These Smoking Firebrands – 2 Nephi 17:1-7

1 And it came to pass in the days of Ahaz the son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, king of Judah, that Rezin, king of Syria, and Pekah the son of Remaliah, king of Israel, went up toward Jerusalem to war against it, but could not prevail against it.
2 And it was told the house of David, saying: Syria is confederate with Ephraim. And his heart was moved, and the heart of his people, as the trees of the wood are moved with the wind.
3 Then said the Lord unto Isaiah: Go forth now to meet Ahaz, thou and Shearjashub thy son, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool in the highway of the fuller’s field;
4 And say unto him: Take heed, and be quiet; fear not, neither be faint-hearted for the two tails of these smoking firebrands, for the fierce anger of Rezin with Syria, and of the son of Remaliah.
5 Because Syria, Ephraim, and the son of Remaliah, have taken evil counsel against thee, saying:
6 Let us go up against Judah and vex it, and let us make a breach therein for us, and set a king in the midst of it, yea, the son of Tabeal.
7 Thus saith the Lord God: It shall not stand, neither shall it come to pass.
(2 Nephi 17:1-7, Isaiah 7:1-7)

Some background information about the three kingdoms described in these verses is helpful in understanding this passage:

Kingdom Capital King
Judah Jerusalem Ahaz (son of Jotham son of Uzziah, of the house of David)
Israel (Ephraim) Samaria Pekah (son of Remaliah)
Syria Damascus Rezin
(For a map of these locations, see “Old Testament Canaan: Home of the Prophets,” Ensign, January 1990).

The kingdom of Israel (also known as Ephraim) had entered an alliance with Syria, and they together planned to attack Jerusalem, and replace Ahaz with a new king (the son of Tabael). When Ahaz learned of the plan, “his heart was moved, and the heart of his people, as the trees of the wood are moved with the wind.”

But when Isaiah went to meet him, he had a simple message from God: Don’t be afraid of those two countries. Don’t panic. The armies of those kings may look formidable, but they are “smoking firebrands,” or burnt-out torches. (See Isaiah 7:4, footnote a.) Regarding their plan, the Lord promised, “It shall not stand, neither shall it come to pass.”

Very often, things that seem daunting or intimidating at first aren’t as bad as they seem when we have all the facts. Just as Ahaz was unduly frightened by the imminent attack from his neighbors, so we can become paralyzed by a potential danger which may be much less serious than we fear.

When that happens, we would do well to follow Isaiah’s advice: “Take heed, and be quiet; fear not, neither be faint-hearted.” Calming our fears can enable us to gather information, avoid overreacting, and make rational choices. If we allow our hearts to be moved “like the trees of the wood,” we are likely to make poor decisions, and potentially make a bad situation much worse.

Today, I will avoid overreacting to negative news. When I encounter unsettling information, I will calm my fears, quiet my thoughts, separate fact from opinion, learn as much as I can about the situation, and then act on the facts themselves rather than on the anxiety and speculation that may accompany them.

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