When Nephi composed his small plate account, it was approximately 40 years after they left Jerusalem. He included his visionary experiences, but stopped short of giving a full account. (1 Ne. 14: 25.) As he prophesied about the coming of a Messiah to his brothers, they challenged Nephi’s teaching of a future Messiah. In that context, he resorted to quoting Isaiah “that I might more fully persuade them to believe in the Lord their Redeemer.” (1 Ne. 19: 23.) Nephi’s use of Isaiah in his first book is limited to the single topic of whether the scriptures confirmed his own prophesy that there would be a Redeemer. (1 Ne. Chapters 20 and 21.)
The next quote of Isaiah occurs in Nephi’s second book. There the material is quoted by Nephi’s younger brother Jacob in his first recorded sermon. In Jacob’s use of Isaiah, the scope expands dramatically. Jacob uses it to cover the history, the scattering and regathering of Israel, the latter-day Zion, and then he preaches and expounds on these materials to give context to the Nephite experience. (See 2 Ne. Chapters 6-10.)
It is Jacob’s more expansive use of Isaiah that seems to have inspired Nephi to turn to the Isaiah materials to complete his own record. When Jacob’s sermon is finished, Nephi then adds 14 additional chapters of Isaiah material to complete his record. Then, to end his message Nephi takes Isaiah’s themes and gives his final lessons in an American setting, elaborating on the Isaiah themes.
These transcripts raise the possibility that it was Jacob, rather than Nephi, who saw the fit between Isaiah’s materials and the Nephite/latter-day Americas. Nephi no doubt used the Isaiah material first, but confined it to the promise of a Messiah. He used it defensively to respond to his older brothers’ criticism. Jacob, on the other hand, uses it expansively.
If Nephi was giving credit to Jacob for this expansion (as his two books seem to indicate), then it tells us a great deal about Jacob, and even more about Nephi. For Jacob, we can know:
-He was a careful student of scripture.
-He saw what was possible, not only what was evident on the surface.
-He could apply Isaiah prophetically into the distant future.
-He could put his life and his people’s position in history into a prophetic context.
-He was more concerned with the future than with the past.
-He saw their time as important, but not the end of times.
What it would tell us about Nephi is that:
-He was meek.
-He gave credit to his younger brother.
-He allowed truth from the younger brother to instruct even him, the elder brother.
-He refused to fall into his own older brother’s jealousy and resentments.
-He was a ready student of Jacob’s – the younger brother.
-He recognized inspired truths.
-He wanted others to rejoice in the truth, even if he took a step back in allowing them to be presented.
-He rejoiced in the learning of others.
There is a great deal about the interplay between these two brothers that ought to inform our own approach to authority, truth, learning, “presiding” and recognizing inspiration in others. The Book of Mormon is a treasury of lessons applicable to us. We do not adequately appreciate them.