2 Nephi Chapter 26
2 Nephi 26:22 Speaking of Satan and his secret combinations, Nephi wrote: He leadeth them by the neck with a flaxen cord, until he bindeth them with his strong cords forever.
2 Nephi 26:24 He doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world; for he loveth the world, even that he layeth down his own life that he may draw all men unto him. Wherefore, he commandeth none that they shall not partake of his salvation.
This chapter is Nephi's message to Lehi's descendants and to the Gentiles.
In verse 6 of this chapter and then beginning in verse 15, Nephi will begin to quote again from the writings of Isaiah. These writings are found in chapter 29 of the book of Isaiah in our King James Version. Nephi's utilization of the material in Isaiah 29 will continue through 2 Nephi 27.
Nephi's version of Isaiah 29 contains much more material than Isaiah's. The verses in Isaiah 29 that are quoted in chapters 26 and 27 of 2 Nephi include Isaiah 29:3-24, a total of twenty-two verses. Nephi's quotation of this material is found in 2 Nephi 26:6 and from 2 Nephi 26:15 through 2 Nephi 27:35, a total of fifty-five verses. Obviously Nephi's account of Isaiah 29 contains information that is not found in the Bible's version. Why is this so? There are perhaps two possible explanations: (1) It might be that Isaiah's record was originally much larger, but the loss of "plain and precious parts" of the scriptural record shortened it to its present biblical version. Perhaps the version of this material of Isaiah to which Nephi had access, namely that written on the plates of brass, was more complete. This might account for Nephi's longer version. (2) It could be that Nephi's version is much longer simply because Nephi added many verses of his own commentary.
In these prophetic writings Isaiah and Nephi speak of judgments and destructions to be leveled against the wicked of the house of Israel. It seems clear that Isaiah intended that these judgments will be brought against the Jews in Jerusalem. In Isaiah 29:1-2, Isaiah directs his warnings to "Ariel, the city where David dwelt." Ariel means the hearth of God or the temple. It is another name for Jerusalem. This is a clear warning to those in Jerusalem. On the other hand, Nephi states in 2 Nephi 26 and 27 that these warnings and judgments of the Lord apply to his own descendants in the New World and not to the Jews in the Old World alone (see 2 Nephi 26:14-16). The ancient fulfillment of these biblical prophecies in Isaiah 29 would have occurred in 587 BC when Babylon attacked Jerusalem and in AD 70 when Rome destroyed the city. As he has in previously quoted materials, Isaiah likely intended here a dual fulfillment or dual application of his prophecies-both in ancient days and in these last days. Nephi's version of these prophecies makes it especially clear that a latter-day time frame also applies (see 2 Nephi 26:14).
In 2 Nephi 26 only three verses can be said to be reasonably direct quotations of verses from Isaiah 29. These are 2 Nephi 26:15-16; 2 Nephi 26:18 which correspond to Isaiah 29:3-5. Even in these few verses, Nephi's version contains more information than is found in Isaiah's biblical account.
1 And after Christ shall have risen from the dead he shall show himself unto you, my children, and my beloved brethren; and the words which he shall speak unto you shall be the law which ye shall do.
verse 1 As Nephi prophesies of the future of Lehi's descendants, one of the most important prophecies is that of the resurrected Christ's visit to the Nephites. That prophecy is found in this verse.
"my children, and my beloved brethren" Nephi is prophesying to the Nephites who will be alive some 580 years hence, at the time of Christ's appearance in the western hemisphere.
"the law which ye shall do" The Savior, when he appears in person, will give the Nephites a new law which will replace the Mosaic law. When he appears to the Nephites, he will announce the fulfillment of the law of Moses and identified himself as the law (3 Nephi 15:9).
2 For behold, I say unto you that I have beheld that many generations shall pass away, and there shall be great wars and contentions among my people.
verse 2 After looking ahead to the appearance of Jesus to the Nephites, Nephi then backs up in time and comments upon the time that would intervene between his own day and the time of the Savior's coming. He sees a period of much war and contention.
verses 3-7 Nephi saw in vision the future of his people, and he saw the wickedness, wars, and destructions that would occur among them. He prophesied that the Nephites would be informed of the birth and death of Jesus by prophets of God and by a series of signs. Yet, some of the Nephites would persist in their wickedness and disbelief. Some of the signs, such as earthquakes and other natural calamities would cause the destruction of the more wicked among them. Then Jesus in his glory would appear personally to the "more righteous" part of the people who remained.
Here is another important "type" or symbol of things to come found in Old Testament period scriptures-in this case in the Book of Mormon. The destruction of the wicked at the time of Jesus's crucifixion and the two hundred year "golden era" of the Nephites that followed is a clear type of the ultimate latter-day cleansing of the earth which will precede the Savior's second coming and the Millennium which will follow.
