2 Nephi Chapter 5
2 Nephi 5 Nephi and his followers separate from the Lamanites and move to land of Nephi. They build a temple after the manner of the temple of Solomon. Nephi is commanded to make the small plates of Nephi and begin engraving upon them.
1 Behold, it came to pass that I, Nephi, did cry much unto the Lord my God, because of the anger of my brethren.
verse 1 Obviously Nephi had difficulty dealing with the rancor of his elder brothers to the point where he sought the Lord's counsel. He may well have been motivated by concern for their eternal welfare, but the next verse suggests that, in some large measure, fear might have also prompted his appeal to the Lord.
2 But behold, their anger did increase against me, insomuch that they did seek to take away my life.
3 Yea, they did murmur against me, saying: Our younger brother thinks to rule over us; and we have had much trial because of him; wherefore, now let us slay him, that we may not be afflicted more because of his words. For behold, we will not have him to be our ruler; for it belongs unto us, who are the elder brethren, to rule over this people.
verse 3 Here again, the animosity of Nephi's older brothers surfaces. This verse suggests that their resentment may have had at least in part a cultural origin. See the commentary for 1 Nephi 16:37 and 2 Nephi 1:28-29. This same resentment will become deeply ingrained in the cultural heritage of the Lamanite people and will surface again and again (see Enos 1:2; Mosiah 10:12-17; Alma 43:7-8; Alma 54:17).
The notion that the eldest son had the right to rule after the death of his father was perhaps also preserved in the Nephite and Jaredite practice of often appointing a king's or chief judge's son, likely the eldest, to reign or preside after his father (e.g., Omni 1:23; Mosiah 1:2; Mosiah 1:9-10; Mosiah 11:1; Mosiah 19:26; Mosiah 29:6-7; Mosiah 29:42; Alma 50:39; Ether 6:25).
4 Now I do not write upon these plates all the words which they murmured against me. But it sufficeth me to say, that they did seek to take away my life.
verse 4 "These plates," of course, are the small plates of Nephi.
5 And it came to pass that the Lord did warn me, that I, Nephi, should depart from them and flee into the wilderness, and all those who would go with me.
6 Wherefore, it came to pass that I, Nephi, did take my family, and also Zoram and his family, and Sam, mine elder brother and his family, and Jacob and Joseph, my younger brethren, and also my sisters, and all those who would go with me. And all those who would go with me were those who believed in the warnings and the revelations of God; wherefore, they did hearken unto my words.
verse 6 "and also my sisters" This is the first time Nephi mentions having sisters. When did they come onto the scene? There seem to be two possibilities. First, they could have been born to Lehi and Sariah either in the wilderness or even in the New World. In this case it seems a bit peculiar that their births were not mentioned, though this is probably compatible with oriental (eastern) custom which is decidedly male-oriented. Also, Lehi did refer to Joseph as his "last born" (2 Nephi 3:1). Again, though, neglecting to mention the birth of females is probably compatible with the custom of the time. Another possibility is that Nephi's sisters were the wives of Ishmael's two sons. If this be the case, it is remarkable that these sisters were willing to leave their husbands, provided they were still living, to go with Nephi. Keep in mind that Ishmael's two sons and their wives did rebel against Nephi in the wilderness as they were coming out of Jerusalem to join Lehi in the wilderness (1 Nephi 7:6) (Sidney B. Sperry, "Did Father Lehi Have Daughters Who Married the Sons of Ishmael?" a FARMS reprint).
7 And we did take our tents and whatsoever things were possible for us, and did journey in the wilderness for the space of many days. And after we had journeyed for the space of many days we did pitch our tents.
verse 7 "journey in the wilderness" In our minds the word wilderness conjures up an image of an area which is uninhabited and contains little vegetation or animal life, like the desert area referred to in 1 Nephi 2:4. In other places in the Book of Mormon, as here, it is not likely referring to barren deserts, but more likely fertile areas that are "wilderness" because they are difficult to negotiate and sparsely populated or completely uninhabited (see also 1 Nephi 18:6; 1 Nephi 18:24-25).
