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God in 1 Nephi 20 - continued

The astounding conclusion to God’s message from Isaiah 48, which begins with a description and testimony of the Book of Mormon

We now examine the second half of 1 Nephi 20.  Again, we will find that the message is coherent and connected.  We will also find that it follows from and complements the first message, names, the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, and God’s encouragement for all of us to testify of the Book of Mormon.

1 Nephi 20:13

Mine hand hath also laid the foundation of the earth,

and my right hand hath spanned the heavens.  

I call unto them and they stand up together.

This verse uses creation imagery.  As indicated in Doctrine & Covenants 88:6-61, “earth” in the scriptures often refers to the kingdom of God on earth (as opposed to “world”), The heavens often refer to the three kingdoms of glory or kingdoms of heaven, where people are assigned according to the laws they are willing to obey, and who they choose to love (only themselves, themselves and others, or God first and others and themselves).

Looked at purely from a literalist standpoint, this verse is an aside, reminding the reader that God created everything, whether it’s the 2000-star heavens that Isaiah saw, or the many orders of magnitude more galaxies that we currently see with powerful telescopes.  The reason that Israel should harken to God is because He is powerful, and has been from the beginning.

Recognizing the figurative meanings of these images gives a more continuous, less choppy reading.  In the first half of this chapter, God has been speaking to a particular, described group of His children, namely, the self-professed Christians.  Now He broadens our view to include everyone on the planet.  God is here saying that this old-new thing He is revealing (the Book of Mormon) will lay the foundation of His kingdom on earth.  He says that He oversees all the peoples of the world, and understands them in their various levels of spirituality.  He even speaks to them and they respond, according to their various capacities.  This new revelation will help all the world, whether they are primitive, Telestial Kingdom types, or helpful, Terrestrial Kingdom dwellers, or dedicated Celestial Kingdom workers.

1 Nephi 20:14

All ye, assemble yourselves, and hear;

who among them hath declared these things unto them?  

The Lord hath loved him;

yea, and he will fulfill his word which he hath declared by them;

And he will do his pleasure on Babylon,

and his arm shall come upon the Chaldeans.

Now, in addition to the first group which was called to hearken, God calls to “all ye,” all His children throughout the world.  He calls to His children in all the kingdoms that He has helped establish according to their levels, the Muslims, the Jews, the Hindus, the followers of Confucius, of Zoroaster, of Buddha.  They, too, are called to hear this old-new message.  

He asks who among all these kingdoms has declared this message to them.  This reminds us that the revelation of the Book of Mormon did not come from the Christian seminaries or from archaeology, as pointed out in verse 5.  Nor did it come from any of the other great world religions.  It truly was new.  

For the first time God mentions an individual who has declared these things.  He says that He loves him, and also reassures that whatever is said in this message will be fulfilled.  We know that the individual who first declared these things was Joseph Smith, the translator of the gold plates.  God loves him and upholds his work.  Joseph Smith’s work was the whole of the Restoration of the fulness of the gospel in the latter days, the establishment of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

God moves again to large people groups, prophesying something upon Babylon and the Chaldeans.    Babylon is a symbol of worldliness and wealth, and the Chaldeans represent man’s wisdom and learning.   How will God’s pleasure come upon the riches and popularity of the world, and how will His arm come upon the philosophies and false ideas of our culture?  In particular, of course, how will these kingdoms be affected in relation to this old-new thing that He is presenting?  How will they be impacted by the Book of Mormon and the Restoration?  Is this a prophecy of destruction, as so many Old Testament prophecies seem to be?  Will the riches and wisdom of the world contribute to God’s work, though obviously they’d rather not?

1 Nephi 20:15

Also, saith the Lord; I the Lord, yea, I have spoken;

yea, I have called him to declare,

I have brought him, and he shall make his way prosperous.

The Lord continues to speak of Joseph Smith, saying that He Himself will speak to him.  God called him to declare these things.  

God says He called him and brought him, and then the man, by his own choices, prospered. God takes credit for loving and speaking to and bringing this person, and giving him the message to declare, but as far as the rest of it, the man goes on his mortal way just as other men do.  

“Prosperous” can have such a wide range of meaning in the scriptures.  To our Babylonian minds it means having financial abundance.  Joseph Smith was not successful financially, as prophesied in the Doctrine & Covenants, just after the organization of the church: “And in temporal labors thou shalt not have strength, for this is not thy calling” (Doctrine & Covenants 24:9).

