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What “Mighty Nation among the Gentiles” Would Scatter Lehi’s Seed?
1 Nephi 22:7–8
Shortly before the death of his father, Lehi, the prophet Nephi prophesied to his brothers about the future scattering and gathering of their people. He taught,
The time cometh that after all the house of Israel have been scattered and confounded, that the Lord God will raise up a mighty nation among the Gentiles, yea, even upon the face of this land; and by them shall our seed be scattered. And after our seed is scattered the Lord God will proceed to do a marvelous work among the Gentiles, which shall be of great worth unto our seed. (1 Nephi 22:7–8; emphasis added)
Sometimes readers of the Book of Mormon assume that this prophecy refers to the United States. The timing of Nephi’s prophecy, however, is significant since it refers to a scattering of Lehi’s people that precedes the “marvelous work among the Gentiles” that began with coming forth of the Book of Mormon (1 Nephi 22:8).1 The United States was still in its infancy when the Book of Mormon came forth and had not yet become a global power. In contrast, Spain’s rise to power at the beginning of the sixteenth century fulfills all the details in Nephi’s prophecy that were to occur before 1827.
Spain’s discoveries and conquests in the American hemisphere unexpectedly propelled the nation from being a relatively insignificant political entity to becoming an unprecedented world power. J. H. Elliot, one of the foremost historians of the Spanish Empire, highlights the remarkable nature of this transformation from a land poor in natural resources and ethnically, politically, and geographically divided into an international world empire:
For a few fabulous decades Spain was to be the greatest power on earth. During those decades it would be all but master of Europe; it would colonize vast new overseas territories; it would devise a governmental system to administer the largest, and most widely dispersed, empire the world had yet seen; and it would produce a highly distinctive civilization, which was to make a unique contribution to the cultural tradition of Europe. How all this can have happened, and in so short a space of time, has been a problem that has exercised generations of historians.2
A Mighty Nation among the Gentiles
The unification of the country under Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand laid a foundation for Spain to expand its power and influence in Europe and elsewhere, creating “an overseas empire of continental proportions.”3 According to Hugh Thomas, Spaniards throughout the Iberian Peninsula “would establish themselves throughout the New World and, at home, make of their newly united country a great nation second to none.”4
New navigational techniques pioneered by Columbus and others opened up trade routes and increased international communication, which allowed Spain and other European nations to govern and control lands and peoples in ways that were previously impossible.5 Spain, according to William Maltby, “was the first to exert direct sovereignty over great land masses and advanced civilizations that contained millions of non-European inhabitants.”6
Even upon the Face of This Land
By the end of the sixteenth century, Spain “controlled the largest collection of territories the world had seen since the fall of the Roman empire. In respect of size, it was an enterprise superior to that founded by Rome.” In the Americas, “Spain governed a whole combination of dependencies and colonies which constituted kingdoms (reinos) of their own, or parts of greater Spain, Magnae Hispaniae, no different from Aragon or Naples.”7 Yet all these dependencies with their local administrators and governors were one kingdom under the rule of the king of Spain.
And by Them Shall Our Seed Be Scattered
Nephi prophesied the scattering of Lehi’s seed by this mighty nation. This prophecy was tragically fulfilled as millions of pre-Columbian peoples in the Americas were enslaved and scattered throughout the world.8 For example, Indigenous populations of the Caribbean were enslaved and traded in Central and South America.9
Native peoples of Central America were also forcibly exported to the Caribbean to replace slave labor there, and “the total number of Indians exported from Nicaragua and Honduras first to Panama and then to Peru may have reached half a million.”10 Estimates suggest that in the decades following the Spanish Conquest of the Aztecs, between two hundred thousand and three million native Mexicans may have been forced into slavery. According to Fray Motolinia, “so great was the haste to make slaves in different parts that they were brought into Mexico City in great flocks like sheep, so they could be branded easily.”11
Native American people from the North American Southwest were enslaved and forced to work in Mexican silver mines. Native peoples of South America were also enslaved and forcibly relocated throughout Peru, Chile, and elsewhere. “These forced migrations spanning hundreds or even thousands of miles, and the slaving networks that made such long-distance transactions possible, were unthinkable before the arrival of the Spaniards.”12
A Marvelous Work and a Wonder
Nephi prophesied that “after our seed is scattered the Lord God will proceed to do a marvelous work among the Gentiles” (1 Nephi 22:8). The marvelous work mentioned refers specifically to the coming forth of the Book of Mormon through the gift and power of God with its sacred gospel covenants.13 Significantly, Nephi indicates that this was to occur only after the mighty nation among the Gentiles had scattered Lehi’s seed.
