The First Book of Nephi
His Reign and Ministry
An account of Lehi and his wife Sariah, and his four sons, being called, (beginning at the eldest) Laman, Lemuel, Sam, and Nephi. The Lord warns Lehi to depart out of the land of Jerusalem, because he prophesieth unto the people concerning their iniquity and they seek to destroy his life. He taketh three days' journey into the wilderness with his family. Nephi taketh his brethren and returneth to the land of Jerusalem after the record of the Jews. The account of their sufferings. They take the daughters of Ishmael to wife. They take their families and depart into the wilderness. Their sufferings and afflictions in the wilderness. The course of their travels. They come to the large waters. Nephi's brethren rebel against him. He confoundeth them, and buildeth a ship. They call the name of the place Bountiful. They cross the large waters into the promised land, and so forth. This is according to the account of Nephi; or in other words, I, Nephi, wrote this record.
This "headnote" or "superscription" for 1 Nephi is part of the original text and was not added by modern writers. These headnotes may also be referred to as colophons. A colophon is a brief introduction or outline of what will follow. A colophon usually precedes the text to which it applies, but can also occur following the pertinent text and be a brief summary of what preceded in the book. Colophons are typical features of ancient Near Eastern (including Egyptian) literature.
There are other headnotes or colophons preceding some of the individual books of the Book of Mormon, and all are similarly a part of the original record (see the books of 2 Nephi, Jacob, Alma, Helaman, 3 Nephi, and 4 Nephi).
Most of the headers that precede each chapter in the Book of Mormon are later additions and are not part of the ancient record. There are, however, several chapter headers or colophons that are part of the original record. Examples include: Mosiah chapters 9, 23, and 24, Alma chapters 5, 7, 9, 17, 21, 36, 38, 39, and 45, Helaman chapters 7, 13, and 3 Nephi chapter 11. Some of the book and chapter headers are part of the original text but have modern day additions such as "chapters 7 to 16 inclusive."
The colophon may extend beyond the headnote or heading. 1 Nephi 1:1-3, for example, also serves as a colophon for the book of 1 Nephi. Other examples of colophons which extend beyond the header include 1 Nephi 9 (the entire chapter); 1 Nephi 22:30-31; Jacob 1:2; Jacob 7:27; Jarom 1:1-2; Omni 1:1; Omni 1:3-4; Words of Mormon 1:9; Mosiah 1:4; Mosiah 9:1; Helaman 16:25; and 3 Nephi 5:8-26. We will have more to say about colophons in the commentary for 1 Nephi 1:1-3.
Chapter Outline of 1 Nephi
A brief chapter outline of 1 Nephi, worth committing to memory, is as follows:
1 Nephi 3-5 Lehi's sons return to Jerusalem from the Valley of Lemuel for the brass plates of Laban.
1 Nephi 7 Lehi's sons return again to Jerusalem for Ishmael and his family.
1 Nephi 8 Lehi's Vision of the Tree of Life
1 Nephi 11-15 Nephi's Vision of the Tree of Life and the Future of the World
1 Nephi 13-14 Nephi's Vision of the Great and Abominable Church
1 Nephi 16 Lehi and his family find the Liahona and depart the Valley of Lemuel.
1 Nephi 17 Building the Ship
1 Nephi 18 Voyage to the Promised Land
1 Nephi 19 Nephi commanded to make the large plates of Nephi and begin engraving his record on them
1 Nephi 20-21 Isaiah chapters 48-49
1 Nephi Chapter 1
This chapter summarizes the events that took place in Jerusalem prior to the departure of Lehi's family into the wilderness.
1 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 the mysteries of God, therefore I make a record of my proceedings in my days.
verse 1 "I, Nephi" Is Nephi an authentic name of this period in Judah? We will comment many times on the considerable Egyptian cultural influence found among the Book of Mormon peoples. This is logical since Egyptian influence was pervasive in Judah at the time Lehi and his family departed Jerusalem. Brother John Gee has pointed out that Nephi is, indeed, an authentic Egyptian name of that period ("A Note on the Name Nephi," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, volume 1, number 1, fall, 1992, 189; see also Frank L. Benz, Personal Names in the Phoenician and Punic Inscriptions: A Catalog, Grammatical Study, and Glossary of Elements [Rome: Biblical Institute, 1972], 192; Walter E. Crum, A Coptic Dictionary [Oxford: Clarendon, 1939], 240). See also the supplemental article, Names in the Book of Mormon.
"goodly parents" Does "goodly" mean simply good? It does have the archaic meaning of being "of good quality" (Random House Webster's College Dictionary). Webster's 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language defines goodly as, "Being of a handsome form; beautiful; graceful; pleasant; agreeable; desirable."
It has been suggested that in this verse's context, "goodly" might be additionally interpreted as having adequate material possessions or being wealthy. Because Lehi was a man of material means, Nephi was able to enjoy the privilege of education "therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father"). We will read later in the Book of Mormon that King Benjamin will afford similar educational opportunities to his three sons (Mosiah 1:2). It appears that a righteous characteristic of "goodly parents" is their willingness to spend some of their resources educating their children and teaching them the things of God.
