I have been struck recently by how carefully Christ wants to work the Nephites through what the Abrahamic Covenant is and how they play a role in it. I think that 3 Nephi 17:2-3 may be evidence that the Nephite society didn’t really deal with the Abrahamic Covenant much. Even though they had Isaiah and Nephi, they still needed those writers carefully explained. And lucky for us, they were also commanded to write down what Christ taught them so we could read it too.
By the beginning of Chapter 15, Christ has finished updating the Nephites on the things He taught during His mortal ministry (see 3 Nephi 15:1). After addressing some questions about the Law of Moses, He turns specifically to the newly called disciples to begin teaching about the Abrahamic Covenant (3 Nephi 15:11). This speech continues through the end of Chapter 16. The next chapter opens with Christ seeing that the people aren’t ready to learn what He has been commanded to teach them (3 Nephi 17: 2-3), and so asks them to return to their homes to prepare for the next day. What was it that the people didn’t understand? It appears that so far He has only taught the disciples about the Abrahamic Covenant. Did the multitude not understand the things taught in Chapters 11 through 15? Or, perhaps, Christ was hoping to teach the multitude about the Abrahamic Covenant but realized they were not ready for it. (Elsewhere Christ teaches something to the disciples and then repeats a similar version to the multitude generally.) He can tell they aren’t ready to work through Isaiah just yet, so He plans to finish on another day.
Interestingly, He waits to finish His teaching until they have received the sacrament and the Holy Ghost. In Chapter 20, we read:
9 Now, when the multitude had all eaten and drunk, behold, they were filled with the Spirit; and they did cry out with one voice, and gave glory to Jesus, whom they both saw and heard.
10 And it came to pass that when they had all given glory unto Jesus, he said unto them: Behold now I finish the commandment which the Father hath commanded me concerning this people, who are a remnant of the house of Israel.
11 Ye remember that I spake unto you, and said that when the words of Isaiah should be fulfilled—behold they are written, ye have them before you, therefore search them—
12 And verily, verily, I say unto you, that when they shall be fulfilled then is the fulfilling of the covenant which the Father hath made unto his people, O house of Israel. ….
These verses seem to suggest that perhaps His earlier message was heard by the multitude afterall. In any case, let’s see what Christ is teaching the people, a people who (like us) sometimes have a hard time comprehending the Abrahamic Covenant.