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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The Brass Plates – 1 Nephi 5:10-19

You can read 1 Nephi 5:10-16 here.

Context and General Information

  • After giving thanks to God, Lehi searches the plates of brass from the beginning.

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The Brass Plates – What they Are

In chapter 5, we learn what comprised the brass plates.

  • The five books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy). This contained the account of the creation of the world.
  • A record of the Jews from the beginning all the way to the commencement of the reign of Zedekiah.

    When I read this, I get the idea that this means it is a record from when the Jews inhabited Israel – after leaving Egypt. It sounds to me like the plates of brass had this history included in it.

    Another note – these plates were up to date! I know that I have said that Laban was a bad guy. But one good thing about Laban – he seemed to take keeping these records updated somewhat seriously. I don’t know if he recorded the information himself, or if he had hired help. In any case, the plates of brass, which had been in his possession, were up to date.

  • The prophecies of the holy prophets – from the beginning all the way to the days of the reign of the King Zedekiah (who was their contemporary). This even included the prophecies given by Jeremiah.

    Again, this is updated, and not only in a historical sense. The plates in Laban’s possession are also up do date in a spiritual sense, too. It even included Jeremiah’s preaching!

  • A genealogy of his Lehi’s fathers. Lehi knows that he is a descendant of Joseph. Laban is also a descendant of Joseph.

The Power of the Plates of Brass

Here are a few more things that we learn about the Brass Plates

  • They are a conduit of the Spirit. While studying the brass plates, Lehi is filled with the Spirit and he even begins to prophesy.

    These records will bless Lehi and his family for generations and generations – as long as the Nephite civilization flourishes. Finally, the Nephite civilization will go extinct when they pervert the ways of the Lord that had been taught to them through the prophets and the scriptures.

  • The Plates of Brass would go forth uno all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people who were of his seed. This has been partially fulfilled. The plates went to his people for generations.

    But now we don’t have these records. So, this prophecy still has to be fulfilled.

  • The Plates of Brass will never perish or dim by time.

    This kind of seems strange to me – because we don’t have the Plates of Brass or a translation of it. It could be easy to think that this record has perished or at least dimmed by time.

    But the thing is – we can trust the prophecy. Just because we don’t have the records contained on the plates of brass doesn’t mean that they have perished or dimmed. The Lord is just waiting until the right time to reveal them to us.

    And when they do come forth, it will probably be pretty amazing – especially as a comparison to the Bible. It will probably clear a lot of information up and help us to believe in our Savior.

This is kind of a newsy-ish blog post. It probably doesn’t seem very insightful or inspirational. It is more or less informative, but I think that it is helpful for us to know what the Brass Plates are. They were the foundation of the Nephite civilization. We all need a code to live by if we want to have peace and freedom in our society and world. The Lord knew this – the Brass Plates would keep the Nephite religion, education, and entire civilization intact.

 

Sariah – 1 Nephi 5:1-8

Click here to read 1 Nephi 5:1-8

Context and General Information

  • When Laman, Lemuel, Sam, and Nephi return to the tent of their father, their parents rejoice.
  • Sariah had mourned for them. She thought that they had died in the wilderness. Sariah complained against Lehi for taking them out there and now her sons were gone.
  • Lehi listens and then tells her he agrees – he is a visionary man. But because of the visions he had seen, he knew the goodness of God. He knew he could trust God in leading them to a promised land. He could also trust that the Lord would enable his sons to get the plates of brass.
  • Sariah was comforted.
  • When Laman, Lemuel, Sam, and Nephi returned to the tent of their father, his parents rejoiced, and his mother was comforted.
  • Sariah testifies that she knows that God commanded them to go to the wilderness. She bears a beautiful testimony.
5 Sariah

Sariah

Sariah

I really like Sariah.

I feel for Sariah.

Sariah is a woman of faith and strength.

Think about the situation. Life is kind of normal in Jerusalem for Sariah and her family. It seems like they had plenty of possessions. I don’t know what her personal life was like, but they weren’t poor. It seems like they had plenty of stability in their lives.

