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God in 2 Nephi 1

God • He That Is Just • Holy One of Israel

a Just God • Lord • Lord God • Lord Your God

Redeemer • Spirit • Spirit of the Lord • True Messiah

2 Nephi 1:1

What great things has the Lord done!

The Book of Mormon teaches that we should think

of the great things the Lord has done, and not take them for granted

And now it came to pass

that after I, Nephi, had made an end of teaching my brethren,

our father, Lehi, also spake many things unto them,

and rehearsed unto them, how great things the Lord had done for them

in bringing them out of the land of Jerusalem.

If 1 Nephi ends abruptly, 2 Nephi begins strangely.  It continues the same teaching session, perhaps even in the same day as 1 Nephi ended.  This further reinforces the idea that Nephi created his first book as a literary unit, with the theme of “Keep the commandments,” and that the second book will be different.  Of course we won’t expect him to abandon his first theme, but to present it differently, and perhaps not so exclusively.  We expect him to expand on his understanding of the Lord’s ways, as well as, of course, to continue his historical narrative.

Lehi takes up where Nephi ended, in exhorting his sons to righteousness.  He begins by looking back.  His first point is that they ought to remember – remember how the Lord has already blessed them by bringing them out of danger.  This can be allegorical for anyone facing a faith or obedience crisis – everyone has something to remember of how the Lord has saved them in their own lives.  But they must make the effort to remember as well as recognize.  If Laman and Lemuel are still in denial, still saying, “They were righteous people and we know they won’t be destroyed,” even remembering won’t help them until they recognize the danger.  There is never certainly in playing “what if.”  But we need to develop wisdom and discernment and the ability to extrapolate where a lifestyle is ultimately leading.  This should be much easier for us in the latter-days, with so much historical evidence.

2 Nephi 1:2

The mercies of God

The Book of Mormon teaches that God offers mercy to His children

by sparing their lives even when they are rebelling against Him

And he spake unto them concerning their rebellions upon the waters,

and the mercies of God in sparing their lives,

that they were not swallowed up in the sea.

Lehi continues to point his sons back to the past, but now they are to remember their own weakness.  They must develop humility, and recognize the goodness of God in their lives in spite of their own failings.  Yes, they have had failings, but God has forgiven them.  He has not let their weaknesses and failures define them, therefore they ought not be loyal to their weaknesses, but accept God’s view of their potential, based on His intervention for good in their lives.

2 Nephi 1:3

God’s mercy is shown by warnings

The Book of Mormon teaches that in God’s mercy,

He gives warnings and directions to help His children

And he also spake unto them concerning the land of promise,

which they had obtained -- how merciful the Lord had been in warning us

that we should flee out of the land of Jerusalem.

The way Nephi is writing Lehi’s admonitions, it looks very much like one of his theme statements in First Nephi, expressing his intent to show the “tender mercies of the Lord.”  God has been merciful to them in three big ways:  by warning them to flee from Jerusalem, by forgiving their hard hearts and disobedience, and by giving them a Promised Land.

Every person can see those same mercies in their own lives.  Each person can see how God has helped them overcome and escape from an unhealthy situation.  Each person can see how God has forgiven him at times of foolishness.  Each person can see God’s mercy in the hope for the future that he can have, as he continues to keep the commandments of God.

2 Nephi 1:5

A land covenanted by the Lord God

The Book of Mormon teaches that God has covenanted to give the land of America to the peoples of the Book of Mormon, and all others whom He will bring

But, said he, notwithstanding our afflictions, we have obtained a land of promise, a land which is choice above all other lands;

a land which the Lord God hath covenanted with me

should be a land for the inheritance of my seed.

Yea, the Lord hath covenanted this land unto me, and to my children forever,

and also all those who should be led out of other countries by the hand of the Lord.

Lehi has reminded his sons to remember God’s past goodness in their lives, and their own weaknesses, which God has overlooked in forgiving them.  He now turns their attention to the present and the future:  They have obtained the Promised Land, and it will be theirs forever.  Lehi, beginning a new civilization in a new Promised Land, is very much like Abraham, who also received a covenant from the Lord.  Abraham’s Promised Land is small, but the rest of his covenant encompasses all the believers.  Lehi’s land is expansive and choice, and the covenant is that his seed will share it with others whom the Lord calls.

