THE FIRST FAMILY OF THE BOOK OF MORMON
The Book of Mormon begins with the story of a family. This family faces many of the same crises we face as families today. They live in a corrupt environment while striving to live the gospel and follow the prophets. They face a huge material downturn when they opt to leave the city. They are required to be constantly pioneering, or doing things that have not been done before. As they strive to follow the Lord's specific guidance for their family, they often find things get much worse before they get better. They have children who follow their parents in righteousness, and children who reject the family and its values. They love, they argue, they suffer, they repent, they forgive, they get sick, they complain, they see miracles, they live and die. They are like us.
In the first chapter of the Book of Mormon, we are introduced immediately to the father, Lehi. We learn that Lehi:
- was a city-dweller (v. 4)
- that he was well-off (v. 1: "goodly")
- that he listened to the prophets (v. 4)
- that he had great care and concern for his fellow-citizens (v. 5)
- that his instant approach to worries was to pray (v. 5)
- that he was educated and wrote a great deal (v. 16--see the link in the previous post theorizing that he may have been a scribe by trade)
- that he was a seer (v. 13)
- that because of his own communications from the Lord he became a prophet or missionary (in a real sense they are the same thing) in Jerusalem (v. 18)
- that he was not swayed by public opinion (v. 19)
- that he had a powerful testimony of Jesus Christ (v. 19)
- and he did not see any success in his mission, and was even threatened with death for it (v. 20).
And yet, the immediate result of seeing this vision was not despair but joy! "For his soul did rejoice, and his whole heart was filled, because of the things which he had seen..." (1:15). The reason can be found as we look for the perceptual word because in v. 14:
"And it came to pass that when my father had read and seen many great and marvelous things, he did exclaim many things unto the Lord; such as: Great and marvelous are thy works, O Lord God Almighty! and thy power, and goodness, and mercy are over all the inhabitants of the earth; and, because thou art merciful, thou wilt not suffer those who come unto thee that they shall perish!"
John taught that God is Light (or truth), and God is Love (1 John 1:5; 1 John 4:8). It was in God's very nature to show Lehi the truth--that Jerusalem was nearly ripe for destruction. But it was also in God's very nature to show Lehi the love--that those who chose righteousness would be spared.
Lehi emulated the character of his Father in Heaven, and immediately, because of the love he had for his people, he shared the truth with them (1:18). It didn't go well.
But this set of events is a perfect introduction to the theme of the entire Book of Mormon, which is declared by Nephi in the last verse of 1 Nephi:
"But behold, I, Nephi, will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance." (1:20).
This message is reiterated in the very final chapter of the Book of Mormon by Moroni:
"Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts." (Moro 10:3)
It is this grateful pondering that will lead one to the state of revelation desired by true seekers:
"And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things." (Moro. 10:4)
This is exactly what Lehi had done. He had heard the words of the prophets. Immediately, he desired to know the truth himself and so he prayed. His prayer was one of real intent: he wasn't just curious; he intended to do a great deal with the knowledge he would gain; he intended it to change his life. Without this key, real intent, no revelation can be an advantage to us, but it will instead be a condemnation--therefore, the Lord may opt to withhold revelation from those unwilling to commit. Lehi clearly had great faith in Christ and in His power to direct and save. Because Lehi acted upon each revelation he received, he was given another, and the power of the Holy Ghost directed his journeyings through the remainder of his life.
(For more on Lehi, see Marshall R. Craig, "Father Lehi: Prophet and Patriarch," Ensign, Sept. 1976
As this family leaves Jerusalem, there are four sons and an unspecified number of daughters. We don't ever read anything about the daughters since the writer comes from a male-biased culture. We only get the chance to know the sons. But, male or female, in these sons we see ourselves.
Nephi stated in his first sentence that he suffered many trials but he recognized that he was highly favored of the Lord. When those trials began in earnest on the journey to the Promised Land, Nephi needed to know for himself whether the family was on the right path.
"And my father dwelt in a tent."
We already know this. Why does he bother to remind us? Because it is the clearest indicator that the family members are "fishes out of water." They are in an uncomfortable, unfamiliar situation. It is this discomfort that leads Nephi to have an intense need to know what God wants of him and his family.
"And it came to pass that I, Nephi, being exceedingly young, nevertheless being large in stature, and also having great desires to know of the mysteries of God, wherefore, I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit me, and did soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father." (2:15-16)
This belief grew into great faith that has been a model for Latter-day Saints from Primary age on up: "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 things which he commandeth them." (1 Ne. 3:7)
As is the case with all who come to know God, Nephi's immediate desire after receiving the answer to his prayer was for the welfare of others. He prayed mightily for his unbelieving brothers, and was answered with the great promise of the Book of Mormon, restated many times throughout the book (you may want to highlight this each time you find it as you read; I use yellow for the words of God): "And insasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments, ye shall prosper, and shall be led to a land of promise." (2:20)
Because of his trust in the Lord, Nephi was tenacious in the face of difficulty. The impossible was not impossible to him; it just took a little longer. He succeeded in getting the Brass Plates from a powerful man who did not want to give them up, by simply trying and trying again with a new approach, being led by the Spirit.
Nephi was also quick to forgive (7:21), although we see later in the story that when repentance didn't last, he was smart enough to flee abuse.
Laman and Lemuel
Despite the great encouragement of their father and his vision for them--"O that thou mightest be like unto this river, continually running into the fountain of all righteousness...O that thou mightest be like unto this valley, firm and steadfast, and immovable in keeping the commandments of the Lord!" (2:9-10)--Laman and Lemuel rebelled against their parents.