3 And after the Messiah shall come there shall be signs given unto my people of his birth, and also of his death and resurrection; and great and terrible shall that day be unto the wicked, for they shall perish; and they perish because they cast out the prophets, and the saints, and stone them, and slay them; wherefore the cry of the blood of the saints shall ascend up to God from the ground against them.
verse 3 "after the Messiah shall come there shall be signs given unto my people of his birth" These signs will be described in 3 Nephi 1. Actually the signs will begin before, not "after," Christ's birth (see 3 Nephi 1:13).
"and also [signs] of his death and resurrection" These are described in 3 Nephi 8.
"they cast out the prophets ... and stone them, and slay them" See Helaman 13:24-29. At the time of Christ's crucifixion, the wicked among the Nephites will be destroyed by the dramatic natural disasters that will occur in the New World at that time. These wicked Nephites were those who had rejected the counsel of the prophets. Prophets are often inspired to expose the evil designs Satan has upon humankind. In his anger, Satan would have us destroy or "stone" the prophets. President Spencer W. Kimball taught that we mentally stone the living prophets by disregarding their counsel ("To His Servants the Prophets," Instructor [August 1960] 95:257). When we rationalize and argue that the prophets and other General Authorities are not really in touch with how things really are, we are actually aligning ourselves with Satan. We are doing his bidding.
"the cry of the blood of the saints shall ascend up to God from the ground against them" When a murderer sheds blood, and the murder has not yet been avenged-the murderer has not yet been punished-the blood of the murder victim "cries from the ground." Under the law of Moses "Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed" (Genesis 9:6). The unpunished murderer "defileth the land: and the land cannot be cleansed of the blood that is shed therein, but by the blood of him that shed it" (Numbers 35:30-34). If a murderer could not be found, the elders of the city where the murder occurred were to offer sacrifice and testify that they had neither shed the blood nor seen who did it. Then they were to plead, "Be merciful, O Lord . . . and lay not innocent blood unto thy people of Israel's charge. And the blood shall be forgiven them" (Deuteronomy 21:1-9).
4 Wherefore, all those who are proud, and that do wickedly, the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of Hosts, for they shall be as stubble.
verse 4 Note the similarity between this verse and Malachi 4:1. Is Nephi quoting from the prophet Malachi? This of course would be impossible since Malachi lived and prophesied some one hundred and fifty years after the prophet Nephi. Malachi's prophecies were not contained on the brass plates. Did Malachi quote from the prophet Nephi? No, that would not be possible. The Book of Mormon plates were not available to Old World prophets. What is the explanation for the similarities of these verses? See the discussion of this issue in the commentary for 1 Nephi 22:15. Both Malachi and Nephi were probably quoting the prophet Zenos! Isn't Nephi mis-applying this prophecy of Zenos? Zenos was likely prophesying of the destruction of the wicked to occur just prior to the Savior's second coming in the latter days (see 1 Nephi 22:15). Yet here Nephi is applying this same prophecy to the devastation of the wicked that will occur in the western hemisphere at the time of Christ's crucifixion. Is this a legitimate use of scripture? It is indeed! Nephi is making use of one of his own principles of scripture interpretation-that of "likening" the scriptures. When Nephi "likens" the prophesies of Isaiah, he applies them to events that Isaiah may not have had in mind but this application is altogether appropriate (see 1 Nephi 19:23-24; 2 Nephi 11:2; 2 Nephi 11:8).
5 And they that kill the prophets, and the saints, the depths of the earth shall swallow them up, saith the Lord of Hosts; and mountains shall cover them, and whirlwinds shall carry them away, and buildings shall fall upon them and crush them to pieces and grind them to powder.
6 And they shall be visited with thunderings, and lightnings, and earthquakes, and all manner of destructions, for the fire of the anger of the Lord shall be kindled against them, and they shall be as stubble, and the day that cometh shall consume them, saith the Lord of Hosts.
verses 5-6 Here Nephi graphically and somewhat figuratively portrays the fate of the wicked Nephites at the time of Christ's crucifixion.
"the fire of the anger of the Lord" Nephi implies that the "lightnings" and the other calamities mentioned were to be actually caused by the Lord himself. Another explanation for the upheaval of the elements at the time of the Savior's crucifixion is that the elements themselves-each and every one of which contain intelligences with agency-were in such agony and anguish over the Savior's suffering that they rose up on their own.
"they shall be as stubble" Stubble left after a harvest is dry and explosively flammable. Hence when the Lord destroys the wicked it will be like fire's burning stubble-fast and furious.
"the day that cometh" This will be at the time of Jesus's crucifixion.
7 O the pain, and the anguish of my soul for the loss of the slain of my people! For I, Nephi, have seen it, and it well nigh consumeth me before the presence of the Lord; but I must cry unto my God: Thy ways are just.
verse 7 After viewing this destruction of his unrighteous descendants, Nephi laments their loss. His comments indicate that he saw in vision these calamities and realized they were sent by God.
