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God in 1 Nephi 4

In First Nephi chapter 4 the adventure concludes, with God taking a very active part.  The Spirit directed Nephi in his actions, and Nephi said he also received physical strength from God in accomplishing his task.  Nephi uses the scriptures to encourage his brothers, helping them to understand that what God did for scriptural people He can do for us today, if we are faithful to Him.

the Lord • the Spirit

1 Nephi 4:1

Let Us Be Faithful

The Book of Mormon gives a good example of “try, try again”

to keep the commandments of the Lord.

And it came to pass that I spake unto my brethren, saying:

Let us go up again unto Jerusalem,

and let us be faithful in keeping the commandments of the Lord;

for behold he is mightier than all the earth,

then why not mightier than Laban and his fifty, yea, or even than his tens of thousands?

Nephi counters Laman & Lemuel’s doubt and murmuring with faith.  They are looking at Laban’s strength and their own failures, while Nephi looks only at the Lord with faith – at His strength over Laban’s, and His strength to supplement their weakness.  (This is the 8th mention in the Book of Mormon that this journey is a commandment of the Lord)

1 Nephi 4:3

The Lord Is Able to Deliver Us

The Book of Mormon teaches us to find strength in the scriptures.

Now behold ye know that this is true;

and ye also know that an angel hath spoken unto you; wherefore can ye doubt?

Let us go up; the Lord is able to deliver us, even as our fathers,

and to destroy Laban, even as the Egyptians.

Nephi has proven the strength of the Lord by an incident from the scriptures, thus also proving the necessity of their present errand, to secure these scriptures for their children’s spiritual strength and faith.

1 Nephi 4:6

I Was Led by the Spirit

The Book of Mormon teaches that God will provide help,

after we have done all we can.

And I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do.

The third attempt is with the Spirit.  This is a little difficult to reconcile with Doctrine & Covenants 58:7 (“do many things of their own free will”), but perhaps it’s more in line with Book of Mormon scripture 2 Nephi 25:23 (“by faith. . . after all we can do”).

1 Nephi 4:10

I was constrained by the Spirit

The Book of Mormon and the Bible teach that

sometimes what the Lord requires is supremely difficult or even repugnant.

And it came to pass that I was constrained by the Spirit that I should kill Laban;

but I said in my heart: Never at any time have I shed the blood of man.

And I shrunk and would that I might not slay him.

Nephi said he was “led by the Spirit,” which probably felt pretty good.  But then when the Spirit told him to kill Laban, it all turned around, and that felt pretty bad.  There seems to be no doubt in his mind that it was indeed the Spirit.  There he was admiring the workmanship and materials of the sword, when he got that unwelcome message.  

God does tell us unexpected, unpleasant things sometimes, and we have to trust Him.  He seems to give hard orders to prove his people.  He’s really never a predictable God.  Or, as C.S. Lewis put it, “Aslan is not a tame lion.”  

Other examples that come to mind:  God commanded Abraham, who abhorred the human sacrifices of his idolatrous neighbors and family, to sacrifice his beloved son. (Genesis 22)  God, who gave detailed laws regarding health and human respect, commanded the mutilation of circumcision be performed on Israelite baby boys (and all males), prompting Moses’s wife to say “You are a bloody husband for me!”  (Exodus 4:25)   Jesus said He was the Bread of Life, and that people must “eat my flesh and drink my blood.”  Although it was clear He was speaking metaphorically (as He generally did), the reference offended them, and many “walked no more with him.”  (John 6:48-66) Early Latter-day Saints were initially repulsed by the idea of plural marriage.  Brigham Young said, “My brethren know what my feelings were at the time Joseph revealed the doctrine; I was not desirous of shrinking from any duty, nor of failing in the least to do as I was commanded, but it was the first time in my life that I had desired the grave, and I could hardly get over it for a long time. And when I saw a funeral, I felt to envy the corpse its situation, and to regret that I was not in the coffin.”

The first message from the Spirit to Nephi was simply, “Kill him.”

1 Nephi 4:11

The Lord hath delivered him into thy hands

And the Spirit said unto me again: Behold the Lord hath delivered him into thy hands. Yea, and I also knew that he had sought to take away mine own life;

yea, and he would not hearken unto the commandments of the Lord;

and he also had taken away our property.

In the second message from the Spirit, He repeated the message of the angel who saved Nephi from his brothers’ beatings: (“The Lord hath delivered him into thy hands”), word for word, showing it was verified.

Nephi thought of all the reasons Laban was worthy of death, including an 8th reminder in the Book of Mormon that he was keeping the commandments of the Lord on his mission.  But he still couldn’t do it.  He wasn’t interested in meting out justice or revenge to Laban.

1 Nephi 4:12

The Spirit said unto me again, Slay him

And it came to pass that the Spirit said unto me again:

Slay him, for the Lord hath delivered him into thy hands;

Third message from the Spirit.  He begins by repeating again the message of the angel (“The Lord hath delivered him into thy hands”).

1 Nephi 4:13

The Lord slayeth the wicked

Behold the Lord slayeth the wicked to bring forth his righteous purposes.

It is better that one man should perish

than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief.

