Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Second Book of Nephi (2 Nephi 1)

Listen now!The Second Book of Nephi carries us fully into the new and promised land we now know to be the Americas. This book, like 1st Nephi, holds many prophecies about the Western hemisphere. In chapter 1, we also learn more about Israel being scattered and a last effort by Lehi to invite Laman and Lemuel to repent.

Lehi was the patriarch or oldest living male of the group. The word "patriarch" is of Greek derivation and means father-ruler; the Hebrew word it translates is simply father. Lehi held the priesthood "after the holy order of the Son of God", or, for short, the Melchizedek priesthood. It was the same priesthood authority held by Adam, Melchizedek, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob (Israel), and Moses. As such, it held the keys (or permission) to give father's blessings such as what Issac gave to Jacob and Esau and what Jacob (Israel) gave to his twelve sons.

In 2 Nephi chapters 1 through 4, Lehi gives a father's blessing to the following (in order of mention by chapter):
  1. Laman - chapter 1
  2. Lemuel - chapter 1
  3. Sam - chapter 1
  4. Sons of Ishmael - chapter 1
  5. Zoram - chapter 1
  6. Jacob - chapter 2
  7. Joseph - chapter 3
  8. Children of Laman - chapter 4
  9. Children of Lemuel - chapter 4
  10. Children of Sons of Ishmael - chapter 4
  11. Children of Sam - chapter 4
It is notable that:
  • The order of blessings follows that of Hebrew tradition--that is from oldest to youngest--with the exception of the Children of the Sons of Ishmael and the Children of Sam switching places in the age hierarchy. That Joseph Smith, if he had made it all up out of his head, didn't simply go the easier route and just list these descendants in the same order as their fathers is striking. One wonders if perhaps Ishmael's sons' descendants were somehow, on average, older than the children of Sam.
  • Zoram and the sons of Ishmael were not Lehi's blood descendants. They receive the father's blessing from Lehi because Ishmael had passed away at Nahom, back on the Arabian peninsula, and Zoram had joined the group as part of an oath to Nephi without his own father accompanying him.
  • Lehi doesn't specifically address Nephi. He really only makes reference to Nephi when comparing to and contrasting with Nephi's blessings the blessings that others will receive. There isn't much in the text to suggest why this is the case. One might suppose that Nephi was simply too modest to include his own blessing in these chapters, or that he felt it was sufficiently covered in his own written prophecies.
As expected at this point, Laman and Lemuel's patriarchal blessings were full of dire warnings that terrible things would happen to their posterity if they didn't repent and obey the commandments from the Lord through Nephi. They had "pushed their luck" far too much and were being told in no uncertain terms that they were at a tipping point. Either they would be obedient and be blessed, or they would rebel and the family would split up, Nephi's descendants would be blessed materially and spiritually, and Laman and Lemuel's would be cursed materially and spiritually.

In chapter 1, Lehi also rejoices in his own blessings:
  • "the mercies of God in sparing their lives, that they were not swallowed up in the sea"
  • "how amerciful the Lord had been in bwarning us that we should flee out of the land of Jerusalem"
  • "had we remained in Jerusalem we should also have eperished"
  • "we have obtained a aland of promise, a land which is bchoice above all other lands; a land which the Lord God hath ccovenanted with me should be a land for the inheritance of my seed"
Additionally, Lehi sets forth the conditions under which the Lord allows any people to inhabit the Americas:
  • "they shall serve him according to the commandments which he hath given"
  • "if iniquity shall abound ccursed shall be the land for their sakes, but unto the righteous it shall be blessed forever"
  • "this land should be akept as yet from the knowledge of other bnations; for behold, many nations would overrun the land, that there would be no place for an inheritance"
  • "binasmuch as those whom the Lord God shall bring out of the land of Jerusalem shall keep his commandments, they shall cprosper upon the face of this land; and they shall be kept from all other nations, that they may possess this land unto themselves"
  • "when the time cometh that they shall dwindle in aunbelief...if the day shall come that they will reject the Holy One of Israel, the true bMessiah, their Redeemer and their God, behold, the judgments of him that is cjust shall rest upon them"
Lehi is speaking out of the dust to all Americans--from the northernmost reaches of Canada down to Tierra del Fuego. 2 Nephi 1:10 is therefore one of the most important verses any of us here in the Western hemisphere can read if we value "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness".