With the start of a new year, Saints around the world have dedicated themselves to reading the Book of Mormon, as that is the 2020 Come, Follow Me curriculum and a never-ending plea from leaders. My father composed and included me on an email sent to my older brother serving in the San Antonio, Texas mission, and with his permission, I would like to share some of his thoughts on this week’s past chapters (1 Nephi 1-7), along with my own.
Words from my Dad:
I’ve been intrigued by how hard and somewhat confusing the Lord made things for Nephi in those early days.
First, Lehi uproots his whole family just because of a dream. They were pretty rich and probably living good. But then they left all their gold and friends and stuff behind and went camping. Nephi has to be thinking: we are doing a lot just because of a dream.
Then, once they’ve hiked a bunch, here comes Lehi with another dream saying the boys had to go back and grab the brass plates. He must have thought: why didn’t the Lord tell us this before we left? And he must have known that getting the plates from Laban would not be easy. In fact, the brothers murmured. I would have murmured I bet. But Nephi did not. He had not seen any miracle yet, and this journey in the wilderness was likely lousy and still made no sense, but he said:
1 Nephi 3:7 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, said unto my father: I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.
So off Nephi goes totally fired up with faith and ready to grab the plates. Why not just roll up and ask Laban for the them? Surely the Lord will bless them for their obedience and Laban will hand them over. Or maybe the plates will just appear on the side of the road. Those things are possible; the Lord could make that happen. But instead Laban kicks them out and threatens to kill them.
At this point, maybe Nephi is thinking: not cool. I’m doing what I am supposed to do and getting no results.
But then they have a great idea: we have a bunch of gold and jewels and stuff we left behind. That must be why the Lord had us leave it! That all makes sense now. What a blessing! Then they go to Laban to trade it for the plates and Laban takes the gold, does not give them the plates, and threatens to kill them. Whoa – I thought the gold was left behind for a reason? I guess not.
So now the brothers are really losing hope and faith. Laman and Lemuel were done. They started beating up Nephi for putting them through this.
It must have been very confusing for Nephi. He was trying to do the right things, but the Lord did not seem to be holding up His end of the deal. Have you ever felt that way? I know I often do. We want instant results sometimes. And it’s confusing when we receive inspiration or are pointed in one direction only to have the immediate result seem inconsistent with what the Lord promised.
So Nephi was at a key decision point. The Lord had seemed to abandon him. But he was commanded to do something, so he kept going. That was probably very hard for him to do. But he decided to go back to Laban’s place and rely on the Lord to guide him.
1 Nephi 4:6 And I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do.
I personally don’t like not knowing what will happen beforehand. I like certainty and things that make sense. So it is hard for me to start down a path and just hope I’ll be led by the Spirit.
I testify that He will lead you. It might be a different path than you expect or want, and on a different timeline, but you will be led.
So back to Nephi: off he goes to talk to Laban a third time without a real plan. And he stumbles upon a drunk Laban. And the Lord tells him to kill Laban. Well this is interesting. Seems like kind of an overly-dramatic plan. Why not just have the plates fall off the back of the moving cart, or have a guard “forget” to lock the hiding place? There were easier ways to get those plates to Nephi and reward his obedience.
As we read about what went through Nephi’s mind at that moment, we see how the Lord teaches and molds us:
10 And it came to pass that I was constrained by the Spirit that I should kill Laban; but I said in my heart: Never at any time have I shed the blood of man. And I shrunk and would that I might not slay him.
12 And it came to pass that the Spirit said unto me again: Slay him, for the Lord hath delivered him into thy hands; 13 Behold the Lord slayeth the wicked to bring forth his righteous purposes. It is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief. 14 And now, when I, Nephi, had heard these words, I remembered the words of the Lord which he spake unto me in the wilderness, saying that: Inasmuch as thy seed shall keep my commandments, they shall prosper in the land of promise. 15 Yea, and I also thought that they could not keep the commandments of the Lord according to the law of Moses, save they should have the law. 16 And I also knew that the law was engraven upon the plates of brass. 17 And again, I knew that the Lord had delivered Laban into my hands for this cause—that I might obtain the records according to his commandments. 18 Therefore I did obey the voice of the Spirit, and took Laban by the hair of the head, and I smote off his head with his own sword.
