Since different wards and branches are on different lessons (as a result of ward conferences, etc.), I decided to post some supplemental material for Gospel Doctrine lessons 4 and 5, covering 1 Nephi 12-22. Of course, the most important material to study is (and will always be) the text of the scriptures themselves, with all their footnotes and explanatory notes. So what I’ve posted here is not a substitute for the official manual, only some supplemental material — I hope you enjoy it!
1 Nephi 13 – A few interesting statements and quotations about the apostasy:
Some Latter-day Saints, reading Nephi’s descriptions in 1 Nephi 13, envision medieval monks tampering with the Bible to change it according to their own desires. And they see the church of Rome as the great and abominable church of which Nephi wrote. Neither of these interpretations is correct. According to Nephi, the corruption of the biblical text and the removal of “plain and most precious” things from the gospel would take place before the Bible would go to the world (1 Nephi 13:29). That the spread of the Bible was underway early in the second century A.D. is evident in the fact that New Testament passages are quoted often in the earliest Christian writings of that period. The Catholic Church was no more responsible for the Apostasy than were the Baptists, the Presbyterians, or any other of today’s churches: like all other Christians since the first century A.D., they were the inheritors of it. The Apostasy had been underway for more than two centuries before what we call the Catholic Church came into existence. The monks and the priests who carefully preserved and copied Bible manuscripts came even later. The keys of the kingdom had left the Church with John, and the process of doctrinal evolution had been underway since the Church began. Medieval Christianity was the result of the Apostasy, not the cause. – Kent P. Jackson, From Apostasy to Restoration, (Deseret Book, Salt Lake City, 1996), pp. 20-21.
Interestingly, New Testament Christians were criticized for believing that God had a body. Below is a translation of an anti-Christian essay written in 178 A.D.:
The Christians say that God has hands, a mouth, and a voice; they are always proclaiming that “God said this” or “God spoke.” “The heavens declare the work of his hands,” they say. I can only comment that such a God is no god at all, for God had neither hands, mouth, or voice, nor any characteristics of which we know. And they say that God made man in his own image, failing to realize that God is not at all like a man, nor vice versa; God resembles no form known to us. They say that God has form, namely the form of the Logos, who became flesh in Jesus Christ. But we know that God is without shape, without color, They say that God moved above the waters he created–but we know that it is contrary to the nature of God to move. Their absurd doctrines even contain references to God walking about in the garden he created for man; and they speak of him being angry, jealous, moved to repentance, sorry, sleepy–in short, as being in every respect more a man than a God. They have not read Plato, who teaches us in the Republic, that God (the Good) does not even participate in being.” – Celsus, On the True Doctrine: A Discourse Against the Christians. Translated by R. Joseph Hoffman. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987. Cited in Joseph Fielding McConkie, Sons and Daughters of God, (Bookcraft, 1994), p. 108.
Later Christians redefined God in a way that would be more acceptable to the philosophers and intellectuals:
What was most keenly desired on the part of the Christians of that era was respectability in the Graeco-Roman world. It was not peaceful cohabitation with the world that they sought but reconciliation. They sought to defend the faith on philosophical grounds so they could prove it worthy of the attention of pagan intellectuals. Thus philosophy became the disinfectant used to rid Christianity of the anthropomorphic notion that God resembled man and to disallow a literal reading of the many passages of scripture that describe personal encounters with Him….Thus reason supplanted revelation, scholars replaced prophets, a formless and incomprehensible God deposed the God who created Adam and Eve in his image and likeness and loyalty to creeds became the measure of faith in preference to holiness. – Joseph Fielding McConkie, Sons and Daughters of God, (Bookcraft, Salt Lake City, 1994), p.7.
Christians in the early centuries determined that God, by his very nature, must be something entirely other than anything earthly. If humans could describe, define, understand, or even imagine him, he would be finite and thus not divine. He cannot, therefore, be contained in a body, a shape, a place, or a time, nor can he have anything like human characteristics or emotions. The beauty of this doctrine, the churches believe, is that it exalts and glorifies God by seeing him as beyond anything within the grasp of human experience or human reasoning. Were it otherwise, he would not be God. – Kent P. Jackson, From Apostasy to Restoration, (Deseret Book, Salt Lake City, 1996), p. 54.
1 Nephi 13-14
Nephi asked the Spirit if he could see the things his father saw, but Nephi saw more (1 Nephi 11:2-3). In addition to the tree of life, and rod of iron, and great and spacious building and so forth, Nephi also saw events in the life of Christ interspersed with the elements of Lehi’s dream. It is as if Nephi was watching it all on two screens!
