion of permanence: we think this influence will last forever. Other people don’t help: their praise can fortify our delusion and bolster our arrogance. No wonder President James E. Faust gave the following advice to Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf when he was called to serve as a general authority of the Church:

He said, “They will treat you very kindly. They will say nice things about you.” He laughed a little and then said, “Dieter, be thankful for this. But don’t you ever inhale it.” (“Pride and the Priesthood,” General Conference, October 2010).

Like so many passages in Isaiah, the passage above refers to multiple events. It describes the future downfall of the king of Babylon. It also depicts Satan’s fall from his pre-earth status as “an angel of God Who was in authority in the presence of God” (D&C 76:25-29).

More broadly, it serves as a warning to those who become proud because they assume their worldly power is permanent.

In the poem “Ozymandias,” by Percy Bysshe Shelley, a traveler tells of an old crumbling statue he found half-buried in the desert. The following words were inscribed on the base: “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings; look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!” The traveler contrasts this audacious declaration with the scenery which provides a silent rebuttal:

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Today, I will avoid letting worldly honors and praise go to my head. I will remember to keep in perspective all of my blessings and accomplishments. Above all, I will remember that all worldly power is temporary, but that Heavenly Father’s power and glory is eternal.

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Every Man’s Heart Shall Melt – 2 Nephi 23:6-8

Belshazzar's Feast

Belshazzar’s Feast by Rembrandt

6 Howl ye, for the day of the Lord is at hand; it shall come as a destruction from the Almighty.
7 Therefore shall all hands be faint, every man’s heart shall melt;
8 And they shall be afraid; pangs and sorrows shall take hold of them; they shall be amazed one at another; their faces shall be as flames.
(2 Nephi 23:6-8, Isaiah 13:6-8)

Faith in God can help us avoid being paralyzed by the challenging experiences we face.

In the passage above, the prophet Isaiah predicts the panic which would overwhelm the people of Babylon more than 150 years later when their powerful empire was invaded in 539 BCE.

The painting above, which is in the National Gallery in London, depicts the terror of the king of Babylon, who was holding a celebration when a heavenly hand wrote the following words in Hebrew on the wall: “MENE” (מְנֵ֥א), “MENE” (מְנֵ֥א), “TEKEL” (תְּקֵ֥ל), “UPHARSIN” (וּפַרְסִֽין). The prophet Daniel, who was in captivity in Babylon, interpreted the message for the Babylonian king:

  • “MENE; God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it.”
  • “TEKEL; Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting.”
  • “PERES; Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians” (Daniel 5:26-28).

That night, King Belshazzar was killed, and his kingdom was conquered by the Persian Empire.

Isaiah’s description of these events depicts the fear experienced by people who base their confidence on worldly things, such as wealth, prestige, and organizational structures, and who fail to place their faith in God. Their feasts and celebrations may persist for a while, but eventually their foundation will crumble. Their hands will “be faint,” their hearts will “melt,” and their faces will be “as flames.”

In contrast, those whose faith in God is strong will be able to withstand difficult challenges without a loss of confidence. President Russell M. Nelson has shared a personal experience which illustrates this principle:

On a recent flight, our pilot announced that we would encounter turbulence during our descent and that all passengers must fasten their seat belts securely. Sure enough, turbulence came. It was really rough. Across the aisle and a couple of rows behind me, a terrified woman panicked. With each frightening drop and jarring bump, she screamed loudly. Her husband tried to comfort her but to no avail. Her hysterical shouts persisted until we passed through that zone of turbulence to a safe landing. During her period of anxiety, I felt sorry for her. Because faith is the antidote for fear, I silently wished that I could have strengthened her faith….
One of the realities of mortal life is that our faith will be tested and challenged. Sometimes those tests come as we face what appear to be life-and-death encounters. For this frightened woman, a violently rocking plane presented one of those moments when we come face-to-face with the strength of our faith (“Let Your Faith Show,” General Conference, April 2014).

Today, I will strengthen my faith in Jesus Christ. I will remember that faith in God can help me avoid the panic which might otherwise overcome me when I face difficult experiences.