The Spirit now explains why it’s important to the Lord that Nephi slay Laban.  It isn’t about revenge or justice on Laban himself.  It’s about accomplishing the Lord’s own righteous purposes.  Then He reminds Nephi of his own conclusions about the importance of obtaining the plates for the sake of their posterity, bringing up again the specter of Nephi’s own descendants “dwindle[ing] and perish[ing] in unbelief.”

People sometimes criticize this word of the Spirit, pointing out that He seems to echo Pontius Pilate when he condemned the Christ to death.  This scholarly article examines the cultural context in which the slaying occurred, including the legal phraseology of the idea.  They also explore later Book of Mormon writings that bear upon the case.  Very fascinating.  Highly recommended.  

Legal Perspectives on the Slaying of Laban, by John W. Welch. 1992

1 Nephi 4:14

I remembered the words of the Lord

The Book of Mormon emphasizes how critical it is for people to have the scriptures.

And now, when I, Nephi, had heard these words,

I remembered the words of the Lord which he spake unto me in the wilderness,

saying that: Inasmuch as thy seed shall keep my commandments,

they shall prosper in the land of promise.

Now Nephi starts thinking, not of why Laban deserves death, but of how his seed need the scriptures, remembering the words the Lord Himself had told him.

1 Nephi 4:15

They could not keep the commandments. . . save they should have the law

The Book of Mormon teaches a respect

for the Word of the Lord as found in the Bible.

Yea, and I also thought that they could not keep the commandments of the Lord according to the law of Moses, save they should have the law.

The word of the Lord, including the law of Moses, is in the scriptures, and is vital for people, including this Book of Mormon family, to have.

1 Nephi 4:17

The Lord had delivered Laban . . . for this cause

And again, I knew that the Lord had delivered Laban into my hands for this cause -- that I might obtain the records according to his commandments.

Hebrew:  ‘innah” is found only 4 times in the Bible, and is one of the words translated as “deliver.”  Exodus 21:13 says a man is excusable in a killing if God “deliver him into his hand.”  Alternate translations:  “caused him to meet,” “caused it to come by His hand,” or “caused the opportunity to come upon him.”

The angel said the phrase, “God will deliver him into thy hand,” Laman repeated it derisively, the Spirit said it twice now to Nephi, and Nephi repeated it to himself.  That phrase tells why the killing is justified according to the Law of Moses, and Nephi’s further explanation to himself and to us tells what motive the Lord had (which he shared).

1 Nephi 4:18

Therefore I did obey the voice of the Spirit

Therefore I did obey the voice of the Spirit,

and took Laban by the hair of the head,

and I smote off his head with his own sword.

Nephi obeyed the Spirit and did a very unpleasant and unplanned deed.

The killing of Laban may have been somewhat less repugnant to ancient Israelite - Book of Mormon writer Nephi than it is to a 21st century American reader.  This previously-cited article examines Nephi’s description of the whole incident in the light of a legal defense, based on the Law of Moses:  Legal Perspectives on the Slaying of Laban, by John W. Welch. 1992

1 Nephi 4:31

Strength of the Lord

And now I, Nephi, being a man large in stature,

and also having received much strength of the Lord,

therefore I did seize upon the servant of Laban, and held him,

that he should not flee.

Nephi apparently has quite a bit of natural talent, in impersonating Laban to Zoram’s satisfaction, and he tells the story without any reference to God at this point.  But when he needs the physical strength, he gives credit to God for enhancing his own abilities.

1 Nephi 4:32

As the Lord liveth

Book of Mormon people, being faithful Israelites,

made their oaths in the name of the Lord.

And it came to pass that I spake with him,

that if he would hearken unto my words,

as the Lord liveth, and as I live, even so that if he would hearken unto our words,

we would spare his life.

Oaths in the name of the Lord and the life of a person were important in ancient Jewish culture.  Jesus changed that tradition.  Christians traditionally swore on the Bible, God’s word, and avoided what they considered taking His name in vain in an oath.  But in ancient Israel it was a sign of respect to God to involve Him in one’s transactions.  

1 Nephi 4:34

Be diligent in keeping the commandments

And I also spake unto him, saying: Surely the Lord hath commanded us to do this thing; and shall we not be diligent in keeping the commandments of the Lord?

Therefore, if thou wilt go down into the wilderness to my father

thou shalt have place with us.

Keeping the commandments of the Lord is always uppermost in Nephi’s mind, so he uses this argument to persuade Zoram to come with them.  He also offers him first life, then freedom, and finally a place with them.  It isn’t clear which enticement was more important to Zoram – obeying the Lord or having a place as a freeman.

1 Nephi 4 of the Book of Mormon shows us how God continued to require hard things of Lehi and Nephi.  Preaching to the wicked inhabitants of Jerusalem was hard.  Leaving their nice home was hard.  Suffering humiliation and loss at Laban’s hands was hard.  Yet killing him was very hard.  Hopefully none of our readers think the excuse “It’s too hard” has any sort of validity.

God in 1 Nephi 4 By the Numbers

38 verses

God is mentioned by name:  14 verses = 37%

God speaks:  4 verses = 11%

Verses about God:  14 verses = 37%

The Lord:  16

The Spirit:  5

1 Nephi 5 1 Nephi 3