1 Nephi 20

1 Ne 20:1 are come forth out of the waters of Judah, or out of the waters of baptism

As one studies Isaiah, it is useful to compare the Old Testament version to the Book of Mormon version. In this verse, the Old Testament version lacks the phrase, "or out of the waters of baptism." McConkie and Millett  explain the origin of this clause:

"This clause first appeared in the 1840 and 1842 editions of the Book of Mormon.  It did not appear again until the 1920 edition, and it has been in all editions since that time.  It appears to be a prophetic commentary by Joseph Smith to explain the meaning of the phrase 'out of the waters of Judah.'....If this phrase were a restoration of the original text as found in the more pure version on the brass plates from which it comes, it would have appeared in the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon, and we would also expect to find it in the Joseph Smith Translation of Isaiah 48:1, but we do not.

"Through the use of this phrase, Joseph Smith is calling our attention to the fact that the ordinance of baptism was as common to the people of the Old Testament as it was to the people of the Book of Mormon." (McConkie and Millet, Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon, vol. 1, p. 152)

Baptism was practiced by in Old Testament times as this scripture attests. Other evidence that it was known among the Jews is found in the Dead Sea scrolls:

"...we come upon a series of fragments relating to baptism. By baptism, of course, the reader should realize that the proponents of this literature did not necessarily mean anything different from traditional Jewish ritual immersion. The terminologies are synonymous, though the emphasis on baptismal procedures at Qumran is extraordinary. This can be seen not only in texts such as the one represented by these fragments and the well-known Community Rule,iii,1-4, which in describing baptism makes reference to 'the Holy Spirit', but also the sheer number of ritual immersion facilities at the actual ruins of Qumran." (Robert Eisenman & Michael Wise, The Dead Sea Scrolls Uncovered, p. 230-1)

Further evidence can be inferred from the ministry of John the Baptist. When the scribes and Pharisees came out to see John, none of them ever questioned him about the ordinance of baptism. This must be because the ordinance was familiar to them.

Some have thought that baptism for the dead was performed in the lavers of the tabernacle of Moses and the Temple of Solomon. The latter was founded on the backs of 12 oxen representing the 12 tribes of Israel and is similar to baptismal fonts found in today's temples. However, no ordinances for the dead were performed before the coming of Christ. His ministry in the world of spirits was a necessary prerequisite. Also, the tabernacle of Moses and the Temple of Solomon were temples under the administration of the Aaronic priesthood. All vicarious ordinances are a function of the Melchizedek priesthood and no Melchizedek priesthood ordinances were performed in these temples. There is no evidence that baptisms for the living were performed in these lavers, either. Exodus explains that these were used by the priests as a place to wash their hands and feet prior to entering the tabernacle of the congregation (inner court). See Exodus 30:17-21 and 1 Kings 7:23-6.

1 Ne 20:3-8 I have declared the former things from the beginning

Like many Isaiah passages these six verses can be difficult to understand. However, with patience and persistence, some sense can be made of Isaiah's meaning. The key to this passage is found in verse 5, I showed them for fear lest thou shouldst say-Mine idol hath done them. An interpretation of the rest of this passage is offered.

The phrase, I have declared the former things from the beginning, means that the Lord has told the children of Israel his doings (the former things) from the beginning of time down to Isaiah's time. His intent was to send a clear message of prophecy through his prophets so that when these prophecies came to pass, the children of Israel wouldn't give the credit to their idols. Long before Israel had turned away, the Lord knew that this would happen, I did it because I knew that thou art obstinate and thy neck an iron sinew, and thy brow brass...I knew that thou wouldst deal very treacherously, and was called a transgressor from the womb (v. 4,8). The phrase, Thou hast seen and heard all this; and will ye not declare them?, could be paraphrased as follows, "you have heard of my prophecies and seen their fulfillment from the beginning, won't you admit it? Or will you give the credit to your dumb idols?" The last half of verse 6 and verse 7 refer to new prophecies and their eventual fulfillment which will also be rejected by Israel because of their spiritual deafness (thou heardest them not) and hearts which knew not the Lord (thou didst not know them). The rebellion and idolatry of Israel is so bad that the Lord considers destroying them, but He defers his anger for His name's sake.

