Mosiah 13

Abinadi has begun reciting the ten commandments, condemning the priests for not teaching nor living them, and the king and the priests have had enough, accuse him of being mad, and try to have him taken away to be killed. But they are prevented by divine power:

And they stood forth and attempted to lay their hands on him; but he withstood them, and said unto them:

Touch me not, for God shall smite you if ye lay your hands upon me, for I have not delivered the message which the Lord sent me to deliver; neither have I told you that which ye requested that I should tell; therefore, God will not suffer that I shall be destroyed at this time.

But I must fulfil the commandments wherewith God has commanded me; and because I have told you the truth ye are angry with me. And again, because I have spoken the word of God ye have judged me that I am mad.

(Mosiah 13:2-4)

I was struck particularly by Abinadi’s last line here (referring to the accusation in verse 1): “because I have spoken the word of God ye have judged me that I am mad”. Increasingly many of the teachings of the gospel do seem to be things the world regards as slightly crazy. Abinadi’s is an example that that judgement should be rejected, providing the truth is on one’s side (a crucial caveat; doubtless many actually mad people have likewise felt falsely accused for holding onto “truth”). In Abinadi’s case the truth of that becomes completely evident, as his face shines like Moses’ did, even as he re-presents the 10 Commandments given via Moses.

I’ve commented before, both in this series and in more detail in The Book of Mormon and its relationship with the Bible, on the idea that the act of extended quotation serves to re-emphasise and reinforce the authority and relevance of the quoted material. This is particularly relevant when it comes to the various prophecies of Isaiah (and indeed, Abinadi is just about to quote another Isaiah chapter – 53 – in Mosiah 14). But a similar process seems to be in play with the 10 commandments: the priests of Noah have played lip service to the law of Moses, and claim that’s the path to salvation (Mosiah 12:28, 32). But Abinadi has already pointed out that they do not teach nor live the basic 10 Commandments. He will go on to teach that no one can be saved by the law alone (Mosiah 13:28; indeed this applies to any law, see 2 Nephi 2:5), but everyone needs the atonement of Christ. He will also teach that the law of Moses was “a law of performances and ordinances”, intended to be a strict law to keep Israel on the right path, but which was not understood (Mosiah 13:29-32). And yet he also appears to be separating out these 10 from the “performances and ordinances”; by emphasising that those who keep these commandments will be saved (Mosiah 12:33), and repeating them in fall with a visible sign of divine authority, he is re-issuing these particular commandments and emphasising their importance.

And of course, by the fact that they’re quoted in full in the Book of Mormon, the same is true for us too. This isn’t just something in the Book of Mormon either: the Doctrine and Covenants likewise contains a similar set of commandments (although with some interesting revisions) in Doctrine and Covenants 59:5-12. Some commandments and laws do indeed vary from era to era: we are under no obligation, in the present dispensation, to abstain from shellfish or from bacon (which I’m glad about, since I like both). There’s commandments we live by that similarly weren’t needed in earlier epochs. But there is likewise a core set of principles, a heart of righteous living, that form the commandments in every era, as encapsulated in the ten quoted here or that in D&C 59, which have no faded away or become obsolete, but which remain important and which God continues to re-issue.

The democracy of discipleship and the aristocracy of the saints

It strikes me that one of the sobering dimensions of the gospel is the democracy of its demands as it seeks to build an aristocracy of saints. Certain standards and requirements are laid upon us all. They are uniform. We don’t have an indoor-outdoor set of ten commandments. We don’t have one set of commandments for bricklayers and another for college professors. There is a democracy about the demands of discipleship, which, interestingly enough, is aimed at producing an aristocracy of saints.

– Elder Neal A. Maxwell, Full talk available at the Interpreter

“Love Wins,” and Charity Loses

A great article has been put online, first presented by Ralph Hancock (a professor of political science at BYU) at the 2016 FAIRMormon conference in which he discusses the modern ideology of “love” and the confusion some have had between such concepts and the ideal of charity, and the consequent belief that obedience towards God is less or unimportant. Read it here: “Love Wins,” and Charity Loses – FairMormon (link courtesy of Daniel Peterson’s blog here).

Personally I am reminded of Matthew 22:35-40:

Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying,

Master, which is the great commandment in the law?

Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.

This is the first and great commandment.

And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Love is certainly central to Christ’s teachings, but it should never be forgotten that loving God comes first.

