2 Nephi 7

Yea, for thus saith the Lord: Have I put thee away, or have I cast thee off forever? For thus saith the Lord: Where is the bill of your mother’s divorcement? To whom have I put thee away, or to which of my creditors have I sold you? Yea, to whom have I sold you? Behold, for your iniquities have ye sold yourselves, and for your transgressions is your mother put away.

Wherefore, when I came, there was no man; when I called, yea, there was none to answer. O house of Israel, is my hand shortened at all that it cannot redeem, or have I no power to deliver? Behold, at my rebuke I dry up the sea, I make their rivers a wilderness and their fish to stink because the waters are dried up, and they die because of thirst.

(2 Nephi 7:1-2//Isaiah 50:1-2)

Sometimes its just gratifying to know that – while we often sell ourselves by our iniquities – we are not cast off forever, and that God always has the power to redeem and deliver.

1 Nephi 22

For the time soon cometh that the fulness of the wrath of God shall be poured out upon all the children of men; for he will not suffer that the wicked shall destroy the righteous.

Wherefore, he will preserve the righteous by his power, even if it so be that the fulness of his wrath must come, and the righteous be preserved, even unto the destruction of their enemies by fire. Wherefore, the righteous need not fear; for thus saith the prophet, they shall be saved, even if it so be as by fire.

Behold, my brethren, I say unto you, that these things must shortly come; yea, even blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke must come; and it must needs be upon the face of this earth; and it cometh unto men according to the flesh if it so be that they will harden their hearts against the Holy One of Israel.

For behold, the righteous shall not perish; for the time surely must come that all they who fight against Zion shall be cut off.

1 Nephi 22:16-19

I sometimes joke that one of the biggest things I’ve learned from my thesis is that one of the major themes of the Book of Mormon is “judgment is coming”. Except it’s not a joke, not really: judgment is coming. God will hold us all accountable, and for our civilisation – unless it repents – that accountability is coming quicker than people think.

However – as I mentioned with 1 Nephi 1 – God’s acts of judgment in the Book of Mormon are often deliverance for others. Much of 1 Nephi 22, and many other parts of the Book of Mormon, are about how the Lord will remember his covenant with scattered Israel. Here it is made clear that the Lord will protect and deliver the righteous: that protection, however, will come in the form of divine judgment upon the wicked. Mercy and justice, judgment and deliverance are mirror images of each other, two sides of the same coin of divine providence.

1 Nephi 12

And he said unto me: Thou rememberest the twelve apostles of the Lamb? Behold they are they who shall judge the twelve tribes of Israel; wherefore, the twelve ministers of thy seed shall be judged of them; for ye are of the house of Israel.

And these twelve ministers whom thou beholdest shall judge thy seed. And, behold, they are righteous forever; for because of their faith in the Lamb of God their garments are made white in his blood.

1 Nephi 12:9-10

I am struck by the description of the twelve Nephite disciples as being ‘righteous forever’. I often get disheartened by my own mistakes and errors, and that even when doing well in some areas one can then mess up things in others. The idea of not only being unambiguously righteous, but righteous forever, as a permanent fact, cannot help but be appealing. We speak of conversion (meaning sanctification, becoming a holy person) being a process, and that’s true (Nephi likewise talks of ‘the path which leads to eternal life’, 2 Nephi 31:18), but that end state seems both so desirable and yet sometimes so far away. Apparently the key is faith in Christ, by which our ‘garments’ (and to what does this actually refer? Alma 5:21-23 speaks of our ‘garments’ either being cleansed by Christ’s blood, or ‘stained with blood and all manner of filthiness’ – our ‘garments’ must be a reflection of the state of our soul) are ‘made white in his blood’. Sometimes, however, one can wonder if one really has the level of faith in Christ necessary for the power of His atonement to have that cleansing effect in one’s life. To which I guess the answer is simply faith: to trust in him, rather than any notion of personally achieving a particular ‘level’ of faith, and to trust that he has the power to save and to cleanse us despite our own inadequacies.

