Jacob’s Isaiah Exegesis, His Prophesies, Warnings and Visions

Some of this comes from reworking Grant Hardy’s,  Understanding the Book of Mormon, A Reader’s Guide.  I highly recommend that book as well as his edited version of The Book of Mormon – The Book of Mormon, A Reader’s Edition.  Some of my commentary comes from my own little messed up brain.  I hope you enjoy, and please, write a comment, especially if you disagree with me.  I really enjoyed Justin’s and Cody’s comments on my previous posts.

In this post I include a lot of rhetorical and open-ended questions.  I would appreciate any insight one might have as I clearly have been unable to draw any clear conclusions to some of the questions.

For 5 chapters, Nephi leaves the historical narrative and focuses on scriptural exegesis, prophecy, and visions.   Why does he do this through his younger brother instead of doing it himself? Did it have to do with Nephi’s age?

The use of the phrase, “my beloved brethren” is used 13 times by Jacob. The phrase appears  7 more times in Jacob’s brief book (one of them seems to have been added by the 1830 editor, see Royal Skousen,  Variants, Prt Two, 990-91)  Nephi will later adopt this phrase himself in 2 Nephi 25-33.   The phrase never appears anywhere else in Nephi’s writing except for his transcription of Jacob’s sermon as noted earlier.

2 Nephi 6:1 

Why is Nephi speaking about himself in the third person?  Is it Nephi speaking in this verse or could it be Mormon interrupting the readers?

2 Nephi 6:2

How are we to interpret vs. 2?  At this point has Nephi turned over the responsibility of being the spiritual leader of the Nephites to his younger brother? It appears that Nephi is still the political leader.

2 Nephi 6:2 

It appears Jacob has spoken to the Nephite people on at least one other occasion (I speak unto you again).  Nephi however did not include this on the small plates.  I wonder if it was included in the manuscripts lost by Martin Harris.

2 Nephi 6:4

Jacob is told by Nephi what to preach 6:4.  Here it sounds as though Nephi is still the spiritual leader as he is instructing Jacob on what he should discourse.

2 Nephi 6:8 

Jerusalem’s fall occurred about 586 B.C. to Babylon’s King Nebuchadnezzar II .  1 Nephi 1:4 tells us Lehi’s story begins during the first year of the reign of Zedekiah (597 B.C.)  1 Nephi 10:4 says that Lehi’s group left 600 years before Jesus’ birth (roughly 600 B.C. +/-); obviously it would have to be after 600 B.C. because the story doesn’t start until 597 B.C.  From 1 Nephi 17:4 we learn that  Lehi’s group was traveling for about 8 years before building the boat (Somewhere around 589 B.C. since the story starts in 597B.C. and they hadn’t  left Jerusalem at that point). 2 Nephi 5:28 tells us 30 years had passed away since the group left Jerusalem (567 B.C.+/-).  2 Nephi 5:34 says Nephi was commanded to make the Small Plates about 40 years  after what?  It isn’t clear. Forty  years  since they left Jerusalem( 557 B.C. +/-) or 40 years since the family split up (527 B.C. +/-)?  Traditionally it is held  that the 40 years represents since Lehi’s group left Jerusalem.    So the earliest that Jacob would  be giving this discourse would be probably around 557 B.C.   Since Jacob was born after the family left Jerusalem, the oldest Jacob could be is  around 40 years old.  Nephi, depending if he was a teenager or a young man in his twenties or approaching his thirties, could be anywhere from 53 to 70 years old.

My friend, Justin Esplin,   pointed out in an earlier post, that based on Jacob 1:9-12,  that the monarchy was given to someone different than the spiritual leader.  This new king could have been one of Nephi’s sons. If the kingship was indeed given to one of Nephi’s sons, the question has to be asked, “Why is the new king not named by his proper name?”  The new kings took the regnal name Nephi – similar to the whole Caesar thing and perhaps how the new Catholic Pope takes on a pontifical name.  From this interpretation it would follow that it was the spiritual leaders as well as the Small Plates that followed Jacob’s blood line, not Nephi’s.  Based on Mosiah 25:13, the two distinct roles of King and Priest, were then combined into one man.  The two records (Small and Large plates) were at that point also held by the same man.  I owe Justin Esplin for this new insight.

