Lesson 41: “He Did Expound All Things unto Them”
3 Nephi 22–26
Sing, O Barren!
3 Nephi 22
Here, the Lord quotes Isaiah 54 prior to expounding the scriptures for the Nephites. This act (common in the Book of Mormon) of quoting a prophet and then expounding is known as Midrash or as a pesher (commentary) in early Jewish terms. The Dead Sea Scrolls have peshers such as the Habakkuk Commentary, wherein the author quotes a section of Habakkuk and then explains how it applies to the people and events of his day.
“And then shall that which is written come to pass: Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear; break forth into singing, and cry aloud, thou that didst not travail with child; for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, saith the Lord. Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thy habitations; spare not, lengthen thy cords and strengthen thy stakes; For thou shalt break forth on the right hand and on the left, and thy seed shall inherit the Gentiles and make the desolate cities to be inhabited” (3 Ne 22:1-3).
Isaiah writes in desert/wilderness imagery. The woman who is barren is Israel. She wanders in the wilderness, because the cities are all desolate. She’s lived in a small pup tent for years, but now is encouraged to enlarge her tent. Why? She will now have children and descendants. Israel is barren no more. Eventually the descendants will be so numerous that they will no longer be able to dwell in the enlarged tent, but will move back into the cities that were once left desolate.
As noted before, the tent symbolizes the Tabernacle or Temple of the Lord. When Nephi told us that his father “dwelt in a tent,” it held great significance. This is not because he enjoyed camping out, but because his father’s tent represented the sacred space or Holy of Holies, for the family. As ancient Israel surrounded the Tabernacle, so Lehi’s children’s tents would surround his. It was here that Lehi had the Vision of the Tree of Life, and discovered the Liahona, a treasure to be stored in a sacred place.
Now, we find that the woman who is cast into the desert has a small tent or Tabernacle. She is like the twelve tribes wandering for 40 years in the desert. Once Joshua brought them into the Promised Land, they were able to expand into cities and build a temple to God.
In this instance, the house of Israel will inherit the places left by the Gentiles, who are now left desolate and cast out of the Promised Land. For the Nephites, this holds important significance, as they will become almost extinct, leaving the Lamanites and other Native Americans in the area as the primary “adopted” House of Joseph in the land.
Isaiah continues by stating that the Lord cast Israel (the woman) out for a time, because she had been unfaithful to the covenant made with Yahweh. However, he will forgive her and bring her gently back. She will prosper, and the covenant will stand in full force, once again. As noted, this covenant is one with the people, not just individuals.
“Behold, I will lay thy stones with fair colors, and lay thy foundations with sapphires. And I will make thy windows of agates, and thy gates of carbuncles, and all thy borders of pleasant stones. And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of thy children” (3 Ne 22:11-13).
The Lord describes the building of His House, the Temple. The woman/church’s children shall be “taught of” (which can mean taught by or taught about) the Lord in his House. Within the Temple, they will feel peace and safety.
Great are the words of Isaiah
3 Ne 23
The Lord begins explaining and expounding his pesher of Isaiah’s words.
“And now, behold, I say unto you, that ye ought to search these things. Yea, a commandment I give unto you that ye search these things diligently; for great are the words of Isaiah. For surely he spake as touching all things concerning my people which are of the house of Israel; therefore it must needs be that he must speak also to the Gentiles” (3 Ne 23:1-2).
Something that many LDS do not note is God gives us a commandment to search diligently in Isaiah’s words. They are not only for the house of Israel, but Isaiah “must speak also to the Gentiles”. Isaiah can be hard to understand at first, because he uses poetic form and symbolism to teach. This means that we must make the effort to understand Isaiah’s methods in order to understand what he is teaching to us. Too often we skim through the scriptures and the Book of Isaiah in particular, when we should be drinking deeply from the waters therein. We cannot know the will of God concerning us without understanding Isaiah and the Book of Mormon. Their message is deeply connected, but is lost on many who choose to skip stones across the ocean of spiritual knowledge.
There are many recent, good studies on Isaiah, both from LDS and non-LDS scholars, which can help us understand his writings better. I encourage spending a year studying Isaiah, about one chapter a week, and research on the Internet what one can on the wording, symbolism and meaning of each verse. You’ll be amazed at what you will learn in doing this.
Once Jesus expounded on Isaiah, he commanded the official Nephite record be brought forth. In looking at them, he noted that Samuel the Lamanite’s prophesy was not included. He ordered that it be entered into the record. If Samuel’s words were so important that the Lord commanded them added, perhaps we should spend the urgent time needed to really understand them, as well.
Jesus quotes Malachi
3 Nephi 24-25
The Lord then begins quoting Malachi chapters 3 and 4, on two extremely important teachings regarding the great coming of the Lord.
“Thus said the Father unto Malachi—Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom ye seek shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in; behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of Hosts. But who may abide the day of his coming, and who shall stand when he appeareth? For he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fuller’s soap. And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness” 3 Ne 24:1-3, Malachi 3:1-3).
