Friday, June 23, 2017

The Legacy of the Brass Plates -- 1 Nephi 19

What Happens
"Nephi makes plates of ore and records the history of his people—The God of Israel will come six hundred years from the time Lehi left Jerusalem—Nephi tells of His sufferings and crucifixion—The Jews will be despised and scattered until the latter days, when they will return unto the Lord."
1 Nephi 19 Chapter Heading


Commentary
In our last episode, Lehi and Ishmael's merged families had all arrived in the promised land, and were thankful to be there.  In this chapter, now settled in, Nephi is commanded to make a record of his people, so he goes out and makes plates to record the history.  Then, God asks him to make a new set of plates to record the mainly spiritual highlights to teach his people, and "for other wise purposes, which purposes are known unto the Lord."  One of the reasons was the missing pages issue when the Book of Mormon was translated--always cool to see God working across the centuries, but it's also cool that he's talking about what we are reading right now.  Maybe a hint of God's perspective, to feel connected across time like that.

The part where Nephi talks about Christ coming to earth is interesting.  He says " they scourge him, and he suffereth it; and they smite him, and he suffereth it. Yea, they spit upon him, and he suffereth it, because of his loving kindness and his long-suffering towards the children of men" (verse 9).  This seems to apply not only to the literal things that happened to Christ while he was on Earth, but also to how we figuratively treat him when we "set him at naught, and hearken not to the voice of his counsels" (verse 7).

The prophecy of the Prophet Zenos is an interesting one here, because he predicted the three days of darkness for the people on the isles of the sea (verse 10), as well as them being gathered back in (verse 16).  Nephi came across his prophecies on the Plates of Brass (verse 21), but that isn't something that we have in our version of the Bible.  It will be interesting if someone discovers the writings of the Prophet Zenos someday, not only as a cool indication that the Book of Mormon is legitimate, since we know that already, but it will likely be an interesting read if he knew (as is apparent in verse 21) about the lost tribes. :)

Then, the last part, which might be my favorite part of this chapter.  Nephi teaches from the scriptures.  That's kind of the whole chapter, but this is where he says he is teaching it to others.  We start to see the incredible impact that the Brass Plates have on this soon-to-be civilization starting right here.  I love that Nephi loves the scriptures, maybe because I do too, but also just because here is this little family in the middle of a huge continent, and this is how they start.  This is what gets passed down through the generations, and Nephi is trying to ensure that people will know the gospel and the Lord.

In the last verse, Nephi starts quoting Isaiah, and I know that book can be confusing, but it is also awesome.  Tune in next time as we read along with him.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Journey to the Promised Land -- 1 Nephi 18

What Happens
"The ship is finished—The births of Jacob and Joseph are mentioned—The company embarks for the promised land—The sons of Ishmael and their wives join in revelry and rebellion—Nephi is bound, and the ship is driven back by a terrible tempest—Nephi is freed, and by his prayer the storm ceases—The people arrive in the promised land."
1 Nephi 18 Chapter Heading


Commentary
In our last episode, Nephi had just shocked his brothers, as instructed by the Lord.  That got them to help with the boat, or the ship as it is called in this chapter.

Nephi mentions that the ship wasn't built after the manner of men, and that kind of got me to thinking--maybe Nephi's lack of ship-building experience, rather than being the detriment that his brothers thought it was, was actually a benefit.  He didn't have any preconceived notions about how things had to work.  He just consulted with God.  Maybe a good lesson for us, in being open to God's ways, even if they seem to conflict with the world's ways.

When the ship is finished, Nephi's brothers humble themselves again, seeing how awesome it is, and knowing that it is the Lord's work.  This is a really good sign, but unfortunately, it doesn't last.

God commands Lehi to pack up his family and get them all into the ship.  I like that God is talking to different people here.  The task to build the ship was given to Nephi, but the task to lead the family still belongs to Lehi, so the Lord talks to him about it instead.  Theoretically, the Lord could have been talking to Laman or anyone else in the company as well, if they were open to it.  Revelation is for everyone, not just prophets.  Unfortunately, in this case, I think that God's messages to Laman were mostly of the shocking and threatening kind, because that is the only thing he would listen to.  That's another good lesson for us, perhaps.  We need to be diligent in listening to the Lord, so that we don't end up having to learn the harder way.

They get all loaded up with food and seeds and people, and they set out on the great adventure of crossing the sea.  Everything is going well until some of them decide to throw a party.  We know there was dancing and singing, but the only description of what they did wrong is "exceeding rudeness," and Nephi mentions that they were forgetting that God brought them there, so I'm guessing that the rudeness involved some kind of blasphemous talk or actual sin.

Nephi stands up to give another lecture, and interestingly, when his brothers act predictably and tie him up this time, God doesn't loosen his ropes, or fill him with power to wither or shock them as he has previously.  He lets it happen.  What he *does* do is cause the compass (I'm guessing the Liahona is the compass referred to here) to stop working, and sends an increasingly powerful storm to drive the ship the wrong way.

It's an interesting move by God, and perhaps it accomplishes more than if Nephi had just walked out of the ropes himself.  Instead of facing their bossy younger brother, they are facing God, and they have to figure out for themselves how to fix their relationship with *him.*  It takes four days and a huge storm, but they eventually get it.  They let Nephi go, and they can clearly see that they need him, and God, if they are going to survive.  Which is also true for us, though it sometimes takes us more than four days to figure it out. :)

After Nephi is released, the compass works, the storm dissipates, and they are able to continue on their journey.  And they get there. :)

A cool and interesting thing at the end of this chapter is Nephi saying "we did call it the promised land" (verse 23).  Sometimes when we think of a promised land or Zion, or a utopia given to us by God, we think it will come with furnishings.  You know, mansions, grocery stores, lighning-fast internet, etc.  When Lehi's family got there though, it kind of looked like... wilderness.  They planted seeds and were blessed in abundance, but after camping out for so long, it surely could have been disappointing for them when they had to start from scratch.  And yet, they still called it the promised land.  They pitched their tents and got to work exploring and finding all that the Lord had to offer them.  A good thing to remember in our own lives, when our promised lands don't look like much either.  The promise God offers us is the potential, but we still have to work for it, and make it into our dream place.

Tune in next time for the continuing adventures of Nephi and his family in the new world.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Nephi's Boat: Hardships and Faith -- 1 Nephi 17

What Happens
"Nephi is commanded to build a ship—His brethren oppose him—He exhorts them by recounting the history of God’s dealings with Israel—Nephi is filled with the power of God—His brethren are forbidden to touch him, lest they wither as a dried reed."
1 Nephi 17 Chapter Heading


Commentary
In our last episode, they found the Liahona and Ishmael died, stirring up some disharmony in the group.  At the beginning of this chapter they are on the move again.

