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1 Nephi 22
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1 Nephi 22
Nephi Interprets Prophecies from the Plates of Brass
1 Nephi 22:1–3
1 And now it came to pass that after I, Nephi, had read these things which were engraven upon the plates of brass, my brethren came unto me and said unto me: What meaneth these things which ye have read? Behold, are they to be understood according to things which are spiritual, which shall come to pass according to the spirit and not the flesh?
2 And I, Nephi, said unto them: Behold they were manifest unto the prophet by the voice of the Spirit; for by the Spirit are all things made known unto the prophets, which shall come upon the children of men according to the flesh.
3 Wherefore, the things of which I have read are things pertaining to things both temporal and spiritual; for it appears that the house of Israel, sooner or later, will be scattered upon all the face of the earth, and also among all nations.
Nephi continues his literary device of having his brothers request an explanation. As previously noted, there is no context where Nephi had set this incident up within the historical narrative. Unlike all other incidents where he shows himself teaching his brothers, this explanation is not connected to a particular incident. It is an explanation triggered by Nephi’s aside, but Nephi’s style brings it back to the connection of his relationship to his brothers. Thus, they continue to be shown as lacking understanding of the scriptures, and Nephi must explain them.
The question that Nephi has the brothers ask is interesting, as it examines the heart of how ancient scripture applies to modern or future audiences. Are scriptures related to the physical world or only have spiritual application?
Nephi’s understanding of the likening of scriptures to a current people informs his response. The answer is that scriptures are both temporal and spiritual. Thus, even prophecies which have not been physically fulfilled can be spiritually applied to a current population. Nephi notes that there will come a time when the house of Israel will be scattered, but he has already likened that future scattering to his own people’s removal from Jerusalem.
1 Nephi 22:4–5
4 And behold, there are many who are already lost from the knowledge of those who are at Jerusalem. Yea, the more part of all the tribes have been led away; and they are scattered to and fro upon the isles of the sea; and whither they are none of us knoweth, save that we know that they have been led away.
5 And since they have been led away, these things have been prophesied concerning them, and also concerning all those who shall hereafter be scattered and be confounded, because of the Holy One of Israel; for against him will they harden their hearts; wherefore, they shall be scattered among all nations and shall be hated of all men.
Nephi previously noted that there was a future scattering, but now reminds his readers, through his lecture to his brothers, that there has already been a scattering. Isaiah lived at the time of the loss of the ten tribes, so Nephi declares that Isaiah’s words apply prophetically not only to his own time, but to a future time. Nephi silently includes the Nephites as one of the scattered peoples.
Nephi’s point with this part of the discussion is to show that although a scattering has already taken place, even though there is another prophesied for the future, that the promises of a gathering do not apply only to the future scattered people. Yahweh’s promise is to all of his scattered children, regardless of when or why they were, or will be scattered. They will all be gathered.
Nephi also mentions that those who will be scattered will harden their hearts against Yahweh. This begins the point where Nephi’s exegesis becomes intertwined with the vision he saw of the future of God’s people. He saw this scattering and hardening of hearts, and therefore his understanding of the vision is reflected in the way he reads Isaiah.
The Gentiles Will have a Hand in Restoring Israel
1 Nephi 22:6–9
6 Nevertheless, after they shall be nursed by the Gentiles, and the Lord has lifted up his hand upon the Gentiles and set them up for a standard, and their children have been carried in their arms, and their daughters have been carried upon their shoulders, behold these things of which are spoken are temporal; for thus are the covenants of the Lord with our fathers; and it meaneth us in the days to come, and also all our brethren who are of the house of Israel.
7 And it meaneth that the time cometh that after all the house of Israel have been scattered and confounded, that the Lord God will raise up a mighty nation among the Gentiles, yea, even upon the face of this land; and by them shall our seed be scattered.
8 And after our seed is scattered the Lord God will proceed to do a marvelous work among the Gentiles, which shall be of great worth unto our seed; wherefore, it is likened unto their being nourished by the Gentiles and being carried in their arms and upon their shoulders.
