1 Nephi 6 tweet: No genealogy in small plates. Except N is of Joseph. N’s intent is 2 persuade us to come unto God of A,I&J. He writes things pleasing 2 God.
At the end of the last post I emphasised how the original chapter I (i.e. 1 Ne. 1–5) focused on obtaining a book – at the heart of the chapter is the account of a return to Jerusalem and the struggle to obtain a holy book. In a similar way as chapter I was bookended with Lehi reading from a book, the original chapter II (i.e. 1 Ne. 6–9) is bookended with Nephi’s description of the purposes for why he is making his own plates (see 1 Ne. 6:1–4 and 1 Ne. 9:2–5). So we might summarise the themes of the original first two chapters as follows:
Chapter I: Obtaining and reading the sacred history of the Jews
Chapter II: The creation of Nephi’s own sacred history
We’ll return to this summary as we work through chapter II (1 Ne. 6–9).
Chapter 6 is perhaps easy to neglect. On the face of it, the chapter is just six short verses about the difference between the large and small plates of Nephi. We tend to read them quickly in order to get back to the family narrative. But I think there is actually a great deal of intent packed into these few verses.
Significantly, Nephi shifts the readers’ focus away from his own fathers (“I, Nephi, do not give the genealogy of my fathers”) and calls our attention to the universal patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (“For the fullness of my intent is that I may persuade men to come unto the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, and be saved.”), elsewhere in scripture referred to as the fathers.
What might Nephi be doing here? To try and answer that question we’ll take a break from the Book of Mormon and consider one of the foundational events of the Restoration.
Three years after the First Vision, Joseph Smith was visited by Moroni. The purpose of Moroni’s visit was to tell Joseph about a book written on gold plates; in essence, Joseph was to obtain and read the sacred history of the inhabitants of that continent (see Joseph Smith – History 1:34). Immediately subsequent to the instructions regarding the translation of the gold plates, Moroni quoted a variation (and the variation is important) of the fourth chapter of Malachi, which is now canonised as D&C section 2, a part of which reads:
And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers. (Emphasis added)
In a clear reference to this scripture Elder Bednar said the following:
Enabling the exaltation of the living and the dead is the Lord’s purpose for building temples and performing vicarious ordinances…Planting in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, even Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; turning the hearts of the children to their own fathers; and performing family history research and vicarious ordinances in the temple are labors that bless individuals in the spirit world not yet under covenant.1
So we might read the previous verse in this way:
And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their ancestors.
As we come unto the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and receive the promises made unto these fathers, our hearts turn to our own ancestors. As we remember them and record the stories of their lives we begin to write our own sacred history. With this in mind, we might compare the themes of the original first two chapters of the Book of Mormon with the first instructions of Moroni to Joseph Smith in the following way:
Book of Mormon Chapter I: Obtaining and reading the sacred history of the Jews – Moroni’s 1st instruction: To obtain and translate the gold plates
Book of Mormon Chapter II: The creation of Nephi’s own sacred history – Moroni’s 2nd instruction: Receive the promises made to the fathers to enable the writing of personal family histories
So why did Nephi say that his intent was to persuade men to come unto the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? This is the only time in Nephi’s writings that he refers to God in this way. Why did he not just simply refer to the Lord, or perhaps the God of Israel? I believe Nephi’s reference to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was quite deliberate; because Nephi knew that if we are to do as he did and write our own sacred family histories we must first receive the promises made to these fathers.
Why do you think Nephi referred to God in this way (i.e. the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob)? Do you think my interpretation of Nephi’s intent is strained or do you think that Nephi wants to point us to the promises made to these fathers? If so, for what purpose?
In the same article referenced above, Elder Bednar talks about the power of the Book of Mormon to change hearts and role of the spirit of Elijah in turning hearts.1 In essence he seems to suggest that all of us need to experience a change of heart mediated by the power that comes from reading the Book of Mormon, and then to have our hearts turned to our fathers by receiving the promises made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It is no wonder then that these themes would be stressed in the opening chapters of the Book of Mormon and in the first instructions received by the Prophet Joseph Smith.
Although brief, these opening verses (1 Ne. 6) set the tone for how we should read and understand the rest of chapter II, specifically the return to Jerusalem for Ishmael’s family (1 Ne. 7) and Lehi’s vision (1 Ne. 8). That is, those events should be read in light of the promises made to the fathers and the creation of sacred family history.
Next week’s reading: 1 Nephi 7