Nephi was intimately familiar with the covenants and history of the House of Israel that we have now reviewed. He and his family having been warned of the Lord to leave Jerusalem for reasons directly correlated to Judah’s failure to keep these covenants. The Nephites at large also understood these things. They saw themselves as a grafted branch of Israel, strangers wandering in a strange land.[i] Their very society was a testament to the covenants and thus, from this perspective, there is a unique understanding woven throughout their whole record. With this understanding, we are better prepared to explore the deeper meanings behind the things Nephi was permitted to record. We now return to Nephi’s account.
And it came to pass that the angel spake unto me, Nephi, saying: Thou hast beheld that if the Gentiles repent it shall be well with them; and thou also knowest concerning the covenants of the Lord unto the House of Israel; and thou also hast heard that whoso repenteth not must perish. Therefore, wo be unto the Gentiles if it so be that they harden their hearts against the Lamb of God.
For the time cometh, saith the Lamb of God, that I will work a great and a marvelous work among the children of men; a work which shall be everlasting, either on the one hand or on the other—either to the convincing of them unto peace and life eternal, or unto the deliverance of them to the hardness of their hearts and the blindness of their minds unto their being brought down into captivity, and also into destruction, both temporally and spiritually, according to the captivity of the devil, of which I have spoken.
And it came to pass that when the angel had spoken these words, he said unto me [AGAIN]: Rememberest thou the covenants of the Father unto the House of Israel? I said unto him, Yea.[ii]
The fact that the angel repeatedly brings up the subject of the covenants of the Lord to the house of Israel in regards to these latter-day events is certainly worthy of our consideration. Anytime a messenger from heaven deliberately repeats something, we would do well to make sure that we have ears to hear and eyes to see. With this in mind, note that the angel is referring to the Lord’s covenant to gather Israel in the latter-days, and how that gathering will impact the unrighteous gentiles.
In addition to repeatedly referencing the covenants of the Lord, the angel mentions a great latter-day work. Note that in the church we tend to associate the phrase “great and marvelous work” with the Book of Mormon and Restoration, and surely this is part of it. However the continual reference to the covenants implies that the restoration is a means to accomplish this work, rather than the end objective, as some latter-day saints mistakenly presume. Recall that both temporal and spiritual destruction are cited as part of this “great and marvelous work”. While the restoration is certainly associated with persecution and violent opposition, it was never associated with the captivity and destruction the Lord warns awaits those who will not choose peace and life eternal. Therefore we must assume that this portion of the “great and marvelous work” lies ahead of us.
For all intents and purposes the tribes of Judah and the house of Joseph have been gathered. Each group has been gathered in similar numbers, at around 15 million people in each group so far. Furthermore, others from among the Lost Tribes, particularly in Russian affiliated countries, have been gathered, but in comparatively small numbers. These precious few must therefore represent a sample of those that remained behind among the nations of the earth. The main body of the missing tribes has yet to be restored.
Thus the angel is saying, when the Father gathers scattered Israel, and restores the lost ten tribes, then the Gentiles will have a day of reckoning. This is the “great and marvelous work” that will rival the Exodus of Egypt in its scope and grandeur. For the righteous this great work will bring “peace and life eternal”, but for the wicked it will result in “destruction both temporally and spiritually”. Hence, the wo that is pronounced upon the unbelieving of the Gentiles.
The angel then again shows Nephi that in the last days the great and abominable institution will make war against the Saints, as we have previously discussed. However, in light of the current discussion lets reconsider the following passage:
And it came to pass that I beheld that the great mother of abominations did gather together multitudes upon the face of all the earth, among all the nations of the Gentiles, to fight against the Lamb of God. And it came to pass that I, Nephi, beheld the power of the Lamb of God, that it descended upon the saints of the church of the Lamb, and upon the covenant people of the Lord, who were scattered upon all the face of the earth; and they were armed with righteousness and with the power of God in great glory.[iii]
These verses identify three separate groups of people in America. The first group is at war with the saints. The second is described as “the saints of the church of the Lamb” (i.e the sincere and righteous disciples of Jesus Christ, by whatever name they may be called.) The third group is described as “the covenant people of the Lord”. The angel makes an obvious distinction between these two groups, but why?
