How can Lehi who has suffered so much in the wilderness journey, including the murderous rejection of his own sons, Laman and Lemuel, possibly write that man is that he might have joy? Does he know something that we sometimes forget? We’ll find out as we study together.
You can also find it on any of these platforms by searching for Meridian Magazine-Come Follow Me.
Maurine and Scot Proctor have taught Book of Mormon for many years in Institute and have spent extensive time in the Arabian peninsula, following Lehi’s trail. They are the creators of a foundation that has sponsored a multi-year archaeological study of the best candidate for Nephi’s Bountiful in Oman. They have written a book on the Book of Mormon, as well as immersed themselves in the culture, history, and geography. of the scripture.
Join our study group and let’s delve into the scriptures in a way that is inspiring, expanding and joyful.
How can Lehi who has suffered so much in the wilderness journey, including the murderous rejection of his own sons, Laman and Lemuel, possibly write that man is that he might have joy? Does he know something that we sometimes forget? We’ll find out as we study together.
Welcome to Meridian Magazine’s “Come Follow Me Podcast”. We are Scot and Maurine Proctor and today we’ll be studying a lesson titled “We Lived after the Manner of Happiness” which is 2 Nephi chapters 1-5. Transcripts for this podcast can be found at latterdaysaintmag.com/podcast. If you are not reading Meridian Magazine every day, you are missing out on a daily feast of inspiration, news and insight from scores of writers. And once a year, for a brief season, we ask our readers (and now listeners) for a voluntary subscription. This is that season. We are a small operation but with all the regular costs of a big web presence with server fees, hosting fees, licensing fees, staff—the list goes on and on. We certainly don’t survive from advertising alone. We publish 260 issues of Meridian a year and 50 different podcasts. You can become a paid subscriber at: latterdaysaintmag.com/subscribe that’s latterdaysaintmag.com/subscribe We truly would appreciate your subscription support. And may I say, we feel so close to all of you out there. Many of you talk to us on the street and we have pictures of a few hundred of you followers of this podcast—we look at you all the time and feel very bonded to you. It is an honor and pleasure to support each other in our scripture journey together.
Scot, once I was commissioned to write a series of films on the Book of Mormon, and as I was planning them, the Spirit kept nagging me that I was missing something really important. Then, one day as I was searching these very chapters that we are studying today, I saw what it was. I had not focused on the importance of the covenant, and therefore had missed something central to my understanding of the Book of Mormon.
Of course, we know from the title page of the Book of Mormon that one of its purposes is that the remnant of the House of Israel “may know the covenants of the Lord” and that though this little branch of the covenant people have now come to a far away place, “they are not cast off forever.” Being part of the covenant is central to their identity, their relationship to God, their sense of security and their story. They trust that as the Lord says in Psalm 105:8, “He hath remembered his covenant for ever, the word which he commanded to a thousand generations,” which means, of course, longer than forever.
Yet, I see covenant stories and moments in the Book of Mormon pass us by in Sunday Schools as if this central purpose of the scripture is invisible.
So let’s start by looking at what Lehi says when they have arrived to the Promised Land. First, he says, “For behold…I have seen a vision, in which I know that Jerusalem is destroyed; and had we remained in Jerusalem we should also have perished” (2 Nephi 1:4) Remember, Jerusalem was sacked in 587 or 586 BC. Then immediately he rejoices, “But, said he, notwithstanding our afflictions, we have obtained a land of promise, a land which is choice above all other lands; a land which the Lord God hath covenanted with me should be a land for the inheritance of my seed. Yea, the Lord hath covenanted this land unto me, and to my children forever, and also all those who should be led out of other countries by the hand of the Lord” (2 Nephi 1:5).
This is an interesting phrase “a land which the Lord God hath covenanted with me.”
Let’s back up a bit and talk more about the nature of the covenant.
