I have often wondered why 1 Nephi and 2 Nephi are broken up where they are. It seems that from verse one of 2 Nephi 1, Lehi’s speeches to his sons are a continuation of what Nephi was saying at the end of 1 Nephi 22 (“And now it came to pass that after I, Nephi, had made an end of teaching my brethren, our father, Lehi, also spake many things unto them”). As Joe put it, “the fact that 1 Nephi 20-2 Nephi 4 forms a single occasion should strike as interesting, since Nephi breaks it up into two parts by marking a division between First and Second Nephi. Why distribute the two parts of this occasion between the end of one book and the beginning of another?” I wonder though, if this really is one meeting or occasion. It sounds like it from 2 Nephi 1:1, but there are other details that confuse the issue, it seems to me.
I looked back to see when this occasion began. It appears to me that this is how things progress. Chapter 18 details the journey across the sea and ends with the description of the promised land. That is more or less the end of the “story” of 1 Nephi. Chapter 19 details the small/large plate distinction, then says this,
18 And I, Nephi, have written these things unto my people, that perhaps I might persuade them that they would remember the Lord their Redeemer.
19 Wherefore, I speak unto all the house of Israel, if it so be that they should obtain these things.
22 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.
23 And I did read many things unto them which were written in the books of Moses; but that I might more fully persuade them to believe in the Lord their Redeemer 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.
24 Wherefore I spake unto them, saying: Hear ye the words of the prophet, ye who are a remnant of the house of Israel, a branch who have been broken off; hear ye the words of the prophet, which were written unto all the house of Israel, and liken them unto yourselves, that ye may have hope as well as your brethren from whom ye have been broken off; for after this manner has the prophet written.
First Nephi explains that his little run-through of the brass plates prophets was, “written these things unto my people, that perhaps I might persuade them that they would remember the Lord their Redeemer.” Right there, in chapter 19, he has written what he hopes will open up his people (in the future?) to believe in Christ. Second, Nephi explains that he also taught his brothers. Specifically he says, “Now it came to pass that I, Nephi, did teach my brethren these things” and also “I did read many things to them … that they might know concerning the doings of the Lord in other lands, among people of old” and also “that I might more fully persuade them to believe in the Lord their Redeemer I did read unto them that which was written by the prophet Isaiah.” This sounds like an on-going process. Nephi says, “and it came to pass” that he read and taught his brothers.
The reason I bring this up is that after chapter 19 begins Nephi’s quotation of Isaiah 48 (1 Nephi 20) and 49 (1 Nephi 21). The next chapter (1 Ne 22) says this: “And now it came to pass that after I, Nephi, had read these things which were engraven upon the plates of brass, my brethren came unto me and said unto me….” Now this is curious. At first it sounds like Nephi is teaching them on an on-going basis. Now Nephi records an event where he was reading these chapters (once? often?) and his brothers came to him. Then Nephi records his explanation of Isaiah 48 and 49 in Chapter 22. Curiously, this is the last we get of 1 Nephi! This means that the opening of 2 Nephi comes after Nephi’s response to his brothers (Laman and Lemuel, I assume?) coming to him! This doesn’t sound like the “meeting” I was picturing!
What do we make of this scenario? Did Lehi simply piggy-back on the occasion? Nephi ends his words by saying,
30 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.
31 Wherefore, ye need not suppose that I and my father are the only ones that 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. Amen.
It wonderful that Lehi is the next “speaker” in the small plates. Did Nephi construct this situation somewhat artificially, to create a pairing? Something like his grouping of Jacob, Isaiah, and himself as three witnesses? I would be tempted in that direction, except why would he open 2 Nephi with the words, “And now it came to pass that after I, Nephi, had made an end of teaching my brethren, our father, Lehi, also spake many things unto them”? What can we read by “after” Nephi taught, his father spake many things? After he had taught about Isaiah, and many others things, there was this other occasion where Lehi was teaching them? Or, after Nephi had taught and they wouldn’t listen anymore, Lehi took over? Or do we read this more literally, that as soon as Nephi was done teaching, Lehi began to add to what Nephi had said?
Whether we go with the latter option, or see this as a more purposeful, creative juxtaposition of Lehi with Nephi, I think there might be reason to see Lehi as building on Nephi’s commentary on Isaiah. Nephi, as usual, explained the scattering of Israel and the promised return of Israel. He also points out that “all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people shall dwell safely in the Holy One of Israel if it so be that they will repent.” This is also an occasion to call his brothers to repentance; the words of Isaiah provide a pattern that which Laman and Lemuel can (and ought) apply to themselves. In this light, it is easy to see Lehi’s words as building off of Nephi’s (perhaps providing some evidence that Lehi was indeed teaching at the same event? Perhaps taking advantage of his sons’ willingness to listen – since they had come to Nephi?) For example, in 2 Nephi 1:13-14, Lehi tells his sons,
O that ye would awake; awake from a deep sleep, yea, even from the sleep of hell, and shake off the awful chains by which ye are bound, which are the chains which bind the children of men, that they are carried away captive down to the eternal gulf of misery and woe. Awake! and arise from the dust…
If Lehi is teaching in the wake of Nephi’s commentary of Isaiah, then perhaps he is echoing words of Isaiah 52:1-3:
1 Awake, awake; put on thy strength, O Zion; put on thy beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city: for henceforth there shall no more come into thee the uncircumcised and the unclean.
2 Shake thyself from the dust; arise, and sit down, O Jerusalem: loose thyself from the bands of thy neck, O captive daughter of Zion.
3 For thus saith the Lord, Ye have sold yourselves for nought; and ye shall be redeemed without money.
This would put Lehi comparing Laman and Lemuel to Jerusalem, who has sold itself for naught, feels like God doesn’t hear them, and wanders off, as it were. Notice that both the 2 Nephi 1 quotation and the Isaiah quotation use the words “awake,” “chains,” and “dust.” Since Nephi had just used Isaiah to call his brothers to repentance, I think that there is a real possibility that Lehi is doing the same. Both Jerusalem and the Lamanites/Nephites will wander, but both will be redeemed. (And it is right here, with Laman and Lemuel, that their wandering begins!) Hence I wonder if Lehi is subtly comparing his sons to Jerusalem, and inviting them to right here and now “arise” and become what God wants them to be. In other words, be redeemed now, Laman and Lemuel, and not later.
This opens up some possibilities, anyway. I don’t have the time to keep going through Lehi’s words right now, but I would like to see if there are other allusions to Isaiah and/or Nephi’s commentary on Isaiah.
The question I have now is why this is the setting for the blessings to each of Lehi’s children. I really think that the beginning of 2 Nephi 1 seems to me to follow so nicely on Nephi’s words on Isaiah (and 2 Nephi 1:1 does seem to suggest something like Lehi following Nephi’s turn for teaching), but a spontaneous teaching opportunity does seem like an odd setting for father’s blessings. I wonder if at some point, we actually switch to another occasion where the blessings were given and Nephi meshes the two? More questions to look at another day.