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1 Nephi 21

Through the Wilderness to the Promised Land

     (1 Nephi )


1 Nephi 21 (Isaiah Text & Commentary):


     Chapter 21

     (Compare Isaiah 49)


     The Lord continues to speak to the house of Israel scattered abroad.


 1 And again: Hearken, O ye house of Israel, all ye that are broken off and are driven out (or are part of the dispersion) because of the wickedness of the pastors (or the leaders and teachers) of my people; yea, all ye that are broken off, that are scattered abroad, who are of my people, O house of Israel. Listen, O isles (or those people of the house of Israel who live in distant lands touching the great seas -- like Lehi's family in the promised land) unto me (the Lord's servant), and hearken ye people from far; the Lord hath called me from the womb (or foreordained me); from the bowels of my mother hath he (the Lord) made mention of my name. (or in other words, the responsibilities of the Lord's servant were laid out from the beginning)

 2 And he hath made my mouth like a sharp sword (that is, I am to spread the gospel, which is not only very cutting to the wicked, but enables the righteous to cut through falsehood); in the shadow (or protection) of his (or the Lord's) hand hath he hid me (that is, despite what the world thinks of me, my calling has been sealed by the Lord), and [the Lord has] made me a polished shaft (or an effective servant); in his quiver hath he hid me (or held me for the appropriate time);

 3 And [the Lord has] said unto me: Thou art my servant, O ISRAEL (Jacob, Joseph, Ephraim, the house of Israel), in whom I will be glorified (because you will yet fulfill your stewardship).


     The Suffering Servant


 4 Then I (the Lord's servant) said, I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for naught and in vain (or in other words, all of the Lord's covenant promises have not been fulfilled); surely my judgment is with the Lord, and my work with my God (yet, I will look to the Lord for my answer).

 5 And now, saith THE LORD THAT FORMED ME FROM THE WOMB THAT I SHOULD BE HIS SERVANT TO BRING JACOB AGAIN TO HIM--though Israel be not gathered, yet shall I be glorious in the eyes of the Lord, and my God shall be my strength. (In essence the time of the fulfillment of all the covenant promises of the Lord will not only come to pass, but will do so in power and glory.)


     Restoring the House of Jacob


 6 And he (the Lord) said: It is a light thing (or it is not enough) that thou shouldst be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved (or the remnant) of Israel [to the knowledge of the gospel]. I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the ends of the earth. (That is, the work of the redemption of the house of Israel shall reach to all men)

 7 Thus saith THE LORD THE REDEEMER OF ISRAEL HIS (Israel's) HOLY ONE, to him whom man (or the wicked man) despiseth, to him whom the nation abhorreth (or to a people who are looked down on by the nations of the world), to servant of rulers (or in other words, to a people who have known, and will know slavery and servitude down through the centuries): Kings shall see [your works] and arise [out of respect for Israel], princes (or leaders of nations) also shall worship, because of THE LORD THAT IS FAITHFUL.

 8 Thus saith the Lord: In an acceptable time (ultimately Joseph Smith's time) have I heard thee, O isles of the sea (or distant continents - the Promised Land), and in a day of salvation have I helped thee; and I will preserve thee, and give thee my servant (the prophet Joseph Smith) for a covenant of the people, to establish the earth, to cause to inherit the desolate heritages (that is, to establish Zion as a gathering place for Israel);

 9 That thou mayest say to the prisoners (the living and the dead in spiritual darkness): Go forth; to them that sit in darkness: Show yourselves. They shall feed in the ways, and their pastures shall be in all high places. (In essence, they will partake of the gospel)

 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 (And how marvelous are the benefits of accepting and living the gospel).

 11 And I will make all my mountains a way, and my highways shall be exalted (or in other words I the Lord will facilitate this gathering).

 12 And then (in the days of this gathering), O house of Israel, behold, these (gathered Israel) shall come from far; and lo, these from the north and from the west; and these from the land of Sinim (or the east).

