You can read 1 Nephi 16:36-39 here.
Context and General Information
- Everyone starts murmuring against Lehi and Nephi. They say that they want to go back to Jerusalem.
- Laman and Lemuel use this as an opportunity to make a wicked suggestion: to kill Lehi and Nephi.
- Laman and Lemuel manipulate the truth and lie in order to persuade the others to kill Lehi and Nephi.
- Thankfully the Lord steps in. He spoke to them and chastised them. They turned away their anger, repented of their sins, and then were once again blessed with food so that they did not perish.
Persuasion and Lies
The verses included in these verses have always been interesting to me. First of all, I’m interested in the idea of persuasion. I feel like it often has a negative connotation, but really it is neither positive or negative. It’s just a thing.
In the dictionary, we learn the real definition of persuade:
1: to move by argument, entreaty, or expostulation to a belief, position, or course of action
2 : to plead with : URGE – Merriam Webster
Persuasion is the simple act of trying to move another person. When we understand that this is the case, then we will also find that often people have many motives of persuasion and different ways to persuade others. These aren’t always good! This is where the bad stuff may come in.
We are taught in the Doctrine and Covenants that power or influence over others ought NOT to be maintained – by force. Instead of unrighteous dominion, Priesthood leaders (and probably other leaders, too), should lead others through persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, love unfeigned, etc.
Persuading others – to believe in the Savior Jesus Christ, to do good – is okay!
We should look at it from the other side, too. We have to remember that there are forces at play trying to persuade us to do one thing or another. Yes, we have the prophets (ancient and modern) who are persuading us to come closer to Christ. We have good friends, teachers, leaders, and family members who are doing the same. There are good people around us who are persuading us to be better people because they love us and they want us to be happy.
Then, there are people who are trying to persuade us for other reasons. They want power, they are selfishly motivated. They don’t care about us – other than they need us for some reason or another. They need our money. They need our support. But they don’t intend to lift us up or see us happy!
We are surrounded by persuading voices. It is easy to think of politicians. But also commercials, sociopaths, internet trolls. Whatever.
In 1 Nephi, we read how Laman and Lemuel tried to persuade their brethren:
“And Laman said unto Lemuel and also unto the sons of Ishmael: Behold, let us slay our father, and also our brother Nephi, who has taken it upon him to be our ruler and our teacher, who are his elder brethren.
38 Now, he says that the Lord has talked with him, and also that angels have ministered unto him. But behold, we know that he lies unto us; and he tells us these things, and he worketh many things by his cunning arts, that he may deceive our eyes, thinking, perhaps, that he may lead us away into some strange wilderness; and after he has led us away, he has thought to make himself a king and a ruler over us, that he may do with us according to his will and pleasure. And after this manner did my brother Laman stir up their hearts to anger.” – 1 Nephi 16:37-38
I think that if we study this experience, we can learn how not to be persuaded by little jerks like Laman and Lemuel.
Remember what we read in the verse before:
“And thus they did murmur against my father, and also against me; and they were desirous to return again to Jerusalem.” – 1 Nephi 16:36
Notice the condition of the hearts of the brethren of Nephi. They were upset. They were murmuring. Because of their anger, the Spirit of the Lord wasn’t with them anymore. They were so irrational that they expressed the desire to return back to Jerusalem – despite the extreme hardships they endured to get to the point they were at!
The angered state is not a good state to be able to think spiritually or rationally, so if we are worked up into an anger, we are very easily persuaded by those who don’t have our best interest in mind. We are already stirred up. We aren’t seeing clearly. We need to fight to stay in a positive state – one that is open to the truth and the Spirit of the Lord.
This is really resonating with me right now. We are surrounded by this. There are news agencies and politicians banking on us losing our wits and then buying into anything they say by getting us angry.
Laman and Lemuel were perceptive enough to see their chance. Everyone was angry enough for them to voice their murderous idea – to kill Lehi (their father!) and Nephi (their Brother!)
Laman and Lemuel don’t just stop there – with this idea to kill Lehi and Nephi. Instead, they give their reasons, which are laced with lies.
If the sons of Ishmael and others who were listening to this argument had their wits about them, I think that they would have seen the incredible irony in what Laman and Lemuel were saying versus the actual truth.
What Laman and Lemuel Said – Versus the Actual Truth
- Laman and Lemuel:“…Nephi, who has taken it upon him to be our ruler and our teacher, who are his elder brethren.”