Now the question should be asked, “Why does Nephi include Jacob’s sermon at this particular time?”   Let’s gather some background first. Looking at 1 Nephi 6:6  it appears that Nephi had every intention of giving the small plates, and thus assumed, the spiritual leadership to his direct descendants – rather than nephews. 1 Nephi 9:4  tells us Nephi was coronated the Nephite king but it seems to be with some ambivalence (nevertheless, I did for them according to that which was in my power) Jacob explicitly calls him king (2 Nephi 6:2).  

Omni 1:23 and Mosiah 6:4 & 10:6 seem to indicate that there was a clear father/son succession to both the Nephite and Lamanite kingly office.   However, the kings mentioned in Omni 1:23 and Mosiah 6:4 aren’t called by the regnal name “Nephi”.  Why?

Mormon 1:5 shows that the prophet-historian Mormon claimed to be a descendant of  Nephi so we can assume that Nephi had children.

Why is Jacob’s sermon here and now in The Book of Mormon?  Might it be Nephi’s attempt  to smooth the way for, and add legitimacy to an unexpected succession of spiritual leadership?  For with Nephi’s death, as pointed out earlier, the spiritual leadership follows Jacob’s blood line.    Also Nephi could be attempting to show the reliability of prophecy (2 Nephi 6-10) as we see Isaiah’s prophecy of Jerusalem’s fall coming to pass.  We find Isaiah’s prophecies coincide with Nephi’s own prophecies thus adding legitamacy to Nephi’s prophetic call.   We will see in 2 Nephi 11:2-3 that Nephi includes Isaiah, his brother Jacob, and himself as three  having seen Jesus.  This statement along with Jacob’s sermon, might be interpreted as further indication of Nephi’s concern of adding legitimacy to his own prophetic call as well as to Jacob’s succession as spiritual leader.

2 Nephi 9:1

Here Jacob gives his reasoning for quoting Isaiah (that ye might know concerning the covenants of the Lord that he has covenanted with all the House of Israel).  Does this contradict his previous reason for quoting Isaiah as stated in 2 Nephi 6:4 (they are the words which my brother has desired that I should speak unto you)?

2 Nephi 9:7

Why did Joseph Smith use the word “atonement”  as opposed to other words that deal with Jesus’ sacrificial death.  Examples would be: expiation, propitiation, etc.  Each of these words have their own theological nuance, so I wonder if Joseph Smith was trying to emphasize the theological nuance of the word “atonement” 

Perhaps a post should be done on the different theories of the atonement.  For now, I will give a brief description of the different words used to explain what Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane, the cross, and through His resurrection:

Atonement:  The word atonement occurs only once in the KJV of the New Testament  (Romans 5:11), while it occurs 31 times in the Book of Mormon.   Atonement does not exist in English until Middle English at around 1505-1515.    It means at- one-ment, or in other words, in harmony with.   The idea of atonement is becoming one with God  or reconciling ourselves with God though Jesus Christ, where we had been separated from Him before due to our sins.

Expiate:  Does not occur in the KJV.  This deals with removal of sin. The idea is extinguishing something, to wipe something out.  The idea is that the sacrifice would expiate a person’s sins.  It would extinguish their sins.  It would cleanse them thus the object of expiation is not God, it is sin.  Through Christ our sins are expiated, or removed.  In Spanish this is the word that is used instead of atonement, including in The Book of Mormon – this would make sense since the word atonement did not enter the English lexicon until 1505 at the earliest

Propitiate:  In the KJV this word is found in  Romans 3:25, 1 John 2:2, and 1 John 4:10.  This word deals with appeasing God’s wrath that we have incurred because of our sins. In a sense it means to placate a person. In pagan religions, the gods needed to be propitiated. You needed to placate them, or do things to win their favor; you would bring them offerings in order to get the gods on your side.   The idea of propitiation is a sacrifice that is offered to the deity in order to mollify the deity’s opposition to you and win the favor of the deity.    Jesus Christ made propitiation for us.  This means He appeased God’s anger that came because of our sins.  The object of propitiation is God Himself.  It is God that is propitiated.