Until suddenly – when they don’t.

Lehi has this experience with the Lord, and then is called to prophesy and witness to others in Jerusalem of what he saw and heard. Suddenly, life isn’t quite as neat and stable. People don’t like what Lehi is saying. In fact, they detest what he has to say so much that the Lord warns Lehi – during the night – that they need to flee Jerusalem.

I imagine that Lehi woke up, turned to Sariah, and told her exactly what happened. And we read:

“And it came to pass that he departed into the wilderness. And he left his house, and the land of his inheritance, and his gold, and his silver, and his precious things, and took nothing with him, save it were his family, and provisions, and tents, and departed into the wilderness.” – 1 Nephi 2:4

When Lehi departed into the wilderness – I doubt that he did one hundred percent of the work. I can imagine Sariah, waking up, hearing her husband – the tone in his voice – the urgency of the command to flee Lehi.

I imagine that Sariah packed up food, clothes, and goods for her husband, her children, and herself. I can imagine that she tried to get things as organized as possible to leave and flee to a promised land. She wouldn’t be going back to Jerusalem.

Sariah didn’t have the vision! She didn’t have the dream! She simply placed her faith in the words of her husband. And based on the swiftness of the departure of Lehi’s family, I’m going to guess that she did have faith in her husband’s words.

They traveled for three days before stopping. Three days, she is faithful and helpful. Lehi could not have done this alone.

And then for even longer. Who knows how long Lehi and his family had been out in the wilderness before his sons return to Jerusalem.

We read:

“And my father dwelt in a tent.” – 1 Nephi 2:15

Yes – we all know that Lehi dwelt in a tent, but take a second to think about it. Perhaps Nephi would have been more accurate to say, And my father and my other dwelt in a tent. Sariah was there, too. Struggling, suffering, and sleeping in the wilderness.

She faithfully chose to listen to her husband as he listened to the Lord. She helped and supported Lehi. She wasn’t just along for the ride to the promised land. She is Lehi’s companion and help-meet. She is an integral part of making this whole journey work.

She faithfully goes, then Lehi sends their four sons back to Jerusalem.

After a while, Sariah voices her concerns – that Lehi is a visionary man. She says:

“Behold thou hast led us forth from the land of our inheritance, and my sons are no more, and we perish in the wilderness.” – 1 Nephi 5:2

We all have hard days. Despite all of Sariah’s really good days and acts of faith, the only one we have in this record was a bad one. But we all have bad days occasionally – days when our faith flags. Days when we really need help. We covenant to “bear one another’s burdens” – without realizing that sometimes others are bearing ours.

Sariah had been bearing so much, but could no longer take it, and she told her husband.

Healthy Marriage Example

Sariah called Lehi a “visionary man.” (Dreamer?) She complained. And what does he do?

Lehi could have taken this chance to get annoyed and offended. He could have stamped off, huffing and puffing and then given her the silent treatment.

Instead, Lehi listens. He hears her. He validates her:I know that I am a visionary man…” He doesn’t defend himself by hurting her. He just reminds her the sequence of events that had led them to that situation. This sequence was orchestrated by the Lord.

Lehi’s willingness to listen rather than correct invites the Spirit into their conversation. This is how we can be sure that Sariah is so righteous. She is comforted. She is close enough to the Spirit to feel comfort. In this sense, she is a second witness that Lehi and his family truly do need to flee Jerusalem.

She still missed her boys, but her heart is full of confidence in God.

And then the boys return. She is so happy, and then – one of my favorite moments in all of scripture:

“And she spake, saying: Now I know of a surety that the Lord hath commanded my husband to flee into the wilderness; yea, and I also know of a surety that the Lord hath protected my sons, and delivered them out of the hands of Laban, and given them power whereby they could accomplish the thing which the Lord hath commanded them. And after this manner of language did she speak.” – 1 Nephi 5:8

We get to read her testimony! This difficult trial reinforces Sariah’s faith in and testimony of the Lord. It will give the strength that she will need to push on for 8 more years until they reach the promised land. Testimony comes only after a trial of faith. Sariah’s faith was tried. She endured well, and now she has a sure witness that they are keeping the personal commandments that the Lord had given Lehi.

