I will approach this chapter differently than I did the last. Isaiah 49 is about
a servant, sometimes called the Davidic servant or the suffering servant. Who is
the servant? He is regarded by Jews to be Isaiah and the Jewish people. He is regarded
by Christians to be Christ, and he is regarded by Latter-day Saints to be both the
Messiah and Joseph Smith. Commentaries on these different viewpoints are readily
available, and there is doubtless truth in each of these claims. Particularly when
looking at individual verses one may find great “fits,” but when looked at as a whole
and cohesive unit, all these applications are lacking.
People may fit various historical and futuristic scenarios into Isaiah 48 (and 1
Nephi 20). But Nephi will interpret these chapters in a whole new light (yes, I looked
ahead!). Based on the fact that none of the people who propound the Isaiah-Jewish
people, Messiah-Joseph Smith scenarios understand the full latter-day exposition
of 1 Nephi 20, I propose to look at 1 Nephi 21 from another angle. I don’t know
how well it fits, or if it is precisely what Isaiah, the Lord, and Nephi were thinking
of when they presented this material, but it is worth examining.
This study will postulate that the servant spoken of in 1 Nephi 21 and Isaiah 49
is the Promised Land.
1 Nephi 21:1
All ye that are broken off and driven out and scattered abroad
The Book of Mormon teaches that God has a plan
for people who have been harmed by wicked pastors
And again: Hearken, O ye house of Israel,
all ye that are broken off and are driven out
because of the wickedness of the pastors of my people;
yea, all ye that are broken off, that are scattered abroad, who are of my people,
O house of Israel.
Listen, O isles, unto me, and hearken ye people from far;
the Lord hath called me from the womb;
from the bowels of my mother hath he made mention of my name.
This more lengthy transitional verse between the previous topic and the new topic
(written not by Nephi but included in the brass plates) implies more of a relationship
between the two chapters than the abrupt Bible Isaiah version gives. The previous
verse ended with a “saith the Lord” verse. This one begins “And again,” indicating
that the Lord continues to speak and expound further on what He was just talking
about. Just as He has told us to “hearken and hear” the Book of Mormon (1 Nephi
20:1), and to “assemble yourselves and hear” Joseph Smith (1 Nephi 20:14), He is
now introducing another servant, and calling on us to hearken to his message.
Those in particular who are called to hear this message are the Lord’s people all
over the world who have been broken off, driven out, and scattered abroad because
of the wickedness of their leaders.
After God’s introduction, the servant begins to speak, right in the middle of the
verse. As did Joseph Smith, this servant testifies that he was called of God. Whatever
he does is not an accident of history, but was part of God’s plan from the very beginning.
Latter-day Saints understand that the Promised Land has experienced major periods
of habitation followed by depopulation. The Promised Land was the first home on
Mother Earth of humankind. The first people, the family of Adam, dwelt in the Promised
Land until the flood event, after which it was unpopulated perhaps until the arrival
of the Jaredites.
Since God fore-knows everything, any of the interpretations will fit with the idea
that God called the servant from the womb. But since the people the servant is addressing
are cast-offs, people who are not accepted in their own lands and therefore need
a new home, the Promised Land interpretation makes more sense.
1 Nephi 21:2
In his quiver hath he hid me
The Book of Mormon teaches that God hid a servant who will do a great work
And he hath made my mouth like a sharp sword;
in the shadow of his hand hath he hid me, and made me a polished shaft;
in his quiver hath he hid me;
Twice the Promised Land is likened unto a weapon, and twice it is noted that the
Lord hid the land. He hid it in order to reveal it as a weapon.
It is historically obvious that the Lord hid the Promised Land from the rest of the
world. Although there is evidence of various people groups visiting America through
the centuries before Columbus, the eastern civilizations did not know about this
vast double continent.
A strictly military interpretation would be flawed. (“There is nothing on this Green
Earth stronger than the United States Army.”)
The weapon is to be used against the forces mentioned in the previous verse who have
disrupted the Lord’s people because of wickedness. It is a defensive weapon, used
to protect these people as they make new settlements far from effective interference.
It is a versatile weapon: like a sword, it combats proximate enemies, and like
a shaft, or arrow from a quiver, it can be sent against more distant enemies.
The power of this weapon, a mouth like a sword, is in words, and words express ideas.
