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Title1 Nephi 7
Publication TypeBook Chapter
Year of Publication2019
AuthorsGardner, Brant A.
Book TitleBook of Mormon Minute, Volume 1: First and Second Nephi
PublisherBook of Mormon Central
CitySpringville, UT
Keywords1 Nephi

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1 Nephi 7

The Brothers Return for Ishmael’s Family

1 Nephi 7:1–3

1 And now I would that ye might know, that after my father, Lehi, had made an end of prophesying concerning his seed, it came to pass that the Lord spake unto him again, saying that it was not meet for him, Lehi, that he should take his family into the wilderness alone; but that his sons should take daughters to wife, that they might raise up seed unto the Lord in the land of promise.

2 And it came to pass that the Lord commanded him that I, Nephi, and my brethren, should again return unto the land of Jerusalem, and bring down Ishmael and his family into the wilderness.

3 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, did again, with my brethren, go forth into the wilderness to go up to Jerusalem.

Comments

The first phrase of verse 1 repeats the concept of Lehi’s prophesying after receiving the plates. The inserted information that we have as 1 Nephi Chapter 6 has ended, and we are now returning to Nephi’s intended story.

The next major event has the sons returning to Jerusalem again. The first time was to provide for the spiritual welfare of the future Nephite nation. It would have provided that for the Lamanites as well, had they so desired. This return is to provide for the progeny that would create that nation. The first time was hazardous; this trip was much less so. It is probable that there was some joy and anticipation for this task, as opposed to the trepidation of the journey for the plates of brass.

In verse 2, Nephi mentions that they were to go to the land of Jerusalem. In any ancient city, there were the city proper and the outlying lands that looked to the city for commerce and protection. The command might have indicated that Ishmael lived in the outskirts of Jerusalem, although verse 3 only mentions Jerusalem. It is possible that verse 3 is using the city as the reference to the whole of the land of Jerusalem.

We don’t know why it was Ishmael who was chosen. Erastus Snow recorded that Joseph Smith said that the lost 116 pages included the information that Lehi was from the tribe of Manasseh, and that Ishmael was from the tribe of Ephraim. Ariel Bybee suggests that it is possible that there was some kinship connection through Sariah. The Israelite tradition of cross-cousin marriages would at least suggest that possibility.

1 Nephi 7:4–5

4 And it came to pass that we went up unto the house of Ishmael, and we did gain favor in the sight of Ishmael, insomuch that we did speak unto him the words of the Lord.

5 And it came to pass that the Lord did soften the heart of Ishmael, and also his household, insomuch that they took their journey with us down into the wilderness to the tent of our father.

Comments

When the brothers spoke with Ishmael, they told him of the Lord’s hand in their mission. There is no indication that Ishmael received his own revelation on this point, but his heart was softened and he made the incredible decision to abandon all he had known to join his family with Lehi’s in the wilderness.

In Doctrine and Covenants, Section 46, verses 13 and 14, we learn:

13 To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world.

14 To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful.

Lehi and Nephi had the gift of revelation. They knew through divine communication that it was Yahweh’s will for Ishmael to join with Lehi. As with Ishmael, most of his family do not have direct revelation but must believe on the words of others who have. Fortunately, we are told that the ultimate reward is the same.

Verse 5 ends with the phrase “to the tent of our father.” Mentioning the “tent of our father” continues to mark internal divisions in the text. In this case, it marks the transition from the successful trip to speak with Ishmael to the events of the return. It was clearly important that family units be formed, but Nephi spends very little time on that part of the journey, either now or in the future. Having families was important, but of greater importance to his narrative are the conflicts with his brothers.

Thus, “to the tent of our father” is the transition between the end of the story of acquiring families, and the beginning of a new conflict with his brothers, this time augmented by their wives.

1 Nephi 7:6–7

6 And it came to pass that as we journeyed in the wilderness, behold Laman and Lemuel, and two of the daughters of Ishmael, and the two sons of Ishmael and their families, did rebel against us; yea, against me, Nephi, and Sam, and their father, Ishmael, and his wife, and his three other daughters.

