CLICK HERE to read 1 Nephi 4.
CLICK HERE to read 1 Nephi 4 translated from Hebrew.
In this chapter, Nephi is ready to do his errand the Lord’s way.
Even his brothers, Laman and Lemuel (reluctantly) agree, and off they go.
Nephi tries to encourage his brothers, saying that they should be “faithful in keeping the commandments of the Lord; for behold he is mightier than all the earth” (verse 1). And if the Lord is so mighty, then surely the Lord can handle the bad guy Laban, right? It’s beautiful in the Hebrew, rendering an allusion to covenants being compared again to wedding covenants, bridging together the Old and New Testament continuity as we imagine covenant-keeping people as a bride:
And my words (of God) to my brothers were,
“Let us go up again to Jerusalem,
and let us be filled with the commands
of the Lord, our Master,
and so be faithful (to Him)
in trust and devotion
(by acting on our faith).
Besides, He (the Lord) is stronger
(than any) in all the land,
and so why not?
(If we are on His team,
or protected by Him
like a bride under her canopy),
(then we know)
He will be stronger than Laban,
or Laban’s fifty,
or even than a (gloomy) ten thousand
(with little hope to win).
Nephi says something interesting. In verse two, he says “let us be strong like unto Moses”, and then he reminds his brothers of the story of Moses leading the Israelites across the Red Sea onto dry ground. What is interesting is that we just read in 1 Nephi 2, before Nephi and his brothers left on this trip, about the mikveh that was in the same place for the Israelites and for Jesus.
So, two things are happening in this conversation. First, Nephi is reminding his brothers of the purpose of their trip, the pattern by which they can accomplish the task, and the One who empowers them to do it. Secondly, Nephi is suggesting that in a way, this very trip will be a type of, or like a mikveh for them if they will let it. Nephi had his experience already, and has chosen the covenant. Nephi is saying to his brothers that this is their chance to act in faith and choose to be children of the covenant. He is telling them that if they will focus, have faith, and do the things which the Lord has commanded, that this will be a transforming experience for them. It is an invitation to follow the Savior.
At a practical level, he reminds them that they have just seen an angel. So how “can ye doubt?”, he asks in verse three. “Let us go up; the Lord is able to deliver us, even as our our fathers, and to destroy Laban, even as the Egyptians.”
Did they listen? No. Right back to murmuring. And yet, they did follow Nephi back to Jerusalem.
That always makes me feel bad for Nephi. It would be easier for him if they had just stayed behind, I mean since they were going to murmur the whole way anyway. This is where I learn from Nephi (again), because despite the negativity and complaining and murmuring, he continues to invite his brothers to obey the Lord.
Or maybe my little brother relates more to Nephi’s brother, as they have to endure such a brazenly bold and very-close-to bossy brother who keeps telling them what to do. The problem is, Nephi keeps being right. Sometimes when I read these exchanges, I don’t know if Nephi had a touch of the autism spectrum, like Asperger’s or something, or if the brothers really were that frustrating he had to be so consistently bold to them. Regardless, I often identify with him and his struggle with social skills.
The brothers do follow him, though. Whether that is a meager effort at trying, whether it is to wait and prove Nephi a failure, or whether it is a hyprocrite-going-through-the-motions-only, we may never know. I suspect it is just the going-through-the-motions, because most often that is when there is the most murmuring.
Regardless, they got back to Jerusalem. It was night time when they arrived, so they hid outside the walls. Nephi left his brothers there, and snuck in alone toward the Laban’s house.
Then verse six is amazing:
“And I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do.”
I love this verse because it is so New-Testament-ey. I love it because he was in a scary place, at night time, doing what he had been asked, no matter what. I love it because he has now developed a knowledge that the Lord will accomplish the task, and he is let himself be in a position of fully relying on the Spirit. He is letting the Spirit correct him (from the previous ways that were not the Lord’s ways, and so unsuccessful), guide him (where to go), and instruct him (what to do). It’s an amazing repentance -obedience-revelation process unfolding in a very concrete, specific example. In Hebrew, it reads like this:
I stepped (carefully)
as the Spirit –
(Rauch, literally, the space between me and God)
(implying, each act of faith or obedience
closes the gap between us and God)
yes, as the Spirit
because I didn’t know ahead of time
how or what to do
(in Order —> of the Priesthood)
to accomplish this mission (assignment).
So there he goes, through the night air, towards Laban’s house. It’s time to slay the drag. He is the knight in shining armor, and the Spirit is what made his armor shine.
When he gets close to Laban’s house, he finds someone outside – he is passed out drunk. In Hebrew it reads, “splashed out drunk” and implies he has passed out while still drinking and knocked over his glass or the bottle of wine or something like that. He has caused a mess, regardless, and is a mess. Nephi knows it is Laban.
Nephi takes Laban’s sword, and finds himself in an internal struggle. He knows the ten commandments like any good Jew, and he knows that he can’t just go around killing people. He has never killed anyone before, so why would he now? This is very much like Abraham and Isaac, except the opposite. Laban is a bad guy oppressing and causing trouble, like a type of Satan, instead of the innocent Isaac who was a type of Christ. So rather than the Lord preserving him like Isaac, Laban’s own judgment comes upon him.