The idea of individual liberty and government by the governed bursting forth from
the Promised Land shocked and flooded the world. Countries near and far were affected
by this idea, which, to one degree or another over time, has turned all governments
on their heads.
Great and powerful words have also come from Israel (Old Testament), Isaiah, Jesus,
and Joseph Smith. However, they weren’t really “hid” any more than any other individuals
on this planet.
1 Nephi 21:3
Thou art my servant in whom I will be glorified
The Book of Mormon teaches that God is glorified in His servants
And said unto me: Thou art my servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified.
This verse is the primary justification for believing the servant to be the nation
of Israel: it says so in black and white. However, recognizing God’s and the prophets’
penchant for parables and allegory, this blunt statement should not be the end of
the road, but only a pause.
The Book of Mormon records the 1000-year history of a people who, throughout that
time period, identified themselves as children of Abraham, God’s covenant people,
Israel. Certainly during that time and in the place where they lived, the Promised
Land was Israel.
America’s first European settlers, those whose descendants eventually led in creating
the United States of America, the land of the free, were the Puritans, who called
themselves Pilgrims. Hugh Fogelman has written a fascinating essay, “Puritans Were
More Jewish Than Protestants.” Here are a few excerpts:
“The Puritans . . . came to identify their political struggle against England with
that of the ancient Hebrews against Pharaoh or the King of Babylon. . . . No Christian
community in history identified more with the Israelites of the Bible than did the
first generations of settlers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, who believed their
own lives to be a literal reenactment of the biblical drama of the chosen people―they
were the children of Israel and the ordinances of God’s Holy covenant by which they
lived were His divine law. Since they viewed themselves as the persecuted victims
of the sinful Christian establishment of the Old World (England), the Puritans also
had a natural sympathy for the Jews of their own time. . . .
“The Puritans wholeheartedly believed that it was their special mission to establish
in America a society precisely modeled on the precepts of Sacred Jewish Scriptures.
The Massachusetts Bay Colony was at the very least a state inspired by and thoroughly
devoted to the Jewish Bible. "If we keep this covenant," Governor John Winthrop assured
his people, "we shall find that the God of Israel is among us, but if we deal falsely
with our God... we be consumed out of the good land whither we are going." The Jewish
covenant concept was thus the bedrock of all Puritan religious communities. . . .
”In this respect they differed sharply from the majority of traditional Christian
theologies. To the Puritans the primary lesson of the Old Testament was that a nation
as well as an individual could enter into a covenant with God. . . .
”The Puritans' incorporated the Mosaic code and injunctions from the Old Testament
into their own legal framework. It is worthy of note that fully half of the statutes
in the Code of 1655 for the New Haven colony contained references to or citations
from the Old Testament, while onlythree percent referred to the New Testament.
“Accordingly, the first settlers in New England called themselves "Christian Israel."
Comparison of the Puritan leaders with the great leaders of ancient Israel—especially
Moses and Joshua—were common. So the names of Daniel, Jonathan, Esther, Enoch, Ezra,
Rachel and a host of others were in constant use among the Puritans. Interestingly
enough, there was a conspicuous absence of the names of Christian saints. Names
of cities, towns and settlements likewise derived from Hebraic sources. This widespread
use of biblical names, however, was not confined to the naming of offspring, cities
and towns - names of many biblical heights were eventually bestowed upon the great
mountains of America. Mount Carmel and Mount Horeb, home of the Prophets, were popular
names, as was Mount Nebo, the final resting place of Moses. Names like Mount Ephraim,
Mount Gilead, Mount Hermon, Mount Moriah, Mount Pisgah, were all popular as well.
Some mountains in the New World were even called Mt. Sinai, Mount Zion and Mount
These early Americans were scattered Israel, driven out by the wickedness of their
pastors, as described in verse 1. Whether God initiated this idea or whether He
just accepted it, they lived what was recorded by Isaiah.
Certainly residents of the Promised Land do not all nor always identify themselves
as Israel. But this verse says that when they do, God is glorified.
1 Nephi 21:4
My work is with my God
The Book of Mormon teaches that when our life endeavors fail to produce,
we are comforted when we offer our work to God
Then I said, I have labored in vain,
I have spent my strength for naught and in vain;
surely my judgment is with the Lord, and my work with my God.