Edit 2020:

I find it interesting that Nephi is given some of the keys to the interpretation of Lehi’s dream, in the midst of a vision detailing the destruction of his own descendants. So first he is shown the beginning of that process of destruction (1 Nephi 12:13-15:

And it came to pass that I saw the multitudes of the earth gathered together.

And the angel said unto me: Behold thy seed, and also the seed of thy brethren.

And it came to pass that I looked and beheld the people of my seed gathered together in multitudes against the seed of my brethren; and they were gathered together to battle.

Then suddenly the angel turns to interpreting Lehi’s dream (vv. 16-18):

And the angel spake unto me, saying: Behold the fountain of filthy water which thy father saw; yea, even the river of which he spake; and the depths thereof are the depths of hell.

And the mists of darkness are the temptations of the devil, which blindeth the eyes, and hardeneth the hearts of the children of men, and leadeth them away into broad roads, that they perish and are lost.

And the large and spacious building, which thy father saw, is vain imaginations and the pride of the children of men. And a great and a terrible gulf divideth them; yea, even the word of the justice of the Eternal God, and the Messiah who is the Lamb of God, of whom the Holy Ghost beareth record, from the beginning of the world until this time, and from this time henceforth and forever.

And as the angel is speaking, Nephi sees the fate of his descendants (v. 19):

And while the angel spake these words, I beheld and saw that the seed of my brethren did contend against my seed, according to the word of the angel; and because of the pride of my seed, and the temptations of the devil, I beheld that the seed of my brethren did overpower the people of my seed.

It might seem a bit of a non-sequitur, but verse 19 makes the connection between the dream and what Nephi is seeing evident: these hazards that Lehi saw in a dream are not just general spiritual hazards we all face, but are the very factors that lead to the destruction of Nephi’s own people. What I can’t help but think about, however, is the effect upon Nephi. We know from 1 Nephi 15:5 that he was upset by this: “for I considered that mine afflictions were great above all, because of the destruction of my people, for I had beheld their fall”. It seems seeing this was the part of the vision that made the most immediate emotional impact upon Nephi. In the short term, at least, this revelation may have given Nephi knowledge and wisdom, but it didn’t bring him any happiness.

And maybe that’s why he seems so upset to have to interpret the dream to his brothers in 1 Nephi 15: not just because he’s upset by what he saw in the vision, but because the interpretation of the dream is tied up with very thing that’s making him upset, and he’s having to explain this to his brothers, whose descendants he knows will in the end survive and be restored. It may even have felt a little unfair: here he was, striving to be faithful, yet he learns by vision that his descendants will fall into wickedness and be destroyed, while those of his brothers – the hardhearted brothers who’ve already tried to kill him once and to whom he has to explain the dream because they hadn’t sought revelation – will in the end be blessed! It’s the sort of experience that might shake a lesser person from their faith and trust in God. Perhaps this is sometimes the reason the Lord is careful about revealing things to us. And yet Nephi will continue to faithfully follow God’s will, even as he knows that things won’t go well for his descendants

1 Nephi 7

Several parts of this chapter caught my attention today, setting aside the amusing fact that Laman and Lemuel seemed to have far fewer problems with this trip back to Jerusalem, or more seriously the considerable faith Ishmael must have had to believe these ragamuffins from the desert and to take his entire family out into the wilderness with them.

Anyhoo, two bits in particular:

Yea, and how is it that ye have forgotten that the Lord is able to do all things according to his will, for the children of men, if it so be that they exercise faith in him? Wherefore, let us be faithful to him.

1 Nephi 7:12

I feel there’s so much in just this short verse – not just the Lord’s capacity to do anything for us (though ‘according to his will’), but the crucial connection that we somehow seem to miss despite the obvious connection of the words between having faith and being faithful. We show and exercise our faith in God by being loyal to him.

But it came to pass that I prayed unto the Lord, saying: O Lord, according to my faith which is in thee, wilt thou deliver me from the hands of my brethren; yea, even give me strength that I may burst these bands with which I am bound.

And it came to pass that when I had said these words, behold, the bands were loosed from off my hands and feet, and I stood before my brethren, and I spake unto them again.