Why go to church

I’ve recently seen several posts, giving various reasons why people found it emotionally difficult to go to church and in some cases had stopped. It’s happened to coincide with a few things in my personal study, so I thought I should touch on the topic. It’s one where – for all the difficulty I have with empathy – I think I’m in some position to understand. I too find church difficult at times. Part of this is simply due to the fact that I find groups difficult anyway (thankfully people in my ward are very understanding about this). On some occasions, however, I do run into the same difficulty that I’ve seen mentioned: namely the emphasis the Church places on the family. I’m a 35 year old never married male, in a Church where one prominent leader taught that “no other success can compensate for failure in the home”*. Nor do I particularly have a litany of successes outside the “home”. So when the topic turns to families, or eternal marriage, or whatever, it’s hard not to feel like some sort of failure. And I know there’s quite a lot of people in different circumstances who experience similar feelings of falling short.

I’ve seen some attempts to regard this as some sort of cultural difficulty, as opposed to a doctrinal matter. Yet I do not believe that can resolve everything. While there are definitely sentiments and so on out there that are the product of culture, culture isn’t exactly something that can be easily or swiftly steered, and certainly isn’t easily amenable to central direction (I can only imagine that governments would love to if they could). Furthermore, this isn’t just an issue of culture: the importance of the family, the covenant of eternal marriage and so on are matters of doctrine, and they’re ones the world needs to hear. At a time when such matters are increasingly depreciated in Western civilisation, the Church would be failing in its divine responsibility were it not to speak frequently on these topics. The Church’s message is true and needed, even if it may cause discomfort in those who’d like those blessings but who have not received them. There’s a dilemma here that reminds me of Jacob 2 and 3, where (as I mention) Jacob is left having to give a message that may cause some distress because other people need to hear it.

And, after all, this is not the only such thing that may cause discomfort in attending church. I’ve mentioned my own personal difficulty around groups of people. Others may feel they don’t fit in, or face some other anxiety about their situation. Many have their crosses to bear, in many cases through no fault of their own. While others can perhaps make these things easier, ultimately some individuals will be faced with choosing between attending church and incurring some discomfort, and choosing not to.

I can understand the latter decision. But I believe it is a mistake, and one perhaps grounded in a misunderstanding of what attending church is supposed to do. From the way that I’ve heard a number of people speak, there seems to be an expectation that attending church is something we do for our sake, so we feel uplifted or edified or so on. With that expectation, it is understandable that people may conclude that if it is not doing that, well, why go?

It is true that one of the purposes of meeting together is to be “instruct[ed] and edif[ied]” (D&C 43:8) and “speak one with another concerning the welfare of their souls” (Moroni 6:5). But if that were the only reason, well we’d often fall short. To quote Bruce R. McConkie:

…We come into these congregations, and sometimes a speaker brings a jug of living water that has in it many gallons. And when he pours it out on the congregation, all the members have brought is a single cup and so that’s all they take away. Or maybe they have their hands over the cups, and they don’t get anything to speak of.

On other occasions we have meetings where the speaker comes and all he brings is a little cup of eternal truth, and the members of the congregation come with a large jug, and all they get in their jugs is the little dribble that came from a man who should have known better and who should have prepared himself and talked from the revelations and spoken by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Sure, it’s an opportunity to be uplifted and enlightened, and when that happens: great! But the Lord has chosen in his wisdom to staff the place with very imperfect volunteers, and so we don’t always deliver what other people need. We should try harder, of couse. But if we were to assess the Church as if we were some sort of consumer, expecting a service to be delivered, then we are bound to be disappointed.

But that’s not why the Lord has us meet together, certainly not as mere recipients of a service. Setting aside the fact that the Lord also expect us to seek to teach and encourage others also, the scriptures give us a number of other key reasons to worship together.

Firstly, it’s a commandment. If we believe in a God who has given us commandments, we have to take seriously scriptural statements that “the children of God were commanded that they should gather themselves together oft” (Alma 6:6), or (as part of a modern decalogue) the commandment “and that thou mayest more fully keep thyself unspotted from the world, thou shalt go to the house of prayer and offer up thy sacraments upon my holy day” (D&C 59:9).

Secondly, as in the verse quoted above, its an opportunity to participate in sacred ordinances, most especially that of the sacrament. Participating in this is likewise a commandment, one we are to “always observe to do” (3 Nephi 18:6-7, 10-12, D&C 20:75), and a major reason for the Church to “meet together oft” (Moroni 6:6).

Thirdly, and encompassing the points mentioned above, we are to gather together not to receive a service, but to worship. The “children of God” were commanded to meet together often to “join in fasting and mighty prayer in behalf of the welfare of the souls of those who knew not God” (Alma 6:5–6). They “assemble[d] themselves together at their sanctuaries to worship God before the altar, watching and praying continually” (Alma 15:17). The church established by Alma at the waters of Mormon had “one day in every week that was set apart that they should gather themselves together to teach the people, and to worship the Lord their God, and also, as often as it was in their power, to assemble themselves together” (Mosiah 18:25). As the commandment in Section 59 elaborates (v.10):

For verily this is a day appointed unto you to rest from your labors, and to pay thy devotions unto the Most High;

None of these other purposes really depend upon what other people do or feel or say. Other people might be insensitive, or unthoughtful, or unsupportive or even judgmental (though I often find people worry about being “judged” by a congregation who are actually far more worried about their own problems). We may not fit in; they may not like us; we may not enjoy it; we may not feel we have gotten the right “experience”; it may be uncomfortable or even painful. But none of that matters.

