2 Nephi 4:15-35 – LeGrand Baker – Nephi’s Psalm
There are at least two ways of reading Nephi’s psalm. One is to see it as an immediate response to his confrontation with his brothers—a soul purging experience where he laments his own reaction to their desire to murder him. The other way is to read it as an introspective biography where he reviews his life as a microcosm of the eternal story told in their temple drama. Here, I wish to read it as the latter.
15 And upon these I write the things of my soul, and many of the scriptures which are engraven upon the plates of brass. For my soul delighteth in the scriptures, and my heart pondereth them, and writeth them for the learning and the profit of my children.
16 Behold, my soul delighteth in the things of the Lord; and my heart pondereth continually upon the things which I have seen and heard.
This is an autobiographical psalm in which Nephi leads us through his life as an example of what one must do to gain eternal life. Nephi begins, as does the 23rd psalm, in the Council in Heaven. The vision he reports to us began with the Tree of Live his father saw, then continued the rest of the history of the world, focusing on the history of his own people. That is where he has “seen and heard.” He doesn’t say, “I am taking you back to the Council to start my story,” he just does it. He begins where his story must begin, not his later vision of the Council when he was taken back to it, but to the things which he saw there—i.e. his own beginning.
17 Nevertheless, notwithstanding the great goodness of the Lord, in showing me his great and marvelous works, my heart exclaimeth:
God’s “works” in the context of the Council, is the creation. So Nephi has done exactly what he should do, he has brought our minds back to the Council and the creation story. From there he moves to his experiences in this world.
17b O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities.
18 I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me.
In this world, Nephi feels the tension between the weaknesses of his flesh and his eternal Self. Because I see this as autobiographical I believe he is talking about his youth, and I think it is a mistake to ascribe these sins to the mature prophet who is writing the psalm.
19 And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins; nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted.
“I have trusted”—past tense. The man remembers his beginnings as a boy. This is the same story of the hymn of the pearl. The next few verses continue his autobiography. It highlights the spiritual events which he has told us about when he wrote the story of “the things of my soul” in first Nephi.
20 My God hath been my support; he hath led me through mine afflictions in the wilderness; and he hath preserved me upon the waters of the great deep.
21 He hath filled me with his love, even unto the consuming of my flesh.
22 He hath confounded mine enemies, unto the causing of them to quake before me.
23 Behold, he hath heard my cry by day, and he hath given me knowledge by visions in the nighttime.
24 And by day have I waxed bold in mighty prayer before him; yea, my voice have I sent up on high; and angels came down and ministered unto me.
Mighty prayer means mighty prayer, one can be very bold in mighty prayer because one is told what to say and says it.
25 And upon the wings of his Spirit hath my body been carried away upon exceedingly high mountains. And mine eyes have beheld great things, yea, even too great for man; therefore I was bidden that I should not write them.
26 O then, if I have seen so great things, if the Lord in his condescension unto the children of men hath visited men in so much mercy, why should my heart weep and my soul linger in the valley of sorrow, and my flesh waste away, and my strength slacken, because of mine afflictions?
27 And why should I yield to sin, because of my flesh? Yea, why should I give way to temptations, that the evil one have place in my heart to destroy my peace and afflict my soul? Why am I angry because of mine enemy?
Nephi got angry at his brothers because they tried to murder him. He has a very sensitive spirit. That kind of sensitivity is called “charity.” It is the qualifying characteristic prerequisite to the final coronation rites. That’s what Nephi talks about next.
28 Awake, my soul! No longer droop in sin. Rejoice, O my heart, and give place no more for the enemy of my soul.
29 Do not anger again because of mine enemies. Do not slacken my strength because of mine afflictions.
30 Rejoice, O my heart, and cry unto the Lord, and say: O Lord, I will praise thee forever; yea, my soul will rejoice in thee, my God, and the rock of my salvation.
Note this, he uses “rock” three times, and he uses it in correct sequence. I’ll say more later about this.
31 O Lord, wilt thou redeem my soul? Wilt thou deliver me out of the hands of mine enemies? Wilt thou make me that I may shake at the appearance of sin?
In the Book of Mormon, to be redeemed usually means to see the Savior (Ether 3:10:13, 2 Nephi 1:15, 2 Nephi 2:3-4, Alma 58:41). When Nephi wrote this, he was already familiar with the Saviour, so here “redeem” has more eternal meaning, as he explains in the next verse.
32 May the gates of hell be shut continually before me, because that my heart is broken and my spirit is contrite! O Lord, wilt thou not shut the gates of thy righteousness before me, that I may walk in the path of the low valley, that I may be strict in the plain road!