***
I truly love this example. Time and time again, I have wondered – what does Sariah’s journal look like? What were her prayers like? It takes a lot of faith to be called a prophet and follow the word of God. And in some ways, we could argue that it takes even more faith to trust the witness of another.

Sariah trusted Lehi’s witness and then finally, the Lord gave her a personal witness.

I love this example because I’m a wife. I have had the opportunity to be married to a man who receives revelation for our family from time to time. I am not always the one who receives these promptings. I’ve had to learn how to be like Sariah – trusting in my spouse – that he is living worthy of the companionship of the Spirit and is following it.

Though we don’t have much in our scriptures about Sariah, her life has made a major impact on me.

Zoram – 1 Nephi 4:20-38

You can read the scripture assignment here.

Context and General Information

  • Nephi, dressed as Laban, goes to the treasury to get the plates of brass.
  • The servant of Laban, Zoram, thought that Nephi was Laban. He spoke to Nephi about the elders of the Jews. Nephi didn’t correct Zoram, but continued to impersonate him.
  • Nephi asked for the plates – to take them out to his elder brethren just outside of the city. Nephi does mean to take the plates to his elder brothers, but not in the way that Zoram thinks.
  • Zoram spake – many times – about the elders of the Jews.
  • When Laman, Lemuel, and Sam saw Nephi, they were frightened – thinking that it truly was Laban and Zoram – coming to kill them.
  • Nephi called out to his brothers, then Zoram realized that it wasn’t Laban, so Zoram began to flee.
  • Nephi seized Zoram so that he couldn’t escape.
  • Nephi made an oath with Zoram – if Zoram would listen to Nephi, then he would spare Zoram’s life. Nephi told Zoram that the Lord commanded them to get the plates.
  • Zoram took courage and made an oath with Nephi and his brothers that he would go down to the promised land with them. All fears concerning on another ceased after Zoram made this oath.
  • Laman, Lemuel, Sam, and Nephi took the plates of brass and Zoram into the wilderness to the tent of Lehi.
IMG_5417

Enjoy this picture of a yellow salsify gone to seed because I don’t have any pictures of Zoram. 

Zoram

Zoram is the name of the servant of Laban. I think that he might be one of the most impressive people we meet in the Book of Mormon. Here is a list of things that we learn about Zoram.

  • Zoram is a servant of Laban – Admittedly, I don’t know the details of what this means. I don’t know much about ancient Jewish customs. What we know is that Zoram did not enjoy freedom. He must have been some kind of slave.I did a little bit of searching in the scriptures (admittedly not much, I’m sure that you could find more…) and came across this:

    “And if thy brother, an Hebrew man, or an Hebrew woman, be asold unto thee, and serve thee six years; then in the seventh year thou shalt let him go free from thee.

    And when thou sendest him out free from thee, thou shalt not let him go away empty:

    Thou shalt furnish him liberally out of thy flock, and out of thy floor, and out of thy winepress: of that wherewith the Lord thy God hath blessed thee thou shalt give unto him.

    And thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in the land of Egypt, and the Lord thy God redeemed thee: therefore I command thee this thing to day.

    And it shall be, if he say unto thee, I will not go away from thee; because he loveth thee and thine house, because he is well with thee;

    Then thou shalt take an awl, and thrust it through his ear unto the door, and he shall be thy servant for ever. And also unto thy maidservant thou shalt do likewise.

    It shall not seem hard unto thee, when thou sendest him away free from thee; for he hath been aworth a double hired servant to thee, in serving thee six years: and the Lord thy God shall bless thee in all that thou doest.” – Deuteronomy 15:12-17

    People in Israel did have servants. After a servant served six years, they were to be freed in the seventh year.

