1 Nephi Chapter 3
1 Nephi 3-5 Lehi's sons return to Jerusalem for the brass plates of Laban.
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.
Chapters 3-5 are notable for the account of the obtaining of the brass plates of Laban.
1 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, returned from speaking with the Lord, to the tent of my father.
2 And it came to pass that he spake unto me, saying: Behold I have dreamed a dream, in the which the Lord hath commanded me that thou and thy brethren shall return to Jerusalem.
3 For behold, Laban hath the record of the Jews and also a genealogy of my forefathers, and they are engraven upon plates of brass.
verse 3 In what sense is the record engraved upon the brass plates a "record of the Jews"? Actually a similar label is applied to the brass plates in other verses in 1 Nephi (see 1 Nephi 5:6; 1 Nephi 5:12). Don't we usually regard the brass plates as a record of the tribe of Joseph and his descendants, or more broadly the record of the ten northern tribes of Israel (see the commentary for 1 Nephi 5:16)? The term "Jew" has various definitions. See a discussion of this matter in the commentary for 2 Nephi 25:1. In this verse the broadest definition seems applicable-that is, the term is applied to the entire house of Israel.
4 Wherefore, the Lord hath commanded me that thou and thy brothers should go unto the house of Laban, and seek the records, and bring them down hither into the wilderness.
verses 1-4 Lehi and his family did not possess their own copy of the scriptures, and Lehi could not allow his children to grow up without them. In those days their scriptures were some of the books we would today call the Old Testament. They could not go into the wilderness without the scriptures. They had no choice. Nephi and his brothers had to go back. The two older brothers protested. We usually suppose that the essence of their protest was their fear of Laban, but undoubtedly the distance and the difficult terrain involved in the journey had some bearing on their reluctance. The distance between Jerusalem and the Red Sea is two hundred miles. A reasonable pace for a group of people on camels would be twenty to thirty miles a day. So the journey was likely at least seven or eight days. Add to that the three days they traveled after reaching the Red Sea, and the round trip is over five hundred miles and at least three weeks in duration! In addition, the brothers had no clue as to how they were going to obtain the plates. From our comfortable vantage points, we are probably a bit hasty for criticizing Laman and Lemuel for being hesitant and apprehensive. Keep in mind that soon after his sons return from this first assignment, Lehi will command them to return to Jerusalem yet again!
Who was Laban, and what was his relationship to the family of Lehi? We do know that he was of the same lineage as Lehi-a descendant of Joseph (1 Nephi 5:16). Perhaps he was a relative. It has also been suggested that he might have been the member of the family responsible for keeping the genealogical records.
5 And now, behold thy brothers murmur, saying it is a hard thing which I have required of them; but behold I have not required it of them, but it is a commandment of the Lord.
6 Therefore go, my son, and thou shalt be favored of the Lord, because thou hast not murmured.
7 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, said unto my father: 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.
verse 7 Nephi's expression of faith, in view of these demanding assignments, is all the more impressive: "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" (see also 1 Nephi 17:3). New meaning is added to this enthusiastic statement of faith by Nephi in light of the details of the principle of faith discussed the articles on 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.
This a verse with which we're all familiar. It has become an important part of our culture. Most of us have learned to quote it. It increases our understanding and love for Nephi! A question may be asked about Nephi's statement in this verse: Is this a pronouncement of church doctrine or simply an expression of Nephi's enthusiastic faith? One might well argue it is not a statement of doctrine, at least it is not a complete elaboration of a doctrine. It is plausible that a person or people might diligently work to fulfill a commandment of the Lord, and yet be thwarted in the attempt. The complete doctrine has been pronounced on this matter by the Lord himself through the prophet Joseph Smith. It is found in D&C 124:49. "Verily, verily, I say unto you, that when I give a commandment to any of the sons of men to do a work unto my name, and those sons of men go with all their might and with all they have to perform that work, and cease not their diligence, and their enemies come upon them and hinder them from performing that work, behold, it behooveth me to require that work no more at the hands of those sons of men, but to accept of their offerings."
