1 Ne 2:16-24
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The relationship of Verses 16-24 to the rest of Chapters 1-2 is discussed at First Nephi 1-2.
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1 Ne 2:16-18
- 1 Ne 2:16. In this verse Nephi tells us about the first steps he takes to know the mysteries of God. He tells us that he had a great desire to know the mysteries of God and cried unto the Lord. As a result of his prayer the Lord did soften his heart that he believed all the words of his father. See also 1 Ne 10:19 where Nephi teaches us that one must diligently seek to find the mysteries of God.
- 1 Ne 2:16-17. Nephi was probably wise beyond his years. He grasped the futility of finding fault in others. He saw the power in what his father had preached. He yearned for a sure knowledge but did not resort to secular standards of reason. The rebellion and indifference common to so many youth were absent from Nephi. He had made up his mind at an early age. We should believe him when he says he had "great desires." Another amazing thing in this episode is Nephi's attitude. He did not feign humility or hurry to be humble. He approach the Lord in prayer, well aware of his weaknesses. He must have freely admitted to the Lord that he did not yet have a testimony of his father's teachings. The Lord rewarded Nephi's sincerity and desire. Nephi never had the desire to rebel. After passing through the vulnerable years of youth, he was smart enough to realize what would happen, if he never sought out and received confirmation from the Lord. In turn, Nephi took the same spirit that had touched his heart and spoke by its power to Sam, teaching him the same truths that he had received. Nephi must have sensed that he needed to become a missionary if he wanted to stay in tune with the Spirit. The softness of Nephi's heart, in contrast to the hardened hearts of Laman and Lemuel, must have played a part in Sam's willingness to believe.
1 Ne 2:19-24
- 1 Ne 2:19-24: The Covenant with Nephi. The Lord's Covenant with Nephi in these verses is fundamental to understanding the Book of Mormon. This covenant presupposes the Abrahamic Covenant (discussed at Abr 2:8-11) and the birthright blessings conferred upon Jacob and Joseph. The Covenant with Nephi builds upon those covenants and blessings to add the following terms:
- Joseph and the utmost bound. Gen 48:__. Ether 2:8-12.
- Nephite prophets constantly repeat this promise. (1 Ne 4:14; 2 Ne 1:9, 20; 2 Ne 4:4; 2 Ne 5:11, 13; Jarom 1:9; Mosiah 1:6-7, 15-17; Mosiah 2:22, 31; Mosiah 7:29; Alma 9:13; Alma 36:1, 30; Alma 37:13; Alma 38:1; Alma 48:14-15, 25; Alma 50:18-21; Alma 62:48-51; Hel 4:13-15; Hel 12:1; 3 Ne 5:22; 3 Ne 6:5). The Book of Mormon prophets obviously thought this promise was important in their day, and the Book of Mormon authors Nephi, Mormon, and Moroni obviously thought it was important to repeatedly tell it to their readers both in the words of the Book of Mormon prophets and in their own editorial comments.
- Alma did not come right out and say that we must request this blessing through prayer in order to receive it, but he does suggest that it would nevertheless be wise to do so. (Alma 34:24).
- While the term "prosper" is usually used in the Book of Mormon in a way that suggests economic prosperity or wealth (for example, Alma 1:31; 50:18), on occasion Mormon, as author, also uses this term in a broader sense of simply doing well, such as Lehi's family traveling through the wilderness toward their destination (Alma 37:43), or the Nephites losing cities to the Lamanites in war or regaining them (Hel 3:26; Alma 59:3), or the work of the church propsering in the baptizing of many souls. (Hel 3:24-26).
- Nephi describes the Gentile possession of America following Columbus in terms of these twin covenant promises of obtaining a land of promise and prospering in the land. (1 Ne 13:15, 20). This suggests that Nephi sees the same blessing and condition applying to our day as applied to his people in his day. And though we have no knowledge of this being stated as a covenant promise to the Jaredites, it appears that they also operated on the same principle. (Ether 7:26; Ether 9:16-20; Ether 10:16, 19, 28).
- Other Book of Mormon prophets do not limit this covenant curse to Nephi's brothers Laman and Lemuel, but present it as the flip side to the promise of prospering in the land and apply it to all of Lehi's descendants, both Nephites and Lamanites alike. (2 Ne 4:4; 2 Ne 5:20; Alma 9:13-14; Alma 36:30; Alma 37:13; Alma 38:1; Alma 50:20).
- The term "cut off" is used in the scriptures in at least four different ways:
- being cut off during this life from the presence of the Lord, as here in the Lord's Covenant with Nephi.
- being cut off during this life from among the Lord's people. (Deut. 18:15-19; also see the discussion of this important passage). These first two usages, though not identical, are closely related; if the Lord dwells among his people, then being cut off from among the Lord's people is, in practical effect, to be cut off from the presence of the Lord.
- being cut off during this life from the face of the earth, or being killed or destroyed, often without leaving any descendants. (Isa 14:22; 2 Ne 1:17; Morm 3:15; also see the discussion of Hel 13:14 regarding when the wicked are destroyed).
- Curse: Scourge. "For behold, in that day that they [Nephi's brethren] shall rebel against me [the Lord], I will curse them even with a sore curse, and they shall have no power over thy [Nepi's] seed except they [Nephi's descendants] shall rebel against me also. And if it so be that they [Nephi's descendant's] rebel against me, they [the Lamanites] shall be a scourge unto thy seed, to stir them [Nephi's descendants] up in the ways of remembrance." (1 Ne 2:23-24).