I believe the distinction between the two latter groups correlates to the two groups identified in the tenth Article of Faith. That verse describes those of the House of Israel that are “gathered”, and then those that that are literally “restored” from the Lost Ten Tribes. The gathering of the first of these groups began with the events surrounding the formation of the United States of America, and the second will apparently happen in a single eye-popping, jaw-dropping event. I believe that this last group will be restored from the “utmost parts of Heaven”.[iv]
This combined group of disciples is described as being “armed with righteousness, and the power of God in great glory”. The dictionary defines the term “armed” as “having entered into a state of readiness for war”. Therefore, the covenant people together with the Saints of God, are prepared for battle. Nephi used similar language when describing the revolutionary war, which as we know was a physical rather than a spiritual war. Lets continue with Nephi’s account:
And it came to pass that I beheld that the wrath of God was poured out upon that great and abominable church, insomuch that there were wars and rumors of wars among all the nations and kindreds of the earth. And as there began to be wars and rumors of wars among all the nations which belonged to the mother of abominations, the angel spake unto me, saying: Behold, the wrath of God is upon the mother of harlots; and behold, thou seest all these things—
And when the day cometh that the wrath of God is poured out upon the mother of harlots, which is the great and abominable church of all the earth, whose founder is the devil, then, at that day, the work of the Father shall commence, in preparing the way for the fulfilling of his covenants, which he hath made to his people who are of the House of Israel.[v]
The above verses confirm previous interpretations of the “covenants of the Lord”. The timing of the crumbling of the secret combinations and works of darkness associated with the great and abominable institution known as the “whore of all the earth” precede the restoration of the House of Israel. In the third chapter of this book, we learned that the great and abominable church would be destroyed under the command and direction of the stout horn, also known as the antiChrist. This is a function of the Lord using the wicked to destroy the wicked. This destruction ensures the stout horn’s preeminence and standing among men. The restoration of the House of Israel in America will cause the stout horn to flee from America, bringing about the saying – “Let us not go up to battle against Zion, for the inhabitants of Zion are terrible; wherefore we cannot stand.” D&C 45:70
Although the above passage alludes to this battle, Nephi was not permitted to further elaborate upon it. The angel forbade it. Nephi spoke very plainly, indeed he stated that his soul delighted in plainness, thus I find it very curious that the Lord forbade him to write the remainder of his vision in his own words. Consider the following:
And behold, I, Nephi, am forbidden that I should write the remainder of the things which I saw and heard; wherefore the things which I have written sufficeth me; and I have written but a small part of the things which I saw.[vi]
We do not know why Nephi was not permitted to further describe what he saw and heard, but we do know that others who were permitted to see and hear the same things were also constrained. Moroni, in Chapter 13 of Ether, began to describe the days wherein the Lord would remember His covenant and restore the House of Israel upon the American continent. In the third verse of the chapter Moroni states the following:
And [this land is] the place of the New Jerusalem, which should come down out of heaven, and the holy sanctuary of the Lord.
This verse is particularly fascinating in that there are two major structures that serve as signs of the times which still need to be restored or rebuilt; the New Jerusalem, and the Temple in Jerusalem – the holy sanctuary of the Lord. The timing of the events Moroni saw correlate with the timeframe of Nephi’s vision, and suggest marvelous things lie ahead. I have always assumed that the construction of the New Jerusalem and the temple in Old Jerusalem would be a long drawn out construction projects – proclamations to the world that it was time to “get your house in order!” The information Moroni provided regarding these structures descending from heaven like the City of Enoch, suggests that these events will happen in an “instant suddenly”, as a thief in the night. If this is the case, it is critical that our spiritual preparation have occurred before hand, lest we find our lamps without oil.
Curiously, like Nephi, Moroni was also forbidden to expound upon what he saw – consider the following taken from the 13th verse of the same chapter.
And I was about to write more, but I am forbidden; but great and marvelous were the prophecies of Ether…
Why were these men not permitted to describe what they saw? I believe the answer to this question has something to do with trying the faith of His people. Regardless, it is interesting to me how quickly Nephi’s recorded vision ends. We are not told by Nephi, how the “covenant people” appear among the Saints of God, only that their arrival corresponds both with the downfall of the wicked gentiles, and the fulfillment of the Father’s covenants with Israel.