This is not to detract from the fact that attending church may require much more from some people than it does others. I sympathise with those facing that. I also know the Lord is just and merciful, and I have no doubt that He will recognise that, and judge (and bless) accordingly. But perhaps it will help us if we recognise that going to church is not about what other people do or feel towards us, or even about how we feel and whether we feel good or uplifted. It’s about about obeying and worshipping God, and Him only. Other people are involved because He has commanded us to worship collectively, and as part of our worship He has expectations as to how we treat them and the rest of his children. But whether we enjoy church or not, whether we fit in or not, whether we feel uplifted or not: none of this can stop us from paying our devotions to the Most High. And if we attend and reverently offer our worship, despite our difficulties, then we are doing what the Lord requires of us.

 

* Postscript: Interestingly, it seems that David O. McKay did not coin this particular quote, but was actually quoting a particular author. President Harold B. Lee also offered a paraphrase of this particularly quotation, which may be encouraging for those who are trying but feel like they are meeting little success in family life: “Remember, paraphrasing what President McKay said, “No success will compensate for failure in the home.” Remember also that no home is a failure as long as that home doesn’t give up.” (Emphasis from linked blog).

Jacob 2

And it supposeth me that they have come up hither to hear the pleasing word of God, yea, the word which healeth the wounded soul.

Wherefore, it burdeneth my soul that I should be constrained, because of the strict commandment which I have received from God, to admonish you according to your crimes, to enlarge the wounds of those who are already wounded, instead of consoling and healing their wounds; and those who have not been wounded, instead of feasting upon the pleasing word of God have daggers placed to pierce their souls and wound their delicate minds.

Jacob 2:8-9

Jacob speaks in such a distinctive, individual fashion, unlike any other voice in the Book of Mormon (something I’ve mentioned before). This is an example of that. But I believe the phenomenon he’s talking about here more universal. The word of God can comfort and console, or it can chastise and correct. Which seems fitting: God speaks according to what we need and can understand (D&C 1:24-28), and sometimes that means correction and other times consolation. The dilemma Jacob faces here – and I guess this must be true at other times (Elder Oaks has certainly mentioned the concept in reference to General Conference) – is that his audience includes both groups. In this particular case, Jacob can’t help but be distressed that he is unable to offer the words of comfort that some need, because the need to correct others has to (at least in this case) take precedence. Sometimes we’re discomforted because we need to be. Sometimes, however, we’re just part of the same audience, and certain remarks may not be aimed at us.

2020 edit:

Somewhat in line with the observations above, there’s also the very last verse, where once again we see Jacob’s personality really emerge, in his concern for the emotional impact, both of the sins of those he is addressing upon those they have let down, and of the words of God he is speaking upon those very same people in his audience:

Behold, ye have done greater iniquities than the Lamanites, our brethren. Ye have broken the hearts of your tender wives, and lost the confidence of your children, because of your bad examples before them; and the sobbings of their hearts ascend up to God against you. And because of the strictness of the word of God, which cometh down against you, many hearts died, pierced with deep wounds.

I was struck that Jacob has two issues to deal with once: problems of wealth & pride, and problems of sexual immortality (manifested in this case particularly in illegitimate polygamy). The Come Follow Me manual happens to mention that these two broad problems affect our own era, but that’s also not the first time they coincide. I guess what I really thought of reflecting on these conditions is the issue discussed in Helaman 12: that when people are protected and prosperous, they forget God and turn against his teachings. Jacob speaks (in Jacob 2:13) about how these people have been blessed with prosperity, and sure enough these ills follow. There seems to be something about comfort and security, and particularly material prosperity – which keeps at bay the trials of hunger, thirst and the need for shelter and their attendant worries – which seems a particularly fertile ground for us to lose our way. It is as if when we are in a position to relax about matters of physical life and death, we have a tendency to relax about other things too, to our detriment.

I was also struck by a slight difference between Jacob’s instructions re: seeking wealth and those in regards to morality & polygamy. While he’s acting under direct divine instructions for both (vv. 11-12), his teachings about wealth and pride (vv. 12-21) don’t, for whatever reason, involve direct quotations from deity: he simply teaches the principles. Yet when he turns to his second subject, he then does start quoting deity, with the first “thus saith the Lord” in verse 23 (and others following rapidly), and much of 23-33 being given as a direct prophetic commandment from God. I’m not entirely sure if there’s any significance in this change, and if so what it might be (although verse 22 indicates it is the more serious matter, and it does in part hinge on specific commandments given to Lehi and his children), but thought it was interesting to observe nonetheless.

