2 Nephi 26-33: Nephi’s last words
“Thy ways are just”
I decided to combine the next two lessons into one post. In hind sight, I should have combined this post with my last; I think the flow would have been better.
Taking the romantic view that a person’s last words, carry some special significance, let’s see what Nephi is doing here as he continues with his Isaiah exegesis. We will take the ideas from the last Book of Mormon post and run with them a little longer. Once again, for a further, deeper explanation on the ideas presented here, please buy Grant Hardy’s,Understanding The Book of Mormon, a Readers Guide. The ideas presented here come from my readings of his book. I think in four years, when we study the Book of Mormon in Sunday School again, I will present ideas from Brant Gardner’s writings.
Why all this Malachi? Malachi was post-exile
2 Nephi 26:4, 6 vs. Malachi 4:1 “for they shall be as stuble.”
2 Nephi 26:9 vs Malachi 4:2 “Son of righteousness” vs “Sun of righteousness” Is this a pun?
2 Nephi 26:14-17; 27:6-23; 29:1-14; 30:3
One of the main themes of this speech is the future of the record of the Nephites – how it will fulfill the prophecy of a sealed book in Isaiah 29. Nephi also seems very interested in how “the sealed book” will someday have an authority equal to that of the Bible, and how it will be the means of converting the Gentiles.
By this time, Nephi clearly expects that his own writings will eventually find their place in that book – the same one that Joseph of Egypt and Isaiah had seen in vision – and contribute to its destined role in God’s plan for the House of Israel in the last days.
“All are alike unto God”
2 Nephi 26:33; 30:2; 1 Nephi 17:32-40
The concept of “all are alike unto God,” is an exhilarating theological perspective and one that Nephi does not fully seem to grasp. He is blind to gender issues, although 2 Nephi 16:33 would argue against that. Despite his emphasis on Israelite ethnicity, he admits that it is ultimately righteousness that is the most significant (2 Nephi 20:2; for a reinterpretation of the conquest of Cannan see 1 Nephi 17:32-40).
Nephi’s Isaiah Midrash
2 Nephi 26:18 “the multitude of their terrible ones shall be as chaff that passeth away”; “it shall be at an instant, suddenly” Nephi is taking Isaiah 29:3-5 and reproducing it, not as a quote of entire passage, but instead, interspersed in 2 Nephi 26:14-27
2 Nephi 26:20 “stumbled” ; “stumbling block” Here we get Nephi repeating parts of Isaiah 8:14-25, that he quoted in its entirety, in 2 Nephi 18:14-15. Here in 2 Nephi 26:20, it is once again interspersed (just pieces – unlike what we found in 2 Nephi 18:14-15) . He is taking Isaiah and making it part of his own prophesy.
2 Nephi 26:20 “grind upon the face of the poor.” Once again, Nephi had quoted Isaiah 5:18 in its entirety in 2 Nephi 13:15 but here in 2 Nephi 26:20 he is interspersing pieces of Isaiah; making Isaiah’s words his own and part of his own prophecy.
2 Nephi 26:25; 2 Nephi 9:50 (here it is Jacob quoting Isaiah – but under the direction of Nephi ( 2 Nephi 6:4)); Isaiah 55:1 “buy milk and honey, without money and without price.” You get the idea. Isaiah is first quoted in its entirety and then interspersed later. I wonder if, in this case, Nephi is in a way legitimizing Jacob as his successor by interspersing what Jacob had said into his own [Nephi’s] prophecy.
2 Nephi 33:1,3, 19
In the last chapter of 2 Nephi, Nephi steps back from reporting his words to his people in order to address his ultimate, much wider audience. He begins with an apology and then explains to us his hopes. He concludes with a direct appeal to his future readers, whom he embraces with the same affectionate term he has been using for his contemporaries, “beloved brethren” (2 Nephi 33:13,19). With the phrase, “crying from the dust” ( 2 Nephi 33:13), Nephi is explicitly connecting his writing with the sealed book of Isaiah 29:4.
Compare the following chapters and verses and we learn something interesting. Nephi re-introduces key terms from 2 Nephi 3 into 2 Nephi 25-33:
great worth unto them 2 Nephi 3:7 2 Nephi 25:8 + 28:2, 33:3
bring forth my word 2 Nephi 3:11 2 Nephi 19:7+25:18
shall write 2 Nephi 3:12 2 Nephi 29:12
false doctrines 2 Nephi 3:12 2 Nephi 28:15+28:9, 12
knowledge of their fathers 2 Nephi 3:12 2 Nephi 30:5
my work shall commence 2 Nephi 3:13 2 Nephi 30:8
words shall proceed forth out of my mouth 2 Nephi 3:21 2 Nephi 29:2; 33:14
weakness of their words will I make strong 2 Nephi 3:21 2 Nephi 33:4
These scripture references don’t seem to be random hits. For the most part, these phrases are clustered in these two sections of 2 Nephi. For instance, “false doctrines” appears only once (Alma 1:16), and both “bring froth my word” and “knowledge of their fathers” never occur anywhere else. In addition, Nephi says that he has Joseph of Egypt’s prophecy in mind in his writings (compare 2 Nephi 25:21 & 2 Nephi 3:16). As noted in last weeks post, Nephi’s concluding discourse in 2 Nephi 25-33 is not simply an academic commentary on Isaiah 2-14, but instead represents a deliberate creative synthesis of his own revelations, the writing of Isaiah, and the prophecy of Joseph of Egypt. Nephi’s writing reflects his theology.
For a review of why Isaiah is in the writing of Nephi, see the previous Book of Mormon post. There is however, one last interesting piece to add to the discussion:
Looking back to Lehi and Nephi’s Tree of Life dream/vision we find some insight into Nephi’s purpose for including so much Isaiah. When the Spirit asks what Nephi wants after Nephi has been shown the Tree of Life, instead of responding that he would like to taste the fruit of the tree he says he wants “to know the interpretation thereof” (1 Nephi 1:11). The Spirit leaves and an angel takes over. In the end Nephi is wiser but not happier. The rest of his life, and through the entirety of his literary labors, Nephi works through the implications of that choice. It is much like a Greek tragedy. Milton’s Paradis Lost seems to say something of the pain of wisdom:
How didst though grieve then, Adam to behold
The end of all thy offspring, end so sad,
Depopulation; thee another flood,
Of tears and sorrow a flood thee also drowned,
And sunk thee as thy sons; till gently reared
By th’ Angel, on thy feet thou stood’st at last,
Thou comfortless, as when a father mourns
His Children, all in view destroyed at once;
And scarce to th’ Angel utter’ds thus thy plain:
“O visions ill foreseen! better had I
Lived ignorant of future, so had borne
My part of evil only, each day’s lot
Enough to bear….”(XI, 754-66)
Who would have thought the Book of Mormon might also say something about this timeless moral and spiritual dilemma?
“O the pain, and the anguish of my soul for the loss of the slain of my people! For I, Nephi have seen it, and it well nigh consumeth me before the presence of the Lord; but I must cry unto my God, “Thy ways are just.” (2 Nephi 26:7)