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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.