2 Nephi 31

Know ye not that he was holy? But notwithstanding he being holy, he showeth unto the children of men that, according to the flesh he humbleth himself before the Father, and witnesseth unto the Father that he would be obedient unto him in keeping his commandments.

(2 Nephi 31:7)

I was just reading this verse today when it caused me to reflect. Nephi is speaking of Christ’s baptism, and how despite being holy and needing no remission of sins, he got baptised as a gesture of humility and as a witness that he would keep the Father’s commandments. And of course what Christ did is an example to us too, for he “showeth unto the children of men the straitness of the path, and the narrowness of the gate, by which they should enter, he having set the example before them” (2 Nephi 31:9). I think this is not just talking about the gate of baptism, or just the immersion as it were, but the humility and witness of obedience tied in that act.

And of course, it’s tied in other acts too – the sacrament is likewise a witness that we are willing to keep the commandments and willing to take upon ourselves the name of Christ (see v.13; much of what is said about baptism in this chapter is replicated in the sacrament prayers). I guess I’d never really thought of the sacrament, properly partaken (“acting no hypocrisy and deception before God” as it were, v.13 again), as a act of humility. But it really is, I guess, if properly understood: we are showing that we desire to repent of all our sins, and keep God’s commandments (including participating in the sacrament), and eat and drink in remembrance of the body and blood of Christ who did for us what we can never do for ourselves.

2020 Edit:

Nephi here moves to a different subject, bringing an “end to my prophesying” (v. 1) and turning instead to “the doctrine of Christ”. Doctrine is used in very particular senses in the Book of Mormon (as I discuss here): when plural, it is always attached to the word false; when singular it refers (aside from the one time it is used in conjunction with false, in 2 Nephi 28:12) to the doctrine of Christ, which appears from various summaries, including in 3 Nephi 27 and also this chapter, to refer to what we might regard as the most basic elements of the gospel. And it is to this that Nephi promptly turns, including repentance, baptism, the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end.

I was struck again when reading by the line in verse 13, about following Christ “with full purpose of heart, acting no hypocrisy and no deception before God, but with real intent”. The acting no hypocrisy element seems straightforward although it may be something many of us struggle with: it means avoiding any variance between how we act publicly and privately. However, this line caused me to reflect on what deception before God even means. Because obviously we cannot deceive him: he knows the thoughts and intents of our hearts, he knows us better than we know ourselves. We cannot lie to God. That’s always been something I’ve been confident (and at times terrified) in.

But I guess that sometimes people might feel they can lie to God, or perhaps be tempted to act outwardly in accordance with the gospel (including participating in the ordinances) for other reasons. Perhaps the most obvious would be those I’ve read who talk about being practising but not believing – if one doesn’t believe he exists, then his opinion can hardly be the uppermost motivation. But I guess an element of this can creep in whenever any other motive other than seeking to be loyal and faithful to God creeps in: when we are obedient or participate in ordinances because we’re concerned about how other people will regard us, or fear being left out, or some other reason (even just convention or routine, as we may do with the sacrament). God, it seems, does not want us to act out of peer pressure regardless of which outward direction that drives us in. He’s concerned with the inward man. It likewise seems the case that at the end of the day, the only real opinion we should be concerned or worried about when it comes to our walk on the gospel path is God’s alone.

Verses 17-20 are very well-known (well, amongst readers of the Book of Mormon):

Wherefore, do the things which I have told you I have seen that your Lord and your Redeemer should do; for, for this cause have they been shown unto me, that ye might know the gate by which ye should enter. For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost.

And then are ye in this strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life; yea, ye have entered in by the gate; ye have done according to the commandments of the Father and the Son; and ye have received the Holy Ghost, which witnesses of the Father and the Son, unto the fulfilling of the promise which he hath made, that if ye entered in by the way ye should receive.

And now, my beloved brethren, after ye have gotten into this strait and narrow path, I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save.

Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.

An important realisation I had some years ago concerned this passage, when I realised the picture it painted (as do some other passages) of the journey to eternal life being exactly that: a path. I think there’s a tendency (I certainly have it; I think it may be a human one) to think of thinks in quite cut and dried terms, including when it comes to religion. Thus the big question becomes saved or damned. And due to my manifest imperfections, I would always come up with the latter answer, which was obviously quite demoralising. It was reflecting on this passage that helped me to realise that right now, at this moment, the question isn’t saved or damned: it’s “are you on the path that leads to eternal life?” If one is not on the path, one needs to enter (via the gate), or get back on it if one has strayed off. If one is on the path, then no matter where one is on the path – no matter one’s present imperfections and so on – if one is pressing forward – repenting, trying to obey God’s will and seeking his grace to overcome such imperfections – then it’s okay: the glorious day will come. God’s principal concern is not where we are on that path, but which direction we’re heading in.