9 And it shall also be of worth unto the Gentiles; and not only unto the Gentiles but unto all the house of Israel, unto the making known of the covenants of the Father of heaven unto Abraham, saying: In thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed.
In this exegesis, Nephi is intertwining Isaiah with the vision Nephi had as part of his vision of the Tree of Life. Thus, the context is the distant future, a time when the gathering will be prepared. Isaiah spoke of a scattering and a future gathering, and that is the context in which Nephi interprets these passages at this time. He will use them in a different context when he has Jacob speak on them in the sermon beginning in 2 Nephi 6.
Here, Nephi elaborates on Isaiah according to his understanding of his own prophecy. Thus, Nephi speaks of the salvation to come through gentiles as a reference to the book of scripture that they will have. It will be in a future time that there would be a nation of gentiles who would scatter the Nephites. This personalizing of Isaiah is clearly due to Nephi seeing his vision against Isaiah’s writings. This process, using Isaiah in connection to Nephi’s vision, will be reprised and expanded in 2 Nephi.
The marvelous work that Nephi references will be the revelation of the Book of Mormon to his own people, and he specifically says that “it shall also be of worth unto the gentiles.”
1 Nephi 22:10–12
10 And I would, my brethren, that ye should know that all the kindreds of the earth cannot be blessed unless he shall make bare his arm in the eyes of the nations.
11 Wherefore, the Lord God will proceed to make bare his arm in the eyes of all the nations, in bringing about his covenants and his gospel unto those who are of the house of Israel.
12 Wherefore, he will bring them again out of captivity, and they shall be gathered together to the lands of their inheritance; and they shall be brought out of obscurity and out of darkness; and they shall know that the Lord is their Savior and their Redeemer, the Mighty One of Israel.
By this point, Nephi’s connection to the two chapters of Isaiah that he entered into his record has become tenuous. It is misleading to suggest that Nephi is making a commentary on Isaiah, for he is not explaining Isaiah as a commentary would, but he is rather using Isaiah as a platform for an expanded understanding. This process is similar to what is known as a pesher for the Old Testament. The word describes an interpretation of the scripture, not an explanation. Nephi is not examining what Isaiah meant, but how Isaiah can continue to provide rich meaning for Nephi’s current and future people.
In these verses, Nephi notes that the future gathering, a future healing of Israel, will only be accomplished as Yahweh shows his power among all nations. Yahweh will do that by bringing scattered Israel out of captivity. It will be completed when gathered Israel can again acknowledge Yahweh as the Mighty One of Israel.
The Wrath of God Will Fall Upon the Wicked
1 Nephi 22:13–15
13 And the blood of that great and abominable church, which is the whore of all the earth, shall turn upon their own heads; for they shall war among themselves, and the sword of their own hands shall fall upon their own heads, and they shall be drunken with their own blood.
14 And every nation which shall war against thee, O house of Israel, shall be turned one against another, and they shall fall into the pit which they digged to ensnare the people of the Lord. And all that fight against Zion shall be destroyed, and that great whore, who hath perverted the right ways of the Lord, yea, that great and abominable church, shall tumble to the dust and great shall be the fall of it.
15 For behold, saith the prophet, the time cometh speedily that Satan shall have no more power over the hearts of the children of men; for the day soon cometh that all the proud and they who do wickedly shall be as stubble; and the day cometh that they must be burned.
If it had already been obvious that Nephi was viewing Isaiah in relation to his vision of the future, this discussion of the great and abominable church could not be more obvious. In the Book of Mormon, Jacob is the only other writer to use the phrase, and Jacob refers to it in his discussion of the verses from Isaiah 49 that Nephi assigned him. What Jacob teaches appears close enough to Nephi’s exegesis here, that it is a reasonable assumption that Jacob learned it from Nephi.
