2 Nephi 10-11

The first Monday omnibus edition!:

For behold, the promises which we have obtained are promises unto us according to the flesh; wherefore, as it has been shown unto me that many of our children shall perish in the flesh because of unbelief, nevertheless, God will be merciful unto many; and our children shall be restored, that they may come to that which will give them the true knowledge of their Redeemer.

(2 Nephi 10:2)

For I will fulfil my promises which I have made unto the children of men, that I will do unto them while they are in the flesh—

(2 Nephi 10:17)

Jacob is obviously talking here of a rather specific set of promises (namely about the restoration of Israel in “the lands of their inheritance”), but I was impressed by these verses as I read them. While many of the promises we have been given apply to the eternities, God can and sometimes does give us promises that apply to this life. It is perhaps heartening to read – with those promises in mind – that God will fulfil such promises while we “are in the flesh”, even if we must be patient for the time being.

As for 2 Nephi 11:

And now I, Nephi, write more of the words of Isaiah, for my soul delighteth in his words. For I will liken his words unto my people, and I will send them forth unto all my children, for he verily saw my Redeemer, even as I have seen him.

And my brother, Jacob, also has seen him as I have seen him; wherefore, I will send their words forth unto my children to prove unto them that my words are true. Wherefore, by the words of three, God hath said, I will establish my word. Nevertheless, God sendeth more witnesses, and he proveth all his words.

(2 Nephi 11:2-3)

I’m not entirely sure why these verses have hung on me today. There’s lots that can be found in them, of course, such as this concept of Nephi, Isaiah and Jacob acting as three witnesses of Christ. Likewise in the concept that God will both send more witnesses and vindicate his words. But what I think most sticks out to me at this time is the power of scripture, to both convince and act as evidence for other of God’s words. It’s very easy when writing about scripture to hung up on one’s own words, but really it’s the scripture itself that has the most power.

2 Nephi 9

Yea, I know that ye know that in the body he shall show himself unto those at Jerusalem, from whence we came; for it is expedient that it should be among them; for it behooveth the great Creator that he suffereth himself to become subject unto man in the flesh, and die for all men, that all men might become subject unto him.

(2 Nephi 9:5)

I am convinced the scriptures teach us far more about the atonement than we have yet realised. This passage is but an example of this: there is some sort of symmetry at work, by which the fact that the Saviour became subject unto men, and suffered and died at their hands, means that we are all subject to him. Yet while being subject unto him means we are liable to his judgment (2 Nephi 9:15-17), it also means we become subject to the power of his redemption, and that if we believe and repent we shall be freed from both death and hell and inherit the kingdom of God (vv. 18-19, 23).

2020 Edit:

I thought about mentioning first that this is one of my favourite chapters, but as I was reading over it and pondering it my mind I think I’ve come to the realisation that this is my actual favourite chapter in the Book of Mormon. There is so much in it, and so much powerfully said.

This is a continuation of Jacob’s sermon, but here he leaves off quoting Isaiah – which he notes teach about the covenants God has made with the house of Israel (and perhaps above all, their continuing validity and ultimate fulfilment) – to directly address the redemption God will work through the atonement. And while his sermon begain in 2 Nephi 6, I think it’s here that for the first time one really hears Jacob’s rather distinctive voice. A couple of examples:

      1. As I discuss here, Jacob speaks with a characteristic lack of self-assurance, in marked contrast to Nephi. Note how in describing the situation of the righteous and wicked at the last judgment, he mentally includes himself with the wicked (“we shall have a perfect knowledge of all our guilt”) rather than the righteous (“and the righteous shall have a perfect knowledge of their enjoyment”) in 2 Nephi 9:14, although we know that’s hardly an objective assessment of the man, and it’s rather different from the way Nephi speaks of the final judgment, and different again from the grim realism of Mormon.
      2. There is his concern with the feelings of the audience, the sort of thing perhaps most clearly seen in Jacob 2:7-10. Here it is seen in 2 Nephi 9:47-48:

        But behold, my brethren, is it expedient that I should awake you to an awful reality of these things? Would I harrow up your souls if your minds were pure? Would I be plain unto you according to the plainness of the truth if ye were freed from sin?
        Behold, if ye were holy I would speak unto you of holiness; but as ye are not holy, and ye look upon me as a teacher, it must needs be expedient that I teach you the consequences of sin.

        Again, this seems a striking contrast to how Nephi speaks.

     

The bulk of the chapter itself really covers the core of the gospel, addressing our need for redemption, how Christ’s atonement saves us from death and hell, how we will all face God’s judgment, and our need to repent so that we might face that final judgment without fear and a perfect remembrance of our guilt. As such, there is so much that could be talked about, in a chapter that could be mined again and again.

One important topic is, of course, is Christ’s atoning sacrifice. People have tried to explain this act in a variety of different ways, through reconciliation, through legal metaphors, analogies of creditors and debt, or a transfer of sin and of suffering. I think an important thing to realise is that, as much as we try to understand or explain the atonement by use of earthly analogies, the atonement came first. It was already part of the plan of God before the world was created, and so long before any of these earthly institutions we use to try and understand it existed. And so, in approaching this issue, I think it’s important for us to understand that Christ’s atonement is the original, while any concepts we might use as a lens to better understand it are at best patterned after and are the echo of more eternal realities. Earthly comparisons may help us better understand the atonement, but they cannot completely explain it.

The scriptures therefore talk about the atonement in a variety of different ways. Some speak in terms of reconciling justice and mercy, others focus on a more sacrificial aspect, of Christ as an offering. Alma 7:11-12 extends the point of Christ’s suffering to speak of him suffering and taking upon him all our pains (including, ultimately, death). And many of these overlaps, because they’re talking about the same thing that did all of this. We see that here too in this chapter. There’s the aspect that I picked up on in the original post (and discuss when talking about 1 Nephi 11 too), that by being becoming subject to men, all men become subject to him and his judgment. But this chapter also speaks quite a bit about the resurrection (vv. 6-8):

For as death hath passed upon all men, to fulfil the merciful plan of the great Creator, there must needs be a power of resurrection, and the resurrection must needs come unto man by reason of the fall; and the fall came by reason of transgression; and because man became fallen they were cut off from the presence of the Lord.

Wherefore, it must needs be an infinite atonement—save it should be an infinite atonement this corruption could not put on incorruption. Wherefore, the first judgment which came upon man must needs have remained to an endless duration. And if so, this flesh must have laid down to rot and to crumble to its mother earth, to rise no more.

O the wisdom of God, his mercy and grace! For behold, if the flesh should rise no more our spirits must become subject to that angel who fell from before the presence of the Eternal God, and became the devil, to rise no more.

We sometimes (I wonder if from a human tendency to subdivide things and try and organise them) separate the resurrection from Christ’s atonement, but as is quite clear here it is part of parcel of the whole thing. The power of the resurrection is part of the process by which Christ conquered both “death and hell”, “this awful monster” (v. 10); note this monster is singular, death and hell/sin are not treated as two separate entities (I also love how at this point the atonement is treated almost in mythic terms, as a battle that Christ waged against some beast). Spiritual and physical redemption are part of the same process, and indeed if it weren’t for the latter the former could not take place: “our spirits must become subject to that angel who fell” (v. 8). This atonement here is a power, by which Christ conquered that monster and by which corruption can be replaced by incorruption. Yet another necessary dimension of the core fact of our religion.

