CLICK HERE to read 1 Nephi 7.
In chapter 7, Nephi has finished his short (but powerful) monologue, and is back to telling the story of his family.
Before the family can move along in their wilderness journey, they have a tiny problem to solve:
Lehi has a family full of boys who are now grown and itchin’ to get married.
The solution seems simple enough: go back to Jerusalem to the family of Ishmael, who was like Lehi’s BFF back in the day and who just so happens to have a brood full of daughters, and bring the family to travel with them.
The plan: let the kiddos mingle.
It seems from the Hebrew, or implied, or maybe I am assuming, that either betrothals were already in place or had already been negotiated or already discussed in preparation for possible negotiations:
And then the Lord, our Master,
commanded him (my father, Lehi)
that we – my brothers and I, Nephi –
should again go back to the land of Jerusalem,
and bring back to the desert
(our father’s friend) Ishmael,
as well as his family
(with whom we already had agreements,
including betrothals to his daughters).
The end of verse one has both immediate and celestial implications: “that they might raise up seed unto the Lord in the land of promise.”
Remember, “the land of promise” always refers to the immediate end of their physical wandering in the actual wilderness, as well as to the celestial kingdom of heaven following our mortal lifetime journey.
So what happens next? Yep, you guessed it. Nephi and his brothers get sent back to Jerusalem again. Only this time there is no murmuring going on, because they are going to see the ladies. Boom.
So they go to Ishmael’s house, and gain his favor. They even get to “speak unto him the words of the Lord”. This is important because it means they are talking with him about what the prophets have said, and what it means for Jerusalem. So Ishmael isn’t leaving his home just to marry off his daughters, but because he believes the words of the prophets.
It requires a testimony of the prophets, and acting on faith in response to the word of the Lord, to have a celestial marriage.
The family of Lehi and the family of Ishmael are now traveling together in the wilderness, and the children are mingling, and over time the kids decide who likes whom.
But still, there are growing pains. Now that everyone is showing off for everyone else, the murmuring starts again. And even the girls chime in, now that they are daydreaming about fairytale weddings – they want the big fancy event in Jerusalem, where all their friends can come.
Nephi “grieved for the hardness of their hearts” (verse 8), and calls them out on this nonsense.
He looks Laman and Lemuel right in the eyes, and schools them with, “Listen! You guys are older than me! What’s your problem? You should be my example, but I have to be an example to you. Get with it, already! Why won’t you listen to the Lord? How is it you have seen an angel, and still won’t do what the Lord says? Have you forgotten everything the Lord has done for us? Have you forgotten everything we have seen and been through? What’s the deal?! We must be faithful to the Lord, puh-leeeeeze.”
He pleads with them and tries to reassure them with the promised blessings, saying in verse 13: “And if it so be that we are faithful to him, we shall obtain the land of promise…”
Again, a simple sentence contains a double meaning. He is talking about now, in the present moment, being faithful, so that they will get through the wilderness to the promised land (like Moses and the Israelites). But he also is referring to their mortal journey, that they must be faithful to their covenants if they want to get back to the presence of Heavenly Father.
He is saying, if you can’t do it in the small and simple things, how will you do it in the overall plan? The overall plan is accomplished each and every day. We become who we act like now.
In the same verse, he reminds them of why they cannot go back to Jerusalem (because it is going to be destroyed): “and ye shall know at some future period that the word of the Lord shall be fulfilled concerning the destruction of Jerusalem; for all things which the Lord hath spoken concerning the destruction of Jerusalem must be fulfilled.” The language flows more easily in the Hebrew:
“Yes, and how have you all
that the Lord, our Master,
could do everything for us,
and is capable of anything,
and will do whatever it takes
for His holy people
if they have faith in Him
and act like it?
let’s become faithful to Him
(and so also become holy
as He is holy).
Holiness to the Lord,
the House (people) of the Lord.
“And if we become faithful to Him,
we will get the land appointed to us
(even celestial lives),
and in the future you will know
that the Lord’s words
about the destruction of Jerusalem
(during your lifetime).
Then, in verse 14, he uses Jerusalem as an example to give his brothers a stern warning: “… the Spirit of the Lord ceaseth soon to strive with them; for behold, they have rejected the prophets, and Jeremiah (of the Old Testament) they have cast into prison. And they have sought to take away the life of my father, insomuch that they have driven him out of the land.”
The brothers know all this; they were there. Nephi doesn’t have to tell them the latest status update from Jerusalem’s facebook. They know all this.
Rather, Nephi is using Jerusalem as an example, warning his brothers that they are choosing to act the same as the people in Jerusalem, ignoring the words of prophets.
He is warning them that whether it is murmuring, or putting prophets in jail, neither makes them worthy of the Spirit of the Lord.
He is warning them that if they are choosing a similar destruction.
I say to you that if you
go back to Jerusalem,
(it will be evidence) that
you have strayed
(from your covenants),
and you will be lost,
(from your spiritual inheritance),
and you will perish with them
(both temporally and spiritually).
“So now, if this is your choice,
(then when) you go up (to Jerusalem),
know that you will remember my words
spoken (as a testimony against you)
(and you will not be able to forget them)
(because they are not my words)
but words given you
(as a final warning)
by the Spirit of the Lord,
and they are His words that I speak.”
Still, though, they have their agency. It is their choice, both literally and metaphorically. But Nephi boldly tells them the consequences for staying or for going back to Jerusalem.
