Sunday, January 27, 2008

Lehi provides additional prophecies (1 Nephi 10)

Listen now!Once Lehi had finished telling of his dream of the tree of life, the great and spacious building, the rod of iron, and the river of filthy water, he further expounds on what he has seen regarding the destruction of Jerusalem and the captivity of Israel.

Lehi also recounts having seen in a vision the Savior of the world coming to earth and being baptized by John. He also foretells the death and subsequent resurrection of the Messiah.

Remember that Lehi is speaking these prophecies between 600 B.C. and 592 B.C.

Because of his concern for his family to understand what happens to Israel after its captivity, Lehi prophesies what would eventually happen to all Israel by likening the tribes to the branches of an olive tree. They will be pruned from and grafted to the olive tree--or scattered and gathered again (see also Jacob 5).

Finally, Nephi desires to see the things his father saw and hear the things he heard. He has confidence that his desire will be granted because God continually manifests, or shows, Himself to us. God is "the same yesterday, today, and forever".

Nephi adds that men need to seek knowledge of these things by the power of the Holy Ghost and that "he that diligently seeketh shall find" the mysteries of God. Men need to be righteous and obedient or they will be cut off from the Lord because "no unclean thing can dwell with God."

Saturday, January 26, 2008

More detail about the plates (1 Nephi 9)

Listen now!We interrupt this narrative to give you more detail about the plates that Nephi constructed to record the history of his people.

Nephi made two sets of plates, one large and one small. The small plates contain the sacred things and the large plates contain the more detailed secular history, including the reigns of kings and wars and contentions.

So, you can see that the Book of Mormon was not just one set of plates but was actually made up of many groups of records, which is best understood through an illustration. See the diagram below.

Source: "Mormon Plates and Records",

Even though a picture is worth a thousand words, some explanation is helpful here. It is easiest to simply quote here from the "Brief Explanation" page at the front of the Book of Mormon.
The Book of Mormon is a sacred record of peoples in ancient America, and was engraved upon sheets of metal. Four kinds of metal record plates are spoken of in the book itself:
  1. The Plates of Nephi, which were of two kinds: the Small Plates and the Large Plates. The former were more particularly devoted to the spiritual matters and the ministry and teachings of the prophets, while the latter were occupied mostly by a secular history of the peoples concerned (1 Nephi 9: 2-4). From the time of Mosiah, however, the large plates also included items of major spiritual importance.

  2. The Plates of Mormon, which consist of an abridgment by Mormon from the Large Plates of Nephi, with many commentaries. These plates also contained a continuation of the history by Mormon and additions by his son Moroni.

  3. The Plates of Ether, which present a history of the Jaredites. This record was abridged by Moroni, who inserted comments of his own and incorporated the record with the general history under the title “Book of Ether.”

  4. The Plates of Brass brought by the people of Lehi from Jerusalem in 600 B.C. These contained “the five books of Moses, . . . And also a record of the Jews from the beginning, . . . down to the commencement of the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah; And also the prophecies of the holy prophets” (1 Nephi 5: 11-13). Many quotations from these plates, citing Isaiah and other biblical and nonbiblical prophets, appear in the Book of Mormon.
The Book of Mormon comprises fifteen main parts or divisions, known, with one exception, as books, each designated by the name of its principal author. The first portion (the first six books, ending with Omni) is a translation from the Small Plates of Nephi. Between books of Omni and Mosiah is an insert called The Words of Mormon. This insert connects the record engraved on the Small Plates with Mormon’s abridgment of the Large Plates.

The longest portion, from Mosiah to Mormon, chapter 7, inclusive, is a translation of Mormon’s abridgment of the Large Plates of Nephi. The concluding portion, from Mormon, chapter 8, to the end to the volume, was engraved by Mormon’s son Moroni, who, after finishing the record of his father’s life, made an abridgment of the Jaredite record (as the Book of Ether) and later added the parts known as the Book of Moroni.

