1 Nephi 3
Through the Wilderness to the Promised Land
(1 Nephi )
1 Nephi 3-5 (Story of Nephi Obtaining the Brass Plates):
Noel Reynolds notes that Nephi's story concerning his response to the Lord's command to obtain the brass plates is given prominence by Nephi because it shows that he succeeded where his brothers failed, making him the rightful possessor of the plates of brass. In this episode an angel of the Lord directly informs Laman and Lemuel that Nephi had been chosen to become a ruler over them (1 Nephi 3:29). The story also shows Nephi effectively in that role. Like many other parts of Nephi's account, this story has a chiastic structure (see illustration below) that emphasizes some of its key points by purposeful repetition. [Noel B. Reynolds, "The Political Dimension in Nephi's Small Plates," FARMS, 1987, p. 13]
Nephi 3-5 (Story of Nephi obtaining the brass plates) [Illustration]: "A Chiastic Analysis of 1 Nephi 3-5" [Noel B. Reynolds, "The Political Dimension in Nephi's Small Plates," FARMS, 1987, p. 14]
1 Nephi 3:3 Laban Hath the Record of the Jews and Also a Genealogy of Thy Forefathers:
Verneil Simmons explains that "Laban" (1 Nephi 3:3) was apparently well known to Lehi and his family as an official in Jerusalem. He is described later by Nephi as a military man, in possible command of "tens of thousands" (1 Nephi 4:1). He could well have been chief over all the armies of Judah, as well as commander of the "fifty" which guarded Jerusalem. Judah's military forces were organized into "thousands," "hundreds," "fifties," and "tens," according to writers of the biblical record (I Samuel 10:19, II Chronicles 25:5, II Kings 1:9). . . . If Laban was the commander in charge of the royal guard and the defense of Jerusalem, then he was a man of much importance and his lodging would have been close to the palace, or a part of it, and near the Temple. When Nephi spoke of the "treasury" of Laban (1 Nephi 4:20) he was probably telling us that Laban was the person responsible for the guarding of the treasury of the king. Private citizens did not maintain a treasury. Such rooms were attached to the palace and to the Temple, where official documents were stored, along with the wealth of gold, silver, and bronze vessels, precious stones, and other riches. A royal officer was in charge of these possessions of the king. Many such rooms have been excavated in the ancient cities of the Near East (See Interpreters's Dictionary of the Bible, Treasury c. royal, p. 694. A steward could be the overseer of the treasury. (See Ezra 5:17 regarding the king's treasure house). [Verneil W. Simmons, Peoples, Places and Prophecies, p. 67] [See the commentary on 2 Nephi 3:12]
1 Nephi 3:3 Laban:
According to an article by Gordon C. Thomasson, in both the Old Testament and the Book of Mormon, Laban is a scheming kinsman who denies relatives property that is rightfully theirs, causes them to flee from his presence, exploits their resources, mounts punitive expeditions against them, and finally must be overcome, by almost any means. This might be an instance of metonymic naming. Metonymy or metonymic naming involves "naming by association," a metophoric process of linking two concepts or persons together in such a way as to tell us more about the latter by means of what we already know about the former. . . . For example, while David was in flight, he sought food from a man the biblical text names as Nabal, (which means "fool"). It stretches credibility to believe that a man, as an affluent adult Israelite, would carry with him the name of Mr. Fool. But that is his name, according to the text, and his actions are indeed foolish--refusing food to the anointed king and consistently successful warrior, David (1 Samuel 25:25). Nabal is, I believe, a clear example of inspired editorial, after-the-fact metonymic naming in the Old Testament. . . . It is also worthy of note, as John Tvedtnes has mentioned, that Laban is Nabal backwards, and that such word-plays . . . are typical of Hebrew naming. [Gordon C. Thomasson, "What's in a Name? Book of Mormon Language, Names, and [Metonymic] Naming" in Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Spring 1994, F.A.R.M.S., p. 15]
1 Nephi 3:3 Laban Hath THE Record of the Jews::
Verneil Simmons explains that the reference in 1 Nephi 3:3 is to "the" record of the Jews, not "a" record, though there must have been other copies not on metal. The fact that this history was engraved on metal plates and in part, at least, written in the Egyptian language strongly suggests that these brass plates could be the original book begun by Moses. If so, it is possible that the record had finally become an object of veneration, not of use. [Verneil W. Simmons, Peoples, Places and Prophecies, p. 72]
Perhaps just like the responsibilities of Nephi, part of Moses' goals in returning to Egypt involved retrieving a record of Joseph (the plates of brass?). [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes] [See the commentary on Mosiah 1:4; see also 2 Nephi 3:12]
1 Nephi 3:3 Laban Hath the Record of the Jews:
According to Verneil Simmons, when the ark was removed from the tent where David had housed it and placed in the innermost room of the new and splendid "house of the Lord," it was written that there was nothing in the Ark except the two stone tablets. The book of the law or covenant, written by Moses, was no longer there (I Kings 8:9).
In 1896, an ancient scroll was found in a synagogue in Old Cairo, Egypt. It consisted of portions of two separate manuscripts, one of some eight pages and another of only one page. They were translated and published in 1910 under the title The Damascus Document. It was recognized even then that this must have been a copy of writings made centuries before by a group of Zadokite Jews living in Damascus. These fragments date from about the tenth to twelfth century. Not much was done with the scroll until the discovery of the Qumran or Dead Sea Scrolls. Among the writings of the Qumran community were several fragments from the Damascus Document. (Thus its age was confirmed. The original had been written before the birth of Christ.)
An interesting story is told in this scroll, as published by the French writer A. Dupont-Sommer. The translation is his:
As for David, he did not read the sealed book of the law which was in the ark [of the covenant]. For it was not opened in Israel from the day that Eleazar and Joshua and the Elders died, when [the children of Israel] began to serve Ashtoreth; and it remained hidden [and] was [not] revealed until the coming of Zadok.
The author adds this comment:
After the death of Joshua and Eleazar and the Elders of their generation, the children of Israel abandoned Yahweh to serve Baal and Astarte [Ashtoreth] (Joshua 24:29-31; Judges 2:7-10, 13). During the time of apostasy, the "sealed book of the Law" remained hidden "until the coming of Zadok." This Zadok seems to be the priest Zadok who lived in the time of David. It was he who, supplanting the priest Abiathar, anointed Solomon just before David's death. According to the present passage, this Zadok made known again the authentic text of the Law; this praise of his rule is an interesting feature.144
If the scroll of the Damascus Document is correct, then that book had been removed in the days of Zadok and its contents made known. It is interesting that David referred to Zadok as a seer (II Samuel 15:27).
If Zadok did remove a book from the Ark before it was carried into the Holy of Holies in the new Temple, and if the book was the record later known as the Brass Plates, then to whom was it given? We find a possible answer in II Samuel 8:16. In the account dealing with David's organization of the kingdom, we find the name of the recorder (in charge of the royal chronicles and annals) mentioned in the same verse with the name of the commander of the "host" or army.
