All That Fight Against Zion Shall Be Destroyed

In interpreting Isaiah chapters 48 and 49 for his brothers, Nephi again teaches about the fate of those who fight against the people of the Lord in the last days.

“…[T]he blood of that great and abominable church, which is the whore of all the earth, shall turn upon their own heads; for they shall war among themselves, and the sword of their own hands shall fall upon their own heads, and they shall be drunken with their own blood. And every nation which shall war against thee, O house of Israel, shall be turned one against another, and they shall fall into the pit which they digged to ensnare the people of the Lord. And all that fight against Zion shall be destroyed, and that great whore, who hath perverted the right ways of the Lord, yea, that great and abominable church, shall tumble to the dust and great shall be the fall of it.” (1 Nephi 22:13-14) 

Questions:

-Would the people of the Lord (true followers of Jesus Christ who receive His Spirit) ever be filled with the kind of anger and ill-will that leads to widespread violence and war?

-How quickly, on the other hand, would a group or society that is animated by such ill-will and anger start to turn upon itself and any of its neighbors who are under the influence of the same dark spirit?

-What role will anger toward the truth and light of Zion play in separating the wicked from the righteous in the last days?

-Are there growing signs of hatred toward the Lord’s people (who will not bow to the deteriorating status quos of the societies around them)?

-How easy will it be for those with good-will toward all—and high standards of conduct based on the truths of revealed scripture—to stay separated from each other in the midst of those who have fallen prey to contagious hatred born of ill-will and anger? Will the good in heart from all faiths be gathered together in solidarity, of necessity, as the great and abominable church (described in the passage above) begins to destroy itself?

The Lord God will Bring the House of Israel Out of Captivity, Obscurity, and Darkness

Nephi continues to teach his brothers about the meaning of a portion of Isaiah’s prophecies found in the Brass Plates (comparable to Isaiah chapters 48 and 49 in the Old Testament). In interpreting the words of Isaiah, he again touches on the work the Lord will do through and for the children of Israel in the last days.

“Wherefore, he will bring [the house of Israel] again out of captivity, and they shall be gathered together to the lands of their inheritance; and they shall be brought out of obscurity and out of darkness; and they shall know that the Lord is their Savior and their Redeemer, the Mighty One of Israel.” (1 Nephi 22:12)

-Why did Jesus Christ focus his earthly ministry on the house of Israel? What is the principle by which He still focuses on, and operates through, the house of Israel to bless others throughout the world? How are the covenants He made to such men as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob — who sought Him out and found Him thousands of years ago — tied to this principle of blessing the earth through the house of Israel?

-If someone who is of the house of Israel receives greater spiritual opportunities and does not magnify these opportunities to bless others, is his or her standing before God in greater peril compared with someone who never had such opportunities? Are those of the house of Israel held to a higher standard by God, given their calling to bless others though the blessings they have received? Will they either prosper greatly or be deeply confounded based on their decisions to either love God and keep His commandments or to reject Him and His counsel? Is there greater potential for wickedness and evil among those who are part of a covenant people and then fail to live by those covenants?

-Who in the world currently has a covenant relationship with God? How were those covenants established? Were they initiated directly and clearly by God? Or, was the source of the covenants of less distinct origin?  Does it matter, once true covenants are entered into with God, whether the person is a literal descendant of the Israelites or not?

-What kind of captivity, obscurity, and darkness will the Lord bring the house of Israel out of as Isaiah’s prophecies are fulfilled in our time?

God Shall Make Bare His Arm in the Eyes of the Nations

Nephi continues to teach his brothers about the meaning of Isaiah’s prophecies. Nephi and his family had Isaiah’s words as recorded in the Brass Plates that were being carried by the family during their journey to the Americas. They viewed Isaiah’s writings as particularly valuable given the prophet’s focus on the house of Israel (of which the family was a part). After sharing the words of Isaiah comparable to Isaiah chapters 48 and 49 in the Old Testament, Nephi provides the following interpretation for his brothers:

“…[T]he time cometh that after all the house of Israel have been scattered and confounded, that the Lord God will raise up a mighty nation among the Gentiles…and by them shall our seed be scattered. And after our seed is scattered the Lord God will proceed to do a marvelous work among the Gentiles, which shall be of great worth unto our seed; wherefore, it is likened unto their being nourished by the Gentiles and being carried in their arms and upon their shoulders. And it shall also be of worth unto the Gentiles [and] unto the entire house of Israel, unto making known the covenants of the Father of heaven unto Abraham, saying: In thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed. And…all the kindreds of the earth cannot be blessed unless he shall make bare his arm in the eyes of the nations. Wherefore, the Lord God will proceed to make bare his arm in the eyes of the nations, in bringing about his covenants and his gospel unto those who are of the house of Israel.” (1 Nephi 22:7-11)

Questions:

-Have Lehi’s descendants been scattered by the Gentiles?

-Has a mighty nation been established in the Western Hemisphere?

-Has the Lord God begun a marvelous work among the Gentiles? Is there a church that has grown up within the mightiest nation in the Western Hemisphere that has priesthood authority restored directly from God? Is there are church that is spreading quickly throughout the world (outward from the mighty Gentile nation) with news of this restored priesthood and the saving ordinances it can perform? Is there a church that is actively re-gathering the house of Israel as one of the main tenants of its faith? Is there a church building beautiful temples all over the earth as a testament to God’s power and restored priesthood?

-If the Book of Mormon is the word of God, as millions now testify it is, would it not qualify as a marvelous work in and of itself?

-What will it mean for God to bare his arm before all nations? Does the wording of this prophecy sound like there will be much ambiguity or subtlety in its fulfillment?

By the Spirit Are All Things Made Known unto the Prophets

After Nephi reads some of the words of Isaiah (from the Brass Plates) to his family, his brothers approach him with some questions. Among other truths, he teaches them about the source of prophetic knowledge.

“…My brethren came unto me and said unto me: What meaneth these things which ye have read? Behold are they to be understood according to things which are spiritual, which shall come to pass according to the spirit and not the flesh? And I, Nephi, said unto them: Behold they were manifest unto the prophet by the voice of the Spirit; for by the Spirit are all things made known unto the prophets, which shall come upon the children of men according to the flesh. Wherefore, the things which I have read are things pertaining to things both temporal and spiritual.” (1 Nephi 22:1-3)

Questions:

– Who is the Spirit? And, how does He communicate with God’s children living on earth?

-Are their other spirits influencing those on earth besides the Spirit? (see The Temptations of the Devil Blindeth Eyes and Hardeneth Hearts)

-How can someone know they are receiving direction from the Spirit, who is a member of the Godhead, instead of from another spirit (which spirit will be at best a less than perfect source of knowledge and enlightenment)?

-Can anyone be a prophet if they have a strong connection with the true Spirit? Or, does God only call some to be prophets (based on their experience, priesthood keys, and spiritual gifts)?

Hear Ye the Words of the Prophet Isaiah

Nephi taught his family from the scriptures found in the Brass Plates and placed special emphasis on the words of Isaiah.

“…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…Wherefore I spake unto them saying: Hear ye the words of the prophet, ye who are a remnant of the house of Israel, a branch who have been broken off; hear ye the words of the prophet, which were written unto all the house of Israel, and liken them unto yourselves, that ye may have hope as well as your brethren from whom you have been broken off.” (1 Nephi 19:23-24)

Following are some of the messages from Isaiah’s writings that Nephi refers to after emphasizing the importance of the prophet’s words to those who are of the house of Israel:

…I have refined thee, I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.” (1 Nephi 20:10)

Hearken unto me, O Jacob, and Israel my called, for I am he; I am the first, and I am also the last.” (1 Nephi 20:12)

Come ye near unto me…” (1 Nephi 20:16)

O that thou hadst harkened to my commandments—then had thy peace been as a river, and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea.” (1 Nephi 20:18)

…There is no peace, saith the Lord, unto the wicked.” (1 Nephi 20:22)

…I will not forget thee, O house of Israel. Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me. Thy children shall make haste against thy destroyers; and they that made thee waste shall go forth of thee.” (1 Nephi 21:15-17)

…thou shalt know that I am the Lord; for they shall not be ashamed that wait for me.” (1 Nephi 21:23)

…I will contend with him that contendeth with thee, and I will save thy children. And I will feed them that oppress thee with their own flesh; they shall be drunken with their own blood as with sweet wine; and all flesh shall know that I, the Lord, am thy Savior and thy Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.” (1 Nephi 21:25-26)

Questions:

-Is the house of Israel hearing these messages from the book of Isaiah, which are also reemphasized in the Book of Mormon? How important are these messages from the Lord (through Isaiah) seeing that they are included in two different scriptural testaments?

-Is it possible to become part of the house of Israel, in the eyes of God, even if you are not part of an Israelite lineage?  (See The Lord Esteemeth All Flesh in One)

The People of the House of Israel Will I Gather in from the Four Corners of the Earth

Nephi, drawing on the scriptural prophecies his family had in the Brass Plates, describes events that would occur after the crucifixion of Christ.