1 Nephi 16

And Laman said unto Lemuel and also unto the sons of Ishmael: Behold, let us slay our father, and also our brother Nephi, who has taken it upon him to be our ruler and our teacher, who are his elder brethren.

Now, he says that the Lord has talked with him, and also that angels have ministered unto him. But behold, we know that he lies unto us; and he tells us these things, and he worketh many things by his cunning arts, that he may deceive our eyes, thinking, perhaps, that he may lead us away into some strange wilderness; and after he has led us away, he has thought to make himself a king and a ruler over us, that he may do with us according to his will and pleasure. And after this manner did my brother Laman stir up their hearts to anger.

And it came to pass that the Lord was with us, yea, even the voice of the Lord came and did speak many words unto them, and did chasten them exceedingly; and after they were chastened by the voice of the Lord they did turn away their anger, and did repent of their sins, insomuch that the Lord did bless us again with food, that we did not perish.

1 Nephi 16:37-39

It’s funny Laman takes umbrage that Nephi has said that angels have ministered to him: after all, an angel appeared to Laman and Lemuel too. While undoubtedly he rationalises this away as “cunning arts”, his recollection of that incident, and so much else of what has happened, appears damaged.

The same seems very often true for our own spiritual experiences. They can be extremely vivid and concrete when we’re having them, but our memories are imperfect and slippery things, and can make real things seem unreal from a distance. I’m sure the adversary plays on that too, as does the course we choose to take (as in Laman’s case). In part I think this is why we’re encouraged to write them down, as when we turn and reread them it can sharpen our recollection, and I likewise think it is no accident that both the Old Testament and the Book of Mormon frequently exhort us to remember.

Thankfully the Lord is merciful, and even when we forget he aims to help us to remember. The problem Laman and Lemuel had is that they kept choosing to forget such experiences.

Minor Note:

Incidentally, on steel bows (which to modern ears sounds quite strange),  I found one article here talking about historical steel bows in India here, and an article about a rather interesting working example in North America with a puzzling past here.

2020 Edit:

Several items stood out today, the first of which being the repetition of a pattern I think once can see all through 1 Nephi:

And it came to pass that I, Nephi, took one of the daughters of Ishmael to wife; and also, my brethren took of the daughters of Ishmael to wife; and also Zoram took the eldest daughter of Ishmael to wife.

And thus my father had fulfilled all the commandments of the Lord which had been given unto him. And also, I, Nephi, had been blessed of the Lord exceedingly.

And it came to pass that the voice of the Lord spake unto my father by night, and commanded him that on the morrow he should take his journey into the wilderness.

(1 Nephi 16:7-9)

Here we see the completion of one commandment (with Nephi & his brothers marrying the daughters of Ishmael), the text signposting that this and other commandments had been completed, and then the very next step mentioned is the issuing of the next commandment along.

This is a pattern I’ve seen before (and I’m certain I’m not the only one), but upon reading this today I also couldn’t help but notice how verse 10 plays into that:

And it came to pass that as my father arose in the morning, and went forth to the tent door, to his great astonishment he beheld upon the ground a round ball of curious workmanship; and it was of fine brass. And within the ball were two spindles; and the one pointed the way whither we should go into the wilderness.

Notice that the Liahona, which was to direct them on where to go, was only received the following morning, after Lehi had received the command to go. God could have told him where to go the previous night, but he didn’t. Instead there was a gap between being told to go, and finding out where to go. It made me wonder if the pattern really sort of goes like this:

  1. Fulfil the given commandment.
  2. Get given the new commandment.
  3. Then – after that – get directions on how to fulfil the commandment.

I think this may be part of the general pattern in 1 Nephi too. Looking ahead to what I’d written before about 1 Nephi 18, I’d noted that Nephi wasn’t given all the instructions to the ship in one go, but was given it in stages. I’d connected this – and also mentally connected the pattern of a) fulfil commandment b) get next commandment – to the principle perhaps best encapsulated by the hymn Lead Kindly Light, in which God does not tell us the end from the beginning but generally only guides us in what we should be doing right now. This is a principle I have tried to learn, albeit one I find quite frustrating (because a big part of me does want to know the end from the beginning, dagnabbit!). But I hadn’t seen all this as part of one overall pattern, in which God directs us to do something, and only later – perhaps after we’ve expressed willingness, and perhaps after we’ve felt some confusion as to how to actually accomplish a thing – then directs us on how to actually do it. Now I think I see it, however, I think I also see in in things like the episode with the brass plates, or for that matter the Brother of Jared’s sea crossing too. In other words, we should expect to be given commandments we have no idea on how to fulfil, and perhaps patiently trust that if we have no way of working it out ourselves that further directions will be coming, but perhaps our willingness needs to be tested first.

