The Second Book of Nephi
An account of the death of Lehi. Nephi's brethren rebel against him. The Lord warns Nephi to depart into the wilderness. His journeyings in the wilderness, and so forth.
In the original manuscript of the Book of Mormon, the title of the Second Book of Nephi was simply designated as "the Book of Nephi." Later Oliver Cowdery realized that there was more than one book of Nephi which led him to insert the word second. It is easily identifiable on the original manuscript, as it is written with considerably heavier ink, providing evidence that the insertion was made on another occasion (Royal Skousen, "Translating the Book of Mormon, Evidence from the Original Manuscript" in Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited, The Evidence for Ancient Origins).
The Book of Mormon is a primary source of doctrine for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and 2 Nephi is one of the most doctrinally rich books in the Book of Mormon.
John W. Welch has found much in the first four chapters of 2 Nephi that is compatible with ancient Israelite family laws and customs. He has referred to these four chapters as "Lehi's last will and testament" (The Book of Mormon: Second Nephi, The Doctrinal Structure [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft and Religious Studies Center Brigham Young University], 1989, 62).
Chapter Outline of 2 Nephi
A brief outline of 2 Nephi, worth committing to memory, is as follows:
2 Nephi 1-4 Father Lehi counsels and blesses each of his sons.
2 Nephi 2 Lehi's counsel to his son Jacob includes teachings on the atonement.
2 Nephi 5 Nephi and his followers separate from the Lamanites and move to the land of Nephi.
2 Nephi 6-10 Jacob delivers an important two-day sermon to the Nephites.
2 Nephi 7-8 Isaiah 50-51
2 Nephi 9 Jacob's teachings include teachings on the atonement.
2 Nephi 12-24 Isaiah 2-14
2 Nephi 27-30 Nephi prophesies of latter-day apostasy, coming forth of the Book of Mormon, and restoration of the gospel.
2 Nephi 27 Isaiah 29
2 Nephi 31 Baptism
2 Nephi Chapter 1
2 Nephi 1-4 Father Lehi counsels and blesses each of his sons.
2 Nephi 1:13-16 Father Lehi's counsel to his rebellious descendants: O that ye would awake; awake from a deep sleep, yea, even from the sleep of hell, and shake off the awful chains by which ye are bound, which are the chains which bind the children of men, that they are carried away captive down to the eternal gulf of misery and woe. Awake! and arise from the dust, and hear the words of a trembling parent, whose limbs ye must soon lay down in the cold and silent grave, from whence no traveler can return; a few more days and I go the way of all the earth. But behold, the Lord hath redeemed my soul from hell; I have beheld his glory, and I am encircled about eternally in the arms of his love. And I desire that ye should remember to observe the statutes and the judgments of the Lord; behold, this hath been the anxiety of my soul from the beginning.
Sometime after the arrival of Lehi's colony in the promised land, and possibly just shortly before Lehi's death, Lehi called together the entire community to give them a final blessing. Chapter 1 contains Lehi's final warnings and admonitions to his sons, to the sons of Ishmael, to Zoram, and to all their posterity. This chapter confirms the teaching that the Americas are a land choice above all other lands given by covenant to Lehi and his posterity forever and also to all others that the Lord would bring. The land will continue prosperous and free only on the condition that its inhabitants keep the commandments of God.
1 And now it came to pass that after I, Nephi, had made an end of teaching my brethren, our father, Lehi, also spake many things unto them, and rehearsed unto them, how great things the Lord had done for them in bringing them out of the land of Jerusalem.
verse 1 "after I, Nephi, had made an end of teaching my brethren" From 1 Nephi 19:8 through the end of 1 Nephi 22, Nephi discoursed to his brothers on the coming and the ministry of the Savior and the scattering and gathering of Israel.
2 And he spake unto them concerning their rebellions upon the waters, and the mercies of God in sparing their lives, that they were not swallowed up in the sea.
verse 2 The "rebellions upon the waters," of course, refers to the irreverent and probably lascivious behavior of Laman, Lemuel, and the sons of Ishmael during the trip over the ocean to the promised land, reported in 1 Nephi 18:9-20.
3 And he also spake unto them concerning the land of promise, which they had obtained-how merciful the Lord had been in warning us that we should flee out of the land of Jerusalem.
4 For, behold, said he, I have seen a vision, in which I know that Jerusalem is destroyed; and had we remained in Jerusalem we should also have perished.
verse 4 Nephi is quoting his father Lehi here and will continue to do so intermittently through 2 Nephi 4:12.
