CLICK HERE to read 2 Nephi 1.
Just as 1st Nephi was an account of Lehi and his son, Nephi, and the rest of their family leaving Jerusalem and traveling into the wilderness, so 2nd Nephi is an account of the final days of Lehi, Lehi’s death, and Nephi’s continued journeys. In this way, 2nd Nephi is about the passing of the torch from Lehi to Nephi. The family records are passed down to Nephi, and he continues to document the family story.
In 1st Nephi, the bad behavior of these boys consistently played out opposite Nephi’s good behavior. The characters of these brothers are “types” of the Law of Opposition, showing how the opposition plays out, showing what each side looks like. It helps us to learn what the opposite choices are, enables us to discern what consequences follow, and empowers us to make our own good choices. This is how we avoid bondage by learning the lessons from their experiences; unless we do not learn by their example, then we still must repeat the pattern until we get it for ourselves.
But now, in 2nd Nephi, the same thing starts to play out on a grander scale. Instead of just representing the opposites of good guy / bad guy, these brothers begin to point to a higher pattern. No longer simply playing opposites in their choices, the brothers are now opposites as a result of their choices. Rather than simply representing opposing choices, the brothers now represent opposing consequences. Instead of just being the good guy, Nephi now is a prophet pointing to the Savior, a “type” of the Savior, or representing the people of the Church. Instead of just being the bad boys representing the bad choices, Laman and Lemuel now represent those who are rejecting the prophets, not of the covenant, and even mocking the Church.
Verse 1 of chapter 1 opens 2 Nephi by explaining this transition: “And now it came to pass that after I, Nephi, had made an end of teaching my brethren, our father, Lehi, also spake many things unto them, and rehearsed unto them, how great things the Lord had done for them in bringing them out of the land of Jerusalem.”
But then, in verse 2, Lehi does something that I love very much, something that I need reminding of everyday: he calls out the naughty boys, those murmuring and rebellious brothers of Nephi. He calls them out for their bad behavior on the ship, back when they were mean and rude and tied Nephi up (1 Nephi 18). But here is the part I love: Lehi calls them out on it, but then points them back to the Savior. Rather than focus on shaming them, or getting stuck in the reprimanding, Lehi follows the pattern we are given by disciplining and then demonstrating an increase in love (See D&C 121:43). In this moment of meekness (for to be meek is “strength under control”, and he had plenty of reasons to just blast them), Lehi straight up calls out the boys for their bad behavior, but then rather than isolating them or shaming them for this, uses it to teach a character trait of God. He teaches them about God’s mercy.
In the context of justice (as opposed to “tender mercies” which is a different thing), “mercy” is when we do not receive what we should.
This is in contrast to “grace”, which is when we receive what we did not earn.
The atonement includes both grace and mercy: He did it for us even though we did not deserve it (grace); because He did it, we will not receive the full punishment we should have (mercy).
It is grace when my mother got me a chocolate shake even though I fussed at her early that morning.
It is mercy when my mother grounded me for only 1 day instead of 3 days for fussing at her.
Mercy is when the full punishment is not dished out.
So in verse 2, Lehi is saying that the bad behavior of those naughty boys earned a severe punishment from God. If we remember that story, we know the storms came and threatened the ship and everyone on it. But God showed mercy and did not destroy them (even though they had earned it).
Lehi used that past experience – very fresh and relevant to his children and their families – to explain what God was doing for them now (line upon line!).
In verse 3, Lehi talks about their safe arrival in the land of promise, and how this showed the mercy of God because He had warned them to leave Jerusalem before it was destroyed.
This is the mercy of God: that He gave them commandments, and their obedience saved them.
This is how He delivers His people through covenants.
We know that anytime the Scriptures talk about the land of promise, or the promised land, we know it is referring not only to that physical deliverance of those people at that time, but also to the ultimate deliverance of all of us returning to the celestial kingdom to be with our Heavenly Father.
In the same way, whatever or whoever is being destroyed in that physical moment of that historical time becomes a representation of “the world”; just as the covenant people must flee from those lands/oppressors/cities, so we must also be “set apart” from the world to be delivered to the promised land.
To be “set apart” means to be “holy”, so it is this “setting apart” from the world that transforms us into becoming holy, into becoming the people-of-holiness.
It is the journey, it is the “setting apart” that makes us holy, that makes us become the covenant people He has called us to be.
Keeping all that in mind, we re-read verse 3:
“And he also spake unto them concerning the land of promise, which they had obtained—how merciful the Lord had been in warning us that we should flee out of the land of Jerusalem.”
So we learn that it is HIS MERCY that enables us to be “set apart”, that makes us holy, that transforms us into a covenant people.
It is also a reminder that His Laws, the principles by which we live, and the commandments we know are good for us, and that they are given to us by His MERCY, so that we can be delivered.
It brings us back to the image of the Passover, and of how being obedient saves us. We see it in every commandment given to us – CLICK HERE to read my favorite talk EVER on the Word of Wisdom, by my favorite-est I-can-talk-Hebrew-Greek-and-English-in-the-same-sentence scholar, Hugh Nibley.
So this is the lesson, that in God’s mercy, He gives us commandments to keep us safe – both temporally and spiritually. It’s really that simple.
In verse 4, Lehi tells his family that he has seen a vision in which Jerusalem has been destroyed. So he knows that what he prophesied has now happened. And, it really did. This is all just after 600 BC, and we know that in this time, Jerusalem really was taken captive by Babylon. This is the time of Jeremiah the prophet, and the captivity will last through the days of Zedekiah and until the rebuilding of the Temple.
So, Lehi says, “had we remained in Jerusalem, we should also have perished” (verse 4).
This opens up a layer of prophecy, where Lehi is talking about the land of Americas as well as this “promised land” being a type of the future celestial kingdom.
He says, “Dude. This was a hard trip. It’s been really hard. We had lots of hardships along the way. But we got here safely, and were delivered out of the destruction that went down back there. We are grateful and glad for His mercy that provided a way for us to make it here, and grateful and glad for this provision of a place to live. The Lord keeps His promises.”
“But, said he, notwithstanding our afflictions, we have obtained a land of promise, a land which is choice above all other lands; a land which the Lord God hath covenanted with me should be a land for the inheritance of my seed. Yea, the Lord hath covenanted this land unto me, and to my children forever, and also all those who should be led out of other countries by the hand of the Lord” (verse 5).
Then come his powerful words of prophesy: “according to the workings of the Spirit which is in me, that there shall none come into this land save they shall be brought by the hand of the Lord” (verse 6).
This land, he says, is a promised land. The Lord will lead people here, and that is how the people will find it. Then, as long as the people continue to be obedient and acknowledge Him, He will protect them here in this land because they are His people and this is His land. But if they refuse to become His people, they must leave the land because it is His.”
This, like all other others, applies in a temporal (here and now) and spiritual (celestial kingdom) sense.
The Lord is holy. We cannot be in His presence if we are not also made holy. To return to His presence, we must become the people-of-holiness.
In the same way, this land is consecrated (set apart, made holy) for His people. If His people continue to be His people, the land will remain as a symbol of freedom to them, a “land of liberty”. Can you see Moroni raising the flag in Alma 46? But if they lose their freedom and liberty, it will be because of iniquity. Yet even still, it is promised to His people, so those who become His people, people-of-holiness (the House of the Lord), will inherit the land. It’s a promise.
“Wherefore, this land is consecrated unto him whom he shall bring. And if it so be that they shall serve him according to the commandments which he hath given, it shall be a land of liberty unto them; wherefore, they shall never be brought down into captivity; if so, it shall be because of iniquity; for if iniquity shall abound cursed shall be the land for their sakes, but unto the righteous it shall be blessed forever.”
Thus unfolds the drama (as in story) of the entire Book of Mormon. The whole rest of the Book of Mormon is the story of how the Law of Opposition, played out by the descendants of Nephi (Nephites) and descendants of Lamen and Lemuel (Lamanites) affects who has the land or not. It is how these groups of people, the Nephites and the Lamanites, are blessed or not by the choices they make and the covenants they keep (or not).
