The third chapter of 2 Nephi provides one of the most exciting views of the Plates of Brass contained in the Book of Mormon. Here is a branch of Joseph “broken off” and claiming their lineage and rights of blessings through their ancient father, Joseph of Egypt. Here they see that out of the fruit of the loins of Joseph of Egypt will come this mighty seer, the prophet Joseph Smith. Nephi said concerning the prophecies of Joseph of Egypt: “there are not many greater.” (2 Nephi 4:2)
Lehi likely named his son Joseph after his ancestral father, Joseph, to remind little Joseph of his blessings and heritage. Nephi’s quoting so much of this particular prophecy of Joseph of Egypt proved to be a great blessing to us in the latter days.
Not the Full Prophecy
From the Joseph Smith Translation (JST) of the Bible we are able to discover some parts of the prophecy recorded in 2 Nephi 3 that were left out. One of the most critical verses that likely triggered Lehi’s desire for his family to know about this prophecy and Nephi’s desire to copy it onto the Small Plates, is in the JST. Carefully study the following verse which was originally placed just before the materials that we have in 2 Nephi 3. It is talking about Joseph of Egypt’s posterity:
And it shall come to pass that they shall be scattered again; and a branch shall be broken off, and shall be carried into a far country; nevertheless they shall be remembered in the covenants of the Lord, when the Messiah cometh; for he shall be made manifest unto them in the latter days, in the Spirit of power; and shall bring them out of darkness into light; out of hidden darkness, and out of captivity unto freedom. (JST Genesis 50:25, emphasis added)
It is well for the student of the scriptures to turn to the back of their LDS version of the Bible (page 799 in the index) and compare JST Genesis 50: 24-38 with 2 Nephi 3. It is powerful to have another witness of the writings of Joseph in our canonized text.
The Prophet Joseph was also blessed to find some of the writings of Joseph of Egypt in the mummies that were purchased in 1835 in Kirtland, Ohio.
I commenced the translation of some of the characters or hieroglyphics, and much to our joy found that one of the rolls contained the writings of Abraham, another the writings of Joseph of Egypt, etc., – a more full account of which will appear in its place, as I proceed to examine or unfold them. Truly we can say, the Lord is beginning to reveal the abundance of peace and truth. (1)
Later Joseph Smith gave a description of those writings:
The record of Abraham and Joseph, found with the mummies, is beautifully written on papyrus, with black, and a small part red, ink or paint, in perfect preservation. The characters are such as you find upon the coffins of mummies-hieroglyphics, etc.; with many characters or letters like the present (though probably not quite so square) form of the Hebrew without points. (2)
The translation of the record of Abraham later became part of our canon in the Pearl of Great Price, named The Book of Abraham (Translated from the Papyrus, by Joseph Smith). The writings of Joseph of Egypt, found in the mummies, have been lost to us. Some fragments of the papyrus were recovered in 1967 and given the Church, but the only writings of Joseph we have are that which is contained in the Book of Mormon, the JST and some few references to Joseph in the Bible itself. Surely the majority of this great prophet’s writings are yet to come forth.
Remembering the Covenants of Israel
Nephi was always looking for ways to remind his people that though they were cast out of Jerusalem, they were not forgotten in the covenants of the Lord. They were not cast out by God. Nephi recorded large numbers of verses from Isaiah with that same intention:
Yea, for thus saith the Lord: Have I put thee away, or have I cast thee off forever? (2 Nephi 7:50)
Hearken unto me, ye that follow after righteousness. Look unto the rock from whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit from when ye are digged. (2 Nephi 8:1)
Nephi’s brother Jacob said concerning the words of Isaiah: “And now my beloved brethren, I have read these things that ye might know concerning the covenants of the Lord that he has covenanted with all the house of Israel.” (2 Nephi 9:1)
For the Lord will have mercy on Jacob, and will yet choose Israel, and set them in their own land; and the strangers shall be joined with them, and they shall cleave to the house of Jacob. And the people shall take them and bring them to their place; yea, from far unto the ends of the earth; and they shall return to their lands of promise. (2 Nephi 24:1,2)
Fulfillment of Prophecy of Joseph of Egypt
One of the most specific and clear prophecies from ancient times is contained in this third chapter of 2 Nephi. It comes to us from Joseph of Egypt and could not be clearer concerning the great seer of the last days:
And his name shall be called after me; and it shall be after the name of his father. And he shall be like unto me; for the thing, which the Lord shall bring forth by his hand, by the power of the Lord shall bring my people unto salvation. (2 Nephi 3:15)
This prophet and seer of the latter days had to have the same name as Joseph of Egypt – Joseph – and it had to be the same name as his father – Joseph. How did this come about in the family of the Smiths? Was Joseph the oldest son, as is tradition to be the father’s namesake, in the family of Joseph and Lucy Mack Smith? No, he was not. How, then, was he named Joseph?
One thought might be helpful in this brief observation. Joseph Smith and Lucy Mack were married in Tunbridge, Vermont on January 24, 1796. It has often been thought that Alvin Smith was the oldest son of Joseph and Lucy (born February 11, 1798), but recent research has unveiled a firstborn son who was taken before Alvin. In Joseph Smith Sr.’s patriarchal blessing book of 1834, he addressed the Smith family and speaks of “three seats” vacated by death among his children:
The Lord in his just providence has taken from me at an untimely birth a son .
.. My next son, Alvin … was taken.
