Happy New Year! I’ll forget the fact that I should be at 2 Nephi by now…but the New Year is as good a time as any to jump back on the band wagon and trek on through the Book of Mormon. So, I offer a hearty ‘welcome back’ to all the stalwart followers and everyone who chances to read these posts. Here goes…
It’s often believed that history is written by the victors, the ones who actually live through battles and warfare: national anthems and creeds, etc. True enough. But, if we review Chapter 13, we see it consists of Nephi’s account of the vision of his future people (overrun as a degenerate civilization) as it relates to the apparently more mighty Gentiles that would be brought to America. While Nephites regularly overpower Lamanites time and again, both lose in the end and yet here we are, studying their words. This ‘goes against the (worldly and historical) grain’. In summation, Nephi sees all kinds of Gentiles performing God’s work in various ways and to varying degrees of spiritual awareness:
1) fleeing spiritual oppression from some entity known to him as the worldly ‘church of the devil’, in distinct opposition to the Church of the Lamb (vv. 4-9),
2) others are moved by the Spirit to navigate the Atlantic to this new land of promise, one man in particular (vv. 12-14) among ‘multitudes’ or waves of Europeans or anyone not of Israel,
3) Gentiles fighting the oppressive ones and defeating them ‘by the power of God’ (v. 19).
If chapter 12 concentrates on Israel in the New World, then chapter 13 deals with the ‘Old World’ or Gentiles, arriving in the new one and their impact on Nephi’s 15th-18th century descendants. Many might think Nephi’s vision of the Colonial and American Revolutionary Eras to be straightforward or easily interpreted. I suppose some of it is, but intriguingly, some isn’t.
Gentiles, Gentiles, Gentiles
The Gentiles were divided: the ‘mother’ Gentiles fought naval and land battles against a group of other Gentiles who had escaped some form of captivity. Are we talking about the 16th and 17th century puritans and their descendants escaping religious intolerance and oppression in England? Or, as it is commonly interpreted, might Nephi refer to the 18th century New England colonists who increasingly chafed at the political restrictions and economic taxations imposed upon them without their will, consent, or representation in the very political body that demanded such taxation from them, from across the Atlantic Ocean?
It seems each of these interpretations is commonly accepted as appropriate understandings of what Nephi means by ‘captive Gentiles’. He then states that these same Gentiles were delivered by the power of God from all other nations (the French and Spanish being heavily involved in the colonization of America; even the Dutch who heavily settled Manhattan broke from their motherland in many respects, electing to create a way of life that no form of religious worship be given preferential treatment above another). So, Nephi narrates to us this vision in which he interprets for us that his seed and his brothers’ seed (Nephites and Lamanites) are both visited by “the wrath of God”, evidence being that they are scattered by the European colonists, when this land should be theirs, and in fact was promised to be theirs (through Lehi and the Lord in the preceding 11 chapters).
Now this is so significant: that Nephi (an Israelite, taught after the manner of the Jews (1 Ne. 1:2)) acknowledges that God is with the Gentiles, so much so that they will be freed from all other nations, and yet that they are still blind.
In fact, Nephi states they are in “an awful state of blindness” because of “the plain and most precious parts of the gospel of the Lamb which have been kept back by that abominable church” (1 Ne. 13:32). Is that paradoxical that a Gentile people (whom Nephi understands is not part of the house of Israel, and therefore not part of the Abrahamic covenant) would have such divine favor and yet still be blind? I’d definitely argue ‘no’ because that’s clearly been Heavenly Father’s experience at all times in the world’s history.
I wondered how Nephi might explain his reasoning. I could only think that Heavenly Father, ever respecting of individual agency, works with the best, faithful, yet “imperfect people” (Elder Holland) from out of every nation of the globe, to whatever degree they’re willing to trust Him, to ask Him questions, listen to and seek His revelatory guidance and actually trust that He communicates through His Spirit to them (Alma 12:10-11; D&C 84: 85). They were guided to the Americas (like Nephi, interestingly, Nephi the Puritan pilgrim of sorts) out of their pious desires to worship God as inspired by their understanding of the ancient Bible, mostly.
The Bible and other books
Then Nephi mentions these Gentiles carried a book, a book whose identity the guiding angel needed to inform him of. And when the angel does, what he chooses to say indicates to us what is perhaps most significant about the book: “it is a record of the Jews, which contains the covenants of the Lord” (1 Nephi 13:23). This is significant because the one, single recorded question the Apostles ask of the resurrected Lord in the Holy Land, of who knows how many questions, is: when will Israel be restored? (Acts 1:6). We get none of the other 40 days worth of conversation with the Resurrected Lord, and the Lord’s indirect yet clear response is that it is not important for them to know that. They have other pressing matters…and all of them but John the Revelator would suffer horrible yet saintly deaths in the end.
Moving on, Nephi states that the Bible emanates from the mouth of a Jew in ‘purity’ and goes to the Gentiles and then a great and abominable church strikes out much of the plain language, ‘obscuring’ many ‘precious’ parts of the Gospel of the Lamb (vv. 24-42). In opposition, this abominable church is also called the ‘mother of harlots later on’. This means not only the source of the prostitution of one’s body, but by analogous implication or scriptural inference oneself either mentally, spiritually, or physically to gain a temporary payment, pleasure, or gain of some kind or another, at a seemingly inconsequential cost. Trading in the soul for the world. One thinks of Esau, King David’s fall, Israel when it splits into two kingdoms, the repeatedly prosperous Nephites, and of course Judas.
Perhaps this is why Nephi alludes to ‘harlots’ who sell their purity, chastity, virtue, in exchange for money, and not for the purpose of marriage, covenant, and family – and eternity. Culturally and ethnographically, I can’t pretend to know exactly what Nephi meant by this phrase and to whom it refers.
But, what is most striking about both records (Bible/Book of Mormon) is that they are written by losers in wars and persecution: a splintered and scattered Israel, persecuted Hebrew Christians of the 1st century AD, a solitary Moroni. These are not victors by any means, making the talk of covenants and periods of honest righteousness contained within them all the more potent tools for correcting erring thoughts and habitual actions found out of step with the Lord’s plan of salvation for His meek disciples in the 21st century.
The more the Gentiles, or any of us, truly apply the principles of prosperity and humility and reliance on the Savior, the less blind we will be and the greater use Heavenly Father will have for us. Hence why, despite having prophets and apostles on the earth again, this announcement of 80 ancient Mediterranean manuscripts that are to be made available will convince (not persuade mind you) many that the Bible and Book of Mormon are both true (1 Nephi 13:39-42).
And I know that they are true by the power of the Holy Ghost – he’s the persuader. 15 million others can attest to that reality and truth: that this is the season and time that the Lord has put to Israel’s restoration – the Apostles’ longstanding question has been answered, and powerfully.