"learning of my father" Part of the "learning of my father" here must certainly have been the schooling Nephi received from Lehi in a special manner of writing which Nephi and the other Book of Mormon prophets would use to record the events and teachings contained in the Book of Mormon. In what language was the Book of Mormon written? For a discussion of this important topic, please read the supplemental article, The Language of the Book of Mormon.
"having seen many afflictions in the course of my days" We will later learn that at the beginning of the Book of Mormon story Nephi is "exceedingly young" (1 Nephi 2:16), and it will be speculated that he was probably between fourteen and sixteen years old. How could it be that at such a tender age he could already have experienced "many afflictions in the course of [his] days?" Keep in mind that we are now reading from the translation of the small plates of Nephi which Nephi did not even start to engrave until some thirty years after he and his family left Jerusalem (see 2 Nephi 5:28-33).
As mentioned, the first three verses of 1 Nephi chapter 1 are introductory and are written as a sort of brief preface, or colophon, to the Book of Mormon story. They have reference to Nephi's experiences throughout these thirty years since the exodus from Jerusalem, up until the commencement of the writing of the record on the small plates of Nephi.
"mysteries of God" The term mystery is used two ways in the modern Church. Used positively, it means necessary or useful information that can be obtained only by revelation from God. It remains an unknown mystery unless and until the Spirit participates in communicating the concept. The scriptures always use "mysteries" in this positive sense. Consistent with this definition of mysteries, Harold B. Lee taught that a mystery is a spiritual truth which may be grasped only through divine revelation, a fact or concept that can truly be understood only with the help and influence of the Spirit of God. All spiritual truths are "mysteries," or unknown or not understood, to those who are "hard-hearted" or "stiff-necked." Those unresponsive to the Spirit are simply unable to understand them. This definition seems to pertain in this particular verse and throughout the Book of Mormon (Ye Are the Light of the World [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1974], 211).
On the other hand, the term mysteries is used more commonly in the contemporary Church in a negative sense to mean information unnecessary for our salvation or for our personal progress. It is information that the Lord has chosen, for whatever reason, to withhold from us. At least, he has not afforded us a complete explanation. A preoccupation with such things can distract us from the really important truths that have been revealed and often leads to a loss of spiritual balance, then to contention, doubt, and apostasy.
2 Yea, I make a record in the language of my father, which consists of the learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians.
verse 2 "I make a record in the language of my father" If you have not yet read the article, The Language of the Book of Mormon, then please do so now.
3 And I know that the record which I make is true; and I make it with mine own hand; and I make it according to my knowledge.
verse 3 "I know that the record which I make is true" In this day when the Book of Mormon is frequently attacked and regarded by some "scholars" as a nineteenth century document, it is vital to remember that we Latter-day Saints are firmly committed to the authenticity of the book in absolute terms. It is not symbolic or allegorical. It is not "spiritual fictional." It is a book about real people, real events, and real places, all in an ancient setting.
verses 1-3 In this commentary the point will soon be further made that there was prominent Egyptian cultural influence in Palestine at the time the Book of Mormon story began (see the commentary for 1 Nephi 1:4). As already mentioned, in Egyptian writing it is typical to begin a new chapter or section with a "header" or "colophon" which states the author and the sources and describes what is to be found in the material that follows. The colophon almost serves as a table of contents. It also may include a testimony of or a certification as to the authenticity of the record. These three verses comprise a continuation of the colophon begun in the header for this first section of the Book of Mormon.
Brother Hugh Nibley has written of the use of colophons in the Book of Mormon:
The major writings of the Book of Mormon are introduced and concluded by "colophons," which have the purpose of acquainting the reader with the source of the material given and informing him of the authorship of the particular manuscript. . . . In his opening colophon Nephi refers to the excellence of his parents, the good education his father has given him, tells how he has been blessed of heaven, describes the nature of the record he is writing and the sources from which he is taking it, including personal experience-"a record of my proceedings in my days"-and the important information that he can vouch for the truth of the record, having written it with his own hand. This advertising of one's own virtues, in particular one's reliability, is a correct and indeed a required fixture of any properly composed Egyptian autobiography of Nephi's time-a time at which the writing of autobiographies was very fashionable (Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, volume 7, 151-152).
The header or colophon for the next major section is the entire chapter 1 Nephi 9. To see why 1 Nephi 9 begins a new section, see the introductory comments for that chapter. As also mentioned, sometimes a colophon, or explanatory paragraph, may appear at the end of a section rather than at the beginning. Actually all of 1 Nephi 9 serves as an explanation about what Nephi had been recording in the previous eight chapters as well as what he intends now to write. Nephi will often conclude his editorial colophons with "amen." Note also that in 1 Nephi 14 he summarizes the preceding chapters and then again concludes with "amen."
"Amen" is an interjection meaning truly or surely, derived from the Hebrew root aman meaning to confirm or support. It is spoken at the conclusion of testimonies (e.g., 1 Nephi 9:6), sermons (e.g., 1 Nephi 15:36), prayers (e.g., 3 Nephi 13:9-13), and blessings (e.g., 2 Nephi 3:25). Also, as we have just discussed, Nephi sometimes concluded his colophons with amen.