Ephraim was the other child who had passed away by 1834 (he only lived ten days). Joseph and Lucy’s firstborn son was taken in death sometime between the middle of 1796 and the spring of 1797. (3) Is it possible that Joseph and Lucy were planning on naming their firstborn son Joseph, after the name of his father? When this first son suffered an untimely (likely premature) birth, did this shake the confidence of this young couple? Did they want to make sure they had a healthy child who would live before bestowing the honor of the father’s namesake?
Alvin was born February 11, 1798. Hyrum came next on February 9, 1800, and then Sophronia May 17, 1803. Joseph, the Prophet, would come 31 months later on December 23, 1805. Did they feel inspired to call this child Joseph? If so, it is not recorded in any known record. Were they ready now to trust that this son would live? Did Lucy say to her husband Joseph, “Let’s name this one after you, dear”?
However it came about, in the grand scheme of things, this winter baby of 1805, by prophecy, would be called Joseph, and he would be the mighty seer of the loins of Joseph of Egypt.
The Psalm of Nephi
Not many days after the death of the great prophet Lehi, “Laman and Lemuel and the sons of Ishmael were angry with [Nephi] because of the admonitions of the Lord.” (2 Nephi 4:13) Nephi, as the youngest of the four older brothers, was constantly constrained by the Spirit and by the Lord to call his older brothers to repentance. Now that Lehi (and likely Sariah) was gone, the brothers conspired to kill Nephi.
Having been left with the stewardship and charge for the family of Lehi, Nephi recorded his feelings as his family was crumbling and he had to make a decision about what he was now going to do.
This section, 2 Nephi chapter 4, from verses 15 to 35, is commonly referred to as “The Psalm of Nephi.” In this inspiring and powerful series of verses Nephi resounds with his feelings of happiness and explores the depths of misery that come from sin.
“My soul delighteth in the things of the Lord; and my heart pondereth continually upon the things which I have seen and heard,” Nephi stated. (2 Nephi 4:16)
And yet, as all of us have sinned and “come short of the glory of God,” (see Romans 3:23) Nephi, too, explored those feelings:
Nevertheless, notwithstanding the great goodness of the Lord, in showing me his great and marvelous works, my heart exclaimeth: O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities. I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily best me. And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins; nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted. (2 Nephi 4:17-19)
Through all of the trials and tribulations Nephi had been through, he had come to know the Lord. “And having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days; yea, having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God…”
Nephi truly does know the Lord. He has seen him (2 Nephi 11:2,3). He has been taught by angels many times. He has been supported and strengthened by the Lord through the terrible ordeal of the wilderness crossing and the ocean voyage to the Promised Land.
Remember the Lord had told Lehi’s family: “And I will also be your light in the wilderness; and I will prepare the way before you, if it so be that ye shall keep my commandments; wherefore, inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall be led towards the promised land; and ye shall know that it is by me that ye are led.” (1 Nephi 17:13, emphasis added) Nephi truly knew that the Lord had been their guide and their stay. When Nephi says “I know in whom I have trusted,” he truly means that he does know Him, even the great Jehovah, the Lord Jesus Christ.
One of the great passages for the serious student of the scriptures to memorize is these twenty-one verses comprising this “psalm of Nephi.” These verses, whether memorized or read often, will always lift and strengthen the reader and give life to the soul.
Parting of the Ways
In a dramatic move on the part of Nephi, and following the admonitions of the Lord given to him (the same as had been given to his father, Lehi, to leave Jerusalem), Nephi takes those who will follow him and they separate from Laman and Lemuel and the sons of Ishmael and depart into the wilderness.
Nephi takes many things with them that will for five hundred more years be an enormous point of contention between the two nations. He takes the Plates of Brass so that the people of the Lord would have the word of the Lord and the written language with them.
He takes the Liahona, or compass, or director, which had led them through the deserts of the Arabian Peninsula. It is likely that the Liahona was used again on this journey to lead them to what would then be called the land and city of Nephi.
He took the sword of Laban and from it replicated numerous swords so that the Nephites could defend themselves against the Lamanites and other marauders of this new world. And, of course, he took all those who would follow the teachings and commandments of the Lord. This small party consisted of Nephi and his wife and children (at least 4 people); Sam and his wife and children (at least 4); Zoram and his wife and children (at least 4 people); Jacob and Joseph (2); and also his sisters (at least 2 – these are likely the wives of the sons of Ishmael – see “Lehi’s Family, sub-section of Lesson 6 in Meridian Magazine); and finally “all those who would go with me.” (2 Nephi 5: 6)
Could this have been some of the children of Laman and Lemuel? Could this have included some of the children of Ishmael’s sons? Likely, yes. The group leaving to go into the wilderness now is no less than 20 people, but likely somewhat larger. From this faithful group would come the nation of the Nephites. From those left behind would come the nation of the Lamanites.
The followers of Nephi were following an ancient pattern. Whenever there is imminent destruction, and all else has been tried, the Lord removes the righteous from among the wicked and leads them through a wilderness experience, and finally they arrive in a promised land. The people of Nephi had done this before. The righteous would do it again. The Lord was with His people and helped them establish a new and prosperous land and circumstance.
1 History of the Church, 2:236.
2 Ibid, 2:348.
3 See Revised and Enhanced History of Joseph Smith by his Mother. Edited by Scot and Maurine Proctor. Bookcraft, Salt Lake City, 1996, p. 46, fn. 2.