Friday, January 27, 2012

Book of Mormon Lesson 6: “Free to Choose Liberty and Eternal Life” 2 Nephi 1-2

Book of Mormon Lesson 6: “Free to Choose Liberty and Eternal Life”
2 Nephi 1-2

Lehi as Moses, the Patriarch and Prophet
2 Nephi 1
“And now it came to pass that after I, Nephi, had made an end of teaching my brethren, our father, Lehi, also spake many things unto them, and rehearsed unto them, how great things the Lord had done for them in bringing them out of the land of Jerusalem. And he spake unto them concerning their rebellions upon the waters, and the mercies of God in sparing their lives, that they were not swallowed up in the sea.And he also spake unto them concerning the land of promise, which they had obtained—how merciful the Lord had been in warning us that we should flee out of the land of Jerusalem: (2 Ne 1:1-3).

In verse one, it appears that Nephi taught his brethren. It is possible that it involves the quoting and interpreting of Isaiah that we find in 1 Nephi 19-22.  As it is written to the reading audience, one may not notice that he is repeating a lesson he has already given.  It is possible that the 1 and 2 Nephi division is a more modern change, or perhaps something Nephi did in writing the account 20 years later.  The focus on Nephi’s teaching is the destruction of the Jews in Jerusalem, the Babylonian captivity, the scattering of Israel, the coming of the Lord in flesh, and the eventual gathering of Israel in the last days.  That Nephi is teaching his elder brethren in the presence of Lehi suggests that Nephi is now the “official” guide of the family and foreseen leader.

From here, we can note that Lehi’s words then continue much on this line of thinking.  While Nephi spoke of the entire House of Israel, Lehi will confine his focus on his family..  According to Nephi, his father becomes the Moses of his family.  He led them out of captivity.  Jerusalem would be carried off by Babylon into physical captivity, but the spiritual captivity already lay heavy upon the Jews.  He saw in vision that Jerusalem already was destroyed - meaning there was nothing to return to, even if they could return.

The ocean represented Israel’s wandering in the wilderness, and the Red Sea.  God allowed Israel to pass safely through the sea and into the Promised Land, except for their rebellion.  For Lehi, the rebellion on board the ship was just like ancient Israel partying in rebellion, while Moses received the tablets on Mt Sinai. Only God’s mercy prevented ancient Israel from drowning while crossing the Red Sea on dry land. And only His mercy prevented Lehi’s family from sinking into the ocean when the storms threatened them.

After many difficult experiences in the wilderness, Moses and Lehi brought their peoples into the Land of Promise.  Lehi reminds them of their trials and the source of their blessings. Such protection will only continue as they seek the Lord and repent.  To do so, they must accept Nephi as their prophet and leader.

“But, said he, notwithstanding our afflictions, we have obtained a land of promise, a land which is choice above all other lands; a land which the Lord God hath covenanted with me should be a land for the inheritance of my seed. Yea, the Lord hath covenanted this land unto me, and to my children forever, and also all those who should be led out of other countries by the hand of the Lord” (2 Ne 1:5).

Lehi recognized that his family may not be the only peoples who were in the Americas.  He realized the Lord may have brought forth others as well.  In fact, it is possible that Lehi and his people may already have come in contact with others, absorbing them into their group.  We shall see little hints within the text that the Nephites and Lamanites were not the only peoples here, and that the Mulekites were just one major example of this.  

Archaeology shows that various groups have arrived here in the past. One of the original major groups is the Clovis group.  These came from Asia during the last Ice Age.  Many of these came over an ice-land bridge from modern Russia through Alaska and then through much of the Americas.  Good evidence from various archaeological sites show that they are not the first. Some groups traveled quickly by boat, following the coast lines.  In fact, it is possible the Nephites also used this technique as they traveled past the Indian subcontinent and other Asian coastlines until they entered into the Pacific Ocean, then they could island hop, even as the ancient Polynesians did..

Among the Pre-Columbian peoples that arrived in the Americas, there is evidence of Caucasians, Africans, Chinese, Norwegians, and possibly even Jews.  

Lehi explained that if the inhabitants of the Promised Land rejected Christ and his gospel, they would be replaced by others, who would come forth and take over the land.  Lehi’s fear is that his own children would reject the gospel and end up scattered and lost as a people, replaced by a new group of believers.

“Awake! and arise from the dust, and hear the words of a trembling parent, whose limbs ye must soon lay down in the cold and silent grave, from whence no traveler can return; a few more days and I go the way of all the earth.…. My heart hath been weighed down with sorrow from time to time, for I have feared, lest for the hardness of your hearts the Lord your God should come out in the fulness of his wrath upon you, that ye be cut off and destroyed forever;Or, that a cursing should come upon you for the space of many generations; and ye are visited by sword, and by famine, and are hated, and are led according to the will and captivity of the devil” (2 Ne 1:14-18).

In his fear, Lehi fully understands that a wicked people are a people in decline, ripe to be replaced by a holier group.  They would suffer for generations, perhaps connecting with Moses’ 2nd commandment:

“Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth:Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments” (Exodus 20:4-6).

