Context and General Information
- After Nephi read the words of Isaiah to his brethren, they had questions for him. What does it mean? And are these things to be understood spiritually or physically?
- Nephi explains that the things that he read were given to the prophet through the Spirit. The Spirit teaches all things to us – both spiritual and things that will happen according to the flesh.
- Nephi also explains that the things he read from Isaiah have both spiritual and temporal application.
Two Questions for Nephi
Let’s jog our memories for a second. In 1 Nephi 19, Nephi tells us that in order to more fully convince his people of the Savior, he read the words of Isaiah to them. What follows in 1 Nephi 20 and 1 Nephi 21 are two chapters that quote Isaiah (Isaiah 48-49).
Now, in 1 Nephi 22, he has finished reading the words of Isaiah to his brothers, and they have questions.
- What do these things mean?
- Are they to be understood spiritually and not physically?
Good questions actually. In fact, I think that when we read the words of Isaiah, we often have the same exact questions…what does this mean? Is this symbolic and spiritual or literal? I don’t think that these are necessarily questions of doubt or ridicule. I feel like whichever of Nephi’s brethren asked this question were probably asking in earnest.
At least, I know that when I have wondered these same things about the prophecies of Isaiah, I have wondered them in earnest. So, for this blog post and the next, we will be investigating and answering these questions.
What do these things mean?
First, Nephi’s brothers ask What meaneth these things which ye have read? Or, in other words – what do these things mean?! Pretty good question. Nephi just read to them Isaiah 48-49. What do those things mean?
Nephi spends most of the rest of this chapter going over what Isaiah’s teachings mean.
One – Sooner or Later, the house of Israel will be scattered among all nations
First of all, Isaiah’s prophecies given in Isaiah 48-49 deal largely with the fact that the House of Israel will be scattered. We learn in Isaiah 48 (1 Nephi 20) that the children of Israel would not “hear” their God. They didn’t swear by the name of the Lord. They didn’t swear in truth or righteousness. They profaned His holy Name.
They called themselves of the house of Israel, sure. They identified as God’s chosen and covenant people, but they paid Him lip service only.
Though The Lord had shown them all things they needed to know from the beginning, they wouldn’t hear. So, the Lord chose them for the furnace of affliction, and allowed them to be scattered.
Two – Because Israel hardened their hearts against their God, not only will they be scattered, but they will be hated of all men.
This is a pretty harsh consequence. And I can’t say that I completely understand it – at least from my point of view and with my sensibilities.
All I know is that being “hated of all men,” was a consequence of their actions. I don’t think it is a judgment of God nor do I think that He justifies this action in any way. It is just something that happened.
And what does it mean, to be hated of all men – well, I suppose that this is the primary vehicle (but not the only one!) of scattering. The people of the house of Israel were overtaken and defeated – by the Babylonians, by the Assyrians, etc. They lost their sovereignty. Most of this happened during ancient times, so enemies of the state were treated in more barbaric ways than we are accustomed to now.
I think it is important to mention, the Lord does not condone hatred in any way. All of these people – the children of Israel and those who scattered her – the men who hate her – are distanced from God. None of them are “with Him.” None of them are aligned with His teachings, His covenants, His commandments, His statutes, His promises. They are all on their own.
They are all left to their own devices – which are the devices of the natural man. So – the treatment of the children of Israel are up to the whim and emotions of immortal, imperfect, irrational beings. I don’t have time to go into this now, but people are not steady. We are often driven by fear, by greed, by pride. Often, these natural drives – fear, greed, and pride – have grave consequences. These grave consequences are multiplied when you have leaders (like Nebudchadnezzar) who are driven by fear, greed, and pride AND they have almost unlimited power and resources.
So – the children of Israel have left the comfort and protection of the Lord. They have been left to their own devices. They aren’t in the safety of the Old Ship Zion. Instead, they are floating along on their own – exposed to riptides, currents, flesh-eating bacteria, great white sharks. The Lord wants to protect them, but He isn’t forcing them to stay on His ship.
I think it is important to understand this. The Lord loves us. The Lord loves His covenant children. I don’t think that He wanted to see them oppressed and run down. I think it hurts Him to see us being hurt. Additionally, the simple statement of consequence (they will be hated and smitten of men) should not be misconstrued as a justification for anti-semitism or hatred of any people. Remember what the Lord stated:
“But thus saith the Lord God: O fools, they shall have a Bible; and it shall proceed forth from the Jews, mine ancient covenant people. And what thank they the Jews for the Bible which they receive from them? Yea, what do the Gentiles mean? Do they remember the travails, and the labors, and the pains of the Jews, and their diligence unto me, in bringing forth salvation unto the Gentiles?
5 O ye Gentiles, have ye remembered the Jews, mine ancient covenant people? Nay; but ye have cursed them, and have hated them, and have not sought to recover them. But behold, I will return all these things upon your own heads; for I the Lord have not forgotten my people.” – 2 Nephi 29:4-5
So – Israel will be scattered and even hated by the gentiles. This is just what will happen. However, God doesn’t hate His children. And He doesn’t condone such hate either.
