“He Has Covenanted with All the House of Israel”

Brant Gardner

In summarizing his analysis, Thompson notes: “Basing their arguments on covenant/treaty forms found in the biblical text, Gerhard von Rad and others have concluded that the Israelites periodically held a covenant-renewal ceremony during the Feast of the Tabernacles (Sukkot). Hence, the presence of this structure in Jacob’s sermon may also suggest the possibility that he gave his covenant speech during this festival as well.”

Text: These verses (1–2) are Jacob’s transition between his Isaiah quotations and his own commentary. Out of all the material in his lengthy quotation, Jacob focuses on a single aspect: Yahweh’s covenants with Israel. While it is true that this theme is important in Isaiah, Jacob is also simplifying Isaiah’s complex message with this narrow focus. This pattern of quoting an extended passage but using only a single aspect of it in commentary, where a modern writer might quote only the relevant sections, characterizes both Nephi’s and Jacob’s approach to scripture.

For those who understood the subtexts in Isaiah that Jacob might have been implying (the community-building message aimed at a mixed audience, as noted above), the subtler message had already been delivered. Jacob now begins an expansion of Isaiah, which is somewhat different from a modern understanding of a commentary. Jacob is more in line with Nephi’s concept of likening the scriptures than to our modern notion of a commentary.

Verse 2 enlarges Isaiah’s scope. He had clearly identified promises of future salvation but made a call for current repentance. Jacob emphasizes Isaiah’s promises of future blessings, then applies them to specific promises of return/restoration. It is not easy to know precisely where Jacob found his restoration theme, perhaps from Isaiah 51:11 / 2 Nephi 8:11: “Therefore, the redeemed of Yahweh shall return, and come with singing unto Zion; and everlasting joy and holiness shall be upon their heads; and they shall obtain gladness and joy; sorrow and mourning shall flee away.”

If Jacob is using this text, he is reinterpreting its meaning to focus on the return, ignoring the context that makes it clear that this is part of Israel’s complaint against Yahweh—that God was not hastening that day. Nevertheless, it is an image of return, and the Lord agrees implicitly that it is part of his covenant, as he does not deny the request but blames Israel for lack of faith and patience.

Jacob uses the theme of returning as a transition from Isaiah’s text to Israel’s future and, by implication, his hearers’ role in that future.

Second Witness: Analytical & Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 2