Blogging the Book of Mormon – Returning to Jerusalem AGAIN…The Benefit of Not Knowing the End from the Beginning – 1 Nephi 7:1-5

Read 1 Nephi 7:1-5 here.

Context and General Information

  • After Lehi finished prophesying, the Lord spake to Lehi – He wasn’t supposed to take his family into the wilderness alone, but that his children would need people to marry so thy could raise up seed unto the Lord.
  • The Lord commanded Nephi and his brothers to return to Jerusalem to bring Ishmael’s family into the wilderness.
  • Nephi and his brothers embark again toward Jerusalem.
  • Nephi and his brothers go to Ishmael’s house, gain favor with him, and speak the words of the Lord to him.
  • Ishmael’s heart is softened by the Lord. His family agrees to accompany Lehi’s family to the promised land.

Returning Again to Jerusalem

If you’ve been reading along in the Book of Mormon, then you know (back in chapter 2), Lehi and his family left Jerusalem. They are now somewhere on the Arabian Peninsula near the shores of the Red Sea. They have fled from Jerusalem for the safety of their father’s life. People in Jerusalem didn’t particularly like him because he testified of their wickedness and pled with them to repent – warning them that Jerusalem would soon be destroyed otherwise.

Lehi and his family left quickly one night. Then, after they make it a safe distance from Jerusalem, the Lord commands Lehi to send his sons back to Jerusalem to get the plates of Brass.

Despite the whining of Laman and Lemuel, Lehi’s sons packed up and headed to Jerusalem – eventually finding themselves having accomplished that which was commanded them. They make it back to their father – who is in his tent in the wilderness. They have the plates of Brass and now they also have someone else – Zoram, originally the keeper of Laban’s treasury.

So – now Lehi and his family are ready to move on toward the promised land, right?

No.

In chapter 7, we read:

“And it came to pass that the Lord commanded him that I, Nephi, and my brethren, should again return unto the land of Jerusalem, and bring down Ishmael and his family into the wilderness.” – 1 Nephi 7:2

So – now Nephi and his brothers are headed back to Jerusalem again.

There are so many things that we can learn from this. I think that I’ll focus on one major point:

The Benefit of NOT Knowing the End from the Beginning

It’s so easy to be critical of the Lord (not smart, but easy to do). It’s easy to wonder “why?” Why did the Lord have Lehi leave, only to have his sons go back to get the plates? Why did the Lord have his sons get all the way back to their father in the wilderness, only to have them go back again to get Ishamel? It seems inefficient. (Though, I actually think that the Lord is perfectly efficient. More on that later, maybe).

And it doesn’t matter why the Lord had them go back. I’ve often found myself saying things like, “I don’t mind doing what the Lord wants me to do, I wish I just knew more of what that was.” It’s a temptation – to want to know the end from the beginning. What’s going to happen? Where will I end up? How many steps will this take?

I suppose that it would have been a temptation for Lehi to wonder – where is the promised land? What path are we taking? When will we finally make it there? It might have been a temptation to want to know what was in store – while saying “I’m willing to do whatever it takes, I just want to know what it is.”

Often, when we talk about knowing the end from the beginning, we frame it up as lacking faith. We sometimes say, “The Lord won’t tell us the end from the beginning because He is testing our faith.” I actually only think that this is partially true. I mean, of course we need to have faith, and these trials absolutely build our faith. But I don’t think that the Lord keeps us from knowing the end from the beginning just because he is trying our faith.

My opinion is that the Lord doesn’t tell us the end from the beginning because He is merciful.

And here’s what I mean – imagine if Nephi knew the end from the beginning. Let’s say that Lord said to him: Okay. first of all – traveling to the promised land is going to take you eight years. You’ll leave Jerusalem, no you’ll flee Jerusalem, and then you’ll turn back to get the scriptures.

Oh – you’ll get beat up, you’ll lose all of your possessions, and you’ll have to kill a man and dress up in his clothes to get the scriptures. Then, after you bring those scriptures back into the wilderness to your dad, don’t get too comfortable because you’ll be headed back to Jerusalem to talk Ishmael and his family into coming out to the wilderness.

You get the idea (there was so much more I could have written, too – eating raw meat! Building a boat. Breaking a bow! so much more…but you get the idea).

If Nephi had known more of the future that he would face, would he really have proceeded with the same kind of tenacity? With the same kind of diligence and discipline? Would he really have gone through the process? Or would he have tried to short-cut it?

If Lehi knew that he’d send his sons back to Jerusalem twice, would he have left Jerusalem in a rush? Or would he have tried to “hack” the process and go get Ishmael before they left? Would he have tried to get the plates from Laban before leaving – all with good intentions since his sons would have been sent back to do it anyway?

I tend to think of life like the game: The Legend of Zelda.

Opening_Zelda_Game_in_1986
Welcome to my childhood… 🙂

For those of you who don’t know, The Legend of Zelda is this old-school nintendo game. I had it when I was a kid. The game is a quest. You know the ultimate goal – to save Zelda and the entire land of Hyrule from the evil Gannon. In the game, you play the character called Link.

The thing about Link is that he is just some nobody in the kingdom. He doesn’t have any special powers, tools, knowledge or even wealth to make saving the kingdom even seem possible. BUT IT IS! The only thing Link has going for him is that he is willing.