The recorder was a royal officer with a high position at the royal court; even that of an adviser to the king. Both he and the commander of the "host" were attached to the palace and probably housed in or near it. Certainly the historian of the acts of the king had to be closely associated with the commander of the armies, since all the kings of Judah and Israel were constantly embroiled in petty wars or raids on their neighbors.
Was this custom still in force in the days of Laban? It would appear so. We find Laban commanding the armies and also acting as guardian of the record which is in the treasury (1 Nephi 3). The recorder being a court officer strengthens the idea that the record was actually in the palace treasury. The evidence is inconclusive but it does suggest a route by which the record of Moses could have reached the care of Laban. [Verneil W. Simmons, Peoples, Places and Prophecies, pp. 248-250] [See the commentary on 2 Nephi 3:12]
1 Nephi 3:3 For Behold, Laban Hath the Record of the Jews:
In 1 Nephi 3:2-3 we find:
And it came to pass that [Lehi] spake unto [Nephi] saying: Behold I have dreamed a dream, in the which the Lord hath commanded me that thou and thy brethren shall return to Jerusalem.
For behold, Laban hath the record of the Jews and also a genealogy of thy forefathers, and they are engraven upon plates of brass.
Some might think that the term "Jews" only refers to those of the tribe of Judah, however by the time of Lehi and Nephi, the Northern Kingdom had fallen and, according to modern research, some remnants of those ten tribes had fled to the Southern Kingdom, settling in and around Jerusalem as "Jews." Some also might mistakenly assume that the phrase "record of the Jews" could only mean a record which was but a partial rendering of what has come to be the Old Testament, however both the Book of Mormon and modern research speak to the contrary.
In a vision concerning the coming forth of the Bible, Nephi notes that an angel said to him concerning the Bible that, "it is a record like unto the engravings which are upon the plates of brass, save there are not so many" (1 Nephi 3:23, emphasis added). That is, the brass plates contained much more text than the present Old Testament.
Additionally, according to John Sorenson, one of the notable intellectual activities of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries has been the development of the view that the Old Testament was a composite of ancient documents of varied age and source. But while the view that the Old Testament did not derive from a single original source seemed to hold up over time, the scholars found that many of their early conclusions about the evolution of such sources were untenable. For example, the Dead Sea Scrolls showed that the ancient sources of the Old Testament were far more complex than was allowed in the evolutionism of the older critics. In the words of H. D. Hummel:
In all likelihood, the original tradition was richer than any of its three major later derivatives (the Septuagint, Samaritan and Masoretic texts) . . . it now seems likely that [our present] text has suffered more from losses than from glosses.145
In a review of Sorenson's article (see Grant, "The Brass Plates and Their Prophets") Richard Grant notes that according to the current scholarly view, the Old Testament in its present form is considered to be drawn from the work of four major strands or traditions of Hebrew narration, each with its own agenda. These are identified as the Jehovist, the Elohist, the Deuteronomists, and the Priestly writers, usually referred to by the shorthand, J, E, D, and P. Briefly, these traditions each represent a different view of Hebrew history, each written to achieve a specific objective of the author or authors.
1. The Jehovist: referred to God as Jehovah. This was predominantly of Judah, declaring the divine authority of the King, the temple, and the priesthood.
2. The Elohist: referred to God as Elohim. This history emphasized the role of the individual rather than the priest. Its heroes were Jacob and Joseph.
3. The Deuteronomists: This is believed to be the book claimed to be "found" in the temple by the priests of Josiah. It's believed to have been written by these priests or perhaps by Jeremiah, to reinforce the teachings of the prophets of that today. But the influence and editing extended far beyond the Book of Deuteronomy.
4. The Priestly writers: Written during the Babylonian captivity to give the captives a strong sense of unique identity. "They did it primarily by asserting the power of the religious tradition of the Jews over the total life of the people. In the process they also edited and rewrite massive parts of their sacred history."
Sorenson notes that the preferences in deity names between J and E sources have been demonstrated to be consistent and significant, not mere literary quirks.147 They reflect different traditions transmitted through regionally distinct "schools" of scribes which existed form the tenth century onward.148 E source was fundamentally a Northern Kingdom expression. Albright noted that differences between J and E already existed in the Pentateuchal poems dating between Exodus and the Monarchy, thus the later "schools" and a prior basis.149 Cassuto's observation also may be related. He noted that in Old Testament situations where God is represented as a universal or international deity, rather than as God of Israel, an El name occurs. For example, in all the sections of Genesis pertaining to Egypt, including the entire story of Joseph, El names are used exclusively.150 Note also should be taken that D&C 84:6-13 asserts a line of priesthood and sacred knowledge persisted in the desert from the time of Esaias, a contemporary and associate of Abraham, at least until Moses and Jethro [Moses' father-in-law who lived at Midian, which was the region by the shores of the Red Sea to which Lehi fled (the Valley of Lemuel) and to which the camp of Israel went after crossing the Red Sea]. Jethro is an E name, in contrast to J's Hobab; of course Jethro's father was Reu'El.151
Details not mentioned above further evidence possible E effects on the Book of Mormon, either through the brass plates or through the family tradition in which Lehi was reared:
(1) The Book of Mormon virtually ignores the Davidic covenant, which is a J element. David is mentioned but six times (twice only incidentally in quotations from Isaiah). Two instances involved strong condemnation of David. (see Jacob 1:15, 2:23-24, 31-33)
(2) Instead, considerable attention is paid to the Abrahamic covenant and to the patriarchs. All 29 references to Abraham are laudatory. Jacob is also so named, a positive E characteristic, whereas J uses "Israel" as his personal name.152 (On the covenant with Abraham, see 1 Nephi 15:18, 17:40; 2 Nephi 29:14.)
(3) The Jews, particularly the inhabitants of Jerusalem, are branded as evil in the strongest terms. (For example, 1 Nephi 1:19, 17:42-44.)
(4) Emphasis is placed on Joseph being sold into Egypt, his saving Jacob's house, and the Lord's special covenant with Joseph which is not attested in the Old Testament (1 Nephi 5:14-15, 17-40; 2 Nephi 3:4-5, 9-10, 16-17; 4:1-3; 10:3). The coat of Joseph is a topic specific to E on which the Book of Mormon adds data not found in the Jewish version (J).153
(5) The name "Jehovah" (Yahweh), the preferred J title of deity, occurs only twice in the Book of Mormon (once a quote from Isaiah 12--with one word changed--and again in the very last sentence in the volume). The name "Lord" is usually used for divinity in the Book of Mormon (almost 1400 times).154
(6) Unmistakable El (E source) names do occur in the Book of Mormon, notably "Most High God" (Hebrew "El Elyon") and "Almighty God" (the Septuagint's term for "El Shaddai"),155 the former six times and the latter eleven.
