Book of Mormon Lesson 02 (1 Nephi 1–7)
Circumstances of First Nephi
Nephi wrote this record 30 years after Lehi’s colony left Jerusalem and journeyed to the promised land (2 Nephi 5:28–31). By this time, Nephi’s parents are dead, but he still has fond memories of them, saying that he was born of “goodly parents” (1 Nephi 1:1).
● Nephi said he had suffered many afflictions. These words were prompted by many trying experiences:
— He was nearly murdered on five occasions, four by his own brothers and once by Laban.
— He lived for eight years in the hot barren desert.
— He built a ship with his own hands (and with others), then sailed for the promised land amidst persecution and ridicule.
The Language and Learning of Nephi
● Nephi wrote in the “language of his father” which consists of: (1 Nephi 1:2)
— The learning of the Jews.
— The language of the Egyptians.
● The Learning of the Jews:
— “Jews” in this context means those living in the kingdom of Judah, not just Jews.
— Israelite history, scripture, culture, and customs were part of a literate Jew’s learning.
— Nephi was thoroughly familiar with the cultural images and symbolic language of the Hebrew prophets (such as Isaiah).
— Figures of speech that we find quite confusing were common to him and easily understood.
— Imagine someone thousands of years from now struggling to understand what we meant when we said: “I’m bushed!”—a simple statement to us (meaning we’re tired) but completely foreign to someone not familiar with the figures of speech used in our language and culture.
The Language of the Egyptians
● Reformed Egyptian was a language altered by the Nephites according to their manner of speech (Mormon 9:32–33). It was a type of shorthand. Moroni explained that if the plates had been larger they would have been written in Hebrew.
Moroni also said if it had been written in Hebrew there would have been no imperfections (v. 33). This suggests that reformed Egyptian was not as precise and accurate as Hebrew, but was necessary because of limited space.
Even the Hebrew language is very compact when compared to English and many other western languages. A typical English sentence of fifteen words will often translate into just seven to ten Hebrew words.
● An Egyptian Colophon is precisely how writers educated in Egyptian culture would begin a text. Nephi followed this pattern (1 Nephi 1:1–3).
Element of a colophon: Nephi’s written example:
• Begin with the author’s name “I, Nephi”
• List author’s parents and their virtues “Having been born of goodly parents”
• Concludes with an assurance it was “I make it with mine own hand; and . . .
written with the author’s own hands according to my knowledge.”
Other Evidence of Middle-Eastern Origins
Notice how many verses in Nephi’s account begin with “and” (for example 1 Nephi 1). This is a characteristic of Semitic languages. The Old Testament features the same characteristic. In Genesis 1, for example, only 2 of 31 verses do not begin with “and.”
Multiple Records and Plates
● There were two sources for 1 Nephi: (1 Nephi: 1:16–17)
— An abridgment of his father’s (Lehi’s) writings.
— A record of his own life and teachings.
● There were two sets of plates: (1 Nephi 9:2–6).
— Nephi made a 2nd set of records without knowing why (v.5).
— Mormon called them “choice” and he included them (Words of Mormon 5–7).
— The Lord informed Joseph Smith of their existence (D&C 10:38–45).
— The Lord’s work cannot be frustrated by evil men (D&C 3 Headnotes, 1–3).
● Nephi’s Intention for Writing the “Small Plates” (1 Nephi 6:1–6).
— To persuade men to come unto God and be saved (1 Nephi 6:4–5).
— To show the Lord’s mercy in delivering the faithful from evil (1 Nephi 1:20).
JERUSALEM’S PENDING DESTRUCTION
● Nephi said “many prophets” came among the people (1 Nephi 1:4; Jeremiah 35:15). This included Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah. These prophets called the people to repentance for their many gross sins.
W. Cleon Skousen said:
“King Manasseh] adopted every prevailing heathen cult from surrounding pagan nations. These included the worship of the fertility gods, Baal and Ashtoreth in the groves, the adoration of the sun, moon and stars at special shrines, and the reintroduction of the burning and sacrificing of children in the valley of Hinnom, which is on the southern border of Jerusalem (2 Chron. 33:3, 6). Manasseh not only made human sacrifices, including his own son (2 Kings 21:6 ), but apparently took violent and vindictive reprisal against any who stood in his way or possessed something he wanted.
“The scripture says, ‘Moreover, Manasseh shed innocent blood very much, till he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another.’ (2 Kings 21:16) He also desecrated the temple by erecting in it ‘a graven image of the grove that he had made [these were usually obscene].’ (2 Kings 21:7) He also ‘built altars for all the host of heaven [sun, moon and stars] in the two courts of the house of the Lord’ (2 Chron. 33:5) . . . It would be one of Manasseh’s grandsons, Zedekiah, who would see his sons killed before his face and then have his eyes blinded. And it would be other descendants of Manasseh who would be carried off with the princes of Judah to be slaves and peasants for the king of Babylon.”1
— Egypt was defeated by the Babylonians and Jerusalem was now under their control.