Lehi is well aware that when people reject Christ, they lose his mercy and protection.  They are left to fend for themselves against others.  And God will often bring a holier and/or stronger nation in to replace the rebellious.  Only generations later can they hope to recover, when like the Israelites enslaved in Egypt, they have finally humbled themselves enough to merit his mercy and rescue.

Nephi pronounced as Lehi’s successor

“Rebel no more against your brother, whose views have been glorious, and who hath kept the commandments from the time that we left Jerusalem; and who hath been an instrument in the hands of God, in bringing us forth into the land of promise; for were it not for him, we must have perished with hunger in the wilderness; nevertheless, ye sought to take away his life; yea, and he hath suffered much sorrow because of you.And I exceedingly fear and tremble because of you, lest he shall suffer again; for behold, ye have accused him that he sought power and authority over you; but I know that he hath not sought for power nor authority over you, but he hath sought the glory of God, and your own eternal welfare....” (2 Ne 1:24-26).

This is Lehi’s attempt to declare Nephi as the legal successor to his father.  Lehi promises him the “double portion” of the eldest son.  In this lesson and the next, we will see that others, and more particularly Sam, will be placed under Nephi’s blessing.  In essence, Nephi is absorbing their inheritance into his own.

Laman and Lemuel will not lead the family.. For the children of Jacob/Israel, the eldest sons lost their right of inheritance: Reuben for sleeping with his step-mother. Simeon and Levi for slaying those involved in Dinah’s rape, Judah for sleeping with his daughter-in-law and his involvement in selling Joseph into Egypt.  Joseph’s other older brothers were sons of Jacob’s concubines (secondary/slave wives), and so would not be included in the list of those considered for the birth right.  

So it was with Nephi.  Laman and Lemuel’s rebellion prevented them from receiving the birth right and blessing.  The sons of Ishmael, not being of the line of Lehi, would be like secondary children, and so not considered for the line.  Nephi was the next in line, save one.

          Sam’s Disability
Sam was the only potentially eligible son, but was not chosen. In the very last blessing Lehi would give, he would say to his son, Sam:

“And after he had made an end of speaking unto them, he spake unto Sam, saying: Blessed art thou, and thy seed; for thou shalt inherit the land like unto thy brother Nephi. And thy seed shall be numbered with his seed; and thou shalt be even like unto thy brother, and thy seed like unto his seed; and thou shalt be blessed in all thy days” (2 Ne 4:11).

.We would hear of tribes of Laman, Lemuel, Jacob and Joseph, but not of Sam. Why not?  Ever since his introduction, Sam seems to always believe Nephi and follow him (1 Ne 1:17).  Now, he is told he will be blessed by his father for his faith, yet he and his seed will be absorbed into Nephi’s line.  I believe that Sam may have had a disability, perhaps mental retardation, which prevented him from ever being independent enough to manage a tribe of his own.  If Sam had the mental capacity of a young child, he could bear children, but perhaps not be able of caring for them.  It seems that Sam and his family needed extra care from other family members.  Now that Lehi was old and no longer able to care for his disabled son, he was passing the responsibility over to Nephi.

    First Blessing

Again, Lehi discusses the birth right:

“And now my son, Laman, and also Lemuel and Sam, and also my sons who are the sons of Ishmael, behold, if ye will hearken unto the voice of Nephi ye shall not perish. And if ye will hearken unto him I leave unto you a blessing, yea, even my first blessing.But if ye will not hearken unto him I take away my first blessing, yea, even my blessing, and it shall rest upon him” (2 Ne 1:28-29).

Interestingly, he seems to offer it as a group blessing to his three eldest sons and the sons of Ishmael, even though the Israelite tradition was to give it specifically to the eldest deserving son.  Here we see Lehi making a distinction between Nephi and all the other men combined.  If Laman, Lemuel and all the others are not righteous and listen to Nephi as their prophet, none will receive the first blessing. We see this in Sam’s blessing, where he and his children are absorbed into Nephi’s blessing.  He doesn’t get established in his own right, but only as part of a group.

The only person mentioned separately is Zoram.  He is noted for his faithfulness to Nephi and the Lord.  Here, his seed will be blessed with the Nephite line.  Not being of Lehi’s line, Lehi cannot bless him outside of his family line. He can adopt him into one of his children’s lines, which is Nephi in this case. However, we shall see later in the Book of Mormon, where the descendants of Zoram tire of being lost and unrecognized as a separate body, and will rebel because of it.

Jacob’s blessing
2 Nephi 2

It is doubtful that the blessings of Laman and Lemuel were so very short, while Jacob’s was an in-depth discourse.  More likely, Nephi has focused on the more important parts of the things taught and shared by Lehi.  In this instance, Lehi will explain what is one of the most important discourses on free will ever written, either within or without Mormonism.  This is Jacob’s temple endowment, delivered by his father.