Even though you know the ultimate goal – saving the kingdom – you can’t just go to the main castle and fight Gannon. At first, Link only has a small wooden sword. It can’t really stand up against minor enemies – let alone Gannon. So, instead, of facing him head-on, you have to follow the quest – you have to go to the first castle, then the next, and the next. It seems inefficient, why not just go and get Gannon from the beginning? But, by going through the various levels, by taking the time to explore and even “get off track,” you are actually being much more efficient because you are rewarded along the way. Maybe you pick up a boomerang. Maybe you pick up more strength or an “extra life.” You might get another sword -more powerful than the wooden one. Maybe you’ll get bombs, or a shield, or bows and arrows.

I think that this is the way the Lord works. He knows that we need more tools, experiences, knowledge, and power in our lives. In order for Lehi and his family to have succeeded in living in the Promised land, they needed the experience of traveling there. And if they had the map laid out before them – with every experience outlined, I think that they would have tried to short-cut the whole thing. They wouldn’t have picked up Laban’s sword if they had done it a different way.

The fact is – in order to really succeed in the promised land, Lehi and his family would need several things. We will find out more as we study the Book of Mormon, but so far we know they need:

  1. Their lives. If Lehi didn’t flee immediately, I think he would have been killed.
  2. The Brass Plates – this is critical for maintaining their language, their religion, and their culture.
  3. The Sword of Laban – this will prove useful later.
  4. Zoram – He was rescued from a wicked Jerusalem and would remain a friend with Nephi forever.
  5. Opportunities for Family – When Nephi procured the plates of Brass, the Lord whispered “it is better that one man should perish than a whole nation dwindle and perish in unbelief.” Laban did perish, and what would the purpose in his perishing be, if there was not a “nation” that would benefit from it? Going to the Promised land – and all of the things listed here (points 1-4) would have no purpose at all if Nephi’s family died within one generation. They needed spouses and a way to create a nation. If they wanted to succeed in the promised land then they needed families.

This is why the Lord is directing them as He is directing them. He has a long-term mindset. He doesn’t want them to merely make it to the promised land. He wants them to live after the manner of happiness once they get there. The various afflictions on their journey to the promised lands are like the “levels” and “adventures” in the Legend of Zelda – where they pick up the tools and expertise that they need in order to one day realize their goal.

This is the benefit of not knowing the end from the beginning. We are more willing to do it the Lord’s way when we don’t see the overwhelming tasks ahead of us. And we need to do things the Lord’s way if we want to really succeed.

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Blogging the Book of Mormon – Nephi’s Purpose – 1 Nephi 6

Read 1 Nephi 6 here.

Context and General Information

  • Nephi is a descendant of Joseph (as in Joseph, son of Israel, who was sold to Egyptians by his brothers). He doesn’t say anything more specific because his father has already given the genealogy of their ancestors.
  • Nephi doesn’t give a full account of what his father wrote. He will only write the things of God.
  • Nephi commands his seed that these plates, the small plates of Nephi, shall only contain that which is of worth to the children of men.

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Nephi’s Purpose in Writing

In this chapter, Nephi gives his purpose in writing on these plates. He states:

“For the fulness of mine intent is that I may persuade men to come unto the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, and be saved.” – 1 Nephi 6:4

If we want to understand the Book of Mormon, then this is what it is all about – coming unto the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In other words, it’s all about coming unto Christ and being saved.

And if we keep this in mind as we read 1 and 2 Nephi, we will be able to get more out of our studying.

Additionally, Nephi gives the following charge:

“Wherefore, the things which are pleasing unto the world I do not write, but the things which are pleasing unto God and unto those who are not of the world.

Wherefore, I shall give commandment unto my seed, that they shall not occupy these plates with things which are not of worth unto the children of men.” – 1 Nephi 1:5-6

Nephi isn’t looking for accolades or validation. There isn’t a person on earth he is trying to please. He only wants to please God.

Now, of course there are many who do find the Book of Mormon pleasing. I know that I do! But that’s because the word of God is pleasing. It is a message of love, hope, and salvation. So, it is in this sense that Nephi’s words and the words that follow – throughout the rest of the Book of Mormon – are pleasing.

Finally, notice the last phrase: “that they shall not occupy these plates with things which are not of worth unto the children of men” (emphasis added). This phrase – “not of worth” really makes me pause. It makes me wonder – what is it that I consider to be “of worth?” If I were to write a book for my children and posterity, what would I include? What would I consider to be “of worth” and “not of worth.”

I can’t say that I can totally put my finger on what I’m trying to understand here. (that happens a lot…sometimes it takes a bit of time to figure something out). But there is just something to that phrase not of worth that has me wondering about my own definitions of “worth.” It has me wondering about how I spend my own time and days. Am I focused on what is of worth?

***
Often when studying the scriptures, there is a phrase or idea that stands out to me that causes me to ponder for a long period of time. I might come across something – like this phrase “not of worth” – and it stands out, but I can’t quite figure out why. And it’s okay if I can’t figure it out today. I have a feeling that it is something that I will figure out over time as I continue to study.

So – it will be a question in the back of my head – as I read the Book of Mormon – what is “of worth”? What is it that the authors of the Book of Mormon feel is “of worth”? Why have they chosen to write about what they wrote about? How is it valuable to me in my life?

I think that as I continue to study, the answers will become clear to me.

Blogging the Book of Mormon – Confidence that Comes from Keeping the Commandments – 1 Nephi 5:20-22

Read today’s scripture block – 1 Nephi 5:20-22 here.

