1 Nephi 1-7
My intent is to begin each lesson this year with a useful quote about the Book of Mormon from the prophets. Here is the first one.
Quote of the week:
Either the Book of Mormon is true, or it is false; either it came from God, or it was spawned in the infernal realms. It declares plainly that all men must accept it as pure scripture or they will lose their souls. It is not and cannot be simply another treatise on religion; it either came from heaven or hell. And it is time for all those who seek salvation to find out for themselves whether it is of the Lord or of Lucifer. (Bruce R. McConkie, C.R., October 1983, p. 1060)
I. LEHI LEAVES JERUSALEM AND TAKES HIS FAMILY INTO THE WILDERNESS. (1 Nephi 1,2)
What we are reading in 1st Nephi is a journal. The Lord intends to do miraculous things with this journal, and Nephi prepares it in such a way that it can be preserved, but it is nevertheless a journal. Nephi calls it a "record of my proceedings in my days" (1 Nephi 1:1). He later tells us that it is a journal of his spiritual experiences. He says, "And it mattereth not to me that I am particular to give a full account of all the things of my father, for they cannot be written upon these plates, for I desire the room that I may write of the things of God" (1 Nephi 6:3, emphasis added).
Knowing by inspiration that the record he was creating would be preserved for us, he gave instructions to his seed about the nature of the things that should be included. He said, "Wherefore, I shall give commandment unto my seed, that they shall not occupy these plates with things which are not of worth unto the children of men" (1 Nephi 6:6).
Like Nephi, we ought to keep a journal.
President Kimball taught:
Let us then continue on in this important work of recording the things we do, the things we say, the things we think, to be in accordance with the instructions of the Lord. For those of you who may not have already started your books of remembrance and your records, we would suggest that this very day you begin to write your records quite fully and completely. We hope that you will do this, our brothers and sisters, for this is what the Lord has commanded (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p.349).
The brethren have spoken about this often. This note from the records of Oliver Huntington is interesting.
Many times have I wished that my father had kept an account of his life, that I might look over it, and see his by‑gone days, deed and fortune; and never did he make the scratch of a pen towards it, until he had seen sixty cold winters; and as yet I know but very little of his life, not enough to make any record of, although I have a very short account written, but which is beyond my reach at present, if not forever. Like men in general I presume to suppose, that I shall have a posterity; and that may; like me; wish to know of their father's life, that they might view it, and perhaps profit thereby, or at least, have the satisfaction of knowing it. This is one object that induces me to write; that my nearest kindred, might know of their kinsman. I write also for a satisfaction to myself, to look over my past life, dates and events, and to comply with a requirement, oft repeated by the prophet Joseph Smith, "That every man should keep a daily journal" (Oliver Huntington Autobiography, BYU‑Special Collections, p.26).
Nephi did not begin this record when he was in Jerusalem, nor did he write it while he was journeying in the wilderness. Lehi kept a record of the events of the journey of his family, but Nephi did not. The account on the small plates was begun about 570 BC. (See 2 Nephi 5:28-31) In this regard it might be entertaining to note that I saw a personalized license plate in Arizona many years ago that looked like this: 2NE5-31. I suspected when I saw it that it was a Book of Mormon reference, and so I looked and it was.
2 Nephi 5:30
And it came to pass that the Lord God said unto me: Make other plates; and thou shalt engraven many things upon them which are good in my sight, for the profit of thy people.
2 Nephi 5:31
Wherefore, I, Nephi, to be obedient to the commandments of the Lord, went and made these plates upon which I have engraven these things.
The large plates were begun about 590 BC, according to 1 Nephi 19:1.
AND it came to pass that the Lord commanded me, wherefore I did make plates of ore that I might engraven upon them the record of my people. And upon the plates which I made I did engraven the record of my father, and also our journeyings in the wilderness, and the prophecies of my father; and also many of mine own prophecies have I engraven upon them (1 Nephi 19:1).
