1 Nephi 20 tweet: Israel swears falsely but is refined + chosen. Righteousness = seed as sand. Jacob 2 leave Babylon and declare he is redeemed of the Lord.

So after the interlude on Book of Mormon translation, in this post I’m returning to the text. 1 Nephi 19:22 – 1 Nephi 21:26 is the sixth and penultimate chapter of the original Book of Mormon chapter divisions. In this chapter (i.e. chapter VI), Nephi quotes what is Isaiah 48–49. In chapter VII (1 Ne 22), Nephi interprets these Isaiah chapters. In this post and next week’s post I’ll cover chapter VI, i.e. 1 Ne 20 and 21, i.e. Isaiah 48 and 49.

Before I get into what Nephi was doing quoting Isaiah, as we draw to the close of 1 Nephi I wanted to highlight a potential parallel structure in 1 and 2 Nephi as suggested by Grant Hardy (original chapter divisions are in Roman numerals with modern chapter numbers in parentheses):1

First Nephi

I–II (1–9):  Lehi’s teachings

III (10–14):  Lehi concludes, Nephi responds (his vision)

IV (15):  His brothers rebel

V (16–19):  Nephi rescues the family, preaches

VI (19–21):  Isaiah chapters

VII (22): Nephi’s prophetic expansion

Second Nephi

I–II (1–3):  Lehi’s teachings

III (4):  Lehi concludes, Nephi responds (his psalm)

IV (5):  His brothers rebel

V–VII (6–10):  Jacob preaches

VIII–X (11–24):  Isaiah chapters

XI–XV (25–33): Nephi’s prophetic expansion

Moving specifically to 1 Ne 20–21, there are at least a couple of reasons I think Nephi chooses to quote these Isaiah chapters in particular. Second Isaiah (i.e. Isaiah 40–55) is concerned with a new exodus, i.e. just as the Lord delivered Israel from Egypt into the Promised Land, Isaiah prophesised that scattered Israel would be delivered from Babylon and brought home to Jerusalem again. But we will see in 1 Ne 22 that Nephi co-opts these chapters and applies them to a latter-day exodus, i.e. a final gathering of Israel (we see from his vision and writings that one of Nephi’s obsessions was how God’s covenant would be fulfilled in Israel’s ultimate destiny).

However, in addition to this far broader application of Isaiah 48–49 to Israel’s destiny, Nephi may also have seen in these chapters a text that reflected his own family’s passage from Jerusalem and through the desert. This is perhaps not surprising because as discussed previously, Nephi seems to tell his story in such a way as to draw parallels with the original exodus.2 In fact, Kent Brown lists 16 connections between the Lehite wilderness journey and the text of Isaiah 48–49 (I’ll list the connections in Isaiah 48 in this post and those in Isaiah 49 in next week’s post):3,4

Passage Partial text Reference
1 Ne 20:1–2 “they call themselves of the holy city, but they do not stay themselves upon the God of Israel” The Lehites leave Jerusalem because of the wickedness of the people
1 Ne 20:8–9 “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” The Lord forgives Laman and Lemuel for their murmuring for his own reasons
1 Ne 20:10–11 “behold, I have refined thee, I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction” The desert experience refined Nephi
1 Ne 20:14 “he will do his pleasure on Babylon, and his arm shall come upon the Chaldeans” Jerusalem would be destroyed by Babylon
1 Ne 20:17 “I have sent him, the Lord thy God who teacheth thee to profit, who leadeth thee by the way thou shouldst go” The Lehites were led in the desert
1 Ne 20:18 “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.” Lehi composed poems making similar comparisons (see 1 Ne 2:9–10)
1 Ne 20:19 “Thy seed also had been as the sand; the offspring of thy bowels like the gravel thereof” Nephi received promises concerning his seed
1 Ne 20:20 “Go ye forth of Babylon, flee ye from the Chaldeans” Again, Jerusalem would be destroyed by Babylon
1 Ne 20:21 “And they thirsted not; he led them through the deserts; he caused the waters to flow out of the rock for them” The Lehites were guided/protected

 

In verse 10, the Lord describes how he has chosen Israel. Then in verse 12 he says:To conclude this week’s post, here are just a couple of additional observations/questions as I read through the 1 Ne 20.

Hearken unto me, O Jacob, and Israel my called, for I am he; I am the first, and I am also the last. (Italics added)

Then consider Jesus’ words in Matt 20:16:

So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen. (Italics added)

Do you think there is a connection between Isaiah 48:10–12 and Matt 20:16? There are additional references to many called/few chosen, e.g. D&C 95:5; 105:35–36; and especially 121:34–40. How are these verses related to Israel’s calling?

In verses 18 and 19 we see the imagery of righteousness as the waves of the sea and seed as the sand. There is a relationship between waves and sand – sand can be created by the constant action of waves. Similarly, it is the constant action of righteousness that results in the fulfilment of the Abrahamic covenant – posterity as the sand of the seashore (see Gen 22:17). The imagery of these verses is also reminiscent of D&C 121:46, which itself describes fulfilment of the Abrahamic covenant.

Next week’s reading: 1 Nephi 21

  1. Grant Hardy, Understanding the Book of Mormon, pp. 295
  2. https://rsc.byu.edu/archived/literature-belief-sacred-scripture-and-religious-experience/13-typology-exodus-pattern-book
  3. https://rsc.byu.edu/archived/jerusalem-zarahemla-literary-and-historical-studies-book-mormon/what-isaiah-doing-first
  4. Joseph Spencer, An Other Testament, pp. 78–81
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