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God in 1 Nephi 13

GodHoly GhostLamb

Lamb of GodLordLord God

SaviorShepherd • Son of the Eternal Father

Spirit of God • Spirit of the Lord

1 Nephi 13:5

A church which slayeth the saints of God

The Book of Mormon teaches that

an organization would arise which would exercise dominion over the righteous

And the angel said unto me: Behold the formation of a church

which is most abominable above all other churches, which slayeth the saints of God, yea, and tortureth them and bindeth them down,

and yoketh them with a yoke of iron, and bringeth them down into captivity.

Now the angel has shifted the vision across the Atlantic and is showing Nephi a view of the Gentiles.  Nephi may not know why that matters; I would imagine he was shocked and traumatized by seeing the demise of his own people.  But we know why:  Because Nephi is our introduction to the Book of Mormon, and the Book of Mormon was written for our day.

He sees that there are saints of God in the midst of this history.  He no longer speaks of Twelve, for the organization is not there, but there are righteous individuals – people who are made holy by their faith in Christ and His redemption.  And he sees a church – some sort of organization with great power – which exercises all kinds of abuse on these saints:  they kill them, torture them, bring them down into captivity.

1 Nephi 13:9

They destroy the saints of God

The Book of Mormon teaches that the world

will praise the organization which exercises dominion

And also for the praise of the world do they destroy the saints of God,

and bring them down into captivity.

I have found these verses about the Great and Abominable Church problematic.  

On the one hand, I remember hearing a talk in sacrament meeting where the speaker, discussing some current situation, mentioned the Great and Abominable Church in Rome.  I remember it distinctly because that Sunday I had happened to bring a Catholic friend to church with me.  

On the other hand, there are those who spiritualize it away, saying it has nothing to do with a specific church, but is a generalization of organizations which persecute the saints.  

The whole vision is very chronological and literal, except for the Tree of Life portions, which are interpreted by the angel and illustrated by history. The vision is presented in true Nephi-fashion – plain and simple.  It comes some time after the fall of the Nephite nation, and just before the first European voyages to the New World.  Obviously this is a description of the Reformation period.  Vast information is available about this era, written from varying points of view.  This short account is from the Lord’s point of view, who sees into the hearts.  In its simplest form, the forces who kill the saints are reduced to a few base motives:  wealth, social appearance, and sexual license (verses 6-8).  We may find these motives on both sides of the Reformation aisle, as we can find sincere Christians trying to worship God according to their best understanding on both sides.  And, simplifying even further, the angel says that the foundational reason for the persecution and destruction of the saints is for the praise of the world.  Thus the varying viewpoints even today:  Each group continues to emphasize what’s right about their position, and wrong about the others.

Whatever the various levels of reasoning are behind religious persecution, Nephi’s vision also makes it clear that “the devil is the founder of it.”  Joseph Smith, speaking of persecution based on familial tradition, wrote, “It is an iron yoke, it is a strong band, they are the very handcuffs and chains and shackles and fetters of hell” (Doctrine & Covenants 123:8).

The devil is not the founder of the Catholic Church.  Jesus Christ was the founder of His church, and the Catholic Church was descended from that original church, after undergoing modifications in structure, practice, and doctrine.  There is no other point at which the Catholic Church was “founded.”  However, even in the first few hundred years of the Christian church, church power became consolidated in a structure not found in the New Testament, and those in power used military and judicial measures to eliminate Christians who did not believe and practice as they prescribed.  The apex of this persecution was of course during the Reformation.

No Catholic today – member, priest, bishop, cardinal, or pope – is responsible for the brutality of the Inquisition, just as no Latter-day Saint today is responsible for the carnage of the Mountain Meadows Massacre.  The devil can sometimes develop a greater or lesser foothold in organizations founded with the best of intentions.

We understand through the historical context that these “saints of God” did not yet have the fullness of the gospel.  In fact, their sacrifices were part of the great prologue which prepared the world and specifically the United States for religious freedom, so that the fullness of the gospel could be restored there.  Nevertheless they were saints.

