2 Nephi Chapter 25
2 Nephi 25:23 For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.
2 Nephi 25:26 And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.
Chapters 25 through 33 of 2 Nephi may be viewed as Nephi's final testimony or final warnings. He addresses his remarks primarily to three main groups of people: the Jews, the descendants of Lehi, and the Gentiles. Much of these final nine chapters in 2 Nephi contain prophecies including many applicable to the "last" or latter days.
Anciently the Jews were a blessed people, highly favored of the Lord. The tribe of Judah, along with the other tribes of Israel, was provided a choice promised land. Theirs was the calling to rule over Israel, and they did so in the form of the great kings like David and Solomon. To maintain their "covenant people" status, they had only to keep the commandments of God as taught and written by their prophets. Prior to Lehi's leaving Jerusalem, Israel's prophets taught the law of Moses, but they also foretold the fulfilling of that law one day by the Messiah who would be born through the Jews' own tribal lineage. In 2 Nephi 25, Nephi prophesies of the fate of the Jews-their rejection of the Savior, their scatterings and scourgings, and their eventual repentance.
After quoting thirteen consecutive chapters of Isaiah's writings in 2 Nephi 12-24 (Isaiah 2-14), Nephi begins to prophesy "in plainness." Chapter 25 might be considered a "message to the Jews," an invitation for them to repent and return to the fold.
verses 1-7 In these verses Nephi identifies five important reasons why many of his own people cannot understand the writings of Isaiah (Isaiah in the Book of Mormon, edited by Donald W. Parry and John W. Welch, a FARMS publication, "Nephi's Keys to Understanding Isaiah," Donald W. Parry, 47-65.):
1. They do not understand "the manner of prophesying among the Jews" (verse 1). Exactly what Nephi had in mind here is unclear, but he may have been referring to literary devices such as his use of symbolism, his poetic forms, and his use of unique prophetic phrases. Also he may be referring to the historical, cultural, and theological elements that compose the prophetic style of Isaiah.
2. They were guilty of "works of darkness" and "doings of abominations" which caused them to lose their susceptibility to promptings of the Spirit of God (verse 2).
3. They lacked the "spirit of prophecy" (verse 4). See the commentary for verse 4 for a discussion of the "spirit of prophecy."
4. They did not know the geography of the "regions round about" the city of Jerusalem (verse 6). There are, for example some forty geographic locations mentioned in the Isaiah materials in the Book of Mormon. Often Isaiah attaches a symbolic meaning to the place-name. For example, Sodom represents all wicked cities of the last days that will suffer the judgments of God. Assyrian nations represents warring nations of the last days which will fight against Israel. Jerusalem is symbolic of a holy or sacred city, a city of the Lord. The expression "ships of Tarshish" symbolizes the materialism and worldliness during the last days.
5. They did not live in the days in which the prophecies were fulfilled, the last days (verse 7). Some of the prophecies of Isaiah are now being fulfilled providing evidence that we live in the last days. These include the invitation for Israel to repent and cleanse themselves (Isaiah 1:16-20); the building of temples (Isaiah 2:1-5); the lifting of the ensign to the nations for Israel's gathering (Isaiah 5:26-30; Isaiah 11:11-16; Isaiah 10:20-27; Isaiah 14:1-3; Isaiah 49:8-26; Isaiah 55:12-13); the building of the army of Israel (Isaiah 13:1-5, compare D&C 105:26,31); the coming forth of the Book of Mormon (JST Isaiah 29:11-14); the welcoming of the Gentiles to the covenant (Isaiah 56:1-8); and the restoration of Zion (Isaiah 33:17-24; Isaiah 35:5-10; Isaiah 54:1-3).
1 Now I, Nephi, do speak somewhat concerning the words which I have written, which have been spoken by the mouth of Isaiah. For behold, Isaiah spake many things which were hard for many of my people to understand; for they know not concerning the manner of prophesying among the Jews.
verse 1 Speaking of his own people, Nephi says, "for they know not concerning the manner of prophesying among the Jews." Nephi never completely explains what he means by this statement, so we are left to speculate (see also above). Perhaps the phrase "the manner of prophesying among the Jews" refers to the style in which the Israelite prophets preserved the Lord's word. Isaiah's words, for example, were written in a sophisticated literary form with abundant use of carefully crafted poetic styles and images. Understanding his writings requires an education in Jewish history, literature, cultural manners, and customs. In addition, one must have the "spirit of prophecy" spoken of in verse 4. Perhaps the writings of the Israelite prophets like Isaiah were not intended for all to understand.
