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Promises to Covenant Israel: 3 Nephi 20

Updated: Oct 18, 2020

This is the first in a series of posts about the promises the Lord has made to covenant Israel. President Nelson invited us to make such a list last Sunday. I think this is going to keep me busy for quite awhile.

I'm starting with 3 Nephi 20, because that's where I was reading when President Nelson made the invitation and this particularly chapter is brimming with promises.

First (vs 12-14) the Lord promises that His covenant with Israel will be fulfilled, that the remnants of Israel will be gathered and that the Lehites will be given "this land," the Americas, for an inheritance.

Next (vs 15) alludes to previous teachings such as 3 Nephi 16:8-9, where the Lord indicates that the dominance of the "Gentiles" over the descendants of the Lehites was part of His plan. Here, as I read it, He makes clear that the Gentiles need to repent of their domination and the scattering of His people. If they don't, verses16-17 indicates, with graphic imagery, that the tables will be turned and that the Lehites, the Jews, and other persecuted remnants of Israel will become formidable.

In verse 19, the imagery gets even more graphic: "Yea, I will make thy horn iron, and I will make thy hoofs brass. And thou shalt beat in pieces many people".

I always cringe a little from violent imagery in the scriptures. Knowing what I know of God, knowing that a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, that all His children are alike unto Him and that what we do to the least of our brethren, we are doing unto Him, I tend to feel that war imagery in the scriptures is a reflection of the spiritual immaturity of the audience and of the Lord's merciful use of the language we understand.

But that doesn't seem to be the case here. In this case, the audience has achieved a spiritual maturity and a oneness with Him that I long after. They have become lastingly anchored in Jesus Christ, have heard Him pray in their behalf in a way that has permanently changed them. And the Lord has responded to their mighty change by weeping and declaring that His joy is full. So there has to be meaning here for the spiritually mature.

First, let's explore "I will make thy horn iron, and I will make thy hoof brass."

The prophet Daniel spoke of iron and brass. He saw in vision a beast with iron teeth and nails of brass that would rule in the last days, devouring its victims, breaking them in pieces and stamping the remainder under its feet (Daniel 7:19). That beast would war with the saints and prevail until the coming of the Ancient of Days. Then its dominion would be taken away and given to the saints of the Most High.

Clearly, in 3 Nephi, the Lord is not equating Israel with that beast. Instead, he seems to be comparing Israel to oxen (an image that strikes me with its familiarity). Could the Lord be promising to give Israel horns of iron and hooves of brass in order to combat the iron teeth and brass nails of the devouring beast? This is protective, not defensive armour.

One difficulty: the Lehites would not have had access to Daniel's prophecy, as his ministry took place in Babylon, where he was taken as a captive just six years before Lehi led his family into the wilderness. It is possible that the vision Daniel recorded was also given to a Nephite prophet and just not recorded in the Plates of Nephi. It's also possible that the correlation of the iron horns to teeth and the brass hooves to nails was lost on the Lehites but intended as a message to us who have to contend with the devouring beast. What an idea! It's one more evidence of the Lord's careful planning through millennia to bring forward His work of redemption. I love the thought of his planting messages that He knew would come forth in separate sacred records, thousands of years later, messages that would assure us that all the difficulties we face have been foreseen and prepared for. It's like he is saying to us, "Don't worry. I know the beginning and the end and I will provide you with the precise equipment you need to withstand those who wish to destroy you."

Now, back to the Lehites. The connection with Daniel's prophecy may have been lost on them, but there are other, powerful promises they would have understood. It helps to take a closer look at the preceding verse. Here, in verse 18, the Lord promises to gather His people like sheaves into the threshing floor. It turns out, these verses aren't about warfare at all. They're about harvesting. According to Google, two common ancient threshing practices were to beat grain with a stick or against a wall, and to bring cattle into the threshing floor, where they trampled the grain underfoot.

I love this. It means that the "trampling underfoot" by the covenant people is not to dominate or destroy enemies; it's to separate wheat from chaff and to bring the wheat to Jesus Christ. The verse continues: "and I will consecrate their gain unto the Lord, and their substance unto the Lord of the whole earth. And behold, I am he who doeth it."

