Link: “On Doubting Nephi’s Break Between 1 and 2 Nephi”

One significant thing I cover in my thesis (now submitted, and hopefully en route to my viva) is that quite a few scholars get the tone of the Book of Mormon work: there’s a tendency in some quarters to treat it as if it is engaging in some gentle academic discussion, which understates the ultimate authority it claims and the forcefulness with which it states its demands for its readers to change their lives and repent.

One facet of this is touched upon by this interesting article by Noel B. Reynolds, which has just been posted on The Interpreter. Reynolds is responding, amongst other things, to certain claims made by Joseph Spencer in his An Other Testament: On typology (a work, I confess, I’m not a fan of), particularly the division Spencer suggests in Nephi’s writings. One compelling point Reynolds raises in his article is proposed claims result in the characterisation of Nephi as an esoteric writer, something which fits uneasily with Nephi’s own explicit enthusiasm for ‘plainness’.

The article is available via On Doubting Nephi’s Break Between 1 and 2 Nephi: A Critique of Joseph Spencer’s An Other Testament: On typology | The Interpreter Foundation

2 Nephi 33

And now, my beloved brethren, and also Jew, and all ye ends of the earth, hearken unto these words and believe in Christ; and if ye believe not in these words believe in Christ. And if ye shall believe in Christ ye will believe in these words, for they are the words of Christ, and he hath given them unto me; and they teach all men that they should do good.

(2 Nephi 33:10)

This verse always sticks out to me as I consider myself a recipient of this promise. There was a time in my life when, though I knew God existed, I became confused about everything else, and really felt I didn’t know which way was up or which way was down. I continued to read the scriptures, particularly the Book of Mormon, but I did not know they were true. Yet I continued to read them, and many other things, as I really wanted to know one way or the other (after all, I felt my soul was at stake), and if you want to find something out you have to put some effort and research into it. You can’t expect ultimate answers if you can’t be bothered to do more than cursory reading.

In any case the concept of prophets made sense to me; it made sense that if God expected us to do his will, he had to communicate it somehow. Of course, then there’s the question of which prophets. And I remember one night contemplating “well, Islam has Muhammad – maybe Islam has it right”.

It was at that very moment – and I do not know whether I somehow had already known it, but didn’t know I knew it, or if I was taught it in that very moment – that I realised we needed a Messiah to reconcile justice and mercy, and that that Messiah was Jesus Christ. Which narrowed down my options a bit.

What struck me, in years to come and reflecting upon that experience, was that the very terminology in which this insight struck me comes from the Book of Mormon (Alma 42 is a good example). While I did not yet know whether to believe the Book of Mormon, reading it brought me to Christ. And in time – now that I knew Jesus was the Christ – I came to believe and gain a witness of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. Though I did not believe “in these words”, I read them and they taught me of Christ, and then “believ[ing] in Christ [I did] believe in these words”.

2 Nephi 32

So my reading of the Book of Mormon has slowed down since I started reading it in the Deseret Alphabet, but I hadn’t realised how much further back these posts had gotten from from my personal reading, so there’s plenty of backlog.

When reading this chapter personally, I guess was in part struck by the “why do ye ponder these things in your hearts?” (v.1). There’s a lot I’ve been wondering about personally; is this “because ye ask not, neither do ye knock” (v.4)? To what extent do the words “for they will not search knowledge, nor understand great knowledge, when it is given unto them in plainness, even as plain as word can be” (v.7) apply to me?

There is one verse that always sticks out when I read this chapter:

And now, my beloved brethren, I perceive that ye ponder still in your hearts; and it grieveth me that I must speak concerning this thing. For if ye would hearken unto the Spirit which teacheth a man to pray, ye would know that ye must pray; for the evil spirit teacheth not a man to pray, but teacheth him that he must not pray.

(2 Nephi 32:8)

I remember a conversation I had with a friend who I cared about very much, who had stopped praying because they felt that God didn’t want to hear from them, that they were unworthy of God’s attention, that they didn’t want to waste God’s time, and that if the devil was working upon them than he wouldn’t be working on someone else. I could understand (perhaps better than they realised) some of the emotions that might lie behind such feelings, but on the other hand that sentiment seemed to underestimate both God’s and the devil’s resources. And they did know better than that, something I tried (and believe I succeeded) to remind them of. I know those sorts of feelings hang around, and the devil lies to prey upon such feelings, but I hope they are still praying and rejecting such lies that teach them not to pray.

