Monday, May 12, 2008

Nephi Obtains the Scriptures but it Wasn't Easy

I am back folks. I had to take some time off to finish up the semester. I apologize for leaving you hanging. It is time to find out what Nephi is going to do to pry the records out of Laban's greedy hands.

As you know I love the back-story. At this time in history the Jews were in dire straights. They have already been invaded by Babylon, the temple, as well as the population, has been pillaged. It is no wonder that the few precious things that remained from the temple were entrusted to a treasurer. It is my opinion (and only my opinion) that Laban was that person. As such he doesn't have ownership rights to the objects, including the scriptures, in his possession. It is apparent that Laban has forgotten that his is a sacred trust given to him by the people.

And now for the story....

Nephi turns to his brothers and gives them a pep talk beginning with "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?" "Let's be strong like unto Moses," he says. "We have seen an angel," he reminds." "Let us go up: the Lord is able to deliver us!" "Ready break!" (Just kidding about that last part.) True to form Laman and Lemuel are still grousing but go to Jerusalem they did.

When they arrived outside the walls of the city Nephi instructed his brothers to hide and wait. I will let Nephi tell you the rest of the story in his own words:

"I, Nephi crept into the city and went forth towards the house of Laban. And I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do. 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. And When I came to him I found that it was Laban! 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..."

OK I have to interject something here. Imagine Nephi at this point. He is young. He is alone and he has no idea how he is going to accomplish the task he has been given. When he sees Laban wallowing in a drunken stupor young Nephi does what many young men would do. He is distracted for a moment and takes a look at the cool awesome sword. He has no idea what is coming. Back to our story.

"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 a man. And I shrunk and would that I might not slay him."

Me again. Laban has threatened the brothers' lives and stolen from them. According to Mosaic law Laban has sealed his fate but Nephi is appalled at the idea of killing a man so the Holy Ghost has to really talk Nephi into it.

" And it came to pass the the Spirit said unto me again: Slay him, for the Lord hath delivered him into thy hands. 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."

Now Nephi gets the message. He knows that his family has been commanded to go to a new land and become a new civilization. He knows that if they don't have the scriptures they will not know God or his commandments or his prophets or his laws. The future of his people hinges on getting the scriptures and he has to do what he has to do. Sooooo......

"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. And after I had smitten off his head...I took the garments of Laban and put them upon my own body; yea, even every whit; and I did gird on his armor..."

Nephi now has the plan fully in mind. He goes to Laban's house and meets up with Laban's servant who, of course, thinks that he is seeing his boss. Nephi tells the servant that he needs to take the engravings out to the city walls. Zoram, the servant, walks with Nephi to the treasury, chatting all the way about this and that. They get the plates and walk to the edge of town where Laman, Lemuel and Sam see Nephi and freak out. They run off in terror thinking that Laban has killed Nephi and was now coming after them. Nephi says, "And it came to pass that I called after them and they did hear me; wherefore they did cease to flee from my presence." Now Zoram knows the jig is up and he starts to freak out and shake all over and was about to take off back to the city but Nephi grabs him and talks Zoram into going back to camp with them and joining in the journey. Nephi promises with an oath that Zoram has nothing to fear. Zoram agrees and swears an oath that he will remain with Nephi and his family from that time forth.

Nephi is no fool. He knows that if Zoram goes back to the city he will spread the word about what has happened and Nephi & company will be running for their lives again. Zoram is no fool either. His master is dead and the engraved scriptures are gone. His head is probably going on the chopping block if he goes back to Jerusalem.

Nephi finishes the story, "And it came to pass that we took the plates of brass and the servant of Laban, and departed into the wilderness and journeyed unto the tent of our father."

When I first read this part of the Book of Mormon my reaction was pretty much the same as Nephi's. I thought, "Eeegad, is this really necessary?" You will find out as I did that it was absolutely necessary. Keep this story in mind when we get to the part where the risen Christ visits the Nephites 600 years later. Christ specifically asks to see the Nephites scriptures. But more on that later.

