Wednesday, April 18, 2018

A prophecy in puzzling context



In 1 Nephi 22, Nephi describes different ways the righteous will be saved and the wicked destroyed in the last days. As part of the section, there is a series of verses I’ve wondered about each time I’ve read them:

19 For behold, the righteous shall not perish; for the time surely must come that all they who fight against Zion shall be cut off.
20 And the Lord will surely prepare a way for his people, unto the fulfilling of the words of Moses, which he spake, saying: A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you, like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you. And it shall come to pass that all those who will not hear that prophet shall be cut off from among the people.
21 And now I, Nephi, declare unto you, that this prophet of whom Moses spake was the Holy One of Israel; wherefore, he shall execute judgment in righteousness. (1 Nephi 22:19-21)

Nephi is quoting a prophecy Moses gave in Deuteronomy 18:15:
The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken;
…which is re-iterated in Acts 3:22-23:

22 For Moses truly said unto the fathers, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you.
23 And it shall come to pass, that every soul, which will not hear that prophet, shall be destroyed from among the people.

In those contexts of Moses and Peter, it makes sense that it would be talking about Christ raised up from among the people because Christ did grow up to maturity among the Israelite people. However, it is puzzling to see Nephi quote the scripture about a prophet raised up among the people, say it is the Holy One of Israel (Christ), and apply it to a context of the last days. because once Christ ascended, He can’t grow up among the people again.

The only way this scripture works is if we say it is about prophets raised up among the Latter-day Saints, prophets who speak the words of God according to the promise, “Whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same” (D&C 1:38). Also, note that the prophet is raised up by the Lord, not by the will of man, which nicely describes the seniority system in the quorum of the twelve apostles.

The next question that comes up then is, “Why then did Nephi want to underline that the prophet was the Holy One of Israel?” I think there are several reasons. 1) There are people who would love to think that they are the prophet that would be raised up, so pointing to Christ immediately stops that self-aggrandizing impulse. 2) Nephi is speaking about future things that technically fall in the responsibility of the apostle John to write about, so he might worry he’s saying too much and might feel he has to conceal or veil some things. 3) Since Nephi was answering a question about literal-versus-figurative for his brothers, creating this paradox is a good way to show how it is literal about prophets, but figurative about it being the Holy One of Israel in the latter-day context (since Christ can’t be physically born and grow up again). We really are in the best position to understand his meaning because we see how a prophet is raised up among the apostles.