— Jerusalem’s leaders foolishly conspired to favor Egypt against Babylon.
— Jeremiah warned them against this, and said it would lead to their destruction.
— They did not believe that Jerusalem “this great city” could be overthrown by anyone.
— They plotted to kill any prophet, including Lehi, who preached to them otherwise.
● Lehi received a celestial vision (1 Nephi 1:5–15) in which he learned important things:
— The Lord answers fervent sincere prayer (v. 5).
— The Lord can demonstrate great signs of his power (v. 6).
— Lehi saw and heard many things which are not enumerated by Nephi (v. 6).
— The impact of spiritual things is tremendous (v. 7).
● Lehi saw God the Father, Jesus Christ, the Twelve Apostles, and numberless angels (vv. 8–10). Lehi was also shown the future judgments that would come upon Jerusalem (vv. 11–13) The impact of the experience upon Lehi was tremendous, causing him to praise God and rejoice in his heart (vv. 14–15).
● Lehi preached and prophesied (Nephi 1:18–20). . . but was rejected by the Jews.
CONTRASTS IN OBEDIENCE
● Lehi was immediately obedient to the Lord’s commands (1 Nephi 2:1–4). Lehi was apparently wealthy but left it all behind to be obedient to God.
● More Evidence of Middle-Eastern Origins for the Book of Mormon (1 Nephi 2:5–8).
— The distance from Jerusalem to the Red Sea (Gulf of Aqaba) is about 180 miles through hot, barren country infested by many marauders.
— They went three days’ journey beyond that (1 Nephi 2:6). This makes a 12–to-18 day trip one way from Jerusalem.
— Nephi described two mountain ranges (“borders”) near the Red Sea shore, one nearer than the other one. This is precisely what one finds in that region of Arabia—a fact not known to any Westerner in 1829.
— They traveled in the mountains nearest the Red Sea, and the valley was located in that mountain range.
— A “river of water.” In the Middle East, a small stream is referred to in this manner. Also, this is an authentic Arabic way of describing.
— An “altar of stones” is another example of the same thing. We would say “a stone altar.” They say, “an altar of stones.”
Laman and Lemuel
● Laman and Lemuel considered their father a “dreamer” and shared the common view that Jerusalem “that great city” could not be destroyed (1 Nephi 2:9–13).
● Lehi’s spiritual power is evident in this interaction with his sons (1 Nephi 2:14–15). Lehi’s humility is shown by the fact that they lived “in a tent” for 8 years, even though they were used to living in wealthy circumstances.
● Nephi and Sam supported their father, unlike their complaining brothers (1 Nephi 2:16–18). In His promise to Nephi, the Lord described the principles by which His people will be governed in the promised land (1 Nephi 2:19–24).
● Tests of Faith That Nephi Faced:
— Returning for the Brass Plates (1 Nephi 3:1–16).
— Being commanded to kill Laban (1 Nephi 4:10).
— Returning for Ishmael’s family (1 Nephi 7:2).
— Being attacked and threatened by his brothers (1 Nephi 7:16).
OBTAINING THE BRASS PLATES
Going Back to Jerusalem
● The Lord commanded Lehi to send his sons back to Jerusalem for the Brass Plates (1 Nephi 3:1–6). They had traveled a total of 11 days by this time, approximately 260–290 miles. This would make each round trip journey back to Jerusalem at least 500 miles and 3 weeks. This would make each round trip nearly like walking from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles.
● Why did the Lord not simply have them get the plates before they left? He had higher purposes in mind:
— Testing their faith and obedience, and . . .
— Protecting their lives which would have been in jeopardy if they had stayed there.
● Nephi showed his absolute faith in the Lord by being immediately and completely obedient (1 Nephi 3:7–8).
● First Attempt to Obtain the Plates (1 Nephi 3:9–14). As the firstborn, Laman should have taken the lead in all things. He had the opportunity to fulfill his responsibilities, but failed to do so. Nephi exhorted his brothers to faithfulness and explained why the plates will be so important to them in the future (1 Nephi 3:15–21).
● Second Attempt to Obtain the Plates (1 Nephi 3:22–27). Laban attempted to slay them and take their riches.
