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1 Nephi 19
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1 Nephi 19
Nephi Makes Plates of Ore
1 Nephi 19:1
1 And it came to pass that the Lord commanded me, wherefore I did make plates of ore that I might engraven upon them the record of my people. And upon the plates which I made I did engraven the record of my father, and also our journeyings in the wilderness, and the prophecies of my father; and also many of mine own prophecies have I engraven upon them.
The previous sentence is “And we did find all manner of ore, both of gold, and of silver, and of copper.” It is not a coincidence that discussing these specific metals led Nephi to a discussion of the “plates of ore” that he created and upon which he was writing.
It has long been known that plates of pure gold could not fit the description of the weight of the plates Joseph received. The best understanding of the composition of the plates is that they were an alloy known in the New World as tumbaga. It is an alloy composed of gold, silver, and copper. When combined in the proper amounts and washed with an acid, the alloy is golden. Geologist Jerry Grover commissioned some experiments to determine the percentages of each of the elements, and found that a plausible replica could be created that would hold the engravings, and even one which fit one of the descriptions that indicated that the letters were black on the golden background.
The weight of a set of tumbaga plates with the dimensions described for the plates delivered to Joseph are similar to the various estimates for them. No scales were used, so we only have the perceived weight as a guide.
As with other triggered asides, Nephi’s discussion of the physical makeup of the plates leads him to a discussion of the plates themselves, and the reasons for which they were created. Nephi made two sets of plates, and this verse discusses the first set, which we call the large plates of Nephi.
It is possible that some form of this verse was the intended end of the book of 1 Nephi. While it is the first verse of a chapter in our current edition, there was no division here in the 1830 edition. Everything that follows this verse can be interpreted as triggered asides that added unplanned information to the original concept for the book of 1 Nephi.
As a small note, the phrase “and it came to pass” is only found twice in this chapter. The first is here, where it is part of the historical narration. The reason is that most of this chapter contains asides that are not part of a narrative of events.
1 Nephi 19:2–4
2 And I knew not at the time when I made them that I should be commanded of the Lord to make these plates; wherefore, the record of my father, and the genealogy of his fathers, and the more part of all our proceedings in the wilderness are engraven upon those first plates of which I have spoken; wherefore, the things which transpired before I made these plates are, of a truth, more particularly made mention upon the first plates.
3 And after I had made these plates by way of commandment, I, Nephi, received a commandment that the ministry and the prophecies, the more plain and precious parts of them, should be written upon these plates; and that the things which were written should be kept for the instruction of my people, who should possess the land, and also for other wise purposes, which purposes are known unto the Lord.
4 Wherefore, I, Nephi, did make a record upon the other plates, which gives an account, or which gives a greater account of the wars and contentions and destructions of my people. And this have I done, and commanded my people what they should do after I was gone; and that these plates should be handed down from one generation to another, or from one prophet to another, until further commandments of the Lord.
The information in these three verses reprises the information in verses 2–6 of 1 Nephi 9. That chapter was also a triggered aside. There are two sets of plates. The first, which created the tradition of record keeping for the Nephite people, we call the large plates of Nephi. It seems probable that Nephi created those physical plates and began recording history at some point after the separation from Laman and Lemuel. It is a record of “the wars and contentions and destructions of my people.” Thus, it is a record created after a Nephite people had been formed.
In 1 Nephi 9:5 Nephi said that the current plates upon which he was writing, which we call the small plates, were created for “a wise purpose.” In verse 3 of this chapter, he also says that they were created for “other wise purposes.” One of those purposes was the reason that we have the record. They became the replacement information for Mormon’s abridgement of Nephite history from the beginning to the reign of king Benjamin.
Similarly, in 1 Nephi 9:4 Nephi indicated that the small plates were to record “the more part of the ministry.” Here, in verse 3, Nephi reprises that idea; “I, Nephi, received a commandment that the ministry and the prophecies, the more plain and precious parts of them, should be written upon these plates.”
Nephi was consistent in his descriptions of the small plates and their purpose. What is fascinating is that he places the information in his text two times before he even arrives at the time period when they were created. The unusual requirement to create a second set of plates was clearly on his mind and was the subject of two inserted asides describing the task.
