Saturday, December 29, 2007

Return to Jerusalem (1 Nephi 3)

Listen now!As they traveled in the wilderness, Lehi had another dream from the Lord telling him to send his sons back to Jerusalem to obtain sacred records that had been handed down, likely through their Israelite tribe (the tribe of Joseph), for many generations. This record was known as the "plates of brass" and "contained a record of the Jews and also a genealogy of [Lehi's] forefathers" (1 Nephi 3:3). The records were kept in the house of a man named Laban.

As Laman and Lemuel murmured, Nephi said to his father,
...I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.
1 Nephi 3:7
When they arrived in Jerusalem, Laman was the first to go to Laban's house and ask for the plates. He was not only refused, but was cast out of Laban's house. Just as Laman and Lemuel were about to turn back to return to their family in the wilderness, Nephi reminded them of the promise or oath they made to their father that they would obtain the plates and that they would not return without them. He reminded them that it was part of God's plan for them to have the records and therefore it would be made possible.

Successful in persuading them, Nephi led them back to Jerusalem to speak with Laban as a group. Along the way, they stopped by their home and brought with them all of their gold, silver, and other precious things. Laban, impressed by their goods, stole it all from them and chased them out of his house with his servants following to kill them. Once they were safely away from the city, Laman and Lemuel were angry with Nephi and began to beat Nephi and Sam with a stick.

Immediately, an angel appeared to them commanding them to stop and to return again to Jerusalem. They were told that Laban would be delivered to them. Even after the angel disappeared, Laman and Lemuel continued to murmur because they didn't understand how someone as mighty as Laban, with his command of fifty men, would be delivered into the hands of four young men.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Lehi in the Wilderness (1 Nephi 2)

Listen now!In chapter 2 of First Nephi, Lehi and his family prepare to leave Jerusalem and begin a new life in the wilderness. In part, they are escaping persecution at the hands of those who do not believe Lehi's prophecies and, in part, they are leaving behind the world to live the Gospel in a more pure form, away from distractions of wealth, status, and comfort.

Above all, Lehi was commanded by the Lord in a dream that he should depart the city. His family, particularly two of his sons named Laman and Lemuel, had a hard time dealing with this commandment because it required extreme faith on their part both to leave and to do so because of Lehi's dream. But, Nephi, ever the valiant and obedient son, prays to the Lord that he might believe the words of his father and not grumble and complain as his elder brothers Laman and Lemuel did. Nephi is visited by the Lord and softens Nephi's heart. In turn, he bears witness to (teaches) his younger brother, Sam, who also is touched by the Holy Spirit and believes that what they are doing is the right thing.

Nephi is saddened by Laman and Lemuel's rebellion. The Lord also promises Nephi that because instead of complaining he has sought answers from the Lord, he will prosper in the new land to which they are about to travel. If his brothers continue to rebel against Lehi and against Nephi, they will be cut off from the presence of the Lord (i.e. not blessed as Nephi will be). Instead, they will become a scourge to Nephi's descendants, to "stir them up in the ways of remembrance" of their dependence on the Lord through the conflict and strife that will be inflicted on them by the descendants of his brothers.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Lehi's Vision and Preaching (1 Nephi 1)

Listen now!This chapter is the introduction that Nephi, a son of Lehi (1 Nephi 1:1), who was a prophet around the time of Jeremiah and the Babylonian invasion of Jerusalem (see 1 Nephi 1:4 and cross-reference to Jeremiah 52:3-5), wrote to chronicle their history and spiritual matters.

In this chapter, we find out that Nephi is the writer, mostly writing from his own perspective. Lehi has just had a vision where he saw God, Jesus Christ, and those who would be the twelve disciples, and received a mission to preach to the people of Jerusalem that destruction would come upon them unless they repented and listened to the prophets. He also predicts the coming of the Messiah, or Jesus Christ.

The Jews of that time had fallen away from the ideals of the law of Moses and their government and political systems had become corrupt, so they were not very receptive to his message. They made threats to kill him because of his prophecies and persecuted Lehi and his family.

All of this occurs about 600 BC.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Ancient American Christmas Story

It's Christmas Eve today! Merry Christmas!

Did you know that the ancient Americans experienced the first Christmas in as miraculous a way as those who lived in the ancient Middle East? If you turn to Helaman, Chapter 14 (pp. 400-403), you can read about Samuel the Lamanite, who prophesied that Christ would be born on the earth and that there would be "great lights in heaven" at that time. He said that there would be a day and a night and a day when the sun would go down, but the sky would remain as bright as when the sun was still up. He also prophesied that there would be a new star in the heavens (see also Matthew 2:1-2; 3 Nephi 1:20-21).

In addition, Samuel taught:
  • who Christ would be and what He would do while on the earth (Helaman 14:12-13)
  • that the Resurrection would be a literal, not figurative, occurrence (Helaman 14:15)
  • that at His death, there would be tempests and earthquakes and that the graves would be opened with many people being resurrected (Helaman 14:20-29; see also Matthew 27:52-53; 3 Nephi 23:7-13)
  • that whoever would be saved is free to choose salvation and that those who choose to perish are likewise free to choose destruction...God will never force anyone to heaven (Helaman 14:30-31)
When Christ was born in Bethlehem, the signs occurred in America just as Samuel prophesied. Although, there were wicked people who threatened to kill those who believed that the signs would happen. When those signs came to pass, those who were wicked found other excuses not to believe them (see 3 Nephi 1:4-22)

Think about how often miraculous things in our day go unnoticed, are "explained away" as coincidence or imagination, or are even denied altogether. The Book of Mormon shows us that history does repeat itself and, if we're not careful, that will be a bad thing for us (see 3 Nephi 2:1-3, 10-11, 19).