We talk about the Old Testament and the New Testament, but in reality the word testamentum in Latin means covenant. It has the meaning of an inheritance and a witness. So the Old Testament is actually the Old Covenant and the New Testament is the New Covenant. The purpose of the Book of Mormon from the Title Page “is to show unto the remnant of the house of Israel what great things the Lord hath done for their fathers, and that they may know the covenants of the Lord.” Of course, the word covenant is in the very title of the Doctrine and Covenants. So we understand what this very central theme of the scriptures is. It is teaching about the covenant, its nature, its promises, what happens when it is kept, what happens when it is broken. Sacred history is about the covenant. It is the very tool for opening and understanding the scriptures more deeply. And the covenant can only be made because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
People ask us all the time how they can understand scripture better. See it through the lens of the covenant.
Who is God? He has many attributes, but foremost, he is a covenant maker because that is the means, powered by the atonement, of saving his children from a fallen world and from their own fallen natures (which when you get down to it is what hurts us the most.)
A covenant is a legal agreement. It is a contract. It is a will that says you will be “joint heirs” with Christ, which means ultimately you inherit His nature. It is security for us on earth. God sets the terms, but most of the performance is on His part. The atonement, the gift of the Holy Ghost, the guidance, the support, the patience with us when we falter, the strength He lends us every day.
He asks us to do very little for Him to do his work, but give a “”broken heart and a contrite spirit”. Our place in keeping our covenant is a desire, a willingness, a seeking to obey. It is not that we can give perfection right now. The Lord understands the difficulty of our journey in mortality, and, unless we willfully rebel against our covenants, He works long and patiently with us.
He tells us that His gifts and covenants “are given for the benefit of those who love me and keep all my commandments, and him that seeketh so to do” (Doctrine and Covenants 46:9).
Oh, I love that “seeketh so to do” phrase in that verse. That certainly gives me hope. So what are the covenant blessings? We like to think of them as six ‘P’s’ so that it is easy to remember. You can particularly see these when God gives the covenant to Abraham.
The first “p” is protection. His covenant people are protected as a nation if they will keep the commandments. You see so many stories illustrating this in the Old Testament. Syria is warring against Israel, the northern kingdom, and they far outnumber the Israelites. When the city was “compassed” all about by a great enemy host, the servant of the man of God was risen early, saw the terrifying sight and said to the prophet Elisha, “Alas, my master, How shall we do? And Elisha prayed, and said, Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes that he may see.” When his eyes were opened he saw a mountain full of heavenly horses and chariots and fire round about Elisha. That’s how the Lord protects His faithful, covenant children. (See 2 Kings 6:14-17)
The next “p” of the covenant is posterity, whose importance is clear in scripture. You see the great concern of the Book of Mormon prophets for what will happen to their posterity.
The next “p” is priesthood. The covenant is administered and maintained by the priesthood power of God. Any other power will ultimately falter.
The fourth “p” is prosperity. This does not necessarily mean material prosperity, but is instead the sense that the Lord will prosper your way with His presence. That is why Nephi could say with such confidence when asked to do hard things, “I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandment unto the children of men save He shall prepare a way for them” (1Nephi 3:10). That preparing a way through His Spirit is prospering.
The fifth ‘p’ is Presence. The end of the covenant journey is to be brought into the Lord’s presence. That means that He has schooled us and groomed us and pruned us to inherit eternal life.
John Taylor said, “Through the world’s great Architect, their Father, they discovered a plan fraught with intelligence and wisdom, reaching from eternity to eternity, pointing out a means whereby, through obedience to celestial laws, they might obtain the same power that he had. And if, in fallen humanity, they might have to suffer for a while, they saw a way back to God, to eternal exaltations, and to the multiplied and eternally increasing happiness of innumerable millions of beings. And if, as Jesus, they had to descend below all things, it was that they might be raised above all things, and take their positions as sons [and daughters] of God in the eternal world.
That’s the ‘p’ of presence. A joint heir of Christ because we have His nature.
So the covenant includes protection, posterity, priesthood power, prosperity and God’s presence. The one we have left out, the sixth ‘p’ is Promised Land. Abraham was promised it. Moses was promised it. And we see in these first verses of 2 Nephi that Lehi obtains a promised land. He understands this is a covenant blessing. It is this covenant awareness that ties the Book of Mormon to the Old Testament and the place from which Lehi and his family came.
