Book of Mormon: The Holy Ghost Persuades Nephi to Slay Laban (1 Nephi 3)
In 1 Nephi 4, Nephi shares what happened with Laban, and the influence of the Holy Ghost. I see it similar to this:
6 And I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do.
7 Nevertheless I went forth, and as I came near unto the house of Laban I beheld a man, and he had fallen to the earth before me, for he was drunken with wine.
8 And when I came to him I found that it was Laban.
The Spirit leads Nephi to the right spot, where he sees a man passed out on the ground. Seeing is not much of a certain thing in the dark streets of Jerusalem; I wonder if Nephi bent down to help a man, when he found out the man he intended to help was Laban.
9 And I beheld his sword, and I drew it forth from the sheath thereof; and the hilt thereof was of pure gold, and the workmanship thereof was exceedingly fine, and I saw that the blade thereof was of the most precious steel.
As I’ve mentioned in another article, Nephi does not draw the sword with the intent to slay Laban, but more out of “Wow, cool blade!”. God allows Neph’s natural thinking, curiosity, and actions to take over to prepare for and lead to the next step.
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.
Would it be fair to say, minimally, that the Spirit says: “You should kill Laban.” It’s not a command, but an option, a suggestion.
Nephi says something like, “No, I’m not a murderer, I don’t want to.” Even after all that had happened that day, that’s a pretty typical thought for a righteous young man. (In another article I also mention Nephi’s probable mindset about how the Lord would deliver Laban and why.)
What does “constrain” mean? Here, from Webster’s 1828 dictionary:
“CONSTRAIN, v.t. [L., to strain, to bind. See Strain.] In a general sense, to strain; to press; to urge; to drive; to exert force, physical or moral, either in urging to action or in restraining it. Hence,
1. To compel or force; to urge with irresistible power, or with a power sufficient to produce the effect.
2. To confine by fore; to restrain from escape or action; to repress.
3. To hold by force; to press; to confine.
4. To constringe; to bind.
5. To tie fast; to bind; to chain; to confine.
6. To necessitate.
7. To force; to ravish. [Not used.]
8. To produce in opposition to nature; as a constrained voice; constrained notes.”
That’s a lot of choices, and all could fit well, and I think most of them are pretty obvious how they fit here, too.
I think the eighth definition is very interesting here: “to produce in opposition to nature”, or maybe, to “in opposition to one’s natural or normal state/ doing”. The Spirit doesn’t usually lead someone to kill someone else, and Nephi understood and experienced the Spirit in always the opposite way. And Nephi doesn’t naturally have lust or murder in his heart (look at how much love and patience he had with his brothers who had just yelled at and beat him, then chickened out to help).
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.
The Spirit starts out with the “facts”, with the straightforward, non-debatable “as is”; what the Law prescribes. The Lord has delivered him–this is way too much beyond chance, you had no intention, etc.–it’s not a coincidence you are where you are now, in this situation.
So Nephi reviews the case, counts it out:
1. Laban unlawfully tried to murder him. (Not only that, but when Nephi was his guest, in his house.)
2. Laban had been given opportunities to obey the Lord, but had rejected them all—in fact, the opportunities to repent only lead to more sin.
3. Laban was a robber.
12 And it came to pass that the Spirit said unto me again: Slay him, for the Lord hath delivered him into thy hands;
The Spirit does not stop. It reminds Nephi that Laban has been delivered by the Lord, for this purpose.
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.
Nephi had previously said: “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” (1 Nephi 3:7).
The Spirit tells him here, “This is the way the Lord has prepared for you so you can obey his commandments”.
“You know that Laban is wicked, deserves to die by the law, is not repentant, and stands in the Lord’s way.”
“You as a man are not killing Laban; you are being a tool in the Lord’s hands to slay him.”
“One wicked man the Lord has delivered to you, or a nation of nonbelievers?”
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.
“…a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief.” A nation? Yes, Nephi—not the Spirit—makes the connection to what the Spirit means. Nephi knows at least much of the Law—but will his children? If so, how? They need these records for their belief and obedience. And his father had said: “Laban hath the record of the Jews”.
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.
Nephi understands clearly now—twice because of the Spirit and once because of his own understanding–that the Lord has delivered Laban to him, so that he can get the plates.
18 Therefore I did obey the voice of the Spirit, and took Laban by the hair of the head, and I smote off his head with his own sword.
Nephi knows the Spirit has been telling him the truth, but he is now convinced to do the right thing. (Note that Laban was drunk and probably had no idea that he was dead—the Lord was still merciful to him.)