Confidence that Comes from Keeping the Commandments – 1 Nephi 5:20-22

Read today’s scripture block – 1 Nephi 5:20-22 here.

Context and General Information

  • Lehi and Nephi had kept the commandments of the Lord so far.
  • They obtained the plates of brass – according to the wisdom of the Lord. These plates would aid them in traveling to the promised land.

Keeping the Commandments Gives us Confidence

I love the following scripture:

“And it came to pass that thus far I and my father had kept the commandments wherewith the Lord had commanded us.” – 1 Nephi 5:20

It’s so simple. Nephi takes the time to proclaim that he and his father had kept all of the commandments that the Lord had given them, personally.

So far, these commandments included:

  • Any of the already well-known commandments…Such as the ten commandments, giving sacrifices, tithes, and offerings, etc.
  • Preach repentance to the people of Jerusalem.
  • Flee from Jerusalem because the people wanted to kill them.
  • Follow the promptings of the Lord to get to a promised land.
  • Return to Jerusalem to get the plates of brass.
  • Study the scriptures engraven on the plates of brass.

Other than the first point – to keep all general commandments like the Sabbath day or giving offerings, the rest of the commandments that were kept by Nephi and Lehi were personal promptings or commandments.

I feel like I have overlooked the validity and importance of these commandments. Maybe because we don’t call them commandments. We call them “inspiration” or possibly “promptings.” We tend to downplay that these are personal commandments from God. 

Yet, the truth is, these promptings are personal commandments to us from God.

Nephi kept these commandments, and at this point is able to say that he had kept the commandments that the Lord had given them. He isn’t saying this to brag. It is a statement of truth, and in my opinion it gives him confidence.

***

I think that in the past, I have underestimated the importance of personal commandments, revelations, or promptings. I have thought that these can be dismissed as optional. And, of course it is always our choice to do anything. We don’t have to keep the commandments, but we have to remember that if we don’t keep the commandments we are given, then we can’t receive the blessings associated with those commandments.

You can read more about Nephi and personal commandments here.

Nephi didn’t underestimate the importance of personal commandments. He took them seriously, and then, after the difficulty of doing as he had been commanded, he can evaluate and say, I kept the commandments.

It would feel really good.

***

I think that these little checkpoints – in keeping the commandments – help to give us confidence to continue on. Think about it – this is 1 Nephi 5. Lehi, Nephi, and their family has a long way to go – many more years. They will need all of the strength and confidence that they can get in order to make it to the promised land.

We read:

“Wherefore, it was wisdom in the Lord that we should carry them with us, as we journeyed in the wilderness towards the land of promise.” – 1 Nephi 5:22

Nephi is talking about carrying the plates of brass with them in the wilderness as they journey to the promised land. Notice that last phrase, “as we journeyed in the wilderness towards the land of promise.”

After getting those plates, they knew that they had left Jerusalem for good. They won’t be going back. There isn’t a “plan b.” It’s promised land or bust. They didn’t have a set date for the promised land. They didn’t say, “If we don’t make it to the promised land in 459 days, then we’ll just turn back to Jerusalem.”

They were going to the promised land – even though they didn’t know where it was, they didn’t know how to get there, and they didn’t know how long it would take. There were no landmarks, no checkpoints. It was just a journey that they were on for as long as it took to arrive.

Because there were no “checkpoints” or landmarks, the Lord blessed them in other ways. The commandments he gave to Lehi and Nephi were such blessings. Being able to say “I’ve kept all of the commandments,” blessed them with the confidence to keep moving forward on an unknown path to an unknown promised land.

***

I will give a personal example. In late 2004, I found myself at a major crossroads in my marriage. My ex-husband was not really…into marriage…let’s say. I had huge decisions to make.  I remember feeling a distinct prompting: that if I stayed married, then my eternal life and possibly the eternal lives of my daughters were at stake.

Even though I had the choice, I knew that I was prompted to get divorced. Perhaps Nephi would have called it a commandment. In any case, I chose to listen to the Lord. I divorced and started my life as a single-mom in her mid-twenties.

