Week 02 is scheduled for study Jan. 8-14, 2024. The key to gaining the experiences we need in life is to “go and do.” If we don’t then we can’t complain when nothing happens.
1 Nephi 1-5 – The word of God is “of great worth” to me.
I’m going out on a limb here to make a statement that I hope won’t come back to haunt me. I think there are many people who have seen the story of Lehi’s family much the same way I have over the years. I may be very wrong in this idea, but it does fit with all I have ever heard and experienced in church Sunday School classes and in my own studies. Here are my old assumptions.
Nephi is a goody two shoes, a do-gooder, and never messes up, despite his own assertions in the scriptures that he has many sins.
Laman and Lemuel are reprobate sinners who never do good. They are the opposite of Nephi in most everything.
Sam is a wimp. He follows Nephi, but never demonstrates any real backbone in the narrative we are shown.
Sariah is a follower as well, and only gets her testimony of her husband’s visions once the Lord has proven Himself to her by bringing her boys home safely again with the brass plates.
I understand that you would most likely use other language to describe these characters in the book of 1 Nephi, but this is how I have always seen them. It is only on this reading, and after some contemplation and consideration that my view of this family has changed. Here is my new perspective. Mind you this comes after seeing all the church videos on the subject, rereading the chapters involved in this week’s lessons, and considering what I learned from my own Object Lesson (which I hope you will read).
First off, I think too many of us have polarized these characters. We have made them either all good or all bad. That just isn’t how people are in real life. Nephi writes this story, and in doing so does not choose to share with us any of his personal doubts, struggles, or moments of weakness. I believe he had all of these things. What he records for us is what happened after his struggles, his moments of prayer, and his faith-affirming experiences. We are, in effect, only seeing him after he has reached the top of his personal mountains of struggle. He isn’t showing us the trip to the mountain top, just showing us the view from that vantage point. What he went through to be that faithful is only something we can imagine, because nothing is ever indicated to tell us that he doubted. We only have his word from later in his life that he was easily beset by his sins, which doesn’t really tell us anything we can’t already say about ourselves.
If you have read the Object Lesson article hopefully you see that Laman and Lemuel were products of their generation in Jerusalem. They were young adults who had embraced all that the wicked city of Jerusalem had promoted to its people. By looking at the life and decisions of these two brothers we can see more clearly why Jerusalem was under condemnation by God and was about to be destroyed. I used to look upon them with contempt. Now I look upon them as objects of pity and vessels of sorrow. They had embraced evil, and no joy can come from that decision. They would live out their lives wallowing in self pity, indignation, and anger. And they had given themselves to all the philosophies of the world, and Satan had great influence in their life choices.
Sam is an almost invisible character in this story. Why? I think it is because the story isn’t about him, but about Nephi and his nemesis, his oldest brother Laman. Lemuel was weak willed and appears to follow along with whatever Laman wants to do. Sam is actually a good man. He was obedient to his parents, he kept the commandments, and he knew that his brother had the gift of revelation and was a born leader. He followed the counsel of Lehi and listened to his younger brother. This takes great character to follow your younger brother, especially when you know all their weaknesses. Think of Sam like the brothers of Joseph Smith who subjected themselves to his leadership, because they saw that he had a gift that they did not possess. These men let love take precedence over position in the family or in society. They were humble men and worthy of our praise.
Sariah appears to have struggled with her husband’s visions. Despite her reservations she followed him, even to the point of leaving her home and all her worldly comforts behind to go with him out into the wilderness, never to return home. She literally gave up everything to be obedient to his leadership. We don’t know if these visions started with the text in 1 Nephi or if he had a history of visions in the night. All we know is that by the time Lehi had sent their sons back to Jerusalem to get the plates Sariah had reached the end of her rope.
As I think about Sariah as a mother, she had sacrificed all that she had, including her security and social position to support her husband. Now he had sent off all her sons on what appeared to be a suicide mission to retrieve the plates of brass. For one or two weeks during their absence she stewed over the distinct possibility that her sons would be killed by Laban. Evidently Laban had a reputation that frightened her. He was a wicked man, and her sons were naïve. Eventually she succumbed to the thoughts and fear that because her sons had not returned they must have been killed by Laban. She let sorrow and doubt overtake her and she was bitter in her soul. Lehi tried to comfort her, but she was going to have to see her sons for herself before she would be convinced of his words that God would protect them.