I appreciate that the conclusions I have drawn to this point might be as shocking as they are new to the reader. Therefore lets further deliberate upon this before we continue as this is vital to understand. A predominate thought among members of the church is that Israel will be gathered together in the latter-days through missionary work. Admittedly we have seen that missionary work has been the primary force in the gathering of the House of Joseph, but what of the other tribes? Is there any evidence that they will be gathered to any significant degree through missionary work? The answer to this riddle is found in the allegory of the olive tree provided by the prophet Zenos and recounted in whole in Jacob chapter five, and in part in Romans chapter eleven. In this great parable there is a distinct difference between grafting Israel’s branches and gathering Israel’s fruit. The difference is in who performs the tasks.
And because that I [the Lord of the Vineyard] have preserved the natural branches and the roots thereof, and that I have grafted in the natural branches again into their mother tree, and have preserved the roots of their mother tree, that, perhaps, the trees of my vineyard may bring forth again good fruit; and that I may have joy again in the fruit of my vineyard, and, perhaps, that I may rejoice exceedingly that I have preserved the roots and the branches of the first fruit—
Wherefore, go to, and call servants, that we may labor diligently with our might in the vineyard, that we may prepare the way, that I may bring forth again the natural fruit, which natural fruit is good and the most precious above all other fruit.[vii]
In this account we learn that the Lord of the vineyard Himself grafts in the branches of His trees. The act of grafting is an act of restoration. Regarding the things of God, men can reform, but God alone has the authority to restore. And so it is in this parable that the Lord of the vineyard performs the grafting, while the servants gather the fruit. We read of the servants fertilizing, pruning and harvesting. Lets observe some latter-day examples of this principle of gathering fruits vs. grafting branches.
Restorations are the work of the Lord; no unhallowed hand can keep such work from happening. The restoration of the country of Israel is an example of an unstoppable event. Men tried to stop it from happening. They tried to destroy the Jews the instant the Lord reestablished his work, but the Lord sustained them in a miraculous fashion. This restoration was the Lord’s work. It had nothing to do with missionary work. The Lord grafted the Jews back into the original tree all by Himself.
Likewise, while the Christian reformation was the work of good and honorable men, the restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was the work of God. It is true that Joseph Smith was an instrument in this great work, but everything he did was through the gift and power of God. Joseph was incapable of restoring the gospel on his own. He could not bring back the priesthood, translate the Book of Mormon, nor recover the plain and precious truths of the gospel that had been lost, any more than could the good men of the reformation. This could only have come from the Lord. Missionaries on the other hand have assisted the Lord in gathering Israel to this standard, this is consistent with the parable.
Now, if the Lord Himself grafted in both Judah and Joseph, will he not likewise graft in the main branches of the Lost Tribes of Israel? Why would these lost tribes be treated differently, especially if they were grafted into the nethermost part of the vineyard? Does not the tenth article of faith explicitly state that such will be the case?
We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes
The Lord will graft in the main body of the missing tribes of Israel. Jeremiah confirms this interpretation.
Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that they shall no more say, The Lord liveth, which brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt; but, The Lord liveth, which brought up and which led the seed of the House of Israel out of the North country.
Behold, a whirlwind of the Lord is gone forth in fury, even a grievous whirlwind: it shall fall grievously upon the head of the wicked. The anger of the Lord shall not return, until he have executed, and till he have performed the thoughts of his heart: in the latter days ye shall consider it perfectly. [viii]
Jeremiah explicitly says that the Lord will lead them out of the “north country”, in a manner that will rival the Egyptian Exodus, when He also led His people Israel. It is this group to whom Nephi’s angel refers to as the “covenant people of the Lord” who would appear among the Saints in the last days. While missionaries themselves are a great wonder, and have had many miraculous experiences, no one could rationally argue that their efforts and experiences rival the experiences surrounding the deliverance of our forefather’s from their Egyptian slavery. Jeremiah’s statement that these events will be understood by all perfectly in the latter-days also corresponds with the timing of events in Nephi’s vision.