1 Nephi 13-14 speak of the great and abominable church. 1 Nephi 14:10 declares that “there are two churches only: the one if the church of the Lamb of God, and the other is the church of the devil.” These are strong words, and troubling to some, since we all have friends of other faiths who are devoted, good people, who are sincerely trying to follow Christ as best they can. Dr. Stephen Robinson (author of Believing Christ) wrote a superb article for the Ensign called “Warring Against the Saints of God” to help us understand these verses and these two chapters.
1 Nephi 15:13 The Gathering of Israel
The gathering of Israel consists of joining the true Church, of coming to a knowledge of the true God and of his saving truths, and of worshiping him in the congregations of the Saints in all nations and among all peoples. Any person, therefore, who has accepted the restored gospel, and who now seeks to worship the Lord, in his own tongue, and among his own people, and with the Saints of his own nation has complied with the law of gathering and is entitled to all the blessings promised the Saints in these last days.
The place of gathering for the Mexican Saints is in Mexico; the place of gathering for the Guatemalan Saints is in Guatemala; the place of gathering for the Brazilian Saints is in Brazil; and so it goes throughout the length and breadth of the whole earth. Japan is for the Japanese; Korea is for the Koreans; Australia is for the Australians; every nation is the gathering place for its own people. – Elder Bruce R. McConkie, Report of Mexico City Area Conference, 1972, p. 45.
1 Nephi 15:24 Hold to the Rod!
Real disciples absorb the fiery darts of the adversary by holding aloft the quenching shield of faith with one hand, while holding to the iron rod with the other (see Ephesians 6:16; 1 Nephi 15:24); D&C 27:17). There should be no mistaking; it will take both hands! – Neal A. Maxwell, Ensign, May 1987, p.70.
On the straight, narrow path, which leads to our little Calvarys, one does not hear a serious traveler exclaiming, “Look, no hands!” – Neal A. Maxwell, Ensign, May 1990, p.63.
1 Nephi 16:23 “And I said unto my father”
After Nephi broke his bow, it seems the entire family began to murmur, including Lehi (see verse 20). And yet, Nephi — who clearly knew how to get his own answers to prayer – asks Lehi where he should go to obtain food. Why? Nephi could have said, “While you stay here and murmur, I’m going to go get dinner,” but he didn’t. He asked his father where he should go. Footnote 23b gives us some insight as to why.
1 Nephi 16:23 Why did Nephi have to make a new arrow?
Nephi, faced with his broken bow, took the “initiative” and made a new bow and arrow (See footnote 23a). Some have wondered, “Why would Nephi have to make new arrows? Only his bow was broken.” Here’s an insight:
David S. Fox, in a letter to F.A.R.M.S., suggests an answer: “An examination of Nephi’s account shows that whoever wrote that account was familiar in some detail with the field of archery.” Consider what happens to an arrow at the instant the string is released: the full force of the drawn string is applied to the end of the arrow, trying to accelerate it, but also tending to bend or buckle the arrow. If the bow’s draw weight and the arrow’s stiffness are not perfectly matched, the arrow will stray off the intended course or fall short of the mark. An arrow that is too flexible will leave the bow with a vibration that can cause the arrow to behave erratically. On the other hand, an arrow that is too stiff is probably too heavy for the bow.
Nephi’s steel bow likely used heavier, stiffer arrows than his simply fashioned wooden bow could handle. Nephi was physically large (see 1 Nephi 2:16; 4:31), and he would have had little reason to use a bow made from metal if he did not have considerable strength. The arrows to match the steel bow used by such a man would undoubtedly have been quite heavy in order for them to be of adequate stiffness. One experienced archer reports, “The arrows from the steel bow when shot from the wooden bow would be like shooting telephone poles.” Hence, it is accurate that Nephi should mention, in one and the same breath, the fact that he made an arrow as well as a bow. Bow wood and arrow wood from the same tree or area could be matched as well.
One doubts that such information was known to Joseph Smith or to many, if any, of his contemporaries. Archery, as a means of self-defense or as a serious method of hunting or warfare, went out of vogue among Europeans many years before the time of Joseph Smith. On the other hand, archery as a sport did not emerge until the latter half of the nineteenth century.
David Fox concludes: “Nephi’s statement that he made an arrow out of a straight stick is an additional subtle but significant example of internal consistency within the Book of Mormon. Anyone unfamiliar with the field of archery would have almost certainly omitted such a statement.” Another bull’s-eye for the Book of Mormon. – Reexploring the Book of Mormon, John W. Welch ed, [Deseret Book & F.A.R.M.S., 1992], pp. 41-42.