In or about the year A.D. 421, Moroni, the last of the Nephite prophet-historians, sealed the sacred record and hid it up unto the Lord, to be brought forth in the latter days, as predicted by the voice of God through his ancient prophets. In A.D. 1823, this same Moroni, then a resurrected personage, visited the Prophet Joseph Smith and subsequently delivered the engraved plates to him.
We also learn in 1 Nephi 9:5 that the Lord had asked Nephi to make two sets of plates with different contents "for a wise purpose in him, which purpose I know not." That purpose became painfully clear to Joseph Smith when, at the incessant pleadings of Martin Harris, who had been acting as his scribe in translating the first 116 pages, was finally convinced to allow the translation manuscript out of his hands so that Martin could take it home and show it to his unbelieving wife. Martin was supposed to show them only to her and to a few close relatives, but his wife took too many liberties with the manuscript and it eventually was lost somewhere in a crowd of detractors of Joseph's claims about having been given the Book of Mormon to translate.

These first 116 translated pages represented the Large Plates of Nephi and contained the book of Nephi's father, Lehi (see diagram above; also see Lesson 14: “For a Wise Purpose”, Book of Mormon Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual, (1999), 61.)

Joseph was commanded by the Lord to not re-translate the missing pages because the conspiracy that was afoot was to alter the original manuscript so that his detractors could "prove" him to be a false prophet when the two translations did not agree. The Lord then revealed to a penitent Joseph that He had seen this coming centuries before (D&C 10:8–14) and had ensured that what was lost on the 116 pages would be duplicated in the translation from the Small Plates of Nephi. This record is what is now found in the books of 1 Nephi through Omni.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Lehi's vision of the Tree of Life (1 Nephi 8)

Roger Sorenson
Oil on canvas

When the Lord teaches, He teaches using symbols. It was so throughout Old and New Testament scriptures, most especially in the parables detailed in the Gospel of St. Luke.

In chapter 8, Nephi records a significant vision, filled with symbolism, that his father, Lehi, had. This is the most detailed vision account of the Book of Mormon and therefore we should treat it as significant, not only because it is so detailed but because of the many teachings and doctrines that are packed into it.

As you read 1 Nephi 8 and have questions about what each of the symbols in the vision represent, be sure to keep a thumb in 1 Nephi 11 and 1 Nephi 15 which each give a more detailed interpretation. As I describe Lehi's vision, I will link to the cross references for each interpreted element as found in these later chapters to make it easier to correlate them together. Stay tuned, though, because when we get to the later chapters, I'll go into more detail about what these symbols stand for, especially what they can be compared to in our day.

Lehi begins the account of his dream or vision by stating that it is both a reason to rejoice (because of the righteousness of Sam and Nephi) and a reason to warn (because of the rebellious behaviors of Laman and Lemuel).

First, Lehi relates that he saw a man dressed in white who invited Lehi to follow him. Lehi soon finds himself in a "dark and dreary waste" and prays to be delivered from it. After this prayer, he sees a "large and spacious field" and in the middle of it is "a tree, whose fruit was desirable to make one happy".

Lehi eats some of the fruit and finds it is "most sweet, above all that I ever before tasted." It is so delicious, in fact, that he immediately feels a desire to share it with his entire family. He looks around for them and finds that there is a river of water that runs alongside the tree. Trying to find the river's source, he looks and sees that the head of it is a little way off and sees Sariah, Sam, and Nephi standing there as if they don't know where to go.

Lehi motions and calls to them to come to him, and they do. Then, looking also for Laman and Lemuel, he finds them but they refuse to come and partake of the fruit.

Next, Lehi sees a "rod of iron" that "extended along the bank of the river and led to the tree". Next to the rod of iron was a "strait and narrow" path leading up to the tree from the head of the fountain and out into a large and spacious field "as if it had been a world".

On the path were a great number of people who were also trying to get to the tree, as well as a mist of darkness covering the path in places. Some caught hold of the iron rod, successfully arrived at the tree, partook, and invited others to eat. But, upon eating, they looked around "as if they were ashamed".

Lehi then noticed that there was a "great and spacious building" that seemed to stand in the air. The people inside the building were of all ages and types, wearing very nice clothing, and pointing their fingers in derision and an attitude of mocking towards those who had taken the fruit. Those who became ashamed for eating the fruit "fell away into forbidden paths and were lost".