One thing in this chapter linked to the above which is perhaps important to note is in that verse 8 and then what follows in verse 9:

And our spirits must have become like unto him, and we become devils, angels to a devil, to be shut out from the presence of our God, and to remain with the father of lies, in misery, like unto himself; yea, to that being who beguiled our first parents, who transformeth himself nigh unto an angel of light, and stirreth up the children of men unto secret combinations of murder and all manner of secret works of darkness.

It is common within the Church to speak of our “divine potential”. This is true, although sometimes people go a little too far and speak of our “divinity”, which is not (at least yet) true. We have the potential, as children of God, through the atonement of Christ, to become heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ. But as Jacob points out here, we also have the potential to go to the opposite extreme, a diabolical potential in which we become devils. And as we learn from Section 76, there’s going to be at least some who don’t end up at either extreme, who become angels and so on. Potential is not the same as current reality. In a sense, we shouldn’t count our chickens before they are hatched; what potential we end up fulfilling will depend on the choices we make.

Another facet of this chapter I like, but which I only noticed this time through: Jacob peppers his sermon with statements praising different attributes of God as he speaks of different parts of the redemptive process.. Thus “O the wisdom of God, his mercy and grace!” in verse 8, then “O how great the goodness of our God” in verse 10. “Oh how great the plan of our God” he proclaims in verse 13, and then “O the greatness and justice of our God!” in verse 17. These continue (see verse 19-20), and serve to almost punctuate his address.

From about verse 27 there is a turn in the sermon:

But wo unto him that has the law given, yea, that has all the commandments of God, like unto us, and that transgresseth them, and that wasteth the days of his probation, for awful is his state!

From this point on, Jacob’s less on the process of the resurrection and the judgment, and more towards our need to repent, and not be one “that wasteth the days of his probation”. Which is a question to always consider: we all fall short and doubtless transgress (I know I do), and it makes one consider the various ways one might have wasted or be wasting the day’s our own probation. Jacob then speaks of particular sins and tendencies, and I was struck particularly by verses 28-30:

O that cunning plan of the evil one! O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish.

But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God.

But wo unto the rich, who are rich as to the things of the world. For because they are rich they despise the poor, and they persecute the meek, and their hearts are upon their treasures; wherefore, their treasure is their god. And behold, their treasure shall perish with them also.

One thing that struck me was the different way these potential perils (of being rich and of being learned but thinking oneself wise) strike as described here. Both risk pride, though for riches it’s described as being mostly against other people (“they despise the poor” and “persecute the meek”) while for knowledge it’s against God (“they hearken not to the counsel of God”). But riches also seem to affect one’s heart and desires (“their hearts are upon their treasures”), one’s aims, while the risk of being puffed up with knowledge as described here seems to be that it doesn’t so much change your desires, as affect your opinion on how to get there (i.e. that one can “set [God’s counsel] aside, supposing they know go themselves”).

Personally I’ve never been in a position to be regarded as rich (though I’d like to think I’m ready for that trial!), but I have been accused of knowing things, which made me consider various ways that I might be neglecting the counsel of God. I guess the trick is that any degree of learning must also be coupled with humility, to realise that knowledge not only isn’t wisdom, but even with much knowledge there is still no certainty that one knows the right way forward for any given course, and of course that there is the absolute certainty that no matter how much learning we acquire, God knows better.

2 Nephi 8

Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look upon the earth beneath; for the heavens shall vanish away like smoke, and the earth shall wax old like a garment; and they that dwell therein shall die in like manner. But my salvation shall be forever, and my righteousness shall not be abolished.

(2 Nephi 8:6//Isaiah 51:6)

So much of what I find myself worried about, or thinking about or even simply curious about is in the grand scheme of things so impermanent. As the Lord speaks through Isaiah here, even the earth and the heavens are fleeting and will pass away. So why do I expend so much energy and so much thought and so much emotion of that which does not last, good or bad? While some of those things must take their proper place, surely what I should be most worried about is those things which are permanent, such as the Lord and the salvation he offers?

Edit 2020:

This chapter continues the quotation from Isaiah, now covering Isaiah 51 and 52:1-2. Much of this chapter seems to be offering reassurance, that despite any present trial or suffering Zion (and by analogy us) will be redeemed, and emphasising both the ephemerality of those things that trouble us, and the power of God in contrast. Thus in addition to the verse quoted above there’s some other powerful passages along the same lines:

Hearken unto me, ye that know righteousness, the people in whose heart I have written my law, fear ye not the reproach of men, neither be ye afraid of their revilings.

For the moth shall eat them up like a garment, and the worm shall eat them like wool. But my righteousness shall be forever, and my salvation from generation to generation.

(2 Nephi 8:7-8//Isaiah 51:7-8)

It can be natural to worry about what other people think or say about us or to us, but these are likewise temporary things, and it is God’s opinion, and the consequences that flow from that, that are of lasting import. Verse 12-13 likewise touch on this point.

Verses 9-11 are particularly interesting:

Awake, awake! Put on strength, O arm of the Lord; awake as in the ancient days. Art thou not he that hath cut Rahab, and wounded the dragon?

Art thou not he who hath dried the sea, the waters of the great deep; that hath made the depths of the sea a way for the ransomed to pass over?

Therefore, the redeemed of the Lord shall return, and come with singing unto Zion; and everlasting joy and holiness shall be upon their heads; and they shall obtain gladness and joy; sorrow and mourning shall flee away.

This is mostly a reference to the Exodus, Rahab being Egypt and the dragon (Hebrew: תַּנִּֽין tannin, lit: sea monster/serpent) can be seen as standing for Pharoah (although it has a whole host of other allusions, to the widespread – indeed near ubiquitous – myth of the chaoskampf and ultimately, I believe, to the pre-Earth struggle against the original “dragon”). The Exodus, due to its scale and spectacular nature, has become the preeminent example of God using his power to deliver his people, and so is used here as reassurance that God can and will deliver Zion in the end. Indeed, Jeremiah 16:14-15 makes an even more striking point in this regard:

Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that it shall no more be said, The Lord liveth, that brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt;

But, The Lord liveth, that brought up the children of Israel from the land of the north, and from all the lands whither he had driven them: and I will bring them again into their land that I gave unto their fathers.

That is God’s work in gathering and delivering Israel in the last days will be so spectacular and miraculous that it, and not the Exodus, will henceforth become the example of God’s power.

There’s some interesting and significant differences between the passage as quoted in this chapter and as found in the Bible in verses 19-20 (underlined is text that is substituted for text in curly brackets, while bold text is found only in the BoM):

These two sons {things} are come unto thee, who shall be sorry for thee—thy desolation and destruction, and the famine and the sword—and by whom shall I comfort thee?
Thy sons have fainted, save these two; they lie at the head of all the streets; as a wild bull in a net, they are full of the fury of the Lord, the rebuke of thy God.