- Moses explained in Deuteronomy the conditions of the covenant under which God would bestow upon the Israelites the covenant blessing of possessing the Promised Land of Canaan. Moses also announced the covenant curses that would befall the Israelites if they broke that covenant. In Deut 4:25-29 and Deut 28:58-64 he warned that violation of the covenant would result in Israel being scattered. But two generations later the Lord imposed only an intermediate penalty short of disinheritance and scattering. In Judges the Lord imposed an intermediate punishment of leaving foreign nations in the land as thorns and snares to stir the Israelites up to remembrance of God. (Judg. 2:1-3, 20-23; also see this overview discussion of scattering and gathering).
- Here Nephi's family is already in the process of being scattered from the main body at Jerusalem. But the Lord warns that if Nephi's descendants do wickedly then they will, like the earlier Israelites under the judges and king Saul, be afflicted with adversaries to stir them up to remembrance of God, in this case the adversary being the Lamanites.
- Promise: Ruler and teacher. "And inasmuch as thou shalt keep my commandments, thou shalt be made a ruler and a teacher over thy brethren." (1 Ne 2:22). This promise is not emphasized by the later Book of Mormon authors Jacob, Mormon, and Moroni. But Nephi himself appears to have placed great importance on this promise. The roles of "ruler" and "teacher" correspond to a righteous leader's "reign" and "ministry," and Nephi begins his record with the title "The First Book of Nephi: His Reign and Ministry." And when Nephi describes the situation of his people after separating from the Lamanites, he is careful to point out that the Lord has fulfilled his covenant with Nephi, specifically including that Nephi had been a ruler and a teacher over his brothers Laman and Lemuel. (2 Ne 5:19). The significance of these twin roles of ruler and teacher is explored in the discussion of First Nephi: Reign and ministry.
- 1 Ne 2:20. There is an interesting tension in this verse. Individuals can be blessed for their righteous efforts. But the only way they can prosper is if they are bound in economic relationships with other individuals. So the Lord's promise of prospering might seem to be individualistic, and it is to a point, but in its fullness it can only be communal. This is one of the reasons why the covenant upon the promised land makes this place uniquely qualified for the establishment of Zion. This same vision and promise sustained the Mormon pioneers as they came to this land. They knew the freedom was in place for them to prosper in their pursuits. They brought with them individual initiative and found it transformed by the communal spirit of Mormon communities. We remain under the same obligation to make the land prosper and can only do so as we follow the example of our predecessors. We will falter as give in to the temptations of excessive individualism and worldly disobedience. The droughts and disasters of recent years should give us pause as we evaluate how well we have kept the covenant upon this land.
- 1 Ne 2:21-22. Considering the verses before and after these, the overall logic flows much more smoothly if the order of these two verses is switched.
- 1 Ne 2:23-24: They and them. The use of "they" and "them" in verses 23 & 24 can be a bit confusing. Below these ambiguous pronouns are replaced with the referent that seems to make the most sense given the context.
- 23 For behold, in that day that [thy brethren] shall rebel against me, I will curse [thy brethren] even with a sore curse, and [thy brethren] shall have no power over thy seed except [thy seed] shall rebel against me also.
- 24 And if it so be that [thy seed] rebel against me, [thy brethren's seed] shall be a scourge unto thy seed, to stir [thy seed] up in the ways of remembrance.
- Note that whether the Lamanites do good or bad, the Lord has a plan to use their works for his own righteous purposes. In this case if they do evil, the Lord uses them to be a scourge on Nephi's seed -- to bring Nephi's seed to remember the Lord.
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- 1 Ne 2:16: Did Nephi initially believe his father’s visions? If so, then why did his heart require softening? Why was he “crying unto the Lord"?
- 1 Ne 2:16: What is missing from Nephi’s explanation of why he didn’t rebel against his father like his older brothers? Were their other factors, perhaps experienced by Zoram and some members of Ishmael's family, that led people to eventually believe Lehi, even if they didn't respond to his initial preaching in Jerusalem?
- 1 Ne 2:17: What is the difference between Nephi’s belief and Sam’s? Compare D&C 46:14. Does that difference necessarily say anything about the faith of either of them?
- 1 Ne 2:18: A few chapters later, Nephi uses a similar phrase: "being grieved for the hardness of their hearts" (1 Ne 7:8).
- 1 Ne 2:19: What is involved in seeking the Lord diligently? What is lowliness of heart?
- 1 Ne 2:20: How did the Lord prepare the promised land for the family of Lehi? What else did the Lord do, besides keeping other nations from overunning the land (see 2 Ne 1:8)?
- 1 Ne 2:21: Why doesn't the Lord say "rebel against me" in this verse, like he does in the below verses? And why does the Lord refer to himself in the third person in this verse when he uses the first person in the below verses?
- 1 Ne 2:22: Why was Nephi presumably told that he would be "a ruler" only over his own brethren? Does this mean he would not rule over his own family? What about ruling over non-Lehites in the vicinity or who would be adopted in?
- 1 Ne 2:23: Was this a delayed curse? If we take this literally, shouldn't the Lord have cursed Laman and Lemuel the moment they left Jerusalem and started murmuring?
- 1 Ne 2:24: Why does the Lord use the word "if" to describe the likelihood of Laman and Lemuel's rebellion? Is this a subtle way of saying that Laman and Lemuel's descendants might stop rebelling at certain points in time, or at least be partially obedient and partially rebellious?
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- Olsen. Steven L. "The Covenant of the Chosen People: The Spiritual Foundations of Ethnic Identity in the Book of Mormon." In Journal of the Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture, 21/2 (2012): p. 14-29. Provo, Utah: BYU University: Neil A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship.
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