“Wherefore, I, Lehi, have obtained a promise, that inasmuch as those whom the Lord God shall bring out of the land of Jerusalem shall keep his commandments, they shall prosper upon the face of this land; and they shall be kept from all other nations, that they may possess this land unto themselves. And if it so be that they shall keep his commandments they shall be blessed upon the face of this land, and there shall be none to molest them, nor to take away the land of their inheritance; and they shall dwell safely forever.”
This is a beautiful promise, a powerful promise.
It is also concerning, for we know the consequences of falling away from God as a nation, and it seems in-process even now.
The Family Proclamation says:
We warn that individuals who violate covenants of chastity, who abuse spouse or offspring, or who fail to fulfill family responsibilities will one day stand accountable before God. Further, we warn that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets.
That time is here. That time is nearly now.
We are no longer in the latter days. We are in the latter days of the latter days. Time is running out. The signs are here, the earth is testifying, and the prophet and apostles are exponentially speeding up preparations in every way.
Lehi said, “But behold, when the time cometh that they shall dwindle in unbelief, after they have received so great blessings from the hand of the Lord—having a knowledge of the creation of the earth, and all men, knowing the great and marvelous works of the Lord from the creation of the world; having power given them to do all things by faith; having all the commandments from the beginning, and having been brought by his infinite goodness into this precious land of promise—behold, I say, if the day shall come that they will reject the Holy One of Israel, the true Messiah, their Redeemer and their God, behold, the judgments of him that is just shall rest upon them” (verse 10).
The Lord can only show us mercy if we are listening and obeying and doing what He says.
Mercy works by delivering us through warnings, which means doing what we are supposed to do BEFORE the consequences come.
If we do not, then all that is left is the consequences, which is justice-only.
The time for mercy is NOW. They time for obedience is NOW.
The time to be delivered is NOW.
But Lehi’s family was delivered because they heeded the warnings when they came, not because they waited until Jerusalem was invaded.
If they had waited, it would have been too late.
Now is the time to prepare to meet God.
It pre-echos the urging of Alma 5.
This life is the time to prepare to meet God (Alma 34:32).
If we do not, it will be the same as is always the pattern of those who refuse the Lord: rather than being GATHERED and DELIVERED, there will be SCATTERING and DESTRUCTION.
“Yea, he will bring other nations unto them, and he will give unto them power, and he will take away from them the lands of their possessions, and he will cause them to be scattered and smitten” (verse 11).
We have to wake up! We have to remember!
Lehi said, “O that ye would awake; awake from a deep sleep, yea, even from the sleep of hell, and shake off the awful chains by which ye are bound, which are the chains which bind the children of men, that they are carried away captive down to the eternal gulf of misery and woe” (verse 13). These “chains of hell” he is talking about is defined in Alma 12:12:
And they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction. Now this is what is meant by the chains of hell.
If our hearts are soft, we are given a “greater portion of the word” (understanding of Scriptures, Spirit-tutoring in the Scriptures, and deeper layers of meaning).
If our hearts are hard – if we will not obey – then we are given less. Why would he give us more, if we do not care about or pay attention to what He has already given?
Why would He ask more of us, if we do not do what He has already commanded?
In the Hebrew, “mysteries” refers to two things: first, the things of God; second, ordinances of God.
So the more we humble ourselves before the Lord, and heed (listen and do!) what the Spirit teaches (instructs, corrects, and guides), then the more soft our hearts will be. The more soft our hearts are, the more easily He can IMPRESS upon them.
When my house was being built, I carved my initials into my driveway. It was easy because the cement was wet and soft. I could not go out there today, a year later, now that the cement is hard and dry, and so very easily carve my name into the cement. Is it possible? Yes, I could. But not in the same way, the same ease as when it was wet and soft. Now it would be a hard process, rough, and require painful carving the way a flower must feel when I pull off its dead blossoms so that new blossoms can burst forth. It’s much easier to impress upon something that is soft.
This is Lehi’s call to his children and their families; this is Lehi’s call to us: be soft, let the Spirit impress upon your hearts, so that the Lord can teach you line upon line, so that you can become the people-of-holiness, so that you can get home safely to Heavenly Father.