2 Nephi 1:6

Brought by the hand of the Lord

The Book of Mormon teaches that

all those who come to the Promised Land of America are brought by God

Wherefore, I, Lehi,

prophesy according to the workings of the Spirit which is in me,

that there shall none come into this land

save they shall be brought by the hand of the Lord.

This is an astounding assertion.  Of course we recognize that Christopher Columbus was led across the great waters by the Spirit.  We acknowledge that the Mayflower Pilgrims were brought by the hand of the Lord, and so were the Mayflower Strangers.  The Conquistadores, with their lust, enslavement, and Christianity, were brought by the Lord.  The indentured servants, either freely binding themselves in order to later achieve more opportunities, or the convicts and kidnap-victims, were brought by the Lord.  The African slaves were brought by the Lord.  The starving Irish, the hard-working Germans, the gold-rush Chinese were brought by the Lord.  

Does this prophecy have an expiration date?  What about the tsunami of illegal Mexican immigrants into America?  It could probably be argued that the whole continent is included in the Promised Land, therefore this recent immigration phenomenon is not addressed in this particular scripture.  What about the Arab Muslims fleeing violence and war in their own countries, yet possibly bringing with them attitudes and a culture that will continue to foment that very violence here?  This scripture reassures us that we must accept and welcome them with faith in the Lord’s doings.  (This statement applies to the actions of individuals, not to government policies.)

Nothing in this scripture implies that anyone deserves the Promised Land.  It is a gift of God, according to His plan.  He brought Nephi and Jacob on the same boat that He brought Laman and Lemuel.  He offered the gift: they then had choice in how to receive and act upon the gift.

2 Nephi 1:7

This land is consecrated

The Book of Mormon teaches that God expects all those that he brings

to the Promised Land to serve Him and keep His commandments

Wherefore, this land is consecrated unto him whom he shall bring.

And if it so be that they shall serve him

according to the commandments which he hath given,

it shall be a land of liberty unto them;

wherefore, they shall never be brought down into captivity;

if so, it shall be because of iniquity;

for if iniquity shall abound cursed shall be the land for their sakes,

but unto the righteous it shall be blessed forever.

Lehi teaches us several things about the Promised Land.

  1. It is a consecrated land, a land made sacred, a holy land.  God has consecrated it.
  2.  He wants the inhabitants, people He Himself has chosen, to respect the Land by respecting the Giver, by reverencing the Lord and His ways, His commandments.
  3. Lehi expresses the agency paradox, which is not understood by unbelievers:  When people voluntarily choose to live according to God’s way, the result is freedom.  This is a spiritual truth.  The physical realm has connections to the spiritual, and it is easy to see this truth in action in our age of debilitating addictions.  It may also be a universal political truth.  In any event, it is true politically of the Promised Land.
  4. Today’s news headlines certainly proclaim an abundance of iniquity.  Those participating in the iniquity would do well to heed this warning, and not find the Promised Land to be a curse to them.
  5. Those who wish to be righteous must sidestep the wickedness and not worry about the curse.  In spite of the iniquity and the curse, God continues to bless the Land for the righteous.

2 Nephi 1:9

Inasmuch as they shall keep His commandments they shall prosper in the land

The Book of Mormon teaches that as long as those who inhabited the Promised Land were faithful to God, He would keep them safe in their inheritance

Wherefore, I, Lehi, have obtained a promise,

that inasmuch as those whom the Lord God shall bring out

of the land of Jerusalem shall keep his commandments,

they shall prosper upon the face of this land;

and they shall be kept from all other nations,

that they may possess this land unto themselves.

And if it so be that they shall keep his commandments

they shall be blessed upon the face of this land,

and there shall be none to molest them,

nor to take away the land of their inheritance; and they shall dwell safely forever.

Like Pharoah’s dream, which was “doubled unto Pharaoh twice,” this promise to Lehi is expressed twice, as a Hebrew literary form called extended alternate, “because the thing is established by God, and God will shortly bring it to pass” (Genesis 41:32),

Lehi has learned of the promises of the Lord to his seed.  The Lord led Lehi and his family from Jerusalem.  Now he expands those promises to all those who the Lord leads out of Jerusalem.  We know from further reading in the Book of Mormon that the Lord had actually led another group out at very close to the same time.  We call this group the Mulekites, or the people of Zarahemla.  This is also their promise.