7 And it came to pass in the which rebellion, they were desirous to return unto the land of Jerusalem.

Comments

This verse gives us important information for the makeup of the group that will journey. At this point, two of Ishmael’s daughters know that they will be wives to Laman and Lemuel. When Nephi was writing, he knew that these were to become their wives, but at this point in the record, they had not been married. We will not see the marriages until 1 Nephi 16:7.

There are daughters to become wives for Laman and Lemuel. There are three more daughters. These will become wives for Sam, Nephi, and Zoram. These are marriages in the more ancient tradition, so arranged marriages are not surprising. Given the difficulties of their journey, even before arriving in the New World, having wives at all was a blessing.

What happens in this instance is that Laman and Lemuel are reminded of what they are leaving behind in Jerusalem. Having come back yet again, they feel the pull of their old life. Even without their wealth, they would believe that they could establish themselves once again. The wives assigned to them were also reluctant to leave, preferring to stay in known surroundings.

The divisions are then drawn, with Laman, Lemuel, their wives, and two sons of Ishmael on the side of returning to Jerusalem; and Ishmael and his wife, their three remaining daughters, Sam, and Nephi, electing to heed divine counsel.

We know little of the two sons. They either had wives at the time or were wed to Lehi’s daughters. We do not learn that Lehi had daughters until 2 Nephi 5:6, where Nephi mentions his sisters. Nephi never tells us when they were born. With the rest of Ishmael’s family so perfectly complementing Lehi’s sons and Zoram, perhaps Ishmael’s two sons were destined for two daughters who are simply not mentioned at this time.

1 Nephi 7:8

8 And now I, Nephi, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts, therefore I spake unto them, saying, yea, even unto Laman and unto Lemuel: Behold ye are mine elder brethren, and how is it that ye are so hard in your hearts, and so blind in your minds, that ye have need that I, your younger brother, should speak unto you, yea, and set an example for you?

Comments

The conflict with the brothers becomes an occasion for Nephi to assert his ascendancy over his brothers, as Yahweh promised him, and as the angel informed his brothers. The actual conflict is the same one that Laman and Lemuel have had before. They want to return to as much of their lives as they could recover in Jerusalem. They do not want to follow their father. They do not appear to have a spiritual witness that their father is truly following Yahweh’s commands.

When Nephi writes, he often couches his conflicts with his brothers in the form of a speech that he gives to them. It is certainly possible that Nephi said something similar, but this is a constructed speech. This is what Nephi would have said if he had all the following years’ experience to put into words at that time. This process is typical for ancient historical writers. The mechanism of the active speech makes the text more interesting than simply recounting the events.

When Nephi begins, he admonishes his brothers’ lack of faith. He also highlights the cultural incongruity of a younger brother being required to lead his elder brothers. This is the reverse of expectation. However, it is a theme that we see multiple times in the Old Testament. It would appear that one of the ways that the Lord demonstrates his hand in human affairs is to turn expectations on their head. If the eldest son were the one to lead and teach, it would only be natural, and therefore not necessarily by divine mandate. If the younger son leads, then God must be behind that reversal of expectations.

1 Nephi 7:9­–12

9 How is it that ye have not hearkened unto the word of the Lord?

10 How is it that ye have forgotten that ye have seen an angel of the Lord?

11 Yea, and how is it that ye have forgotten what great things the Lord hath done for us, in delivering us out of the hands of Laban, and also that we should obtain the record?

12 Yea, and how is it that ye have forgotten that the Lord is able to do all things according to his will, for the children of men, if it so be that they exercise faith in him? Wherefore, let us be faithful to him.

Comments

Nephi begins with rhetorical questions that serve as accusations. The first question is how Laman and Lemuel could not hearken unto Yahweh’s word. The obvious response to this is that Laman and Lemuel are not much different from so many of us who have heard God’s word and not obeyed it. This is not a particularly powerful question, but it is only the introduction of the theme.