More broadly, to prosper means to improve in one’s situation, to have successful enterprises, to have a growing family and/or sphere of influence.  It is a positive word; the Lord is indicating that He approves of Joseph Smith’s individual endeavors.

1 Nephi 20:16

Come ye near unto me; I have not spoken in secret;

from the beginning, from the time that it was declared have I spoken;

and the Lord God, and his Spirit, hath sent me.

Unlike the previous verses of this chapter, which are the words of God speaking, this verse seems to be the words of that man whom the Lord chose to declare the old-new things, Joseph Smith.  He invites everyone to hear the message that he is transmitting from God.  He does not speak in secret, meaning he does not exclude any from listening to this message.  He has been faithful since he first heard the message, in declaring it, regardless of the consequences.  He testifies, as God did in the previous verse, that he has been called and sent by God, and that he acts under the direction of the Holy Spirit.  

God said He “brought” the man.  The man says God “sent” him.  The literal meaning of the word “apostle” is “one sent forth.”

1 Nephi 20:17

And thus saith the Lord, thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel;

I have sent him, the Lord thy God who teacheth thee to profit,

who leadeth thee by the way thou shouldst go, hath done it.

Once again God is speaking.  He is repeating the message He gave in verse 15, but more emphatically and eloquently.  This, coupled with the intervening very differently-voiced verse, causes one to suspect that this is a chiasm.  We will proceed on that premise.   Click here to see the structure of the chiasm.

In verse 15 God stated His identity as “the Lord.”  In verse 17 He expands that with several names – the Lord, the Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, and the Lord thy God.

In verse 15 God declares that He has spoken.  In verse 17 He says that He has done it.

In verse 15 God said of the man that He has called him and brought him, and in verse 16 the man said that God sent him.  In verse 17 God concurs that He sent him; the man truly is an apostle, one sent by God.

In verse 15 God says that the man will make his way prosperous.  In verse 17 He reminds his hearers that He is the One who teaches them (and the man) to profit.

God reminds His hearers of His various names, denoting aspects of His character that bless them.  He asserts that He teaches them profitable, helpful things for their lives, He leads them in correct paths of happiness.  Now He has sent someone with a message from Him.  Can He state any more strongly that they should listen and heed Joseph Smith, this messenger with old-new information?

1 Nephi 20:18

O that thou hadst hearkened to my commandments--

then had thy peace been as a river, and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea.

This is one of those great quote verses in Isaiah that people love to lift out and enjoy in isolation.  We all love the description of peace like a river, though the righteousness part often takes second place or is forgotten.  A popular Christian song celebrates “I’ve got peace like a river, . . . joy like a fountain, . . . love like an ocean” without bothering with righteousness.  

Likening scriptures unto ourselves is good, and we can enjoy the superficial sentiments of the song.  But this verse, as the others, is carefully placed here in a specific context – that of God’s testimony that Joseph Smith acted as His servant in the translation of the Book of Mormon and the other work of the restoration of the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

This verse continues to balance with verse 15.  Here the Lord eloquently expands on the idea of a “prosperous way.”  The chosen and faithful man’s way – what Joseph Smith taught in the Restoration -  is prosperous.  If they had followed God’s commandments as declared by this servant, the people to whom God is speaking – everyone at this point – would have enjoyed such beautiful peace and righteousness, the best and most desirable kind of prosperity.  These tremendous blessings were offered to everyone, but regrettably they refused them.  

1 Nephi 20:19

Thy seed also had been as the sand;

the offspring of thy bowels like the gravel thereof;

his name should not have been cut off nor destroyed from before me.

In this verse the Lord continues to describe the prosperity which the people of earth would have received, had they hearkened.  These blessings are family blessings – big family blessings.  

Rebeckah’s family blessed her, “Be thou the mother of thousands of millions.”  Psalms 127:5 says, “Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord, and the fruit of the womb is his reward.  As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man, so are children of the youth.  Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them.”  

Our society today, believing a paradigm of scarcity, no longer values or even respects large families.  Ironically, while many individuals choose childlessness in order to maintain their independent lifestyle, and not be tied down with the care and responsibility of a child or children, at the same time our culture criticizes those who do bear more than their allotted 2.1 children on the basis of selfishness.