    It seems ironic that the people of Israel would have slaves – since they served as slaves in Egypt. But the Lord told them to remember that they were bondmen in Egypt (slaves) and God redeemed them. They needed to extend the same mercy to their slaves.

    The Israelites were to let their bondservants (slaves) go – furnishing them liberally.

    If the bondservant decided to stay, then their ear was pierced and they were made a servant forever. This decision was solely up to the bondservant, and as stated in Deuteronomy – it was an option because the servant loves his master, everything is well in that home, that is where he wants to be. The servant wasn’t bullied into this decision – especially if they are “liberally” equipped to leave. It is completely a willful decision on the part of the servant.

    Now, keep in mind, this is the law of Moses, so it had been given centuries before Laban existed. By the time of Laban, the people of Jerusalem were not really doing what had been commanded. They were not remembering their bondage in Egypt. They were putting people in bondage for their own gain, and it is part of what made the Lord so upset with Jerusalem during the time of Lehi and Jeremeiah. (See Jeremiah 34).

    It is probably safe to guess that Laban wasn’t keeping the command about setting his servants free during the jubilee year. I guess that I can’t say for sure, but based on what we know about Laban, I’m going to assume that he’s really cool with breaking the law as was set forth in Deuteronomy.

    All of this is to say – Zoram was a servant. Not a free man. I can’t even comprehend this kind of life.

  • Zoram is concerned about the elders of the Jews. He knew that Laban had been out with the elders of the Jews earlier.

    I can’t say that I’m 100% clear on what is meant by “the elders of the Jews,” so I looked it up in the Bible Dictionary:

    “The term elders is used in various ways in the Bible. In many instances in the Old Testament it has reference to the older men in a tribe, usually entrusted with the governmental affairs. Their age and experience made their counsel sought often. This was not necessarily a priesthood calling.” – Bible Dictionary: Elders

    So – I’m not completely sure on what we extrapolate from this other than – Laban was somehow involved in this group of older men who probably had some involvement in governmental affairs.

    Which – by the way – what do you think that Laban had been talking about with the Elders of the Jews? He had just had all this drama with Laman, Lemuel, Sam, and Nephi. I wouldn’t be all that surprised if this came up. We know that Laban wasn’t righteous. He lusted after Lehi’s precious things. Then he made up a story – calling the sons of Lehi “robbers” and then he stole all of their goods! And he ordered their death, but had been unsuccessful with this endeavor.

    The more I think about Laban, and I know that this is not a blog post about Laban, the more he sounds like a mob-boss. He has an “army” of men who will kill. He has amassed a ton of wealth. He has no qualms with amassing more wealth illegally. He has no qualms about making up false accusations and killing. He has servants/slaves. And now he’s going around hanging out with the Elders of the Jews – he has friend in high places.

    Don Laban.

    Nephi states that Zoram “spake unto me many times concerning the elders of the Jews.” Zoram is interested in the affairs of the Elders of the Jews. I know that it may not have necessarily been a priesthood calling at the time, but there is record of ordained Elders during Old Testament time. No doubt the lines between government and religion were blurred. It is easy, even in our day, to see how this could happen.

    So – Zoram is interested in this group of people. It doesn’t seem to me that he will ever have the kind of interaction with the Elders of the Jews that Laban has – even though he is so interested in their affairs.

  • Zoram is Loyal – When Nephi gets outside of the city walls, he sees his brothers – who are afraid that Nephi has been killed. Sensing their fear, Nephi calls out to them. Of course this blows his cover with Zoram (which I’m sure was bound to happen at any moment anyway). Zoram, realizing that Nephi wasn’t Laban, begins to tremble.

    Zoram is a loyal servant. He humbly obeyed when he thought that Nephi was Laban. Now that he knows that Nephi is impersonating Laban, he is worried – why is this man dressed in Laban’s clothes? I’m sure that he might have even been afraid to find out what would happen to him!

  • Zoram is righteous.

