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.
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.
Behold, my brethren, I say unto you, that these things must shortly come; yea, even blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke must come; and it must needs be upon the face of this earth; and it cometh unto men according to the flesh if it so be that they will harden their hearts against the Holy One of Israel.
For behold, the righteous shall not perish; for the time surely must come that all they who fight against Zion shall be cut off.
1 Nephi 22:16-19
I sometimes joke that one of the biggest things I’ve learned from my thesis is that one of the major themes of the Book of Mormon is “judgment is coming”. Except it’s not a joke, not really: judgment is coming. God will hold us all accountable, and for our civilisation – unless it repents – that accountability is coming quicker than people think.
However – as I mentioned with 1 Nephi 1 – God’s acts of judgment in the Book of Mormon are often deliverance for others. Much of 1 Nephi 22, and many other parts of the Book of Mormon, are about how the Lord will remember his covenant with scattered Israel. Here it is made clear that the Lord will protect and deliver the righteous: that protection, however, will come in the form of divine judgment upon the wicked. Mercy and justice, judgment and deliverance are mirror images of each other, two sides of the same coin of divine providence.
I’m picking out things that stuck out to me this time round, but it several cases they are things I’ve noticed before, and in some cases written at length on (from a more academic perspective) along with other stuff in chapter 3 of the much aforementioned book. This is Nephi’s “commentary” on the quoted material of 1 Nephi 21-22//Isaiah 48-49. I use “commentary” loosely, since it’s not a systematic commentary by any means, but rather (in response to questions by his brothers) Nephi expands upon some of its meaning in a passage that also draws upon a range of other scriptural references (Isaiah, Deuteronomy, something akin of Malachi, Psalms & so on) and his own visionary experiences, all interwoven together.
A question faced early on is a question that may seem outwardly familiar (v. 1):
And now it came to pass that after I, Nephi, had read these things which were engraven upon the , my brethren came unto me and said unto me: What these things which ye have read? Behold, are they to be understood according to things which are , which shall come to pass according to the spirit and not the flesh?
A number of readers have seen this question, dividing between things “according to the spirit” and others to “the flesh”, as addressing the perceived divide between literal & allegorical interpretation of scripture, one which was an issue in Joseph Smith’s day, although that’s principally because it’s been a live issue since the early years of the Christian era and before (e.g. Philo of Alexandria, Origen and so on). Of course, it can be a mistake to see a hard divide between these in the first place: with typology, things can be both literal and allegorical. But it’s also not quite the issue that is faced here. Consider verse 6:
Nevertheless, after they shall be nursed by the Gentiles, and the Lord has lifted up his hand upon the Gentiles and set them up for a standard, and their children have been carried in their arms, and their daughters have been carried upon their shoulders, behold these things of which are spoken are temporal; for thus are the covenants of the Lord with our fathers; and it meaneth us in the days to come, and also all our brethren who are of the house of Israel.
As I point out on pp. 139-140 of tBoM&irwtB (I really need a better acronym), Nephi interprets the imagery of the children (interesting enough this should be sons, as it is in 1 Nephi21:22/Isaiah 49:22, but this would be an easy mistake to make if one were working in any Semitic languages) and daughters being carried in the Gentiles arms and shoulders as temporal events (as opposed to spiritual), but said arms and shoulders are not literal, they are metaphorical. The two divisions do not exactly tally up.
It’s also worth noting that Nephi resists such a sharp divide in the first place in his initial response (vv. 2-3):
And I, Nephi, said unto them: Behold they were manifest unto the prophet by the voice of the Spirit; for by the Spirit are all things made known unto the prophets, which shall come upon the children of men according to the flesh.
Wherefore, the things of which I have read are things pertaining to things both temporal and spiritual; for it appears that the house of Israel, sooner or later, will be scattered upon all the face of the earth, and also among all nations.
Thus he emphasises that the prophecies were made manifest by the Spirit, but concern events that happen “according to the flesh“. Then Nephi goes further, stating that the things he read are about things “both temporal and spiritual” (and indeed, both at the same time, I’d say).
However, the fact that such details were manifest to the prophets in the first place by the Spirit also implies that interpretation should come from the same source, and here I think it’s important to recognise the significance of Nephi using his visions alongside wider scripture to interpret. Because academia likes big words I referred to that as a Hermeneutic of Revelation. The principal however is quite simple: understanding revelation requires revelation. The implication is that we too likewise need to be able to access the same resource when we study scripture, to gain understanding through the Spirit.
Nephi of course addresses the big topic of the past several chapters, namely the redemption and gathering of Israel, and conversely the judgment and destruction that come upon those that have oppressed them. It’s worth noting here that the designation “a mighty nation among the Gentiles” (v. 8), which seems a clear reference to the United States (and about which I’ve seen some more patriotic readers wave metaphorical flags) is not a compliment. It is the designation used when it talks about the scattering of the descendants of Book of Mormon peoples: “and by them shall our seed be scattered”. This is after quoting Isaiah, speaking of how Israel will be redeemed, and that “the prey be taken from the mighty” and “the captives of the mighty shall be taken away” (1 Nephi 21:24-25//Isaiah 49:24-25, my emphasis). Unlike many 19th century American perspectives (which saw the colonists and the US as the new Israel), this passage paints them instead in the role of the new Assyrians and Babylonians, historic oppressors and scatterers of Israel. Hope for the Gentiles rests in the same place as it does for Israel, in the “marvelous work” that God will begin amongst the Gentiles, which will be of “worth” to them, providing they repent (vv. 8-9; Jesus speaks even more explicitly about this subject, including some pretty dire things for the Gentile nations, in 3 Nephi 16, 20-21).
Tying up with what I wrote in the original post, my eye was caught once more on verse 16:
For the time soon cometh that the fulness of the of God shall be poured out upon all the children of men; for he will not suffer that the wicked shall destroy the righteous.
This is a very… blunt verse. It perhaps caught my attention because of several recent conversations I’ve been part of, in which people expressed the opinion (and believing said opinions were substantiated by several currently popular LDS academics), that the idea of God’s wrath was some sort of mistaken idea we’ve inherited from Protestantism, that God doesn’t have wrath or anger, but solely expresses an accepting love. In short, sentiments I’ve already taken some issue with here, here and here. In short, I believe the essence of the problem is one of over-correction (a frequent problem for us mortals): some depictions of deity have indeed focused overmuch on God’s wrath and justice and hatred of sin, and not enough on his love and mercy and forgiveness. Such depictions were very influential (especially around the 17th century). But in many cases we’ve moved to the opposite extreme, to denying the existence of God’s wrath.
This verse addresses that twofold. On one hand it is one (though one of many) verses that speak of the topic in Restoration scripture, for those inclined to (unjustly) view the Bible with suspicion in this regard. But also it gets to one of the core parts of the issue: God will express his wrath “for he will not suffer that the wicked shall destroy the righteous“. A God without wrath is one that would accept the righteous being destroyed at the hands of the wicked, indeed in some conceptions not even expressing disapproval for doing so. A God who cares is a God who grieves, a God who demands better of us, and a God that is angry at atrocity. A God without wrath is a God without love, for those who need deliverance from oppression.