What would you do to keep the commandments of God? Right here and right now could God ask you to do anything and know that you wouldn't let him down? Does God still require that kind of devotion and obedience today? Good questions.

See you back at Lehi's camp. By the way, Zoram turns out to be no prize in the future. His people are always at the center of the Nephites troubles.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Stop fighting and get the book!

Let's get back to the story. Nephi has been given assurance from the Lord, through prayer, that his father's revelations and directions can be trusted. The Lord said much more to Nephi that is important to our story:

"Inasmuch as you 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. And insasmuch as thy brethren shall
rebel against thee, they shall be cut off from the presence of the Lord.
And insasmuch as thou shalt keep my commandments, thou shalt be made a ruler and a teacher over thy brethren." (1 Nephi 2:20-22)

When Nephi has finished his prayer he goes to his Father’s tent whereupon Lehi sits Nephi down and tells him about a dream. In the dream the Lord commands that Nephi and his brothers to return to Jerusalem and obtain a book that is a “record of the Jews and also a genealogy of thy forefathers, and they are engraven upon plates of brass.” (1 Nephi 3:2-3)

The record of the Jews is nothing less than the scriptures that have been compiled up to the reign of Zedekiah – the current King of Judah. The Israelite people had always been obsessive record keepers. Anyone who has read the first five books of the Old Testament knows this because every detail of the Law of Moses is recorded therein. The revelations and actions of the prophets are recorded in other books. Some of their history is written in Kings and Chronicles. We have all of this information, even the tedious stuff, because these people knew the importance of written records. Lehi and kin are going to a new land and they need these records so that they won’t forget the revelations and commandments of God. They need them just as we need them.

Nephi tells his father that he will go and do what he has been asked to do. Gulp. Nephi knows that Jerusalem is politically unstable, wicked and not too fond of his family. He could be facing a murderous mob when he gets there. But ya gotta do what ya gotta do so he gathers up his brothers and off to Jerusalem the go. When they arrive just outside of the city they sit down and discuss strategy. A man named Laban has the plates. Laban is a powerful man with a lot of social currency. The boys drew lots – I am guessing they didn’t know about the rock-paper-scissors thing – and the lot fell to Laman.

Laman goes to the home of Laban and they sit down together to have a civil conversation. Laman asks Laban for the plates. Laban gets angry and throws Laman out of the house. Strike one.

Laman returns to camp where the brothers hatch another plan. When they left Jerusalem the first time they left behind all their worldly possession, which included gold, silver and other things that were quite valuable. The plan now is to approach Laban and offer a trade of all their expensive stuff for the book. Sounds good! Laban doesn’t think so. He wants to keep the goods and the book so he calls his servants, tells them that Nephi and crew are trying to rob him. The boys flee the scene, leaving their bargaining chips behind. Strike two.

Now what? Laman and Lemuel are furious. They barely escaped with their lives on this foolish errand. They beat up on Nephi and Sam with a rod and spew a diatribe of angry words. While they were doing this an angel appears.

The angel askes why they are abusing their brothers and says, “don’t you know that your brother has been chosen by God to be a ruler over you because of your sins? Now get up and go get the book. God will deliver Laban into your hands.” (paraphrased)

The appearance of an angel didn’t faze Laman and Lemuel. They didn’t miss and beat and started up right where they left off, “How is it possible that the Lord will deliver Laban into our hands? Behold he is a might man, and he can command fifty, even he and slay fifty; then why not us? (1 Nephi 3:31) I find this exchange a little humorous. They saw the angel and obviously believed their eyes because they were now arguing against what the angel had said. The whole miracle and promise-from-the-Lord thing just kind of passed right over their heads. Maybe they were upset that the angel didn’t lay out a plan for them. Fair enough.

