1 Hearken and hear this, O house of Jacob, who are called by the name of Israel, and are come forth out of the waters of Judah, or out of the waters of baptism, who swear by the name of the Lord, and make mention of the God of Israel, yet they swear not in truth nor in righteousness.
Nephi here quotes Isaiah 48 specifically to emphasize God’s covenental mercy. This chapter would have resonated deeply with a scattered people who had come from an apostate Jerusalem. They would have longed for a glimpse at God’s tender mercies and love.
Nephi’s addition/clarification in Verse 1 that the Waters of Judah referred to the waters of baptism is quite significant. As we know from 2 Nephi 31, Nephi would throughout his ministry preach with inspired power of the divine necessity of entering into this sacred covenant. And his description of Israel as having been baptized would imply that they had made those very same sacred covenants with God.
When placed in the context of the baptismal covenant, Isaiah’s words have added resonance and depth. Israel was reborn in the image of its creator and entered into the straight and narrow path. And yet, it had gone grievously astray. Isaiah’s indictment is particularly a scathing one as he declares that those of Israel “swear by the name of the Lord, and make mention of the God of Israel, yet they swear not in truth nor in righteousness.” They continue to invoke their sacred status as covenental children of God, but they do not declare true doctrine and they are unrighteous in their conduct.
Nevertheless, through Isaiah the Lord revealed his enduring and never ending love and grace. And this would have been meaningful to Nephi and his people. Likewise, the promise that if they would harken unto the commandments of God, they could have “peace . . .as a river” and “righteousness as the waves of the sea” would have inspired and comforted them. While the main body of Israel had failed to achieve these blessings and therefore had been destroyed, they were given another chance to live righteously and to raise a righteous nation to the Lord. Nephi would have wept for Jerusalem but also rejoiced for the opportunity to live consistent with God’s teachings and therefore receive his blessings and his grace.
18 O that thou hadst hearkened to my commandments—then had thy peace been as a river, and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea.