Yahweh is still speaking, calling Israel as in verses 12 and 14. The Book of Mormon text diverges slightly from the received Isaiah text. The King James Version reads: “Come ye near unto me, hear ye this; I have not spoken in secret from the beginning; from the time that it was, there am I: and now the Lord God, and his Spirit, hath sent me” (Isa. 48:16).
Victor Ludlow quotes the New King James Version: “Draw near to Me [and hear this]; From the beginning, I did not speak in secret; From the time anything was declared [existed], I have spoken [was there].” Gileadi renders this verse: “Come near me and hear this: I have not made predictions in secret; at their coming to pass, I have been present. Now my Lord the Lord has sent me; his Spirit is in me.”
All three versions clearly state the call to Israel and the declaration that Yahweh has not acted in secret. But what do the references to the past mean? That point is perhaps less important than Yahweh’s emphasis that he does not work in secret—that he has consistently declared his word and intentions from the beginning. The context makes it clear that he does so through prophets.
The final phrase once again apparently shifts speakers. Most likely, Isaiah has stopped speaking as Yahweh’s mouthpiece and is adding a personal part to this passage. It may indicate that Isaiah fulfills the prophetic statements about an individual.
Variant/Translation: The King James Version reads: “Come ye near unto me, hear ye this; I have not spoken in secret from the beginning; from the time that it was, there am I: and now the Lord God, and his Spirit, hath sent me.” Replacing “there am I” with “declared I have spoken,” suggests that Joseph Smith was clarifying the King James Version here rather than translating from the plates. Tvedtnes notes that there are no versions of Isaiah with this change, so there is nothing in the extant textual history of Isaiah that we can rely upon as an explanation. Rather than look to Isaiah textual variants, our clues lie in the nature of changes in the Book of Mormon Isaiah texts. This change follows an important pattern in the Book of Mormon Isaiah variants. The locus of the change is in an awkward phrase containing a word that is italicized in the King James Version. (See commentary accompanying 2 Nephi 8:18–19.) The added text not only removes the italicized word but attempts to make better sense of the passage. The result is a text that reads more smoothly in English and maintains the general intent of the passage.
However, from a literary standpoint, it removes an important scriptural allusion. The declaration “there am I” is not just an indication that Yahweh has spoken, as it becomes in the Book of Mormon rendition, but a declaration of the person, power, and reality of the Lord, related thematically to the appellation “I AM.” In fact, Origen used this very passage to promote Jesus as the “I Am,” since the Lord and the Spirit appear as separate entities. This type of change sees Joseph Smith interacting with the English Isaiah text and making his changes upon the King James Version, not upon the plate text.