In addition to these points, other characteristics of E of more generic nature are found in the Book of Mormon. [John L. Sorenson, "The Brass Plates and Biblical Scholarship," in Nephite Culture and Society, pp. 26-39; see also Richard G. Grant, "The Brass Plates and Their Prophets," http://www.cometozarahemla.org/brassplates/brass-plates.html] [For further information on the brass plates, see the commentaries on 1 Nephi 5:11, 5:16, 13:23, 19:22; 2 Nephi 2:17, 2:25, 3:18-19; Mosiah 1:3-4; Alma 37:4-5; 3 Nephi 10:16; Moroni 10:34]
1 Nephi 3:3 They Are Engraven upon Plates of Brass:
William Hamblin notes that in the past, critics of the Book of Mormon have attacked the alleged absurdity of the Book of Mormon having been written on golden plates and its claim of the existence of an early sixth-century-B.C. version of the Hebrew Bible written on brass plates.156 Today, however, critics almost universally admit that there are numerous examples of ancient writing on metal plates. Ironically, some critics now claim instead that knowledge of such plates was readily available in Joseph Smith's day. Hugh Nibley's 1952 observation seems quite prescient: "It will not be long before men forget that in Joseph Smith's day the prophet was mocked and derided for his description of the plates more than anything else."157
Walter Burkert, in his recent study of the cultural dependence of Greek civilization on the ancient Near East, refers to the transmission of the practice of writing on bronze plates (Semitic root dlt) from the Phoenicians to the Greeks. "The reference to 'bronze deltoi [plates, from dlt]' as a term [among the Greeks] for ancient sacral laws should point back to the seventh or sixth century [B.C.]" as the period in which the terminology and the practice of writing on bronze plates was transmitted from the Phoenicians to the Greeks.158 Students of the Book of Mormon will note that this is precisely the time and place in which the Book of Mormon claims that there existed similar bronze plates which contained the "ancient sacred laws" of the Hebrews, the close cultural cousins of the Phoenicians. [William J. Hamblin, "Metal Plates and the Book of Mormon," in Pressing Forward with the Book of Mormon, F.A.R.M.S., 1999, p. 20]
1 Nephi 3:3 Brass:
In the ancient Near East (Lehi's world), when it became extremely important to keep a record, they kept it on metal such as copper alloy, referred to as "brass" in the Bible. You won't find the word "bronze" in the Bible at all, though the Old Testament is a Bronze Age document (that being the alloy most probably made and referred to). In Joseph Smith's time they didn't use the word "bronze" at all. The main thing to keep in mind, however, is that the metal referred to was copper based.
According to Hugh Nibley, one good example of an ancient copper alloy record is the Copper Scroll. The Copper Scroll was found at Cave Three (at Qumran) in 1949. John Allegro wrote a book on them called The Treasure of the Copper Scroll. There's also an article by Norman Golb from 1987. Although they are referred to as a "scroll," they weren't on rolled (scroll-like) copper, they were originally on sheets--regular size sheets. There were holes along the side [apparently for some sort of binding ring], but they riveted them together so that they could roll them up. The reason they put the records on copper was so they wouldn't perish because (as Golb tells us in his article) they were extra valuable. They had to be preserved, so they put them on bronze or copper (almost pure copper; it's a slight alloy). [Hugh W. Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Semester 1, p. 137]
1 Nephi 3:3 Brass (Illustration): The Copper Scrolls. [Hugh Nibley, Since Cumorah, p. 246]
1 Nephi 3:3 Brass:
According to Cleon Skousen, technically brass consists of two parts of copper and one of zinc. However, this was such a rare phenomenon in ancient times that many authorities believe the word "brass" (see 1 Nephi 3:3) refers to copper or copper and tin which we call bronze (a modern term). This conclusion is supported by passages such as Deuteronomy 8:9, which speaks of digging "brass." Authorities feel this could only mean copper. The ancients learned how to combine tin with copper and then harden it or make it extremely flexible as desired. This art of the "bronze age" is completely lost to modern man. (See Hasting's
Dictionary of the Bible, under "brass.") [W. Cleon Skousen, Treasures from the Book of Mormon, Vol. 1, p. 1036]
1 Nephi 3:3 Plates of Brass:
Hugh Nibley asserts that the purpose of the first return trip to Jerusalem was the procuring of certain records which were written on bronze plates (the Book of Mormon like the Bible always uses "brass" (see 1 Nephi 3:3) for what we call bronze--a word that has become current only since its translation). [Hugh Nibley, Lehi in the Desert, F.A.R.M.S, p. 94]
1 Nephi 3:3 Plates of Brass:
A good example of an Hebraism is found in 1 Nephi 3:3 with the phrase "plates of brass." John A. Tvedtnes explains that the Hebraisms in the Book of Mormon help persuade us that it is authentic. . . . When English shows a possessive or descriptive relationship between two nouns, it usually puts the possessive or descriptive noun first: the king's house or wood house. Hebrew, however, uses the opposite order: house the king (which would usually be translated house of the king). . . . If the Hebrew word order is kept in the English translation, the word of must be added, even though it does not exist in the Hebrew. [John A. Tvedtnes, "The Hebrew Background of the Book of Mormon" in Rediscovering the Book of Mormon, F.A.R.M.S., p. 79]
1 Nephi 3:3 Plates of brass (Illustration): Gold Tablets from Palace of Darius. One of the gold tablets from the Palace of Darius discovered in Iran in 1933. They date from about 500 B.C.--near the time of Nephi. The Empire of Darius included Nephi's homeland. [Milton Hunter and Stuart Ferguson, Ancient America and the Book of Mormon, p. 101
1 Nephi 3:3 Plates of brass (Illustration): Cast brass plates on display in the National Museum, Sana'a dating to about A.D. 400. [Warren and Michaela Aston, In the Footsteps of Lehi, p. 9]
1 Nephi 3:3 Plates of Brass (Illustration): Records of Darius in solid gold and silver bearing an inscription in three languages--Old Persian, Elamite and Babylonian. The plates date from about 518-515 B.C. and were found at Persepolis, Iran. By permission of The Oriental Institute, University of Chicago. [Franklin S. Harris, Jr., The Book of Mormon Message and Evidences, p. 4]
1 Nephi 3:7 I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded (Illustration): Nephi Returning for the Plates of Brass. "I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded." Artist: Robert T. Barrett. [Thomas R. Valletta ed., The Book of Mormon for Latter-day Saint Families, 1999, p. 9]
1 Nephi 3:7 I Know:
When Nephi uses the words "I know," he might be conveying more than simple faith or a positive attitude. He might be conveying a more sure knowledge of a covenant relationship with the Lord which he had previously alluded to in 1 Nephi 2. In that brief mention, notice that:
(1) Nephi "was exceedingly young yet large in stature" (implying spiritual maturity more than physical)
(2) he had "great desires to know of the mysteries of God, wherefore he did cry unto the Lord,"
(3) "he [the Lord] did visit me," and
(4) "I did not rebel" (1 Nephi 2:16, emphasis added)
For the Lord's part, he blesses Nephi according to his obedience to the covenant: "And inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments, ye shall prosper, and shall be led to a land of promise; yea, even a land which I have prepared for you; yea, a land which is choice above all other lands." . . . "And inasmuch as thou shalt keep my commandments, thou shalt be made a ruler and a teacher over thy brethren." (1 Nephi 2:20. 22) Note should be taken of the specific covenant words and phrases here. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes] [See the commentary on 1 Nephi 5:2, 5:5; 2 Nephi 33:4; Alma 34:8; 3 Nephi 14:23]
1 Nephi 3:9 I . . . and My Brethren:
In Biblical Hebrew, the person speaking ("I") always comes first in a compound subject (compare Alma 15:15, "I and my brethren will go forth into the land of Zarahemla"; and 1 Kings 1:21, "I and my son Solomon shall be counted offenders"). [Zarahemla Research Foundation, Study Book of Mormon, p. 8]
1 Nephi 3:9 I, Nephi, and My Brethren Took Our Journey in the Wilderness . . . to Go up to the Land of Jerusalem:
Kelly Ogden writes that he and accompanying friends learned by walking the distance that between Jerusalem and the Red Sea is about 200 miles. He notes that some authors insert a figure of 150 miles or so, "as the crow flies," but ancient Judahites were not crows and they didn't fly, and it was 200 miles to the Red Sea! An agreeable pace for a group of people on camels would be between twenty and thirty miles a day. So the journey was a minimum of seven or eight days. Add to that the three days they traveled after reaching the Red Sea, and the figures are up to 260-290 miles in ten or eleven days. That is one direction only. The round-trip that the Lord and father Lehi were asking of the four sons was over 500 miles and at least three weeks through some of the most rugged terrain in the Near East! And they had no clue as to how they were going to obtain the plates. And we, having the advantage of "knowing the end from the beginning" are amazed to think ahead and realize that Lehi, soon after his sons returned from their first assignment, would command them to go back again! That is over a thousand miles and many weeks on those desolate tracts of land--and we have often looked down on Laman and Lemuel for being chronic complainers. [D. Kelly Ogden, "Answering the Lord's Call," in Studies in Scripture: Book of Mormon, Part 1, pp. 26-27]
1 Nephi 3:9 Up [and Down]:
Nephi uses the terms "up" and "down" in a consistent pattern. One notes that the movement from the Valley of Lemuel to Jerusalem is always "up” (1 Nephi 3:9, 3:23, 7:4, etc.) and the movement from Jerusalem to the Valley of Lemuel is always "down” (see 1 Nephi 2:5, 7:2, 7:22, etc.). Because we know the topography of the Old World, we know that these terms are correct in reference to elevation. Can we assume that "up" and "down" refer always to elevation, even in the New World? I will assume as much. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]
Geographical Theory Map : 1 Nephi 3:9 Nephi Goes Up to Jerusalem After the Plates of Laban
1 Nephi 3:9 The Land of Jerusalem:
According to Hugh Nibley, when we speak of Jerusalem, it is important to notice Nephi's preference for a non-Biblical expression, "the land of Jerusalem” (1 Nephi 3:9) in designating his homeland. While he and his brothers always regard "the land of Jerusalem" as their home, it is perfectly clear from a number of passages that "the land of our father's inheritance" cannot possibly be within, or even very near, the city, even though Lehi had "dwelt at Jerusalem in all his days" (1 Nephi 1:4). The terms seem confused, but they correctly reflect actual conditions, for in the Amarna letters we read of "the land of Jerusalem" as an area larger than the city itself, and even learn in one instance that "a city of the land of Jerusalem, Bet-Ninib, has been captured." It was the rule in Palestine and Syria, as the same letters show, for a large area around a city and all the inhabitants of that area to bear the name of the city. . . .
This arrangement deserves mention because many have pointed to the statement of Alma 7:10 that the Savior would be born "at Jerusalem which is the land of our forefathers," as sure proof of fraud. It is rather the opposite, faithfully preserving the ancient terminology to describe a system which has only been recently rediscovered. [Hugh Nibley, Lehi in the Desert, F.A.R.M.S., pp. 6-7]
1 Nephi 3:9 The land of Jerusalem (Illustration): The "land of Jerusalem" took in a much larger area than the city Jerusalem, including this place a few miles to the south at Bethlehem. [Scot and Maurine Proctor, Light from the Dust, p. 14]
1 Nephi 3:10 I and My Brethren Did Consult:
Angela Crowell asserts that in Biblical Hebrew, when the compound subject consists of different persons, the first person (the person speaking) precedes any others (Davidson 1950:159). In proper English usage, the order is reversed: the speaker always comes last. We say, "My father and I" instead of "I and my father," as in Hebrew. This phenomenon in Hebrew is a literal translation, i.e., "I" is written in Hebrew before "and my father." A good example of this is found in 1 Nephi 3:10, "I and my brethren did consult . . . " [Angela M. Crowell, "Hebraisms in the Book of Mormon," in Recent Book of Mormon Developments, Vol. 2, p. 6]
1 Nephi 3:11 We Cast Lots:
Daniel Ludlow attests that the "casting of lots" as mentioned by Nephi (see 1 Nephi 3:11) was practiced extensively by the Hebrews of Old Testament times. This authentic and typical use of the custom in the Book of Mormon would indicate again that this part of the story in the Book of Mormon is concerned with a group of people with a Hebrew background and that the Book of Mormon is a translation of an ancient record. (If you want to review some of the examples in the Bible where the casting of lots was used, see Leviticus 16:8; 1 Samuel 14:42; 1 Chronicles 26:13; Psalms 22:18; Isaiah 34:17; Joel 3:3; Obadiah 11; Jonah 1:7; Nahum 3:10; Matthew 27:35; Mark 15:24; John 19:24; Acts 1:26) [Daniel Ludlow, A Companion to Your Study of the Book of Mormon, p. 95]
1 Nephi 3:11 And We Cast Lots . . . the Lot Fell upon Laman:
According to Brant Gardner, the use of lots to determine who should go up to Laban now raises another question. If the Lord did have a hand in the selection, why was Laman chosen instead of Nephi? Clearly the Lord knew that Nephi would be the successful one. . . . Why would the Lord put Laman in a position where the Lord knew he would fail?
The incident of the retrieval of the brass plates comes directly after Nephi's epiphany wherein the Lord told Nephi that he would ascend over his brothers. While that had occurred in other historical occasions (Jacob over Esau, Joseph over all his brethren) it was remarkable in its violation of cultural rules. For the eldest brother was the one who should have that role.
