You can read 1 Nephi 7:13-16 here.
Context and General Information
- Nephi and his brothers are in the wilderness – with Ishmael’s family – on their way back to Lehi and Sariah.
- Laman and Lemuel want to go back to Jerusalem. They rebel, along with a few of Ishmael’s children, and start to stir things up. Nephi asks them how it is possible for them to be so rebellious.
- Nephi testifies that if they are faithful, then they will obtain a land of promise.
- Jerusalem will be destroyed as foretold by the prophets – because the people of Jerusalem have become wicked. The Spirit of God won’t strive with them. They have rejected the prophets.
- If Laman and Lemuel return to Jerusalem, they, too, will perish.
They [Laman and Lemuel] Had a Choice
Sometimes I think it might be easy to get the wrong impression about Nephi. He is this younger brother – constantly compelled by the Spirit to correct his brothers. I really do not envy him or the assignment that he had. It is hard to be put in the position to correct anyone – especially a sibling.
I have to admit that sometimes I even forget how this played out – how Nephi wasn’t just trying to be some kind of know-it-all; that Nephi wasn’t ever trying to force Laman and Lemuel to do the right thing. They were his brothers. They were on the same team. He is coaxing them to be righteous because he loves them and they need one another.
I forget this sometimes, but then I will come across something like this in the scriptures:
“Now behold, I say unto you that if ye will return unto Jerusalem ye shall also perish with them. And now, if ye have choice, go up to the land, and remember the words which I speak unto you, that if ye go ye will also perish; for thus the Spirit of the Lord constraineth me that I should speak.” – 1 Nephi 7:15
Nephi reminded them and warned them – if they return to Jerusalem, they will perish. This isn’t some kind of controlling thing said by a know-it-all brother. Nephi is warning them. If he didn’t care about them, he wouldn’t have cared if they went back to Jerusalem and perished or not.
Nephi cares about them, but he will not force them, and the Lord won’t either. Notice the phrase: “And now, if ye have choice, go up to the land, and remember the words which I speak unto you, that if ye go ye will also perish;…”
Laman and Lemuel have a choice! They don’t have to stay in the wilderness with Lehi and Sariah. They don’t have to inherit a promised land. They can stay in Jerusalem. They have a the choice to make.
And God is so merciful that He will even constrain Nephi to tell them that if they do go back to Jerusalem, they will perish – because Jerusalem will be destroyed (and it was!).
Imagine if the Lord hadn’t warned them. Imagine if they had simply gone back into Jerusalem and then if Jerusalem had been destroyed. Imagine if they didn’t know that was why Lehi left, and that was why they were heading to a promised land. They would have been frustrated! They might have thought, “I would have stayed with my father if I knew that this was happening to Jerusalem!”
Who knows. It doesn’t really matter. What matters is:
- God loves us enough to let us make a choice.
- God doesn’t force us to be ignorant about the choices we make. As we learn in Amos:
“Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.” – Amos 3:7
Heavenly Father did compel Nephi to warn his brothers about the implications of the decision to go to Jerusalem if they should choose to do it.
I’m overwhelmed with the idea that the Lord loves us this much – that not only will He help us to understand the consequences of our actions, but that He will also let us choose for ourselves what we should do.
And I wonder about myself – how much do I honor my agency? Did Laman and Lemuel honor and treasure their agency? I think that in a way, we all do. We are all sovereign beings that fought for our agency.
But do they really honor their agency? Have they made any choices? Or are they just going with the flow – letting life happen to them? Do they take accountability for their choices – whether good or bad? Or do they simply try to pretend to be victims of their circumstances? I think that we can answer these questions, and I think that at a later time in the Book of Mormon I might. But for now, I’m going to simply end this blog post.
Laman and Lemuel were not bullied, manipulated, or bossed around by their younger brother. Their younger brother was a conduit of God’s Love toward them. Nephi didn’t want to tell them what to do, but he was also strictly obedient to the Spirit of God. So, Nephi warned them.
And they had a choice.