Lehi has already told us that everyone who arrives on the shores of the promised land was brought by the hand of the Lord.  Do they all come from Jerusalem?  Could we say that the Ten Tribes who wandered north ended up being the majority of the current Church, or Ephraim, and they were also led out of Jerusalem?  Except that the Ten Tribes abandoned Jerusalem after Solomon’s reign, so that’s quite a stretch.  Could we say that the Gentiles who have chosen to reject the dead traditions of their fathers and seek freedom on America’s shores were led out of spiritual Jerusalem?  

Personally, I don’t believe these interpretations are valid.  Lehi was talking about the literal Jerusalem.  There may be more groups that we don’t know about, but it was a specific, identified sort of people, for a specific, identified historical time period.  That period has been fulfilled, and is no more.  This is not our promise.  We live in the historical era when all nations have flooded into the Promised Land, and it is our blessing to share our land and the gospel with them.

2 Nephi 1:10

Knowing the great and marvelous works of the Lord

The Book of Mormon teaches that when people reject what they know of God, they will suffer His judgement

But behold, when the time cometh that

     they shall dwindle in unbelief,

          after they have received so great blessings from the hand of the Lord --                    having a knowledge of the creation of the earth,

                     and all men,

                     knowing the great and marvelous works of the Lord

                from the creation of the world;

          having power given them to do all things by faith;

          having all the commandments from the beginning, and

          having been brought by his infinite goodness into this precious land of promise                  –

     behold, I say, if the day shall come that they will reject

          the Holy One of Israel,

          the true Messiah,

          their Redeemer and

          their God,

behold, the judgments of him that is just shall rest upon them.

I noticed the repeated “having” construction, as well as the repetition of the creation idea.  This caused me to suspect that there was some sort of chiastic or other parallelistic pattern, so I parsed out the verse, and found exactly that.

1.  When the time comes, the Lord will bring judgements.

2.  The people’s dwindling leads to rejection of God

3.  Here is the substance of the verse.  Lehi lists four specific, grand blessings that God has (or will) give to these people.  Lehi then lists four names of God, which emphasize different attributes of His character and interactions with man.  These four names correlate with the blessings, in a reverse order.

a.  God created the earth, as recorded in Genesis.  As you can read in The Creation Story, by Robert Cowan, the Genesis account is literally true, according to current scientific thinking (though not, of course, admitted by the scientific community).  The little chiasm in this section indicates that the great and marvelous works of the Lord are in His dealings with all men, and some have postulated that in addition to its literal truth, the Genesis account foretells the history of the world, of people for the succeeding seven thousand years.  (Citation pending)  The blessing of the Lord is in knowing both of the grandeur of His physical creations, and of His workings among men in all ages of the world.

b.  The Redeemer is the foundation of faith.  We can have faith to do all things, because we have faith in the Redeemer and His enabling atonement.

c.  The Messiah gave the commandments from the beginning.  The commandments were to help people live in peace with one another, and to point them to the advent of the Messiah on His earth.

d.  The Holy One of Israel does all things for the good of mankind.  In this specific case, He brought this group to the Promised Land through His infinite goodness.

When people no longer see the divine in the physical creation or in history, they reject God.

When people lose the power of faith, and work only by the power of might, they reject the Redeemer.

When people cease to keep the commandments, they reject the true Messiah.

When people take for granted their home and their country and their freedom and peace, they reject the Holy One of Israel.

When this dwindling and rejection is complete, they must face God by another name:  He That Is Just.

2 Nephi 1:11

God will remove His blessings from those who reject Him

The Book of Mormon teaches that

when the people of the Promised Land reject God, they will lose their land

Yea, he will bring other nations unto them, and he will give unto them power,

and he will take away from them the lands of their possessions,

and he will cause them to be scattered and smitten.

Lehi testifies that God is the One who has (will) allowed his posterity to prosper in the promised land, as He was the One who led them there.  When the people abandon God, He will no longer be under covenant to preserve them from other nations.  More than that, He will give unto these other nations His power (because they are keeping His commandments).  The children of Lehi will lose their promised land, and their unity and identity as a people, as they are scattered and smitten.

These four curses also correspond to the blessings which they have rejected.

