Evidence #130 | December 28, 2020

Spain, the Mighty Nation

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Scripture Central


Nephi’s prophecy of a mighty nation among the gentiles that would scatter the seed of Lehi is uniquely consistent with the Spanish conquest of the Americas.

Nephi’s Prophecy 

Shortly before the death of his father, Nephi prophesied to his brothers about the future scattering and gathering of their people. He taught,

The time cometh that after all the house of Israel have been scattered and confounded, that the Lord God will raise up a mighty nation among the Gentiles, yea, even upon the face of this land; and by them shall our seed be scattered. And after our seed is scattered the Lord God will proceed to do a marvelous work among the Gentiles, which shall be of great worth unto our seed” (1 Nephi 22:7–8; emphasis added).   

Some readers might assume the “mighty nation” spoken of is the United States. On the other hand, the extraordinary rise of Spain as a world power and it’s three centuries of dominance over much of the New World can be seen as a precise fulfillment of Nephi’s sobering prophecy.

"Ye Shall Have My Words" by Judith Mehr

“The Lord Will Raise Up”

Nephi indicates that the Lord would have a hand in raising up the nation in question. Spain’s discovery and conquests in the American hemisphere unexpectedly propelled it from a relatively insignificant political entity to an unprecedented world power.1 “Until late in the Middle Ages,” notes William Maltby, “Spain had been little more than a geographical expression.”2 J. H. Elliot, one of the foremost historians of the Spanish Empire, highlights Spain’s remarkable transformation from a land, poor in natural resources that was ethnically, politically, and geographically divided, into an international empire.

For a few fabulous decades Spain was to be the greatest power on earth. During those decades it would be all but master of Europe; it would colonize vast new overseas territories; it would devise a governmental system to administer the largest, and most widely dispersed, empire the world had yet seen; and it would produce a highly distinctive civilization, which was to make a unique contribution to the cultural tradition of Europe. How all this can have happened, and in so short a space of time, has been a problem that has exercised generations of historians.3

“A Mighty Nation among the Gentiles”

The unification of Spain under Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand laid a foundation for that nation to expand its power and influence in Europe and elsewhere, creating “an overseas empire of continental proportions.”4 Spaniards throughout the Iberian Peninsula, according to Hugh Thomas, “would establish themselves throughout the New World and, at home, make of their newly united country a great nation second to none.”5

New navigational techniques pioneered by Columbus and others opened up new trade routes and increased international communication which allowed Spain and, later, other European nations to govern and control lands and peoples in ways that were previously impossible.6 Spain, according to William Maltby, “was the first to exert direct sovereignty over great land masses and advanced civilizations that contained millions of non-European inhabitants.”7

The caravels of Christopher Columbus, the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria. Image via history.com. 

“Even upon the Face of This Land”

Spain expanded its territory, power, and cultural influence through the discovery and conquest of New World peoples. The plunder of Aztec and Inca treasures and the subsequent exploitation of the labor of native peoples fueled the rise and expansion of Spanish power across the world. “The discovery of massive silver deposits in Mexico and Peru—no other colonizing nation enjoyed similar good fortune—determined the empire’s history and its economic character.”8

In terms of territory, Spanish possessions were vast. By the end of the sixteenth century, “[Spain] controlled the largest collection of territories the world had seen since the fall of the Roman empire. In respect of size, it was an enterprise superior to that founded by Rome.”9 In the Americas, “Spain governed a whole combination of dependencies and colonies which constituted kingdoms (reinos) of their own, or parts of greater Spain, Magnae Hispaniae, no different from Aragon or Naples.”10 Yet all these dependencies with their local administrators and governors were one kingdom under the rule of the King of Spain.

“And by Them Shall Our Seed Be Scattered”

Nephi prophesied of the scattering of Lehi’s seed by this mighty nation. This prophecy was tragically fulfilled as millions of native peoples in the American hemisphere were enslaved and scattered throughout other parts of the Americas.11 For example, indigenous populations of the Bahamas and the Caribbean were enslaved and traded to Central and South America.