As these verses read in the bible, the two “things” that come to Israel are “desolation and destruction”, and “the famine and the sword” (two pairs). A couple of small differences make the verses here read quite differently: it is two sons who come to Israel, who shall be sorry for the desolation and destruction that have happened to it, and shall be a means of God to help Israel. These two, unlike the other sons, will not faint in the face of these perils. These two may well be connected to the two witnesses of Revelation 11. It’s an interesting example of how some fairly small insertions and substitutions can communicate new meanings (as for where such differences come from, I find it quite funny that commentators tend to ascribes such differences either to an original text – which for reasons I outline here and in tBoM&irwtB I find quite unlikely – or to Joseph Smith. It doesn’t seem to cross many minds that it might be the likes of Jacob and Nephi – and in a sense, God himself – doing it).

 

2 Nephi 7

Yea, for thus saith the Lord: Have I put thee away, or have I cast thee off forever? For thus saith the Lord: Where is the bill of your mother’s divorcement? To whom have I put thee away, or to which of my creditors have I sold you? Yea, to whom have I sold you? Behold, for your iniquities have ye sold yourselves, and for your transgressions is your mother put away.

Wherefore, when I came, there was no man; when I called, yea, there was none to answer. O house of Israel, is my hand shortened at all that it cannot redeem, or have I no power to deliver? Behold, at my rebuke I dry up the sea, I make their rivers a wilderness and their fish to stink because the waters are dried up, and they die because of thirst.

(2 Nephi 7:1-2//Isaiah 50:1-2)

Sometimes its just gratifying to know that – while we often sell ourselves by our iniquities – we are not cast off forever, and that God always has the power to redeem and deliver.

2020 Edit:

Perhaps amusingly, it is much the same verses that leapt out at me today as did when I wrote the original post. They summarise a key point of this passage, however: God is not unfaithful, and does not abandon us. We often abandon him, like Israel did many times, but God will continue trying to reach out, being faithful to his covenant, and has the power to do so.

This chapter is a quotation of Isaiah 50, although the way this chapter’s beginning and ending synchronise with the chapter divisions in Isaiah is an artefact of the post-1879 chapters; in the 1830 edition 2 Nephi 6-8 are all one chapter.

A key part of this chapter, as it is for these chapters in Isaiah, is this image of a servant, one described here as being given “the tongue of the learned” to address the people (v.4), who listens to the Lord and does not rebel nor turn back (v. 5), and who the Lord will help(v. 9). Many of these words can apply at least in part to a number of prophetic figures, as I mentioned in the post on 1 Nephi 21//Isaiah 49. As I discussed there, however, and as can be seen in things like Abinadi’s interpretation of Isaiah 52:7 in Mosiah 15:14-18, many of these prophecies can simultaneously apply to a range of prophetic servants or such servants generally, and at the same time apply above all else to Christ himself. In this chapter, it is perhaps verse 6 and 7 that show this most clearly, where the servant states:

I gave my back to the smiter, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair. I hid not my face from shame and spitting.

For the Lord God will help me, therefore shall I not be confounded. Therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed.

And again, much as in 1 Nephi 20-21//Isaiah 48-49, the consequences of continuing to reject the Lord and refusing to obey the voice of his servant are laid out, here in verse 11:

Behold all ye that kindle fire, that compass yourselves about with sparks, walk in the light of your fire and in the sparks which ye have kindled. This shall ye have of mine hand—ye shall lie down in sorrow.

Those that “kindle fire” – which as fire provides both light and warmth, suggests those that seek guidance and security from sources other that God – will be left to their own devices, indeed to my ear it seems suggested that they’ll be damaged by the very sparks they kindle, and ultimately receive sorrow when they could have received joy.

For those interested in the textual differences between this chapter and Isaiah 50 in the KJV, see pp. 396-398 in the appendix of The Book of Mormon and its relationship with the Bible. Perhaps one the most substantial additions/substitutions in this passage is the addition of “O house of Israel” in verse 2 and the substitution of “O house of Israel” into verse 4, clearly indicating that it is the house of Israel that is not cast off forever (and so resisting any supercessionist reading of this chapter). Another substantial addition is the whole clause of “and I will smite him with the strength of my mouth” to verse 8, indicating that the theme of judgment is likewise never that far away.

2 Nephi 6

And now, the words which I shall read are they which Isaiah spake concerning all the house of Israel; wherefore, they may be likened unto you, for ye are of the house of Israel. And there are many things which have been spoken by Isaiah which may be likened unto you, because ye are of the house of Israel.

(2 Nephi 6:5)

This refrain can be found elsewhere in the Book of Mormon (for instance in 1 Nephi 19:24, or Jesus himself in 3 Nephi 23:1-2): the people of the Book of Mormon are members of the house of Israel, and as Isaiah prophesied concerning the entire house of Israel, his words are applicable to them too. This is likewise true of modern Israel, by blood or adoption, and the Gentiles also (3 Nephi 23:2). Isaiah, and many of the other prophets, prophesied concerning us. If Isaiah’s words are applicable to Jacob’s audience, they are also applicable to us. Sometimes we read the scriptures as if they are purely about people long ago. Sometimes we do seek to learn some lesson from them, but in too general a fashion, failing to recognise that Isaiah and others speak about us too, being blessed by the Almighty to see our day. We should be able to read to read the scriptures and recognise ourselves in them, to place ourselves in them and to feel and understand those words as they are spoken to us, even if they were first uttered many years ago or “from the dust”.

2020 Edit:

This chapter is the beginning of a sermon by Jacob, given in 2 Nephi 6-10, and which is included with little apparent context. The sermon includes an extended quotation of Isaiah in 2 Nephi 6:16-8:25//Isaiah 49:24-52:2, making Jacob one of the four voices in the Book of Mormon (alongside Nephi, Abinadi and the risen Christ) to engage in giving extended, chapter-length quotations. What’s interesting about Jacob, however, is that he appears to be doing so principally because Nephi’s asked him to speak about Isaiah. Thus he introduces the first of the (briefer) quotations in this chapter with the following:

And now, behold, I would speak unto you concerning things which are, and which are to come; wherefore, I will read you the words of Isaiah. And they are the words which my brother has desired that I should speak unto you. And I speak unto you for your sakes, that ye may learn and glorify the name of your God.

Jacob thus introduces his Isaiah quotations by specifying that his brother has asked him to speak them. His post-Nephi writings seem to bear this out: there are no explicit quotations of Isaiah at all, let alone extended ones, although if one treats Jacob 5 as a quotation (since it’s attributed to Zenos), the habit of chapter-length quotations may not be completely alien to him.

In interpreting the passages he’s quoting, Jacob employs similar methods to that of Nephi, namely using other scripture (in this chapter, another part of Isaiah, Isaiah 11:11 in 2 Nephi 6:14), and reference to his own revelations. That’s worth noting, however: while Jacob may be quoting Isaiah under assignment from Nephi, it is to revelation he has personally received (and not simply that of his brother) that he turns in trying to interpret what he is reading. Thus the following in 2 Nephi 6:8-9 and 11 (my emphasis):

And now I, Jacob, would speak somewhat concerning these words. For behold, the Lord has shown me that those who were at Jerusalem, from whence we came, have been slain and carried away captive.

Nevertheless, the Lord has shown unto me that they should return again. And he also has shown unto me that the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, should manifest himself unto them in the flesh; and after he should manifest himself they should scourge him and crucify him, according to the words of the angel who spake it unto me.