Actual Truth – Nephi didn’t seek to be a ruler or a teacher over his brothers. Nephi is loyal to God and willing to do what God asks Him. In fact, Laman and Lemuel knew exactly why Nephi was chosen to lead them. The angel told them this as Laman and Lemuel were beating Nephi and Sam with a rod:
“…Why do ye smite your younger brother with a rod? Know ye not that the Lord hath chosen him to be a ruler over you, and this because of your iniquities?…” – 1 Nephi 3:29
Laman and Lemuel are manipulating the truth to engender more anger and persuade the others to go along with their evil plan. Yes, it is true that Nephi has become a sort of leader over them. But it isn’t because he sought power over them. And they know it. They know that their own iniquities have disqualified them from being leaders themselves.
- Laman and Lemuel:“…Now, he says that the Lord has talked with him, and also that angels have ministered unto him. But behold, we know that he lies unto us; and he tells us these things, and he worketh many things by his cunning arts, that he may deceive our eyes, thinking, perhaps, that he may lead us away into some strange wilderness…”
Actual Truth: – Nephi did see angels! They know this! They were there when an angel ministered to him! And this wasn’t the only time. An angel taught him the meaning of Lehi’s vision of the tree of life. His brothers were in Lehi’s tent arguing. Nephi wasn’t there! And when Nephi returned, he was able to teach his brother the meaning of Lehi’s words. Laman and Lemuel once again are twisting the truth. They know that Nephi has borne testimony to them of these experiences.
Not only that, but it wasn’t Nephi’s idea to go into the wilderness. It was Lehi who had received the commandment to go to the wilderness, and many people – other than Lehi – had also received a witness of this command.
- Laman and Lemuel:“… But behold, we know that he lies unto us; and he tells us these things, and he worketh many things by his cunning arts, that he may deceive our eyes,…”
Actual Truth: This is almost getting comical. Laman and Lemuel are lying in the very moment! They are working cunning arts – taking advantage of people’s emotions! They are deceiving the eyes of the rest of the people in their party.
If the others weren’t so blinded by their own murmuring, then one of them might have had the wits to say, “Wait a minute…aren’t you lying right now?! Didn’t you also see an angel?! Why are you trying to use your ‘cunning arts’ to deceive us and have us kill them?!
Laman and Lemuel are guilty of exactly what they leverage against Nephi. It’s kind of disgusting. (And it happens all the time still…I won’t go into examples, but I’m sure you can think of some).
- Laman and Lemuel:“…and after he has led us away, he has thought to make himself a king and a ruler over us, that he may do with us according to his will and pleasure. …”
Actual Truth: THIS IS WHAT LAMAN AND LEMUEL WANT TO DO! They want to become the rulers and leaders over the people so they can do with them according to their will and pleasure. They pretend like getting rid of Nephi and Lehi will grant them “freedom.” Instead, and everyone there should know this by now killing Nephi will ensure their death.
They are in the wilderness. They are somewhere on the Arabian Peninsula. It isn’t a particularly hospitable climate. They aren’t a stone’s throw from Jerusalem. They have been traveling months, if not years by now.
They have already nearly died from starvation in the wilderness, and they were only sustained by Nephi’s faith and wits – to make a bow and arrow and go hunt for food.
Laman and Lemuel aren’t interested in the truth, though. They are interested in something else. They want their father and their brother eliminated so that they can have power. They can’t go out and say this, though. Instead, they decide to appeal to the anger of the people who are in distress.
It’s all completely insane.
“…And after this manner did my brother Laman stir up their hearts to anger.” – 1 Nephi 16:38
So – the sons of Ishmael (and others) were angry. Laman and Lemuel used this anger to persuade them of their evil idea. Laman and Lemuel were, unfortunately, effective. The people became angrier.
This is where we have to be careful. In their anger, which was based on a series of fallacies, they had decided that murder would be a good idea. They had been persuaded to break a pretty major commandment!
What Can We Learn from This?
Overall, the thought I keep having is that we need to do everything we can to be worthy of the Spirit. We need to do what we can not to be blinded by the deception of the Devil.
Marion G. Romney stated:
“We know that there is available to each of us the gift of the Holy Ghost—the power of revelation which embraces the gift of discernment by which we may unerringly detect the devil and the counterfeits he is so successfully foisting upon this gullible generation.” – Marion G. Romney
If we stay close to the Spirit, then we will not succumb to the Devil or those who have evil motives.
Laman, Lemuel, and the rest are extremely blessed. The Lord himself stopped this. He spoke to the entire party, chastised them – and they repented. If Laman and Lemuel had been able to go with their plan, then not only would Lehi and Nephi have died, but the rest of them would have, too.
They were dependent on the Lord. They didn’t even know where to go to find food – would they really have been able to make it back to Jerusalem. Once again, the righteousness of Nephi saves this group as they journey to the promised land.
And we can learn – we can learn not to let ourselves be deceived. We can do this by keeping our emotions in check – not allowing ourselves to get angry. We can do this by staying close to the Spirit so that we have the Spirit of discernment and charity.