4 For it came to pass in the commencement of the first year of the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah, (my father, Lehi, having dwelt at Jerusalem in all his days); and in that same year there came many prophets, prophesying unto the people that they must repent, or the great city Jerusalem must be destroyed.
verse 4 "it came to pass" This is the first time this introductory phrase is found in the Book of Mormon text. It is a phrase of Hebrew origin and is found very commonly in the Old and New Testaments and in almost every book of the Book of Mormon. Only the book of Moroni fails to use this phrase. Several variations of the phrase are also found in the Book of Mormon, including "now it came to pass" (Alma 62:37); "for behold it came to pass" (Alma 43:4); "but behold, it came to pass" (Alma 53:16); and "and it shall come to pass" (2 Nephi 29:13). Interestingly, the word "utchi" in the Mayan language has been found to have a similar meaning, and a Mayan language glyph or symbol has been identified which means the same (Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon, Joseph L. Allen, 31-33).
This phrase is used frequently in the scriptures to join consecutive events in historical narrative. In the Old Testament, the phrase "and it came to pass" reflects the Hebrew expression wa-y'hee, which means "and it was." In the Book of Mormon, as in the Old Testament, it is often followed by a time phrase. This verse is an example: "in the commencement of the first year . . .." Other examples include "Now it came to pass that not many days after the battle" (Alma 3:20), or, "And it came to pass that in the same year" (Alma 50:37).
Chronological references in our commentary will be based on the helpful article by Randall P. Spackman, "Introduction to Book of Mormon Chronology: The Principal Prophecies, Calendars, and Dates," a FARMS reprint.
The political setting in which the Israelites of Palestine existed from about 800 BC on, is perhaps best understood by acknowledging that Judah was a small country surrounded by three military superpowers. These were Egypt to the southwest and Assyria and Babylon to the northeast. These three were constantly contending with one another for land and influence. Palestine was caught in the middle and was sometimes reduced to the role of pawn in the hands of these three major powers. Between 732 and 722 BC, Assyria advanced into Palestine and carried away captive the major part of the Northern Kingdom of Israel with its capital in Samaria. It was the practice of the Assyrians to deport members of the upper classes of conquered peoples to other parts of their empire in order to dissipate rebellious energies. Assyria's influence was prominent in all of Palestine from that time until about 640 BC.
Lehi was probably born about 650 BC. Following Lehi's birth, Assyria's stifling influence began to wane and much needed reform began to occur. In 640 BC King Josiah assumed the throne and leadership of Palestine. Over the next twenty years he introduced sweeping religious reforms including the purging of pagan religious practices which had flourished in the Assyria-dominated Palestine. It seems likely that the Lord blessed Palestine during the period of Josiah's reign and allowed them some degree of independence from Assyria.
Josiah was tragically killed at Megiddo in 609 BC as he led a plucky little Judean force against an Egyptian advance through Palestine. Egypt was marching to support the last Assyrian king in a stand against the new Babylonian Empire. Josiah was apparently trying to limit Assyria's control over Judah. Following Josiah's death, Egyptian influence overran all aspects of Judah's political life. This Egyptian domination lasted until shortly before the Babylonian invasion.
After Josiah's death, his son Jehoahaz was made king, but the Pharaoh soon took him away to Egypt and put Jehoahaz's brother Jehoiakim on the throne. Egyptian control of Palestine lasted until the Egyptians were defeated by Babylon in the battle of Carchemish in 605 BC. Thereafter Babylon began to rule in Palestine.
Jehoiakim reigned in Judah for eleven years and then died in Jerusalem possibly at the hand of an assassin. Jehoiakim's eighteen year old son Jehoiachin succeeded his father. Jehoiachin resented the control of Palestine by Babylon and revolted against the firm hand of Babylon. Only three months after Jehoiachin had succeeded to the throne in 597 BC, Nebuchadnezzar (alternatively Nebuchadrezzar), the king of Babylon, defeated Jerusalem on March 10, 597 BC and a few weeks later on April 16, 597 BC began carrying away captive to Babylon Jehoiachin and thousands of others, including Ezekiel.
Nebuchadrezzar placed Jehoiachin's uncle, the twenty-one year old Zedekiah, on the throne. The Book of Mormon history begins in this year, 597 BC. Thus we learn that the Babylonian deportation of Jews had begun already at the time of the preaching of the prophet Lehi.
For more detail of the historical setting of Jerusalem at the time of Lehi, see the supplemental article, Jerusalem at the time of Lehi.
"in the commencement of the first year of the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah" It is of interest that in Hebrew writings, important historical moments are often referred to according to the reigning king (see Isaiah 6:1 and Ezekiel 1:1-2). We will learn that the important event being referred to here is the calling of Lehi.
There is actually some ambiguity in this verse if one reads it carefully. The coronation of Zedekiah probably took place in October of 597 BC (Randall P. Spackman, "Introduction to Book of Mormon Chronology: The Principal Prophecies, Calendars, and Dates," a FARMS reprint, 7). It is not clear whether the calling of Lehi occurred in the commencement of the year 597 BC in which Zedekiah was installed as king or whether it occurred in the first year following Zedekiah's formal coronation. In either case, the year 597 BC is the earliest time when Lehi might have prophesied at Jerusalem.