But I have often wondered how this verse applies to me. I have never quite felt as my friend did, since – while I have often felt unworthy before God – I’ve never really felt I can escape him, nor really felt that I am occupying too much time of an infinite and eternal being who isn’t bound by mortal time scales. But there have been times in my life when prayer became more perfunctory and less efficacious; when it became more of a habit and less me actually trying to speak to my God.

And I think this may be covered by this verse too. If the adversary can’t actually stop us praying, I’m sure he’ll do all he can to make our prayers less effective and real. In my experience so many things can happen to do that: putting prayer off to the last minute, not making the space (mentally, spiritually or physically) to pray, treating prayer as a repetitive shopping list (we’re commanded to pray for things we need, but that’s not all prayer should be), probably a whole bunch of small things I barely notice.

I guess the good thing is that in my experience many of these things are easy to fix too. Just like – for all the emotional turmoil they were suffering – all my friend needed to do about prayer was to actually pray, I’ve found that small things can help rectify it: making time to pray, being open and honest about my feelings in my prayers, sometimes simply seeking an appropriate physical space to pray (Joseph needed the sacred grove, after all). Sometimes it can simply be following that impulse to get on my knees right now, rather than listen to the little voice saying it can wait a few minutes. With at least one message at general conference being about the importance of “worshipful prayer”, I guess the importance of this verse – and which voice we choose to listen to – remains as important today as it did thousands of years ago.

2 Nephi 31

Know ye not that he was holy? But notwithstanding he being holy, he showeth unto the children of men that, according to the flesh he humbleth himself before the Father, and witnesseth unto the Father that he would be obedient unto him in keeping his commandments.

(2 Nephi 31:7)

I was just reading this verse today when it caused me to reflect. Nephi is speaking of Christ’s baptism, and how despite being holy and needing no remission of sins, he got baptised as a gesture of humility and as a witness that he would keep the Father’s commandments. And of course what Christ did is an example to us too, for he “showeth unto the children of men the straitness of the path, and the narrowness of the gate, by which they should enter, he having set the example before them” (2 Nephi 31:9). I think this is not just talking about the gate of baptism, or just the immersion as it were, but the humility and witness of obedience tied in that act.

And of course, it’s tied in other acts too – the sacrament is likewise a witness that we are willing to keep the commandments and willing to take upon ourselves the name of Christ (see v.13; much of what is said about baptism in this chapter is replicated in the sacrament prayers). I guess I’d never really thought of the sacrament, properly partaken (“acting no hypocrisy and deception before God” as it were, v.13 again), as a act of humility. But it really is, I guess, if properly understood: we are showing that we desire to repent of all our sins, and keep God’s commandments (including participating in the sacrament), and eat and drink in remembrance of the body and blood of Christ who did for us what we can never do for ourselves.

2 Nephi 30

And now behold, my beloved brethren, I would speak unto you; for I, Nephi, would not suffer that ye should suppose that ye are more righteous than the Gentiles shall be. For behold, except ye shall keep the commandments of God ye shall all likewise perish; and because of the words which have been spoken ye need not suppose that the Gentiles are utterly destroyed.

For behold, I say unto you that as many of the Gentiles as will repent are the covenant people of the Lord; and as many of the Jews as will not repent shall be cast off; for the Lord covenanteth with none save it be with them that repent and believe in his Son, who is the Holy One of Israel.

(2 Nephi 30:1-2)

I’ve mentioned before that a key theme of the Book of Mormon – including 2 Nephi 25-30 – is the restoration of Israel and conversely judgment upon the Gentiles who have oppressed them. Yet these verses help correct any misapprehension we may have of that: Israel will be restored, collectively. On an individual scale, however, it is personal repentance and faith that make the difference. We will not be saved based on who our ancestors were, nor on what our nationality is, nor on nominal membership of the Church; we cannot be complacent and think everything is okay because we belong to the “right” group. We are all going to be held accountable, for God is just. Likewise He mercifully extends his salvation to all, on the same conditions.

2 Nephi 29

Again, there’s so much that could be looked at in this chapter: the Lord’s condemnation of the Gentiles for forgetting the Jewish roots of the Bible; the universal scope and eternal nature of revelation; being judged by scripture (again); and the literary gathering of Israel’s scripture that is to accompany Israel’s literal gathering.