What is so important about this gift is it means to have a place. We find this idea when we say, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:5) or when Christ says, “I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2). Is there a sadder word in the language than homeless, or a sadder people than a refugee who have no place?
The Sheik of the desert (which Lehi was) will say to those he takes into his tent: “Ah Lan Wa Sahlan wa Marhaban” which means “a family, a smooth place, a wide place—you have place with us.” That’s essentially what Lehi would have said to Zoram as they took him in. It is a covenant phrase.
Lehi says: “Wherefore, this land is consecrated unto him whom he shall bring. And if it so be that they shall serve him according to the commandments which he hath given, it shall be a land of liberty unto them; wherefore, they shall never be brought down into captivity.”
Then he spells out what those blessings look like:
“bInasmuch as those whom the Lord God shall bring out of the land of Jerusalem shall keep his commandments, they shall cprosper upon the face of this land; and they shall be kept from all other nations, that they may possess this land unto themselves. And if it so be that they shall dkeep his commandments they shall be blessed upon the face of this land, and there shall be none to molest them, nor to take away the land of their einheritance; and they shall dwell safely forever”
Because this is a land for a covenant people, as long as they keep the commandments, they shall prosper and be kept from harm by any who would molest them.
It is clear there are covenant blessings, astounding blessings. We call them Baraka. Baraka means covenant power, efficacy and blessing. In Egypt they have a brand of water called Baraka, and what could be a greater relief in the desert than water?
Yet, these covenant blessings are conditional on our keeping our part of the promise. We must obey the commandments. What happens when we don’t, when we are willfully rebellious? It is called a covenant cursing and the word for that is ‘gelalah.’
You like to say that, don’t you Scot? There is a kind of ring to it.
So here is the covenant cursing or we might call it the consequence for willfully breaking the covenant. It is a warning upon the promised land.
10 But behold, when the time cometh that they shall dwindle in aunbelief, after they have received so great blessings from the hand of the Lord—having a knowledge of the creation of the earth, and all men, knowing the great and marvelous works of the Lord from the creation of the world; having power given them to do all things by faith; having all the commandments from the beginning, and having been brought by his infinite goodness into this precious land of promise—behold, I say, if the day shall come that they will reject the Holy One of Israel, the true bMessiah, their Redeemer and their God, behold, the judgments of him that is cjust shall rest upon them. (2 Nephi 1:7, 9 and 10).
The covenant is conditional upon obedience. This doesn’t mean that if we work with all our heart to keep our covenants, but are flawed human beings, repenting and trying again, that we are breaking our covenants. Breaking the covenant is about willful rebellion—and then consequences follow. It is because the Lord then withdraws His Spirit, and people are left to the ravages and buffetings of Satan.
To make this point clear, when the Children of Israel that Moses led out of Egypt came into the Promised Land, six tribes stood on Mount Gerizim and six on neighboring Mount Ebal. Those who stood on Mount Gerizim were to call out the covenant blessings and those on Mount Ebal the series of curses that would follow disobedience.
The blessings, as all covenant blessings are, were powerful.
3 Blessed shalt thou be in the city, and blessed shalt thou be in the field.
5 Blessed shall be thy basket and thy astore.
6 Blessed shalt thou be when thou acomest in, and blessed shalt thou be when thou goest out.
7 The Lord shall cause thine enemies that rise up against thee to be smitten before thy face: they shall come out against thee one way, and flee before thee seven ways.
It goes on and on. The blessings that we are most in need of to have a secure and happy mortal experience.
But these promises would slip away and be revoked if the people became rebellious and worshipped other gods.
As we know, “I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise (D&C 82:10).”
This covenant on the Promised Land is mentioned constantly in the Book of Mormon. Someone has calculated 38 times. You can’t miss this theme. More than that, it also let’s us see the why of what happens in this book more clearly. The Nephite nation is decimated, because they utterly turned from the covenant, but if that is not enough to demonstrate what happens when a people turn from the Lord, we get the story twice. We also learn of the Jaredites, who turned from their covenants and were also destroyed.