The prophecies of Nephi and other Book of Mormon prophets, on the other hand, are written in "plainness" so that those who read them "may learn" (verse 4) more effectively.
"among the Jews" It might be useful to review the various meanings of the word "Jew." In its purest sense, it refers only to the descendants of the tribe of Judah. In Nephi's day the meaning had been expanded somewhat to include all those who lived in the southern kingdom of Judah regardless of their tribal origins. In this latter context, Nephi referred to himself and his descendants as "Jews" (2 Nephi 30:4). The term "Jew" has also been used to refer to all descendants of the house of Israel. This latter usage has been termed a "mistake" (see Bible Dictionary in 1979 LDS edition of Bible) though the usage is common today and even anciently (see 1 Nephi 5:6; 1 Nephi 5:12). This latter usage probably has evolved from the Judahites' preeminence and dominance in governmental matters within the house of Israel.
2 For I, Nephi, have not taught them many things concerning the manner of the Jews; for their works were works of darkness, and their doings were doings of abominations.
verse 2 The Promised Land culture of Nephi and his people was intended to begin afresh with a clean slate except for the vital brass plates. Thus they would be free of the contaminating apostate influences of the Old World Jewish religious culture which was tainted with "works of darkness and . . . doings of abominations." This fresh start, however, did produce the disadvantage of depriving Nephi's people of the background vital to enable them to understand the somewhat esoteric writings of Israel's prophets.
Speaking of the Hebrew poetic writing styles, the reader may notice the example of synonymous parallelism contained in this verse (see the supplemental article, The Hebrew Language and the Book of Mormon):
their works were works of darkness
their doings were doings of abominations
3 Wherefore, I write unto my people, unto all those that shall receive hereafter these things which I write, that they may know the judgments of God, that they come upon all nations, according to the word which he hath spoken.
verse 3 In previous chapters, Nephi has quoted from Isaiah's writings, and he acknowledges that many of his people will not understand these passages of Isaiah's. Nephi intends that his own writings which follow be read and understood plainly by all those of his own culture and their descendants and by all who will read the Book of Mormon in the future.
"that they may know the judgments of God" Throughout Isaiah's writings, Isaiah calls covenant Israel and all nations to repent of their sins and to come to the Lord. Nephi includes many of these passages in his writings as a warning to his own people and to future readers, including the Jews, the Lamanites, the Gentiles, and others of the house of Israel.
4 Wherefore, hearken, O my people, which are of the house of Israel, and give ear unto my words; for because the words of Isaiah are not plain unto you, nevertheless they are plain unto all those that are filled with the spirit of prophecy. But I give unto you a prophecy, according to the spirit which is in me; wherefore I shall prophesy according to the plainness which hath been with me from the time that I came out from Jerusalem with my father; for behold, my soul delighteth in plainness unto my people, that they may learn.
verse 4 This verse is felt to contain one of the great interpretive keys or secrets to understanding the book of Isaiah, indeed all scripture. Can you pick it out?
In order to understand the scripture an individual must be "filled" with the "spirit of prophecy." And what is the spirit of prophecy? It is a susceptibility to the promptings of that same Spirit that has enabled the prophets to prophesy-the Holy Ghost. The angel speaking in Revelation 19:10 clearly states that "the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy." Which is it then? Is the "spirit of prophecy" a state of receptivity to the promptings of the Holy Ghost, or is it the testimony of Jesus which comes only through the ministrations, the repeated promptings, of the Holy Ghost? It seems that it is not possible to separate the two-a receptivity to the Holy Ghost and the testimony of Jesus. They are intimately and inextricably related. One cannot possess a testimony of Jesus without being susceptible to the promptings of the Holy Ghost. Such a testimony can only come through revelation, and revelation is received by mortals only through the ministrations of the Holy Spirit of God. Conversely, one cannot truly be filled with the Holy Ghost and not possess a testimony of Jesus. Indeed, the central purpose and function of the Holy Ghost is to testify of Christ! The student of the scriptures must keep in mind this vital and intimate relationship between a testimony of Jesus and susceptibility to the promptings of the Spirit!
Armed with the testimony of Jesus and the requisite relationship with the Spirit, we are prepared to read and understand the writings of Isaiah and indeed all the scriptures. We can truly come to understand the scriptures in no other way.
Lest we be guilty of being simplistic, it is important to realize that some book-learning and mental exercise is also important in understanding Isaiah's writings. Since today most of us are not schooled in ancient Israelite culture, language, customs, and geography, it is necessary for us to have some help in these issues as we read and try to understand Isaiah (see verse 5 and its commentary).