8 But behold, the righteous that hearken unto the words of the prophets, and destroy them not, but look forward unto Christ with steadfastness for the signs which are given, notwithstanding all persecution-behold, they are they which shall not perish.
verse 8 "look forward unto Christ with steadfastness" The word steadfastness here is rich in meaning. It suggests the quiet confidence of the righteous.
Here Nephi indicates that his obedient descendants will not be destroyed. This verse and those that precede it introduce an interesting spiritual law which pertains to this mortal earth. It is that the behavior of human beings can affect and influence the "natural" phenomena. Apparently God at times uses these "natural" occurrences to punish or reward his children. See also 1 Nephi 19:10-12. Also in 3 Nephi 9-10 the voice of the Lord proclaims that it is he himself who has sent the destructions in response to the wickedness of the people.
9 But the Son of righteousness shall appear unto them; and he shall heal them, and they shall have peace with him, until three generations shall have passed away, and many of the fourth generation shall have passed away in righteousness.
verse 9 "Son of righteousness" This phrase is found in Malachi 4:2, though it is rendered there "Sun of righteousness." Presumably, again, both Nephi and Malachi are quoting the prophet Zenos though we have no record of Zenos's using this phrase. Also this is another instance of Nephi's "likening" the scriptures. This prophecy of Zenos's was intended to apply to the Savior's second coming. Here Nephi is applying it to the coming of Jesus to the Nephites.
"until three generations shall have passed away, and many of the fourth generation shall have passed away" This has reference to the several-year period of the golden age of the Nephites or the so-called mini-millennium following Jesus Christ's visit to the Nephites. This lasted from AD 34 to about AD 200.
10 And when these things have passed away a speedy destruction cometh unto my people; for, notwithstanding the pains of my soul, I have seen it; wherefore, I know that it shall come to pass; and they sell themselves for naught; for, for the reward of their pride and their foolishness they shall reap destruction; for because they yield unto the devil and choose works of darkness rather than light, therefore they must go down to hell.
verse 10 "a speedy destruction cometh unto my people" Nephi foresees the great destruction of his people near the hill Cumorah in about AD 385 (Mormon 6).
"they sell themselves for naught" What is "naught"? The word "naught" actually, of course, means nothing. But here the word implies pride, power, materialism, wealth, fame, and title. In short, it is worldliness which is of zero value in an eternal context.
"for the reward of their pride and their foolishness they shall reap destruction" For a discussion of pride and how it leads to spiritual destruction, see "Pride" in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 1, chapter 5, The "Natural Self" and "Spiritual Self."
"they must go down to hell" Where will such people ultimately find themselves? Mostly in one of the two lesser degrees of glory, but not before they spend time in spirit prison which is often referred to in scriptures as "hell."
11 For the Spirit of the Lord will not always strive with man. And when the Spirit ceaseth to strive with man then cometh speedy destruction, and this grieveth my soul.
verse 11 "For the Spirit of the Lord will not always strive with man." It is impossible to comprehend spiritual and eternal matters without the influence of the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost will attend only those who are making an effort toward righteousness.
"when the Spirit ceaseth to strive with man then cometh speedy destruction" When the Spirit is withdrawn from man, his course is invariably rapidly downhill, away from eternal things and toward carnal concerns. The withdrawal of the Spirit is the spiritual death-knell, not only of an individual, but also of any civilized society.
verses 12-13 These two verses state clearly the central purpose of the entire Book of Mormon record: "the convincing of the Jews . . . [and] Gentiles . . . that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God; and he manifesteth himself . . . unto every nation." The wording in these two verses is so similar to that used by Moroni in writing the title page for the Book of Mormon, that some have speculated that Moroni was probably influenced by these verses as he chose his wording for the title page.
12 And as I spake concerning the convincing of the Jews, that Jesus is the very Christ, it must needs be that the Gentiles be convinced also that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God;
verse 12 Nephi speaks here of the necessity of the Jews and Gentiles being convinced that the man Jesus, the very person whom he had seen in vision (1 Nephi 11), is (1) "the very Christ" and (2) "the Eternal God."