Sorry, that was a lot of background to get to my point here. What I have learned – what makes these scriptures of “great worth” as the manual says, is that Lehi’s family is really no different from my family. My parents had six children. Three have left the church, each for their own reasons, and three who have remained faithful to the commandments. There is love for the lost, love for the faithful, sorrow for the lost, sorrow for personal sin, hope for reunions, and hope for future glory. We all have our mountains to climb, lessons to learn, faith to strengthen, and our own stories that are still playing out.
What we read in 1 Nephi 1-5 was written many years after they had already arrived in the Promised Land, separated from the Lamanites, and had already had many wars with their brethren. This story we are reading this week is the recap and reflection on this chapter of Nephi’s life. If he had written his record as it unfolded, chances are it would appear as a very different story. As it is, Nephi wrote this as he neared the end of his life and was retelling their story from the perspective of a longtime prophet and leader of his people. He wrote this story to teach lessons to us all, not to show us his own moments of weakness or even his wicked brothers’ moments of good behavior. That gets a mention, but Nephi is focusing on the long term choices everyone in the family made.
These chapters are of great worth to me, because they encourage me to look at the bigger picture and not the immediate calamity I may be facing today. Faith will get us through our temporary setbacks, and will make us strong enough to handle the bigger ones we will face in the future. Family is all important. God’s love is true and constant. All of us, both the wicked and the righteous, have moments of weakness as well as greatness. The story of our lives will be told once we have made our daily choices to obey or not to obey for long enough that it has shaped our character and either driven us away from God or drawn us closer to Him. There are many more lessons, but these are what currently come to mind.
1 Nephi 2 – I can gain and strengthen my testimony as I turn to the Lord.
The key to the difference between Nephi and his elder brothers Laman and Lemuel can be found in 1 Nephi 2:16.
16 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, being exceedingly young, nevertheless being large in stature, and also having great desires to know of the of God, wherefore, I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did me, and did my heart that I did all the words which had been spoken by my ; wherefore, I did not against him like unto my brothers.
Nephi had a desire to know and understand the things of God. Laman and Lemuel had no such desire. They were rooted in the present, not in the future. To appreciate the promises of God one must first recognize that God’s promises are eternal in nature. Very few promises are grounded in just the present situation. Obedience to God’s commandments does bless us in the moment, but all the final rewards happen after this life. Laman and Lemuel were so short sighted that they couldn’t see past their immediate wants. To tell them that they had to wait until after death for their great rewards to be given was like robbing them of all their happiness today. Today was as far into the future as they could or wanted to see.
When Nephi says that the Lord softened his heart, think of it this way. The Lord helped Nephi to have the patience and foresight to be satisfied with having to wait for the blessings of the Lord to all be fulfilled. When our hearts are softened we are more patient with the Lord’s timing in our life. Those who have hardened their hearts don’t tolerate having to wait for what they want. They want it now, today. If God isn’t willing to give it now, without any effort on my part then I’ll take part in the pleasures of this world, for they are available right now.
The desire to learn of God and His ways is the first defining difference. The second defining difference between Nephi and his oldest brothers is that Nephi was willing to let God change him on the inside so that he was more willing to be obedient. Laman and Lemuel insisted that they were good the way they were and needed no changing. God cannot help someone who is unwilling to receive the help they need.
If we want to become more Christlike first we need to desire to change then we must be willing to seek that change at the hands of the Holy Ghost. He will teach us how to be happier than we currently are by giving us the words of Christ. Sometimes that requires some uncomfortable changes, but all those changes result in greater personal happiness. This process is not something we can accomplish on our own. Any change of heart that is lasting in nature must be given to us by God. So we need to seek Him out and submit our will to His in order to learn what must be learned, that only He can teach us.
1 Nephi 3-4 – God will prepare a way for me to do His will.
Does it make any sense to you that a God who is supposed to be all knowing and all loving would ask us to do something that cannot be done, and for no reason other than to see if we will do it? That just makes no sense at all.
I have a philosophy about life when it comes to serving God. There is no such thing as failure. When I do all I can in fulfilling God’s commandment, no matter what commandment we talk about, God turns my efforts into benefits for my soul. He never takes my sincere efforts and discounts them or counts them for naught. I sometimes have to remind myself that very often God works slowly and in small, almost invisible steps to accomplish great things later on. He has all the time in the world. I just have to trust His timing.