Lehi saw people grasping the iron rod and arriving at the tree to eat the fruit. Others let go of the iron rod before arriving at the tree, fell away from the path and the rod, and fell into a river of filthy water.

There were a great number who did not grab hold of the rod at all, but were "feeling their way towards that great and spacious building", going inside, and imitating the others in the building by pointing their fingers in scorn at those taking the fruit. But those who were eating of the fruit "heeded them not", or refused to pay any attention to them. Those who did pay attention to them fell away.

Laman and Lemuel never did partake of the fruit in Lehi's dream, so Lehi feared for them "lest they should be cast off from the presence of the Lord". Lehi invited them to repent "with all the feeling of a tender parent".

Friday, January 11, 2008

Laman and Lemuel return to Jerusalem...without complaining (1 Nephi 7)

Listen now!Almost immediately after their journey to Jerusalem to get the brass plates, Lehi received another revelation from the Lord.
1 And now I would that ye might know, that after my father, Lehi, had made an end of aprophesying concerning his seed, it came to pass that the Lord spake unto him again, saying that it was not meet for him, Lehi, that he should take his family into the wilderness alone; but that his sons should take bdaughters to cwife, that they might raise up dseed unto the Lord in the land of promise.
2 And it came to pass that the Lord acommanded him that I, Nephi, and my brethren, should again return unto the land of Jerusalem, and bring down Ishmael and his family into the wilderness.
3 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, did aagain, with my brethren, go forth into the wilderness to go up to Jerusalem.
This is one of the more humorous parts of the Book of Mormon simply because Nephi makes no mention of any complaints. Laman and Lemuel appear to be perfectly happy to return to Jerusalem now that there is the possibility of bringing women back with them. :)

Ishmael is the father of the daughters for whom Nephi, Sam, Laman, and Lemuel return. We don't know too much about how the family of Lehi and the family of Ishmael knew one another. It could be that they were near kinsmen, which Lehi might have deduced after reading the genealogy contained in the brass plates. Nevertheless, it appears that Ishmael was willing to follow Lehi into the wilderness with his entire family. Therefore, it's more than likely that, at the very least, Ishmael originally sympathized with Lehi and was eager to leave Jerusalem before it fell to the Babylonians.

Laman and Lemuel's change of heart didn't last very long. On the way back to Lehi's camp, they, and some of Ishmael's own family, rebelled against "Nephi, and Sam, and their father, Ishmael, and his wife, and his three other daughters."

Nephi is quick to remind them of how the Lord has already supported them and their ancestors through many worse things and that if they would just be faithful, the Lord would give them a land of promise. If they want to go back, Nephi tells them, they can make that choice and perish with the rest.

Laman and Lemuel become furious and tie up Nephi to leave him to be eaten by wild beasts. Exercising his faith in the Lord, Nephi asks God for strength to break his bonds. Nephi is granted that power and is able to break free. This is a great example of faith as a principle of power. Nephi didn't ask for the Lord to come down and break his bonds for him. Rather, he asked that the Lord would amplify his own meager strength to free himself. We benefit from the Lord's help only when we put forth our own efforts and let Him do the rest. Otherwise, we begin to take His power for granted, or think that it is somehow by our own strength we are able to emerge from troubles. When He gives us more power than we know we have on our own, the lesson we learn is much more clear. To the contrary, taking His power for granted is the major mistake Laman and Lemuel have made and continue to make as they travel to the promised land.

But this time, something about this experience temporarily humbles those who rebelled. They repent, asking Nephi for forgiveness. He is quick to give it for his own part and then to remind them that their duty to ask forgiveness is not to him, but to God for having rebelled against His commandments.