1 Nephi 19:5–6
5 And an account of my making these plates shall be given hereafter; and then, behold, I proceed according to that which I have spoken; and this I do that the more sacred things may be kept for the knowledge of my people.
6 Nevertheless, I do not write anything upon plates save it be that I think it be sacred. And now, if I do err, even did they err of old; not that I would excuse myself because of other men, but because of the weakness which is in me, according to the flesh, I would excuse myself.
Nephi understands that he has inserted an aside, and notes that he will later give an account of the making of these plates. That future account in 2 Nephi 5:29–31 will be much more abbreviated than the two accounts from 1 Nephi 9 and 19. Nevertheless, the 2 Nephi account occurs in the correct historical timeframe, where the two in 1 Nephi are out of temporal sequence.
An important transition occurs in these verses. Nephi mentions making the plates, and then speaks of what he is writing on them. He says: “this I do that the more sacred things may be kept for the knowledge of my people. Nevertheless, I do not write anything upon plates save it be that I think it be sacred.” This mention of sacred things is the trigger for the next section of his text. As with other triggered asides, this was not part of the original plan.
Nephi clearly had a plan and an outline. However, when he began writing on the plates, it appears that he was able to compose new text on the fly. There is no evidence that he was copying a text, so his mind was engaged in the process, and these asides show Nephi when he is inspired by something he wrote, so that he provided additional material.
In this case, the mention of sacred things leads directly to a discussion of Yahweh’s earthly mission, developed in the next set of verses.
Prophets Testify of Christ
1 Nephi 19:7–9
7 For the things which some men esteem to be of great worth, both to the body and soul, others set at naught and trample under their feet. Yea, even the very God of Israel do men trample under their feet; I say, trample under their feet but I would speak in other words—they set him at naught, and hearken not to the voice of his counsels.
8 And behold he cometh, according to the words of the angel, in six hundred years from the time my father left Jerusalem.
9 And the world, because of their iniquity, shall judge him to be a thing of naught; wherefore they scourge him, and he suffereth it; and they smite him, and he suffereth it. Yea, they spit upon him, and he suffereth it, because of his loving kindness and his long-suffering towards the children of men.
The Nephites understood that God was Yahweh, and that Yahweh would come to earth as the Messiah. Thus, when Nephi says that “even the very God of Israel do men trample under their feet,” he means Yahweh in his earthly mission.
It is that connection to the earthly mission of the Messiah that leads directly to the six hundred-year prophecy—that the Messiah would come six hundred years after Lehi left Jerusalem. Even after the first discussion of the small plates in 1 Nephi 9, Nephi followed that information with a discussion of the earthly mission of the Messiah, including the six hundred-year prophecy (1 Nephi 10:4).
This is an important prophecy, but a difficult one for modern readers. The best scholarly estimates for the year of Jesus’s birth are that it occurred around 6 to 4 B.C. The departure from Jerusalem was perhaps in 597 B.C. That does not allow for six hundred years, yet the Book of Mormon counts them down to the year. The logical solution to this is that the Nephites followed a different year. In the Old World, Israel used a lunar year of about 357 days rather than a solar year of 365 days. This later changed to the solar year, although the community of Qumran felt that the lunar year should still be the standard. In the New World, Mesoamerican peoples had multiple calendars, but one was based on a 360-day year. Using either of those shorter years, the fewer days added up to sufficiently fewer solar years that there were just the six hundred years according to the lunar calendar, or a little longer if using the 360-day year. The difference between the two falls into the 6–4 B.C. range for the birth of Christ.
1 Nephi 19:10
10 And the God of our fathers, who were led out of Egypt, out of bondage, and also were preserved in the wilderness by him, yea, the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, yieldeth himself, according to the words of the angel, as a man, into the hands of wicked men, to be lifted up, according to the words of Zenock, and to be crucified, according to the words of Neum, and to be buried in a sepulchre, according to the words of Zenos, which he spake concerning the three days of darkness, which should be a sign given of his death unto those who should inhabit the isles of the sea, more especially given unto those who are of the house of Israel.