1 Nephi 17:45 Truth Feels Good
True religion is a feeling. It is common in anti-Mormon literature for attacks to be made on prayer and on trusting one’s feelings as sources for obtaining truth. In the realm of spiritual understanding both are fundamental. Truth is felt. Falsehood is often clothed in erudite and sophisticated arguments. One does not have to be able to refute the argument to know that it is false. Truth feels good; falsehood does not. – McConkie, Joseph Fielding, Robert L. Millet, and Brent L. Top (vol. 4). Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Volume 1, p.137.
1 Nephi 17:45 “Past feeling”
The Spirit does not get our attention by shouting or shaking us with a heavy hand. Rather it whispers. It caresses so gently that if we are preoccupied we may not feel it at all. (No wonder that the Word of Wisdom was revealed to us, for how could the drunkard or the addict feel such a voice?) Occasionally it will press just firmly enough for us to pay heed. But most of the time, if we do not heed the gentle feeling, the Spirit will withdraw and wait until we come seeking and listening and say in our manner and expression, like Samuel of ancient times, “Speak, for thy servant heareth.” (1 Samuel 3:10.) I have learned that strong, impressive spiritual experiences do not come to us very frequently. And when they do, they are generally for our own edification, instruction, or correction. Unless we are called by proper authority to do so, they do not position us to counsel or to correct others. – Boyd K. Packer, That All May Be Edified, “The Candle of the Lord,” [Bookcraft, 1982], p. 337.
1 Nephi 20, 21 The 1981 edition of the Book of Mormon Student Manual gives the helpful summary of these first two Isaiah chapters in the Book of Mormon:
Why Does Nephi Quote These Particular Chapters of Isaiah at this Point?
A – Listen to the Lord, Israel (1 Nephi 20:1-9.)
- You claim to be of God’s people but you refuse to serve him.
- He has revealed things to you in a particular way because of your hardness.
- From the beginning you have been unfaithful.
- But the Lord has not forsaken you.
B – He will still accomplish his work with you. (1 Nephi 20:10-22.)
- This is for his own purposes.
- All his work will be fulfilled.
- Flee Babylon and Chaldea (symbolic of the world), and he will redeem you.
C – Israel will be gathered. (1 Nephi 21:1-26.)
- He knows where they have been scattered.
- Through the Messiah (the servant, the Holy One), Israel and the gentiles shall be blessed.
- And Israel shall be gathered in the last days.
- This is because the Lord has not forgotten his people even though they are constantly forsaking him.
- They shall inherit their former lands in great glory.
- The gentiles shall assist in this gathering.
- Those who once persecuted Israel shall be punished.
– Book of Mormon Student Manual, Religion 121-122, 1981 edition, p.54.
1 Nephi 20-21
In case you’d like a little longer explanation regarding these chapters, below are some excerpts from my book Isaiah for Airheads:
Nephi quoted 1 Nephi 20 and 21 (or Isaiah 48 and 49) to his brothers. These are the first Isaiah chapters to appear in the Book of Mormon. As you read, you may ask, “Why would Laman, Lemuel, Sam and the sons of Ishmael need to hear this?” Nephi tells us quite plainly:
“…but that I might more fully persuade them to believe in the Lord their Redeemer I did read unto them that which was written by the prophet Isaiah… Hear ye the words of the prophet, ye who are a remnant of the house of Israel…that ye may have hope as well as your brethren from whom ye have been broken off” (1 Nephi 19:23).
Nephi gives two reasons – two persuade them to believe in Christ, and that they might have hope. Nephi is speaking to a group who have been “broken off” from the portion of the house of Israel that remained in Jerusalem. They need to know that they are not forgotten by the Lord, and that although they are alone, they are still a part of Covenant Israel, and that the Lord will keep his promises to them as they are faithful to Him.
Overview of 1 Nephi 20 in one a paragraph:
Members of the house of Israel talk about God, but don’t rely on Him. The Lord has shown, and will show the house of Israel many things which are to come, but they are stubborn and rely on their own wisdom and their idols. The Lord still loves them, and will refine them in the furnace of affliction. The Lord created the heavens and the earth and has raised up a servant to declare his words to the people. The people should follow the Lord’s way and flee Babylon (wickedness).