Just exactly what concepts is Nephi stressing here? What does Nephi intend to teach when he says that Jesus is "the very Christ"? It should be pointed out that the word "Christ" seems to have originated from the Greek word "Christos." Nephi would have never uttered this word since the Greek language did not reach the area of Palestine until after the conquering of the known world by Alexander the Great in about 334 BC which was long after Nephi left Judah. If Nephi did not say or write the word "Christos," then what concept did he write that caused Joseph Smith to translate it as "the very Christ"? The words "Christ" and "Messiah" both have the same meaning. They mean the anointed one. Throughout Hebrew history, the Hebrew kings were anointed as they acceded to their office. Thus the kings were referred to as "the Lord's anointed." There was a strong Hebrew tradition that one day a "Prince of Peace," a descendant of David, would come to power and govern all Israel. He will rescue Israel from all her oppressors and will govern in peace, justice, and righteousness, and his reign will have no end. This is the anointed one for whom Israel keeps watch. Nephi understood clearly that Jesus would be that long-awaited Messiah or Christ. Nephi also understood that Jesus would not be just another Hebrew king. He is the special anointed one for whom Israel waits, "the very Christ"-the King of kings.
Apparently it is also essential that the Jews and Gentiles come to understand that Jesus is "the Eternal God"-Jehovah, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob-none other than he who gave the law to Moses on Sinai.
13 And that he manifesteth himself unto all those who believe in him, by the power of the Holy Ghost; yea, unto every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, working mighty miracles, signs, and wonders, among the children of men according to their faith.
verse 13 All who strive earnestly to believe in him and do his will, regardless of their race or station, are entitled to a witness from the Holy Ghost that he is in fact (1) the Christ and (2) the Eternal God. Once an element of faith is established among a people, he will further witness his divinity by "working mighty miracles, signs, and wonders" among them. And when are these great wonders to occur? See the next verse.
14 But behold, I prophesy unto you concerning the last days; concerning the days when the Lord God shall bring these things forth unto the children of men.
verse 14 "I prophesy unto you concerning the last days" Nephi is about to quote prophecies from Isaiah's writings recorded in the King James Version of the Bible as chapter 29.
As mentioned in the introduction to this chapter, the setting of these verses in the book of Isaiah suggests that Isaiah was primarily prophesying about the Jews and Jerusalem (see Isaiah 29:1-2). Perhaps Isaiah also had in mind a latter-day application of these verses. Nephi makes it clear in verse 14 that he will apply these prophecies to the latter days and to the descendants of Book of Mormon peoples.
verses 15-16 These verses are Nephi's version of Isaiah 29:3-4. In these King James Version biblical verses Isaiah seems to be describing how the Lord will come against the Jews in Jerusalem until the Jews are brought to a humble state where their fallen nation will speak "out of the ground" and "low out of the dust." This speaking to the world from "low out of the dust" might be interpreted figuratively to mean that she (Israel) will deliver her message from the depths of her humiliation. A more literal interpretation might also be intended. Israel's words speaking "out of the ground" might mean that her scriptural records will be preserved in the earth for a time before coming forth to the world. If Isaiah intended that his prophecy apply to the Jews in the Old World, then one might postulate that these records speaking "out of the ground" might be the Dead Sea Scrolls or other scriptural records that are now buried in the ground and will yet come forth in the Old World. On the other hand, in the New World, the Book of Mormon fits such an interpretation and seems to be the meaning which that intended in this verse.
The reader may wish to review the supplemental article, Biblical Prophecies of the Book of Mormon.
15 After my seed and the seed of my brethren shall have dwindled in unbelief, and shall have been smitten by the Gentiles; yea, after the Lord God shall have camped against them round about, and shall have laid siege against them with a mount, and raised forts against them; and after they shall have been brought down low in the dust, even that they are not, yet the words of the righteous shall be written, and the prayers of the faithful shall be heard, and all those who have dwindled in unbelief shall not be forgotten.
verse 15 In this verse, Nephi makes it clear very early that he is interpreting the verse as having direct application not to the Jews in Jerusalem but rather to "[his] seed and the seed of [his] brethren [who] shall have dwindled in unbelief." He describes their being "smitten by the Gentiles." The historical fulfillment of this prophecy will occur in the latter days when any remnants of Book of Mormon peoples are driven from their lands by either Spanish conquerors or the settlers of North America (see the commentary for 1 Nephi 13:14).
"camped against them round about, and shall have laid siege against them with a mount, and raised forts against them" These phrases reflect the ancient techniques of besieging a city. It means, "I will encamp against you and surround you. I will besiege you with towers, and I will raise siege works against you." Because the descendants of Nephi and his brethren will have dwindled in unbelief, the Lord will send other nations to afflict them.
"after they shall have been brought down low in the dust, even that they are not" After these unbelieving Israelites have been humbled and even almost annihilated.
"yet the words of the righteous shall be written" Here is a plausible reference to the Book of Mormon recorded by righteous New World prophets.
The Lord will not abandon those of Nephi's descendants who will dwindle in unbelief. The prayers of the few faithful among them will not go unheard and unheeded.
16 For those who shall be destroyed shall speak unto them out of the ground, and their speech shall be low out of the dust, and their voice shall be as one that hath a familiar spirit; for the Lord God will give unto him power, that he may whisper concerning them, even as it were out of the ground; and their speech shall whisper out of the dust.
verse 16 "for those who shall be destroyed shall speak unto them" Some among the descendants of the Book of Mormon people who have been destroyed, namely the Book of Mormon prophets, will speak to "them"-the latter-day survivors of the Book of Mormon people through the pages of the Book of Mormon.
"out of the ground" "speech shall be low out of the dust" "their voice shall be as one that hath a familiar spirit" "their speech shall whisper out of the dust" All of these phrases plausibly have reference to the Book of Mormon and its plates' coming forth from the ground or being unearthed by Joseph Smith and speaking to the latter-day descendants of Book of Mormon people in a manner that will ring true to them. The expression "familiar spirit" suggests the idea of a departed spirit, a "ghost," with whom it is possible for mortals to communicate. It also suggests the idea that the message of the spirit is "familiar" or rings true. The expression "familiar spirit" is found a few times in the Old Testament, including Isaiah 29:4. The expression is an English translation of the Hebrew word owb that refers to either a spiritual medium or necromancer who communicates with the dead or to a ghost or spirit who speaks through a necromancer. The latter definition applies in this verse.
"for the Lord will give unto him power that he may whisper concerning them" Now the topic turns from the book of Mormon prophets to a specific man who will come or speak to the descendants of the Book of Mormon people. Who is this man-who is "him"? Also to what does "them" have reference? It would seem that "him" refers to either the prophet Mormon or the prophet Joseph Smith. The antecedent of "them" is "those who shall be destroyed"-the Book of Mormon peoples.
17 For thus saith the Lord God: They shall write the things which shall be done among them, and they shall be written and sealed up in a book, and those who have dwindled in unbelief shall not have them, for they seek to destroy the things of God.
verse 17 This verse presents another pronoun obstacle course. See if you can pick out the meanings of the pronouns in the verse. "They [the Book of Mormon prophets] shall write the things which shall be done among them [the Book of Mormon people], and they [the things which shall be done among the Book of Mormon people] shall be written and sealed up in a book, and those who have dwindled in unbelief [in the latter days] shall not have them [the things written in the Book of Mormon], for they [the people in the latter days who have dwindled in unbelief] seek to destroy the things of God."
In summary then, the Book of Mormon will not be brought "out of the ground" until after Nephi's seed and the seed of his brethren the Lamanites have "dwindled in unbelief" and have been "smitten by the Gentiles" who will come among them.
18 Wherefore, as those who have been destroyed have been destroyed speedily; and the multitude of their terrible ones shall be as chaff that passeth away-yea, thus saith the Lord God: It shall be at an instant, suddenly-
verse 18 "as those who have been destroyed" These are the descendants of Lehi who will suffer "speedily" the prophesied judgments of God and be destroyed for their disbelief. See the commentary for verse 10.
"the multitude of their terrible ones shall be as chaff that passeth away" The multitude of the foes of Lehi's descendants shall be numerous, like dust or wheat chaff that blows by in the wind.
"It shall be in an instant suddenly" The Lord's judgments come suddenly and unexpectedly.
19 And it shall come to pass, that those who have dwindled in unbelief shall be smitten by the hand of the Gentiles.
verse 19 Here is the same idea discussed in verse 15 above. It is also found in 1 Nephi 13:14.
20 And the Gentiles are lifted up in the pride of their eyes, and have stumbled, because of the greatness of their stumbling block, that they have built up many churches; nevertheless, they put down the power and miracles of God, and preach up unto themselves their own wisdom and their own learning, that they may get gain and grind upon the face of the poor.
verse 20 Now Nephi turns his attention to those "Gentiles" who will one day smite his unbelieving descendants. These are likely the non-native settlers of the Western Hemisphere, especially the early European settlers of the United States of America and Central America. Nephi issues them also a stern warning.
The Gentiles will suffer, not only from too much pride, but they will have their own "stumbling block." What is this stumbling block of the Gentiles? The record of the Nephites (the Book of Mormon) will have been "sealed up," literally in the ground for safekeeping (see verses 16 and 17). Here it will remain untouched and unaltered by human hands. This is, of course, in contrast to the Bible which has come down to us only after being altered by the hands of men. In this context, it is likely that the "stumbling block" of the Gentiles is the lack of knowledge and spiritual understanding that results from removal of "many plain and precious parts" from the Bible. Nephi uses similar wording in 1 Nephi 13:28-35 when he says that alterations and deletions have been made in the Bible: "Because of these things which are taken away out of the gospel of the Lamb, an exceedingly great many do stumble" (italics added).
"preach up unto themselves their own wisdom and their own learning" This colorful expression is found in no other place in the scriptures. Apparently some in the latter-day apostate gentile churches will be less concerned with eternal truths than their own personal aggrandizement.
