Context and General Information
- Nephi is quoting Isaiah – see Isaiah 48.
- Through Isaiah, the Lord is speaking.
- The Lord asks the house of Israel to listen to Him.
- The Lord is HE. He is Jehovah.
- The Lord is the first and the last.
- The Lord created the earth and his hand spans the heavens.
- The earth and the heavens obey Him.
- The Lord pleads with us to hear.
- The Lord will fulfill His word which he hath declared through the prophets.
- The Lord has called prophets, and will bless them.
I Am the First, and I Am Also the Last
Today, we are studying the same verses as we did in the part 1:
“12 Hearken unto me, O Jacob, and Israel my called, for I am he; I am the first, and I am also the last.
13 Mine hand hath also laid the foundation of the earth, and my right hand hath spanned the heavens. I call unto them and they stand up together.” – 1 Nephi 20:12-13
Today, we will look closer at the concept of Christ being the first and the last.
As I think about this – Christ being the first and the last, I kind of wonder why does He describe Himself this way? What is its significance? Why doesn’t he describe Himself another way? What are we supposed to understand about the Savior from this phrase?
I’m not sure yet, so let’s learn more about what “first and last” means. In the Guide to the Scriptures we read:
“Alpha is the first letter in the Greek alphabet; Omega is the last. They are also names given to Jesus Christ and are used as symbols to show that Christ is both the beginning and the end (Rev. 1:8; D&C 19:1).
So, this entry is about Christ being called alpha and omega. I know it isn’t first and last, but I feel like it is applicable here – especially the last part of what the entry says: Christ is both the beginning and the end.
Christ is Eternal
That phrase—Christ is both the beginning and the end—connotes His eternal nature.
In Moses, we read:
“Behold, I am God; Man of Holiness is my name; Man of Counsel is my name; and Endless and Eternal is my name, also.” – Moses 7:35
The Lord is God. He is Holy. He is wise. He is endless and eternal.
It is significant for us to understand that the Lord is endless and eternal. This is what makes Him God. This is what makes Him trustworthy.
I homeschool my children. Something that we have studied a lot in the past has been Greek Mythology. The stories and myths are interesting, we are impacted by these stories even today. We use phrases like: “Pandora’s Box.” If we are talking about conquering a seemingly impossible task, we might say it requires “Herculean strength.” Many of the names of our days and our months and planets are named after various Greek (or Roman) Gods. Even if we don’t believe in them myths, they have effected our culture.
As I’ve read the myths and studied them with my children, I have been kind of amazed to think that This was the religion of the Greeks. Many of them believed these myths in the same way that I believe in the gospel of Christ. These myths weren’t just a set of stories. These myths made up their religion and understanding of the world.
Of course, we now know that these myths were simply myths. These Gods weren’t alpha or omega. They weren’t the beginning or the end. I’m reminded of the experience with Elijah and the priests of Baal (another false and vain “god.”):
“22 Then said Elijah unto the people, I, even I only, remain a prophet of the Lord; but Baal’s prophets are four hundred and fifty men.
23 Let them therefore give us two bullocks; and let them choose one bullock for themselves, and cut it in pieces, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under: and I will dress the other bullock, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under:
24 And call ye on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the Lord: and the God that answereth by fire, let him be God. And all the people answered and said, It is well spoken.
25 And Elijah said unto the prophets of Baal, Choose you one bullock for yourselves, and dress it first; for ye are many; and call on the name of your gods, but put no fire under.
26 And they took the bullock which was given them, and they dressed it, and called on the name of Baal from morning even until noon, saying, O Baal, hear us. But there was no voice, nor any that answered. And they leaped upon the altar which was made.” – 1 Kings 18:22-26
So far, here we have Elijah, who was the prophet. He believed in Jehovah: the true and living God. At the time, the people were becoming apostate. Elijah’s job was to witness of Jehovah in an increasingly apostate nation.
The covenant children of Israel not only kept some of their traditions, but were starting to worship Baal as well. Baal’s priests in this part of the land numbered up to 450 men. Whereas Elijah alone worshipped the god of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
To provide extra witness to the people who were “halting between two opinions,” Elijah offered up a challenge: they would get two bulls and put them on separate altars – one for the priests of Baal and one for Elijah. Each group would prepare the bull, but they wouldn’t finish in offering the sacrifice. Instead, their God would do that – by sending down a fire from Heaven to consume the bull. It was agreed that whichever God “answered” with fire from Heaven would be the true and living God.
The priests of Baal began. They prepped the bull. They called on Baal. They went all day long – even leaping on the altar and later cutting themselves to show their devotion to their god.
And what happened??? … Crickets.
The account in 1 Kings continues:
“27 And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and said, Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked.
28 And they cried aloud, and cut themselves after their manner with knives and lancets, till the blood gushed out upon them.
29 And it came to pass, when midday was past, and they prophesied until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that there was neither voice, nor any to answer, nor any that regarded.” – 1 Kings 18:27-29
After a few hours, Elijah started talking trash. What kind of God was Baal? Was he asleep or busy?
Of course, the answer was – Baal couldn’t answer them because He wasn’t a true, living being. He was simply a figment of their imaginations. Though this god might have been a good way to produce solidarity in a society, his power was limited. Baal couldn’t send down fire from heaven. Baal was not a god. He wasn’t a good from the beginning. He wasn’t first and last. He was only an immediate idea.
After the priests of Baal finished their unsuccessful attempt, Elijah mended his altar, had it soaked with water, prayed humbly to God, and God sent down a fire from heaven, which consumed the altar, all of the water, and the bullocks. We read of the people’s response:
“And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces: and they said, The Lord, he is the God; the Lord, he is the God.” – 1 Kings 18:39
Jehovah, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior is a living God. And this is not only in the mortal sense. He was living, spiritually long before His birth in Bethlehem. He created the earth and guided his people as Jehovah in the Old Testament times. We know that Christ came to earth and lived and died. Three days after His death, he overcame death and was resurrected. Therefore, able to enable all of us to overcome death. He lives now.
He was in the beginning, and He will be in the end. There may be times when we feel like there is a pavilion covering His face (D&C 121:1), but we can rest assured that he is not talking, pursuing, on a journey, or asleep. We can rest assured that He isn’t some myth created to help explain the mysteries of this universe. We can rest assured that the Lord is alpha and omega – the beginning and the end – the first and the last.
One Last Thing
I think it is helpful to remind ourselves of a few points from earlier in this chapter
- Israel, the covenant people of the Lord, are not hearkening to Him—their God.
- The Lord has declared Himself and His gospel to them from the beginning.
- The Lord testified to Israel so they WOULD NOT say: My idol hath done them. The Lord doesn’t intend for Israel to be confused. He has made Himself known to them – so they would know that He is the true and living God, rather than have them worship something that was created by a man.
The Lord witnesses of Himself to Israel. He isn’t a fad. He isn’t a new, improved god. He isn’t something that can be whittled out of wood, hewn from a stone, or molten from gold. He isn’t new to the scene. He’s been around forever. He will be around forever. He is the true and living God of this earth and universe. And He has covenanted with Israel. They are His people.
The Lord still lives and covenants with His people today. It brings me peace to know that the God I trust in is a living God. That he is the first and the last. Even though experiences like Elijah’s might be hard for me to really wrap my head around, I can learn from it and trust that just as the Lord answered Elijah’s prayer, He will answer my prayer. Because I know that the Lord is the first and the last, I can trust that He will empower me just as He empowered Nephi.
I know that He is not lifeless. He lives! He loves us! He takes an interest in our lives. He has done this from the beginning and will continue to do this until the end.
Final installment coming next time…