Context and General Information

  • Lehi and Nephi had kept the commandments of the Lord so far.
  • They obtained the plates of brass – according to the wisdom of the Lord. These plates would aid them in traveling to the promised land.

Keeping the Commandments Gives us Confidence

I love the following scripture:

“And it came to pass that thus far I and my father had kept the commandments wherewith the Lord had commanded us.” – 1 Nephi 5:20

It’s so simple. Nephi takes the time to proclaim that he and his father had kept all of the commandments that the Lord had given them, personally.

So far, these commandments included:

  • Any of the already well-known commandments…Such as the ten commandments, giving sacrifices, tithes, and offerings, etc.
  • Preach repentance to the people of Jerusalem.
  • Flee from Jerusalem because the people wanted to kill them.
  • Follow the promptings of the Lord to get to a promised land.
  • Return to Jerusalem to get the plates of brass.
  • Study the scriptures engraven on the plates of brass.

Other than the first point – to keep all general commandments like the Sabbath day or giving offerings, the rest of the commandments that were kept by Nephi and Lehi were personal promptings or commandments.

I feel like I have overlooked the validity and importance of these commandments. Maybe because we don’t call them commandments. We call them “inspiration” or possibly “promptings.” We tend to downplay that these are personal commandments from God. 

Yet, the truth is, these promptings are personal commandments to us from God.

Nephi kept these commandments, and at this point is able to say that he had kept the commandments that the Lord had given them. He isn’t saying this to brag. It is a statement of truth, and in my opinion it gives him confidence.

***

I think that in the past, I have underestimated the importance of personal commandments, revelations, or promptings. I have thought that these can be dismissed as optional. And, of course it is always our choice to do anything. We don’t have to keep the commandments, but we have to remember that if we don’t keep the commandments we are given, then we can’t receive the blessings associated with those commandments.

You can read more about Nephi and personal commandments here.

Nephi didn’t underestimate the importance of personal commandments. He took them seriously, and then, after the difficulty of doing as he had been commanded, he can evaluate and say, I kept the commandments.

It would feel really good.

***

I think that these little checkpoints – in keeping the commandments – help to give us confidence to continue on. Think about it – this is 1 Nephi 5. Lehi, Nephi, and their family has a long way to go – many more years. They will need all of the strength and confidence that they can get in order to make it to the promised land.

We read:

“Wherefore, it was wisdom in the Lord that we should carry them with us, as we journeyed in the wilderness towards the land of promise.” – 1 Nephi 5:22

Nephi is talking about carrying the plates of brass with them in the wilderness as they journey to the promised land. Notice that last phrase, “as we journeyed in the wilderness towards the land of promise.”

After getting those plates, they knew that they had left Jerusalem for good. They won’t be going back. There isn’t a “plan b.” It’s promised land or bust. They didn’t have a set date for the promised land. They didn’t say, “If we don’t make it to the promised land in 459 days, then we’ll just turn back to Jerusalem.”

They were going to the promised land – even though they didn’t know where it was, they didn’t know how to get there, and they didn’t know how long it would take. There were no landmarks, no checkpoints. It was just a journey that they were on for as long as it took to arrive.

Because there were no “checkpoints” or landmarks, the Lord blessed them in other ways. The commandments he gave to Lehi and Nephi were such blessings. Being able to say “I’ve kept all of the commandments,” blessed them with the confidence to keep moving forward on an unknown path to an unknown promised land.

***

I will give a personal example. In late 2004, I found myself at a major crossroads in my marriage. My ex-husband was not really…into marriage…let’s say. I had huge decisions to make.  I remember feeling a distinct prompting: that if I stayed married, then my eternal life and possibly the eternal lives of my daughters were at stake.

Even though I had the choice, I knew that I was prompted to get divorced. Perhaps Nephi would have called it a commandment. In any case, I chose to listen to the Lord. I divorced and started my life as a single-mom in her mid-twenties.

Divorcing was a difficult decision to make. I was living in my mom’s house with my two girls. I didn’t have a job. I didn’t even know where to start. I remember reading statistics about women, children, and divorce, and the statistics were against me. But, I also knew that this is what the Lord prompted me to do. I knew that he wasn’t setting me up for failure. I knew that he would help me to keep the commandments that He had given me. Because I moved forward in faith and obedience, I was blessed.

I found a job. I bought a car. We were getting on our feet.

Fast forward about a year and half. In mid-2006, I was on a run with my kids one day after work. They were riding their bikes, and I was running along and we were approaching our house.

The White House PA
The “White” House – our humble home in PA.

I can’t really describe the feeling that washed over me as we approached our home. Well, I know what it was – confidence. This was mine. It was my house. Made possible because I was keeping the commandments of the Lord.

My dad didn’t get me this house. My mom didn’t get it for me. I found my own job. Bought my own car. Signed my own contract for a cell phone. Saved my own money. Paid my own deposit. And paid rent each month on my own for this little one-bedroom house in Chester County, PA.

It was cold, drafty, there was a huge pile of nuts in one of the closets -obviously a squirrel’s stash…it was perfect for me and my two girls. We were safe and cozy. A neighbor had several cats. One of those cats adopted us and slept on our front porch most nights. He helped to keep the mice and squirrels away!

Of course I had help from my family. None of us can really do anything alone, but while running up this back country road, I felt the confidence that comes when we can say, “thus far I had kept the commandments wherewith the Lord hath commanded me.” I felt the confidence that comes when we see that the Lord will empower us and enable us to keep the commandments.