"at Jerusalem" In those days, towns, villages, or rural areas surrounding major cities were regarded as belonging to the cities. Thus the area surrounding Jerusalem might well have been referred to as the "land of Jerusalem." It is interesting that this pattern is carried on throughout the Book of Mormon. For example, the city of Zarahemla is the political and spiritual center of the greater land of Zarahemla. The temple and the political leadership of the "land" is located in the "city." See also the commentary for 1 Nephi 3:22-23. The same convention made it possible for Socrates to be an Athenian, and nothing else, even though he came from the village of Alopeke, at some distance from the city. Hugh Nibley observed: "While the Book of Mormon refers to the city of Jerusalem plainly and unmistakably over sixty times, it refers over forty times to another and entirely different geographical entity which is always designated as 'the land of Jerusalem.' In the New World also every major Book-of-Mormon city is surrounded by a land of the same name" (An Approach to the Book of Mormon, ed. John W. Welch, 3rd ed. [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1989], 101).
It is now clear that Lehi's home was in the city of Jerusalem, probably in area of the city known as the Mishneh. We will also later read of "the land of our father's inheritance" (1 Nephi 3:16) which is neither within the city of Jerusalem nor within the larger land of Jerusalem (see the supplemental article, Jerusalem at the time of Lehi).
"many prophets" Among these prophets who preached in those days in Jerusalem were the major biblical prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel who were contemporaries of Lehi. Other prophet contemporaries of Lehi included Nahum, Huldah, Habakkuk, Urijah of Kirjath-jearim (Jeremiah 26:20), and Zephaniah. You can bet that the Lord would never allow a people to be destroyed without ample warnings through his prophets (Amos 3:7). A major devastation was in the offing, and "many prophets" were required to do the warning (see also Jeremiah 35:15). It was typical at that time for prophets to work largely by themselves, separate from other prophets. The Book of Mormon account is silent on any involvement Lehi might have had with his fellow prophets.
5 Wherefore it came to pass that my father, Lehi, as he went forth prayed unto the Lord, yea, even with all his heart, in behalf of his people.
verse 5 "Lehi, as he went forth" Hugh Nibley has provided us with helpful insight into this interesting man, Lehi:
Lehi was a man possessed of exceeding great wealth in the form of "gold and silver, and all manner of riches" (1 Nephi 3:16; 2:4). He had "his own house at Jerusalem" (1 Nephi 1:7); yet he was accustomed to "go forth" from the city from time to time (1 Nephi 1:5-7), and his paternal estate, the land of his inheritance, where the bulk of his fortune reposed, was some distance from the town (1 Nephi 3:16; 1 Nephi 3:22; 2:4). He came of an old, distinguished, and cultured family (1 Nephi 5:14-16). The opening verse of the Book of Mormon explains the expression "goodly parents" not so much in a moral sense as in a social one: Nephi tells us he came from a good family and "therefore" received a good traditional education: "I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father" (1 Nephi 1:1). He was of the tribe of Manasseh, which of all the tribes retained the old desert ways and was most active in the caravan trade. He seems to have had particularly close ties with Sidon (for the name appears repeatedly in the Book of Mormon, both in its Hebrew and Egyptian forms), which at that time was one of the two harbors through which the Israelites carried on an extremely active trade with Egypt and the West. He was proud of his knowledge of Egyptian and insisted on his sons learning it (Mosiah 1:4). He was a meticulous record keeper, conscientious to a fault, and given to addressing long moral tirades to youth (1 Nephi 1:16-17 and elsewhere). From his sons Nephi and Jacob one gathers that Lehi must have been something of an expert in wine, olive, and fig and honey culture (Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, 6:46-47).
When Lehi "went forth" to pray, he was probably exiting the city walls, just as Nephi himself did later when he said, "I went forth unto my brethren, who were without the walls" (1 Nephi 4:27).
It is presumed that Lehi's call from the Lord to become his prophet occurred during Lehi's experience described in the next few verses. It is notable that the way in which Lehi was called was similar to the manner in which other Hebrew prophets had previously been called. For a thorough discussion of this similarity, see Blake T. Ostler's article, "The Throne Theophany and Prophetic Commission in 1 Nephi," a FARMS reprint. For example, study the calls of Micaiah (1 Kings 22:19-22), Isaiah (Isaiah 6), and Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:1-3; Ezekiel 1:21). The pattern is that of a righteous individual who becomes concerned because of the wickedness of his people. He prays on their behalf and is carried away in a vision in which he sees God on his throne attended by his heavenly council. He also receives a heavenly book which explains the impending disaster of his people. The vision is completed with a call or commission extended from the heavenly council to the individual to warn his people of their inevitable destruction. He is also forewarned that his people will reject him.
"Lehi . . . prayed . . . in behalf of his people." This might be referred to as Lehi's intercessory prayer.
6 And it came to pass as he prayed unto the Lord, there came a pillar of fire and dwelt upon a rock before him; and he saw and heard much; and because of the things which he saw and heard he did quake and tremble exceedingly.
verse 6 "pillar of fire" Brightness or fire are often associated with visual manifestations of the Lord. Joseph Smith taught that God dwells in "everlasting burnings," as will all of those who obtain the celestial degree of glory. Recall, for example, Joseph Smith's First Vision ("a pillar of light . . . above the brightness of the sun") and God's appearance to Moses in a burning bush (Exodus 3:2) and on a flaming Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:18).
We cannot be certain who or what Lehi saw in the pillar of fire. Did he see the Lord? Since his vision of God himself is reported in the next stage of the vision, it seems more likely that he beheld on this occasion a messenger of God.
