Parsing Nephi: First Nephi II (1 Nephi 6-9)

Here’s the introduction to this series, and here is the previous entry.

Nephi has written the first chapter of his “reign and ministry” record on what we refer to as “the small plates”. As noted, Nephi touches on almost every major point of contention between him and his brothers: primogeniture leadership, the brass plates, the sword of Laban, divine calling, being led by God out of Jerusalem, and so on.

Nephi’s second chapter (which maps to 1 Nephi 6-9 in modern editions) is shorter and covers just three major themes:

  • how Nephi’s reign-and-ministry record (the small plates) fits in with all the other plates (the brass plates and Nephi’s other plates)
  • the second trip back to Jerusalem for Ishmael and his family
  • Lehi’s vision of the tree of life

Let’s look at each of these.

Nephi’s second set of plates

Chapter II starts and ends with this topic, in which Nephi further clarifies what will and will not be on his reign-and-ministry (“small”) plates.

  • His father’s genealogy (descending from Joseph), which is on the brass plates, will not be on these plates (but will be on the other plates).
  • His father’s full record will be on the other (“large”) plates, but not on these.
  • His goal for the small plates is to “write of the things of God. For the fullness of mine intent is that I may persuade men to come unto the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob and be saved.”
  • These small plates “are not the plates upon which I make a full account of the history of my people.”
  • “These plates are for the more part of the ministry, and the other plates are for the more part of the reign of the kings and the wars and contentions of my people.”
  • Finally, “the Lord hath commanded me to make these plates for a wise purpose in him, which purpose I knoweth not.”

Remember that Nephi is working on these plates some 30 to 40 years after he and his family left Jerusalem. He’s already fled “with those who would follow me” and set up a city and culture center distinct from that of Laman and Lemuel. As a literate student of the (then-extant) Hebrew scriptures, Nephi is familiar with the contents of the brass plates, which he describes at the end of First Nephi I as containing (among other things):

a record of the Jews from the beginning,
even down to the commencement of the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah,

and also the prophecies of the holy prophets from the beginning,
even down to the commencement of the reign of Zedekiah,
and also many prophecies which have been spoken by the mouth of Jeremiah.

Nephi most likely sees his large and small plates as a direct and unbroken continuation of these two portions of the brass plates (history and prophecy, respectively), since he starts his small plates (and likely his large plates as well) “in the commencement of the first year of the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah.” In other words, he sees himself as a prophet/king with the responsibility for keeping the scriptures going forward. As such, he would therefore have the divine claim to the brass plates, as opposed to having stolen them from his older brothers (as the Lamanites would later claim).

Return for Ishmael’s Family

The second major topic for First Nephi II is the return trip to Jerusalem for Ishmael’s family. There are numerous parallels with the earlier trip to get the brass plates:

  • It is done by divine commandment via Lehi for the salvation of his seed.
  • Laman and Lemuel rebel (along with two of Ishmael’s sons).
  • Nephi rebukes his brothers for their lack of faith and obedience.
  • Laman and Lemuel threaten Nephi’s life.
  • Nephi is saved via apparent divine intervention (though Nephi’s bonds are merely “loosed” instead of Nephi being able to “burst” them).
  • Laman, Lemuel repent and ask Nephi’s forgiveness.
  • They all journey to Lehi’s camp, where thanks are given to God, along with sacrifices and burnt offerings (possibly for forgiveness of Laman and Lemuel’s sins, as per S. Kent Brown).

Nephi’s account in Chapter I of the first trip back to Jerusalem, among other things, legitimized his claim to both Laban’s sword and the brass plates. This account shows the divine commandment that brought Ishmael’s family out of Jerusalem and to the Americas. This was likely a sore point with Ishmael’s sons, who pretty much threw in their lot with Laman and Lemuel. Again, Nephi is most probably trying preemptively to set the record straight as to how Ishmael’s family ended up in the Americas.

The Tree of Life Vision

The third major topic for First Nephi II is Lehi’s vision of the Tree of Life. Unlike Nephi’s own vision (found in First Nephi III), which is focused on the coming of a Messiah, Lehi’s vision (as recounted by Nephi) is focused almost entirely on his family and emphasizes once again the differences between Laman and Lemuel and the rest of Nephi’s family (including Nephi). As Lehi puts it:

And behold, because of the thing which I have seen,
I have reason to rejoice in the Lord because of Nephi and also of Sam.
For I have reason to suppose
that they and also many of their seed will be saved.
But behold, Laman and Lemuel, I fear exceedingly because of you.

The rest of Lehi’s account of his vision pretty much focuses on individual choice, including falling away even after partaking of the fruit of the tree of life. And he ties it twice more to Laman and Lemuel:

And it came to pass that I was desirous
that Laman and Lemuel should come and partake of the fruit also.
Wherefore I cast mine eyes toward the head of the river
that perhaps I might see them.
And it came to pass that I saw them,
but they would not come unto me and partake of the fruit.
. . .
Thus is the words of my father,
for as many as heeded them had fallen away.
And Laman and Lemuel partook not of the fruit, saith my father.

Nephi then says that Lehi “exceedingly feared for Laman and Lemuel . . . lest they should be cast off from the presence of the Lord.” So, once again, Nephi shows why he is the favored one, the one to inherit Lehi’s authority and his prophetic mantle, while Laman and Lemuel have been rejected of the Lord.

So far, in his first two chapters, Nephi has been setting forth his version of events surrounding Lehi’s and Ishmael’s families coming out of Jerusalem into the wilderness. At the same time, he has been demonstrating repeatedly God’s (and Lehi’s) acceptance of him and rejection of Laman and Lemuel, as well as Nephi’s legitimate claims to the brass plates and Laban’s sword. The next two chapters will focus largely on prophecy and revelation rather than history — but that won’t let Laman and Lemuel off the hook.

Next post: First Nephi III (1 Nephi 10-14)

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