D&C 84:57 …and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon…
Without a solid understanding of the Old Testament, it is difficult for most Christians to understand the significance of the Book of Mormon. Like the New Testament, the Book of Mormon is another testament or another covenant, even the new covenant, which is essentially the everlasting gospel of Jesus Christ.
We cannot begin to understand who the Nephites and the Lamanites were without first understanding where they came from. Indeed their patriarch, Lehi, did not know until he had obtained a record found on brass plates from the treasury of a military leader named Laban. The Book of Mormon begins with the exodus of a small family led by Lehi from Jerusalem into the wilderness to escape the coming destruction and conquest of Babylon. In 1 Nephi 5:14 Lehi discovers that he is a descendant of Joseph who was sold into Egypt. This was the same Joseph, son of Jacob, father of twelve sons who became nations.
Like their predecessors in the old world, these people had a tradition of memorizing their lineage and later in the Book of Mormon, in Alma 10:3 we learn that Lehi descended from Joseph through his son Manasseh. Joseph, son of Jacob who was renamed Israel by an angel, had eleven brothers. These twelve brothers became the heads of twelve nations or tribes as they are called in the Bible. The Bible as we have it today is a record of the tribe of Judah, or in other words, the Jews.
Before Jacob died, he gathered up his family to bless them and to prophecy what should befall them in the last days. In Genesis 49, he addresses his sons, one by one, including Joseph, who in verse twenty-two declares that he is a fruitful bough, even a fruitful bough by a well; whose branches run over the wall. Jacob continues by saying, “The blessings of thy father have prevailed above the blessings of my progenitors unto the utmost bound of the everlasting hills: they shall be on the head of Joseph, and on the crown of the head of him that was separate from his brethren.”
We read about Israel pleading with the Lord for deliverance in Psalms 80:
“O Shepherd of Israel, thou what leadest Joseph like a flock…Thou hast brought a vine out of Egypt; thou hast cast out the heathen, and planted it…She sent out her boughs unto the sea, and her branches unto the river…”
After Jacob and his family settled into the land of Egypt, more specifically, Goshen, after having been rescued by Joseph from a great famine, this family grew into a people so great that Egypt began to fear them. Thus these Isrealites became enslaved. After many generations, the Lord saw fit to honor his covenant with Abraham and give the land of Canaan to his posterity, the Israelites, for an inheritance. And so Moses brought them out and they traveled for forty long years until they reached their promised land. And because of their wickedness they became scattered over time.
Isaiah is a great prophet who wrote many great things that would soon come to pass. He prophecies many things concerning Israel and the trials they would face because of their wickedness. In chapter sixteen, verse eight, we read, “…they wandered through the wilderness: her branches are stretched out, they are gone over the sea.”
We begin to paint a clear picture regarding the scattering of the twelve tribes of Israel, but more specifically, the tribe of Joseph. It is clear that Joseph is the bough, or in other words a main branch of Israel. And his nation becomes separated from his eleven brethren by the sea. When Lehi departed from Jerusalem, the Lord told him that he was to be given a new land of inheritance. This land of inheritance became Lehi’s promised land–a land across the great sea in the new world.