One last thing – not all of scattered Israel were scattered by the Gentiles. For example, Nephi and His family were “scattered” by God. They were guided by the Lord to a promised land. Because of their faithfulness, they were protected from the coming Babylonians. They didn’t have to suffer being hated of men at that point. Instead, the Lord scattered them, and their nation flourished for a thousand years.
After a thousand years, though, they became wicked. They rejected the Lord and His prophets. They no longer had His companionship and protection. They, members of the House of Israel (through the tribes of Manasseh), scourged and hated one another. Eventually, they were also smitten by the Gentiles – the Europeans who came to the Americas. It happened. The Lord doesn’t condone violence or hatred. But if we choose to leave Him and His gospel, we will be left to our own carnal, sensual, and devilish devices. If we want to shun violence and hatred, if we want peace, if we want joy, if we want charity and love, if we want protection – then we will stay on the Lord’s side and cultivate our Spirits accordingly.
The house of Israel rejected the Lord, and the consequence was scattering and a general, great apostasy where His priesthood, His gospel, His covenant could no longer be found anywhere on earth with any group of people.
Three – The Lord will Raise a Mighty Group among the Gentiles
After some time, the Lord will proceed to do a “marvelous work” among the Gentiles. It will eventually be of worth to the House of Israel. But first, the Lord will perform this work among the Gentiles.
What is this work? The restoration of His gospel.
Though I don’t know the exact lineage of the people in the restoration period of our church, it is easy to see that they would be considered “Gentiles.” The church of Jesus Christ – the covenants and the priesthood – were restored by the prophet Joseph Smith. He was a young farm boy born in Vermont. His ancestry seems to have been primarily English. A person of Anglo-Saxon heritage would most likely have been considered a Gentile.
The early members of the church were people like Joseph Smith. They lived in the Northeastern states of the U.S. They had similar racial backgrounds. Many of these early converts to the church served missions to the European nations that they were also from (England, Germany, Scandinavian countries). Again – probably considered Gentile nations.
The Lord often taught the concept that the first should be last and the last should be first. This is in reference to the restoration of His gospel. First the gospel went to the house of Israel and then the Gentiles. And in the latter days the gospel went to the Gentiles and then Israel.
The mighty group of Gentiles that was raised up by God was the group of people who helped to restore Christ’s gospel and covenants on this earth in the latter days.
Four – After the Gospel has been Restored with the Gentiles, They Will Nourish Scattered Israel
After the Lord scattered Israel and then proceeded to do his “marvelous work” among the Gentiles – of restoring His covenants and gospel – then it would be taken back to scattered Israel. The Gentiles who made covenants with God would be His instruments in nursing the remnants of Israel.
The Lord would not (and did not!) forget the covenants that He made with the Israel, anciently.
I think that this is a beautiful concept. Yes, Israel turned away from God. And yes, like the Father of the prodigal son, he let Israel go. Heavenly Father let Israel take her inheritance and spend it in riotous living.
Yet, Heavenly Father never stopped rooting for Israel. He even brought the gospel back to earth and prompted the Gentiles to bring it back to Israel.
And when Israel does turn back to the Lord, just as the prodigal son returned to His father, Heavenly Father accepts her with open arms.
Oh – and one more thing. We are actively living this portion now. President Nelson has enlisted the youth in the Lord’s Battalion for gathering Israel. It’s an exciting time to be alive!
Five – The Scattering and Gathering of Israel Blesses All
The scattering and gathering of Israel takes place over thousands of years. It includes countless people. It impacts all.
The Lord promised Abraham that in his seed would all the kindreds of the earth be blessed. The Lord accomplished this through allowing Israel to be scattered and then by using His power to gather her. We read:
“And I would, my brethren, that ye should know that all the kindreds of the earth cannot be blessed unless he shall make bare his arm in the eyes of the nations.” – 1 Nephi 22:10
The Lord “made bare his arm” through the restoration of the Gospel.
Six – Satan will Be Destroyed
We haven’t experienced this portion of the prophecies of Isaiah yet. But, once the Lord’s word has really rolled out, there will be a time when those who fought against Israel – those who brutally and ruthlessly scattered and hated Israel – will receive justice.
Those who persecuted the people of the Lord will “fall into the pit which they digged to ensnare the people of the Lord.” Wickedness will not persist.
When this time comes, Satan will no longer have power. This powerlessness comes as a consequence of the righteousness of the people. They aren’t interested in Satan’s temptations.
Six – The Lord will Preserve the Righteous
The Lord will prevail. We don’t know exactly how this will happen, but we know it will. And we know that the Lord will protect His people. If we are on His side, we don’t need to fear. We read:
“Wherefore, he will preserve the righteous by his power, even if it so be that the fulness of his wrath must come, and the righteous be preserved, even unto the destruction of their enemies by fire. Wherefore, the righteous need not fear; for thus saith the prophet, they shall be saved, even if it so be as by fire.” – 1 Nephi 22:17
This actually sounds kind of scary, but we can take comfort in his words – we need not fear!
Seven – The Holy One of Israel will Reign
Again, we haven’t made it to this point in the prophecy yet. But there will be a time, after all of the above things have occurred, when the the people live in righteousness. Then, the Lord will reign. They will experience peace and joy. They will not have the confusion, sadness, hatred, oppression that exists when Satan has power.
There is so much hope and joy in God’s plan. And this is what Isaiah taught.