1 Nephi 21 tweet: God speaks to scattered HoI. He will be a light to Gs. Rejoice, God will not forget HoI. He will set up standard & Gs will carry HoI home.
1 Nephi 22 tweet: N interprets Isa 4 L&L. HoI will be scattered. God will make known His covenants 2 Gs + HoI. GaAC will fall. Prophet will rise & gather HoI.
In the last post, I listed the connections between the Lehite wilderness journey and the text of Isaiah 48 that Kent Brown outlined.1,2 So I’ll start this post by finishing Brown’s idea and listing the connections between the journey and Isaiah 49:
|1 Ne 21:1||“Hearken, O ye house of Israel, all ye that are broken off and are driven out because of the wickedness of the pastors of my people”||The Lehites were driven out of Jerusalem because of the wickedness of its leaders|
|1 Ne 21:10||“he that hath mercy on them shall lead them, even by the springs of water shall he guide them”||Again, the Lehites were guided/protected|
|1 Ne 21:13||“Sing, O heavens; and be joyful, O earth; for the feet of those who are in the east shall be established”||The Lehites travelled eastward on their way to the Promised Land|
|1 Ne 21:17||“Thy children shall make haste against thy destroyers; and they that made thee waste shall go forth of thee.”||The Lehites were protected from robbers|
|1 Ne 21:19–21||“Who hath begotten me these, seeing I have lost my children, and am desolate, a captive, and removing to and fro?”||Brown considers the possibility that the Lehites served in captivity during their travels|
|1 Ne 21:22–23||“Behold, I will lift up mine hand to the Gentiles, and set up my standard to the people; and they shall bring thy sons in their arms, and thy daughters shall be carried upon their shoulders.”||The Lehites would be gathered again|
|1 Ne 21:25||“But thus saith the Lord, even the captives of the mighty shall be taken away, and the prey of the terrible shall be delivered”||The Lehites were delivered out of their afflictions into the Promised Land|
With the rest of the post, I’ll consider how Nephi is using Isaiah, because following the quotation of Isaiah 48–49 in 1 Ne 20–21, in 1 Ne 22 we find a prophecy of Nephi concerning the future of the House of Israel that incorporates elements of his own vision (from 1 Ne 11–14) with the text of Isaiah 48–49. Grant Hardy and Joseph Spencer both comment at length about Nephi’s work with Isaiah in 1 Ne 22. Of this chapter Hardy says:
Clearly the events foreseen refer to developments in Joseph Smith’s day, but what makes 1 Nephi 22 striking from a literary perspective is the way that Nephi interlaces his original prophecy with phrases from the scriptural chapters he has just quoted. Not only does he provide an explicit interpretation for expressions such as “they shall bring thy sons in their arms, / and thy daughters shall be carried upon their shoulders” (Isa. 49:22 / 1 Ne. 21:22, 22:6–8), but he also works in distinctive phrases in less obtrusive ways, as when he writes, “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 (1 Ne. 22:4, quoting Isa. 49:21, 8 / 1 Ne. 21:21, 8). The Book of Mormon frequently employs biblical phrasing, but here Nephi’s use of Isaiah is deliberate, an integral component of a particular individual’s writing habits rather than just part of the general style of the book.3
I think it is important to realise that the original prophecy by Isaiah would most likely not have been interpreted by Isaiah or his contemporary audience in the way Nephi interprets these verses. Isaiah’s audience would have considered these verses as being related to their temporal escape from captivity in Babylon, whereas Nephi uses the verses to prophesy that in the last days the fullness of the gospel would be revealed to the Gentiles, who would then assist in gathering the House of Israel back to their lands of inheritance. Concerning this disconnect between Isaiah’s original prophecy and Nephi’s use of it, Hardy suggests:
As a fellow prophet, Nephi may have considered himself capable of providing creative reinterpretations of Isaiah’s words that may never have occurred to the eight-century BC seer but which were nevertheless divinely inspired and authoritative.4
(As an aside, in his footnotes Hardy references 1 Ne 15:27–29 as an example of a prophet failing to perceive the full import of their own revelation.)5
The final thing I want to highlight from Hardy’s reading of 1 Ne 22 is the point that Nephi’s interpretation of Isaiah 48–49 does not focus on the mortal Jesus as the fulfilment of these verses; rather his interpretation focuses on the future redemption of the House of Israel.6 It is this point that Joseph Spencer treats at some length.
Spencer highlights that the prophesy in Deut 18:15–19 – attributed to Moses – is referenced a number times throughout the Book of Mormon (by Lehi in 1 Ne 10:4; by Nephi in 1 Ne 22:20–21; by Abinadi in Msh 13:33; and by Christ 3 Ne 20:23 and 21:11).7 The prophecy reads:
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. … And the Lord said unto me, … 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. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him. [Deut 18:15–19]
Similar to Hardy’s point re. Nephi’s focus in 1 Ne 22 being on the future redemption of the House of Israel (rather than on Christ’s mortal ministry), Spencer highlights that the context of Nephi’s quotation of and commentary on Deut 18 (i.e. in 1 Ne. 22) indicates that Nephi interprets Moses’s prophecy to refer to the gathering of Israel in the last days. Regarding the identity of the prophet in Moses’s prophecy, he states:
Nephi boldly “declares” the identity of the “prophet of whom Moses spake,” he says nothing of “Jesus Christ” or even “the Messiah,” instead employing the title “the Holy One of Israel.” This title is almost entirely unique in the Old Testament to the writings of Isaiah, where it refers to the sovereign Lord of history, not to the mortal Christ.8
Interestingly, Spencer makes the point that Abinadi interprets the same Deuteronomic passage as a prophecy about the mortal coming of Christ. Spencer uses this as an example of the different theological work undertaken by Nephi and Abinadi and what the impact was of those different interpretations on Nephite history – I’ll look to cover that in much greater detail when I get to the Abinadi chapters in Mosiah.
These different interpretations of a single passage (Deut 18) by two prophets (Nephi and Abinadi) do raise questions about the nature of prophecy and its plasticity. Let me know your thoughts and we can consider some of these questions in the comments section.
And with that 1 Nephi closes and 2 Nephi opens.
Next week’s reading: 2 Nephi 1–2
- Joseph Spencer, An Other Testament, pp. 78–81
- Grant Hardy, Understanding the Book of Mormon, pp. 63–64
- Grant Hardy, Understanding the Book of Mormon, pp. 65
- Grant Hardy, Understanding the Book of Mormon, pp. 289 note 10
- Grant Hardy, Understanding the Book of Mormon, pp. 75
- Joseph Spencer, An Other Testament, pp. 150
- Joseph Spencer, An Other Testament, pp. 153