"I give unto you a prophecy" This prophecy of Nephi comprises the remainder of Nephi's writings in chapters 25 through 33 of 2 Nephi. A prophet, of course, cannot transmit information from God to man lest he be in tune with the Spirit. By the Spirit Nephi has come to truly understand the plans and purposes of God as he has studied the scriptures. This clear understanding enabled him to write and teach clearly and understandably-"in plainness."
5 Yea, and my soul delighteth in the words of Isaiah, for I came out from Jerusalem, and mine eyes hath beheld the things of the Jews, and I know that the Jews do understand the things of the prophets, and there is none other people that understand the things which were spoken unto the Jews like unto them, save it be that they are taught after the manner of the things of the Jews.
verse 5 The previous verse provided us the first great key to understanding the scriptures. Now in this verse is found the second vital key. In order to be able to properly interpret scripture, a person must study and learn the sometimes peculiar way in which the prophets wrote. He must know something about the history and culture and language of the prophet and the people to whom he is writing. No one can understand the Jewish prophetic writings, for example, lest "they are taught after the manner of the things of the Jews." To put it in the vernacular, there is no "free lunch" in scripture study and understanding. Hard work and study are required. The Spirit seems more likely to assist those who show real effort and diligence in studying the scriptures. As contrasted with the first great key to scripture interpretation in verse 4, the "spirit of prophecy," this second great key has been referred to as the "letter of prophecy" (Avraham Gileadi, The Book of Isaiah, a New Translation with Interpretive Keys from the Book of Mormon, 3-7). Often, assistance from other sources is also necessary and helpful to a true understanding of the scriptures.
6 But behold, I, Nephi, have not taught my children after the manner of the Jews; but behold, I, of myself, have dwelt at Jerusalem, wherefore I know concerning the regions round about; and I have made mention unto my children concerning the judgments of God, which hath come to pass among the Jews, unto my children, according to all that which Isaiah hath spoken, and I do not write them.
verse 6 Here Nephi says: Because I am educated in the culture and language of the Jews ("I, of myself, have dwelt at Jerusalem"), I am able to understand those prophecies of Isaiah and others which are applicable to my people ("I know concerning the regions round about . . . [of] . . . the judgments of God which hath come to pass among the Jews, unto my children"). I have told my people about the existence of these prophecies ("I have made mention unto my children concerning the judgments of God"), but as yet I have not written down my interpretations ("I do not write them") nor have I taught my interpretations to my people ("I, Nephi, have not taught my children after the manner of the Jews").
7 But behold, I proceed with mine own prophecy, according to my plainness; in the which I know that no man can err; nevertheless, in the days that the prophecies of Isaiah shall be fulfilled men shall know of a surety, at the times when they shall come to pass.
verse 7 Again, the prophet Nephi refers to the clear interpretation and explanation of Isaiah's prophecies which he is about to write. We will read this "plain" explanation in the remainder of this chapter and in 2 Nephi chapters 26-33. Those who read these chapters should be able to understand these prophecies clearly ("I know that no man can err"). Yet some will refuse to believe them until the prophecies are actually fulfilled and they are simply unable to deny them (see also the following verse).
8 Wherefore, they are of worth unto the children of men, and he that supposeth that they are not, unto them will I speak particularly, and confine the words unto mine own people; for I know that they shall be of great worth unto them in the last days; for in that day shall they understand them; wherefore, for their good have I written them.
verse 8 Take care to keep the pronouns-the "they"s and "them"s-straight in this verse Nephi is speaking of the prophecies of Isaiah and counseling those living in the latter days, particularly descendants of the Book of Mormon people, to pay heed to those prophecies.
9 And as one generation hath been destroyed among the Jews because of iniquity, even so have they been destroyed from generation to generation according to their iniquities; and never hath any of them been destroyed save it were foretold them by the prophets of the Lord.
verse 9 "And as one generation hath been destroyed among the Jews" This phrase likely has reference to the Babylonian captivity and destruction of Jerusalem in 587 BC.
"even so have they been destroyed from generation to generation" You might wonder which historical events had occurred to Jerusalem or the Jews prior to Nephi's writing this material which might correspond to this statement. Nephi, here, is writing somewhere around 550 BC. At that time, Jerusalem had been sacked by Babylon some four decades previously, but at the time of Nephi's writing Judah was still being held captive in Babylon. They weren't freed from captivity until about 538 BC. They could hardly have been "destroyed from generation to generation." Since the Babylonian captivity, they haven't been available for anyone to destroy them in their homeland. The likely explanation is that Nephi is prophesying in what is termed the "prophetic present" or the so-called "prophetic perfect" verb tense. That is, he is prophesying about events to occur in the future, yet he is using a verb form which suggests that they had already occurred.