The Book of Mormon has been called a witness and a warning. The witness, of course, is of the Divinity and the Atonement of Jesus Christ. The warning is of prophets who passionately plead with us not to turn our backs on God and His covenants.
The Book of Mormon insists that the calamities and warnings it describes are for our day. Moroni is frank, “Jesus Christ hath shown you unto me, and I know your doing” (Mormon 8:35).
It might be jarring to think that a prophet who has seen our day delivers a book to us that doesn’t just give us sweet platitudes about the importance of being good, but also spells with such muscle the tactics and smooth talk of Satan as he woos a covenant people from then Lord.
Knowing all this, Lehi pleads with Laman and Lemuel: “O that ye would awake; awake from a deep asleep, yea, even from the sleep of bhell, and shake off the awful cchains by which ye are bound, which are the chains which bind the children of men, that they are carried away captive down to the eternal dgulf of misery and woe” (2 Nephi 1:13).
“Chains” and “deep sleep” are very powerful images depicting what Satan does to those who had been promised so much.
Now, Lehi, of course, is nearing the end of his life, and will give blessings to his worthy sons. In his first words to Jacob, Lehi reveals another covenant promise. Acknowledging that Jacob has had a rough time, especially because of the “rudeness” of his brothers, Lehi said, the Lord “shall consecrate thine afflictions for thy gain” (2 Nephi 2:2) What a critical piece of knowledge this is. Sometimes it seems that our suffering is random on this earth, and many think that life itself is suffering. This covenant assurance is that the suffering we face has a purpose. It is for our development and growth and goodness. Understanding the purpose for suffering and opposition– and turning to the Lord for comfort, can utterly transform our afflictions.
President Dallin H. Oaks said, “The Apostle Paul taught that the Lord’s teachings and teachers were given that we may all attain ‘the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ’ (Eph. 4:13). This process requires far more than acquiring knowledge. It is not even enough for us to be convinced of the gospel; we must act and think so that we are converted by it. In contrast to the institutions of the world, which teach us to know something, the gospel of Jesus Christ challenges us to become something…
“Other scriptures enlarge upon this by referring to our being judged by the condition we have achieved.”
Sometimes I think we imagine that we will stand before the judgment bar and roll out a list of the things we have achieved, a sort of resumé of earth, our busy task list. That won’t be necessary, for the Lord will look at what we are and who we have become. Our being will be transparent, strong, solid and clear before Him.
President Oaks said, “A parable illustrates this understanding. A wealthy father knew that if he were to bestow his wealth upon a child who had not yet developed the needed wisdom and stature, the inheritance would probably be wasted. The father said to his child:
“All that I have I desire to give you—not only my wealth, but also my position and standing among men. That which I have I can easily give you, but that which I am you must obtain for yourself. You will qualify for your inheritance by learning what I have learned and by living as I have lived.’”(President Dallin H. Oaks, “The Challenge to Become”) https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2000/10/the-challenge-to-become?lang=eng
Lehi’s blessing to Jacob is a reflection of the man. Jacob had both seen the Lord and had great affliction. Thus Lehi tells the creation story to him, in a different way than it is expressed in Genesis or Abraham. Here the emphasis is on the need for choice in the face of opposition, painting a vivid picture of our mortal experience
Lehi explains, “It must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, … righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad” (2 Nephi 2:11; see also verse 15).
Lehi continued, “the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself. Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other” (verse 16).
Because of opposition, men and women would be placed in the way of constant choice, and with each choice they were choosing who they were, in fact building who they were. Moment by moment, before all of the choices of life and in the face of extenuating circumstances, we choose courage or cowardice, love or the bitter ashes of resentment, obedience or apathy, devotion to Christ or today’s popular opinion, discipline over appetite.
These aren’t just random choices, one accumulated on another build ones very soul. Because the opposition is so real, the enticements so compelling, there is a grounding power that comes from good choice in the face of real opposition.
It reminds me of a sculpture we saw once by Gary Price. It was a self-portrait of the sculpture, sculpting himself, choosing what he was stroke for stroke and chisel line by line.
