CLICK HERE to read 1 Nephi 14.
Nephi’s vision of the future unfolding for the Gentiles continues in chapter 14. We are in the midst of reading the same pattern as always given in the Old Testament: when people are obedient and follow the Lord, they are healed and gathered and blessed; when they are not obedient and do not follow the Lord, they are scattered and sent into some form of bondage.
But always, the moment we return to Him, He is there waiting – has been there waiting – all along, like the prodigal son returning to his father. And like that father, our Father is waiting and watching, so that He sees us even when we are still “a great way off” (Luke 15:20).
Let’s take apart verse one to see how it unfolds:
“if the Gentiles shall hearken
(listen to His words, obey what He says to do or not do, act in faith in response to what we learn)
unto the Lamb of God
(the Savior, the words of the Savior)
in that day he shall manifest himself unto them in word
(through Scripture, through prophets, through personal revelation),
and also in power
(through the Savior, through the Holy Spirit, through the Temple, through revelation in response to obedience),
in very deed
(the reality of His work being accomplished in us and around us in everyday life),
unto the taking away of their stumbling blocks
(delivering us from a variety of forms of bondage, making us strong where we are weak, atonement for our sins).”
And so we see how when our hearts are hard against the things of God, we remove ourselves from experiencing the workings of God, and so deny ourselves the understanding the things of God.
But when our hearts are soft and turned toward God, we experience His working in our lives, and so we then also begin to understand the things of God. It changes us, and it leads us home.
This is covenant language, right there in verse one.
We know it is because it describes what we should do, and what the Lord will do.
If we will do this…., He will do this….
This covenant language is emphasized in verse two, when it says that IF WE do not harden our hearts against the Savior (if we do what He says), then HE WILL count us as as children of Abraham: they shall be numbered among the seed of thy father; yea, they shall be numbered among the house of Israel. This is the Abrahamic covenant, the covenant that was around since before the beginning of time but named after Abraham because he was so faithful in keeping it. This is the difference between Nephi and his murmuring brothers who were also born into the covenant: Nephi chooses to become part of the covenant by being like Abraham, which means to be obedient and faithful to the Lord. We now have the New Testament, with the example of the Lord Himself, and so do strive to be obedient and faithful by following the example of Christ. This is how we choose, regardless of biological lineage, to become “children of Abraham”, to become a covenant people. We can only do so by being obedient and faithful.
And when we are obedient and faithful, then we are “a blessed people” (verse two).
When we keep our covenants (by being obedient and faithful), then we are a people who receive the blessings of the covenant.
These blessings include that of the promised land, which has both the temporal and spiritual meaning of safety and protection and provision in our lives now (temporal) and returning to our Father’s presence in the celestial kingdom later.
But we must be obedient and faithful to receive these blessings, for the greatest bondage is to be separated from our Father-in-Heaven. Choosing behaviors or habits or interactions that are not of Him, separates us from Him. Choosing behaviors or habits or interactions that are of Him draw us closer to Him. The more we act like Him, the more we become like Him. We are embryos in that process, President Kimball said, but still we strive to become more like Him – to let Him make us holy – so that we can eventually be so purified from what is not of Him, so sanctified by what is Him – our sins exchanged for HIS righteousness – that the work of the atonement will be complete, and we can re-enter His presence because we will be as He is.
This does not mean we ever catch up to God, or we change who God is.
The more we become like Him, the more His glory increases. He gets credit for the changes in me, because it is His work in me – not my work in myself. So the more I change, the more I improve, the higher He lifts me – the more He Himself is elevated.
It is His work in me, and so any glory from that process is also His.
It is like our earthly parents: my mother will always be my mother. When I was an infant, she cared for me and nurtured me into childhood, then my teenage years, then my more challenging young adult years, and then into the healing and growing years since. But just because I finally got my act together (was “rescued”, as President Monson would say), or just because I reached the age my mother was when she had me, or just because now my mother and I became grown-up friends, doesn’t mean I caught up to her. She is still, and forever will be, my mother. She will always know more than I do, always have more experience than I do, and always be ahead of me in her own progression. All the time I am working and learning and progressing, so has she. Our becoming at-one does not change the fact that she is my mother, or that she is ahead of me in life experience or age progression.
Heavenly Father knew from the beginning that the atonement of the Savior would be needed for me to make it back home like the prodigal. The Savior’s work of the atonement was an exchange that was in part immediate and final, and in part a process. The immediate and final part was conquering death. All of us will have immortality, and that work is already done and accomplished. It’s settled. The part that is still in process is my choosing to participate in the progress of Emily, the great exchange of my sins for His righteousness. The more I let the atonement work in me, so that by the Holy Spirit working to sanctify me, to cleanse me, to purify me, so that I am more and more made of His substance, more and more filled with His righteousness rather than what is not of Him… the more I become like Him, which does qualify me to be closer and closer to Him as I continue that process.
We become more and more at-one.
But I can never catch up to Him, because He is my Father.
To be at-one is to have peace and joy.
That is what Satan wants to destroy, and how he so easily leads us away from at-one-ness, away from the working of the atonement, by trying to get us to choose things and behaviors and interactions that separate us from God so that we are not at-one.
