Journey through the Book of Mormon: 2 Nephi 4 (Psalm of Nephi)

The “psalm of Nephi” is one of my absolute favorite parts of the Book of Mormon. It is wonderful to be able to get a better sense of Nephi through not only his strengths, but also through his vulnerabilities. Nephi writes movingly here of the tender blessings that he has received, but also of his flaws and limitations. He feels weak and unworthy of the incredible blessings that he has received. Haven’t we all felt that way in moments of weakness or anger?

At this moment of introspection, Nephi seems to look back at the moments where the lord has blessed him, in order to draw strength and comfort. He “ponder[s] continually upon the things which [he] ha[s] seen and heard.”  In effect, Nephi provides a  prophetic gloss on all of the experiences that have come before. Nephi in particular mentions several blessings from the Lord, which I wish to highlight.

First, Nephi has received great knowledge of God’s “great and marvelous works”. We have already seen the incredible scope of Nephi’s vision. Few seers have been blessed with a greater and more encompassing vision of God’s plan.

Second, God has supported Nephi through his afflictions and in particular in his afflictions on the sea. Nephi here seems to be revealing quite how heart-wrenching and difficult the experience on the sea truly was. Without his faith, Nephi would not have been able to endure the pain and sorrow.

Third, Nephi has been filled with love. This charity was a divine gift that Nephi badly needed in order to deal with the constant opposition from his brothers. It was needed in order to forgive them time and time again. Indeed, Nephi’s willingness to forgive his brothers is quite striking and moving.

Fourth, God has confounded Nephi’s enemies and caused them to quake before him. This hearksn back to two episodes from 1 Nephi. First, Zoram upon discovering Nephi’s identity, and second Nephi’s brothers when they confronted him at Bountiful. In these two moments, Nephi felt the Lord’s hand and guidance in particular.

Fifth, God has heard Nephi’s cry and given him great knowledge. Nephi has described many instance of this, from his need to find food for his family, to the building of his boat. The Lord has hearkened when Nephi has cried to him.

Sixth, Nephi has had angels minister to him. We saw this when he and his brothers went to get the plates. And Nephi was likely succored on the ocean and at other moments as well.

Seventh, Nephi was taken to exceedingly high mountains. This invokes both temporal and spiritual blessings. Temporally, this verse reminds of the guidance Nephi received while hunting, and the place where Nephi received guidance as to building the boat. Spiritually, high mountains clearly evokes temple blessings.

Eighth, Nephi refers to the great things he was told, and the fact that he was told not to write all of them. Nephi again and again returns to the great revelation which forms the center of his narrative and ministry.

Ninth, Nephi mentions the condescension of God. Again, he hearkens back to his great vision and to the tree of life. He has been given a personal and profound witness of the savior of the world. He has come to know of God’s tender mercy.

It is these experiences which Nephi calls upon in order to overcome his doubt, weakness and despair. Nephi’s narrative has been expertly crafted to help us, the reader, understand htese profound experiences and like Nephi rejoice at the tender mercies of God.

 

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Journey through the Book of Mormon: 2 Nephi 4 (Brought up in the Way Ye Should Go)

But behold, my sons and my daughters, I cannot go down to my grave save I should leave a blessing upon you; for behold, I know that if ye are brought up in the way ye should go ye will not depart from it.

 Wherefore, if ye are cursed, behold, I leave my blessing upon you, that the cursing may be taken from you and be answered upon the heads of your parents.

After his discourage on agency, Lehi gives his final blessings to his children. What is striking throughout his blessing to Laman and Lemuel, both in Chapter 1 and in this Chapter is that Lehi never abandons hope for his children. He continually exhorts them as a loving parent and is always hopeful that they will finally repent and listen.

Lehi’s words here are to some degree in tension with his teaching on agency in Chapter 2. It isn’t true that someone brought up in the right way will not depart from the path. That would discount individual agency. A parent can be as good a parent as possible, but children may still stray. Thus, Lehi’s teaching here perhaps betrays the degree to which he has loved his sons. He loves them so much that he would rather blame himself for their failings and even bring a curse upon himself than to cast blame on his sons and leave them cursed. This is a particularly tender example of parental devotion. It is quite moving and deep in pathos.

As a reader of the Book of Mormon, we are never able to fully believe in Laman and Lemuel’s potential for redemption the way that Lehi does. Nephi has already set up his narrative to invariably point to their falling away. We have just read his prophecy that the seed of Laman and Lemuel will continually war against his seed. But nevertheless, we are also filled with the promise of their eventually redemption.

Lehi however chose to emphasized their eternal potential rather than their shortcomings. One thing I noticed today for the first time was that Laman and Lemuel in Lehi’s dream never enter into the great and spacious building. They do not come to the tree, it is true, but Lehi’s initial vision was not without hope for them. Lehi told them about the vision in order to inspire them to repent and gain a greater desire to come to the tree.

Nephi’s later and more expansive vision on the other hand sees the sons of Laman and Lemuel joining with the multitude in the building and with the house of Israel to fight against the lamb of God and his disciples. Nephi’s vision, perhaps interpreted through the lens of what had transpired, does not contain the same optimism about Laman and Lemuel as Lehi’s did. He has seen them once and for all fall away. Thus, Nephi does not focus on their potential for redemption, but instead focuses solely on their seed and the future.

But Lehi never abandons that hope. This is to some measure simultaneous tragic and inspirational.