Upon returning, they perform sacrifices and burnt offerings in accordance with the law of Moses to complete their repentance process and to show thanks to God.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Nephi Defines the Purpose of the Record (1 Nephi 6)

Listen now!At this point, Nephi pauses in his retelling of his family's journey into the wilderness to clarify that he is not writing on the plates to tell a full, secular history of everything that happened to every person in great detail. Rather, he states:
4 For the fulness of mine intent is that I may apersuade men to bcome unto the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, and be saved.
5 Wherefore, the things which are apleasing unto the world I do not write, but the things which are pleasing unto God and unto those who are not of the world.
Therefore, people who encounter the Book of Mormon for the first time should not be surprised that it lacks details that they would normally expect from the Bible or from some secularized history. Nephi makes it very clear that is not his purpose. He even goes further to tell his descendants who would inherit the plates and write on them "that they shall not occupy these plates with things which are not of worth unto the children of men."

As you read, look for anything that is not of worth to the children of men. You won't find it.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Back at Lehi's Camp (1 Nephi 5)

Listen now!While her boys were away at Jerusalem, endeavoring to get the plates of brass, Sariah becomes extremely anxious for their safety, as any good mother would.

Sariah begins to complain to Lehi because of her fears for them--that they had "perished in the wilderness". She even went so far as to complain about Lehi's visions being the reason for their suffering and that these visions would be the cause of all their deaths.

I love that about the Book of Mormon. The Bible and the Book of Mormon narratives tend to focus on the events from a man's point of view. That's just the way things were in that age. However, the authors of the Book of Mormon do give more insight into the thoughts and emotions of women of God (warts and all) than we find in the same comparative proportion in the Bible. I believe this is because the overarching theme of the book is that it is principally about families and how they and their descendants fared in a new land. It makes sense, then, that more focus is given to women in this book, for they bore the sons and daughters of this new civilization.

Lehi, instead of breaking out in indignant, patriarchal rage, comforts her by encouraging her to look back on those times when she did believe in the visions and the land of promise that they were going to eventually inherit. This is a good model for any father and husband to follow when times get tough.

Verses 7-8 give us a sense of the comfort Sariah must have felt upon the return of her four sons.

After offering sacrifices and burnt offerings (which indicates they must have traveled more than three days' journey from Jerusalem according to Mosaic law as it was interpreted at that time), Lehi examines the plates and discovers that they contained the five books of Moses, a record of the Jews from the beginning "even down to the commencement of the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah" (Lehi's day) and many prophecies.

But what seems to have most intrigued Lehi was learning that the genealogy of his own fathers, of the tribe of Joseph, was inscribed on the plates. He now had confirmation that he was of the lineage of Joseph of Egypt. This is an important thing to remember as you read the rest of the book, for it shows how the Lord remembers His covenant with Israel, even as He allows them, through their agency and bad choices, to scatter themselves to all ends of the earth. He commands there to be records kept of the migrations of those tribes. We have had that record in the Old Testament for the tribe of Judah and now we have it for the tribe of Joseph. How many other tribes kept records? The Book of Mormon tells us that there are many. And, they have kept records and were visited by Christ.

It's no wonder Nephi records:
21 And we had obtained the records which the Lord had commanded us, and searched them and found that they were desirable; yea, even of great aworth unto us, insomuch that we could bpreserve the commandments of the Lord unto our children.
22 Wherefore, it was wisdom in the Lord that we should carry them with us, as we journeyed in the wilderness towards the land of promise.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Nephi Makes a Critical Decision (1 Nephi 4)

Listen now!Chapter 4 continues the story of the conflict between Laman and Lemuel and Nephi and Sam in their attempts to obtain the brass plates. Let's pause for a moment and analyze why they were so motivated to get these records.

In ancient times, there were, of course, no printing presses. So, every important record or history that was kept was valuable insomuch that it took enormous effort to copy and distribute it. Therefore, it wasn't uncommon for there to be one and only one copy of a particular account or history. For preservation, these accounts were carved on stone monuments, written on sheepskin or papyrus, or, in this case, were engraved on metal plates.

The brass plates were one of a kind. They contained a history of the lineage of Lehi's family (Laban was a kinsman). Lehi had been commanded to leave Jerusalem forever and to start anew in a promised land that the Lord had prepared for them. He was likely concerned from the start that the teachings of prior prophets and their genealogy as recorded on the plates of brass would not be with them to help remind them and their posterity of their origins, language, and religious practices. Lehi knew that Laban would not give them up willingly and, for that reason, probably did not see it as an option to ask for them when leaving Jerusalem...especially given the haste in which they had to leave. But now, after they had journeyed in the wilderness for a good space of time, the Lord was commanding Lehi to send his sons to return to get the records. It had to be done.

