2 Nephi 26 — LeGrand Baker — Isaiah’s world history
I am deeply appreciative of Dil’s last week’s comments. What I have to write will not add much, if anything at all. All it does is look at this chapter from the perspective of an historian, rather than from Dil’s more artistic vantage point of literary critic.
To me, this chapter gives one an interesting perspective on world history. Nephi moves through almost three thousand years on a single thread. That thread not only teaches what is important to Nephi, it also teaches us what is universally important. To see that, lets briefly go through the chronology of the chapter.
The story Nephi is about to tell is summed up in the first verse, “And after Christ shall have risen from the dead he shall show himself unto you, my children, and my beloved brethren; and the words which he shall speak unto you shall be the law which ye shall do.”
There Nephi addresses two audiences, his descendants, whom he calls “my children”; and those who are partakers of the covenant, whom he calls “my beloved brethren.” He draws an unspoken distinction between the law of Moses and the Gospel, by the instructions, “the words which he shall speak unto you shall be the law which ye shall do.” Then, after this introduction, he begins his chronology.
Verse 2 covers the 600 years between Nephi’s own time and the birth of Christ: ” many generations shall pass away, and there shall be great wars and contentions among my people.”
Verses 3-6 covers the period from the sign of the birth of Christ, until the destructions which will be the sign of his death.
Verse 7 is Nephi’s testimony — a reminder that he saw these things while he was in “the presence of the Lord.”
Verses 8-11 describe the coming of Christ to the Nephites and the rest of the history of the Book of Mormon until its conclusion.
Nephi’s narrative then leaves his own people in their apostate state and reminds us that the Saviour will keep his promise to manifest “himself unto all those who believe in him, by the power of the Holy Ghost; yea, unto every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, working mighty miracles, signs, and wonders, among the children of men according to their faith.”
He then turns his attention to the last days,
Verses 14 through 19 are a summation of Isaiah 29, which Nephi has not quoted before, and which is a prophecy of the Book of Mormon.
Verses 20 through 22 are about the world of Joseph Smith – and about our own world as well. When people “preach up unto themselves their own wisdom and their own learning, that they may get gain and grind upon the face of the poor. And there are many churches built up which
cause envyings, and strifes, and malice. And there are also secret combinations, even as in times of old….”
Verses 23 through 29 is a description of Christ’s church as it will be restored in the latter days. This is not a description in terms of the church’s organization, but in terms of its invitation to the world to partake of Christ’s salvation. “… he hath given it [ salvation ] free for all men; and he hath commanded his people that they should persuade all men to repentance.” What Nephi offers here, and what Nephi sees as the purpose of his panoramic history, is universal salvation, but not universal exaltation. Christ has given “salvation…free for all men.” But notwithstanding that free gift, “he hath commanded his people that they should persuade all men to repentance.”
Then, in verses 30 through the end of the chapter, Nephi concludes by showing how the whole history of the whole world (as he has described it) focuses on the salvation of each single individual. “…he doeth nothing save it be plain unto the children of men; and he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.”
Nephi’s conclusion of his brief overview of world history, is the same as Mormon and Moroni’s conclusion of the great panoramic sweep of Nephite history. In the Book of Mormon it is Moroni chapters 7 and 10 discussing faith, hope, and charity, as a kind of crescendo of everything else that has been taught. Nephi does the same thing. He writes, “wherefore, the Lord God hath given a commandment that all men should have charity, which charity is love, and except they should have charity they were nothing.”
In summary, this is a remarkable Chapter. Not only does it explain Isaiah in terms which are easy to understand, but in doing so, it shows how human history focuses on human encounters with the Christ, and that the purpose of each individual within that great history, focuses on one’s individual relationship with the Saviour.