2 Nephi 1:13-15

Encircled about eternally in the arms of God’s love

The Book of Mormon teaches that

the joy of God’s glory surpasses and overcomes all earthly troubles and pain

13. O that ye would awake; awake from a deep sleep,

yea, even from the sleep of hell,

and shake off the awful chains by which ye are bound,

which are the chains which bind the children of men,

that they are carried away captive down to the eternal gulf of misery and woe.

14. Awake! and arise from the dust, and hear the words of a trembling parent, whose limbs ye must soon lay down in the cold and silent grave,

from whence no traveler can return;

a few more days and I go the way of all the earth.

15. But behold, the Lord hath redeemed my soul from hell; I have beheld his glory, and I am encircled about eternally in the arms of his love.

God is not in these verses, until the end, but they speak expressively together.  Lehi weaves vivid images of sleep and death and hell, balanced with awakening and redemption and glory.

He urges his wayward sons to awake and arise from the dust, then points out to them that he himself will soon sleep in the grave.  They should understand that their souls are weak and decrepit, as is his body.  

He says that he will soon be in the silent grave, and therefore today he is giving them the gift of his words, as recorded in the next few chapters.

He has spoken of the Promised Land, which the wicked will lose, and then he speaks of the journey which he himself will soon make, to a land from which no traveler returns.

He teaches that his sons’ sleep, their deliberate apathy toward God, leads to hell and misery, while his own coming sleep will lead to glory and love with the Lord.

Lehi speaks of the chains which bind his sons.  Because they do not do God’s work, their arms will be bound that they cannot do any work.  Their legs will be bound, as they are dragged to misery and hell.  Likewise, Lehi’s limbs will lose their strength, and he will be carried out of this life.  But he will be received into the arms of Jesus and His love.

Lehi’s faith-filled declaration in verse 15 is a prototype for all Christian faith and hope, even when our nation follows the downward script of disobedience, loss, and bloodshed,  It expresses hope even when our family members choose to be bound to or by sin.  It expresses faith as life and vigor decline.  It will be echoed by future prophets, including those who would walk most lonely paths.  It is a jewel to be cherished by every believer.

2 Nephi 1:16

The anxiety of my soul is that ye should remember the Lord

The Book of Mormon teaches that righteous parents

always point their children to obedience to God

And I desire that ye should remember

to observe the statutes and the judgments of the Lord;

behold, this hath been the anxiety of my soul from the beginning.

Lehi expresses the deepest desire of every righteous parent, a desire that is first manifested by establishing a family based upon worship of God, then teaching children to individually worship Him.  The desire is not abated when certain children, as they progress through their own lives, abandon their parents’ teaching and their worship of God; indeed, the anxiety increases.

2 Nephi 1:17,18

The fullness of God’s wrath

The Book of Mormon teaches that when people have hard hearts, they abandon God and are instead led by the evil one

My heart hath been weighed down with sorrow from time to time,

for I have feared, lest for the hardness of your hearts

the Lord your God should come out in the fulness of his wrath upon you,

that ye be cut off and destroyed forever;

Or, that a cursing should come upon you for the space of many generations;

and ye are visited by sword, and by famine, and are hated,

and are led according to the will and captivity of the devil.

God is not in verse 18, but that’s the point.  Lehi fears that his sons will cut God out of their lives.  Mortality is a lone and dreary prospect without His hope, and the devil steps in to fill the void.

When Nephi came down from the mount and heard his brothers wrangling, he encouraged them to pray for their own answers, he answered their specific question, and he gave them more information to encourage them to turn to the Lord (1 Nephi 15), but it does not appear that he told them what he had learned concerning their respective posterity.  Furthermore, Nephi did not see the near future in his vision. The first he saw of his own posterity in the promised land is recorded in 1 Nephi 12:1, where he saw “multitudes of people . . . as many as the sand of the sea.”  He himself did not know how soon the schism would occur, and probably never imagined that it would happen in his own lifetime, with his own brothers that he had worked so diligently to help and teach.

We do not have a full record of Lehi’s vision.  I suppose that he saw the same future history that Nephi saw.  He also declines to share all of his information with these sons.   Nephi knows that they will not be destroyed.  Perhaps Lehi paints this worst-case scenario for them in yet another attempt to get them to repent and follow God.

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