Branded and chained, the slaves were subjected to such horrific cruelties that many died before they reached their destinations. The export of Indians from Central America began in the 1510s to replace the dwindling Native labor force in the Great Antilles. Within a few years Darien and the Bay Islands were virtually depopulated, but exports continued from the north coast of Honduras. During the 1520s and 30s, the slave trade shifted to the Pacific slope. The total number of Indians exported from Nicaragua and Honduras first to Panama and then to Peru may have reached half a million, hastening the formation of mestiza and ladino societies in both provinces.12

Estimates suggests that in the decades following the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs, between two-hundred thousand to three million native Mexicans may have been forced into slavery.13 According to Fray Motolinia, “so great was the haste to make slaves in different parts that they were brought into Mexico City in great flocks like sheep, so they could be branded easily.”14

Native American people from the North American southwest, including Apaches were enslaved and forced to work the Mexican silver mines.15 South American natives were also enslaved and forcibly relocated throughout Peru, Chile, and elsewhere.16 “These forced migrations spanning hundreds or even thousands of miles, and the slaving networks that made such long-distance transactions possible, were unthinkable before the arrival of the Spaniards.”17

An artistic rendering of the retreat of Hernán Cortés from Tenochtitlán, the Aztec capital, in 1520. Image via NPR.

By the mid seventeenth century, Spain began to decline as a world power, yet it would govern its New World possessions for over three hundred years. This had a lasting and significant impact.

It succeeded to an unusual degree in imposing its language, faith, and culture on its new subjects. More than 300 million people speak Spanish today, and it is the primary language of  21 countries. Roman Catholicism became the dominant faith of Central and South America, while Spanish architecture, town panning, art, music, and literature merged with indigenous elements to form a vibrant new culture that has become very much a part of the Western cultural tradition.18

Inspired in part by the United States obtaining independence from Great Britain, as well as Spain’s difficulties in the European conflict with Napoleon and France, countries which had been ruled by Spain, one by one, sought and gained their own independence. “The great structure that had been created in the late 15th and early 16th centuries crumbled as quickly as it had risen three hundred years later.”19 By 1827, all Latin American countries, with the exception of Cuba and Puerto Rico, had gained their independence from Spain.

“A Marvelous Work among the Gentiles”

Moroni Appears to Joseph Smith in His Room, by Tom Lovell.

On the evening of September 21, 1823 an angel named Moroni visited Joseph Smith, declaring that God had chosen him “as an instrument in his hand to … bring to pass a marvelous work and a wonder.”20 A careful examination of this phrase as used in the Book of Mormon shows that it refers specifically to the coming forth of the “words” of the Book of Mormon through the gift and power of God, making known sacred Gospel covenants (2 Nephi 25:17–18; 27:14, 26; 29:1–2). Four years later, in 1827, Joseph obtained this ancient record and commenced translating it.

This is clearly part of the same “marvelous work among the Gentiles” of which Nephi prophesied (1 Nephi 22:8; emphasis added). However, Nephi prophesied that the “marvelous work” would only transpire after his seed had been scattered by the nation in his prophecy (v. 8). The correlation between Spain’s loss of American lands and the coming forth of the Book of Mormon is consistent with the timing of the Restoration as foretold by Nephi.21

“Of Great Worth unto Our Seed”

Nephi said that this marvelous work would “be of great worth unto our seed” (1 Nephi 22:9). Gospel covenants and ordinances, including those found in temples, have been and are increasingly being made known to descendants of indigenous people throughout the Americas, throughout lands once possessed by and administered by Spain.22


Spain’s rise from relative obscurity to a world power, fueled by New World resources, fits Nephi’s prophecy of a mighty nation among the gentiles that would extend its power over the land of promise and scatter Lehi’s seed. At a terrible and almost unimaginable cost to indigenous peoples and cultures, Spain scattered the seed of Lehi and left an appalling record of destruction, as those cultures were transformed into what became known as Latin America. By 1827, however, a new chapter was about to begin. After three centuries of dominance, Spain had essentially lost all that it had gained through conquest at the very time when the Book of Mormon, a “marvelous work and a wonder,” was about to come forth.

Kirk Magleby, “Prophecy Fulfilled 015,” Book of Mormon Resources, December 12, 2018.

Kirk Magleby, “Prophecy Fulfilled 014,” Book of Mormon Resources, December 12, 2018.

Kirk Magleby, “Prophecy Fulfilled 006,” Book of Mormon Resources, December 2, 2018. 