 13 Sing, O heavens; and be joyful, O earth; for the feet of those who are in the east (gathered Israel) shall be established; and break forth into singing, O mountains; for they shall be smitten no more; for the Lord hath comforted his people, and will have mercy upon his afflicted. (Thus, the Lord will eventually redeem Israel)


     The Lord Will Not Forget Israel--His Covenant Children


 14 But, behold, Zion (or Israel) hath said: The Lord hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me (wicked Israel's complaint)--but he (the Lord) will show that he hath not.

 15 For can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? (Laman & Lemuel, remember your mother's love & concern for Jacob & Joseph in the wilderness?) Yea, they (unrighteous Israel -- more specifically Laman & Lemuel) may forget (that is Laman & Lemuel afflicted Jacob & Joseph - see 2 Ne: 1), yet will I not forget thee, O house of Israel. (That is, I the Lord will keep my covenants to Israel - and to Joseph)

 16 Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands (or in truth, I will be crucified for you. Just as a workman's hands bear witness of his work, so shall nail prints in my hands bear witness of my work for you); thy walls are continually before me (I will watch over and protect you).

 17 Thy children shall make haste against thy destroyers (meaning your descendants will finally gain the upper hand against your enemies); and they that made thee waste shall go forth of thee (or in other words Israel's enemies will flee from you).

 18 Lift up thine eyes round about and behold (or in essence, let me show you Israel, especially the complainers, what will happen in the future); all these (or all your descendants) gather themselves together, and they shall come to thee (and you complainers thought you would be destroyed!). And as I live, saith the Lord, thou shalt surely clothe thee with them all, as with an ornament, and bind them on even as a bride (That is, as a bride puts on her finest clothing for the occasion, Israel will have her finest descendants in the last days).


     Gathered Israel Will Fill the Lands of Their Inheritance


 19 For thy waste and thy desolate places, and the land of thy destruction (terms which symbolically declare that you've been trodden down for centuries), shall even now be too narrow by reason of the inhabitants (or in other words you will have so many people of Israel gathering that you won't be able to handle the growth); and they (your former enemies) that swallowed thee up shall be far away.

 20 The children (or converts to the true gospel) whom thou shalt have, after thou hast lost the first (through apostasy, war, etc.), shall again in thine ears say: The place is too strait for me (or there is not enough room for us all); give place to me that I may dwell.

 21 Then shalt thou (Israel) say in thine heart: Who hath begotten me these (or where in the world did all these Israelites come from!), seeing I have lost my children, and am desolate, a captive, and removing to and fro (or scattered)? And who hath brought up these? Behold, I was left alone (that is, I thought I was finished off and done for); these, where have they been?


     The Church to Be Restored among the Gentiles

     The Lord now answers the question, "Where did all these people of Israel come from?"


 22 Thus saith the Lord God: Behold, I will lift up mine hand to the Gentiles, and set up my standard (that is, the Church or true gospel of Christ) to the people; and they shall bring thy sons in their arms, and thy daughters shall be carried upon their shoulders.

 23 And kings shall be thy nursing fathers, and their queens thy nursing mothers (remember Nephi's vision [see 1 Ne 13:12] - that is, remember the man [Columbus] among the Gentiles that will be wrought upon by the Spirit of God to come to the promised land unto our seed - the seed of Joseph? Well, Kings and Queens will sponsor him); they (the leaders of nations) shall bow down to thee with their face towards the earth, and lick up the dust of thy feet (so you see the tables will be turned in the last days); and thou shalt know that I am the Lord; for they shall not be ashamed that wait for (or trust in) me.