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Call for Questions

During 2019, I’ve decided to organize my study around questions. Please help me by submitting one or more questions which I can study and write about next year. These questions can range from very specific (the meaning of a specific verse or phrase) to the very general (how to be a better parent, for example). See a list of some of the questions on my list so far, and submit your own by visiting my questions page.
Thanks for your help!
Paul

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My Strength…My Song…My Salvation – 2 Nephi 22:2

2 Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid; for the Lord JEHOVAH is my strength and my song; he also has become my salvation.
(2 Nephi 22:2, Isaiah 12:2)

Isaiah promised the children of Israel that they would one day be delivered from captivity and return home. They would be gathered “from the four corners of the earth.” Their enemies would no longer have power over them. The Lord would provide “a highway…from Assyria,” the nation that had conquered, enslaved, and scattered them (2 Nephi 21:12-16).

He then shares some of the words they will shout as they experience the joy of their deliverance. They will use some of the same words their ancestors declared after crossing the Red Sea on dry ground (Exodus 15:2), declaring that the Lord is their strength, their song, and their salvation.

  • Strength – God can help us do things which we would not be able to do on our own. Therefore, we can with confidence face challenges which seem impossible to overcome.
  • Song – God can fill our souls with joy, which we then want to share with others.
  • Salvation – God can deliver us from bondage, including the bondage of our own weaknesses and bad habits.

Last Saturday, Elder Gerrit W. Gong promised that we can receive power, joy, and deliverance as we draw near to God:

When righteous patterns and spiritual yearnings join, time and eternity come together. Spiritual light and life come when regular religious observance draws us closer to our Heavenly Father and our Savior, Jesus Christ. When we love the spirit and letter of the law, the things of eternity can distill upon our souls like the dews from heaven. With daily obedience and refreshing living water, we find answers, faith, and strength to meet everyday challenges and opportunities with gospel patience, perspective, and joy (“Our Campfire of Faith,” General Conference, October 2018).

Today, I will thank and praise God for His influence in my life. I will be grateful for the power, the joy, and the deliverance I experience as I invite Him into my life.

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The Earth Shall Be Full of the Knowledge of the Lord – 2 Nephi 21:6-9

6 The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the young lion and fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.
7 And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8 And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice’s den.
9 They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.
(2 Nephi 21:6-9, Isaiah 11:6-9)

Spiritual knowledge leads to peace.

In this passage, Isaiah paints a vivid picture of a time when natural enemies in the animal world will live in harmony. What could be more astonishing than a wolf living peacefully with a lamb, or a lion with a calf? Of course these pairs of animals are not equals. In each case, one is the aggressor and the other the expected victim. But in the world prophesied by Isaiah, the aggressors are no longer a threat. Even a human child can play near poisonous snakes with no fear.

Isaiah’s imagery may refer to a literal change in the nature of animal species. However, today I’m pondering this passage as a metaphor for human peace. There will be a time when people can trust each other, when we won’t need to fear that people will abuse, harass, deceive, or take advantage of us. What will cause this transformation? Knowledge. Isaiah tells us that violence will disappear because “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord.”

The prophet Alma chose to teach a dangerous group of people instead of attacking them because, in his experience, “the preaching of the word…had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them” (Alma 31:5). And after the Savior visited the American continent and taught His gospel following His death and resurrection, there was no contention among the people for many years (4 Nephi 1:15-18).

Elder Boyd K. Packer taught:

True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior. The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior (“Little Children,” General Conference, October 1986).

Today, I will remember that knowledge leads to peace. I will remember that the word of God can have a powerful effect on the minds of people. I will remember that an understanding of the doctrine of Christ can positively influence behavior. I will strive to help fill the earth with the knowledge of the Lord, so that the people can live together in peace and harmony.

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The Remnant of Israel…Shall Stay upon the Lord…in Truth – 2 Nephi 20:20

20 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.
(2 Nephi 20:20, Isaiah 10:20)

stay – To rest; to rely; to confide in; to trust (Webster’s Dictionary 1828, 6th definition)

In chapter 48 of his book, the prophet Isaiah laments those who “swear by the name of the Lord,… yet they swear not in truth nor in righteousness.” Even though these people claim to be followers of God, “they do not stay themselves upon the God of Israel” (1 Nephi 20:1-2). (Nephi’s rendering of this passage is clearer than the corresponding passage in the King James Version of the Bible–Isaiah 48:1-2–which is missing an important “not” in the second verse.)