Opposition was there from the beginning.
“And to bring about his eternal purposes,” in the Garden of Eden, “there was an opposition; even the forbidden fruit in opposition to the tree of life; the one being sweet and the other bitter.”(2 Nephi 2:15).
President Oaks said, “If Adam and Eve had not made the choice that introduced mortality, Lehi taught, “they would have remained in a state of innocence, … doing no good, for they knew no sin” (2 Nephi 2:23).
“From the beginning, agency and opposition were central to the Father’s plan and to Satan’s rebellion against it. As the Lord revealed to Moses, in the council of heaven, Satan ‘sought to destroy the agency of man’ (Moses 4:3). That destruction was inherent in the terms of Satan’s offer. He came before the Father and said, “Behold, here am I, send me, I will be thy son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it; wherefore give me thine honor” (Moses 4:1).
President Oaks continued, “Thus, Satan proposed to carry out the Father’s plan in a way that would prevent the accomplishment of the Father’s purpose and give Satan His glory.
“Satan’s proposal would have ensured perfect equality: it would ‘redeem all mankind,’ that not one soul would be lost. There would be no agency or choice by anyone and, therefore, no need for opposition. There would be no test, no failure, and no success. There would be no growth to attain the purpose the Father desired for His children.”
“All of us experience various kinds of opposition that test us. Some of these tests are temptations to sin. Some are mortal challenges apart from personal sin. Some are very great. Some are minor. Some are continuous, and some are mere episodes. None of us is exempt. Opposition permits us to grow toward what our Heavenly Father would have us become.” (President Dallin H. Oaks, “Opposition in All Things.”) https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2016/04/opposition-in-all-things?lang=eng
Our development demands a tough road, for the Lord isn’t making party guests of us, but Sons and Daughters, who have become like Him, through a process He has designed.
Think about a world without law. There really would be no goodness or evil. There would be no standard to appeal to to interpret what was right or wrong. All would be chaos, and what happens in chaos? Somebody’s will finally prevails. It is often the strongest or the most ruthless or the tyrant who has a will to power.
We can see that in our secular world that has given up any sense of truth or eternal law. The highest standard we can come up with is moral relativism or as so many put it “you do you.” When there is not a sense of right or wrong, any terrible thing goes.
Though this experience on earth would teach us competence and character, and though our choices are of paramount importance, ultimately “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” (2 Nephi 2:8). Our time on earth is prolonged and is a probation, so that we may repent and take this glorious gift. “Adam fell that men might be; and men are that they might have joy (2 Nephi 2:25).
Experiencing the sweet and the bitter was necessary, and the joy, even through the opposition, is real because we have a Savior.
Just as Jacob’s blessing is particular to him, so is Joseph’s where Lehi quotes at length from Joseph of Egypt’s words on the plates of brass. “He truly prophesied concerning all his seed. And the prophecies which he wrote, there are not many greater” (2 Nephi 4:2).
Wouldn’t you love to have access to those plates of brass that are filled with words we do not have? The words of Zenock, Zenos and Neum, and the great words of Joseph, who was sold into Egypt, and then saved the House of Israel?”
“And great were the ccovenants of the Lord which he made unto Joseph” (2 Nephi 3:4).
Joseph was told in a blessing from his father, Jacob, that he is “a fruitful bough by a well; His branches run over the wall” (Genesis 49:22)
We also learn from the Joseph Smith Translation, Genesis 50:25, that of his people, “a branch shall be broken off, and shall be carried into a far country, nevertheless they shall be remembered in the covenants of the Lord.”
This is fulfilled in large measure by Lehi and his family, who leave the boundaries of Jerusalem and the old world they had known to find their way to a promised land in the Americas.
One day pondering this, I was taught something by the Spirit. When Joseph had to leave the rest of the Children of Israel, his family, behind to go to Egypt, it was for a purpose. It was to feed them and save them when the world was in famine.
I realized that Lehi and his family had followed the same type. They, too had been sent away from their people, they were the branches that run over the wall for the same purpose. What they would create, the Book of Mormon, was also to feed the world in a time of famine. It echoes that the Lord says in Amos 8:11: “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord.”
