My last article showed how three chapters from Matthew (the Sermon on the Mount from Matt. 5-7) are quoted at the beginning of Jesus’ Nephite ministry, and thereafter incorporated into his teachings approximately 15 times.
Bookending these three New Testament chapters at the outset of Jesus’ ministry are three Old Testament chapters at the conclusion, being Isaiah 54 (3 Nephi 22) and Malachi 3 and 4 (3 Nephi 24 and 25). Why these three chapters? Upon examination, it turns out that these three Old Testament chapters are no more “filler material” than the three New Testament chapters, but are contextualized primarily within the framework of Jesus’ preceding acts and teachings.
We know Jesus was concerned the Nephites have a record demonstrating that prophecies relating to his post-resurrection appearance were fulfilled. This is why he is eager to have included the fulfillment of Samuel’s prophecy that the dead would rise from their graves (3 Nephi 23:9-13). Similarly, several passages from Malachi serve the same purpose—to show that prophecies previously given were fulfilled at his coming.
1. The Lord Comes to His Temple—Right out of the box, Malachi 3:1 (3 Nephi 24:1) is quoted regarding the prophecy that “the Lord whom ye seek shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in; behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of Hosts.” As keen as the Nephites were on likening the scriptures unto themselves for their “profit and learning” (1 Nephi 19:23), it is almost certain they saw the fulfillment of this prophecy when the resurrected Lord came to his temple in Bountiful (3 Nephi 11:1).
2. The Messenger of the Covenant–In the same passage from Malachi, the Lord is described as “the messenger of the covenant.” Jesus’ Nephite teachings are replete with references to the covenant of which he is the messenger: “I am he who covenanted with my people Israel,” and, “The covenant which I have made with my people.” (3 Nephi 15:5, 8). Many other references to the “covenant” are found in 16:5, 11, 12; 20:12, 19, 22, 25, 26, 27, 29 (x2), 46 (x2); 21: 4 (x2), 7, 11, and 22. These twenty references to the “covenant” demonstrate the thematic quality of the concept; a theme that is capped off and tied into scripture by Malachi 3:1 quoted at the end of Jesus’ ministry.
3. Destructions Accompanying Appearance of the Lord at his Temple—The next verse in Malachi (3:2; cited at 3 Nephi 24:2) asks, “Who may abide the day of his coming, and who shall stand when he appeareth?” and adds that “he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fuller’s soap.” This indicates an appearance accompanied by destruction that all do not survive. 3 Nephi 8-9 describes the destructions immediately preceding Jesus coming to his temple in Bountiful, which many were not able to “abide.”
4. Treading Down the Wicked–Malachi 3:2-6 (3 Nephi 24:2-6) details the calamities to the wicked associated with the Lord’s coming, which is picked up in Malachi 4:1-3 (3 Nephi 25:1-3). Malachi 4:3 is particularly grisly: “And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet.”
This saying links backward to 3 Nephi 16:15 where Jesus says, “I will suffer my people, O house of Israel, that they shall go through among them and shall tread them down, . . . and to be trodden under foot of my people, O house of Israel.” It also links backward to 2 Nephi 21:12 where Jesus says that the remnant of Jacob shall be among the Gentiles like a young lion “who, if he go through both treadeth down and teareth in pieces and none can deliver.”
We also read of several cities burning to the ground, together with their wicked inhabitants, prior to the Savior’s coming. These are the cities of Zarahemla (8:8) and its inhabitants (9:3), Jacobugath and its inhabitants (9:9), and the cities of Laman, Josh, Gad and Kishkumen (9:10). The wicked citizens of these cities burned to the ground were literally reduced to “ashes under the soles of your feet,” as prophesied in Malachi 4:3 (3 Nephi 25:3).
5. Turning the Hearts—Malachi 4:6 (3 Nephi 25:6) contains the familiar prophecy regarding Elijah coming to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children and the hearts of the children to the fathers. Once again, although this prophecy is generally seen by modern Mormons as having fulfillment in the end-times, the text indicates the fulfillment occurred during Jesus’ visit, and would likely have been seen this way by the Nephites.
Immediately after this verse is quoted, Jesus turns the hearts of the fathers to the children: “These scriptures, which ye had not with you, the Father commanded that I should give unto you; for it was wisdom in him that they should be given unto future generations.” (3 Nephi 26:2) Mormon seems to understand this as he comments that he has written the “lesser part” of what Jesus taught the Nephites “to the intent that they may be brought again unto this people, from the Gentiles.” (3 Nephi 26:8). In other words, the additional scriptures provided by Jesus and also his teachings were recorded with the specific “intent that they may be brought again” unto their descendants, or children—the “future generations.”
Jesus addresses the same theme prior to the quotation from Malachi, telling the Nephites that “when these works . . . shall come forth . . . unto your seed, . . . it shall be a sign unto them, that they may know that the work of the Father hath already commenced unto the fulfilling of the covenant which he hath made unto the people who are of the house of Israel” (3 Nephi 21:5, 7). (Note that in this passage, the theme of turning the hearts of the fathers to the children from Malachi 4:6 is interwoven with the covenant from Malachi 3:1.)
