I’ve thought a lot about how to approach this week’s post; in some ways, it really is a continuation and extension of the discussion started by Joe last week, given the structural connection to Malachi that continues through these verses. And as that discussion is still underway on the first post, I’ve held off putting this up, in part because I’m still trying to play catchup a bit. But it’s Wednesday night, and if I put this off any longer, we’ll really be behind. What I’ve put together below, then, represents a verse-by-verse approach that will hopefully raise several questions that may be worth discussing, keeping in mind the context of the previous discussion.
Verse 8 (I’ll include the verses for convenience)
“But behold, the righteous that hearken unto the words of the prophets, and destroy them not, but look forward unto Christ with steadfastness for the signs which are given, notwithstanding all persecution—behold, they are they which shall not perish.”
Given the themes of consumption and destruction in the previous verses, I think it’s interesting that this verse highlights now a lack of destruction—both the prophets/words of the prophets, and the righteous themselves, “shall not perish.” It seems to me that the righteous here are described or even perhaps defined through their relationship to language: one is righteous if one hearkens to the words of the prophets and does not destroy them (which, ambiguously, could refer to the words or the prophets or both, unless I’m misreading). And the righteous “look forward unto Christ,” but they do so specifically for the signs—for the markers that will allow them to re-read mortality in celestial terms perhaps? What are we to make of this description? Is there any way this can be responsibly read in conjunction with Malachi 3:16, which connects thematically with the writing of the word and the relationship with the righteous as those who preserve words (as opposed to destroying them)?
“But the Son of righteousness shall appear unto them; and he shall heal them, and they shall have peace with him, until three generations shall have passed away, and many of the fourth generation shall have passed away in righteousness.”
I’m not going to dwell on the connections between this verse and Malachi 4:2, but rather invite others’ thoughts as to how this verse functions within the context of our previous discussion on the first thread.
Right now, I’m reading this verse in conjunction with 2 Ne. 26:1. Once again, Nephi returns our attention to the actuality of Christ’s forthcoming visit to the Lehites: both verses begin by affirming that Christ will physically appear to the Lehites after his resurrection (“he shall show himself unto you” and “[he] shall appear unto them”). Is the shift in pronouns (from “you” to “them”) significant? Does it linguistically mark a shift in Nephi’s thought or understanding of his audience? I’m tempted to read into it a reorientation away from an audience located in a specific temporal/geographical/cultural situation, and instead towards a more general, possibly global, audience. If such a shift has indeed occurred here, it might be important to think through how/why it occurs—for example, in working through what I’m going to call the Malachi text for the sake of convenience, it appears that Nephi reads his specific lineal future vision into the (hypothetically more general or flexible) text. But in working through the text in this manner—integrating Malachi into his own prophetic vision—Nephi somehow experiences an expanded vision and recontextualization of his own work, which results in a revision to the project undertaken in verses 1–7, hence the thematic repetition of signs of the Messiah (v.3 and v.8) and his appearance (vv. 1 and 9). This time around, however, Nephi is speaking to an audience that is not necessarily his lineal descendants, hence the use of “them” rather than the prior “you.” The next appearance of the pronoun “you” is not until v. 14. If a shift in audience has occurred, it’s probably important to note it because that shift would then change the “you” in v.14 from a reference to his lineal descendants to the more general, non-lineal audience implied by v. 9.
“And when these things have passed away a speedy destruction cometh unto my people; for, notwithstanding the pains of my soul, I have seen it; wherefore, I know that it shall come to pass; and they sell themselves for naught; for, for the reward of their pride and their foolishness they shall reap destruction; for because they yield unto the devil and choose works of darkness rather than light, therefore they must go down to hell.”
This verse, to me, is startling in its clarity and specificity: Nephi has no doubt as to what will happen to his descendants. The reality of their destruction is given a specific temporal location (in v.9) and “geographical” location (“they must go down to hell”). The certainty of their destruction is paralleled by Nephi’s own certainty in his vision/sight: “I have seen it; wherefore, I know that it shall come to pass.” This certainty in/of vision—the relationship between sight and truth, or sight and knowledge—will become more implicitly important as we work through ch. 26 and on into ch. 27, in part because Nephi’s text relates increasingly specific situations, actions, and people. Nephi’s own certainty in his God-given (and, I assume, non-material/physical) sights stands here in stark contrast to the events at the end of ch.27 in which a physical God-given text is pronounced unreadable (inaccessible to sight).
Also, it’s worth pointing out as Joe did in the supplementary material he provided to the list (in the file “textnephicorrected”) that this verse can be cross referenced with Isaiah 52:3. The specific phrase “they sell themselves for naught” brings in economic themes that, again, will be further developed in the coming verses and chapters.
“For the Spirit of the Lord will not always strive with man. And when the Spirit ceaseth to strive with man then cometh speedy destruction, and this grieveth my soul.”
