2 Nephi 5

And it came to pass that the Lord did warn me, that I, Nephi, should depart from them and flee into the wilderness, and all those who would go with me.

Wherefore, it came to pass that I, Nephi, did take my family, and also Zoram and his family, and Sam, mine elder brother and his family, and Jacob and Joseph, my younger brethren, and also my sisters, and all those who would go with me. And all those who would go with me were those who believed in the warnings and the revelations of God; wherefore, they did hearken unto my words.

(2 Nephi 5:5-6)

I tend to cringe a little when I hear the phrase “be in the world, but not of the world”. That’s partly because its a cliché, and clichés tend to hinder rather than help us to think about what we really need to be doing. The other reason is that it is one of those statements that people tend to take as scriptural when it isn’t (much like the whole supposed quote of “I never said it’d be easy, I only said it’d be possible”). In this particular case it is based on a scripture (John 17:14-16). But it’d be a mistake to think that the cliché encompasses every truth about our relationship with the world, and especially that there’s always some imperative to be “in” the world.

The Book of Mormon contains another theme, one we see near the beginning of the book and repeated here, and many times hence. Lehi, after being rejected by the people, was warned by God to flee into the wilderness with his family. In like fashion, Nephi too must flee those seeking his life (his own brothers in this case) with his family and any who believe in the revelations of God. There is this continual pattern of the flight into the wilderness from a wicked society.

A similar theme can be found in the passages of Isaiah quoted in the Book of Mormon:

Go ye forth of Babylon, flee ye from the Chaldeans, with a voice of singing declare ye, tell this, utter to the end of the earth; say ye: The Lord hath redeemed his servant Jacob.

(1 Nephi 20:20//Isaiah 48:20)

And then shall a cry go forth: Depart ye, depart ye, go ye out from thence, touch not that which is unclean; go ye out of the midst of her; be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord.

(3 Nephi 20:41//Isaiah 52:11)

This same idea can be found in the Doctrine and Covenants as a commandment for us, where we are repeatedly told to ‘go ye out of Babylon’, including ‘from the nations’ and ‘from the midst of wickedness, which is spiritual Babylon’ (D&C 133:5, 7, 14) and instead ‘flee unto Zion’ (D&C 45:68, 133:12). There is no command here to remain in the world, but instead we are commanded to separate from it, both spiritually and at times physically. While there may be occasions in which we have responsibilities “in the world”, there is no imperative to stay there permanently, and certainly not to be complacent in doing so. Ultimately for our own sake we must leave Babylon behind and flee to Zion, for:

For after today cometh the burning—this is speaking after the manner of the Lord—for verily I say, tomorrow all the proud and they that do wickedly shall be as stubble; and I will burn them up, for I am the Lord of Hosts; and I will not spare any that remain in Babylon.

(D&C 64:24)

2020 Edit:

Now I do not write upon these plates all the words which they murmured against me. But it sufficeth me to say, that they did seek to take away my life.

And it came to pass that the Lord did warn me, that I, Nephi, should depart from them and flee into the wilderness, and all those who would go with me.

(2 Nephi 5:4-5)

I write about some of the significance of this pattern above and when talking about 1 Nephi 2, but reading this today I was struck by the degree of congruence between Nephi’s experience here and Lehi’s: The brothers have truly become like Lehi’s opponents in Jerusalem, and seek to take away Nephi’s like the Jerusalemites sought Lehi’s. And like Lehi, Nephi is warned in a dream to flee into the wilderness, taking with him a small party consisting principally of family. Once again they must depart, leaving hearth and home and comfort, just as we need to be prepared to let things go, and not become too attached to all the things we accrue and come across on our journey in this wilderness.

This chapter – which briefly mentions this new exodus, and then the establishing of their settlement versus the reversion to barbarism of their kinfolk (and the making of the small plates, namely this actual record!) – is the real piece of narrative in 2 Nephi. After that the book contains a mostly context-less sermon from Jacob in 2 Nephi 6-10, some editorial commentary by Nephi in 2 Nephi 11 that introduces the lengthy quotation of 2 Nephi 12-24//Isaiah 2-14, and then further teachings by Nephi about the future destiny of his family’s descendants, the last days, the gathering of Israel (and the Book of Mormon’s role in that), and then the gospel of Christ. He doesn’t even record that he’s passing on the plates or who he’s passing them on too (it is left to Jacob to explain that they have been passed to him at the beginning of the book of Jacob (Jacob 1:1-4).

It is likewise striking that, unlike so many Book of Mormon prophets (including Lehi as we have just seen, but also including the likes of King Benjamin, Alma the younger, Helaman son of Helaman and Mormon himself), there’s no concern or record of any instructions or spiritual council for children, indeed there’s no mention of children at all. Nor, as discussed with 2 Nephi 4, do the records appear to be passed to any children of his: the small plates are given to his brother Jacob, while the large plates appear to be in the keeping of the kings (Jarom 1:14), and the first king is “a man” appointed by Nephi, but there is no indication of kinship, let alone that of father and son (Jacob 1:9-11).

One could be forgiven for wondering if Nephi even had any children, but he does mention some earlier in one brief reference (1 Nephi 18:19), while it does appear that he has some descendants (Mormon 1:4-5, assuming the reference to the plates of Nephi refers to this Nephi and not one of the other intervening record-keepers!). There has the been the suggestion, as I commented in regards to 2 Nephi 4, that perhaps he had no sons but had daughters. This is possible. But whatever the situation, it’s clear that this does not hold his literary attention as he doesn’t write about them. We get far more about his emotional reaction to the centuries distant destruction of his people (1 Nephi 15:4-5), than he ever expresses about his children in the present. And once past 2 Nephi 5, he doesn’t write about his people either. It is as if he has been entirely captured by events far distant, his attention focused on events like the coming of Christ, the aforementioned destruction of his people, the gathering of Israel, and even the final judgment (in which he claims a role as a witness).

This mental orientation doesn’t seem entirely out of character: his emotional reaction to the vision of the destruction of his people (which caused him to feel “that mine afflictions were above all”, 1 Nephi 15:5) appears to be significantly greater than his recorded reaction to many contemporary events. But it reaches a peak here. While he clearly doesn’t abandon his duties in the present, it’s left to Jacob to tell us that by indicating  that his people loved him because of his diligence in protecting and serving them (1 Jacob 1:10). He never stops serving in the present, but – if the content of 2 Nephi is any indication – his mind and view are elsewhere, many centuries in the future, including the very time in which his own words will have their greatest influence. It seems (as Grant Hardy suggested on similar grounds in Understanding the Book of Mormon) quite a lonely and solitary existence. Nephi’s work and legacy and even feelings are tied up in a time far distant from his own, leaving him to appear almost a stranger in his own time.

3 thoughts on “2 Nephi 5

  1. Pingback: Updates: Reading through the Book of Mormon – David's random ramblings

  2. Pingback: 2 Nephi 25 – David's random ramblings

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