The only way to correctly understand this verse is to read it as Yahweh, the God of their fathers. Nephi specifically invokes the Israelite history and declares that the God who led Israel from bondage is the very God that will come in six hundred years. When Nephi declares that this is information declared by an angel, he is most likely referring to his great vision of the tree of life. He might have received the information later, but the subject of that vision led to a discussion of the mortal ministry, and therefore is likely the time Nephi received this information.
Nephi specifically invokes Zenock and Neum, two prophets from the plates of brass. The assumption that the plates of brass reflected a northern kingdom record, rather than the record of the southern kingdom which gives us our Old Testament, provides the most logical reason for the absence of these prophets from our current Old Testament.
The specific information that is added is that not only will Christ’s rising from the dead after three days be a sign in the Old World, but that it would be known by those who were on the isles of the sea. Nephi clearly saw his people as being on the isles of the sea, and he will highlight times when Isaiah also speaks of those on the isles of the sea. It is a theme that we will see in Nephi’s and in some of his brother Jacob’s writings, but which fades when the Nephite nation no longer has members who came from across the sea.
1 Nephi 19:11–12
11 For thus spake the prophet: The Lord God surely shall visit all the house of Israel at that day, some with his voice, because of their righteousness, unto their great joy and salvation, and others with the thunderings and the lightnings of his power, by tempest, by fire, and by smoke, and vapor of darkness, and by the opening of the earth, and by mountains which shall be carried up.
12 And all these things must surely come, saith the prophet Zenos. And the rocks of the earth must rend; and because of the groanings of the earth, many of the kings of the isles of the sea shall be wrought upon by the Spirit of God, to exclaim: The God of nature suffers.
During Nephi’s vision of the future of his people, he saw the destruction that would later be recorded in 3 Nephi. He noted: “And it came to pass that I saw a mist of darkness on the face of the land of promise; and I saw lightnings, and I heard thunderings, and earthquakes, and all manner of tumultuous noises; and I saw the earth and the rocks, that they rent; and I saw mountains tumbling into pieces; and I saw the plains of the earth, that they were broken up; and I saw many cities that they were sunk; and I saw many that they were burned with fire; and I saw many that did tumble to the earth, because of the quaking thereof. And it came to pass after I saw these things, I saw the vapor of darkness, that it passed from off the face of the earth; and behold, I saw multitudes who had not fallen because of the great and terrible judgments of the Lord” (1 Nephi 12:4–5).
That description parallels the language Nephi includes here, but from Zenos’s prophecy. Given Nephi’s vision, Zenos’s words certainly became more intelligible, and Nephi clearly saw them in the context of his people’s future. The phrase “God of nature” occurs just this one time in scripture. It is not clear if it is used as Nephi’s conclusion to Zenos’s prophecy or was a quotation from Zenos. The import is clear, however. God is the God of the whole earth, and the terrible destructions of nature are the expression of God suffering for the death of his son.
1 Nephi 19:13–14
13 And as for those who are at Jerusalem, saith the prophet, they shall be scourged by all people, because they crucify the God of Israel, and turn their hearts aside, rejecting signs and wonders, and the power and glory of the God of Israel.
14 And because they turn their hearts aside, saith the prophet, and have despised the Holy One of Israel, they shall wander in the flesh, and perish, and become a hiss and a byword, and be hated among all nations.
The conclusion to the previous verses was that those on the isles of the sea would know of the death of the Messiah through the devastations of nature. Nephi then turns from his new land to that of the Old World. In Jerusalem, there were also after-effects of the death of the Savior. They did not have the same destruction in nature, but for them it was a destruction of their relationship to the God they crucified.
If a people reject their God, it might be surmised that their God would at least temporarily reject them. That is the prophet’s message. There was an effect wrought upon the children of Israel, they were no longer under God’s protection and therefore were left to “wander in the flesh, and perish, and become a hiss and a byword, and be hated among all nations.”
