1 Nephi 2 tweet: Lh & family flee 4 wilderness. River Lam, Valley Lem. L&L murmur, N prays and believes. Promise: keep commands & prosper, rebel & B cut off.
Throughout his record, Nephi paints himself and Laman and Lemuel in black and white terms with very little nuance. But experience suggests that life is filled with ambiguity1 and that there are rarely easy answers to questions concerning faith, morality, conduct and how to meet the demands and challenges we face. Therefore, I’m not so sure how helpful one dimensional scriptural heroes and villains are. So I’d like to try and give Laman and Lemuel a fairer hearing (and perhaps read Nephi a little more critically). To do so, we’ll need to read between the lines a little bit. Let me know what you think as we work through this chapter.
v1–2: These verses suggest that Lehi was only aware of the threat to his life because the Lord made it known to him in a dream. If there was no obvious manifestation of a threat to Lehi’s life (e.g. local Jewish gangsters picketing the family home), would this make Laman and Lemuel’s scepticism (see the end of v11) more understandable?
v5–6: It is worth bearing in mind that the Red Sea is approximately 180 miles from Jerusalem, which would have required a journey time for Lehi and his family of approximately 2 weeks. From there they travelled an additional 3 days in the wilderness. Therefore, each return trip to Jerusalem and back to camp would have taken a total time of at least 5 weeks.
v9–10: Contrast the ideas of ‘continually running’ with ‘firm and steadfast and immovable’ and the nature of running water with the nature of valleys. Due to Nephi’s narrative, we tend to lump Laman and Lemuel together. But it’s worth considering in which ways they may have been different. Perhaps these verses suggest that Lehi thought that Laman was too orthodox and Lemuel was too unstable. In what ways should we be firm, steadfast and immovable and in which ways should we be continually running?
v11: Contrast this verse and Laman and Lemuel’s perception of their inheritance, their gold, etc. with v4 and the description of what Lehi left behind, i.e. his house, his gold, etc.
v13: This strikes me as a pretty harsh comparison. While Laman and Lemuel murmured, there is no indication that they sought to take away Lehi’s life. And in fact they followed Lehi into the desert. Is this an example of Nephi’s narrative being coloured by his later experiences with his brothers?
v15: The phrase ‘my father dwelt in a tent’ is found four times in 1 Nephi: 1 Ne 2:15, 1 Ne 9:1, 1 Ne 10:16, and 1 Ne 16:6. Consider the following commentary on this phrase:
Nephi mentions specifically that his father (Lehi) dwelt in a tent. The only person who was designated to go into the most sacred places of the Old Testament temple was the High Priest. Since Lehi and his people had committed to leave the Old World, they would no longer be under the jurisdiction of the priesthood at the Temple in Jerusalem. As a group of the covenant people being led away by the Lord, they would need a Prophet and High Priest to guide them. We will see that after their arrival in the Promised Land they set about building a temple. Perhaps Lehi’s call as prophet in 1 Nephi 1 included an ordination as High Priest and even an endowment of sorts.
The passages in which we find the phrase “my father dwelt in a tent” lend themselves to temple symbolism. 1 Nephi 16 is especially interesting. Verse 16:6 reads, “Now all these things were said and done as my father dwelt in a tent in the valley which he called Lemuel.” Following this verse are four significant things which are reminiscent of temple imagery. First in verse 16:8, Lehi fulfills with exactness and honor all the commandments of the Lord which are given unto him. Next, in verse 16:10, the Liahona is found, a ball which points out the course that they should go into the wilderness. Following this in verses 16:14-21, we are reminded of their need for constant nourishment as we read the story of obtaining food in the wilderness with bows and arrows, stones and slings. Finally, those who murmur are chastened and humbled in verse 16:24 and Lehi bows his knee before the Lord and inquires of him once more. At this time, there appears in the Liahona “a new writing … which did give us understanding concerning the ways of the Lord.”2
Why do you think Nephi wants to emphasise the fact that his father (rather than the whole family) dwelt in a tent? What do you think of the suggested temple imagery in 1 Nephi 16 outlined above?
v16: Nephi has an encounter with the Lord and his heart is softened so that he believes his father. Does this mean that prior to his prayer he did not believe his father, or was at least reserving judgment? Does this make Laman and Lemuel’s rebellion more understandable?
v20–24: Joe Spencer describes these verses as the Lehitic covenant. Of this covenant he says:
The terms of what is set forth in these verses will be repeated again and again through the Book of Mormon—punctuating the text with real force. This is the covenant that governs the relations between the Nephites and the Lamanites, and between each of these peoples and God. It is the strongest leitmotif in the Book of Mormon.3
One of the stated purposes of the Book of Mormon is that the remnant might know the covenants of the Lord. In this promise, keeping the commandments is contrasted with rebellion, and prosperity is contrasted with being cut off from the presence of the Lord. Does this affect how we should understand Nephi’s use of the word prosperity?
Next week’s reading: 1 Nephi 3