I still had a long road ahead of me then. I wouldn’t meet Homey for several more months. I still had to deal with child support issues, work, bosses, holidays, parent-teacher conferences, and everything else that a single, working mom must juggle in order to survive. Not only did I have a long road ahead of me, but I actually knew I that I had a long road ahead of me. I didn’t know how long it would be, but I knew I hadn’t quite yet reached my promised land.

But the Lord blessed me with the confidence that comes from keeping the commandments. And that confidence is what fuels us as we push forward on our own unknown paths toward our own unknown promised lands.

So – this is one of my favorite scriptures. It’s a good litmus test. How am I doing? The Lord doesn’t measure “how we’re doing” on our possessions, bank accounts, or callings. We shouldn’t either. The thing we each need to focus on is being able to be like Nephi and say that we have kept all of the commandments God has given us.

Blogging the Book of Mormon – The Brass Plates – 1 Nephi 5:10-19

You can read 1 Nephi 5:10-16 here.

Context and General Information

  • After giving thanks to God, Lehi searches the plates of brass from the beginning.

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The Brass Plates – What they Are

In chapter 5, we learn what comprised the brass plates.

  • The five books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy). This contained the account of the creation of the world.
  • A record of the Jews from the beginning all the way to the commencement of the reign of Zedekiah.

    When I read this, I get the idea that this means it is a record from when the Jews inhabited Israel – after leaving Egypt. It sounds to me like the plates of brass had this history included in it.

    Another note – these plates were up to date! I know that I have said that Laban was a bad guy. But one good thing about Laban – he seemed to take keeping these records updated somewhat seriously. I don’t know if he recorded the information himself, or if he had hired help. In any case, the plates of brass, which had been in his possession, were up to date.

  • The prophecies of the holy prophets – from the beginning all the way to the days of the reign of the King Zedekiah (who was their contemporary). This even included the prophecies given by Jeremiah.

    Again, this is updated, and not only in a historical sense. The plates in Laban’s possession are also up do date in a spiritual sense, too. It even included Jeremiah’s preaching!

  • A genealogy of his Lehi’s fathers. Lehi knows that he is a descendant of Joseph. Laban is also a descendant of Joseph.

The Power of the Plates of Brass

Here are a few more things that we learn about the Brass Plates

  • They are a conduit of the Spirit. While studying the brass plates, Lehi is filled with the Spirit and he even begins to prophesy.

    These records will bless Lehi and his family for generations and generations – as long as the Nephite civilization flourishes. Finally, the Nephite civilization will go extinct when they pervert the ways of the Lord that had been taught to them through the prophets and the scriptures.

  • The Plates of Brass would go forth unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people who were of his seed. This has been partially fulfilled. The plates went to his people for generations.

    But now we don’t have these records. So, this prophecy still has to be fulfilled.

  • The Plates of Brass will never perish or dim by time.

    This kind of seems strange to me – because we don’t have the Plates of Brass or a translation of it. It could be easy to think that this record has perished or at least dimmed by time.

    But the thing is – we can trust the prophecy. Just because we don’t have the records contained on the plates of brass doesn’t mean that they have perished or dimmed. The Lord is just waiting until the right time to reveal them to us.

    And when they do come forth, it will probably be pretty amazing – especially as a comparison to the Bible. It will probably clear a lot of information up and help us to believe in our Savior.

This is kind of a newsy-ish blog post. It probably doesn’t seem very insightful or inspirational. It is more or less informative, but I think that it is helpful for us to know what the Brass Plates are. They were the foundation of the Nephite civilization. We all need a code to live by if we want to have peace and freedom in our society and world. The Lord knew this – the Brass Plates would keep the Nephite religion, education, and entire civilization intact.

 

Blogging the Book of Mormon – Sariah – 1 Nephi 5:1-8

Click here to read 1 Nephi 5:1-8

Context and General Information

  • When Laman, Lemuel, Sam, and Nephi return to the tent of their father, their parents rejoice.
  • Sariah had mourned for them. She thought that they had died in the wilderness. Sariah complained against Lehi for taking them out there and now her sons were gone.
  • Lehi listens and then tells her he agrees – he is a visionary man. But because of the visions he had seen, he knew the goodness of God. He knew he could trust God in leading them to a promised land. He could also trust that the Lord would enable his sons to get the plates of brass.
  • Sariah was comforted.
  • When Laman, Lemuel, Sam, and Nephi returned to the tent of their father, his parents rejoiced, and his mother was comforted.
  • Sariah testifies that she knows that God commanded them to go to the wilderness. She bears a beautiful testimony.
5 Sariah
Sariah

Sariah

I really like Sariah.

I feel for Sariah.

Sariah is a woman of faith and strength.

Think about the situation. Life is kind of normal in Jerusalem for Sariah and her family. It seems like they had plenty of possessions. I don’t know what her personal life was like, but they weren’t poor. It seems like they had plenty of stability in their lives.

Until suddenly – when they don’t.

Lehi has this experience with the Lord, and then is called to prophesy and witness to others in Jerusalem of what he saw and heard. Suddenly, life isn’t quite as neat and stable. People don’t like what Lehi is saying. In fact, they detest what he has to say so much that the Lord warns Lehi – during the night – that they need to flee Jerusalem.

