Nephi quotes thirteen chapters in a row from the book of Isaiah (chapters 2-14). At the end of this extended quotation, there is a verse which reads like the moral of the story:
What shall then answer the messengers of the nations? That the Lord hath founded Zion, and the poor of his people shall trust in it.2 Nephi 24:32
Who are these messengers? Isaiah doesn’t tell us. Since the prior passages describe the destruction of several countries near Israel and Judah—Babylonia, Assyria, and Philistia—we can assume that the “messengers” are representatives of at least those three countries and maybe others as well.
What question are these messengers answering, and who asked it? Isaiah doesn’t tell us. In fact, many English translations of the Bible flip the conversation around, making the messengers themselves the questioners instead of the ones answering the question. (“What shall one then answer the messengers of the nation?” says the King James Version, with the word “one” italicized because it was inserted by the translators. See Isaiah 14:32.)
Regardless of who’s asking and who’s answering, a possible question that would elicit this response is the following: How is Zion still standing when institutions all around it are crumbling? The Babylonian Empire seemed unconquerable. The Assyrians appeared to rule the world at one point. In comparison, Jerusalem (Zion) seemed pretty small and weak. Why is it outlasting it’s massively more powerful neighbors?
Here’s how I would paraphrase the answer given in the verse above: Because this is not a man-made organization. It was established by God. Then, Isaiah adds this crucial footnote: By the way, unlike the worldly institutions established to benefit the wealthy, the well-connected, and the elite, Zion serves the downtrodden, the humble, and the poor.
Zion in this passage refers not only to ancient Israel but also to modern Israel. Man-made institutions are fragile, but Zion is durable. It was established by God, and when we contribute to it, we are building something permanent. Elder D. Todd Christofferson said:
If we would establish Zion…it will be necessary (1) to become unified in one heart and one mind; (2) to become, individually and collectively, a holy people; and (3) to care for the poor and needy with such effectiveness that we eliminate poverty among us. We cannot wait until Zion comes for these things to happen—Zion will come only as they happen.“Come to Zion,” General Conference, October 2008
Today, I will work to build up Zion. I will remember that it was founded by God and that it will remain intact long after man-made institutions with less-durable purposes have collapsed.