Nephi starts out by talking about some of the hardships that they are going through.  Eating raw meat, bearing children in the wilderness, and mentions in verse 4 that this has been going on for eight years. Yikes.  A good reminder that the journey to the promised land isn't an easy one.  I like Nephi's faith-promoting message in verse 3: "And if it so be that the children of men keep the commandments of God he doth nourish them, and strengthen them, and provide means whereby they can accomplish the thing which he has commanded them."

This message is similar to what we have heard from Nephi before, in his "go and do" speech in 1 Nephi 3:7.  The difference here, I think, is that it is less naive and theoretical. Nephi's idealistic faith in God worked when he got the plates of brass, but now Nephi has lived for years in the wilderness and their whole group has gone through a lot of hardship.  Sometimes that tends to make us bitter, hardened, and less faithful, but Nephi was paying attention, and he knows that God is still strengthening and helping them during the long, enduring part of the journey, not just the fast, dramatic events.  It might be a message to us all that we need to hang on to some of that idealism of our youth, and that "sure" hope that it talks about in Ether 12:24.  But I'm jumping ahead, so back to the chapter.

They get to the sea, and there is a lot of fruit (which sounds better than raw meat), so they are happy.  They camp there, and Nephi is asked to build a ship.  Remarkably here, Nephi doesn't question the Lord or his own ability.  He merely asks where he can find ore to make the appropriate tools.  Now, that is faith.  I'm guessing I would have been a little bit like Nephi's brothers in verse 17 who question his sanity for thinking that he can just build a boat and cross the sea.

They go a little farther than just questioning his sanity though.  Every imagined past wrong comes up again.  They say (about the women) "it would have been better that they had died before they came out of Jerusalem than to have suffered these afflictions" (verse 20).  I sure hope their wives didn't overhear (or worse, actually agree with) this.  They also bring up the whole "we should have stayed in Jerusalem" thing where they believe "we might have been happy" (verse 21).  This is something that we do a lot too--idealize the past rather than living in the present.  I don't think that a years-long camping trip with raw meat, pregnant women and the resultant newborn babies sounds like much fun either, but this clearly shows that they were focusing on different things than Nephi was.  Nephi saw the suffering, but also the strength.  His brothers only saw the suffering, and discounted the strength... wishing to die instead, or at least saying that death was preferable for some of them.  And the whole insinuation that in all those years there was no happiness is a sad one, since that is most often something that we can choose, even in the worst circumstances.

Nephi reminds his brothers of all the Biblical (I guess Brass Platical in this case) accounts of miraculous events and the parallel story of Moses being led to the promised land.  He emphasizes that God "leadeth away the righteous into precious lands, and the wicked he destroyeth" (verse 38), and other acts of rebellion against God.  He reminds them in verses 45-46 that they actually saw an angel, and still they harden their hearts.

This lecture, of course, makes them angry, but as they go to throw Nephi into the sea, Nephi commands them not to touch him or they will wither.  As a testament to their underlying belief, they don't try.

Verse 51 is amazing: "And now, if the Lord has such great power, and has wrought so many miracles among the children of men, how is it that he cannot instruct me, that I should build a ship?"  Again, when faced with the choice between doubt and fear or belief, Nephi chooses faith.  He believes that if it happened for all the people in the scriptures, then it can happen for him.  Another good lesson we can take away from this.  God can instruct us as well.

Nephi's brothers are scared to touch him for several days, and then God advises Nephi to shock them with his touch (which is another unexplained miracle among many), after which they say that they know the Lord is with him.  If only that conviction would last.

Tune in next time, where we find out that it really doesn't.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Spiritual Technology and Sibling Strife -- 1 Nephi Chapter 16

What Happens 
"The wicked take the truth to be hard—Lehi’s sons marry the daughters of Ishmael—The Liahona guides their course in the wilderness—Messages from the Lord are written on the Liahona from time to time—Ishmael dies; his family murmurs because of afflictions."
1 Nephi 16 Chapter Heading


Commentary
In our last episode, Nephi was explaining Lehi's vision to his brothers.  And in the beginning of this chapter, they tell him that the things that he said were pretty harsh, and they are having trouble processing it.  Nephi admits that to the wicked, it seems that way, and encourages them to be good.  And, amazingly, in verse 5 "they did humble themselves before the Lord."  Nephi has joy and great hopes for them... and we would too, except unfortunately, it doesn't even last the whole chapter.

Nephi, his brothers, and Zoram all get married to the daughters of Ishmael.  I wonder if it was like a big group wedding, or if this is just a summary of what happened over time.  Also, I know we talked about this a couple of chapters ago, but it still kind of blows my mind how Nephi has already seen his posterity rise and fall and all but a few that were mixed in with the Lamanites get destroyed... and *then* he goes to get married.  Hopefully it was just kind of an overall thing with no close-ups on his direct line, but still... that's a lot of pressure and a lot of background sorrow to throw into a relationship.  Of course, on the other hand, it could have also given him a lot of confidence about near-term tragedy.  If his descendants were going to perish eventually in the promised land, that means that he could trust that they were going to get there, and that a lot of the set-backs that they faced in these early stages were all going to be things that they could overcome.  I mean, he probably had that much faith already, but it can't hurt to have seen a vision of where you are going, and know that you made it. :)

After everyone gets married, God tells Lehi to get back on the road, and that is when he discovers the Liahona at his tent door, which is a round ball "of curious workmanship" (verse 10).  It points the way that they should go, so we often think of it as though it were a compass.  However, we learn later in the chapter that writing can appear on the ball (verse 26), and that the pointers work according to faith and diligence and heed (verse 28).  So, clearly, it is much, much more than a normal compass.  In one way perhaps a spiritual compass, but also kind of like texts from God, right?  It's spiritual technology that we don't have and don't understand even today, and it is very much more complex than many other miracles that we see in the scriptures.  I really like the idea of the Liahona, because, like so much else in the gospel, you have to be in tune with the spirit to even be able to use it.  Sometimes, obviously, that is frustrating when we aren't in tune, but things like that are fabulous reminder to us when we get off track, and simple ways to tell if we are going astray.