"I have seen a vision" When and where did Lehi have this vision? Was it in the wilderness? In the land of promise? At any time following his vision in the first year of Zedekiah's reign, 597 BC, Lehi could have factually proclaimed, "I have seen a vision in which I know that Jerusalem is destroyed." Apparently during that original vision, Lehi learned of Jerusalem's eventual fate. He did not need another vision to confirm Jerusalem's destruction (see 1 Nephi 5:4). Nephi's brother Jacob would later have a similar vision which is reported in 2 Nephi 6:8. Nephi also will yet mention the destruction of Jerusalem (2 Nephi 25:6-10).
The destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon is recorded in the Bible in 2 Kings 25 and took place about 586 BC. Again, see the supplemental article, Jerusalem at the Time of Lehi.
5 But, said he, notwithstanding our afflictions, we have obtained a land of promise, a land which is choice above all other lands; a land which the Lord God hath covenanted with me should be a land for the inheritance of my seed. Yea, the Lord hath covenanted this land unto me, and to my children forever, and also all those who should be led out of other countries by the hand of the Lord.
verse 5 A point to ponder: When we consider the concept of a "land of promise," a covenant land belonging to the tribe of Joseph, to which specific land does this title apply? North America? Central America? South America? The entire western hemisphere? Certainly some prophecies seem to apply more to North America, specifically to the United States of America-especially those prophecies which have to do with the "great Gentile nation" and the restoration of the gospel and the latter-day gathering of Israel and bringing forth of the Book of Mormon. Perhaps, though, we ought to be careful about restricting our notion of the promised land to North America, especially since it is likely that the land inhabited by the immediate descendants of Lehi was Central America, and not North America.
"the Lord hath covenanted this land unto me, and to my children forever" What is the duration of this covenant agreement? For how long is it binding? For a century or two? For a dispensation or two? For the duration of the existence of this mortal earth? The answer is probably forever! Keep in mind that the earth will eventually be celestialized and become the eternal home of the righteous. Orson Pratt made a thought-provoking observation: "Different portions of the earth have been pointed out by the Almighty, from time to time, to his children, as their everlasting inheritance. As instances-Abraham and his posterity, that were worthy, were promised Palestine. Moab and Ammon-the children of righteous Lot-were promised a portion not far from the boundaries of the twelve tribes. . . . In the resurrection, the meek of all ages and nations will be restored to that portion of the earth previously promised to them. And thus, all the different portions of the earth have been and will be disposed of to the lawful heirs; while those who cannot prove their heirship to be legal, or who cannot prove that they have received any portion of the earth by promise, will be cast out into some other kingdom or world" (JD, 1:332-33).
"all those who should be led out of other countries by the hand of the Lord" This important phrase verifies that the Americas are not a promised land to Lehi's descendants alone-but also to all those who are directed there by the hand of the Lord. Certainly this applies to the Pilgrim fathers and to the Puritans and also to many who joined the Church of Jesus Christ in this final dispensation and then immigrated to the United States to live among the saints.
6 Wherefore, I, Lehi, prophesy according to the workings of the Spirit which is in me, that there shall none come into this land save they shall be brought by the hand of the Lord.
verse 6 What precisely is meant by this verse? Taken at face value, it suggests that the only individuals who will come from the Old World to the New World will be those who have been invited by the Lord or brought by his hand. This has obviously not been the case. Certainly the New World has been the recipient of many unsavory and ungodly individual immigrants over the years.
A couple of other possible meanings are more plausible. First, this prophecy might refer to groups and not individuals. For example, the Lord certainly had a role in directing the Jaredites, the Mulekites, the Lehites, the Pilgrims, the Puritans, some of the early Mormon converts, and probably many other individuals to gather in the Americas. In each of these groups, however, there have obviously been unrighteous individuals unworthy of the Lord's covenant blessings. Alternatively, the verse might refer selectively only to those to whom the covenant of a promised land applies. All such "shall be brought [to the Americas] by the hand of the Lord." This meaning is likely in view of the following verse.
7 Wherefore, this land is consecrated unto him whom he shall bring. And if it so be that they shall serve him according to the commandments which he hath given, it shall be a land of liberty unto them; wherefore, they shall never be brought down into captivity; if so, it shall be because of iniquity; for if iniquity shall abound cursed shall be the land for their sakes, but unto the righteous it shall be blessed forever.
verse 7 This is largely a self-explanatory verse of vital importance!