Nephi’s response was, once again, based on faith. He tells his brother that the Lord is way stronger than Laban’s fifty henchmen. He reminds them about Moses and the way the Lord lead the entire nation of Israel out of bondage. You have seen an angel; you know the scriptures now let’s go get those plates! Of course Laman and Lemuel are still grumbling but they give in and go back to Jerusalem with Nephi leading the way.

Ask yourselves just what you would do to get the plates? How far would you go to do what God has asked you to do? Next you are going to find out what Nephi had to do and it is a bit of a shocker.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Nephi Pillar of Strength

Gather around, get comfortable and listen to a story about Nephi. But first a little bit about how the Book of Mormon is organized.

Like the Bible the Book of Mormon is organized into books and chapters. Also like the Bible the writers didn't set it up this way. Essentially what we are reading is a journal. If you keep a journal and you put in chapters and verses seek help immediately because you are obsessive compulsive. From now on I will be referring to the divisions of the book by chapter and verse for the sake of clarity. But keep in mind that we are reading the thoughts, feelings and experiences of real people in very human situations.

The first two books are appropriately called 1 Nephi and 2 Nephi. Mormon (Remember him? He is the editor and of the Book of Mormon) has given us these two books in their entirety - no edits. This should give you some idea of how important Nephi becomes to these people. He is considered to be their greatest prophet and leader among a long list of great prophets and leaders. Nephi's experiences and teachings set the standards for the entire civilization.

These are the opening words of Nephi's record and the Book of Mormon:

"I Nephi, having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught
somewhat in all the learning of my father; and having seen many afflictions
in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the
Lord in all my days; yea having had a great knowledge of the goodness and
mysteries of God, there fore I make a record of my proceedings in my days."
(1 Nephi 1:1)

Wouldn't it be great if all kids thought so highly of their parents? Wouldn't it be great if all parents deserved to be so highly praised? Alas we are human and we don't always do it right. But you will see that even Lehi makes mistakes so we are in good company. Nevertheless Nephi honors his parents with his very first words. Families are so complex and so wonderful.

More on Nephi later. I am late for an appointment!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Trouble in the Wilderness

I hate it when a story teller doesn't pronounce the words that are unfamiliar so I won't put you through that. The cast of characters are... Lehi (leehigh), his wife Sariah (throw an I into Sarah) and their four sons whose names are, from oldest to youngest, Laman (layman), Lemuel (lemyule), Sam (an easy one), Nephi (neefeye.) At this point the story is being told by Nephi. we go off into the wilderness with Lehi and his family. They were running for their lives.

Nephi tells us that they traveled three days by the border of the Red Sea before they finally stopped and pitched their tents. When they did finally take a break they built an altar of stones and made an offering to the Lord. (In the Book of Mormon the "Lord" is always Jesus Christ. How, you ask did they know about Jesus if they left Jesusalem around 597 BC? Don't worry we will get to that.) They have escaped certain death at the hands of an angry mob but all is not well within the family. Laman and Lemuel were not happy. They thought their father was foolish for believing in visions and dreams. From their point of view they had left their whole lives behind because Lehi was imagining things and they bitterly resented him for it. They were also none to pleased with their younger brother Nephi who had sided with Dad. Laman and Lemuel murmured, complained and grumbled. They were outspoken and acted disrespectfully toward their father. This went on for a while until Lehi had had enough. He reprimanded Laman and Lemuel until "their frames did shake and they durst not utter against him; wherefore, they did as he commanded them"....for a while anyway.

Meanwhile Nephi, who is rather young at this time, was feeling just as uprooted and upset as his brothers but he took a different approach. He decided to pray to the Lord and ask for help to understand the mysterious events that had caused so much suffering in his family. Nephi says, "I Nephi being exceending young, nevertheless being large in stature (doesn't this sound just like something the youngest brother would say?)...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."