Divorcing was a difficult decision to make. I was living in my mom’s house with my two girls. I didn’t have a job. I didn’t even know where to start. I remember reading statistics about women, children, and divorce, and the statistics were against me. But, I also knew that this is what the Lord prompted me to do. I knew that he wasn’t setting me up for failure. I knew that he would help me to keep the commandments that He had given me. Because I moved forward in faith and obedience, I was blessed.

I found a job. I bought a car. We were getting on our feet.

Fast forward about a year and half. In mid-2006, I was on a run with my kids one day after work. They were riding their bikes, and I was running along and we were approaching our house.

The White House PA

The “White” House – our humble home in PA.

I can’t really describe the feeling that washed over me as we approached our home. Well, I know what it was – confidence. This was mine. It was my house. Made possible because I was keeping the commandments of the Lord.

My dad didn’t get me this house. My mom didn’t get it for me. I found my own job. Bought my own car. Signed my own contract for a cell phone. Saved my own money. Paid my own deposit. And paid rent each month on my own for this little one-bedroom house in Chester County, PA.

It was cold, drafty, there was a huge pile of nuts in one of the closets -obviously a squirrel’s stash…it was perfect for me and my two girls. We were safe and cozy. A neighbor had several cats. One of those cats adopted us and slept on our front porch most nights. He helped to keep the mice and squirrels away!

Of course I had help from my family. None of us can really do anything alone, but while running up this back country road, I felt the confidence that comes when we can say, “thus far I had kept the commandments wherewith the Lord hath commanded me.” I felt the confidence that comes when we see that the Lord will empower us and enable us to keep the commandments.

I still had a long road ahead of me then. I wouldn’t meet Homey for several more months. I still had to deal with child support issues, work, bosses, holidays, parent-teacher conferences, and everything else that a single, working mom must juggle in order to survive. Not only did I have a long road ahead of me, but I actually knew I that I had a long road ahead of me. I didn’t know how long it would be, but I knew I hadn’t quite yet reached my promised land.

But the Lord blessed me with the confidence that comes from keeping the commandments. And that confidence is what fuels us as we push forward on our own unknown paths toward our own unknown promised lands.

So – this is one of my favorite scriptures. It’s a good litmus test. How am I doing? The Lord doesn’t measure “how we’re doing” on our possessions, bank accounts, or callings. We shouldn’t either. The thing we each need to focus on is being able to be like Nephi and say that we have kept all of the commandments God has given us.

 

 

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An Interesting Prompting – 1 Nephi 4:10-18

You can read today’s scripture block – 1 Nephi 4:10-18 here.

Context and General Information

  • Nephi is “constrained” by the Spirit that he should kill Laban.
  • Nephi shrank at the command.
  • The Spirit explained that the Lord had delivered Laban into the hands of Nephi.
  • Nephi reasons – Laban had sought to take Nephi’s life and had stolen all of their property.
  • Again, the Lord’s Spirit tells Nephi to slay Laban, that the Lord had delivered Laban into Nephi’s hands.
  • Nephi remembered what the Lord had said to him in the wilderness – that if they kept the commandments, they would prosper in the promised land.
  • Nephi realized that they couldn’t keep the commandments if they didn’t have the law. And he knew that the law of Moses was engraved on the plates of brass.
  • Nephi knew that the Lord truly had delivered Laban into his hands – so he obeyed the strange prompting of the Spirit and killed Laban.

BAM!

The story of Nephi getting the plates of brass – and being commanded to kill Laban is one of the reasons I know that the Book of Mormon is true, and that Joseph Smith didn’t just write it out of thin air.

Why is that? Well, only four chapters into the Book of Mormon, the reader is asked a lot – to believe that Nephi was commanded to kill. This is pretty intense! And why, if Joseph Smith was simply writing the Book of Mormon, why would he include a story like this – that asked so much faith of the reader?

I know that Joseph Smith didn’t write the Book of Mormon. I know that he translated it. The Book of Mormon is an inspired work. It is true, and it asks us to exercise a little bit of faith – right off the bat!

Here are a few thoughts…

One – Constrained
Nephi stated:

“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.” – 1 Nephi 4:10

The word that stands out to me in this verse is constrained. In order to understand more about this experience of Nephi’s, it is helpful to feel very comfortable with the definition of “constrained.”

