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1 Nephi 20
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1 Nephi 20
The Lord Laments Israel’s Stubbornness
1 Nephi 20:1-4
1 Hearken and hear this, O house of Jacob, who are called by the name of Israel, and are come forth out of the waters of Judah, or out of the waters of baptism, who swear by the name of the Lord, and make mention of the God of Israel, yet they swear not in truth nor in righteousness.
2 Nevertheless, they call themselves of the holy city, but they do not stay themselves upon the God of Israel, who is the Lord of Hosts; yea, the Lord of Hosts is his name.
3 Behold, I have declared the former things from the beginning; and they went forth out of my mouth, and I showed them. I did show them suddenly.
4 And I did it because I knew that thou art obstinate, and thy neck is an iron sinew, and thy brow brass;
Nephi inserts Isaiah chapters 48 and 49. There is no original chapter break before their inclusion, but the original does break at the end of the inclusion of Isaiah 49. Our Chapter 20 of 1 Nephi is set off to be more easily compared to Isaiah 48.
Nephi’s expertise with Isaiah is evident in these two chapters. Although they are part of a spontaneous expansion of Nephi’s original plan, they aptly amplify the themes that he has been discussing, about the relationship of Yahweh’s messianic mission and the children of Israel, among whom he would be mortal.
Isaiah sets up the problem in these verses. The house of Jacob, or Israel, has a special covenant with Yahweh, but Israel is not keeping up its part of the covenant. They swear by Yahweh, but not in truth. They call themselves a holy city, but they do not do the actions of those who are holy.
Yahweh has therefore instructed them through prophets, who called them to repentance, but they were obstinate.
Of interest in the first verse is the insertion of “or out of the waters of baptism” as a clarification of the waters of Judah. Joseph Smith entered this as a marginal note, in parenthesis, for the 1840 edition. It was therefore not part of the original dictation, but was Joseph’s later examination of the text.
1 Nephi 20:5–8
5 And I have even from the beginning declared to thee; before it came to pass I showed them thee; and I showed them for fear lest thou shouldst say—Mine idol hath done them, and my graven image, and my molten image hath commanded them.
6 Thou hast seen and heard all this; and will ye not declare them? And that I have showed thee new things from this time, even hidden things, and thou didst not know them.
7 They are created now, and not from the beginning, even before the day when thou heardest them not they were declared unto thee, lest thou shouldst say—Behold I knew them.
8 Yea, and thou heardest not; yea, thou knewest not; yea, from that time thine ear was not opened; for I knew that thou wouldst deal very treacherously, and wast called a transgressor from the womb.
Yahweh continues with a description of Israel’s problems. Even though Yahweh had, in various ways, manifested himself to Israel, they had a tendency to misunderstand the source of God’s power. Isaiah says that Israel might rather say: “mine idol hath done them.”
Nephi saw this verse as clearly pointed to his brothers. Nephi has described them in terms of Jerusalem, and hence he easily connects Laman and Lemuel to the Jerusalem against which Yahweh spoke. Just as Israel might have seen miracles and believed that their idols had done them, Laman and Lemuel had also seen an angel and had miraculous deliveries from harm, so they must have reconciled to not mean what Nephi clearly understood them to mean.
Laman and Lemuel were among those who hearing, knew not. As with Israel, their ear was not opened. Pointedly, Nephi says to them, in Isaiah’s words: “I knew that thou wouldst deal very treacherously.”
The Lord Redeems Israel
1 Nephi 20:9–14
9 Nevertheless, for my name’s sake will I defer mine anger, and for my praise will I refrain from thee, that I cut thee not off.
10 For, behold, I have refined thee, I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.
11 For mine own sake, yea, for mine own sake will I do this, for I will not suffer my name to be polluted, and I will not give my glory unto another.
12 Hearken unto me, O Jacob, and Israel my called, for I am he; I am the first, and I am also the last.
13 Mine hand hath also laid the foundation of the earth, and my right hand hath spanned the heavens. I call unto them and they stand up together.
14 All ye, assemble yourselves, and hear; who among them hath declared these things unto them? The Lord hath loved him; yea, and he will fulfil his word which he hath declared by them; and he will do his pleasure on Babylon, and his arm shall come upon the Chaldeans.
