2 Ne 4:13-35

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Home > The Book of Mormon > Second Nephi > Chapters 1-5 > Chapter 4b / Verses 4:13-35
Chapter 4a                      Previous page: Chapter 5


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[edit] Summary

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The relationship of Chapter 4b to the rest of Chapters 1-5 is discussed at Chapters 1-5.


[edit] Discussion

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  • Outline. Verses 16-35 bear such a striking resemblance to the style and structure of the biblical poetic writings that the section is often referred to as the "Psalm of Nephi." For an analysis of similarities to Hebrew poetry, see the article by Steven Barton.
  • Verses 16-17 open the first stanza of the Psalm of Nephi. The unit appears to be a series of 3 couplets organized in chiastic form.

A. Behold, my soul delighteth in the things of the Lord;
B. And my heart pondereth continually upon the things which I have seen and heard.

C. Nevertheless, notwithstanding the great goodness of the Lord, in showing me his great and marvelous works,
c. My heart exclaimeth: O wretched man that I am!

b. Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh;
a. My soul grieveth because of mine iniquities.

This chiasm is a good example of the tendency to contrast antithetical ideas when using chiastic form. Typically, the center point of a chiasm will be the point at which an opposite idea is introduced.

Hence,

A. soul delighteth
B. heart pondereth
C. goodness of the Lord

is contrasted with:

c. wretched man
b. heart sorroweth
a. soul grieveth
  • Verses 18-20. If we ignore the arbitrary punctuation of Grandin and arrange the lines similar to a passage from the Psalms or Isaiah, the verses break out differently:


I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me,
And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins.


Nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted,
My God hath been my support;


He hath led me through mine afflictions in the wilderness,
And he hath preserved me upon the waters of the great deep.


In some ways, the thought groupings and punctuation are stronger when arranged in this manner.

  • Hebraisms.

Regardless of what language Nephi used to transmit the "Psalm of Nephi," there are, in the passage, enough Hebraisms and similarities to Hebrew poetry to conjecture a Hebrew language original. When we conclude so, we can make some interesting observations.

Verses 21 and 22. The two lines are linked by parallel elements of syntax and morphology. The parallelism of Hebrew poetry often extends beyond a rhythm of thought and ideas to that of morphology, syntax, and phonetics, resemblances which tend to be less obvious, especially in translation.

He hath filled me with his love, even unto the consuming of my flesh.
He hath confounded mine enemies, unto the causing of them to quake before me.

If we translate the passage back into Hebrew, and arrange it into typical "verse" format, we observe that each line begins with the verb form "he hath" followed by a parallel in the Hebrew root aleph - yod - bet (enemy) with aleph - heh - bet (love). The two words have similar roots (in fact yod and heh are related root letters). The second half of each line begins with "unto" ("od" in the Hebrew) followed in the Hebrew by the infinitive construct verb form.

Thus vs 21b in Hebrew would read: od kkelot bbesari(compare Ruth 2:23). In vs 22, the phrase "the causing of them to quake" is awkward in English, but brings to mind the hiphil "causative" verb form in the Hebrew. Verse 22b in Hebrew might read: od ham'idu mippanai (compare Ps 69:23) [an alternative choice would be od hacharidu mippanai (compare Ezek 30:9)].

When we stack these together the correspondences in the first clause of both lines become more evedent:

he hath filled / aleph - heh - bet
he hath confounded / aleph - yod - bet

And in the final clause of both lines we have:

connective od / infinitive construct / of my flesh
connective od / infinitive construct / "from my face"

The parallel at the end of each line is not readily apparent in English, but the idiom for "before me" in Hebrew reads literally from my face, which draws a connection to "of my flesh" in the first line. The syntactic link is further bolstered by the personal posessive suffix yod affixed as the final character of both lines.

As interesting as these musings might be (to some), we are tempted to ask the question, "Does a poetic interpretation effect the message conveyed by the text?" If we establish a parallel between these two lines, the answer is yes, because then we are justified in viewing them as one thought unit:

He hath filled me with his love, even unto the consuming of my flesh.
He hath confounded mine enemies, unto the causing of them to quake before me.

As such, we have a much stronger statement than if the two lines were merely treated as successive lines among many others. As a unit, the verse has sharper contrast. As a unit, the statement is more emphatic! The lines together would be understood as:

He has filled me such that I am completely consumed with his love,
But my enemies he has so confounded that they tremble with fear!
  • Verse 14: History. The word "history" appears in the Book of Mormon only in the small plates: three times in Nephi's two books, and three times in Jacob (1 Ne 9:2; 2 Ne 4:14; 2 Ne 5:33; Jacob Heading; 1:2, 3). In every case except this one, "history" refers to a string of events, rather than to a record of such events. What this particular phrase means here is complex at the very least: "a more history part."
  • Verse 14: A more history part. The phrase "a more history part" (verse 14) may mean, in more modern language "the more historical part." In that case Nephi is saying that the more historical part of what Nephi has to record is recorded on his other plates.
  • Verses 26-27. In verse 26 and 27 Nephi asks himself several questions about his own weaknesses. He asks why he is so depressed given the mercy he knows the Lord shows his children. He asks why he yields to sin. He asks why he is angry at his enemy. All of these are failings he recognizes in himself. In short he asks himself why he isn't better than he is. Instead of addressing these questions directly Nephi does two things. First he addresses himself in the imperative in relation to these questions. (For example, to the question of why he is depressed, he says to himself "rejoice;" and to the question of why he is angry at his enemy he says to himself "do not anger because of mine enemies.") Second, Nephi asks the Lord to make him better (see verses 31-35).


