1 Nephi 20-21: Messages from the Prophet Isaiah

Book of Mormon Student Study Guide, (2000), 31–33

Nephi read to his people from the prophecies of Isaiah to “more fully persuade them to believe in the Lord their Redeemer” (1 Nephi 19:23). In 1 Nephi 20–21 are recorded some of those important prophecies of Isaiah from the plates of brass, which are similar to those found in the Old Testament. As you read these chapters, look for what Isaiah taught about the house of Israel. Why has Israel been so afflicted over the centuries, and what is the Lord doing to bring His covenant people back to Him again? As part of the modern house of Israel, we can also apply Isaiah’s words to our lives.

Understanding the Scriptures

1 Nephi 20

Swear (v. 1)Make covenants, promise
Stay themselves upon (v. 2)Rely on, depend on, remain faithful to
Obstinate (v. 4)Stubborn
Treacherously (v. 8)Dishonestly, without loyalty
Transgressor (v. 8)One who breaks the commandments
Defer (v. 9)Hold back, put off, postpone
Refined (v. 10)Purified
Spanned (v. 13)Reached across
Seed … offspring of thy bowels (v. 19)Descendants (children, grandchildren, and so forth)
Clave (v. 21)Split

1 Nephi 20:1—What Are the “Waters of Judah”?

Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote: “Isaiah says that the ‘house of Jacob’ has ‘come forth out of the waters of Judah’ (Isa. 48:1), a statement of great interest to Latter-day Saints in view of the fact that his words as recorded on the brass plates added the phrase, ‘or out of the waters of baptism(1 Ne. 20:1), thus preserving in purity an Old Testament text about baptism” (Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. [1966], 832). This is an excellent example of “plain and precious” truths being taken from the Bible (1 Nephi 13:29).

1 Nephi 20:1–2—“They Call Themselves of the Holy City”

As quoted in 1 Nephi 20:1–2, the prophet Isaiah chastised the house of Israel for claiming to follow the Lord without keeping His commandments. They felt that because they were His covenant people and lived in the holy city of Jerusalem, God would always protect them. Isaiah reminded them that it is not where you live but how you live that is important (see vv. 18–22). That same principle is true today.


Jerusalem, the Ancient Holy City

My Father’s House© 1993 Al Rounds

1 Nephi 20:3–8—“I Have Declared the Former Things. … I Have Showed Thee New Things”

The Lord has given His children many evidences or reasons to believe His words and His prophets. In 1 Nephi 20:3–8, He cited some of those evidences and explained why those prophecies were necessary. From the beginning, God has revealed many events that would occur far into the future. One of His purposes in these long-range prophecies was to prevent wicked men from giving credit to idols or false gods for His marvelous works (see vv. 3–5). God has also revealed events that have occurred suddenly, so the wicked could not say, “I knew that” (see vv. 6–8).

1 Nephi 20:14–17—The Lord Sustains His Prophets

The Lord loves His prophets and “will fulfil his word which he hath declared by them” (v. 14). In a modern revelation, the Lord declared, “Whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same” (D&C 1:38).

1 Nephi 21

Pastors (v. 1)Shepherds; in this case, the religious leaders of the Jews
From the womb (v. 1)Before I was born
Quiver (v. 2)Container for carrying arrows
For naught and in vain (v. 4)For nothing
Abhorreth (v. 7)Hate, detest
Desolate heritages (v. 8)Empty or barren inheritances
Graven (v. 16)Cut, scratched, or marked
Too strait (v. 20)Too small or narrow; when the Lord gathers His children to Zion, they will again be very numerous.
To and fro (v. 21)Back and forth

1 Nephi 21:1—An Important Restoration from the Plates of Brass

The entire first sentence of Isaiah’s prophecy quoted in 1 Nephi 21:1 is not found in the corresponding chapter in the book of Isaiah (see Isaiah 49:1). This material was evidently on the plates of brass that Nephi used but has been lost from our current Bible. Isaiah 49 (or 1 Nephi 21) tells about the coming of the Messiah, the gathering of Israel, and the taking of the gospel to the Gentiles. From the Book of Mormon version we learn that this message was particularly directed to those Israelites (like Lehi’s family) who were broken off like branches from the main body of Israel and scattered abroad. We also learn that the reason for their scattering was the wickedness of their leaders in Jerusalem.

