Cover image via Gospel Media Library.
Have you ever been guided by the Spirit to do something or be somewhere in particular, or perhaps speak with a specific person? Then, after following the Spirit you question whether you had gotten it right, because the interaction turned out so poorly? In those moments, have you ever considered that your “failed” interactions with others could be about the Lord’s timing and that He may be in the process of giving you or them needed preparation, or opportunities?
Being a great orator, my father had a way of making the Book of Mormon stories and characters come to life. This is probably why at age twelve I asked him if I could attend his Sunday School “Book of Mormon” class, instead of my own youth class. During that year and the subsequent years that followed, this book of scripture became the foundational part of my budding testimony.
During my father’s classes, he taught those attending to focus on the principles and truths learned; to search for meanings unseen, the true story and hidden messages sitting in plain sight. With this counsel, along with many study guides used as I read the Book of Mormon yearly, I continue to see new meaning and understanding in familiar verses and stories.
Recently, while reading the third and fourth chapters of 1 Nephi, I caught a glimpse of something new. I have read the story of the sons of Lehi returning to Jerusalem to obtain the plates of brass from Laban many, many times. Yet, this time I could see the Lord extending opportunities for growth to the key players which were specific to each individual. The Lord’s opportunities, I believe, came because of each of their own, deep desires and His perfect love for them. Yet, we see how our choices can impact the results of the opportunities given.
I would like to take a few moments to look at three of the people involved in “the plates of brass” story – Laman, Laban, and Nephi, and search for some of the principles and truths associated with this family story.
The Lord’s Opportunities and Timing
“[The Lord] shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.” (1 Nephi 3:7)
“[T]he lot fell upon Laman . . .” (1 Nephi 3:11)
First, let us consider Laman and his claim to be a leader and a ruler over his brothers, and how the Lord gave him opportunities to lead. As the eldest son, Laman’s rightful place was to be a leader, ruler, and teacher to his siblings and their posterity. This was a great responsibility and a role Laman repeatedly accused Nephi of trying to usurp.
Once Laman and his brothers arrived in Jerusalem, they “cast lots—who of us should go in unto the house of Laban.” (1 Nephi 3:11) By casting lots, it would make it clear who the Lord chose to go. I believe the Lord graciously had the “lot [fall] upon Laman.” Perhaps this was an opportunity for Laman to lead as he desired. If he was successful in obtaining the plates of brass, Laman would have been instrumental in fulfilling the Lord’s commandment of bringing back “the record of the Jews and also a genealogy of [Lehi’s] forefathers.” (1 Nephi 3:3)
Up to that point, Laman did fulfill part of the Lord’s commandment given to Lehi, such as, that his sons should “return to Jerusalem”, then “go unto the house of Laban, and seek the records.” But, after having failed to obtain the plates, Laman as the leader, would have returned to his father’s tent empty handed instead of “bring [the records] down hither into the wilderness.” (1 Nephi 3:4) This is because Laman never wanted to be there in the first place. He constantly murmured against his father and did not keep the commandments of God. This is clearly shown, as we discover at the end of 1 Nephi 3 that an angel of the Lord declares to Laman:
“Why do ye smite your younger brother with a rod? Know ye not that the Lord hath chosen him to be a ruler over you, and this because of your iniquities?” (1 Nephi 3:29; also see 1 Nephi 2:19-24)
Prior to these words to Laman, the Lord had declared to Nephi in 1 Nephi 2:21-22, that “inasmuch as thy brethren shall rebel against thee, they shall be cut off from the presence of the Lord”; and that if Nephi “shalt keep my commandments, thou shalt be made a ruler and a teacher over thy brethren.”
The Lord had made it clear to Laman he had lost his rights due to his iniquities, and the right to be a ruler and teacher had passed to Nephi.
“And it came to pass that we went in unto Laban, and desired him that he would give unto us the records . . . for which we would give unto him . . . all our precious things.” (1 Nephi 3:24)
We know some things about Laban and learn a few more hard facts from the interaction he has with the sons of Lehi. We discover Laban was an ill-tempered, lustful tyrant who would falsely accuse a person, giving himself permission to kill them. (see 1 Nephi 3:11-13, 24-27) What we do not know is how many opportunities the Lord truly gave Laban to repent and surrender the records he held. I have full confidence the Lord gave him several opportunities just as we find He often does in scriptures, and as He has given me in my capacities.
“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.” (1 Nephi 4:11)
Whereas, Laban’s heart was set on things of this world for he did “lust” after Lehi’s property and attempt to kill Lehi’s sons, Nephi repeatedly showed he was a person of immovable faith in God. Yet, both Laban and Nephi, were given challenges to overcome – Laban’s lust, and Nephi’s desire to faithfully obey the Lord in all things. Laban’s lust overcame him, and Nephi’s unwavering faith although challenged, endured.
When the sons of Lehi return to Laban’s home with their silver, gold and precious things, this would be the last attempt, as far as we know, the Lord gave Laban to do the right thing. Instead, Laban became the robber and by right, gave Nephi the legal right to slay him.
This scene also gives us an idea of the wealth Lehi’s family held and what they gave up to follow the Lord; a true act of living the law of consecration. Lehi gave up all the worldly possessions he had, except those items needed for their journey, for the purpose of obtaining the promise land.
We also learn that Nephi, after being led by the Spirit, “shrunk and would that I might not slay” Laban. (1 Nephi 4:10) After being reminded by the Spirit of the purposes for slaying Laban, and Nephi’s own carefully constructive consideration, he slays him.
Next, Nephi disguises himself as Laban and goes to his home to obtain the plates of brass. We find the previous interaction between Laban and the sons of Lehi was critical and part of the key for Nephi’s success. When Nephi returns to Laban’s home disguised as Laban, he recognizes the servant who held the keys to the treasury. How would Nephi have known which of Laban’s many servants held the treasury keys, where the treasury was, and be able to command and speak to his servants like he was Laban? So, “losing” all their possessions to Laban and failing to obtain the plates of brass wasn’t a failure, but preparation for this future event.
“[L]et 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 thousand?” (1 Nephi 4:1)
Just remember, if you come across an interaction after following the Spirit and it doesn’t turn out all bright and shiny, trust in the Lord’s timing for He may be extending opportunities for you and others to make important choices or be given needed preparation for some future event.
I hope each of us will search diligently for the Spirit to guide us to those truths the Lord needs us to focus on in order to become more like Him. So, as we read the Book of Mormon together this year, let us focus on the principles and truths in its pages, share what we have learned so that the true story and hidden messages sitting in plain sight can be seen.