The Remnant in the Book of Mormon: Mormon and Moroni
Posted by joespencer on March 16, 2010
In a series of posts so far, I’ve discussed the role of the remnant in the Book of Mormon, first in an anticipatory way, then, in succession, in terms of Isaiah, Nephi’s writings, the historical books of Mosiah, Alma, and Helaman, and, most recently, Third Nephi’s visit of Christ. In this last post, I left out any detailed discussion of 3 Nephi 20-21, a two-chapter discourse which is clearly the crux of Book of Mormon remnant theology. My intention here is to work through the discussions of the remnant to be found in Mormon’s and Moroni’s final contributions to the Book of Mormon before returning, in a separate post (or in several separate posts), to a (very) detailed analysis of 3 Nephi 20-21. The contributions of Mormon and Moroni, it turns out, are quite significant.
Just after he reports his refusal to lead the Nephite armies (because of their depravity), Mormon inserts an aside about his intentions in writing (in Mormon 3):
17 Therefore I write unto you, Gentiles, and also unto you, house of Israel, when the work shall commence, that ye shall be about to prepare to return to the land of your inheritance;
18 Yea, behold, I write unto all the ends of the earth; yea, unto you, twelve tribes of Israel, who shall be judged according to your works by the twelve whom Jesus chose to be his disciples in the land of Jerusalem.
19 And I write also unto the remnant of this people, who shall also be judged by the twelve whom Jesus chose in this land; and they shall be judged by the other twelve whom Jesus chose in the land of Jerusalem.
20 And these things doth the Spirit manifest unto me; therefore I write unto you all. And for this cause I write unto you, that ye may know that ye must all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ, yea, every soul who belongs to the whole human family of Adam; and ye must stand to be judged of your works, whether they be good or evil;
21 And also that ye may believe the gospel of Jesus Christ, which ye shall have among you; and also that the Jews, the covenant people of the Lord, shall have other witness besides him whom they saw and heard, that Jesus, whom they slew, was the very Christ and the very God.
22 And I would that I could persuade all ye ends of the earth to repent and prepare to stand before the judgment-seat of Christ.
There is, at this point in the Book of Mormon, nothing terribly surprising about the way Mormon uses the term “remnant.” He straightforwardly states that part of his intention is to write to the remnant of “this people,” clearly meaning that he addresses his record in part to the latter-day Lamanites. A similar aside makes up most of chapter 5 of Mormon:
8 And now behold, I, Mormon, do not desire to harrow up the souls of men in casting before them such an awful scene of blood and carnage as was laid before mine eyes; but I, knowing that these things must surely be made known, and that all things which are hid must be revealed upon the house-tops—
9 And also that a knowledge of these things must come unto the remnant of these people, and also unto the Gentiles, who the Lord hath said should scatter this people, and this people should be counted as naught among them—therefore I write a small abridgment, daring not to give a full account of the things which I have seen, because of the commandment which I have received, and also that ye might not have too great sorrow because of the wickedness of this people.
10 And now behold, this I speak unto their seed, and also to the Gentiles who have care for the house of Israel, that realize and know from whence their blessings come.
11 For I know that such will sorrow for the calamity of the house of Israel; yea, they will sorrow for the destruction of this people; they will sorrow that this people had not repented that they might have been clasped in the arms of Jesus.
12 Now these things are written unto the remnant of the house of Jacob; and they are written after this manner, because it is known of God that wickedness will not bring them forth unto them; and they are to be hid up unto the Lord that they may come forth in his own due time.
13 And this is the commandment which I have received; and behold, they shall come forth according to the commandment of the Lord, when he shall see fit, in his wisdom.