Having turned the hearts of the fathers to the children, Mormon next records how Jesus turned the hearts of the children to the fathers, describing how Jesus “did teach, and minister unto the children of the multitude, . . . and he did loose their tongues, and they did speak unto their fathers great and marvelous things. . . “ (3 Nephi 26:4). A similar scene is described two verses later, which contains the entirety of information given regarding what happened on the third day of Jesus’ visit (3 Nephi 26:16).
In his teachings, Jesus earlier reminds the Nephites that “ye are the children of the prophets” (20:25) and turns their hearts to their prophet fathers by not only reminding them they are part of the Abrahamic covenant, but also by quoting the three Old Testament chapters at the end of his recorded Nephite ministry.
6. Tithes and Offerings—Malachi 3:8-12 recites the well-known admonition to bring all the tithes and offerings into the Lord’s house that there may be meat (i.e., “food”) there, coupled with the blessing of the windows of heaven opening, and plenteous crops so that none need go hungry. This is of interest because some sort of communal law such as that of “tithes and offerings” was instituted by Jesus among the Nephites, for we read in 4 Nephi that “there were no poor among them.” It would seem this was important for the Nephites in order to lay the basis for their communal society which was stable enough to endure for 200-years, and accounts for why the Savior thought it important to have this scripture added to the Nephite records immediately prior to their embarking on this happy two centuries of their history.
Those who follow Malachi’s economic plan are promised that “all nations shall call you blessed” (3 Nephi 24:12), a promise which is fulfilled upon the Nephites for 200-years after Christ’s visit; in fact, they are called “blessed” three times, a symbolically significant number associated with the heavens or the divine: “And how blessed were they! For the Lord did bless them in all their doings; yea, even they were blessed and prospered . . . (4 Nephi 18).
In a similar fashion, Jesus admonished the Nephites that there should be no disputations or contentions among them (3 Nephi 11:28), a status used three times to describe the Nephite society after he departs: 4 Nephi 2 states “there were no contentions and disputations among them,” 13 states “there was no contention among all the people,” and 15 says “there was no contention in all the land.”
7. The Gathering and Restoration of Israel—The third Old Testament chapter quoted by Jesus at the end of his ministry is Isaiah 54, found in 3 Nephi 22. It is repetitive and poetic (as only Isaiah can be), but the primary message is that Israel, though scattered and downtrodden in the past, will ultimately be restored and victorious over their oppressors. “Thy seed shall inherit the Gentiles,” we read in 3 Nephi 22:3. The crux of the entire chapter is synopsized in 3 Nephi 22:7—“For a small moment have I forsaken thee, but with great mercies will I gather thee.”
The gathering and restoration of Israel (with an emphasis on the Nephites and Lamanites) is a major theme of Jesus’ teaching prior to the citation of Isaiah 54 in 3 Nephi 22, and is the main thrust of chapters 16, 20 and 21. Perhaps it will be sufficient to make the point to cite here to salient portions of the chapter headings:
Chapter 16—In the latter days the gospel will go to the Gentiles and to the house of Israel—The Lord’s people will see eye to eye when He brings Zion. (Verse 16 has Jesus promising the Nephites to “give unto this people this land for their inheritance.”)
Chapter 20—The remnant of Jacob will come to the knowledge of the Lord their God and will inherit the Americas—Others of the Lord’s people will be gathered to Jerusalem.
Chapter 21—Israel will be gathered when the Book of Mormon comes forth—Israel will build the New Jerusalem, and the lost tribes will return.
In this way we can see the quotation of Isaiah 54 in 3 Nephi 22 as the capstone of Jesus’ lengthy and detailed teachings to the Nephites regarding their gathering and restoration in the last days.
We have seen that the three Old Testament chapters included by Jesus at the end of his ministry are, like the Sermon on the Mount given at the beginning of his ministry, not mere filler, but are fully contextualized in both the deeds and teachings of Jesus among the Nephites.
But whereas the New Testament chapters are primarily “brushed forward” into Jesus’ subsequent teachings to the Nephites, the Old Testament chapters are primarily “brushed backward” onto the prior teachings and deeds of Jesus among the Nephites.
Think about this for a minute. It is one thing to incorporate the Sermon on the Mount into subsequent teachings. It is another thing to have deeds and teachings come first only to be capped and referenced by Old Testament chapters at the end.
But it is another thing entirely to do both at the same time, brushing forward from the New Testament chapters at the same time as brushing backward from the Old Testament chapters. And yet this is precisely what the author of Third Nephi does, raising the degree of complexity in the text to a much greater order than either standing alone.
This pattern calls to mind a phrase from Kipling’s poem, The Law of the Jungle:
As the creeper that girdles the tree-trunk the Law runneth forward and back —
For the strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack.
In the third and final installment, I plan to show that the text of Jesus’ Nephite ministry, already remarkably complicated, is made even more complex by the superimposition of a literary structure over the whole, within which the simultaneous “brushing forward” and “brushing backward” takes place.