Monday, April 24, 2017

Retrieving Ishmael's Family -- 1 Nephi Chapter 7

What Happens

"Lehi’s sons return to Jerusalem and invite Ishmael and his household to join them in their journey—Laman and others rebel—Nephi exhorts his brethren to have faith in the Lord—They bind him with cords and plan his destruction—He is freed by the power of faith—His brethren ask forgiveness—Lehi and his company offer sacrifice and burnt offerings."
1 Nephi 7 Chapter Heading


Commentary

After the brothers get back with the plates, God tells Lehi that his sons need to go retrieve Ishmael and his family, because his sons need wives.  After the trials of retrieving the plates, this trip, at least at first, seems easy.  We learn in verse 5 that "the Lord did soften the heart of Ishmael, and also his household, insomuch that they took their journey with us."  Wow.  Convincing a whole other family to abandon the city and strike out on their own seems on the whole a bigger challenge than retrieving some records, but on this one, God takes care of it for them... at least the impetus to leave.

Of course, in the very next verse we have a rebellion.  We knew it was coming, but it still seems somewhat mistimed.  Perhaps Laman and Lemuel never really believed in the journey in the first place, and have finally had a chance to convince some of their fellow travelers how crazy this is.  We don't know for sure.  What Nephi does make clear though is the division of teams, which quite possibly is the beginning of the later, much more permanent division of Lamanites and Nephites:

Return to Jerusalem

  • Laman and Lemuel (Team L)
  • 2 daughters of Ishmael (presumably the future wives of Team L?)
  • 2 sons of Ishmael "and their families" (sounds like these guys are already married, possibly with children)


Join Lehi in the Wilderness

  • Nephi and Sam (Team N)
  • Ishmael and his wife
  • 3 daughters of Ishmael (including the future wives of Team N?)

Team L wants to go back to Jerusalem and since the whole purpose of this trip was to get some wives, you have to think that people are already pairing off, or at least thinking about how that pairing off is going to work, which could have had some bearing on who chose to follow Team L and who chose to follow Team N.  But there is definitely more going on here than sibling rivalry.

Nephi gives a speech, perhaps trying to stop people from leaving, or perhaps just to warn them about what will happen if they do.  There are parts of it that seem kind of insulting, but under the circumstances perhaps that is what was needed, not necessarily to wake his brothers up, but to inform the other listeners of some important facts: they had seen an angel, they had seen miracles, and the direct message from the Spirit that if they return to Jerusalem they will die.

Nephi's brothers get mad and tie Nephi up and Nephi asks the Lord for the power to burst his bands. Interestingly, God doesn't give him the power he asked for, but instead his ropes are loosened, and he gets up to give his second round speech.  Again, interestingly, we have no idea what this speech contained because what stops Nephi from just being tied up again, and presumably the whole rebel group returning to Jerusalem, are three people standing up to Team L:

  • 1 daughter of Ishmael (We aren't sure which one this is, or whether she switched sides.)
  • Ishmael's wife (referred to here as "her mother" which seems to me kind of a clue that they were in this together, and she was the influence that helped her take a stand.)
  • 1 son of Ishmael (both sons and their families were on the bad guy team before this, so this is clearly someone who has switched sides.)

My question is why after all this do these particular people cause Team L to back down, to become sorrowful, and to even apologize to Nephi and pray for forgiveness?  Part of it certainly could just be that the balance of power has shifted.  Before it was 6 (and families) against 7, and even just that one son of Ishmael (with his family) switching sides could have made the difference, and shown Team L that they weren't going to win this one.  But it could also have been more than that.  You have to wonder if Nephi's speech, or the Spirit, or the reluctance to go as far as Team L did and threaten to leave Nephi behind to die, or perhaps all of the above, caused *everyone* except Team L to switch sides, or maybe just someone significant, like the girl that Laman had chosen for himself (although it is of course romantic to think that it was Nephi's future wife).  In any case, it doesn't seem like *everyone* was apologizing, and no one else argued to turn back, so in the end (apparently) it was only Team L that bowed down and asked for forgiveness.

This isn't, of course, the end of the clashes between Team L and Team N, or of choosing sides, but it is the end of this chapter.  Tune in next time for a discussion of one of my favorites: Lehi's Dream.