The incident with the brass plates is a transitional moment where the change in the leadership hierarchies is being established. The Lord uses this incident to provide justification for the ascendancy of Nephi as a leader, a process which continues on their journey through the desert. Laman's attempt and failure was both a recognition of his birthright, and the marking of the passage of the birthright from the inheritor to the more righteous anointed. [Brant Gardner, "Brant Gardner's Page, Book of Mormon Commentary, http://www.highfiber.com/~nahualli/LDStopics/ 1Nephi/1Nephi3.htm, pp. 4-5]
Note* The reader should note that the birthright we should be focusing on is the covenant birthright, which of necessity is based on covenant obedience. Nephi was more than just good or righteous, he had personally covenanted with the Lord and was being faithful to that covenant (see 1 Nephi 2:16-24). Laman failed to be obedient to those covenant obligations; Nephi was obedient. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]
1 Nephi 3:13 Thou Art a Robber:
According to an article by John W. Welch, it turns out that there was a big difference under the law of Moses, and in ancient Near Eastern criminal law generally, between being a "thief" and being a "robber." A "thief" was an inside member of the community; he usually worked alone, he stole things like chickens at night. A thief's offense was not serious, and he was punished lightly, usually being required to return that which he had stolen and then doubling it. A "robber" on the other hand was an outsider, literally an outlaw, living outside the community and outside the protection of the local law. Robbers hid out in the hills, in bands, swearing oaths of secrecy, swooping down on villages, openly assassinating and plundering. Robbers were one of the greatest scourges of ancient civilization; sometimes in Egypt they occupied whole cities. Soldiers were sent out after them, and when they were caught, they were put to death on the spot--no trial was necessary. . . . Now we can also better understand why Laman was so frightened by Laban's threat. When Laman tried to obtain the plates of brass, you recall, Laban threw him out, saying, "Thou art a robber, and I will slay thee" (1 Nephi 3:13). Indeed, Laban was a military officer. And even though Laman clearly was not a robber, if Laban chose to characterize him as such, Laban had the power to put some real teeth into his threat. Of course, if the text had said, "Thou art a thief, and I will slay thee," it wouldn't have sounded quite right. But that too is a telling point, for there is little substantive distinction between "theft" and "robbery" in Anglo-American law; nor could Joseph have learned the ancient distinction from his Bible, for the translators of the King James Version use these two words indiscriminately and interchangeably. For example, in the story of the Good Samaritan, the King James Version says that a man went down from Jerusalem and fell among "thieves" (Luke 10:30). Of course, you do not fall among "thieves" out in the desert, but among "robbers," which is how the Greek reads. Unlike the King James Version, however, the Book of Mormon uses these two terms correctly. [John W. Welch, "Study and Faith & The Book of Mormon" in BYU Today, September 1988, p. 21]
1 Nephi 3:13 Thou Art a Robber and I Will Slay Thee:
Brock Lennox notes that while on the Lord's errand to retrieve the brass plates, Nephi and his brethren initially confronted Laban with Laman as their spokesman. When Laman told Laban what they had come for, Laban became angry and threw him out from his presence, saying: "Behold thou art a robber, and I will slay thee" (1 Nephi 3:13). In this circumstance the reader should note that while no robbery actually took place, Laban makes a decree which would foreshadow judgment and punishment concerning his own actions.
It seems apparent that Laban had sufficient authority at the time to decree penalties which were carried out in the larger political system of Jerusalem. While a decree of death for a robber might or might not have been justified under that larger political system, Laban's demand for this strict penalty at least represented a case of judgment according to Laban's own personal standard.
As the narrative will relate, Nephi and his brethren would return to Laban a second time bearing great personal wealth as an exchange for the plates. This wealth was probably far in excess of the value of the plates even according to Laban's worldly perspective, for upon seeing their gold and silver and precious things Laban "did lust after it, insomuch that he thrust [them] out, and sent his servants to slay [them] that he might obtain [their] property]" (1 Nephi 3:25).
Thus Laban will prove to be the very robber he had accused the sons of Lehi of being. He rejected the Lord's covenant servant in order to seek after the idolatrous god of earthly riches. Ironically, he would soon receive the very judgment he had decreed--death. "Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things" (Romans 2:1) "Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee thou wicked servant" (Luke 19:22). "The same judgment which ye judge ye shall also be judged" (Moroni 7:18). [J. Brock Lennox, "Analysis of Laban's Refusals to Part with the Plates," unpublished paper]
1 Nephi 3:14 WE Began to Be Exceedingly Sorrowful:
In 1 Nephi 3:14 Nephi writes that after Laman failed in his attempt to retrieve the plates of brass from Laban, "We began to be exceedingly sorrowful, and my brethren were about to return unto my father in the wilderness. Brant Gardner notes that Nephi includes himself in those who were "exceedingly sorrowful" but clearly removes himself from those who would abandon the journey and return. [Brant Gardner, "Brant Gardner's Page, "http://www.highfiber.com/~nahualli/LDStopics/1 Nephi/1 Nephi3.htm, p. 8]
1 Nephi 3:15 As the Lord Liveth, and As We Live:
When Nephi's brethren were about to return to their father after Laman's failed attempt to retrieve the plates of brass, Nephi spoke unto them with an oath: "As the Lord liveth, and as we live, we will not go down unto our father in the wilderness until we have accomplished the thing which the Lord hath commanded us" (1 Nephi 3:15).
According to Brant Gardner, it is very likely that Nephi's brethren knew nothing at this time about Nephi's past vision, and the promise to Nephi that he would rule over them. It is also quite unlikely that the brothers knew of Nephi's impassioned vow to Lehi that he knew that the Lord would prepare the way for them. Nephi's oath ("As the Lord liveth, and as we live") was a powerful commitment. Smith's Bible Dictionary presents the following information on oath-taking:
The principle on which an oath is held to be binding is incidentally laid down in Hebrews 6:16 as an ultimate appeal to divine authority to ratify an assertion. There the Almighty is represented as promising or denouncing with an oath, i.e. doing so in the most positive and solemn manner. On the same principle, that oath has always been held most binding which appealed to the highest authority, both as regards individuals and communities. As a consequence of this principle, appeals to God's name on the one hand, and to heathen deities on the other, are treated in scripture as tests of allegiance. ("Oath," in Smith's Bible Dictionary. Fleming H. Revell Company, 1970, p. 462)
Thus by invoking the name of the Lord, Nephi is binding himself with the strongest of oaths. His subsequent arguments serve to convince his brethren to accompany him. There is no record that the brothers repeated the oath, even though they did participate one more time. [Brant Gardner, "Brant Gardner's Page, "http://www.highfiber.com/~nahualli/LDStopics/1 Nephi/1 Nephi3.htm, pp. 8-9]
Note* Notice how Nephi is willing to give all he possesses, the very finest (symbolically represented by gold and silver) in order to keep his covenant with the Lord. Notice also how here in 1 Nephi 3:15 he repeats phrasing similar to that of 1 Nephi 3:7 in his covenant oath: "until we have accomplished the thing which the Lord hath commanded". Perhaps that original phrasing in 1 Nephi 3:7 was covenant related to begin with (see 1 Nephi 2:16-24). [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]
1 Nephi 3:16 Let Us Go down to the Land of Our Father's Inheritance:
Keith Christensen postulates that history and geography might tell us where Lehi's "land of inheritance" (1 Nephi 3:16) was located. The story of Lehi begins in the first year of the reign of the Jewish king, Zedekiah. Shortly before this, Egypt tried to assert itself in the region. At that time Babylon was expanding its empire from the east. So by the start of Zedekiah's reign, Judah was encircled by Egyptian and Babylonian forces except to the south. Babylon's vassal ally, Edom, was to the southeast. There is no indication of Lehi's journey (or Lehi's sons return to their father's land of inheritance) being contested. It was only to the south that the land was generally secure. This favors Lehi's land of inheritance being in that direction.
