As always, use the Official Gospel Doctrine Manual in your preparation, these ideas are supplemental.
Before reading these chapters, it would be helpful to review the definition of “Gentile” in the Bible Dictionary. In addition to the Bible Dictionary, I have also appreciated this explanation of the usage of the word “Gentiles” in the scriptures by David J. Ridges:
The term “Gentiles” is very context-sensitive. In its simplest modern day “generic” sense, it basically means anyone who is not part of the group to which you belong.
In the scriptures, “Gentiles” often means non-Israelites.
The word can also refer to Israelites who are not members of the Church of God.
When the Jews are speaking, “Gentiles” often means anyone who is not a Jew.
When members of the Church are speaking, it can be used to refer to non-members.
The most common usage of the word “Gentile’ in the Book of Mormon is “non-Jews.” Thus, Joseph Smith and most members of the Church today are referred to as “Gentiles” in the Book of Mormon prophecies. (The Book of Mormon Made Easier, 3:171).
Another thing to remember before we start, is that the history of the Lord’s people is like a series of scatterings and gatherings. Normally, a spiritual “scattering” precedes a physical scattering (in other words, people lose their testimony, then they lose their real estate). There are exceptions, of course, since Lehi and his family were not “scattered” because of wickedness, but because the Lord desired to preserve a part of the house of Israel before the others who remained in Jerusalem were scattered by the Babylonian captivity. In the same way, a spiritual “gathering” normally precedes a physical gathering. After people embrace the gospel they are gathered into the stakes of Zion (early in the restoration, the saints were invited to gather in America, whereas today they gather to stakes in their own countries).
For Jesus to take time to explain to the children of Lehi about previous scatterings and future gatherings reassured them that they were still a loved, remembered and cherished part of the house of Israel. He also assured them that although they had been separated or “scattered” from the Holy Land, all the covenants the Lord had made with the Abraham, Isaac and Jacob still applied to them.
In addition to understanding the term “Gentiles,” it wouldn’t be a bad idea to review what we mean when we say “House of Israel” (a phrase we use quite a bit, but rarely explain). Here’s an excerpt from my book, “Isaiah for Airheads”:
“Hey, Brother Bytheway, what does all this house of Israel stuff mean?” I’ve had this question come up in the presence of new converts, people of other faiths, and even believers in non- Christian religions. How would you explain what we mean when we say “house of Israel” to someone who has never heard the phrase before or who has heard it but never understood it? Here’s my best shot in one paragraph:
God made a covenant with Abraham, that through his seed all the families of the world would be blessed. Abraham and his seed are to “bear this ministry,” or, in other words, hold the priesthood and be responsible to carry to gospel message to the world. Abraham had a son named Isaac, who had a son named Jacob. Jacob’s name was changed to Israel, and therefore the “house of Israel” means the family or descendants of Jacob. The covenant obligation and blessing made with Abraham continues through all the descendants of Jacob, or house of Israel (see Abraham 2:9–11).
Phew. Did I hit the basics? One time, while sharing this material at Especially for Youth, I asked one of the young men to define the house of Israel. He did it in two words: “It’s us.” Bravo to his seminary teacher. He was right. The covenant God made with Abraham continues in us (members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter- day Saints), and we have the blessing and burden of taking the gospel to the world. (Isaiah for Airheads, 10-11).
3 Nephi 16
1-3 – “I have other sheep” Jesus teaches the children of Lehi that there are yet other sheep, in perhaps many different places, who also shall “hear [his] voice.”
4 – “write these sayings after I am gone” In other words, write these events down and eventually the seed of those who were in Jerusalem will be brought to a knowledge of their Redeemer.
