I am really, really enjoying Joe’s posts at Feast. I just finished his post on “Getting Ready for Book of Mormon Lessons 2-11: Some Preliminaries on Nephi.” These were some of my favorite parts:
It seems clear to me that Nephi’s vision early in his wilderness travels gave him a set of themes to study: first and foremost (1) the role of the covenant in the history of Israel and (2) the role to be played in that covenantal history of a book that would be written, sealed up, and then brought forth. When Nephi began to read Isaiah (note that the first mention of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon comes in Nephi’s explanation of his vision/his father’s dream to his brothers in 1 Nephi 15!), he found that it was the clearest resource for thinking about the stakes of his apocalyptic vision. The larger structure of Nephi’s record, it seems to me, works to introduce Isaiah slowly to its readers, culminating in the massive quotation of Isaiah 2-14 in 2 Nephi 12-24, which paves the way for Nephi’s final exposition of his vision—an exposition that works as a weaving together of Nephi’s vision and the text of Isaiah 29. In his final reflections, Nephi brings the two trajectories of his record together with real force: his visionary experience with its themes and his obsession with Isaiah’s writings and their themes. These two foci give Nephi’s record its power and orientation.
This seems to me to be one of the clearest, most straightforward readings of why Nephi includes Isaiah. I love it! I noticed the other day that Nephi says, ” I will send their words [Jacob and Isaiah] forth unto my children to prove unto them that my words are true.” (See 2 Ne 11:3.) He feels like he needs them in order for his children to believe the vision he had. Fascinating!
Isaiah is in the temple when he suddenly has a vision of the Lord on the throne. Shocked and prepared to be obliterated, he is shown mercy when a seraph presses a burning coal to his lips, cleansing his language and allowing him to join the heavenly throngs surrounding God’s throne. This initiation of sorts marks the unmistakable turning point of the Isaiah chapters Nephi quotes at such length (the shift from prophecies of destruction to prophecies of restoration).