"this land is consecrated unto him whom he shall bring" To consecrate is to do something with sacredness, to dedicate, devote, and focus oneself toward the realization of a sacred end. In addition, it is to set apart and designate for sacred purposes, as when priests and teachers are called and put in place in the Church (2 Nephi 5:26). The saints of the Most High consecrate their resources to God when they enter into the law of consecration and stewardship (3 Nephi 26:19; 4 Nephi 1:3; D&C 42:30). If they are submissive, the people of the Lord may have their desires and their works consecrated by God to their eternal gain (2 Nephi 32:9; 2 Nephi 33:4).
"And if it so be" Prophecy may be categorized into two types, conditional and unconditional. Unconditional prophecy is binding and will come to pass regardless of the actions of men or nations. Can you think of any unconditional prophecies? How about the birth of Christ, the second coming of Christ, the resurrection, and the day of judgment? These things have come to pass or will come to pass regardless of the actions of men. Conditional prophecies are those contingent upon obedience or disobedience. This promise of liberty to the inhabitants of the Americas is obviously conditional.
"if so" The conjunction "if so" refers to the possibility of the land of promise's being brought "down into captivity."
8 And behold, it is wisdom that this land should be kept as yet from the knowledge of other nations; for behold, many nations would overrun the land, that there would be no place for an inheritance.
verse 8 We believe that Columbus was directed to discover the Americas by the Holy Spirit. This verse implies that other peoples were prevented from discovering the New World until, in the Lord's economy, the time was right.
The verse also suggests one reason why the New World was protected in this manner by the Lord. It was to prevent the land from being overrun by non-covenant people and to preserve the area as a land of inheritance.
The New World was to be groomed and prepared for the eventual restoration of the gospel and the gathering of Israel. Keeping this in mind, another interesting reason has been suggested for the Lord's protecting the New World from untimely immigration. It was important to keep out religious cultures that might adversely affect the eventual establishment of the restored Church of Jesus Christ. Joseph Fielding McConkie and Robert L. Millet suggested, "Had the knowledge of the Americas been made known even a century earlier, the religion transplanted to the Western World would have been that of the church of Europe at its lowest stage of decadence. The period closing with the fifteenth century was that of the dense darkness that goes before the dawn. . . . Indeed, it was to escape the chains of bondage and the darkness of religious oppression that people of spiritual nobility emigrated to the new land" (Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon, volume 1, 185).
9 Wherefore, I, Lehi, have obtained a promise, that inasmuch as those whom the Lord God shall bring out of the land of Jerusalem shall keep his commandments, they shall prosper upon the face of this land; and they shall be kept from all other nations, that they may possess this land unto themselves. And if it so be that they shall keep his commandments they shall be blessed upon the face of this land, and there shall be none to molest them, nor to take away the land of their inheritance; and they shall dwell safely forever.
verse 9 What a sweeping promise the Lord made with Lehi! But the posterity of Lehi did not keep the Lord's commandments. Is it possible that the conquest of Central America by the Spaniard Cortez in AD 1519 was "allowed" by the Lord because of the disobedience of the people? What about the earlier discovery of the New World by Columbus in AD 1492? Might this event also have resulted from the people's failure to keep the commandments? We have discussed elsewhere that Columbus was inspired by the Spirit of God to make the discoveries he made (see the commentary for 1 Nephi 13:12). Did Columbus's inspiration come as the result of the unrighteousness of the peoples in the New World, or rather was his "discovery" simply an essential part of the plan to prepare the New World for the eventual restoration of the gospel and gathering of Israel? This is a difficult question. Certainly the indigenous peoples of the Americas (some of which were Lehi's posterity) were eventually "scattered and smitten" as a result of the discovery of the New World by Columbus. It seems likely that Columbus's discovery was made necessary, in God's broad plan, by the apostasy of the native Americans.
10 But behold, when the time cometh that they shall dwindle in unbelief, after they have received so great blessings from the hand of the Lord-having a knowledge of the creation of the earth, and all men, knowing the great and marvelous works of the Lord from the creation of the world; having power given them to do all things by faith; having all the commandments from the beginning, and having been brought by his infinite goodness into this precious land of promise-behold, I say, if the day shall come that they will reject the Holy One of Israel, the true Messiah, their Redeemer and their God, behold, the judgments of him that is just shall rest upon them.
verse 10 "a knowledge of the creation of the earth" Where did they get this knowledge? Initially, from the plates of brass. Later on, the "record of the Jews," the Bible, will be brought to the New World.