14 And behold, they shall go unto the unbelieving of the Jews; and for this intent shall they go—that they may be persuaded that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God; that the Father may bring about, through his most Beloved, his great and eternal purpose, in restoring the Jews, or all the house of Israel, to the land of their inheritance, which the Lord their God hath given them, unto the fulfilling of his covenant;
15 And also that the seed of this people may more fully believe his gospel, which shall go forth unto them from the Gentiles; for this people shall be scattered, and shall become a dark, a filthy, and a loathsome people, beyond the description of that which ever hath been amongst us, yea, even that which hath been among the Lamanites, and this because of their unbelief and idolatry.
16 For behold, the Spirit of the Lord hath already ceased to strive with their fathers; and they are without Christ and God in the world; and they are driven about as chaff before the wind.
17 They were once a delightsome people, and they had Christ for their shepherd; yea, they were led even by God the Father.
18 But now, behold, they are led about by Satan, even as chaff is driven before the wind, or as a vessel is tossed about upon the waves, without sail or anchor, or without anything wherewith to steer her; and even as she is, so are they.
19 And behold, the Lord hath reserved their blessings, which they might have received in the land, for the Gentiles who shall possess the land.
20 But behold, it shall come to pass that they shall be driven and scattered by the Gentiles; and after they have been driven and scattered by the Gentiles, behold, then will the Lord remember the covenant which he made unto Abraham and unto all the house of Israel.
21 And also the Lord will remember the prayers of the righteous, which have been put up unto him for them.
22 And then, O ye Gentiles, how can ye stand before the power of God, except ye shall repent and turn from your evil ways?
23 Know ye not that ye are in the hands of God? Know ye not that he hath all power, and at his great command the earth shall be rolled together as a scroll?
24 Therefore, repent ye, and humble yourselves before him, lest he shall come out in justice against you—lest a remnant of the seed of Jacob shall go forth among you as a lion, and tear you in pieces, and there is none to deliver.
Here Mormon mentions the remnant three separate times. The first two appearances of the word (in verses 9 and 12) are, again, not terribly surprising. The third appearance of the word (in verse 24), however, is a bit more interesting: Mormon makes direct reference to the passage from Micah with which Jesus contextualizes His crucial discussion of the remnant in 3 Nephi 20-21 (this bit about “go[ing] forth among [them] as a lion,” etc., is taken from Micah). In a sense, this echoes the mention of the remnant in Mormon 3, because there he intertwines it with the theme of judgment, something Christ had also discussed in terms not unlike Mormon’s. All of this begins to make clear that Mormon’s several asides at this point are all heavily influenced by what he has put together in writing Third Nephi.
Finally, Mormon mentions the remnant twice more, in the first and last verses of the last chapter he contributes to the Book of Mormon: Mormon 7:1 and Mormon 7:10. The first of these is pretty standard:
AND now, behold, I would speak somewhat unto the remnant of this people who are spared, if it so be that God may give unto them my words, that they may know of the things of their fathers; yea, I speak unto you, ye remnant of the house of Israel; and these are the words which I speak.
There isn’t much here to dwell on. But when he comes back to the term in verse 10, Mormon does something rather interesting:
9 For behold, this is written for the intent that ye may believe that; and if ye believe that ye will believe this also; and if ye believe this ye will know concerning your fathers, and also the marvelous works which were wrought by the power of God among them.
10 And ye will also know that ye are a remnant of the seed of Jacob; therefore ye are numbered among the people of the first covenant; and if it so be that ye believe in Christ, and are baptized, first with water, then with fire and with the Holy Ghost, following the example of our Savior, according to that which he hath commanded us, it shall be well with you in the day of judgment. Amen.
Here Mormon states that one of the purposes of the Book of Mormon as a whole is help the remnant to know that it is the remnant. It is perhaps too easy to read this passage as claiming simply that the Lamanites will come to know that they are Israelites, part of “the seed of Jacob.” But it must be recognized, after so much has been said over the course of the Book of Mormon about the remnant, that the words “a remnant of the seed of Jacob” are of some real significance. In Mormon’s very last sentence, he comes back to this theme and asserts that his intentions are to make the remnant recognize that it is “a remnant.”