“And as for those who are at Jerusalem, saith the prophet, they shall be scourged by all people, because they crucify the God of Israel, and turn their hearts aside, rejecting signs and wonders, and the power and glory of the God of Israel. And because they turn their hearts aside, saith the prophet, and have despised the Holy One of Israel, they shall wander in the flesh, and perish, and become a hiss and a byword, and be hated among all nations. Nevertheless, when that day cometh, saith the prophet, that they no more turn aside their hearts against the Holy One of Israel, then will he remember the covenants which he made to their fathers. Yea, then will he remember the isles of the sea; yea, and all the people who are of the house of Israel, will I gather in, saith the Lord, according to the words of the prophet Zenos, from the four quarters of the earth. Yea, and all the earth shall see the salvation of the Lord, saith the prophet; every nation, kindred, tongue and people shall be blessed.” (1 Nephi 19:15-17)

Questions:

-How is the dispersal and eventual gathering of the house of Israel tied to every nation and people being blessed in the last days?

-How is turning to the true Messiah, Jesus Christ, a key to receiving the covenant blessings made to  Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?

-Does it please a loving God to see the trials and hardships of those who reject His Son? Are those who cause tribulations for those who have rejected Christ any less responsible for their actions than anyone else? Would true followers of Jesus Christ ever despise and persecute a people who did not share their beliefs?

-Has the Lord begun to gather Israel in our time? What role does the Book of Mormon play in gathering children of Israel?

By the Power of His Almighty Word He Can Cause the Earth that It Shall Pass Away

Nephi’s older brothers (Laman and Lemuel) frequently rebelled against their father’s divinely mandated mission to settle in a new land. They doubted, complained, and even considered killing Lehi and Nephi to gain control of the traveling family’s destiny. In calling his older brothers to repentance, Nephi compares their actions to those of the children of Israel during the Exodus. He reminds them that they, like the Israelites during the Exodus, had experienced great manifestations of God’s power and His willingness to intervene to guide them. Yet, despite these manifestations, the older brothers – like the Israelites – rebelled time and again. He reminds them of God’s power over the earth and then asks them why they did not let Him have sway in their hearts:

“…He did straiten [the Israelites] in the wilderness with his rod; for they hardened their hearts, even as ye have; and the Lord straitened them because of their iniquity…[T]hey did revile against Moses, and also against God; nevertheless ye know that they were led forth by his matchless power into the land of promise.” (1 Nephi 17:41-42)

“Ye are swift to do iniquity but slow to remember the Lord your God. Ye have seen an angel, and he spake unto you; yea, ye have heard his voice from time to time; and he hath spoken unto you in a still small voice, but ye were past feeling, that ye could not feel his words; wherefore, he has spoken unto you like unto the voice of thunder, which did cause the earth to shake as if it were to divide asunder. And ye also know that by the power of his almighty word he can cause the earth that it shall pass away; yea, and ye know that by his word he can make the rough places to be made smooth, and the smooth places shall be broken up. O, then, why is it, that ye can be so hard in your hearts?” (1 Nephi 17:45-46)

Questions:

-Would some in today’s world act like Laman and Lemuel if God were to speak to them with an audible voice? Would a voice like thunder, or the still small voice that Nephi speaks of, have greater power to break up hard hearts?

-Is there anyone to which God does not speak with a still small voice? Is it possible to always have that Guide with you?

-Would you rather experience God’s power manifest in the outside world or in your heart? Which type of manifestation is more important? What are the keys to letting God into your heart?

-Is the miracle experienced by those who have let God into their hearts any less powerful to them than the miracle of seeing God’s mighty power manifest in the outside world?

The Lord Esteemeth All Flesh in One and Loveth Those Who Will Have Him to Be Their God

Nephi, in an attempt to help his rebellious older brothers understand the importance of their family’s journey away from Jerusalem, refers them to the experience of the Israelites who left Egypt and were led by the Lord to the land of Canaan (the Israelite’s promised land). He explains to his brothers that the Israelites living in and around Jerusalem – at the time he was speaking to Laman and Lemuel around 590 B.C. — had reached such a state of sin and rebellion that the Lord would allow these Israelites to be destroyed by another nation (similar to how the depraved Canaanites were displaced by the Israelites centuries before). In this context Nephi shares a number of general truths about how God sees and works with his children on earth:

“…The Lord esteemeth all flesh in one; he that is righteous is favored of God.” (1 Nephi 17:35)

“…The Lord hath created the earth that it should be inhabited; and he hath created his children that they should possess it. And he raiseth up a righteous nation, and destroyeth the nations of the wicked. And he leadeth away the righteous into precious lands and the wicked he destroyeth, and curseth the land unto them for their sakes. He ruleth high in the heavens, for it is his throne, and this earth is his footstool. And he loveth those who will have him to be their God.” (1 Nephi 17:36-40)

Questions:

-Are there any groups or individuals toward which God shows favoritism? Is there any unfairness in how he works with his earthly children? How is the favor spoken of in this passage different from favoritism?