“And now, Jacob, I speak unto you: Thou art my first-born in the days of my tribulation in the wilderness. And behold, in thy childhood thou hast suffered afflictions and much sorrow, because of the rudeness of thy brethren.Nevertheless, Jacob, my first-born in the wilderness, thou knowest the greatness of God; and he shall consecrate thine afflictions for thy gain” (2 Ne 2:1-2).

No temple experience would be complete unless there was reference to darkness, trials, afflictions, the lone and dreary world.  Lehi’s “tribulation in the wilderness” not only refers to the many years walking through the Arabian desert, but perhaps also to the hours he walked in the dark during his vision of the Tree of Life.  We begin our personal journey in darkness, pain and sorrow, until we find the way out.  Lehi will then expand on how we escape the telestial state we live in.

“thou hast beheld in thy youth his (the Redeemer’s) glory....” (2 Ne 2:4).  

Even as a lad, Jacob has seen the Lord, perhaps in a vision.  He has had the same spiritual experience as his father Lehi, and brother Nephi.  Jacob has seen the Messiah, and already understand as does his father, how to escape the dark and enter into the light.

Lehi explains that via the Holy Spirit, “men are instructed sufficiently that they know good from evil” (vs 5).  All have the law of God written in their hearts via the Spirit and the light of Christ.  Our conscience generally tells us when we have done wrong things.

But there is another law given to men.  For the family of Lehi, it is the Law of Moses with the carnal commandments and animal sacrifices.  

“And the law is given unto men. And by the law no flesh is justified; or, by the law men are cut off. Yea, by the temporal law they were cut off; and also, by the spiritual law they perish from that which is good, and become miserable forever.Wherefore, redemption cometh in and through the Holy Messiah; for he is full of grace and truth” (2 Ne 2:5-6).

In Lehi’s day, the people of Jerusalem believed they were saved simply because they offered animal sacrifices at the temple and had themselves circumcised.  Lehi knows this is wrong. We are not saved by the Ten Commandments, the 613 laws in the Mosaic code, or by sacrificing an animal.

Only in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ is there salvation.  Only in the Messiah do we find the path to “grace and truth.”  The grace of Christ frees us from sin.  Truth allows us to choose to follow Christ.

Atonement, Justification and Sanctification

Behold, he offereth himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law, unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and unto none else can the ends of the law be answered” (2 Ne 2:7).

Here we see an early concept that develops more in LDS theology.  Christ offered himself as a willing sacrifice. Nephi notes this in the present tense, and not the future, because the premortal Christ indeed offered himself as the Savior of the world (Moses 4:1-4, Abraham 3:27).  All that is required from us is a broken heart and contrite spirit.  

This is a concept that goes beyond what many Christians believe. Some believe we must save ourselves through keeping commandments.  Commandments are important, but we cannot save ourselves.  As Hugh Nibley once wrote, “work we must, but the lunch is free.”

Life is a probation, wherein we are attending a special college.  God provides the necessities of life, so that we can focus on learning and growing.  Unfortunately, many people spend their time trying to get more lunch.  So it is for those who think they can earn their way into heaven.  God provides a free salvation for mankind, only requiring a contrite spirit and broken heart.  Instead of developing our spiritual heart and spirit, we focus on getting gain in the world. We think we can offer up obedience as a way to pay God back, so we can get back into his graces and presence. We shall see as we study the Book of Mormon that keeping commandments are important, they are a part of the work, but not to earn our salvation.  Instead, when done properly, obedience teaches us how to become like Christ.

Nephi also sees things this way:

Wherefore, how great the importance to make these things known unto the inhabitants of the earth, that they may know that there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah, who layeth down his life according to the flesh, and taketh it again by the power of the Spirit, that he may bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, being the first that should rise” (2 Ne 2:8).

We simply cannot earn our way back into the presence of God.  The lunch is free. Our part is to work to improve ourselves, developing contrition that will allow us to remain in God’s presence, after Christ’s mercy brings us there.

Here we see the importance of resurrection.  It is an entirely free lunch.  We do not have to earn the resurrection, nor beg for it.  Joe Spencer notes that in the Book of Mormon, the term “resurrection” includes the term atonement.  He explains:

For the Nephites, the resurrection is the core of the atonement. It’s the resurrection that makes repentance possible. This is to say, of course, that there’s no doctrine of atonement paying for sin in the Book of Mormon.”

Jacob will later explain that without the resurrection, we could only become “children of the devil”, with no hope for redemption (2 Ne 9:9).  This is a very important concept Lehi and the Nephite prophets will teach again and again- that Christ offers a free lunch, and all that is required is a deep humility and teach-ability, a broken heart and contrite spirit..

Wherefore, he is the firstfruits unto God, inasmuch as he shall make intercession for all the children of men; and they that believe in him shall be saved.And because of the intercession for all, all men come unto God; wherefore, they stand in the presence of him, to be judged of him according to the truth and holiness which is in him. Wherefore, the ends of the law which the Holy One hath given, unto the inflicting of the punishment which is affixed, which punishment that is affixed is in opposition to that of the happiness which is affixed, to answer the ends of the atonement” (2 Ne 2:9-10).

Christ makes intercession for everyone. Period.  The only key is we must believe in him to be saved. Upon believing in Christ, we are justified in his blood and resurrection.  We are made sinless and guiltless of all evil. Note that all will be brought back into the presence of God.  Only those who refuse to believe, those who embrace Satan and refuse to accept Christ’s atonement, will not be saved. Sons of Perdition are those who refuse to believe, insisting Christ is their enemy. Such will not remain in the presence of God.  For LDS, the “presence of God” connotes being in the presence of any of the members of the Godhead (Father, Son or Holy Ghost).  Depending upon the level of belief and contrition determines how much of God’s glorious presence we can endure.

In the ancient text, Ascension of Isaiah, the prophet ascends through levels of heaven, each level having a greater level of glory than the preceding one. Eventually, one ascended into the full presence of God, Jesus and the Holy Ghost.  While it seems we must earn higher levels of salvation, we can determine that it is still a free lunch.  As we seek to become more holy, God sends his Spirit upon us to sanctify us to a higher level.  We are lifted up, not by our works, but via the sanctification, wherein the Holy Spirit and Christ’s atonement makes us holier.  This  work to make us holy is how sanctification works for us.

Opposition in All Things

Agency is something LDS Christians believe in, yet often do not understand how it works.  Lehi explains it to us.  First, God allows opposition to occur.  Without opposition, there is nothing that can be or do.  Even laws of science show us the importance of opposing forces.  When we toss a ball, there is an equal and opposite force that goes away from the ball’s direction. We do not float away into space, because the force of gravity opposes such.  Exercise strains muscles through opposing force, which allows them to strengthen and grow.

There cannot be life, existence, nor growth without opposition. Opposition means change is possible.  Early creation beliefs show that God did not form the world from nothing (creation ex nihilo), but formed it from existing matter.  His effort was to bring order out of chaos.  Isaiah notes that God had to conquer the sea serpent or dragon Rahab, to bring order (Isa 51:9, Psalms 89:10).  The waters and darkness represented chaos, and God brought forth light and land to establish order.  In the last days, God again will fight against the spouse of Rahab, even the dragon, Leviathan, to bring about the order of the Millennium (Isa 27:1, Job 41:1, Rev 12).

The opposition in all things is a fight between order and chaos, light and darkness, good and evil, growth and stagnation, salvation and damnation.  Law, whether it is the Ten Commandments, the guidance of the Light of Christ (our conscience), natural laws like gravity, or the guidance given in many religions and cultures, are put in place by God and man as a way to master chaos.  

Lehi explained that for man to grow, the Garden of Eden required opposition for Adam and Eve. The Garden was a safe place, where innocent beings, such as Adam and Eve, could easily dwell. However, they could not progress, learn, or increase without the ability to experience more opposition.  Scripture denotes the opposition in the Garden being partaking of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, versus the fruit of the Tree of Life.  Lehi suggests that one had sweet fruit, and the other had bitter fruit.  This may have two connotations.

First, a physical connection.  If all we eat are sweet items, they pretty much all taste the same. But when one adds a lemon, suddenly the experience becomes very different.  The Garden was a place of complete order, but a sour or bitter fruit would bring about an opposing experience: unpleasant, yet still intriguing.  Many people eat lemons for the bitter flavor, even though it causes chaos to our taste buds.

Secondly, partaking of a forbidden fruit brings about chaos.  No more is there obedience, but disobedience. This also brings about a change, from innocence and stagnation into a different state. Yes, it is a fallen state, but it is a difference. Sometimes it is better to feel bad or guilt than to feel nothing at all.  Without chaos, we cannot bring order back into our own lives.

For mankind, agency is necessary for us to be able to choose between order and chaos. However, with the Fall of Adam, we lost the ability to choose for ourselves.  Regardless of how we lived our lives, we could not return back into the presence of God.  As noted above by Jacob, we would forever be trapped in the chaos of stagnation. We could not eternally grow. We could not resurrect and dwell with God. We would stagnate until we eventually became demons, “even children of the devil.”  

Here, Lehi’s story of Adam and Eve explains a key motif in the temple endowment: our own agency and rescue from bad choices.  Along with Adam and Eve, we are cast into the “lone and dreary world” where we learn, hopefully grow, and live a probationary life where we can repent. Opposition here in a world of chaos is much greater than in an ordered or innocent world. Yet, if we only had the Fall, our overall agency would be ended.  

Remaining in the Garden, there would be no choice, no growth, no children, no experiences. We could not have the chance to understand the difference between sweet and bitter. Worst still, we could not return to God, nor learn to be like him.  

Fortunately, God’s plan teaches, “Adam died that men might be, and men are that they might have joy” (2 Ne 2:25).

Not only was the Fall necessary to bring chaos and opposition into the world, but one other thing was necessary: the atonement.  Without the atonement, our agency would be seriously curtailed. We could choose to be as good as we wanted, but still could not resurrect nor return back into the presence of God.  Because of Christ’s atonement, we both resurrect and return to God’s presence.