Although Nephi and Moroni were forbidden to write more, Nephi explicitly stated the following:
And also others who have been, to them hath [the Lord] shown all things, and they have written them.[ix]
Who were these others? Nephi’s statement “others who have been” implies that these men proceeded him. I believe that one of these was Ezra, as we have seen in the first section of this book. Christ also declared that another was Isaiah. In fact, Christ expressly commanded us to diligently study his words.[x] It should, therefore, come as no surprise that the first time Isaiah is mentioned in the Book of Mormon is the chapter immediately following Nephi’s vision. In fact, following this chapter, Nephi either quotes Isaiah, or discusses the meaning of Isaiah’s words in almost all of the forty-one remaining chapters of his record. A study of the Isaiah chapters included by Nephi reveals that the vast majority of them deal with the latter-day restoration of Israel. This is not coincidental. This is a deliberate move on Nephi’s part to explain to us through the words of one who was commissioned to such a calling. And even then, Nephi is wary of elaborating too much upon Isaiah’s word. After Nephi finished transcribing the words from Isaiah chapters 48 & 49, he began to elaborate on their meaning but stopped saying:
And now I, Nephi, make an end; for I durst not speak further as yet concerning these things.[xi]
The similarity between this forbearance and the command of the angel cannot be ignored. By the end of 2 Nephi, Nephi will have transcribed 19 of the 22 Isaiah chapters in the Book of Mormon. At the conclusion of his record Nephi is once again constrained by the spirit to not say too much regarding the words he had written.
Wherefore, now after I have [written] these words, if ye cannot understand them it will be because ye ask not, neither do ye knock; wherefore, ye are not brought into the light, but must perish in the dark.
And now I, Nephi, cannot say more; the Spirit stoppeth mine utterance, and I am left to mourn because of the unbelief, and the wickedness, and the ignorance, and the stiffneckedness of men; for they will not search knowledge, nor understand great knowledge, when it is given unto them in plainness, even as plain as word can be.[xii]
Hear the anguish reflected in Nephi’s words – how can we help but be profoundly impacted by them?There is an amazing message contained within his writings, but he knew that it would be hidden from most people. Not because the Lord did not want them to know about it, but because they never asked. For most, the Isaiah chapters continue to be the least understood and least appreciated section of the Book of Mormon. This is unfortunate.
Using the voice of Isaiah rather than Nephi certainly limits the dissemination of Nephi’s message, as most members skip or skim these chapters. The true meaning of Nephi’s message is, therefore, kept by the Spirit of the Lord, and opened only unto those that knock.
Therefore, if any man shall diligently seek, he shall find it, and the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto him, by the power of the Holy Ghost.[xiii]
If you want to know the truthfulness of these things, then you must knock. I am constantly amazed at how many members of the church can hear the mighty promises of God regarding His revelation and still be content to receive the word of the Lord through the muddy pasture puddles of the interpretations of others, rather than hiking to the fount of Living Water and drinking deeply from the source. The implication of many ancient prophets being forbidden to fully explain these things is not that the Lord intends that none should understand them. After all, they apparently had a full understanding of these things themselves. Rather, it is that only those who diligently seek this knowledge that have the eyes of their understanding opened by the illumination of the Spirit. There is no other way.
The next section of this book will focus on Isaiah’s latter-day message, as it was hand selected by Nephi. I hope by the end of that discussion, you will have a deep appreciation for the glorious message entrusted to Isaiah for all who would study his words under the direction of the Holy Ghost. It is a message that will have a profound impact upon the the events that will unfold in the latter-days. Apart from Isaiah, Both Nephi and Moroni both specifically made mention of the writings of John the Revelator concerning these things. As such, later sections of this book will devoted to both Moroni and John.
[i] Alma 26:36
[ii] 1 Nephi 14:5-8
[iii] 1 Nephi 14:13-14
[iv] Deuteronomy 30:4
[v] 1 Nephi 14: 15-17
[vi] 1 Nephi 14:28
[vii] Jacob 5:60-61
[viii] Jeremiah 23:7-8;19-20
[ix] 1 Nephi 14:26
[x] 3 Nephi 23:1-3
[xi] 1 Nephi 22:29
[xii] 2 Nephi 32:4&7
[xiii] 1 Nephi 10:19