The meaning of the phrase “hiss and a byword” is clearly derisive. It suggests that they will be an object of scorn, and certainly the sad history of their treatment confirms that prophecy. The phrase itself is not found in the Bible, but that combination of words does appear in other books near Joseph Smith’s time, suggesting that it was a rather common phrase in his language environment.
1 Nephi 19:15–17
15 Nevertheless, when that day cometh, saith the prophet, that they no more turn aside their hearts against the Holy One of Israel, then will he remember the covenants which he made to their fathers.
16 Yea, then will he remember the isles of the sea; yea, and all the people who are of the house of Israel, will I gather in, saith the Lord, according to the words of the prophet Zenos, from the four quarters of the earth.
17 Yea, and all the earth shall see the salvation of the Lord, saith the prophet; every nation, kindred, tongue and people shall be blessed.
After describing the sad state of the world’s perception of the children of Israel, Nephi turns to the more positive prophecy. Even though their rejection of their God caused a time of separation from his protection, yet he would recover them. Yahweh’s gathering of the children of Israel would come as he remembered the covenants with their fathers and renewed them.
The recovery would also come to the isles of the sea. Nephi was born in the Old World and keenly felt the enforced separation from the land of his inheritance. While on what he considered to be an isle of the sea, he longed for the prophesied reunification of the branches of Israel. Thus, Yahweh will remember the covenants with the children of Israel in both the Old World and on the isles of the sea. Even more, from the four quarters of the earth.
The final declaration that “all the earth shall see the salvation of the Lord,” is that inclusive recovery and gathering of all of the children of Israel, from whatever quarter of the earth they might be, and whether a natural branch or a branch grafted in.
1 Nephi 19:18–21
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.
20 For behold, I have workings in the spirit, which doth weary me even that all my joints are weak, for those who are at Jerusalem; for had not the Lord been merciful, to show unto me concerning them, even as he had prophets of old, I should have perished also.
21 And he surely did show unto the prophets of old all things concerning them; and also he did show unto many concerning us; wherefore, it must needs be that we know concerning them for they are written upon the plates of brass.
These verses conclude this particular aside. Nephi has written of the coming of Yahweh as the Messiah in six hundred years, and noted just a little of the way he would be received. The scattering of Israel, both of those who rejected their Messiah as well as those physically separated on the isles of the sea, would be reunited.
Now Nephi is clearly mentally writing in real time. This is not a recounting of the past, but part of his current thinking about his people, the Nephites. Nephi writes that these new children of Israel might “remember the Lord the Redeemer.” He wants his people to understand the mortal mission of Yahweh as the Messiah.
He conflates his family’s exile with the poor treatment that the Messiah will receive. Had the Lord not saved them, they would have perished—and the Messiah will come to the literal and spiritual descendants of that people, and he too will perish.
Nephi declares that the scriptures, those writings on the plates of brass, testify to these things, as well as does he himself.
Nephi Introduces Likening Isaiah and all Scriptures
1 Nephi 19:22–24
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.
Nephi has created a problem for his writing. He has wandered from his outline and is now at the end of a section on prophecy rather than history. To move the writing back to a more historical framework, he says that “I, Nephi, did teach my brethren these things.” It is a transition without a preceding indication that he was teaching. Indeed, what Nephi says of these things is clearly a triggered aside.
Nephi is using the idea of teaching his brothers as a literary device to provide the more historical context that his concept for 1 Nephi required. Therefore, he brings his narrative back to teaching his brothers. Interestingly, however, this triggers another aside. Nephi’s declaration that his people should believe in “the Lord, their Redeemer” leads him to think of Isaiah.
In the framework of teaching his brothers, he will read Isaiah to them, but Nephi intends that Isaiah should be read against their current situation, not Isaiah’s world of one hundred years in the past and in the Old World. Nephi suggests that he “did liken all scriptures unto us.”
The process of likening scriptures is to take from the old and apply it to the current. Sometimes this process will required shifting the meaning that a text might have had at the time that it was written, but it makes the message applicable to the present. Isaiah becomes a lesson for Nephi’s current situation as it is likened to his brothers, and his people.
Against that light we will examine the two chapters of Isaiah which Nephi inserts into his text.
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