Dividing the Tree of 1 Nephi 20 into five parts:
1-2: The baptized members of the house of Jacob have apostatized
3-8: The omniscience of the Lord
9-11: The Lord’s love for his covenant people
12-21: The omnipotence of the Lord
22: The warning of the Lord
Verses 1-2: the Baptized Members of the House of Jacob Have Apostatized
1 Nephi 20:2. “They do not stay themselves upon the God of Israel” Isaiah is addressing the house of Jacob, or covenant Israel. Clearly, they’re talking the talk, but not walking the walk. They do not “stay themselves” or in other words, “rely upon” the Lord.
Verses 3-8:The Omniscience of the Lord
1 Nephi 20:3. “I have declared former things from the beginning.” The Lord has prophesied to the house of Israel before, and they know it. God has knowledge of things which are to come, and Covenant Israel has witnessed it.
1 Nephi 20:4. “Thy neck is an iron sinew.” Body parts are often used in ancient scriptures to describe the tendencies of the people. Rather than saying, “you’re too proud,” the prophet writes, “thy neck is an iron sinew,” meaning “you won’t bow,” or “you won’t turn your head to follow me” (other scriptures often use the word “stiffnecked” to describe such a tendency). Rather than saying, “You won’t listen to me,” the prophet says, “thy brow [is] brass.” As if to say, “Nothing can get through your thick skull, not even rust!”
1 Nephi 20:5. “Before it came to pass I showed them thee.” God is omniscient – He knows all things, past present and future, unlike graven images to which some ancient apostates went for guidance. It’s interesting to note that those who prefer graven images, become like them – stiff necks and thick skulls. Psalms 115:4-8 will back me up on that:
Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands. They have mouths, but they speak not: eyes have they, but they see not: They have ears, but they hear not: noses have they, but they smell not: They have hands, but they handle not: feet have they, but they walk not: neither speak they through their throat. They that make them are like unto them; so is every one that trusteth in them. (Psalm 115:4–8)
1 Nephi 20:6-8: “Lest thou shouldst say – Behold I knew them” These verses are a little harder to understand, but they repeat the same idea as in the verses above. Covenant Israel has already experienced the prophetic power of the Lord’s servants. I bought a copy of the Children’s Application Bible at the Deseret Industries (simplified translations are sometimes helpful for airheads like me). It renders verses 6-8 like this:
You have heard my predictions and seen them fulfilled, but you refuse to agree it is so. Now I will tell you new things I haven’t mentioned before, secrets you haven’t heard. Then you can’t say, “We knew that all the time!” (The Living Bible)
Verses 9-11: the Lord’s Love for His Covenant People:
1 Nephi 20:10. “I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction” How many of us would choose to be in a furnace? Not me, I’ve never been that cold. But the Lord has a purpose in turning up the heat. When I read about the refiner’s fire, I’m always reminded of the words of the hymn How Firm A Foundation, “The flame shall not hurt thee, I only design, thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.” Note how Isaiah’s metaphor introduced back in verse 4 still applies – those whose necks are iron, and whose brows are brass, need to be melted down and made pliable in the furnace of affliction. Ouch!
1 Nephi 20:11. “I will not suffer my name to be polluted” How could we pollute the Lord’s name? Perhaps by using his name in vain, or by calling ourselves by his name without really relying on him (as in verses 1-2). Also, note that the Lord told Abraham, “I will take thee, to put upon thee my name, even the Priesthood of thy father, and my power shall be over thee”(Abraham 1:18, emphasis added) which may indicate that the Lord’s “name” could refer to his power, or to the priesthood.
Verses 12-21: The Omnipotence of the Lord
1 Nephi 20:12-13: “I am he” The Lord reaffirms who he is. The Lord told Moses that his name was “I am” (Exodus 3:14), and Isaiah uses the phrase “I am” three times in this verse. The Lord is the creator of the earth and the heavens. All the elements in the universe listen to, and obey the Lord. Also, the right hand is the covenant hand, and the Creator is reminding Israel of his covenant obligation to them, and their obligation to Him in this verse.
1 Nephi 20:14. Who belongs to all these pronouns? Okay, this is where you might get totally lost, as I did. There are a lot of unspecified “thems” and “hims.” The fact is, even the scholars aren’t certain who is being referred to in all these cases. Here’s a possible explanation:
All ye (the Lord’s people) assemble yourselves and hear. Who among them (your graven images) hath declared these things unto Israel (Covenant Israel)? The Lord hath loved him; yea, and will fulfill his word which he hath declared by them.”
“The Lord hath loved him…” Who’s “him?” Perhaps an unspecified servant of the Lord; perhaps “him” is the house of Israel, or it could be referring to Cyrus, a future King who will conquer Babylon and who will allow the Jews to return from captivity. Perhaps it’s referring to all three!
