1 Nephi 3 tweet: N: I will go and do. Lots cast. Lb angry with L. Au + Ag for plates? Lb steals Au + Ag. L&L beat N&S. Angel appears. L&L murmur. Again.
The first two chapters of the original Book of Mormon (Chapter I: 1 Nephi 1–5; Chapter II: 1 Nephi 6–9) have at their heart two distinct trips back to Jerusalem by Lehi’s sons. Chapter I is concerned with the return to obtain the brass plates; Chapter II with the return to persuade Ishmael’s family to join Lehi in the wilderness. Over the next few posts I’ll consider the purposes and consequences of these return trips to Jerusalem and why Nephi structures the story in the way that he does. What I hope to show is that Nephi was very deliberate in the way he orders these first two original chapters (i.e. 1 Nephi 1–9) and that he has carefully woven into their fabric teachings that are not obviously apparent, but that are nevertheless the very essence of the restored gospel.
In 1 Nephi 3 we’ll reflect on the circumstances surrounding the decision to return to Jerusalem for the brass plates and we’ll consider the two failed attempts to obtain them.
v1–2: At the end of chapter 2, Nephi received a remarkable revelation, the focus of which was keeping the commandments. He then returns to his father who tells him the Lord has commanded that he and his brothers return to Jerusalem for the plates. What do we learn from the fact that the Lord has just been speaking directly with Nephi but then gives him a commandment via Lehi?
v4: Why do you think the Lord would have them leave Jerusalem without the plates to then have them return?
v5: As most of us are aware of the end of this story from the beginning, we have to be careful not to assume too much. I don’t think there is anything in the first couple of chapters to indicate that when the family left Jerusalem they anticipated it would be a permanent move. As we read the first five chapters, I think it’s a useful exercise to have in our minds that Lehi’s family would probably have been expecting to return to Jerusalem at some point. With that in mind, do you think part of Laman and Lemuel’s frustration was that a return trip to Jerusalem was going to extend their stay in the wilderness?
v7: Notice how in Lehi’s instructions to Nephi he refers to the Lord’s commandments three times (v2, 4 and 5). In v7, Nephi then responds by referring to the Lord’s commandments three times.
v7 is one of the most famous verses in the Book of Mormon, but is it really true? Are there not examples of commandments that are impossible for some people to keep?
From what I can see, Nephi consistently describes journeys to Jerusalem as going up and journeys into the wilderness as going down. Do you think this is just about geography or is there some more meaning in this for Nephi?
v13: Based on v11, Laman and Laban were having a seemingly civil conversation. Why do you think there was such a dramatic shift in Laban’s mood? When v13 and v25 are read together, there is some irony in Laban calling Laman a robber.
v15: Hugh Nibley taught us the seriousness of this oath. Nephi binds his brothers to fulfillment of their task on their lives; not on their lives only, but also on the life of God Himself! To swear on the life of God is especially serious: if they do not fulfill the task, Nephi will have blasphemed, and the Mosaic punishment for blasphemy is, of course, death. Is this why Laman and Lemuel persist in trying to obtain the plates? Is this why they get so angry with Nephi – because he has bound them to act by the most serious of oaths?
Again, we need to remember that Nephi is writing this account many years after it happened and with much more water having passed under the bridge between him and Laman and Lemuel. Nephi portrays them as faithless, but Laman and Lemuel were obedient to the command to return to Jerusalem and did persist in the efforts to obtain the plates. They were even willing to go along with Nephi’s plan of trading the material things that would have ultimately been their inheritance for the brass plates. What does this suggest about how Laman and Lemuel valued the plates and about how they viewed their father? Do you think Nephi gives them enough credit or is his account coloured by what will transpire in the future?
v28: Why do you think Laman and Lemuel beat Sam as well as Nephi?
Concerning the appearance of the angel at the end of the chapter, Julie Smith makes the following point:
In the Old Testament, angels usually appear to Good People to give them an Important Preview of Coming Attractions. In the Book of Mormon, angels usually appear to Bad People to tell them to Shape Up. Why the difference? Today, we usually assume that the more spiritual manifestations one has, the more righteous one is. Should the pattern of angelic visitations in the Book of Mormon cause us to reconsider that?1
v31: Laman and Lemuel see an angel and their first response is to begin to murmur. What does this teach us about angels? About human nature? About murmuring?
Next week’s reading: 1 Nephi 4
I’m posting this from French-speaking Switzerland. So I’ll sign off Jacob-style: till next week, adieu.