The Land mourns because all its treasures have been used without result, without
finally blessing the civilizations who possessed the Land. The first race of Adam
defiled themselves on the Land, and the Land was finally left desolate after the
Flood. The people of the Jaredites were great miners; the land spent its mineral
wealth – part of its strength - on them and on the Nephites who followed, but both
civilizations did not appreciate their blessings and rejected God. Now we have the
The Land itself was faithful, even if those on it were not. People are blessed when
they fulfill God’s commands, even if those they reach out to reject the message.
As Paul put it, “And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto
men” (Colossians 3:23) or “With good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not
to men” (Ephesians 6:7). Thus is our judgment with the Lord, and our work with our
1 Nephi 21:5
My God shall be my strength
The Book of Mormon teaches
that God’s servants work to bring Jacob back to Him
And now, saith the Lord--
that formed me from the womb that I should be his servant,
to bring Jacob again to him--
though Israel be not gathered, yet shall I be glorious in the eyes of the Lord,
and my Godshall be my strength.
Although this verse says “saith the Lord,” it is not a direct quote, as evidenced
by the continued use of pronouns indicating that the Promised Land is still speaking,
and it refers to God. This verse might be introduced by “the Lord told me,” because
it is an indirect quote.
We are reminded that the Promised Land was chosen in the beginning to be of service
to God, and that it would be a Promised Land for the gathering of the chosen people
of God, of Jacob or Israel.
“Gathering” means more than simply living in the same land. It means being brought
to the Lord, and experiencing the unity of His knowledge and love. A goal of Latter-day
Saint missionaries is to baptize people into the Church, and they speak of themselves
as missionaries of the Church. But their real goal, more difficult to measure by
the numbers, is to bring people unto Christ.
This verse would fit in at the end of the Nephite civilization. The Land is full
of Lehi’s descendants (and others, no doubt), but they have all rejected the Lord,
and are therefore not gathered. They are scattered.
The Lord assures the Land that although its assignment of gathering Israel has not
been completely fulfilled, the Land itself is still glorious in God’s eyes. In fact,
this was the hope the Land expressed in the previous verse – that its labor and strength
were acceptable to the Lord, even though it appeared the objective had not been reached,
and the labor and strength had been in vain. The Lord confirms this longing.
This is a message for each of us. God has put us on earth to fulfill certain assignments.
If we use our labor and strength, our heart and mind to try to accomplish these
things, we will be glorious in the eyes of God, and He will be our strength. He
judges the nations and He knows each individual. He knows the complex inter-relationships
of His children, for our assignments, to be consistent with His work and glory, must
of necessity involve serving and ministering to other people, and these other people
have their agency. There are always two sides, and each side acts independently.
We must not slacken our efforts because others are limp.
1 Nephi 21:6
A light to the Gentiles
The Book of Mormon teaches that God offers blessings
to both the house of Israel and the Gentiles
And he said:
It is a light thing that thou shouldst be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob,
and to restore the preserved of Israel.
I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles,
that thou mayest be my salvation unto the ends of the earth.
Because Jesus is the Light of the world and the only way to salvation, this verse
is a strong indicator that the servant is Christ himself. However, he has requested
his servants to emulate his qualities, so, as he has delegated responsibilities to
his followers, there is no contradiction in crediting this verse to another entity.
For the Land, listening to this communication from the Lord, this is a surprising
development. It’s first assignment ended in the desolation of the Flood. The second
assignment, the Jaredite people, killed themselves off in their wickedness. The
children of Lehi remain on the Land, but in a scattered and unfaithful condition.
Three strikes you’re out!
No, not with the Lord. He tells the Land that the previous assignment still remains
– to gather Israel – and in addition He’s going to include the Gentiles in His work
of salvation, and in the work of the Land.
The Land will be a light, or an example, to the rest of the world. With hindsight,
we know that the Constitution of the United States of America has been a light to
the world. In fact, every nation on earth has officially changed their form of government
since that document became the light for the American nation. None of their changes
were as permanently liberating to the people as the American system of limited government,
but they all took steps in the right direction. No matter how poorly it is implemented
(even in our own country), most people groups recognize that rule by the people is
preferable to rule by dictators. The Constitution’s “We The People” has reverberated
to the ends of the earth.