Lehi obtained an explicit promise from the Lord (2 Nephi 1:9) concerning his people, and in its concise form it reads:
Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments
ye shall prosper in the land;
but inasmuch as ye will not keep my commandments
ye shall be cut off from my presence.
– 2 Nephi 1:20
This promise is in the form of parallelism where the keeping or not keeping of the commandments brings prosperity or a state of being cut off from the presence of God.
You’ll notice that I have colored some particular words and phrases in each verse where I see some similar themes. The reward for keeping the commandments is prospering in the land, and earlier in verse 9 Lehi breaks down what this prosperity will entail:
- they shall be kept from all other nations,
- that they may possess this land unto themselves.
- they shall be blessed upon the face of this land,
- there shall be none to molest them,
- nor to take away the land of their inheritance;
- they shall dwell safely forever.
I noticed in my reading of Isaiah that there were some similar phrases and specific promises. The promises are different in many respects; in Isaiah, there is a significant focus on offspring and descendants.
Had you but obeyed my commandments,
your peace would have been as a river,
your righteousness like the waves of the sea;
your offspring would have been
as the sands in number,
your descendants as many as their grains.
Their names would not have been cut off
and obliterated from my presence.
– Isaiah 48:18-19 (Hebraeus Press Version)
I’ve been wondering how familiar Lehi or Nephi would have been with this verse. Nephi seemed to love Isaiah quite a bit; he quoted from it more prolifically than any other Book of Mormon author.
In the 2 Nephi and Isaiah verses, they both share the idea of keeping the commandments or being cut off from God’s presence. What happened to the Israelites foreshadowed the judgments that fell upon the Nephites in their final days.
Likewise, this foreshadowing also applies to US as a sobering warning of what awaits if we fail to obey and keep the commandments of God both nationally and individually.
The Nephites key blessings were that they would be able to hold onto their lands and the Israelites were promised peace and innumerable offspring. The Nephites lost their lands, and the Israelites have not known very much peace over the years or a significant population.
Creating Zion is one thing, but sustaining it generation after generation is another; that seems to be the critical point of failure. The Nephite nation had three generations of righteousness before it descended quickly into chaos and ultimately, obliteration.
From Isaiah, we learn of two significant threats to our peace; Babylon and the archtyrant (symbolized by Assyria). The archtyrant attacks with armies and weapons at a time of war, while Babylon entices with carnal temptations and pleasures during times of peace.
It is during that time of peace where it is all too easy to become weak and vulnerable enough for the archtyrant to strike. Think about this on a personal and also a national level; they are fundamentally related.
In life, we ebb and flow between states of peace and chaos that differ in duration and intensity. Mortality is a time to learn how to stabilize our obedience through these times and become firm, fixed, and immovable in spirit even though this world is relentlessly challenging. It can be done, not all at once, but a little at a time. Though the greater civilization may descend into wickedness, we do not have to, nor do our families and those around us.
Lehi’s and Ishmael’s families learned this as they were commanded to leave Jerusalem on the eve of its destruction. It may very well be that our familiarity with their journey may serve as a foreshadowing of patterns that will affect families once again in the latter-days.