Summary: As we read the scriptures, we find many stories that are meant to teach us valuable lessons. However, as we carefully ponder over them, quite often we can find hidden gems of spiritual wisdom that can’t be found from just a casual, cursory reading. This article takes a closer look at the story of Lehi and his family as found in the first several chapters of 1 Nephi and seeks to uncover some of the hidden gems contained in them.
In the opening chapter of 1 Nephi we learn that God appeared to Lehi, showed him a vision of what would happen to Jerusalem if the people didn’t repent and then commanded him to go warn his people. Sometime later, the Lord came to Lehi and told him that his life was in danger and to flee into the wilderness with his family.
But Lehi wasn’t the only prophet calling the people of Jerusalem to repent. Most notably was a man named Jeremiah, and there were people who were intent on taking his life as well (Jeremiah 38:4-6). Then why didn’t God tell Jeremiah to flee for his life? The answer is that God didn’t want him to. God’s plan for Jeremiah was for him to stay in Jerusalem.
Then why did God tell Lehi to flee? The answer is that God had given him a promise that he was going to a new land that would belong to his seed (1 Nephi 5:5). But, before that could happen, there were certain things that Lehi needed that he didn’t have at the moment, and so God commanded him to go get them.
The first thing he needed was a set of brass plates that were in the possession of a man named Laban, and the next thing he needed were wives for his sons so they could populate this new land God was going to give him. For these reasons, God commanded Lehi to have his four sons return to Jerusalem. During one of those trips, they asked a man named Ishmael (who had four daughters) to come live out in the wilderness with Lehi and his family.
Why would a man leave the comfort of his home in a large city like Jerusalem, with all the amenities it had to offer, and take his family into the wilderness so they could travel to another land? That’s not something most people would want to do. Then why did Ishmael and his family do it?
The answer is “that the Lord did soften the heart of Ishmael, and also his household, insomuch that they took their journey with us down into the wilderness to the tent of our father” (1 Nephi 7:5). The Lord wanted Ishmael and his family to go with Lehi and his family, but left on his own, Ishmael probably wouldn’t have agreed to such a request. Therefore, God intervened and “did soften the heart of Ishmael and also his [entire] household.” In other words, God took steps to ensure that Ishmael made the decision God wanted.
But it was also God’s will that Lehi should obtain the brass plates that belonged to Laban. Then why didn’t God soften the heart of Laban? The answer is, because his heart was so hard that he wouldn’t listen to the Spirit when it whispered to him. Then how was Lehi supposed to get the brass plates from him?
When you come to a roadblock, you find a way around it, and that’s exactly what God did. If Laban wouldn’t willingly do what God wanted, then God would have him do it unwillingly.
We know the story of when Nephi went back into Jerusalem the third time to get the plates, he found Laban laying on the street passed out drunk, and how an angel appeared and told Nephi to slay him. We always quote the reason as “It is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief” (1 Nephi 4:134), but the angel also gave three other reasons as well. One was that Laban had stolen all of Lehi’s property. Second, he had attempted to murder Lehi’s four sons. But the fourth reason to justify his death was because “he would not hearken unto the commandments of the Lord” (1 Nephi 4:11).
It’s certain that God didn’t come to Laban and personally command him to give the brass plates to Lehi’s sons, but nevertheless, that’s what God wanted him to do. In other words, that was God’s will for Laban. Had he done that, it’s certain God would have blessed him, but by resisting God’s will, “he [did] not hearken unto the commandments of the Lord.”
What we see in this story is how intimately involved God is in bringing to pass his plans. God was personally directing people and guiding events to make sure that things turned out exactly as he intended because he had a long-term goal in mind, and he was putting each necessary piece in place in order to bring about something that wouldn’t happen for thousands of years in the future.
In just this one story, we gain a greater understanding of what kind of being God is, and how he behaves. What we learn is that he is personally involved in the details of our life and the lives of others. For that reason, things in life rarely happen by accident or coincidence. Most generally there’s a purpose to everything.
We also come to better understand why “The works, and the designs, and the purposes of God cannot be frustrated, neither can they come to naught… [and] that it is not the work of God that is frustrated, but the work of men” (D&C 3:1,3). One of the reasons why God knows the end from the beginning is because he plans ahead in the beginning to make sure that everything ends up just the way he wants it to.
But as we continue reading, there’s something else we learn about God, man, and the devil.
Lehi sent his sons back to Jerusalem to convince Ishmael and his family to come with them into the wilderness, and as they were all traveling back to where Lehi was camped, Laman and Lemuel began to murmur against their father and to rebel against their brother Nephi because they wanted to return to Jerusalem (1 Nephi 7:6,7). Therefore, Nephi had to speak sternly to them and remind them that if they did return, they would perish when Jerusalem was destroyed.
