“I Would Speak Unto You”

Brant Gardner

Textual: There is no break between chapters at this point in the 1830 text. This section is a continuation of the themes presented in chapter 29, but there is a change in the speaker. Where the ending verses of our current chapter 28 and all of 29 have the Lord as the speaker, this section returns to Nephi as the locutor. Nephi makes this break explicit. Having written in the first person for the Lord, Nephi creates a textual break, and indicates that the narration is returning to Nephi as the author. This is the reason he says “I would speak unto you.” Nephi needs to add his information to that which he has written for the Lord.

In addition to the change of speaker, there is also an apparent change in audience. The declaration of the Lord in chapters 28-29 appears directed at the Gentile reader in the last days. Nephi understands that his own people will also read this, and so he understands that where the Lord needed to remind the Gentiles in the last days of the importance of the people of the covenant, Nephi’s contemporary readers would see that admonition is perhaps a different light. Where the Lord chastises the Gentiles for their hatred of the Jews, Nephi cautions his “Jews” to be humble. Even though there are great prophecies about the effect of their words in the latter days, and even though they are children of the covenant, nevertheless there is incumbent upon them that they actually walk in the way of the Lord; “for behold, except ye shall keep the commandments of God ye shall all likewise perish.”

This last phrase is important. Nephi has been prophesying of the last days. In the context of the last days there will be a destruction of the wicked. Nephi cautions that this destruction of the wicked does not fall along the lines of Jew/Gentile, but rather righteous/wicked. If the Nephites do not follow God, they will be destroyed. If the Gentiles do not follow God, they will be destroyed.

Sociological: I have suggested that Jacob’s speech contains elements that can be read as a message of conciliation between a Gentile and Jewish population among the people of Nephi. Given that possible context, these verses take on a new light. The injunction against pride of place for the covenant Jews becomes not a generic call to humility, but a very real call to conciliation. Rather than a circumstance of theory, it becomes a circumstance of immediate necessity. Are the Jewish Nephites being told not to hold their right of inheritance over the gentiles who are among them? Is this last caution of destructions a warning to the Jewish Nephites that they should not expect that the Gentiles among them will be utterly destroyed? In the context of a mixed community, these readings are possible, and would have a much more immediate impact than a general call to humility.

It is also important to note that just as the Gentiles will not be utterly destroyed, the Nephites will also not be utterly destroyed. Of course as a political entity they will be destroyed, but their seed will yet remain mixed in with that of the Lamanites. That ultimate remnant of the people of Nephi is the mode of the continuation of the promise of their words coming as a redemption in the last days.

Multidimensional Commentary on the Book of Mormon