The most important point in this verse, however, is that the Lord will fulfill his word which his servants and prophets have declared, and “will do his pleasure on Babylon.” As you know, the name Babylon is often used as a synonym for wickedness or for the world. In D&C 133:14, the Lord’s people are told to “go ye out from among the nations even from Babylon, from the midst of wickedness, which is spiritual Babylon.” So Isaiah is prophesying a coming event in his future, and teaching us to flee wickedness in our present circumstances.
1 Nephi 20:15. “I have sent him.” Probably refers again to the servants/prophets mentioned in verse 14.
1 Nephi 20:18. “O that thou hadst hearkened to my commandments” These words would have been helpful to Laman and Lemuel. If they would have kept the commandments, then their peace [would have] been as a river, and [their] righteousness like the waves of the sea.”
If you had to choose a metaphor for “peace,” what would you choose? Isaiah made a perfect choice. What’s more peaceful than a flowing river? And what’s more constant than the waves of the sea on the shore? Just reading this verse makes me want to go on vacation. I have a CD of river sounds and another of ocean sounds that I play to help me get to sleep at night. Why are they effective? They’re peaceful. The music store has other, more raucous CDs out there which would make sleep nearly impossible (raucous and rollous CDs).
1 Nephi 20:19. “Thy seed … as the sand” Posterity is a blessing promised to the righteous, as outlined the Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12:1-3, Abraham 2:9-10). A righteous posterity will enjoy the blessings of the gospel now, while an unrighteous posterity will have to wait to be gathered.
1 Nephi 20:20. “Go ye forth of Babylon” This phrase sounds like both an admonition and a specific event. While prophesies of the release of the Jewish captives from Babylon (537 B.C.), he is also telling future generations to leave spiritual Babylon behind.
1 Nephi 20:21. “Waters to flow out of the rock” Perhaps Isaiah is reminding Covenant Israel what Jehovah did for them when Moses led them out of bondage – another example of his power (See Exodus 17:1-6; Numbers 20:11). Water from a rock could be a symbol of the Living Water which comes from Christ, who is the “rock of our salvation” Psalms 95:1).
1 Nephi 20:22. “There is no peace unto the wicked” This statement is similar to “wickedness never was happiness” (Alma 41:10). It seems the children of God need to be constantly reminded of a seemingly obvious truth – you can’t find happiness outside the plan of happiness. It border’s on insanity to think that one could have a life of joy, while living the plan of misery.
How do I apply this chapter today?
While there may appear to be a scolding tone in this chapter (as in many chapters of Isaiah), the message is clearly one of hope. The Lord is powerful, he knows all things, and he is full of love for us. It would be difficult to have faith in a God who was only “pretty good” at keeping his promises, or was only semi-trustworthy. Instead, we worship a God who is not just fairly competent at saving his children, but is “mighty to save.” While the most we can do is to be willing, He is able. He has the power to deliver his people from bondage, he has done so, and will do so, if we will leave the world behind, and hearken to his commandments. Through his power, we can enjoy the promise of peace like a river, and constant righteousness like the waves of the sea.
1 Nephi 21
Overview of 1 Nephi 21 in one a paragraph:
The Lord’s servant (Christ, and perhaps other servants engaged in the work of the Lord) was foreordained to glorify God. The servant will gather scattered Israel, and be a light to the Gentiles. The Lord confirms that he loves Zion and will not forget her, but will gather her. The Gentiles will help in the gathering, and the Lord will defend his people at that day.
Dividing 1 Nephi 21 into two parts:
1-13: The servant
14-26: The Lord’s dialogue with Zion confirming his support
This chapter begins with what Isaiah commentaries call a “servant song.” (What the butler sings between chores? No). A “servant song,” in this case, is a passage of scripture that speaks of a servant who will do a great work for Israel. There are many of them in Isaiah. The servants of which Isaiah prophesies often find dual or multiple fulfillments. In most cases, the servant is the Messiah, in others, it could be Isaiah himself, or Joseph Smith, or another prophet, or even Cyrus the King of Babylon who allowed the Jews to return to Judah after their capture. In some cases the description of the servant fits all of those. Most often, the servant is a “type” of Christ. A “type” is defined as “a person, thing, or event that prophetically foreshadows another person, thing or event of greater magnitude. In the scriptures the terms type, similitude, likeness, figure, and shadow may be used interchangeably” (Book of Mormon Reference Companion, 768).
For example, Moses was a type of Christ. Moses led the children of Israel out of bondage, through the waters of the Red Sea, to Sinai, and finally to the promised land. Jesus Christ leads us out of spiritual bondage, through the waters of baptism, to the temple, and ultimately into his kingdom.