1 Ne 20:9 Nevertheless, for my name's sake will I defer mine anger

On occasion, prophets have plead with the Lord that he not destroy the house of Israel. One of the arguments used is that if He does, he will seem to be a ruthless, merciless God to those nations who do not know Him. Therefore, he preserves them for His name's sake:

   And the LORD said unto Moses, I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiffnecked people:

   Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them: and I will make of thee a great nation.

   And Moses besought the LORD his God, and said, LORD, why doth thy wrath wax hot against thy people, which thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power, and with a mighty hand?

   Wherefore should the Egyptians speak, and say, For mischief did he bring them out, to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth? Turn from thy fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against thy people.

   Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, thy servants, to whom thou swarest by thine own self, and saidst unto them, I will multiply your seed as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have spoken of will I give unto your seed, and they shall inherit it for ever (Ex 32:9-13).

   And it came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard said unto the servant: Let us go to and hew down the trees of the vineyard and cast them into the fire, that they shall not cumber the ground of my vineyard, for I have done all. What could I have done more for my vineyard?

   But, behold, the servant said unto the Lord of the vineyard: Spare it a little longer.

   And the Lord said: Yea, I will spare it a little longer, for it grieveth me that I should lose the trees of my vineyard. (Jacob 5:49-51)

"The Lord Jehovah had placed his name and the promise of his power upon the nation of Israel. They were his people; they were to become his peculiar treasure. He had given that name and power to none other, and had no intention of his holy name being forgotten, ignored, or profaned by the surrounding nations. 'I will not suffer my name to be polluted,' he said, 'and I will not give my glory unto another.' (1 Ne. 20:4, 8-9,11)" (Kent P. Jackson, ed., Studies in Scripture, Vol. 7: 1 Nephi to Alma 29 [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1987], 78.)

1 Ne 20:10 I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction

Orson F. Whitney

"No pain that we suffer, no trial that we experience is wasted. It ministers to our education, to the development of such qualities as patience, faith, fortitude and humility. All that we suffer and all that we endure, especially when we endure it patiently, builds up our characters, purifies our hearts, expands our souls, and makes us more tender and charitable, more worthy to be called the children of God . . . and it is through sorrow and suffering, toil and tribulation, that we gain the education that we come here to acquire and which will make us more like our Father and Mother in heaven." (Dawn Anderson, Dlora Dalton, and Susette Green, eds., Every Good Thing: Talks from the 1997 BYU Women's Conference [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1998], 22.)

Neal A. Maxwell

"The Lord has said, 'I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.' (Isaiah 48:10; 1 Nephi 20:10.) He knows, being omniscient, how we will cope with affliction beforehand. But we do not know this. We need, therefore, the refining that God gives to us, though we do not seek or crave such tribulation.

"Is not our struggling amid suffering and chastening in a way like the efforts of the baby chicken still in the egg? It must painfully and patiently make its own way out of the shell. To help the chick by breaking the egg for it could be to kill it. Unless it struggles itself to break outside its initial constraints, it may not have the strength to survive thereafter.

"Afflictions can soften us and sweeten us, and can be a chastening influence. (Alma 62:41.) We often think of chastening as something being done to punish us, such as by a mortal tutor who is angry and peevish with us. Divine chastening, however, is a form of learning as it is administered at the hands of a loving Father. (Helaman 12:3.)

"Elder James E. Faust of the Council of the Twelve has said, 'In the pain, the agony, and the heroic endeavors of life, we pass through the refiner's fire, and the insignificant and the unimportant in our lives can melt away like dross and make our faith bright, intact, and strong.' (Ensign, May 1979, p. 53.) Elder Faust continued, 'This change comes about through a refining process which often seems cruel and hard. In this way the soul can become like soft clay in the hands of the Master.'" (All These Things Shall Give Thee Experience [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1979], 38-39.)

1 Ne 20:12 I am the first, and I am also the last

This phrase identifies the God of Israel, or Jehovah, as none other than the pre-mortal Jesus Christ. This fundamental truth can be proven by a careful study of the first chapter of Revelation:

   I saw....one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle.

   His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire....

   And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last:

   I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore (Rev 1: 12-18)

The term, "first and the last," has reference to the eternal nature of Jehovah and to the endlessness of His powers.

