I have been rereading 1st Nephi over this past month and I feel like I’ve understood it much, much better than I ever have before. I guess over the past few years of talking with Joe about Israel, the Abrahamic Covenant, Nephi’s work on Isaiah, etc., all prepped me for a very different experience. As I read it this time, for whatever reason I really zoomed in on how the characters in the story are trying to figure out how to understand the Abrahamic Covenant themselves. It’s not just that we latter-day Saints are supposed to think about it and pick up on little details for our own private understanding, but rather that even Nephi was trying to understand it and how to teach it to Laman and Lemuel. And for good reason: prophets were coming to say that Jerusalem would be destroyed. How could God destroy the city, the home, of his covenant people? You can see why so many people didn’t believe Lehi, Jeremiah, and whoever else was prophesying at the time. This seemed to go against the covenant they had with God.
So Lehi, Nephi, and others have to learn to re-interpret the covenant with Israel. This happened through visions, like Lehi’s, and then when they got the brass plates, they found prophets had explained the covenant in ways that could help them grapple with what was going on. Nephi also receives his vision which gives a grand sweeping historical understanding of how the covenant to Israel will play out, at least from the perspective of one branch of Israel. (Not just for that branch, because it includes roles for those all over the world, including Gentile, lost tribes, and Jews!) Nephi reads Isaiah to his brothers over and over again, and this time I went in with this question: how does this help Laman and Lemuel understand their place in the covenant to Israel?
This makes me want to encourage Joe to write a book titled “Nephi’s Prophecy and the Book of Isaiah.” He’s already working on one Isaiah book for a non-Mormon, academic press. I know he’s busy but I would love to see this book written. He told me I should go ahead. 🙂 (haha.)
I feel like writing more than I have for a few years so I might put together my own thoughts post-by-post, just to get them permanently saved somewhere. I think it’s a very helpful way to look at 1st Nephi, myself. I’d love to see others write up a book about it, but I don’t mind sharing my own thoughts in the meanwhile!