2 Nephi 29 tweet: God’s words hiss 4th. Gs say a Bible – got it! Fools, God speaks to more than 1 nation. Jews, N-ites, lost tribes, all nations shall write.
2 Nephi 30 tweet: Gs who repent r covenant ppl. L-ite remnant + Jews will know Christ. God will work among all nations. Great division – S will have no pwr.
In a previous post I may have suggested that I was through with Nephi’s use of Isaiah. That wasn’t entirely correct; however, this really is the last post on Isaiah in Nephi’s writings. (Of course, we’ll get to Isaiah again when Abinadi and the Jesus quote him). As I’ve read and then tried to write about Nephi’s Isaiah chapters, I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of what’s going on. The number of posts has slowed down as I’ve tried to do some justice to not only what Isaiah was saying originally but then how Nephi likened it to his own people. The 2 Nephi chapters are so dense with history, poetry, doctrine and prophecy that trying to unpack them has taken me way longer than I anticipated. This has been especially true of trying to write this final post on 2 Nephi 29–30. The way Nephi uses Isaiah in these chapters – weaving Isaiah’s prophecies with his own visions – has proved too hard to outline in a single blog post (maybe somebody more succinct than me would have better luck). So instead, to mark the end of Nephi’s use of Isaiah, I’ll try to briefly summarise the overall theme of Isaiah’s work, and in turn Nephi’s likening of Isaiah’s prophecies – namely, the fulfilment of the Abrahamic covenant.
The Abrahamic covenant is one of those terms where I suspect the ratio of understanding to frequency of reference is probably pretty low – that is, I think it’s something that crops up fairly regularly in talks and lessons, but I’m not sure how well we really understand the nature and scope of the covenant. At a personal level, we may appreciate that through baptism we are adopted into the house of Israel and that in the temple we can receive the promises made to Abraham. But the true nature of the covenant – and why Isaiah and Nephi were so obsessed with its ultimate fulfilment – is far, far greater in scope than that. This covenant is, essentially, concerned with the salvation of the entire human family. With help from Joe Spencer,1 it might be summarised as follows.
After Adam and Eve were expelled from Eden, one of the most immediate results in the aftermath was fratricidal violence. First Cain killed Abel but that was just the start. Cain started a whole tradition of secret murder and by the time of Noah “the earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence” (Gen 6:11; see Moses 8:28). Violence is the primary motivation for the flood: “The end of all flesh is come before me, for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth” (Gen 6:13; see Moses 8:30). Humanity was facing a kind of Jaredite-like situation of self-eradication, so the Lord flooded the earth to allow for the salvation of a small remnant: Noah and his family. (It would be a distraction to discuss the nature of this flood, i.e. global vs local; I’ll just say that IMO, insisting on a global flood paints us into a corner that I don’t think we need to occupy. Feel free to pick that up with me in the comments.)
After the devastation, God makes a postdiluvian promise to Noah that he won’t flood the earth again – essentially that he won’t meet violence with violence. But of course, as soon as Noah’s children have children, we end up with violence all over again. This violence was in a new form – instead of secret combinations, war was waged by nations and empires. The fraternal conflict that began with Cain and Abel was now being worked out at a global level. At this point God was faced with a dilemma. The earth was again filling up with violence, but he had made a promise not to flood the earth again. A new approach was needed.
And so God called Abraham and through him launched a new nation – a nation that wasn’t to work like any nation before it. The story begins with God telling Abraham, “Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house” (Gen 12:1). Abraham stripped himself of his old familial ties and nationality and began anew. But this was a new kind of family and nation, a new style of kingdom building. While this new nation did mark borders and claim lands, Abraham’s children were called to establish peace among the nations – they were to bless “all the families of the earth” (v.3). They were to rework the very order of the world, replacing the national with the familial, war with peace. And so Abraham becomes not only a figure of faith and obedience, but also of hospitality and peacemaking.
At this point I’ll quote Joe Spencer who picks up the story of the Abrahamic covenant:
[Abraham’s] children inherit this task [of peacemaking]. Israel is born, a whole nation that’s supposed to be ready to assume the Abrahamic project. But the rest of the Bible is the story of their failure to understand this. They want to be a nation like other nations. They want kings and legal structures that mirror the other nations. They want imperial power and they hope to extend their borders. They see their covenantal relationship with God to mean that they’re different from other nations only in that God backs them up. And so they find themselves in constant trouble. And God sends them prophets to get them out of trouble, or at least call them back to their responsibilities. There’s an especially important prophet who comes along in the eighth century when the covenantal status of Israel is under the most serious threat that it’s experienced since Egypt. You can guess his name: Isaiah. He lays into Israel, trying to call them back to their covenantal task, to the work of redeeming all the Gentile nations by teaching them peace. At the outset of his remarkable book of prophecy, there’s an especially Abrahamic promise of what’s to come when Israel finally fulfils its task. The Gentile nations won’t be learning war anymore, because they’ll be beating their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Abandoning violence at last, they instead decide to join Israel in worshipping the Lord at his temple.2
This latter-day vision – of Jew and Gentile at peace and worshipping together in the house of the Lord – is the fulfilment of the Abrahamic covenant. This vision consumed Isaiah and in turn, Nephi. And I think it should consume us as well. At least I think it will have to if we hope to eventually approach Zion.
And with that we come to end the end of Nephi’s Isaiah and also the end of Joe Spencer’s book on Nephi’s Isaiah. Again, I’ve only scratched the surface with my posts. If you want to go further with how Nephi likens Isaiah, I’d strongly recommend Joe Spencer as a guide.
Next week’s reading: 2 Nephi 31
- Joseph Spencer. The Vision of All: Twenty-five Lectures on Isaiah in Nephi’s Record, p.79–81
- Ibid. p.81