When I’m trying to understand a word in the scriptures, I do a few things. First of all, I look at the scripture to see if there is a footnote.

1 Nephi 4 footnote

There is a footnote on the word “constrain.”

So – first of all, you can see that there is, indeed, a footnote on the word “constrain.” It’s a good starting place for us to understand it better.

If you are ever feeling puzzled or even troubled by something in the scriptures, then search. The Lord does expect us to have faith, but it isn’t blind. He has pleaded with us to seek, ask, and knock. And He has promised us with insight in return of our efforts.

So – “constrain” has a footnote…here is the cross-reference:

1 Nephi 4 Cross Reference

This is the cross-reference.

For more context on this scripture, The Lord has commanded King Saul to smite and destroy the Amalekites and all that they have.

He was constrained to kill the wicked. You can read more about this experience for yourself in 1 Samuel 15:3, but it helps to understand that the Lord constraining a person to slay a wicked person is not unprecedented.

The next thing I do when I’m trying to understand something is look in the Study Helps of the scriptures. You can search the word “constrain” in any of the appropriate study helps.

I found the following in the topical guide:

1 Nephi 4 Topical Guide Entry

Topical Guide Entry for “Constrain”

If you only scan through these entries, you start to get an idea of what “constrain” mean. You begin to see that Nephi’s spiritual prompting wasn’t a mere impression. It was very strong – maybe even forceful.

Finally, a very underutilized tool is the dictionary. Even if you feel like you understand the word contextually, looking up the definition is so helpful.

The dictionary defines constrain to “compel or force someone to a particular course of action.”

Now we have a better understanding of what was happening with Nephi.

Being constrained would have been helpful for Nephi – he could easily recognize that this was the Spirit telling him to do it. Nephi was confident in his spirituality. He didn’t want to kill Laban. And he knew what the Spirit felt like.

Of course, Nephi isn’t easily compelled. He shrinks.

Two – Nephi Reasons

We read:

“And the Spirit said unto me again: Behold the Lord hath delivered him into thy hands. Yea, and I also knew that he had sought to take away mine own life; yea, and he would not hearken unto the commandments of the Lord; and he also had taken away our property.” – 1 Nephi 4:11

Again, the spirit tells Nephi to slay Laban.

Nephi is trying to understand this commandment. So he reasons – Nephi knew that Laban had tried to murder him. Laban was wicked, he had most likely broken other laws worthy of death. Finally, Laban had stolen all of their property.

Given the culture and laws of the time, Nephi might have been justified in killing Laban. Nephi would not have been committing a premeditated murder. Instead, he happened upon Laban – who he had already fled from because of the threat of death. Laban would have killed Nephi if he had the chance – and why? Because Laban wanted Nephi’s possessions.

I’m not an expert on Ancient Jewish Law, but I did come across this:

1 Nephi 4 Book of Mormon Student Manual

From the Book of Mormon Institute Student Manual

Nephi didn’t live in the U.S. or any modern country. This command to kill Laban didn’t go contrary to his government’s laws. Though Nephi wasn’t very comfortable with killing Laban, it wasn’t because the action would have been illegal. It’s because he was a faithful man. It’s because he always tried to live the commandments. He didn’t expect to do this in order to get the plates. We already have seen the ideas that Nephi came up with – ask for the plates, buy the plates. It didn’t cross his mind to commit violence for them.

And, interestingly enough – even though Nephi could have been justified by the law to kill Laban, this is NOT why he did. 

Nephi Receives Spiritual Insight and Spiritual Motivation

We read:

“And it came to pass that the Spirit said unto me again: Slay him, for the Lord hath delivered him into thy hands;

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.” – 1 Nephi 4:12-13

Again, the Lord prompts Nephi to kill Laban. This time the Spirit gives Nephi another insight – that the lord slays the wicked to bring forth his righteous purposes. The Lord has every right to do so. And, as we read earlier, He had commanded it earlier in Jewish history. I’m sure that Nephi was already aware of this.

Laban had been given agency to make the right decision. Now, he had to live according to the consequences of his choices. We only see a small snapshot into Laban’s person. He may have done much more to be worthy of death.

