1 Nephi 5 tweet: Sh complains against Lh & is comforted. Family reunited. Lh reads plates and prophesies about his seed. Plates will not perish nor dim.
This chapter is effectively the conclusion of the original first chapter of the Book of Mormon. Lehi and Sariah’s sons return to the wilderness having kept the commandment to obtain the brass plates, but at what cost? We will consider what the common themes of the first five chapters are and what Nephi was trying to accomplish in writing them in the way that he did.
Grant Hardy’s work with this chapter is really interesting. I’m tempted to include it in full but I’ll try to brief. Of Lehi’s reunion with his sons he makes the following point:
Lehi is undoubtedly happy to see his sons again (we are told that three times), yet he may have had some stern words for Nephi, or at least some pointed questions. S. Kent Brown has observed that burnt offerings, such as those Lehi sacrificed at 1 Nephi 5:9, were intended to purge sin, so Lehi must have felt somewhat ill at ease with how his request to procure the plates had been carried out.1 Nephi, as a narrator who is anxious for us to perceive him as spiritually superior to his brothers and in harmony with his father at all times, omits the homecoming dialogue. (If Lehi had said, “Surely God was directing you,” or “You alone among my sons have been faithful,” wouldn’t Nephi have mentioned it?)2
There is some conjecture in Hardy’s idea, but it is true that Nephi is silent about his father’s reaction to how the plates were obtained. Would you expect Nephi to say something of his father’s reaction? If so, why do you think nothing is included?
What do you think of Brown’s observation that the purpose of the burnt offerings in verse 9 would have been to purge sin? If so, whose sins?
Even though he was commanded by God, the killing of Laban would still have been a hugely traumatic event for Nephi. I doubt Laman and Lemuel would have offered any support – Nephi certainly doesn’t mention any – and so I would imagine Lehi’s approval and comfort would have been extremely important to him. If Lehi did have “some stern words for Nephi, or at least some pointed questions” I think Nephi would have felt very isolated at that point. He will have learnt at a young age that obedience can be a lonely place.
I suggested in an earlier post that I thought that most if not all of Lehi’s family would have considered their refuge in the wilderness as a temporary arrangement until the threat to Lehi’s life blew over (e.g. there is no mention of a promised land in the original command for Lehi to take his family into the wilderness). If this is true, the slaying of Laban would have changing everything. They would never get back their old Jerusalem life. Nephi and his brothers were now fugitives. After the initial joy of their reunion, the family would have had to come to terms with their permanent exile from Jerusalem. How do you think this would have changed the dynamics of family life?
Hardy also suggests a deliberate structure for the story of Sariah’s complaint:
5:1 – Parents rejoice
5:2–3 – Quotation 1: Sariah “complained … saying, Behold [three times] … and after this manner of language had my mother complained”
5:4–7 – Quotation 2: Lehi’s response, “But behold [three matching items] … after this manner of language did my father, Lehi, comfort my mother, Sariah … and my mother was comforted”
5:8 – Quotation 3: Sariah’s rejoinder, “Now I know … [three items] … and after this manner of language did she speak”
5:9 – Parents rejoice3
Why do you think Nephi would structure the story in this way? Joe Spencer writes, “This is less the story of Sariah’s complaint than it is the story of discovered union.”4 This is a rare scriptural example of a tender moment between husband and wife.
One final thought before some conclusions: in verse 21, Nephi says that after searching the brass plates they found them desirable. All other Book of Mormon references to ‘desirable’ are to the fruit of the tree of life in Lehi/Nephi’s vision and Alma’s simile. Do you think this is significant?
In conclusion, what do you think are the main messages that Nephi was trying to teach throughout this opening chapter (i.e. 1 Nephi 1–5)? As I said in the post on 1 Nephi 1, at the beginning of the chapter Lehi reads a book shown to him in a vision that causes him to prophesy. At the end of the chapter (i.e. 1 Nephi 5), Lehi searches another book (the brass plates) and prophesies concerning his seed. Therefore, the story arc of the original chapter begins and ends with two accounts of Lehi reading and then prophesying. And at the heart of the chapter is the account of a return to Jerusalem and how a holy book was obtained. Finally, Nephi’s use of the word desirable at the very end of the chapter may purposefully connect the brass plates with the fruit of the tree of life.
In the next original chapter (i.e. 1 Nephi 6–9) we will see a recurrence of these themes: a return to Jerusalem, seed, fruit, and talk a holy record kept on metal plates.
Next week’s reading: 1 Nephi 6 and 7
(Edit: As 1 Nephi 6 is just six verses long, I intended to cover 1 Ne. 6 and 7 in one post. Turns out I have more to say about 1 Ne. 6 than I anticipated. So next week I’ll just cover 1 Ne. 6 and pick up 1 Ne. 7 the week after.)
- Kent Brown, “What Were Those Sacrifices Offered by Lehi?” in From Jerusalem to Zarahemla, 1–8
- Grant Hardy. Understanding the Book of Mormon, pp. 20
- Grant Hardy. Understanding the Book of Mormon, pp. 21