1 Nephi 21:7-11 & Isaiah 49 — LeGrand Baker — Joseph Smith restores the Temple services

In this discussion I have divided First Nephi 20 and 21 into the following subsections:

1. The premortal apostasy, 1 Nephi 20:1-11 

2. Joseph Smith in the Council in Heaven, 1 Nephi 20:12-17

3. Apostasy preceding the Restoration, 1 Nephi 20:18 to 21:1a

4. Those who will help the Prophet Joseph, 1 Nephi 21:1-6

5. Joseph Smith restores the Temple services, 1 Nephi 21:7-11

6. The Gathering of Israel, 1 Nephi 21: 12-26

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1 Nephi 21:7-11 

7 Thus saith the Lord, the Redeemer of Israel, his Holy One, to him whom man despiseth, to him whom the nations abhorreth, to servant of rulers: Kings shall see and arise, princes also shall worship, because of the Lord that is faithful.

Having discussed those who will assist the Prophet, Isaiah now turns to Joseph himself. In the first half of his introduction, he describes him in terms of all the tensions Joseph encountered in his own lifetime and the contrasts that still inform opinions today, “to him whom man despiseth, to him whom the nations abhorreth.” During his first visit, Moroni warned the young prophet of those contradictions. Joseph recalled:

33 He called me by name, and said unto me that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me, and that his name was Moroni; that God had a work for me to do; and that my name should be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues, or that it should be both good and evil spoken of among all people (Joseph Smith-History:33).

As though to fulfill that prophecy, years later when a Boston newspaper reported that the Prophet had been murdered, the editor wrote:

But notwithstanding this, he was a remarkable man, and has left the impress of his genius upon the age in which he lived; he has carved out for himself a title to a page in the history of his country, and his name will be remembered, for good and for evil, when the names of half the ephemeral statesmen of the age will be forgotten.{1}

The second half of Isaiah introduction is equally appropriate:

to servant of rulers

In the Beatitudes, when the Savior spoke of the Twelve, he emphasized their role as servants. He said, “Blessed are ye if ye shall give heed unto the words of these twelve whom I have chosen from among you to minister unto you, and to be your servants (3 Nephi 12:1) Being a servant is not a unique responsibility of the prophet and the apostles, because we are all required to serve and bless each other. We may know that these priesthood responsibilities are what Isaiah had in mind by the next phrases:

Kings shall see and arise, princes also shall worship, because of the Lord that is faithful.

These kings are the sacral kings who have eyes that see and ears that hear. They stand to make covenants. Princes are those who are anointed to become kings. They are enabled to worship correctly because the Lord has kept his part of the covenants with regards to their collective and individual missions.

It is true with Isaiah, as it is with many other prophets, that in order to read with understanding anything the prophet wrote, one must first understand other things he wrote. As an example, this chapter is a prophecy of the life and work of the Prophet Joseph and is set in the context of his covenants in the premortal spirit world. However, it can best be understood in light of Isaiah 61 which is a prophecy of the redemption of the dead after the Savior’s resurrection. For that reason, it seems necessary that before we continue, we carefully examine that later chapter of Isaiah.

Reading Isaiah 61 is not so much a tangent as it might appear, for key elements in Isaiah 49 (1 Nephi 21) are written with the same subtextual code as Isaiah 61where the context makes the code easier to unravel. So reading Isaiah 61 first will focus a bright shining light on the meaning of Isaiah’s description of the mission of the Prophet Joseph in 1 Nephi 21. It will also help us understand why the Savior defined his own mission by quoting from that chapter in the synagogue in Nazareth.

16 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read.
17 And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written,
18 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised,{2}
19 To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.
20 And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him.
21 And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears (Luke 4:16-21).

The other chapter he quoted, promised that he would give sight to the blind, but it was also an affirmation that he would deliver the prisoners from their darkness.

5 Thus saith God the Lord, he that created the heavens, and stretched them out; he that spread forth the earth, and that which cometh out of it; he that giveth breath unto the people upon it, and spirit to them that walk therein:
6 I the Lord have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles;
7 To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house.
8 I am the Lord: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images (Isaiah 42:5-8).

The key that unlocks the whole meaning of Isaiah 61 is D&C 138. Isaiah 61 is a prophecy of the Lord’s visit to the world of the spirits of the dead during the period between his own death and his resurrection. The first verse is quoted in D&C 138:42 as Isaiah’s prophecy that the Savior would visit the dead and liberate them from the spirit prison. With that key the entire chapter comes into focus, so not only is it intelligible but in its clarity it provides us the meaning of other code words in other parts of Isaiah, as well as in the Psalms and other scriptures.

President Joseph F. Smith saw in vision the fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy. He also clarifies that. It was the Savior who was anointed at the Council in Heaven, and lists some of the prophets who were present to greet the Savior in the spirit world. Among those he mentions Isaiah.