"having power given them to do all things by faith" This concept might also have come from the plates of brass, specifically the book of Genesis even though it is not in the King James version of Genesis. In Joseph Smith's inspired revision of the Bible, the JST, we read that those who hold the priesthood "should have power, by faith, to break mountains, to divide the seas, to dry up waters, to turn them out of their course; to put at defiance the armies of nations, to divide the earth, to break every band, to stand in the presence of God" (JST, Genesis 14:30-31).
"having all the commandments from the beginning" We believe that the basic saving doctrines and ordinances have been available to each and every dispensation including those of Adam, Enoch, Noah, and Abraham.
The construction of this verse is unusual and perhaps a bit awkward in that Nephi initially writes "when the time cometh" that the people will lose their faith, indicating that the time will indeed come. But later on in the verse he changes the thought to a less-conclusive "if the day shall come" that they should reject Jesus Christ and his gospel.
11 Yea, he will bring other nations unto them, and he will give unto them power, and he will take away from them the lands of their possessions, and he will cause them to be scattered and smitten.
verse 11 All of the thems in this verse refer to the native Americans except the second which refers to the foreign nations empowered by God to establish themselves in the New World and thus chasten rebellious Israel.
verses 9-11 Ultimately four groups of covenant people are to inhabit this same promised land: (1) the antediluvians, from Adam to Noah (D&C 116; 107:53); (2) the Jaredites; (3) the Lehites; and (4) the latter-day Israelites, especially those descendants of the ten tribes, being gathered by the missionaries of this great Gentile nation. We have learned or will learn that the first three of these groups have, indeed, ripened in iniquity and have been destroyed. The single exception is a subgroup of the Lehites, the Lamanites, whom the Lord is preserving, though chastening repeatedly. The complete story of the Gentiles is not yet recorded, though scripture suggests that there will be a great final destruction and purging before the Lord's second coming wherein the righteous among them will be preserved but the wicked will be cleansed from the earth.
12 Yea, as one generation passeth to another there shall be bloodsheds, and great visitations among them; wherefore, my sons, I would that ye would remember; yea, I would that ye would hearken unto my words.
verse 12 This verse spells out the fate of the disobedient and apostate remnants of the Book of Mormon peoples. The "great visitations" spoken of here refer to the judgments brought against them by the Holy Spirit.
13 O that ye would awake; awake from a deep sleep, yea, even from the sleep of hell, and shake off the awful chains by which ye are bound, which are the chains which bind the children of men, that they are carried away captive down to the eternal gulf of misery and woe.
verse 13 The term "deep sleep" likely refers to spiritual indifference or a lack of susceptibility to the promptings of the Spirit.
The "chains" spoken of are the "chains of hell" defined by Alma (Alma 12:9-11) as the inevitable plight of the individual whose heart is not responsive to things of the Spirit. They are given lesser and lesser portions of the word until eventually they know nothing of the doctrine or word of God. Then they are inevitably taken captive by Satan and led down to destruction. This tragic sequence is what is meant by the expression "chains of hell." In D&C 123 Joseph wrote from Liberty Jail that a world without eternal truths is ripe for a takeover by the devil. He then goes on to describe this spiritual bondage as "an iron yoke, a strong band, handcuffs, chains and shackles, and fetters of hell" (D&C 123:7-8).
Wo or woe is grief; sorrow; misery; a curse. Do we really believe that Lehi's rebellious sons will eventually inherit an "eternal gulf of misery and woe"? This implies that they will become sons of perdition, for that is the only eternal state of misery of which we are aware. Wicked and spiritually recalcitrant though they were, it is unlikely that they will become sons of Perdition. For a discussion of this problem, see "Post-Mortal Life and the Book of Mormon" Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 2, chapter 13, The Spirit World. Similar references are made to the post-mortal life of Lehi's rebellious sons in verses 17 and 22 of this chapter.
14 Awake! and arise from the dust, and hear the words of a trembling parent, whose limbs ye must soon lay down in the cold and silent grave, from whence no traveler can return; a few more days and I go the way of all the earth.
verse 14 "ye must soon lay down in the cold and silent grave, from whence no traveler can return" This phraseology has been a source of difficulty. Anti-Mormons have suggested that Joseph Smith borrowed from William Shakespeare as he recorded it. For a discussion of this problem see the commentary for 1 Nephi 22:15.
15 But behold, the Lord hath redeemed my soul from hell; I have beheld his glory, and I am encircled about eternally in the arms of his love.
verse 15 Lehi apparently was blessed to receive the Second Comforter-to have his calling and election made sure. For a discussion of this topic, see the commentary for Helaman 10:4-7 and also Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 2, chapter 16, Calling and Election Made Sure.