What an incredible paradigm shift! The devouring beast prophesied by Daniel is all about destruction. But the ox of Israel is all about a different kind of breaking; it's about breaking down pride and iniquity, about obtaining a broken heart and a contrite spirit. The sword of the Lord's justice (vs 20) doesn't seek to destroy but to purify. Everything God does is redemptive, however messy it looks in the moment. Every "judgement" is an intervention, overflowing with Grace, and directed toward unleashing mercy.

In verses 21-22, the Lord promises to establish the Lehites in "this land" (the Americas), to create a "New Jerusalem" or a Zion society among them. He promises that the powers of heaven and his own presence will be in their midst.

In verses 23-24, He reminds them who He is, the one foretold by Moses whom they must hear to be among the people. In verse 25, He reminds them who they are -- the children of the prophets, whose destiny it is to bless every family on the earth.

In verses 26-35, He details His plan to bring this to pass, starting at that moment with the redemption of the Lehites. Then, He jumps forward to the era of the Gentiles when their Christianity gives them access to the Holy Ghost, making them mighty in relation the lost descendants of Israel. They seem to be a scourge to the descendants of the Lehites. But, when the Gentiles have received the fulness of the gospel, they must repent or face justice.

And then, oppressed and scattered Israel is gathered and inherits the promised land she thought she had lost. Now, the fulness of the gospel is preached to the Lehites and they believe in Jesus Christ and pray to the Father in His name. They achieve unity, harmony and joy, and all the ends of the earth perceive God's workings and see salvation.

In verses 36-40 He describes conditions in their Zion society, where the people delight in the gospel tidings of peace, are clothed and united in righteousness, have arisen from squalor and are loosed from previous forms of bondage. They are redeemed by His free gift and they know Him by name. They are secure in the sovereignty of God. Jerusalem becomes a holy city, with admission into it reserved to people of covenant who are clean (this sounds like a temple).

In 41-42, a call goes out to the world to leave behind it's wickedness and gather into the society of Zion. Those who heed it don't need to panic because the Lord will lead them and guard their backs.

Verses 43 - 45 seems a little confusing because Jesus Christ is speaking of Himself as "my servant." But He's quoting Isaiah 52:13-15, which foretells a day when whole world hushes its own opinions and honors the atoning Lord.

Finally, in verse 46, the covenant with Israel is fulfilled and Jerusalem is again inhabited by a people who identify as His.

In point form, here are the promises to covenant Israel in this chapter:

  1. Covenants of the Father will be fulfilled

  2. Remnants of Israel will be gathered and come to the knowledge of the Lord

  3. Descendants of the Lehites will receive their inheritance in the Americas

  4. Remnant of Jacob will become formidable and unassailable

  5. They will defeat their enemies

  6. They will be provided with the precise tools they need to contend with the destroyer, and to fulfill their redemptive commission

  7. The Lord will establish Zion, a New Jerusalem, in the Americas

  8. The powers of heaven and the Lord Himself will be in her midst

  9. Israel will become a blessing to every family of the earth

  10. The Lord will remember His covenant with those who are to inherit the land of Jerusalem

  11. Fulness of the gospel shall be preached to them

  12. They will come unto Christ

  13. They will achieve unity and inherit redeemed Jerusalem with great rejoicing

  14. The Lord's dealings with Israel will allow ends of the earth to see salvation

  15. Jerusalem becomes a holy city, reserved for the clean, of covenant

  16. Squalor and bondage are replaced with redemption

  17. The people know and trust the Lord and delight in the Gospel

  18. They are called to Zion without panic and with protection

  19. The Redeemer is honored the world over and by royalty who now receive revelation

What this means to me, specifically and now: As I watch social upheaval around me, I need to remember that the Lord is working, that He is amply able to bring about what He has promised and His purposes are redemptive and glorious. As the Indigenous peoples of the Americas win land claims, I need to put aside concerns about economic or social impacts on me and remember that the Lord has promised this land to the descendants of the Lehites. My ancestors came as guests to this land. The fulness of the gospel has come to me, in large part, through the Lehites and, by virtue of my covenants, I have the opportunity to be a joint-heir. But that depends on my doing my part, which is to repent and harden not my heart so that I can be part of the marvellous work the Lord is working. He will do His work. All the human anguish that distresses me will be resolved ... gloriously. So I will not contend against His hand, but rather trust it and work on my humility and on cultivating a servant heart.

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