Book of Mormon: Nephi’s Early Spirituality
Many members of the LDS Church read the Book of Mormon and believe that Nephi was a convert starting just from 1 Nephi 2; I’ll take a look at Nephi from the beginning up to the returning from the obtaining the brass plates and show that he likely had many gospel habits already firmly in place before he left Jerusalem.
1 Nephi 2: 11 Now this he spake because of the stiffneckedness of Laman and Lemuel; for behold they did murmur in many things against their father, because he was a visionary man, and had led them out of the land of Jerusalem, to leave … their precious things, to perish in the wilderness. And this they said he had done because of the foolish imaginations of his heart.
12 And thus Laman and Lemuel, being the eldest, did murmur against their father. And they did murmur because they knew not the dealings of that God who had created them.
So first, Nephi wasn’t murmuring or rebelling, and he seems to provide the reason why: he understood the dealings of God.
1 Nephi 2:13 Neither did they 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.
Is Nephi the opposite? It would seem so:
1 Nephi 2:16 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, being exceedingly young, nevertheless being large in stature, and also having great desires to know of the mysteries of God, wherefore, I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit me, and did soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father; wherefore, I did not rebel against him like unto my brothers.
Nephi might be 14 years old, maybe up to 17 or 18? He already has great desires to know of God, and knows that to understand the mysteries of God he must ask in prayer (something Laman and Lemuel show the opposite of in 1 Nephi 15). Nephi sounds like Mormon:
Mormon 1:15 And I, being fifteen years of age and being somewhat of a sober mind, therefore I was visited of the Lord, and tasted and knew of the goodness of Jesus.
What does Nephi do after praying and receiving an answer from God? He shares his answer with Sam, then with Laman and Lemuel:
1 Nephi 2:17 And I spake unto Sam, making known unto him the things which the Lord had manifested unto me by his Holy Spirit. And it came to pass that he believed in my words.
But Laman and Lemuel don’t listen, so he prays for them; that’s something that often takes us a long time to build up to:
1 Nephi 2:18 But, behold, Laman and Lemuel would not hearken unto my words; and being grieved because of the hardness of their hearts I cried unto the Lord for them.
1 Nephi 2:19 And it came to pass that the Lord spake unto me, saying: Blessed art thou, Nephi, because of thy faith, for thou hast sought me diligently, with lowliness of heart.
Praying twice doesn’t sound like seeking God diligently… I believe there had been much more before that.
Then God tells him about the future and Laman and Lemuel (the brothers he was praying for in this prayer):
20 And inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments, ye shall prosper, and shall be led to a land of promise; yea, even a land which I have prepared for you; yea, a land which is choice above all other lands.
21 And inasmuch as thy brethren (Laman and Lemuel, in particular) shall rebel against thee, they shall be cut off from the presence of the Lord.
22 And inasmuch as thou shalt keep my commandments, thou shalt be made a ruler and a teacher over thy brethren.
23 For behold, in that day that they shall rebel against me, I will curse them even with a sore curse, and they shall have no power over thy seed except they shall rebel against me also.
24 And if it so be that they rebel against me, they shall be a scourge unto thy seed, to stir them up in the ways of remembrance.
That is a lot, especially for a young boy. That could also very easily go to someone’s head, especially if he were a young boy. Yet Nephi never lets it get to his head, from the beginning to the end.
The boys are called to go back to get the plates, and Nephi tells his father:
1 Nephi 3:7 …I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.
Did Nephi suddenly come to this knowledge since 1 Nephi 2? I’m sure the experiences in 1 Nephi 1-2 strengthened this testimony, but I think it unlikely it gave him the start of this testimony.
And in fact, from the synopsis of 1 Nephi, Nephi writes:
“Nephi taketh his brethren and returneth to the land of Jerusalem after the record of the Jews.” Nephi leads his brothers on this quest–something that takes faith, courage, and testimony.
After the first failure:
14 … my brethren were about to return unto my father in the wilderness.
15 But behold I said unto them that: As the Lord liveth, and as we live, we will not go down unto our father in the wilderness until we have accomplished the thing which the Lord hath commanded us.
16 Wherefore, let us be faithful in keeping the commandments of the Lord; therefore let us go down to the land of our father’s inheritance, for behold he left gold and silver, and all manner of riches. And all this he hath done because of the commandments of the Lord.
