Thursday, October 10, 2013

Is Jacob’s Statement the Nephites Were on an Isle Important?

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One of the more interesting and controversial comments found about the geography of the Land of Promise in the Book of Mormon is Jacob’s statement: And now, my beloved brethren, seeing that our merciful God has given us so great knowledge concerning these things, let us remember him, and lay aside our sins, and not hang down our heads, for we are not cast off; nevertheless, we have been driven out of the land of our inheritance; but we have been led to a better land, for the Lord has made the sea our path, and we are upon an isle of the sea” (2 Nephi 10:20)
     What was the purpose of Jacob’s comment about being on an isle, and why did he make it? Many Mesoamerican Theorists claim that Jacob didn’t really mean an island at all. In fact, they often try to insert the word Peninsula in its place. North American Theorists claim that Jacob’s isle was not in the sea, but deep inland in Northeastern U.S. surrounded by lakes. Many claim it was not really an island at all, and some think the word was akin to the British Isles, that is, a large land mass. Other Theorists simply ignore the statement since they do not know how to answer it and because it does not fit into their models. 
One of the major tenants of the gospel is that in the latter days, Israel will be gathered in 
     However, there is a distinct reason why Jacob made this statement, and it follows along with one of the major doctrinal points found in all the scriptures. And that is the concept of gathering. As the Lord told the Saints at Fayette, New York, in 1830: “And ye are called to bring to pass the gathering of mine elect; for mine elect hear my voice and harden not their hearts; wherefore the decree hath gone forth from the Father that they shall be gathered in unto one place upon the face of this land, to prepare their hearts and be prepared in all things against the day when tribulation and desolation are sent forth upon the wicked” (D&C 29: 7-8). This is the same message found in the Old Testament: Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the LORD your God will gather you and bring you back” (Deuteronomy 30:4), and also in the New Testament: “And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other (Matthew 24:31).
     In fact, this concept of gathering in is found 367 times in the Old Testament, 69 times in the New Testament, 156 times in the Book of Mormon, 73 times in the Doctrine & Covenants, and 11 times in the Pearl of Great Price, for a total of 676 times in the scriptures overall. Obviously, then, this is a concept that was well known to the Nephites, as well as the Jews before them.
So what does this have to do with Jacob?
After the Nephites had been in the Land of Promise for about 30 to 40 years, there obviously spread among them a fear that the Lord had forgotten them since they were now in a distant land, and far from the seat of the faith and main temple in Jerusalem. During a conference of the faithful in the Land of Promise, Nephi wrote: The words of Jacob, the brother of Nephi, which he spake unto the people of Nephi: (2 Nephi 6:1), and when Jacob arose, he said, Yea, for thus saith the Lord: Have I put thee away, or have I cast thee off forever?” (2 Nephi 7:1), then  he follows with a lengthy talk about those who follow the Lord, and finally said, And now, my beloved brethren, I have read these things that ye might know concerning the covenants of the Lord that he has covenanted with all the house of Israel -- that he has spoken unto the Jews, by the mouth of his holy prophets, even from the beginning down, from generation to generation, until the time comes that they shall be restored to the true church and fold of God; when they shall be gathered home to the lands of their inheritance, and shall be established in all their lands of promise” (2 Nephi 9:1-2). 
     Jacob brings the meeting to a close, then convenes the Nephites again the following day. Opening his remarks, he says: “And now I, Jacob, speak unto you again, my beloved brethren, concerning this righteous branch of which I have spoken” (2 Nephi 10:1). He goes on to tell them that the name of the savior would be “Christ,” as an angel told him during the night, and says: “But behold, thus saith the Lord God: When the day cometh that they shall believe in me, that I am Christ, then have I covenanted with their fathers that they shall be restored in the flesh, upon the earth, unto the lands of their inheritance. And it shall come to pass that they shall be gathered in from their long dispersion, from the isles of the sea, and from the four parts of the earth; and the nations of the Gentiles shall be great in the eyes of me, saith God, in carrying them forth to the lands of their inheritance.” (2 Nephi 10:7-8).
      This two-day meeting was evidently quite long and Jacob covered a lot of points in his lengthy discussion. At this point he said, “Wherefore, I will consecrate this land unto thy seed, and them who shall be numbered among thy seed, forever, for the land of their inheritance; for it is a choice land, saith God unto me, above all other lands, wherefore I will have all men that dwell thereon that they shall worship me, saith God” (2 Nephi 10:19).
Finally, Jacob deals with one of the issues that was bothering the Nephites when he said, “And now, my beloved brethren, seeing that our merciful God has given us so great knowledge concerning these things, let us remember him, and lay aside our sins, and not hang down our heads, for we are not cast off” (2 Nephi 10:20).
Obviously, the Nephites were feeling glum about not being in Jerusalem, the capitol of the Lord’s kingdom and thinking they had been cast out of the land of their inheritance. Jacob, well aware of this, tries to show his people that their condition is well known to the Lord, and begins by reiterating their circumstances, which they well understood: “nevertheless,” he told them, “we have been driven out of the land of our inheritance; but we have been led to a better land, for the Lord has made the sea our path, and we are upon an isle of the sea” (2 Nephi 10:20).
So his audience would understand they had not been forgotten, he adds, “But great are the promises of the Lord unto them who are upon the isles of the sea; wherefore as it says isles, there must needs be more than this, and they are inhabited also by our brethren. For behold, the Lord God has led away from time to time from the house of Israel, according to his will and pleasure. And now behold, the Lord remembereth all them who have been broken off, wherefore he remembereth us also” (2 Nephi 10:21-22). And having said many things that were unsettling before, he concludes his thoughts with a high note by saying, “Therefore, cheer up your hearts, and remember that ye are free to act for yourselves” (2 Nephi 10:23).
     Thus it should easily be seen and understood that Jacob’s reason for speaking all of this was 1) to chastise the Nephites in hopes they would better themselves, 2) remind them that the Lord leads people away from Israel from time to time, 3) they were not cut off and forgotten of the Lord for he was the one who led them across the sea to an island in the sea, which was their Land of Promise, 4) they were free to choose to continue to follow the Lord; and 5) if they lived righteously, the Lord would eventually gather them in as had been promised to the House of Israel.
In doing so, Jacob was merely reminding them of what the Lord had done for them, i.e., led them across the sea to the Land of Promise, which was an island in that same sea. No one was questioning they were on an island, for they all understood that. What they were questioning was whether or not the Lord remembered them and knew where they were. Thus, it cannot be said the Nephites were not on an island in the middle of the ocean, the self same ocean over which the Lord had led them and over which Nephi’s ship had traveled. To say otherwise, as so many Mesoamerican and other Theorists do, is both inaccurate and disingenuous.

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