Even though we don’t use the word “stay” this way any more, the meaning is reasonably clear from the context. To “stay upon” the Lord is to trust Him, to depend upon Him, and to be emotionally settled because that trust is genuine.

Why would anyone “stay upon” their oppressors? Sounds ridiculous, yet we all do it sometimes. When we fear our antagonists, we give them power to disrupt our internal peace. When we bow to their demands and seek to appease them, are we not depending on them for our emotional stability?

Last Saturday, Elder Ronald A. Rasband reminded us that faith can overcome fear:

If we actively trust in the Lord and His ways, if we are engaged in His work, we will not fear the trends of the world or be troubled by them. I plead with you to set aside worldly influences and pressures and seek spirituality in your daily life. Love what the Lord loves—which includes His commandments, His holy houses, our sacred covenants with Him, the sacrament each Sabbath day, our communication through prayer—and you will not be troubled (“Be Not Troubled,” General Conference, October 2018).

Today, I will seek to “stay upon the Lord…in truth.” I will trust Him and allow that trust to carry me through the difficulties I face. I will not allow other people or situations to intimidate me, but will overcome negative emotions by my faith in Jesus Christ.

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His Hand Is Stretched Out Still – 2 Nephi 19:12, 17, 21; 20:4

…For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.
(2 Nephi 19:12, 17, 21; 20:4; Isaiah 9:12, 17, 21; 10:4)

As he describes the rebelliousness of the kingdom of Israel, Isaiah repeatedly uses the phrase quoted above. Four times in two chapters (and once in an earlier chapter—2 Nephi 15:25Isaiah 5:25), he concludes his reprimand with the same statement: “For all this his anger is not turned away,” he says, “but his hand is stretched out still.”

What is the meaning of the stretched-out hand? The most obvious interpretation, from the context, is that it represents God’s justice. Most translations of the Bible adopt this interpretation. For example:

Nephi interprets this passage differently. When he comments on these chapters, he reassures us that God’s arm of mercy is perpetually extended towards us, even when we are rebellious and unresponsive to His invitation:

Wo be unto the Gentiles, saith the Lord God of Hosts! For notwithstanding I shall lengthen out mine arm unto them from day to day, they will deny me; nevertheless, I will be merciful unto them, saith the Lord God, if they will repent and come unto me; for mine arm is lengthened out all the day long, saith the Lord God of Hosts (2 Nephi 28:32).

After Nephi’s death, his brother Jacob shares the allegory of the olive trees, which emphasizes God’s patience and longsuffering. Jacob then provides a similar reassurance:

How merciful is our God unto us, for he remembereth the house of Israel, both roots and branches; and he stretches forth his hands unto them all the day long (Jacob 6:4)

Last Sunday, Elder Brian K. Ashton taught us the importance of a correct understanding of the character of God. He shared his wife’s experience of growing in confidence as she better understood God’s love:

For her entire life, my wife, Melinda, has tried with all her heart to be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ. Yet, beginning in her youth, she felt unworthy of Heavenly Father’s love and blessings because she misunderstood His nature. Fortunately, Melinda continued to keep the commandments in spite of the sadness she felt. A few years ago, she had a series of experiences that helped her better understand God’s nature, including His love for His children and His gratitude for our even-imperfect efforts to do His work.
She explains how this has influenced her: “I now feel sure that the Father’s plan works, that He is personally invested in our success, and that He provides us with the lessons and experiences we need to return to His presence. I see myself and others more as God sees us. I am able to parent, teach, and serve with more love and less fear. I feel peace and confidence rather than anxiety and insecurity. Instead of feeling judged, I feel supported. My faith is more certain. I feel my Father’s love more often and more deeply.” (“The Father,” General Conference, October 2018).

Today, I will remember that God’s “hand is stretched out still.” I will remember that He is focused on helping me be successful. I will surely experience consequences for my unwise choices. But even when I do wrong, I can always trust that His arm of mercy is extended, ready to help me as soon as I’m ready to receive His help.

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