Wherefore, after they are driven to and fro, for thus saith the angel, many shall be afflicted in the flesh, and shall not be suffered to perish, because of the prayers of the faithful; they shall be scattered, and smitten, and hated; nevertheless, the Lord will be merciful unto them, that when they shall come to the knowledge of their Redeemer, they shall be gathered together again to the lands of their inheritance.

It’s also worth noting that while both Nephi and Jacob quote Isaiah 49:24-26 (in 1 Nephi 21:24-26 and in 2 Nephi 6:16-18 in this chapter), they do so quite differently. To compare:

But thus saith the Lord, even the captives [ET: captive] of the mighty shall be taken away, and the prey of the terrible shall be delivered; for I will contend with him that contendeth with thee, and I will save thy children.

(1 Nephi 21:25//Isaiah 49:25, ET is the reading in Skousen’s Earliest text)

But thus saith the Lord: Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken away, and the prey of the terrible shall be delivered; for the Mighty God shall deliver his covenant people. For thus saith the Lord: I will contend with them {him} that contendeth with thee— <and I will save thy children>

(2 Nephi 6:17//Isaiah 49:25, bold represents text not in the KJV, underlined where text has been substituted for the text in curly brackets, and text in triangular brackets is text in the KJV but not in the quotation).

To quote from The Book of Mormon and its relationship with the Bible (pp. 133-134):

Here 2 Nephi 6:17 contains both a substantial addition compared to 1 Nephi 21:25 and Isaiah 49:25, and a substantial omission (‘and I will save thy children’), the combination of which is highly unlikely to be the result of error or memory. Notably, both quotations are described as being read (1 Nephi 19:22, 2 Nephi 9:1). Likewise the Book of Mormon demonstrates elsewhere that it is perfectly capable of quoting the same passage repeatedly with little or no variation (e.g. 1 Nephi 15:18, 1 Nephi 22:9, 3 Nephi 20:25, 3 Nephi 20:27//Acts 3:25) or with the same systematic changes (e.g. 2 Nephi 12:10, 19, 21//Isaiah 2:10, 19, 21). Skousen likewise suggests based on the additional clauses that the differences seen between 1 Nephi 19:25 and 2 Nephi 6:17 are deliberate (Skousen, Analysis of Textual Variants, pp. 451–52, 576–77). That ‘and I will save thy children’ is omitted in 2 Nephi 6:17 but not in 1 Nephi 21:25 when, as seen, the narrative context of 1 Nephi 20-21 (namely its audience of [p. 134] Nephi’s brothers) makes the theme of the restoration of descendants particularly applicable, further suggests the differences are not accidental.

It is unlikely that both quotations are claiming to be the reading of a more authentic ancient text, and neither version is presented as more correct than the other. That both of these quotations are openly attributed and both in the Book of Mormon likewise suggests that it is hardly concealing the fact that it is deliberately quoting the same passage differently. Again, one is reminded of Christopher Stanley’s observations of Paul, that ‘he takes no pains to conceal from his audience the fact that he has incorporated interpretive elements into the wording of his quotations’ and that he may have assumed – as perhaps the Book of Mormon does – that readers would be ‘unperturbed’ by such changes (Stanley, Paul and the Language of Scripture, p. 264). In addition, the differences seen here between these two quotations of Isaiah 49:25 are characteristic of the differences we see between Book of Mormon quotations and their biblical sources, including additional text that serves to expand upon a theme found already in the text (in this case once again, God’s forthcoming deliverance of his covenant people). It is therefore likely that a
number of the most significant textual differences are similarly the result of deliberate alterations.

2 Nephi 5

And it came to pass that the Lord did warn me, that I, Nephi, should depart from them and flee into the wilderness, and all those who would go with me.

Wherefore, it came to pass that I, Nephi, did take my family, and also Zoram and his family, and Sam, mine elder brother and his family, and Jacob and Joseph, my younger brethren, and also my sisters, and all those who would go with me. And all those who would go with me were those who believed in the warnings and the revelations of God; wherefore, they did hearken unto my words.

(2 Nephi 5:5-6)

I tend to cringe a little when I hear the phrase “be in the world, but not of the world”. That’s partly because its a cliché, and clichés tend to hinder rather than help us to think about what we really need to be doing. The other reason is that it is one of those statements that people tend to take as scriptural when it isn’t (much like the whole supposed quote of “I never said it’d be easy, I only said it’d be possible”). In this particular case it is based on a scripture (John 17:14-16). But it’d be a mistake to think that the cliché encompasses every truth about our relationship with the world, and especially that there’s always some imperative to be “in” the world.

The Book of Mormon contains another theme, one we see near the beginning of the book and repeated here, and many times hence. Lehi, after being rejected by the people, was warned by God to flee into the wilderness with his family. In like fashion, Nephi too must flee those seeking his life (his own brothers in this case) with his family and any who believe in the revelations of God. There is this continual pattern of the flight into the wilderness from a wicked society.

A similar theme can be found in the passages of Isaiah quoted in the Book of Mormon:

Go ye forth of Babylon, flee ye from the Chaldeans, with a voice of singing declare ye, tell this, utter to the end of the earth; say ye: The Lord hath redeemed his servant Jacob.

(1 Nephi 20:20//Isaiah 48:20)

And then shall a cry go forth: Depart ye, depart ye, go ye out from thence, touch not that which is unclean; go ye out of the midst of her; be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord.

(3 Nephi 20:41//Isaiah 52:11)

This same idea can be found in the Doctrine and Covenants as a commandment for us, where we are repeatedly told to ‘go ye out of Babylon’, including ‘from the nations’ and ‘from the midst of wickedness, which is spiritual Babylon’ (D&C 133:5, 7, 14) and instead ‘flee unto Zion’ (D&C 45:68, 133:12). There is no command here to remain in the world, but instead we are commanded to separate from it, both spiritually and at times physically. While there may be occasions in which we have responsibilities “in the world”, there is no imperative to stay there permanently, and certainly not to be complacent in doing so. Ultimately for our own sake we must leave Babylon behind and flee to Zion, for:

For after today cometh the burning—this is speaking after the manner of the Lord—for verily I say, tomorrow all the proud and they that do wickedly shall be as stubble; and I will burn them up, for I am the Lord of Hosts; and I will not spare any that remain in Babylon.

(D&C 64:24)

2020 Edit:

Now I do not write upon these plates all the words which they murmured against me. But it sufficeth me to say, that they did seek to take away my life.

And it came to pass that the Lord did warn me, that I, Nephi, should depart from them and flee into the wilderness, and all those who would go with me.

(2 Nephi 5:4-5)

I write about some of the significance of this pattern above and when talking about 1 Nephi 2, but reading this today I was struck by the degree of congruence between Nephi’s experience here and Lehi’s: The brothers have truly become like Lehi’s opponents in Jerusalem, and seek to take away Nephi’s like the Jerusalemites sought Lehi’s. And like Lehi, Nephi is warned in a dream to flee into the wilderness, taking with him a small party consisting principally of family. Once again they must depart, leaving hearth and home and comfort, just as we need to be prepared to let things go, and not become too attached to all the things we accrue and come across on our journey in this wilderness.

