Friday, January 11, 2013

Thou shalt forget the shame of thy youth: Isaiah 54 versus 3 Nephi 22


3 Nephi 22 doesn’t have too many differences from Isaiah 54, but the differences it does have—in verses 4, 9, 15, and 17—are instructive. 

Isaiah 54:4

Fear not;
for thou shalt not be ashamed:
neither be thou confounded;
for thou shalt not be put to shame:
for thou shalt forget the shame of thy youth,
and shalt not remember the reproach of thy widowhood any more.

3 Nephi 22:4

Fear not,
for thou shalt not be ashamed;
neither be thou confounded,
for thou shalt not be put to shame;
for thou shalt forget the shame of thy youth,
and shalt not remember the reproach of thy youth,
and shalt not remember the reproach of thy widowhood any more.

The line in blue was added by Jesus when he repeated Isaiah to the Nephites. 

It is possible that translators of the Bible originally had a text that looked like 3 Nephi 22:4, but they looked at the line “and shalt not remember the reproach of thy youth” and said, “Hey, there are elements of that line that occur in other lines of the verse; there’s no need for it. Let’s just take it out.”

Below I have marked all the words with similar meaning so we can see the pattern of ideas being constructed here. 

Fear not,
for thou shalt not be ashamed;
neither be thou confounded,
for thou shalt not be put to shame;
for thou shalt forget the shame of thy youth,
and shalt not remember the reproach of thy youth,
and shalt not remember the reproach of thy widowhood any more.

Repetition like this was not meant to be boring or just to keep scribes in business; rather it is meant to reinforce and amplify the message.  And what is the message?  Simply that the house of Israel would forget the humiliation from the times they rejected the Lord as a people.  Israel was very young relatively when it was carried captive to Babylon and it was still sort of young when it was destroyed by the Romans and scattered.  And imagine, all that ugly history would be forgotten in the joy of coming to Christ at last!  I really think it is true today.  We have no conception of the societal disgrace of those past apostasies and there is no collective guilt of a failed dispensation hanging over us.  Thank heavens!

Isaiah 54:9

For this is as the waters of Noah unto me:
for as I have sworn that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth;
so have I sworn that I would not be wroth with thee,
nor rebuke thee.

3 Nephi 22:9

For this, the waters of Noah unto me,
for as I have sworn that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth,
so have I sworn that I would not be wroth with thee.

Notice that 3 Nephi 22:9 is missing those words “nor rebuke thee.”  This teaches us that the Lord will withhold His anger as we work through our repentance process, but He will and does rebuke us for our sins, so we should expect that.  And it is a good thing too; if we didn’t receive rebuke, how would we know we had sinned?  We need our conscience and we need outside instruction to help us see what we are doing wrong and why and what we should do instead.   And yet, that rebuke will not be nearly as bad as the shame and reproach spoken of previously in verse 4.

Something that seems odd about 3 Nephi 22:9 is that that first line of the verse—For this, the waters of Noah unto me”—reads more awkwardly than it does in Isaiah--“For this is as the waters of Noah unto me.”   The way I see it, Jesus was quoting in the old Hebraic way that doesn’t include any state-of-being verbs like “is, are, be, etc.”    I personally find the verse makes more sense to me when I ignore that particular part and pay more attention to the rest of the verse.  (That sounds bad, but it’s true!)

The sense of that verse should be quite reassuring to us because it tells us that just as the Lord promised Noah that He would never again destroy man with a flood, the re-gathered house of Israel is promised that they will never again be destroyed and scattered as they have been in the past.  Collectively we may be rebuked stiffly through tribulation, persecution, and calls to repentance, but never destroyed.

Isaiah 54:15

Behold, they shall surely gather together,
but not by me:
whosoever shall gather together against thee shall fall for thy sake.

3 Nephi 22:15

Behold, they shall surely gather together against thee,
not by me;
whosoever shall gather together against thee shall fall for thy sake.

Notice that 3 Nephi 22:15 adds those words “against thee,” which makes it doubly clear that the house of Israel will definitely have opposition.  While the house of Israel gathers, opposition to it will gather as well, but we are assured in the rest of the verse that the opposition will fall.  As Joseph Smith noted, no unhallowed hand can stop the work of the Lord.

Isaiah 54:17

No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper;
and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn.
This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord,
and their righteousness is of me, saith the Lord.

3 Nephi 22:17

No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper;
and every tongue that shall revile against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn.
This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord,
and their righteousness is of me, saith the Lord.

In 3 Nephi, “rise” is changed to “revile” in the phrase “every tongue that shall revile against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn.”  There is a big difference between tongues rising in judgment against the house of Israel and tongues reviling in judgment against the house of Israel.  Rising in judgment makes me think of any opposition coming up that could be either deserved or undeserved.  However, reviling in judgment makes me think of prejudiced and bigoted opposition.  One dictionary I used defined “revile” as “criticize in an abusive or angry insulting manner.” 

This verse shows there are negative consequences for slandering the house of Israel and the church.  I am a little unclear as to the exact meaning of “judgment” in this verse though because there are a number of courts that could be referred to:
1)   The court of the land.  False accusations are eventually counteracted by evidence to the contrary in a court of law.
2)   The court of public opinion.  Certainly critical and insulting accusations of the church are all over the place, especially on the internet, and we condemn it by spreading the truth and defending the church.
3)   The church’s disciplinary court or bishop’s court.  Criticism and insult inside the church can be addressed here with inquiry and evidence and stopped.
4)   The Final judgment.  Ultimately, all those who have spread false and negative information about the church will stand accountable to God.
At various times we will have to add our witness to these various courts.

The differences between Isaiah 54 and 3 Nephi 22 are subtle, but very instructive.  They put into perspective some things we can expect as Israel is gathered for the last time:
·      To forget the destruction and shame of apostasy of previous dispensations.
·      To expect opposition to gather.
·      To expect lots of negative press (and that we can overcome it).
·      To expect rebuke from the Lord if we make mistakes as a church.

See also this article at Times and Seasons for more good stuff on this chapter:
http://timesandseasons.org/index.php/2012/10/bmgd-41-3-nephi-22-26/