Confusion and frustration may result when a church member fails to recognize an "incomplete doctrine" such as is contained in Nephi's statement. There are other such "incomplete doctrines" in the Church . For example: "Keep the Word of Wisdom, and you will enjoy good health." "Pay your tithing, and you will become prosperous." "Train up a child in the way he should go, and later in life he will not depart from it" (see 2 Nephi 4:5). While these statements all contain some general truth, they should not be regarded as binding doctrines. Each of us traveling through this mortal experience will see exceptions to these statements.
Lest the reader take any semblance of a negative connotation from this verse's commentary, it should be emphasized that there can be no question that obedience enables and empowers the obedient. When an individual is on the Lord's errand, he might well expect that the Lord will provide nourishment, strength, and means whereby the errand will be accomplished. If the individual exerts his best effort and still fails to complete his errand, then his obligation is fulfilled.
8 And it came to pass that when my father had heard these words he was exceedingly glad, for he knew that I had been blessed of the Lord.
9 And I, Nephi, and my brethren took our journey in the wilderness, with our tents, to go up to the land of Jerusalem.
verse 9 "up to the land of Jerusalem" Keep in mind that the up's and down's in Hebrew scripture do not refer to north and south as we would tend to use them today. Rather they refer to ascending or descending in elevation. Jerusalem is located in the tops of the mountains, and in approaching it from any direction one must ascend or go up.
10 And it came to pass that when we had gone up to the land of Jerusalem, I and my brethren did consult one with another.
11 And we cast lots-who of us should go in unto the house of Laban. And it came to pass that the lot fell upon Laman; and Laman went in unto the house of Laban, and he talked with him as he sat in his house.
verses 10-11 The practice of "casting of lots" is referred to some twenty four times in the Book of Mormon alone. It is also found throughout the Old and New Testaments. It is a typical Semitic or Near Eastern custom. The casting of lots was done by casting stones onto the ground or drawing a stone or another object from a receptacle. There was a feeling that the will of the Lord would be manifest through the decision of the lot. Casting lots was a method of ascertaining the divine will widely employed in pagan, Jewish, and to some extent in Christian antiquity. Hence, today, to know God's will for oneself is to know what God intends-to know what one's appointed "lot" is. Thus we may use the expression "accepting one's lot in life." On one memorable occasion in the New Testament, the quorum of twelve cast lots to learn who should fill a vacancy in the quorum of twelve apostles (Acts 1:26).
12 And he desired of Laban the records which were engraven upon the plates of brass, which contained the genealogy of my father.
13 And behold, it came to pass that Laban was angry, and thrust him out from his presence; and he would not that he should have the records. Wherefore, he said unto him: Behold thou art a robber, and I will slay thee.
14 But Laman fled out of his presence, and told the things which Laban had done, unto us. And we began to be exceedingly sorrowful, and 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.
verse 15 "As the Lord liveth, and as we live" These words denote that Nephi was swearing a solemn oath that he would not return to his father Lehi without accomplishing that thing for which they had come. It thus became incumbent upon Nephi to obtain the plates or lay down his life in the attempt. In that day, such an oath was considered binding by both the righteous and the wicked (see Alma 44:8). Making this oath was a dramatic act since Nephi knew that his life was in danger in trying to wrest the plates from Laban. For additional comments on the ancient practice of oath taking, see the commentary for 1 Nephi 4:32-33.
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.
verse 16 "let us go down to the land of our father's inheritance" The land of inheritance is not to be confused with the land of Jerusalem first mentioned in 1 Nephi 3:9. From the text of 1 Nephi as a whole, two things are obvious about the land of Jerusalem region: First, the city of Jerusalem is obviously within the boundaries of the land of Jerusalem, and second, the land of Jerusalem refers to a different region than Lehi's land of inheritance. It is difficult to be certain whether or not Lehi's land of inheritance is located within the land of Jerusalem. These observations are corroborated by three features of Nephi's text: (1) Nephi and his brothers return from the valley of Lemuel "up" to the land of Jerusalem (1 Nephi 3:9). (2) They then go "down" to the land of inheritance to collect Lehi's gold and silver (1 Nephi 3:16; 1 Nephi 3:22). (3) Finally, Nephi and his brothers return back up again to Jerusalem (1 Nephi 3:23). It is important to remember that in the idiom of Nephi, one always went up to come to Jerusalem, and one always went down when exiting Jerusalem. This is also the Hebrew idiom employed in the Bible and probably relates to the relative elevation of Jerusalem above all of the surrounding lands. It should be clear, then, that when Nephi and his brothers go down to the land of inheritance, they are in fact leaving the region of Jerusalem. The land of Jerusalem is clearly not the same as the land of inheritance. See the supplemental article, Jerusalem at the Time of Lehi.