In this exegesis, the great and abominable church is contextually defined as “every nation which shall war against” the house Israel. Thus, as the Lord shows his power in the last days, the great final battle between good and evil is represented by Israel and the great and abominable church. In the end, Yahweh, and therefore Israel, will be triumphant.
The theme of Satan having no power over the hearts of the children of men and the burning of the wicked clearly place this part of the prophecy in the last days, further highlighting the symbolic nature of the great and abominable church.
1 Nephi 22:16–19
16 For the time soon cometh that the fulness of the wrath of God shall be poured out upon all the children of men; for he will not suffer that the wicked shall destroy the righteous.
17 Wherefore, he will preserve the righteous by his power, even if it so be that the fulness of his wrath must come, and the righteous be preserved, even unto the destruction of their enemies by fire. Wherefore, the righteous need not fear; for thus saith the prophet, they shall be saved, even if it so be as by fire.
18 Behold, my brethren, I say unto you, that these things must shortly come; yea, even blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke must come; and it must needs be upon the face of this earth; and it cometh unto men according to the flesh if it so be that they will harden their hearts against the Holy One of Israel.
19 For behold, the righteous shall not perish; for the time surely must come that all they who fight against Zion shall be cut off.
Continuing his account of the end times, Nephi notes that while there is a war between the abominable church and the church of Yahweh, Yahweh will be victorious. The wicked will not destroy the righteous. This is the ultimate promise Yahweh has made to his people, but it does not preclude the times when the righteous will suffer before that final day. Those times are also predicted.
In the prophetic vocabulary, “these things must shortly come” clearly does not mean what a plain interpretation would mean. The idea that they would “shortly come” is a call to current preparation, not the timing of the final events. The majority of humanity will need to be personally prepared to meet their God long before God initiates the final days.
A Prophet Like Moses, Fate of Righteous and Wicked
1 Nephi 22:20–23
20 And the Lord will surely prepare a way for his people, unto the fulfilling of the words of Moses, which he spake, saying: A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you, like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you. And it shall come to pass that all those who will not hear that prophet shall be cut off from among the people.
21 And now I, Nephi, declare unto you, that this prophet of whom Moses spake was the Holy One of Israel; wherefore, he shall execute judgment in righteousness.
22 And the righteous need not fear, for they are those who shall not be confounded. But it is the kingdom of the devil, which shall be built up among the children of men, which kingdom is established among them which are in the flesh—
23 For the time speedily shall come that all churches which are built up to get gain, and all those who are built up to get power over the flesh, and those who are built up to become popular in the eyes of the world, and those who seek the lusts of the flesh and the things of the world, and to do all manner of iniquity; yea, in fine, all those who belong to the kingdom of the devil are they who need fear, and tremble, and quake; they are those who must be brought low in the dust; they are those who must be consumed as stubble; and this is according to the words of the prophet.
Nephi references Deuteronomy 18:15 or 18. Both verses contain the reference.
Deuteronomy 18:15 says: “The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken.”
Deuteronomy 18:18 declares: “I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him.”
Nephi declares that this prophet will be the Holy One of Israel, or Yahweh. Without specifically noting it, Nephi means that it will be Yahweh in his mortal mission. This is the context in which we see this reference in Acts 3:20–22: “And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began. For Moses truly said unto the fathers, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you.”
1 Nephi 22:24
24 And the time cometh speedily that the righteous must be led up as calves of the stall, and the Holy One of Israel must reign in dominion, and might, and power, and great glory.
This short verse provides an opportunity to examine the translation language of the Book of Mormon. It should never be forgotten that the Book of Mormon was translated into English, and that the Nephite language was the original. The relationship between the English words and the Nephite meaning is a question that has been variously examined, with differing opinions.
The best understanding of how the English text relates to the original Nephite language is one of a functional translation. That is, there isn’t a word-for-word translation, but one that translates meaning and understanding. This verse provides examples of how that process works.
First we have the phrase that “the righteous must be led up as calves of the stall.” That language is a very specific phrase, and reflects Malachi 4:2: “the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall.” Unlike many references to Old Testament writings, Malachi postdates the departure of Lehi from Jerusalem, and therefore could not have been on the plates of brass.
