2 Ne 13:1 The Lord...doth take away
Job expressed the idea that the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away (Job 1:21). This chapter is Isaiah's prophecy of how the Lord will take away all that is dear to the kingdom of Judah. Their city will be taken, their society will crumble; they will be at a loss for leadership; they will lose all prestige, independence, self-sufficiency, and sovereignty. While the various punishments may seem harsh, they should have been well known to the Jews. When Moses gave the law, he specifically revealed the punishments and curses which would befall the people if they did not keep the law:
'The Lord shall cause thee to be smitten before thine enemies: thou...shalt be removed into all the kingdoms of the earth.
...Thy sons and thy daughters shall be given unto another people...
...thou shalt be only oppressed and crushed always...
...thou shalt become an astonishment, a proverb and a byword, among all nations whither the Lord shall lead thee.
...Moreover all these curses shall come upon thee, and shall pursue thee, and overtake thee, till thou be destroyed; because thou hearkenedst not unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to keep his commandments.' (Deut. 28:25-45)
The history of Judah and Jerusalem demonstrate how literally Isaiah's prophecy has been fulfilled. The punishments have been severe because the Jews were the covenant people. Their history reminds us of what the Lord thinks of covenant breakers. As latter-day saints, today, we must ever be mindful of the punishments that await those who break their covenants, 'For of him unto whom much is given, much is required; and he who sins against the greater light shall receive the greater condemnation' (DC 82:3). We have received an even greater light and knowledge than the Jews of Isaiah's day. Therefore, we can expect an even greater condemnation if we are not true to our covenants. The implications of which are almost incomprehensible.
2 Ne 13:1 the whole staff of bread, and the whole stay of water
First of all, notice the difference between the Book of Mormon version and the Isaiah version. Again the Book of Mormon version makes more sense. What is a staff of bread and a stay of water?
"In ancient Hebrew, the words 'supply' and 'support' ('stay' and 'staff' in the KJV) are the masculine and feminine forms of the same root, masen and masenah. By using both forms, Isaiah seems to suggest complete destruction-spiritual, social, and physical. Thus, the prophet's language and imagery carry many implications beyond the threat of physical famine." (Isaiah: Prophet, Seer, and Poet, by Victor L. Ludlow, p. 101)
Taken at face value, if the supply of bread and water is taken away by the Lord, the result will be severe famine and drought. When Jerusalem was under siege to the Romans in 70 AD, they suffered from a terrible famine. Many died of hunger; many were slain by Roman soldiers while they lay famished with hunger. Josephus records:
"Now of those that perished by famine in the city, the number was prodigious, and the miseries they underwent were unspeakable... Moreover, their hunger was so intolerable, that it obliged them to chew every thing, while they gathered such things as the most sordid animals would not touch, and endured to eat them; nor did they at length abstain from girdles and shoes; and the very leather which belonged to their shields they pulled off and gnawed: the very wisps of old hay became food to some..." (Josephus, The Wars of the Jews, Book VI, 4:3)
"So the Romans...when they were come to the houses to plunder them, they found in them entire families of dead men, and the upper rooms full of dead corpses, that is of such as died by the famine...those that were still alive...they ran every one through whom they met with, and obstructed the very lanes with their dead bodies, and made the whole city run down with blood, to such a degree indeed that the fire of many of the houses was quenched with these men's blood. (Josephus, The Wars of the Jews, Book VI, 8:5)
These destructions had come upon the Jews 'because their tongues and their doings have been against the Lord, to provoke the eyes of his glory' (v. 8). The famine of 70 AD was part of the first Abomination of Desolation. The second Abomination of Desolation is yet to occur. It will take place directly preceding the Second Coming. At that time, the events of the first Desolation will be repeated. The entire thirteenth chapter is dealing with this time period. The fourteenth chapter is also; as verses 3-5 make clear. These events are part of the destructions of the last days. In order to understand them better, it makes sense to look at what happened in 70 AD, for these events will be repeated.