When I feel like I have failed to fulfill His will I need to remind myself that I will be greatly rewarded for my obedience and willingness to do what He commanded me to do even when everything was working against me. There are often things I don’t see that are working in the background to accomplish His purposes. My efforts not only strengthened me, but they may have influenced someone else to be more ready to positively respond to God’s word in the future. I may have set a sequence of events in motion that I know nothing about, but that will ultimately allow God’s work to be accomplished. God never commands that something happen that ultimately does not come to pass. That is what makes Him God.
Just as much of the universe gets assembled one particle, one atom, one molecule at a time, so too do the changes we see around us. So often they happen more slowly than we can detect, but upon reflection we see that God was working in the background all along.
1 Nephi 4:1-3; 5:1-8 – Remembering the works of God can give me the faith to obey His commandments.
This will be really short. Please refer back to the article called Object Lesson I linked to in Day 1. Assuming you have read it, notice how easily we forget what God has done for us in the past, even when it just happened a few moments ago. Once our attention has been taken off of God and His peace that He is so generous to share with us, chaos and confusion are an easy follow up.
Over and over again Nephi had to remind his brothers of what they all knew to be true. They had all studied the life of Moses and the miracles that were a part of his ministry. Yet how easily they lost sight that God is so willing to bless us today just as He blessed the children of Israel anciently. And just as often as well. So when all seems bleak and possibly lost, spend some time remembering what God has done in the past, and just as importantly, how often He has promised us that He will do the same for us that He did for His people anciently. This will strengthen our faith and give us courage to face the unknown and uncertain in life.
1 Nephi 4:5-18 – “I was led by the Spirit.”
If you want some examples of how Nephi learned to be led by the Spirit, give this article a read (7 Ways to follow the Spirit). I especially love the linked video at the end of an NFL player, who is not a member of the church, but who has learned to follow the Spirit. It is very moving. Remember that you may need to turn on your volume to hear it. Being led by the Spirit takes practice and guts. It isn’t easy to “listen” to that small voice or feeling within you and to do whatever it says to do. It only becomes easier as we deliberately do what we feel impressed to do.
Use stories and examples to teach gospel principles
Have you ever listened to a General Authority speak and marvel at the wonderful stories and experiences that demonstrate God’s love, how someone strengthened their faith, learned to serve others, or any one of a thousand different scenarios? I have found myself thinking, “Why don’t I have those experiences?” I had a feeling that was a combination of jealousy at the richness of the General Authorities’ lives, and sorrow that my life seemed so mundane and monotone in comparison.
I had to think about the reasons behind where all these experiences come from before I began to realize that the way I live my life largely determines whether or not I will experience all these heartwarming and Spirit-filled treasures. Think about it. The reason people experience the wonderful things described in these teaching examples and faith promoting stories is because they are out there serving other people. These people are choosing to be aware of the Spirit’s activities in their life, and following His promptings. If I sit in my apartment or bedroom and rarely leave my private space, how can I expect to have very many of these things happen to me? I need to get out and get involved in the lives of those around me. Only then will I see all the miracles that God works daily on planet earth.
Serving is a critical way to experience stories of your own to share with others. Teaching gospel principles in a way that people can relate to is no different. The key is often that the reason people can teach using appropriate examples to frame their gospel message is because they ask the Lord on a regular basis to see how what they do, how they act, and what goes on around them relates to the gospel Christ teaches. If you ask to see, the Spirit will begin to open your eyes so that you begin to make the connections to gospel principles in all that you see happening around you. If you are not seeing the connections between daily life and the teachings of the gospel then you need to ask to have your vision expanded. As you look for these connections you will be surprised at how many you begin to find.
When we teach others, being able to connect people’s behavior to gospel principles is critical for understanding. If you are teaching me the gospel, but can’t find any way to make it meaningful in my daily life, why should I listen to you? Teaching children and others can be tricky. Many of the best teaching opportunities come and go in a matter of moments – sometimes a matter of seconds. Having a small bank or reserve of examples already experienced and thought about can make the difference between someone else’s understanding and happiness or their continued disobedience and misery.
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