This chapter – which briefly mentions this new exodus, and then the establishing of their settlement versus the reversion to barbarism of their kinfolk (and the making of the small plates, namely this actual record!) – is the real piece of narrative in 2 Nephi. After that the book contains a mostly context-less sermon from Jacob in 2 Nephi 6-10, some editorial commentary by Nephi in 2 Nephi 11 that introduces the lengthy quotation of 2 Nephi 12-24//Isaiah 2-14, and then further teachings by Nephi about the future destiny of his family’s descendants, the last days, the gathering of Israel (and the Book of Mormon’s role in that), and then the gospel of Christ. He doesn’t even record that he’s passing on the plates or who he’s passing them on too (it is left to Jacob to explain that they have been passed to him at the beginning of the book of Jacob (Jacob 1:1-4).

It is likewise striking that, unlike so many Book of Mormon prophets (including Lehi as we have just seen, but also including the likes of King Benjamin, Alma the younger, Helaman son of Helaman and Mormon himself), there’s no concern or record of any instructions or spiritual council for children, indeed there’s no mention of children at all. Nor, as discussed with 2 Nephi 4, do the records appear to be passed to any children of his: the small plates are given to his brother Jacob, while the large plates appear to be in the keeping of the kings (Jarom 1:14), and the first king is “a man” appointed by Nephi, but there is no indication of kinship, let alone that of father and son (Jacob 1:9-11).

One could be forgiven for wondering if Nephi even had any children, but he does mention some earlier in one brief reference (1 Nephi 18:19), while it does appear that he has some descendants (Mormon 1:4-5, assuming the reference to the plates of Nephi refers to this Nephi and not one of the other intervening record-keepers!). There has the been the suggestion, as I commented in regards to 2 Nephi 4, that perhaps he had no sons but had daughters. This is possible. But whatever the situation, it’s clear that this does not hold his literary attention as he doesn’t write about them. We get far more about his emotional reaction to the centuries distant destruction of his people (1 Nephi 15:4-5), than he ever expresses about his children in the present. And once past 2 Nephi 5, he doesn’t write about his people either. It is as if he has been entirely captured by events far distant, his attention focused on events like the coming of Christ, the aforementioned destruction of his people, the gathering of Israel, and even the final judgment (in which he claims a role as a witness).

This mental orientation doesn’t seem entirely out of character: his emotional reaction to the vision of the destruction of his people (which caused him to feel “that mine afflictions were above all”, 1 Nephi 15:5) appears to be significantly greater than his recorded reaction to many contemporary events. But it reaches a peak here. While he clearly doesn’t abandon his duties in the present, it’s left to Jacob to tell us that by indicating  that his people loved him because of his diligence in protecting and serving them (1 Jacob 1:10). He never stops serving in the present, but – if the content of 2 Nephi is any indication – his mind and view are elsewhere, many centuries in the future, including the very time in which his own words will have their greatest influence. It seems (as Grant Hardy suggested on similar grounds in Understanding the Book of Mormon) quite a lonely and solitary existence. Nephi’s work and legacy and even feelings are tied up in a time far distant from his own, leaving him to appear almost a stranger in his own time.

2 Nephi 4

And upon these I write the things of my soul, and many of the scriptures which are engraven upon the plates of brass. For my soul delighteth in the scriptures, and my heart pondereth them, and writeth them for the learning and the profit of my children.

(2 Nephi 4:15)

I don’t think any commentary is necessary on this verse.

I can’t say I like the title “the Psalm of Nephi” that some people have given the latter part of this chapter (though I can’t think of any rational objections). But the chapter itself contains many passages in which my soul “delighteth” or that my heart “pondereth”:

Nevertheless, notwithstanding the great goodness of the Lord, in showing me his great and marvelous works, my heart exclaimeth: O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities.
I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me.
And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins; nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted.

(2 Nephi 4:17-19)

O then, if I have seen so great things, if the Lord in his condescension unto the children of men hath visited men in so much mercy, why should my heart weep and my soul linger in the valley of sorrow, and my flesh waste away, and my strength slacken, because of mine afflictions?
And why should I yield to sin, because of my flesh? Yea, why should I give way to temptations, that the evil one have place in my heart to destroy my peace and afflict my soul? Why am I angry because of mine enemy?
Awake, my soul! No longer droop in sin. Rejoice, O my heart, and give place no more for the enemy of my soul.
Do not anger again because of mine enemies. Do not slacken my strength because of mine afflictions.
Rejoice, O my heart, and cry unto the Lord, and say: O Lord, I will praise thee forever; yea, my soul will rejoice in thee, my God, and the rock of my salvation.

(2 Nephi 4:26-30)

2020 Edit:

This chapter covers the last of Lehi’s address to his household (principally a blessing upon the children of Laman and Lemuel that – if they and their descendants are led astray by Laman and Lemuel’s rebellions – they will in the end be blessed. There’s also this interesting blessing to Sam in verse 11:

And after he had made an end of speaking unto them, he spake unto Sam, saying: Blessed art thou, and thy seed; for thou shalt inherit the land like unto thy brother Nephi. And thy seed shall be numbered with his seed; and thou shalt be even like unto thy brother, and thy seed like unto his seed; and thou shalt be blessed in all thy days.

Now the statement that Sam’s “seed shall be numbered with [Nephi’s] seed” could simply be referring to their being counted part of the wider “Nephites”, according to the later ideological definition that Jacob appears to introduce for the first time in Jacob 1:14. But I’ve seen some people suggest this might be more specific than that, and I think they may have a point. One peculiarity is that when the different groups based on the brothers are enumerated, there’s a whole bunch: Nephites, Jacobites, Josephites, Zoramites, Lamanites, Lemuelites and Ishmaelites. That’s the list as in Jacob 1:13, and in 4 Nephi 1:36-37 and in Mormon 1:8 too, so it’s consistent over the whole history. Notice what’s missing: there’s no “Samites”, a rather startling but consistent omission.

Now there has been some speculation that Nephi himself did not have any sons. I’ll get into that a bit when discussing 2 Nephi 5, but he never refers to or addresses any sons, and he passes the small plates onto his brother Jacob, while for a political successor “he anointed a man to be a king and a ruler over his people now, according to the reigns of the kings”, who subsequently are “called by the people, second Nephi, third Nephi, and so forth”, the wording of which doesn’t seem to suggest kinship (Jacob 1:9, 11). He does appear, however, to have descendants (Mormon 1:4-5).

This has led some to suggest that perhaps Nephi’s children were all daughters, so that Nephi had no son to act as a political or religious successor. A suggestion I’ve seen that pulls on all the above then suggests that perhaps these daughters then intermarried with Sam’s sons. In which case Nephi’s and Sam’s descendants literally became one group and were counted as such, but said group appear to have adopted Nephi’s name, thus explaining the absence of any “Samites”.