2 Ne 13:1-3 The Lord...doth take away...the mighty man, and the man of war, the judge...
When Jerusalem was sacked by the Babylonians in 587 BC, the rulers were either killed or taken back to Babylon. Had Lehi been in Jerusalem at the time, he would have been one of them. Josephus records how part of Isaiah's prophecy was fulfilled:
"...the general of the Babylonian king now overthrew the city to the very foundations, and removed all the people, and took for prisoners the high priest Seraiah, and Zephaniah the priest that was next to him, and the rulers that guarded the temple, who were three in number, and the eunuch who was over the armed men, and seven friends of [king] Zedekiah, and his scribe, and sixty other rulers; all whom, together with the vessels they had pillaged, he carried to the king of Babylon." (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book X, 8:5)
2 Ne 13:4 I will give children unto them to be their princes
Verses 2-4 and 12 deal with the loss of power of the mighty men of Jerusalem. Because of their pride and wickedness, they will be removed and political authority will be given to children, babes, and women. Such a thought was untenable to one of Jewish tradition. This loss of power is part of the humbling of the loftiness of man theme discussed in the preceding chapter.
"Many of the Jewish kings before the Babylonian captivity came to rule at a very early age. Ahaz, Hezekiah, Amon, and Jehoiakim were all in their early twenties. Manasseh was only twelve, Josiah a mere eight years old, and Jehoiachim either eighteen or eight, depending upon whether the age recorded in 2 Kings or 2 Chronicles is correct. (See 2 Kgs 24:8, 2 Chr. 36:9)." (Isaiah: Prophet, Seer, and Poet, by Victor L. Ludlow, p. 103)
2 Ne 13:5-7 the people shall be oppressed every one by another...by his neighbor
This kind of oppression comes not from an external political authority but from the neighbors. How will this take place? If one is stricken with terrible famine, the neighbors are looked to for offerings of food. The inhabitants of Jerusalem will be oppressed with the requests of their neighbors for food. This is exactly what happened during the first Abomination of Desolation (AD 70):
"...for if so much as the shadow of any kind of food did any where appear, a war was commenced presently, and the dearest friends fell a fighting one with another about it, snatching from each other the most miserable supports of life. Nor would men believe that those who were dying had no food, but the robbers would search them when they were expiring, lest any one should have concealed food in their bosoms, and counterfeited dying; nay, these robbers gaped for want, and ran about stumbling and staggering along like mad dogs, and reeling against the doors of the houses like drunken men; they would also, in the great distress they were in, rush into the very same houses two or three times in one and the same day." (Josephus, The Wars of the Jews, Book VI, 4:3)
Such incredible hunger will make people look to their neighbors or family for support. However, the siege will be so difficult and the famine so severe, that there will be none willing to provide for friends or neighbors, 'I will not be a healer; for in my house there is neither bread nor clothing; make me not a ruler of the people.'
2 Ne 13:8 Jerusalem is ruined, and Judah is fallen
At the time Isaiah wrote this, the kingdom of Judah was relatively strong. There was no reason to predict its ruin. Yet by the spirit of prophecy, Isaiah knew that the people would ripen in wickedness, even as Sodom, thereby bringing upon themselves the judgment of God. This judgment occurred on multiple occasions. First, the Jews were sacked by the Babylonians in approximately 587 BC. Second, the Jews were sacked by the Romans in 70 AD. Third, the Jews will be sacked by a group of Gentile nations in the last days (Rev 11:2, Zech 14:2). There were other times when the city was taken, by other armies, etc., but the city was not destroyed as in these three instances. We have seen Isaiah's prophetic dualism (the multiple applications of one prophecy) before. Here we see that Isaiah's prophecy refers to all three events.
2 Ne 13:9 The show of their countenance doth witness against them
David O. McKay
"Every man and every person who lives in this world wields an influence, whether for good or for evil. It is not what he says alone; it is not alone what he does. It is what he is. Every man, every person radiates what he or she really is...It is what we are and what we radiate that affects the people around us.
"As individuals, we must think nobler thoughts. We must not encourage vile thoughts or low aspirations. We shall radiate them if we do. If we think noble thoughts; if we encourage and cherish noble aspirations, there will be that radiation when we meet people, especially when we associate with them." (Man May Know for Himself, p. 108).
2 Ne 13:13-15 The Lord standeth up to plead
A similar passage from Micah helps us to understand what the Lord will be pleading. 'For the Lord hath a controversy with his people, and he will plead with Israel. O my people, what have I done unto thee? And wherein have I wearied thee? testify against me' (Micah 6:2-3). These questions are an appeal to the people much like what the Lord said to his servant in the parable of the olive-tree, 'What could I have done more for my vineyard?' (Jacob 5:41).