Lehi's family gathers provisions and seeds, and they head out again.  They stop every now and then to hunt for food, and then continue.  But one day, Nephi's bow breaks, and suddenly the drama hits.  Understandable, of course, because it's hard to be hungry especially after travelling for so long, but still kind of a crisis of faith for the little group.  Once again, Nephi saves the day by helping everyone focus on looking to God for the answer... but not only that.  He also works for it as well, making a bow out of wood, and going to his father to ask where to go.  I like that part because it focused on his father's responsibility and authority as their prophet-leader.  Nephi goes to where the Liahona says to go, and brings back food. :)

Unfortunately, the next crisis is a bit more harsh.  Ishmael dies, and the power balance of the group shifts again, so much so that Laman is bold enough again to suggest "Behold, let us slay our father, and also our brother Nephi" (verse 37).  Luckily, the voice of the Lord comes and puts a stop to the murder plot, and they repent once again, and God is able to bless them again with food.  If it were me though, I would be getting a little wary of the theme of murder popping up so often.  Kind of creepy to hang out with someone who has threatened to kill you so often.  Spoiler for those of you who are worried though: don't worry.  Nephi lives. :)

Tune in next time to read about Nephi building a ship.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

More in the Tent of Father Lehi -- 1 Nephi Chapter 15

What Happens

"Lehi’s seed are to receive the gospel from the Gentiles in the latter days—The gathering of Israel is likened unto an olive tree whose natural branches will be grafted in again—Nephi interprets the vision of the tree of life and speaks of the justice of God in dividing the wicked from the righteous."
1 Nephi 15 Chapter Heading


Commentary

After seeing the vision, Nephi returns to Lehi's tent to find his brothers embroiled in disputations one with another about Lehi's dream. Nephi agrees that Lehi's vision would be hard to grasp without seeking the Lord's help for understanding. He also teaches us a principle that if we are not "looking to the Lord" as we ought and feeling frustrated or argumentative, we should check the condition of our hearts for softness or hardness. 

When something is confusing to us, we should remember to turn to the Lord and not just lean on our own understanding. We can't simply argue our way to a better understanding.  In this type of power struggle, man's might does not make for right thinking. The Holy Ghost leads, guides, enlightens, teaches, and bears witness to the truth, but contention will most certainly drive away the spirit.

Nephi is grieved in his heart for his family and for the future wickedness of his people. His ability to love deeply matches his ability to feel sorrow--so much so that feelings of deep affliction had overcome Nephi. He does not immediately choose to enter the fray nor seek to contend with his brethren. He is wise to wait until after he receives strength (probably in response to fervent prayer) to listen/ask of his brothers what they think the cause of their disputation is (as they still need to own up to it). They are most concerned about the natural branches of the olive tree and the gentiles.

The words of verse 8 should really be in really big bold capitalized letters on the cover of our scriptures : "Have ye inquired of the Lord?" This is the best answer to obviate confusion. When we have a question that has to do with things of the Lord, it just makes sense to seek the answers from the purest source. 

The problem for some in receiving answers is in "if" requirements leading up to the "surely" promise in verse 11: "... If ye will not harden your hearts, and ask me in faith, believing that ye shall receive, with diligence in keeping my commandments, surely these things shall be made known unto you." I know that God's promises are sure when we ask in faith, believe, and keep the commandments. This verse holds a great key to personal revelation. It makes me think of young Joseph Smith and how confusion was dispelled and his prayer to know what to do was answered.

Nephi further explains what his brothers want to know. He connects the dots to the word of Isaiah. The house of Israel will be grafted back into the Olive tree in the latter-days. The people would come to know their Redeemer, and know how to come unto him and be saved. I hope that all the brothers actually felt great peace after the symbolism was explained to them. It does say that they were pacified and humbled. I can only hope that they were able to hear, feel, and see in a way that would also give them understanding and reverence and a testimony for the knowledge unfolded to them though Nephi. We still need a soft heart to have eyes that see, ears that hear, and a heart open to understanding. I know that I am grateful that Nephi asked, shared his answers, and told us too how we can know for ourselves how to acquire spiritual knowledge by approaching the Lord.

Lehi's family, just like our families today, need the peace that only knowing the Lord and living in His way provides. Let us seek to lead lives worthy to receive inspiration, listen to latter-day prophets, and be comforted to know that the Lord truly rules in heavenly glory. He has always had a plan to redeem Israel and all his children. As surely as it has been said, even to Abraham, it will truly come to pass. He has assigned separate places to divide the wicked from the righteous. We will be judged by our works in mortality. 

Let's hold tight to the iron rod and never be ashamed to live the gospel. Let us come and partake at the tree of life and dwell in the kingdom of our God forever.  It was never meant to be too hard for us, and the Lord will help us find our way to the promised land, as we will learn in the very next chapter.

Friday, June 2, 2017

The End of the Vision (and the World) -- 1 Nephi Chapter 14

What Happens

"An angel tells Nephi of the blessings and cursings to fall upon the Gentiles—There are only two churches: the Church of the Lamb of God and the church of the devil—The Saints of God in all nations are persecuted by the great and abominable church—The Apostle John will write concerning the end of the world. "
1 Nephi 14 Chapter Heading


Commentary

In our last episode, Nephi saw the unification of the scriptures and said that Christ would manifest himself unto all nations, the first time to the Jews first and then the Gentiles, and the second time to the Gentiles first, and then the Jews.  Timeline-wise, the unification of the scriptures brought us up to the modern day, but the second appearances of Christ place the timing of this part of the vision as describing our future.  Interesting to see what is coming, right?

I really like the part right off where it talks about Christ taking away our stumbling blocks if we hearken to Christ.  Which makes me wonder what those stumbling blocks are, and what it would be like to be rid of them. :)  I also like that the great pit that was dug for us gets filled by the people who dug it.  Not that I'm rooting for their suffering--only happy that we get to avoid the trap.  Of course, all of this is *if* we repent and listen to God, because it also says that if we don't then it will be bad (the words "perish" and "wo" are used in verses 5 and 6, which can't be good).

I adore verse 7.  I am not even really sure why, but it is awesome.  My favorite part is "a work which shall be everlasting, either on the one hand or on the other."  It sounds like something absolutely amazing is going to happen and that there won't be room for dithering anymore.  No fence-sitting in the gospel anyway, but this sounds even more so.  We already have to choose God or Satan in our daily lives, but whatever this "great and marvelous work" is, it's going to make that so much more clear, and there will be no middle ground.

This part could be more symbolic, but as I read it, this big change makes it so that there are only two churches.  The bad one and the good one.  Unfortunately for the good guys, the bad side is much, much bigger, and gathers an army up to stomp the other side.  And here we are, the tension is rising.  We learn that God is going to pour out his wrath (yikes) on the bad guys... and we're waiting to see what happens at the end of the world.  And then... oh.  We're shut down.  Nephi got to see the end, but he isn't going to tell us, because John already told us (if we assume that is what the book of Revelation is).