One wonders what this would mean. It certainly is significant that Mormon uses the indefinite “a remnant” rather than the definite “the remnant.” The Lamanites reading the Book of Mormon are apparently not supposed to come to recognize that they are somehow the only remnant, as if they were all that was left of Israel. Rather, they are to come to recognize that they are one of so many remnants, though—as the Book of Mormon has made clear again and again—they certainly constitute one of the most privileged remnants scattered about the world (because of the role the Book of Mormon will play, at the very least, as sign of the dawn of the covenantal work of the Father).
Taking all of this a bit further, though, it seems that the Book of Mormon is intended in part to inform the Lamanites not only that they are Israelites, but that they constitute a remnant of Israel, and so it seems that part of its intention is also to inform them about what exactly a remnant is. The Lamanites, it seems, are to learn from the Book of Mormon something about the fact that they are a surviving fragment of an elect people, a vestige divinely sustained so that ancient patriarchs and matriarchs would have their promises fulfilled. The Lamanites are thus to come to see that their very survival was decreed in advance, and that they are the people to whom the whole book is addressed.
(Incidentally, I wonder whether this clarification about the remnant might not solve what has been for me a long-standing problem about the way Latter-day Saints deal with the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon itself describes the Europeans as the Gentiles, but Europeans in the Church—for a number of important historical reasons—consider themselves to be Israelites. I’ve worried for a long time that an unreflective self-identification as Israel on the part of European-descended Mormons makes it difficult to understand the Book of Mormon, which understands the European Gentiles to have the task of focusing on the Lamanites in their work, etc. However, here perhaps one might suggest that a careful reading of the Book of Mormon draws a distinction between “Israelites” and “the remnant [or remnants] of Israel.” That is, one might suggest that Latter-day Saints of European descent should feel quite free to speculate about their Israelite lineage—a lineage I don’t really doubt—but that they should recognize that there is nonetheless a difference between them and what the Book of Mormon describes as a remnant of Israel. And the task remains, regardless of whether we consider ourselves to be Israelites more generally, of exalting the remnant of Israel to whom the Book of Mormon was written.
For what it’s worth.)
Moroni’s brief word on the Gentiles
Rather suddenly, during his discussion of Ether’s prophecies, Moroni breaks into a discourse about the remnant, employing the term several times in just a few verses. The following passage is found in Ether 13:
4 Behold, Ether saw the days of Christ, and he spake concerning a New Jerusalem upon this land.
5 And he spake also concerning the house of Israel, and the Jerusalem from whence Lehi should come—after it should be destroyed it should be built up again, a holy city unto the Lord; wherefore, it could not be a new Jerusalem for it had been in a time of old; but it should be built up again, and become a holy city of the Lord; and it should be built unto the house of Israel.
6 And that a New Jerusalem should be built up upon this land, unto the remnant of the seed of Joseph, for which things there has been a type.
7 For as Joseph brought his father down into the land of Egypt, even so he died there; wherefore, the Lord brought a remnant of the seed of Joseph out of the land of Jerusalem, that he might be merciful unto the seed of Joseph that they should perish not, even as he was merciful unto the father of Joseph that he should perish not.
8 Wherefore, the remnant of the house of Joseph shall be built upon this land; and it shall be a land of their inheritance; and they shall build up a holy city unto the Lord, like unto the Jerusalem of old; and they shall no more be confounded, until the end come when the earth shall pass away.
9 And there shall be a new heaven and a new earth; and they shall be like unto the old save the old have passed away, and all things have become new.
10 And then cometh the New Jerusalem; and blessed are they who dwell therein, for it is they whose garments are white through the blood of the Lamb; and they are they who are numbered among the remnant of the seed of Joseph, who were of the house of Israel.
