Evidence #162 | March 8, 2021

Nephi(2) Like Moses

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Scripture Central


Nephi, the Son of Helaman, fits the ancient pattern of prophets like unto Moses.

Biblical Prophets Like Moses

In a study of the Exodus pattern in the Hebrew Bible, Yair Zakovitch notes that Moses “casts a preeminent shadow over many biblical figures.”1 He was often seen as an ideal prophet in Israelite history. Joshua, Gideon, Samuel, David, Elijah, Elisha, Jeremiah, and of course Jesus, are all portrayed by biblical writers in ways that cast them as prophets “like unto Moses” in the tradition of Deuteronomy 18:18–19.2

Often missed by the casual reader, the biblical writers made use of the Moses typology in skillful ways that underscored a prophet’s legitimacy and helped emphasize the message of the text. In fact, “ancient Israelites expected true prophets to draw such comparisons, at least implicitly.”3 For example, the writer of the book of Kings says that Elijah “smote the waters” of the Jordan river “and they were divided hither and thither” so that he “went over on dry ground” (2 Kings 2:8, verse 14). This miracle resembled the parting of the Red Sea and showed that the power of God was with Elijah as it had been with Moses (Exodus 14:21–22).

Nephite Prophets Like Moses

Latter-day Saints have discussed a similar pattern in the Book of Mormon where Nephite prophets are likened unto Moses.4 According to David Seely,

While the Book of Mormon, like the New Testament, specifically identifies the future prophet like Moses as Christ, it also develops the idea that the institution of prophecy that continued in Israel included other future prophets like Moses. Similar to the Deuteronomistic History, the Book of Mormon records the continuation of the Institution of prophecy in its history and in several cases specifically portrays prophets with characteristics of Moses.5

Dividing the Waters

One example of this pattern can be seen in the ministry of Nephi, the son of Helaman. During his time many of the Nephites had fallen into serious apostasy, and Nephi prophesied that destruction was imminent if his people did not repent. Having hardened their hearts against the Lord, like Pharaoh in the time of Moses, wicked judges challenged Nephi to provide evidence for the truth of his words. Nephi reminded his audience of Moses:

“Behold my brethren, have ye not read that God gave power unto one man even Moses, to smite upon the waters of the Red Sea, and they parted hither and thither, insomuch that the Israelites, who were our fathers, came through upon dry ground, and the waters closed upon the armies of the Egyptians and swallowed them up?” (Helaman 8:11; emphasis added to scripture passages here and throughout this summary).  

Nephi reasoned that “if God gave unto this man such power,” they should not dispute God’s ability to reveal the destruction which would come upon them if they did not repent (Helaman 8:12). The Lord’s power at the Red Sea, manifested through Moses, was a precedent and a sign to the people in support Nephi’s own prophetic claims.

After the Lord revealed the murder of the Chief Judge through Nephi, leaders of the Gadianton faction accused him of being complicit in the crime. Nephi then provided a miraculous sign in which the true murderer was detected, vindicating Nephi’s prophetic gift.

In the aftermath of his acquittal, Nephi’s former accusers were left in confusion, and like the waters of the Red Sea, were divided among themselves: “And it came to pass that there arose a division among the people, insomuch that they divided hither and thither and went their ways, leaving Nephi alone, as he was standing in the midst of them” (Helaman 10:1). The allusion to the miracle at the Red Sea is further reinforced by the use of the words “hither and thither” which Nephi had previously used to describe that event (Helaman 8:11).6

Nephi on his tower with a crowd below. Image via churchofjesuschrist.org. 

Power to Smite

The Lord gave Moses power to smite Egypt and its people with plague and pestilence (Exodus 3:20; 7:17; 8:2, verse 16; 9:15; 12:12–13, verse 23), and also gave him power to “smite upon the waters” of the Red Sea (Helaman 8:11). After his miraculous deliverance from the wicked judges who were seeking his life, the Lord similarly blessed Nephi with great power:

Behold I declare it unto thee in the presence of mine angels, that ye shall have power over this people, and shall smite the earth with famine, and with pestilence, and destruction, according to the wickedness of this people … And behold if ye shall say that God shall smite this people, it shall come to pass (Helaman 10:6, verse 10).