"he did quake and tremble exceedingly" It is unlikely that Lehi was quaking and trembling from fear. Those favored few who have been allowed into the presence of the Lord have reported feelings of a perfect peace which replaces all mortal concerns. It seems more likely he is reporting some type of phenomenon produced by the whisperings of the Holy Ghost. Joseph Smith also experienced this phenomenon (see D&C 85:6). There Joseph referred to "the still small voice, which whispereth through and pierceth all things, and often times it maketh my bones to quake."
7 And it came to pass that he returned to his own house at Jerusalem; and he cast himself upon his bed, being overcome with the Spirit and the things which he had seen.
verse 7 Lehi was undoubtedly physically exhausted by this spiritual experience, so much so that he went home and went to bed! For other examples of how a profound spiritual experience can be physically enervating see 1 Nephi 17:47, 1 Nephi 19:20, Alma 27:17, Daniel 10:8, and Moses 1:9-10. The bed, in this experience, was also necessary because during this experience the prophet enters into a state wherein physical strength and consciousness are suspended while access to the heavenly realm is gained.
8 And being thus overcome with the Spirit, he was carried away in a vision, even that he saw the heavens open, and he thought he saw God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels in the attitude of singing and praising their God.
verse 8 This verse might be referred to as Lehi's "throne theophany" or his vision of God upon his throne.
In these verses, keep in mind that we are reading from Nephi's abridgement of the record of his father Lehi (see verses 16-17). This verse, however, may be a verbatim quotation from Lehi's record. This might be suspected since Alma the younger will later quote these same words as a first-person from the prophet Lehi (see Alma 36:22).
"he was carried away in a vision" Apparently this thing of being "carried away" and even transported to other locations while receiving a vision is common (see 1 Nephi 11:1; 2 Nephi 4:25; Moses 1:1; Revelation 21:10; D&C 137:1-2).
This vision experience of Lehi apparently is his call to become a prophet. Compare this vision, for example, with the one had by Isaiah when he was called to his ministry (Isaiah 6:1). This vision scene, including the throne of God, was seen also by other ancient Hebrew prophets when they were called (again, see Blake Ostler's, "The Throne Theophany and Prophetic Commission in 1 Nephi," a FARMS reprint). In actuality Lehi was allowed to meet in a heavenly council, and then he was dispatched by the council to proclaim the message of warning to Jerusalem (Jeremiah 23:18).
Contemporary scholarship has begun to notice and discuss a general pattern for the calling of ancient Hebrew prophets. That pattern is seen more clearly here in this verse than anywhere in the Bible. Actually this verse could serve as a textbook illustration of prophetic visions and calls as they are recounted in ancient literature. This verse is clearly a vision of the divine council, known today from many ancient Near Eastern texts, that surrounds God and over which he presides. The Hebrew word sod, which denotes that council, also refers to the counsel issued from it. It can often be interchanged, in this sense, with the Greek word mysterion. In ancient conceptions, it is frequently the prophet's admission to this council as a mortal human being, and his knowledge of its decrees and secrets (counsels), that lends him authority as an earthly spokesman for God. "Surely the Lord God will do nothing," said the ancient Israelite prophet Amos of Tekoa, "but he revealeth his secret [sod] unto his servants the prophets" (Amos 3:7).
"attitude of singing" The word "attitude" in Webster's 1828 Dictionary of the English Language has the definition of the "posture or position of things or persons."
9 And it came to pass that he saw One descending out of the midst of heaven, and he beheld that his luster was above that of the sun at noon-day.
verse 9 "One descending out of the midst of heaven" This is likely Jesus Christ.
10 And he also saw twelve others following him, and their brightness did exceed that of the stars in the firmament.
verse 10 "twelve others" These will become the twelve Old World apostles of Christ's mortal ministry.
11 And they came down and went forth upon the face of the earth; and the first came and stood before my father, and gave unto him a book, and bade him that he should read.
verse 11 "the first" This is likely Jesus Christ who stood before Lehi (CR, October 1970, 28).
"a book" This "book" could have been a scroll, or it might have been comprised of tablets. It contained the judgment to be passed upon Jerusalem which was death and captivity in Babylon. This may be the same book shown to Ezekiel, a contemporary of Lehi, in which he read of "lamentations, and mourning, and woe" (Ezekiel 2:9-10; Ezekiel 3:1-3).
"bade him" Webster's 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language defines bade as, "the past tense of bid-to ask; to request; to invite."
12 And it came to pass that as he read, he was filled with the Spirit of the Lord.
verses 11-12 The book suggests that perhaps such a spiritual experience as Lehi is having is not an entirely passive experience. He is required to participate actively to the extent, at least, of reading the book.
13 And he read, saying: Wo, wo, unto Jerusalem, for I have seen thine abominations! Yea, and many things did my father read concerning Jerusalem-that it should be destroyed, and the inhabitants thereof; many should perish by the sword, and many should be carried away captive into Babylon.
verse 13 This is the first use of the word "abominations" in the Book of Mormon text. It will yet be used some seventy-four additional times. It is a broad term and covers every thought, deed, and attitude that is offensive to God who "cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance" (Alma 45:16; D&C 1:31). All abominations are a reflection of the worldly or carnal mind and, therefore, of ungodliness.