The final concept in this verse, of course, calls to mind the oft quoted verse in Amos: "Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets" (Amos 3:7).
10 Wherefore, it hath been told them concerning the destruction which should come upon them, immediately after my father left Jerusalem; nevertheless, they hardened their hearts; and according to my prophecy they have been destroyed, save it be those which are carried away captive into Babylon.
verse 10 The inhabitants of Judah had been warned of their imminent destruction by Lehi and by other prophets. This destruction was prophesied to occur shortly ("immediately") after Lehi and his traveling company left Jerusalem. The destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon is recorded in the Bible in 2 Kings 25 and took place about 586 BC.
"according to my prophecy" Since the word "prophecy" usually concerns itself with future events, Nephi's use of the word here is unusual. Jerusalem had already been destroyed by Babylon. "Prophecy" here means "discerning matters of the Spirit." The "spirit of prophecy" includes the "spirit of revelation"-it is the susceptibility to receive revealed information from the Holy Ghost.
verses 11-12 Here Nephi refers to the Jews' being taken captive in Babylon, and then he prophesies of their future.
11 And now this I speak because of the spirit which is in me. And notwithstanding they have been carried away they shall return again, and possess the land of Jerusalem; wherefore, they shall be restored again to the land of their inheritance.
verse 11 Nephi prophesies that those Jews taken captive in Babylon will one day return to the land of Jerusalem. He further prophesies (verse 15) that once back in Jerusalem, they will reject their Savior and eventually be "scattered by other nations."
12 But, behold, they shall have wars, and rumors of wars; and when the day cometh that the Only Begotten of the Father, yea, even the Father of heaven and of earth, shall manifest himself unto them in the flesh, behold, they will reject him, because of their iniquities, and the hardness of their hearts, and the stiffness of their necks.
verse 12 "wars, and rumors of wars" Between the Jews' return to Jerusalem in 538 BC and the Savior's mortal advent, there was indeed considerable strife in Judah. For example, in 334 BC the young king of Macedon in Greece, Alexander the Great, conquered Palestine and introduced a hundred and fifty years of Greek rule to the area. The Greeks continually tried to choke out the Jewish religion and replace it with their own pagan form of worship. In 165 BC the Jews, led by Judas Maccabeus or Judas Hasmoneus, rose up against this oppressive Greek rule. This was the so called Maccabean revolt and turned out to be a prolonged bitter civil war between the Jews and the ruling Greeks. The latter were finally driven out of Palestine in 143 BC, resulting in the Hasmonean dynasty. After nearly a century of Hasmonean or Maccabean rule, the descendants of the original Maccabees become incompetent and corrupt, and eventually the Jews rose up against them. In one battle some fifty thousand Jews died, and on another occasion about eight hundred Pharisees were crucified in Jerusalem, and their wives and children were killed before them as they hung on crosses. In 63 BC the Roman general Pompey marched on Jerusalem. As he stormed the temple, some twelve thousand Jews died. In 40 BC the Parthians or Persians invaded Palestine and deposed the ruling Roman puppet leaders. Three years later Rome retook control of the area.
"they will reject him, because of their iniquities" Sin renders man unqualified to possess the discerning power of the Spirit, and that man is inclined to reject eternal truths. Yet this rejection is often not without some evidence of ambivalence. When a truly vital truth, such as the divinity of Jesus, is rejected, the result is invariably bitterness, "hardness" of the heart, and "stiffness" of the neck. It is almost as if the individual who rejects the Savior senses that he might have made a fatal error and seeks for justification in trying to destroy that which he has rejected. See the discussion of hard-heartedness in the commentary for Alma 10:6.
13 Behold, they will crucify him; and after he is laid in a sepulchre for the space of three days he shall rise from the dead, with healing in his wings; and all those who shall believe on his name shall be saved in the kingdom of God. Wherefore, my soul delighteth to prophesy concerning him, for I have seen his day, and my heart doth magnify his holy name.
verse 13 "they will crucify him" Note here that even the specific manner of Jesus's death was foreseen by prophets. They taught that he would die on a cross.