     God Will Preserve Israel


 24 For shall the prey (Israel) be taken from the mighty (their enemies), or the lawful captives delivered? (that is, will the Lord's covenant people - the House of Israel be delivered?) (The complainers may still doubt)

 25 But thus saith the Lord, even the captives (Israel) of the mighty (their powerful enemies) shall be taken away, and the prey (or captives) of the terrible (tyrannical regimes) shall be delivered (or set free); for I (the Lord) will contend with him that contendeth with thee, and I will save thy children. (Thus, you complainers have your answer - I the Lord will save Israel)

 26 And I will feed them (Israel's enemies) that oppress thee with their own flesh; they shall be drunken (or out of control) with their own blood (or with their own people) as with sweet wine (that is your enemies will turn against each other and destroy themselves); and all flesh shall know that I, the Lord, am THY SAVIOR AND THY REDEEMER THE MIGHTY ONE OF JACOB.

[Alan C. Miner, Step by Step through the Book of Mormon: The Covenant Story, Vol. 1. Adapted from David J. Ridges, Isaiah Made Easier / The Book of Revelation Made Easier, 1994]


1 Nephi 21:1 And Again: Hearken, O Ye House of Israel:


     The first phrase in the first verse to Isaiah 49 has been deleted from the King James Version but has been retained in the Brass Plates version contained in the Book of Mormon. It is not unexpected that this phrase was deleted from the Bible version, as it identifies the wickedness of Israel's pastors as the reason for the scattering of Israel. Interestingly enough, this phrase comprises a very neat chiasmus.

4] And again: Hearken

  3] O ye house of Israel,

    2A] all ye that are broken off

    2B] and are driven out

      1] because of the wickedness of the pastors of my people

    2A] yea, all ye that are broken off,

    2B] that are scattered abroad,

  3] who are of my people, O house of Israel.

4] Listen,

     If this sophisticated literary jewel were a spurious addition by Joseph Smith rather than a purposeful deletion by the Biblical scribes, it would require the admission of a literary genius on the part of the Prophet that would be as difficult to explain as his ability to translate by the gift and power of God. [H. Clay Gorton, The Legacy of the Brass Plates of Laban, pp. 60-61]


1 Nephi 21:1 And Again: Hearken, O Ye House of Israel:


     According to John Tvedtnes, the ideas contained in the first verse of Isaiah 49 (1 Nephi 21:1) are also found in Jeremiah 10:21; 23:1-4; and Ezekiel 34:5-8. [John A. Tvedtnes, "The Isaiah Variants in the Book of Mormon," FARMS, p. 73]


1 Nephi 21:2 A polished shaft; in his quiver hath he hid me (Illustration): Modern quivers, Old City, Jerusalem. An archer generally carried his quiver on his back with the arrows near his right shoulder, making them easily accessible. The quiver, usually made of leather or wood, "hid" and thus protected the arrows. Photograph by Tana and Mac Graham. [Donald W. Parry, Visualizing Isaiah, p. 110]


1 Nephi 21:3 Thou Art My Servant, O Israel, in Whom I Will Be Glorified:


     Andrew Skinner asks, "Who is this servant whom Isaiah announces in 1 Nephi 21? Isaiah provides us with some important clues as he describes this servant's life and work. The servant would be someone:

     1. who "the Lord hath called . . . from the womb" (21:1)

     2. whose "mouth [was] like a sharp sword" (or spoke with authority) (21:2)

     3. who was hidden "in the shadow of [the Lord's] hand" (21:2)

     4. who was "made . . . a polished shaft; in his quiver hath [the Lord] hid [this servant]" (21:2)

     5. who would say, "I have labored in vain" (21:4)

     6. who would authoritatively say, "And now, saith the Lord" (21:5)

     7. who knew he was foreordained--"[the Lord] formed me from the womb" (21:5)

     8. whose life work would be "to bring Jacob again to [the Lord]" (21:5)

     9. who was "to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel" (21:6)

     10. who the Lord would "give . . . for a light to the Gentiles" (21:6)

     11. "whom man despiseth" yet "Kings shall see and arise, princes also" (21:7)