There’s a brief passage that recounts Lehi’s death, and the beginnings of what will prove to be the final rift between the brothers, before we turn to the oft-labelled “Psalm of Nephi”. As I mention above, I don’t particularly like that title, although I’m not certain why and can certainly see some commonalities between it and many of the passages in the book of Psalms. It’s an interesting passage because Nephi appears to let the overall impression of his stoic optimism and unflagging obedience waver somewhat: he expresses guilt and sorrow over his sins (vv. 17-19), and refers to feelings of anger because of his enemies [enemy singular in verse 27, plural in verse 29). Nevertheless he recounts how God has supported, led, and protected him, and blessed him with angelic ministration and visions (vv. 20-25), and thus expresses resolution to “no longer droop in sin”, to not give way to temptations nor give place for anger nor to “slacken my strength because of my afflictions” (vv. 26-30). The passage then ends with his appeal to God to redeem him, to deliver him from his enemies and from sin and so on, and expresses his trust in God (vv. 31-35). He appears to be concerned with the individual struggle against weakness and sin we all face, but also with some rather specific enemies (I think undoubtedly his brothers, in view of 2 Nephi 5:1: “I, Nephi, did cry much unto the Lord my God, because of the anger of my brethren”).

One verse leading up to this “Psalm” which I quote above gets my attention again:

And upon these I write the things of my soul, and many of the scriptures which are engraven upon the plates of brass. For my soul delighteth in the scriptures, and my heart pondereth them, and writeth them for the learning and the profit of my children.

Some of these elements will be familiar in any discussion about how we can better appreciate and understand the message of the scriptures: delighting in them, and pondering them and so forth. But there’s also the emphasis he puts not just on reading them but also on writing them, which I guess isn’t something that always comes up in these discussions. Perhaps recording the scriptures in which we delight or take particular interest or ponder over should be a key part of our own practice. To some degree, it’s this sort of example that’s prompted this very exercise on my blog.

2 Nephi 3

A couple of items for this chapter:

And now I speak unto you, Joseph, my last-born. Thou wast born in the wilderness of mine afflictions; yea, in the days of my greatest sorrow did thy mother bear thee.

2 Nephi 3:1

I’m impressed by Lehi’s statement that Joseph was born during “the days of my greatest sorrow”. Because when was that? At which point in the journey? Is he referring to a specific episode, or the wilderness as a whole (he doesn’t say it to Jacob). It doesn’t say, and it may even refer to an incident that isn’t recorded. Lehi clearly considered that the lowest point in his life, and we don’t from the record even know what he was referring to. As painful as it undoubtedly was for him, the record the Lord has preserved for us doesn’t define Lehi by it. At the same time, how many other people do we come into contact with who are shaped by episodes we are entirely unaware of?

Because otherwise I’m in danger of talking about nothing but affliction, I quote this verse too:

Wherefore, the fruit of thy loins shall write; and the fruit of the loins of Judah shall write; and that which shall be written by the fruit of thy loins, and also that which shall be written by the fruit of the loins of Judah, shall grow together, unto the confounding of false doctrines and laying down of contentions, and establishing peace among the fruit of thy loins, and bringing them to the knowledge of their fathers in the latter days, and also to the knowledge of my covenants, saith the Lord.

2 Nephi 3:12

This verse could practically be a mission statement: of this blog, of anything that I might hope to achieve with my thesis, with other stuff (those missionaries I commit to read the Old Testament). Because I love the Book of Mormon. I also love the Bible. I firmly believe that both are the greatest possible aid (save the Spirit) to understanding the other, and one can only obtain their full benefits by reading both. It will only be as we – individuals, church members, whoever – read, believe and apply both together that we will secure the blessings promised here.

Finally:

And out of weakness he shall be made strong, in that day when my work shall commence among all my people, unto the restoring thee, O house of Israel, saith the Lord.

2 Nephi 3:13

This is a theme found throughout scripture (I’m thinking of Ether 12:23-27 and 2 Corinthians 12:7-9 in particular): that God can make use of weakness, will use us despite (and sometimes even because) of our weakness, and that His grace is sufficient for us. One can often despair because of one’s failings. God’s grace, however, is sufficient for all and “is made perfect in weakness”.

2020 Edit:

Moving from teaching Jacob about Christ and the choices we face, above all between good and evil, Lehi turns in this chapter to sharing a prophecy from Joseph in Egypt (of coat fame) with his own son Joseph. This appears to concern the restoration of Israel, particularly how a branch of Joseph’s own descendants, though “broken off”, will be remembered and restored (v. 5), via means of a seer who shall bring God’s word to them, bringing together the words written by both the descendants of Joseph and those of Judah (vv. 6-12). This seer, who will work “in that day when my work shall commence among all people, unto the restoring thee, O house of Israel” (v. 13), will also be named Joseph, as will his father (v. 15). Thus the best fit for this seer is Joseph Smith, while the writings of Joseph’s descendants he shall write shall be the Book of Mormon itself, which shall “cry from the dust”.

It is interesting that in terms of restoring Israel, while translating and publishing the Book of Mormon is not the only activity attributed to Joseph Smith, it is depicted as being perhaps the most important. I’m interested is to why that is: does that refer to the role the Book of Mormon has already played (in terms of initiating the restoration of the gospel) and continues to play (in introducing people to that gospel), or does it also refer (as I suspect) to future events and future influence that we can scarce dream of at this time? As we’ll see in other chapters, the Book of Mormon is regarded as both as a sign that God is about to fulfil his covenant with the house of Israel, and is one of the major tools he will employ in restoring Israel, something which is certainly only begun as yet.

That this prophecy is found here, but not in the Bible as we have it is of little surprise to me: it should be recognised that the Bible and “the plates of brass” are really overlapping collections, and there is some material found in one but not the other. For instance, I think the fact that Micah is only quoted by the risen Christ suggests that that book was not on the brass plates (which might suggest other speculative possibilities), while the plates of brass did apparently contain the writings of the non-biblical prophets Zenos, Zenock and Neum. There are several reasons for why these collections would not be identical, but one significant reason would be there different origin: the Bible, while it includes writings from the northern kingdom of Israel, and contains narratives about them, is fundamentally a record from the southern kingdom of Judah, collected and collated by their hands. The plates of brass, by contrast, are a record that has been kept and preserved by descendants of Joseph (i.e. northerners, perhaps until as late as the Assyrian conquest of 721 BC) as an ancestral record, complete with genealogy (1 Nephi 5:14-16). While it obviously includes some southern prophets like Isaiah and apparently “many prophecies which have been spoken by the mouth of Jeremiah” (1 Nephi 5:13), it should be noted that both of these prophets operated in the period after the Assyrian conquest (Isaiah’s career began before it, but continued throughout the period and through the failed Assyrian conquest of Jerusalem, in which Isaiah played a pivotal role and prophesied of Jerusalam’s deliverance; perhaps it would be natural for those who may have fled from Assyria’s conquest of the north to be especially interested in such a figure).

Similarly, from 3 Nephi 10:16, we learn that Zenos and Zenock are actually ancestors of the Book of Mormon peoples (and presumably descendants of Joseph themselves). It thus seems natural that they would be included in the records preserved by such descendants (indeed, they may have been keepers of that record themselves, in which case their words in the brass plates could have been their actual writings, not simply a record of them!). And likewise, it would be little surprising that direct descendants of Joseph would seek to preserve Joseph’s own prophecies, and contain a fuller account of them than those records preserved by Judah, especially when – as in this case – they concern the destiny of those very same descendants.

There is one verse in this chapter that I find poses an interesting puzzle. After quoting Joseph in Egypt, Lehi addresses his son Joseph directly, and states in verses 23-24:

Wherefore, because of this covenant thou art blessed; for thy seed shall not be destroyed, for they shall hearken unto the words of the book.

