“I Have a Question,” Ensign, Aug. 1994, 61–62
Answered by Monte S. Nyman, professor of ancient scripture, and director of Book of Mormon studies in the Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University.
This prophecy was originally given by the prophet Isaiah (see Isa. 49:23). Nephi quoted Isaiah 48 and 49 to more fully persuade his people to believe in the Lord (see 1 Ne. 19:23), Nephi interpreted chapter 49 as the whole house of Israel being “scattered among all nations” and “hated of all men” because the house of Israel would “harden their hearts” against “the Holy One of Israel” (1 Ne. 22:4–5). Nephi then interpreted the prophecy as it applied to his seed and “also our brethren who are of the house of Israel” (1 Ne. 22:6).
Nephi’s brother Jacob later quoted Isaiah 49:22–23 [Isa. 49:22–23] and likened the words unto the Nephites because they were “of the house of Israel” (2 Ne. 6:5–7). He also spoke concerning those at Jerusalem who would harden their hearts against the Lord. Jacob added some prophetic words spoken to him by an angel regarding those who were at Jerusalem (see 2 Ne. 6:8–9) and gave interpretive commentary on the prophecy (see 2 Ne. 10:6–22).
From these sources we learn that the passage in question applies to all the house of Israel and thus will be fulfilled in similar but specific ways for the Jews and their Nephite-Lamanite remnant. We may also conclude that there will be or has been a similar fulfillment among other subgroups of the house of Israel that have been taken away and remained as a group for a period of time.
From Nephi we learn that kings and queens are representative of the Gentiles among whom the house of Israel was scattered. We also learn that there is a temporal and a figurative or spiritual fulfillment of Israel’s “nursing” by the Gentiles. Let’s consider the temporal fulfillment first. Nephi declares: “After they shall be nursed by the Gentiles, and the Lord has lifted up his hand upon the Gentiles and set them up for a standard, and their children have been carried in their arms, and their daughters have been carried upon their shoulders, behold these things of which are spoken are temporal; for thus are the covenants of the Lord with our fathers; and it meaneth us in the days to come, and also all our brethren who are of the house of Israel.
“And it meaneth that the time cometh that after all the house of Israel have been scattered and confounded, that the Lord God will raise up a mighty nation among the Gentiles, yea, even upon the face of this land; and by them shall our seed be scattered” (1 Ne. 22:6–7).
The mighty nation established among the Gentiles is the United States of America (see D&C 101:77, 80), whose early inhabitants scattered the Lamanites. Concerning their scattering, Jacob said: “Thus saith our God: I will afflict thy seed by the hand of the Gentiles; nevertheless, I will soften the hearts of the Gentiles, that they shall be like unto a father to them; wherefore, the Gentiles shall be blessed and numbered among the house of Israel.
“Wherefore, I will consecrate this land unto thy seed, and them who shall be numbered among thy seed, forever, for the land of their inheritance; for it is a choice land, saith God unto me, above all other lands, wherefore I will have all men that dwell thereon that they shall worship me, saith God” (2 Ne. 10:18–19).
The softening of “the hearts of the Gentiles, that they shall be like unto a father to them,” refers to various attempts, public and private, to assist the Lamanites in the afflictions that followed their scattering. While much more could have been done for the Lamanites, many Gentiles have expressed fatherly concern toward them. This concern set the stage for the spiritual fulfillment of the passage. Nephi foretold:
“After our seed is scattered the Lord God will proceed to do a marvelous work among the Gentiles, which shall be of great worth unto our seed; wherefore, it is likened unto their being nourished by the Gentiles and being carried in their arms and upon their shoulders” (1 Ne. 22:8).
The marvelous work among the Gentiles that would nourish the Lamanites is the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. Central to that work is the Book of Mormon, the record of their ancestry. The Book of Mormon is the Lord’s standard set up for his people of the house of Israel (see 2 Ne. 29:1–2). Through the missionary program, the fulness of the gospel contained in the Book of Mormon has been and is being taken to the Lamanite people. This and other programs to educate and provide opportunities for spiritual advancement will continue.
“Only through us, the ‘nursing fathers and mothers,’ may they [the Lamanites] eventually enjoy a fulfillment of the many promises made to them,” said President Spencer W. Kimball. “The Lord will remember his covenant to them; his Church will be established among them; the Bible and other scriptures will be made available to them; they will enter into the holy temples for their endowments and do vicarious work; they will come to a knowledge of their fathers and to a perfect knowledge of their Redeemer Jesus Christ; they shall prosper in the land and will, with our help, build up a holy city, even the New Jerusalem, unto their God” (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. Edward L. Kimball, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982, p. 606).
Nephi likens these efforts to the Lamanites’ being nourished by the Gentiles and being carried in their arms and upon their shoulders (see 1 Ne. 22:8). As foretold by Jacob, the Jews have similar spiritual and temporal blessings promised to them following their scattering (see 2 Ne. 10:6) among all nations: “Thus saith the Lord God: When the day cometh that they shall believe in me, that I am Christ, then have I covenanted with their fathers that they shall be restored in the flesh, upon the earth, unto the lands of their inheritance.
“And it shall come to pass that they shall be gathered in from their long dispersion, from the isles of the sea, and from the four parts of the earth; and the nations of the Gentiles shall be great in the eyes of me, saith God, in carrying them forth to the lands of their inheritance.
“Yea, the kings of the Gentiles shall be nursing fathers unto them, and their queens shall become nursing mothers; wherefore, the promises of the Lord are great unto the Gentiles, for he hath spoken it, and who can dispute?” (2 Ne. 10:7–9.)
Further fulfillment of the passage in question is found in the latter-day gathering of the Jewish people and in the establishment of the nation of Israel. The role the “Gentile nations,” particularly the United States and Great Britain, have played in that gathering is significant.
In 1954, Elder LeGrand Richards of the Quorum of the Twelve observed: “The Jews are now being gathered back to their own land. The ‘Jewish State’ has been acknowledged by the nations. The Jews have commenced to rebuild their cities and waste places—the nations and wealth of the Gentiles are greatly assisting them” (LeGrand Richards, Israel! Do You Know? Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1954, p. 209).
Thus, as Jacob says, the promises to the house of Israel, Jews, Lamanites, and Gentiles are great. The Gentiles who administer spiritual blessings will be collectively part of the house of Israel, or Church members who have been gathered out from the Gentile nations but are still identified with the Gentiles culturally (see D&C 109:60).
As the house of Israel is being gathered, additional others from among the Gentile nations have the opportunity to be numbered with Israel and receive the blessings of Israel. This opportunity is a fulfillment of the covenant made to Abraham. Nephi testified: “It shall also be of worth unto the Gentiles; and not only unto the Gentiles but unto all the house of Israel, unto the making known of the covenants of the Father of heaven unto Abraham, saying: In thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed” (1 Ne. 22:9).
We are living in the day when this prophecy and others of the prophet Isaiah are being fulfilled. Jesus taught the Nephites that when the words of Isaiah should be fulfilled, “then is the fulfilling of the covenant which the Father hath made unto his people, O house of Israel” (3 Ne. 20:11–12).