8 And my people would that we should call the name of the place Nephi; wherefore, we did call it Nephi.
verse 8 John L. Sorenson (An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, 141) and others interested in the geographic aspects of the Book of Mormon (e.g. Joseph L. Allen, Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon, 26) have selected the area of present-day Guatemala City as the likely site for "Nephi," the city of Nephi. An ancient ruin in Guatemala City called Kaminaljuyu has been shown by archaeological studies to have originated at about this time in Book of Mormon history. The date of Nephi's departure from the land of first inheritance and his establishment of the city of Nephi is not known but is estimated to be between 588 and 570 BC, probably about 580 BC. The city of Nephi will become the center of the larger land of Nephi. It will eventually be renamed the city of Lehi-Nephi. This land will serve as the Nephite capital for some 360 to 380 years. In about 210 BC, the Nephite king Mosiah will lead the Nephites out of the land of Nephi "down" to the land of Zarahemla. Subsequent to that time, in the Book of Mormon story, the land of Nephi forms the center of Lamanite culture and activity.
The distance, as the crow flies, between the proposed sites for the land of first inheritance and the city of Nephi is about one hundred miles. However, the terrain is mountainous, Nephi would have had with him women and children and perhaps flocks. It might well have taken them twenty days or so to negotiate this distance. This twenty days is compatible with the "many days" mentioned in the previous verse.
Was this place they called Nephi already populated when Nephi and his people settled there? Would they join with others-indigenous people in the area? Perhaps so. Many have supposed that Nephi's party found the future City of Nephi to be uninhabited because Nephi failed to mention other peoples. We know, however, that after his arrival in the new land, Nephi and his people would build a temple "after the manner of the temple of Solomon" (see verse 18). Such a building project would have been made easier if they were able to add to their numbers by joining with some indigenous peoples.
As mentioned, we will read that about 370 years from this time Mosiah and his followers will flee from the land of Nephi. They will travel north and settle in the city of Zarahemla. They will discover that the people of Zarahemla (the Mulekites) will already be established there. In fact the city will be named for the Mulekites' leader, Zarahemla (Omni 1:18). Nephi was the first to establish the place called Nephi, and so it was originally called Nephi. Regarding this custom of naming places after the first to possess them, we will later read: "Now it was the custom of the people of Nephi to call their lands, and their cities, and their villages, yea, even all their small villages, after the name of him who first possessed them; and thus it was with the land of Ammonihah (Alma 8:7). It does seem possible that there may have been a major city populated with non-Nephites near the city of Nephi (see the commentary for Jacob 2:28).
9 And all those who were with me did take upon them to call themselves the people of Nephi.
verse 9 Here is the first mention of the people of Nephi or the "Nephites."
10 And we did observe to keep the judgments, and the statutes, and the commandments of the Lord in all things, according to the law of Moses.
verse 10 It is important to keep in mind that Lehi and his righteous posterity believed in and kept the law of Moses which was an integral part of their cultural inheritance (see also Alma 30:3).
Note here that Nephi, in conveying the simple idea that his people kept the law uses three different words for the law: "judgments," "statutes," and "commandments." Why did he use more than one word? Do they not all mean the same? John W. Welch has pointed out that in Hebrew there are several words used to express slightly different semantic aspects of the word "law." For example judgment in Hebrew is mishpat and the mishpatim are the standards of behavior required by God or the judgments or verdicts pronounced by God. A statute in Hebrew is felt to be synonymous with ordinance, and both are rendered Huqqah or hoq. These may be defined as accepted customs or cultural rules. Commandment in Hebrew is Mitzvah and refers to divine commandments in general (bar mitzvah means "son of the commandment").
The law-the law of Moses itself-in Hebrew is the Torah which refers to teachings or instructions. A testimony or witness in Hebrew is edut and is often a monument, stela, or book of the law. When an author writing in Hebrew wants to refer to the law and be certain that he has covered all the bases, he often uses multiple terms such as Nephi does in this verse, and as do other Book of Mormon authors (see also 1 Nephi 17:22; Mosiah 6:6; Alma 8:17; Alma 30:3; Alma 58:40; Helaman 3:20; Helaman 15:5). ("Statutes, Judgments, Ordinances, and Commandments" in Reexploring the Book of Mormon. edited by John W. Welch, [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1992] 62-65.)