And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day, according to the commandments which God hath given.Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself” (2 Ne 2:26-27)

Christ would come to redeem all mankind from the Fall. He brings order back into the mix for us, empowering us with agency, so we can personally choose to believe and be saved, or choose to disbelieve. We now are given the choice of two opposing powers: Christ’s atonement and order, or Satan’s temptation and chaos.  In accepting Christ, we receive even greater freedom. We can become like God through Christ. In doing so, we gain greater power to order things, and to overcome chaos.  For those who choose Satan, they lose agency and power. They are unable to control chaos, because they have no ability to bring forth order by themselves. They become captive within the very chaos they promote and embrace, while the righteous become free in the order they embrace through Christ’s atonement.

It is our choice via the agency Christ gives us to choose happiness or misery, life or death, order or chaos.  We may ascend into the presence of God and his order, or descend into darkness and chaos.


Joe Spencer’s  excellent in-depth study of lesson 6:

Hugh Nibley, “Work we must, but the lunch is free”:

Groups that migrated anciently to the Americas:
Clovis culture

Southeast Asia

Kennewick Man

Solutrean Europeans and others in Brazil

Africans in America

Bat Creek Inscription - early Jews in Tennessee?

Ascension of Isaiah:

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Book of Mormon Lesson 5: "Hearken to the Truth, and Give Heed unto It" 1 Nephi 16-18

Book of Mormon Lesson 5: "Hearken to the Truth, and Give Heed unto It"
1 Nephi 16-18

Thou hast declared unto us hard things
1 Nephi 16

Recently (January 2012), there has been a lot of press about Mormonism, both good and bad. One topic has been on how the high standards of the Church “cause” women in Utah to take prescription anti-depressants and young people to commit suicide over a variety of issues.  As sad as these issues are, there really is no direct corollary that shows the Church “caused” any of these tragedies.  What it does show is that the people involved would not or could not adapt to the expectations.  For the world, the solution would be for the Church to loosen up its standards, allowing young people to serve missions while sexually active, or look the other way when people transgress.

Here, we see in the beginning verses of chapter 16 that Nephi experiences the same response from his older brothers.  Nephi’s teachings brought on by his brothers’ confusion over the dream Lehi had regarding the Tree of Life meant that wickedness was not acceptable.  In the dream, Laman and Lemuel were not willing to follow their father to the Tree of Life, instead choosing a different path. 

The call for repentance and obedience was a difficult one for them.  If only God would allow them to return to Jerusalem and live out their lives in comfort and spiritual ignorance, rather than force them into a harsh existence in the Arabian desert.  Already they attempted to kill Nephi once, leaving him bound in the wilderness for wild animals to tear apart.  And the Lord had already delivered Nephi out of their hands on several occasions.  Clearly, this was no Promised Land, nor was it a desirable land to travel through, and it depressed them to think they were being forced to live a nomadic and spiritual life, rather than the normal life they were used to living.

Nephi actually agreed with them that the things he taught were hard.

“And now it came to pass that after I, Nephi, had made an end of speaking to my brethren, behold they said unto me: Thou hast declared unto us hard things, more than we are able to bear.
And it came to pass that I said unto them that I knew that I had spoken hard things against the wicked, according to the truth; and the righteous have I justified, and testified that they should be lifted up at the last day; wherefore, the guilty taketh the truth to be hard, for it cutteth them to the very center.
And now my brethren, if ye were righteous and were willing to hearken to the truth, and give heed unto it, that ye might walk uprightly before God, then ye would not murmur because of the truth, and say: Thou speakest hard things against us.
And it came to pass that I, Nephi, did exhort my brethren, with all diligence, to keep the commandments of the Lord.
And it came to pass that they did humble themselves before the Lord; insomuch that I had joy and great hopes of them, that they would walk in the paths of righteousness” (1 Ne 16:1-5).

While he could still get them to be humble and repentant now, the time would come when they would insist that such requirements and standards were insufferable.  They would attack the standard bearer as mean-spirited and down right evil.  Interesting how the wicked insist that their “standard” is the correct one.  While it provides a rush of exhilaration for a moment, sadly, it does not provide true and lasting joy to the sinner.

My father dwelt in a tent

“Now, all these things were said and done as my father dwelt in a tent in the valley which he called Lemuel” (1 Ne 16:6).

Nephi has repeated this concept several times.  His father dwelt in a tent.  It is a significant statement that is often bypassed in our reading the journeys of the Nephites across the desert.  In ancient Israel, Moses set up a tent that sat in the midst of the tribes of Israel.  This was the center place, where the Presence of the Lord (Shekinah) was experienced, where revelations were received, and where the important decisions of the Israelites were made.  Lehi’s tent also is a place of the Shekinah, as Lehi saw Christ in his dream of the Tree of Life.  His tent was the center place for his people, where important decisions were made, and where miracles and revelations occurred.  Lehi’s tent symbolized the Tabernacle of Moses, or the Temple of Solomon in its purpose.

Again, in noting that Lehi dwelt in a tent, Nephi then commences to explain what occurred next at the tent.  