But this is only a trick, an illusion.
Because the Savior has already come, and His work is already done.
The at-one-ment has already been made possible.
We just have to let it work; we just have to choose it.
It is the choosing it that softens us.
“if the Gentiles repent it shall be well with them” (verse 5).
But He lets us choose. It’s part of wanting us to be happy and comfortable, to the degree we have developed that in ourselves.
“I will work a great and marvelous work among the children of men;
(His “work” is defined in Moses 1:39, as our immortality and eternal life)
a work which shall be everlasting,
either on the one hand or on the other –
(quality of eternal life we choose)
either to the convincing of them unto peace and life eternal,
or unto the deliverance of them to the hardness of their hearts and the blindness of their minds
unto their being brought down into captivity,
and also destruction,
both temporally and spiritually” (verse 7).
This is our choice, the angel says to Nephi in verse 10: to either follow God or not, to become obedient and faithful like Abraham or not, to follow the example of Christ or not, to choose the things of God or not, to become children of the covenant or not.
Nephi sees there are two churches, the true church (with the authority restored, as we learned in the last chapter) or not.
In verse 12 Nephi realizes that the numbers of Saints will always be fewer than the people of the world, but that the Saints will be stronger despite the numbers.
In verse 14, Nephi understands that the covenant people are strengthened by righteousness and the power of God.
This is powerful in several ways.
First, the actual story of what Nephi is seeing.
Second, the process by which Nephi is seeing this vision, that he is still receiving line-upon-line of revelation through pondering and obedience and prayer, by asking for more and more understanding and being diligent in the work to deepen his understanding further and further.
Third, the idea that it is righteousness that strengthens us and what it implies for us as covenant people. It is no longer the child-understanding of “because He said so”, but the grown-up-understanding of “because it is good for us”. If we follow Nephi’s pattern of seeking further revelation and deeper understanding to this, layers and layers will come like a book unfolding as its pages are turned.
Then, Nephi says, he sees how the people become divided into two camps (much like Nephi and his murmuring brothers, and the descendants that come after them).
The two camps are for-God and against-God.
We know this from since always. Sometimes we call it “the War in Heaven”. Before any of us came to Earth, Heavenly Father presented the plan for us to come to Earth and gain experience in making choices and prove that we could be obedient in all things, that we truly love Him by choice and not just default.
Jehovah, who is the Christ, presented His plan for the atonement, so that we could return to our Heavenly Father knowing it was by his grace and mercy that we made it back home.
Lucifer, who is Satan, presented his plan that he could force everyone (by removing agency, or the ability to choose). The problem with this is that since he would be getting us back home by force, then all the glory would be his. This is how he tried to steal glory from Heavenly Father.
And so we had the great war in heaven, in which we pleaded and urged our loved ones to choose Jehovah, to do it the way Heavenly Father designed.
Lucifer and those who chose his plan were thrown out, and did not get to be born on earth in bodies to learn how to make choices or practice being obedient.
The rest of us, all of us who are born into bodies, all of us here on Earth, chose Jehovah and the plan as Heavenly Father designed it, for HIS glory.
But we sometimes forget that same war still rages on. Satan still tries to remove our agency, through ignorance or hard-heartedness or anything that tricks us into not having choices. That’s why it is bondage: we get stuck without choice, or we give up our choices in exchange for something else.
In my office, I see this show up in many forms. Sometimes it is financial bondage. Sometimes it is addiction. Sometimes it is Esau giving up his birthright (celestial kingdom blessings through the covenant of marriage) for a bowl of porridge (immediate gratification of an affair) (Genesis 25:34).
The same war rages on, and we continue to urge our friends and loved ones – the same friends and loved ones we have had since before the beginning of time – to choose the right.
That’s our premortal covenant: Christ would accomplish the atonement (He did), and we would testify of it (we must).
But the war will be won.
Verses 15-17 sound like verses from Revelation in the New Testament, talking about “wars and rumors of wars” in the end times.
Then the angel tells Nephi about John, who did write Revelation:
“… Behold, one of the twelve apostles of the Lamb” (verse 20).
“And he shall see and write the remainder of these things… and he shall also write concerning the end of the world” (verse 21, 22).
“… the things which he shall write are just and true; and behold they are written in the book which thou beheld proceeding out of the mouth of the Jew” (the Bible) (verse 23).
Then Nephi understands. He knows.
This is the building of his testimony.
First it is believing. But with pondering and revelation, faith becomes knowledge.
“And I, Nephi, heard and bear record, that the name of the apostle of the Lamb was John” (verse 27).
And this was only a “small part”, he says, of what he saw and learned and heard.
Can you imagine?
These amazing chapters culminating in this one are all a result of his pondering and study and praying. These chapters describe for us not only what he saw and learned, but also the process of revelation that he experienced. We are to ponder and study and ask for more, we are to listen and look and pay attention. We are to ask what it means, what is true, and how to apply it to ourselves.
And then, when we understand, when we know, then we must “go and do”. We must act in response to what we have learned. We must testify of it. We must share.
That’s what happens in the next chapter, when Nephi returns to his murmuring brothers in hopes of sharing what he has learned.