He calls out, “Awake! And arise from the dust!” (verse 14)
This is our being lifted up. As we are sanctified, by His Spirit, and by His atonement, we are changed. He lifts us up, transforming us from what we were into who we were created to be. We must shake off the dust from our tears of repentance, and we must exchange our sackcloth for white robes. This is His work and glory, to bring about the immortality and eternal life of all of us. It is His work of making us at-one again.
We see the at-one-ness in verse 15: “the Lord hath redeemed my soul from hell; I have beheld his glory, and I am encircled about eternally in the arms of his love”. I am encircled about in the arms of his love. This is the embrace, the bringing into His presence. It is the prodigal son being reunited with his father. It is the moment of at-one-ness.
In his last words before dying, Lehi repeats all of this in a parallel poem kind of way, emphasizing the tender urging of a “trembling parent” (verse 14):
“And I desire that ye should remember to observe the statutes and the judgments of the Lord; behold, this hath been the anxiety of my soul from the beginning… My heart hath been weighed down with sorrow from time to time, for I have feared, lest for the hardness of your hearts the Lord your God should come out in the fulness of his wrath upon you, that ye be cut off and destroyed forever; Or, that a cursing should come upon you for the space of many generations; and ye are visited by sword, and by famine, and are hated, and are led according to the will and captivity of the devil” (verses 16-18).
Rather, Lehi pleads, choose the way of the Savior. Turn to Him, love Him, serve Him, do what He says “that that these things might not come upon you, but that ye might be a choice and a favored people of the Lord. But behold, his will be done; for his ways are righteousness forever. And he hath said that: inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land; but inasmuch as ye will not keep my commandments ye shall be cut off from my presence” (verses 19, 20).
This is an important, subtle piece because it again reflects and points out the attribute of mercy the Lord has.
It’s not a pass/fail exam.
“Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments, ye shall prosper in the land” could read “to the degree that you keep my commandments, you will prosper in the land”.
This is not old-school mad-Jesus Heaven-or-Hell.
This is the mercy of God, that He provides a way, and our choices determine how far along that path we get and how quickly.
He makes it possible for us to return to Heavenly Father, but our choices determine how close we get.
Look, and see –
My mother has always been my mother, but after things like running away (my “Fall”), getting adopted by her made it all legal again.
That made her my mother, but it is our time together, our positive interactions, our choices in taking care of each other – that is what made us friends.
Heavenly Father has always been our Heavenly Father, but the atonement pf the Savior makes my adoption possible.
But it is our time together (scripture study), our interactions (prayer and heeding promptings), our choices in taking care of each other (obedience, covenant-keeping) that makes us friends.
ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father (Romans 8:15).
I will call you friends, for you are my friends, and ye shall have an inheritance with me (D&C 93:45).
This is the embrace of at-one-ness, the work of the atonement.
But we have to do our part.
Because that’s how covenants work.
We know He will keep His promises.
But we have to keep ours.
“And now that my soul might have joy in you, and that my heart might leave this world with gladness because of you, that I might not be brought down with grief and sorrow to the grave, arise from the dust, my sons, and be men, and be determined in one mind and in one heart, united in all things” (verse 21).
This is at-one-ment!
Then Lehi sums up his whole plea, repeating the pattern once more so that they might see how it works.
First, what happens when we are not at-one:
“that ye may not come down into captivity; That ye may not be cursed with a sore cursing; and also, that ye may not incur the displeasure of a just God upon you, unto the destruction, yea, the eternal destruction of both soul and body”
And then, rather, how to become at-one:
“Awake, my sons; put on the armor of righteousness. Shake off the chains with which ye are bound, and come forth out of obscurity, and arise from the dust. Rebel no more against your brother, whose views have been glorious, and who hath kept the commandments from the time that we left Jerusalem; and who hath been an instrument in the hands of God, in bringing us forth into the land of promise; for were it not for him, we must have perished with hunger in the wilderness; nevertheless, ye sought to take away his life; yea, and he hath suffered much sorrow because of you” (verses 22-24).
