The pattern goes from “normal” chaotic, difficult, mortal life, to intense trial and darkness, to the burst of light when God comes and establishes an order that results in Zion, to apostasy from Zion leading to apocalyptical violence. Interestingly, however, the apocalypse isn’t the end here; rather it’s followed by more everyday, mortal struggle before the next chapter—which expands the scope of this drama from tribal to global. But this is the same pattern that Joseph Smith prophesies for our own dispensation: a prophet sets up a people who go through chaotic, difficult, mortal struggles, often assailed by our enemies (for which we are always or often at fault), leading toward an intense trial and darkness (the pre-millennial wickedness that we’re always so convinced is right now, where even our very elect are deceived), which is to be followed by the parousia par excellence when Christ reigns personally upon the earth together with everything else we prophesy in our 10th Article of Faith. But of course, the end is not the light. After this light our own wickedness will once again lead us to apocalyptical violence. Is that the end, however? That’s the way our narrative often goes. And maybe Nephi’s vision gives us something like the ongoing pattern of each micro-history, but when the macro-global-historical apocalypse takes place, that’s indeed supposed to be the end, right? Or maybe we’re to learn that this prophesied historical pattern is actually the cosmological pattern, the one that has always taken place (“on earth as it is in heaven”). Maybe the lesson is that we’re meant to see ourselves in this pattern rather than be convinced of the ultimate nature of any given iteration. Or rather, realize that whatever iteration we’re caught up in just is the ultimate iteration. Following our own apocalypse, however, the scope can always be expanded, and we will see that it is not the end, but rather, an end, and that life and the struggle for salvation continues.
It’s interesting that Nephi first sees his own people gathered for battle rather than seeing the Lamanites gathered against them. But later it indeed appears that the Lamanites are the aggressors, though Nephi blames the destruction on the wickedness of his people. It seems that militarization as a response to the difficulties of politics and community is a poor and faithless response. Or at the least, that it can be done poor and faithlessly. This is an area where I don’t know that I trust Nephi (and the BofM editors generally, all of whom were militarized themselves). The greater pattern and message seems to spotlight the inevitable tragedy of violence and war.
The angel’s words here are striking and confusing. Seeing the gathering armies, the angel speaks of the fountain of filthy waters and the great and spacious building—which armies and military might are indeed the pride of our lands, in both senses of that word (adjective and noun). What’s confusing is the part about the great gulf that divides them; the only sense of “them” I can see here is “the people.” The punctuation suggests that it’s God’s justice and word that is the gulf dividing the people, but even without the punctuation I’m struggling to see a different meaning. How does the justice of God divide us when in our pride and filthiness we gather together to assault one another with violence? My mind keeps circling round unsatisfactory answers.