"grind upon the face of the poor" Again, here is another colorful expression which is unique in the scriptures to this verse alone. Its meaning is clear. Some of those in the apostate latter-day churches will place themselves and their own material successes ahead of the interests of the poor.
In the next several verses Nephi describes the conditions among the Gentiles in the latter days. Obviously is it a time of spiritual destitution.
21 And there are many churches built up which cause envyings, and strifes, and malice.
verse 21 Here are more problems to be found in the apostate latter-day churches among the Gentiles.
22 And there are also secret combinations, even as in times of old, according to the combinations of the devil, for he is the founder of all these things; yea, the founder of murder, and works of darkness; yea, and he leadeth them by the neck with a flaxen cord, until he bindeth them with his strong cords forever.
verse 22 "secret combinations" It is clear that from the time of our very earliest ancestors (Moses 5:18-51) Satan has "inspired" men to join together in secret works of evil. These secret combinations will play an important role in the downfall of the Book of Mormon people, and they certainly may be found upon the earth today.
"flaxen cord" The idea of flaxen cord seems to be that the devil might convince and beguile some men so that he might initially influence them only gentle and subtle manipulation-lead them about with a flimsy, thin ("flaxen") cord. After a while, however, he has them bound firmly with strong cords, and they are lost.
Nephi's use of the flaxen cord analogy recalls the binding of Samson and suggests that Nephi was familiar with that story and that some version of it may have been preserved on the brass plates.
The reader will recall that Samson, relying on his unusual strength, allowed the men of Judah to bind him and deliver him to the Philistines: " . . . and the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon him, and the cords that were upon his arms became as flax that was burnt with fire, and his bands loosed from off his hands" (Judges 15:14). When a flaxen cord is burned, the ash retains the cord's outward form but crumbles at the touch, making burned flax a suitable image for fragility. Later, Samson playfully allowed Delilah to bind him with green withes (willows) and with new ropes and to weave his hair into a web. In each case he escaped easily, mocking the Philistines, until at last he was betrayed by his overconfidence, deprived of his strength, and bound with unbreakable fetters.
It is also significant that, of the prophets in the Book of Mormon, only Nephi, who was familiar with the Old World, mentions flax. Flax seems to have been unavailable in the New World, where cotton and hemp were used instead.
23 For behold, my beloved brethren, I say unto you that the Lord God worketh not in darkness.
verse 23 Clandestineness, secrecy, and mystery are hallmarks of Satan's influence.
24 He doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world; for he loveth the world, even that he layeth down his own life that he may draw all men unto him. Wherefore, he commandeth none that they shall not partake of his salvation.
verse 24 "He doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world" "He," of course, is Jehovah. It would seem that his very purpose for being is the exaltation of all mankind (Moses 1:39)-bringing his people home to his Father. Bringing all of us to our celestial homes is his passion, his obsession, his full-time work.
"he layeth down his own life that he may draw all men unto him" This phrase refers to a profound and important eternal principle. The Savior's atonement provided him with a powerful ability to motivate men-that is, to draw men unto him. Following the Savior's resurrection he taught, "For this cause have I been lifted up; therefore . . . I will draw all men unto me" (3 Nephi 27:15; see also James 4:10). Because of his atoning sacrifice the Savior exerts a form of spiritual gravity that draws and entices all men unto him. This compelling force is always extended. It reaches out, penetrates every open heart, and helps to fire the desire to repent.
But how does the atonement motivate, invite, and draw all men unto the Savior? What causes this gravitational pull-this spiritual tug? The reason is based on a fascinating principle called "righteous suffering." There is a certain compelling power that flows from righteous suffering-not indiscriminate suffering, not needless suffering, but righteous, voluntary suffering for another. Such suffering for another is the highest and purest form of motivation we can offer to those we love. Contemplate for a moment: How does one change the attitude or the course of conduct of a loved one whose every step seems bent on self-destruction? If example fails to influence, words of kindness go unheeded, and the powers of logic are dismissed as chaff before the wind, then where does one turn? Jag Pravesh Chader suggested an alternative approach: "When [they-kindness and logic] fail to produce any salutary effect, voluntarily [one] invites suffering in his own body to open the eyes of the person who is determined to see no light" (E. Stanley Jones, Mahatma Gandhi, 110).
Fasting has often been employed for just such a purpose. Abstinence does much more than make us hungry. It does more than refine our spirits. It has within it a certain inherent motivational power that can change and soften the hearts of others, particularly when they know we are fasting for them. Therein lies a force that can penetrate the granite walls of pride, replenish the barren reservoirs of humility, and engender increased affection and gratitude for him who so suffers.
A missionary evangelist, E. Stanley Jones, once asked Mahatma Gandhi as he sat on a cot in an open courtyard of Yeravda jail: "Isn't your fasting a species of coercion?" "Yes," he said very slowly, "the same kind of coercion which Jesus exercises upon you from the cross." As Jones reflected upon that sobering rejoinder, he said: "I was silent. It was so obviously true that I am silent again every time I think of it. He was profoundly right. The years have clarified it. And I now see it for what it is: a very morally potent and redemptive power if used rightly. But is has to be used rightly" (Mahatma Gandhi, 110).
