Getting Into Isaiah 48–49 Through Nephi 20-21

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Father carrying his son - Getting Into Isaiah 49 Through Nephi 21

Before writing each day, I read several translations of Isaiah to study the meaning of verses that I am working on. Then I turn to commentaries, both paper and online, to see what insights I can gain. However, with the start of the Isaiah Chapters in the Book of Mormon, I found myself looking at whole chapters instead of single verses and for motives by Nephi and Jacob as to why they were included.

Joseph Spencer offers some insight: “First Nephi is an extended introduction to Second Nephi, and it does its work of introduction by getting us acquainted with the two prophetic sources he brings together in 2 Nephi 6–30: Isaiah’s writings from the brass plates, and the prophetic tradition that began with his father. What’s more, it shows its readers at least preliminarily how those two sources are interrelated…

“In Isaiah, we have a record divided into two parts that are nonetheless deeply entangled with one another. You’ll remember that what scholars call First Isaiah focuses on prophecies of destruction, and they present a prophet who’s forced to write and then seal up his prophecies so they can be kept for a later generation. But then what scholars call Second Isaiah focuses on prophecies of restoration, of the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant at last—all a consequence of the sealed book being opened and read among the faithful. Nephi saw his own vision mirrored rather perfectly in the writings of Isaiah, or he saw Isaiah’s writings mirrored rather perfectly in his own vision.”1
The point of separation Spencer mentions above, would place Isaiah 48 and 49 (1Ne 2021), in Second Isaiah right where we are going to begin our study in the Book of Mormon. Of these two chapters, Garold N. Davis, BYU professor of German and comparative literature wrote Nephi’s Commentary on Isaiah 48–9 (1 Nephi 20–1)

Isaiah passages in the Book of Mormon are not unnecessary duplications of the biblical Isaiah. Rather, they are an inspired, integral part of that sacred text. Although the Book of Mormon Isaiah makes significant corrections to the biblical Isaiah, the greater value lies, first, in the contextual setting in which the doctrines of the covenant of Christ’s atoning sacrifice, the prophesied scattering of Israel, and the restoration of the house of Israel in the last days through the instrumentality of the gentiles receive their full and proper emphasis; and, second, in the rich and detailed interpretations given us through the commentaries of Lehi, Nephi, Jacob, Abinadi, and the Savior.—Garold N. Davis

However, Davis explained the need to go back one chapter to “1 Nephi 19, where Nephi again mentions his father, Lehi, and states that Lehi’s record and prophecies are contained on the other (large) plates.” Then Nephi describes how the Messiah would come to earth in 600 years, how he “would be rejected and crucified, and the signs of his death would be given to ‘all the house of Israel’” (see 1 Nephi 19:7–8, 9–12). In the end, “those who are at Jerusalem …shall wander in the flesh and perish, and become a hiss and a byword” (verses 13–14). But the Lord, who “will remember the covenants which he made to their fathers,” will also remember “all the people who are of the house of Israel” and will gather them again (see verses 15–16).”

Davis writes that Nephi explains the writings of Isaiah were written to persuade his people to “remember the Lord their Redeemer” (verse 18). Several texts from the brass plates helped him in this task, he states, but so that he “might more fully persuade them to believe in the Lord their Redeemer,” he turned to the prophet Isaiah (see verse 23). With this context and commentary as preparation for what will follow, Nephi then copies from the brass plates those sections from the writings of Isaiah that now constitute 1Ne 2021 (Isaiah 4849).

Davis explained that this introduction to “Isaiah 48 serves, in a way, as an introduction to the purpose of all prophecy.”Then Davis continued:

“God reveals future events through his prophets so that when those events transpire, people will not attribute them to natural (or even to supernatural but likewise ungodly) causes, but will recognize his supervening hand in human affairs. As stated by Isaiah, “Before it came to pass I showed them thee …for fear lest thou shouldst say—Mine idol hath done them, and my graven image, and my molten image hath commanded them” (1 Nephi 20:5).

“In addition to inviting Nephi’s illuminating commentary, the Book of Mormon text of Isaiah 48 fulfills the other purpose mentioned earlier by correcting two significant errors that appeared in later biblical manuscripts and that were carried over into the King James Version of Isaiah. In 1 Nephi 20:1 (Isaiah 48:1) the information that the ‘house of Jacob’ had come ‘out of the waters of baptism’ is restored to the text…”

The phrase “out of the waters of baptism” according to McConkie and Millet is prophetic commentary by Joseph Smith to call “our attention to the fact that the ordinance of baptism was as common to the people of the Old Testament as it was” to those of the Book of Mormon.In verse 2 Davis explains:

“the statement that the people of the holy city ‘stay themselves upon the God of Israel’ is corrected to the exact opposite—they ‘do not stay themselves on the God of Israel.’2 This correction is important because it is consistent with the message that follows—that if the people had not broken the covenant, the house of Israel would not have been scattered (see 1 Nephi 20:18–19).