With that introduction, you’re ready to enjoy the “servant song” in 1 Nephi 21
Verses 1-13: The Servant
1 Nephi 21:1.“Listen, O isles, unto me” This chapter is addressed to scattered Covenant Israel who were “broken off, scattered abroad, and upon the isles of the sea.” Could that possibly include the Nephites? Personally, I’ve never thought of North America and South America as islands, but the Hebrews did. Anything they had to go over water to get to was considered an island. In fact, Nephi’s younger brother Jacob teaches, “we are upon an isle of the sea” (2 Nephi 10:20). No wonder Nephi shared this verse with his people!
1 Nephi 21:1. “The Lord hath called me from the womb” Clearly, this servant was foreordained to do the Lord’s work.
1 Nephi 21:2. “My mouth like a sharp sword” The word of God is often compared to a sword, as in Ephesians 6:17: “and [take] the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (See also D&C 6:2).
1 Nephi 21:4. “I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for naught” Many servants of the Lord have felt this way at times. “What could I have done more for my vineyard?” asked the Lord of the vineyard in Jacob 5:49. Someone once said, “We are not called to be successful in all things, we are called to be faithful in all things.” Although the servant is discouraged, he trusts the Lord to judge righteously his best efforts by concluding, “surely my judgment is with the Lord, and my work with my God.”
1 Nephi 21:5-6.“I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles” Not only will the servant be called to gather Covenant Israel (a “light thing,” or small task), but will also bring salvation to the Gentiles and “the ends of the earth.”
1 Nephi 21:7. “Kings shall see thee and arise” Although this servant shall be despised by some, eventually he will be recognized by kings and princes. Perhaps this is a reference to the millennium when “every knee will bow and every tongue confess” that Jesus is the Christ, and that the Lord will “reign personally upon the earth” (See Mosiah 27:31, Philippians 2:10-11, Article of Faith 10).
1 Nephi 21:8. “In an acceptable time” In a time appointed by the Lord, the gathering will commence.
1 Nephi 21:8. “I will … give thee my servant for a covenant” Malachi referred to Jesus Christ as the “messenger of the covenant” (Malachi 3:1), and each of us make a covenant with Christ at the sacrament table. Other commentaries suggest that this servant could also refer to the Prophet Joseph Smith through whom the gospel covenants were restored. (Ridges, Isaiah Made Easier, 132)
1 Nephi 21:8. “To inherit the desolate heritage” In other words, to return to their lands made desolate by the scattering, and perhaps more importantly, return to their spiritual heritage as Covenant Israel.
1 Nephi 21:9. “The prisoners…that sit in darkness” This could refer to those in spiritual darkness, both on earth and in spirit prison who will benefit from the gospel message during the gathering. D&C 45:28 speaks of a time when “a light shall break forth among them that sit in darkness, and it shall be the fulness of my gospel.”
1 Nephi 21:10-11. “Neither shall the heat nor the sun smite them” You get the impression that the author of this text lived in a desert! To those scorched by the spiritual famine of apostasy, the Lord offers protection from the sun, springs of water, and pastures in high places.
1 Nephi 21:2-13. And heaven and nature sing. The gathering is described as a time of joy for the inhabitants of the earth as well as the earth itself. Verse 13 concludes the “servant song.”
Verses 14-26: The Lord’s dialogue with Zion confirming his support
1 Nephi 21:14. “The Lord hath forgotten me” It is impossible for the Lord to forget anything, but that doesn’t mean we might not feel forgotten or forsaken at times. There is no question that the house of Israel, especially the descendants of Judah, or the Jews, have been through some tragic, horrific times, and may have felt forgotten. The Lord responds to this statement with a couple of my favorite Isaiah verses.
1 Nephi 21:15. “I will not forget thee, O house of Israel” President Spencer W. Kimball once remarked that the most important word in the dictionary could be “remember.” King Benjamin said, “O remember, remember that these things are true” (Mosiah 2:41). Alma taught his son Helaman to “remember, remember” the strict commands of God, and Helaman, in turn, taught his sons to “remember, remember” to build their foundation on Christ (Helaman 5:12). The words “remember” and “remembrance” appear in each of the sacrament prayers. With all that reminding, we may still forget God, but he will never forget us.
