“They Shall Be as Stubble”

Brant Gardner

The burning of the earth at the second coming may be tied to the symbolic association with Yahweh and fire. Eichrodt comments:

From the earliest to the latest times the God who hastens both to judgment and to succour is envisaged in the thunderstorm, riding upon the stormclouds as if in a chariot or on a charger, causing his voice to resound in the thunder, hurling the lightning as his arrows or spears, shooting forth fire from heaven as his burning breath or tongue of flame.… The best instance of the extremely concrete way in which this vision of the divine majesty was experienced is to be found in the descriptions of the Sinai theophany. It is, moreover, only natural that the other fire-phenomena of a sinister or terrifying kind, such as volcanic eruptions, subterranean fire, and so on, should also be understood as visible evidence of the presence of God.

Nephi purposefully alludes to Isaiah 47:14: “Behold, they shall be as stubble; the fire shall burn them; they shall not deliver themselves from the power of the flame: there shall not be a coal to warm at, nor fire to sit before it.” (See commentary accompanying 2 Nephi 15:24 and 19:5.) Although Isaiah is referring to the apocalyptic cleansing that will accompany the Messiah at the world’s end, Nephi places the destructions at the time of Christ’s death. (This is not a mistake as Mormon will make the same kind of typological equivalency; both Nephi and Mormon see the two “comings” of the Messiah as directly parallel, with the same predicted evidences applying to both equally.) Among the physical events at that time, fire would be involved, (Acts 2:19); but again, Nephi’s purpose is not to accurately depict how those events will take place but rather to symbolize cleansing by fire as a transcendent theme. If Nephi sees fire as a symbol of Yahweh’s presence, and since he sees the Atoning Messiah as Yahweh, the fire at the time of Yahweh’s triumphant coming is nothing but a logical companion and would be seen as a refiner’s fire more than a destructive one.

Second Witness: Analytical & Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 2