We also learn in this blessing that Joseph of Egypt, more than three thousand years before Joseph Smith’s birth spoke of him.
“For Joseph [of Egypt] truly saw our day [and was told]
“A choice seer will I raise up out of the fruit of thy loins; and he shall be esteemed highly among the fruit of thy loins. And unto him will I give commandment that he shall do a work…which shall be of great worth…even to the bringing of them to the knowledge of the covenants which I have made with thy fathers…
“And his name shall be called after me; and it shall be after the name of his father. And he shall be like unto me; for the thing, which the Lord shall bring forth by his hand, by the power of the Lord shall bring my people unto salvation” (2 Nephi 3:5-7).
Consider this. Before Moses led the Children of Israel out of Egypt, before the Red Sea was parted, before he received 10 Commandments on Mt. Sinai, long before when Joseph was serving in Pharoah’s court about 1500 BC, so far back in the mists of antiquity we cannot see much, Joseph of Egypt already knew of Joseph Smith, in fact, knew of him by name. This detail of God’s orchestration expands our puny minds.
It is interesting that in early America, fathers often named their oldest son after themselves, and Joseph Smith’s father was indeed Joseph Smith. But that is not how it went in the Smith family. The oldest son did not get his father’s name. First, Lucy and Joseph had an infant son, who is not named. Then their family order goes like this: Alvin, Hyrum, Sophronia, Joseph. The Joseph, who is the prophet of the restoration, was the fifth child—and why did they finally get around to naming a son Joseph? They did not know they were fulfilling a prophecy that had been in place for at least three thousand years.
Joseph of Egypt also knew that his descendant named Joseph would bring forth the Lord’s word that would also convince the people of the word that had “already gone forth among them.” An important role of the Book of Mormon is to bear testimony of the truthfulness of the Bible.
So now, we get to what I know is one of your favorite parts of the Book of Mormon, Maurine. It is 2 Nephi 4, and we call it Nephi’s psalm. Because of their sins, Lehi does not give blessings to Laman and Lemuel, but he does give them to their children, who have inherited their wicked teachings. He promises these grandchildren that they will not utterly perish and the Lord’s mercy will be upon them.
Then Lehi dies, and Laman and Lemuel are murderously angry at Nephi one more time.
In these conditions, Nephi begins to sorrow, and we see a glimpse of his inner life and vulnerabilities in the last verses of Chapter 4, beginning with 16. He writes:
17 Nevertheless, notwithstanding the great agoodness of the Lord, in showing me his great and marvelous works, my heart exclaimeth: O bwretched man that I am! Yea, my heart csorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities.
18 I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily abeset me.
Nephi is really low here and he shares this with us freely. He has reason to struggle, but look what he does with it. He says, “O wretched man that I am!” and “my heart sorroweth because of my flesh.” Yet he has learned how to move out of this place of inner heaviness and darkness. It is a lesson we can all learn from him. He not only turns to the Lord, he moves into the light by embracing true ideas. The turning point is the words, “I know in whom I have trusted.” That’s right. He has to acknowledge this truth, and from that central truth, everything else can be good.
What has the Lord done for him? Nephi says:
He hath filled me with his alove.
He hath confounded mine aenemies.
He has had visions in the night-time and angels minister to him.
Mine eyes have beheld great things, yea, even too great for man.
Clearly Nephi leaves the blindness of his wretchedness behind when he begins to focus on the truth of God’s unwavering support for him.
There’s your pattern for your dark days. That is the time to remind yourself of the truth. I may be having a hard time now, but I really do know that God is there. I do remember times I felt His love. I do know that He has been there for me before.
We can say with Nephi:
We love you listeners. You are dear to us. We think about you all the time we are preparing these podcasts. Thanks for so many of you who reach out to us. Tell a friend about these podcasts, with a new one every Friday. Thanks to Paul Cardall for the music. We’ll see you next week when we will be talking about 2 Nephi 6-10, “O How Great the Plan of our God.”