I imagine that Lehi woke up, turned to Sariah, and told her exactly what happened. And we read:

“And it came to pass that he departed into the wilderness. And he left his house, and the land of his inheritance, and his gold, and his silver, and his precious things, and took nothing with him, save it were his family, and provisions, and tents, and departed into the wilderness.” – 1 Nephi 2:4

When Lehi departed into the wilderness – I doubt that he did one hundred percent of the work. I can imagine Sariah, waking up, hearing her husband – the tone in his voice – the urgency of the command to flee Jerusalem.

I imagine that Sariah packed up food, clothes, and goods for her husband, her children, and herself. I can imagine that she tried to get things as organized as possible to leave and flee to a promised land. She wouldn’t be going back to Jerusalem.

Sariah didn’t have the vision! She didn’t have the dream! She simply placed her faith in the words of her husband. And based on the swiftness of the departure of Lehi’s family, I’m going to guess that she did have faith in her husband’s words.

They traveled for days – and into the wilderness – without stopping. She is faithful and helpful. Lehi could not have done this alone.

We read:

“And my father dwelt in a tent.” – 1 Nephi 2:15

Yes – we all know that Lehi dwelt in a tent, but take a second to think about it. Perhaps Nephi would have been more accurate to say, And my father and my mother dwelt in a tent. Sariah was there, too. Struggling, suffering, and sleeping in the wilderness.

She faithfully chose to trust her husband’s command from the Lord. She helped and supported Lehi. She wasn’t just along for the ride to the promised land. She was Lehi’s companion. She was an integral part of making this whole journey work.

She faithfully goes, then Lehi sends their four sons back to Jerusalem.

After a while, Sariah voices her concerns – that Lehi is a visionary man. She says:

“Behold thou hast led us forth from the land of our inheritance, and my sons are no more, and we perish in the wilderness.” – 1 Nephi 5:2

We all have hard days. Despite all of Sariah’s really good days and acts of faith, the only one we have in this record was a bad one. But we all have bad days occasionally – days when our faith flags. Days when we really need help. We covenant to “bear one another’s burdens” – without realizing that sometimes others are bearing ours.

Sariah had been bearing so much, but could no longer take it, and she told her husband.

Healthy Marriage Example

Sariah called Lehi a “visionary man.” (Dreamer?) She complained. And what does he do?

Lehi could have taken this chance to get annoyed and offended. He could have stamped off, huffing and puffing and then given her the silent treatment.

Instead, Lehi listens. He hears her. He validates her:I know that I am a visionary man…” He doesn’t defend himself by hurting her. He just reminds her the sequence of events that had led them to that situation. This sequence was orchestrated by the Lord.

Lehi’s willingness to listen rather than correct invites the Spirit into their conversation. This is how we can be sure that Sariah is so righteous. She is comforted. She is close enough to the Spirit to feel comfort. In this sense, she is a second witness that Lehi and his family truly do need to flee Jerusalem.

She still missed her boys, but her heart is full of confidence in God.

And then the boys return. She is so happy, and then – one of my favorite moments in all of scripture:

“And she spake, saying: Now I know of a surety that the Lord hath commanded my husband to flee into the wilderness; yea, and I also know of a surety that the Lord hath protected my sons, and delivered them out of the hands of Laban, and given them power whereby they could accomplish the thing which the Lord hath commanded them. And after this manner of language did she speak.” – 1 Nephi 5:8

We get to read her testimony! This difficult trial reinforces Sariah’s faith in and testimony of the Lord. It will give the strength that she will need to push on for 8 more years until they reach the promised land. Testimony comes only after a trial of faith. Sariah’s faith was tried. She endured well, and now she has a sure witness that they are keeping the personal commandments that the Lord had given the entire family through Lehi.

***
I truly love this example. Time and time again, I have wondered – what does Sariah’s journal look like? What were her prayers like? It takes a lot of faith to be called a prophet and follow the word of God. And in some ways, we could argue that it takes even more faith to trust the witness of another.

Sariah trusted Lehi’s witness and then finally, the Lord gave her a personal witness.

I love this example because I’m a wife. I have had the opportunity to be married to a man who receives revelation for our family from time to time. I am not always the one who receives these promptings. We have had to learn to trust one another. I have had to learn how to be like Sariah – trusting in my spouse – that he is living worthy of the companionship of the Spirit and is following it. All of this only works if we learn to love and trust each other!

Though we don’t have much in our scriptures about Sariah, her life has made a major impact on me.

Blogging the Book of Mormon – Zoram – 1 Nephi 4:20-38

You can read the scripture assignment here.

Context and General Information

  • Nephi, dressed as Laban, goes to the treasury to get the plates of brass.
  • The servant of Laban, Zoram, thought that Nephi was Laban. He spoke to Nephi about the elders of the Jews. Nephi didn’t correct Zoram, but continued to impersonate Laban.
  • Nephi asked for the plates – to take them out to his elder brethren just outside of the city. Nephi does mean to take the plates to his elder brothers, but not in the way that Zoram thinks.
  • Zoram spake – many times – about the elders of the Jews.
  • When Laman, Lemuel, and Sam saw Nephi, they were frightened – thinking that it truly was Laban and Zoram – coming to kill them.
  • Nephi called out to his brothers, then Zoram realized that it wasn’t Laban, so Zoram began to flee.
  • Nephi seized Zoram so that he couldn’t escape.
  • Nephi made an oath with Zoram – if Zoram would listen to Nephi, then he would spare Zoram’s life. Nephi told Zoram that the Lord commanded them to get the plates.
  • Zoram took courage and made an oath with Nephi and his brothers that he would go down to the promised land with them. All fears concerning on another ceased after Zoram made this oath.
  • Laman, Lemuel, Sam, and Nephi took the plates of brass and Zoram into the wilderness to the tent of Lehi.
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Enjoy this picture of a yellow salsify gone to seed because I don’t have any pictures of Zoram.