"with healing in his wings" This expression is also found in Malachi 4:2 where its contextual meaning is clear. After describing the latter-day cleansing of the earth where the wicked will "burn as stubble" just prior to the Lord's second coming, Malachi describes Christ's coming "with healing in his wings." Christ's coming will have salutary or healing effects on the death, misery, and destruction that will result from the cataclysmic cleansing of the earth. In the context of verse 13, it may be also assumed that Christ's resurrection will have vital healing effects. He will solve the problems of physical and spiritual death and thus "heal" mankind of these afflictions.
"Wherefore, my soul delighteth to prophesy concerning him, for I have seen his day, and my heart doth magnify his holy name" This phraseology of Nephi's bears a striking resemblance to the "Magnificat," or song of praise, recited by Mary on meeting her cousin Elisabeth (see Luke 1:46-55). To magnify is to praise.
"I have seen his day," of course, refers to the day of Christ's mortal ministry which Nephi has seen in vision (1 Nephi 11:26-28).
verses 14-17 See the commentary for 1 Nephi 19:14 and 2 Nephi 9:2. These verses discuss why the Lord scatters a people.
14 And behold it shall come to pass that after the Messiah hath risen from the dead, and hath manifested himself unto his people, unto as many as will believe on his name, behold, Jerusalem shall be destroyed again; for wo unto them that fight against God and the people of his church.
verse 14 "hath manifested himself unto his people" This seems to refer to those relatively few to whom Jesus appeared between his resurrection and ascension.
"Jerusalem shall be destroyed again" Nephi has already been shown in vision the great destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon in 587 BC (2 Nephi 1:4). The final great destruction of Jerusalem came in AD 70 when Roman legions, led by Titus, besieged and ransacked the city and leveled the temple.
15 Wherefore, the Jews shall be scattered among all nations; yea, and also Babylon shall be destroyed; wherefore, the Jews shall be scattered by other nations.
verse 15 After prophesying of the great final scattering of the Jews, Nephi makes it clear who will do the scattering and why Babylon will not participate. Babylon will fall to Cyrus and the Persians in 539 B.C. Therefore Babylon, which was instrumental in the great "scattering" of the Jews in 587 BC, will not participate in the great final scattering of Jews following Judah's destruction by Rome in AD 70.
16 And after they have been scattered, and the Lord God hath scourged them by other nations for the space of many generations, yea, even down from generation to generation until they shall be persuaded to believe in Christ, the Son of God, and the atonement, which is infinite for all mankind-and when that day shall come that they shall believe in Christ, and worship the Father in his name, with pure hearts and clean hands, and look not forward any more for another Messiah, then, at that time, the day will come that it must needs be expedient that they should believe these things.
verse 16 Note how clearly this verse differentiates between God the Father and God the Son. Some have suggested that the Book of Mormon is trinitarian in nature-that it teaches of only one God. We do understand this misconception. See "Trinity Doctrine and the Book of Mormon" in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 4, chapter 4, The Trinity Doctrine.
When is the day when the Jews as a body will be persuaded to believe in Christ? The scriptures suggest it will not occur until after the Lord's second coming (see D&C 45:43-53; Zechariah 13:6). After the Jews' conversion they will be gathered by the Lord to their promised land and establish themselves there in righteousness.
"and look not forward any more for another Messiah" Through apostasy, the concept of the Messiah was perverted among the Jews. The truth is that the Messiah was to be none other than the great God who would condescend to come to earth and redeem mankind from the fall of Adam. This true concept was found recorded on the brass plates and was taught among the Nephites. However, by the time of Christ's mortal ministry, most Jews were looking more for a political redemption by a great Davidic king who would deliver them from their Roman oppressors. Today most Jews have more of a metaphorical view of the Messiah. They no longer look for a literal Messiah, but rather anticipate the coming of a great messianic age.
"it must needs be expedient that they should believe these things" The Jews will one day accept the Book of Mormon which was written at least in part for the "convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ."
17 And the Lord will set his hand again the second time to restore his people from their lost and fallen state. Wherefore, he will proceed to do a marvelous work and a wonder among the children of men.
verse 17 This verse refers to the final gathering of Israel after the restoration of the gospel in the latter days.
"And the Lord will set his hand again the second time to restore his people from their lost and fallen state." In a general sense, Christ has tried many times to gather Israel together (Matthew 23:37). In a more specific sense, one might point to two major attempted gatherings. The first was at the time of the Savior's mortal ministry when he brought the gospel to the earth. During that period the keys of gathering were delivered to Peter, James, and John by Moses on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17). The second gathering is now in progress as Israel gathers to the gospel and to the stakes of Zion. In preparation for this gathering, Moses again returned the keys to the earth (D&C 110).
"to restore his people from their lost and fallen state" The "gathering" referred to here is the spiritual gathering and not just the temporal gathering. People must be gathered spiritually (converted to the gospel of Christ) before they are gathered temporally (allowed entrance into their promised land). To make possible this final gathering, the Lord will do a "marvelous work and a wonder among the children of men." That is, he will restore the gospel, including the necessary priesthood and keys. He will provide the Book of Mormon and other modern scripture.
It is pertinent to note here that at this point, Nephi may have come to realize that his own writings will play an important role in restoring Israel from "their lost and fallen state."
18 Wherefore, he shall bring forth his words unto them, which words shall judge them at the last day, for they shall be given them for the purpose of convincing them of the true Messiah, who was rejected by them; and unto the convincing of them that they need not look forward any more for a Messiah to come, for there should not any come, save it should be a false Messiah which should deceive the people; for there is save one Messiah spoken of by the prophets, and that Messiah is he who should be rejected of the Jews.
verse 18 "he shall bring forth his words unto them" The scriptures both ancient and modern will be made available to the Jews.
"false Messiah" Throughout Jewish history there have been some specific personalities which have caused speculation and raised hopes of the Messiah's advent.
19 For according to the words of the prophets, the Messiah cometh in six hundred years from the time that my father left Jerusalem; and according to the words of the prophets, and also the word of the angel of God, his name shall be Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
verse 19 "according to the words of the prophets, the Messiah cometh in six hundred years from the time that my father left Jerusalem" See the commentary for 1 Nephi 10:4.
"his name shall be Jesus Christ, the Son of God" It is interesting to note that other prophets also had revealed to them the name of the Savior including Adam (Moses 6:51-52), Enoch (Moses 7:50), Noah (Moses 8:24), and the brother of Jared (Ether 3:14). Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Joshua or Jeshua and means God is help or Savior. The title Christ is of Greek origin and means the anointed one. The Hebrew equivalent of this title is Messiah. See also the commentary for 3 Nephi 9:15.
20 And now, my brethren, I have spoken plainly that ye cannot err. And as the Lord God liveth that brought Israel up out of the land of Egypt, and gave unto Moses power that he should heal the nations after they had been bitten by the poisonous serpents, if they would cast their eyes unto the serpent which he did raise up before them, and also gave him power that he should smite the rock and the water should come forth; yea, behold I say unto you, that as these things are true, and as the Lord God liveth, there is none other name given under heaven save it be this Jesus Christ, of which I have spoken, whereby man can be saved.
verse 20 In order to fully understand the significance of this verse, turn to Numbers 21:4-9 and read the strange little story contained in those verses. Briefly, because of the sins of the Israelites in the wilderness, the Lord sent among them poisonous serpents which bit many, and, as a result, many died. Moses petitioned the Lord for a way to save his people from these serpents. In response, the Lord commanded Moses to make a serpent of brass and place it on a pole. Whosoever was bitten by a poisonous serpent could be saved from death by looking upon the pole.
Without help from more modern revelation like the Book of Mormon, it is difficult to know what to make of this story. There are only two verses in the New Testament that help in the interpretation of this anecdote. One is in John 3:14: "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up." The other is a more oblique reference found in 1 Corinthians 10:9.
Verse 20 and other verses in the Book of Mormon help us to fully recognize the profound significance of the story of Moses and the poisonous serpents. See also Helaman 8:13-16 and 1 Nephi 17:41 and Alma 33:19. Moses was a "type" of Jesus Christ. A "type" is "a person, thing, or event that represents or symbolizes another, especially another that it is thought will appear later; symbol; token; sign" (Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language, 2nd college edition). Notice in the story how Moses was an advocate for the people just as Jesus is an advocate for the people before the Father. The serpent placed upon the pole is also a type of Christ. Its being placed upon a pole typifies the hanging of the Savior upon a cross. Moses was, in effect, lifting Christ up for all Israel to see. He was teaching them Jesus Christ. All those that look upon or accept Christ and his gospel shall be saved or exalted. Those who fail to do so will not. It is profoundly true that throughout the Old Testament we find types of Jesus Christ.
It is interesting to note that throughout the history of the world, many cultures have used the serpent as a symbol of either Deity or the devil. The symbol used by physicians today of the snake coiled about a pole likely had its origin in this story in the book of Numbers. It is humbling for your author to realize that in my profession our symbol of healing is the symbol of the Great Healer, Jesus Christ.
The accounts of Moses's smiting a rock to produce water for the Israelites may be reviewed in Exodus 17:6 and Numbers 20:11.