This is a moment of wrestling with angels, if there ever was one. What does he do?
I especially love the process to which Nephi comes to a decision about what to do. This story isn’t just about what he decided to do, or that he was obedient even though it seemed awful at the time, but how he worked through the process of being obedient. That helps me a lot, because sometimes it takes a lot of work for me to be obedient, too, and being able to think through it helps. Nephi really ponders the promptings he is receiving, being careful to understand what is happening and what it means and whether what he thinks are promptings match with what he knows is correct doctrine. He considers carefully what he knows to be true, and then he acts in both faith and obedience. I love, love, love, love, love this! If you look at verses 13-18, it shows the pattern specifically like this:
I also thought
And I also knew
And again I knew
Therefore I did obey
And obey he did, slaying that dragon like the knight in spirit-shining armor that he was.
But his heroic mission is not yet done: he still has to retrieve the records.
It’s like the next level on a video game.
Nephi disguises himself in Laban’s armor. He goes into the dragon’s castle, and finds the guy who has the keys to the treasury. This guy is Laban’s servant, and you can imagine Laban wasn’t very much fun to work for. The servant and Nephi go to the treasury, and get Nephi’s family’s records, and take them Nephi’s brothers waiting outside the walls.
The guy with the keys to the treasury is named Zoram. He is often portrayed as a clueless dimwit, a man who is goofy and clumsy, a guy that doesn’t understand anything that is happening. The Hebrew, though, almost implies that the people in Jerusalem were aware that Laban was going to be released soon, and that this is perhaps why Laban had been drinking so much that night. They might not have known why, or maybe didn’t care since they were not following prophets, anyway, but it feels like there is more to the story than what we know:
And I talked to him as if I were Laban
(Or, I talked to Him
as if I,
pretending to be Laban,
had already been released
from my calling).
Also, I said that I want to deliver the engravings
on the tablets made of brass plates,
to my elder brothers
(who still had not been found out,
or discovered, by the walls).
Also, I commanded him to walk behind me
(so that he would not recognize me).
And he, the accountant, thought like a local,
and that by “elder brothers”
I mean the elder brethren of the church,
the same who he had been gossiping about,
(and that we had to return the records
because he thought I,
who was pretending to be Laban,
had been released from my calling).
So now he began to realize,
or think, that in truth,
I really was the Laban whom I had killed,
and so now he was both embarrassed and afraid,
(because of his political mistake
in gossiping about me,
whom he thought to be Laban)
and so he did follow after me.
And (so) while we walked,
he said to me,
over and over
and again and again
things about the elders of the Jews,
(rambling and babbling)
(trying to correct his mistake of gossip)
(and trying to backtrack what he had said).
I (remained silent) and went on walking
towards the outside walls of the city
(not replying to him,
and letting him work out
his own guilt and fears himself.
Thus Zoram follows Nephi out to deliver the records to his brothers. Easy-schmeezey, right?
Except when Nephi’s brothers see him dressed up in Laban’s armor, they freak out!
This tells us several things. It tells us that they were not in tune with the Spirit, or they would have had some idea of what was going on – at the very least, some direction in how to respond. It also tells us they were acting in fear, instead of with faith. And because they start to run away, we know they are being “acted upon” instead of “act”ing. #Fail.
Nephi has to call after them, so that his brothers know it is only Nephi dressed up in Laban’s armor.
Except then, when Zoram realizes it is Nephi, then Zoram freaks out.
Poor Nephi. What a patient guy, dealing with all these freak-outs and all this people drama. It teaches me so much.
Nephi’s brothers turn around because they realize it is only their brother and not Laban after all. While they are coming back, Nephi puts Zoram in what I like to call a “therapeutic hold” so that he can’t run away. It’s a little trick you learn working the inpatient unit. It’s a good and safe way to hold a person until they calm down, just so they don’t hurt themselves or others.
He talks to Zoram, explaining that Zoram doesn’t need to be afraid. He explains why they are there, and says that if Zoram wants to go with them back to Nephi’s family, then they will let him come just as a person and not as a servant. Zoram is sick of being a servant for a bad guy, I think, and he likes the idea, it seems. It’s another part of the story that we don’t have all the details on – yet.
In verse 34 is Nephi’s explanation to Zoram: “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 a place with us.”
Zoram so likes the idea, that he takes great courage. Nephi is setting this guy free, and letting him move to their wilderness community to live as a free man instead of a servant. Zoram takes up Nephi’s offer, and promises that he will move to the little wilderness community.
This is a deal that works for everybody. Zoram gets his freedom, and Nephi and his brothers are safe without being chased all the way back to their father.
This calmed everybody down, and off they went… back to the wilderness, having accomplished their great heroic task. I imagine they joked and whistled and sang songs as they went, with Nephi and his brothers so relieved not to be hunted down anymore and Zoram so excited to celebrate his new found freedom.
You can be sure that Nephi’s parents were glad to see them return home, and that’s the story of the next chapter.