The second item is an episode that I believe I remember other people commenting on, but which caught my attention this time. Nephi breaks his bow (v. 18), while the bows of the others have lost their springs (v. 21), and so the party face starvation. This provokes the expected murmuring, but not just from the usual parties, but even Lehi (v. 20), so that Nephi has to speak and urge correction not just from his brothers, but from his father too (vv. 22, 24).

Nephi then makes a bow, and then asks his father for directions (v. 23), and it’s via Lehi and then the Liahona that the needed guidance towards food is received (vv. 25-31). I’ve read or heard comments (I can’t recall the sources, as it was a long while ago), suggesting that it was from this point that Nephi really begins to lead the family (a view I don’t think is completely accurate). I’ve read/heard (same deal) others that point out how Nephi is careful to recognise and acknowledge Lehi’s leadership despite Lehi’s own failings in this instance. Something which I think augments the second point of view is the fact that the revelation does come via Lehi. Yet I don’t think this is just a matter of being respectful (though it is). It’s also because Lehi, as the one inspired to lead them and the patriarch of at least one of the families involved, is the one who has the right and responsibility to seek revelation for the party as a whole. This clearly doesn’t apply to all revelatory guidance; the Lord contacts Nephi directly when it comes to building a ship, but notice again that it is Lehi who received revelation for the party as a whole to board and travel in the ships (1 Nephi 18:5). Lehi was the proper conduit for such revelation, and despite his less than perfect conduct on this occasion, Nephi still respected that and him, and sustained him by giving him the opportunity to serve in that role.

1 Nephi 4

Behold the Lord slayeth the wicked to bring forth his righteous purposes. It is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief.

1 Nephi 4:13

There’s lots that could be said about this chapter and Nephi’s killing of Laban. As Elder Holland has pointed out, the fact that this is so near the beginning of the Book of Mormon (as opposed to sandwiched somewhere between 2 Nephi’s Isaiah quotations) suggests that we’re meant to confront this issue early on. It should definitely shape how we read 1 Nephi 3:7 which Elder Holland suggests we sometimes recite all too “casually”.

But I find my mind caught on 1 Nephi 4:13, part of the Spirit’s explanation to Nephi. Because these words are very reminiscent of words found elsewhere:

And one of them, named Caiaphas, being the high priest that same year, said unto them, Ye know nothing at all,

Nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not.

John 11:49-50

While this is by no means an exact quotation, it’s close both in wording (“one man”, “perish”, “nation”) and similar in concept. Which may be a wee bit troubling when we know it’s Caiaphas saying this, about Jesus.

Some people might make a historical issue about this, but as we shall see in 1 Nephi 10 Lehi’s going to openly and explicitly quote someone hundreds of years in the future, God and the Spirit not being bound by such petty things as time. The who and about whom might be more troubling to us. Certainly Caiaphas’ example shows we should be extremely careful about such reasoning. But I do not think this close parallel is portraying Laban as Christ (considering the Book of Mormon’s high Christology – including its aim to convince not just that “Jesus is the Christ” but also that he is “the Eternal God”), or Nephi as Caiaphas.

However, when it comes to Caiaphas, what John says next is very interesting:

And this spake he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation;

And not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the bchildren of God that were scattered abroad.

John 11:51-52

John doesn’t treat Caiaphas words as invalid or merely his own words – John actually treats it as an actual and true prophecy. But while Caiaphas, by virtue of his office, could be the receptacle for such a prophecy, he also could not understand or intend their true meaning (presumably in part due to his wickedness, in contrast to the likes of John and Nephi), and so he conspired against the Christ. The words were true – it is Caiaphas’ intent and actions that are a different matter: “for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!” (Matthew 18:7).

2020 Edit:

And I was led by the spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do.

I feel this line in verse 6 really deserves more attention. It sometimes seems that in our Church service that we feel very attached to goals and targets and plans, techniques borrowed from our other endeavours. We set numerical goals for things we have very little influence over, targets despite the counsel to avoid such things in works like Preach My Gospel and the earlier Missionary Guide, and complicated plans that may or may not actually get us where we want to go. Now there’s nothing wrong with plans per se: i think one can look at things like the creation and the plan of salvation, and see that God is very fond of them, and certainly when we have a task we should do what is in our power to try and carry them out. But I think we like to feel that we’re in control. We can rely too much on our own plans, believe too much is solely within our own power, and forget how much we don’t know, that God does (and I feel he likes to surprise us), and how much we rely on him. Nephi and his brothers came up with several plans to retrieve the plates, and they all failed. Now I don’t think they would have eventually succeeded had they not made that effort, but the fact also remains that their plans (which actually seem fairly reasonable, and aren’t over-complicated) did not succeed, and eventual success came down to this: Nephi having to rely on the inspiration of the spirit, having no idea of what was going to come next.