It is totally cool that we have the book of Revelation for the end of the story, but there is that little mention in there that it used to be "easy to the understanding of all men," which it clearly is not now. However, hope is not lost for a sequel, since the story was told to several, and those versions are "sealed up to come forth in their purity."  This could be what is in the sealed portion of the golden plates, in fact.

It's also really interesting that Nephi tells us that he is only sending us a "small part" of what he saw, when we just read through 4 chapters of it.  We only got two chapters about the trip to get the plates of brass, so this is obviously very important to him, and still it is just a small part.  Nephi tells us that he saw the things his father saw, which was what he wanted in the first place, and so I wonder if Lehi saw all of it to to the end of the world as well, or if Nephi saw Lehi's dream, plus more.

Tune in next time to see what Nephi gets up to after seeing the end of the world, even though he doesn't tell us about it.  (Yes, I'm still bitter.) :)

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Unification of Worlds and Scriptures -- 1 Nephi Chapter 13

What Happens

"Nephi sees in vision the church of the devil set up among the Gentiles, the discovery and colonizing of America, the loss of many plain and precious parts of the Bible, the resultant state of gentile apostasy, the restoration of the gospel, the coming forth of latter-day scripture, and the building up of Zion."
1 Nephi 13 Chapter Heading


Commentary

Nephi's vision continues. I really like the way the angel is making the vision interactive at the beginning of this chapter (and before). He shows Nephi something, asks what he sees to make sure he's on the right page, and then he explains it, or teaches him something about it.

Knowing a bit of history as we do, we can kind of see what is going on here. Satan builds up an evil church (which should really be a contradiction in terms, but unfortunately is not), and things are getting bad on one side of the "many waters" and then people are led to (re)discover the new world, which is Nephi's promised land. It's something that we know in the parable of the vineyard (Jacob 5) is a good thing, but it is also a tragic thing in so many ways. Nephi has to have some conflicting emotions here... he knows that there is at least a little mixture of his blood left in his family's descendants that are being scattered and smitten, and yet he also knows in his vision that "the power of the Lord was with" the people doing the smiting.

That's a theme that we don't usually talk about in the gospel a lot, but one that is very prevalent. Just like in the parable of the vineyard, sometimes the trees need to be pruned of the evil so that the good will grow, and sometimes God will "cut down that which cumbered this spot of ground" (Jacob 5:44), so that he can plant something else.  Nephi has already experienced this in a very personal way when he was commanded to kill Laban, and now he is seeing it in a much larger way.  I imagine that it was a hard thing for him, but also a very valuable perspective--knowing why it is all necessary probably softened the blow, and I think really prepares Nephi for his role in history.  

Nephi sees the book that the Gentiles carry with them, and I think it is interesting that the Angel tells him that it is like the plates of brass, except that there aren't as many prophecies.  You really have to wonder what all is in the plates of Brass if it was already more complete than the Bible 600 years before Christ. :)  And then Nephi gets a much more specific idea of his role in the restoration of the gospel and the plain and precious parts that have been left out or removed by the bad guys.  He goes forward from this knowing exactly why he is keeping the records that he makes, and who he is writing them for.  He knows us, at least in part, and like Moroni, speaks "out of the dust" (Moroni 10:27) directly to us.

I really love the end of this chapter as it talks about building Zion, and convincing people that the gospel is all one.  We sometimes take the scriptures for granted, but how important they are... how important they *all* are, together, in helping everyone to learn the same gospel and be on the same page with God.  And imagine Joseph Smith, translating all of this for the first time, and reading Nephi's vision about how important it was that all of this be restored, and be joined with the other scriptures to show the world that "there is one God and one Shepherd over all the earth" (verse 41).  I'm not sure that we fully realize the importance to ourselves and to the world that we take the missing plain and precious things and understand how all the broken shards of the gospel fit into one whole.  Not, of course, telling everyone else that they are wrong, but in realizing, yes... that's good and true.  And there is more where that came from. :)  That strong vision and purpose comes across here, not only connecting Nephi and Joseph Smith in God's purpose, but pulling us in as well, urging us to continue the work. :)

Tune in next time for the exciting conclusion of Nephi's vision.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Nephi Peeks at His Posterity -- 1 Nephi Chapter 12

What Happens

"Nephi sees in vision the land of promise; the righteousness, iniquity, and downfall of its inhabitants; the coming of the Lamb of God among them; how the Twelve Disciples and the Twelve Apostles will judge Israel; and the loathsome and filthy state of those who dwindle in unbelief."
1 Nephi 12 Chapter Heading


Commentary

This chapter starts up again still in the middle of Nephi's vision.  The first thing that the angel shows him in this part of the vision is the land of promise and his descendants and the descendants of his brothers.  Nephi mentions that it seems like they are "in number as many as the sand of the sea" (verse 1).  So, right off this chapter is incredible.  I mean, Nephi doesn't even get married until chapter 16, and here we are in 12 and he is seeing his posterity covering the promised land.  Given the limited choices, he probably already knows who his wife is going to be, but still... that seems like a lot of pressure.  Plus, amazingly cool to actually get to kind of skip ahead in time and see that you made a difference.  That things are different because you lived.  Wow, right?

He already saw Christ's mortal ministry earlier in this vision (long vision), and now he gets to see Christ come again, this time to his own descendants.  He sees the period of time where they live in peace following his coming for over three generations, and I am sure this part of the vision brought him a lot of joy... it is an amazing vision anyway, but even more so because it is personal to him. This is his family.

Then the angel starts explaining what he had asked at the beginning of the vision, which was to know the interpretation of his father's dream.  And as the angel is interpreting it, he is seeing it, in another way, actually happening to his descendants.  Still incredible, but also becoming incredibly sad, as he watches his descendants fall into temptation and pride, and then be overcome, and his brothers' descendants "dwindle in unbelief" (verse 22).

I can't imagine what it would be like to so much of the history of the earth laid out before you like that (which continues into the next chapter).  I think it would be great, but also very emotional, especially if you were connected to it in so many ways as Nephi is.

Luckily for Nephi, even though this chapter ends on kind of a down note, the vision itself eventually gets better again.  You have to wonder how much time this vision took in real life, since he sees *so* much.

Tune in next time as Nephi's vision continues.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Lessons of Eternity -- 1 Nephi Chapter 11

What Happens

"Nephi sees the Spirit of the Lord and is shown in vision the tree of life—He sees the mother of the Son of God and learns of the condescension of God—He sees the baptism, ministry, and crucifixion of the Lamb of God—He sees also the call and ministry of the Twelve Apostles of the Lamb."
1 Nephi 11 Chapter Heading


Commentary

This chapter hits home from the very beginning.  In the first verse Nephi mentions three things that were important to his vision:

  • He desired to know the things that his father had seen.
  • He believed that the Lord could show him and help him know.
  • He pondered about these things in his heart.