-If righteousness is the key to receiving God’s favor, how does a group (or individual) become righteous?

-What role do God’s commandments, covenants, and grace play in helping a group (or individual) live in righteousness?

-Should every instance of human destruction be viewed as a case of God bringing His judgments upon the wicked? If a person dies of old age — which is the destruction of the body – does that mean the person is wicked? Is widespread destruction (affecting a whole society or nation of people) more likely to indicate the loss of God’s favor? Is it easy to fall into the trap of seeing the misfortune of others as God’s judgment when misfortune, separate from God’s actions, is an inevitable part of this mortal life for all who come to this fallen world?

-Does God ever do anything that isn’t what is best for His children on earth? Are there times when God allows the destruction of individuals and nations for the eternal benefit of those who experience the destruction (as well as for those who inhabit the earth after them)?

-What is the difference between the love God feels for all of His children and the increased care He is able to provide to those who will have Him to be their God (i.e., those who strive to know Him and worship Him through obedience to His commandments)?

If the Children of Men Keep the Commandments of God He Doth Nourish Them and Strengthen Them

In giving an account of his family’s journey through portions of the Saudi Arabian Peninsula, Nephi recognizes the great blessings they had received from God as vulnerable travelers far from their home and comfort zones. Although it was very difficult going, they were never attacked, no one died of starvation, and women in the group bore children and successfully nurtured them despite the harsh conditions. Nephi knew his father had received a commandment to leave Jerusalem and to seek a promised land for his family. As he is writing, Nephi pauses in his narrative to share a general truth about the blessings that come from obedience to God’s commands:

“…If it so be that the children of men keep the commandments of God he doth nourish them, and strengthen them, and provide means whereby they can accomplish the thing which he has commanded them.” (1 Nephi 17:3)

Questions:

-How does the Lord nourish and strengthen those who keep His commandments? Is it often by small and simple means that can be easily overlooked?

-If you care about keeping the commandments, is it more likely that you will care about getting help from God to accomplish what He has asked you to do? Is commandment keeping a key to building a relationship with God?

Where can the ten commandments be found? Are there more than the ten commandments found in the book of Exodus? What about receiving personal commandments such as the one Lehi received to leave Jerusalem. Does God still give such commandments, specific to individuals, in our time?

-Which commandments are the most important? Are the two great commandments, affirmed by Jesus Christ in the New Testament, a summary of the ten commandments? Or, do they transcend the ten commandments to some degree?

-Is obedience to God’s commandments a key to bringing His power into your life? How meaningful and empowering would it be to receive nourishment and strength from God himself?

By Small Means the Lord Can Bring About Great Things

On their journey to the Americas, the Lord blessed Lehi’s family with a device (which they called the Liahona) in the shape of a ball with pointers inside of it. The device helped guide them in the direction they needed to go as they travelled. It also provided what Nephi calls “writings” that would change from time to time to teach the family about the Lord and His ways. The pointers would only work if the family was faithful and diligent in using the tool to receive guidance from the Lord. Referring to the relatively small Liahona and the importance of the clear (but likely brief) messages contained on it, Nephi declares an important truth about how the Lord often operates in this world:

“…By small means the Lord can bring about great things.” (1 Nephi 16:29)

-Is it easy to discount the power of God in our lives because we are often looking for obvious, immediate and dramatic results from our prayers and earnest efforts to do God’s will? Are there many small things He is doing that we either take for granted for fail to see because of their subtlety? Is recognizing these small things an important key to building a greater relationship with God and seeing the progress He is helping us make in our lives?

-Do God’s smaller interventions (versus more grandiose intercessions) leave more room for exercising faith and free agency in our lives? Would we make the kind of progress God wants us to in this life if He didn’t work as much as He does with the smaller means?

-Speaking of small things, do physicists have a comprehensive understanding of the laws that control the smallest know particles of matter? Do they even know if they have found the smallest units that make up the matter of the universe?