Nephi’s Psalm and the Book of Psalms

There’s a passage in the Book of Mormon that is commonly called Nephi’s Psalm. Immediately after quoting his father’s final words to each of his children and then announcing the death of his father, Nephi becomes introspective. For twenty one verses, he expresses emotions ranging from despair to resolution before imploring God to help him overcome his weaknesses and expressing confidence that God will do just that.

One reason this passage reminds us of the book of Psalms is because it borrows many phrases from psalms. As I wrote yesterday, we don’t know for sure whether some of the psalms appeared on the brass plates, but it seems likely, given the apparent influence of many passages from psalms on Book of Mormon authors. No where is that more evident than in Nephi’s Psalm. Here is the full text with corresponding passages from the book of Psalms. For clarity, I’ve bolded words that the passages have in common:

Nephi’s Psalm
(2 Nephi 4:15-35)
Passages from the book of Psalms
15. …My soul delighteth in the scriptures, and my heart pondereth them, and writeth them for the learning and the profit of my children.
16. Behold, my soul delighteth in the things of the Lord; and my heart pondereth continually upon the things which I have seen and heard.
Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.
But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night (Psalm 1:1-2).
17. Nevertheless, notwithstanding the great goodness of the Lord, in showing me his great and marvelous works, my heart exclaimeth: O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities.Oh how great is thy goodness, which thou hast laid up for them that fear thee; which thou hast wrought for them that trust in thee before the sons of men! (Psalm 31:19) [Note that trust comes up two verses later in Nephi’s psalm.]
[Note that the phrase “O wretched man that I am” also appears in Romans 7:24.]
18. I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me.For innumerable evils have compassed me about: mine iniquities have taken hold upon me, so that I am not able to look up; they are more than the hairs of mine head: therefore my heart faileth me (Psalm 40:12).
19. And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins; nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted.I have trusted in thy mercy; my heart shall rejoice in thy salvation (Psalm 13:5).
I have trusted also in the Lord; therefore I shall not slide (Psalm 26:1).
20. My God hath been my support; he hath led me through mine afflictions in the wilderness; and he hath preserved me upon the waters of the great deep.Thy righteousness is like the great mountains; thy judgments are a great deep: O Lord, thou preservest man and beast (Psalm 36:6).
21. He hath filled me with his love, even unto the consuming of my flesh.
22. He hath confounded mine enemies, unto the causing of them to quake before me.Let them be confounded and put to shame that seek after my soul: let them be turned back and brought to confusion that devise my hurt (Psalm 35:4). (See also Psalm 40:14, Psalm 70:2, Psalm 71:13, 24, Psalm 83:2, 17, Psalm 129:5.)
[Note that this psalm is the only place where Nephi states that he has “enemies.” It’s pretty clear that he’s talking about his brothers (see 1 Nephi 17:53-55, 2 Nephi 5:1-5), but he never calls them enemies anywhere else. His use of the term in this passage is consistent with the language of the psalms.]
23. Behold, he hath heard my cry by day, and he hath given me knowledge by visions in the night-time.I waited patiently for the Lord; and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry (Psalm 40:1).
24. And by day have I waxed bold in mighty prayer before him; yea, my voice have I sent up on high; and angels came down and ministered unto me.Let thy salvation, O God, set me up on high.
I will praise the name of God with a song, and will magnify him with thanksgiving (Psalm 69:29-30).
25. And upon the wings of his Spirit hath my body been carried away upon exceedingly high mountains. And mine eyes have beheld great things, yea, even too great for man; therefore I was bidden that I should not write them.[Speaking of God] Who maketh the clouds his chariot: who walketh upon the wings of the wind:
Who maketh his angels spirits; his ministers a flaming fire (Psalm 104:3-4).
[Note also the use of angels and ministering in the prior verse.]
26. O then, if I have seen so great things, if the Lord in his condescension unto the children of men hath visited men in so much mercy, why should my heart weep and my soul linger in the valley of sorrow, and my flesh waste away, and my strength slacken, because of mine afflictions?[Similar image to “the valley of the shadow of death” in Psalm 23:4.]