“And it came to pass that I, Nephi, took one of the daughters of Ishmael to wife; and also, my brethren took of the daughters of Ishmael to wife; and also Zoram took the eldest daughter of Ishmael to wife” (vs 7).

His tent becomes the place for weddings.  Herein lies a connection with the modern LDS temple, whose highest ordinances and rituals involve returning into God’s presence, and in marrying or sealing families together for the eternities.  While we are not told if their weddings at Lehi’s tent were forever or not, the symbolism still is there.

Again, Lehi receives a commandment “by night” or in his tent that they should depart on the morrow. Upon rising in the morning, Lehi finds a brass item outside his tent door.

“to his great astonishment he beheld upon the ground a round ball of curious workmanship; and it was of fine brass. And within the ball were two spindles; and the one pointed the way whither we should go into the wilderness” (vs 10).

This is Lehi’s encounter with the Liahona, a compass-like item with interesting capabilities. It uses spindles to point the way forward in the desert.  Why would it need two spindles?  It is possible that one pointed toward true north (or perhaps at the Jerusalem temple, or some other key landmark), while the other would point in the direction they needed to go.  In this way, they could verify and re-verify the direction they were traveling by outward signs (stars, sun’s point in the sky). Later, we find that the wording on it changes from “time to time.”  This is highly significant because no other such item is described in ancient scripture.  When we compare what is written here with other verses given to Joseph Smith, we find that the Lord gives his seers a “stone” or item that helps them see hidden things.  

“Now Ammon said unto him: I can assuredly tell thee, O king, of a man that can translate the records; for he has wherewith that he can look, and translate all records that are of ancient date; and it is a gift from God. And the things are called interpreters, and no man can look in them except he be commanded, lest he should look for that he ought not and he should perish. And whosoever is commanded to look in them, the same is called seer.
But a seer can know of things which are past, and also of things which are to come, and by them shall all things be revealed, or, rather, shall secret things be made manifest, and hidden things shall come to light, and things which are not known shall be made known by them, and also things shall be made known by them which otherwise could not be known.” (Mosiah 8:13, 17).

“And the Lord said: I will prepare unto my servant Gazelem, a stone, which shall shine forth in darkness unto light, that I may discover unto my people who serve me, that I may discover unto them the works of their brethren, yea, their secret works, their works of darkness, and their wickedness and abominations” (Alma 37:23).

“Then the white stone mentioned in Revelation 2:17, will become a Urim and Thummim to each individual who receives one, whereby things pertaining to a higher order of kingdoms will be made known;
And a white stone is given to each of those who come into the celestial kingdom, whereon is a new name written, which no man knoweth save he that receiveth it. The new name is the key word” (D&C 130:10-11).

In conjunction with the Urim and Thummim, seer stone descriptions, and the Liahona, we find items that contain information on any topic one seeks after.  There are some topics a person ought not to look for, as it can pull them down into evil things. It reveals the higher order of God’s kingdom, as well as the secret works of evil men.  It can reveal new text for the viewer to read. And it is protected by the new name, a password.  Such items, in other words, are special celestial computers designed by God for seers of ancient days. The Liahona was similar to a modern GPS device, which shows a person how to arrive to his/her destination, and can also provide guidance through text on a screen.  Just as having an IPhone with internet connection can bring a world of information to one’s finger tips, so too can we see the same things described by Joseph Smith in 1829.

The Place Called Nahom

“And it came to pass that Ishmael died, and was buried in the place which was called Nahom” (1 Ne 16:34).

In the journey through the Arabian desert, Nephi normally states that when they arrived at a place to stay, they would call it by a name they created (Valley of Lemuel, for instance). However, they arrived at a location, which Nephi said was already named “Nahom.”  

Since its translation, critics have dismissed the Book of Mormon for having no known locations.  In recent years, however, some possible locations have been found in the Arabian desert. One that is most definitely an accurate hit is the place Nahom.

Lehi and his followers stopped on the traveling along the Frankincense Spice Trade Route because of the death of Ishmael.  There was much mourning, because Ishmael would have to be buried outside of the Promised Land, and left behind by his family.

In recent decades, along the path taken by Lehi along the Red Sea, a location has been found. Three altars or markers have been found with the place name NHM on them. Ancient Semitic writing did not have vowels, so modern scholars could transcribe this as Nehem, Nihm, or Nahom and be accurate.  At the spot is an ancient temple of the nomadic Nihm people.  Here along the trade route they had a large cemetery used to probably bury their own, as well as travelers who died along the trade route.  The cemetery, altars, and other things found at the site date to the 6th-7th centuries BC - exactly the time frame when Lehi was there.  

The chances of such a location being known in Joseph Smith’s day are almost nil.  In other words, Joseph Smith had it right.  For those who claim it was a lucky guess, then they need to determine just how lucky Joseph Smith was in guessing dozens of things correctly in the Book of Mormon. Eventually, the statistical probability of all his correct “guesses” makes it basically impossible to believe to just be guesses.


Because of their mourning, the children of Ishmael, Laman and Lemuel all began to plot against Lehi and Nephi.  They believed that Nephi’s claims of visions and authority were not from God, but just a ploy to lead them into the wilderness, where he could become their ruler.