” First Nephi 21 (Isaiah 49) presents the scattering of Israel as a result of breaking the covenant and specifically addresses ‘all ye that are broken off and are driven out because of the wickedness of the pastors of my people’ (verse 1). If Israel is scattered, then is the Lord’s work for the house of Israel all in vain? (see verse 4). No, because the Lord will gather them again through the Gentiles, and all the nations of the earth will be blessed by his ministry, ‘that thou mayest be my salvation unto the ends of the earth’ (see verses 5–6). The Lord will remember his covenant to those scattered, even to the ‘isles of the sea’” (see verses 8–9, 15–16).

Nephi refers to the isles of the sea as their location in the Americas and possibly to other locations where the remnants of the house of Israel are located.With this explanation, you can see why he believes this part of Isaiah points to his people. Davis then continues:

“An interesting dialogue follows (verses 18–23) in which the Lord tells Israel that although she has lost her first children, she will have many more brought to her by the Gentiles: ‘Behold, I will lift up mine hand to the Gentiles, and set up my standard to the people; and they shall bring thy sons in their arms, and thy daughters shall be carried upon their shoulders. And kings shall be thy nursing fathers, and their queens thy nursing mothers’ (verses 22–3).

“We have Laman and Lemuel to thank for Nephi’s further commentary on Isaiah 48 and 49. ‘What meaneth these things which ye have read?’ they ask (1 Nephi 22:1). Nephi explains that the house of Israel ‘will be scattered upon all the face of the earth, and also among all nations’ (verse 3); that God will then ‘raise up a mighty nation among the Gentiles’ who will continue the scattering of Israel (verse 7); and that God will then ‘proceed to do a marvelous work among the Gentiles’ that will greatly benefit scattered Israel and ‘is likened unto their being nourished by the Gentiles and being carried in their arms and upon their shoulders’ (verse 8).4

In the day when God brings “his covenants and his gospel unto those who are of the house of Israel . . . they shall be gathered together to the lands of their inheritance; and they shall be brought out of obscurity and out of darkness; and they shall know that the Lord is their Savior and their Redeemer, the Mighty One of Israel” (verses 11–12).

Nephi’s commentary on Isaiah 48 and 49 in 1 Nephi 19 and 22 is entirely consistent with Lehi’s commentary that Nephi recorded in 1 Nephi 10 and 15.


Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon1:151–52
See Gorton, Legacy of the Brass Plates, for thorough commentary on these corrections.
Daniel H. Ludlow, A Companion to Your Study of the Book of Mormon [1976], 121
In 1 Nephi 22:8–10, Nephi links Isaiah 29:14 (“a marvelous work . . .”), Isaiah 49:22–3 (“thy daughters shall be carried upon their shoulders . . .”), and Isaiah 52:10 (“the Lord hath made bare his holy arm . . .”), thus bringing together and explaining three of the most frequently quoted Isaiah verses in the Book of Mormon. This makes 1 Nephi 22 one of the most important Isaiah commentaries in the Book of Mormon.



Chapters of Isaiah Quoted in the Book of Mormon
1 Nephi 20 21
2 Nephi 7 8 12 13 14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24 27
Mosiah 14
3 Nephi 20 22

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1 COMMENT

  1. In answer to this question: “What is the meaning or known fulfillment of the prophecy, “Kings shall be thy nursing fathers, and their queens thy nursing mothers”? (1 Ne. 21:23.) Monte S. Nyman, a professor of ancient scripture, and director of Book of Mormon studies in the Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University in 1994 wrote this:
    “This prophecy was originally given by the prophet Isaiah (see Isa. 49:23). Nephi quoted Isaiah 48 and 49 to more fully persuade his people to believe in the Lord (see 1 Ne. 19:23), Nephi interpreted chapter 49 as the whole house of Israel being “scattered among all nations” and “hated of all men” because the house of Israel would “harden their hearts” against “the Holy One of Israel” (1 Ne. 22:4–5). Nephi then interpreted the prophecy as it applied to his seed and “also our brethren who are of the house of Israel” (1 Ne. 22:6).

    “Nephi’s brother Jacob later quoted Isaiah 49:22–23 [Isa. 49:22–23] and likened the words unto the Nephites because they were “of the house of Israel” (2 Ne. 6:5–7). He also spoke concerning those at Jerusalem who would harden their hearts against the Lord. Jacob added some prophetic words spoken to him by an angel regarding those who were at Jerusalem (see 2 Ne. 6:8–9) and gave interpretive commentary on the prophecy (see 2 Ne. 10:6–22).

    “From these sources, we learn that the passage in question applies to all the house of Israel and thus will be fulfilled in similar but specific ways for the Jews and their Nephite-Lamanite remnant. We may also conclude that there will be or has been a similar fulfillment among other subgroups of the house of Israel that have been taken away and remained as a group for a period of time.”

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