I’m adding a new element to each post. At the beginning of each chapter review I’m going to add a 140 character summary of the chapter. I’ll go back and add summaries for 1 Nephi 1–3. Feel free to add your own ‘tweetable’ chapter summaries in the comments. (I’m also adding a 2 or 3 word chapter title).
1 Nephi 4 tweet: N struggles, cuts off Lb’s head. N pretends 2B Lb & gets plates from Z. L,L&S are scared of N (dressed as Lb). So is Z. Oaths by and 4 all.
On with the chapter review and this is one we should take pretty seriously. The bare bones of the story are that in this chapter, a man who would be a disciple kills an incapacitated man in cold blood. That should cause us to pause. Perhaps due to familiarity, perhaps because we take Nephi’s account at face value, whatever the reason, I think we tend to pass over the slaying of Laban a bit too easily. In the same way as the story of Abraham and Isaac on Mount Moriah should, Nephi slaying Laban should shock us.
Elder Holland has said this of Nephi killing Laban:
…why didn’t Nephi just leave this story out of the book altogether? Why didn’t he say something like, “And after much effort and anguish of spirit, I did obtain the plates of Laban and did depart into the wilderness unto the tent of my father?”… But there it is, squarely in the beginning of the book–page 8–where even the most casual reader will see it and must deal with it. It is not intended that either Nephi or we be spared the struggle of this account.
“I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded” (1 Nephi 3:7). I confess that I wince a little when I hear that promise quoted so casually among us. Jesus knew what that kind of commitment would entail, and so now does Nephi. And so will a host of others before it is over. That vow took Christ to the cross on Calvary, and it remains at the heart of every Christian covenant. “I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded.” Well, we shall see.1
Before we get to that, a few other things to think about from this chapter:
v2: In recounting the story of Moses bringing the children of Israel through the Red Sea, I’m reminded of D&C 8:3:
Now, behold, this is the spirit of revelation; behold, this is the spirit by which Moses brought the children of Israel through the Red Sea on dry ground.
In another great talk worth revisiting, Elder Holland wonders why the Lord would use the example of Moses bringing the children of Israel through the Red Sea as the example of the spirit of revelation.2 Do you think this (i.e. the spirit of revelation) plays a role in Nephi’s use of the story?
v4: Concerning the walls of Jerusalem mentioned in this verse, Elder Maxwell said this:
This obscure young man apparently paused while translating and dictating to Emma—probably from the fourth chapter of 1 Nephi [1 Ne. 4]—concerning the “wall of Jerusalem”—and said, in effect, “Emma, I didn’t know there was a wall around Jerusalem.”3
v10: Is it significant that Nephi says the Spirit constrained him rather than commanded him? Nephi typically talks about keeping the commandments of the Lord. Is there a difference between being commanded and being constrained?
To the killing of Laban itself; as mentioned in an earlier post, I think it’s important to remember that Nephi is recounting events that happened 30 years previously. Why would Nephi even tell this story? Why would he tell it in the way that he does? In part, he seems to structure the story in a way that alludes to David’s slaying of Goliath. Consider the parallels in the following scriptures:4
1 Samuel 17:4–7, 11 and 1 Nephi 3:31
1 Samuel 17:32 and 1 Nephi 4:1
1 Samuel 17:34–37 and 1 Nephi 4:2–3
1 Samuel 17:45–46 and 1 Nephi 4:6, 10–12, 17
1 Samuel 17:51 and 1 Nephi 4:9, 18
1 Samuel 17:54 and 1 Nephi 4:19
Why would Nephi want to tell the story in this way? In particular, why would he want to draw a parallel between himself and David?
Steve Olsen reads Nephi slaying Laban in an interestingly symbolic way:
A connotation of remember in the Book of Mormon is revealed by defining its opposite, which is not “forget” but “dis-member.” From this perspective, when a covenant with God is broken, the rebellious are cut off or cast out from God’s presence or from the covenant community (e.g., Genesis 17:14; Leviticus 18:29; Isaiah 53:8). In this sense, they are then “dis-membered,” or not “re-membered.” That is, they are not eliminated from one’s temporal consciousness but are separated from the covenant and its constituted community that had defined their eternal identity and place in the kingdom of God. From this perspective, for the ancient peoples of God, the sign of a covenant—such as circumcising the foreskin (Genesis 17:10; 34:15), sacrificing an animal (Moses 5:5–7; Abraham 2:7–8), or rending a garment, as in Moroni’s title of liberty (Alma 46:12–21)—often involved cutting, severing, or cleaving, indicative of the consequence of breaking or “dis-membering” the covenant.
Thus God’s directing Nephi to slay a Jewish religious leader by cutting off his head with his own sword symbolically indicates that Jehovah severed his covenant with the people of Israel at Jerusalem because of their wickedness. Lehi and his family were now to be the rightful heirs of the promised blessings of the covenant. From this perspective, Nephi’s preservation of Laban’s sword as one of the Nephites’ sacred artifacts and its later use as a model for Nephite armaments are seen more fundamentally as symbols of the covenant with God that defines and distinguishes their chosen identity and guides their lives in search of the covenantal promises of salvation.5
Are there other symbolic ways we might read this story?
What do you think Laman, Lemuel and Sam will have thought when Nephi told them how he obtained the plates? What will have changed for them?
Finally, whenever I read this story I am always challenged to think about how to discern between revelation and my own desires or rationalisations. How have you learned to recognise the promptings of the Spirit?
Next week’s reading: 1 Nephi 5