11 And then also cometh the Jerusalem of old; and the inhabitants thereof, blessed are they, for they have been washed in the blood of the Lamb; and they are they who were scattered and gathered in from the four quarters of the earth, and from the north countries, and are partakers of the fulfilling of the covenant which God made with their father, Abraham.
12 And when these things come, bringeth to pass the scripture which saith, there are they who were first, who shall be last; and there are they who were last, who shall be first.
Here, at last, there is some real clarification of the relationship between the remnant that is the Lamanites and the remainder of Israel. It seems that the Lamanites here definitively constitute the remnant of the seed/house of Joseph (notice that “the remnant of the seed of Joseph” is used with almost perfect consistency here; only once is it otherwise, and then “seed” is only replaced with “house”). And the purpose of the text is clearly to associate that particular remnant with the New Jerusalem to be built in the New World. The remainder of the house of Israel, it seems, is to be gathered to (or at least around) the Old World Jerusalem. Of course, because the remainder of Israel is not described as constituting a “remnant” (or so many “remnants”), it is possible that the other remnants occasionally mentioned or implied in the Book of Mormon are actually simply not dealt with in this text. It may be that only the Lamanite remnant and the broader category of scattered Israel are dealt with, because these two groups are associated with the two geographic poles of the Book of Mormon (Jerusalem and the New World/New Jerusalem). Other remnants, perhaps, will be established in their designated lands of promise, perhaps.
It is worth pointing out also that, in verse 10, it appears to be possible to count non-Josephites in the remnant of the seed of Joseph: anyone in the New World washed white in the blood of the Lamb will be numbered among the remnant, and so become a part of the covenant. This possibility of Gentile adoption is interesting: it isn’t terribly uncommon to refer to Gentile adoption, but it is seldom recognized that there are texts like this, in which that adoption is a question specifically of numbering the Gentiles among the remnant. It seems that if one doesn’t become a part of a remnant, one doesn’t end up attached to a promised land, to a Zion. The implications of this idea might turn out to be quite significant.
But I’m getting eager to finish up this discussion so that I can return to Third Nephi and do some serious work on 3 Nephi 20-21. First, though, I need to deal with the “title page” of the Book of Mormon.
The title page
Twice on the very title pages of the Book of Mormon—written at least in part by Moroni, though there is a possibility that Mormon wrote some of it—the word “remnant” appears. Its first instance appears in the first paragraph, where one finds that the Book of Mormon is “Written to the Lamanites, who are a remnant of the house of Israel; and also to Jew and Gentile.” The language here is of larger importance: though the Book of Mormon tends to be read as a book either “for everyone” or as a book that the Gentiles can use to their own purposes, the title page points out that the book is written first to the Lamanites, and the Lamanites are then specifically designated “a remnant of the house of Israel.” This, I think, is crucial: if the Book of Mormon is understood just to be a kind of volume of scripture of general interest, its real significance is missed. The book is wrapped up in a massive latter-day drama, through which the whole world is to be redeemed, but according to a series of events surrounding specified groups and their particular relationship to the Book of Mormon. Here, on the title page, one is reminded that the most central character in that drama is a remnant.
This is confirmed in the second paragraph of the title page, where Moroni says quite straightforwardly that the first and foremost purpose of the Book of Mormon is “to show unto the remnant of the House of Israel what great things the Lord hath done for their fathers; and that they may know the covenants of the Lord, that they are not cast off forever.” It is only secondarily, it seems, supposed to aid in “the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that JESUS is the CHRIST, the ETERNAL GOD, manifesting himself unto all nations.” Indeed, the only way that the Jews and Gentiles can recognize the relationship Christ has with all nations would be as they witness the relationship between the Israelite remnant (the Lamanites) and “the Eternal God” in the unfolding events surrounding the Book of Mormon in the latter days. Again it is clear that, as is the case in First Nephi, the remnant cannot be separated from the emergence of the book.
Of course, all of this can only be brought to its fullest expression in a discussion of 3 Nephi 20-21, to which I will now, at last, turn.