Journey through the Book of Mormon: 2 Nephi 3 (Joseph)

Lehi blesses his last born Joseph by focusing on the prophecies of Joseph the patriarch who was sold into captivity in Egypt. I can imagine that both Lehi and Nephi could relate deeply to Joseph. Like him, they had been cast out from their land and had become strangers in a strange land. Like him, the Lord had blessed and prospered them. Like him, the Lord had brought them to their new home with a particular purpose. And Nephi might have felt a special connection as the chosen son of a prophetic parent who had been largely rejected by his brethren. Joseph too had his brothers threaten to take away his life. Joseph too endured mockery and scorn because of his revelation and prophecy. Joseph too faced temptation and trials. Joseph too had been in bondage. I suspect that Nephi and Lehi found comfort in Joseph’s triumphant story.

Journey through the Book of Mormon: 2 Nephi 2 (None Other Object)

“And I have none other object save it be the everlasting welfare of your souls.”

Lehi’s exhortation to his son(s) to come into Christ ends with this powerful and sobering declaration.

Can we really say likewise that our only object is eternal life for ourselves and others? Speaking personally, I know that I often have that desire, but I can’t say it is my soul desire. Sometimes, the desire to read about politics, or play a level in a video game, or simply do nothing is more powerful than my desire to do things that are eternally significant. I know that my desires are often on the things of the world even as I aspire for eternal things. Lehi’s words are a valuable reminder that we should set our hearts more fully on the things of eternity and less on the things of the world.

Journey through the Book of Mormon: 2 Nephi 2 (Free According to the Flesh)

26. And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day, according to the commandments which God hath given.

 27 Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and allthings are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.

 28 And now, my sons, I would that ye should look to the great Mediator, and hearken unto his great commandments; and be faithful unto his words, and choose eternal life, according to the will of his Holy Spirit;

 29 And not choose eternal death, according to the will of the flesh and the evil which is therein, which giveth the spirit of the devil power to captivate, to bring you down to hell, that he may reign over you in his own kingdom.

These are some of the most powerful and profound verses in the Book of Mormon and they are a beautiful crescendo to Lehi’s sermon on agency and free will. As Lehi has already expressed, if there had not been a savior, there would not truly have been free agency. We could make choices alright, but all of our choices would ultimately only lead to eternal damnation and suffering. The fall would seize us in its grip and we would all ultimately stand separate and apart from God forever. Our actions could not avail us. Therefore, it is only because we have a redeemer that we can truly speak of being free.

Because Christ came and died for us, we are free to choose between his matchless gift of life, or to choose the captivity and death offered by Satan. Satan wants us to be miserable, even as God wants our ever lasting happiness. Indeed, the will of Christ through the holy Ghost is to help qualify us for eternal life. Instead, the will of Satan through his evil spirit is to bind us and and bring us to hell. Christ wants our joy and freedom, Satan wants our misery and captivity.

As Lehi makes clear, these two forces are polar opposites. We can not accept both at the same time. We cannot have the blessings of Christ when we are dominated by the will of the devil. We must utterly and completely reject the devil, in order to have the full power of Christ in our life. For Satan’s influence is destructive to our happiness and destructive to our ability to draw close to God. And it is only the name of Christ that can full allow us to rebuke the devil and be free of his power.

Journey through the Book of Mormon: 2 Nephi 2 (Purpose of Creation)

Lehi describes the purpose of existence in a very unique fashion and links it profoundly to the Atonement of Christ. Lehi explains that the world was created specifically to provide us with an opportunity to come and experience opposition in all things. Absent the opportunity to be tried, we could not ultimately experience happiness and we ultimately could not become righteous.

But the dilemma is that it’s clear that we can’t do it ourselves. We fall short of that goal and make wrong choices regularly. Without a savior, the eternal purposes of God would be frustrated. His power and mercy would be thwarted. It is the Atonement of Jesus Christ that ultimately brings coherence to God’s plan.

I am therefore so grateful for Christ and his atonement. Without him, God’s plan could not work. We would be stuck with no means to progress towards righteousness or holiness. It is only through him that it is all possible

11 For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my firstborn in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility.

12 Wherefore, it must needs have been created for a thing of naught; wherefore there would have been no purpose in the end of its creation. Wherefore, this thing must needs destroy the wisdom of God and his eternal purposes, and also the power, and the mercy, and the justice of God.

Journey through the Book of Mormon: 2 Nephi 2 (Answer the Ends of the Law)

“Behold, he offereth himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law, unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and unto none else can the ends of the law be answered.”

Lehi’s explanation of the purpose of the law and the purpose of the Atonement are both incredibly powerful here. He notes that ultimately by the law we are all cut off from God due to sin. None of us live up fully to the laws and  commandments given by God. Even those who didn’t have the law of Moses given were given some sort of law that they were expected to live up to. But we all ultimately fall short of that lofty standard.

Christ’s atonement is an answer to the end of the law. What is the end of the law? Ultimately, the law is meant to bring us to the state where our heart is broken and our spirit contrite. It is only when we have that spiritual state, that we can accept the bounteous blessing of the Atonement. It is only in that state that we can be cleansed and ultimately brought back to the presence of God.  For there is “no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah.”

Lehi speaks of both the universal and individual facets of the Atonement. Because of Christ’s intercession for all all come back to the presence of God. But only those who have repented and believe in him can be saved. Ultimately, only for them is the end of the law fulfilled. For others, the end of the law will be punishment rather than happiness. Because they have not accepted their Redeemer, they can not access the grace of his atonement, and must answer for the ends of the law.

In a very few verses here in 2 Nephi 2, Lehi has laid down a clear and compelling theological interpretation of the Atonement, and helped us gain a far deeper appreciation for its significance.