14 And it came to pass that when my father had read and seen many great and marvelous things, he did exclaim many things unto the Lord; such as: Great and marvelous are thy works, O Lord God Almighty! Thy throne is high in the heavens, and thy power, and goodness, and mercy are over all the inhabitants of the earth, and, because thou art merciful, thou wilt not suffer those who come unto thee that they shall perish!
verse 14 After reading in the book, Lehi was moved to exclaim, or perhaps to sing, a hymn or psalm of praise to the Lord. It is likely that Nephi's quoting of his father in this verse and in the previous verse were direct quotes from the record of Lehi. See the discussion of the record of Lehi in the commentary for verses 16-17.
15 And after this manner was the language of my father in the praising of his God; for his soul did rejoice, and his whole heart was filled, because of the things which he had seen, yea, which the Lord had shown unto him.
16 And now I, Nephi, do not make a full account of the things which my father hath written, for he hath written many things which he saw in visions and in dreams; and he also hath written many things which he prophesied and spake unto his children, of which I shall not make a full account.
17 But I shall make an account of my proceedings in my days. Behold, I make an abridgment of the record of my father, upon plates which I have made with mine own hands; wherefore, after I have abridged the record of my father then will I make an account of mine own life.
verses 16-17 "an abridgement of the record of my father" It is clear that Nephi had access to a record written by his father Lehi. This record was actually written by Lehi himself. It was quite distinct and separate from any of the Book of Mormon plates. We have no way of knowing what material Lehi kept his record on, but probably it was perishable. A remark made by Lehi's son Jacob supports this view. Jacob notes, "We know that the things which we write upon plates must remain; but whatsoever things we write upon anything save it be upon plates must perish and vanish away" (Jacob 4:1-2). It seems likely that the record of Lehi was completed by the time Nephi began writing on the large plates of Nephi in about 590 BC. Both Nephi and his brother Jacob will make use of Lehi's record in their writings.
Nephi engraved a synopsis of this record onto his small plates of Nephi. The first eight chapters of 1 Nephi consist of that synopsis. Nephi also engraved an even more extensive synopsis of the record of Lehi onto the large plates of Nephi (1 Nephi 19:1). This synopsis was engraved onto the large plates of Nephi by Nephi himself. It was eventually abridged by the prophet Mormon and became the first segment of Mormon's plates of Mormon. It was called the book of Lehi (see the supplemental article, Those Confusing Book of Mormon Plates).
The book of Lehi apparently began before the family departed Jerusalem and extended down to the reign of King Benjamin. Obviously, then, the book of Lehi contained more than the writings of Lehi and Nephi, since the reign of King Benjamin probably began in about 160 BC.
Joseph Smith began his translation of the Book of Mormon with the book of Lehi in the spring of 1828 with Martin Harris functioning as scribe. After the book of Lehi was translated, Martin had recorded some 116 pages of manuscript. The rest of the story is well known. Martin Harris borrowed the manuscript and took it home to show it to his wife and a few other selected individuals. The manuscript was apparently stolen from Martin. Thus the translation of Mormon's abridgement of the book of Lehi was lost.
Fortunately, we do have another account of Lehi's writings in the book of Lehi. It is Nephi's abridgement of those writings found in these first eight chapters of 1 Nephi. Chapter 9 is an explanatory editorial comment written by the prophet Nephi. Nephi's own writings, the "account of my proceedings in my days . . . an account of mine own life," actually begins with 1 Nephi 10:1.
Verse 16 does tell us something about the contents of the record of Lehi. It contained "many things which he saw in visions and in dreams; and he also hath written many things which he prophesied and spake unto his children." These would likely include Lehi's experiences described in 1 Nephi 1:6-7; 1 Nephi 1:8-14; 1 Nephi 2:1-2; 1 Nephi 3:2-6; 1 Nephi 8:2-28; 1 Nephi 16:24-25, and 2 Nephi 1:4.
18 Therefore, I would that ye should know, that after the Lord had shown so many marvelous things unto my father, Lehi, yea, concerning the destruction of Jerusalem, behold he went forth among the people, and began to prophesy and to declare unto them concerning the things which he had both seen and heard.
verse 18 Does a prophet have a choice of whether or not he goes forth to preach and warn the people? Prophets are impelled and constrained by the Spirit. They speak out because they must. They cannot hold back what they know. If Lehi had not delivered the warning which God commanded him to deliver, the blood of the wicked who died without being warned would be on his hands (Ezekiel 3:17-19).
19 And it came to pass that the Jews did mock him because of the things which he testified of them; for he truly testified of their wickedness and their abominations; and he testified that the things which he saw and heard, and also the things which he read in the book, manifested plainly of the coming of the Messiah, and also the redemption of the world.
verse 19 "the book" This is the book first mentioned in verse 11 given to Lehi by the Lord during Lehi's vision.