Lehi lived in or near to Jerusalem. In the first year of the reign of Zedekiah, "there came many prophets, prophesying" (1 Nephi 1:4). We know from Old Testament chronology studies that Ezekiel, Zephaniah, and Jeremiah were contemporaries of Lehi. Their message was that "the people . . . must repent or the great city Jerusalem must be destroyed" (1 Nephi 1:4). The book of Jeremiah suggests something about the iniquity of Jerusalem and the imperative need they had for repentance:
Run ye to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem, and see now, and know, and seek in the broad places thereof, if ye can find a man, if there be any that executeth judgment, that seeketh the truth; and I will pardon [Jerusalem] (Jeremiah 5:1).
The Lord was apparently willing to pardon Jerusalem if one righteous man could be found, one just and truth-seeking man. It is difficult not to think of the Lord's willingness to spare Sodom for ten righteous (see Genesis 18:32).
From this account we learn that Lehi believed the prophets and that he loved his people, for when he heard of the impending destruction of the city (1 Nephi 1:4), he "prayed unto the Lord, yea, even with all his heart, in behalf of his people" (1 Nephi 1:5). What happened next seems to be a common experience among those called to teach and prophesy, particularly among those who are the leaders of dispensations and restorations. Hugh Nibley explained it this way:
[Lehi] ran home to his house in Jerusalem and threw himself on the bed. Then he thought he was carried away, and he saw what happened. He saw the Council of the preexistence. He saw the plan, the Lord coming down, and the twelve apostles. He saw how it all worked out. From then on he was one happy man. He could do nothing but rejoice after that. He went out and tried to preach, ran into real trouble, and had to leave town (Hugh Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Semester 1, p.41).
In many respects this is the experience of Moses (Moses 1) and Abraham (Abraham 3) and a multitude of other prophets who are shown the plan in conjunction with their calling. Jeremiah refers this experience in this way:
For who hath stood in the counsel of the LORD, and hath perceived and heard his word? who hath marked his word, and heard it? . . . I have not sent these [false] prophets, yet they ran: I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied. But if they had stood in my counsel, and had caused my people to hear my words, then they should have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their doings (Jeremiah 23:18,21,22, emphasis added).
After his vision, Lehi "went forth among the people, and began to prophesy and to declare unto them concerning the things which he had both seen and heard" (1 Nephi 1:18). The people mocked him (1 Nephi 1:19). When he continued preaching, they were angry with him and they sought to kill him (1 Nephi 1:20). Their attempt, however, and Lehi’s escape cause Nephi to promise to "show . . . that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance" (1 Nephi 1:20). Nephi will show us this truth about 30 times in 1st and 2nd Nephi. This is a great promise and a true principle, one that we must teach our children and each other again and again. The "tender mercies" of the Lord are over us and will make us "mighty even unto the power of deliverance."
Like Nephi his son, Lehi was determined to "go and do" the thing the Lord had commanded him, knowing that the Lord would prepare a way. He took his family and left all else behind, departing into the wilderness. He led his family to the shores of the Red Sea, and three more days after that, until he found a river of water (1 Nephi 2:5,6). It is here that we get the first hint that all is not well in the family of Lehi.
And when my father saw that the waters of the river emptied into the fountain of the Red Sea, he spake unto Laman, saying: O that thou mightest be like unto this river, continually running into the fountain of all righteousness! And he also spake unto Lemuel: O that thou mightest be like unto this valley, firm and steadfast, and immovable in keeping the commandments of the Lord! (And when my father saw that the waters of the river emptied into the fountain of the Red Sea, he spake unto Laman, saying: O that thou mightest be like unto this river, continually running into the fountain of all righteousness! (1 Nephi 2:9,10).
Read 1 Nephi 2:11-13 carefully. Laman and Lemuel had three problems according to these verses.
Now this he spake because of the stiffneckedness of Laman and Lemuel; for behold they did murmur in many things against their father, because he was a visionary man, and had led them out of the land of Jerusalem, to leave the land of their inheritance, and their gold, and their silver, and their precious things, to perish in the wilderness. And this they said he had done because of the foolish imaginations of his heart.