Zoram

Zoram is the name of the servant of Laban. I think that he might be one of the most impressive people we meet in the Book of Mormon. Here is a list of things that we learn about Zoram.

  • Zoram is a servant of Laban – Admittedly, I don’t know the details of what this means. I don’t know much about ancient Jewish customs. What we know is that Zoram did not enjoy freedom. He must have been some kind of slave.I did a little bit of searching in the scriptures (admittedly not much, I’m sure that you could find more…) and came across this:

    “And if thy brother, an Hebrew man, or an Hebrew woman, be asold unto thee, and serve thee six years; then in the seventh year thou shalt let him go free from thee.

    And when thou sendest him out free from thee, thou shalt not let him go away empty:

    Thou shalt furnish him liberally out of thy flock, and out of thy floor, and out of thy winepress: of that wherewith the Lord thy God hath blessed thee thou shalt give unto him.

    And thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in the land of Egypt, and the Lord thy God redeemed thee: therefore I command thee this thing to day.

    And it shall be, if he say unto thee, I will not go away from thee; because he loveth thee and thine house, because he is well with thee;

    Then thou shalt take an awl, and thrust it through his ear unto the door, and he shall be thy servant for ever. And also unto thy maidservant thou shalt do likewise.

    It shall not seem hard unto thee, when thou sendest him away free from thee; for he hath been aworth a double hired servant to thee, in serving thee six years: and the Lord thy God shall bless thee in all that thou doest.” – Deuteronomy 15:12-17

    People in Israel did have servants. After a servant served six years, they were to be freed in the seventh year.

    It seems ironic that the people of Israel would have slaves – since they served as slaves in Egypt. But the Lord told them to remember that they were bondmen in Egypt (slaves) and God redeemed them. They needed to extend the same mercy to their slaves.

    The Israelites were to let their bondservants (slaves) go – furnishing them liberally.

    If the bondservant decided to stay, then their ear was pierced and they were made a servant forever. This decision was solely up to the bondservant, and as stated in Deuteronomy – it was an option because the servant loves his master, everything is well in that home, that is where he wants to be. The servant wasn’t bullied into this decision – especially if they are “liberally” equipped to leave. It is completely a willful decision on the part of the servant.

    Now, keep in mind, this is the law of Moses, so it had been given centuries before Laban existed. By the time of Laban, the people of Jerusalem were not really doing what had been commanded. They were not remembering their bondage in Egypt. They were putting people in bondage for their own gain, and it is part of what made the Lord so upset with Jerusalem during the time of Lehi and Jeremeiah. (See Jeremiah 34).

    It is probably safe to guess that Laban wasn’t keeping the command about setting his servants free during the jubilee year. I guess that I can’t say for sure, but based on what we know about Laban, I’m going to assume that he’s really cool with breaking the law as was set forth in Deuteronomy.

    All of this is to say – Zoram was a servant. Not a free man. I can’t even comprehend this kind of life.

  • Zoram is concerned about the elders of the Jews. He knew that Laban had been out with the elders of the Jews earlier.I can’t say that I’m 100% clear on what is meant by “the elders of the Jews,” so I looked it up in the Bible Dictionary:

    “The term elders is used in various ways in the Bible. In many instances in the Old Testament it has reference to the older men in a tribe, usually entrusted with the governmental affairs. Their age and experience made their counsel sought often. This was not necessarily a priesthood calling.” – Bible Dictionary: Elders

    So – I’m not completely sure on what we extrapolate from this other than – Laban was somehow involved in this group of older men who probably had some involvement in governmental affairs.

    Which – by the way – what do you think that Laban had been talking about with the Elders of the Jews? He had just had all this drama with Laman, Lemuel, Sam, and Nephi. I wouldn’t be all that surprised if this came up. We know that Laban wasn’t righteous. He lusted after Lehi’s precious things. Then he made up a story – calling the sons of Lehi “robbers” and then he stole all of their goods! And he ordered their death, but had been unsuccessful with this endeavor.

    The more I think about Laban, and I know that this is not a blog post about Laban, the more he sounds like a mob-boss. He has an “army” of men who will kill. He has amassed a ton of wealth. He has no qualms with amassing more wealth illegally. He has no qualms about making up false accusations and killing. He has servants/slaves. And now he’s going around hanging out with the Elders of the Jews – he has friend in high places.

    Don Laban.

    Nephi states that Zoram “spake unto me many times concerning the elders of the Jews.” Zoram is interested in the affairs of the Elders of the Jews. I know that it may not have necessarily been a priesthood calling at the time, but there is record of ordained Elders during Old Testament time. No doubt the lines between government and religion were blurred. It is easy, even in our day, to see how this could happen.

    So – Zoram is interested in this group of people. It doesn’t seem to me that he will ever have the kind of interaction with the Elders of the Jews that Laban has – even though he is so interested in their affairs.