16 And I desire that ye should remember to observe the statutes and the judgments of the Lord; behold, this hath been the anxiety of my soul from the beginning.
17 My heart hath been weighed down with sorrow from time to time, for I have feared, lest for the hardness of your hearts the Lord your God should come out in the fulness of his wrath upon you, that ye be cut off and destroyed forever;
verse 17 The concept of a "heavy" or a "hard" heart seems to have its origins in Egyptian mythology. Osiris, the god of the underworld, and his assistant Anubis weighed the hearts of the dead on a balance against the positive virtues of truth, goodness, etc. The heavy heart, weighed down with sin, weighed more than the heart imbued with positive virtues.
The phrase "lest for" may be interpreted "that because of."
"that ye be cut off and destroyed forever" Who is it, according to our modern-day understanding of the plan of salvation, that is "cut off and destroyed forever"? It would seem that only those who live eternally with Satan would fit this description. Even then, it is not possible, even for God, to literally destroy an intelligence. We thus have a similar problem to that mentioned in verse 13 above-that of incomplete doctrine of the post mortal world taught in the Book of Mormon.
18 Or, that a cursing should come upon you for the space of many generations; and ye are visited by sword, and by famine, and are hated, and are led according to the will and captivity of the devil.
verse 18 "Or, that a cursing should come upon you for the space of many generations" The "sore cursing" which will eventually come upon Laman and Lemuel and their descendants was not the "skin of blackness." Rather the cursing was losing the Spirit or being cut off from the presence of the Lord (2 Nephi 5:20). The "skin of blackness" is rather simply a mark of the curse which indicates those peoples on whom the curse has been pronounced.
Are you comfortable with the idea that "many generations" of descendants of Laman and Lemuel should be cursed because of the misdeeds of their forefathers? Is this fair? Should any man be mandated by God to suffer because of the sins of another? I believe we must acknowledge that generations of Lamanites were born into spiritually adverse circumstances because of the wickedness of their forebears. This does not negate the inviolate principle, however, that each man will be ultimately judged on his own merits-what he has done with the circumstances he inherits in this mortal life. It is certain that some Lamanites will be judged more leniently than many of their counterpart Nephites. The latter were blessed to receive many more spiritual benefits at their birth. It is also possible that an outsider, observing those Lamanites so blessed, might conclude that they do not appear on the surface to be as righteous in their actions as those Nephites who received a lesser judgment. It is difficult to judge a man's heart, and only the Lord is qualified. This is the great principle of D&C 82:3: "For of him unto whom much is given much is required; and he who sins against the greater light shall receive the greater condemnation." Surely this same principle applies to all of us in the Church. To an outsider we might appear to be a rather homogeneous group, all blessed with happy and supportive family relationships, and all content and enthusiastic about our Church and culture. Are we really that homogeneous? Is life and its varied circumstances really so simple that we can be categorized into this or that large group? Certainly not. Life is complex and intricate and each of us has very different circumstances as we wend our way through mortality. Only the Lord knows our heart and unique circumstances, and only he can judge us.
"led according to the will and captivity of the devil" Are individuals born into an environment where there is no gospel influence and no priesthood more apt to be influenced by Satan? Perhaps so, but this fact also does not invalidate the important principle discussed in the paragraph above.
It would seem that there are three vital factors which will surely be considered by the Lord in his final judgment of us following this mortal experience:
1. Each of us arrives here on earth having earned various degrees of spiritual light and progress in the premortal world. Some have been valiant and obedient, and others less so. Hence, some have acquired significantly more spiritual growth than others. Which will be judged most rigorously? Again the principle of D&C 82:3: Of the more accomplished souls, more is expected, and the Lord is likely to be more lenient with those of lesser initial spiritual accomplishment.
2. We will live out our mortal experience in widely divergent circumstances. Some will live in wealth and plenty, while others will struggle just to survive. Some will experience loving parents and associates, while others will be treated more harshly. Some will be reared in a home where the principles of the gospel are observed. Others will never even be exposed to the gospel or its teachings. The span of our lives will vary from short to long. Consider also the nearly infinite variety of vicissitudes and pitfalls each of us will encounter. Certainly a loving Lord will take into account in his judgment the circumstances of each of our lives.
3. Finally, each of us will earn a certain absolute amount of spiritual progress between our birth and death. Each of us will grow a certain measurable and quantifiable distance toward godhood-some will grow inches and others will grow miles. We will not, of course, be judged according to our absolute progress. Rather the Lord, with his divine wisdom and insight, will place our absolute progress in the context of factors 1. and 2. For some spiritually disadvantaged and beleaguered souls, a small amount of absolute spiritual growth may be sufficient for exaltation. Others, with more spiritual advantages in life may be judged unworthy of exaltation though their measurable growth exceeds that of those who were less advantaged.
