Jacob Quotes Isaiah & Nephi Quotes Isaiah More

RoseAnn Benson and Shon Hopkin share their essay "Finding Doctrine and Meaning in Book of Mormon Isaiah"

Jacob Quotes Isaiah & Nephi Quotes Isaiah More
Jacob Quotes Isaiah & Nephi Quotes Isaiah more after obtaining the Plates of Brass

Why is it that Nephi quotes Isaiah, then his brother Jacob quotes Isaiah too and after that Nephi quotes Isaiah even more? RoseAnn Benson and Shon Hopkin set out to explain this in their essay, “Finding Doctrine and Meaning in Book of Mormon Isaiah.”

In this seven-part series, we have already included:

Let’s see how:

Jacob Quotes Isaiah

Jacob quotes Isaiah more than his brother Nephi
Jacob quotes Isaiah just as his brother Nephi did

Benson and Hopkin illustrated how Jacob quotes Isaiah in 2 Nephi 7–8 by “explaining that he would quote from Isaiah because Isaiah’s words speak of ‘things which are, and which are to come…concerning all the house of Israel’ (2 Nephi 6:4–5). According to Jacob, the future scattering and gathering of the house of Israel would be dependent upon their response to a ‘knowledge of their Redeemer’ (2 Nephi 6:11), just as it had been anciently… when the house of Israel came into the promised land.” At that time Joshua oversaw a ceremony prescribed by Moses where all the land was blessed with promises “the blessings promised in the law and the curses that would be Israel’s if she were not true to her covenants were reenacted in dramatic fashion. Scattering ‘among all people, from the one end of the earth even unto the other’ was one of the warnings (Deuteronomy 28:64).”

“Following the death of Lehi and the separation of his descendants into two factions,” Jacob quotes Isaiah in “Isaiah 50 regarding an unrepentant people and a willing servant (see 2 Nephi 7); from Isaiah 51, urging the Nephites to look back to the righteous progenitors of the covenant, Abraham and Sarah (see 2 Nephi 8:1–23); and from Isaiah 52:1–2, bidding Zion to rejoice in her future redemption (see 2 Nephi 8:24–25). Jacob quotes Isaiah and his teachings first to the Nephites, as warnings and prophecies for them specifically, then to the Jews generally, and then to all the house of Israel.”

Here the authors suggest Jacob, like Nephi,  “understood that the Nephites were following the same tragic pattern as the Israelites in the Holy Land.”  Under the rule of David and Solomon Israel was governed by a United Monarchy but at Solomon’s death, the confederated twelve tribes split into two kingdoms, Judah to the south and the others to the north. The authors pointed to the same pattern as, “the death of Lehi brought about the separation of the family into Nephites and Lamanites.” Then they made clear, “the unrepentant people could be likened to those of the northern kingdom (see 1 Kings 12:20, 25–28) and the Lamanites (see 2 Nephi 5:5–8, 20–25).” The authors, citing Victor Ludlow, suggest that while the “willing servant most likely symbolizes Christ and his prophets” it could have also “symbolized the people in the southern kingdom and the Nephites (2 Nephi 7:1–9).3 Jacob’s cultural inheritance made him aware of the destruction of the northern kingdom by Assyria and similar prediction of Judah’s destruction after the Lehites left Jerusalem.

“How is it possible that these, after having rejected the sure foundation, can ever build upon it, that it may become the head of their corner?” (Jacob 4:17).

With this awareness and his own vision in 2 Nephi 6: 8, Hopkin and Benson suggest that Jacob quotes Isaiah “to prevent the same captivity and destruction from occurring to his people. Jacob also knew from Nephi’s apocalyptic vision (see 1 Nephi 12) about the eventual apostasy and destruction of the two nations springing from Lehi.” Hoping to prevent “both the Lamanites and the Nephites” from becoming “deaf to the message of the gospel.”

Nephi Quotes Isaiah More!

Nephi Quotes Isaiah Extensively
Nephi Quotes Isaiah more extensively than all other Book of Mormon authors

The authors open by stating that even though Nephi wrote that “he delighted in plainness and subsequently restated Isaiah’s words in his own straightforward style” there are perhaps three reasons as to why Nephi quotes Isaiah so extensively:

  1. “Because Lehi’s descendants were a branch of Israel broken off and led away, Nephi saw Isaiah as their prophetic connection back to their homeland. Isaiah was their reassurance that they were natural branches of the ‘olive tree,’ the house of Israel—that they had not been forgotten—and that in the latter days they would be regrafted into that original tree.” (See, for example, 1 Nephi 15:12–18; 21)
  2. “Nephi was following the time-honored prophetic pattern of ancient Israel, continued later in the New Testament and still today, of quoting an earlier prophet as an additional authority.” (See, for example, Matthew 1:22–23; 2:13; and 2:17–18)
  3. Nephi was showing later readers the scriptural context that provided his own clear understanding of true principles in order to enable them to gain the depth of understanding that he possessed.