  • Zoram is Loyal – When Nephi gets outside of the city walls, he sees his brothers – who are afraid that Nephi has been killed. Sensing their fear, Nephi calls out to them. Of course this blows his cover with Zoram (which I’m sure was bound to happen at any moment anyway). Zoram, realizing that Nephi wasn’t Laban, begins to tremble.Zoram is a loyal servant. He humbly obeyed when he thought that Nephi was Laban. Now that he knows that Nephi is impersonating Laban, he is worried – why is this man dressed in Laban’s clothes? I’m sure that he might have even been afraid to find out what would happen to him!
  • Zoram is righteous.This is really the key thing that I keep coming to. He was interested in the affairs of the Elders. He was interested in taking them the brass plates. He was a loyal servant.

    He was a righteous man.

    Because of his righteous nature, he is put at ease when Nephi tells him what is going on. I think that he must have felt the Spirit witness to what Nephi said:

    “And I also spake unto him, saying: Surely the Lord hath commanded us to do this thing; and shall we not be diligent in keeping the commandments of the Lord? Therefore, if thou wilt go down into the wilderness to my father thou shalt have place with us.” – 1 Nephi 4:34

    We read that Zoram “took courage” at the things that Nephi said. After meeting the man that just killed your boss, and then impersonated him and got one of his most valuable possessions, it would be hard to believe him or want to covenant with Him. But, the Spirit was both with Nephi and Zoram.

    Nephi spoke with the Spirit to calm Zoram. And Zoram listened and discerned with the Spirit – which led him to know that Nephi was trustworthy. Then they made oaths with one another.

    Zoram would be a free man with them for the rest of his life.

  • One final observation – and this is kind of a speculation. Or maybe, at best, reading in between the lines. But I keep feeling that Zoram was righteous.Now – remember – Lehi left Jerusalem because people wanted to kill him for prophesying that Jerusalem would be destroyed. We know that it was, just as Lehi had prophesied.

    There were many wicked people in Jerusalem, it’s true. But there were also righteous people. Jeremiah, for example, was righteous, but it wasn’t his work to leave. He had to stay and continue to be a prophet in Israel.

    Now, also remember that Zoram was a slave, what choice did he have – to follow the prophets, to flee, to do whatever might have come to him? So, even if he was righteous, he would be stuck in Jerusalem – which was bound to be destroyed.

    The Lord’s tender mercies are over all of the faithful. If things had gone differently for Nephi in obtaining the plates, then he never would have met Zoram. Zoram never would have experienced freedoms, and they both would have missed out on a lifelong friendship.

I’m really just amazed by the examples of people in the Book of Mormon. And yet, even as I write this, I get the prompting don’t be amazed. They are normal people. It isn’t only Zoram or Nephi who can make good faithful choices. They are inspiration to us because we can become righteous and strong just like them if we will simply put our trust in the Lord and live as righteously as we can.

Blogging the Book of Mormon – Retrieving the Plates: Wise Yet Harmless – 1 Nephi 4:19-27

You can read today’s scripture block here.

Context and General Information

  • After slaying Laban, Nephi dresses in his clothes and heads to Laban’s treasury – where the plates are kept.
  • Nephi, impersonating Laban, approaches Laban’s servant and asks for the plates of brass.
  • Laban’s servant (Zoram) and Nephi go out to where Nephi’s brothers are.  Zoram still thinks that Nephi is Laban.

Retrieving the Plates

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Nephi retrieves the brass plates.

In yesterday’s scripture block, we read how Nephi was commanded to kill Laban, and why he obeyed.

Nephi is committed.

He needs to get the plates of brass now, otherwise Laban’s life has been destroyed for nothing. Killing Laban didn’t mean that the brass plates just automatically fell into Nephi’s lap. He still has some quick thinking to do.

We read:

“And after I had smitten off his head with his own sword, I took the garments of Laban and put them upon mine own body; yea, even every whit; and I did gird on his armor about my loins.

And after I had done this, I went forth unto the treasury of Laban. And as I went forth towards the treasury of Laban, behold, I saw the servant of Laban who had the keys of the treasury. And I commanded him in the voice of Laban, that he should go with me into the treasury.

And he supposed me to be his master, Laban, for he beheld the garments and also the sword girded about my loins.” – 1 Nephi 4:19-21

This story just gets more interesting. It’s interesting because 1) Nephi just killed Laban, and now 2) He is impersonating Zoram to get the plates of brass. I can see how it might even be troubling to a reader, but I’m reminded of the advice that the Savior gave to his apostles:

“Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” – Matthew 10:16

Wise Yet Harmless

What does wise yet harmless mean, exactly?

Sheep in the Midst of Wolves
First of all, the Savior, in Matthew 10, tells his apostles that he is sending them forth as sheep in the midst of wolves. They are not going to a safe, friendly, open environment. It is not warm. The wolves aren’t looking to be converted to sheep.

This environment is similar to the environment that Nephi was in. His life was endangered. If there is anything we know by the fourth chapter of 1 Nephi, it is that people wanted him and his family killed.

Lehi and his family fled from Jerusalem because they wanted to take the life of Lehi.

Laman, Lemuel, Nephi, and Sam had been driven out of town by Laban – who had threatened to kill them more than once.

Jerusalem is not a safe place for Nephi to be. He is sent forth – unarmed – only with the Spirit – just like a sheep among wolves. Special care will be needed in order for Nephi to accomplish what the Lord has asked of him.