[edit] Points to ponder

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[edit] I have a question

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  • Verses 15-16: Motivation to ponder. What makes Nephi begin to think about the scriptures? What has just happened that motivates verse 15? What are “the things of the Lord” (v. 16)? Surely a good part of what Nephi means has already been mentioned in verse 15, namely the scriptures. But what else might he have in mind?
  • Verse 16: "Heart pondereth."

The definition of Ponder is "To weigh in the mind; to consider and compare the circumstances or consequences of an event, or the importance of the reasons for or against a decision." My question is what is the significance of the heart. I read that the heart was beleive to be a symbol of thought in ancient time. I read that in "Lost lannguage of Symbolism" by Alonzo Gaskill. I cannot remember the exact quote because the book is packed, but why is he pondering in his heart? Is the heart more spiritual than the mind? Can the heart feel more confirmation of the spirit than the mind. I know that is what is stated in the D&C that you will feel it in your heart and then your mind. If you think about it though, how much does our heart know that our mind doesn't quite grasp yet? Is that the begining of faith? Do we feel it in our hearts and then the confirmation in the mind can come weeks or even months later? Is that how a person can say that they beleive in the word of wisdom and then later gain a full understanding of its importance when they see the blessings work in their life? To me it is as though when the spirit speaks to your heart you have faith and then the confirmation to the mind or detailed instructions or understanding may come later. (I don't know if these comments are right for this page but I thought I would but them here for now.)--Jeff Batt 06:08, 1 Dec 2006 (UTC)

Good question Jeff. Since this usage might be related to Luke 2:19, I'll try to post a note there about what I find Bible scholars saying. --RobertC 11:55, 1 Dec 2006 (UTC)
Jeff, I don't think Luke 2:19 really addressed the heart (...) of your question. Instead, I'll try to post some thoughts on Deut 6:5 which I think will be more relevant to this distinction between heart and mind. I think our modern view is very different than the ancient Hebrew one which I'm assuming Nephi inherited (which is very different I think than the Greek view--maybe I'll post something about this on Mark 12:30 too where Deut 6:5 is quoted...). --RobertC 20:46, 1 Dec 2006 (UTC)
  • Verses 17-18. Why does Nephi, of all people, grieve about his iniquities? What is the connection between seeing the goodness of the Lord and grieving about one’s iniquities? What does Nephi’s grief teach us? What iniquities might Nephi have had? Given the context, what sins might he have found particularly tempting? Do verses 13 and 27-29 suggest and answer to this question?
  • Verse 19. Here we see Nephi turn from grief, in the beginning of the verse, to hope, in the end. What does the change we see happening in this verse tell us about our own sorrows? Is sorrow or guilt bad? What is the difference between Nephi’s sorrow and harmful sorrow? Compare 2 Cor 7:10. What is the sorrow to death? When do we find ourselves in the kind of sorrow Nephi experiencing? If someone is experiencing the sorrow to death rather than the sorrow to life, how can that change?
  • Verse 19. Is Nephi telling us something profound when he concludes his confessions with the statement "I know in whom I have trusted"? Is Nephi saying that it wasn't enough just to trust? Was the key for him the knowing of the being in whom he was trusting? If so, does Nephi make this confident declaration because he has been visited of the Lord (see 1 Ne. 2:16)? If that is the case, what hope do the rest of us for really getting to know the divine being that we want to trust?
  • Verses 20-25. What things is Nephi grateful for? Can you draw specific parallels to the things we should be thankful for? Are these some of the “things of the Lord,” mentioned in v. 16? How does memory serve Nephi in this verse? How ought it to serve us?
  • Verses 26-30. What is Nephi’s answer to the troubles he has? to his weakness in the face of temptation, for example? Why is “enemy” singular in verse 27 and plural in verse 29? When did Nephi’s soul “droop in sin"? What was that sin?
  • Verses 31-35. Why does this psalm of Nephi end in a prayer? In our more ordinary terms, what are the things Nephi prays for?
  • Verse 32. Since obedience seems to be what I do rather than what the Lord does for me, what does it mean to pray to be obedient?
  • Verse 33. What does it mean to be encircled in the robes of the Lord’s righteousness? (Compare Isa 61:10 and Baruch 5:2. Baruch is in the Apocrypha.) What surrounded Nephi in 18?
  • Verse 34. Is there a significant difference between faith in God and trust in God? What does it mean to trust in the arm of flesh? When might we find ourselves doing that?
  • Verse 35. Compare this verse to James 1:5. What might Joseph Smith have thought as he translated this verse?


[edit] Resources

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  • Verse 33. See this post by Kevin Barney at the BCC blog on "Ritual Embraces and the Atonement" for a discussion linking the phrase "encircle me around" with the idea and etymology of atonement (kaphar).


[edit] Notes

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Chapter 4a                      Previous page: Chapter 5

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