The final phrase says that the “Holy One of Israeli must reign in dominion, and might, and power, and great glory.” Although the specific set of words is not precise, the parallel to Jude 1:25 suggests that it influenced the Book of Mormon translation. It says: “To the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power.”
The vocabulary of 1 Nephi 22:24 reflects phrasing that appear to have been borrowed from Malachi and Jude, neither of which would have been available to Nephi. The best understanding is that these are phrases that Joseph understood and used in his translation when they fit the intended meaning and context of the Nephite original.
The presence of these phrases cannot mean that they were part of the original, because the specifics of the allusions are to the specific English translation of the Book of Mormon. They are obvious because they follow well known scriptures.
1 Nephi 22:25–28
25 And he gathereth his children from the four quarters of the earth; and he numbereth his sheep, and they know him; and there shall be one fold and one shepherd; and he shall feed his sheep, and in him they shall find pasture.
26 And because of the righteousness of his people, Satan has no power; wherefore, he cannot be loosed for the space of many years; for he hath no power over the hearts of the people, for they dwell in righteousness, and the Holy One of Israel reigneth.
27 And now behold, I, Nephi, say unto you that all these things must come according to the flesh.
28 But, behold, all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people shall dwell safely in the Holy One of Israel if it so be that they will repent.
Nephi often emphasizes Isaiah’s verses about the scattering of Israel. It is understandable that he should, for his family was driven from Jerusalem, and found themselves upon an isle of the sea, a phrase seen in Isaiah. What Nephi also emphasizes is an ultimate gathering. This prophetic emphasis on the final gathering of scattered Israel is important in Nephi and Jacob but fades the longer the Nephites are in the New World. Future generations did not feel the separation that Nephi and Jacob personally remembered. Thus, they did not have a longing to recover from a separation they had not really known.
As Nephi ends his pesher on Isaiah 49 (and it is much more about 49 than the also included Isaiah 48), he ends with a gathering from the four quarters of the earth. For Nephi, that is the ultimate goal, to bring all of scattered Israel together.
Nephi had begun this exegesis by noting that Isaiah could be read both temporally and spiritually. While Nephi has spent the latter part of the exegesis on the prophetic future, he brings it back to a current perspective by noting that “all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people shall dwell safely in the Holy One of Israel if it so be that they will repent.” That is, after all, yet another statement of Yahweh’s promise of protection and prosperity in the new land, upon principles of righteousness.
1 Nephi 22:29–31
29 And now I, Nephi, make an end; for I durst not speak further as yet concerning these things.
30 Wherefore, my brethren, I would that ye should consider that the things which have been written upon the plates of brass are true; and they testify that a man must be obedient to the commandments of God.
31 Wherefore, ye need not suppose that I and my father are the only ones that have testified, and also taught them. Wherefore, if ye shall be obedient to the commandments, and endure to the end, ye shall be saved at the last day. And thus it is. Amen.
Nephi concludes his first book. It concludes with his exegesis of Isaiah, which, although it was probably unplanned, it is completely appropriate for Nephi. Nephi had begun this aside with the literary device of addressing his brothers. At the end, he addresses his brethren. It is probable that Nephi is now directing what he has written to his people, and not to Laman and Lemuel.
This is a message written to Nephi’s contemporaries perhaps, but certainly to his descendants. It is also written to us, as modern readers. We too are part of the brethren to whom his testimony is directed. Nephi’s patriarchal society, echoed in biblical language, addresses this to a collective brethren, that includes sisters, even if not named.
The appropriate end to this first book is Nephi’s testimony of the scriptures, which for the Nephites were the plates of brass. He and his father, and all of the prophets, have testified to the truth of the scriptures. Nephi, has just shown how Isaiah could have been from a hundred years prior, yet still ring true, and is of great worth to Nephi’s own generation—and future generations.
Nephi closes with the testificatory amen.
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