1 Nephi 7:17-18

Deliverance can be a funny thing. Sometimes we try to save ourselves by our own efforts, and that often fails. Sometimes God gives us the power to do things beyond our own capacity, and we then do them, much as Nephi prays for here when he asks for the strength to burst his bonds. But in this case, God didn’t actually give him what he asked for: he went one better and freed Nephi by loosing the bands himself. Sometimes God has a better deliverance for us, and sometimes He will simply deliver us by His own power.

2020 Edit:

It is amusing to think about how much less Laman and Lemuel objected to this trip compared to that to fetch the plates, so much so that the only trouble we hear off occurs on the way back. What I wonder about – and I do not have a comprehensive answer for – is why all these trips were necessary in the first place. If it were all down to a human being, one could perhaps attribute this to an element of humans suddenly realising what they needed for a long trip to establish a colony. But Lehi has operated under divine direction for each of the three trips: He & his family leaving Jerusalem initially; the brothers returning for the plates; and the brothers returning for Ishmael and his family. The Lord surely could have inspired Lehi to take the plates & Ishmael & family with them the first time. But he didn’t. There’s surely some reason for that, probably more than one. Certainly retrieving the plates proved to be both a test and an educational opportunity for Nephi. I wonder what else could be a factor?

I mentioned it in writing the original post, but Ishmael’s faith stood out to me again, although we hear little of it here except by implication, and never really hear much about him:

And it came to pass that we went up unto the house of Ishmael, and we did gain favor in the sight of Ishmael, insomuch that we did speak unto him the words of the Lord.

And it came to pass that the Lord did soften the heart of Ishmael, and also his household, insomuch that they took their journey with us down into the wilderness to the tent of our father.

(1 Nephi 7:4-5)

We know that leaving Jerusalem was tough for Lehi’s family: Laman and Lemuel are never reconciled to it (as can be seen in this very chapter), Sariah expressed concerns in 1 Nephi 5, while Nephi had to seek reassurance in prayer in 1 Nephi 2. Likewise we’ll find that much of Ishmael’s family will respond similarly. So again, it’s quite striking that Ishmael and his household respond and leave, even through all they can hear is what is relayed to them second-hand by the brothers, as opposed to Lehi (the one receiving “the words of the Lord”) directly. Of course, this encapsulates the principle contained in Doctrine & Covenants 1:38:

What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.

We sometimes take that verse as referring to prophets and apostles as “my servants”, but reading Section 1 in full makes clear that it is more expansive than that: the Lord’s servants are all of those he’s commissioned to relay his words. For those hearing the gospel for the first time, for instance, the “voice of my servants” of this verse includes that of the missionaries teaching them. And Ishmael must have understood that it included the four brothers standing in front of him at that moment.

On the way back, of course, Laman and Lemuel and parts of Ishmael’s household decide that perhaps they don’t want to go anyway. Nephi tries to remonstrate with them, and so they decide to tie him up to leave him to die. What’s interesting here is that they had another option aside from the murder attempt or what they did do (abandon said attempt, repent, and continue on), that Nephi even points out to them in verse 15:

Now behold, I say unto you that if ye will return unto Jerusalem ye shall also perish with them. And now, if ye have choice, go up to the land, and remember the words which I speak unto you, that if ye go ye will also perish; for thus the Spirit of the Lord constraineth me that I should speak.

They reject Nephi’s words, but they could have just left then. If they’d simply left Nephi, Ishmael and the others to continue on, there’s little Nephi could have done to stop them, and they could have continue to live at Jerusalem (at least until the Babylonians flattened the place in 587-586 BC, but they didn’t believe Lehi about that). But instead they get so angry at Nephi that they switch to the murder attempt, and that seems to constrain their options down to two: 1) trying to kill him or 2) repenting of that and continuing on into the wilderness. Rejecting Nephi’s words would at first appear to leave them with more options, but instead the act of rejection and the anger involved appear to involve them with less, so that not only can’t they leave Nephi alone,  but they seem unable to take the simple option they claimed to want in the first place. So it is with us: rejecting prophetic counsel may appear to offer more freedom, at least until the Babylonian-like consequences show up. But in practice, I’ve seen people get so angry and obsessive in their apostasy that they then cannot mentally leave alone whatever they are angry at, and so they don’t end up with more agency, they end up with less.