In the Greek N.T., the Greek word we are dealing with is hilasterion.  The question theologians and Bible scholars debate is how to best translate this word.  Should it be translated as propitiation or expiation?   Hilasterion literally means “mercy seat”.  Hilasterion is the word that is used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, (the Septuagint -sometimes written LXX),  for the mercy seat that is in the Holy of Holies in the temple.  The Septuagint was already in existence during the time of Jesus Christ.  The Bible scholar C.H. Dodd argues that propitiation is a pagan idea and so hilasterion should only be translated as expiation.  Most scholars are not persuaded by Dodd and realize that hilasterion is used to mean both expiation and propitiation.  Zechariah 7:2 and Malachi 1:9 are examples of offering sacrifice to seek the favor of the Lord.  This does not mean propitiation is being used in the pagan sense, to butter up God.   It is important to realize that it is God Himself that is initiating the sacrifice of His Son.  It is not a human sacrifice offered to God in order to win over God’s favor who is estranged from us.  On the contrary, it is we who are alienated from God and God seeks us out, to reconcile Himself to us by offering Jesus Christ as a sacrifice.   But wouldn’t this then be an expiation?   No.  What propitiation is dealing with is God’s holy anger towards sin.  It is Christ’s death that averts God’s wrath.   It satisfies Gods’ wrath. In doing so His justice is met.

As the hilasterion (mercy seat), Christ’s sacrifice is both a propitiation and an expiation.

Now that we have some brief theological definitions for atonement, propitiation, and expiation,  why would Joseph Smith choose atonement when translating The Book of Mormon?  -Especially when atonement  shows up only once in the KJV of the New Testament.

2 Nephi 9:28-30

Here we get, as far as I know, one of the few  warnings against being “learned”.  If we take a qualitative approach to this warning and compare it to the warning of being rich we get the following:

I did a word search using “rich”.  Here are some of  the  warnings against the rich: Psalm 37:16; 49:6; 52:7; 62:10; 73:12;  Proverbs 11:4;  11:28; 13:7; 22:16; 23:4 (this one could go either to the rich or  the wise); 27:24; 28:6; 28:20; 28:22; Ecclesiastes 5:12-14; 10:6; Jeremiah 5:27; 9:23 (could go to either the rich or the wise) Matthew 19:23,24; Mark 4:19; 10:23-25; Mark 12:41-44;  Luke 6:24; 8:14; 16:19-24; 18:18-25; 21:1-4;    I decided to stop there.

Total warnings of being rich: 23 

Warning against the “wise/learned” 2 Nephi 9:28-30; the two noted above; Proverbs 3:5

Total warnings of being wise/learned: 4

The worst fear that I have about this people is that they will get rich in this country, forget God and His people, wax fat, and kick themselves out of the Church and go to hell. This people will stand mobbing, robbing, poverty, and all manner of persecution, and be true. But my greatest fear for them is that they cannot stand wealth; and yet they have to be tried with riches, for they will become the richest people on this earth” (Brigham Young, reported in James S. Brown, Life of a Pioneer [1900], 122-23).

If we take a qualitative approach, it would seem God is much more concerned about the rich than he is with the learned.

Now  a bit of social commentary on Mormonism.  Why does so much of the rhetoric from the 20th and 21st century Mormonism center around the warning of being learned and not listening to the council of God?  What is the role of “the intellect” in the church?  We know what the role of the rich is:  They are the ones that have the motor boats and take the youth on water skiing trips.   They also seem to occupy the leadership positions in the church.

Looking here locally, our previous Stake President has an MBA and owns his own business.  He just got called to be the Mission President of the Santiago Chile, East Mission.   The newly called Stake President is also a business man.    What were the occupations of the two 70 that came to release the old and call the new Stake President?  Their brief bios in the programs showed that they were both business men.  I know both the previous and the new Stake Presidents personally.  The previous one was in our old ward and one of his sons use to baby sit our now 10 year old daughter.  The new Stake President used to be  our bishop in our old ward. I know of no  better men. When Mormonism does it right, it produces men like my past  and present Stake Presidents.

It is understandable why  the hierarchy of  the church relies on business men.   If you have wealth, you are able to give more of your time to the church. As a business owner, you have more control over your time, since you are the boss.    There seems to be some truth however, in the observation that the J. Reuben Clark Law School and BYU Business College are factories for making Stake Presidents and General Authorities.

What of the intellects of the church? The great intellects of the church seem to  get marginalized, or worse, excommunicated.   Think of the following intellectuals:  Leonard Arrington, B.H. Roberts, Lowell Bennion, Michael Quinn and,  Eugene England, Juanita Brooks.  All have either been formally or informally marginalized by our church.