Lesson for Everyday Life:
Lehi and his family were in crisis and were divided at a time when they needed each other and the Lord for strength and guidance. Who among us hasn't been in a situation like this? Haven't we all had to choose how to deal with a problem when we couldn't actually solve it? Laman and Lemuel chose harsh words and contention. Lehi held his ground. Nephi chose prayer. Those choices either hurt or helped not only themselves but the people they loved.

The approach that a father and his sons took at this moment became a pattern that effected the rest of their lives and all the generations of their posterity. Big doors swing on little hinges. Think about Lehi, Laman, Lemuel and Nephi and examine your current situation. Are you helping or hurting? Have you prayed for understanding?

Coming up: The brothers must return to Jerusalem to retrieve something they left behind. What could be so important that they would risk their lives to get it?

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Who is Mormon?

Before we go on with the story of Lehi and his family I thought you might want to know a little bit about Mormon, the man whose name is on the cover of the book.

First of all I should explain that the title of the book is actually "The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ." The title tells you a whole lot about where the book is going to take you... but more on that later. The question is why is Mormon's name in there in the first place?

Well Mormon was an actual person who lived at the end of the story so you won't really hear much about his life for quite some time. However he is important throughout the book for the simple reason that he is the editor and compiler of the whole story. I will explain.

Mormon was a prolific writer and reader. He was also a prophet (lots of prophets in the B of M) and was told to gather up the history of his civilization into a single volume. Like any history there was so much information that he had to abridge most of it and decide what would go into the book and what wouldn't. Everyone who has ever written a history book has experienced the same problem. It just isn't possible to include every single event. Why is all of this important to our stories? Because as we retell them in this blog you may want to ask yourself why Mormon decided to put in a particular story. Sometimes the answer is obvious and sometimes it isn't.

Mormon was a brilliant man and prophet so one thing is certain - there is a reason for everything and his influence can be felt throughout the book. As you listen for his voice in the stories you will get to know him long before he actually appears in the plot.


Monday, April 7, 2008

The story begins with Lehi: a prophet.

Once upon a time there was a man and his family. They were a typical family with a mother, father, brothers and sisters. Sometimes the brothers didn't get along with each other or their parents. Sound familiar?

Lehi and his family lived in Jerusalem just before the Babylonians decimated the Jewish nation. He was a prominent citizen that enjoyed a modicum of wealth. He lived a pretty cushy life until the country started to unravel. There was a lot going on at the time. Prophets, Lehi among them, were everywhere warning the people to repent and change their ways or be destroyed by the Babylonian war machine. You know how that story ends - they didn't listen and Judah was carried off to Babylon en-mass.

But let's back up a little. Lehi, as I said was a prophet and so was universally disliked even to the point of receiving death threats. Knowing that Lehi could accomplish much more by leaving Jerusalem before things got out of control, the Lord told him to gather up his family, food and other supplies and take off into the wilderness. God had plans for Lehi that didn't include a martyrs death. God wanted Lehi to travel to a new land far far away where he and his family would become the progenitors of a new civilization.

Say what? Excuse me?

That would have been my response but like every good prophet Lehi obeys the Lord, packs up and leaves his life and wealth behind. At first he has precious little to go on. As his adventure unfolds God will reveal more details but for now Lehi is acting entirely on faith...and some of his children don't like what is happening one bit... but more about them later.

This exciting turn of events is the beginning of the Book of Mormon stories. We will be joining Lehi and his family on their journey where we will share his deprivations in the desert, family arguments, the love of a son for his father, high hopes, dashed dreams and, above all else Lehi's absolute loyalty to God's commandments.

Before our next chapter begins, ask yourself if you have ever really done anything based entirely on faith. We have all had our lives shaken up in ways that have brought us to our knees. Life hurts so badly sometimes but most of the time if we have faith and stick to our core values we will come out on the otherside better for having fought the good fight and a little stronger for the next wave of trials and tribulations - and they keep on coming.

Get ready Lehi because you're in for the ride of your life.....