"And thus Laman and Lemuel, being the eldest, did murmur against their father." [You may remember from the story of the prodigal son that the eldest or birthright son in Hebrew culture was to be a partner with the father, a type of under-parent. With both of them being included as "the eldest" here, is it possible they were twins? Just a fun thought.]
Why did they complain? The same reason that all of us complain: a lack of faith. "And they did murmur because they knew not the dealings of that God who had created them." (2:12).
Despite testimonies, examples, and miracles, they did not see that spiritual things had any relevance to "real life:" "...An angel of the Lord came and stood before them, and he spake unto them, saying...Behold ye shall go up to Jerusalem again, and the Lord will deliver Laban into your hands...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?" (3:31)
We are all sometimes like Laman and Lemuel; hopefully we recognize it quickly and nurture our faith. On rare occasions we may also find ourselves like Nephi, mighty in spiritual power. But the brother that might be the best role model for many of us is Sam, remarkable because he is unremarkable. Mentioned only 11 times in the Book of Mormon, we first hear that he listened to his younger brother Nephi (1 Ne. 2:17) and he believed. Not much is said of him, but each time he is mentioned he is found on the Lord's side. (What a great epitaph that would be!)
He received a very brief blessing from his father as his father was dying: "Blessed art thou and thy seed; for thou shalt inherit the land like unto thy brother Nephi. And thy seed shall be numbered with his seed; and thou shalt be even like unto thy brother, and thy seed like unto his seed; and thou shalt be blessed in all thy days." (2 Ne. 4:11)
Why kind of a blessing is that? Nothing is said about Sam personally, only how he compares to his amazing brother Nephi. This kind of thing is exactly what irritated Laman and Lemuel, and led their ancestor Joseph to be sold into Egypt by his jealous brothers.
And yet Sam was unaffected. Sam was meek, or in our present-day vernacular, he was non-competitive. He was okay with hearing his younger brother praised. He was okay with letting someone else be the leader. He was okay with being unremarkable. None of these things appeared to affect his willingness to follow the Lord steadfastly. His vertical relationship (his relationship with the Lord) centered and stabilized his horizontal relationships (his relationships with those around him). By following the Lord in his unremarkable way, he received all the same blessings as did his brother, the famous prophet Nephi.
Does that mean that if we follow the humble, noncompetitive, steadfast example of Sam, we can receive all the same blessings that President Monson will? That is exactly what it means.
A prime example of righteous conflict resolution in marriage is shown in chapter 5. The sons of Lehi and Sariah were called by the Lord to return to Jerusalem on a very dangerous mission: to get the Plates of Brass from Laban. Sariah had followed her husband in righteousness, and it had led her into the wilderness. She was okay with that. She trusted the Lord enough to allow her sons to leave. But every mother has probably reached a similar moment when the happy ending was delayed, and worry overcame hope.
"For she had supposed that we had perished in the wilderness; and she also had complained against my father, telling him that he was a visionary man; saying: Behold thou hast led us forth from the land of our inheritance, and my sons are no more, and we perish in the wilderness. And after this manner of language had my mother complained against my father." (5:2-3)
Sariah had been listening to a despairing inner dialogue, and she expressed it to her husband in the language of doubt and fear and blame. All of us do this at times.
But Lehi responded with a different manner of language, the language of faith and hope and compassion. First he faced the truth in what she had said:
"And it had come to pass that my father spake unto her, saying: I know that I am a visionary man..."
But he explained the reasons for the thing she criticized.
"...for if I had not seen the things of God in a vision I should not have known the goodness of God, but had tarried at Jerusalem, and had perished with my brethren."
And then he bolstered her faith by testifying of the care of the Lord, and comforting her concerning the welfare of her sons as the Holy Ghost undoubtedly testified to him.
"But behold, I have obtained a land of promise, in the which things I do rejoice; yea, and I know that the Lord will deliver my sons out of the hands of Laban, and bring them down again unto us in the wilderness."
But wait a minute! In the first part of the sentence Lehi said he had already obtained a land of promise, and in the last part of the sentence, he said he was still in the wilderness. What gives?
Lehi was speaking to Sariah (and to himself) in the highest language of faith and hope: prophetic future tense. In prophetic future tense, time is irrelevant and things that have not yet happened are stated in the present tense or even in the past tense. To the deeply faithful Lehi, the promises of the Lord were as real as if they had already happened.
"And after this manner of language did my father, Lehi, comfort my mother, Sariah, concerning us, while we journeyed in the wilderness up to the land of Jerusalem, to obtain the record of the Jews." (5:4-6)
Wouldn't it be marvelous if our family interactions could mirror this example shown by Lehi of both meekness and strength? Rather than speaking back to an upset family member in the same negative manner of language she is using, we recognize her feelings of fear, and we carefully choose a positive manner of language filled with faith, hope and love. If we are meek we can avoiding taking verbal attacks personally and remain in a position of strength. Recognizing that almost every negative emotion is at its core fear, we can apply the antidote of faith and build a relationship of trust, understanding, and love.
In our present day, families face many challenges. Even the family itself as an institution is challenged. The Book of Mormon examples of families can teach us many helpful truths relevant to our daily interactions as family members.
The prophet Lehi was unsuccessful in teaching the gospel to the people of Jerusalem, but his real mission followed in which the focus of all his efforts was in teaching the gospel to his children. His entire church congregation and mission boundaries included only his family, their in-laws, and one friend Zoram. And yet it was a great enough mission to be prominent in the Book of Mormon. Let us likewise recognize our own families as our first and foremost "mission field," living and sharing the gospel in our homes as did Lehi.