17 For he knew that Jerusalem must be destroyed, because of the wickedness of the people.
18 For behold, they have rejected the words of the prophets. Wherefore, if my father should dwell in the land after he hath been commanded to flee out of the land, behold, he would also perish. Wherefore, it must needs be that he flee out of the land.
19 And behold, it is wisdom in God that we should obtain these records, that we may preserve unto our children the language of our fathers;
20 And also that we may preserve unto them the words which have been spoken by the mouth of all the holy prophets, which have been delivered unto them by the Spirit and power of God, since the world began, even down unto this present time.
21 And it came to pass that after this manner of language did I persuade my brethren, that they might be faithful in keeping the commandments of God.
Laman and Lemuel want to go home, but Nephi swears an oath that they will complete the mission before returning. Then he comes up with a wise, dedicated plan. He explains that Lehi is obedient, and that wicked Jerusalem will be destroyed because it has rejected the prophets. Then he finishes by persuading his brothers of the necessity of getting the plates, adding how prophets speak. Is this all beginner’s gumption and learning?
After the second attempt fails:
29 …an angel of the Lord came and stood before them, and he spake unto them, saying: …Behold ye shall go up to Jerusalem again, and the Lord will deliver Laban into your hands.
31 And after the angel had departed, Laman and Lemuel again began to murmur, saying: How is it possible that the Lord will deliver Laban into our hands? Behold, he is a mighty man, and he can command fifty, yea, even he can slay fifty; then why not us?
1 Nephi 4:1 And it came to pass that I spake unto my brethren, saying: Let us go up again unto Jerusalem, and let us be faithful in keeping the commandments of the Lord; for behold he is mightier than all the earth, then why not mightier than Laban and his fifty, yea, or even than his tens of thousands?
Where did Nephi get this testimony?
He continues with this:
2 Therefore let us go up; let us be strong like unto Moses; for he truly spake unto the waters of the Red Sea and they divided hither and thither, and our fathers came through, out of captivity, on dry ground, and the armies of Pharaoh did follow and were drowned in the waters of the Red Sea.
3 Now behold ye know that this is true; and ye also know that an angel hath spoken unto you; wherefore can ye doubt? Let us go up; the Lord is able to deliver us, even as our fathers, and to destroy Laban, even as the Egyptians.
4 Now when I had spoken these words, they were yet wroth, and did still continue to murmur; nevertheless they did follow me up until we came without the walls of Jerusalem.
Nephi has a great grasp of knowing the scriptures and likening them to an appropriate situation. This is a skill that comes with time and experience. (Any attempt to link this speech to the brass plates fails, as this is before they obtain the plates.
Nephi exhibits great faith in immediately going back to Jerusalem–I’m sure the beating he just took from his brothers didn’t leave him bruiseless.
They go back, and Nephi confidently goes in by himself:
5 And it was by night; and I caused that they should hide themselves without the walls. And after they had hid themselves, I, Nephi, crept into the city and went forth towards the house of Laban.
6 And I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do.
10 And it came to pass that I was constrained by the Spirit that I should kill Laban; but I said in my heart: Never at any time have I shed the blood of man. And I shrunk and would that I might not slay him.
11 And the Spirit said unto me again: Behold the Lord hath delivered him into thy hands. Yea, and I also knew that he had sought to take away mine own life; yea, and he would not hearken unto the commandments of the Lord; and he also had taken away our property.
12 And it came to pass that the Spirit said unto me again: Slay him, for the Lord hath delivered him into thy hands;
13 Behold the Lord slayeth the wicked to bring forth his righteous purposes. It is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief.
14 And now, when I, Nephi, had heard these words, I remembered the words of the Lord which he spake unto me in the wilderness, saying that: Inasmuch as thy seed shall keep my commandments, they shall prosper in the land of promise.
15 Yea, and I also thought that they could not keep the commandments of the Lord according to the law of Moses, save they should have the law.
16 And I also knew that the law was engraven upon the plates of brass.
17 And again, I knew that the Lord had delivered Laban into my hands for this cause—that I might obtain the records according to his commandments.
18 Therefore I did obey the voice of the Spirit…
This account seems to assume that Nephi is familiar with the Spirit enough to trust it to kill someone; and familiar with the law, enough to recall it when needed.
In the heat of the moment, Nephi is able to remember and speech spiritual things:
34 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 place with us.
Nephi constantly displays spiritual maturity that couldn’t have possibly just started in 1 Nephi 2.