Many people who read the Book of Mormon have a hard time getting past two parts of the book. One of them is the war chapters of the Book of Alma. The second is the Isaiah quotes of Nephi that some people simply skim or skip. Those who don't pay attention to the Isaiah chapters are missing a very important message that Nephi wants to illustrate through his favorite prophet. He wants us to understand the destiny of Israel, the hope of the Gentiles, and the mission of the Savior.
Nephi continually praises Isaiah as the greatest prophet after Moses. His teachings are essential for comprehending the world's spiritual destiny. Behind the hard to understand language is eternal hope for humanity.
2 Nephi 11:8
8 And now I write some of the words of Isaiah, that whoso of my people shall see these words may lift up their hearts and rejoice for all men. Now these are the words, and ye may liken them unto you and unto all men
He first quotes chapters of Isaiah after explaining that the God of Israel will come down to be mocked, smitten, and crucified by the wicked. In return the World will do the same with the house of Israel that the wicked did to God. Eventually, however, God will remember Israel even on the isles of the sea. The World will witness the Salvation of the Lord and be blessed. Isaiah chapter 48 is used to demonstrate the wickedness of Israel. They go against the very God they are supposed to worship. Yet, God will continue to have mercy.
1 Nephi 20:8-11
8 Yea, and thou heardest not; yea, thou knewest not; yea, from that time thine ear was not opened; for I knew that thou wouldst deal very treacherously, and wast called a transgressor from the womb.
9 Nevertheless, for my name’s sake will I defer mine anger, and for my praise will I refrain from thee, that I cut thee not off.
10 For, behold, I have refined thee, I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.
11 For mine own sake, yea, for mine own sake will I do this, for I will not suffer my name to be polluted, and I will not give my glory unto another
The next chapter, Isaiah 49, explains though Israel will suffer, ultimately it will be for the greater good.
1 Nephi 21:6-8
6 And he said: It is a light thing that thou shouldst be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel. I will also give thee for a blight to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the ends of the earth.
7 Thus saith the Lord, the Redeemer of Israel, his Holy One, to him whom man despiseth, to him whom the nations abhorreth, to servant of rulers: Kings shall see and arise, princes also shall worship, because of the Lord that is faithful.
8 Thus saith the Lord: In an acceptable time have I heard thee, O isles of the sea, and in a day of salvation have I helped thee; and I will preserve thee, and give thee my servant for a covenant of the people, to establish the earth, to cause to inherit the desolate heritages
The Isaiah chapters are not directly picked up again until Nephi quotes a long talk of his brother Jacob. In the oration, Jacob uses Isaiah to expand on the idea of Israel's blessed future. With the help of the Lord, Israel will rise above all nations and become glorious when it repents of its sins.
Finishing up his brother's talk, Nephi is inspired to again quote Isaiah. At this point many reader's eyes glaze over. A careful reader will pay attention. The first chapter of Isaiah is a warning of the terrible day of the Lord when the righteous prosper and the wicked fear. By the 4 and 5 chapter of Isaiah, Israel has been given a promise of purification and power.
2 Nephi 14:4-5
4 When the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and shall have purged the blood of Jerusalem from the midst thereof by the spirit of judgment and by the spirit of burning.
5 And the Lord will create upon every dwelling-place of mount Zion, and upon her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day and the shining of a flaming fire by night; for upon all the glory of Zion shall be a defense.
There is a question why God was so angry with Israel for making alliances. After all, they were trying to protect themselves against other equally powerful nations. The problem was they had, like the Nephites of later years, forgotten the Lord and believed in their own strength. Instead of protection, the nations become a spiritual crutch.
2 Nephi 18:12-13
12 Say ye not, A confederacy, to all to whom this people shall say, A confederacy; neither fear ye their fear, nor be afraid.
13 Sanctify the Lord of Hosts himself, and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.
Knowing the reasons behind why Nephi quotes Isaiah, it would not be surprising if he found the following of comfort:
2 Nephi 20:20-23
20 And it shall come to pass in that day, that the remnant of Israel, and such as are escaped of the house of Jacob, shall no more again stay upon him that smote them, but shall stay upon the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, in truth.
21 The remnant shall return, yea, even the remnant of Jacob, unto the mighty God.
22 For though thy people Israel be as the sand of the sea, yet a remnant of them shall return; the consumption decreed shall overflow with righteousness.
23 For the Lord God of Hosts shall make a consumption, even determined in all the land.
Most of the other chapters continue the same pattern of wicked destroyed and righteous finally glorified. Israel is continually chastised for sins and promised better days when it repents. There is no mistaking the promises made in the first chapters of the Book of Mormon are repeated in the Isaiah chapters. The righteous will prosper and the wicked will perish. This is made completely clear by Isaiah 14, the last chapter quoted in the largest grouping. Lucifer and the wicked, symbolized by Babylon, will be completely destroyed. From the smoke and ashes will come Zion.
2 Nephi 24:32
32 What shall then answer the messengers of the nations? That the Lord hath founded Zion, and the poor of his people shall trust in it.
The final Isaiah section that Nephi uses, Isaiah 29, is perhaps the most personalized. He feels a close enough connection that it often is hard to recognize where Nephi starts and Isaiah ends. 2 Nephi 27 is more of a commentary than a quotation.
Most Latter-day Saints will recognize the chapter is about the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. It tells about a book that the learned will not read and God lets the unlearned read it instead. Of course, Nephi is talking about the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith, and the Restoration of the Gospel. It is not surprsing that Nephi, who likens Isaiah to his people, would see himself in the great prophet's teachings. Perhaps it is at this point that he realized the importance of writing on the plates.
For Nephi, Isaiah is a guidebook for and prophecy of the Lamanites and Nephites. Him and his people are a remnant of Israel scattered to the isles of the sea. Eventually, as Isaiah promises, they will help bring salvation to the Gentiles and be gathered back into the covenant family of God. There is nothing more important to him, or to us, than becoming a part of that history.