The Lord abruptly switches from blessings lost to the destruction that happened instead.  Yet the destruction mentioned is not of the people, “thee,” but of “him,” Joseph Smith, the one who was called and sent, and who declared God’s message.  If they had hearkened, he would not have been cut off and destroyed.  It may be also that “his name” has something to do with his seed and offspring being cut off from before the Lord.

1 Nephi 20:20

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.

Once again there is an abrupt change in the tone of this scripture.  God (or Isaiah) turns from His alternative view of what might have been to giving commands in the face of what is.

In verse 14 the Lord said His pleasure and His arm would come upon the Chaldeans, which I found ambiguous.  The doubt is removed in verse 20, where those who listen to the Lord are told to go forth and flee from these areas or these viewpoints.  But this flight is not in panic; it is with singing and joy.  Babylon and Chaldea have nothing to offer compared to the Lord’s blessings.  Those who listen to His message are again called to sing it, declare it, tell it, utter it.  We can also know that He will love all those true messengers, as He said He loved the original messenger in verse 14.  

The Book of Mormon teaches the redemption of Jacob, which comes through the Messiah, the Christ.  Mormon, the book’s author, wrote in the title page,  “Which is to show unto the remnant of the house of Israel what great things the Lord hath done for their fathers; and that they may know the covenants of the Lord, that they are not cast off forever – And also to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that JESUS is the CHRIST.”  

1 Nephi 20:21

And they thirsted not; he led them through the deserts;

he caused the waters to flow out of the rock for them;

he clave the rock also and the waters gushed out.

This short verse is dense with meaning at different levels, as well as structurally strong and binding.

At the most obvious, surface level it refers to the historical exodus of the children of Israel from Egypt under the leadership of Moses, and the miracles that accompanied that trek.  We can take this reference at face value (and without context) as an assurance that, whatever the obstacles and difficulties, God was able, is able, and will be able to help His people accomplish His objectives, and to save them.

During the Exodus, the Lord directed the prophet Moses twice to bring water from a rock.  The second time he did not follow the instructions precisely, and also took the honor unto himself.  He was subsequently chastised by God, but God nevertheless honored his prophetic position.  It is God’s prerogative to correct His prophets, none of whom is perfect, not the people’s.  The Old Testament details several cases where the people criticized Moses and suffered a consequence for their rash judgement.  Number 12 describes Miriam becoming leprous when she criticized her brother, and Number 16 tells of how the earth opened up and swallowed Korah and his fellows after their rebellion against the prophet.

Because this half of the chapter describes the mission of the prophet Joseph Smith, this message, too, applies to him.  Many people today like to second-guess how Joseph Smith lived his life.  Neither the Lord nor the Church make the assertion that Joseph was perfect, but the Lord does commend him for his faithfulness in his work, and for “making his way prosperous.”  By reminding us of the prophet Moses, even in his weakness, the Lord implies that it may be as spiritually dangerous to deride the prophet Joseph as it was physically disastrous to criticize the prophet Moses.

Structurally, as the conclusion of this chiasm, verse 21 balances with verse 13, the beginning verse.  Verse 13 features symbolic creation language of the heavens and earth, which represent the kingdoms of God.  Verse 21 features symbolic creation language of rocks and water.  Verse 1 also emphasized water, so verse 21 binds the whole of this revelation as one coherent treatise.

Again we can recall that water represents revelation – that which comes from above and nourishes the soul.   Moses gave it, and Joseph gave it, and it flows through the depths of the Book of Mormon.

Verse 21 also presents us with another change of voice.  The Lord is no longer speaking directly, nor is it “he” who first received the old-new message.  It must be Isaiah.  In the verse that reminds us of the great prophet Moses, who received so many revelations to begin the Israelite nation, the verse that teaches that God will give revelation, a prophet himself is speaking.

Furthermore, the verse has reference to the Savior.  He is the Rock, and revelation and healing do flow from Him.  The Latin word for “nail” is “clavus.”  Indeed, the Rock was claven, which was the only means of bringing the Living Waters to mankind.  In conjunction with verse 13, this salvation is offered to everyone.  Every person, living according to whatever measure of light they and their culture have been given, is invited to come unto Christ, to discover Him in the Book of Mormon, to be led by Him, and thirst no more.