But this isn’t what strikes Nephi. Nephi knows that he is going to a promised land. They will be starting a civilization, and I’m sure it might be hard for Nephi to wrap his head around that idea. But Nephi knows that in order for the Lord’s righteous purposes to be fulfilled, he needs to slay Laban.

Nephi then beings to realize:

“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.

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.

And I also knew that the law was engraven upon the plates of brass.

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.

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.” – 1 Nephi 4:14-18

Nephi is now spiritually convinced that the best course of action is to follow the unconventional prompting of the Spirit. He slays Laban. And because of this decision, he saves his whole society.

Some people might be critical of this story, but it is helpful to look at Nephi – he is never violent – even to his brothers! They mock him, they tie him up, they threaten him, and he just takes it. He strictly obeys the commandment of God.

***

Since this is a public study of this scripture, I also want to say that – for the most part – I don’t think that the Lord will compel most of us to slay anyone. We can’t use the Lord to justify any wicked deed. But Nephi’s deed wasn’t wicked.

Some of us may serve in the military, where we will be commanded to slay, and it will be justified to do so. Some of us might find ourselves in situations where we need to protect ourselves – even at the life of another. Both of these instances are legal within our judicial system. Nephi’s command was legal in his judicial system.

We must learn to be like Nephi – able to discern what the Spirit is teaching and then willing to do it.

Risks and Even More Failure – 1 Nephi 3:22-31

Context and General Information

  • Nephi and his brothers go down to their home in Jerusalem and gather up all of their precious things.
  • They take their stuff to Laban to essentially “buy” the brass plates.
  • Laban sees their property, lusts after it, then kicks Nephi and his brothers out and sends soldiers after them.
  • Laman, Lemuel, Sam, and Nephi escape, but all of their precious things fall into the hands of Laban.
  • Laman and Lemuel are angry with Nephi after this failed attempt. They say mean things to him and Sam, and then they beat up Nephi and Sam with a rod.
  • An angel appears, stops Laman and Lemuel from beating Nephi and Sam, and then promises that if they try again, the Lord will deliver Laban into their hands.
IMG_4172

This picture has nothing to do with the post really, but it is pretty…

Risk

And when I write risk, I mean big risk.

Nephi, earlier in chapter 3, spends a bit of time persuading his brothers to try again to obtain the plates. He comes up with an idea – to “buy” the plates from Laban. They have resources – the precious things that they left behind when they fled into the wilderness.

We read:

“And it came to pass that we went down to the land of our inheritance, and we did gather together our gold, and our silver, and our precious things.

And after we had gathered these things together, we went up again unto the house of Laban.

And it came to pass that we went in unto Laban, and desired him that he would give unto us the records which were engraven upon the plates of brass, for which we would give unto him our gold, and our silver, and all our precious things.” – 1 Nephi 3:22-24

It’s so easy to overlook this risk because (if you are Mormon and if you are familiar with the story of Nephi) we know the ending. We know that Nephi will get the plates of brass. We know that Nephi and his family will make it to the promised land. We know that Nephi will live after the manner of happiness.

But those successes come later.

In the moment, when Nephi thought of the idea to go back, gather up all of their gold, silver, and precious things, Nephi didn’t know – other than God had promised – how, if, or when they would get the plates, make it to the promised land, etc.

So, this is a big risk. Or at least if you look at it without spiritual eyes (the way that Laman and Lemuel did) it is a big risk.

I wonder how Laman and Lemuel felt when they left Jerusalem in the first place. Were they thinking, “This is weird, but we’ll be back in Jerusalem before the end of the month.”??? In the back of their minds, maybe they were comforted because they knew that they still had a home and ample of resources in Jerusalem. Maybe they thought that if they needed to, they could steal away into the night, leave the wilderness, and go back to the land of their inheritance and they would be fine – with all of their gold, silver, and precious things.

Now, with Nephi’s suggestion, things are getting really real. Yes, it would help them to get the plates of brass. However, after that they will have nothing left. They won’t have resources. They won’t have riches. They won’t have a way out of the wilderness if they decide to come back. They are burning every bridge that they have in Jerusalem.

But they take the risk.