    This is really the key thing that I keep coming to. He was interested in the affairs of the Elders. He was interested in taking them the brass plates. He was a loyal servant.

    He was a righteous man.

    Because of his righteous nature, he is put at ease when Nephi tells him what is going on. I think that he must have felt the Spirit witness to what Nephi said:

    “And I also spake unto him, saying: Surely the Lord hath commanded us to do this thing; and shall we not be diligent in keeping the commandments of the Lord? Therefore, if thou wilt go down into the wilderness to my father thou shalt have place with us.” – 1 Nephi 4:34

    We read that Zoram “took courage” at the things that Nephi said. After meeting the man that just killed your boss, and then impersonated him and got one of his most valuable possessions, it would be hard to believe him or want to covenant with Him. But, the Spirit was both with Nephi and Zoram.

    Nephi spoke with the Spirit to calm Zoram. And Zoram listened and discerned with the Spirit – which led him to know that Nephi was trustworthy. Then they made oaths with one another.

    Zoram would be a free man with them for the rest of his life.

  • One final observation – and this is kind of a speculation. Or maybe, at best, reading in between the lines. But I keep feeling that Zoram was righteous.

    Now – remember – Lehi left Jerusalem because people wanted to kill him for prophesying that Jerusalem would be destroyed. We know that it was, just as Lehi had prophesied.

    There were many wicked people in Jerusalem, it’s true. But there were also righteous people. Jeremiah, for example, was righteous, but it wasn’t his work to leave. He had to stay and continue to be a prophet in Israel.

    Now, also remember that Zoram was a slave, what choice did he have – to follow the prophets, to flee, to do whatever might have come to him? So, even if he was righteous, he would be stuck in Jerusalem – which was bound to be destroyed.

    The Lord’s tender mercies are over all of the faithful. If things had gone differently for Nephi in obtaining the plates, then he never would have met Zoram. Zoram never would have experienced freedoms, and they both would have missed out on a lifelong friendship.

I’m really just amazed by the examples of people in the Book of Mormon. And yet, even as I write this, I get the prompting don’t be amazed. They are normal people. It isn’t only Zoram or Nephi who can make good faithful choices. They are inspiration to us because we can become righteous and strong just like them if we will simply put our trust in the Lord and live as righteously as we can.

Retrieving the Plates – Wise yet Harmless – 1 Nephi 4:19-27

You can read today’s scripture block here.

Context and General Information

  • After slaying Laban, Nephi dresses in his clothes and heads to Laban’s treasury – where the plates are kept.
  • Nephi, impersonating Laban, approaches Laban’s servant and asks for the plates of brass.
  • Laban’s servant (Zoram) and Nephi go out to where Nephi’s brothers are.  Zoram still thinks that Nephi is Laban.

Retrieving the Plates

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Nephi retrieves the brass plates.

In yesterday’s scripture block, we read how Nephi was commanded to kill Laban, and why he obeyed.

Nephi is committed.

He needs to get the plates of brass now, otherwise Laban’s life has been destroyed for nothing. Killing Laban didn’t mean that the brass plates just automatically fell into Nephi’s lap. He still has some quick thinking to do.

We read:

“And after I had smitten off his head with his own sword, I took the garments of Laban and put them upon mine own body; yea, even every whit; and I did gird on his armor about my loins.

And after I had done this, I went forth unto the treasury of Laban. And as I went forth towards the treasury of Laban, behold, I saw the servant of Laban who had the keys of the treasury. And I commanded him in the voice of Laban, that he should go with me into the treasury.

And he supposed me to be his master, Laban, for he beheld the garments and also the sword girded about my loins.” – 1 Nephi 4:19-21

This story just gets more interesting. It’s interesting because 1) Nephi just killed Laban, and now 2) He is impersonating Zoram to get the plates of brass. I can see how it might even be troubling to a reader, but I’m reminded of the advice that the Savior gave to his apostles:

“Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” – Matthew 10:16

Wise Yet Harmless

What does wise yet harmless mean, exactly?