Geographically, Jerusalem, the capital of Judah, stood at an elevation of 2593 feet. It was guarded on two sides by deep valleys. To go either east or west of Jerusalem, Lehi's sons would have had to have gone up over the mountains that formed these valleys. The land north of Jerusalem was generally higher than the rest of Judah. To the east beyond the heights on that side, the terrain of course goes down, but to the Dead Sea and the Wilderness of Judah, unlikely places for a land of inheritance. To the west of Jerusalem, beyond the heights that formed the valley on that side, the land slopes toward the Mediterranean, but Egyptian and Babylonian armies in that direction would have precluded the land of inheritance being there. It seems that the only possible direction from Jerusalem to Lehi's land of inheritance would have been south.
Beersheba was the southernmost district in King David's kingdom and referred to as "the Negeb of Judah." King Solomon paid particular attention to the Negeb, constructing a network of small forts to protect the caravan routes and establishing agricultural settlements. . . . About 20 to 30 miles south of Beersheba, there began a region that the Bible calls the Wilderness of Zin (Numbers 13:21; 20:1; 27:14; Deuteronomy 32:51; Joshua 15:1,3) and beyond that was the Wilderness of Paran (Genesis 21:21; Numbers 10:12; Deuteronomy 1:1; I Samuel 25:1; I Kings 11:18). . . . Thus, there would have been a frontier melding into the wilderness to identify where it could be said that Lehi "departed into the wilderness" (1 Nephi 2:5) and from where to measure the three days of travel specified in the Book of Mormon (see 1 Nephi 2:6). This frontier was about 100 miles from the Red Sea's Gulf of Aqaba and is consistent with that reference to a three day's journey. [B. Keith Christensen, The Unknown Witness, pp. 46,53-55,227, unpublished]
1 Nephi 3:16 Let Us Go Down to the Land of Our Father's Inheritance:
According to Jeffrey Chadwick, while the text specifies that Lehi "dwelt at Jerusalem in all his days" (1 Nephi 1:4) and had "his own house at Jerusalem" (1 Nephi 1:7), apparently the bulk of his fortune reposed at his "land of inheritance" because Lehi "knew that Jerusalem must be destroyed because of the wickedness of the people" (1 Nephi 3:16-17). This land of inheritance was apparently some distance from the "land of Jerusalem (1 Nephi 3:1,9,11,16,22-23).
Based on archaeological, geographical, and historical evidence accumulated from the study of the old tribal areas of Manasseh, Ephraim, Judah and Jerusalem, Chadwick postulates the following:
1. About the time of Lehi's young adulthood (630 B.C.), the Assyrian withdrawal from the Land of Israel left Judean king Josiah with control not only of Judean territory, but of northern Israelite territories such as Ephraim and Manasseh as well. Thus, after 630 B.C., the Manassite "land of inheritance" would once again have been available for claim by Lehi and the sons who would be born to him.
2. Upon being informed by the Lord that "Jerusalem must be destroyed," Lehi secured his supplies of precious metals (gold, silver, etc.) by hiding them at a location outside the city--the "land of inheritance' which he possessed in Manasseh.
[Jeffrey R. Chadwick, "Lehi's House at Jerusalem and the Land of His Inheritance," 1999, pp. 1-12, unpublished paper]
1 Nephi 3:16 Let us go down to the land of our father's inheritance (Illustration): "The Land of Israel 600 B.C." [Jeffrey R. Chadwick, "Lehi's House at Jerusalem and the Land of His Inheritance," 1999, illustrative map in an unpublished 1993 paper]
1 Nephi 3:18 If My Father Should Dwell in the Land after He Hath Been Commanded to Flee out of the Land, Behold, He Would Also Perish:
According to Brant Gardner, the return to the land of Jerusalem was likely to have shaken what little faith that Laman and Lemuel possessed, since Jerusalem had obviously not been destroyed. With this in mind it is fascinating that the argument that Nephi puts forth here in continuing to seek to obtain the plates of Laban is a defense of his father's prophecy that Jerusalem would be destroyed, and if they stayed there after they had been commanded to leave they also would perish (see 1 Nephi 3:18). Nephi reminds his brothers that the entire journey of their family is a command from the Lord, and that they should obtain the records in order to preserve unto their children the language of their fathers (see v. 19). Nephi's reasons for obtaining the plates have validity only when we understand that Nephi knew that their descendants were to be cut off from their previous culture. Perhaps Laman and Lemuel were thinking that they would "lay low" for a while and then return to their own people. Nephi's argument that the plates were essential to their cultural preservation (see v. 20) indicates his understanding that this journey was one which would completely and inalterably sever physical ties with their land and culture (he had been told that they would be led to "a land of promise"--see 1 Nephi 2:20). Thus the need to preserve the scriptural heritage. [Brant Gardner, "Brant Gardner's Page, "http://www.highfiber.com/ ~nahualli/LDStopics/1 Nephi/1 Nephi3.htm, pp. 10-11]
1 Nephi 3:19 The Language of Our Fathers:
According to Hugh Nibley, we learn in Mosiah 1:4 that certain plates (the plates of brass) were written "in the language of the Egyptians." Nephi informs us (1 Nephi 3:19) that these same plates were in "the language of our fathers," and that the possession of them was necessary if a knowledge of that language was to be preserved among his people. To preserve mere characters but a single page of Hebrew and Egyptian signs would have been necessary, and Lehi or his sons could have produced such from memory, since they had already been taught them. And if the language in question were Hebrew, Lehi's children could have produced from their own resources any number of books in their own language, so that when Nephi expresses his belief that without that one volume of plates a language will be lost--the ancient language of his fathers--he cannot possibly be speaking of Hebrew. The preservation of Hebrew would naturally require possession of the scriptures, the canon of the pure language, but these could be had anywhere in Judah and would not require the dangerous mission to Laban. The language of Lehi's forefathers was a foreign language; and when Nephi tells us it was the language of the Egyptians he means what he says. Since time immemorial Israelites had been sojourning in Egypt individually and in groups, and there is nothing the least surprising in the possibility that Lehi's ancestors were among such settlers. [Hugh Nibley, Lehi in the Desert, F.A.R.M.S., p. 24]