     12. "who will be given "for a covenant . . . to establish the earth, to cause to inherit the desolate heritages," to "say to the prisoners: Go forth" (21:8-9)


     Various aspects of these characteristics could probably be applied to several different individuals. Jewish theology maintains that this prophecy of the "suffering servant" depicts the Jewish nation,544 but, taken together, the words Isaiah uses to describe this helper of Israel in the latter days apply only to two beings: the Messiah and the Prophet Joseph Smith. Nephi and Lehi seem to know not only that Isaiah intended to prophesy of Jesus and Joseph Smith (see 2 Nephi 3), but also that the latter-day restoration of the gospel would help bring about the final redemption of Israel.545 Every true prophet is a type, a foreshadowing, or a symbol of the Lord Jesus Christ. However, with respect to Isaiah's words here in 1 Nephi 21, consider the following concerning Joseph Smith:

     1. He was called "from the womb," or foreordained (2 Nephi 3:7-9, 14-15). He knew through revelation that he had been chosen to be the prophet of the restoration (see D&C 127:2). Indeed, Joseph said the following:

                 Every man who has a calling to minister to the inhabitants of the world was ordained to that very purpose in the Grand Council of heaven before this world was. I suppose I was ordained to this very office in that Grand Council. It is the testimony that I want that I am God's servant, and this people His people. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 365.


     2. He spoke the words of the Lord (see D&C 18:35-36; 21:5, 6:2)

     3. He was "hid" by the Lord (see D&C 86:9)

     4. He became a polished shaft in the quiver of the Almighty:

           I am like a huge, rough stone rolling down from a high mountain; and the only polishing I get is when some corner gets rubbed off by coming in contact with something else, striking with accelerated force against religious bigotry, priestcraft, lawyer-craft, . . . [etc.] Thus I will become a smooth and polished shaft in the quiver of the Almighty. (Teachings, p. 304)


     5. He at times felt that he labored in vain (see D&C 121:2)

     6. He not only had the authority to speak for God, but many times these messages were prefaced by the very words Isaiah predicted: "Thus saith the Lord" (see D&C 52:1; 54:1; 55:1; 60:1; and 87:1, to name a few)

     7-9. He brought forth the Book of Mormon and restored the gospel (see Mormon 8:16; D&C 5:9-10; 6:6; 109:67) He was commissioned to oversee the latter-day gathering of Israel (see D&C 110:11,16)

     10. He is spoken of as "a light unto the Gentiles" (D&C 86:11). Note* Only one other person can claim that distinction--the Lord himself (see Isaiah 42:6).

     11. He was both despised and revered (see Joseph Smith-History 1:33). He proclaimed that the gospel would be preached before "kings and rulers" (see D&C 1:23).


     12. He was the servant through whom the eternal gospel covenant was reestablished (see D&C 1:17-22). Note* Surely it is not mere coincidence that D&C 1, where the Lord introduces Joseph to the world, begins with the same language as Isaiah 49:1 (1 Nephi 21:1)


[Andrew C. Skinner, "Isaiah 48-49 in 1 Nephi 19-22," in Isaiah in the Book of Mormon, pp. 106-109]


1 Nephi 21:3 And Said unto Me: Thou Art My Servant, O Israel, in Whom I Will Be Glorified:


     According to Robert Parsons, in 1 Nephi 21:1-3 we meet the pronoun me, identified as the "servant" of God. Scholars generally identify this "servant" as Isaiah or Christ. Parsons believes the term servant has a dual meaning, namely Christ and Israel, with the work of Ephraim, who holds the birthright in Israel, being emphasized. Thus, the meaning of verses 1-3 would be as follows:

           The Lord hath called me [Ephraim] from the womb [and] from the bowels of my mother [Ephraim was called in the pre-existence] and he hath made my mouth [Ephraim's latter-day message of the Restoration] like a sharp sword [the word of God; see D&C 6:2; compare 1 Nephi 16:2];

           [He hath] made me [Ephraim and specifically Joseph Smith who is from Ephraim] a polished shaft.