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;
verse 19 These records were vital to the Lehites, not only to preserve their spiritual legacy, but also to maintain their language and literacy.
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.
verses 17-20 These verses imply that the record on the brass plates would have perished if Nephi had not recovered it.
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.
22 And it came to pass that we went down to the land of our inheritance, and we did gather together our gold, and our silver, and our precious things.
23 And after we had gathered these things together, we went up again unto the house of Laban.
verses 22-23 Again, note the "downs" and the "ups" in these verses (see the commentary for 1 Nephi 3:9). The implication is that Lehi's family home was located outside the city of Jerusalem, perhaps some few miles. One verse of scripture does suggest that Lehi's home, his land of inheritance might be located within the land of Jerusalem. 1 Nephi 1:4 indicates that Lehi lives "at Jerusalem." It is also possible that Lehi had two homes, one in the city of Jerusalem and one in the "land of his inheritance." Whether or not this latter is in the land of Jerusalem is simply not known.
24 And it came to pass that we went in unto Laban, and desired him that he would give unto us the records which were engraven upon the plates of brass, for which we would give unto him our gold, and our silver, and all our precious things.
25 And it came to pass that when Laban saw our property, and that it was exceedingly great, he did lust after it, insomuch that he thrust us out, and sent his servants to slay us, that he might obtain our property.
26 And it came to pass that we did flee before the servants of Laban, and we were obliged to leave behind our property, and it fell into the hands of Laban.
27 And it came to pass that we fled into the wilderness, and the servants of Laban did not overtake us, and we hid ourselves in the cavity of a rock.
verse 27 "we hid ourselves in the cavity of a rock" No matter which direction one travels from Jerusalem, one encounters terrain with many caves. In fact, the area is pock-marked with literally hundreds of caves. This fact of the brothers' hiding in a cave is perfectly appropriate for the area around Jerusalem.
The discovery of one particular cave has engendered some interest among some members of the Church, though presently, most scholars feel that this cave is unrelated to the Book of Mormon story. This cave is located about twenty five miles southwest of Jerusalem. It consists of three rooms. In the back of one of the rooms were found inscriptions engraved onto the walls. One of these inscriptions might be translated, in essence, "Deliver us, O' Lord." Another has the Lord speaking in first person, "I, Jehovah, have forgiven you of your sins." Also portrayed in the engravings were three sailing ships. The writings implied that they might have been written by a prophet since only a prophet would dare write the sacred name of Jehovah. The writings have been dated approximately 600 BC, or about the time of the Babylonian captivity. The implication that whoever was in the cave and made these engravings was probably hiding and trying to escape the Babylonian captivity. They were planning their escape from Jerusalem, and may have been thinking about escaping by boat. At least one in the party believed himself or herself to be a prophet of God. The area where the cave was located had been known for centuries as Lehi or Beit Lehi, or Beit Lei. The word Lehi or Lei means cheek bone or jaw. This cave is located in the same area where Samson slew the thousand Philistines with the jaw bone of an ass. In the Bible the area is referred to as Ramon Lehi or hill of Lehi. Some have wanted to speculate that perhaps father Lehi even lived in this area. Further, some have even suggested that perhaps it was in that cave, or one just like it, in which Nephi and his brothers took refuge when they were being pursued by Laban's servants. It seems probable that Nephi and his brothers would have been familiar with many of the caves in the area around Jerusalem since it was the place of their rearing. Today, it seems unlikely that this cave or this area had anything to do with father Lehi or the story of the Book of Mormon.
Also, the terminology "cavity of a rock" is appropriate Hebrew terminology. In Hebrew, one would never say "cave." It seems likely that Joseph Smith, writing in his own words, would have referred to the hiding place as a cave. Similarly, Joseph would have been more likely to refer to Laban's scriptural record as "brass plates" rather than the more Hebraically appropriate "plates of brass" (see the supplemental article, The Hebrew Language and the Book of Mormon).