I'm going to call these things Desire, Faith, and Prayer.  The spirit walks him through these things as well as soon as the vision starts.  He is already praying... communing with God, just visually now instead of only in his heart, and the Spirit asks him what he desires, and whether he believes what his father has seen.  This is a different belief than the one that led him to the vision, but it is still faith.  All of these things seem to be prerequisites to his experience.

Another thing that strikes me in this chapter is the way that the Lord teaches.  Nephi sees what his father saw, and asks for the interpretation.  As with the Brother of Jared, the Spirit doesn't just spoon-feed Nephi the answer so he can memorize it for the test.  He shows him something seemingly unrelated, and then he asks... do you understand now?  God makes Nephi do the mental work of connecting the two things symbolically.  And Nephi gets it, and says the tree is the love of God, most desirable above all things (verse 22), and then Spirit helps him understand a little more and adds that it is also the most joyous to the soul (verse 23). :)

Nephi is shown more of the life of Christ, and as he sees his life, he understands what the symbolism of the dream is, more and more.  Including the rod of iron being the word of God (verse 25) and the great and spacious building being the pride of the world (verse 36).

The coolest thing about this chapter perhaps is that Nephi sees the life of Christ before it happens in "real" life.  The atonement was as real to them, hundreds of years before it happened, as it is to us, hundreds of years afterward.  It is an eternal event that transcends our mortal sense of time and space, because it saves even people like Nephi, who lived before it happened, and us, who are living very much later.  That's something that is hard for us to imagine, since we are so tied to our ideas of needing someone physically close to us to save us or help us... but it is also good for us to learn these eternal things, so that we can feel God close to us every moment of the day, and his power through the atonement and the gospel not just in the moment, but reaching everywhere and everywhen. :)  Cool of Nephi to share his lessons about eternity with us.

Tune in next time as Nephi's vision continues.

Monday, May 8, 2017

More Cool Prophecies of Lehi -- 1 Nephi Chapter 10

What Happens

"Lehi predicts that the Jews will be taken captive by the Babylonians—He tells of the coming among the Jews of a Messiah, a Savior, a Redeemer—Lehi tells also of the coming of the one who should baptize the Lamb of God—Lehi tells of the death and resurrection of the Messiah—He compares the scattering and gathering of Israel to an olive tree—Nephi speaks of the Son of God, of the gift of the Holy Ghost, and of the need for righteousness."
1 Nephi 10 Chapter Heading


Commentary
After Lehi exhorts his family to be diligent chapter nine ends with a testimony that the Lord knows the beginning to the end and that all his works will be accomplished: "He hath all power unto the fulfilling of a his words. And thus it is." (1 Nephi 9:6).

Nephi records the prophecies of his father on the plates at the beginning of  Nephi's reign and ministry in this powerfully packed chapter.

And thus it is that...

  • The fate of the Jews is to see Jerusalem destroyed, brought into bondage in Babylon, eventually freed by the hand of the Lord and the possession the land of their inheritance will be restored.
  • In some 600 years a Messiah , the Savior of the World would come from among the Jews.
  • John the Baptist is mentioned (not by name) as the one to prepare the way for the Savior and would baptize him.
  • Jesus to come to the promised land, deliver the Gospel to the Jew, be slain and rise from the dead, and be "manifest" unto the gentiles by the power of the Holy Ghost.
  • The scattering and gathering of Israel is compared to a olive tree.

But wait, there's more...

In verse 15 Nephi tells us there is more information in the large plates than is recorded here.  It's hard to imagine what else could be said because of all the wonderful things that Lehi prophesied.

We are also comforted to know that the Lord is a true foundation that does not change. We can rely on him. Verse 18 tells us "For he is the same yesterday, today, and forever; and the way is prepared for all men from the foundation of the world, if it so be that they repent and come unto him."

Verse 19: The Holy Ghost will help us know.  As Nephi desired to know, his prayers were answered.
"For he that diligently seeketh shall find; and the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto them, by the power of the Holy Ghost, as well in these times as in times of old, and as well in times of old as in times to come; wherefore, the course of the Lord is one eternal round."

Nephi's testimony of God's words are powerful because they are given by the power and authority of the spirit. Likewise, our testimonies when prompted by the spirit should be spoken with that same life changing power. The parting words apply to us too; do not deny. We have seen how God knows the beginning and the end. Ours is to accept, share, repent, and come unto him. It is wonderful, wouldn't you agree?

Tune in next time when Nephi experiences some powerful unfolding as alluded to in verse 19.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Future-proofing the Scriptures -- 1 Nephi Chapter 9

What Happens

"Nephi makes two sets of records—Each is called the plates of Nephi—The larger plates contain a secular history; the smaller ones deal primarily with sacred things."
1 Nephi 9 Chapter Heading


Commentary

Here we have another aside from Nephi, explaining that these plates that he is writing (and we are reading) are not the original record that he wrote.  That record is more complete, and it has an account of the wars and and the reign of the kings, but God commanded him to make these plates as a record of the ministry.  This is similar to the aside that Nephi wrote in Chapter 6, where Nephi mentions other plates that were kept by his father, and that he isn't going to write everything here because he wants to save the space for the things of God.

Significantly, in this chapter in verse 5, Nephi mentions that he doesn't know why God has commanded him to make these particular plates.  I feel like the not knowing might have bothered Nephi a little bit, which is why he writes these asides, trying to explain to us why he isn't giving us more information.  But I love that even though he didn't know why, he is still certain that God has it under control, and that he always prepares a way for his works to be accomplished.

And of course, looking back at history, we know the reason: the 116 lost manuscript pages and the need for a different version of what had been lost (D&C 10:40-42).  God's foresight/omniscience preserved his work, and answered the prayers of both the people writing the record and the people, hundreds of years later, who needed another chance and a way to repent of something that couldn't be undone or salvaged.

