Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Gathering of Israel and the Coming of the Messiah (1 Nephi 21)

Listen now! Monte S. Nyman wrote in his book "Great Are the Words of Isaiah" that
...[Isaiah] chapter 49 is one of the most important chapters in the whole book of Isaiah because it also clearly foretells the mission of the Latter-day Saints and the destiny of the land of America in connection with the house of Israel. Nephi interpreted the chapter as foretelling that the land of America would receive some of scattered Israel, while his brother Jacob applied it both to the Jews in Jerusalem and to the Gentiles. Chapter 49 is of such importance that it ought to be studied diligently by every member of the Church.
The LDS Church published, separately, an Old Testament textbook and a Book of Mormon textbook for its institute of religion program (students 18 to 30). Each covers this chapter's contents quite well. I will break it down and summarize it according to the main themes outlined in these manuals. As you compare 1 Nephi 21 and Isaiah 49, feel free to skip ahead to 1 Nephi 22 where Nephi spells out the meaning of Isaiah 49 to his brothers.

Quick Outline
  • Israel will be gathered. God knows where they have been scattered.
  • Through the Messiah (the servant, the Holy One), Israel and the gentiles shall be blessed.
  • And Israel shall be gathered in the last days.
  • This is because the Lord has not forgotten his people even though they are constantly forsaking him.
  • They shall inherit their former lands in great glory.
  • The gentiles shall assist in this gathering.
  • Those who once persecuted and oppressed Israel shall be punished.
Verses 1-3: Half of verse 1 is missing from the King James text. Nephi restores what was lost by writing that by his time "the more part of all the tribes" of Israel had been "scattered to and fro upon the isles of the sea" (1 Nephi 22:4). The rest of the verses refer to Israel herself a sharp sword because she would spread the gospel far and wide by cutting wherever she is moved. Israel didn't fulfill this expectation in ancient times because of her refusing to live the teachings of the Lord. Therefore, these verses refer to the latter days.

Verses 4-12: The Lord did not forget Israel, despite the long time Israel had to wait for deliverance. Verse 5 shows that Israel still had reason to hope and rejoiced in the day that her restoration would come. That day came when Joseph Smith was raised up as the first latter-day prophet. The work God gave him to do opened the way for Israel to be gathered through missionary work commissioned under the proper authority given to Joseph by angelic visitors Peter, James, and John, who had held the same authority and "keys" during the times of the New Testament.

Verses 13-17: The Lord uses the metaphor of a mother forgetting her child's need for food and contrasts that while it is possible a mother might do so, He will never forget Israel. Here is one of my favorite verses in all of Isaiah, where the Lord beautifully tells future Israel everything they would need to know to recognize Him when He came. In verse 16, He says:
Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me. (emphasis added)
For students of Isaiah in the Spring of 33 A.D., this should have been like a red flag waving over the cross of crucifixion indicating that this Man was the prophesied Messiah, the Son of God.

Verses 18-21: This part talks more specifically about the latter-day gathering that is now occurring. Gentiles would be the medium by which the children of Israel (descendants of ancient Israel) would return to the lands they formerly inhabited. The influx of Israelite immigrants both temporally into the land of Israel and spiritually into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints during that time period was so incredible that it is not hard to imagine how the reaction voiced in verses 20 and 21 is quite real: "The place is too strait for me; give place to me that I may dwell." and "Who hath begotten me these...where had they been?"

Verses 22-26: The literal fulfillment of this prophecy is seen in the history of the 20th century, after World War I, when England took Jerusalem and its surroundings from the tyranny and oppression of the Turkish empire. Dr. Herbert Samuel, a British-born Jew, was installed as the local governor. From that time forward, Jewish people have migrated to Israel in droves.

Nearly simultaneously, the descendants of the ancient Americans, some of whom carry the lineage of Laman and Lemuel (who the Lord promised Nephi would be preserved), began to join the LDS Church in increasing numbers. Today the number of Latin American saints has outgrown the number of LDS members in the U.S.A. The same holds true when you add in the number of saints all over the world, many of whom include direct descendants of the 10 Lost Tribes of Israel. We are no longer an "American" (U.S.A.-only) Church, but a worldwide Church engaged directly in the gathering of Israel. We are fulfilling Isaiah's prophecy from Isaiah 49.

Verse 26 also serves as further proof of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. In his work on Isaiah, Nyman noted a significant addition to Isaiah:
As Nephi commented on Isaiah 49 in 1 Nephi 22, he quoted or paraphrased three verses from 'the prophet,' obviously Isaiah. We do not have these verses in the present Bible text, but they fit very well into the context of Isaiah 49 and 50. We can illustrate this by placing 1 Nephi 22:15-17 between the last verse of chapter 49 and the first verse of chapter 50.
Let's see what that would look like:

Isaiah 49:26
26 And I will feed them that oppress thee with their own flesh; and they shall be drunken with their own blood, as with sweet wine: and all flesh shall know that I the Lord am thy Saviour and thy Redeemer, the mighty One of Jacob.
1 Nephi 22:15-17
15 For behold, saith the prophet, the time cometh speedily that Satan shall have no more power over the hearts of the children of men; for the day soon cometh that all the proud and they who do wickedly shall be as stubble; and the day cometh that they must be burned.
16 For the time soon cometh that the fulness of the wrath of God shall be poured out upon all the children of men; for he will not suffer that the wicked shall destroy the righteous.
17 Wherefore, he will preserve the righteous by his power, even if it so be that the fulness of his wrath must come, and the righteous be preserved, even unto the destruction of their enemies by fire. Wherefore, the righteous need not fear; for thus saith the prophet, they shall be saved, even if it so be as by fire.
Isaiah 50:1
1 Thus saith the Lord, Where is the bill of your mother’s divorcement, whom I have put away? or which of my creditors is it to whom I have sold you? Behold, for your iniquities have ye sold yourselves, and for your transgressions is your mother put away.

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