19 O my sons, that these things might not come upon you, but that ye might be a choice and a favored people of the Lord. But behold, his will be done; for his ways are righteousness forever.
verse 19 "But behold, his will be done" A casual reading of this verse, and particularly this phrase, might lead one to incorrectly interpret it to suggest that it is the Lord's will that Laman and Lemuel and their descendants not become "a favored people of the Lord." It might be more correctly interpreted to mean: "May the Lord's plan remain the standard of righteousness." There is nothing about this verse that negates the principle of agency and the principle of the Lord's incalculable love for each and every one of us.
20 And he hath said that: Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land; but inasmuch as ye will not keep my commandments ye shall be cut off from my presence.
verse 20 Here is an important covenant which is restated throughout the pages of the Book of Mormon (see 1 Nephi 4:14; Mosiah 2:22; Alma 9:13; see also verses 7, 9-10 in this chapter). It is usually referred to as the "promise/curse" of the Book of Mormon. This covenant is fundamental to the relationship between the Book of Mormon peoples and their God (see the introductory commentary for Alma 43).
This covenant has also been called the "covenant of Moses" (Lauri Hlavaty, "The Religion of Moses and the Book of Mormon" in The Book of Mormon: Jacob Through Words of Mormon, To Learn With Joy, Provo, Utah, 103) and is the essence of the religion of the ancient Jews and of the Book of Mormon people. To understand better this "covenant of Moses," it is helpful to contrast it with the "covenant of Christ."
The covenant of Christ is given to individuals and includes promises of eternal individual exaltation. Its ordinances belong to the Melchizedek priesthood. Basically stated, it says: "If you keep my commandments and come to know and emulate my Son, you shall become like me and live with me forever." The covenant of Moses, on the other hand, is given collectively to a people, not to individuals. It pertains to their temporal welfare and not to their eternal salvation. It is administered through the Aaronic priesthood which is concerned with temporal affairs. It may be simply stated: "If you keep my commandments, I will take care of you here on earth." A good example of the covenant of Moses is expressed in Leviticus: "If ye walk in my statutes and keep my commandments . . . I will give you rain in due season, and the land shall yield her increase. . . . I will give peace in the land, and ye shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid. . . . and I will walk among you, and will be your God, and ye shall be my people" (Leviticus 26:3; Leviticus 26:4; Leviticus 26:6; Leviticus 26:12). In this passage in Leviticus, the "you" is plural. This covenant is made with a people or community and not with an individual. The covenant of Moses should not be interpreted that every person who keeps the commandments will prosper. Rather it means that if a group of people keep the commandments, then they, as a group, will prosper (see also Joshua 23:6-13).
One other point is pertinent. The term "law of Moses," as we use it today, often refers to the entire religion of Moses. This religion actually consists of two fundamental parts.
1. First, there is a set of carnal commandments or laws governing every day behavior. Many of these are a part of the everlasting gospel including self discipline, concern for others, and love for and faith in God. These were given to Moses but later added to and corrupted by apostate Judaism. These laws defined social behavior (and also became the basis of the Jewish legal code) and specified the rituals, especially sacrifices to be used in worship.
2. Second, there is the covenant of Moses. The two together, the laws and the covenant make up the entire "law of Moses" (Ibid.).
21 And now that my soul might have joy in you, and that my heart might leave this world with gladness because of you, that I might not be brought down with grief and sorrow to the grave, arise from the dust, my sons, and be men, and be determined in one mind and in one heart, united in all things, that ye may not come down into captivity;
verse 21 "arise from the dust, my sons, and be men" Lehi's intended meaning is unmistakable. "Quit groveling in the dust of your iniquity. Arise and be real men!" This imagery is repeated in verse 23.
"in one mind" Is this verse teaching the necessity of unity-that we must be united one with another? Perhaps, but an additional implication is likely. Each of us should be united with Christ. Paul taught that it was desirable to have the "mind of Christ" (1 Corinthians 2:16). To earn our exaltation, we must strive to have the "mind of Christ." That is, we must think as he thinks, believe as he believes, and do as he would do.