Notice also, in this verse, the repeated use of the article the. Unlike English, in which a series of nouns can be introduced by a single definite article (the), Hebrew repeats the definite article for each noun. This kind of repetition is seen throughout the Book of Mormon. This verse is a prime example of this particular Hebraism.
11 And the Lord was with us; and we did prosper exceedingly; for we did sow seed, and we did reap again in abundance. And we began to raise flocks, and herds, and animals of every kind.
verse 11 "we did reap again in abundance" The Book of Mormon people had been previously blessed with an abundant harvest on their arrival in the promised land (1 Nephi 18:24). It obviously continued here in the land of Nephi.
12 And I, Nephi, had also brought the records which were engraven upon the plates of brass; and also the ball, or compass, which was prepared for my father by the hand of the Lord, according to that which is written.
verse 12 "which was prepared for my father by the hand of the Lord, according to that which is written" The Liahona is the only mechanical device, of which we have knowledge, which was constructed by the hand of the Lord for use by mortal man (see also Mosiah 1:16; Alma 37:38). A possible exception is the device used for translation, the Urim and Thummim. We are not really given to know the origin of this latter device.
"according to that which is written" This phrase also implies that Nephi had access to a scriptural reference to the Liahona, which is not available to us today. Perhaps it was contained on the plates of brass. It is interesting to note that there exists an ancient tradition among those of Hebrew culture of divining with arrows (Hugh Nibley, "The Liahona's Cousins," a FARMS reprint). Perhaps this ancient tradition had its origins in scriptural writings.
13 And it came to pass that we began to prosper exceedingly, and to multiply in the land.
14 And I, Nephi, did take the sword of Laban, and after the manner of it did make many swords, lest by any means the people who were now called Lamanites should come upon us and destroy us; for I knew their hatred towards me and my children and those who were called my people.
verse 14 "the people who were now called Lamanites" This is the first mention of "Lamanites." If one contemplates carefully this phrase, one may find herein the implication that Lehi's brothers Laman and Lemuel probably allied themselves with other peoples who were already in the New World. Archeological evidence indicates that peoples already were settled in most parts of the western hemisphere at the time Lehi and his party landed there. They likely did not land on a pristine and uninhabited land. Perhaps the offspring of Laman and Lemuel merged and intermarried with the indigenous culture that was already in the New World. This might help to explain the mark of the dark skin that was later placed upon the Lamanites. Also it may help to explain why the population of the Lamanites was always larger than that of the Nephites (An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, John L. Sorenson, 193; see also Jarom 1:6).
15 And I did teach my people to build buildings, and to work in all manner of wood, and of iron, and of copper, and of brass, and of steel, and of gold, and of silver, and of precious ores, which were in great abundance.
verse 15 In times past, critics of the Book of Mormon have enjoyed pointing out that archaeologists have felt that metals were not used in Mesoamerica until AD 900. It is now known that metals were used in Mesoamerica in Book of Mormon times ("A Reconsideration of Early Metal in Mesoamerica," John L. Sorenson, Katunob 9 [March 1976]:1-18).
Where and when did Nephi acquire all these skills that he was able to pass along to his people? Certainly, his experiences in building the ship on which the Lehites sailed to the New World could have contributes much to his practical abilities.
16 And I, Nephi, did build a temple; and I did construct it after the manner of the temple of Solomon save it were not built of so many precious things; for they were not to be found upon the land, wherefore, it could not be built like unto Solomon's temple. But the manner of the construction was like unto the temple of Solomon; and the workmanship thereof was exceedingly fine.
verse 16 This is the first time temple building is mentioned in the Book of Mormon. For a summary of the temples mentioned in the Book of Mormon, see the commentary for Alma 16:13. We will learn that these temples are important buildings to the Nephite people. The Nephites will gather at their temples for their coronations, their covenant ceremonies, for religious instructions, important sermons, and to perform sacrifices and sacred ordinances.
