Thursday, June 15, 2017

How 1 Nephi 21 (Isaiah 49) pertained to the Nephites, and how it can help us

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1 Nephi 21 is a quotation of Isaiah 49. The chapter heading says, “The Messiah will be a light to the Gentiles and will free the prisoners—Israel will be gathered with power in the last days—Kings will be their nursing fathers—Compare Isaiah 49.”

This gives the important points of the chapter from a modern LDS perspective about gathering Israel, but to me it misses the context for why Nephi quoted it and why it would be encouraging to him and his brothers.

I think verse 1 hints at the concerns they had:

And again: Hearken, O ye house of Israel, all ye that are broken off and are driven out because of the wickedness of the pastors of my people; yea, all ye that are broken off, that are scattered abroad, who are of my people, O house of Israel. Listen, O isles, unto me, and hearken ye people from far; the Lord hath called me from the womb; from the bowels of my mother hath he made mention of my name.

Nephi and his family knew they’d been broken off from the house of Israel because of the wickedness of the leaders and the rest of the people too, and there would be this sense of, “Well, now what do we do? Who will lead us?” (By the way, the part of about them being broken off because of “the wickedness of the pastors of my people” is not in the Bible’s version of Isaiah. It doesn’t reflect well on the Jews of that time, so it isn’t surprising that would be redacted.)

What this chapter of Isaiah does is speak to all those of the house of Israel in any age who have been led away by the Lord, who wonder what to do and whether they are forgotten. All the concerns that are associated with that situation are addressed.

To righteous leaders who feel their efforts to gather Israel have been wasted (v4), they are told in v5-6 they will be a light to the Gentiles instead.

To those who wonder who will lead them now, they are told the Lord will give them “my servant for a covenant of the people” (v8), meaning one of their own will be given the power to lead and guide them with revelation to show they are still part of the covenant.

To those who feel like they are now wandering in the wilderness away from the main body of Israel, the Lord promises,

They shall feed in the ways, and their pastures shall be in all high places. They shall not hunger nor thirst, neither shall the heat nor the sun smite them; for he that hath mercy on them shall lead them, even by the springs of water shall he guide them. And I will make all my mountains a way, and my highways shall be exalted” (v9-11).

So even though these branches of Israel are broken off and it feels like wandering, the Lord will make a way for them and nourish them, and the “wandering” will become a sanctifying and refining experience and benefit not just them, but future generations. (Consider how Nephi’s records of his journeys and experiences benefits us today.)  This is pretty awesome.

To those who feel like the Lord has forgotten them, there is are two great lines to address this. “He will show that hath not” (v14) and “I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands” (v16) It immediately evokes Christ’s crucifixion and the scars as memory aids, but also promises that the Lord will show He has not forgotten us. (Which means we have to look for how He shows us and record it so that we remember.)

And then finally, all these broken off scattered bits of Israel will be gathered together again in a way so surprising that the main part of Israel that wasn’t scattered would wonder, “Where have they been?” (v21)

When I consider the above, I think that makes the chapter a lot more useful and valuable than just as an instance of prophecy of the gathering of Israel that we are a part of.  There’s something about it that speaks to some deep worries we might have today, even if we are part of the Lord’s kingdom.

Righteous leaders still wonder if their efforts are doing any good. At one time or another we may be away from the main body of the Saints, or maybe our life doesn’t look anything like what we imagined it would be and we’re feeling our way trying to figure out what to do, which can seem like we are wandering in the wilderness. Or maybe everything is passing us by and we feel forgotten by the Lord.

Again, I think this chapter does a great job of addressing those concerns.