42 Isaiah, who declared by prophecy that the Redeemer was anointed to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that were bound (D&C138:42).

Throughout his own vision President Smith used much of Isaiah’s language. Not only does he quote its beginning in verse 42, but also in verse 31, he tells of the Savior’s sending missionaries to the dead who did not accept the Savior in their time of life on the earth. He describes their mission in the same terms that were used by Isaiah in chapter 61.

Please go to the “Scriptures” section of this website, then to Old Testament, and then Isaiah. You will find a discussion of those terms in “Isaiah 61 – LeGrand Baker – An Endowment for the Dead”

8 Thus saith the Lord: In an acceptable time have I heard thee, O isles of the sea, and in a day of salvation have I helped thee; and I will preserve thee, and give thee my servant for a covenant of the people, to establish the earth, to cause to inherit the desolate heritages (1 Nephi 21:8).

In light of Isaiah 61, the symbolism of the next few verses of Nephi 21 that promises the restoration of the temple ordinances requires virtually no explanation. What little is necessary is provided by a footnote in the current edition of the Book of Mormon.

In an acceptable time

An acceptable time is a time when the ordinances and covenants are valid because they are done with correct authority and in the correct way (zedek). One of the Prophet’s most important missions is to restore that “acceptable time” with its promises of salvation for the dead.

have I heard thee, O isles of the sea and in a day of salvation have I helped thee and I will preserve thee,

As in verse one, the references to the people who are of the “isles of the sea” probably refers to the people of the Book of Mormon.

and give thee my servant

In the Book of Mormon, at the words “my servant,” footnote 8a reads: “2 Nephi 3:11 (6-15); 3 Nephi 21:11 (8-11); Mormon 8:16 (16-25).”

The first of those references reads:

6 For Joseph truly testified, saying: A seer shall the Lord my God raise up, who shall be a choice seer unto the fruit of my loins. …
11 But a seer will I raise up out of the fruit of thy loins; and unto him will I give power to bring forth my word unto the seed of thy loins—and not to the bringing forth my word only, saith the Lord, but to the convincing them of my word, which shall have already gone forth among them. …
15 And his name shall be called after me; and it shall be after the name of his father. And he shall be like unto me; for the thing, which the Lord shall bring forth by his hand, by the power of the Lord shall bring my people unto salvation (2 Nephi 3:6-15).

9 That thou mayest say to the prisoners, Go forth; to them that are in darkness, Shew yourselves. They shall feed in the ways, and their pastures shall be in all high places.

That thou mayest say to the prisoners, Go forth; to them that are in darkness

The prisoners who sit in darkness may well be the persons in the spirit world who are awaiting the ordinances that will enable them literally to “go forth.”

They shall feed in the ways, and their pastures shall be in all high places.

Again, we have a reference to the feast at the conclusion of the ancient Israelite temple drama—which has became the sacrament of the Last Supper.

“Way” is code for one’s journey to the top of the mountain of the Lord. To feed there is to partake of the fruit of the tree of life. The symbolism of “pastures” reflects the 23rd Psalm where one, as a sheep who follows his Savior, eats the fruit of that tree and drinks freely of the waters of life. Then, later in the psalm, the feast is prepared “in the presence of mine enemies,” meaning that the enemies are irrelevant to both the sanctity and the efficacy of the feast.{22} Those ideas are encapsulated in the Savior’s Beatitude:

6 And blessed are all they who do hunger and thirst after righteousness [zedek, correctness in priesthood and temple things], for they shall be filled with the Holy Ghost (3 Nephi 12:6).

10 They shall not hunger nor thirst, neither shall the heat nor the sun smite them; for he that hath mercy on them shall lead them, even by the springs of water shall he guide them.

This beautiful imagery is a reference to the tree of life and the waters of life. The dead shall have access to the fruit of the tree and therefore shall not hunger. They will symbolically rest under its shade and therefore the sun will not smite them. There they may drink freely of the waters of life. That same imagery is found in the Twenty Third Psalm:

1 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters (Psalms 23:1-2).

In John’s Revelation, this represents the ultimate blessing: having eternal access to the tree of life and giving “unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely” (Revelation 21:6. See all of chapters 21 and 22).

11 And I will make all my mountains a way, and my highways shall be exalted (1 Nephi 21:11).

“Mountains” may refer to the ancient Israelite temple. “Way” and “highways” may refer to for the ordinances and covenants one must follow to ascend to the pinnacle of the mountain.{23}

Even though these references to temple work and kingship seem to be primarily about ordinances for the dead, they necessarily imply that the Prophet Joseph will also restore the sealing power and other ordinances for the living as well.

This verse completes the part of the chapter that deals with the Prophet’s assignment to restore the ordinances and blessings of the temple. The rest of the chapter talks about the Prophet’s other major assignment: to gather Israel and to restore the government and culture of this earth to their proper order—to bring about Zion.