I think maybe this is also why God didn't tell Nephi why.  Telling us too much maybe sometimes could interfere with our agency, or instill in us a desire to change things, which just gets us into lots of time travel paradox plots.  If we could send a message back in time and warn ourselves of something, would we want to?  Sure.  In fact, that possibility might become the central desire and obsession of our lives and distract us from focusing on things NOW.  In addition, those warnings could change our pasts, and thus who we are now, therefore changing our need to issue a warning, etc.   If Nephi warned Joseph Smith and then the whole thing 116 pages incident never happened, no need for the warning anymore, but something else probably would have happened that needed some extra planning.  We know that "all is as one day with God, and time only is measured unto men" (Alma 40:8-9), so he probably has to be pretty careful not to break our minds. :)

Tune in next time as we read some more cool prophecies of Lehi.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Lehi's Dream of the Tree of Happiness -- 1 Nephi Chapter 8

What Happens

"Lehi sees a vision of the tree of life—He partakes of its fruit and desires his family to do likewise—He sees a rod of iron, a strait and narrow path, and the mists of darkness that enshroud men—Sariah, Nephi, and Sam partake of the fruit, but Laman and Lemuel refuse."
1 Nephi 8 Chapter Heading


Commentary

The first verse isn't part of the vision, but it is interesting, telling us that Lehi's family had collected seeds of every kind--definitely preparing for a new land by bringing along familiar crops and other foods. It doesn't mention non-food seeds, so I'm guessing that God had that part covered.

Lehi's dream is always great, but I noticed something this time that I didn't remember from previous times. I had always remembered it starting out in a dark and dreary waste... and yet it does not. :) According to Lehi, this is how it starts: "And it came to pass that I saw a man, and he was dressed in a white robe; and he came and stood before me. / And it came to pass that he spake unto me, and bade me follow him."

I guess I thought that it started out with him lost in the dark (and dreary) because I feel like that is how life is sometimes... we are lost, and things just don't really make sense, and we finally reach out and learn to find our way out of meaninglessness by reaching out to God.  The way it actually starts makes much more sense (of course), because whether it represents the premortal existence or is symbolic of the spirit of Christ that is "given to every man" (Moroni 7:16), it shows us clearly that God doesn't just stick us in the middle of dark and dreary alone with no idea what to do.  We have that previous experience or latent knowledge of some sort to draw upon, so we know where to turn when we are lost.

As the story goes, as he is following the man, Lehi finds himself in the dark and dreary waste, and then after praying for mercy (<--Note important concept), he sees a large and spacious field and finds the tree "whose fruit was desirable to make one happy."  I love that idea of a happiness tree, where we could just eat and be filled with joy as Lehi was.  ... I also wonder how close to that reality we often already are, and yet we refuse to partake... letting so many other things get in the way of the simple joy that can be found in our relationship with God.

Lehi sees some of his family beside the river, and they are willing to join him.  Others are not.  He sees the path, the rod of iron, and lots of people.  Some of them are headed to the tree, and then the mist of darkness comes, which causes many to lose their way.

I like the mist of darkness part not because I like darkness or feeling lost, but because it is clear that the mist of darkness happens to everyone.  Even people who are clearly trying to do the right thing, and are going in the right direction.  We all have to experience that sort of thing in life.

Some people in the dream make it through the mist of darkness by taking advantage of the rod of iron and make it to the tree... which is also cool, because it reminds us that we can't always rely only on what we observe around us.  Sometimes we have to feel our way in the dark, and that requires the word of God, which can get us through the darker times.

Unfortunately, some of the people in the dream, even after enduring all of that--finally making it to the tree and partaking of the fruit and *knowing* that joy--even then, they leave because they are ashamed by the mockery of those in the great and specious building, and fall into "forbidden paths."

Nephi truncates the dream, but indicates that it went on with people moving toward the tree and towards the building filled with mockers.  He emphasizes that in the dream Laman and Lamuel didn't partake of the fruit. I wonder sometimes how hearing that made them feel.  I know it would likely have a lot of bitterness, but I almost want to read the Book of Lemuel or something and hear it from a different perspective... not to embrace the idea of ignoring angels or beating brothers or leaving them for dead, but because I wonder how much of me I would be able to see in them, and maybe it would show me how careful I need to be to avoid whatever justifications they were using to end up the way they did.

Tune in next time when Nephi tells us why he is writing this story. :)

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.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Nephi Interrupts the Story -- 1 Nephi Chapter 6

What Happens

"Nephi writes of the things of God--Nephi’s purpose is to persuade men to come unto the God of Abraham and be saved."
1 Nephi 6 Chapter Heading


Commentary

Nephi doesn't really seem that into genealogy, and he stops here in this chapter to explain why.  It seems sort of abrupt to us on the surface, but I think, considering the difficulty of etching words into metal, this was probably an important reminder to people who came later.  Stick to the things of God... remember the whole reason we are writing this.  It isn't just a story; it is evidence of God's hand in our lives.

I also like this mention of the difference between the world and God.  In order to please God, we have to separate ourselves from the world, which we are also told elsewhere in verses like "be ye separate" (2 Corinthians 6:17; Alma 5:57) and "go ye out" (Isaiah 52:11 and several other places).  With Nephi's family having had to very literally separate themselves and go out of contact with all the rest of the world, I imagine that this was a hugely important principle for Nephi... as it likely should be for us as well.  We aren't all asked to jump ship, but we all have to find ways to avoid the coming iceberg.

My favorite part of this chapter is verse 4: "For the fulness of mine intent is that I may persuade men to come unto the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, and be saved."  Since he mentions that they are descendants of Joseph, that is a pretty good genealogy right there, but it is much more than that.  It is a reminder of all that God did through and for those men and the rest of the people in their stories, and the miraculous power of God in preserving his people.  And his people are *all* of us, if we choose to be.

Tune in next time when the story picks back up and Nephi and his brothers go back to Jerusalem for the second time.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Preservation of Sons and Plates -- 1 Nephi Chapter 5

What Happens

"Sariah complains against Lehi—Both rejoice over the return of their sons—They offer sacrifices—The plates of brass contain writings of Moses and the prophets—The plates identify Lehi as a descendant of Joseph—Lehi prophesies concerning his seed and the preservation of the plates."
1 Nephi 5 Chapter Heading


Commentary

This is the third chapter that begins "And it came to pass" that the parents are joyful and exceedingly glad that the sons have returned. It's kind of fun that we know that this starts with a happy ending. The success of mission to go and get the plates is because of the Lord's guiding hand over them.

Problem: Sariah mourns for the loss of their sons. In her worry she supposes the worst and then decides to mourn over them. It is eating at her and she opens up her mouth to share her concerns, or in other words to complain to her husband who by the way is a prophet. How often have we discovered that our hasty conclusions are incorrect?

What she did right: she loves and cares about her family. She shares her concerns with her spouse, not gossiping with others. What a good husband to listen as she shares her "It ticketh me off..." list. He listens and does not condemn her for a lack of faith or her feelings. He addresses her first four concerns. He willingly acknowledges that he is a visionary man.

Lehi comforts and reassures Sariah with his testimony. The brothers joyfully return their home even though they are still sleeping in a tent. And then we read Sariah's beautiful sure language of testimony. This experience strengthens her trust in the Lord and in the prophetic call of her husband Lehi.