In spite of all that the Lord had done for the people, they had still rejected Him. They were, therefore, ripe for destruction. The judgment of God must come upon them for they have been so wicked that they had 'eaten up the vineyard,' stolen from the poor, beaten the people to pieces, and ground the faces of the poor.
2 Ne 13:16-24 the daughters of Zion are haughty
These unusual verses describe the many beauty accessories of the daughters of Zion. Their attempts to look beautiful are driven from their superficiality, haughtiness, and wicked practices. Their beauty is superficial and their reward will be a stink instead of a sweet smell, a rent 'instead of a girdle', baldness 'instead of well set hair', sackcloth 'instead of a stomacher', and 'burning instead of beauty.'
What in the world are wimples and crisping-pins? Obviously, beauty accessories have changed since the days of Isaiah. The best explanation of these terms can be found in the 1981 Old Testament Institute Manual:
"The following explanations may be helpful in understanding the power of Isaiah's condemnation of the women's apostasy.
Verse 16. 'Stretched forth necks' is an ancient idiom describing haughtiness-pride in self and scorn toward others.
Verse 16 'Mincing...and making a tinkling with their feet.' The women wore costly ornamental chains connecting rings about the ankles. These were often adorned with bells.
Verse 17. 'Discover their secret parts' is an idiom meaning that they would be put to shame.
Verse 18. 'Cauls...round tires like the moon' were ornamental jewelry in the shape of suns and moons according to the fashions of that day.
Verses 19-23. Archaic terms were used in the translations to convey a message of the fashions that were popular among the worldly women in ancient times: 'muffler'-veil; 'bonnet'-headdress; 'tablets'-perfume boxes; 'earrings'-charms or amulets; 'nose jewels'-nose rings; 'changeable suits of apparel'-clothing for festivals only; 'mantle'-overcloak; 'wimples'-a type of shawl or veil worn over the head; 'crisping pins'-erroneously rendered as hair curling implements. The Hebrew suggests a bag, like modern purses or handbags; 'glasses'-most authorities translate as a metal mirror, although some suggest transparent clothing, 'hoods'-turbans, head cover wrapped by hand. (See Young, Book of Isaiah, 1:162-66: Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary, 7:1:144-47)." (Old Testament Student Manual, 140-141)
Joseph Fielding Smith
"As I sit on the stand in a stake conference and look down over the congregation, I see some of the conditions existing of which Isaiah spoke...The standards expressed by the General Authorities of the Church are that women, as well as men, should dress modestly. They are taught proper deportment and modesty at all times. It is, in my judgment, a sad reflection on the 'daughters of Zion' when they dress immodestly. Moreover, this remark pertains to the men as well as to the women." (Answers to Gospel Questions, 5:172-4 as taken from Latter-day Commentary on the Book of Mormon compiled by K. Douglas Bassett, p.34)
"I have been hoping...that the sayings contained in that chapter [Isa. 3] would never apply to the daughters of Zion in our day; but I believe they will...Some of the daughters of Zion do not seem willing to forsake the fashions of Babylon. I to such would say hasten it, and let the woe that is threatened on this account come, that we may get through with it, then we can go on and build up the Zion of God on the earth...Think not, ye elders of Israel, ye sons and daughters of Zion, that we are going to live after the order of Babylon always. We are not. We shall be chastised and afflicted, and shall feel the chastening rod of the Almighty, unless we serve the Lord our God, and build up his kingdom." (The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, 226-227 as taken from Commentaries on Isaiah in the Book of Mormon, ed. by K. Douglas Bassett, [American Fork, UT: Covenant Publishing Co., 2003], 82)
2 Ne 13:25 thy men shall fall by the sword
Not only the women are to suffer humiliation at this time. The men will be killed in the war. In the destructions of the last days, the book of Revelation explains (in John's usual, figurative language) that the armies of Israel will face an army of 200 million and thereby one third of their men will be killed, 'By these three was the third part of men killed, by the fire, and by the smoke, and by the brimstone, which issued out of their mouths' (Rev 9:18). The prophet Joel also explains that the armies will be great in the valley of decision:
'Proclaim ye this among the Gentiles; Prepare war, wake up the mighty men, let all the men of war draw near; let them come up:
Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruninghooks into spears: let the weak say, I am strong.
Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision: for the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision.' (Joel 3:9-10,14)