Not all suffering motivates for good. There is the suffering of the prison inmate, yet the prison houses continue to overflow. There is the recurring hurt and suffering of war, yet the world resounds with war and conflict. There is the suffering of those who contract contagious diseases from immoral conduct, but thousands continue to follow suit. And then there is the suffering of those pure and noble souls who are able to suffer beyond themselves, whose suffering has more than a purifying power for self. It also brings a redemptive power to others.
Mohandas Gandhi seized upon righteous suffering as a powerful motivational tool for good. Each of his fasts possessed a certain motivational power, but none had more far-reaching effects than the fasts at Calcutta and Delhi. Calcutta was a battle-ground of hate. Gandhi, a Hindu, stayed at a Muslim home in the heart of the riot district. Some Hindus were incensed at Gandhi's conciliatory conduct towards the enemy. An attempt on his life failed. Various consortiums of hot-headed Hindu youth were sent to Gandhi to convince him of the error of his ways. Each time the youth would return and repeat, "The Mahatma is right." The war continued. Finally, Gandhi announced a fast to the death unless the foes altered their course. It would be peace for them or death for him. After three days of fasting, the suffering of one revered by an entire nation proved too much for the people to bear. The softening and persuasive powers of his suffering melted "hearts of stone." Weapons, from knives to guns, were laid at his feet. Almost overnight the healing occurred. Lord Mountbatten, one of the military leaders present observed, "What 50,000 well-equipped soldiers could not do, the Mahatma has done. He has brought peace" (Ibid., 116-17). And so he had.
Delhi was his next challenge. The tension was screw-tight. Gandhi proposed eight points on which Hindus and Muslims must reach accord, or again he would fast to the death. All eight points favored the Muslims. The risk was staggering, but his goal was honorable: to unify a divided nation. After six days the pact of peace was signed. E. Stanley Jones, present just before the fast, wrote: "This was no cheap signing of an ordinary peace pact. There was a moral quality here that made it different. His blood and their tears cemented the pact." He also noted, "His method and his aim were right. . . . He shook that nation to its depths-shook it morally" (Ibid., 117-18). Through the power of righteous suffering a diminutive, seventy-nine-year-old man, waning in life, literally saved a nation by bringing it to its spiritual senses.
Suffering in behalf of another seems to have its major impact for good when at least four elements are present. First, the sufferer is pure and worthy. Second, the cause for which he suffers is just. Third, the recipient knows and loves the sufferer. And fourth, the recipient appreciates the cause for which the suffering occurs. When these four elements simultaneously exist, the chemistry for human behavioral change is explosive.
Just before the Church was organized the Lord gave some instructive counsel to Joseph and Oliver. He forgave them for their shortcomings and encouraged them to be faithful and keep the commandments. In so doing, he gave them a key to spirituality: "Look unto me in every thought. . . . Behold the wounds which pierced my side, and also the prints of the nails in my hands and feet" (D&C 6:36-37). The Savior knew that an honest contemplation of the atonement turns our thoughts and actions heavenward. That is why we place such great emphasis on remembering the Savior and his atonement. It is a central component of the sacramental prayers (see D&C 20:77; D&C 20:79). To "remember" the Savior's sacrifice is a repeated theme of the scriptures (2 Nephi 10:20; Mosiah 4:11; Mosiah 4:30).
"he commandeth none that they shall not partake of his salvation" There is nothing esoteric about the gospel of Christ. It is not intended for any elect or exclusive group. No one is excluded. It is intended for all. All are warned, and all may benefit and be exalted.
25 Behold, doth he cry unto any, saying: Depart from me? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; but he saith: Come unto me all ye ends of the earth, buy milk and honey, without money and without price.
verse 25 Here Nephi borrows phraseology from Isaiah (Isaiah 55:1) to state the idea the Christ is the "living water" and the "bread of life," and he invites all to come unto him to obtain eternal gifts that may be acquired without money.
26 Behold, hath he commanded any that they should depart out of the synagogues, or out of the houses of worship? Behold, I say unto you, Nay.
verse 26 When Joseph Smith came to this passage, he needed to use a word which meant a place of assembly or meetinghouse. He therefore chose the Greek word "synagogue" which means exactly that. As mentioned previously, Greek was not a language spoken commonly in the area of Jerusalem in 600 BC. Please see a discussion of other Greek words found in the Book of Mormon in the commentary for Jacob 7:27.
