Yesterday I took the time to attend the temple. Since my local temple is being renovated, attending the temple involved leaving my home before 5 am and returning to my home at 6 pm. I suppose I could have spent less time, but it seemed silly to commute 7 hours to only perform one proxy endowment for my relatives.
During the hours of driving (and the hour waiting between sessions), I chose to listen to the Book of Mormon. I adore the Book of Mormon. And as I’ve read and listened and studied over the years, my appreciation for the Book of Mormon continues to grow. Here are a few tips that occur to me, now that I’ve had a chance to power through the content of the small plates in short order.
The first book of Nephi is largely associated with the sacred history of Lehi’s call as a prophet and subsequent flight to the Promised Land. I have realized over the years that it is Lehi’s preaching of a Messiah to fulfill the Abrahamic Covenant that will bless all the peoples of the earth that makes the people wish to murder him. The Book of Mormon narrative moves away from Jerusalem and the Deuteronomists in short order, but Laman and Lemuel continue to demonstrate how much the Deuteronomists reviled the idea of a Messiah who, as the son of God, would be sacrificed for the world. They also represent the idea that primogeniture should determine rule, rather than righteousness.
After Lehi leaves Jerusalem, I find it notable that he sends his sons back for two things. The first and most important was the word of God, in the form of the Brass Plates. The second and crucial “thing” was the additional persons so that Lehi’s children could have families. Note that Laman and Lemuel were far less conflicted about going back for wives. For our day, I would suggest that when faced with a choice between God and family, the Book of Mormon suggests that God is more important than family, but family is extremely important.
I don’t know why 2 Nephi starts with a continuation of the sacred history. My husband shared a conjecture he read that 2 Nephi starts with the preaching of Lehi as a sort of parallelism to the way 1 Nephi starts with the preaching of Lehi.
The bulk of 2 Nephi, however, is consumed with Nephi’s record of three testimonies of the Messiah.
Nephi starts with the sermons of Nephi’s brother, Jacob. These are a delight, demonstrating perhaps most clearly the understanding of how Jesus Christ saves all mankind from the transgression of Adam and Eve.
Nephi continues with Isaiah. And this is where many people give up reading the Book of Mormon (when attempting a straight read through). Isaiah is opaque. Even Nephi admits that only someone like himself, steeped in the culture and history from the time of Isaiah to the reign of King Zedekiah, can understand these Isaiah passages. As I was driving or sitting in the temple chapel during these chapters, I couldn’t do what I recommend to you. Get a good alternate translation of the Bible to help for those (man) moments when you say “Whhaaatt?!?!?” (e.g., my husband has been reading The Open Bible, a New KJV with study helps, during our family Bible readings). More thoughts on Isaiah below.
FInally, Nephi gives us his own testimony of the redemption of Israel as a nation, the continuation of a remnant of the descendants of Lehi (despite the eventual destruction of Nephi’s descendants for their wickedness), and the power of Jesus Christ to save individuals.
I remember the lecture I heard where Margaret Barker spoke, a lecture that revolutionized my understanding of the Book of Mormon. Professor Barker is not a member of the Church of Jesus Christ. She is a British Methodist who studied theology at Cambridge University. She holds a Doctor of Divinity conferred by the Archbishop of Canterbury.
What Margaret Barker shared about temple theology and her reading of the Book of Mormon clarified to me the tension between the believers in a future Messiah (e.g., Lehi and Nephi) and those who honored Moses to the point that they rejected Abraham and any teaching of a future Messiah.
Lehi and Nephi had faced murderous anti-Messiah reactions in Jerusalem, and continued to face extreme rejection from Laman and Lemuel following their flight from Jerusalem. So I can understand why Nephi found Isaiah to be so precious.
Isaiah was still so honored that the Deuteronomists hadn’t eviscerated his words regarding a Messiah. The most clear snippets regarding Christ were selected by Handel as the libretto for his Messiah.
Second, Isaiah had foretold the attack of the Assyrians on Israel, which had subsequently come to pass. Nephi and Lehi had foretold the Babylonian captivity, but the unbelievers had no proof that this Babylonian captivity had actually happened (until Nephites encountered the people of Zarahemla generations later).[ref]Orson Scott Card suggests the people of Zarahemla might not have been Mulekites, but some other group. Upon learning the language of the people of Mosiah, Card suggests they were trying to establish primacy over the people of Mosiah by claiming, “That fellow who was the king over your ancestors… we’re his descendants.”[/ref] By quoting Isaiah, Nephi was able to reassure himself and his believers that prophets can save their people by warning them against unrighteousness, the clear reason Isaiah gave for why God allowed Assyria to prevail over the Kingdom of Judah.
As a side note, Isaiah 5 is a short, grape-centric, and vengeful-God version of the parable we find in Jacob 5. I’ll just say that I love the clarity of plainness the Book of Mormon prophets bring to doctrines, because sometimes the Old Testament and other ancient texts can be super-opaque even to those of us with access to google and decades of learning on the topic.
If you are having insights I neglected to mention, please comment!