And the Lord God will say unto you: Did I not declare my words unto you, which were written by this man, like as one crying from the dead, yea, even as one speaking out of the dust?
When the Lord condemned early church members for their failure to take The Book of Mormon seriously, He referred to it as “the new covenant.”
And this condemnation resteth upon the children of Zion, even all. And they shall remain under this condemnation until they repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon and the former commandments which I have given them, not only to say, but to do according to that which I have written—That they may bring forth fruit meet for their Father’s kingdom. (D&C 84:56-58)
There’s much to consider in the idea that The Book of Mormon is a covenant. So we’ll start by examining what we can to better understand how the Book of Mormon and the new covenant are related. Ultimately, we’ll discover:
• The Book of Mormon CONTAINS a covenant
• The Book of Mormon IS a covenant
• The Book of Mormon is to be RECEIVED by covenant
That’s a lot of ground to cover, and it will take some time to cover it all. So let’s get started.
Our study necessarily begins with Lehi—whose repentance opened up an important possibility for the Lord and for us. As you recall, Lehi lived at a time when the Northern kingdom of Israel had been destroyed, scattered and carried away captive by the Assyrians. The Southern kingdom of Judah came under threat from Babylon, and would soon be similarly destroyed if the Jews did not repent.
The Lord sent many prophets to cry repentance and warn the people, and Lehi believed them. He took actions that opened the heavens and brought him into the presence of God, where he saw and heard much (1 Nephi 1:6). Because he was faithful, Lehi received a covenant from God, which included a land of promise for him and his family, as well as other blessings. The covenant required faithfulness to God’s commandments (2 Nephi 1:5-9). We do not have the full record of Lehi’s covenant, because Nephi did not record it (1 Nephi 1:16), and Lehi’s book was lost as part of the 116 pages Joseph Smith entrusted to Martin Harris.
Nevertheless, from the information we do have available, we can see that the covenant included a promised land, scriptural records, safety, liberty, and prosperity (though not the way the world defines prosperity.) Because the Lord had a covenant people, even though it consisted of just two families, He led them to safety in this land of promise. Leading them away also accomplished another very important thing in the Lord’s wisdom: It preserved a record that bypassed Babylon and Babylon’s influence, ultimately to come to us in the latter days.
As a quick review, remember that Babylon destroyed or corrupted the last vestiges of Abraham’s covenant, teachings, and people. By the time the Jews returned to Jerusalem after 70 years of Babylonian captivity, their religion had become so corrupt, it was ultimately used as justification to slay their God.
We need to keep in mind that the Bible, containing records of God’s dealings and covenants with former prophets and patriarchs, came down to us by way of Babylon and Babylonian influence. The loss of Jerusalem affected the world forever, by forever supplanting God’s word with Babylon’s ideas.
But God sidestepped all that by sending a pure record with a covenant family to a land of promise; they escaped Jerusalem before Babylon invaded. Though the Nephites eventually apostatized from the covenant, their records preserve for us a knowledge of their relationship with the Lord and His requirements.
Now, let’s fast forward about 600 years to the time of Christ. In particular, I want to focus on the curious event wherein Christ attempted to teach the Nephites, then abruptly stopped. He could tell they weren’t getting the message, and it was too important to risk them getting it wrong. Said He:
I perceive that ye are weak, that ye cannot understand all my words which I am commanded of the Father to speak unto you at this time. Therefore, go ye unto your homes, and ponder upon the things which I have said, and ask of the Father, in my name, that ye may understand, and prepare your minds for the morrow, and I come unto you again. (3 Nephi 17:2-3)
Too weak is too weak. Even Christ couldn’t teach them the message He had been sent to share.
As I’ve previously written at length, Christ didn’t leave—because the people asked Him to stay. So to cure their weakness, He healed their sick, then improvised an endowment ordinance using their children. Having accomplished these, He next instituted the sacrament among them and empowered his disciples to bestow the Holy Ghost.
The next day, Christ returned, endowed the twelve, and provided the sacrament again. The ordinances had the desired effect:
Now, when the multitude had all eaten and drunk, behold, they were filled with the Spirit; and they did cry out with one voice, and gave glory to Jesus, whom they both saw and heard. (3 Nephi 20:9)
Having thus prepared them, Christ continued His sermon from the day before, repeating the previous day’s misunderstood information, and continuing the message to completion. When I wrote about this previously, I said the following:
Oddly enough the balance of the message dealt with OUR DAY, not theirs. Why do you suppose that is so? Is there something there for us, or was it all for them?
