5 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.
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.