“The Flight of the Prisoners,” by Jacques Joseph Tissot
Even before the Israelites inherited their promised land, the Lord warned them that they would be scattered if they persistently rebelled against Him. (See Leviticus 26:33, Deuteronomy 4:27, Deuteronomy 28:25, 37, 64.) But God also promised that even after they were scattered, He would remember His covenant with them and respond to their sincere prayers for deliverance. (See Leviticus 26:40-45, Deuteronomy 4:28-31, Deuteronomy 30:1-10.)
About 700 years before the birth of Jesus, a massive kingdom called the Assyrian Empire conquered the northern kingdom of Israel and forced the migration of ten of the tribes to various locations across the empire. About a hundred years later, the Babylonian Empire conquered Jerusalem and took the tribes in the southern kingdom of Judah captive.
The prophet Isaiah lived during the first of these events and prophesied of the second. He also provided valuable guidance to kings of Judah during this time. (See Isaiah 7, 2 Nephi 17, 2 Kings 19, 2 Kings 20.)An understanding of these two events provides a critical background for understanding the prophecies of Isaiah, particularly the chapters quoted in the Book of Mormon. See the following blog post for more information: What Is the Historical Context for the Book of Isaiah?
“Fear Not, Neither Be Faint-Hearted”
In the years leading up to the Assyrian invasion of Israel, the northern kingdom of Israel teamed up with its northern neighbor, Syria. They tried to compel the southern kingdom of Judah to join them in an alliance and fight together against Assyria. Isaiah warned the king of Judah, Ahaz, not to enter this alliance, but to rely instead on God for deliverance. Fear can be more damaging to us than the source of the fear. Here is a post about Isaiah’s calming words to King Ahaz: These Smoking Firebrands – 2 Nephi 17:1-7. (See also 2 Kings 16:5.)
The Waters of Shiloah
After the Assyrian armies conquered Israel, they invaded Judah. In preparation for a siege on Jerusalem, King Hezekiah built a tunnel under the wall of the city, routing water from a natural spring into the city, and providing a source of fresh water to the people of the city. This reservoir was called the pool of Siloam, or the waters of Shiloah. (See 2 Kings 20:20, 2 Chronicles 32:4, 30.)
Isaiah used this pool as a metaphor for God’s quiet power. Contrasting this calm pool with a powerful river (representing the Assyrian army), he said: Don’t reject the waters of Shiloah. Have confidence in God’s reliable strength. (See 2 Nephi 18:6-8, Isaiah 8:6-8.) See the following blog post: The Waters of Shiloah – 2 Nephi 18:6-8.
One hundred years after Isaiah, the Babylonian army conquered Jerusalem, captured the king of Judah, and installed a new king named Mattaniah, who they renamed Zedekiah. Chaos and lawlessness reigned in the city at this time. (See 2 Kings 24.) It was in this environment that Lehi and his family fled from the city and traveled to a new promised land. This context can help us better understand the actions of Lehi and his family as they began their journey: Why Did God Command Nephi to Kill Laban?
The Babylonians not only enslaved the inhabitants of Judah, they also removed many sacred objects from the temple. (See 2 Kings 25:13-17.) Isaiah foresaw this desecration, but he also prophesied that these objects would be returned to the temple. He urged those who would carry out this important restoration to live worthy of their sacred mission: “Be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord” (Isaiah 52:11, 3 Nephi 20:41). Here’s a blog post describing how this admonition relates to us: What Are the “Vessels of the Lord?”
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