Context and General Information
- Nephi is quoting Isaiah. See Isaiah 48.
- The Lord is speaking through Isaiah.
- The Lord invites us to come near unto Him.
- The Lord does not speak in secret. He has spoken from the beginning.
- The Lord has sent us examples who can lead us to the way we should go.
- If we will hearken (and obey) the commandments, then we will have peace, posterity, protection.
Keeping the Commandments Brings Blessings
Before getting into today’s scripture study, I will admit that there is so much more to the scriptures than what I can discover in this reading. Even though I’ve been studying this very slowly as I blog about it, there is always more to get from the scriptures! There is always something else to learn. We can read the scriptures daily every day of our lives and still not know enough.
Today’s scripture block has a verse that has always stood out to me:
“O that thou hadst hearkened to my commandments—then had thy peace been as a river, and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea.” – 1 Nephi 20:18
I wish I could remember the first time I read that scripture and liked it. I think that it was when I was a youth – in seminary, probably. Now, I want to make it clear: I had no idea what the rest of this chapter even meant. Isaiah went right over my head. I admit that often when I read Isaiah, the words just went into my head and settled there as a jumbled mess. But this was a verse I could understand.
It still stands out to me now.
We Have the Commandments
First of all, it is important to note that the Lord has not spoken in secret. His word has been declared. We are blessed with the light of Christ. The commandments have been given.
Though there absolutely are mysteries of God, His commandments, for the most part, are not a mystery. He has given them to us. He has sent prophets to preach His word. He has given us the scriptures. Not only that, but He lets us experience real consequences of commandments so we can learn them in a practical way, rather only through abstract thought.
So – we have the commandments. Are we hearkening?
In 1 Nephi, we read:
“O that thou hadst hearkened to my commandments—…” – 1 Nephi 20:18
The sentiment here is one of lamentation. The Lord is lamenting Israel’s choice to disobey the commandments. The Lord still laments when we make the choice not to hearken to the commandments. And why does He lament? Because He wants to be able to bless us.
I think that it is important to understand that God is a God of order. The universe is governed by the laws and principles that He has taught us. He is not an arbitrary or power hungry God. He is a loving Father. And the commandments that He has given us are in accordance to the laws of the universe. If we want to be happy, then we will keep them.
Put another way – the law of gravity is a simple, profound, non-negotiable law of this world. As parents, we have a choice. We can teach our children about the constraints of the law of gravity so that they stay safe. Now, I don’t mean that we sit a three year old down, and talk about physics, Newton’s laws, force, and gravity. Instead, we would probably just say things like, “You need to get buckled” or “Don’t climb up the counter” or “You have to wear a helmet while riding your bike.”
Or we can be “nice” parents and neglect to teach our children about the implications of this law. We can let them climb to high and dangerous heights. We can let them dangle their feet off the edge of a cliff at the Grand Canyon. We want them to be happy and free!
Of course, though this child may not know the law of gravity, he is still susceptible to it.
Imagine a two year old boy: climbing and playing in the grocery cart at a store. He doesn’t like to be buckled, so his parents have decided not to buckle him. They want him to feel happy and free. He stands in the cart. His parents haven’t told him not to stand in the cart because they don’t want to inhibit him. He falls out of the cart and hits his head on the concrete floor and starts having seizures. He has to be hospitalized for a few days as doctors monitor his brain and swelling.
Remember, this is a fictional scenario… What should the parents have done? Should they have discussed the principles of gravity? Maybe not to a three year old. But perhaps rules about staying buckled in the seat would be a more responsible way to avoid such a situation.
(NOW! Before I make anyone feel bad. I know that this can happen even with the best parenting and teachers. I’m not trying to single out anyone who has a child that is a little Houdini. A Houdini who escapes is different than a child that isn’t being taught. This is just an illustration to show that even if we aren’t taught laws, we are still susceptible to them).