1 Nephi 21:16. “I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands” This may refer to the ancient custom of tattooing on one’s hands symbols of the temple or other sacred images to remind them of their commitments. But other commentators are convinced that it also refers to the nail marks in the Savior’s hands from the crucifixion. How could the Savior forget us when he has a reminder of us on the palms of his hands? In American Sign Language, the gesture meaning “Jesus Christ” is made by touching the center of each palm, one after another, with a finger from the other hand. Whenever I hear this verse, I am reminded of that visual symbol.
Note footnote 16a – it directs us to Zechariah 13:6, wherein those who see the Lord at his Second Coming ask, “What are these wounds in thine hands? Then he shall answer, Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends” (See also D&C 45:51-52). One LDS scholar noted, “In Isaiah’s imagery, the Lord could not use His hands without being reminded of Israel.” (Hoyt Brewster, Isaiah Plain and Simple, 199).
One thoughtful teenager once asked me, “Why didn’t the Savior’s wounds disappear when he was resurrected?” Good question. President Joseph Fielding Smith taught the wounds in the Lord’s hands have appeared at times as a witness but will ultimately be cleansed. (See Doctrines of Salvation, 2:291-292).
1 Nephi 21:17. “Make haste against thy destroyers” Covenant Israel will prevail in the last days, and those that oppressed her will depart.
1 Nephi 21:18. “Clothe thee with them all … and bind them on even as a bride” The newly gathered of Israel will be like ornaments to Covenant Israel, as they await the bridegroom, Jesus Christ. The Lord’s covenant people are also referred to as “jewels” in D&C 101:1-3.
1 Nephi 21:19-20. “Shall even now be too narrow by reason of the inhabitants” Covenant Israel will one day discover that other members of the House of Israel, the newly gathered, are also part of their covenant family. There will be so many, that Isaiah characterizes Covenant Israel’s response as “the place is too strait for me” (strait meaning “restricted” or “narrow”).
1 Nephi 21:21. “Who hath begotten me these, seeing I have lost my children?” One Isaiah commentator characterized the question asked in this verse like this: “Where did all these Israelites come from?” (Ridges, Isaiah Made Easier, 134).
1 Nephi 21:22-23. “I will lift up mine hand to the Gentiles” I’ve read these verses a number of times over the years, but I finally got it when I understood that the Lord is answering the question posed by Covenant Israel in verse 21. “Where did these Israelites come from? They will come after Lord lifts up his hand and raises his standard (the restored gospel) among the Gentiles, and the Gentiles will bring more of Israel’s children in their arms and on their shoulders! They who help them gather are Gentiles by nationality and culture (as are most of us), but Israelite by genealogical descent! Exactly who are the kings and queens referred to by Isaiah, and what did they do? LDS Isaiah scholar Victor L. Ludlow has written:
This gathering of Israel through the aid of foreign nations is taking place today. Since the Church was restored in 1830, the Jewish population in the Holy Land has grown from seven thousand to over three million people. Whereas in 1830 only one out of five hundred Jews resided in Palestine, one out of five now live in the modern state of Israel. Many foreign nations have supported the movement: Britain assisted in the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine after World War I; Holland and Denmark helped protect many Jews from the holocaust; the United States, Russia, and others in the United Nations voted for the creation of a Jewish free state in 1947; the United States and France assisted Israel with military equipment in the first decades of her existence after 1948; and German reparation payments and large contributions from the United States and other nations have helped Israel financially. Truly, many nations have helped provide for the Jews over the centuries, assisting in their return and reestablishment as a nation. (Victor L. Ludlow, Isaiah: Prophet, Seer, and Poet [Deseret Book Co., 1982], 414.)
While the gathering referred to above is certainly a temporal gathering, it cannot properly be understood as a spiritual gathering, which involves recognizing Jesus Christ as the Messiah, and entering into a covenant with him through baptism. I have often wondered if this prophecy might also refer to kings and rulers of nations allowing missionaries into their lands to preach the gospel and gather Israel. In this way, the application of this verse could be both temporal and spiritual. Since this verse appears three times in the Book of Mormon, we know it must be important (see 1 Nephi 21:23, 2 Nephi 6:7, 2 Nephi 10:9).
But wait! We’re forgetting our guide! Since Nephi is the one who quoted these scriptures, why don’t we ask Nephi what they mean? Actually, we don’t have to ask, because Laman and Lemuel already asked. Nephi answered:
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 [our seed] being nourished by the Gentiles and being carried in their arms and upon their shoulders (1 Nephi 22:8).
Thus, bringing people to a knowledge of the Savior and the gospel is like carrying them in our arms and upon our shoulders. Thank you Nephi.