Wise as a Serpent

Well, when I read the phrase wise as a serpent, I can’t help but think of the serpent that tempted Eve in Eden. He wasn’t stupid. He didn’t just force Eve into partaking of the fruit of the tree of life. He convinced her that it was good for food. It became desirable to her. She wanted the fruit.

The serpent understood who he was talking to, and he tempted her accordingly.

Of course, the serpent was wise, but it wasn’t harmless.

Harmless as a Dove
Though the serpent that we often think of in the story of Adam and Eve is wise, it most certainly is not harmless. He wanted to thwart God’s entire plan and have people live in misery – forever dead and separated from a loving, living Heavenly Father.

The Lord wants his servants to be wise, but he wants them to be harmless. He wants them to be innocent. He wants them to have His will at the center of what they are doing.

The question is – is Nephi harmless? YES.

Even though Nephi killed Laban. YES he’s harmless. Even though he is now impersonating Laban HE’S HARMLESS. Here’s another example of someone who is wise yet harmless, even though he participated in a relatively violent situation…

“Now Ammon being wise, yet harmless, he said unto Lamoni: Wilt thou hearken unto my words, if I tell thee by what power I do these things? And this is the thing that I desire of thee.” – Alma 18:22

Ammon was a man who lived about 500 years after Nephi had arrived to the promised land. He was Nephite (descendant of Nephi) serving a mission to the Lamanites (descendants of Laman). We will read about how these two groups separated not too long after arriving into the promised land.

When the Nephites and Lamanites separated, the Lamanites were wicked. This is because of the decisions made by Laman and Lemuel. They went without the gospel for nearly 500 years – until Ammon and his brothers decided they wanted to try to share the gospel with their long, lost kindred.

The Lamanites hated the Nephites and would often kill them – on sight. So, it was a sheep among wolves situation. Ammon’s only interest was to bring the light of the gospel to these people who were his relatives.

But he had to be smart about it. He had to be wise as a serpent, and he was. He decided to be a servant of King Lamoni. While tending King Lamoni’s sheep, a group came to scatter them and steal them.

Ammon protected the flock by killing 7 of these Lamanite robbers. Then he chopped off the arms of several more.

Yet, he is described as being harmless.

This is because when the king requested to meet with Ammon, Ammon didn’t seek his own gain. He promised to tell the king about his ability to protect the sheep if the king would simply listen to his message.

He could have asked for more. He could have asked for land, riches, maybe a wife. But he was harmless. He only asked to be listened to.

***
Nephi is not unlike Ammon. He is wise. He knows that he can’t approach Zoram as Nephi. Zoram, I’m sure, had been made aware of Laman, Lemuel, Sam, and Nephi. It’s safe to assume that, anyway. They had just requested the plates twice, the second time with Laban sending guards after them.

Zoram is Laban’s servant, or slave. He cannot do anything that would make Laban mad – or else his own life would be in jeopardy.

Nephi must talk to Zoram in a way that he will understand and comply.

Nephi isn’t seeking his own reward, either. Think about it. Nephi knew that Laban was dead. Nephi could have asked Zoram for a whole lot more than only the records. I mean, Nephi could have used that chance to ask Zoram to also get all of the riches that had been stolen from them in the prior chapter.

Nephi doesn’t do this because he is harmless. He wants to do God’s will and God’s will alone.

So – Nephi, wise yet harmless approaches Zoram. We read:

“And he supposed me to be his master, Laban, for he beheld the garments and also the sword girded about my loins.

And he spake unto me concerning the elders of the Jews, he knowing that his master, Laban, had been out by night among them.

And I spake unto him as if it had been Laban.

And I also spake unto him that I should carry the engravings, which were upon the plates of brass, to my elder brethren, who were without the walls.

And I also bade him that he should follow me.

And he, supposing that I spake of the brethren of the church, and that I was truly that Laban whom I had slain, wherefore he did follow me.

And he spake unto me many times concerning the elders of the Jews, as I went forth unto my brethren, who were without the walls.” – 1 Nephi 4:21-27

Because Nephi is wise yet harmless, because Nephi has faith, courage and discipline, because Nephi is willing to sacrifice his will for God’s – he is able to accomplish what the Lord had commanded him and retrieve the plates.

Yes, Laban’s life was sacrificed for this. Personally, I kind of think of Laban as a mob-boss (more on that tomorrow, most likely), so I hate to admit that I don’t have a ton of sympathy for him. But I will say that the most noble thing that Laban did was die so that Nephi could get the plates.

Remember what the Lord told Nephi:

“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.” – 1 Nephi 4:13

Whatever your feelings about this story, we can rest assured that this is exactly what happened. At the cost of Laban’s life (and remember, he was not a good guy!), countless lives were saved.

Nephi’s family flourished into a civilization that spanned a thousand years on the American continent. This would have been impossible without the Plates of Brass – that contained the commandments and covenants of God.

Not only that, but in modern times Nephi’s decision to trust God, has resulted in many millions of more lives saved. The Book of Mormon testifies of Christ. It has converted many to the Savior. It has been the reason that many people have chosen to covenant with God. These covenants are life-saving ordinances.

The Book of Mormon has been an aid, testimony, and life-saver on more than one occasion in my own life. Because of the Book of Mormon, I have been able to cultivate faith in My Savior. I truly cannot imagine my life without the Book of Mormon. If Nephi had chosen differently, there would be no Book of Mormon, and I’m fairly certain that my own life would be an absolute mess.

Truly nations have been saved because of Nephi’s decision to be wise yet harmless and follow the commandments of God.