Continuing with this theme, the Lord commanded Nephi to go forth again and warn the people to repent. Nephi prophesied that they would be “smitten even unto destruction,” but the people continued to “harden their hearts,” just like Pharaoh (Helaman 10:14–15; cf. Exodus 8:15). When they tried to apprehend him again, Nephi was “taken by the Spirit and conveyed out of the midst of them” while his enemies, being “divided against themselves,” descended into contention and bloodshed (Helaman 10:18). Thus, the wicked Nephites, like the chaotic waters of the sea, could be smitten and divided according to God’s will.

Salvation Through Dry Ground

Hoping to deliver his people from the escalating bloodshed, Nephi used his Moses-like power to ask the Lord to send a famine to stop the destruction by the sword (Helaman 11:4–5). In an interesting variation on the Red Sea miracle, in which the Lord provided “dry ground” (Exodus 14:16, verses 21–22) for the escape of his people, “the earth was smitten that it was dry” in order to bring the people of Nephi to repentance and salvation (Helaman 11:6).

“Death by Hunger” by Vasyl Krychevsky

Accused of a Crime

When the Israelites were in bondage to the Egyptians, Moses killed an oppressive Egyptian official who was abusing a fellow Israelite and hid the body in the sand. After this killing became known to Pharaoh, Moses fled from Egypt to save his life (Exodus 2:11–15). The account in Helaman also involved a killing—the murder of the wicked Nephite Chief Judge who was part of the oppressive Gadianton faction (Helaman 8:27). Nephi, however, was innocent and made no attempt to flee. Initially concealed from the public, the identity of the murderer was later miraculously revealed.

Seantum by Briana Shawcroft

The People Plead with Their Leaders

When the more wicked Nephites perished, the residue were led to repent. Like the Egyptians who pled with Pharaoh to listen to Moses and let Israel go or “we be all dead men” (Exodus 12:33), the Nephites “began to plead with their chief judges and their leaders” to ask Nephi to cry unto the Lord to turn away the famine so they would not be destroyed. Nephi did so and the people were spared (Helaman 11:8–17).

Moses was the first prophet to be called a “man of God,” a title subsequently used of other biblical prophets. “He is presented as the prototype of the Jewish man of God, of the future religious leaders.”7 Following their deliverance from the famine, the Nephites likewise considered Nephi to be “a great prophet, and a man of God, having great authority given unto him by God” (Helaman 11:18).

Nephi Resolves Controversies Like Moses

Nephi, a former Chief Judge, warned the Nephites about the corruptness of the law under the rule of unrighteous judges (Helaman 8:3). When new contentions arose after the famine, Nephi and his brother Lehi, like Moses and his brother Aaron, were able to receive divine guidance. “But it came to pass that Nephi and Lehi, and many of their brethren who knew concerning the true points of doctrine, having many revelations daily, therefore they did preach unto the people, insomuch that they did put an end to their strife” (Helaman 11:23).

Nephi Teaching in the Temple, by Dan Burr

Moses was an inspired lawgiver who received many revelations from God to govern the people. “The main function of Moses in the history of Israel was to mediate the law.”8 Nephi, in contrast to the wicked judges, performs a similar function in Helaman.

Miracles Rejected Like Pharaoh and the Egyptians

When the Lord, through Moses, smote Egypt with plagues, signs, and wonders, Pharaoh promised to release the Israelites from bondage, but after the wonders ceased, Pharaoh would again harden his heart.  Similarly, the Nephites repented in times of difficulty, but then quickly returned to their wicked ways (Helaman 11:34–37). As the signs of Christ’s coming appeared with greater frequency, the Nephites, like the Egyptians, “began to harden their hearts, all save it were the most believing part of them” (Helaman 16:13–15). “And notwithstanding the signs and wonders which were wrought among the people of the Lord, and the many miracles which they did, Satan did get great hold upon the hearts of the people upon all the face of the land” (Helaman 16:23).

The Departure of Moses and Nephi

In the biblical account, Moses did not join the Israelites when they crossed into the land of promise. He departed and was assumed to be dead or buried by God, although “no man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day” (Deuteronomy 34:6). Similarly, Nephi, the son of Helaman did not remain with the people of Nephi after his ministry, but “departed out of the land, and wither he went, no man knoweth” (3 Nephi 1:3).9


It is clear that the Book of Mormon casts Nephi in the role of a prophet like Moses, just as biblical writers do with Israelite prophets. The Moses typology, like the broader Exodus theme which is so pervasive in the text, seems unlikely to be the result of a superficial, haphazard copying of the Bible. It seems, rather, like the ancient biblical pattern, to be a deliberate and well-integrated feature of a complex narrative, the stated purpose of which is to show that the same God who delivered his people from bondage in the past continues his saving work today (Mormon 9:9). For a chart of many scriptural passages which link Nephi, the son of Helaman, with Moses, see the Appendix.