"as the Lord God liveth, there is none other name given under heaven save it be this Jesus Christ . . . whereby man can be saved" Here is one of the great passages of scripture worth memorizing and repeating often! Nephi here swears with an oath ("as the Lord God liveth") that his statement is true.
21 Wherefore, for this cause hath the Lord God promised unto me that these things which I write shall be kept and preserved, and handed down unto my seed, from generation to generation, that the promise may be fulfilled unto Joseph, that his seed should never perish as long as the earth should stand.
verse 21 "for this cause" Continuing the thought in the final sentence of the previous verse, the Book of Mormon record will be preserved to come forth in the latter day to bear witness of Jesus Christ.
"that the promise may be fulfilled unto Joseph" The Lord promised ancient Joseph in Egypt that his seed should not become extinct as long as the earth should last (2 Nephi 3:16). This promise was prophesied of, years before its occurrence, by the prophet Ether (Ether 13:7).
22 Wherefore, these things shall go from generation to generation as long as the earth shall stand; and they shall go according to the will and pleasure of God; and the nations who shall possess them shall be judged of them according to the words which are written.
verse 22 "these things" This phrase, as seen from the previous verse, refers to the writings of Nephi, indeed to the entire Book of Mormon. This scriptural record will be preserved "as long as the earth shall stand." How long is this? Certainly at least to the end of the Millennium. Thus the Book of Mormon will continue to be a precious and valuable scriptural source throughout the Millennium. Might we still be making use of the Book of Mormon even after the earth has become celestialized and serves as the abode for those blessed souls living in the presence of God?
23 For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.
verse 23 "For we labor diligently to write" It was not easy inscribing on metal plates. It was hard work, and it required diligent labor! But the purpose of the work, as outlined in the rest of the verse, makes it all worth while.
"reconciled to God" This phrase has a very specific meaning. A synonym is "justified." It means to be forgiven of all sin and ready for exaltation. Please review the concept of justification in the introductory commentary for Alma 5. For a more detailed discussion of justification, see Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 1, chapter 17, Justification and Sanctification.
"for we know that it is by grace that we are saved" What is grace? The word grace is most specific in its meaning. It is the love which God has for us. But, particularly, it is that aspect of his love which inclines him to extend to us blessings we do not fully deserve. Are we really saved by grace? Or is it by our good works?
"after all we can do" The answer is that we are saved (exalted) by the combination of our good works and the Savior's grace. For a discussion of these important concepts, see Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 4, chapter 11, Grace and Works.
24 And, notwithstanding we believe in Christ, we keep the law of Moses, and look forward with steadfastness unto Christ, until the law shall be fulfilled.
verse 24 "notwithstanding we believe in Christ" As explained in the previous verse, even though a Nephite or any other man were to live the law of Moses and even believe in Christ, it is still not possible for him to be saved without the grace of God-that incomparable love which Christ has for us which impels him to extend the blessings of the atonement to a man even though that man has not actually earned that honor through his performance in living the commandments according to the law of justice.
The meaning of this verse, then, is: "Notwithstanding" or even though a man believes in Christ, he must still "keep the law of Moses" that is, do good works and make a sincere and persistent effort to keep the commandments. He must also look forward "with steadfastness unto Christ" to the time when the Savior's atonement is applied to him and he is "reconciled to God"-brought into position to enter God's presence. In this manner we say that through Christ's atonement, "the law [of Moses] shall be fulfilled."
25 For, for this end was the law given; wherefore the law hath become dead unto us, and we are made alive in Christ because of our faith; yet we keep the law because of the commandments.
verse 25 The "law" (of Moses) was a necessary school master. It was given to Israel (1) because of their inability to abide the terms of the everlasting gospel, and (2) to teach them of the need for a Redeemer. However, the law may be termed "dead" unto the Nephites because they understood that living it could never result in eternal life. Nephi teaches the concept of the deadness of the law to remind us that salvation is through Christ, not through obedience to the law of Moses. Only Christ's atonement when coupled with obedience to the commandments can give man the opportunity for exaltation. Man is thus "made alive [eternally alive] in Christ."
The phrase "alive in Christ" characterizes the life of a person blessed by the benefits of the atonement of Jesus Christ. Being reborn to a "life which is in Christ" (2 Nephi 25:27), he has been reawakened to things of righteousness. Figuratively, he is eating the "bread of life" (John 6) and drinking the "living water" Christ offers (John 4). These benefits, of course, are available to any individual through faith and obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel.