1 Nephi 21:1–9—Who Was the One That God Called before He Was Born?

Verses 1–9 describe the Savior, Jesus Christ, who was called before His birth (see v. 1), whose words cut to the hearts of the wicked like a sharp sword (see v. 2), whose life is unblemished like a polished shaft (see v. 2), who is a light unto the Gentiles (see v. 6), and who is despised of men (see v. 7). Because the lives of prophets are sometimes seen as types, or examples, of the Savior, these verses could also properly be applied to Isaiah. They might also be applied to the Prophet Joseph Smith:

  • He was foreordained. He testified: “Every man who has a calling to minister to the inhabitants of the world was ordained to that very purpose in the Grand Council of heaven before this world was. I suppose I was ordained to this very office in that Grand Council” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 365; see also 2 Nephi 3:7–15).

  • His words were sharp and his life a polished shaft. He said: “I am like a huge, rough stone rolling down from a high mountain; and the only polishing I get is when some corner gets rubbed off by coming in contact with something else, striking with accelerated force against religious bigotry, priestcraft, … lying editors, suborned judges and jurors, … backed by mobs, blasphemers, licentious and corrupt men and women—all hell knocking off a corner here and a corner there. Thus I will become a smooth and polished shaft in the quiver of the Almighty (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 304).

  • He was sent to be a light unto the Gentiles. The Lord declared to him, “This generation shall have my word through you” (D&C 5:7–10; see also D&C 86:11).

  • He was despised of men. The angel Moroni prophesied that both good and evil would be spoken about Joseph among all people (see Joseph Smith—History 1:33).

Joseph Smith

Studying the Scriptures

Do any two of the following activities (A–E) as you study 1 Nephi 20–21.

Activity A iconFind the Answers

Isaiah saw the failings of the children of Israel. He called on them to repent so that they might carry out the work the Lord had given them and receive His blessings. Read 1 Nephi 20:1–11, 20 and answer the following questions:

  1. 1.

    What has the Lord done to prove to His people who He is? (see vv. 3–8; see also “Understanding the Scriptures” for 1 Nephi 20:3–8).

  2. 2.

    Why do you think Isaiah used the image of an iron neck (see v. 4) to describe the children of Israel?

  3. 3.

    Even though the people had been rebellious in the past, what did the Lord say He would do for them? Why? (see vv. 9–11).

  4. 4.

    What did the Lord say the people must do? (see v. 20; see also Mosiah 26:29–30).

  5. 5.

    How might these teachings of Isaiah apply to our time “for our profit and learning” (1 Nephi 19:23)?

Activity B iconExplain the Similes

In 1 Nephi 20:11–17 the Lord declared His role as Creator and Savior. These verses also tell of His love and support for His prophets. In verses 18–22, Isaiah described what would have happened to the children of Israel had they been consistently obedient. He then called for them to repent.

  1. 1.

    Review 1 Nephi 20:18–22 and explain how the similes (comparisons using as or like) Isaiah used—a river, waves, sand, and gravel—describe the Lord’s promises to the faithful.

  2. 2.

    Why do you think the wicked have no peace? (see v. 22).

Activity C iconProphecy Can Be Fulfilled in More than One Way

A characteristic of many of Isaiah’s prophecies is that they can have more than one application and fulfillment.

  1. 1.

    Study 1 Nephi 21:1–10 and explain how these verses describe Jesus Christ.

  2. 2.

    Explain how these verses can also describe the Prophet Joseph Smith (see also the “Understanding the Scriptures” section).

Activity D iconHow Do You Remember the Savior?

Christ's hand

“Yet will I not forget thee, O house of Israel”

  1. 1.

    When the Lord could not bless Israel (Zion) because of the people’s disobedience, what did the people feel had happened? (see 1 Nephi 21:14).

  2. 2.

    What did the Lord say would always remind Him of His people? (see v. 16).

  3. 3.

    Write a paragraph explaining what helps you remember the Savior, both at church and at other times.

Activity E iconPut the Ideas in Order

In 1 Nephi 21:22–26 is Isaiah’s promise that the Lord will save His people. Following are several important ideas from these verses. Rearrange them so they are in the order in which they appear in the passage.

  • The Lord will deliver those who are in captivity to sin and wickedness.

  • People of power and influence will support the work of the Church.

  • Every person will know that Jesus Christ is the Savior.

  • The Lord will battle those who fight against His Church.

  • Those who trust in the Lord will not be ashamed of the gospel.

  • The Lord will restore the Church among the Gentiles as a standard of righteousness for the world.

  • Those who fight the Church will destroy themselves.