     This interpretation is clarified by the Prophet Joseph's teaching:

           I am like a huge, rough stone rolling down from a high mountain; and the only polishing I get is when some corner gets rubbed off by coming in contact with something else, striking with accelerated force against religious bigotry, priestcraft, . . . Thus I will become a smooth and polished shaft in the quiver of the Almighty, who will give me dominion over all and every one of them.546


Isaiah continues his analogy with "in his quiver hath he hid me" (1 Nephi 21:2). This is also clarified in the Doctrine and Covenants:

           Therefore, thus saith the Lord unto you, with whom the priesthood hath continued through the lineage of your fathers--

           For ye are lawful heirs, according to the flesh, and have been hid from the world with Christ in God. (D&C 86:8-9).


     The work of Ephraim and Christ in the last days is dually outlined in 1 Nephi 21. [Robert E. Parsons, "The Prophecies of the Prophets," in The Book of Mormon: First Nephi, The Doctrinal Foundation, pp. 276-277] [See Richard Anthony's commentary on 2 Nephi 7; see also his commentary on 2 Nephi 8:18-19]


1 Nephi 21:3 Thou Art My Servant, O Israel, in Whom I Will Be Glorified:


     In 1 Nephi 21:3,8 and the rest of chapter 21 (Isaiah 49), the servant called "Israel" is Christ. Thus the "house of Israel" is the "house of Christ." All who accept Christ in the proper way and follow him become a part of the house of Israel (compare 1 Nephi 14:1-2; 3 Nephi 16:13). [Zarahemla Research Foundation, Study Book of Mormon, p. 47]


1 Nephi 21:12 The Land of Sinim:


     According to Donald Parry, in 1 Nephi 21:12 the land of sinim may refer to Syrene, in southern Egypt, also known as Aswan, where there was a large Jewish colony after the Exile. Or it may refer to the Desert of Sin, which is in the peninsula of Sinai. The point is that the Lord will gather his people from wherever they have been scattered. [Donald W. Parry, Understanding Isaiah, p. 430; see also Thomas R. Valletta ed., The Book of Mormon for Latter-day Saint Families, 1999, p. 64]

     However, we find the following in the the LDS Bible Dictionary: "It is uncertain what country is meant, but it must have been one of the most distant lands known to the writer of the prophecy. China has been suggested, but the identification is uncertain." [The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, LDS Bible: Dictionary, 1984, p. 775]

     Note* If the land of Sinim is indeed China, then it appears that there was some sort of information regarding this land which was had by the Jews at least by the time of Isaiah. Whether this testifies of some sort of maritime contact which was useful to Lehi and Nephi is unknown. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]


1 Nephi 21:22 Thy Daughters Shall Be Carried upon Their Shoulders:


     According to Charles Swift, one of the most touching images involving children is found in the Lord's description of the way the children of Israel will be brought home. He says the Gentiles "shall bring thy sons in their arms, and thy daughters shall be carried upon their shoulders" (1 Nephi 21:22). This is not an image of a family at an amusement park, with a small girl being carried on her father's shoulders as she excitedly looks at what ride is coming up next. Rather, this is an image of a "foster-father . . . [who] carries an infant in the bosom of his dress . . . or upon his arms, so that it reclines upon his shoulders."547 This is an intimate, loving image of parenthood, bringing the child close to the father's heart. [Charles Swift, "The Power of Symbol," in Covenants Prophecies and Hymns of the Old Testament, p. 230]


1 Nephi 21:23 And Kings Shall Be Thy Nursing Fathers . . .:


     Thomas Valletta notes that in 2 Nephi 6:8-13, Nephi's brother Jacob offers an extensive inspired commentary on this verse from Isaiah recorded in 1 Nephi 21:23. [Thomas R. Valletta ed., The Book of Mormon for Latter-day Saint Families, p. 65]