You’ll note that it isn’t Jesus speaking to Malachi, but the Father! The Lord will come to his temple when no one is expecting it, prepared by his servant. Some see this as fulfilled in Jesus’ mortal ministry: John the Baptist preparing the way, and Jesus entering the temple at that time. However, we now see this as a current and future prophecy.
Samuel the Lamanite prepared the way for the coming of Christ in power and glory to the Nephites. He has suddenly come to his temple in the city of Bountiful. The wicked were not able to abide the day of his coming, having been destroyed in the great earthquakes, whirlwinds, and 3 days of darkness. Only in purifying the Nephites and their priesthood holders through those refining destructions, were Nephi and the other 11 disciples ready give an offering in righteousness. The people were ready to sacrifice a broken heart and contrite spirit as an offering. In doing so, they will create the Nephite “Millennial” (technically 200 years) period of peace.
Jesus also refers to the final days of this earth. Joseph Smith was called as the servant to prepare the way. With the gospel restored, with all the covenants and ordinances brought to earth again, the world is prepared to have the Lord “suddenly” come to his temple. This may be any of the temples of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but it may also mean a future temple in Jerusalem. As it is, the Lord suddenly came to the Kirtland Temple on April 3, 1836, shortly after its dedication. He came to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery (D&C 110), accepting the house of the Lord and their work of restoration as an “offering in righteousness”. This is not a complete fulfillment of this prophesy, but is a symbolic fulfilling of it – in anticipation of Jesus’ return in the clouds in great power and glory.
Jesus is called the “messenger of the covenant.” This refers to the Angel of the Lord’s Presence, or the Messiah. The covenant of the temple is with God the Father, through Jesus Christ. Christ or Messiah or Anointed One, represents the One who was called forth to lead the angelic Divine Council and to restore mankind back to the presence of God. Christ offers himself as the sacrifice, but we must accept his sacrifice by covenant. He is the Angel of the Lord’s Presence, captain of the Divine Council, and the Messenger of the Covenant that brings people back into the presence of the Lord.
“For behold, the day cometh that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble; and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of Hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch. But unto you that fear my name, shall the Son of Righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth and grow up as calves in the stall. And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this, saith the Lord of Hosts” (3 Ne 25:1-3, Malachi 4:1-3).
Again, Jesus quotes Malachi 4, and again we see this partially fulfilled with the Nephites. The wicked have literally been burnt as stubble, as cities have been destroyed by fire – perhaps from volcanic lava and melted rocks being rained down upon them. Only those that feared God survived the ordeal, and were now able to stand in Jesus’ presence. Christ called them forth, healing the sick and afflicted, blessing the children. With the balm of Gilead, Jesus healed them from what must have been intense post traumatic stress disorder, caused by the destructions they endured. They were renewed, born again, protected, even as calves in the stall.
In the last days, we shall also see such destructions. There are some Christians and LDS who believe we can build a Zion society in the world without the conflagrations and destruction of the wicked. They hope we will not have massive evil, wars, pestilences, and deaths. But the scriptures are very clear that the events that preceded Jesus’ coming in glory to the Nephites will also be seen in the last days of earth. Only the righteous may be rescued, as calves in a stall.
“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord; and he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse” (3 Ne 25:5-6).
This scripture is the only one I’m aware of that is quoted in the Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price. It has had at least a partial fulfillment in the Kirtland temple, when Elijah, Moses and Elias (Abraham?) came to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery to give them keys and authorities for the work of the restoration (D&C 110). Elijah’s work was to bring the sealing powers of the priesthood, so as to seal families together to their ancestors (turning the hearts of the fathers and children towards one another).
In the Jewish celebration of Passover, the feast is prepared with one empty seat at the table. This seat is for the prophet Elijah, in case he comes to that home prior to the coming of the Messiah. Interestingly, Elijah visited Joseph Smith in the Kirtland Temple during Passover (April 3, 1836).
It is possible that there will be another final visit by Elijah, as well. What it could entail, in regards to turning the hearts of fathers and children to one another, can only be imagined.
Isaiah, Samuel and Malachi
So, why would the Lord offer us these three prophets’ words together like this? Why not the words of Moses, Nephi or Zenock? There is a pattern in the words of Isaiah, Samuel and Malachi. Jesus uses them as three witnesses to his coming in great power.
Isaiah speaks of the temple in the wilderness being returned to the Promised Land, the woman no longer barren. Samuel the Lamanite foresees the coming of Christ in power and glory to the Nephites, along with the destruction of the wicked. Malachi sees the Lord’s return to a people who are ready to receive him, who are no longer barren, but are a people that have turned their hearts to their ancestors and descendants. Malachi sees the Lord coming to his temple, no longer lost and wandering in the wilderness. The three see Christ coming to save His people from the wicked world, destroying those who are Israel’s enemies.
They foresee a time when Israel (Nephites, etc) will become one people in Jesus. The Lord will fight their battles (as we’ll see more of in the next lesson), and they will be one in the temple, the House of the Lord, forever.