4 – “through the fulness of the Gentiles” what does the fulness of the Gentiles mean? One explanation appears in 1 Nephi 15:13:
And now, the thing which our father meaneth concerning the grafting in of the natural branches through the fulness of the Gentiles, is, that in the latter days, when our seed shall have dwindled in unbelief, yea, for the space of many years, and many generations after the Messiah shall be manifested in body unto the children of men, then shall the fulness of the gospel of the Messiah come unto the Gentiles, and from the Gentiles unto the remnant of our seed—
Here’s another definition from the Book of Mormon Reference Companion:
That period of time, beginning with the restoration of the gospel through Joseph Smith, in which the fulness of the gospel is taken primarily to Gentile nations. The fulness of the Gentiles culminates or is “fulfilled” at or near the second coming of Christ, after the Gentiles have had a full opportunity to receive the gospel. Gospel preaching will then be directed principally to the Jews and all the house of Israel (279).
5 – “from the four quarters of the earth” Notice that this doesn’t refer only to the “north countries” where the lost tribes were initially scattered, but to all of the earth. A “Q and A” about the lost tribes appears at the end of this post.
13 – “They shall be numbered among my people” “Gentiles” become “House of Israel” when they accept the gospel and repent, receive their patriarchal blessings, and have their lineage revealed.
15 – “they shall go through among them and shall tread them down” These are difficult verses to understand. I have appreciated the explanation from Joseph Fielding McConkie, Robert L. Millet and Brent L. Top:
This is a theme, a recurring theme, in the Savior’s teachings to his American Hebrews (see 3 Nephi 20:16; 3 Nephi 21:12) and one to which Mormon later refers (Mormon 5:24). There has been much discussion concerning its meaning. Many Latter-day Saints conclude that it refers to a type of Lamanite uprising, a rebellion by Lamanites (identified in this interpretation as “a remnant of Jacob”-see 3 Nephi 20:16; 3 Nephi 21:12; Mormon 5:24) against the “Gentiles” in America. We have chosen to take another approach to these passages. It is interesting that in 3 Nephi 21 the Master quotes a prophecy from Micah 5:8-14, an oracle which uses language similar to that above. According to this account the rending of the Gentiles, this metaphor of a lion among the sheep, takes place in a day when such things as witchcraft, soothsayers, idolatry, immorality, priestcrafts, lying, and deceit are all destroyed and done away. When will such things be done away? Clearly, after the Lord comes and the millennial day has begun. It would seem that the image of the remnant of Israel rending its Gentile enemies is symbolic of Israel’s ultimate victory over its foes, a victory which comes when the Savior returns and the wicked are destroyed. “Except for a few who are the humble followers of Christ, the Gentiles will not repent. They will revel in their abominations and sin against the restored gospel, and they will be burned by the brightness of our Lord’s coming while the righteous-here called the remnant of Jacob-shall abide the day. And then, in the prophetic imagery it will be as though the remnant of Israel overthrew their enemies as a young lion among the flocks of sheep.” (Bruce R. McConkie, Millennial Messiah, p. 248; see also p. 242; Mortal Messiah 4:334-35.) – Joseph Fielding McConkie, Robert L. Millet, Brent L. Top, Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon, 4:111-112.
3 Nephi 20
Before we begin 3 Nephi 20, it is helpful to remember the major purposes of the Book of Mormon as stated on the Title Page – “…that they may know the covenants of the Lord,” and “to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ.” Those two “C” words, Covenants and Christ, are the most repeated themes in the Book of Mormon.
1-9 – “he brake bread again and blessed it” Once again, the Savior administered the sacrament, demonstrating that partaking of the sacrament was not a one-time event, but something to be repeated often, just as remembering the Savior must not be an event as much as a way of life. Moroni taught “And they did meet together oft to partake of bread and wine, in remembrance of the Lord Jesus” (Moroni 6:6). (On a personal note, I remember the days before the consolidated schedule when we used to partake of the sacrament twice each Sunday, once before Sunday School and again in Sacrament meeting).