By the mid-1600s Spain’s worldwide expansion had ceased. Although Spain maintained its New World possessions in the Americas for over three hundred years, its power was in decline. Inspired in part by the independence of the United States from Great Britain and Spain’s difficulties in the European conflict with Napoleon and France, countries that had been ruled by Spain one by one sought and gained their independence beginning in the 1810s: Venezuela in 1811, Argentina in 1820, Mexico and Peru in 1821, and Bolivia in 1825, to name a few.14 By 1827, nearly all Latin American countries, excepting Cuba and Puerto Rico, had won their independence from Spain. In September 1827 the Prophet Joseph Smith, directed by an angel of God, went to a hill near his home and there recovered the ancient record written on metal plates by ancient American prophets that he would later translate as the Book of Mormon.
Book of Mormon peoples were scattered by many groups. Nephi saw that eventually “many multitudes of the Gentiles” would come upon the land of promise and would scatter and kill Lehi’s people (1 Nephi 13:14). Lehi also saw that this would be done by more than one nation (2 Nephi 1:11). These prophecies have been tragically fulfilled many times, both before and after the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. Nephi’s prophecy of a pre-Restoration scattering focuses on one major and extremely significant example.
While many Latter-day Saints living in the United States may be used to thinking of their own country as the mighty nation mentioned by Nephi, it should be kept in mind that in 1830, the United States was not yet the nation it would eventually become. There is no doubt that the United States and other nations have been engaged to one extent or another in scattering Lehi’s seed, but some of these events (such as the tragic Trail of Tears, to note just one notorious example in United States history) were more limited in scale or did not occur until after the coming forth of the Book of Mormon.15 For the scattering by a mighty nation that unfolded before the marvelous work began, however, Spain appears to more fully satisfy the requirements of that prophecy.
When we better understand the more complete and comprehensive scale of the scattering of Lehi’s seed throughout the American land of promise, we also gain a deeper appreciation for the tragic and almost unimaginable suffering of the Native American peoples.16 President Spencer W. Kimball reminded the Saints in Mexico, “The Lamanites were scattered throughout America. Cortes came here, and Pizarro went to South America. They had a great influence upon the people. They scattered them and persecuted them.”17
As unimaginable and tragic as these people’s sufferings have been, the Book of Mormon points to the future blessings promised to Lehi’s seed, which all Latter-day Saints can assist to bring to fulfillment. In 1845, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles—who were then the presiding body of the Church between the prophetic ministries of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young—issued an official proclamation to the world. In this document they affirmed that the Indigenous peoples of North and South America were the remnant of Joseph spoken of in the Book of Mormon. The Quorum of the Twelve movingly invoked the biblical story of Joseph and his brothers in Egypt in speaking of the destiny of Lehi’s seed:
The despised and degraded son of the forest, who has wandered in dejection and sorrow, and suffered reproach, shall then drop his disguise, and stand forth in manly dignity, and exclaim to the Gentiles who have envied and sold him: “I am Joseph; does my father yet live?” Or, in other words: I am a descendant of that Joseph who was sold into Egypt. You have hated me, and sold me, and thought I was dead. But lo! I live, and am heir to the inheritance, titles, honors, priesthood, sceptre, crown, throne, and eternal life and dignity of my fathers, who live for evermore. He shall then be ordained, washed, anointed with holy oil, and arrayed in fine linen, even in the glorious and beautiful garments and royal robes of the high priesthood, which is after the order of the Son of God; and shall enter into the congregation of the Lord, even into the Holy of Holies, there to be crowned with authority and power which shall never end.18
Council of the Twelve Apostles, Proclamation of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints [. . .], (New York: Prophet Office, 1845).