It’s the last verse that stuck out this time though:

And it shall come to pass that my people, which are of the house of Israel, shall be gathered home unto the lands of their possessions; and my word also shall be gathered in one. And I will show unto them that fight against my word and against my people, who are of the house of Israel, that I am God, and that I covenanted with Abraham that I would remember his seed forever.

(2 Nephi 29:14)

There’s lots of times in the Book of Mormon where fighting against Zion or against the house of Israel is predicted to lead to a comeuppance. What caught my eye was this concept of “fight[ing] against my word”. We cannot literally fight against the word of God, so reading it this time caused me to reflect on what forms that fighting might take. Outright opposition to the Gospel is an obvious one, but I wonder if this includes other, perhaps less obviously hostile reactions we might have. Perhaps it includes disbelief, and perhaps it includes disregard, when we know it may tell us something we won’t like to hear. Perhaps it even includes simple ignorance, where that ignorance is the result of complacency and a lack of exertion to study God’s word. I think there may be a variety of reactions that constitute inwardly fighting against believing or obeying or even reading God’s word. But as this chapter emphasises, any of that is not going to do us any good. God will vindicate his words, and we will be judged by our willingness to adhere to them.

 

2 Nephi 27-28

There’s so much in here, but I have time to pick out only a couple of verses:

Wherefore, when thou hast read the words which I have commanded thee, and obtained the witnesses which I have promised unto thee, then shalt thou seal up the book again, and hide it up unto me, that I may preserve the words which thou hast not read, until I shall see fit in mine own wisdom to reveal all things unto the children of men.

(2 Nephi 27:22)

This one’s interesting because I suddenly realised it addresses a question I hadn’t thought about all that much (one of those “was this always in there?” moments). The question being why Joseph Smith had to give the plate back. The reason is given here :”that I may preserve the words which thou hast not read” (my emphasis). Never mind people attempting to retranslate the Book of Mormon itself: the concern given here is over the sealed portion, which the Lord has kept back at this time.

And they shall contend one with another; and their priests shall contend one with another, and they shall teach with their learning, and deny the Holy Ghost, which giveth utterance.

(2 Nephi 28:4)

As I’ve mentioned before, one of the themes of 2 Nephi 25-30 is the way a contrast is built up between human learning and the knowledge from God, and this is an example, where contending priests are condemned for teaching by their learning while denying the Holy Ghost and true inspiration. I find it cautionary: in my approach to the scriptures, and when I discuss them with other people, how often do I rely on what I think I know rather than being open to the spirit to teach me things I don’t?

For behold, at that day shall he rage in the hearts of the children of men, and stir them up to anger against that which is good.

(2 Nephi 28:20)

2 Nephi 28 also spends quite a bit of time talking about the different tactics of the devil, including flattery, complacency and in this case rage. A lot of present political developments are currently predicated on rage, of course, with people being “angry” and demanding that their anger be validated. And I’ve found in turn that there’s a strong temptation to be angry in turn with certain movements. Such unbridled anger, however, is a tool of the devil, and we/I have to be careful not to let him use such tools against us.

2 Nephi 25-26

There’s so much in these chapters and the next few, sadly too much to really fit into my thesis, so a case study around 2 Nephi 25-30 had to get chopped out (though some of my thoughts on this section can be found here).

A few verses that stuck out this time though:

And as one generation hath been destroyed among the Jews because of iniquity, even so have they been destroyed from generation to generation according to their iniquities; and never hath any of them been destroyed save it were foretold them by the prophets of the Lord.

(2 Nephi 25:9)

A general pattern is being described here: ancient Israel was punished many times for their iniquities, but they were always warned first. On one hand this can be quite reassuring, especially on an individual scale (it reminds me of Elder Packer’s comment that the Lord will always warn us if we’re about to make a major mistake). On a bigger scale, it’s perhaps less reassuring, because the nations of our time have been warned: the Book of Mormon is all about the destruction of whole civilisations.

Wherefore, these things shall go from generation to generation as long as the earth shall stand; and they shall go according to the will and pleasure of God; and the nations who shall possess them shall be judged of them according to the words which are written.

(2 Nephi 25:22)

The next couple of verses tend to get a lot of attention, but there’s a lot here too. I keep coming back to this this notion of us being judged by the scriptures. When we first come into contact with them (especially the Book of Mormon), it is we who are in the position of judge, trying to determine if they are true. When we gain a spiritual witness that they are, however, that relationship changes: now we are accountable for how we measure up to them.