We have all been there. We are asked by the Lord to do something, and we think “I can’t or shouldn’t or don’t want to do that”.
After that initial thought, pay attention to the process. The Spirit touched him, but then he went through his own thought process and used his own knowledge in verses 14-17.
That is how it works for me. I am touched by the Spirit, sometimes almost imperceptible in strength and duration, and then the Lord requires me to figure stuff out. That is how the Master teaches us.
I know that the Lord was teaching and molding Nephi during that first mission. He had a lot to do in the coming years, and he had to learn how to work with promptings of the Spirit and his own knowledge. Those things go hand in hand. It’s not one or the other. Sometimes the promptings are strong and our own knowledge is weak. Sometimes our own knowledge and work is required to lead the way.
And we all must learn that the path the Lord takes us down does not always make sense in the first mile or even miles. But we must keep going.
So what can we take away from Nephi’s experiences? Patience is often needed as the Lord teaches us and molds us in preparation for things to come. We grow and learn to become more like Him. Remember this when we take a few steps down a path and don’t see results. The results will come.
Some of my own thoughts:
My thoughts were turned to the family dynamic of Nephi’s family. Good parents, good upbringing, pretty good relationships overall. They leave it all behind and travel hundreds of miles to live in the wilderness and hunt for all their food. I wonder what some of the conversations they had about this were, and if Lehi ever feared that he was leading his family terribly astray.
So the boys make the trip back to get the plates. Another long journey. I’ve thought a lot about what they talked about on their way back, and what the vibe was. Was there much contention? Or was there brotherly comradery, as they lived like men in the wilderness without parental supervision? I’ll come back to this.
As I read, I just thought how dope Nephi is. Goes in there, kills Laban, takes Laban’s clothing. So now there’s just a dead naked beheaded king laying there. Nephi goes and impersonates Laban, then convinces the servant to follow him to the city walls. Then with his much strength he constrains Zoram the servant.
The conversation Nephi had with Zoram is pretty cool. They came together in an oath. A promise. Zoram trusted Nephi’s word. Maybe we need to have the uninformed trust (or faith) of a man’s character that Zoram had.
So they travel back, Zoram going with them. This must’ve been a party! They were all probably so hyped and excited to show their parents. Meanwhile, Sariah is complaining to Lehi. I laughed a little when I read this, because at the end of chapter 4 you read of their successes, then the summary of chapter 5 starts with, “Sariah complains against Lehi”. Poor Lehi. But the sons return, and again I wonder if Zoram is wondering what on earth he’s gotten himself into.
The newest addition to my Priest’s quorum today said that Laman and Lemuel were actually pretty cool for obeying their father, and going with Nephi. They did try twice to confront Laban, after all. They saw the same angel and heard the same words as Nephi did, but I think the difference between them and Nephi was their focus. It’s said that the thing we focus most on during our day becomes our God. Is God our God? During these long journeys where they traveled miles and miles with nothing to do but camp and hunt and walk, I’m sure that Nephi was praying and pondering upon the things of the Lord. Laman and Lemuel may have been messing around or complaining, thus not having the Spirit with them when it came time to get the plates.
The Book of Mormon means something different to each person who treasures its words. Each testimony stems from various reasons or spiritual experiences, however, they all begin with a humble prayer and desire to learn. The journey of developing a deeper understanding, and the methods thereof, are also unique to each reader. As Brigham Young says, “It is your privilege to do so, that you may be as familiar with the spirit and meaning of the written word of God as you are with your daily walk and conversation.” Let us come to know the significance of the Book of Mormon in our own lives, and experience for ourselves the promised blessings of abiding by its precepts.