Continuing on, Nephi reminds his brothers that the Lord "is mightier than all the earth, then why not mightier than Laban and his fifty, yea, or even than his tens of thousands?" He also recalls the captivity of the Jews in Egypt and how God inspired Moses to lead His people out using a series of miracles. Then he repeats the fact that they have all seen and heard an angel telling them to be obedient to this commandment and that they would be kept safe.

Still murmuring, the two older brothers followed Nephi and Sam back to Jerusalem. They hid outside the city walls and then crept into the city. Nephi says he was "led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do."

At this point, Nephi goes ahead alone and he describes what would be his final encounter with Laban. Laban was powerful, having command of a militia within the city and entrusted with the care of important records. Yet, there before him was this ruler of fifty men, drunken and "fallen to the earth". Perhaps he had been celebrating his defrauding of the sons of Lehi of all of their earthly possessions while still withholding the plates of brass from them.

However, Nephi was not seeking revenge. He merely wanted to obey the Lord's commandment to get the sacred records. Remember also that he had no prior plan, but was being led by the Spirit. As he was contemplating the fallen figure before him, he noticed Laban's sword and that it was of a workmanship that was "exceedingly fine" (there is some evidence to suggest that Nephi had a working knowledge of metallurgy, having possibly been an apprentice in that trade. See "Ancient Smelting" and "Iron Making" in Metals of the Book of Mormon).

As he pulled the sword from its sheath, he received a commandment from the Spirit that he would never have expected. The commmandment was to kill Laban. Nephi records that "I said in my heart: Never at any time have I shed the blood of man. And I shrunk and would that I might not slay him." Until now, Nephi had been unflinchingly obedient to every commandment of the Lord. But this one obviously troubled him because he was not disposed to this kind of violence, nor did he expect such a command to come from the Lord.

Yet, the Spirit of the Lord commanded again that he slay Laban, saying, "Behold, the Lord hath delivered him into thy hands." Nephi began to understand more of the context of this commandment as a result of this added detail. Laban had sought to kill him and his brothers and he was steadfast in refusing to obey the commandment of the Lord to give them the plates. He had also taken away their property without giving them anything for it.

The Spirit then said to Nephi that "the Lord slayeth the wicked to bring forth his righteous purposes. It is better that one man should perish than a nation [like the one that would come of Lehi's posterity in their new promised land] should dwindle and perish in unbelief. "

At this point, Nephi begins to fully understand the reach of this commandment because he remembered the words the Lord had spoken to him in the wilderness: "Inasmuch as thy seed shall keep my commandments, they shall prosper in the land of promise." How could this promise be fulfilled unless a written record of the commandments, and their religion, be transmitted through their descendants. They had already tried everything possible short of killing Laban to obtain these records and were nearly killed themselves in the process.

Nephi, having been taught the reason why the Lord was insistent on Laban perishing, was ready to obey the voice of the Spirit so as to preserve the knowledge of the Lord for his future descendants. It was better that this wicked man be slain than for millions of yet unborn people to fall into error and forget the Lord.

He raised the sword and did as he was commanded. Then, he put on Laban's clothes, knowing that he would likely run into some opposition at getting the records and would need to be disguised somehow.

Upon approaching the treasury, he saw the servant of Laban, Zoram, who was a guard. The disguise was apparently enough to convince Zoram that Nephi was Laban and he began to speak with him as if that were so. Nephi asked for the records and Zoram produced them. Nephi wanted to ensure that Zoram would not alert other guards should he become suspicious, so he had Zoram follow him to the gates of the city.

But, when Zoram saw Nephi's brethren outside the city, he began to run away. Nephi caught him and promised him that if he would make an oath or a promise (something not easily broken in those days) that he would come with them, be faithful to the Lord, and not return to Jerusalem, Zoram would be a free man and would inherit a promised land. Zoram agreed and they returned to Lehi.