Divorcement, Mercy, and Hearken: 3 Words that Add More Meaning to 2 Nephi 6–10


Editor’s note: Tammy Uzelac Hall is the host of LDS Living’s "Sunday on Monday,” a new weekly podcast focused on Come, Follow Me that dives into the hidden treasures of the gospel. Here are three questions readers might have in their studies of the Book of Mormon this week, accompanied by Hall's insights that add new meaning to the beloved verses.

Question: What does it mean in 2 Nephi 7:1 when it talks about a “bill of divorcement” and “being put away”? 

Answer: There is power in using metaphors and imagery that learners can easily recognize and understand. Throughout scripture, marriage is used as a metaphor for our relationship with Christ because marriage was something that everyone understood. They understood the importance of marriage, fidelity, and being bound to a spouse. According to Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, this marriage metaphor in scripture is the most commonly used of all metaphors and is used by prophets and the Lord to describe the relationship between Deity and the children of the covenant.1 We are married—or bound—to Christ through covenants (see Isaiah 54:5; Jeremiah 3:14, 31:32; Matthew 9:15; Revelation 19:7, 3 Nephi 22:5).

The moment we leave Him for another lover (sin), we become unfaithful. We separate, or divorce, ourselves from Christ. In 1 Nephi 21:14, Israel accuses the Lord of forgetting them, that He had forsaken (divorced) them. But in 2 Nephi 7:1, the Lord responds to their accusation with a question: “Where is the bill of your mother’s divorcement? To whom have I put thee away, or to which of my creditors have I sold you?”

The law of Moses required that a husband give his wife a "bill," or certificate, for a divorce to be valid (Deuteronomy 24:1-4). But there is no such bill in this case—the Lord has not divorced Israel.

The Lord also asks Israel who He sold them to. In ancient Israel, a creditor could take a debtor's children and sell them into slavery to pay the debt (Exodus 21:7–8; 2 Kings 4:1; Nehemiah 5:1–5). The Lord assures Israel that he has not sold her (Isaiah 50:1) but instead points out that they have sold themselves, and as a result, they drew up their own divorce papers and sold themselves.

And then in His mercy and goodness, He offers them hope in 2 Nephi 7:2–3.

God is all-powerful. He can do anything. Nothing is too hard for the Lord. Is His hand shortened? Not one bit. His arm is stretched out enough to redeem anyone and everyone who wants to be redeemed. He is telling Israel (and us), “I can do this. I have complete control over the elements. I can dry up a sea and clothe the heavens with blackness. I can certainly redeem you. I can do this! I can save you. I can deliver you. All you have to do is fear the Lord, obey the voice of the prophets, and walk not in darkness but in light” (see 2 Nephi 7:10). 

Question: How merciful is the Lord willing to be? What does mercy really mean?

Answer: “Greater than what is deserved” definitely fits the bill for the children of Israel and for us.

I really like the definition of mercy on ChurchofJesusChrist.org: “Mercy is the compassionate treatment of a person greater than what is deserved, and it is made possible through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.”

So what does that look like? Some examples are:

  • •When Heavenly Father hears and answers our prayers
  • •When we receive guidance from the Holy Ghost
  • •When we are healed from sickness through priesthood power
  • •Covenants (see 2 Nephi 9:17)

In a 1974 BYU devotional, Elder Holland referenced a quote on mercy by C.S. Lewis that I love: I do not think that all who choose wrong roads perish; but their rescue consists in being put back on the right road. A [mathematical] sum [incorrectly worked] can be put right; but only by going back till you find the error and then working it fresh from that point. [It will] never [be corrected] by simply going on. Evil can be undone, but it cannot “develop” into good. Time does not heal it. The spell must be unwound.”2

Elder Holland added, “So God is just, but mercy claimeth the penitent and the evil can be undone.”3

Our evil can absolutely be undone. That is the overriding message of these chapters and of the entire Book of Mormon. Every single one of us needs mercy, but no one really deserves it. We all fall short of fulfilling the justice required to right our wrongs, and yet God, in His mercy and love, will stretch out His arm all the day long to save everyone that asks.

Question: Is there anything significant with the word “hearken”? I noticed it many times in 2 Nephi 8

Answer: Yes. I love this word so much. It might be one of my favorite Hebrew words. The word “hearken” is very important in scripture and especially in the Jewish religion. “Hearken” in Hebrew is shema and can mean “hear, listen, or pay attention to.”4

But hearken also means “obey,” and this is why I love the word so much. In ancient Hebrew, there is not a separate word for obey—listening and doing are the same thing.

When the Israelites weren’t keeping their covenants, Isaiah said “O that thou hadst hearkened to my commandments—then had thy peace been as a river, and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea”(1 Nephi 20:18). Jeremiah said, “Hear now this, O foolish people, and without understanding; which have eyes, and see not; which have ears, and hear not” (Jeremiah 5:21). The Israelites weren’t hard of hearing, they were hard of obeying.

The word shema is still important to our Jewish brothers and sisters, because every morning and evening Jewish people recite what is called the Shema. It is found in Deuteronomy 6:4–5. It begins with the word shema and could be read “[Obey] O Israel, The Lord our God is one Lord. And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.”

Shema, or “obey,” is an action word, and verse 5 emphasizes obeying with all of our heart, soul, and might. In Mark 12:28–31, a scribe asks Jesus which is the first commandment of all. Jesus answers with Shema (something every person in that time understood). “And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord with all thy soul, and with all they mind, and with all thy strength and this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself, There is none other commandment greater than these.”

It makes me wonder, when I hear the word of God or listen to a conference talk, am I ready to obey?

The "Sunday on Monday" study group is a Deseret Bookshelf PLUS+ original presented by LDS Living. You can access the full study group discussion through the Bookshelf app. Listen to a segment of this week's episode below or listen to the full Sunday on Monday episode here.

1. Jeffrey R. Holland, Christ and the New Covenant: The Messianic Message of the Book of Mormon. Deseret Book Company 1997, p. 290

2. C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce (New York: Macmillan Co., 1973), p. 6

3. Jeffrey R. Holland, “Borne Upon Eagles’ Wings,” Dean of Religious Instruction Devotional, June 2, 1974.

4. For instance, when Leah felt unloved by Jacob, she gave birth to a son and named him Simeon, which in Hebrew is Shim-on, because the Lord heard that she was hated (Genesis 29:33 see footnote b).

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