1 Nephi 22:7–82 Nephi 25:17–182 Nephi 27:142 Nephi 27:26 2 Nephi 29:1–2

1 Nephi 22:7–8

2 Nephi 25:17–18

2 Nephi 27:14

2 Nephi 27:26

2 Nephi 29:1–2

  • 1 “A dry, barren, impoverished land: 10 per cent of its soil bare rock; 35 per cent poor and unproductive; 45 per cent moderately fertile; 10 per cent rich. A peninsula separated from the continent of Europe by the mountain barrier of the Pyrenees – isolated and remote. A country divided within itself, broken by a high central tableland that stretches from the Pyrenees to the southern coast. No natural centre, no easy routes. Fragmented, disparate, a complex of different races, languages, and civilizations – this was, and is Spain. The lack of natural advantages appears crippling. Yet, in the last years of the fifteenth century and the opening years of the sixteenth, it seemed suddenly, and even miraculously, to have been overcome. Spain, for so long a mere geographical expression, was somehow transformed into a historical fact.” J. H. Elliott, Imperial Spain 1469–1716 (London: Penguin Books: 2002), 13.  
  • 2 William Maltby, The Rise and Fall of the Spanish Empire (New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), 6.
  • 3 “This in turn suggests a corollary, no less relevant to Spain: how does this same society lose its impetus and its creative dynamism, perhaps in as short a period of time as it took to acquire them?” (Elliott, 13). Nephi would, perhaps, suggest the answer lies in nature of the judgments of God that come upon all nations (2 Nephi 25:3).
  • 4 Carolyn Hall and Hector Perez Brignoli, Historical Atlas of Central America (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2003), 30.
  • 5 Hugh Thomas, Rivers of Gold: The Rise of the Spanish Empire, from Columbus to Magellan (New York, NY: Random House, 2005), 537. Emphasis added.
  • 6 Hall and Brignoli, Historical Atlas of Central America, 31.
  • 7 Maltby, The Rise and Fall of the Spanish Empire, 2.
  • 8 Maltby, The Rise and Fall of the Spanish Empire, 3.
  • 9 Hugh Thomas, World Without End: Spain, Phillip II, and the First Global Empire (New York, NY: Random House, 2014), 286.
  • 10 Thomas, World Without End, 286.
  • 11 For a general introduction to the topic, see Andres Resendez, The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America (Boston, MA: Mariner Books, 2016). The author provides several helpful maps of native American dispersions on pages 38 and 138.
  • 12 Hall and Brignoli, Historical Atlas of Central America, 116.
  • 13 Resendez, The Other Slavery, 62, 65.
  • 14 Resendez, The Other Slavery, 135.
  • 15 Resendez, The Other Slavery, 134–135.
  • 16 Resendez, The Other Slavery, 132–134.
  • 17 Resendez, The Other Slavery, 135. Latter-day Saints leaders have taught that the scattering of Book of Mormon people has taken place throughout North and South America. President Spencer W. Kimball taught, “The Lamanites were scattered throughout America. Cortes came here, and Pizarro went to South America. They had a great influence upon the people. They scattered them and persecuted them.” Official Report of the Monterrey Mexico Area Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, held in Monterrey, Mexico, February 19 and 20, 1977 (Salt Lake City, UT: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1978), 2.
  • 18 Maltby, The Rise and Fall of the Spanish Empire, 2. See also J. H. Elliot, Empires of the Atlantic World: Britain and Spain in America 1492–1830 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2007), 409–410.
  • 19 Hall and Brignoli, Historical Atlas of Central America, 31.
  • 20 Karen Lynn Davidson, Daivid J. Whittaker, Mark Ashurst-McGee, Richard L. Jensen, eds., Joseph Smith Papers Histories Volume 1: Joseph Smith Histories, 1832–1844 (Salt Lake City, UT: Church Historian’s Press, 2012), 59. Emphasis added.
  • 21 While Spain’s role in the scattering of Lehi’s people was a very significant one in terms of scale, clearly other Gentile groups and nations in North and South America have been engaged in the scattering as well. Nephi saw that they would be scattered and smitten by “many multitudes of the Gentiles upon the land of promise” (1 Nephi 13:14), and Lehi prophesied that this would be done by “other nations” who would take away their lands and possessions (2 Nephi 1:11).
  • 22 For a list of temples which have been built, are under construction or announced as of December 2020, see “Temple List,” online at churchofjesuschrist.org.
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