21 And it came to pass that after this manner of language did I persuade my brethren, that they might be faithful in keeping the commandments of God.
22 And it came to pass that we went down to the land of our inheritance, and we did gather together our gold, and our silver, and our precious things.
23 And after we had gathered these things together, we went up again unto the house of Laban.
24 And it came to pass that we went in unto Laban, and desired him that he would give unto us the records which were engraven upon the plates of brass, for which we would give unto him our gold, and our silver, and all our precious things. (Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi, Chapter 3)
Nephi and his brethren dutifully went to Jerusalem to try to get the plates. In their first attempt, they did not take more thought than simply to ask. Maybe they were expecting that familial ties would be a strong enough motivation for Laban to hand over the plates. Regardless, they were disappointed to find that Laban not only rejected their offer, but viewed them as robbers and tried to kill them.
I think many can relate to this moment of disappointment. Several people that I taught as a missionary dutifully told friends and family about their desire to be baptized. Others put off this terrifying step until the last minute. Many expected that the reaction would be tepid but not hostile. Yet, like Laban so many respond with open hostility that would be shocking were this not the very church and kingdom of God.
Yet, for me the key lesson is the contrast between Laban and Lemuel immediately after this initial rejection. I saw this difference in the people we taught. Some like Laman and Lemuel are so quick to return in failure. They think that if there is opposition then it must not truly be worth it. After all, if God truly wanted them to get the plates then why wouldn’t it be easy? They never really had a strong faith that God had commanded them to seek the plates, and this initial rejection only seeks to strengthen their disaffection and doubt. If left to their own devices they would have left empty handed and yet justified themselves by saying that they had ‘tried’.
Nephi, and people who have his great faith, on the other hand must have anticipated opposition. He was not shocked or discouraged by this minor set back. He had a firm faith that the lord had commanded them to retrieve the plates. Nephi knows that the things that matter the most are rarely easy or challenge free– quite to the contrary in fact. As such, his response is full of fervent faith.
15 But behold I said unto them that: As the Lord liveth, and as we live, we will not go down unto our father in the wilderness until we have accomplished the thing which the Lord hath commanded us.
16 Wherefore, let us be faithful in keeping the commandments of the Lord; (Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi, Chapter 3)
Nephi is willing to sacrifice in a way that is unthinkable to Laman and Lemuel. He is read to put all his wealth, time and efforts towards the fulfillment of the lord’s commandments. Laman and Lemuel in contrast have their hearts set on the things of the world. They doubt that plates on brass are worth this type of sacrifice. Even after they successfully retrieve the plates, they continue to think and dwell on their lost riches. Sadly, for them the things of the world come first. Unfortunately they have not learned the lesson so eloquently declared by President Uchtdorf
Disciples of Jesus Christ understand that compared to eternity, our existence in this mortal sphere is only “a small moment” in space and time. They know that a person’s true value has little to do with what the world holds in high esteem. They know you could pile up the accumulated currency of the entire world and it could not buy a loaf of bread in the economy of heaven. (2011 October General Conference, You Matter to Him, Sat. Morning Session – Dieter F. Uchtdorf)
Nephi had his sights set on heavenly rewards and as such, as we see later in the Book of Mormon, received great temporal gifts coupled with great spiritual blessings. In reality, when we turn our focus and trust to the lord we always receive more than our fair share!