Evidence #431 | December 20, 2023

“Hope” in 1 Nephi 19:24

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Scripture Central

Abstract

Nephi’s expression of “hope” in 1 Nephi 19:24 appears to be both rhetorically sophisticated and informed by the underlying Hebrew text of Isaiah’s writings.

The first lengthy quotation of Isaiah’s writings found in the Book of Mormon occurs in 1 Nephi 20–21, corresponding to Isaiah 48–49. Nephi introduces these chapters with the following statement:

hear ye the words of the prophet, which were written unto all the house of Israel, and liken them unto yourselves, that ye may have hope as well as your brethren from whom ye have been broken off; for after this manner has the prophet written. (1 Nephi 19:24)1

Based on this explanation, readers might expect “hope” to be a crucial theme in Isaiah 48–49. While that is true on a general level (considering these chapters are about the scattering and gathering of Israel2), one will search in vain for any direct reference to “hope” in these chapters. At least, that is the case when examining them in the King James Bible. Reading them in Hebrew, however, is a different matter. Of particular importance is the wording in Isaiah 49:22–23 (emphasis added; cf. 1 Nephi 21:22–23):

22 Thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I will lift up mine hand to the Gentiles, and set up my standard to the people: and they shall bring thy sons in their arms, and thy daughters shall be carried upon their shoulders.

23 And kings shall be thy nursing fathers, and their queens thy nursing mothers: they shall bow down to thee with their face toward the earth, and lick up the dust of thy feet; and thou shalt know that I am the Lord: for they shall not be ashamed that wait for me.

When viewed in English, readers might come away with the notion that God’s people won’t be ashamed as they “wait” for the Lord (i.e., “stay put” or “delay action” until he comes). In contrast, the underlying Hebrew term for “wait” is qāwâ. As explained by Matthew Bowen, “The overriding sense of qāwâ is hope in the sense of waiting for or expecting something.” The verb is related to the Hebrew noun miqweh, which denotes “hope,” and also to the cognate term tiqwâ, which conveys an “expectation, hope (resulting from the collecting together of one’s mental powers), optimistic outlook.”3 This strong sense of hopeful waiting can easily get lost or obscured in the King James Version.

Isaiah by Ted Henninger and Nephi by James Fullmer.

Was Nephi really likely to have had Isaiah 49:22–23 in mind when delivering his opening remarks in 1 Nephi 19:24? In addition to their explicit mention of qāwâ, these particular passages from Isaiah are either quoted (2 Nephi 6:6–7) or paraphrased (1 Nephi 22:6, 8; 2 Nephi 6:13; 2 Nephi 10:9) on several more occasions by Nephi and Jacob.4 Hence, there is good reason to believe that Nephi—who included these verses, either in part or in full, on multiple occasions in his small plates—held Isaiah 49:22–23 to be particularly significant.

Enriched Meaning

When the underlying Hebrew text of Nephi’s quotations of Isaiah are taken into consideration, his intent that they would produce “hope” among his people takes on additional meaning (1 Nephi 19:24). For Lehi’s posterity—a branch broken off from the rest of the house of Israel—the promised gathering must surely have been a reason for optimism. As Alma expressed it generations later:

blessed is the name of my God, who has been mindful of this people, who are a branch of the tree of Israel, and has been lost from its body in a strange land; yea, I say, blessed be the name of my God, who has been mindful of us, wanderers in a strange land. (Alma 26:36)

Readers might recall that the Abrahamic covenant was, at least in part, a matter of promised land (Genesis 15:7–21). Bowen explains, “The Abrahamic covenant, which included the promises of an eternal relationship with God, the inheritance of certain lands, and a numberless posterity (eternal increase), is thus central to the concept of hope in the narratives of the Hebrew Bible.”5 Displaced Israelites, such as Lehi’s posterity, must have naturally wondered how they fit into this aspect of the patriarchal promises. Jacob forlornly described his people as “a lonesome and a solemn people, wanderers, cast out from Jerusalem” (Jacob 7:26).

Isaiah’s prophecies in these quoted chapters help alleviate such concerns. Before his mention of qāwâ, Isaiah declared, “And then, O house of Israel, behold, these shall come from far; and lo, these from the north and from the west; and these from the land of Sinim. Sing, O heavens; and be joyful, O earth; for the feet of those who are in the east shall be established” (1 Nephi 21:12–13; cf. Isaiah 49:12–13). Isaiah also invoked the following metaphor: “For can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee, O house of Israel” (1 Nephi 21:15; Isaiah 49:15).  

"Ye Shall Have My Words" by Judith Mehr

The future gathering of Israel was therefore both certain and geographically unconstrained. In the end, none of God’s people would be lost or forgotten, and all the tribes of Jacob would eventually be gathered to promised lands of inheritance. But in the meantime, until the Lord nourished and helped restore Lehi’s posterity through the Gentiles, Isaiah’s promise was that “they shall not be ashamed that wait [qāwâ; ‘expectantly hope’] for me” (1 Nephi 21:23; Isaiah 49:23). With this in mind, Nephi’s stated purpose for reading these particular sections of Isaiah to his people—“that ye may have hope as well as your brethren from whom ye have been broken off” (1 Neph 19:24; emphasis added)—becomes imbued with deep rhetorical meaning.

Conclusion

When taking into consideration the underlying Hebrew of Isaiah’s quoted statements (particularly 1 Nephi 21:22–23; Isaiah 49:22–23), Nephi’s expression of “hope” in 1 Neph 19:24 seems quite intentional. The fact that these specific verses from Isaiah are quoted or paraphrased multiple times in Nephi’s small plates increases that likelihood. Although it could be easily overlooked, Nephi’s thematically insightful—and seemingly Hebrew-informed—preview of upcoming content provides another piece of evidence in favor of the Book of Mormon’s Hebrew literary background and miraculous translation.6

Matthew L. Bowen, “‘That Ye May Have Hope’: Nephi's Use of Isaiah 49:22–23 in Teaching the Concept of Hope,” Religious Educator 23, no. 2 (2022): 30–45.

Andrew C. Skinner, “Nephi’s Lessons to His People: The Messiah, the Land, and Isaiah 48–49 in 1 Nephi 19–22,” in Isaiah in the Book of Mormon, ed. Donald W. Parry and John W. Welch (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1998), 95–122.

Isaiah 49:22–231 Nephi 19:231 Nephi 21:22–23

Isaiah 49:22–23

1 Nephi 19:23

1 Nephi 21:22–23

Footnotes
Linguistics

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