After Lehi’s family left Jerusalem and began to travel toward the promised land, the Lord commanded him to send his four sons back to Jerusalem to retrieve a set of sacred writings engraved on brass plates. Lehi’s son Nephi tells us that these plates contained the five books of Moses, additional historical records, and the writings of prophets (1 Nephi 5:14).
Lehi and Nephi studied the brass plates carefully before continuing their journey in the wilderness (1 Nephi 5:21). Some of the concepts Lehi shared were confusing to Nephi’s brothers, who asked Nephi to help them understand. During his response to their questions, he tells us that he quoted from Isaiah, because Isaiah taught about the restoration of the house of Israel, one of the concepts his brothers were struggling to understand (1 Nephi 15:20).
Sometime later, after traveling across the sea and arriving in the promised land, Nephi tells us that he read to his brothers from the brass plates. He read from the Books of Moses,
But that I might more fully persuade them to believe in the Lord their Redeemer I did read unto them that which was written by the prophet Isaiah; for I did liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning (1 Nephi 19:23).
Nephi prioritized the writings of Isaiah above the other writings on the brass plates, even the writings of Moses (the Torah). He gave preference to the writings of Isaiah because of their usefulness in teaching about the Savior. And he considered the writings of Isaiah, like the other scriptures they possessed, to be relevant to their daily lives.
Nephi quotes a sermon given by his brother Jacob on a text from Isaiah which Nephi had selected. Like his brother, Jacob testified that these words were applicable to their people (2 Nephi 6:4-5).
Nephi actually quotes 15 chapters from the Book of Isaiah in his writings (Isaiah 2-14, 48-49), paraphrases another (Isaiah 29), and provides extensive commentary on those chapters. After quoting 13 of those chapters in a row, Nephi expresses his enthusiasm for them: “My soul delighteth in the words of Isaiah,” he writes. He explains that many of his people had a hard time understanding Isaiah, in part because they were not familiar with Hebrew literary styles and the geography and culture of Israel. But he affirms that “the words of Isaiah…are plain unto all those that are filled with the spirit of prophecy” (2 Nephi 25:1-6).
The prophet Abinadi used a chapter from Isaiah to teach the wicked priests of King Noah about the Savior (Isaiah 53, Mosiah 14). This after they tried to stump him with a passage from Isaiah which they apparently found problematic (Mosiah 12:20-24).
When Jesus Christ visited the American continent, He quoted extensively from Isaiah, including one complete chapter (Isaiah 54, 3 Nephi 22). Twice on the second day of His visit, He urged the people to “search” these words, telling them that “great are the words of Isaiah.” He affirmed that Isaiah’s words are relevant to all people and that all of his prophecies will be fulfilled (3 Nephi 23:1-3).
It’s noteworthy to me that Jesus used the word “search” to describe our interaction with the words of Isaiah. This is not light reading, nor was it intended to be. It is reading which requires and rewards effort on the part of the reader.
The last prophet in the Book of Mormon, Moroni, wrote the following in the middle of a list of admonitions to his modern readers: “Search the prophecies of Isaiah. Behold, I cannot write them” (Mormon 8:23). Nearly a third of the chapters from Isaiah had already been recorded in the Book of Mormon. By saying, “I cannot write them,” Moroni seems to be telling us that the admonition to search Isaiah is not limited to the portions of that book that are included in the Book of Mormon.
Why is Isaiah quoted so much in the Book of Mormon?
- His writings are particularly helpful in explaining two of the central topics in the book: the Atonement of Jesus Christ, and the scattering and gathering of Israel.
- His writings are relevant to all people and can be applied to our lives.
- His writings require some effort to understand, and that “searching” process can result in spiritual growth.
- His words are clear when we have the spirit of prophecy. Diligently searching his words will help us to develop the spirit of prophecy.
Today, I will diligently search the words of Isaiah. I will remember that his words will not always be understandable without some effort on my part and without the help of the Spirit of the Lord. But I will remember that Nephi, Abinadi, Moroni, and the Savior Himself, prioritized the words of Isaiah and encouraged us to study them.