Sheep in the Midst of Wolves
First of all, the Savior, in Matthew 10, tells his apostles that he is sending them forth as sheep in the midst of wolves. They are not going to a safe, friendly, open environment. It is not warm. The wolves aren’t looking to be converted to sheep.

This environment is similar to the environment that Nephi was in. His life was endangered. If there is anything we know by the fourth chapter of 1 Nephi, it is that people wanted him and his family killed.

Lehi and his family fled from Jerusalem because they wanted to take the life of Lehi.

Laman, Lemuel, Nephi, and Sam had been driven out of town by Laban – who had threatened to kill them more than once.

Jerusalem is not a safe place for Nephi to be. He is sent forth – unarmed – only with the Spirit – just like a sheep among wolves. Special care will be needed in order for Nephi to accomplish what the Lord has asked of him.

Wise as a Serpent

Well, when I read the phrase wise as a serpent, I can’t help but think of the serpent that tempted Eve in Eden. He wasn’t stupid. He didn’t just force Eve into partaking of the fruit of the tree of life. He convinced her that it was good for food. It became desirable to her. She wanted the fruit.

The serpent understood who he was talking to, and he tempted her accordingly.

Of course, the serpent was wise, but it wasn’t harmless.

Harmless as a Dove
Though the serpent that we often think of in the story of Adam and Eve is wise, it most certainly is not harmless. He wanted to thwart God’s entire plan and have people live in misery – forever dead and separated from a loving, living Heavenly Father.

The Lord wants his servants to be wise, but he wants them to be harmless. He wants them to be innocent. He wants them to have His will at the center of what they are doing.

The question is – is Nephi harmless? YES.

Even though Nephi killed Laban. YES he’s harmless. Even though he is now impersonating Laban HE’S HARMLESS. Here’s another example of someone who is wise yet harmless, even though he participated in a relatively violent situation…

“Now Ammon being wise, yet harmless, he said unto Lamoni: Wilt thou hearken unto my words, if I tell thee by what power I do these things? And this is the thing that I desire of thee.” – Alma 18:22

Ammon was a man who lived about 500 years after Nephi had arrived to the promised land. He was Nephite (descendant of Nephi) serving a mission to the Lamanites (descendants of Laman). We will read about how these two groups separated not too long after arriving into the promised land.

When the Nephites and Lamanites separated, the Lamanites were wicked. This is because of the decisions made by Laman and Lemuel. They went without the gospel for nearly 500 years – until Ammon and his brothers decided they wanted to try to share the gospel with their long, lost kindred.

The Lamanites hated the Nephites and would often kill them – on sight. So, it was a sheep among wolves situation. Ammon’s only interest was to bring the light of the gospel to these people who were his relatives.

But he had to be smart about it. He had to be wise as a serpent, and he was. He decided to be a servant of King Lamoni. While tending King Lamoni’s sheep, a group came to scatter them and steal them.

Ammon protected the flock by killing 7 of these Lamanite robbers. Then he chopped off the arms of several more.

Yet, he is described as being harmless.

This is because when the king requested to meet with Ammon, Ammon didn’t seek his own gain. He promised to tell the king about his ability to protect the sheep if the king would simply listen to his message.

He could have asked for more. He could have asked for land, riches, maybe a wife. But he was harmless. He only asked to be listened to.

***
Nephi is not unlike Ammon. He is wise. He knows that he can’t approach Zoram as Nephi. Zoram, I’m sure, had been made aware of Laman, Lemuel, Sam, and Nephi. It’s safe to assume that, anyway. They had just requested the plates twice, the second time with Laban sending guards after them.

Zoram is Laban’s servant, or slave. He cannot do anything that would make Laban mad – or else his own life would be in jeopardy.

Nephi must talk to Zoram in a way that he will understand and comply.

Nephi isn’t seeking his own reward, either. Think about it. Nephi knew that Laban was dead. Nephi could have asked Zoram for a whole lot more than only the records. I mean, Nephi could have used that chance to ask Zoram to also get all of the riches that had been stolen from them in the prior chapter.