11 – “you have them before you, therefore search them” We must pay attention to what we have if we hope to receive more. Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught:
One of the unique features of the living Church of Jesus Christ is its ever expanding body of fundamental spiritual knowledge about man’s identity and purpose….Lost books are among the treasures yet to come forth….Thus, just as there will be many more Church members, families, wards, stakes and temples, later on, there will also be many more nourishing and inspiring scriptures. However, we must first feast worthily upon that which we already have!” — Neal A. Maxwell, Conference Report, October 1986, pp. 69-70.
13 – “scattered abroad” once again, we are reminded that the scattered remnants are all over the earth, not living together in one body.
22 – “it shall be a New Jerusalem” Where will the New Jerusalem be? The answer is in D&C 84:1-4.
24 – “all the prophets” Prophets always testify of Christ, that’s what they do.
Jacob 7:11 …I say unto you that none of the prophets have written, nor prophesied, save they have spoken concerning this Christ.
1 Nephi 10:5 …And he also spake concerning the prophets, how great a number had testified of these things, concerning this Messiah, of whom he had spoken, or this Redeemer of the world.
2 Nephi 11:4 …and all things which have been given of God from the beginning of the world, unto man, are the typifying of him.
Revelation 19:10 …I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus: worship God: for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.
25-26 – “Ye are…ye are…ye are…” With strong, affirming words, the Savior reminds the children of Lehi who they are! Again, the scattered “remnant” of the house of Israel to whom Jesus is speaking may have felt displaced and detached from the Holy City of Jerusalem, and when they lost the land of their inheritance, they lost a piece of their identity. Jacob, the younger brother of Nephi (who never saw Jerusalem) describes the feeling many of the children of Lehi may have felt when he laments:
“…time passed away with us, and also our lives passed away like as it were unto us a dream, we being a lonesome and a solemn people, wanderers, cast out from Jerusalem, born in tribulation, in a wilderness, and hated of our brethren, which caused wars and contentions; wherefore, we did mourn out our days” Jacob 7:26
Jesus reassures the children of Lehi that there will be a New Jerusalem; that they are his covenant people, that they are and have always been of the house of Israel, and that they have not, and will not, be forgotten.
27 – “the covenant which he made with Abraham” The Abrahamic covenant is restated in this verse, with language similar to that in Gen 12:2-3. Interestingly, the Genesis version uses the phrase “families of the earth” instead of “kindreds of the earth.” What is the greatest blessing the Lord’s covenant people can offer to the families and kindreds of the earth? The sealing ordinances of the temple:
What was the object of gathering the Jews, or the people of God in any age of the world?….The main object was to build unto the Lord a house whereby He could reveal unto His people the ordinances of His house and the glories of His kingdom, and teach the people the way of salvation; for there are certain ordinances and principles that, when they are taught and practiced, must be done in a place or house built for that purpose. — Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Section Six 1843–44, p 308.
32 – “then shall the watchman lift up their voice” A watchman on a tower can see further than anyone below the tower. Therefore, watchmen are literally see-ers, or seers. Watchmen give warning when danger approaches. Ezekiel was told, “I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me” (Ezekiel 3:17).
These verses from the writings of Isaiah are quoted four times in the Book of Mormon. Watchmen are those who publish the good tidings – the gospel of Jesus Christ. They are the prophets and all servants of the Lord who are called to teach, testify, and bring people to Christ. (Ogden and Skinner, Book of Mormon, Verse by Verse, 2:184).
See eye to eye, means here, that the prophets shall see with their own eyes the return of the Lord’s people to the Land of Zion. It may also mean that there will be no difference of opinion among the watchmen as to that. It will be evident to all. (George Reynolds and Janne M. Sjodahl, Commentary on the Book of Mormon, [Deseret Book, 1955-1961], 7: 168.)
36 – “put on thy beautiful garments” Elias Higbee wanted to know what this meant, and the answer was given through the prophet Joseph Smith in D&C 113:7-8: “to put on her strength is to put on the authority of the priesthood.” The “bands around her neck” are described in the same section as “the curses of God upon her.”