The commandments that God gives to us work the same way. They keep us safe. They bless us. Sometimes the commandments are given to us because we don’t quite understand the real law. Sometimes, instead of teaching us the ins and outs of the laws of gravity (because our minds are just too simple to understand it), the Lord gives us other commandments that will help us abide the true law – resulting in safety.
No matter what, we know that our Heavenly Father is a true and living God. He really is our Father, and He loves us perfectly. We can trust Him.
After lamenting, the Lord then tells Israel what the consequence of hearkening would have been.
Peace as a River
The first consequence of hearkening to the commandments would have been peace as a river.
What does this mean?
Well, have you ever sat next to a river? I remember, growing up, I lived in Texas. We lived near the Buffalo Bayou. I would go down there sometimes to ride bikes with my friends. It was muddy, but it remains a place of which I have fond memories. I don’t really remember peace. I just remember riding bikes. And being somewhat careful because there were a lot of snakes there.
As a youth, we moved to Pennsylvania. And we lived close to the Brandywine River. Yes, that river connotes both peace and joy. I remember floating down the Brandywine River on a tube with friends. I remember swimming in it. I remember jumping off of a bridge on Dowlin Forge Road into the River. I remember canoeing with my dad and family on it. As an adult, I would often run on the path that tracked just alongside the Brandywine River. Four seasons of the year it harbored life. Yes. Peace.
As an adult, I have lived in Phoenix. Rivers in Phoenix are not like rivers in other places. For most of the year, the river is simply a dry river bed. But during the winter months when there is a little rain, or in the summer during the monsoon season, there are days – here and there – when the rivers are flowing with water. There is nothing like water in the desert.
I also spent time in Utah – for a while, living in Midway, Utah. Midway is a town situated near the Provo River. Additionally, there are other little creeks, canals, and springs.
There is something about the running water and lush banks that truly make rivers little oases of peace in our lives.
I love the imagery of this verse. If we will hearken to—which means listen to and keep—the commandments. Then we will have peace as a river. I know that there are more ways I can think about the river to better understand this metaphor, but for know that is what is coming to me.
It is also important to understand what the Savior means by peace. In the New Testament, we read:
“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” – John 14:27
The Savior doesn’t offer us the kind of “peace” that is defined by the world. The definition of peace – as given by the world seems to be one that is more or less an omission of fighting or war. We don’t tend to focus much on the conditions of the heart. The worldly definition of peace is an outward definition.
The Lord, however, has another idea of peace. We learn in the Guide to the Scriptures:
In the scriptures, peace can mean either freedom from conflict and turmoil or the inner calm and comfort born of the Spirit that God gives to His faithful Saints. – Guide to the Scriptures: Peace
The Lord’s definition of peace is centered on the inner calm and comfort we feel as a result of His Spirit. In this way, we can experience peace even when we are in the middle of a physical conflict of some kind. Conversely, we can experience inner turmoil even when the outward conditions of our life seem “peaceful.”
So – when we keep the commandments, we can have peace, the kind of peace offered by the Lord. The kind of peace that comes through His living waters.
Righteousness as the Waves of the Sea
The next thing we learn in this verse is that if we will hearken unto the commandments, then we will have “righteousness as the waves of the sea.” Again, we are given another physical metaphor to understand an abstract concept.
I have been fortunate enough to live on the North Shore of Hawai’i. In the winter time, when there is a swell, the waves are so big and powerful that I can’t really describe them. They are amazing, powerful, and they just keep on going. All day, all night, all day, and all night again. The waves never stop.
This post is already so long, but maybe it is worth thinking about. If we hearken to God’s commandments, then a blessing is righteousness. And not simply righteousness, but unflagging righteousness – like the waves of the sea – full of energy, power, and endurance.
There is so much more to study, but I need to finish for now. I still love this scripture so much. I find hope in it. I desire to have peace as a river and righteousness as the waves of the sea. I know that I can do this, if I will hearken unto the Savior. Even though there are times when it seems difficult to do, the sacrifice is a small price to pay for the generous blessings He desires to give us.