Using both the first and second reasons listed above, Hopkins and Benson explained how “Nephi set the stage for his first quotation of Isaiah” in 1 Nephi 19:10–21. Just as modern day church leaders build on “doctrines and principles provided in the scriptures by ancient prophets,” they “are not obligated to support their statements from the writings of other prophets, this process of connecting the prophetic voice over generations demonstrates that the doctrines of the gospel do not change.”

In the third case, listed in their footnotes, Benson and Hopkins, cite John Gee who suggests that “Book of Mormon prophets consistently employed a ‘formula quotation pattern’ when quoting Isaiah’s prophecies,” which help to explain how they “make clear the central messages of each Isaiah passage.”

These patterns each begin, “with an introduction in which the prophet clearly teaches principles regarding the gathering and scattering of the house of Israel, the blessings associated with keeping covenants and the importance of turning to the Messiah, the Holy One of Israel, who is later explicitly identified as Jesus Christ, the Son of God (see 2 Nephi 10:3; 25:19). Then, after quoting an extended passage of Isaiah, the Book of Mormon prophet explained the passage, prophetically likening it to his people, both in his own time and in the latter days. Nephi quotes Isaiah as specifically identified in this interpretive and authoritative explanation as a form of prophecy (see 2 Nephi 31:1).” Gee labels these patterns “‘verbal paradigm[s].'”1

When Nephi quotes Isaiah, Nephi references Zenos, Neum, and Zennock from the Brass Plates. In 1 Nephi 19, he reminded his posterity that these prophecies were clearly about the “God of our fathers, …the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” This, of course, pointed his family back to their heritage, but at the same time brings out this, ” Isaiah was writing to all the house of Israel (1 Nephi 19:10–21),” including latter-day Israel too.

In First Nephi, he warned his people against wickedness, but then, as Benson and Hopkin pointed out, his “choice to start with two chapters (Isaiah 48–49) from the end of Isaiah’s writings is instructive.” That is because, they wrote,  “Isaiah’s later teachings include more descriptions of God’s mercy and long-suffering love toward the house of Israel than his earlier teachings do.” Jacob followed suit in Second Nephi, but in Second Nephi, Nephi quotes Isaiah specifically with warnings against wickedness from the prophet’s earliest chapters (see 2 Nephi 12–24; compare Isaiah 2-12).

Hopkin and Benson showed, “Subsequent to reading these prophecies concerning God’s love for Israel and the servant who would gather his people, Nephi quotes Isaiah with an extended exposition on the destruction of the wicked, the preservation of the righteous, and how the Holy One of Israel would gather his people in the last days (see 1 Nephi 22:1–28). Nephi underscored his exposition on mercy by citing a familiar Mosaic passage:

“A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you, like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you. And it shall come to pass that all those who will not hear that prophet shall be cut off from among the people.

“And now I, Nephi, declare unto you, that this prophet of whom Moses spake was the Holy One of Israel. (1 Nephi 22:20–21; emphasis added; see also Deuteronomy 18:15)”

Quoting S. Kent Brown, the authors explain in 1 Nephi 20–21 Brown “notes that the prophecies coincide with the difficulties that Lehi’s family encountered in their wilderness experience. For example, passages from Isaiah mirror the description of their journey: they were ‘broken off and [were] driven out because of the wickedness of the pastors of my people’ (1 Nephi 21:1; Isaiah 49:1) and ‘they thirsted not; he led them through the deserts; he caused the waters to flow out of the rock for them’ (1 Nephi 21:21; Isaiah 49:21). From Nephi’s point of view, Isaiah was speaking about him and his people.”2

Benson and Hopkin wrote that Nephi seems to see “a direct application to his family’s experiences” in the words of Isaiah. “These examples from the story of Lehi’s family align with prophecies of Isaiah that Nephi quoted;”

In summary, Benson and Hopkin demonstrated that as Nephi quotes Isaiah, he used the prophet to show how their troubles in the wilderness and subsequent strife in the Americas, mirrored Isaiah’s warning to his people. However, Nephi quotes Isaiah as a prophet of hope and offered those words to his people knowing full well he was offering them to us too.  Jacob quotes Isaiah to use “the cultural and historical heritage found in Isaiah’s prophecies and Zenos’s allegory to give context to his people’s current situation, to call them to repentance, and to reassure them that God’s plan provided for their future redemption.”

Follow this series:

1 John Gee, “‘Choose the Things That Please Me’”: On the Selection of the Isaiah Passages in the Book of Mormon,” in Isaiah in the Book of Mormon, p. 77
2 S. Kent Brown, From Jerusalem to Zarahemla (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1998), 10.
3 Victor Ludlow, Isaiah: Prophet, Seer, and Poet, 422.

Authors: RoseAnn Benson and Shon Hopkin| Benson (rabenson@byu.edu) was an adjunct professor of ancient scripture and Hopkin (shon_hopkin@byu.edu) was an assistant professor of ancient scripture at BYU when this article was published.

You may want to listen to the Shon Hopkin podcast “Is Isaiah Talking About His Day or Our Day?”

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