Matthew Roper, “Nephi the Son of Helaman” A Prophet Like Moses,” Ether’s Cave, August 23, 2020, online at etherscave.blogspot.com.

David R. Seely, “‘A Prophet Like Moses’: Deuteronomy 18:15–18 in the Book of Mormon, the Bible, and the Dead Sea Scrolls,” in “To Seek the Law of the Lord”: Essays in Honor of John W. Welch (Orem, UT: Interpreter Foundation, 2017), 360–374.

Noel B. Reynolds, “The Israelite Background of Moses Typology in the Book of Mormon,” BYU Studies 44, no. 2 (2005): 5–23.#a1

S. Kent Brown, “The Exodus Pattern in the Book of Mormon,” BYU Studies 30, no. 3 (Summer 1990): 111–126, reprinted in S. Kent Brown, From Jerusalem to Zarahemla: Literary and Historical Studies of the Book of Mormon (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1998), 75–98.

Helaman 8:3Helaman 8:11Helaman 8:12Helaman 8:27Helaman 10:1Helaman 10:6Helaman 10:10Helaman 10:14Helaman 10:18Helaman 11:4Helaman 11:5Helaman 11:8­–17Helaman 11:18Helaman 11:23Helaman 11:34–37Helaman 16:13–15Helaman 16:233 Nephi 1:3­Mormon 9:9

Helaman 8:3

Helaman 8:11

Helaman 8:12

Helaman 8:27

Helaman 10:1

Helaman 10:6

Helaman 10:10

Helaman 10:14

Helaman 10:18

Helaman 11:4

Helaman 11:5

Helaman 11:8­–17

Helaman 11:18

Helaman 11:23

Helaman 11:34–37

Helaman 16:13–15

Helaman 16:23

3 Nephi 1:3

­Mormon 9:9





Divided Hither and Thither

But lift up thine rod, and stretch out thine hand over the sea, and divide it: and the children of Israel shall go on dry ground through the midst of the sea (Exodus 14:16).

And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. And the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea upon the dry ground: and the waters were a wall unto them  on their right hand, and on their left (Exodus 14:21–22).

[Elijah repeated the miracle of the Red Sea at the Jordan river] and they were divided hither and thither, so that they two went over on dry ground (2 Kings 2:8; see also verse 14).

And it came to pass that there was a division among the people, insomuch that they divided hither and thither, and went their ways, leaving Nephi alone, as he was standing in the midst of them (Helaman 10:1).

But behold, the power of God was with him, and they could not take him to cast him into prison, for he was taken by the Spirit and conveyed away out of the midst of them (Helaman 10:16).


And there began to be contentions insomuch that they were divided against themselves, and began to slay one another with the sword (Helaman 10:18).

Hardened Hearts That Hearken Not

And I shall harden the hearts of the Egyptians (Exodus 14:17).  

He hardened his heart and hearkened not unto them (Exodus 8:15).

Now behold, notwithstanding the great miracle which Nephi had done in telling them concerning the murder of the chief judge, they did harden their hearts and did not hearken unto the words of the Lord (Helaman 10:13).

Smiting Waters/Earth and Dry Ground

[Elijah repeating the miracle of the Red Sea at the Jordan river] smote the waters, and they were divided hither and thither, so that they two went over on dry ground (2 Kings 2:8).

[Nephi teaches his people] God gave power unto one man, even Moses, to smite upon the waters of the Red sea, and they parted hither and thither, insomuch that the Israelites who were out fathers, came through upon dry ground, and the waters closed upon the armies of the Egyptians and swallowed them up (Helaman 8:11).

Ye shall have power over this people, and shall smite the earth with famine (Helaman 10:6)

For the earth was smitten that it was dry (Helaman 11:6)

Prophetic Mediation

Intreat the Lord (Exodus 8:8. See also 8:9, 29–30; 9:28; 10:17–18).

And the Egyptians were urgent upon the people, that they might send out of the land in haste; for they said, We be all dead men (Exodus 12:33).