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The First Book of Nephi

It's time to start reading. The Book of Mormon is mostly chronological, so First Nephi is a good place to start.

You'll notice that the whole Book of Mormon is written in King James Bible style. Don't be intimidated. Just remember that "thee" and "thou" means "you", "thine" means "your", "mine" means "my". "Ye" usually means "you all".

The book is divided, like the King James Bible, into books, chapters, and verses. Cross references to other related verses are indicated with a superscript letter to the right of a word or phrase. If you have an actual printed book, look at the bottom of the page for the corresponding footnote or reference to another scripture. Online, you can just click on the underlined words.

References include Old and New Testament Bible books that will already be familiar. Other references are for books in the Book of Mormon and other scriptures particular to the LDS faith. "TG" means "Topical Guide", which is an LDS concordance of themes found in all presently revealed scripture, both ancient and latter-day.

There are also a lot of "and it came to pass" phrases. This is actually normal for the time period and the origins of the writing systems and languages being represented. Archaeologically speaking, carved monuments in several Latin American countries (which we presume were built by people related to or descended from people of the Book of Mormon) use this phrase quite frequently. It was simply a way of saying "and then what happened was...".

Most of the Book of Mormon has a time reference printed at the bottom right or bottom left hand corner of the page. The online version has the date ranges in the chapter heading. The first page of First Nephi, Chapter 1 (abbreviated as 1 Nephi 1), shows that the point in time where Nephi begins recording his family's history is 600 BC. This is inferred from his later prophetic statements that Christ would come 600 years after Nephi's family left Jerusalem (see
1 Ne. 10:4, 1 Ne. 19:8, and 2 Ne. 25:19). It is also pinpointed by events mentioned in the Bible that were contemporary and local to events mentioned in the Book of Mormon. The key event for which we have a reasonably accurate year is the invasion and conquering of Jerusalem by the Babylonians (see Jeremiah 52), which occurred a few years after Nephi and his family left Jerusalem.

You can use this site's timeline as a guide while reading as well.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The highlights

A good way to get to know the value of the Book of Mormon quickly is to read the highlights, or pivotal events and teachings it contains.
Starting your reading this way will give you an early understanding of where the book is coming from and the main themes that Mormon, its ancient editor and abridger, wanted to convey to us in our day.

Monday, December 17, 2007

A closer look at the title page

Have a look at the title page. This page was written on the last leaf of the plates themselves and was not written by Joseph Smith. Rather, as with the record beginning with the Nephi and ending with Moroni, Joseph translated it to English from an ancient language.

The title page states that this book is an abridgment. It's not the comprehensive history of the people it talks about. The timeline it treats is between 600 BC and 420 AD. Instead, it is a comparatively brief summary of the high and low points and the main spiritual themes and issues of its day.

The author of this title page, Mormon, writes also that the purpose of this book is "the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that JESUS is the CHRIST, the ETERNAL GOD, manifesting himself unto all nations" (italics added).

From this, we learn that the purpose of the Book of Mormon and the purpose of the Bible are one and the same. Therefore, as we read, we should not be surprised that the teachings about Christ are also one and the same. In some cases, the words Christ spoke to teach the people of the Americas are verbatim with the Bible's account. (And why shouldn't they be? The Gospel is the same universally, regardless of who hears it, when, and where.)

Sunday, December 16, 2007

What are these "brass plates" and "gold plates"?

In ancient times, scribes who had very important things to record would record them in stone, on cave walls, and sometimes on sheets of wrought or cast metal. When Joseph Smith received the ancient record we now call "The Book of Mormon", it was written on thin sheets of metal that he called "plates". The plates were bound together with metal rings--somewhat in the same way a loose-leaf binder holds together sheets of paper. Here are some descriptions of the plates by various people who saw them, and some who didn't see them directly, but touched them through the cloth in which Joseph wrapped them when hiding them to protect them from the mobs. Another good article on the subject is found here. To the right, see a photo of a replica of what the plates may have looked like based on these various descriptions.

The reason that metal plates were desirable as a means of recording important information for posterity was that they were less prone to decomposition. Gold plates were especially durable because gold doesn't rust or corrode. So important for our day was the message that Mormon was compiling about the rise and fall of his people that he went even to the length of gathering up such a scarce and precious metal, worked it into thin leaves, engraved the record upon them, and hid them in a hill. Later, Joseph would be directed to their hiding place and would be allowed to take possession of and translate them from the ancient language of the Nephite and Lamanite people into English.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Getting Started

You can manage it, really! Millions have read it and millions more will read it. Some have read it twice. Others have read it countless times.

Where to get started? Open to the introduction page first and then read the brief explanation page to get a feel for the flow of the book. Finally, read the story of how the book came to be. There are also testimonies of three witnesses and of eight witnesses who saw the original document and signed their names to their testimony. It is notable that not one of these twelve witnesses (including Joseph Smith, its translator) ever denied what they saw, neither under intense persecution or even after some had left the Church.