20 And when the Jews heard these things they were angry with him; yea, even as with the prophets of old, whom they had cast out, and stoned, and slain; and they also sought his life, that they might take it away. But behold, I, Nephi, will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance.
verse 20 "when the Jews heard these things they were angry with him" The word anger is used in the Book of Mormon largely to describe the feelings of those opposed to God's prophets and their teachings (see also 2 Nephi 33:5), or as a goal of Satan or dissenters to "stir" up anger in others (2 Nephi 28:20; Alma 27:2; Alma 27:12; Alma 43:8; Alma 47:1; Helaman 4:4). Anger is also used to describe the displeasure of God (2 Nephi 15:25; Helaman 13:30; Helaman 13:39) and his righteous servants (2 Nephi 1:26; Alma 44:17). The use of the word "wrath" appears to be used synonymously with anger and is used most often to represent an attribute of God and not man (2 Nephi 19:19; 2 Nephi 23:9; 2 Nephi 23:13; Ether 9:20).
Elder Neal A. Maxwell explained, "God's anger is kindled not because we have harmed him, but because we have harmed ourselves" (Sermons Not Spoken, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1985, 85).
Mankind's self-centered anger is clearly contrary to the Lord's will.
verses 19-20 "he testified . . . plainly of the coming of the Messiah, and also the redemption of the world" "And when the Jews heard these things they were angry with him; yea, even as with the prophets of old, whom they had cast out, and stoned, and slain; and they also sought his life, that they might take it away" The Jews were angry enough at Lehi that they sought his life. Was this simply because he railed against them because of their sins? Probably not. There is likely a more important reason why the Jews were angry enough at Lehi to seek his life. The Hebrew scripture contained prophecies concerning both the Savior's first and second comings. At his first coming he would come as a Redeemer-Messiah and be killed by his own people (1 Nephi 19:10; Helaman 8:17-18; Moses 7:55). At his second coming he would come as a King-Messiah or a Conqueror-Messiah who would subdue all the enemies of Israel and set up a kingdom which would never be destroyed (Daniel 2:44).
The prophecies of the Messiah's first coming were offensive to the Jews. How could anyone think that they would kill their own Messiah. The Jews were outraged when their prophets began to preach that their Messiah would be a Jew and would be killed by his own people. Two prophets were killed for prophesying of Christ's first coming. They were Zenos (Helaman 8:19) and Zenock (Alma 3:17). The Jews became convinced that the story of the Redeemer-Messiah was a myth-a fable that some of the enemies of the Jews had concocted. It apparently became an established policy among the Jews to purge their scriptures of all references to the first coming. Any person caught teaching this prohibited doctrine-that the Messiah would be slain by his own people-was stoned to death. We wouldn't know of this purging except that we have another parallel set of scriptures that is much clearer on the topic. This other record is the brass plates, the scriptural record of Old Testament times kept by the remnant of the tribe of Joseph. See the commentary for 1 Nephi 5:14. By reviewing the prophecies from the brass plates, we are able to see how the Jewish scholars attempted to delete from the scriptural record all prophetic references to the first coming or mortal advent of the Redeemer-Messiah. Some Old Testament prophets who did testify and prophesy of Christ, but whose testimonies we do not have in the Old Testament record include Enoch (Moses 7:55), Abraham (Helaman 8:17-18), Zenos, Zenock, Neum (1 Nephi 19:10), and Ezias (Helaman 8:20).
It is no wonder that the Jews of Christ's day thought that he was simply an imposter. The scriptural background that might have conditioned them to expect the Messiah to be born as a Redeemer and not as a King had been destroyed. Even his own disciples had difficulty understanding his mission during his mortal advent. The Revelator said: "He was in the world . . . and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not" (John 1:10-11). All during Jesus's mortal ministry neither his apostles nor his followers recognized him in his true role as one who had come to be sacrificed for the sins of the world. From the beginning they looked upon him as the long awaited King-Messiah, and it was not until after his resurrection that they fully realized the truth about him. Even though Christ patiently taught his disciples that he would be crucified, they seemed not to understand. In the gospel of Mark we read: "For he taught his disciples, and said unto them, The Son of man is delivered into the hands of men, and they shall kill him; and after that he is killed, he shall rise the third day. But they understood not that saying, and were afraid to ask him" (Mark 9:31-32; see also Luke 18:31; Luke 18:33-34; John 20:9). On one occasion when his disciples James and John observed Jesus's being persecuted by the Samaritans, they asked him, "Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them?" (Luke 9:54). They did not fully realize that the Redeemer-Messiah standing before them had not come to destroy anyone with fire from heaven. Rather he was the Lamb of God and was being prepared for the sacrifice. When the apostles saw the Savior's mental distress and depression at the Last Supper, they began to lose faith in him. On the way to the Garden of Gethsemane, the scripture says: "The disciples began to be sore amazed, and to be very heavy and to complain in their hearts wondering if this be the Messiah" (JST Mark 14:36).
The mind-set of the Jews at the time of Christ's mortal sojourn was that the time was ripe for the destruction of their Roman oppressors and the restoration of the Davidic kingdom as had been described by Daniel. They looked for a Conqueror-Messiah, not a Redeemer-Messiah. It is no wonder they looked beyond the mark.
Interestingly the Jewish rabbis and scribes who served to purge the Old Testament missed one whole chapter which in part describes Christ's first coming. It is Isaiah 53. Apparently they misinterpreted this chapter. Just prior to this chapter Isaiah was writing about the glorious second coming (Isaiah 52). Then Isaiah proceeded to say that this glorified being of the second coming would be the same Messiah who would come earlier and be rejected (see Isaiah 53:2-5; Isaiah 53:8-9; Isaiah 53:11).