Is it reasonable to suppose that a small group of people could build a temple "after the manner of the temple of Solomon"? After all, it took many years and considerable resources for the entire Israelite kingdom to build Solomon's temple in Jerusalem. In relatively recent times, archaeologists have indeed found small Israelite temples, or "mini-temples" in Palestine constructed "after the manner" of the temple in Jerusalem. Israeli archaeologist Avraham Negev commented on one of these temples: "The most remarkable discovery at Arad is the temple which occupied the north-western corner of the citadal. . . . Its orientation, general plan and contents, especially the tabernacle, are similar to the Temple of Solomon" ("Arad: A Biblical City in Southern Palestine," Archaeology 17 : 43-53). In other words, Nephi's construction of a simpler version of Solomon's temple in a remote location, once he had established his people in a permanent city, was not a unique event in Jewish history, but rather an expected occurrence.
Solomon's temple was apparently distinctive in its design. It consisted of three rooms, one behind the other, on a straight line, and the building was the same width all along its length. The middle room was the largest, and the third or the innermost room was the most holy, being known as the Holy of Holies.
On the subject of temples built outside of Jerusalem, Brother Hugh Nibley wrote:
The Elephantine Papyri . . . show us a Jewish community living far up the Nile, whither they had fled for safety, possibly at the destruction of Jerusalem in Lehi's day. In 1954 some of these records, the Brooklyn Aramaic Papyri, were discovered. . . . Perhaps the most surprising discovery about these Jews settled so far from home was their program for building a temple in their new home. Not long ago, learned divines were fond of pointing out that Nephi's idea of building a temple in the New World was quite sufficient in itself to prove once and for all the fraudulence of the Book of Mormon, since, it was argued, no real Jew would ever dream of having a temple anywhere but in Jerusalem (Since Cumorah, 53).
17 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, did cause my people to be industrious, and to labor with their hands.
18 And it came to pass that they would that I should be their king. But I, Nephi, was desirous that they should have no king; nevertheless, I did for them according to that which was in my power.
verse 18 It was appropriate that this group of Hebrew people, few in number though they were, should want a king to rule over them. In ancient Hebrew culture, the king had significant religious as well as political functions. Nephi's reluctance to become king may have been due to the negative experience he had with the kings in Jerusalem (Jehoiakim and Zedekiah) who opposed Lehi and the other prophets like Jeremiah and Uriah (Jeremiah 26). Despite the righteous rule of a few Book of Mormon kings (Mosiah, Benjamin, and Benjamin's son Mosiah), the prophet leaders of the Book of Mormon all counseled against an autocratic system of government because of the spiritual risks involved (see, for example, Mosiah 23:7-9; Mosiah 23:12-13; Mosiah 29:13; Mosiah 29:16-17; Mosiah 29:21-23).
It is not entirely clear from the text whether or not Nephi did in fact assume the monarchical role. It is likely he did acquiesce to the people's demand and become their king (see 2 Nephi 6:2). It is also clear that he anointed his successor to be king. It is unusual for an Israelite king to occupy that role without being anointed by a prophet, and at this point in time there is apparently no prophet available to anoint him. Even if he was not anointed king, he still filled all the kingly functions for the Nephites until he died. He set a pattern of kingship in the Nephite society that would last until the institution of the reign of the judges almost five hundred years later.
19 And behold, the words of the Lord had been fulfilled unto my brethren, which he spake concerning them, that I should be their ruler and their teacher. Wherefore, I had been their ruler and their teacher, according to the commandments of the Lord, until the time they sought to take away my life.
verse 19 It is clear that the Lord intended for Nephi to preside over his elder brothers (see 1 Nephi 17:48-55; 2 Nephi 1:25-29).
20 Wherefore, the word of the Lord was fulfilled which he spake unto me, saying that: Inasmuch as they will not hearken unto thy words they shall be cut off from the presence of the Lord. And behold, they were cut off from his presence.
verse 20 It is likely that Nephi here is recalling his father's account of his vision of the tree of life (1 Nephi 8). It was during that experience that Lehi had revealed to him that Laman and Lemuel would not heed his advice and would likely be cut off (1 Nephi 8:17-18; 1 Nephi 8:35-38).