37 – “arise, sit down” this may sound contradictory at first, but the house of Israel had been “walked all over,” so to speak, had been taken captive and made slaves on occasion, but here they are told to get up off the ground, to shake of the dust, and to sit down in dignity, as if on a throne.
40 – “how beautiful upon the mountains are the feet” This is the very Isaiah passage King Noah and his wicked priests asked Abinadi to explain. Abinadi testified that those who have published peace, those who are now publishing peace, and those who will yet publish peace, are the object of this prophecy, as well as the “founder of peace, yea, even the Lord” (see Mosiah 15:14-18).
45 – “So shall he sprinkle many nations” The JST of Isaiah 52:15 changes “sprinkle” to “gather.” As we have seen, much of the history of the house of Israel is a series of scatterings and gatherings.
3 Nephi 21
In this chapter, Jesus uses many Old Testament phrases and symbols, and the entire chapter has an “Isaiah” type feel. To get the “big picture” of what is being taught, it is helpful to read the italicized summary at the beginning.
1-7 – “I give unto you a sign” I like to ask my students to start in verse one, and to keep reading until they find a period. They discover that verses 1-7 are one sentence, and that the “sign” is the coming forth of the Book of Mormon
8 – “kings shall shut their mouths” Elder Bruce R. McConkie commented:
Jesus now begins to speak of the things that shall come to pass after the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, after the restoration of the gospel. What he says is not a chronological listing of successive events, but simply an announcement of and a commentary on various things that are to be. We are left—as wisdom dictates should be the case—to interpret and apply his inspired utterances, the first being that the great and mighty shall be so amazed at the Lord’s latter-day work that they shall not know what to say and shall feel impelled to consider the wondrous work which rolls before their eyes. So far there has been a small amount of this; what the future holds is limitless. (The Mortal Messiah: From Bethlehem to Calvary, 4: 352.)
10-11 – “the life of my servant” Who is this servant referred to in verses 10 and 11? Isaiah scholar Victor L. Ludlow has suggested at least four possibilities:
1 – It could “refer to Israel as a whole.”
2 – It could be “the same servant described throughout Isaiah 53. If so, these verses describe Christ, his great works, and the persecutions and suffering he endured.”
3 – It could refer to Joseph Smith, the prophet of the restoration: “As the Savior comments upon these verses later in 3 Nephi 21:7-11, it appears obvious that he is not talking about himself, but about his servant.”
4 – It could have reference to “another modern prophet.” Dr. Ludlow makes a strong case for President Spencer W. Kimball, who was the prophet when the commentary was written. However, he concludes by stating: “Isaiah could be describing any or all of these people. If this prophecy deals with one particular person, the servant might not yet have fulfilled his role. Some future prophet might be the servant who will perform this great work.” (Isaiah, Prophet, Seer and Poet, 438-41.)
Notice Footnotes 10a and 10b – the first takes us to D&C 135 (announcing the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum) and the second to D&C 10 (regarding the lost 116-page manuscript). Both of these references involve Joseph Smith. As with much of Isaiah, these passages may have dual or multiple fulfillments. It is interesting to note that the language used in 3 Nephi 21:10, “I will show unto them that my wisdom is greater than the cunning of the devil” is precisely the same language used in the warning given to Joseph Smith not to restranslate from the plates: “I will not suffer that they shall destroy my work; yea, I will show unto them that my wisdom is greater than the cunning of the devil” (D&C 10:43).
Elder Bruce R. McConkie taught: Who will honor the name of Joseph Smith and accept the gospel restored through his instrumentality? We answer: The same people who would have believed the words of the Lord Jesus and the ancient Apostles and prophets had they lived in their day. If you believe the words of Joseph Smith, you would have believed what Jesus and the ancients said (Ensign, November 1981, 48).
14-19 – “Cut off thy horses…destroy thy chariots” Horses and chariots represent military might. Verses 14-19 describe how the Lord will “clean house” among the Gentiles unless they repent.