Nephi asks how it is that they have forgotten that they have seen an angel. Certainly, they have not forgotten. It is not the seeing that they have forgotten, but the message. This would be the incident we would most expect to have had an impact on Laman and Lemuel, yet somehow, they have managed to forget the message. Again, as would most of us, they probably find some way to rationalize the experience so that it becomes more mundane and loses its previous spiritual power.

When Nephi asks if they have forgotten what Yahweh did for them when they obtained the plates of brass, he is using a strong example from his life, but perhaps one that was not so strong for his brothers. The most miraculous events happened out of the brothers’ vision and knowledge. For Nephi, the experience was formative. For the brothers, it simply happened.

Nephi’s argument concludes by using the idea that Yahweh has directly intervened in their lives and is powerful to do all things. The conclusion is “wherefore, let us be faithful to him.” When Nephi encourages them to be faithful, he is urging action, not belief. For Nephi, faithfulness lies in the doing. Remember that he had said that he would “go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded” (1 Nephi 3:7).

1 Nephi 7:12–15

12 Yea, and how is it that ye have forgotten that the Lord is able to do all things according to his will, for the children of men, if it so be that they exercise faith in him? Wherefore, let us be faithful to him.

13 And if it so be that we are faithful to him, we shall obtain the land of promise; and ye shall know at some future period that the word of the Lord shall be fulfilled concerning the destruction of Jerusalem; for all things which the Lord hath spoken concerning the destruction of Jerusalem must be fulfilled.

14 For behold, the Spirit of the Lord ceaseth soon to strive with them; for behold, they have rejected the prophets, and Jeremiah have they cast into prison. And they have sought to take away the life of my father, insomuch that they have driven him out of the land.

15 Now behold, I say unto you that if ye will return unto Jerusalem ye shall also perish with them. And now, if ye have choice, go up to the land, and remember the words which I speak unto you, that if ye go ye will also perish; for thus the Spirit of the Lord constraineth me that I should speak.

Comments

Verse 12 is a transitional verse. It closed the rhetorical questions examined in the last episode. It is repeated here because it is the important foundation for the next part of Nephi’s message. In verse 12, Nephi makes two points. The first is that Yahweh can do all things, and the second is that therefore they should be faithful.

Nephi’s arguments in verse 13 pertain to the future. He has decried Laman and Lemuel’s inability to learn faithfulness from their experiences to date. Nevertheless, he encourages faithfulness for the benefits to come. One of those is that they will have a land of promise. This is the first time that we know that Laman and Lemuel have heard of the promise. However, that is surely and simply the way that Nephi wrote the story. Lehi would not have kept that promise from his family. If Lehi were to tear away his family from the Israelites’ promised land, it would only be fair that Yahweh would lead him to another.

Laman and Lemuel desire to return to Jerusalem, but the whole reason that the family is in the wilderness is that Jerusalem will be destroyed. Thus, if they have faith in their father’s prophetic calling, they will be saved from that destruction. Nephi lays out their choice. Either they return to prophesied destruction, or they go forward to a land of promise.

1 Nephi 7:16

16 And it came to pass that when I, Nephi, had spoken these words unto my brethren, they were angry with me. And it came to pass that they did lay their hands upon me, for behold, they were exceedingly wroth, and they did bind me with cords, for they sought to take away my life, that they might leave me in the wilderness to be devoured by wild beasts.

Comments

Laman and Lemuel’s reaction is, by now, predictable. When Nephi, their youngest brother, reprimands them, they become angry. This is a recurring pattern. In this case, however, Nephi writes the incident in a very specific way. He has previously written of his father’s genealogy, which traces back to Joseph of Egypt. Naturally, this is Nephi’s genealogy as well. It is, however, more than a genealogy under Nephi’s pen. The connection to Joseph becomes a literary parallel.

This becomes clear in this verse. Nephi presents himself as a second Joseph.