To recap the second chiasm:

1:13,21.  God, the Father of lights (James 1:17), has from the beginning intervened in the lives of individual people and cultures, to give them the light and knowledge that they were willing to receive.  Latter-day Saints are called to offer the fullness of the gospel to everyone, “golden” or not.  Each person on earth has the capacity to choose to follow Jesus Christ, to be cleansed and made whole through His atonement.  Each person can find fulfillment and healing in the Living Waters.

II:14,20. The world – the current culture – values money and power, secular knowledge and a spirituality lacking God.  God wants to point everyone towards Joseph Smith and the work that he accomplished.  Rejecting the culture created by unenlightened humanity is not a dismal project – it is a joyful lifestyle, one of love and redemption.


 III:15,17-19.  Testimony.  The world mocks it, and the saints live by it.  Here God testifies of the prophet Joseph Smith, stating as strongly as possible that he was sent and commissioned by God Himself, and He wants everyone to listen to his message of the Book of Mormon and gospel restoration.

Verses 18 and 19 are God’s lament that the world did not accept what He offered them through Joseph Smith’s message and work.  He lists four specific items that would have blessed humanity in this glorious renaissance, this unparalleled golden age.  

1)  There would have been peace.

2)  There would have been righteousness.

3)  There would have been posterity.  The world today condemns population growth, but God planned His earth to accommodate all the children He intends to send here (see Doctrine & Covenants 104:17).  That increased population would have been able to work together to solve all the problems of humanity, based on the principles of living and interacting that Jesus has revealed in the scriptures, and as dimly practiced today in His restored Church.  

4)  Joseph Smith would not have been martyred.  Instead of having his name mostly spoken of for evil, he would have been revered as one of the greatest humans in history.  Joseph the Great would have led the world to peace and prosperity, not conquest and bloodshed.

Imagine the world that God offered us:  peace and prosperity, righteousness and posterity, and history books teaching of people who did great things to help their fellowman, rather than those who instigated strife and contention, wars and bloodshed.  Culture could have been created in the image of the kingdom of God, rather than the degraded, selfish values we find today.

How realistic is this vision?  Without any further explanation, I asked practicing Latter-day Saints to respond to this question:  Name 4 ways in which the world and history would have been different if the world had accepted the message of Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, and the restoration of the fullness of the gospel?

There are an infinite number of answers to such an open-ended question, yet the vast majority of these respondents listed peace and righteousness, and many listed posterity.  These four answers are not the only “right” answers, but they are the Lord’s opinion of what’s important.  

 IV:16.  The climax of the chiasm is Joseph Smith’s own testimony, his defense of his work.  He declares that the Lord called him and sent him, that the message he gave was from God, and he was faithful in what God called him to do.

As the central point of this section of scripture, what is the take-away do-it message for the reader?  It dovetails with the first chiasm, which was to stress our duty to testify of the Book of Mormon to the world.  We are also to testify of the prophet Joseph Smith and all aspects of his mission.  As a human he was no doubt imperfect, and there is no end of people trying to dig out the details of that.  But details aside, God is pleased with his work, and He wants us to testify of Joseph Smith as part of the great work God is doing in the latter days.

These two splendid chiasms stand together in the Bible and the Book of Mormon bearing their silent and compelling witness of the Book of Mormon and the prophet Joseph Smith.  While the witness of those speaking from the dust is of necessity silent, it urges us to open our mouths and testify.  Joseph was faithful; he did not speak in secret.  He testified of God’s great work throughout his life, whatever the cost.  We are called to do the same.

1 Nephi 20:22

And notwithstanding he hath done all this, and greater also, there is no peace, saith the Lord, unto the wicked.

          In spite of the fact that He patiently invites everyone, everywhere to hear His message, even though He knows it will be largely rejected, in spite of the fact that He even has to be patient with His prophets and messengers, God is not a pushover. While He withholds His hand of destruction from the wicked, they nevertheless do not have peace, the ultimate gift (along with eternal life) that He gives.  Wicked people and a wicked civilization may have many positive aspects of their lives going for them. They may appear to be quite happy without the Lord, but peace will elude them.

God in 1 Nephi 20 by the numbers

22 verses

God is mentioned by name: 9 = 41%

God speaks: 16 = 72%

God is mentioned by pronoun:  12 = 54%

Verses about God:  22 = 100%

The First: 1

God of Israel: 2

Holy One of Israel: 1

The Last: 1

Lord: 8

Lord of Hosts: 2

Lord thy God: 1

Redeemer: 1

His Spirit: 1

1 Nephi 20 - beginning 1 Nephi 21