24 – “that they may be gathered in who are scattered” We often speak of the fall of Adam as a “fortunate fall.” A fall downward, yes, but a fall forward because it moved us forward on our eternal journey. In the same way, we might call the scattering of Israel a “fortunate scattering,” because it spread the blessings promised to the house of Israel all over the world. President Joseph Fielding Smith taught:
Thus through this scattering the Lord has caused Israel to mix with the nations and bring the Gentiles within the blessings of the seed of Abraham….It is by this scattering that the Gentile nations have been blessed, and if they will truly repent they are entitled to all the blessings promised to Israel, “which are the blessings of salvation, even of life eternal.”(Answers to Gospel Questions, 2: 57.)
29 – “I will go before them … I will be their rearward” In other words, the Lord will be their protection, he will lead them forward and protect them in the front, he will be in their midst (verse 25), and he will be their protection from behind, protecting them from attack on all sides.
A “Q and A” on the Gathering of the Lost Tribes: I remember as a child hearing people speculate about the lost tribes. Some thought they were still loving somewhere, in one body, with their own prophets among them. Elder Bruce R. McConkie, using a Q and A format answered many questions about the Lost Tribes and their return.
But, says one, are they not in a body somewhere in the land of the north? Answer: They are not; they are scattered in all nations. The north countries of their habitation are all the countries north of their Palestinian home, north of Assyria from whence they escaped, north of the prophets who attempted to describe their habitat. And for that matter, they shall also come from the south and the east and the west and the ends of the earth. Such is the prophetic word.
But, says another, did not Jesus visit them after he ministered among the Nephites? Answer: Of course he did, in one or many places as suited his purposes. He assembled them together then in exactly the same way he gathered the Nephites in the land Bountiful so that they too could hear his voice and feel the prints of the nails in his hands and in his feet. Of this there can be no question. And we suppose that he also called twelve apostles and established his kingdom among them even as he did in Jerusalem and in the Americas. Why should he deal any differently with one branch of Israel than with another?
Query: What happened to the Ten Tribes after the visit of the Savior to them near the end of the thirty-fourth year following his birth? Answer: The same thing that happened to the Nephites. There was righteousness for a season, and then there was apostasy and wickedness. Be it remembered that darkness was destined to cover the earth—all of it—before the day of the restoration, and that the restored gospel was to go to every nation and kindred and tongue and people upon the face of the whole earth, including the Ten Tribes of Israel.
But, says yet another, what about their scriptures—wilt they not bring them when they return? Answer: Yes, they will bring the Book of Mormon and the Bible, both of which were written to them and must be received by them before they gather. And further, as we devoutly hope, they will also have other records that will give an account of the ministry of the resurrected Lord among them—records that will come forth in a marvelous manner, at the direction of the president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who is a revelator and a translator and who holds the keys of the kingdom of God on earth as pertaining to all men, the Ten Tribes included.
And, finally, says yet another, will they not come with their prophets and seers? Answer: There is no other way they or any people can be gathered. Of course they will be led by their prophets, prophets who are subject to and receive instructions from, and prophets who report their labors to the one man on earth who holds and exercises all of the keys of the kingdom in their fulness. Did not Paul say that “the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets,” and that “God is not the author of confusion”? (1 Cor. 14:32-33.) The Lord’s house is a house of order; it has only one head at one time; Christ is not divided. In this day when the head of the Church can communicate with all men on earth, there is no longer any need for one kingdom in Jerusalem and another in Bountiful and others in whatever place or places the Ten Tribes were when Jesus visited them. This is the promised day when there shall be one God, one Shepherd, one prophet, one gospel, one church, and one kingdom for all the earth. This is the day when one man shall direct all of the Lord’s work in all the earth; the day when he shall bring all Israel into one fold; the day when one man will give an account of his stewardship over all the earth at Adam-ondi-Ahman just before the great day of the Lord arrives. (Bruce R. McConkie, The Millennial Messiah: The Second Coming of the Son of Man [Deseret Book, 1982], 217.)
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