And the people began to plead with their chief judges and their leaders, that they would say unto Nephi … cry unto the Lord our God that he turn away from us this famine lest all the words which thou hast spoken concerning our destruction be fulfilled (Helaman 11:8).

An Esteemed Prophet

Moreover the man Moses was very great in the land of Egypt, in the sight of Pharaoh ‘s servants, and in the sight of the people (Exodus 11:3).

Moses the man of God blessed the children of Israel (Deuteronomy 33:1)

We know that thou art a man of God (Helaman 11:8).

And they did no more seek to destroy Nephi, but they did esteem him as a great prophet, and a man of God, having great power and authority given unto him from God (Helaman 11:18).

Hearts Harden in Response to Miracles

And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and multiply my signs and my wonders in the land of Egypt (Exodus 7:3).

When Pharaoh shall speak unto you, saying, Shew a miracle for you (Exodus 7:9).

Nevertheless, the people began to harden their hearts, all save it were the most believing part of them (Helaman 16:15).

And notwithstanding the signs and wonders which were wrought among the people of the Lord, and the many miracles which they did, Satan did get great hold upon the hearts of the people upon all the face of the land (Helaman 16:23).

No Man Knoweth

But no man knoweth of his sepulcher unto this day (Deuteronomy 34:6).

Then he departed out of the land, and wither he went, no man knoweth (3 Nephi 1:3).

  • 1 Yair Zakovitch, “And You Shall Tell Your Son”: The Concept of the Exodus in the Bible (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1991), 98.
  • 2 Michael Fishbane, Biblical Interpretation in Ancient Israel (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988), 358–368; Dale C. Allison Jr., The New Moses: A Matthean Typology (Eugene, OR: Wipf &Stock, 1993), 11–95; Mark Leuchter, “Samuel: A Prophet Like Moses or a Priest Like Moses,” in Israelite Prophecy and the Deuteronomistic History: Portrait, Reality and the Formation of a History, ed., Mignon R. Jacobs and Raymond F. Person (Atlanta, GA: SBL Press, 2014), 147–168; Havilah Dharmraj, A Prophet Like Moses? A Narrative Theological Reading of the Elijah Stories (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2011).
  • 3 Noel B. Reynolds, “The Israelite Background of Moses Typology in the Book of Mormon,” BYU Studies 44, no. 2 (2005): 14; emphasis added.
  • 4 David R. Seely, “‘A Prophet Like Moses’: Deuteronomy 18:15–18 in the Book of Mormon, the Bible, and the Dead Sea Scrolls,” in “To Seek the Law of the Lord”: Essays in Honor of John W. Welch (Orem, UT: Interpreter Foundation, 2017), 360–374; Reynolds, “The Israelite Background,” 5–23; Noel B. Reynolds, “Lehi as Moses,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 9, no. 2 (2000): 26–35; S. Kent Brown, “The Exodus Pattern in the Book of Mormon,”BYU Studies 30, no. 3 (Summer 1990): 111–126, reprinted in S. Kent Brown, From Jerusalem to Zarahemla: Literary and Historical Studies of the Book of Mormon (Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1998), 75–98.
  • 5 Seely, “‘A Prophet Like Moses’,” 372.
  • 6 The two words “hither and thither” are only used together in the Book of Mormon in reference to the miracle at the Red Sea in 1 Nephi 4:2; 17:26; Helaman 8:11, or the power of God to divide the dust of the earth (Helaman 12:7). They are also used in the stories of Elijah and Elisha who imitated the Red Sea miracle at the Jordan River (2 Kings 2:8, verse 14), a miracle which Joshua had performed after the Lord had promised, “as I was with Moses, so I will be with thee” (Joshua 3:7; also verses 16–17).
  • 7 Howard M. Teeple, The Mosaic Eschatological Prophet (Philadelphia, PA: Society of Biblical Literature, 1957), 32.
  • 8 Bernard S. Jackson, “The Prophet and the Law in Early Judaism and the New Testament,” Cardozo Studies in Law and Literature 4, no. 2 (Autumn 1992): 123–124.
  • 9 For a discussion of Jewish and Samaritan traditions about the translation of Moses, see Evidence Central, “Book of Mormon Evidence: Translation of Moses,” December 22, 2020, online at evidencecentral.org.
Literary Features
Exodus Parallels
Nephi(2) Like Moses
Book of Mormon

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