The armor of righteousness, the robes of righteousness, the armor of God.
Rebel no more against the prophet, against those that warn you. Listen, and heed (go and do!).
Keep the commandments because that is HOW the Lord delivers you.
Testify of the Lord working in your life, and the Spirit will testify to their spirit that you are a servant of God (Preach My Gospel, p. 158).
Lehi urges his sons and their families to turn to the Lord and obey His commandments. He has explained how the commandments are given to protect them, to keep them safe, to teach them to depend on spiritual things. He has explained how it is through commandments that we are delivered. He has reminded them of examples of this. Now he says that Nephi’s example of doing this well and teaching his brothers how to do this is not “for power nor authority over you, but he hath sought the glory of God, and your own eternal welfare” (verse 25).
So again, Nephi is a type pointing to Christ, who has given us commandments that are for our eternal welfare, for the glory of God.
Lehi confronts the murmuring of his sons against Nephi once more:
“And ye have murmured because he hath been plain unto you. Ye say that he hath used sharpness; ye say that he hath been angry with you; but behold, his sharpness was the sharpness of the power of the word of God, which was in him; and that which ye call anger was the truth, according to that which is in God, which he could not restrain, manifesting boldly concerning your iniquities” (verse 26).
The words of God are only “sharp” and difficult and too hard when we are not doing what He says.
It’s only oppressive when it isn’t what we really want. It’s only oppressive when we are out-of-sync.
That’s why it is “inasmuch”, or to the degree to which you obey, because He is not out to oppress us or make us miserable. He wants us happy, and He wants us to succeed. He lets us choose.
When we are “kicking against the goads” or “kick against the pricks” (Acts 9:5), it hurts and we are uncomfortable and we do not like it.
But when we submit, and take upon us His equal yoke, designed just for the being we are, then our load is made lighter and we are able to progress forward (Matthew 11:30).
“And it must needs be that the power of God must be with him, even unto his commanding you that ye must obey. But behold, it was not he, but it was the Spirit of the Lord which was in him, which opened his mouth to utterance that he could not shut it” (verse 27).
We are called to listen to the prophets and leaders who teach us, guide us, and correct us. It is by the Spirit that they speak.
In the same way, we should be filled with the Spirit of the Lord, so that we also testify. Always, being filled with the Spirit is a call to some kind of sharing, some level of passing-it-on, some type of testifying, whether or not we actually use words. Receiving the Light and Becoming the Light is all part of the same process. We are called to be a light unto the world.
We read in Matthew 5:14-16:
Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.
Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.
Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.
What is interesting about this is how we, collectively, a covenant people of the Temple (a city on a hill), are the light of the world. We cannot be hidden; we cannot be silenced. Our primary influence is a collective influence.
But, the only way that can happen, is for us as individuals to shine.
We must shine, even to each other within the church, to our brothers and sisters of the covenant (“all that are in the house”). We cannot be acting like the world, when we are supposed to be acting like a city-on-the-hill (Temple). We should be demonstrating attributes of the Savior – goodness, kindness, loving-ness, forgiving-ness, soft-ness, service-ness – unto all those around us. Not drama, not bickering, not hatefulness, not ugliness. We should be reflecting the Savior, so that all may glorify our Father-in-Heaven.
And if we do so, even listening to the prophets, doing what the Scriptures say, heeding the promptings of the Spirit, then “ye shall not perish” (verse 28).
Now Lehi is dying, and gives his final blessings to his sons.
He also blesses Zoram, the servant of Laban (the guy who had the records and wouldn’t give them up). He even thanks him for being a “true friend” to Nephi. He declares Zoram to be a convert to the covenant “because thou has been faithful, and so they seed shall be blessed… and nothing, save it be iniquity among them… shall harm or disturb their prosperity upon the face of this land forever… if ye shall keep the commandments of the Lord, the Lord hath consecrated this land for the security of thy seed with the seed of my son” (verses 31 and 32).
In this way, the close of the chapter that opens 2 Nephi, we see how the covenant is open even to converts, and that in some way all must convert. We see being born into the covenant is not enough, but one must be faithful to the covenant.