Bruce R. McConkie

"Christ is the First and the Last. (D. & C. 110:4; Isa. 41:4; 44:6; 48:12; Rev. 1:8-17; 2:8; 22:13.) These terms are descriptive of his eternal timelessness; he is God everlastingly. As the First, the thought is conveyed that he is pre-eminent above all the earth's inhabitants, both from the standpoint of time (he being the Firstborn in the spirit), and from the standpoint of power and dominion (he having become a God in the beginning). As the Last, the concept is revealed that he will go on as God, continuing to enjoy his full pre-eminence, to all eternity, everlastingly without end." (Mormon Doctrine, p 281)

1 Ne 20:14 who among them hath declared these things, the Lord hath loved him.

The Lord loves those prophets who have declared his message. 'How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good' (Isa 52:7). Abinadi taught that this was a description of 'all the holy prophets ever since the world began' (Mosiah 15:13). The Lord promises that all that they prophesy will come to pass, 'he will fulfil his word which he hath declared by them.' Because of his love for his prophets, the Lord is careful to make sure that 'every jot and tittle' of the law and the prophecies shall be fulfilled (Alma 34:13).

1 Ne 20:16 Come ye near unto me

This passage is reminiscent of two New Testament scriptures:

   Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (Matt 11:28)

   O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! (Matt 23:37)

1 Ne 20:19 his name should not have been cut off nor destroyed from before me

As the saints mourned the martyrdom of the Prophet and Hyrum, they undoubtedly turned to the scriptures for solace. Two of the themes in this chapter are the Lord's love for his prophets and the rejection of their message by the people. Where can a greater example of these concepts be found than in the mission of Joseph Smith? Therefore, when the mourning saints of Nauvoo read this passage, they understood that it could apply to their beloved prophet, including his furnaces of affliction and eventual martyrdom:

"...we wish that 'An Observer' would read the following paragraph in the 6th chapter of the first book of Nephi, page 54, in said Book of Mormon. 'Come ye near unto me; I have not spoken in secret from the beginning; from the time that it was declared, have I spoken; and the Lord God and his spirit hath sent me. And thus saith the Lord, the Redeemer, the holy One (Jesus Christ) of Israel; I have sent him; [Joseph Smith] the Lord thy God who teacheth thee to profit; who leadest thee by the way thou shouldst go, has done it. O that thou [the Gentiles] hadst hearkened to my commandments, then had thy peace been as a river, and righteousness as the waves of the sea; thy seed also had been as the sand; the offspring of thy bowls like the gravel thereof; his name [Joseph Smith's] should not have been cut off, nor destroyed from before me.'

"Perhaps Isaiah in the 48th chapter and other places, might have mentioned the fact that his name was 'cut off.' Read and reflect, for there are more true prophecies in the Bible and Book of Mormon, than the sects and sinners ever dreamed of. Remember that." (Reflections, Times and Seasons, vol. 5 (January 1844-January 1, 1845), No. 16. Nauvoo, Illinois, Sept. 2, 1844. Whole No. 100 635.)

1 Ne 20:20 Go ye forth of Babylon

Babylon is used in the scriptures as a symbol of the wickedness of the world. To leave Babylon is to leave the wicked of the world and begin life as a follower of Jesus Christ. This symbolism is also important because of the many scriptures which talk about the destruction of Babylon. These have a dual meaning-they refer to the literal destruction of the kingdom of Babylon and to the destruction of the wicked at the Second Coming of Christ.

Neal A. Maxwell

"Even if we decide to leave Babylon, some of us endeavor to keep a second residence there, or we commute on weekends. To quote President Marion G. Romney, some go on 'trying to serve the Lord without offending the devil' ("The Price of Peace," in Speeches of the Year [Provo: Brigham Young University, March 1, 1955], p. 7)." (Neal A. Maxwell, A Wonderful Flood of Light, p.47)

"Why do some of our youth risk engaging in ritual prodigalism, intending to spend a season rebelling and acting out in Babylon and succumbing to that devilishly democratic 'everybody does it'? Crowds cannot make right what God has declared to be wrong. Though planning to return later, many such stragglers find that alcohol, drugs, and pornography will not let go easily. Babylon does not give exit permits gladly. It is an ironic implementation of that ancient boast: 'One soul shall not be lost.' (Moses 4:1.) (Ensign, November 1988, p. 33. as taken from The Neal A. Maxwell Quote Book, by Cory H. Maxwell, under heading for "Sin")