At this point, Isaiah shifts from condemning Israel to providing hope. For Nephi, he would have likened this to his people after they had split from Laman and Lemuel. Nephi was part of the family while it suffered afflictions in their journey through the desert and across the ocean. Although we see a righteous Nephi, we also see a Nephi who suffered.
Yahweh says that Israel has been refined in the furnace of affliction. Nephi saw himself, and his people, as having been refined in the furnace of affliction.
The important declaration is that Yahweh is with Israel in Isaiah’s original meaning, but in Nephi’s likening, it is that Yahweh is with the Nephites. Yahweh declares himself and his power—and then the promise that he would fulfill his word.
When Isaiah says that Yahweh will “do his pleasure on Babylon,” it refers to the destruction of Babylon. For Nephi, it was protection against the Lamanites.
In the final verse of this section, Isaiah obliquely speaks of a prophet, indicating that “the lord hath loved him,” and that “he will fulfil his word.” This prophet becomes the subject of the next set of verses.
1 Nephi 20:15–19
15 Also, saith the Lord; I the Lord, yea, I have spoken; yea, I have called him to declare, I have brought him, and he shall make his way prosperous.
16 Come ye near unto me; I have not spoken in secret; from the beginning, from the time that it was declared have I spoken; and the Lord God, and his Spirit, hath sent me.
17 And thus saith the Lord, thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel; I have sent him, the Lord thy God who teacheth thee to profit, who leadeth thee by the way thou shouldst go, hath done it.
18 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.
19 Thy seed also had been as the sand; the offspring of thy bowels like the gravel thereof; his name should not have been cut off nor destroyed from before me.
Yahweh speaks through his prophets, and in these verses the prophet becomes an unnamed surrogate for Yahweh. Thus, Yahweh says that he has called the prophet “to declare,” and that should Israel listen to him, “he shall make his way prosperous.” The very presence of the idea that following the prophet would make the people prosperous clearly resonates with the Nephite foundational promise that they would prosper upon their righteousness.
Just as the prophet was sent to Israel to teach them how to profit, or to prosper, so too will the Nephites prosper as they follow their prophet-leader.
The emphasis on the seed becoming as the sand also resonated with the new Nephite nation. Nephi would have seen Isaiah as setting the foundational principles upon which the promise of the new land would be based.
1 Nephi 20:20–22
20 Go ye forth of Babylon, flee ye from the Chaldeans, with a voice of singing declare ye, tell this, utter to the end of the earth; say ye: The Lord hath redeemed his servant Jacob.
21 And they thirsted not; he led them through the deserts; he caused the waters to flow out of the rock for them; he clave the rock also and the waters gushed out.
22 And notwithstanding he hath done all this, and greater also, there is no peace, saith the Lord, unto the wicked.
Israel was to flee their captivity. When Isaiah wrote, it was an Assyrian captivity, not a Babylonian captivity. Isaiah chapters 48 and 49 are among those considered as having been written by Deutero-Isaiah and are dated to after the Babylonian captivity. The emphasis on Babylon is one of the reasons that they are so dated.
If these chapters were written after Lehi left Jerusalem, there is no easy explanation for their presence. It is possible, however, that they originally dealt with the contemporaneous Assyrian captivity of the northern kingdom, or Israel. A later redactor may have updated them for what had to have been seen as a direct parallel. This explanation is, of course, entirely speculative.
In any case, by the time Nephi wrote this, his people had already fled from Laman and Lemuel’s murderous intentions, and Nephi would have seen that as a likening to fleeing Babylon.
The promise to Israel, and to the Nephites, was that Yahweh would lead them. Just has Yahweh protected Israel in their Exodus, he would continue to guide and care for them. Nephi had drawn his people’s story in pictures paralleling the Exodus, and certainly saw this promise being refocused on his people.
Unfortunately, the final verse indicates that Yahweh’s guidance would not provide permanent peace. Later in the Book of Mormon, it will be written several times that the Nephites had continual peace. Few of those continual peace periods lasted as long as three years, and some barely a year.
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