This tells us more than just about the brothers and how they are doing. It also tells us about Nephi. Because Nephi is so full of the Spirit, he cannot not warn them. That’s the job of a prophet, to warn. Anyone who warns is a prophet (with a lowercase “p”); anyone who preaches about the use of agency and consequences for using it wisely or not, is a prophet.
The gift of prophesy is simply the testimony of the Savior (Revelation 19:10).
Prophesying, or testifying, is a natural result from being filled with the Spirit of the Lord. We cannot, if we are full, keep it to ourselves, because it is one message for all people.
It comes out of Nephi because that is who he is.
There is a quote I love by CS Lewis, which says, “creatures grow further apart as they increase in perfection. Good, as it ripens, becomes continually more different not only from evil but from other good.”
This is an example of that quote.
Laman and Lemuel were born into the covenant, and they were obedient to their father in leaving – even though they were hesitant in doing so. This does set them apart from the people in Jerusalem who tried to kill Isaiah and who threw Jeremiah in jail. Laman and Lemuel are complaining, but at least they went along with the plan (begrudgingly).
However, Nephi then chose the covenant, which is more than just being born into it. And he is not complaining, even though he faces the same hardships. And he is doing the things – study and prayer and teaching and sharing – that develop him spiritually. This is in sharp contrast to his brothers, who repeatedly just barely make the cut.
Laman and Lemuel don’t like Nephi calling them out. He’s their younger brother, and nobody likes to be busted. They are angry, it says. I am a therapist, so I know that “angry” means embarrassed, hurt, ashamed, scared, confused, offended, lonely, abandoned, and all sorts of other things that run like a river beneath the shores of “angry”.
They grab Nephi and tie him up, leaving him in the wilderness to die.
This reminds us what happens with Joseph, in Genesis 37, when his brothers throw him in the pit to die… only to barely have compassion enough to sell him as a slave instead. Nice.
But Nephi prayed, “O Lord, according to my faith which is in thee, wilt thou deliver me from the hands of my brethren; yea, even give me strength that I may burst these bands with which I am bound.” (verse 17)
This verse is packed!
First, Nephi’s immediate response was not to get upset or retaliate or give up and quit.
And he knew how to ask for help: “according to my faith”.
In this moment, Nephi is relying on all those hours of study, all those early morning seminary meetings, all those “small and simple things” that have built up within him, “line upon line”, a great faith. This great faith is what empowers him.
It is the power of the Lord, but Nephi has the right to call upon it because he has invested the time and energy and effort into claiming that power. He is worthy of it, and he has worked hard to obtain it. So this power is available to him, and he has the ability to use it.
He is also claiming who he knows God to be, stating that He knows the Lord is able to deliver him.
Nephi breaks loose, and undaunted, gets right back up and confronts his brothers him again.
Now they are even more angry!
Except by now, there has been such a commotion going on that the ladies have come out to intervene.
The ladies speak with Laman and Lemuel, softening their hearts.
This is the miracle of the divine work of women, truly. There is something in us that has this special “divine attribute”, as we are made after the likeness of our Heavenly Parents. It is meant to comfort and to soothe. It is meant to create life-ness where there is nothing and to bring peace where there is destruction and division.
But I think that is also why there is such drama in girl world, and why we cause such severe destruction and pain when we fail to be life-givers and peace-makers. It is not just a failure to do good, but it is a causing of harm. In those moments when we lose our tempers, when we last out, when we act so ugly and mean… we are perverting the divine gifts within us. It is our unrighteous dominion. It is a terrible, terrible thing when we are negative and hateful and ugly. When we act like that, we deny the basic nature of God-ess-ness.
Here, however, the ladies serve Him well. They soothe the men, they help calm them down, and they help them understand what Nephi is trying to say. They help them shift perspectives and understand the truth. They help them see the reality of what they were doing, and the severe implications.
And they get sorry. Really. They even ask forgiveness.
Then, in verse 21, Nephi replies: “And it came to pass that I did frankly forgive them all that they had done, and I did exhort them that they would pray unto the Lord their God for forgiveness.”
This is amazing: Nephi doesn’t take it personally. He gets beat up (again), tied up, and left for dead, and he doesn’t take it personally. He sticks to his eternal message, and points them (again) back to the Savior.
They do pray for forgiveness, and the brothers are re-united.
This is at-one-ment. This is the atonement at work.
This is a family in a healing moment.
They arrive back at their father’s tent, and the families celebrate.
What is amazing and interesting about verse 22, is how they celebrate.
They celebrate according to the Temple pattern.
“And after I and my brethren and all the house of Ishmael had come down unto the tent of my father, they did give thanks unto the Lord their God; and they did offer sacrifice and burnt offerings unto him.”
In Hebrew, it clarifies specifically:
And after my brothers and I,
and also all the family of Ishmael,
reached the tabernacle,
we thanked the Lord, our God
(emphasis: now also the God
of those who had rebelled
while they had not let Him
be their God
We offered sacrifices and a peace offering
(הַשְּׁלָמִים – an offering that expresses
gratitude to God
for blessings and mercies,
and an offering of which
the family eats the food,
and an offering which
is made after
fulfillment of a vow).
It’s almost like you can see the wilderness landscape, with the temporary tent-tabernacle (Temple) set up, and the families joined for the sealings of these new couples.
Maybe, if you have cochlear implants, you can hear the distant wedding bells, and the singing and dancing that followed.