"they were cut off from his presence" This is the prophesied curse that was to fall upon Laman and Lemuel and all those who chose to affiliate with them (1 Nephi 2:23). This phrase refers to being cut off from or losing the Spirit of the Holy Ghost. It would seem that one cannot suffer a greater loss in mortality than to lose the Spirit of the Lord. To be without the Spirit is to be in a wholly carnal state. It is to be "without God in the world" and, therefore "in a state contrary to the nature of happiness" (Alma 41:11).
21 And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them.
22 And thus saith the Lord God: I will cause that they shall be loathsome unto thy people, save they shall repent of their iniquities.
23 And cursed shall be the seed of him that mixeth with their seed; for they shall be cursed even with the same cursing. And the Lord spake it, and it was done.
verses 21-23 The "sore cursing" that came upon the Lamanites was not the "skin of blackness." Rather the cursing was losing the Spirit or being cut off from the presence of the Lord (as stated in the previous verse). The Lord did not curse the Lamanites in this way, rather they cursed themselves by their own iniquities (Alma 3:19). It is apparent that the Lamanites would still have become what they did become even if they had never been marked with the "skin of blackness." The dark skin was not, in and of itself, a curse. There is nothing inherently good or evil about the color of one's skin. It is not only racist but completely false doctrine to believe that white skin is "good" or righteous and that black skin is somehow less than that. The dark skin here is only a mark or symbol that functioned to identify those who had separated themselves from the Spirit. The Lord intended that those with the dark skin remain separate from those with the lighter skin (Alma 3:8) and that they not intermarry. The mark was intended to protect the spiritually immature early Nephites from being overwhelmed by the false traditions of the Lamanites. Later on, at the time of the prophet Jacob (Jacob 1:14-16), the protection probably occurred in the other direction-that is, the Lamanites were probably protected from the spiritually fatal immoralities of the Nephites.
There can be no question that the altering of the Lamanites' skin color was God's will. God might well have brought this to pass, however, in a "natural" way. There is a precedent, after all, for God's bringing about this type of curse in such a "natural" way. Cain's posterity had a "blackness" come upon them after the Lord cursed their land "with much heat" (Moses 7:8). It has been suggested that the "skin of blackness" may have resulted because the descendants of Laman and Lemuel intermarried with the indigenous native population. This is perhaps not, in fact, the way it happened, however. Please note that Nephi is describing this skin of blackness as occurring in his own lifetime (verse 21). Thus, there has not been sufficient time for this black skin to occur by simple intermarrying and genetic mixing.
As stated in the commentary for 2 Nephi 4:6 above, it was never intended that the "curse" or the banishment of the Lamanites from the Lord's presence be eternal. See the commentary for Alma 23:6-7.
For a useful summary of the history of the Lamanites, particularly regarding their skin color, see the commentary for Mormon 5:15.
24 And because of their cursing which was upon them they did become an idle people, full of mischief and subtlety, and did seek in the wilderness for beasts of prey.
verse 24 As Satan gained an ever greater hold over the Lamanites, they descended deeper and deeper into barbarism (see also Enos 1:20, Jarom 1:6, and Alma 17:14-15).
You might wonder if "subtlety" here is indeed a derogatory quality. It usually means having the ability to make fine distinctions. Another meaning of "subtle," however, is crafty, sly, cunning, and devious.
"did seek in the wilderness for beasts of prey" Apparently they hunted and killed animals for sport. This is a practice roundly condemned in the scriptures (JST, Genesis 9:10-11).
25 And the Lord God said unto me: They shall be a scourge unto thy seed, to stir them up in remembrance of me; and inasmuch as they will not remember me, and hearken unto my words, they shall scourge them even unto destruction.
verse 25 Here is another of those verses that is difficult to understand unless we can keep the pronouns straight. Keep in mind that a "scourge" is a cause of affliction or a means of inflicting punishment or suffering. Thus, throughout the Book of Mormon, we will read how the pugnacious Lamanites will serve as a scourge, a constant reminder, an ever-present warning to the rebellious Nephites. The first "they" refers to the Lamanites. "Them" refers to the Nephites. The next "they" refers to the Nephites. The final "they" refers to the Lamanites, and the final "them" refers to the Nephites.
