We need you to resolve a dilemma we have in our scripture study. Who is the “him” referenced in 2nd Nephi 26:16? We can find no other person in the surrounding verses that this refers to. Please help us!
Thank you for asking such a detailed question. It is always interesting when we take a closer look at a seemingly insignificant word and see if there is a significant meaning after all. I believe we have a case where this word “he” has a little more meat to it than we might notice at first glance. So, let’s take a look at the verse in question.
For those who shall be destroyed shall speak unto them out of the ground, and their speech shall be low out of the dust, and their voice shall be as one that hath a familiar spirit; for the Lord God will give unto him power, that he may whisper concerning them, even as it were out of the ground; and their speech shall whisper out of the dust. (2 Ne 26:16)
First of all, I need to say that this could be interpreted a number of ways. And the “He” could be referring to Jesus Christ (who is mentioned throughout the preamble of this chapter). But I personally have a different interpretation.
The short answer is “those who have been destroyed” (The Nephites and Nephite Prophets). So, why use this singular pronoun? Excellent question. I’m glad you asked. Nephi is making an allusion to a similar passage in Isaiah.
And thou shalt be brought down, and shalt speak out of the ground, and thy speech shall be low out of the dust, and thy voice shall be, as of one that hath a familiar spirit, out of the ground, and thy speech shall whisper out of the dust. (Isaiah 29:4)
Notice that both verses talk of one whose voice is “as one that hath a familiar spirit” and is whispering out of the dust. The meaning in Isaiah is that Ariel (the city mentioned in verse 1 of the same chapter) will be brought down and destroyed. Once dead, they can do little more than whisper from the dust. The interesting thing is that the “thou” and “thy” that he’s referring to is not a single person, but the city of Ariel itself. And Isaiah uses a literary device to make the people of Ariel a metaphorical person (voice shall be as one that hath a familiar spirit) who will whisper out of the dust.
One reason is that Hebrew does not have an impersonal pronoun “it.” Only personal pronouns (I, thou, he, she…) exist. Nephi was a Jew, educated in Hebrew. He most likely used a personal pronoun to convey his message, as well as invoke a metaphorical person (as one that hath a familiar spirit). Thus, the Book of Mormon is the embodiment of its people who have been destroyed, or rather, their testimonies. This is the “he” that will have power to whisper to us out of the ground.
Nephi confirms the relationship with the Isaiah reference when he quotes parts of that chapter in the subsequent chapter (27) in 2 Nephi. He evokes the image that Isaiah used to explain how his words will come to us. He refers to it as whispering. But he changes his tone a few chapters later. He builds it up in Chapter 32 saying:
2 Do ye not remember that I said unto you that after ye had received the Holy Ghost ye could speak with the tongue of angels? And now, how could ye speak with the tongue of angels save it were by the Holy Ghost?
3 Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore, they speak the words of Christ. Wherefore, I said unto you, feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do. (2 Ne 32:2-3)
Then he laments the fact that his written words are weak and do not carry the power of the Holy Ghost.
1 And now I, Nephi, cannot write all the things which were taught among my people; neither am I mighty in writing, like unto speaking; for when a man speaketh by the power of the Holy Ghost the power of the Holy Ghost carrieth it unto the hearts of the children of men.
2 But behold, there are many that harden their hearts against the Holy Spirit, that it hath no place in them; wherefore, they cast many things away which are written and esteem them as things of naught.
3 But I, Nephi, have written what I have written, and I esteem it as of great worth, and especially unto my people. For I pray continually for them by day, and mine eyes water my pillow by night, because of them; and I cry unto my God in faith, and I know that he will hear my cry. (2 Ne 33:1-3)
He has had experience speaking in person by the power of the Holy Ghost. But writing by the Power of the Holy Ghost is a different matter. He considers the promise already made in Ch 26 about God giving power to the words from the dust. So, he cries (prays mightily) to the Lord that his (Nephi’s) written words can be backed up by the power of the Holy Ghost and thus become scripture. Then, knowing that the Lord has heard his cry, he declares with power:
And now, my beloved brethren, all those who are of the house of Israel, and all ye ends of the earth, I speak unto you as the voice of one crying from the dust: Farewell until that great day shall come. (2 Ne 33:13)
This is the first author of the Book of Mormon, no longer whispering, but crying out to us and to the Lord. But to seal the testimony of the Book of Mormon, in an almost chiastic structure, this message is repeated by Moroni (the final author of the Book of Mormon). And he, too alludes to Isaiah when speaking of the voices of the Nephites crying unto the Lord and to us.
Search the prophecies of Isaiah. Behold, I cannot write them. Yea, behold I say unto you, that those saints who have gone before me, who have possessed this land, shall cry, yea, even from the dust will they cry unto the Lord; and as the Lord liveth he will remember the covenant which he hath made with them. (Moroni 8:23)
And Moroni further reinforces the parallel by burying the plates in the dust of the earth as well. Thus the Book of Mormon whispers and cries out from the dust. And finally, he refers to himself as part of that group.
And I exhort you to remember these things; for the time speedily cometh that ye shall know that I lie not, for ye shall see me at the bar of God; and the Lord God will say unto you: Did I not declare my words unto you, which were written by this man, like as one crying from the dead, yea, even as one speaking out of the dust? (Moroni 10:27)
There are whisperings, then crying out. This is a dual metaphor.
First, it is the story of the Book of Mormon coming out of obscurity and out of darkness. At first, it was merely a rumor in a small portion of each state in which the Church was centered. Then it grows into a rather large and highly recognized faith, not only in the US, but in the world. It cries out to the world.
The other metaphor that I get out of it is that when we individually are exposed to the Book of Mormon, we hear the whisperings of the Still Small Voice enticing us to hear the message and read the words. And as we study, ponder, and pray, it is no longer a mere whisper. I hear the voice of the Spirit as well as feel the blood, sweat, and tears that went into bringing it to me by prophets and saints both ancient and modern. They cry out to me to hear and believe the message. And I pray it may cry out to you as well.