22 That ye may not be cursed with a sore cursing; and also, that ye may not incur the displeasure of a just God upon you, unto the destruction, yea, the eternal destruction of both soul and body.
verse 22 "that ye may not incur the displeasure of a just God upon you, unto the destruction, yea, the eternal destruction of both soul and body" The precise definition of "soul," as provided us in latter-day scripture is the combination of a spirit and a mortal body (D&C 88:15-16). In the Book of Mormon, however, the word "soul" is usually best interpreted as spirit (see the commentary for 1 Nephi 15:35).
The phrase "eternal destruction" cannot, of course, be interpreted as annihilation since there is no possibility of annihilation of the body and spirit of man in the eternities, as we understand the doctrine (see the commentary for 1 Nephi 14:3). How do we explain this verse, then? Perhaps the phrase "eternal destruction" means simply eternal alienation from the presence or influence of God. Only the sons of Perdition, as we understand them, will qualify for this awful fate. Again, we might ask the question, "Are Laman and Lemuel likely candidates for outer darkness? Probably not. For a discussion of this matter, again, see "Post-Mortal Life and the Book of Mormon" in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 2, chapter 13, The Spirit World. Later on, the Book of Mormon will teach unequivocally of a universal resurrection that consists of the inseparable union of body and spirit (see Alma 11:44-45; Alma 40:19-23).
Some have seen this verse as evidence that certain of the children of God, namely those who become sons of perdition, may, after their resurrection, experience eventual dissolution of their bodies. Brigham Young said of the sons of perdition:
They will be decomposed, both soul and body, and return to their native element. I do not say that they will be annihilated; but they will be disorganized, and will be as though they never had been, while we will live and retain our identity, and contend against those principles which tend to death or dissolution. I am after life; I want to preserve my identity, so that you can see Brigham in the eternal worlds just as you see him now (JD, 7:57-58).They will be decomposed, both soul and body, and return to their native element. I do not say that they will be annihilated; but they will be disorganized, and will be as though they never had been, while we will live and retain our identity, and contend against those principles which tend to death or dissolution. I am after life; I want to preserve my identity, so that you can see Brigham in the eternal worlds just as you see him now (JD, 7:57-58).
Presumably, this dissolution of the bodies of the sons of perdition would include the dissolution of the resurrected bodies (and probably the spirit bodies)-for those who had a mortal experience-and a dissolution of the spirit bodies of Satan himself and his angels. This would leave these individual intelligences of both groups without any embodiment whatever. Each would have nothing remaining except for their individual naked intelligence, in which they would be cast into outer darkness, perhaps never again to be picked up in another round of creation. This final dissolution of the bodies may be termed the third death.
23 Awake, my sons; put on the armor of righteousness. Shake off the chains with which ye are bound, and come forth out of obscurity, and arise from the dust.
verse 23 Lehi doubtless learned this imagery in reading from the brass plates-see Isaiah 59:17.
24 Rebel no more against your brother, whose views have been glorious, and who hath kept the commandments from the time that we left Jerusalem; and who hath been an instrument in the hands of God, in bringing us forth into the land of promise; for were it not for him, we must have perished with hunger in the wilderness; nevertheless, ye sought to take away his life; yea, and he hath suffered much sorrow because of you.
25 And I exceedingly fear and tremble because of you, lest he shall suffer again; for behold, ye have accused him that he sought power and authority over you; but I know that he hath not sought for power nor authority over you, but he hath sought the glory of God, and your own eternal welfare.
26 And ye have murmured because he hath been plain unto you. Ye say that he hath used sharpness; ye say that he hath been angry with you; but behold, his sharpness was the sharpness of the power of the word of God, which was in him; and that which ye call anger was the truth, according to that which is in God, which he could not restrain, manifesting boldly concerning your iniquities.
27 And it must needs be that the power of God must be with him, even unto his commanding you that ye must obey. But behold, it was not he, but it was the Spirit of the Lord which was in him, which opened his mouth to utterance that he could not shut it.
28 And now my son, Laman, and also Lemuel and Sam, and also my sons who are the sons of Ishmael, behold, if ye will hearken unto the voice of Nephi ye shall not perish. And if ye will hearken unto him I leave unto you a blessing, yea, even my first blessing.