26 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, did consecrate Jacob and Joseph, that they should be priests and teachers over the land of my people.
verse 26 To "consecrate" in this context is to "set apart" or "devote to."
"that they should be priests and teachers over the land of my people" These were not the offices of priest and teacher as we know them today in the Aaronic priesthood. It is believed that the Aaronic or Levitical priesthood did not exist among the Nephites unless it was brought during Christ's visit among them. From the time of Moses to the mortal advent of Jesus Christ, the Aaronic or Levitical priesthood could only be held by a descendant of the tribe of Levi. Levi was the third son of ancient Jacob, and thus Levi's descendants constitute one of the twelve tribes of Israel. Moses and his brother Aaron were Levites. The Lord designated that this lesser priesthood was to be conferred only on men from the tribe of Levi. Also within the tribe of Levi only the direct descendants of Aaron should be designated to the highest office within that priesthood-the "priest." The presiding priest, the "high priest," could be called only from among the firstborn of the descendants of Aaron. There were no descendants of Levi or Aaron among the Nephites. An interesting aside is that after the law of Moses was fulfilled by atonement of Jesus Christ the tribal restrictions applied to ordination to the Aaronic priesthood were no longer in effect. Subsequent to Christ's atonement, then, the Nephites could ordain non-Levite men to all of the offices in the Aaronic priesthood just as we do today in the Church.
There is good evidence that the Nephite leaders held the Melchizedek priesthood, since they performed the ordinances of the law of Moses which they could not have done unless they had priesthood authority. The Melchizedek priesthood could be held by an Israelite without regard to his tribal lineage. Also the Melchizedek priesthood encompasses all the powers and authorities of the Aaronic.
Joseph Fielding Smith explained that "the fact that plural terms priests and teachers were used indicated that this was not a reference to the definite office in the priesthood in either case, but it was a general assignment to teach direct, and admonish the people. Otherwise the terms priest and teacher would have been given in the singular" (Answers to Gospel Questions. 5 volumes. Salt Lake City. Deseret Book, 1963, 1:124).
The use of the word "priests" might have come from Joseph Smith himself. The word priest was used in his day to refer to any ordained minister or preacher (Joseph Smith, Jr. HC, 1:2).
27 And it came to pass that we lived after the manner of happiness.
28 And thirty years had passed away from the time we left Jerusalem.
29 And I, Nephi, had kept the records upon my plates, which I had made, of my people thus far.
verse 29 The phrase "my plates" refers to the large plates of Nephi. Review the supplemental article, Those Confusing Book of Mormon Plates.
30 And it came to pass that the Lord God said unto me: Make other plates; and thou shalt engraven many things upon them which are good in my sight, for the profit of thy people.
31 Wherefore, I, Nephi, to be obedient to the commandments of the Lord, went and made these plates upon which I have engraven these things.
verses 30-31 The "other plates" and "these plates upon which I have engraven these things" are the small plates of Nephi. We are, of course, now reading and studying Joseph's translation of the unabridged small plates of Nephi. It has previously been pointed out that Nephi's account on the small plates of Nephi was likely begun a full thirty years after Lehi and his company left Jerusalem (verse 28).
We tend to read the record taken from the small plates of Nephi, especially 1 Nephi and 2 Nephi as though it were a daily journal. Instead it is a retrospective account.
32 And I engraved that which is pleasing unto God. And if my people are pleased with the things of God they will be pleased with mine engravings which are upon these plates.
verse 32 Again, "these plates" are the small plates of Nephi.
33 And if my people desire to know the more particular part of the history of my people they must search mine other plates.
verse 33 "mine other plates" These are the large plates of Nephi.
34 And it sufficeth me to say that forty years had passed away, and we had already had wars and contentions with our brethren.
verse 34 We know that Nephi made the small plates of Nephi and began writing upon them about thirty years after the people left Jerusalem (see verses 30 and 31 above). Thus we learn here that it took Nephi ten years to write the first twenty-seven chapters (1 Nephi plus the first five chapters of 2 Nephi).