The restoration of the temple with its ordinances and covenants had to come first in Isaiah’s prophecy because it does come first in time. There can be no gathering of Israel if there are not temples to which they can gather. So now, Isaiah has established that Joseph will restore the ancient temple rites, he can proceed with his prophecy to describe how Israel will be gathered.

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FOOTNOTES

{1} Daily Evening Transcript, Boston, Mass., August 1, 1844.

{2} When John the Baptist’s disciples came to Jesus to ask if he were the Messiah, he quoted this passage to them (Matthew 11:4-5).

{3} Margaret Dee Bratcher,”Salvation Achieved, Isaiah 61:1-7; 62:1-7; 65:17 – 66:2,” Review and Expositor, v. 88, 1991, 178.

{4} For anything to be acceptable to the Lord in the Old Testament, it had to be done correctly and with the right authority—in zedek. Here the dead are to be given assurance that the ordinance performed on the earth will be valid and acceptable. One finds a similar statement in D&C 93:51.

{5} Anderson, Time to Mourn, 84. An important example of the way “comfort” is used in the Bible is this verse from Isaiah:
3 For the Lord shall comfort Zion: he will comfort all her waste places; and he will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving, and the voice of melody (Isaiah 51:3).

{6} Anderson, Time to Mourn, 85.

{7} For an excellent discussion of the coronation ceremony, see Ricks and Sroka, “King, Coronation, and Temple,” 236-71.

{8} For a more detailed discussion of the Israelite coronation ceremony see Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, First edition, p. 461-516; Second edition, p. 336-360.

{9} For a more detailed discussion of “beauty instead of ashes” in the ancient Israelite coronation ceremony see Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, First edition, p. 471-77; Second edition, p. 342-46.

{10} For a more detailed discussion of the anointing in the ancient Israelite coronation ceremony see Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, First edition, p. 477-83; Second edition, p. 346-49.

For discussions of the anointing of Israelite kings, see Donald W. Parry, “Ritual Anointing with Olive Oil in Ancient Israelite Religion,” Allegory of the Olive Tree, 266-71, 281-83. For a discussion of the olive tree as the Tree of Life and of the tree and its oil as symbols of kingship see Stephen D. Ricks, “Olive Culture in the Second Temple Era and Early Rabbinic Period,” Allegory of the Olive Tree, 460-76.

{11} For a more detailed discussion of the two-part royal clothing in the ancient Israel see Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, First edition, p. 483-95; Second edition, p. 349-58.

{12} For a more detailed discussion of this new name and of the Israelite royal new covenant name see Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, First edition, p. 495-516; Second edition, p. 358-73.

{13} Ellis T. Rasmussen, A Latter-day Saint Commentary on the Old Testament (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1993), 536.

{14} Borsch, Son of Man, 92-93.

{15} Mowinckel, He that Cometh, 84. As examples, Mowinckel’s footnote gives Psalms 132:11ff; 72; cf. 20:8f; 21:10; and Isaiah 55:3. Besides Mowinckel, other scholars who have pointed out that this was a participatory drama were: Widengren, “King and Covenant,” 21-22. Borsch, Son of Man, 184; Johnson, Sacral Kingship, 7-8, 91; Grace I. Emmerson, “Women in Ancient Israel,” The World of Ancient Israel, Sociological, Anthropological and Political Perspectives, ed. R. E. Clements (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 371-94; Robert Davidson, “Covenant Ideology in Ancient Israel,” World of Ancient Israel, 342-43; Geo Widengren, “Baptism and Enthronement in Some Jewish-Christian Gnostic Documents,” The Savior God, Comparative Studies in the Concept of Salvation Presented to Edwin Oliver James, ed. S. G. F. Brandon (New York: Barnes & Noble, 1963), 205-17; Johnson, “Hebrew Conceptions of Kingship,” 215-35.

{16} For a discussion of the concept, “Be true to the Law of your own Being,” see Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, First edition, p. 537-39; Second edition, p. 387-88.

{17} Margaret Dee Bratcher,”Salvation Achieved, Isaiah 61:1-7; 62:1-7; 65:17 – 66:2,” Review and Expositor, v. 88, 1991, 178.

{18}  Monte S. Nyman, Great are the Words of Isaiah (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1980), 236.

{19} For a discussion of Psalm 82 see Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, First edition, p. 227-55; Second edition, p. 359-81.

{20} For a discussion of the temple feast see Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, First edition, p. 605-41; Second edition, p. 431-57.

{21} For a discussion of “a broken heart and contrite spirit” see Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, First edition, p. 886-89; Second edition, p. 622-23.

{22} For a discussion of the feast in Psalm 23 see Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, First edition, p. 619-41; Second edition, p. 448-49.

{23} For a comparison between the sacred mountain and Solomon’s Temple see Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, First edition, p. 365; Second edition, p. 263.

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