26 And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.
verse 26 The appropriate position of Christ in our lives and in our hearts is at the very center. We need to become consumed with trying to learn of him and emulate him and obey him. We must teach our children to do the same. Only with Christ's consent can a man be forgiven of his sins and be exalted.
27 Wherefore, we speak concerning the law that our children may know the deadness of the law; and they, by knowing the deadness of the law, may look forward unto that life which is in Christ, and know for what end the law was given. And after the law is fulfilled in Christ, that they need not harden their hearts against him when the law ought to be done away.
verse 27 This verse reviews the concepts we have discussed in the previous verses.
"we speak concerning the law that our children may know the deadness of the law" The "law" here is the law of Moses. The law of Moses is "dead" in that a man cannot be saved or exalted through the law of Moses without the application of Christ's atoning blood. See The Law of Moses in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 3, chapter 16.
"that life which is in Christ" Eternal life in his presence.
"and know for what end the law was given" There can be no doubt that the law of Moses was a preparatory gospel. More specifically, the very purpose of the law of Moses was the typifying and prophesying of the Savior.
"they need not harden their hearts against him when the law ought to be done away" Here is a profound warning most appropriately directed to the Jews of the last two millennia. Unfortunately the warning has gone largely unheeded by them. See the discussion of hard-heartedness in the commentary for Alma 10:6.
28 And now behold, my people, ye are a stiffnecked people; wherefore, I have spoken plainly unto you, that ye cannot misunderstand. And the words which I have spoken shall stand as a testimony against you; for they are sufficient to teach any man the right way; for the right way is to believe in Christ and deny him not; for by denying him ye also deny the prophets and the law.
verse 28 "by denying him ye also deny the prophets and the law" There is a great irony in the Jews' rejection of Jesus Christ. First, Jesus was the very being who gave the law to Moses anciently (3 Nephi 15:5). To the Pharisees Jesus said: "Ye keep not the law. If ye had kept the law, ye would have received me, for I am he who gave the law" (JST, Matthew 9:19). Secondly, the law, if properly understood, pointed directly to Jesus as the Messiah. Jesus further said: "Why teach ye the law, and deny that which is written; and condemn him whom the Father hath sent to fulfill the law, that ye might all be redeemed?" (JST, Luke 16:20).
29 And now behold, I say unto you that the right way is to believe in Christ, and deny him not; and Christ is the Holy One of Israel; wherefore ye must bow down before him, and worship him with all your might, mind, and strength, and your whole soul; and if ye do this ye shall in nowise be cast out.
verse 29 "the right way is to believe in Christ" In the Book of Mormon, the terms belief and believe most often refer to acceptance, trust, and confidence in God, his son Jesus Christ, and in the gospel (e.g., Mosiah 4:9-10; Alma 33:22; 3 Nephi 12:9; Mormon 7:9). To believe or hold a belief is a mental process. When we believe in something that is eternally true and then act upon it, our belief begins to turn to faith-actually the revealed form of faith. See the complete discussion of the types of faith in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 1, chapters 9, 10, and 11: Revealed Faith, Deliberate Faith and Revealed Faith, and Other Notes on Faith.
This verse spells out clearly the proper relationship we should have with Jesus. Is it possible to be too casual in our relationship with him? The scriptures are clear that in a genealogical sense he is our elder brother. He is, as are we, a spirit child of our Father in Heaven. We are also told that he loves us more than we can know, and that he is merciful and willing and anxious to forgive us our faults. Given just this information, one might make the mistake of coming to regard him as just our friend, our buddy, our pal. He is so much more. He is our God, our ideal, our exemplar. His is the only name under heaven by which any of us can be saved or exalted. Our charge in mortality is to pattern our lives after his life. We must seek to know, through scripture study and through prayer how he handled a myriad of life's experiences which we will also encounter in mortality. What were his attitudes, his feelings, his motivations, his perspectives? What did he say? What did he do? What did he think? We must then seek to do the same. We must become consumed with trying to emulate him. He must come to own us, to dominate us, to possess us, to have his way with us. We must struggle to be like him. In this manner we truly worship him.
30 And, inasmuch as it shall be expedient, ye must keep the performances and ordinances of God until the law shall be fulfilled which was given unto Moses.
verse 30 It is clear that obedience to the laws and ordinances we are given will ever be an essential principle of gospel living (see also Mosiah 13:30). This is deliberate faith. It is the conscientious and deliberate obedience even when it goes against the grain of our "natural self." One may philosophize and theorize and debate and discuss to one's heart's content. Plain obedience will never be supplanted as an essential tenet of the gospel.