Interestingly, it is the “voice of the Lord” (vs 39) that chastens them, until they were humbled and repentant. It seems that part of the chastisement was the inability to obtain food.  Hunger is a powerful tool for humbling people, and it seems that it was a part of the Lord’s chastising.

The Arabian Bountiful
1 Nephi 17

From Nahom, the group turned east, spending years in the wilderness, bearing children, and continuing to their next major destination.  From reading of verse 4, “we did sojourn for the space of many years, yea, even eight years in the wilderness” we can determine that the 8 years of traveling may have begun as they left Jerusalem, or perhaps even from Nahom as they left the “civilization” of that area and re-entered an even more hostile environment away from the well traveled spice road.  In other words, their traveling through Arabia took eight years, which may not have included the time spent at Bountiful nor the ocean voyage.

The Arabian Bountiful is the next site that has likely been found in recent years.  Nephi describes a location on the eastern Arabian coast which included certain things to be present.  Among the things Nephi required are:

1. The location must lie nearly eastward of Nahom (1 Nephi 17:1).[3]
2. The coast must be accessible from the interior desert.
3. Both the general area and the location when the Lehites camped must be fertile and capable of producing crops.
4. It must be a coastal location (1 Nephi 17:5).
5. It must be very fertile, with "much fruit and also wild honey" and small game (1 Nephi 17:5-6).
6. Timber must be available with which to build a ship (1 Nephi 17:8).
7. Freshwater must be available year-round.
8. A mountain must be located nearby to account for Nephi's reference to going to a mountain to "pray oft" (1 Nephi 18:3).
9. Cliffs overlooking the ocean must be present to account for Nephi's brother's attempt to throw him "into the depths of the sea" (1 Nephi 17:48).
10. Ore and flint must be available with which to make fire and fabricate tools to build a ship" (1 Nephi 17:9)
11. No resident population at the time of the Lehite's arrival.
12. Wind and ocean currents capable of carrying a ship out into the ocean (1 Nephi 18:8)

Each of these items is found in a narrow strip of land off the Arabean Sea in modern day Oman, called Wadi Sayq.  One would think there is no such thing as such a wonderful garden spot in the Arabian peninsula, but we can see from this photo taken nearby that it is.  Wadi Sayq is a very small area along the coast line, virtually unknown in America in Joseph Smith’s day.

Photo taken near Wadi Sayq in Oman

We also learn another important fact that Joseph Smith most likely would not have known. Lynn and Hope Hilton noted that the term the Nephites used for the ocean was “Irreantum”, meaning “many waters.”  The actual ancient Arabic term for the Arabean Sea was “Erythraeum”, which is very similar sounding to Irreantum.

How Prayer and Self-reliance work together

When the Lord commanded Nephi to build a ship, Nephi didn’t ask the Lord to give him the lumber and tools for the job.  Instead, he asked where he could find ore to make the tools he would need.  Often we ask the Lord to handle situations for us that we either can completely handle ourselves, or we have control over at least a part of it.  Thinking through our struggles and determining which part we can manage, and then giving the rest to the Lord to help us with, ensures the assistance of the Lord. He gives us such tasks so that we can grow in faith and ability.  But he often requires us to think of a solution in which he becomes our helper, and not just having Him hand all things to us simply because we ask.

God will help us with our school work, but he will not do it for us.  He will help us with a test, but we must study diligently first.  Nephi teaches his brothers that Moses was able to lead Israel through the wilderness.  The Lord managed the parts they had no control of, such as how to feed thousands or millions of people every day.  For Israel, the Lord gave them manna.  For Nephi’s people, they could not build fires in the wilderness (probably to avoid contact with robbers), but God made the meat they caught taste “sweet” or taste cooked.

In teaching his brethren in chapter 17, Moses becomes the archetype for Nephi.  Moses led Israel out of Egypt and into the wilderness, en route to the Promised Land.  Nephi and Lehi also were leading their small band of Israel into the wilderness from an apostate Jerusalem, and towards a land of promise.  While Moses caused the Red Sea to divide by God’s power, through God’s power Nephi was going to build a ship wherein they would cross the ocean.  Both Moses and Nephi had murmurers to deal with, and God chastised them in order to drive them along to the Promised Land.  If Moses could do such great things, then Nephi could build a ship with the Lord’s help.

More Rebellion
1 Nephi 18

As Lehi’s family loads the boat for their long voyage, they must realize they are now embarking on an entirely different experience.  They were definitely leaving Jerusalem forever behind them.  They would no longer travel in the heat of the desert, but float for days at a time on ocean currents.  While it is not mentioned, it is likely they followed along coast lines of Asia until hitting the Pacific Ocean. From there, they would probably hop from island to island, much like Polynesian ocean travelers of the time did between South America and Australia.  In stopping at such places, they could stock up on food, water, and other needed supplies for the continued journey.

