Parsing Nephi: First Nephi VI (1 Nephi 19:22 – 21:26) and VII (1 Nephi 22)

This is one of a series of posts examining apparent chapter divisions within the original Book of Mormon manuscript as they apply to Nephi’s writing — here is the introduction and here is the previous post. (The entire list can be found here.)

Longer Book of Mormon quotes here, as for the entire series, are taken from The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text (Royal Skousen, ed.), though links will be to the modern version.

Chapters VI and VII: Nephi Explains It All

Chapter V in Nephi’s first book on the small plates ends with the successful arrival of Lehi’s party in the promised land, Nephi’s commandment from the Lord to make the first (large) set of plates, and Nephi’s admonition “unto all the house of Israel, if it should so be that they should obtain these [plates].”

That would seem to be a good place to end the first book and start the second one — new land, new book — but Nephi adds two more chapters, bringing the total up to seven, a doubly-significant number: not just because of the perfection and completeness of the number “7” in Jewish symbolism, but because (and possibly for the same symbolic reason) Lehi’s descendants will be divided into seven tribes throughout the history of the Book of Mormon.

That the division into seven chapters may have been deliberate is strengthened by the fact that these two chapters could just have easily been one. In them, Nephi reads a portion of Isaiah (chapters 48 and 49) to his brothers, then expounds upon these chapters to his brothers. But before he does that, he gives an introduction that contains what is likely the second-most quoted statement by Nephi (after 1 Nephi 3:7):

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 plates of brass,
that they might know concerning the doings of the Lord
in other lands among people of old.
And I did read many things unto them which were in the books of Moses.
But that I might more fully persuade them to believe in the Lord their Redeemer,
wherefore I did read unto them that which was written by the prophet Isaiah;
for I did liken all scriptures unto us,
that it might be for our profit and learning.

With that, Nephi then copies the indicated passage of Isaiah onto the plates, then writes down his own exposition (to his brothers) of that passage onto the plates as well; his closing remarks include the following:

Wherefore, my brethren, I would that ye should consider
that the things which have been written upon the plates of brass are true,
and they testify that a man must be obedient to the commandments of God.
Wherefore ye need not suppose that I and my father are the only ones
which have testified and also taught them.
Wherefore if ye shall be obedient to the commandments and endure to the end,
ye shall be saved at the last day.
And thus it is.

Nephi introduces for the first time (in the record we have, at least) the phrase “endure to the end”, a phrase that appears repeatedly throughout the Book of Mormon (Moroni2 quotes it near the end of his own book, a thousand years later), and which Latter-day Saints have adopted as the “fifth” principle and ordinance of the Gospel (cf. here).

Here, though, there is a personal poignancy to its use. Nephi is writing upon these plates after he and those who followed him are forced to flee into the wilderness yet again, not just dividing Lehi’s family but dealing with the threat of having his older brothers “come upon us and destroy us“.

S. Kent Brown, specifically addressing the issue of Nephi including two chapters of Isaiah within First Nephi[1], feels that — beyond Nephi’s attempt to show fulfillment of prophecy — it also was of emotional comfort to Nephi in the light of just how difficult the journey to the promised land was, the sense of being vastly removed from all they knew and loved back at Jerusalem, and the irreparable damage done to Lehi’s family structure.

With these two chapters, Nephi finishes his first book on the small plates, tracing his history — in parallel to his father Lehi’s — from Jerusalem to the shores of the promised land. He likewise traces his own personal arc from the youngest brother (at the time) to a true prophet and potential leader over this group of exiles. But he knows things are going to take a turn for the worse — he is writing all this after the flight from Laman and Lemuel — and he saves that for his next book.

Next post: Second Nephi, title and introduction.   ..bruce..

[1] “What is Isaiah Doing in First Nephi? Or, How Did Lehi’s Family Fare so Far From Home”, Chapter 2, From Jerusalem to Zarahemla, S. Kent Brown, Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT, 1998.


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