1 Nephi 2:12
And thus Laman and Lemuel, being the eldest, did murmur against their father. And they did murmur because they knew not the dealings of that God who had created them.
1 Nephi 2:13
Neither did they believe that Jerusalem, that great city, could be destroyed according to the words of the prophets. And they were like unto the Jews who were at Jerusalem, who sought to take away the life of my father.
Can you see the attitudes that impede their spirituality?
They are worldly. They murmured because they had to leave their land and their gold and their silver and their precious things.
They don't know the dealings of God. "They did murmur because they knew not the dealings of that God who had created them."
They don't believe the prophets. "Neither did they believe . . . the words of the prophets"
It is worth a note here that Nephi does believe the prophets, including his father. It cannot have been any easier for him to say goodbye to Jerusalem than it was for his brothers, but he had "great desires to know the mysteries of God" and cried unto the Lord who did "visit [him], and did soften [his] heart that [he] did believe all the words which had been spoken by [his] father; wherefore, [he] did not rebel against him like unto [his] brothers" (12 Nephi 2:16).
The extent of his belief is indicated by his language throughout his writings. Nowhere in his written record does Nephi ever question his father. He does not even write "my father said the Lord spake unto him in a dream." He writes "The Lord spake unto my father in a dream" (I Nephi 2:1; see also 1 Nephi 11:5).
Notice what Nephi does after his encounter with the Lord in 1 Nephi 2:16. He does the same thing Lehi did after his vision in 1 Nephi 1. He bears testimony to his brothers of the things he has seen and heard, and he prays for them.
And I spake unto Sam, making known unto him the things which the Lord had manifested unto me by his Holy Spirit. And it came to pass that he believed in my words. But, behold, Laman and Lemuel would not hearken unto my words; and being grieved because of the hardness of their hearts I cried unto the Lord for them (1 Nephi 2:17,18).
I have come to believe in the truthfulness of this sequence. If the Lord knows of our willingness to teach and testify of anything he lets us see and hear, he will let us see and hear many things. Notice as you study this record how often in the Book of Mormon the Lord shows his will and his purposes to his prophets and they immediately begin to share what they have learned with those around them.
There is another great principle alluded to in 1 Nephi 2. I call it the "Recognition of the Real Problem" principle. So many times we go before the Lord asking for help solving our problems when we have not yet identified what the problem really is. For example, the Israelites wanted Moses to get rid of the poisonous serpents. (Numbers 21:7) But the serpents were not the problem. The problem was that the Israelites had not been willing to keep the promise they made at Mt. Sinai (see Exodus 24:3,7). The serpents were a reminder. Certain Jews wanted to make Christ a king, probably because he had the ability to solve any and all social problems. "When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself alone" (John 6:15). Jesus knew that the problems of the Jews were not social: they were spiritual, and he refused the throne.
Here in 1 Nephi 2, the Lord explains the relationship between the Nephites and the Lamanites. I wonder how many prayers were offered by Book of Mormon people pleading with the Lord to solve the problem of the Lamanites. But the Lamanites were never the problem. The scriptures teach it in this way:
And inasmuch as thou shalt keep my commandments, thou shalt be made a ruler and a teacher over thy brethren. For behold, in that day that they [the Lamanites] shall rebel against me, I will curse them even with a sore curse, and they shall have no power over thy seed except they [thy seed] shall rebel against me also. And if it so be that they [thy seed] rebel against me, they [the Lamanites] shall be a scourge unto thy seed, to stir them up in the ways of remembrance (1 Nephi 2:22-24).
Hugh Nibley explained it this way:
No matter how wicked and ferocious and depraved the Lamanites might be (and they were that!), no matter by how much they outnumbered the Nephites, darkly closing in on all sides, no matter how insidiously they spied and intrigued and infiltrated and hatched their diabolical plots and breathed their bloody threats and pushed their formidable preparations for all‑out war, they were not the Nephite problem. They were merely kept there to remind the Nephites of their real problem, which was to walk uprightly before the Lord (Since Cumorah, p. 376).