Nephi doesn’t do this because he is harmless. He wants to do God’s will and God’s will alone.

So – Nephi, wise yet harmless approaches Zoram. We read:

“And he supposed me to be his master, Laban, for he beheld the garments and also the sword girded about my loins.

And he spake unto me concerning the elders of the Jews, he knowing that his master, Laban, had been out by night among them.

And I spake unto him as if it had been Laban.

And I also spake unto him that I should carry the engravings, which were upon the plates of brass, to my elder brethren, who were without the walls.

And I also bade him that he should follow me.

And he, supposing that I spake of the brethren of the church, and that I was truly that Laban whom I had slain, wherefore he did follow me.

And he spake unto me many times concerning the elders of the Jews, as I went forth unto my brethren, who were without the walls.” – 1 Nephi 4:21-27

Because Nephi is wise yet harmless, because Nephi has faith, courage and discipline, because Nephi is willing to sacrifice his will for God’s – he is able to accomplish what the Lord had commanded him and retrieve the plates.

Yes, Laban’s life was sacrificed for this. Personally, I kind of think of Laban as a mob-boss (more on that tomorrow, most likely), so I hate to admit that I don’t have a ton of sympathy for him. But I will say that the most noble thing that Laban did was die so that Nephi could get the plates.

Remember what the Lord told Nephi:

“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 4:13

Whatever your feelings about this story, we can rest assured that this is exactly what happened. At the cost of Laban’s life (and remember, he was not a good guy!), countless lives were saved.

Nephi’s family flourished into a civilization that spanned a thousand years on the American continent. This would have been impossible without the Plates of Brass – that contained the commandments and covenants of God.

Not only that, but in modern times Nephi’s decision to trust God, has resulted in many millions of more lives saved. The Book of Mormon testifies of Christ. It has converted many to the Savior. It has been the reason that many people have chosen to covenant with God. These covenants are life-saving ordinances.

The Book of Mormon has been an aid, testimony, and life-saver on more than one occasion in my own life. Because of the Book of Mormon, I have been able to cultivate faith in My Savior. I truly cannot imagine my life without the Book of Mormon. If Nephi had chosen differently, there would be no Book of Mormon, and I’m fairly certain that my own life would be an absolute mess.

Truly nations have been saved because of Nephi’s decision to be wise yet harmless and follow the commandments of God.

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.

Trusting in Arms – 1 Nephi 4:6-10

You can read this passage here.

Context and General Information

  • Nephi goes back into Jerusalem to obtain the plates and was led by the spirit without any plan on what he would do.
  • Nephi came to the house of Laban and he saw Laban – passed out.
  • Nephi saw Laban’s sword, took it out of the sheath and saw that it was a very nice weapon.
  • Nephi receives an unexpected prompting from the Spirit: to slay Laban. Nephi is a little bit troubled by this prompting.

nephi-laban-house-drunk-lying-1132237-gallery

Trusting in Arms

This is a weird subtitle, I know, and I don’t want to take the time right now to figure out a better title. Maybe something will come to me. We’ll see…

But follow me for a second – we have two people, Nephi and Laban, who have both put their trust in an “arm.”

The Arm of God
Spoiler alert – God’s Arm is always going to win. It is the most trustworthy thing that we could place our trust in. God’s “arm” is powerful – omnipotent, even. And it is what Nephi puts his trust in.

“And I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do.

Nevertheless I went forth…” – 1 Nephi 4:6-7

Nephi had nothing. He had just lost all of his riches and precious things – at the hand of Laban.

Nephi’s in Jerusalem alone while his brothers are sitting outside of the city walls.

Nephi doesn’t even have a plan. He has no opportunity, no resource, no solutions. But Nephi has the Spirit.