● Dr. Hugh Nibley said concerning the character of Laban: “A few deft and telling touches resurrect the pompous Laban with photographic perfection. We learn in passing that he commanded a garrison of fifty, that he met in full ceremonial armor with ‘the elders of the Jews’ for secret consultations by night, that he had control of a treasury, that he was of the old aristocracy, being a distant relative to Lehi himself, that he probably held his job because of his ancestors, . . . that his house was the storing place of very old records, that he was a large man, short-tempered, crafty, and dangerous, and to the bargain cruel, greedy, unscrupulous, weak, and given to drink.”2
● An angel appeared to protect Nephi from his angry brothers (1 Nephi 3:28–31).
● Third Attempt to Obtain the Plates. Compare Nephi’s and his brothers’ responses (1 Nephi 4:1–4).) Nephi went forth in faith, without knowing in advance the outcome (1 Nephi 4:5–8). Boyd K. Packer said, “And so it is with this work. We can build those thousands of temples and we can work for the redemption of our dead by the thousands and tens of thousands and millions. We have not yet moved to the edge of the light, either as individuals or as a church. We have not used all of the resources yet available to us. I am confident that as we move to the edge of the light, like the cloud that led the Israelites, or like the star that led the wise men, the light will move ahead of us and we can do this work.”3
● The Lord commanded Nephi to slay Laban (1 Nephi 4:9–13). Nephi hesitated because he knew that killing a man was forbidden. But the Lord insisted because it would bring about a greater purpose. The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “Whatever God requires is right, no matter what it is, although we may not see the reason thereof till long after the events transpire.”4
● Nephi slew Laban and thereby obtained the plates (1 Nephi 4:14–31).
● Laban’s servant Zoram was deathly frightened by the slaying of his master and was about to flee. But a binding oath from Nephi calmed Zoram’s fears (1 Nephi 4:32–37).
Dr. Hugh Nibley said, “The reaction of both parties makes sense when one realizes that the oath is the one thing that is most sacred and inviolable among the desert people and their descendants: ‘Hardly will an Arab break his oath, even if his life be in jeopardy,’ for ‘there is nothing stronger, and nothing more sacred than the oath . . . But not every oath will do . . . The only oath more awful than that ‘by my life’ or (less commonly) ‘by the life of my head,’ is the wa hayat Allah ‘by the life of God,’ . . . So we see that the only way that Nephi could possibly have pacified the struggling Zoram in an instant was to utter the one oath that no man would dream of breaking. . . .”5
THE BRASS PLATES
● Lehi and Sariah’s Response when their sons returned with the plates (1 Nephi 5:1–9).
● These plates were a volume of sacred scripture, containing a record of God’s dealings with men from the beginning down to that day, including:
— A record of the Jews (1 Nephi 3:3; Omni 14–18).
— A record of many of the prophecies from the beginning down to and including part of those spoken by Jeremiah (1 Nephi 5:10–16).
— The law of Moses.
— The five books of Moses.
— A genealogy of Nephite forbears (1 Nephi 3:3,20; 4:15–16; 5:11–14).
● They contained more than the Old Testament as we now have it (1 Nephi 13:23).
— The prophecies of Zenock, Neum, and Zenos.
— The record of Joseph the son of Jacob.
— Prophecies pertaining to the Nephites (1 Nephi 19:10,21; 2 Nephi 4:2,15; 3 Nephi 10:17).
● Lehi’s prophesied concerning the Brass Plates (1 Nephi 5:17–19).
● The value of the Brass Plates to the Nephites (1 Nephi 5:20–22). By means of them they were able to preserve the language, most of the civilization, and the religious knowledge of the people from whence they came (1 Nephi 3:19; 1 Nephi 22:30).
By way of contrast, the Mulekites, who were led out of Jerusalem some 11 years after Lehi’s departure, and who had no record equivalent to the Brass Plates, soon dwindled in apostasy and unbelief and lost their language, civilization, and religion.
● The Lord will bring them forth again (Alma 37:3–5; 1 Nephi 5:18–19). Bruce R McConkie said: “At some future date the Lord has promised to bring them forth, undimmed by time and retaining their original brightness, and the scriptural accounts recorded on them are to ‘go forth unto every nation, kindred, tongue, and people.'”6
SEEKING ISHMAEL’S FAMILY
The Book of Mormon does not indicate exactly why Ishmael’s family was selected, except that it included at least five unmarried women and their was a need to raise up families in the promised land (1 Nephi 7:1–5).
● Laman and Lemuel and some of the children of Ishmael rebelled (1 Nephi 7:6–7).
● Nephi proclaimed some promises and prophecies (1 Nephi 7:8–15).
● Laman and Lemuel were angry but others calmed them down (1 Nephi 7:16–22).
1. The Fourth Thousand Years , 633–635.
2. Lehi in the Desert/The World of the Jaredites/There Were Jaredites, 111.
3. The Holy Temple , 185.
4. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith , 256.
5. An Approach to the Book of Mormon, 3rd ed. , 103–105.
6. Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. , 103.