Religious persecution happens even today, generally in communist or Islamic countries.  Our Christian brothers and sisters are denied education, denied employment, harassed, beaten, driven from their homes, imprisoned, and killed.  The persecutors – neighbors gathered together as mobs, local police and bureaucrats, armies, governments - may or may not share the same base motives.  They may be seeking the praise of the world as they see it.  We certainly can say that they are guided by the devil.

This is not an indictment of all Muslims, or even all communists.  No doubt there are many sincere followers of these belief systems who are people of good will.  But at this period in history the devil has found them useful in his ongoing persecution of the saints of God.   

Joseph Smith said we should diligently seek out information on persecution and make it public (Doctrine & Covenants 123).  There are organizations which do just that, and also offer other ways to help the persecuted saints throughout the world, including the Voice of the Martyrs.

Paul advised, "Remember them that are in bonds as bound with them, and them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body." (Hebrews 13:3)

1 Nephi 13:11

The wrath of God

The Book of Mormon teaches

that sometimes the wrath of God comes upon a nation

And it came to pass that the angel said unto me:

Behold the wrath of God is upon the seed of thy brethren.

Thus far in the Book of Mormon we have seen the power and glory of God, the deliverance and intercession of God, the commandments of God, and the love of God.  Nephi now presents us with an apparently opposite characteristic of God:  the wrath of God.

In this day of officially-prescribed tolerance no one speaks much of the wrath of God.  It is a point of criticism by non-believers, generally taken uncomfortably by believers.

Some ministers have dared to write about it.  Their ideas are, of course, taken solely from a Biblical perspective.  Here are samplings from the first page of a google web search:

“God is love, and God does all things for his glory (Romans 11:36). He loves his glory above all (and that is a good thing!). Therefore, God rules the world in such a way that brings himself maximum glory. This means that God must act justly and judge sin (i.e. respond with wrath), otherwise God would not be God. God’s love for his glory motivates his wrath against sin.” – Joseph Scheumann.  

“God is holy; he totally and completely distances himself from sin, evil, corruption, and the resultant filth and guilt. He maintains his purity and rejects, fights against, and destroys that which would offend, attack, or undo his holiness and love. Hence, God's anger and wrath must always be seen in relation to his maintaining and defending his attributes of love and holiness, as well as his righteousness and justice. The emotion or passion that moves God to this maintaining and defending is expressed by the terms "displeasure, " "indignation, " "anger, " and "wrath." A consequence of his wrath is vengeance, punishment, and death.” – Gerard Van Groningen.


“The wrath of God is His eternal detestation of all unrighteousness. It is the displeasure and indignation of Divine equity against evil. It is the holiness of God stirred into activity against sin. It is the moving cause of that just sentence which He passes upon evil-doers. God is angry against sin because it is a rebelling against His authority, a wrong done to His inviolable sovereignty. Insurrectionists against God’s government shall be made to know that God is the Lord. They shall be made to feel how great that Majesty is which they despise, and how dreadful is that threatened wrath which they so little regarded.” – Arthur W. Pink.  

The LDS Bible Dictionary has no entry for the wrath of God, which probably means there is no official interpretation or understanding of that phrase and idea.  This verse in 1 Nephi is the first mention of the wrath of God in the Book of Mormon, but we will see it again throughout the book, as well as in the Doctrine and Covenants.

This mention by Nephi presents a hint that there is more to the wrath of God than what we can find in the Bible. The hint is in the timing. A thousand years had passed since the wicked Lamanites had destroyed the wicked Nephites.  There are some histories available of the indigenous people of Mesoamerica during this time, though very little about heartland America.  In either case, is there evidence that their culture worsened in the late 1400’s or 1500’s, justifying that God manifest his wrath against them at that time?