And there shall rise up one mighty among them, who shall do much good, both in word and in deed, being an instrument in the hands of God, with exceeding faith, to work mighty wonders, and do that thing which is great in the sight of God, unto the bringing to pass much restoration unto the house of Israel, and unto the seed of thy brethren.

Now the uncontroversial part is that Lehi is stating – presumably by prophetic inspiration of his own – that some of Joseph’s (son of Lehi) own descendants will part of that remnant that Joseph (in Egypt – there’s a lot of Josephs in this chapter!) prophesied should be preserved, and receive the teachings of the Book of Mormon. The puzzling part comes with verse 24: “there shall rise up one mighty among them…”. Based on the preceding chapter, one might think this to be a description of Joseph (Smith), but while claimed to be a descendant of Joseph (in Egypt), he wasn’t a descendant of Joseph (son of Lehi – see what I mean!), unless he had some native American ancestry I’m unaware of. There are several possibilities I see here: a) “among them” could simply refer to working among Joseph’s (son of Lehi) descendants, with no imputation of common ancestry, and so can refer to Joseph (Smith) or b) this is a referring to another figure, who will be an actual descendant of Joseph (son of Lehi), who will also be involved in the work of restoring Israel.

2 Nephi 2

2 Nephi 2 has been one of my favourite chapters of scripture for several decades now (and I really feel old saying that). There is always so much in it, and more to be found.

While reading today, the early verses stuck out to me:

Nevertheless, Jacob, my firstborn in the wilderness, thou knowest the greatness of God; and he shall consecrate thine afflictions for thy gain.

Wherefore, thy soul shall be blessed, and thou shalt dwell safely with thy brother, Nephi; and thy days shall be spent in the service of thy God. Wherefore, I know that thou art redeemed, because of the righteousness of thy Redeemer; for thou hast beheld that in the fulness of time he cometh to bring salvation unto men.

2 Nephi 2:2-3

Verse 2 really needs no elaboration; it just seems a precious promise that Jacob’s (and hopefully our) afflictions can be consecrated by God for our gain, that he can turn evil into good.

In verse 3 I was struck more than usual by the line that ‘I know that thou art redeemed, because of the righteousness of thy Redeemer’. It’s an invaluable reminder that – while full redemption comes only to those ‘who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit’ (v.7) – it is by Christ’s righteousness, and not our own, that we our saved. Indeed it clarifies that later offering: ‘by the law no flesh is justified’ (v.5), so we cannot simply offer up our deeds on our own merits. Rather we offer up ‘a broken heart and a contrite spirit, and all ‘they that believe in him shall be saved’ (v.9).

Minor notes:

There really is so much in this chapter: from the importance of meaningful opposites and consequences (vv.10-13); the concept of ‘things to act’ and ‘things to be acted upon’ (v.14, and which are we? Are we choosing, or are we being acted upon by outside forces or our own passions?); being ‘enticed by the one or the other’ (v.16); the fall (vv.15-25); the necessity of knowing misery to know joy (v.24); the choice that is before each of us (v.27) and so much more.

2020 Edit:

As mentioned above, there’s a lot in this chapter. It’s interesting how with both Jacob and Joseph that Lehi chose to speak about profound things, but covered such different topics. With Lehi’s teachings to Jacob, I think I discern a thread that then runs into the things that Jacob teaches too, that can be seen in passages such as 2 Nephi 9 and the latter part of Jacob 3.

It begins with Lehi discussing the trials and the blessings that Jacob has experienced, but particularly the witness he has received of Christ, and then moves on to teach how none of us are justified by the law (and not just speaking of the law of Moses either: “by the spiritual law” we “perish from that which is good, and become miserable forever”, v. 5). Hence our universal and utter need for Christ’s grace, expressed here both powerfully and succinctly:

Wherefore, how great the importance to make these things known unto the inhabitants of the earth, that they may know that there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah, who layeth down his life according to the flesh, and taketh it again by the power of the Spirit, that he may bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, being the first that should rise.

(2 Nephi 2:8)

Lehi then speaks about how Christ’s intervention makes it possible for us to receive happiness, in contrast to punishment, one being the consequence of the atonement, the other the law, and this turns him to the subject of opposites. While I don’t think this is the most misunderstood chapter of the Book of Mormon (I believe that honour goes to Alma 42), I do think the statement that “there is an opposition in all things” (v. 11) is often misunderstood. Most of the time I hear it quoted is in reference to the existence of trials and so on, but while it is true that trial and afflictions are an inevitable and even necessary part of this life, that’s not what this statement is talking about. Rather it is talking about the existence of philosophical opposites: happiness and punishment, wickedness and righteousness, law and sin. As Lehi states in verses 11-12:

For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my firstborn in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility.

Wherefore, it must needs have been created for a thing of naught; wherefore there would have been no purpose in the end of its creation. Wherefore, this thing must needs destroy the wisdom of God and his eternal purposes, and also the power, and the mercy, and the justice of God.

These opposites are necessary for there to be meaningful existence: life must have choices and those choices have consequence or else existence itself would possess no definable quality and would “have been created for a thing of naught”, or in other words, pointless. The truth of this statement can be seen even when we consider unimportant, trifling decisions: which ice cream flavour to eat would be an utterly pointless choice if all the flavours tasted the same (that is, they had the same consequence). It is the existence of these possibilities, of good and bad acts and real consequences, that make choice possible.

There’s another interesting element to the ability to choose that’s worth pointing out here too. Speaking of the fall, Lehi teaches (vv. 15-16, my emphasis):

And to bring about his eternal purposes in the end of man, after he had created our first parents, and the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and in fine, all things which are created, it must needs be that there was an opposition; even the forbidden fruit in opposition to the tree of life; the one being sweet and the other bitter.

Wherefore, the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself. Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other.

It is not just the existence of opposites and alternatives that make choice possible, but mankind needs factors to appeal to them, to pull them in each direction. In a lot of discussions about agency, it often seems that people treat this as an innate trait of mankind, but it really isn’t. Human beings can be both “things to act” and “things to be acted upon”. Where much of our agency, speaking of our choice between good and evil, lies rests in our ability to tip the scales between the two forces pulling upon us, namely the influence of God, particularly through his Holy Spirit, and the temptations of the devil and his angels. Which is why the possibility of the Lord’s spirit not always striving with man is such a threat (variations on that statement – first appearing in Genesis 6:3, appearing in 1 Ne. 7:14; 2 Ne. 26:11; Mormon 5:16; Ether 2:15; Ether 15:19; Moroni 8:28; Moroni 9:4, and on a national scale generally portending complete annihilation). If we persist in wickedness to such a degree that the Lord’s spirit gives up on us, then only one factor is left, and we become for the most part something “to be acted upon”, save by an act of grace.

Lehi then continues his discussion of the fall, one which many people have commented on (although one where some seem to over-correct on, for the fall while necessary is still a fall). The fall is part of God’s plan for mankind: “all things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things” (v. 24). And again, a profound though sometimes misunderstood statement:

Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.

