The first chapters of 1 Nephi have a few overriding lessons to teach us. One of those lessons is that all things happen according to God’s will. This is something that Lehi and Nephi understood, but Laman and Lemuel never learned.
The Lord is always right
This is one of those lessons we give lip service to, but don’t really either comprehend it or we don’t believe it. Let me paint an earthly scenario about someone who is always right. Let’s pretend that you know a guy named George who has an uncanny ability to decide when to invest in a company and when to pull out of a company. You can’t see any evidence that he is cheating, but the guy is never wrong! He makes a killing on the stock market because he just can’t make a bad investment.
Now let’s say that George comes to you and tells you that if you want to double your money in XYZ Corp., all you need to do is put $50.00 into stocks before the end of the week. Given the track record and his success rate, would you at least give George the benefit of the doubt? Would you venture your small investment of $50.00 on the word of someone who always seems to be right?
Let me be perfectly clear. People like George do not exist. Okay? But the principle is still valid. Our Father in Heaven knows the end of time from the beginning. There isn’t anything that will happen between the beginning of time and the end of time for anyone and everything that He cannot tell you all about. He knows when the planets will fail, the crops will freeze, when you will repent, and when a bird will poop on your umbrella in the park. There are no details hidden to his sight.
This means that when the Lord told Lehi to send his sons back to Jerusalem to retrieve the plates of brass from Laban, He knew exactly what would happen to make it possible. Did Lamen, Lemuel, Sam, and Nephi know how it was going to happen? No, they did not. This is my point. How we react to the Lord telling us something needs to happen is based on our faith and our attitude.
Lamen and Lemuel were cynics. They distrusted the motives of others, including the Lord’s. When the Lord told them if they did such and such He would bless them, they chose not to believe in the promise. ‘God does not make such things known unto us’ (1 Nephi 15:9). But Sam and Nephi were believers, so they chose to obey the commandments of the Lord, and hence, they received the promised blessings. In this case, Lamen and Lemuel refused to believe that George, who had never had a bad stock tip, could possibly be right when it came to them, so they refused to invest their money. But Sam and Nephi looked at George’s perfect record and said, in effect, ‘Sign me up!’
Building the foundation
Nephi and Sam were obedient sons, and they chose to believe the words of their father when he taught them the gospel. Beyond that, they searched for wisdom on their own and received their own revelations from the Lord. They came to understand that the Lord was always right, even when they didn’t see how he could be. In chapter 1, Nephi and Sam believe in their father’s vision about the destruction of Jerusalem. They support him in his move to leave Jerusalem and travel into the wilderness. In chapter 2, Nephi is given a promise from the Lord that because of his obedience he will be blessed and made a ruler over his less obedient brothers.
We know that Nephi and Sam have had their obedience to the Lord tested because we have Nephi’s statement to his father in 1 Nephi 3:7 where he declares that he knows that the Lord gives no commandment without preparing a way for the commandment to be fulfilled. One does not make such a statement unless he/she has learned from past experience that this is true.
In chapter 3 the sons are tested in their resolve to obtain the plates of Laban. First Laman goes in and tries to negotiate with Laban and gets thrown out on his ear. After Nephi convinces Laman and Lemuel they can’t go home just yet, they all go in together toting their father’s entire fortune with them. This was supposed to impress Laban enough that he would part with the plates. Instead, Laban displays his complete greed and sends his servants out to kill them so he can take their fortune, and still keep the brass plates.
This is when Laman and Lemuel have reached their limit, having seen their family fortune just stolen and their lives almost taken over these silly brass plates that couldn’t possibly be worth what Nephi, Sam, and their father were saying they were. After all, they still believe the people in Jerusalem are righteous. They are in the middle of beating their little brothers when an angel stops them and chastises them for their unbelief.
In chapter 4 Nephi goes into Jerusalem himself. All by himself, he wanders the streets but is being led by the Spirit to where he needs to be. Because he trusts the Lord the Lord takes him right to a man who has passed out from too much drinking. Guess who? Laban, no doubt celebrating his ill-gotten gains, has drunk himself into a stupor in a back alley. Now comes Nephi’s big test. Will he obey when the Lord, who is always right, can’t possibly be right? In 1 Nephi 4:10 – 18 we read about Nephi’s test of obedience.
10 And it came to pass that I was constrained by the Spirit that I should kill Laban; but I said in my heart: Never at any time have I shed the blood of man. And I shrunk and would that I might not slay him.
12 And it came to pass that the Spirit said unto me again: Slay him, for the Lord hath delivered him into thy hands;
13 Behold the Lord slayeth the wicked to bring forth his righteous purposes. It is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief.
Nephi’s first instinct was correct. Everything inside him told him killing was wrong. But the Spirit had a point to make. The Lord is the one telling you to kill this man, not some man down the street or a perfect stranger, but the Lord himself is telling you Laban has to die. The Spirit then explains to Nephi the importance of these records. Nephi had already been promised by the Lord that if he remained obedient he would be prospered and led to a land of promise. When the Spirit tells him that all of his descendants will perish in unbelief without these plates, suddenly there was a sense of urgency to him having the possession of these plates. The Spirit was right, it was better that one man perish than that a whole nation dwindle and perish in unbelief.
Nephi saw the wisdom of the Lord, and because he was willing to obey, even when it was distasteful, he drew Laban’s sword and cut off his head. This single act of obedience on the part of Nephi saved an entire nation from losing all knowledge of God and the hopes for their own salvation. The Mulekites, whom the Nephite’s run into later on in the story, verify what the Spirit told to Nephi. They came to the Americas with no scriptures, no brass plates, and their language had become corrupted, and they no longer had any form of belief in their creator. They had to be taught the language and religion of the Nephites.
This is one of the many lessons found in this reading assignment, and that is that the Lord will always vindicate himself. It may not be this week or this year, but at some point in the future, those who followed the Lord will be shown to be correct to have done so. There are no exceptions. Remember, the Lord has all knowledge, all wisdom, and complete love for His children. He does not give us commandments we cannot keep. He does not give us instructions we cannot follow. If we exercise enough faith in the Lord, a way will ALWAYS open up. That is the nature of the beast. It just takes faith. Sometimes our assignments are not so much that we accomplish what the Lord sent us to do, but that we show we are willing to do as instructed. Abraham’s instructions to sacrifice his only son is a good example.
The purpose of this lesson is to help us see that there is always safety and salvation in obedience. Nephi, Sam, and Lehi are good examples of people who were greatly blessed by the Lord because they were willing to put their faith and trust in the Lord no matter how difficult the assignment was. They never gave up. If they failed once then they tried something else. They kept trying until they found the way the Lord had prepared for them ahead of time to accomplish His purposes.
It is only when we become cynics, untrusting in the motives of those who bring us glad tidings, that we fail. Lamen and Lemuel have gone down in history as two of the most sour and untrusting men in history. They saw miracles, heard the voice of the Lord himself, saw angels, etc. Still, they refused to believe that the Lord was willing to reveal Himself to them. How many witnesses does it take before we are willing to believe?
The Lord truly wants us to be happy. He was leading Lehi’s family to a promised land, one that was choice above all other lands on the earth. Lehi had some children who fought the Lord and eventually their fight brought a curse from the Lord. Lehi also had children who believed and exercised faith. It was because of these children that they obtained the promised land. It was through the records Nephi started and kept that millions and millions of people since that time have come to a better knowledge of their Savior and have been saved. Faith and obedience are the keys and the saving principles.