Today I visited my favorite bookstore to get a few more books about Isaiah. Travis Patten, the owner of Pioneer Book had several recommendations, though the one he favored was The Vision of All: Twenty-five Lecture on Isaiah in Nephi’s Record. Sadly it was out of stock, but I got it online later in the day.
As Travis and I chatted, he offered his insights into 1 Nephi 21–22 and the Second Nephi Isaiah chapters. He thinks that after Nephi’s vision, he used the words of Isaiah to explain his vision, which means Nephi used Isaiah to explain what he witnessed [the history of the Jews, Lamanite, and gentiles]. And this because he “was told not to write them because that was the stewardship of John the Revelator.” Then in Second Nephi, he used his vision to explain Isaiah to his family and us.
I never considered this before, and in fact, this discussion with Travis pointed to a further mistake in my course of study. I have scrutinized and dissected individual verses for years looking for meaning, but never stepped back to get the big picture or even aski why Nephi would quote Isaiah.
Nephi in 1 Nephi 15:20, explains that he used Isaiah’s words to teach his brothers about the restoration of the Jews, and to pacify and humble them. However, there is more to the inclusion than just for Nephi’s brothers. Joseph Spencer, in The Vision of All, explained, “For Nephi, it’s all about the Abrahamic covenant and the history of Israel.” Hmm …I’ve missed that in the past, how about you?
Further, in The Vision of All, Spencer explained that today’s chapters in the Book of Mormon are not the ones Joseph Smith dictated to his scribes. The chapters and verses we use in today’s Book of Mormon were first devised by Orson Pratt as an Apostle in 1879 on assignment from President John Taylor,2 which means some continuity could have been lost from the original chapters.
Evidence from both the original and printer’s manuscripts shows that Joseph Smith apparently saw some visual indication at the end of a section that the section was ending. Although this may have been a symbol of some kind, a more likely possibility is that the last words of the section were followed by blankness. Recognizing that the section was ending, Joseph then told the scribe to write the word chapter, with the understanding that the appropriate number would be added later. 3
With a little research, I found that 1 Nephi 20–21 were in a an original chapter that began at our modern 1 Nephi 19:22 and ended with 1Nephi 21. This could mean Nephi meant this to be one cohesive message. Then in our modern 1 Nephi 22, Nephi explains the Isianic verses he quoted.
Nathan Richardson says, “Since these section dividers are part of the original text, they can be useful in a number of ways when studying the Book of Mormon. For one thing, they can aid in understanding how the authors were structuring their writings, as well as in revealing connections between passages.4
Using that notion, let’s take a look at 1 Nephi Chapter 19 beginning a verse 21, to see what Nephi says about why he included these two chapters of Isaiah:
21 And he surely did show unto the aprophets of old all things bconcerning them; and also he did show unto many concerning us; wherefore, it must needs be that we know concerning them for they are written upon the plates of brass.” Nephi writes that God showed the prophets of old, like Isaiah, many things “concerning us” meaning the Lehites.
22 Now it came to pass that I, Nephi, did teach my brethren these things; and it came to pass that I did read many things to them, which were engraven upon the aplates of brass, that they might know concerning the doings of the Lord in other lands, among people of old.
It seems, Nephi feels his people need to know those words which were recorded on the Plates of Brass written by Isaiah, so that “they might know concerning the doings of the Lord in other lands, among people of old.”
Nephi concludes his introduction to Isaiah 48 in verse 23:
23 And I did read many things unto them which were written in the abooks of Moses; but that I might more fully persuade them to believe in the Lord their Redeemer I did read unto them that which was written by the prophet bIsaiah; for I did cliken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our dprofit and learning.”
He read “many things” to his family from “the books of Moses,” which are the first five books in our Bible, but to more fully “persuade them to believe in” Christ he read them Isaiah’s writings.
In In The Vision of All, Spencer suggests that we might not understand the word likening the same way Nephi does. “Nephi doesn’t much bother with what Isaiah means in his original context; instead, he’s happy just to use broader patterns in Isaiah’s prophecy to see how it might shed light on God’s larger dealings with the covenant people.”4
In 1 Nephi 22, as Nephi’s closing commentary he offers these points:
- Israel would “be scattered upon all the face of the earth, and also among all nations” (see 1 Ne. 22:3)
- After they are scattered God would “raise up a mighty nation” in America that would continue scattering Lehi’s descendants (see1 Ne. 22:7).
- After that scattering, God would “proceed to do a marvelous work among the Gentiles,” which would benefit the Jews, Lehi’s posterity and all of Israel by nourishing and carrying them in their arms and on their shoulders (see 1 Ne. 22:8).
- The Lord would also give the Abrahamic covenants and His gospel to the Gentiles, who would restore it to the Jews (see 1 Ne. 22:9–11)
- That Israel would be “be gathered together to the lands of their inheritance” and restored in the land of Jerusalem knowing “that the Lord is their Savior and their Redeemer, the Mighty One of Israel” (1 Ne. 22:12).
In a podcast, Bro. Spencer also gave this insight when Nephi quotes from Isaiah, “What he seems to be interested in is this prophetic pattern is maybe the best way to put it. This prophetic idea that Isaiah has, that Israel goes into exile, leaves the Holy Land to find itself among Gentiles. When God redeems Israel, the Gentiles have a chance to learn of Israel’s true God, and as a result, have an opportunity to join in the work of redeeming Israel and become a part of the covenant itself. That’s what Nephi seems to find in …Isaiah and he sees that as not only what happens in, say, the exile in Babylon but as what’s going to happen with the remnant of Israel in the New World.” 7
In all, Nephi wants readers to gain a witness of Christ and know that the Jews will not only return to Israel but accept Christ as part of a renewed Abrahamic covenant.
 Book of Mormon Teacher Resource Manual, (2004), 295
2 David J. Whittaker, “Orson Pratt: Early Advocate of the Book of Mormon,” Ensign, Apr 1984.
3 Royal Skousen’s Work On the Book of Mormon Manuscripts, Mormon Dialogue & Discussion Board
5 Spencer, Joseph M. The Vision of All: Twenty-five Lectures on Isaiah in Nephi’s Record, Greg Kofford Books.
6 What is Isaiah Doing in the Book of Mormon? – Joseph Spencer, LDS Perspectives Podcast, Episode 8