Evidence Central, “Book of Mormon Evidence: Spain, a Mighty Nation among the Gentiles,” Evidence #130 (December 28, 2020), online at evidencecentral.org.
Richard E. Bennett, 1820: Dawning of the Restoration (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book; Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2020), 207–228.
- 1. “History, 1834–1836,” p. 64, The Joseph Smith Papers, online at josephsmithpapers.org.
- 2. J. H. Elliot, Imperial Spain 1469–1716 (London, UK: Penguin, 2002), 13. “This in turn suggests a corollary, no less relevant to Spain: how does this same society lose its impetus and its creative dynamism, perhaps in as short a period of time as it took to acquire them?” (p. 14). Nephi would, perhaps, suggest the answer lies in nature of the judgments of God that come upon all nations (2 Nephi 25:3).
- 3. Carolyn Hall and Hector Perez Brignoli, Historical Atlas of Central America (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2003), 30.
- 4. Hugh Thomas, Rivers of Gold: The Rise of the Spanish Empire, from Columbus to Magellan (New York, NY: Random House, 2005), 537; emphasis added.
- 5. Hall and Brignoli, Historical Atlas of Central America, 31.
- 6. William Maltby, The Rise and Fall of the Spanish Empire (New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), 2.
- 7. Hugh Thomas, World without End: Spain, Philip II, and the First Global Empire (New York, NY: Random House, 2014), 286.
- 8. For a general introduction to the enslavement of Indigenous Americans, see Andres Resendez, The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America (Boston, MA: Mariner Books, 2016). The author provides several helpful maps of Native American dispersions on pages 38 and 133.
- 9. Hall and Brignoli, Historical Atlas of Central America, 116: “Branded and chained, the slaves were subjected to such horrific cruelties that many died before they reached their destinations. The export of Indians from Central America began in the 1510s to replace the dwindling Native labor force in the Great Antilles. Within a few years Darien and the Bay Islands were virtually depopulated, but exports continued from the north coast of Honduras. During the 1520s and 30s, the slave trade shifted to the Pacific slope.”
- 10. Hall and Brignoli, HIstorical Atlas of Central America, 116.
- 11. Resendez, The Other Slavery, 62. See also p. 65.
- 12. Resendez, The Other Slavery, 135.
- 13. 2 Nephi 25:17–18; 27:14, 26; 29:1–2.
- 14. Richard E. Bennett, 1820: Dawning of the Restoration (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2020), 213, 225–227.
- 15. Alan Axelrod, The Chronicle of the Indian Wars: From Colonial Times to Wounded Knee (New York, NY: Prentice Hall, 1993), 138, 141–143. The United States Indian Removal Act was passed on May 28, 1830. The subsequent forced removal of the Cherokee took place during the fall and winter of 1838–1839.
- 16. Bennett 1820, 209, summarizes: “In the century after Cortés and Pizarro, a staggering twenty million natives may have perished due to Spanish colonial inhumanity. … It was a terror that ranks with the Holocaust of the twentieth century in its demonizing inhumanity.”
- 17. Spencer W. Kimball, Official Report of the Monterrey Mexico Area Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, held in Monterrey, Mexico, February 19 and 20, 1977 (Salt Lake City, UT: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1978), 2.
- 18. Proclamation of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. To All the Kings of the World; To the President of the United States of America; To the Governors of the several States; And to the Rulers and People of all Nations (New York, NY: April 6, 1845).
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