I think of many of the other great acts of service within the gospel, such as the missionary endeavours of the sons of Mosiah, and it’s likewise instructive: they didn’t have any overly elaborate plan, other than to preach the gospel, and they did not have any great numerical goals (“we supposed our joy would be full if perhaps we could be the means of saving some”, Alma 26:30). What they had was complete dedication, a willingness to serve without reservation and endure whatever trials they were called to suffer, and the companionship of the spirit to guide them. Likewise, while it’d probably be unwise to abandon any concept of plans, I feel many of us would benefit by realising that there will be times when we, too, will need to follow the guidance of the spirit, and do it without reservation, even though we don’t know where it’s going.

Of course, Nephi’s killing of Laban is the most noticeable feature of this chapter, as I noted when reading it and writing the original post. To elaborate on some of what I alluded to above, I’d come to feel that we have a tendency to quote 1 Nephi 3:7 a bit too easily, not paying attention to 1 Nephi 4 that follows it. I was gratified to learn that I wasn’t alone in these feelings, and that Elder Holland, as I linked to above, has spoken similarly that we quote that verse too casually. He speak’s of Christ’s introduction of himself to the Nephites in 3 Nephi 11, and particularly his statement in 3 Nephi 11:11 that:

And behold, I am the light and the life of the world; and I have drunk out of that bitter cup which the Father hath given me, and have glorified the Father in taking upon me the sins of the world, in the which I have suffered the will of the Father in all things from the beginning.

Christ thus emphasises his obedience to the Father, but such obedience is not easy or without price: it is “that bitter cup”, and he speaks of having “suffered the will of the Father in all things from the beginning”. Christ obeyed the Father completely, but we should not forget that such obedience was painful:

…which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink

(D&C 19:18).

We are not called upon to atone for the sins of the world. But Christ does call us and states “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). The path of obedience is one of self-denial, of obedience despite pain and difficulty. Nephi’s statement in 1 Nephi 3:7 is true, but it does not mean that it is as easy as some of those who quote it (and perhaps as Nephi himself felt when first saying it) feel. And Nephi really learns that in 1 Nephi 4:

Nevertheless I went forth, and as I came near unto the house of Laban I beheld a man, and he had fallen to the earth before me, for he was drunken with wine.

And when I came to him I found that it was Laban.

And I beheld his sword, and I drew it forth from the sheath thereof; and the hilt thereof was of pure gold, and the workmanship thereof was exceedingly fine, and I saw that the blade thereof was of the most precious steel.

And it came to pass that I was constrained by the Spirit that I should kill Laban; but 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.

(1 Nephi 4:7-10)

It’s interesting at first that Nephi seems to have little idea of what he’s about to be asked to do, so that his attention is first concentrated on admiring the craftsmanship of Laban’s blade. It is then that he first receives the instruction to kill Laban, one that Nephi is very reluctant to follow. Notice how similar the wording is here to Christ’s own feelings about the bitter cup: they “would that I might not” and both “shrink”/”shrunk”. And Nephi has been asked to do what many would see as a shocking thing: to kill, and not only to kill, but to kill a drunken, helpless human being in cold blood. Some have sought to claim that this was an act of self-defence under the Law of Moses, appealing to passages like Exodus 22:2-3, but that passage specifically addresses the matter of those slain while found breaking into people’s own homes at night. Laban may have previously threatened Nephi and his brothers’ lives, and he certainly stole their property, but he’s not presently breaking into Nephi’s own and is at this point unconscious. What Nephi is being asked to do is shocking, and we’re meant to find it shocking, because Nephi finds it shocking too. Nephi, normally so gung-ho about obedience, must in fact be heavily persuaded by the Spirit to carry it out.

We all find some things harder than others. We’re all going to find some commandments more difficult than others, and which ones they are will vary from person to person. But there is one constant, which is that God will test us. As Joseph Smith stated: “You will have all kinds of trials to pass through. And it is quite as necessary for you to be tried as it was for Abraham and other men of God. . . . God will feel after you, and he will take hold of you and wrench your very heart strings, and if you cannot stand it you will not be fit for an inheritance in the Celestial Kingdom of God”. There may come points at our life where we will be asked by God to act in ways that go against our pre-conceived political, social and religious views, and which we, like Nephi here, find personally challenging. Indeed God seems to have a habit of it. What those areas are will likely be different: some might find killing drunk people a bit too easy for God’s comfort, so they won’t get asked to do that. Instead they will be asked to do something that they find personally challenging, that forces us to make the stark choice between our will, and God’s will.