In the context of the prior discussion concerning source texts for Nephi, it’s interesting to note that the first part of this verse is found in several other places: in the story of the brother of Jared’s repentance, the Lord speaks the words, as he does in D&C 1:33 as well as in the story of Noah related in both Genesis and Moses. So this occurrence here in 2 Ne. 26:11 is somewhat singular in that it is the only time in scripture that I know of that this phrase is spoken by a man (albeit a prophet) rather than God. Additionally, it’s worth pointing out that the other references occur within the context of a failure to repent (excepting Gen. 6:3, although the Moses 8:17 reference does include it). Nephi’s use here appears to conform thematically with that context in that he uses the phrase to transition from his vision of the future Lehite’s refusal to repent and choose God/light back out to his own personal grief at their loss. Was Nephi intentionally embedding the fall of his people within a narrative tradition received from the brass plates? If so, could this move be another marker of a shift in Nephi’s expectation or conception of his audience? (That’s not the clearest way to say that—maybe Nephi’s understanding of the future role of his words? Hmm.)
This also might be a good place to note the repeated emphasis on Nephi’s personal pain and suffering as he contemplates the certain destruction of his descendants. Vv. 10–11 both note the “speedy destruction” of the unrepentant (of Nephi’s people specifically in v.10, and of anyone who refuses to repent and thus loses the Spirit in v.11), and the pain this knowledge causes Nephi. Both verses, of course, relate back to the personal pain and anguish of v.7. It’s interesting that the pain in v.10 is characterized as something endured by Nephi in order to receive the vision from God, or with a slightly different nuance, as the result or consequence of serving as a witness for the Lord (“for, notwithstanding the pains of my soul, I have seen it,” my emphasis). Why this repetition of personal pain throughout these verses? Given the nature of our investigation here, I can’t help but reflect on the prophetic calling received by Isaiah in Isaiah 6. Specifically, the act of that calling (the live coal or stone placed upon Isaiah’s lips to purify him [and his words] through the burning out [consumption] of iniquity) and the nature of the call itself—to preach words that will specifically not be heard, received, or understood, and to preach until his people are destroyed. I wonder if Nephi’s references to his own prophetic pain here are a conscious reference to Isaiah—perhaps Nephi’s appreciation and love for the words of Isaiah grew in part out of his (Nephi’s) own understanding of the similarities between their callings: to preach redemption in the face of certain destruction. It’s as if the direct familial/lineal ties of each prophet are purposefully cut off so that their words/texts can instead redeem/reach a temporal, cultural, historical stranger.
“And as I spake concerning the convincing of the Jews, that Jesus is the very Christ, it must needs be that the Gentiles be convinced also that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God; And that he manifesteth 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.”
These verses must have made an impression upon Moroni(2), as they are clearly referenced in the title page of the Book of Mormon as the secondary or supplementary purpose of the book itself (“And also to the convincing of the Jew and gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations,” my emphasis).
In terms of my previous speculations concerning Nephi’s awareness of his own audience, these verses appear as a more explicit articulation of Nephi’s understanding of the generic nature of his words. Although Nephi’s visions are quite specific in terms of their subject—the coming of the Messiah to his descendants and the later destruction of the Lehites—I’m becoming more convinced that, like Isaiah, he views these specific temporal/geographical visions with a double (or triple) lens. Perhaps he is alerting us to his own awareness of the dual nature/intention of his own texts?
Finally, in terms of the structure here as a whole, it’s interesting to mark a third return to the appearance of Christ: here, “he manifesteth himself unto all those who believe in him, by the power of the Holy Ghost.” This articulation of Christ’s appearance is by far the most generic in terms of time, people, place, etc. It also leaves room for said appearance to be spiritual rather than corporeal in nature, although it doesn’t deny the possibility of a physical manifestation. These verses also serve to explain the severity of the situation described in v.11. When the Spirit ceaseth to strive with man and instead leaves, the speedy destruction that follows is not merely a result of the Spirit itself leaving, but the removal of the possibility of the appearance of Christ himself—and any time the atonement is removed from the equation of salvation, the result is, of course, a speedy (and inevitable) destruction.
A few final thoughts
After working through these verses, I’ve arrived at a few thoughts: 1. 2 Ne. 26:1–14 can be read as a repeated presentation of the Christ event (of course, that repetition occurs with a difference …); 2. These verses contain several thematic kernels that will be unpacked in the coming discourse through a direct engagement with Isaiah 29, and therefore serve as a type of thematic preface; and 3. I see evidence that Nephi’s own ethos is directly informed not only by Isaiah’s texts and teachings, but by his circumstances as well.
Hopefully there will be something here that can continue to spark some discussion; and please feel free to continue the work being done on Joe’s thread as well!