As further examples, we have: the “September 6” excommunications, Elder Packer’s famous (or infamous)  May 18, 1993 talk in which he included “so called scholars and intellectuals” as one of the three great dangers to the church.   When was the last time you heard of someone being excommunicated for being too rich? Ya, you don’t.  You hear of the rich getting special privileges and dispensations.  I am thinking of Mitt Romney being able to marry outside the temple followed by his temple sealing a few days later.  If you look closely at his financial records that were released, you might argue (I am not)  that he doesn’t pay a full tithe. Although marriage outside the temple followed closely by a temple marriage is  allowed in countries  that do not recognize the legality of LDS temple marriages, this is almost never allowed in the United States.  In the U.S., if you marry first outside the temple, there is usually about a one year waiting period before you are allowed to be sealed  in an LDS temple ceremony.   To be rich is to be privileged.

In regards to the warning of being “learned”, the scriptures seem to provide the answer to how to walk this path and still remain in good standing with God, “if they hearken  unto the counsels of God.”   In contrast, the warnings to the rich, for the most part, stand as warnings, with little advise on what to do if you are rich; it just appears to be  super hard to get into heaven if you are rich.  I will admit there are scriptures advising the rich to give to the poor and, “to sell all you have.”

Looking at the scriptural warnings, it seems that God is more concerned about the rich, not the “wise and learned”.   Why do we as modern Mormons flip that?

Since it is Nephi’s younger brother, Jacob, addressing the Nephites, it can be assumed that only one generation has passed since the beginning of  The Book of Mormon narrative.   Is that really enough time to get gain and wealth?  I would argue probably not.  Assuming the Nephites have not accumulated much wealth by this part of the narrative, why would Jacob be giving such an exhortation?

Assuming that Jacob’s discourse is given around 550B.C. +/-, this would put us around the beginning of the Middle Formative Period of Mayan culture.   This is about the time that the Olmec civilization, which inhabited Vera Cruz,  suddenly collapsed (some Mormon apologists think the Olmec were the Jaredites).  In Michael Coe’s, The Maya, we read, “During this time we get the beginnings of the construction of Kaminalijuyu in Guatemala.  The oldest culture in this area is  probably Arevalo followed by Las Charcas.   There is little archeological evidence left of the Arevalo, but much more of Las Charcas.  In the Maya lowlands, we now have for the first time substantial evidence for a Maya population.   The oldest occupation in this area is the little-known Xe culture, which appears in deep levels at the site of Altar de Sacrficios and at Seibal in the western part of Peten.  It is in the Northern part of Peten, where the Middle Formative Period has been best defined.  Here we get the great Maya centers of Uaxactun and Tikal.   In these centers, it appears that the Mamom is the dominant culture of this time.   Mamom, which has a radiocarbon date within the 5th century B.C. looks like a simple village culture. However, it must be kept in mind that the lowland Maya almost always built their temples over older ones, so that in the course of centuries, the earliest constructions would eventually come to be deeply buried within the towering accretions of rubble and plaster.   Consequently, to prospect for Mamom temples in one of the larger sites would be extremely costly in time and labour, and the question of their existence should be kept open. The Middle Formative sees the establishment of Maya-speaking lowlands everywhere; the flowering of Maya culture could only have taken place on this base.  But there is absolutely nothing to suggest that Maya civilization as we understand it – the vaulted masonry architecture, the naturalistic painting and relief style, Long Count calendar and hieroglyphic writing – had even begun to germinate during this epoch.”  (MIchael Coe, The  Maya, pg 35-40)

With the above evidence as  background, could it have been Jacob’s observations of the collapse of the Olmec, or the rise of one of the Middle Formative  civilizations that  prompted his warnings against the rich?


2 Nehphi 10:3

This is an odd verse.  Christ comes from the Greek meaning “the anointed one” as opposed to Messiah which means the same thing but comes from the Hebrew.  The question raised is two fold:  First, Jesus’ name wasn’t Christ, it was Jesus of Nazareth; Messiah and Christ are titles – not last names.  In first century Judaism, what we would consider a last name, either had to do with from where you came (Jesus of Nazareth,  Joseph of Arimathaea)  or told who your father was  ie Simon Bar-jona (Son of Jonah/Jonas).    The second part deals with Book of Mormon translation itself.  Why did Joseph Smith Jr. pick the title “Christ” here instead of the Hebrew “Messiah”.  Wouldn’t it have made more sense to pick the Hebrew since Jacob is a first generation Jew?

2 Nephi 10:24

”reconcile”  Hmmmmm.  Atonement would fit nicely here.  Perhaps this gives a window into what was written on the plates.

Miguel is a Guatemalan-American Mormon living in the Northwest with his family. He is one of the proprietors of the Rational Faiths blog.

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