During one leg of this journey, possibly after obtaining much provisions, including alcohol, Laman and his merry band chose to party.  While ancient Israel trusted Moses while passing through the Red Sea, but then turning rebellious at the foot of Sinai while Moses was delayed, rebellion also occurred on Nephi’s ship.  Forgetting God, and wanting to enjoy a wild party at sea, they turned their backs on Nephi and began acting like their counterparts in apostate Jerusalem, even as ancient Israel turned away from Moses and back to the gods of Egypt.

Only the fear of absolute destruction would cause them to change and repent.  This is how it will be with people of Telestial desires.  They are considered the enemies of God, and will be until they repent.  In death, their spirits will go to prison hell, where they will suffer until they completely and fully repent of all their sins.

“Therefore I command you to repent—repent, lest I smite you by the rod of my mouth, and by my wrath, and by my anger, and your sufferings be sore—how sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not.
For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent;
But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I;
Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink” (D&C 19:15-18)

For the Telestial in the Spirit World, they will suffer extremely until such suffering causes them to be humble enough to repent.  We get an idea of how this works from Alma 36, where he tells his son about his own experience in such a hell.  His only escape was faith and repentance.

So it was for Laman and his followers.  They were at the point where only the absolute threat of destruction would cause them to repent.  While the storms blew for several days, they refused to release Nephi from his cords.  Not until they saw absolutely no other recourse would they repent.
In doing so, they showed that they were only ready for a Telestial glory, and then only when forced into it.

1 Nephi 19-22

Not covered in the manual, these chapters are very important as a study in Nephi’s beginning understanding of the writings on the Brass Plates.  He quotes prophets that were very important to the tribe of Joseph and the other Northern Tribes of Israel.  Here we get the first mention of Zenock and especially Zenos, who would also be important to Jacob and other Nephite authors.  Isaiah also gets his first main mention, as Nephi quotes chapter 48 of Isaiah, and uses it with Zenos’ writings to help predict the future of his people, the world, and its end times.

It is possible that Zenock is another form of the name Enoch.  It is possible that the Nephites had some of his writings, which never made it into the Bible.

“but that I might more fully persuade them to believe in the Lord their Redeemer I did read unto them that which was written by the prophet Isaiah; for I did liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning” (1 Ne 19:23).

For Mormons, this is an important concept in how to interpret the scriptures, and in applying them to ourselves.  A danger, however, that afflicts many Christians in regards to using scripture, is they tend to “over-liken” the scriptures unto themselves.  Instead of first understanding the ancient context and then finding how it applies, many tend to read scripture entirely from a modern viewpoint.  In doing so, we miss much of the important concepts being taught by the prophets, simply because we do not understand the context in which they write.

For example, in several of these lessons, I’ve shown how Lehi and Nephi use Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and Moses as archetypes for their own callings from God.  While to some it may seem insignificant, such symbolism ties the author to the ancient patriarchs and prophets, giving them authority for the things they do.  Without such ancient archetypes to follow, Nephi’s beheading of Laban would just be murder, rather than an example of following in the path of earlier prophets, such as Moses slaying the Egyptian to protect a slave.

As in Nephi using the story of Moses to justify his building a ship, such context was very important for Nephi to relay to us.  For us then to miss such an important thing means we may not place as much importance on it, or may take the story out of context.

Elder Jacob de Jager gave such an example of the importance to not only understand, but not to be misunderstood.  He had been in a meeting concerning new teaching materials.  After the meeting ended:

“President Romney stopped and said, “Now, Brother de Jager, how are you going to teach all these inspired materials?”
I paused, thinking of an answer that would satisfy a member of the First Presidency of the Church. I replied, “President Romney, I shall teach in such a way that everyone will understand.”
President Romney, a twinkle in his eye, said, “That’s not enough; you shall teach in such a way that no one will misunderstand these divine materials.” Then he walked on.
Now, many years later, I begin to see more and more the wisdom of his counsel. People do easily misunderstand, like the sweet old sister I met in the ZCMI shopping mall the other day.
“Aren’t you that Dutchman who spoke in general conference a while ago?” I said, “Yes, ma’am.” Then she continued, “Oh, I loved your Holland story about the boy with his finger in the dike.” I remarked, “Well, sister, that was not exactly the subject of my talk; I was talking about saving souls.” But she went on to say, “You know, I heard that story for the first time when I was still in school, and I am so pleased you told it again.”

This is the danger of “likening unto ourselves” without first building a solid foundation of the context of the text first.  There are some members who focus only on the war chapters. Others see very grim preaching about repentance. Some do not notice the teachings regarding the temple, of theophany/ascension (cf 1 Nephi 1) or other very important teachings.  Many skip over the Isaiah sections, because they do not see how it fits in so perfectly and importantly into what Nephi is trying to teach us.  We become like the nice lady who loves the story of the boy with his finger in the dike, without understanding the real context and meaning.

Yes, liken them unto yourselves. But first spend time learning what the ancient prophets initially meant by their writing.


Nahom articles

Arabian Bountiful articles (compares Arabian and New World Bountiful)

Elder Jacob de Jager, “Let There Be No Misunderstanding” (Oct 1978 General Conference):