Nephi’s arguments were very logical and full of wisdom, but Laman and Lemuel became “exceedingly wroth and they did bind me with cords, for they sought to take away my life, that they might leave me in the wilderness to be devoured by wild beasts” (1 Nephi 7:16). Rather than engage in an intelligent discussion, where they tried to show Nephi the fallacy of his thinking, Laman and Lemuel sought to overcome his arguments by murdering him.
We’ve already discussed how the Lord told Lehi to flee Jerusalem because his life was in danger, but when he told his family that they too had to leave with him, Laman and Lemuel did not “believe that Jerusalem, that great city, could be destroyed according to the words of the prophets. And they were like unto the Jews who were at Jerusalem, who sought to take away the life of my father” (1 Nephi 2:13). In other words, even before they left Jerusalem the first time, Laman and Lemuel harbored the same feelings of resentment towards their father that “the Jews who were at Jerusalem [did] who sought to take away the life of [their] father.”
Later, as Laman and Lemuel left Jerusalem with Ishmael and his family, they exhibited that same spirit of hatred towards Nephi as the Jews had felt toward Lehi. Although they wouldn’t personally kill him, their intent was to bind him so he couldn’t protect himself when the wild beasts came to devour him. Either way, the end result would have been the same.
There are three things we can learn from this event.
The first is that the Spirit of the Lord encourages people to love one another, while the spirit of the devil fills people with animosity and hatred towards others. The Spirit of the Lord seeks to help people become united with one another and to live together in peace, while the spirit of the devil seeks to divide people and pits them against each other.
What we’ve seen in the first seven chapters of 1 Nephi is that you can’t reason with people who are filled with hate because when they have given in to the spirit of the devil, it’s against their nature to get along with people. Rather than them debating those who disagree with them, their natural instinct is to silence them.
Since it’s against our laws to kill people, in today’s society those who are filled with the spirit of hate resort to mocking, intimidation, harassment, threats of violence, and even physical attacks against those who have a different opinion. That’s because they don’t want to listen to reason. All they’re interested in is forcing others to believe as they do. They are like dictators who feel they have the right to dictate what others should think and do.
In a dream Lehi had, he saw a large and spacious building, and an angel explained to Nephi that “the large and spacious building, which thy father saw, is vain imaginations and the pride of the children of men. And a great and a terrible gulf divideth them; yea, even the word of the justice of the Eternal God, and the Messiah who is the Lamb of God” (1 Nephi 11:18).
There is a great and terrible gulf that divides or separates the wicked from the righteous, and that gulf is “the justice of the Eternal God” and Jesus Christ. The wicked don’t want to be just. That’s a gulf they don’t want to cross, and neither do they want to cross over to God.
This is why the Jews reacted to Jeremiah and Lehi when they tried telling them things from God. This is what Laman and Lemuel did when they didn’t like what Nephi told them. And this is what people do today who are filled with hate towards those who disagree with them. Then what do we do when confronted by such people?
This leads us to the second thing we learn. When Nephi was bound by his brothers, he prayed unto the Lord for strength that he might “burst the bounds with which he was bound. “And it came to pass that when I had said these words, behold, the bands were loosed from off my hands” (1 Nephi 7:17,18).
What Nephi did when confronted with hatred from others, was to turn to the Lord for help. The way we respond to adversity can either mitigate the situation or make it worse. When we rely upon our own instincts, most of the time we’ll follow the promptings of the natural man, which is to fight fire with fire, however, that normally tends to increase the hostilities and inflame tensions.
But when we rely on the promptings of the Spirit to guide our decisions, he will show us the way out of trouble and help bring peace, if not to the situation, then at least to our heart.
But there is a third thing we learn. When we seek help from the Lord, he is capable of doing things that are beyond our abilities. We saw this in how Nephi just happened to stumble upon Laban lying unconscious on a dark street at night. He didn’t plan for this to happen, and that wasn’t just an accident or a coincidence. It was an act of God, and it was because of this unexpected encounter, that the Lord opened the way for Nephi to gain possession of the brass plates.
We also saw how the Lord was able to soften the heart of not only Ishmael, but his entire family, and we saw how the bands that were tightly wrapped around Nephi’s hands were suddenly and miraculously loosened. Even though Nephi asked for strength to break those bonds, he records that they simply came unloose on their own. Each of these things were small miracles that only God has the power to make happen.
And there is yet something else we can learn from this story. What God tells one person may be very different from what he tells someone else. For example, God told Lehi to flee Jerusalem to save his life but told Jeremiah to stay in Jerusalem and suffer imprisonment. Lehi went on to inherit a land choice above all others (1 Nephi 2:20), while Jeremiah was eventually put to death for what he said.
What we see then is that as we study the scriptures, we can find hidden gems of spiritual wisdom that are just waiting to be discovered. And as we continue to ponder the scriptures each time we read them, we’ll keep uncovering more and more spiritual gems.
Related articles can be found at Teachings From The Book of Mormon