A few chapters ago, we read of the curse that fell upon the Lamanites. These verses have been highly controversial for their implication that dark skin in a curse. However, Isaiah’s words quoted by Nephi in this chapter give context to the curse that came upon the Lamanites.
Here, Isaiah speaks of the leaders among the Jews at the time. He notes that because of their lack of faith, they had lost “the stay and the staff, the whole staff of bread, and the whole stay of water.” In other words, they had lost the temple covenants and the power of prophetic leadership and were left in their own.
Isaiah then went on to describe the curse that would fall upon them because “their tongues and their doings have been against the Lord, to provoke the eyes of his glory.” Therefore, Isaiah noted that “the show of their countenance doth witness against them, and declare their sin to be even as Sodom.” Isaiah therefore describes a spiritual curse that fell upon the wicked and affected their very countenance. It is clear that those curse was tangible by Isaiah’s declaration that “they cannot hide it.” Thus, their outer visage reflected their fallen spiritual state.
The reason that these verses seem significant in understanding the Lamanites curse is that Isaiah is describing the very people in the land from which Nephi and his family came. Thus, while it is possible that intermarriage with natives compounded the sense that the Lamanites were cursed, such a curse did not necessarily hold racial or racist connotations. If the people in Jerusalem had a similar curse, that did not prevent Lehi from leaving and from being made “white and delightsome.” Isaiah’s prophecy thus reveals that the curse was first and foremost about spiritual status rather than physical appearance.