Until relatively recently, the common wisdom about the concept of the synagogue is that it did not exist until after the Babylonian captivity. Thus, Lehi and his traveling group would have had to leave Jerusalem and the Old World without being acquainted of the concept of the synagogue or place of gathering for religious purposes. However, Lee I. Levine, a leading scholar on the history of the synagogue, has suggested that synagogues did exist before the Babylonian captivity in the form of chambers in the city gates ("The Nature and Origin of the Palestinian Synagogue Reconsidered," Journal of Biblical Literature 115 : 425-48). These early synagogues have been excavated at such important Old Testament sites as Beersheba, Gezer, Lachish, and Megiddo. Each of these has at least one chamber (which is nearly square) lined with stone benches around the interior walls, a single doorway, niches likely used for storing special ritual items, perhaps even sacred scrolls. If Levine is correct, then, before the Babylonian captivity, a town's or city's social activities centered around the city gate, and it seems reasonable that these social activities included Sabbath worship in a chamber of the gate that resembled later synagogues and functioned similarly.
Nephi's straightforward use of a term that meant religious meeting place in this verse implies that he was personally familiar with some form of a place of worship in his original homeland.
27 Hath he commanded any that they should not partake of his salvation? Behold I say unto you, Nay; but he hath given it free for all men; and he hath commanded his people that they should persuade all men to repentance.
verse 27 "he hath given it free for all men" Salvation or exaltation is not "free," that is, it is not earned without effort, but everyone, without paying, has the opportunity to decide to partake of (commit to) the gospel of Christ which "persuade[s] all men to repentance." Thus, all are given "for free" the opportunity to start down that road to their sanctification and eventual exaltation.
28 Behold, hath the Lord commanded any that they should not partake of his goodness? Behold I say unto you, Nay; but all men are privileged the one like unto the other, and none are forbidden.
verse 28 "all men are privileged the one like unto the other" While God is "no respecter of persons" (Acts 10:34) and loves all his children unconditionally and equally, he does ultimately favor the righteous with blessings (1 Nephi 17:35). Jehovah taught Samuel: "The Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7). The real issue with God is righteousness, not race.
An English teacher today would prefer the final phrase in this verse to be "none is forbidden."
29 He commandeth that there shall be no priestcrafts; for, behold, priestcrafts are that men preach and set themselves up for a light unto the world, that they may get gain and praise of the world; but they seek not the welfare of Zion.
verse 29 This verse contains a very succinct definition of "priestcraft." Priestcraft is roundly condemned by the Lord. See also the commentary for 2 Nephi 10:5. Are there any practicing priestcraft today? Would any of the television evangelists qualify?
30 Behold, the Lord hath forbidden this thing; wherefore, the Lord God hath given a commandment that all men should have charity, which charity is love. And except they should have charity they were nothing. Wherefore, if they should have charity they would not suffer the laborer in Zion to perish.
verse 30 "this thing" Priestcraft.
Here is the specific antidote for priestcraft. It is charity or the "pure love of Christ." He who serves with charity has no thought for personal gain. McConkie and Millet, in their book Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon, eloquently stated: "Charity is the anthem of Zion, priestcraft the psalm of Babylon" (310).
"if they should have charity they would not suffer the laborer in Zion to perish" "They" refers to those who preach to or lead in the kingdom of God. This might also be stated, "If they would have charity their primary concern would be for those over whom they preside." For a discussion of charity, see Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 2, chapters 6, 7, and 8: Charity as Empathy, Charity as a Revealed Sense of Others, and Applications of the Principles of Charity.
31 But the laborer in Zion shall labor for Zion; for if they labor for money they shall perish.
verse 31 The "laborer in Zion" is the leader of the kingdom of God. Here is a profound principle worth pondering. He who seeks after that which is eternal, shall have eternal life. He who labors for that which is perishable shall perish.
32 And again, the Lord God hath commanded that men should not murder; that they should not lie; that they should not steal; that they should not take the name of the Lord their God in vain; that they should not envy; that they should not have malice; that they should not contend one with another; that they should not commit whoredoms; and that they should do none of these things; for whoso doeth them shall perish.
verse 32 Those who practice priestcraft are motivated by things of the world. They will also indulge in these specific sins of the world. It is notable that Nephi refers to six of the ten commandments as he counsels the latter-day readers of the Book of Mormon. The word "whoredoms" is apparently synonymous, in the Book of Mormon text, with adultery.
33 For none of these iniquities come of the Lord; for he doeth that which is good among the children of men; and he doeth nothing save it be plain unto the children of men; and he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.
verse 33 Again, today's English teacher would prefer: "For none of these iniquities comes of the Lord."
"he doeth nothing save it be plain unto the children of men" None of us will miss our opportunity for exaltation for failure to heed a gospel principle of which we are not aware. We will all have ample opportunity to hear and understand the vital saving principles.
"he remembereth the heathen" All peoples and nations will have an opportunity to hear the gospel (D&C 133:37).