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Sunday, July 13, 2008

Nephi Quotes Isaiah (1 Nephi 20)

Listen now!In chapters 20 and 21 of 1st Nephi, we find a peculiar thing. Nephi begins quoting Isaiah. Isaiah was a prophet who lived over 150 years before Nephi and Nephi quotes him extensively here and later on in 2nd Nephi. When the Savior visits America in 3rd Nephi (a different "Nephi") He also quotes Isaiah. What was there in Isaiah's writings that intrigued Nephi and that was worthy of quotation by the Savior?

Something you'll find as you get into "the Isaiah chapters" of the Book of Mormon is that it breaks up the historical flow of the book, thus becoming a bit jarring to the reader. Ask any member of the Church how they feel about the Isaiah chapters and they'll readily admit that it feels like walking through peanut butter. They often state that it's because Isaiah uses names and concepts that seem foreign and out of context to what Nephi has been saying.

This is why it seems astounding that, in 2nd Nephi 25, after quoting Isaiah extensively, Nephi proclaims:
...for behold, my soul delighteth in plainness unto my people, that they may learn.
What can he mean by "plainness"? A closer inspection of verse 4 tells us.
Wherefore, hearken, O my people, which are of the house of Israel, and give ear unto my words; for because the words of Isaiah are not plain unto you, nevertheless they are plain unto all those that are filled with the aspirit of bprophecy. But I give unto you a cprophecy, according to the spirit which is in me; wherefore I shall prophesy according to the dplainness which hath been with me from the time that I came out from Jerusalem with my father; for behold, my soul delighteth in eplainness unto my people, that they may learn.

But behold, I proceed with mine own prophecy, according to my aplainness; in the which I bknow that no man can err; nevertheless, in the days that the prophecies of Isaiah shall be fulfilled men shall know of a surety, at the times when they shall come to pass.
The spirit of prophecy is defined by John the Divine in Revelation 19:10:
10 And I afell at his feet to bworship him. And he said unto me, See thou do it not: I am thy cfellowservant, and of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus: worship God: for the dtestimony of Jesus is the spirit of eprophecy.
Isaiah, who was a man of no small status in Jerusalem and was a extremely educated scholar, used high-order Hebraic poetry, complex imagery, and symbolism to transmit the message to those who were faithful enough to discern its meaning. Like the Savior using parables, Isaiah "hid" the things of the Lord from those who would not be prepared to hear them in order to keep them from condemning themselves by reading it in plainer language and still rejecting it. In other words, wicked people who didn't have the spirit of prophecy, or a testimony of Jesus Christ, would never understand how plain these words were; nor should they for they would then trifle with sacred things.

As with all things of God, first comes a testimony that Jesus is the Christ, then comes understanding of prophecies about Him. Isaiah's mission was clearly to prophesy of Jesus Christ. For that reason alone did the Savior chose to quote Isaiah above all the prophets. Anyone who listens closely to the libretto of G.F. Handel's Messiah will detect that Isaiah was focused principally on the Savior's life.

With that in mind, let's proceed with a quick summary of what Nephi is trying to get across to his audience by quoting Isaiah 48.

The first key to understanding Isaiah chapters in the Book of Mormon and in the LDS King James Version of the Bible is to first look at the chapter heading. That will give you an idea of what you should seek to comprehend. While you should definitely read the entire chapter, there is not sufficient space in this ideally short blog post to cover it all. The critical verses are noted below along with the principal messages of this chapter.
  1. Verses 3 through 6 - The Lord reveals his purposes to Israel.
  2. Verses 10 and 20 through 21 - They have been chosen in the furnace of affliction and are to go forth from Babylon
Here's the breakdown:

Message 1
3 Behold, I have declared the aformer things from the beginning; and they went forth out of my mouth, and I showed them. I did show them suddenly.
4 And I did it because I knew that thou art obstinate [we are all in need of a Savior], and thy aneck is an iron sinew, and thy brow brass;
5 And I have even from the beginning declared to thee; before it came to pass I ashowed them thee; and I showed them for fear lest thou shouldst say—Mine idol hath done them, and my graven image, and my molten image hath commanded them [God is whom we should praise, not idols].
6 Thou hast seen and heard all this; and will ye anot declare them [missionary work that would accompany the Savior's ministry]? And that I have showed thee new things [new covenant between God and man] from this time, even hidden things [prophecy of His coming], and thou didst not know them.
Message 2
10 For, behold, I have refined thee, I have chosen thee in the furnace of aaffliction [a type or symbol of the suffering of the Savior].
20 aGo ye forth of Babylon, flee [Christ's refusal to commit sin, the imperative to follow His example] ye from the bChaldeans, with a voice of singing declare ye, tell this [missionary work], utter to the end of the earth; say ye: The Lord hath redeemed his cservant Jacob [the Atonement].
21 And they athirsted not [Christ is the living water]; he led them through the deserts [Christ guides us through afflictions]; he caused the waters to flow out of the brock for them ; he clave the rock also and the waters gushed out [a type of Christ's side being pierced by a spear on the cross].
So, whenever you encounter the phrase "Compare Isaiah" in a chapter heading while reading the Book of Mormon, be sure to switch your frame of mind to thinking of how what Isaiah says relates to the Savior.