  • In Genesis 36:5–8 Joseph had a dream, or a vision, in which he would rule over his brothers. Nephi had been told the same.
  • In Genesis 36:5, when Joseph’s brothers learn of the dream, “they hated him yet the more.” Nephi records that after he spoke to his brothers, “they were angry with me.”
  • In Genesis 36:20 the brothers initially want to kill Joseph. Instead, they cast him into a pit and take his cloak. Dipping the coat in goat blood, they send it to their father, who believed that “an evil beast had devoured” Joseph (Genesis 36:33). Nephi is to be bound and left to be devoured by wild beasts.

The prophecy that a younger brother would rule over the older brothers was such an obvious connection that Nephi strengthened the allusion. The parallels became another proof of Yahweh’s divine commission to Nephi.

1 Nephi 7:17–19

17 But it came to pass that I prayed unto the Lord, saying: O Lord, according to my faith which is in thee, wilt thou deliver me from the hands of my brethren; yea, even give me strength that I may burst these bands with which I am bound.

18 And it came to pass that when I had said these words, behold, the bands were loosed from off my hands and feet, and I stood before my brethren, and I spake unto them again.

19 And it came to pass that they were angry with me again, and sought to lay hands upon me; but behold, one of the daughters of Ishmael, yea, and also her mother, and one of the sons of Ishmael, did plead with my brethren, insomuch that they did soften their hearts; and they did cease striving to take away my life.

Comments

The actual events diverge from the literary parallel at this point. Nephi prays for strength and breaks his bonds. Although Nephi attributed his deliverance to Yahweh, Nephi has already told us that he was large and strong for his age. Therefore, it is unlikely that Laman and Lemuel mention the hand of God in Nephi’s breaking of the bonds.

After Nephi is free, he “spake unto them again.” Nephi doesn’t tell us what he said, but whatever it was, Laman and Lemuel didn’t take it well, and were probably even angrier. They take him again, but some of Ishmael’s family members spoke up for him. We are told that it was a daughter and wife of Ishmael, as well as one of the sons. Nephi doesn’t record which daughter it was, but it is unlikely to have been one of the two betrothed to Laman and Lemuel. They had already sided with Laman and Lemuel and doubtless would continue to do so.

Hugh Nibley sees importance in having the women plead for Nephi. He suggests that it was an Arab tradition that a man should respect the pleading of a mother or daughter. If they were that angry, it might have required a socially acceptable reason to deescalate. Otherwise, their pride might have required that they follow through with their threats.

1 Nephi 7:20–22

20 And it came to pass that they were sorrowful, because of their wickedness, insomuch that they did bow down before me, and did plead with me that I would forgive them of the thing that they had done against me.

21 And it came to pass that I did frankly forgive them all that they had done, and I did exhort them that they would pray unto the Lord their God for forgiveness. And it came to pass that they did so. And after they had done praying unto the Lord we did again travel on our journey towards the tent of our father.

22 And it came to pass that we did come down unto the tent of our father. And after I and my brethren and all the house of Ishmael had come down unto the tent of my father, they did give thanks unto the Lord their God; and they did offer sacrifice and burnt offerings unto him.

Comments

After Ishmael’s wife, and a daughter, and a son, had plead for Nephi, Laman and Lemuel desisted. At least for a time, they are repentant. They ask, and receive, Nephi’s forgiveness. Nephi continues to assert his divine mandate, and therefore suggests that they should also seek Yahweh’s forgiveness.

Nephi wrote this story to provide further evidence of his changing position within the family. Once it is over, he wraps it up quickly. We do not get the same description of repentant Laman and Lemuel as we do the rebellious Laman and Lemuel. That isn’t the reason for writing.

At the end of verse 21, Nephi signals that he has finished with this substory because they “did again travel on our journey towards the tent of our father.” When they arrive, “they did give thanks unto the Lord their God; and they did offer sacrifice and burnt offerings unto him.”

As with the previous occasion, it is easily understandable that they make a thanks offering. The burnt offering was the more serious, and probably occasioned by the temporarily murderous intent of Laman and Lemuel.

Scripture Reference

1 Nephi 7:1-22