 As a family they rejoiced and remembered to thank the Lord through sacrifice and burnt offerings.

They gave thanks even before Lehi started searching them.Verses 15-18 tell us why the knowledge in the plates are of such great worth.

  1. The records contained the five books of Moses. It is necessary to know what the law is in order to keep the commandments. (1 Nephi 4:15)
  2. They contain history through the reign of Zedekiah (Jeremiah 52)
  3. Prophecies of the prophets including Jeremiah who lived in Jerusalem in the time that Lehi was there.
  4. Lehi's family are descendants of the same Joseph who was sold into Egypt. Little did Lehi's family know how much they would have in common with the children of Israel as they begin their journey in the wilderness to a land of promise. God prepares and preserves his people.

Verse 17: And now when my father saw all these things, he was filled with the Spirit, and  began to prophesy concerning his seed... this is an important principle for us.  Revelation comes from searching the scriptures.

Verse 18: The future of the plates of brass is foretold. They should go to all nations and never perish.

These plates were found to be desirable (like delicious fruit) and of great worth because with them the Lord's commandments could be preserved for their children. I have gratitude for those who have preserved the scriptures so that I can enjoy them. I also must ask myself, what am I  doing to preserve the scriptures, promises, and testimonies for my children?

The last verse says it all: "we should carry them with us in our journey through the wilderness towards the land of promise."  As we carry them our burden is made lighter and the Lord carries us. The Lord delivers us out of the hands of our enemies, brings us forth through the wilderness, preserves us through obedience to the commandments, and final home to the land of promise.

Moroni 10:5 The promise works if we are clean, virtuous, and uncluttered with sin. The Lord keeps his promises.


Tune in next time for the continuing adventures of this real family of God that has real concerns.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Nephi's Test -- 1 Nephi Chapter 4

What Happens

"Nephi slays Laban at the Lord’s command and then secures the plates of brass by stratagem—Zoram chooses to join Lehi’s family in the wilderness."
1 Nephi 4 Chapter Heading


Commentary

So, building up to this chapter, Nephi really lays his faith on the line.  He tells his father that God will make a way, and he convinces his brothers twice to stay instead of fleeing, even though someone is trying to kill them.  Until now, his faith has kept them here, but he still doesn't know how he is going to do what God asks.  And then, here in this chapter, he finds out what the Lord requires of him in order to fulfill his task.  And he finds out that the Lord wants him to kill someone.

That's not an easy thing.  Times were different, given, but that's one of the basics: "Thou shalt not kill" (Exodus 20:13).  His whole family is running from Jerusalem because people are trying to kill their father, Laban has just tried to kill them... some of this had to pass through Nephi's mind.  God is asking him to do a really, really hard thing, with a lot of scary consequences.  In our lives, as we are learning to recognize the spirit, if we got a message like that we would instantly think it *wasn't* from God, right?  We try to learn the difference between our internal voice and God's voice to some extent by the fact that God never tells us to do anything crazy or stupid.  And yet, here Nephi is, being "led by the Spirit," according to his faith and his prayers, and everything he has committed to thus far, and he is tested by this gigantic choice.

The parallel that comes to mind as I read about Nephi in this chapter is the life of Christ, leading up to the Garden of Gethsemane.  Just as Christ says that he "would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink," Nephi also states "And I shrunk and would that I might not slay him."  I'm not saying that Nephi suffered as Christ did... just that God seems to stretch us all to do things that we don't want to do.  ... Not because he enjoys torturing us like bugs on the sidewalk, but because it teaches us what really matters, and shows us that our commitment to God is deeper than anything else... and even though it isn't fun at all, we need that, and need to know that, in order to become truly converted on the deepest level.

So, Nephi struggles with the choice, but in the end, he does kill Laban, and through his disguise is able to obtain the plates.  Now, of course, boys and girls, please don't try this at home.  Nephi's experience was unique, and like Abraham being asked to sacrifice his son, or Christ sacrificing his own life, or even Jonah being swallowed by a great fish, there are things that have been done by others that we don't need to emulate exactly in our own lives.  The idea here is faith, trust, truly listening to and understanding the spirit, commitment to the Lord, etc.--not cutting people's heads off.  I always thought that this was an interesting story to have so early in the Book of Mormon as well.  It wasn't only a test for Nephi, but it is also a test for the reader in a way.  Can we accept that the Lord asks hard, even seemingly impossible things?  Can we begin to see God's perspective in the story?

I'm impressed with Nephi that he talks rather than kills Zoram in a situation that could have been devastating to his whole family... that what the spirit asked him to do didn't make him into someone who would also kill Zoram.  Zoram impresses me as well.  We have Nephi's words to explain to us what was going on in his head as he made his hard choice, but we can only imagine what Zoram was thinking.  We know he was about to flee when Nephi grabbed him.  And we know that he agreed to go with them and stay with them, but how scary would that have been?  Someone kills your boss and then just casually asks you to cover it up and go along with them?  But Zoram, listening to the Spirit, believes Nephi and he gives his word, and keeps it, and that alone is pretty miraculous, under the circumstances.

Lehi's boys have been gone quite a while accomplishing their task.  Tune in next time as we read about what happens when they get back to camp.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Nephi Takes a Stand -- 1 Nephi Chapter 3

What Happens

"Lehi’s sons return to Jerusalem to obtain the plates of brass—Laban refuses to give the plates up—Nephi exhorts and encourages his brethren—Laban steals their property and attempts to slay them—Laman and Lemuel smite Nephi and Sam and are reproved by an angel."
1 Nephi 1 Chapter Heading


Commentary

The task to get the brass plates is important just because God asks it, of course, but later in the Book of Mormon we see the difference between Lehi's descendants and the people of Zarahemla, who were also led to the promised land from the same area.  The Plates of Brass play a huge part in that meeting, because the other group hadn't retained their language or their culture or religion, and had to be taught all over again, even though they came originally from the same place.  So we, knowing the whole story of why the plates proved so important can mostly see why God made this a priority, but the people living the story probably less so... and really, it's a hard thing to grasp without the perspective of hindsight.  If we were getting ready to colonize Mars, maybe we would plan that far ahead, but so far all Lehi and his family know is that they need to leave Jerusalem.  I don't think that the rest of it has set in yet.

After Lehi has a dream where God asks him to obtain the plates, his older sons complain.  Nephi tells his father that he knows that God will prepare a way.  And it turns out that Nephi's faith is going to be well-tested.