27. And why should I yield to sin, because of my flesh? Yea, why should I give way to temptations, that the evil one have place in my heart to destroy my peace and afflict my soul? Why am I angry because of mine enemy?And of thy mercy cut off mine enemies, and destroy all them that afflict my soul: for I am thy servant (Psalm 143:12).
28. Awake, my soul! No longer droop in sin. Rejoice, O my heart, and give place no more for the enemy of my soul.Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope in God: for I shall yet praise him (Psalm 43:5).
Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name (Psalm 103:1).
[In a number of the Psalms, the author speaks directly to his soul. See also Psalm 16:2, Psalm 42:5, 11; Psalm 104:1, 35, Psalm 116:7, Psalm 146:1.]
29. Do not anger again because of mine enemies. Do not slacken my strength because of mine afflictions.
30. Rejoice, O my heart, and cry unto the Lord, and say: O Lord, I will praise thee forever; yea, my soul will rejoice in thee, my God, and the rock of my salvation.I will praise thee for ever (Psalm 52:9).
He shall cry unto me, Thou art my father, my God, and the rock of my salvation (Psalm 89:26). (See also Psalm 95:1. A version of this phrase also appears in Deuteronomy 32:15 and 2 Samuel 22:47.)
31. O Lord, wilt thou redeem my soul? Wilt thou deliver me out of the hands of mine enemies? Wilt thou make me that I may shake at the appearance of sin?God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave: for he shall receive me (Psalm 49:15).
Draw nigh unto my soul, and redeem it: deliver me because of mine enemies (Psalm 69:18).
32. May the gates of hell be shut continually before me, because that my heart is broken and my spirit is contrite! O Lord, wilt thou not shut the gates of thy righteousness before me, that I may walk in the path of the low valley, that I may be strict in the plain road!The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit (Psalm 34:18).
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise (Psalm 51:17).
33. O Lord, wilt thou encircle me around in the robe of thy righteousness! O Lord, wilt thou make a way for mine escape before mine enemies! Wilt thou make my path straight before me! Wilt thou not place a stumbling block in my way—but that thou wouldst clear my way before me, and hedge not up my way, but the ways of mine enemy.Lead me, O Lord, in thy righteousness because of mine enemies; make thy way straight before my face (Psalm 5:8).
[Note: the imagery of a robe of righteousness comes from Isaiah 61:10. The idea of hedging up someone’s way appears in Hosea 2:6.]
34. O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever. I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh; for I know that cursed is he that putteth his trust in the arm of flesh. Yea, cursed is he that putteth his trust in man or maketh flesh his arm.But I trusted in thee, O Lord: I said, Thou art my God (Psalm 31:14).
I will trust in thee (Psalm 55:23).
What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee (Psalm 56:3).
[Note: Jeremiah 17:5 says, “Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm”]
35. Yea, I know that God will give liberally to him that asketh. Yea, my God will give me, if I ask not amiss; therefore I will lift up my voice unto thee; yea, I will cry unto thee, my God, the rock of my righteousness. Behold, my voice shall forever ascend up unto thee, my rock and mine everlasting God. Amen.Unto thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul (Psalm 25:1). (See also Psalm 86:4, Psalm 143:8.)
Unto thee will I cry, O Lord my rock (Psalm 28:1).

My conclusion is that Nephi had internalized the language of the psalms, so that he was able to draw upon familiar words, phrases, and imagery to express his feelings. Even though his psalm borrows terminology from many of the psalms, it reads as a consistent whole, a sincere expression of his spiritual yearnings and of his convictions. His scripture study helped him to articulate and better understand his own spiritual journey.

Today, I will be grateful for the role of scripture in my spiritual progression. I will be grateful for the range of emotions communicated in the book of Psalms and for the opportunity I have, like Nephi, to leverage that language as I strive to manage frustrations and seek God’s help in following the gospel path.

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