The missing blessing

[NOTE: I originally wrote this essay back in 1994 for Vigor, an LDS samizdat put out for several years in the 90s by Orson Scott Card. Since we're studying the Book of Mormon in Sunday School this year, I thought it appropriate to repost it, with a few minor edits and with some links added in. It is reproduced here by permission.]

Where is Nephi’s blessing from Lehi? The first four chapters of 2 Nephi contain Lehi’s counsel, prophecy and blessings to the members of the group which he had led from Jerusalem to the Americas. These include remarks directed to his sons (Laman and Lemuel by implication, since he’s chastising them for their behavior up until then and pleading with them to repent); Laman, Lemuel, Sam and the sons of Ishmael; Zoram; Jacob; Joseph; the sons and daughters of Laman; the sons and daughters of Lemuel; the sons of Ishmael “and even all of his household” (it’s unclear whether that’s Ishmael’s household or Lehi’s, though context would indicate the former); and Sam again (with mention of his children). At this point, Nephi states that Lehi “had spoken unto all his household” (2 Nephi 4:12), but there is a very conspicuous absence: Nephi and his children.

It’s clear that Nephi was working from detailed sources, since he transcribed lengthy discourses by Lehi many years after the fact. And it is hard to believe that Lehi would bless and counsel every other son of his, both older and younger, as well as Zoram and the sons of Ishmael, and yet not have anything to say to Nephi. But there is no such blessing on Nephi’s small plates. Instead, Nephi follows all these other blessings with what is often known as “Nephi’s psalm”, lamenting his own weaknesses, his sins, his failings as he perceives them (2 Nephi 4:15-35). After this, he briefly chronicles his own flight (with followers) into the wilderness to escape his brethren and the subsequent history of his group, covering about 18 years in a few dozen verses. With that ends any of his own history-keeping on the small plates; the rest of 2 Nephi comprises discourses, prophecies, and quotations from Isaiah.

Nephi almost certainly had a record of the blessing(s) his father gave him; why did he omit them and instead write his soul-searching psalm? Several possible factors could account for it. Modesty is one, though Nephi has no trouble making himself the focus of the history he has recounted to that point, virtually all of which portrays him in a very good light. Avoiding duplication with the large plates is another — yet the other blessings were most likely copied from Lehi’s record on the large plates (1 Nephi 19:1-2; 2 Nephi 4:14); so if they were duplicated, then why not duplicate his own? A third could be the ultimate fate of his descendants: extinction at the hands of his brothers’ seed. Knowing that, why bother to copy the blessing, which would probably detail that yet again?

The key factor may well be pain and regret over his family’s division and his own possible role in it. Note where the lament is inserted: right between the account of Lehi’s death and his brothers getting angry with him and the account of his brothers threatening death and the subsequent family split. This is not to imply that Nephi had actually somehow failed, but that he felt all too keenly his shortcomings. Did he regretted his rather blunt and sometimes tactless chiding of his brothers and even his parents? Did he miss his brothers and all those who remained with them? Did he wondered if there was something he could have done differently that would have kept his family together? Anyone who has been through a divorce knows the pain and doubt that can linger years after the fact, even when it was for the best.

Nephi created the small plates some 30 years after he and his family left Jerusalem and some 15 years after the flight from his brothers. He crafted on them the story of his family, contrasting time and again his willingness to do the will of his father and the Lord with his brothers’ disobedience and rebellion. But when he got to his father’s last blessings and counsel, all that may have seemed like ashes in his mouth. His family was divided, his brothers still were seeking to destroy him and those he led, and he would be for the rest of his life a stranger in a strange land (cf. Jacob 7:26). Weary and heartsore, he probably looked at his own blessing, shook his head, and brought his history to a quick close, pausing only to express his pain and frustration with his own failings and to encourage himself to press on and trust in the Lord.

— Bruce F. Webster [Vigor, Issue 5, April 1994; note that up to and including that issue, Vigor published all articles anonymously. But I wrote this one; I'm sure I've still got the e-mail archives somewhere. :-)]

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