Monday, December 2, 2013

In Which I Muck About With Prophecy in 2 Nephi 3

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In 2 Nephi 3, Lehi gives his words of goodbye to his son Joseph and prophesies of Joseph Smith and Moses.  We know this chapter pretty well, yes?  After all, a whole Sunday school lesson focuses on this chapter.

One of the things that has puzzled me about this chapter is that Lehi shares this prophecy with his son Joseph as if it has great significance for his son.  Yet Lehi’s son Joseph is not one of the people talked about in the prophecy!  It’s like a dying father saying, “My son, you have great reason to rejoice because some day this prophecy will be fulfilled even though you’ll never see it or know these people or play any part in it.”  It deserves a great big “SO WHAT?!” not only from Lehi’s son Joseph, but also from the rest of us.

So I had to go hunting for the significance it would have to Lehi’s son Joseph and also to us.  We can already easily imagine Joseph Smith would recognize himself in the prophecy, what with his translating and his father named Joseph too, but what about the other people?  There’s a bit of a hint in v3-5:

3 And now, Joseph, my last-born, whom I have brought out of the wilderness of mine afflictions, may the Lord bless thee forever, for thy seed shall not utterly be destroyed.
4 For behold, thou art the fruit of my loins; and I am a descendant of Joseph who was carried captive into Egypt. And great were the covenants of the Lord which he made unto Joseph.
5 Wherefore, Joseph truly saw our day. And he obtained a promise of the Lord, that out of the fruit of his loins the Lord God would raise up a righteous branch unto the house of Israel; not the Messiah, but a branch which was to be broken off, nevertheless, to be remembered in the covenants of the Lord that the Messiah should be made manifest unto them in the latter days, in the spirit of power, unto the bringing of them out of darkness unto light—yea, out of hidden darkness and out of captivity unto freedom.

The prospect of the seed of Joseph (son of Lehi) being partially destroyed is not cheering, BUT Lehi points out the prophecy of a righteous branch that would be broken off, yet remembered in the covenants, and even though they would fall into darkness, they would be brought to the light by another of Joseph in Egypt’s seed.  And much of the rest of the prophecy is about this seer.  The part Lehi was trying to underline for his son was that this prophecy made so many years ago was now on its way to fulfillment.  Their exit from Jerusalem and journey to the new world marked the commencement and they could call themselves that “righteous branch…broken off, nevertheless, to be remembered.”   I suppose we can learn from this that the only thing that can come close to the excitement of watching prophecy be fulfilled is to watch the pieces of prophecy fall into place on the way to future fulfillment and find that your family is directly involved. 

The other thing Lehi was excited about was a prospect that one of Joseph (son of Lehi) descendents would end up being this choice seer that would do so much good.  This I find frankly confusing.  I don’t know if we’ve traced Joseph Smith Jr.’s ancestry all the way back to Lehi’s son Joseph.  Seems to me I heard somewhere that JS ancestry has been traced to Ireland.  Does this mean there is some crazy genetic linkage making JS a descendant of Lehi’s Joseph?  Who knows?  I’ll leave that to the skilled genealogists to work out.  Another possibility is that there may be a second seer, one that comes directly out of Lehi’s Joseph’s lineage to help other descendants of Lehi to the light.  Let’s look at v23-24:

23 Wherefore, because of this covenant thou art blessed; for thy seed shall not be destroyed, for they shall hearken unto the words of the book.
24 And there shall rise up one mighty among them, who shall do much good, both in word and in deed, being an instrument in the hands of God, with exceeding faith, to work mighty wonders, and do that thing which is great in the sight of God, unto the bringing to pass much restoration unto the house of Israel, and unto the seed of thy brethren.

Lehi specifically states that Joseph’s (son of Lehi) seed would hearken to the book and one of his seed would rise up and do much good and bring much restoration to the house of Israel and to the seed of Lehi.

If we assume that the restoration has been done already, then we tend to think this means Joseph Smith.  If so, then Joseph Smith is somehow a descendent of Joseph (son of Lehi).

But if we assume there is more to be restored (like, say, the implementation of a city called Zion..), then it becomes likely that another mighty one is to rise up, most likely through the ranks of the priesthood leadership, one who IS a descendant of Lehi’s Joseph.  And they’d have to be pretty dang awesome to stick out among all the fabulous priesthood leadership we already have, such that we can point to them as a fulfillment of Book of Mormon prophecy.

Naturally, these thoughts of mine are outside the usual discussions on this chapter.  Might I be wrong?  Of course!  But I am also willing to admit that there can be much more prophesied that we don’t recognize until it comes to pass right under our noses, and we do believe that there will yet be revealed many great and important things pertaining to the kingdom of God.

Also, the important thing for us to realize is the prophecy “thy seed…shall hearken unto the words of the book” is in the process of fulfillment right now with missionary work to South and Central America.  How exciting for the missionaries who get to be a part of that!  How exciting for the new converts coming into the church there!