I have to confess to a measure of speculation about how Nephi managed to remove Laban’s head without getting too much blood on Laban’s clothes that he subsequently wore. Perhaps if the body was on a slope, and the head positioned downward… I’m aware I’ve given this far more thought than most people (and so probably do not have too many drunken corpses in my own future).

1 Nephi 3

And we cast lots—who of us should go in unto the house of Laban. And it came to pass that the lot fell upon Laman; and Laman went in unto the house of Laban, and he talked with him as he sat in his house.

And he desired of Laban the records which were engraven upon the plates of brass, which contained the genealogy of my father.

And behold, it came to pass that Laban was angry, and thrust him out from his presence; and he would not that he should have the records. Wherefore, he said unto him: Behold thou art a robber, and I will slay thee.

But Laman fled out of his presence, and told the things which Laban had done, unto us. And we began to be exceedingly sorrowful, and my brethren were about to return unto my father in the wilderness.

1 Nephi 3:11-14 (my emphasis)

Casting lots is portrayed as an acceptable way of determining decision and even ascertaining the divine will in the scriptures (perhaps most notably in determining Judas replacement in Acts 1:26, but it can be found from the Old Testament to the Doctrine and Covenants). So we might find it surprising here, but it isn’t really.

What it got me think of, however, is that while from our perspective it certainly seems no coincidence that the lot fell upon Laman, and that Laman’s failure (and Nephi’s with the loss of their property in vv. 22-26) are but the prelude to what happens in chapter four, from their perspective it may have been very disheartening. They’d made the attempt, and perhaps felt they’d secured divine guidance on the matter (and we’d probably concur), so why on earth had they failed? How could it have gone wrong? Thus all of them – including Nephi – “began to be exceedingly sorrowful”. It was difficult to see from their perspective that they might well have been rightly guided, but that this earlier failure might fit into God’s plan.

2020 edit: I find it interesting to read what I’ve written above, which I wrote almost 4 years ago. I came across it again for the first time several months ago, having forgotten all about it. In that space of time, I’ve had my own encounter with serious failure, which has caused me to wonder if I had done something wrong or messed something up, or misinterpreted guidance to begin with. It was a bit of a shock to come across something I’d written that entirely anticipated what was about to happen to me 18 months later. An interesting reminder, not just that “failure” can be part of the plan, necessary steps leading towards what God really wants to happen, but also that sometimes we can be seeking answers to questions, unaware that we’ve already been given, and even know, the answers we’re looking for.

Another line stood out to me in verse 5 (my emphasis):

And no, behold thy brothers murmur, saying it is a hard thing which I have required of them; but behold I have not required it of them, but it is a commandment of the Lord.

Sometimes we can struggle with things that are required of us. Sometimes that’s simply because of our weaknesses, which is simply part of the human condition, and which we must try to overcome (and seek divine help in doing so). Other times, we may not understand what is being required, and even disagree. If that requirement is coming from a human being, than that may be fair enough: they may be wrong. But the basic commandments we find in the scriptures and teachings of the Church don’t claim to just come from a human being, and Lehi really gets to the crux of the issue if we’re struggling in verse 5: is a particular commandment from God? If it is, then even if we don’t understand it, our belief – that is our trust – in him and his goodness and knowledge should impel us to follow and obey anyway. If we don’t know if something comes from him, than we can seek and God can provide confirmation of that, but even with such confirmation we may never receive understanding of why he commands any given thing of us in this life. But that doesn’t matter, if we know it comes from him and know who he is. It may be hard, and we may not understand, but we can obey anyway if we trust him.

“Behold ye are worse than they”

And now when ye talk, ye say: If our days had been in the days of our fathers of old, we would not have slain the prophets; we would not have stoned them, and cast them out.

Behold ye are worse than they; for as the Lord liveth, if a prophet come among you and declareth unto you the word of the Lord, which testifieth of your sins and iniquities, ye are angry with him, and cast him out and seek all manner of ways to destroy him; yea, you will say that he is a false prophet, and that he is a sinner, and of the devil, because he testifieth that your deeds are evil.

But behold, if a man shall come among you and shall say: Do this, and there is no iniquity; do that and ye shall not suffer; yea, he will say: Walk after the pride of your own hearts; yea, walk after the pride of your eyes, and do whatsoever your heart desireth—and if a man shall come among you and say this, ye will receive him, and say that he is a prophet.

Helaman 13:25-27 (My emphasis)

I happened to read this today, and it seems particularly applicable in an age when – to quote Elder Holland – “if people want any gods at all, they want them to be gods who do not demand much, comfortable gods, smooth gods who not only don’t rock the boat but don’t even row it“.