I previously left those questions unanswered, but now it’s time to answer them. As we proceed to study Christ’s sermon, we need to keep one vital key in mind to unlock the meaning of His message. To put it simply, it is this:
The message was NOT for the people at Bountiful. Christ used the Nephites to get a message to US.
The message wasn’t for them; it wasn’t about them; it had very little to do with them at all. But Christ needed them to record His words and faithfully transmit them two thousand years into the future. The fate of this world, and the completion of God’s work depended on Christ's ability to get the message to us.
He commanded three times that His message be recorded, making particular note that the message was to be transmitted to the Gentiles of a different day:
And I command you that ye shall write these sayings after I am gone, that if it so be that my people at Jerusalem, they who have seen me and been with me in my ministry, do not ask the Father in my name, that they may receive a knowledge of you by the Holy Ghost, and also of the other tribes whom they know not of, that these sayings which ye shall write shall be kept and shall be manifested unto the Gentiles, that through the fulness of the Gentiles, the remnant of their seed, who shall be scattered forth upon the face of the earth because of their unbelief, may be brought in, or may be brought to a knowledge of me, their Redeemer. (3 Nephi 16:4)
Therefore give heed to my words; write the things which I have told you; and according to the time and the will of the Father they shall go forth unto the Gentiles. (3 Nephi 23:4)
Write the things which ye have seen and heard, save it be those which are forbidden. (3 Nephi 27:23)
The Lord knew, thousands of years in advance, that the only record of His dealings and covenants available in the latter days would be the post-Babylon, corrupted Bible, which would suffer from the ravages of poor copying, intentional alteration, and misinterpretation. He knew that such would never be adequate to restore knowledge of His covenants, or establish a new covenant branch of Israel to complete the Lord’s latter-day work.
So he used an existing covenant family as His scribes to etch a message from Him to us, preserved on metal plates. Safely buried in the ground, it would remain uncorrupted and untouched until it could be translated by the gift and power of God to reach us in its purity. This message was so important, so vital to His final labor in the vineyard, that he wouldn't even teach it to the Nephites at Bountiful until they were prepared to properly understand it, vividly recall it, and accurately record it.
They would need the Lord’s Spirit to make this possible.
Fortunately, the text is clear that, having eaten and drunk the emblems of Christ’s flesh and blood, the multitude “were filled with the Spirit.” Mind you, this is the first time the record notes the multitude being filled in such a way. Evidently, the sacrament ordinance had the desired effect and the multitude were prepared to understand and record Christ’s words.
And it came to pass that when they had all given glory unto Jesus, he said unto them: Behold now I finish the commandment which the Father hath commanded me… (3 Nephi 20:10)
Now that we’ve laid the groundwork to understand the context of what the Lord is about to speak, and the pains he took to get it in front of us—in my next post we’ll begin to consider the actual message he conveyed.
Just One More Thing:
It’s clear from the record that it was always meant for us, and never for the Nephites who wrote it. Likewise, it’s clear the message was preserved for the specific purpose of re-establishing the covenant the Lord previously made with Israel:
And now behold, I say unto you that when the Lord shall see fit, in his wisdom, that these sayings shall come unto the Gentiles according to his word, then ye may know that the covenant which the Father hath made with the children of Israel, concerning their restoration to the lands of their inheritance, is already beginning to be fulfilled. (3 Nephi 29:1)
The time is now. The gentiles who repent will come into the covenant and be numbered among the house of Israel. (3 Nephi 16:13) They will inherit this land.
The final chapter of 3 Nephi consists of a personal note from Christ to us, as follows:
Hearken, O ye Gentiles, and hear the words of Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, which he hath commanded me that I should speak concerning you, for, behold he commandeth me that I should write, saying:
Turn, all ye Gentiles, from your wicked ways; and repent of your evil doings, of your lyings and deceivings, and of your whoredoms, and of your secret abominations, and your idolatries, and of your murders, and your priestcrafts, and your envyings, and your strifes, and from all your wickedness and abominations, and come unto me, and be baptized in my name, that ye may receive a remission of your sins, and be filled with the Holy Ghost, that ye may be numbered with my people who are of the house of Israel. (3 Nephi 30:1-2)
There’s Christ’s summary to you and to me. Repent, obey the doctrine of Christ, and come into the covenant He offers. When you have eyes to see it, you’ll find the same message everywhere throughout the Book of Mormon, crying from the dust.
And now, my beloved brethren, all those who are of the house of Israel, and all ye ends of the earth, I speak unto you as the voice of one crying from the dust...for thus hath the Lord commanded me, and I must obey!
—2 Nephi 33:13-15