And then…they fail…

“And it came to pass that when Laban saw our property, and that it was exceedingly great, he did lust after it, insomuch that he thrust us out, and sent his servants to slay us, that he might obtain our property.

And it came to pass that we did flee before the servants of Laban, and we were obliged to leave behind our property, and it fell into the hands of Laban.” – 1 Nephi 3:25-26

This situation has the potential to be pretty demoralizing. It is for Laman and Lemuel:

“And it came to pass that Laman was angry with me, and also with my father; and also was Lemuel, for he hearkened unto the words of Laman. Wherefore Laman and Lemuel did speak many hard words unto us, their younger brothers, and they did smite us even with a rod.” – 1 Nephi 3:28

Laman and Lemuel were so frustrated – with Nephi with Lehi with the entire situation – that they take it out on Nephi and Sam physically – by beating them with a rod.

And, if we go back to what we learned in 1 Nephi 2, that those who don’t know the dealings of their creator murmur (see 1 Nephi 2:12), then it is easy to see why Laman and Lemuel react the way that they did.

Now – it seems like every bridge is burned. Laban wants to kill Laman, Lemuel, Sam, and Nephi. And, now that Laban has illegally seized all of their stuff, I’m sure that he is even more insistent on killing the sons of Lehi – to keep himself out of trouble!

The people of Jerusalem want to kill Lehi.

All of Lehi’s family’s riches and resources are gone.

It seems that they have nothing left. No opportunities, no resources, nothing.

Yet that isn’t true. They do have something left. And that something is more powerful and effective than any opportunity or resource.

As the angel declared:

“…Behold ye shall go up to Jerusalem again, and the Lord will deliver Laban into your hands.” – 1 Nephi 3:29

Though they have no money, though there are soldiers out looking to take their lives, though they have made enemies with a powerful man, they have the backing of the Lord. And he commands them, through the voice of His angel, to go back to Jerusalem and get the plates.

***

We read about Laman and Lemuel’s response:

“And after the angel had departed, Laman and Lemuel again began to murmur, saying: How is it possible that the Lord will deliver Laban into our hands? Behold, he is a mighty man, and he can command fifty, yea, even he can slay fifty; then why not us?” – 1 Nephi 3:31

Often, we criticize Laman and Lemuel, how could they murmur after seeing an angel?!

It’s probably good to think about it because we may be guilty of the same exact thing in our own lives.

  • As mentioned before, all resources have been exhausted
  • As mentioned before, there are people who want Laman and Lemuel dead. They have been chased out of town and barely escaped with their lives!
  • Let’s look at this from the beginning. Laman and Lemuel didn’t really want to go to Jerusalem in the first place. They thought that Lehi was crazy and that going back to get the plates was too hard. Yet somehow they are convinced to go.
  • They fail in getting the plates twice – they fail miserably. These failures probably reinforce their original thought – it is a hard thing that Lehi has required of them!
  • Now God says that He will help, but so far he hasn’t. Will it really be different?

Faith. It’s a choice. Sometimes it’s a hard choice.

One more time the Lord is asking them to take a risk – go back to Jerusalem. This time, going into Jerusalem to get the plates is riskier than it ever has been.

But…really…what is riskier?

I’m fairly convinced that the riskiest thing we can do is ignore the promptings of the Spirit – to ignore our personal commandments. Yes, often when we choose to get on the Lord’s path, it is challenging. It requires sacrifice. It seems risky. We might have to give up all we own, we might have to move out of town. We might be staking our reputation. These are the sacrifices and they seem risky when we think we are navigating this life alone.

But it is far riskier to rely on our own strength and ignore the Lord.

So – yes. Nephi’s second attempt was a risk. And it was a failure…in the short term. But, he risked nothing. His life, his resources, his reputation is nothing without God.

“He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.” – Matthew 10:39

Nephi understands, and we can learn from this story that following God – though we may have to give up our lives – is worth every so called sacrifice. And that ignoring the Lord’s promptings – thought it may seem like the “safer” thing to do – is the riskiest and stupidest thing we could ever attempt in this life.

Yes, Laban commands fifty and can slay fifty. But the Lord created Laban. The Lord grants us daily breath. The Lord is the surest thing in our lives. So, following His commandments, no matter what they ask of us, is always worth the risk.