19 And they began to question him, that they might cross him, that thereby they might have wherewith to accuse him; but he answered them boldly, and withstood all their questions, yea, to their astonishment; for he did withstand them in all their questions, and did confound them in all their words.Why pick this passage to challenge Abinadi?
20 And it came to pass that one of them said unto him: What meaneth the words which are written, and which have been taught by our fathers, saying:
21 How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings; that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good; that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth;
22 Thy watchmen shall lift up the voice; with the voice together shall they sing; for they shall see eye to eye when the Lord shall bring again Zion;
23 Break forth into joy; sing together ye waste places of Jerusalem; for the Lord hath comforted his people, he hath redeemed Jerusalem;
24 The Lord hath made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God?
25 And now Abinadi said unto them: Are you priests, and pretend to teach this people, and to understand the spirit of prophesying, and yet desire to know of me what these things mean?
When we read this as a family recently, the meaning of the challenge suddenly seemed more logical when we considered the context - particularly the agenda that the priests must have been pushing. Their message had been one of living it up and enjoying life, of preaching salvation without repentance and without standards or covenant keeping. It was a "feel good" religion: they were a chosen people and should be rejoicing about the good news of their election rather than fretting over archaic definitions of sin. Rather than believing Abinadi's message of gloom and doom and destruction, their message was about peace, prosperity, salvation, assurance, and comfort from God. In their hands, the cited passage from Isaiah was an ideal prooftext to refute Abinadi's credibility and push their own comfortable doctrine. They weren't asking a sincere question, but, like the critics of Christ in the NEw Testament, were seeking to trip up Abinadi.
Abinadi seems to depart from the topic right after he responds with a question of his own about why they don't understand those things. He swiftly returns to his condemnation of sin, then inquires about the law of Moses and whether salvation comes by it. He recites the Ten Commandments, but explains that while they need to obey, that salvation does not come by keeping the law of Moses, but through the Atonement of Christ. He explains the purpose of the law as a symbol to teach us of Christ, and then launches into a lengthy discourse about the Messiah and prophecies about Christ, citing all of Isaiah 53.
He then continues teaching about the Atonement and its power. He points out that the holy prophets of the past testified of these things, and that they are of the seed of the Messiah and shall be saved. And finally, at the end of Chapter 15, many verses after the question about "beautiful feet" was first raised, Abinadi returns to the topic in the following majestic passage, completely turning the tables on the priests to show that their selected excerpt does not support their cause at all, but leaves them utterly condemned:
14 And these are they who have published peace, who have brought good tidings of good, who have published salvation; and said unto Zion: Thy God reigneth!The priests of Noah think they have found a powerful prooftext for their "feel good" religion, but Abinadi takes it perfectly in stride, lays a foundation to help them understand what it really means, and then turns the tables on them. The messages of salvation, of rejoicing, and of beautiful feet upon the mountains (evoking images of Sinai, of covenants, and the temple) are linked to those who teach and follow the ways of the Messiah, not to those who reject the Messiah and violate the commandments of God. The passage, so powerfully interpreted and taught by Abinadi, leaves the priests exposed and condemned. Unable to deal with his reasoning, they respond in the traditional manner by killing Abinadi.
15 And O how beautiful upon the mountains were their feet!
16 And again, how beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of those that are still publishing peace!
17 And again, how beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of those who shall hereafter publish peace, yea, from this time henceforth and forever!
18 And behold, I say unto you, this is not all. For O how beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that is the founder of peace, yea, even the Lord, who has redeemed his people; yea, him who has granted salvation unto his people;
19 For were it not for the redemption which he hath made for his people, which was prepared from the foundation of the world, I say unto you, were it not for this, all mankind must have perished.
20 But behold, the bands of death shall be broken, and the Son reigneth, and hath power over the dead; therefore, he bringeth to pass the resurrection of the dead.
21 And there cometh a resurrection, even a first resurrection; yea, even a resurrection of those that have been, and who are, and who shall be, even until the resurrection of Christ—for so shall he be called.
22 And now, the resurrection of all the prophets, and all those that have believed in their words, or all those that have kept the commandments of God, shall come forth in the first resurrection; therefore, they are the first resurrection.
23 They are raised to dwell with God who has redeemed them; thus they have eternal life through Christ, who has broken the bands of death.
24 And these are those who have part in the first resurrection; and these are they that have died before Christ came, in their ignorance, not having salvation declared unto them. And thus the Lord bringeth about the restoration of these; and they have a part in the first resurrection, or have eternal life, being redeemed by the Lord.
25 And little children also have eternal life.
26 But behold, and fear, and tremble before God, for ye ought to tremble; for the Lord redeemeth none such that rebel against him and die in their sins; yea, even all those that have perished in their sins ever since the world began, that have wilfully rebelled against God, that have known the commandments of God, and would not keep them; these are they that have no part in the first resurrection.
27 Therefore ought ye not to tremble? For salvation cometh to none such; for the Lord hath redeemed none such; yea, neither can the Lord redeem such; for he cannot deny himself; for he cannot deny justice when it has its claim.
28 And now I say unto you that the time shall come that the salvation of the Lord shall be declared to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people.
29 Yea, Lord, thy watchmen shall lift up their voice; with the voice together shall they sing; for they shall see eye to eye, when the Lord shall bring again Zion.
30 Break forth into joy, sing together, ye waste places of Jerusalem; for the Lord hath comforted his people, he hath redeemed Jerusalem.
31 The Lord hath made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.
I used to wonder why the priests of Noah picked some random passage from Isaiah that they didn't seem to understand to seek an interpretation from Abinadi. It was always so awkward and strange when I read it superficially. I now find this section of Mosiah to be profound and brilliant literature. The choice of the Isaiah passage by the priests makes a lot of sense in the context of who they were and what they must have been teaching, and Abinadi's seeming departure and return to the passage is all part of a truly inspired response. The entire episode is great drama and great ancient literature, in my opinion, with much more to it that might meet the eye upon first reading it - or first dictating it.