I find myself wanting, on many things.

And after Christ shall have risen from the dead he shall show himself unto you, my children, and my beloved brethren; and the words which he shall speak unto you shall be the law which ye shall do.

(2 Nephi 26:1)

Nephi’s particularly talking of Christ’s post-resurrection appearance to the Nephites here, but it applies to us too. I find myself thinking that – though I believe in Christ and try to follow him – how often do I actually treat and think of his words as law?

And as I spake concerning the convincing of the Jews, that Jesus is the very Christ, it must needs be that the Gentiles be convinced also that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God;

(2 Nephi 26:12)

Part of this section addresses the fact that both Jew and Gentile have gotten Christ wrong in some regards. At a time when people increasingly do not believe in the divinity of Christ, I think this verse – and the accompanying message – apply more than ever. It also surprises me when I have met young members of the Church who, while accepting Christ as their Saviour and talk of their “elder brother”, seem to have difficultly understanding him as their God. But this is one of the key messages of the Book of Mormon, as stated on the title page: “that JESUS is the CHRIST, the ETERNAL GOD”. He is not just a great teacher, or a perfect man, or the Messiah, or our Saviour, or an examplar, though he is all of these things. He is also our Lord and our God. And thus, as Nephi says in the preceding chapter:

And now behold, I say unto you that the right way is to believe in Christ, and deny him not; and Christ is the Holy One of Israel; wherefore ye must bow down before him, and worship him with all your might, mind, and strength, and your whole soul; and if ye do this ye shall in nowise be cast out.

(2 Nephi 25:29)

2 Nephi 24

For the Lord will have mercy on Jacob, and will yet choose Israel, and set them in their own land; and the strangers shall be joined with them, and they shall cleave to the house of Jacob.

(2 Nephi 24:1//Isaiah 14:1)

While a quotation from Isaiah (and this verse is quoted word for word, unlike say verse 2), this verse manages to encapsulate one of the major messages of the Book of Mormon. Despite misdeeds, trials and tribulations, God has not forgotten Israel, and will have mercy upon them and keep His covenants with them; meanwhile salvation for the Gentiles required becoming part of the House of Israel. While there were exceptions, this was not a common view at the time of the publication of the Book of Mormon; most of Christianity was supercessionist at least in part, believing that the Gentile Church had replaced or was the true continuation of Israel. The Book of Mormon declares the opposite: Israel has not been forgotten, God is about to fulfil his covenants with them in restoring them spiritually and physically, and that the Gentiles need to repent or face the judgment of God.

God’s long suffering, mercy and faithfulness towards a people to whom he has made promises can of course be reassuring to us on a individual scale. Despite the elapse of hundreds of years, God had not forgotten Israel. Likewise, despite our own personal weakness and wanderings, he will not forget us (Isaiah 49:15-16) and “he is faithful that promised” (Hebrews 10:23).

2 Nephi 23

And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldees’ excellency, shall be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah.

It shall never be inhabited, neither shall it be dwelt in from generation to generation: neither shall the Arabian pitch tent there; neither shall the shepherds make their fold there.

But wild beasts of the desert shall lie there; and their houses shall be full of doleful creatures; and owls shall dwell there, and satyrs shall dance there.

And the wild beasts of the islands shall cry in their desolate houses, and dragons in their pleasant palaces; and her time is near to come, and her day shall not be prolonged. For I will destroy her speedily; yea, for I will be merciful unto my people, but the wicked shall perish.

(2 Nephi 23:19-22//Isaiah 13:19-22)

It’s not been unknown for believers in Western nations to see their nation as inheritors of or as a new Israel. This is perhaps best known in the case of the United States (so much so that commentators have assumed – wrongly – that the Book of Mormon is in the same tradition), but it’s also appeared in different forms in England (such as during the Commonwealth).

Yet I can’t help but feel (and believe the Book of Mormon’s own passages support this) that when the Book of Mormon quotes such passages of Isaiah as above, it is treating Western nations not as the new Israel, but the new Babylon or Assyria. Which cities, after all, are the Babylon or Nineveh of our times? Which cities are “the glory of kingdoms” today?

Such passages should and must be taken as a warning, especially against placing any confidence or finding any security in such current greatness. Nineveh and Babylon were glorious and mighty in their day, but such worldly glory and power were fleeting. It will be fleeting for us, too.