28 And it came to pass that Laman was angry with me, and also with my father; and also was Lemuel, for he hearkened unto the words of Laman. Wherefore Laman and Lemuel did speak many hard words unto us, their younger brothers, and they did smite us even with a rod.
verse 28 "Laman and Lemuel did speak many hard words unto us, their younger brothers" Even though there has been no mention of him by name thus far during this trip to Jerusalem, Sam has also been present with Nephi, Laman, and Lemuel (see 1 Nephi 4:28).
"they did smite us even with a rod" Hugh Nibley has added insight to this passage:
Is it any wonder that Laman and Lemuel worked off their pent-up frustration by beating their youngest brother with a stick when they were once hiding in a cave? Every free man in the East carries a stick, the immemorial badge of independence and of authority, and every man asserts his authority over his inferiors by his stick, "which shows that the holder is a man of position, superior to the workman or day-labourers. The government officials, superior officers, tax-gatherers, and schoolmasters use this short rod to threaten-or if necessary to beat-their inferiors, whoever they may be." The usage is very ancient. "A blow for a slave" is the ancient maxim in Ahikar, and the proper designation of an underling is abida-I'asa, "stick servant." This is exactly the sense in which Laman and Lemuel intended their little lesson to Nephi, for when the angel turned the tables he said to them, "Why do ye smite your younger brother with a rod? Know ye not that the Lord hath chosen him to be a ruler over you?" (1 Nephi 3:29) (Approach to the Book of Mormon, 249, see also 246-47. See also Nibley, Lehi in the Desert, 67-71).
29 And it came to pass as they smote us with a rod, behold, an angel of the Lord came and stood before them, and he spake unto them, saying: Why do ye smite your younger brother with a rod? Know ye not that the Lord hath chosen him to be a ruler over you, and this because of your iniquities? Behold ye shall go up to Jerusalem again, and the Lord will deliver Laban into your hands.
30 And after the angel had spoken unto us, he departed.
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?
verse 31 It didn't take long following the visit of the angel for Laman and Lemuel to start murmuring again.
"he can command fifty, yea, even he can slay fifty" The Book of Mormon consistently agrees with the usage of numbers in the Old Testament, as illustrated in the following three items:
1. Avoidance of complex numeric forms. Biblical Hebrew used cardinals (one, two, three), ordinals (first, second, third), multiplicatives (double, sevenfold), and fractions (half, third, tenth) but avoids complex numeric forms using prefixes such as mono-, bi-, di-, uni-, tri-, multi-, and poly-.
2. The number without the noun. Often in biblical Hebrew, an expected noun does not follow a number. For instance, Genesis 45:22 states that Joseph "gave three hundred of silver" to Benjamin, without stating that the three hundred probably refers to pieces of silver. In order to fix what would have been an awkward omission in English, the King James translators supplied the word pieces but italicized it to show that it is not part of the original text. Other biblical examples of the number without the noun include "ten weight of gold" (Genesis 24:22; the KJV adds shekels to its translation: "ten shekels weight of gold"); "he measured six of barley" (Ruth 3:15; the KJV adds measures: "he measures six measures of barley"); and "a captain of fifty with his fifty" (2 Kings 1:9).
This particular verse is an example, in the Book of Mormon, of this Hebrew usage. The number fifty, used twice in this passage, is not followed by a noun. Does fifty refer to men, warriors, princes, commanders of armies? The context does not make this certain. Other Book of Mormon examples include "my little band of two thousand and sixty fought most desperately" (Alma 57:19); "Wherefore, by the words of three, God hath said, I will establish my word" (2 Nephi 11:3); "And it came to pass that there were two hundred, out of my two thousand and sixty" (Alma 57:25).
3. Joining two or more numbers with the conjunction "and." It is common in biblical Hebrew to join two or more numbers with the conjunction and; for instance, "thirty and two kings" (1 Kings 20:1) rather than "thirty-two kings." Examples in the Book of Mormon include "an army of forty and two thousand" (Mormon 2:9); "three hundred and twenty years" (Omni 1:5); and "being sixty and three years old" (Mosiah 17:6).