Friday, December 19, 2014

Lehi’s Prophecies about Israel in 1 Nephi 10

1 Nephi 10 is kind of overlooked by us today because it is pretty much a summary of Lehi’s prophecies at that point in time.  It is almost like a chapter heading itself, except it is longer.

The notable thing about this chapter is its lack of notability.  There is nothing that surprises us because we know that it all happened as Lehi said.  Jerusalem was destroyed.  The Jews were carried away to Babylon and later brought back.  The Savior was born.  A prophet came to prepare the way for the Messiah and said what it was predicted he would say. That prophet baptized the Messiah and witnessed who it was.  The gospel was preached to the Jews, the Jews dwindled in unbelief, and they killed the Messiah.  The Messiah rose from the dead and made Himself manifest to the Gentiles through the Holy Ghost.  Israel was scattered again. 

Again, we know all this happened, and it may be really tempting for unbelieving readers to say that Joseph Smith just wrote a summary of important events in the Bible and this wasn’t really prophecy.  But I think that fails to understand the function of the chapter.  If the object was to commit fraud and fool us into believing, it is too obvious.  It is too easy for a suspicious person to “detect” and disbelieve, therefore it is really prophecy, and it is instead allowing the reader to choose whether to believe or not, meaning it is a test of the reader more than a test of the writer.  You have to believe in modern prophecy and seership in order to believe in ancient prophecy and seership.

So we must think about the function of this summary.  For Nephi it may have acted as a way to preserve the most salient elements of his father’s prophecies, and for him these were points of faith.  And considering he was writing this all while looking in retrospect of the prophecies, and since he was about to tell us about his vision/interpretation of Lehi’s dream, it seems that he picked out the points that corresponded to his vision, which makes him and his father two witnesses as to the truth of the future-history he is about to reveal.  In essence, Nephi sets his father as the first witness of the future and himself as the second.  (He does this most clearly when he quotes from Isaiah then quotes his brother Jacob, and then calls attention to those quotations as 2 witnesses in addition to his own.)

Now, one thing that puzzled me was why it was important to reveal so much information about John the Baptist to the Lehites and at this stage of time.  Usually the focus is on the Messiah, so why does the prophetic eye fall upon John the Baptist in such detail?

Right now my best answer is this—I think it is a sign that in spite of being scattered physically from Israel, it was for the Lord to show the Lehites that they were still grafted into Israel spiritually and that to those who are a part of Israel there is no difficulty in obtaining a knowledge of the counsels and will of the Lord in any time and place.  It is a manifestation of the grace and generosity of the Lord in bestowing knowledge that will connect His people’s together though they may be separated by hundreds of years and thousands of miles. 

For those of us who believe in prophecy, this chapter is a sign to us that prophecy is real.  The Lehites knew about John the Baptist long before he lived and far away from where he lived.  The prophecy coming true is confirmed to us in a totally different book—the Bible.

It also helps give us confidence that the other prophecies Nephi shares that have yet to happen will come to pass.