(2 Nephi 2:25)

It should always be understood that this statement is referring to God’s ultimate aim for mankind, that we might have joy. It is not a guarantee to permanent and complete joy in this life. I’ve addressed that topic before, but verse 23 just before this verse is worth noting in this regard: Adam and Eve pre-fall had “no joy, for they knew no misery”. This is a return to that notion of opposites (for likewise they did “no good, for they knew no sin”). In this life, in order to develop the capacity to have joy, we must also have the possibility of knowing and experiencing misery.

Which leads to Lehi’s ultimate conclusion, about (fittingly) the ultimate choice we face between ultimate joy with Christ or ultimate misery with the devil:

Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.

(2 Nephi 2:27)

This is the most important choice, the most important opposite, that lies before us, and the one choice that cannot be taken from us save we give it up ourselves. And in this, we have those factors each side enticing us one way or the other:

And now, my sons, I would that ye should look to the great Mediator, and hearken unto his great commandments; and be faithful unto his words, and choose eternal life, according to the will of his Holy Spirit;

And not choose eternal death, according to the will of the flesh and the evil which is therein, which giveth the spirit of the devil power to captivate, to bring you down to hell, that he may reign over you in his own kingdom.

(2 Nephi 2:28-29)

In essence we have both internal and external factors. The external factors are the teachings and commandments of Christ and the influence of the Holy Spirit on one side, and the temptations of the devil on the other. But each of us also faces an internal battle against those things inside us: “the natural man” as Mosiah 3:19 puts it, or “the will of the flesh and the evil which is therein” as it is so vividly put here. If this chapter helps correct some wider misapprehensions held about the fall in wider Christendom, it also does teach (for those who take it too far the other way) that the fall did bring about real consequences in terms of instincts and inclinations within all of us to stray, one which Satan will take advantage of if we let him. This seems to be a hard concept for some people to accept (indeed some don’t seem to realise that LDS scripture teaches this at all), but a necessary one not just to understand the world (including understanding that just because something is natural doesn’t make it good), but to understand ourselves. If mankind is not wholly corrupt, it is not wholly good either, nor perfectible by its own efforts. Rather, it is our individual human souls (that is the body and spirit as a unit, D&C 88:15) that are the battleground for the great war that wages between good and evil.

We can’t defeat our own evil inclinations purely by our own efforts, but fortunately and miraculously we don’t have to, and that path is laid out in this chapter. What we have the power to do is to make that ultimate choice and keep making it. And it is as we choose Christ, as we put our faith in him and “yield to the enticings of the Holy Spirit” (Mosiah 3:19), that his grace and power and mercies come with even greater power into our life. And it is that grace that will give us the ability to follow him, to act and not to be acted upon, and pave the way to that joy that is the point of our existence.

 

2 Nephi 1

And ye have murmured because he hath been plain unto you. Ye say that he hath used sharpness; ye say that he hath been angry with you; but behold, his sharpness was the sharpness of the power of the word of God, which was in him; and that which ye call anger was the truth, according to that which is in God, which he could not restrain, manifesting boldly concerning your iniquities.

And it must needs be that the power of God must be with him, even unto his commanding you that ye must obey. But behold, it was not he, but it was the Spirit of the Lord which was in him, which opened his mouth to utterance that he could not shut it.

2 Nephi 1:26-27

It’s interesting that Laman and Lemuel had apparently been claiming that Nephi had been angry with them; for those keeping count, 1 Nephi records Laman and Lemuel getting angry with Nephi some 7 times (and doubtless there were more instances than recorded) and while Nephi later does allude to feeling some similar feelings in reverse (2 Nephi 4:27), he’s not the one making semi-regular murder attempts. Projection is a very real thing, in many areas (as a rather bizarre online conversation recently demonstrated to me).

We can, of course, be both Laman and Nephi. Sometimes we have to receive the word of God in sharpness and correction, to which we should respond not with anger but with a penitent heart. And then sometimes we’re called upon by the spirit to say something, in which case we’d better be sure we’re listening to the spirit and not any anger or pride of our own.

2020 Edit:

It’s not entirely clear why 1 Nephi ends and 2 Nephi begins at this point, as verse 1 here implies that Lehi’s address here follows Nephi’s conversation with his brothers:

And now it came to pass that after I, Nephi, had made an end of teaching my brethren, our father, Lehi, also spake many things unto them, and rehearsed unto them, how great things the Lord had done for them in bringing them out of the land of Jerusalem.

In fact it’s not clear why there’s a 1st book and a 2nd book of Nephi at all, although they do differ in degree in their contents: the 1st book contains the narrative of their journey to the promised land, with all that happens along the way, while the 2nd book has very little narrative, consisting mostly of Lehi’s last address here, Jacob’s sermon in 2 Nephi 6-10, the quotation of Isaiah 2-14 in 2 Nephi 12-24, and then Nephi directly addressing the reader in speaking of the last days and the restoration of Israel, quoting Isaiah (again), and then speaking of the gospel of Christ. So perhaps the division is partly on those grounds, but then it might be seen as funny that the break seems to take place partway through the same scene. But on the other hand, perhaps it is the fact that this is Lehi’s last address that is the significant marker; the book of Mosiah likewise begins with a last address by the previous reader (King Benjamin in Mosiah 2-5), so this wouldn’t be the only example of that.

This chapter includes Lehi’s address to Nephi’s brothers (including Sam & the sons of Ishmael, v. 28), as well as a portion for Zoram in vv. 30-32. Chapter 2 is directed towards Jacob, and chapter 3 towards Joseph, and then in chapter 4 he addresses his grandchildren by Laman & Lemuel, and then the sons of Ishmael again and “all his household”, and some last words for Sam (v. 11). Just thinking about this, it’s interesting we don’t have anything that Lehi directly addressed to Nephi. Did he not say anything to him? Or did he, and Nephi has chosen not to relay it to us? It’s a point to ponder (although there’s no way to answer it at present).

Most of the comments towards the brothers, of course, are an exhortation to change their ways and a warning if they do not change. My attention was drawn, however, to the first topic he apparently raised with them (from verse 1 again): “how great things the Lord had done for them in bringing them out of the land of Jerusalem”. This isn’t really the first or only time this sort of topic is brought up in the Book of Mormon: in 1 Nephi 1 we saw Nephi’s acknowledgement of what God had done for him, and exhortations towards gratitude and our indebtedness to God are common in the rest of the book (Mosiah 2 being a good example). But I found that interesting to see that be the first thing Lehi turned to in addressing his wayward sons, suggesting that a recognition of what God has done for us is a vital early step in keeping ourselves on the straight and narrow.

And while I can’t think of much to comment on it, the centre of Lehi’s address is worth quoting for its rhetorical strength, a last appeal in the face of the one certain event we face in this life, but one which perhaps helps us to realise and awaken to those things which are truly important (2 Nephi 1:13-15):

O that ye would awake; awake from a deep sleep, yea, even from the sleep of hell, and shake off the awful chains by which ye are bound, which are the chains which bind the children of men, that they are carried away captive down to the eternal gulf of misery and woe.

Awake! and arise from the dust, and hear the words of a trembling parent, whose limbs ye must soon lay down in the cold and silent grave, from whence no traveler can return; a few more days and I go the way of all the earth.

But behold, the Lord hath redeemed my soul from hell; I have beheld his glory, and I am encircled about eternally in the arms of his love.