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.
When I think of the “deathbed” conversation between Lehi and Nephi, I think of it in terms of how a former Stake Pres, would speak to his son who is a current Stake President. There wouldn’t be a great desire/need to urge his son to live the commandments so it would likely be a discussion of gratitude, thanksgiving, and hope. If there was any admonition, it would make sense that Lehi would hope Nephi could somehow make amends with his brothers and find a way to bring them to the gospel. To the authors point, these conversations may have been too personal for Nephi to record in the small plates.
Nephi also omits several conversations with Laman & Lemuel, that caused them to be angry with him shortly after Lehi’s death (2 Nephi 4:14). These conversations could have been used by Nephi to further demonstrate his point of needing to keep the commandments, but instead Nephi chooses to make a record of the conversations in the large plates. I suspect he omis these conversations because the content is simply a repeat of previous teachings already included in his record.
I would suspect there are several experiences, over a lifetime, that could not be added to the small plates, but probably appear on the larger plates. It will be interesting to see the larger plates one day.
Love the insight m. rees
Good point. Furthermore, in regards to the narrative, it suddenly stops for the most part after 1 Nephi 18. He then goes into Isaiah and gives an exegesis on that to his brothers. We then get Lehi’s blessings and after that, not much narrative. We know the family splits, Nephi is made King, and that’s about it. He suddenly crams 30-40 years of history in just a few pages where the first 8 take up the entire book of 1 Nephi. Weird. The other gap in the narrative is, why is it Jacob and not one of Nephi’s sons that becomes king? We know Nephi has children. The royal blood line then follows Jacob from then on out. It reminds me of Hyrum and Joseph Smith with the LDS church. And what the heck happened to Sam?
Michael: I don’t think the royal blood line follows Jacob. Jacob and his descendants were charged with keeping a spiritual record on the small plates, but someone else was annointed king by Nephi (Jacob 1:9). So, at Nephi’s death, there was really just a separation of who kept the small plates verses who kept the large plates. The small plates stayed with the spiritual leader, Jacob, while the large plates were kept by the kings. That persisted until the small plates were delivered back to King Benjamin. Mosiah 25:13 leads me to believe that the kings were all descendants of Nephi.
Ha!! Thanks for pushing back! I will have to go back and re-read that scripture Thanks Justin
You are still my favorite mission companion.
I read your response while I was at the church for mutual. I am the new Young Men’s President. I have given it more thought now.
In Moisah 25:13, it appears that Mormon is comparing the people of Zarahemla to the people of Nephi. By people of Nephi, I mean in this general sense – meaning Nephites.
My question is, when Mormon says, “Descendant of Nephi,” is it necessary to interpret that as only those directly descended from Nephi? Or can it be interpreted as “Nephites” which includes descendants of Jacob?
If it is the former is true, then the man anointed in Jacob 1:9 must necessarily be a son or grandson of Nephi. If the latter is true, then the man anointed in Jacob 1:9 could be a Nephite in the general sense of the term and thus could be a descendent of any of the sub-groups that make up the Nephites. Whew! Done. Thanks for checking our blog out Justin and giving a very thoughtful response. This is fun, isn’t it?
thanks Jarom. I never thought of it that way. Good insight.
How did you hear about our blog?
Jon told me about the blog. I was his roommate in college.
And…he told me via a facebook post to check out the blog. So, I checked it out and left a post as evidenced above.
It finally dawned on me why you left that earlier post. I had asked you how you heard about the blog. Ya, I am not as smart as I thought I was.
Thanks for dropping by
A few interesting points to note about these two chapters. I found the two chapters very much divided, the first was Lehi speaking to his elder sons who were born prior to their leaving Jerusalem, and the second being directed towards his children who were born in the wilderness.
Whatever contentions and rebellions Laman & Lemuel may have had, they were still the sons of a prophet. There is no doubt that they would have been instructed in the principles and doctrines of the gospel during their youth. I feel it is for this reason that Lehi does not feel the need to instruct them in the basic doctrines of the gospel, but rather to warn them of the judgments of God. Throughout the chapter Lehi calls for his sons to awake and essentially repent (“shake off the chains with which ye are bound”). Lehi’s final plea to Laman, Lemuel, Sam, and the sons of Ishmael was to follow Nephi, to follow the obvious next spiritual leader of the family.
The second chapter is very much directed towards Lehi’s sons who were born in the wilderness, those who may not have had the same doctrinal instruction as their elder brethren. It is fitting that Lehi’s final words to them are teaching them the basic doctrines of the gospel: the creation, the fall, and the atonement. I feel that at the end he tries to teach them about a very sweet truth of the gospel, the principle of choice. Some of Jacob’s older brothers had made choices that were different from those of Nephi. I think Lehi wanted his younger sons to recognize that all men were free to make their own choices, but explicitly states there are consequences for those choices. I feel he does this to explain why Jacob and Joseph have such different older brothers in Nephi and Laman.