I’ve read through the Book of Mormon a number of times and something that would make me wonder every time I ran across it was Nephi’s quotations of Isaiah. I often wondered what points he was trying to make with it and why he felt it was important to put it right there.
Recently I was reading through again and I got to the ending of 1 Nephi 19 where Nephi talks about his purpose of writing and something popped out at me in verse 23: “but that I might more fully persuade them to believe in the Lord their Redeemer I did read unto them that which was written by the prophet Isaiah.” (emphasis added) Nephi talks about a bunch of other purposes that he wants his writings to fulfill, but this one stood out to me, so I decided to look to see if I could find things in the following chapter 1 Nephi 20 (which quotes Isaiah 48) that help us believe in the Lord.
I found a lot. All of a sudden I started to see the cohesion in that chapter. Without that perspective, the chapter feels like a mass of individual sayings that have no relation to one another. But by looking at the pieces as part of an attempt to demonstrate why we can believe in the Lord and have faith, the chapter takes on startling majesty.
So, I give you the simplified list of reasons why we can believe in the Lord.
The Lord lets us know what happened in the past. (“I have declared the former things from the beginning; and they went forth out of my mouth, and I showed them. I did show them suddenly” v3) This helps us have faith in the Lord's knowledge of what has occurred and the Lord's interpretation of those events.
The Lord gives us personal revelation and tells us mysteries of godliness. (“I have showed thee new things from this time, even hidden things, and thou didst not know them. ” v6) This helps us have faith in His holiness and in His power to reveal all things to us in their time.
The Lord knows that we’re stubborn. (“I did it because I knew that thou art obstinate” v4) This helps us have faith in His ability to see past any hypocritical show we try to put on. We can’t fool Him, so we might as well submit to Him.
The Lord knew from the beginning that we were going to sin. (“I knew that thou wouldst deal very treacherously, and wast called a transgressor from the womb. ” v8) This helps us have faith in the Lord’s foreknowledge and in His plan of salvation for us to overcome sin. It shows us He knows our fallen human nature well and He knows the temptations we face, and while He can’t countenance it, He understands it.
The Lord delays our punishment for our sins, so that we have time to repent. (“for my name’s sake will I defer mine anger, and for my praise will I refrain from thee, that I cut thee not off.” v9) This helps us have faith in the Lord and how He respects our agency. He wants us to choose on our own to repent.
The Lord does not allow any unclean thing to enter His Kingdom. (“I will not suffer my name to be polluted” v11) This helps us have faith in the Lord’s holiness.
The Lord refines us through affliction. (“I have refined thee, I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction” v10) This helps us have faith that the Lord sees the difficulties we go through and that He means for those afflictions to make us into His Chosen. As a result, we become much more determined to endure through them and seek to understand how those afflictions actually benefit us.
The Lord created the heavens and earth and everything in it and He has control over it all. (“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. ” v13) This helps us have faith in the Lord’s creative powers and gives us an idea of the scope of His influence.
The Lord loves those who share the gospel and testify of Christ. (“who among them hath declared these things unto them? The Lord hath loved him” v14) This helps us have faith that we can please the Lord if we share the gospel with others.
The Lord fulfills the words spoken by the prophets. (“he will fulfil his word which he hath declared by them” v14) This helps us have faith in the relationship between the Lord and His prophets. It shows us that the Lord wants us to respect His prophets, so He fulfills their words.
Even though the wicked don’t acknowledge Him, the Lord still has all power over them and will do what He wants with them. (“he will do his pleasure on Babylon, and his arm shall come upon the Chaldeans” v14) This helps us trust that all the judgments the Lord has declared against Babylon and the wicked will come to pass. This also gives us reason to flee Babylon.
The Lord wants us to come to Him. (“Come ye near unto me” v16) This helps us have faith that it isn’t a scary thing to come to Christ and that He will welcome us.
The Lord has not made the gospel a secret; He’s had it preached in the world from the beginning. (“I have not spoken in secret; from the beginning, from the time that it was declared have I spoken” v16) This helps us have faith that the Lord means what He says and He’s not holding anything vital back from us.
The Lord teaches us commandments so that we can prosper and leads us in the best way. (“the Lord thy God who teacheth thee to profit, who leadeth thee by the way thou shouldst go, hath done it.” v17) This helps us have faith that the Lord will teach us in a way that benefits us the most.
To those who keep His commandments, the Lord gives constant peace and makes them more and more righteous. (“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. ” v18) This helps us have faith that it is very important to keep the Lord’s commandments.
The Lord urges us to repent. (“Go ye forth of Babylon, flee ye from the Chaldeans” v20) This helps us have faith in His holiness.
The Lord saves His covenant people and He wants us to testify of it to everyone. (“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.” v20) This helps us have faith in Him, that He truly does want to bless all mankind.
The Lord has done great miracles for us to provide for us, even miracles greater than those He did for the children of Israel in the desert. (“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….he hath done all this, and greater also” v21-22) This helps us have faith in the Lord’s power to intervene in our lives to provide for our needs.
The Lord withholds peace from the wicked. (“there is no peace, saith the Lord, unto the wicked” v22) This helps us have faith that the Lord means what He says about spiritual death.
Seen in this way, 1 Nephi 20 (and Isaiah 48) could easily belong among the talks of general conference, since it categorically declares all the grounds we have for faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Nephi used this chapter to try to build faith in Jesus Christ among his own people and we can use it to help us today.
What do you remember that helps you have faith in the Lord?