On the first try for the plates, they send Laman in.  He fails, and now Laban is angry and trying to kill him.  Not good.  Since we've read the story before, this seems like a small setback, but I think for them it was huge.  For Nephi perhaps even more so, because his big brothers were scared and they wanted to go back.  They tried, they failed, done.  But he felt compelled to try again.  He made his stand earlier with his father, offering his famous line in verse 7: "I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them."  Here, he has to make his stand without his father to back him up, and I imagine it is a touch harder.  In verse 15 he says "As the Lord liveth, and as we live, we will not go down unto our father in the wilderness until we have accomplished the thing which the Lord hath commanded us."  He convinces his brothers to stick it out, and comes up with an idea for a second try.

Nephi's idea to get all of their wealth and trade it to Laban for the plates deserves an A+ for being a creative solution, but unfortunately it also fails (possibly this is also important later in the story as an additional disincentive for the doubters to turn back).  After this try, they lose all of their wealth that they gathered, and they have to run for their lives.  They hide out in a cave and the older brothers take their fear out on the younger brothers, until an angel comes.

The angel part is where I kind of lose Laman and Lemuel.  I mean, up to this point in the story I kind of get them, you know?  They are in part understandably skeptical, concerned about the complete upheaval of their lives, and their little brother is always taking dad's side and kind of rubbing their noses in it.  I imagine I would have murmured a little too, even though the beating is taking it too far. But this one is hard to take their side on.  Not only are they beating their brothers, which is why the angel has to step in, but this is *exactly* the confirmation of their father's prophetic powers that they needed, and they seem to barely blink at his words, and go back to resisting God.  *Absolutely* true that Laban is still there, and still likely determined to kill them all.  Calls for some serious problem solving, but doesn't seeing an angel have to trump fear on some level?

Anyway, this isn't the end of Nephi having his faith tested, but luckily the Angel buys them a third chance at the plates.  Tune in next time for our further discussion.  And, as always, feel free to add your ideas or insights about chapter in the comments section.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

We Meet the Rest of the Family -- 1 Nephi Chapter 2

What Happens:

"Lehi takes his family into the wilderness by the Red Sea--They leave their property--Lehi offers a sacrifice to the Lord and teaches his sons to keep the commandments--Laman and Lemuel murmur against their father--Nephi is obedient and prays in faith; the Lord speaks to him, and he is chosen to rule over his brethren."
1 Nephi 2 Chapter Heading


Commentary:

I make no secret of the fact that I kind of hero worship Lehi... he does some cool stuff in this chapter that I admire. First: The Lord says go and he goes... he doesn't even ask "how high" when told to jump, he just does. No time to pack up the family valuables, just the 72 hour kits (or the 600 BC equivalent) and they are out the door.

We are introduced to the family here... last chapter we heard a lot about Lehi, and learned that Nephi was a pretty good kid... but here we meet Laman and Lemuel and their doubting ways. Being a sometimes doubter myself, I feel for these guys--hey, I even feel bad that they are always grouped together "Laman and Lemuel" and pretty much have one personality in the narrative. I sometimes wonder if they were equally rebellious or maybe Laman was the punk and Lemuel was the eager toadie?  Regardless, Lehi knows that they are less than happy with this whole dwelling in a tent gig and he talks to them, encouraging them to be better... and not saying "hey, fine - get thee hence already if you don't want to be on board with what the family is doing."

We also get to meet Sam - dear Sam...  I realized recently as we were studying later in the Book (spoiler alert!) that when they mention all the Nephites, Ishmaelites, Lemuelites and many "manner of ites" that there were no "Sam-ites"... I like to think that this is because Sam's desires were SO in line with the desires of Nephi (and of God) that they were indistinguishable.  Or maybe Sam just didn't have kids... either way, he is cool.

Nephi tells a lot about how he taught his brethren here, and for a long time I thought of him as a little snotty, but hey--the Lord commanded that this be written, and Nephi was just reporting what was done. Just because MY brain interprets things in a snotty attitude doesn't mean that it was there. One thing I have learned studying the scriptures is to not interpret 600 BC happenings by 2017 standards (you wouldn't think that would be so difficult).

Verses 21 to the end deserve a few words: cautioning against rebellion, how bad it is for us, how we are protected unless we rebel, etc...  and since we already know the sad and tragic end of this tale, I think it is a little sad that this warning is here. But hey, maybe (okay definitely) the warning is there for ME as much as it was there for them.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Lehi's First Vision -- 1 Nephi Chapter 1

What Happens

"Nephi begins the record of his people—Lehi sees in vision a pillar of fire and reads from a book of prophecy—He praises God, foretells the coming of the Messiah, and prophesies the destruction of Jerusalem—He is persecuted by the Jews."
1 Nephi 1 Chapter Heading


Commentary

In the first chapter of the Book of Mormon we know that Nephi is speaking, but the storyline here is mainly about Lehi.

We learn in verse 4 that Lehi had dwelt at Jerusalem "all his days."  That's interesting because it tells us that he was very invested in the city.  He knew people.  He cared very much about what was going on.  This same verse tells us that many prophets came, predicting that Jerusalem would be destroyed. I imagine that Lehi, who had lived there all his life, was concerned by these predictions, because it tells us that in response to this, he prayed "with all his heart, in behalf of his people."  Both of these things give us insights that we might not get otherwise, since Lehi's story is told from the perspective of Nephi.  In later chapters, when their family has to leave the city, we can imagine how hard it was for Lehi himself to go, and thereby abandon his people, even though he had been personally told to go by God.

As Lehi is praying he sees a pillar of fire (similar to the pillar of light that Joseph Smith saw?) and he sees and hears much, and then goes home to rest, which seems similar to the weakness that overcame Joseph Smith when the angel Moroni appeared to him several times in a single day (Joseph Smith History 1:48).  As he is resting, he is overtaken by another vision and in the vision, given a book to read.  The book is an interesting, probably symbolic representation that reminds us that our actions are recorded in heaven, which is backed up in Revelation 20:12 and D&C 128:7.  Lehi learns for himself that the prophets are right (similar to what Nephi later does to get a testimony that his father is truly a prophet), and he endeavors to go out and preach as well.

He is rejected and mocked as he tries to explain things to his people.  That had to be incredibly hard for him.  He found out the truth for himself... he knows that anyone can, and he knows these people. He loves this city.  He wants to help, but they refuse to listen, and they try to kill him.  There are similarities to Joseph Smith's story here as well, which is interesting from Joseph's perspective as well.  I imagine Joseph could relate pretty well to what Lehi was going through as he translated these pages.

Nephi reassures us at the end of the chapter that God is merciful even unto deliverance... so don't worry.  Lehi doesn't die yet.  Tune in next time as we reread 1 Nephi Chapter 2.