It seems like that’s the way that God works sometimes. It is when our backs are against the wall that we are ready to be delivered. We see it all the time…Abraham was on the table, the priest of Elkanah about to sacrifice him, when Abraham prayed and the Lord intervened (see Abraham 1:12-15.) It wasn’t until Abraham had his knife in the air, ready to sacrifice Isaac, that the Lord delivered (see Genesis 22:1-14). In the Book of Mormon, The Lord didn’t deliver Alma the elder and the other disciples from the bondage of the people of Amulon until the nick of time. (See Mosiah 24:1-17.) And, later on in the Book of Mormon, all of those who believed in Christ nearly died. The Lord delivered them the night before they would all be martyred. (See 3 Nephi 1:1-13.)

The point is – we aren’t delivered until the exact right time. If the Lord delivered us any earlier, it would be ineffectual.

Think about baking a cake. There is a process to it. Not only do we have to mix it in the proper order with the proper amounts of proper ingredients. We also have to bake it. The cake is exposed to heat. It would not be a comfortable experience. But the heat is necessary in order for a chemical change to occur.

And in the meantime, you have to wait. If you try to pull that cake out of the oven too early, you have half cooked batter. Gross. And if you don’t take it out at the right moment, then it is burned.

A major part of trusting in God is trusting in the process that we are experiencing. Nephi’s process included two prior attempts that endangered his life, resulted in a loss of all of his family’s riches, and got him beat up. But he understands the Lord and he trusts him.

Why should we trust the Lord?

Well, there are two scriptures that I think will help:

“For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” – Moses 1:39

And

“Hearken and hear, O ye my people, saith the Lord and your God, ye whom I delight to bless with the greatest of all blessings…” – Doctrine and Covenants 41:1

From these two scriptures, we learn:

  1. God glories in OUR immortality and eternal life. He feels joy in our success! When we will understand this, we will also understand that everything He does is to help achieve this end. We will trust Him because we know, ultimately, why He does what He does.
  2. God delights in blessing us with the greatest of all blessings! He doesn’t delight in teaching us lessons. He doesn’t delight in testing us. He delights in blessing us. Of course, God is a God of order, and He is bound by eternal laws. So, in order to bless us, He gives us commandments that correlate with desired blessings. Then, because we have kept the law, He can bless us accordingly. (See Doctrine and Covenants 130:20-21.)

    Even when we are in precarious circumstances with strange commandments, we can trust Him. We know that He wants to bless us. He wants us to be happy. He is a god of miracles and joy.

We can trust God.

Of course, it’s hard to do sometimes. Nephi has no physical or concrete reason for trusting God. In fact, everything that has happened up to this point might make Nephi doubt God rather than trust Him.

But the choice to trust God is better than the alternative.

The Arm of Flesh
Laban did not put his trust in God. Why would he when he has this?:

“And I beheld his sword, and I drew it forth from the sheath thereof; and the hilt thereof was of pure gold, and the workmanship thereof was exceedingly fine, and I saw that the blade thereof was of the most precious steel.” – 1 Nephi 4:9

Laban has a physical thing – a sword to trust in. His weapons give him power and command respect. Not only does he have his own sword, he has an army of men who are also armed. What should Laban fear? He might not be able to trust other people, but he could trust himself. He chose to arm himself with the best weapon money could buy. And I bet that this might have kept him safe from time to time.

I mean, if we put it in today’s terms, Laban was packing heat!

Yet, when Nephi finds Laban, drunk and passed out on the ground, it is the very weapon that Laban trusts that will end his life.

It’s a bitter irony.

***

It is no wonder that later in life, Nephi will proclaim:

“O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever. I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh; for I know that cursed is he that putteth his trust in the arm of flesh. Yea, cursed is he that putteth his trust in man or maketh flesh his arm.” – 2 Nephi 4:24

Nephi trusted in God, even though the physical evidence might not have supported such an action. We can learn to also trust in God – wholly. We can trust the process we go through when we trust the Lord (Nephi didn’t get upset at failed attempts. They were steps toward the goal). We can trust God’s timing. We can trust the seemingly risky nature of some things we are commanded. We can trust God knowing that He will not fail, so we will not fail.