“There Came Many Prophets Prophesying Unto the People That They Must Repent”

Alan C. Miner

One of the “many prophets” referred to by Nephi as prophesying unto the people that they must repent, or the great city Jerusalem must be destroyed“ (1 Nephi 1:4) was Jeremiah. According to David and JoAnn Seely, Jeremiah and Lehi are an interesting study in contrast. Both were prophets, but Lehi was called to leave Jerusalem and deliver his family from destruction, while Jeremiah was called to stay and witness the destruction and exile of his people… .The lives of Jeremiah and Lehi are symbolic of different aspects of Israel’s relationship with the Lord. Jeremiah’s life was a symbol of the justice of God and the impending destruction of Jerusalem. He was commanded not to marry and not to have children, lest they die grievous deaths (see Jeremiah 16:1-4), and he was commanded not to mourn for the people because the Lord had taken away his ”lovingkindness and mercies" (Jeremiah 16:5-7). Neither was he allowed to participate in the house of feasting and joy because the day was upon Judah when gladness would cease (see Jeremiah 16:8-9). And yet Jeremiah experienced the mercies of the Lord as his life and that of his scribe Baruch were spared. Jeremiah sought solace and comfort in his relationship with the Lord and prophesied the return and restoration of his people (see Jeremiah 30-31).

Lehi’s life illustrated the “tender mercies of the Lord” (1 Nephi 1:20; 2 Nephi 1:2). He was commanded to deliver his family from destruction, to leave Jerusalem, and to inherit another promised land. His family was chosen to be a remnant of the house of Israel that would be preserved from destruction (see 2 Nephi 3:5). And yet Lehi underwent severe trials in the wilderness and experienced the justice of God as he witnessed the apostasy of his sons and looked into the future and saw the terrible destructions of his people. Both prophets rejoiced in their visions of the coming of the Messiah. Jeremiah saw him in terms of justice: he “shall execute judgment and justice in the earth” (Jeremiah 23:5). Lehi saw him coming in mercy and justice (see 2 Nephi 2:8, 12).

Jeremiah, in his ministry, longed to flee into the wilderness: “Oh that I had in the wilderness a lodging place of wayfaring men; that I might leave my people, and go from them! for they be all adulterers, an assembly of treacherous men” (Jeremiah 9:2). On one occasion in his tent in the wilderness, Lehi began to murmur against the Lord because of his afflictions (see 1 Nephi 16:20), and his family forever remembered Jerusalem with nostalgia.

Although Lehi and his family would relive the Exodus, the course of Jeremiah’s life tragically turned out to be a reversal of the exodus. Whereas Moses led his people away from idolatrous Egypt and presided over a people that wandered in the wilderness for forty years until they had purified themselves to enter the promised land, Jeremiah ministered for forty years (627-587 B.C.) to a people who became increasingly wicked until they were expelled from the promised land. Jeremiah was a prophet whose mission can be seen as opposite to that of Moses… .

The prophecies of Jeremiah and Lehi have four common central themes: repentance and the impending destruction and exile by the Babylonians; the coming of the Messiah; the future scattering and gathering of Israel; and the eventual restoration of the gospel in the latter days.

Repentance or destruction: Lehi testified to Jerusalem of her “wickedness and … abominations” (1 Nephi 1:19), and Jeremiah spelled out what they were. At the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim (609 B.C.), Jeremiah delivered a powerful sermon at the temple (see Jeremiah 7:26). He warned his people that the temple would not save them from destruction if they did not repent. Although the sacrificial system of the law of Moses was faithfully being carried out at the temple, it masked the hypocrisy of the people who broke the Ten commandments and worshipped idols. Jeremiah accused his people of stealing, murder, swearing falsely, all manner of idolatry (see Jeremiah 7:9), and of oppressing the stranger, the fatherless, and the widows (see Jeremiah 7:6). The people, on the other hand, trusted that the temple made them invincible. They probably looked back to the reign of Hezekiah when they were delivered from the Assyrian destruction in 701 B.C. by the miraculous destruction of the Assyrian army (see 2 Kings 19). The people thought that the Lord would deliver them from the Babylonians. This attitude is reflected in the Book of Mormon by Laman and Lemuel, who never did “believe that Jerusalem, that great city, could be destroyed” (1 Nephi 2:13; see also Helaman 8:21)

Christ: The prophet Nephi (son of Helaman) taught his people that many Old Testament prophets including Jeremiah had seen the day of the coming of the Messiah and the redemption that he would bring (see Helaman 8:20, 22-23). The writings of Jeremiah in the Bible indeed contain two such prophecies about the coming of the Messiah (see Jeremiah 23:1-8; 33:15-18)--perhaps there were more on the brass plates that are no longer preserved in the Bible. Both prophecies foresaw the day when God will “raise unto David a righteous branch, and a King” who will “reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth” (Jeremiah 23:5; see also 33:15). Interpreters have variously seen these prophecies as pointing to either the first or the second comings of Christ or both.

Scattering and Restoration: When Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith, he read to him a series of Old Testament prophecies to be fulfilled in the restoration. According to Oliver Cowdery, some of these were from Jeremiah including 16:16; 30:18-21; 31:1,6,8,27-28,32-33; 50:4-5. In these passages Jeremiah saw the day when the “hunters” and “fishers” would be sent forth to gather Israel (Jeremiah 16:16); when God would gather Israel to be his people (see Jeremiah 31:1); when “the watchmen upon the mount Ephraim shall cry, Arise ye, and let us go up to Zion unto our God (Jeremiah 31:6); when the Lord would ”sow“ again the land with the seed of the house of Israel and Judah, who would then build and plant (Jeremiah 31:27-28); and when the Lord would ”make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah“ (Jeremiah 31:31)--in the words of the Lord, ”Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers“ in Egypt, which was written in stone, but a ”law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts" (Jeremiah 31:32,33).

Lehi delivered to his family a prophecy given by the Lord to Joseph of Egypt that a “righteous branch” of the house of Israel, not the Messiah (2 Nephi 3:5), would be broken off, and in the future a choice seer would be raised out of this lineage (see 2 Nephi 3:6) who would bring many to the knowledge of the covenants made with the fathers (see 2 Nephi 3:7). He continued that the descendants of Judah and the descendants of Joseph would both write records that would “grow together, unto the confounding of false doctrines and laying down of contentions, and establishing peace among the fruit of thy loins, and bringing them to the knowledge of their fathers in the latter days, and also to the knowledge of my covenants, saith the Lord” (2 Nephi 3:12).

Lehi and Jeremiah both participated in the fulfillment of these prophecies… . Though Jeremiah died in obscurity in Egypt, his words were passed down through the ages in the Bible, the writings of the Jews. In 1830 the Book of Mormon was published, and with the publication of the Book of Mormon the records of these two peoples were joined, fulfilling the prophecy of Joseph of Egypt that these records shall grow together“ to bring many to the knowledge of the covenants (see 2 Nephi 3;12). Although the will of the Lord was manifested very differently in their lives and writings, Lehi and Jeremiah in the prophetic callings proclaimed to all their witness of Christ. [David Rolph and JoAnn H. Seely, ”Lehi & Jeremiah: Prophets, Priests & Patriarchs," in Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, FARMS, Vol 8, Num 2, 1999, pp. 26-27, 33-35]

Step by Step Through the Book of Mormon: A Cultural Commentary