Following the mode of the Old Testament Patriarchs, Lehi gives blessings and final words of counsel to his posterity. Using the idea of gaps and blanks, lets see if we can learn something from what we are not told. Again the following is taken from my reading of Grant Hardy’s Undersanding the Book of Mormon, a Reader’s Guide.
2 Nephi 1
Conspicuously missing from Lehi’s final blessings is a blessing to Nephi. This despite Nephi saying that Lehi “had spoken to all his household.”
We have the blessings and counsel to Laman, Lemuel, Sam, and the sons of Ishmael (2 Nephi 1:28-29), Zoram (2 Nephi 1:30-32), Jacob (2 Nephi 2:1-13), the children of Laman (2 Nephi 4:11) Why?
Is it possible that Lehi’s deathbed instructions to Nephi included a last, desperate plea for him to keep the family together (something that would have been awkward and painful for Nephi to record).
It is clear from Lehi’s other speeches, that family unity was a high priority – “be determined in one mind and in one heart, united in all things…”(2 Nephi 1:21 & 1 Nephi 10:13). Lehi would have charged Nephi, as both the next leader and focal point of conflict, with the responsibilty to make sure they remained unified.
In 2 Nephi 1:14, 17, 19, 21,23 We see Lehi speaking as a “trembling parent.” He fears that God would punish his sons for the hardness of their hearts, and despite this he still holds out hope (perhaps unrealistically) that “these things might not come upon you, but that ye might be a choice and favored people of the Lord.”
Putting aside the question of how Lehi would have access to Second Isaiah, there seems to be clear echoes of Isaiah 5:1-2 in 2 Nephi 1:21-23. Lehi seems to be holding out the possibility that just as Jerusalem can be restored, so also his family.
But it didn’t happen.
We find Nephi not only leaving out his blessing, but deflecting his readers’ attention from this omission by immediately following his account of the family gathering with an original psalm – a literary exercise in which he tries to work through some signifiant spiritual and psycholical anxieties (2 Nephi 4:15-35)
With this in mind, what is presented is an uncharacteristically generous assessment of Laman and Lemuel, but it is a perspective that Lehi perhaps would have shared. He is not blind to his sons’ problems, but never gives up on them either. Nor does he (Lehi) ever exhibit a disregard for the significance of birth order; when entering the ship they did so in order, “every one according to his age” (1 Nephi 18:4). Lehi’s blessing also seems to be given in order, from oldest to youngest and then to the next generation.
After reading Nephi’s account we tend to see Lehi’s hope for a change of heart in his older sons as wishful thinking. However, Nephi writes as a disappointed, reviled against younger brother, not as a “tender parent.” While Lehi held out a hope for repentance, Nephi had a much more realistic assessment of Laman and Lemuel’s spiritual state, and when they threaten him again shortly after Lehi’s death he takes them at their word and flees with whoever will follow him.
Rereading Lehi’s and then Nephi’s vision of the tree of life, shows a stark difference between the attitudes of a parent and a sibling. There are things in the vision that Nephi tells that his father does not. Why? We are told Lehi’s, “mind [was] swallowed up in other things.” (1 Nephi 15:27) Could these “other things” have been Lehi’s worries about his oldest sons? We cannot assume Nephi is improvising here – much of his description is derived from the narration provided by his angel guide. Yet, it is with Nephi’s vision that Laman and Lemuel hear their father’s dream portrayed with words such as hell, gulf, and justice.
A difference of opinion between Nephi and Lehi on how to best deal with Laman and Lemuel would have strained their relationship. Nephi dealing with disappointment when life in the Promised Land turned out badly, disagreeing with his father on how to respond to his two oldest brothers, and even leading family members into war against their relatives, must have been a burden for Nephi. Given the injunction to produce a record highlighting spiritual truths would, not surprisingly, emphasize his (Nephi) side of the story while minimizing his personal struggles, weaknesses, and mistakes.
2 Nephi 2 Lehi’s Blessing to Jacob and then the rest of his sons
Here we see the need for evil in order for agency to exist. The question here is, who creates evil? We read in Genesis that, “God hardened Pharaoh’s heart.” If God creates evil, is He then not responsible for all the pain and suffering in the world? More on that in a later post.
2 Nephi 2:27 Here we get one of the great theological contributions of The Book of Mormon. Does Arminianism (after Jacob Arminius) or Calvinism best explain our actions? In other words, do we in fact have free will or are we pre-destined to do what we do? It is clear from The Book of Mormon that we are actually free agents. But how does this work with God’s omniscience? That’s for another post (hint: it has to do with middle knowledge)
vs 30 “according to the prophet” What prophet? The reference is uncertain.