Come Follow Me: 2 Nephi 11-25

Today, like the Titanic and the iceberg, we arrive at the dreaded Isaiah chapters.

Now, one might wonder why Nephi bothers to copy Isaiah like this. After all, they’ve got it already, right? But given how valuable the text of Isaiah is to Nephi, it is a very practical decision for him to make a second (partial) copy, by inscribing it onto his small plates. After all, they only had one copy of the text. Think of it like your computer data; Nephi needed to make a back-up in case something happened.

More explicitly, Nephi has earlier told us why he quotes Isaiah and what he’s doing with it, in 1Ne 19:23;

that I might more fully persuade them to believe in the Lord their Redeemer I did read unto them that which was written by the prophet Isaiah; for I did liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning

Nephi’s announcement, among other things, tell us that he’s going to give us a non-contextual application of Isaiah to his people. He is re-interpreting and adapting Isaiah to speak to and about his people, making it relevant for them this way. He is not giving us a historical or contextual interpretation of Isaiah, or what Isaiah really meant when he spoke to the eighth-century Israelites two hundred years earlier. When my students have trouble grasping this point, the following dialogue often helps.

Allowing for a little Semitic hyperbole, were ‘all scriptures’ written for or about the Nephites? Was Leviticus written with the Nephites in mind? Psalms? Jeremiah? And yet, Nephi says he likened all of them to his people. That suggests Nephi both recognizes and is announcing to us that he’s applying these passages in a new way that they hadn’t been written for, and that Isaiah’s primary subject and audience in those chapters was not Nephi’s people. Nephi’s prophetic reading is a creative adaptive one.

Before quoting Isaiah, Nephi also invites the reader of the plates to re-reapply them. “Now these are the words [of Isaiah], and ye may liken them unto you and unto all men. (2Ne 11:8) Nephi’s conception of likening clearly envisioned an interpretive flexibility, wherein everyone in all times could see themselves in Isaiah somehow.

Elder McConkie (no milquetoast liberal) approved of this idea, that later interpreters like Nephi and the New Testament authors are re-interpreting, giving new meaning to something.  Nephi, he said,

“gave, not a literal, but an inspired and interpreting translation. And in many instances his words give either a new or greatly expanded meaning to the original prophetic word.” (My emphasis, original here.)

We shouldn’t expect Nephi’s understanding of Isaiah to reflect what Isaiah meant to Isaiah’s first hearers in the eighth century BC nor to Jerusalem Israelites contemporary with Nephi. For more on contextual vs. non-contextual intepretation, see my post here on Isaiah 22, my Sperry Symposium talk, and this Church News article quoting BYU Prof Gaye Strathearn on two-fold interpretation.

I think the best single paper on these chapters and Nephi’s interpretation and what it might have meant to the Nephites is by Gee and Roper, LINK; If Laman and Lemuel’s violation of the covenant included marrying non-Israelites, natives in the land… how could Nephi and company do the same? Because they kept the covenant, and Isaiah explains how Gentiles can be brought in and counted as Israelites.

Three more resources that may be useful are

Nephi quotes Isaiah 2-14, so while not a lot of overlap with our Isaiah lessons from last year, here’s my post on Isaiah 1-6.

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2 thoughts on “Come Follow Me: 2 Nephi 11-25

  1. One idea that occurred to me is that Nephi’s narrative on the small plates was written to be parallel to the Israelite exodus story with 1st Nephi being the Nephite Exodus and 2nd Nephi the Nephite equivalent of Leviticus. Nephi took scripture that was new to him, Isaiah, and used those scriptures to frame a new covenant with the Nephite nation.

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  2. The purpose of the Isaiah chapters in given by Nephi in 2 Ne. 11, before he quotes the Isaiah chapters. Chapter 11 is highly structured text, as follows:

    A – 2 And now I, Nephi, write more of the words of Isaiah, for my soul delighteth in his words. For I will liken his words unto my people, and I will send them forth unto all my children, for he verily saw my Redeemer, even as I have seen him.

    B – 3 And my brother, Jacob, also has seen him as I have seen him; wherefore, I will send their words forth unto my children to prove unto them that my words are true. Wherefore, by the words of three, God hath said, I will establish my word. Nevertheless, God sendeth more witnesses, and he proveth all his words.

    C – 4 Behold, my soul delighteth in proving unto my people the truth of the coming of Christ; for, for this end hath the law of Moses been given; and all things which have been given of God from the beginning of the world, unto man, are the typifying of him.

    D – 5 And also my soul delighteth in the covenants of the Lord which he hath made to our fathers;

    D – yea, my soul delighteth in his grace, and in his justice, and power, and mercy in the great and eternal plan of deliverance from death.

    C – 6 And my soul delighteth in proving unto my people that save Christ should come all men must perish.

    B – 7 For if there be no Christ there be no God; and if there be no God we are not, for there could have been no creation. But there is a God, and he is Christ, and he cometh in the fulness of his own time.

    A – 8 And now I write some of the words of Isaiah, that whoso of my people shall see these words may lift up their hearts and rejoice for all men. Now these are the words, and ye may liken them unto you and unto all men.

    A – Rejoice over words of Isaiah, I send them to you, liken them to yourself, they are about you
    B – Witnesses: Nephi, Jacob, Isaiah, and all of Creation testify of Christ
    C – Christ is coming, to deliver us from death
    D – The covenants of the Lord make salvation possible

    Nephi says repeatedly “my soul delighteth”. The future detailed by Nephi is grim for the Lehites, Jews and Gentiles. Yet, he knows a righteous remnant will be redeemed by the Lord. This is the message of Isaiah, which Nephi wants all readers of his record to know: that the Messiah will deliver them from sin and death, even as He covenanted with Abraham, et al.to do. He will do it, and redeem His people, which makes Nephi rejoice, despite the horrors he has forseen.

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