Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

A Mighty Nation Among the Gentiles

Posted by robf on January 29, 2009

After reading to his brothers from the words of Isaiah, Nephi prophesies about “a mighty nation among the Gentiles” (1 Nephi 22:7) that will scatter their descendants. I think many of us traditionally interpret this “mighty nation” as the United States of America. Maybe we’ve been wrong.

Key to identifying this “mighty nation” seems to be Nephi’s statement that this nation will be “upon the face of this land”. Which land is Nephi talking about? Is he talking about the actual area where Lehi’s party has landed in the promised land, or is he using some wider understanding of “this land”?

To my mind, it seems hard to justify any definition of “this land” that doesn’t include the area where Nephi and his brothers were living at the time of this prophecy or at least Nephi’s writing it down many years later. Which brings us to a crucial question: where was Nephi when he made this prophecy?

For most Latter-day Saints, the question of Book of Mormon geography is something that we relegate to “the mysteries”. We tell ourselves it doesn’t really matter where the Book of Mormon events took place. But in this case, we may not be able to understand the message and purpose of the book–and our own relationship to it–without a better understanding of the geography, since the identification of “the Gentiles” and this “mighty nation” seems to hinge on knowing what part of the world we are talking about!

Based on our best understanding of Book of Mormon geography, such as Sorenson’s Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon and subsequent work, Lehi and his family were probably living somewhere on the Pacific coastal plain of Central America when Nephi made this prophecy.

If this is correct, it is hard to justify the United States as the “mighty nation” of the Gentiles raised up on that land!

But if not the United States, what is this “mighty nation” Nephi is talking about?

If we have the geography right, this “mighty nation” may well be The Viceroyalty of New Spain. Set up by the Spanish, this polity ruled Central America, modern Mexico, and the American Southwest from 1535 to 1821. Far larger and populous than the United States during this period, The Viceroyalty of New Spain meets the geographic and temporal description that Nephi gives of the “mighty nation” that will scatter the remnant of his seed and the seed of his brothers.

If this interpretation is accurate, it gives us new insight into the identity of “the Gentiles” and the great and abominable Church associated with the scattering of Lehi’s seed. The fall of the Viceroyalty also corresponds closely in time with the Restoration of the gospel, which can only take place after the scattering is accomplished (1 Nephi 22:8).

What other insights might we glean from this more geographically and temporally appropriate interpretation of the “mighty nation” of the Gentiles?

6 Responses to “A Mighty Nation Among the Gentiles”

  1. Russ said

    Very interesting. I have never considered this but I do think that we make a lot of assumptions from time to time that blind us to other interpretations. Thank you for the insight. I will now look at everything a little more openly.

  2. Marcia said

    This makes sense to me. I was recently in Spain. Since the birthrate has dropped there among natives, immigrants from South America are pouring in for work opportunities.

    Some Bolivian immigrants that I spoke with said that these immigrants suffer predjudice as they live and work in the Spanish community. The irony I believe will occur in a few generations when the Spanish population dwindles in population and power,and the South Americans increase in the same.

  3. frankg said

    Marcia, that is very interesting. This is anecdotal, but I’ve seen on unrelated blogs people from Argentina talking about going to Spain, looking for a better life. So its not just North America that’s being affected by the influx of people from Central and South America!

  4. robf said

    South American migration to Spain isn’t as much as to the U.S., but it is still pretty significant:

  5. Matthew said

    nice post Rob, thanks!

  6. […] there are other possible interpretations, perhaps the most popular LDS view of Lehi’s promised land is to see it as referring to the […]

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