If the gates of hell are shut before him, not only can he not get in, but his enemy cannot get out. he can’t get in because that my heart is broken and my spirit is contrite! i.e. he has made the ultimate sacrifice that the Lord requires in 3 Nephi 9:19-20
“O Lord, wilt thou not shut the gates of thy righteousness before me?” Not “gates of righteousness, but “gates of thy righteousness.” That is of God’s righteousness. “Righteousness” is zadok which means absolute correctness in priesthood and temple ordinances and covenants. Nephi is not talking about the temple that he and his people will soon build. Rather he is talking about the temple which contains God’s throne.
“That I may walk in the path of the low valley, that I may be strict in the plain road!” Walk and path are both code words that represent the ordinances and covenants of the temple [See Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord]. Usually these code words represent the way one reaches the top of the mountain, which is code for temple. But Nephi has already been to the top of the mountain. Now he wishes to “walk in the path of the low valley.” We use the symbolism of the mountain as a symbol of permanence and endurance (“For the strength of the hills we thank thee…”). However in Nephi’s desert culture back near Jerusalem, it was the valley where the water could be found that represented strength and stability. Recall Lehi’s admonition to Lemuel: “O that thou mightest be like unto this valley, firm and steadfast, and immovable in keeping the commandments of the Lord! (1 Nephi 2:10).”
33 O Lord, wilt thou encircle me around in the robe of thy righteousness! O Lord, wilt thou make a way for mine escape before mine enemies! Wilt thou make my path straight before me! Wilt thou not place a stumbling block in my waybut that thou wouldst clear my way before me, and hedge not up my way, but the ways of mine enemy.
The “robe of thy righteousness” is a “robe of zedek”—a sacred garment associated with priesthood and temple correctness. This is a phrase used so rarely in the scriptures that we can quote them all here. The oldest is in Job when he recalls the time when he was both king and priest:
14 I put on righteousness, and it clothed me: my judgment was as a robe and a diadem (Job 29:14).
Isaiah uses the phrase when he describes the marriage ceremony at the conclusion of the temple ceremony.
10 I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels (Isaiah 61:10).
Jacob uses it to describe the clothing of the righteous when they come before the Lord to be judged.
14 …and the righteous shall have a perfect knowledge of their enjoyment, and their righteousness, being clothed with purity, yea, even with the robe of righteousness (2 Nephi 9:14).
The Doctrine and covenants uses it to describe the eternal condition of the Twelve Apostles:
12 And again, verily, verily, I say unto you, and it hath gone forth in a firm decree, by the will of the Father, that mine apostles, the Twelve which were with me in my ministry at Jerusalem, shall stand at my right hand at the day of my coming in a pillar of fire, being clothed with robes of righteousness, with crowns upon their heads, in glory even as I am, to judge the whole house of Israel, even as many as have loved me and kept my commandments, and none else (D&C 29:12).
It also uses it to describe the clothing of those who “reap eternal joy.”
76 That our garments may be pure, that we may be clothed upon with robes of righteousness, with palms in our hands, and crowns of glory upon our heads, and reap eternal joy for all our sufferings (D& 109:76).
Nephi’s prayer, “O Lord, wilt thou encircle me around in the robe of thy righteousness!” brings all those ideas together into one concept.
34 O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever. I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh; for I know that cursed is he that putteth his trust in the arm of flesh. Yea, cursed is he that putteth his trust in man or maketh flesh his arm.
The Old Testament psalm that comes most nearly to being similar to this verse is Psalm 25. That beautiful poem is about trusting God based on mutual friendship/love and eternal covenants. (See Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, 2011 edition, 379-90.)
35 Yea, I know that God will give liberally to him that asketh.
At the beginning of the psalm, Nephi told us that his prayers were bold, now they are an expression of certainty. He knows he will receive anything he asks for because he knows how to ask.
35b Yea, my God will give me, if I ask not amiss; therefore I will lift up my voice unto thee; yea, I will cry unto thee, my God, the rock of my righteousness.
In verse 30 the “rock” was the “rock of my salvation”—a citadel of his security. This is the “rock of my righteousness.” That is the temple rock on which the Holy of Holies stands and on which he will build his own foundation. In the next sentence, He will uses “rock” again, this time his rock is the person of Jesus Christ. Nephi has gone back home again.
35c Behold, my voice shall forever ascend up unto thee, my rock and mine everlasting God. Amen (2 Nephi 4:15-35).