The phrase they shall “lick up the dust of thy (Covenant Israel’s) feet” is simply another way of saying they will be humble and helpful. Jacob (the younger brother of Nephi) clarified that this phrase is referring to what will happen not to the kings and queens, but to those who fight against Zion (see 2 Nephi 6:13).
Who exactly are the Gentiles?
Ladies and Gentile Men… You may have wondered, “Am I House of Israel, or am I a Gentile?” The answer is probably, “yes.” The word gentiles means the nations, and eventually came to be used to mean all those not of the house of Israel….As used throughout the scriptures it has a dual meaning, sometimes to designate peoples of non-Israelite lineage, and other times to designate nations that are without the gospel, even though there may be some Israelite blood therein. This latter usage is especially characteristic of the word as used in the Book of Mormon. (Bible Dictionary, 679).
1 Nephi 21:24-25. “Shall the prey be taken from the mighty?” I don’t know about you, but if I came across a lion eating a steak, I wouldn’t try to take it from him. Even a chihuahua can be vicious in such circumstances. But the Lord can deliver captive Israel (the prey) from mighty enemies. This verse from JST Isaiah 49:25 gives us an added insight:
But thus saith the Lord; even the captives of the mighty shall be taken away, and the prey of the terrible shall be delivered; for the mighty God shall deliver his covenant people. For thus saith the Lord, I will contend with them that contend with thee, and I will save thy children. (emphasis added).
1 Nephi 21:26. “Drunken with their own blood” The enemies of Covenant Israel will turn on each other in the end. Our guide, Nephi, clarifies this result in his commentary on this chapter (see 1 Nephi 22:12-13).
1 Nephi 21:26. “All flesh shall know” For now, all we can do is bear our witness to the world, “I know that Jesus is the Christ.” But eventually, as promised, all flesh shall know, that Jehovah is the Savior Jesus Christ, the God of Israel.
How Does This Chapter Help Me Today?
We see these prophecies happening all around us. When The Chicago Democrat asked the prophet Joseph Smith to clarify what the Latter-day Saints believed, the prophet wrote an answer which included the thirteen Articles of Faith. Just before he began Article of Faith #1, he wrote this stirring paragraph which echoes the words of Isaiah we’ve just read:
Our missionaries are going forth to different nations, and in Germany, Palestine, New Holland, Australia, the East Indies, and other places, the Standard of Truth has been erected; no unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing; persecution may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble, calumny may defame, but the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear, till the purposes of God shall be accomplished, and the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done.” (HC 4:540, emphasis added)
For our day, this chapter is a call to missionary work, and a challenge to raise our personal standard to the world. Next time you sing the hymn “High on a Mountain Top,” you may think you’re hearing this chapter again. You’ll notice you’re singing about the latter-day gathering which began when the Lord raised his standard to the nations.
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The great truth of the matter is that the more carefully one studies the doctrine and teachings of this book, the more powerful the evidence becomes that Joseph Smith was not merely reflecting the learning of his time nor of his own personal study. He was the instrument through whom God had chosen to reveal so many lost truths and once again “make plain the old paths,” which, if followed, will lead one to exaltation and eternal life.
1. Joseph Smith, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ed. B. H. Roberts, 2d ed., rev. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1971), 6:74.
2. In Mormon 7:8, Mormon speaks of “this record,” meaning the Book of Mormon, and the record which would come unto the Gentiles from the Jews, meaning the Bible. Thus, in Mormon 7:9, “this [the Book of Mormon] is written for the intent that ye may believe that [the Bible]; and if ye believe that [the Bible] ye will believe this [the Book of Mormon] also” (emphasis added).
3. If we take the list of names in Helaman 8 to be in chronological order, which they appear to be, given the order of Isaiah and Jeremiah, then it would seem logical that Zenos was the earliest of these prophets and likely lived much closer to the days of Abraham.
4. Terryl L. Givens, By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture That Launched a New World Religion (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 199.
5. Examples of this principle are manifold; for instance, see Mosiah 2:21; Alma 29:4–5; 41:3, 5; 42:27; Helaman 3:28–29; 7:5; 12:3–6; 14:30–31.
6. Dallin H. Oaks, “Free Agency and Freedom,” in Second Nephi: The Doctrinal Structure, ed. Monte S. Nyman and Charles D. Tate Jr. (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1989), 1.
7. Bruce R. McConkie, The Promised Messiah: The First Coming of Christ (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1978), 451.
8. Jeffrey R. Holland, Christ and the New Covenant: The Messianic Message of the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1997), 6–7.
9. B. H. Roberts, Seventy’s Course in Theology (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1907–12), 4:113–14.