There may have also been a political reason why some of the Jews of Lehi's day sought his life. Let us briefly review the situation in that day (see also the commentary for verse 4 and the supplemental article, Jerusalem at the time of Lehi). Judah was a vassal state of Babylonia and was ruled by a puppet king, the twenty-one-year-old Zedekiah. In addition to Babylon, the other super powers were: Egypt, which had passed its prime but still had great cultural and economic influence, and Assyria, which had conquered and carried away captive the northern kingdom of Israel between 732 and 722 BC and was looking for other opportunities for conquest. Zedekiah, even though he was a puppet monarch allowed to "rule" by Babylon, resented the control that Babylon had over his kingdom, and he was considering forming an alliance with Egypt hoping to thus rid himself of Babylonian control. Lehi and Jeremiah and other prophets were warning against such an alliance. Two political parties thus existed in the land-the loyalists who stood by Babylon and the hotheads who looked to Egypt for help. These two were pitched against each other to the point of violence and bloodshed (Margolis and Marx, History of the Jewish People, 110). Since the prophets took a position opposite that of the political leaders of Judah and of many of the common Jews, they were in danger of being imprisoned, persecuted, and even killed.
Hugh Nibley has written insightfully of the history of the Jews:
From the Book of Mormon we learn that through the centuries the Jews have had, as it were, a double history. Along with the conventional story of the nation as recorded in the official accounts kept closely under the control of the schoolmen, there has coexisted in enforced obscurity another Israel, a society of righteous seekers zealously devoting their lives to the preservation of the law of their fathers in all its purity and considering the bulk of their nation to have fallen into sin and transgression . . . . Often they took to the desert and lived in family groups or communities there, teaching the law and the prophets to each other and looking forward prayerfully to the coming of the Messiah. There were many dreamers among them and real prophets as well, for they believed-unlike the scribes and doctors of official Jewry-in continued prophecy. Also they practiced rites rejected by the majority of the nation and talked constantly of such things as the resurrection of the flesh and the eternities to come-things which, though they figure prominently enough in the apocryphal writings and also the Talmud, are hardly found at all in the official canon of Jewish scripture. They were a sober, watchful, industrious people, sorely distressed by the wickedness of their nation as a whole, and that nation would have nothing to do with them and did all it could to obscure the fact that they even existed. This briefly is the picture the Book of Mormon paints of Lehi and his ancestors, who had, from time to time, been driven out of Jerusalem for looking forward too eagerly for the Messiah. It is also the picture that now meets us in the abundant and ever-increasing documents which have come forth from the caves in Palestine almost in a steady stream since the first find was made in 1947. For some years the best scholars, Jewish and Christian, fought strenuously against accepting any of the so-called Dead Sea Scrolls as genuine-they must be medieval forgeries, it was argued, since the picture they presented was one totally at variance with the picture which had been delineated by the meticulous labors of generations of devoted scholars. . . . And as new scrolls are unrolled, the picture itself is unrolling-the picture of that other Israel that lived in obscurity and hope, first sketched out for us in the Book of Mormon and not for the first time emerging into the light of history (The World and the Prophets, ed. John W. Welch, Gary P. Gillum, and Don E. Norton [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1987], 211-13).
"I, Nephi, will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance." Don't make the mistake of passing by this statement of Nephi's and dismissing it as just so much rhetoric. How does one become "mighty even unto the power of deliverance" by one's faith? If the reader chooses to digress and pursue this subject, he might wish to read the articles on the concept of faith in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 1, chapters 9, Revealed Faith, 10 Deliberate Faith and Revealed Faith, and 11, Other Notes on Faith.
In Webster's 1828 Dictionary of the English Language we read that the word "deliverance" means "release from captivity, slavery, oppression or any restraint." From what did the people of Jerusalem need deliverance? For one thing, Lehi had prophesied to them that they would soon fall captive to Babylon. In addition, they (and all of us) require deliverance from the consequences of our sins. Once you demonstrate you faith by deliberately obeying the commandments of our Lord, they you will have the "power of deliverance." Your sins will be forgiven and you will be judged worthy of a celestial resurrection.
The scriptural word chosen is most interesting. It means, of course, to be singled out by God for some purpose. Most commonly it means to be called of God while yet in the premortal world for a particular labor or purpose here on earth. Those receiving premortal appointments are also spoken of as having been "called," "elected," "ordained of God," or "foreordained." We may thus speak of a chosen or elect people.
To be chosen may also mean to be singled out for exaltation while here on earth, or to have received one's election-to have been elected to celestial glory.
A scriptural passage commonly quoted in the Church is "Behold, there are many called, but few are chosen" (D&C 121:34). This passage means that many are called-chosen or foreordained in the premortal world to particular purposes-but only a few are chosen here on earth-receive their election or exaltation.
A closely related concept is that of a covenant people. Those who are chosen in the premortal world also enter into a covenant with the Lord. For a discussion of the important concept of covenants and a covenant people, see the chapter titled, Covenants and Covenant Making in volume 2, chapter 3 in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine. Those who entered into the covenant relationship with the Lord in the pre-existence are born here on earth through the covenant line, the house of Israel. These are the Lord's covenant people. Those covenants and promises which are binding on the Lord's people have been defined for them in the Abrahamic covenant (see the commentary for 1 Nephi 14:8).