29 But if ye will not hearken unto him I take away my first blessing, yea, even my blessing, and it shall rest upon him.
verses 28-29 "first blessing" We have spoken previously about the concept of primogeniture that existed in ancient Israel (see the commentary for 1 Nephi 16:37). This principle held that upon the death of the father, the eldest son of the father's first wife was entitled to occupy the father's house and estate. This would help him care for his mother and unmarried sisters when the father passed away. The firstborn also was given the right to preside over the family after the death of the father, though this right could be bartered away, as happened to Esau (Genesis 25:29-34), or forfeited by unrighteousness as happened to Reuben (Genesis 35:22; Genesis 49:3-4; 1 Chronicles 5:1). The firstborn was also granted the right to be shown deference by his siblings throughout his life (e.g., Genesis 43:33). Apparently this principle was not always applied without qualification. In Israel a father was free to choose a younger son as his successor if he found the eldest unworthy of the honor. Also this privilege did not pass automatically, but had to be conferred and publicly acknowledged by the father, usually in the form of an oral blessing. Additionally, by Lehi's time the firstborn was not given the entire estate to the exclusion of all other sons. Rather the firstborn was given a double share compared with his brothers (Deuteronomy 21:17). Given the culture in which he was reared, Laman might well have had the expectations that he would succeed his father as the leader of the family and that he would have received more than an even share of his father's estate.
In this verse, Lehi's approach to this potentially explosive problem is an interesting one. It is clear that Lehi wanted the role of spiritual leadership of the family to pass to Nephi. Lehi promises to his sons and his sons-in-law the birthright blessing contingent upon their righteous obedience of the gospel laws as promulgated by Nephi. Lehi could hardly have blessed each of his sons or sons-in-law simultaneously with this "first blessing." He could, however, bless each of them to participate in this patriarchal sequence should the one or ones above them default. He could also take away the birthright from any or all of them. His solution is particularly interesting in that it guarantees the right of leadership to Nephi. In order for Laman to obtain the first blessing, he had to obey Nephi. If he did not obey Nephi, his father's blessing would go to Nephi anyway.
We might intuitively predict Laman and Lemuel's reaction to this offer. They likely regarded Lehi's words as "rubbing salt into the wound." Centuries later, the descendants of Laman would still be complaining of how they were robbed of their "right to the government when it rightly belonged to them" (Alma 54:17).
30 And now, Zoram, I speak unto you: Behold, thou art the servant of Laban; nevertheless, thou hast been brought out of the land of Jerusalem, and I know that thou art a true friend unto my son, Nephi, forever.
31 Wherefore, because thou hast been faithful thy seed shall be blessed with his seed, that they dwell in prosperity long upon the face of this land; and nothing, save it shall be iniquity among them, shall harm or disturb their prosperity upon the face of this land forever.
32 Wherefore, if ye shall keep the commandments of the Lord, the Lord hath consecrated this land for the security of thy seed with the seed of my son.
verses 30-32 In verses 1 through 29 above, Lehi has spoken to his sons collectively. John W. Welch has pointed out that in these three verses (verses 30-32) and in the several verses that follow, Lehi will speak in turn to:
1. Zoram (verses 30-32),
2. Jacob (2 Nephi 2),
3. Joseph (2 Nephi 3),
4. the children of Laman (2 Nephi 4:3-7),
5. the children of Lemuel (2 Nephi 4:8-9),
6. the sons of Ishmael (2 Nephi 4:10), and
7. Sam and Nephi (2 Nephi 4:11).
In so doing, brother Welch feels that he was organizing his posterity into seven groups or tribes (The Book of Mormon: Second Nephi, The Doctrinal Structure. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft and Religious Studies Center Brigham Young University, 1989, 68-70).
Just as the descendants of Israel were organized into twelve tribes, so are Lehi's posterity divided into these seven, and Lehi is functioning in creating this organization in just the same patriarchal tradition as did Jacob of old. This organization will persist throughout the Book of Mormon and will be mentioned on three other occasions (Jacob 1:13; 4 Nephi 38; and Mormon 1:8). Just as the Israelites have always known Abraham as "father Abraham," so will the Nephites accord Lehi the honor of being "father Lehi" throughout the Book of Mormon (Enos 1:25; Mosiah 1:4; Mosiah 2:34; Alma 9:9; Alma 18:36; Alma 36:22; Alma 56:3; Helaman 8:22; 3 Nephi 10:17).
Although the text does not state it explicitly, Brother Welch further feels that Lehi was assigning each tribe or group a specific "land of inheritance" to which each had perpetual rights. He further suggests this right was a significant factor which, later in the text, will motivate the followers of Zeniff to repossess (see Omni 27) their land (The Book of Mormon: Second Nephi, The Doctrinal Structure. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft and Religious Studies Center Brigham Young University, 1989, 71). Further support is gained for this idea in Lehi's reference above (2 Nephi 1:11) to "the lands of their possessions." Note the plural form of the terms "lands" and "possessions." Apparently Lehi perceived the land as divided into several "lands" or territories.