One of the reasons I love the Book of Mormon is because I am a therapist. It’s what I do. The whole Book of Mormon is one giant story, a record, of one family through the years. In that way, it appeals to the genealogy-ness in me as well. It’s just good reading, even from those perspectives. We make it complicated, but it isn’t: one father of several sons moves the family, the family spreads out over time, and we read what happens to them in the process. The principles we learn are also simple: when we are good and kind and obedient and loving, we (as a people) are “gathered”; when we are not, then we (as a people, as individuals) are “scattered”.
It’s very Old Testament-ey. But of course it is, because it’s all happening at the same time. So it’s the same culture, the same people, the same God.
The father in the story is named Lehi. I remember when I first learned about WHEN the family of Lehi left Jerusalem and started traveling west. That had not connected in me, but I loved the story of it. When Lehi left, with copies of the sacred texts thus far, Judah was already at war. Verse four says it was the “first year of the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah”. You can read about King Zedekiah in 1 Kings 22. We know he was a good king, because his name ends with the “iah”, which means “one who seeks after Jehovah”. So a good king, who inherited a crisis of people turning away from God, and so watching his country disappear in war. Everything was in upheaval. Isaiah was the prophet at the time, and Lehi paid attention. Lehi is paying such close attention, in fact, that he knows for himself what is going on and that the family must leave because Jerusalem is going to be destroyed.
You can’t even get through verse one without hitting the Temple pattern. There is creation (born of goodly parents), teaching (all the learning of my father), a type of fall (afflictions different than the peace and joy of before), an expression of at-one (favored of the Lord), given knowledge (of the goodness) and ordinances (mysteries). Verse one is Nephi’s testimony of it, his “record”. It is just as we are instructed to study and learn and experience, and then to “explain, share, testify”. Nephi did explain, share, and testify!
The comments in verse three, which could almost be overlooked if you were not paying attention, about this record being true and made in his own hand, are actually very important. Poetically, they are parallels to the “I, Nephi” in the first verse. This is the red flag to pay attention. The “what” to pay attention to is given in the second verse (between the parallels), when he talks about writing in the language or way of the Hebrews and the Egyptians. That is significant historically, and confirms the point of this being a Temple text. It tells us to watch out, because these chapters will be packed full of verses pointing towards the Temple.
So there is Nephi, telling us the story of his father, Lehi, who knows Jerusalem is going down. Lehi is praying for the people, and prophesying to him like many of the major and minor prophets we read in the Old Testament. This is important because we know from the Old Testament that there is a pattern to repentance and bondage:
We know bondage happens because of disobedience.
We also know the Lord has promised, since the beginning of time, that He will never send a people into bondage without first sending them a prophet to warn them. This is that time when the mighty-powerful-just Old Testament God is balanced out by the side of his mercy that we often forget.
If the people listen to the Prophet, and repent, and turn their hearts to the Lord, then they do not have to go to bondage.
If the people do not listen to the Prophet, and do not repent, then they do have to go to bondage. But still, he will help them get out of bondage if they will repent.
If the people still will not repent, then the cannot get out of bondage (because they have chosen it), but the Lord can lighten the load of their bondage and make it easier for them – if they will repent.
If the people still will not repent, then their load in bondage will not get easier, but He can deliver them in such a way that everyone will know it is only God who could have delivered them.
That’s what happened when Moses delivered the Israelites.
That’s what happened when I was “delivered” from my “bondage” of the last decade.
So Lehi knows this pattern from the Old Testament, and for him it was a more recent history. So he is praying for the people that they will repent. Already by now Isaiah has said bondage WILL HAPPEN. But still, the Lord can lighten their load and help them if the people will repent. This is why Lehi is praying for the people.
We read in verse 7: “And it came to pass that he returned to his own house at Jerusalem; and he cast himself upon his bed, being overcome with the Spirit and the things which he had seen.”
What parent of a wayward child does not know this feeling? To know the destruction about to come, to know the consequences lying ahead, to see a way out but watch the child not choose it? Or what spouse, watching their partner choose the very things that are destroying the marriage, or NOT do the very things that will save it? Or what teenager throws themselves on the bed (after perhaps slamming the door) because they don’t like the punishment just given? What one of us has not collapsed in grief, exhausted from mourning?
This is the kind of feeling Lehi has.
We know that feeling of being so exhausted, and so desperate, and crying out to the Lord with all our being, until there is nothing left to do but fall onto the bed and collapse into His presence.
We know that feeling, of knowing nothing but God can save us… or heal us.
Verse 8: “And being thus overcome with the Spirit, he was carried away in a vision, even that he saw the heavens open, and he thought he saw God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels in the attitude of singing and praising their God.”
In his vision of seeing God, he sees the disciples and also angels. The angels come and give him a book, and as he reads it he is filled with the Spirit of the Lord.
An example to us, that even in our most desperate circumstances, our hardest days, in every moment, it is to His book – to His scriptures – that we should turn for answers. And that by doing so, we will be filled by His Spirit, and thus find peace and comfort and solutions and answers. He will give us correction, instruction, and guidance.
When Lehi got his guidance, he did explain-share-testify! He explained to his family what he saw, shared what it meant, and testified that it was of God, that it was an answer for him, that it was guidance for his family, and that he would be obedient to it.
Wanting to help, they shared with their friends as well. But their friends made fun of them, didn’t want to listen, didn’t admit how bad things were, and didn’t think they needed saving from anything. Not only that, but then they got mad. Ang-gry.
Those who had stoned the Old Testament prophets then tried to go after Lehi and his family.
His family, of course, escaped Jerusalem, and the Book of Mormon is their story of their escape and journey and settling in the new land and their descendants after them.
Of this written record that he worked so hard on, Nephi says (in verse 20), “But behold, I, Nephi, will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance.”
The “I, Nephi” in closing does parallel the “I, Nephi” in the beginning. It makes this a sacred text in a special way, but that’s for another blog. But the exciting piece is that it confirms that the following chapters are not just a historical journey, but also documenting Temple-ness in a special way. It will be very exciting to discover.
But you have to keep reading to find it!