The context of Nephi’s vision narrative reveals that the wrath of God was not so much in consequence of the Lamanites’ current wickedness as it was to further His purposes with the other group of people – the gentiles.  He was preparing a land for them to fulfill His plan which would include the restoration of the fullness of the gospel, which would in turn bless all the earth, including the children of Lehi on the American continent.

A scripture from the Restoration brings unity to the Biblical perspective and the added insight from the Book of Mormon:  “This is my work and my glory, to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”  (Moses 1:39)

His wrath is indeed to uphold His glory, but His glory is our salvation.  The Master Weaver understands and sees the ebb and flow of history and intervenes according to His wisdom to maximize the eternal opportunities of His children.  

This includes unborn children.  An article on explains: “If God is loving, why did He destroy His children by a flood?

“God has a plan for our salvation. He created the earth so we could experience a life where we could prove ourselves to Him and prepare for eternal life. God gave us our agency to learn how to choose between good and evil. Because the people in Noah’s day were doing “only evil continually,” the children had no chance to learn good from evil.  Thus, God’s plan went unfulfilled and He determined to start again.”   

This reminds me of Sam Way, a minister friend who responded to the worshipful Christmas expression “Jesus is the Reason for the Season.”  He explained, “We are the reason for the season!  Jesus came and died to save us, not himself!”

1 Nephi 13:12

The Spirit of the Lord wrought upon the man

The Book of Mormon teaches

that Christopher Columbus was directed by the Holy Ghost to the Promised Land

And I looked and beheld a man among the Gentiles,

who was separated from the seed of my brethren by the many waters;

and I beheld the Spirit of God, that it came down and wrought upon the man;

and he went forth upon the many waters, even unto the seed of my brethren,

who were in the promised land.

Nephi is shown in vision a basic American history event, one that it would be easy to gloss over as common knowledge.  Yet the important, divine connection that is the focus of this verse was not known to historians until recently.

“Everyone” knows that Columbus sailed the ocean blue to find a trade route to the Indies.  It was an economic venture, but the Book of Mormon presents it as a spiritual quest of some sort.

Although difficult to fathom, one of Christopher Columbus’s writing projects was unknown to scholars and the world until the late 1800’s.  In 1877 his Book of Prophecies was published in Spanish, but not until 1991 was it translated and published in English (private English translations were available earlier).

The next year, Kevin A. Miller, editor of Christian History magazine, published an article, “Why Did Columbus Sail?”  He writes,

“There may be many things we don't know about history’s most famous mariner. We don't know exactly what Columbus looked like. We don't know the precise design of his three ships. And most bizarre of all, we don't know—and will probably never know—the spot where he came ashore.

“But we know beyond doubt that Columbus sailed, in part, to fulfill a religious quest. Columbus’s voyages were intense religious missions. He saw them as the fulfillment of a divine plan for his life.”

In Columbus’s own words:  

“Who can doubt that this fire was not merely mine, but also the Holy Spirit who encouraged me with a radiance of marvelous illumination from his sacred Scriptures, . . . urging me to press forward? ”

“With a hand that could be felt, the Lord opened my mind to the fact that it would be possible . . . and he opened my will to desire to accomplish that project. . . . The Lord purposed that there should be something miraculous in this matter of the voyage to the Indies.”

Through the years, Columbus had made a serious study of Isaiah, which led him to his spiritual conclusions.  He also cited John 10:16:  “Other sheep I have, which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice, and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.”

Columbus felt that he was part of that prophecy, as he, “Cristobal,” or “Christ-bearer,” would bring the native peoples unto the Lord.

1 Nephi 13:13

The Spirit of God led others out of captivity across the sea

The Book of Mormon teaches that the Holy Ghost led others to the Promised Land

And it came to pass that I beheld the Spirit of God,

that it wrought upon other Gentiles;

and they went forth out of captivity, upon the many waters.

it is easy to say that the English colonists, particularly the Pilgrims, Puritans, and Quakers would have been led by the Holy Spirit, and were leaving a state of captivity. It is not so easy to claim the same for the Spanish conquistadors or the French fishermen and trappers.

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