1 Nephi 3:22 We Went down to the Land of Our Inheritance, And We Did Gather Together Our Gold:
Nephi notes that after failing in their first attempt to obtain the brass plates, "we went down to the land of our inheritance, and we did gather together our gold, and our silver, and our precious things" (1 Nephi 3:22). Brant Gardner notes that while not specifically stated, it might be reasoned that Lehi left servants in charge of the family holdings. It would be hard to imagine that a significant wealth such as Lehi apparently had accumulated could go for very long entirely unguarded. Certainly the lands and goods were not sold nor exchanged prior to the journey into the wilderness, a fact which doubtless encouraged Laman and Lemuel's assumption that they could return to their former life (see 1 Nephi 2:11). Brant Gardner, "Brant Gardner's Page, Book of Mormon Commentary, http://www.highfiber.com/ ~nahualli/LDStopics/1Nephi/1Nephi 3, p. 9]
1 Nephi 3:23 After we had gathered these things [gold and silver and precious things] we went up again unto the house of Laban (Illustration): Nephi and His Brothers at the House of Laban. Artist: Ronald Crosby. [Mary Pratt Parrish, The Book of Mormon Story, p. 10]
1 Nephi 3:25 Exceedingly Great . . . Property (Camels):
Hugh Nibley believes the use of camels is implied at every turn of the story of the mission to Laban: the otherwise insane carrying of tents, the trip down-country to bring back "exceedingly great . . . property" (1 Nephi 3:25) to Laban's palace (hardly on their shoulders!), the flight into the open country and pursuit in the desert, and finally the long and necessarily hasty return trip (for they were marked men and possibly the direction of their take-off had been noted) to the secret base camp. Just as the Saints who had the means of avoiding it never crossed the plains on foot, so we would think Lehi's sons foolish indeed if they did not avail themselves of the common means of transportation that everyone was using--for camels were as common then as automobiles are today. [Hugh Nibley, Lehi in the Desert, F.A.R.M.S., p. 58]
1 Nephi 3:25 Laban . . . sent his servants to slay us (Illustration): "Laban . . . sent his servants to slay us, that he might obtain our property," by A&OR. [W. Cleon Skousen, Treasures from the Book of Mormon, Vol. 1, p. 1041]
1 Nephi 3:27 We Fled into the Wilderness, and the Servants of Laban Did Not Overtake Us:
There are many things in the Book of Mormon that are not mentioned, but through cultural implication are all over the place. Some of these cultural items are asses and camels. When Hugh Nibley first came to B.Y.U., he started writing Lehi in the Desert. He relates that, "the Church had a rather ridiculous film out in which they showed Lehi's people all going through the desert carrying everything they had on their backs because the Book of Mormon doesn't mention any animals of burden, you see. . . ."
After making a case regarding the Arab tent and the fact that Lehi "dwelt in a tent," Nibley points out that on the trip back to Jerusalem to secure the brass plates, Laban lusted after the property of Nephi and his brethren and "sent his servants to slay" them (1 Nephi 3:25). When Nephi and his brethren ran away, they escaped from Laban's police. Nephi said, "they pursued us but they couldn't overtake us" (see 1 Nephi 3:25-27). Well, Nephi and his brethren weren't going on foot because we know that the police of Jerusalem had good, fleet-footed Arab horses. Nephi and his brethren had ways of getting out. And, of course, there would be asses or camels to cross the desert." [Hugh W. Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Semester 1, pp. 118-119]
1 Nephi 3:27 We Hid Ourselves in the Cavity of a Rock:
It seems that Nephi's comment that "we hid ourselves in the cavity of a rock" (1 Nephi 3:27) was culturally correct. According to Hugh Nibley, since the Palestine Exploration Fund Quarterly started to appear many years ago, its readers have been treated to a constant flow of official reports on newly-discovered caves in and near Jerusalem. The country is peppered with them; for the area southwest of the city, "it is difficult to give an account of the principal excavations of this type [of caves] without appearing to use the language of exaggeration. . . . To attempt a descriptive catalogue of these caves would be altogether futile. The mere labor of searching the hills for examples . . . would be almost endless." . . . But who in America knew of these hiding places a hundred years ago? [Hugh Nibley, Lehi in the Desert, F.A.R.M.S., pp. 93-94]
1 Nephi 3:27 We hid ourselves in the cavity of a rock (Illustration): Cavities in the rock like this one dot the limestone hills and valleys outside the city of Jerusalem. [Scot and Maurine Proctor, Light from the Dust, p. 18]
1 Nephi 3:27 We Hid Ourselves in the Cavity of a Rock:
Lamar Berrett writes:
About twenty miles south-west of Jerusalem and ten miles west-north-west of Hebron, the government of Israel constructed a security road in 1961 to protect the border between Jordan and Israel. During the course of construction an ancient burial cave was uncovered on the eastern slope of Khirbet Beit Lei. The Israel Department of Antiquities excavated the cave during the month of June, 1961, under the direction of Joseph Naveh, Professor of Archaeology at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. They named the cave the "Jerusalem Cave."
The LDS interest in the cave comes from both the Book of Mormon incident of the brothers hiding in a cave, as well as the particular graffiti on the walls of the cave. Three human figures are represented, as well as two very crude ships. The old inscriptions have been translated as:
"The mountains of Judah--Yahveh [is] the God of the whole earth; the mountains of Judah belong to him, to the God of Jerusalem."
" The [Mount of] Moriah Thou has favoured, the dwelling of Yah, Yahveh"
"[Ya]hveh deliver [us]!"
Attempts to date the cave and its inscriptions have proved interesting. Paleography, the study of the form of letters, was of auxiliary value in drawing chronological conclusions concerning these inscriptions. The form of the letters varied greatly. "In view of the nature of the graffiti," says Naveh, "we assume that all the inscriptions and drawings belong to a short period of time, and they were incised by a number of persons." He concludes that the form of the burial cave and the script are of the pre-exilic period, or prior to 587 B.C."
The most fascinating interpretation of the graffiti comes from Frank Moore Cross, Jr., professor at Harvard University. Dr. Cross proposes a 600 B.C. date for the inscriptions, and notes: "It is very difficult to avoid the speculation that inscription A is the citation of a lost prophecy, and that it and its companion inscriptions were written by a refugee fleeing the Chaldeans who conquered Judah and who destroyed the holy city in 587 B.C. Most documents, especially manuscripts and papyri, found in Palestinian caves were left behind by men in such circumstances. The same may be true of these graffiti. Perhaps such speculations are built on too flimsy a foundation of facts; at all events we should suppress the temptation to suggest that the oracle and the petitions may have been the work of a prophet or his amanuensis fleeing Jerusalem." (Lamar C. Berrett, "The So-Called Lehi Cave," FARMS reprint, 1982, pp. 1-3)
According to Brant Gardner, clearly the LDS community would be interested in a cave associated with the name Lei, containing inscriptions related to a fleeing prophet, and particularly noting sailing vessels. Have we found the cave that Nephi and in brothers hid in? Probably not. Nevertheless the cave is very instructive of the times. Certainly it indicates that the act of hiding in a cave was a known tradition. At the very least, it places Laman, Lemuel, Sam, and Nephi in very good ancient company. [Brant Gardner, "Brant Gardner's Page, "http://www.highfiber.com/ ~nahualli/LDStopics/1 Nephi/1 Nephi3.htm, pp. 15-16]
1 Nephi 3:29 They Smote Us with a Rod:
According to Hugh Nibley, is it any wonder that Laman and Lemuel worked off their pent-up frustration by beating their younger brother with a stick when they were once hiding in a cave? Every free man in the East carries a stick, the immemorial badge of independence and authority; and every man asserts his authority over his inferiors by his stick, which "shows that the holder is a man of position, superior to the workman or day-labourers. . . . This is exactly the sense in which Laman and Lemuel intended their little lesson to Nephi, for when the angel turned the tables he said to them, Why do ye smite your younger brother with a rod? Know ye not that the Lord hath chosen him to be ruler over you?" (1 Nephi 3:29) [Hugh Nibley, Lehi in the Desert, F.A.R.M.S., pp. 69-70]
1 Nephi 3:29 A Rod:
The use of the rod or staff as a symbol of rule is mentioned in a number of Bible passages (Psalms 110:2; Isaiah 14:5; Jeremiah 48:17; Ezekiel 19:11-12 14; cf. D&C 85:7).
According to John Tvedtnes, it is interesting that when Laman and Lemuel were stopped from beating their younger brothers Sam and Nephi with a rod, the angel said to them, "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; cf. 1 Nephi 2:22; 2 Nephi 5:19). It is possible that the elder brothers deliberately selected the rod to punish their brother to symbolize their claim to ruling authority in the family. (Several Book of Mormon passages note that the Lamanites believed that Nephi had stolen from them their rights to govern the people (2 Nephi 5:3; Mosiah 10:15-16; Alma 54:17). [John A. Tvedtnes, "Rod and Sword as the Word of God," in Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 5/2, p. 148]
It is also interesting to compare the use of a rod in the story of Nephi with the "rod of God" mentioned in the story of Moses:
"And the Lord said unto Moses in Midian, Go, return into Egypt . . . and he returned to the land of Egypt; and Moses took the rod of God in his hand. And the Lord said unto Moses, When thou goest to return into Egypt, see that thou do all those wonders before Pharaoh, which I have put in thine hand: but I will harden his heart, that he shall not let the people go." (Exodus 4:19-21)
"And the Lord spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying, When Pharaoh shall speak unto you, saying, Shew a miracle for you: then thou shalt say unto Aaron, Take thy rod, and cast it before Pharaoh, and it shall become a serpent. And Moses and Aaron went in unto Pharaoh, and they did so as the Lord had commanded; and Aaron cast down his rod before Pharaoh, and before his servants, and it became a serpent. Then Pharaoh also called the wise men and the sorcerers: now the magicians of Egypt, they also did in like manner with their enchantments. For they cast down every man his rod, and they became serpents: but Aaron's rod swallowed up their rods. And he hardened Pharaoh's heart, that he hearkened not unto them; as the Lord had said." (Exodus 7:8-13)
Did Nephi take with him a "rod of God" when he returned to Jerusalem to secure the plates of Laban? Did Laman and Lemuel, like Pharaoh and his wise men who represented false authority and false ideas, also harden their hearts? (See 1 Nephi 3:31; 4:4.)
1 Nephi 3:29 They smote us with a rod (Illustration): "Laman and Lemuel did speak many hard words unto us . . . and they did smite us even with a rod. And . . . as they smote us with a rod, behold, an angel of the Lord came and stood before them, " [W. Cleon Skousen, Treasures from the Book of Mormon, Vol. 1, p. 1043]
1 Nephi 3:29 As they smote us with a rod, behold, an angel of the Lord came (Illustration): Angel Saves Nephi. [Artist: Gary E. Smith, Verse Markers, Book of Mormon, Vol. 1, p. 2]
1 Nephi 3:31 He Can Command Fifty:
Hugh Nibley asserts that Nephi's reference to a military garrison of "fifty" (1 Nephi 3:31) seems pitifully small for a great city like Jerusalem. It would have been just as easy for the author of 1 Nephi to have said "fifty thousand," and made it really impressive. Yet even the older brothers, though they wish to emphasize Laban's great power, mention only fifty, and it is Nephi in answering them who says that the Lord is "mightier than Laban and his fifty," and adds, "or even than his tens of thousands" (1 Nephi 4:1). As a high military commander Laban would have his tens of thousands in the field, but such an array is of no concern to Laman and Lemuel: it is the "fifty" they must look out for, the regular, permanent garrison of Jerusalem. The number fifty suits perfectly with the Amarna picture where the military forces are always so surprisingly small and a garrison of thirty to eighty men is thought adequate even for big cities. It is strikingly vindicated in a letter of Nebuchadnezzar, Lehi's contemporary, wherein the great king orders: "As to the fifties who were under your orders, those gone to the rear, or fugitives, return them to the ranks." Commenting on this, Offord says, "In these days it is interesting to note the indication here, that in the Babylonian army a platoon contained fifty men”; also, we might add, that it was called a "fifty," --hence, "Laban and his fifty" (1 Nephi 4:1). Of course, companies of fifty are mentioned in the Bible, along with tens and hundreds, etc., but not as garrisons of great cities and not as the standard military unit of this time. [Hugh Nibley, Lehi in the Desert, F.A.R.M.S., pp. 97-98]
Nibley also states that Jerusalem was run by the sarim or "members of the official class; that is, officers acting under the king, as his counselors and rulers. Further, Laban is cut from the same cloth as Jaush, his contemporary and probably his successor as the military governor of the whole region, in control of the defenses along the western frontier of Judah." [Hugh Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Mormon, p. 80]
1 Nephi 3:31 (Chapter Ending):
Brant Gardner notes that while verse 31 ends 1 Nephi chapter 3 in our modern edition, and separates this section from chapter 4's events; and while there is a change of intent and speaker which allows this shift, it is all part of the same story. It was not so divided in the original edition of the Book of Mormon. The story of obtaining the brass plates of Laban was a single story. [Brant Gardner, "Brant Gardner's Page, "http://www.highfiber.com/~nahualli/LDStopics/1 Nephi/1 Nephi3.htm, p. 20]