1 Nephi 4
Through the Wilderness to the Promised Land
(1 Nephi )
1 Nephi 4:1 Let Us Be Faithful in Keeping the Commandments of the Lord:
Stephen Robinson notes that in the Old Testament, the words for faith, faithful, and faithfulness all come from the Hebrew "aman" (to be firm or reliable) and imply primarily qualities of loyalty and determination rather than qualities of belief. The words for security, certainty, and guarantee all come from the same Hebrew root. Thus being faithful does not have as much to do with our belief or even our activity in the Church as it does with whether we can be trusted to do our [covenant] duty in the earthly kingdom of God. [Stephen E. Robinson, Following Christ, p. 24]
1 Nephi 4:2 Let Us Be Strong Like unto Moses:
The reader should understand that Nephi's trip back to secure the plates of Laban has a covenant setting; that is, Nephi is showing the reader that the Lord's power to keep his covenants with those who obey him is "mightier than all the earth" (1 Nephi 4:1). Thus, the reader should be aware of the symbolic comparisons noted within the story. One of those comparisons which Nephi points to is Moses' triumph over the power of Pharaoh:
Therefore let us go up; let us be strong like unto Moses; for he truly spake unto the waters of the Red Sea and they divided hither and thither, and our fathers came through, out of captivity, on dry ground, and the armies of Pharaoh did follow and were drowned in the waters of the Red Sea (1 Nephi 4:2)
On September 6, 2000, Kerry Muhlestein, a graduate student at UCLA and a Nibley fellow, made a FARMS presentation in which he examined the confrontation between Moses and Aaron and the priests of Pharaoh as a challenge to the Egyptian view of divine kingship. He listed the key elements of Egyptian kingship, showing that Pharaoh was regarded both as the son of Re and Osiris and as the embodiment of Re, Osiris, and Horus, making him the creator god and therefore divine.
For each plague that the Lord visited on Egypt through Moses, Muhlestein pointed out the direct challenge to Pharaoh's claim of divine kingship. For example, the victory of the snake that came from Aaron's rod over the snakes conjured by the priests was a direct challenge to the Uraeus, the symbol of the Pharaoh (in the form of a cobra on Pharaoh's crown). Other examples include the water turned to blood, which challenged Pharaoh's domination of the Nile; the plague on the livestock, which threatened Pharaoh's role as the shepherd of Egypt; the plague of boils, which targeted the king's connection with Horus and Isis, who were doctors; the fiery hail, locusts and crop damage, and the darkening of the sun all of which countered the traditional image of the king as a protector; and the final plague, the angel of death, which challenged Pharaoh's ability to protect his children (the heir to his throne was killed, but the Israelites, God's heirs, were saved). These challenges continued as the children of Israel left Egypt; for example, the parting of the Red Sea saved the children of Israel but destroyed Pharaoh's armies. [Kerry Muhlestein, "The Plagues as a Challenge to Pharaoh's Divinity," FARMS presentation, farms, byu.edu/web/insights/nov 00/pf.asp?content=plagues]
Note* If the Lord no longer recognized the power of the king of Judah, and if Nephi had been commissioned by the Lord to take possession of the record of the tribe of Joseph, the birthright heir of the tribes of Israel, then it shouldn't be surprising that within his record, Nephi--ever obedient to his covenants with the Lord--is referred to as a "king," a "ruler" and a "teacher" to his brethren (see 1 Nephi 3:29; 16:37-38; 18:10; 2 Nephi 5:19), according to the covenant promises made to him by the Lord (see 1 Nephi 2:19-22). [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]
1 Nephi 4:2 Let Us Be Strong Like unto Moses:
Did Nephi have any special affinity to Moses? According to the Hiltons, both Nephi and Moses might have been familiar with the sacred heights of Mount Sinai. The actual site of Moses' Mount Sinai has long been an open question. The traditional site at St. Catherine's in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula is only one of several possible sites. However a new look (Williams, 223), following indications from satellite infrared pictures, has identified a broad ancient trail from Egypt that passes down the west side of the Sinai Peninsula (bypassing St. Catherine's) and arrives at the Straits of Tiran. The infrared data identifies the trail coming out of the Red Sea 10 miles away on the east side of the Strait in Saudi Arabia (see illustration). The trail goes to Jethro of Midian (near al-Bad) and ends in a huge campsite on the east side of Mount Lawz, a large mountain only 15 miles northeast of the village of al-Bad. Could this be the real Sinai? [Lynn M. Hilton and Hope A. Hilton, Discovering Lehi, p. 59] [See the commentary on 1 Nephi 11:1; 3 Nephi 25:4]
1 Nephi 4:2 Moses (Illustration): Proposed locations for Mt. Sinai. [Lynn M. Hilton and Hope A. Hilton, Discovering Lehi, p. 59]
1 Nephi 4:2 Moses (Illustration): Theory of Visits to Mt. Sinai in Midian [Lynn M. Hilton and Hope A. Hilton, Discovering Lehi, p. 60]
1 Nephi 4:2 Moses (Mt. Sinai--Horeb):
According to Ray Huntington, despite the importance of Moses' exodus with the children of Israel through the wilderness to Mount Sinai, or Horeb (see 3 Nephi 25:4) in the Old Testament narrative, biblical scholars are not in agreement regarding the mountain's location. Much of the confusion is due to a lack of geographical information in the biblical text. . . . This lack of geographical information is significant, for Mount Sinai was along the route traveled by the children of Israel after their exodus from Egypt. But the book of Exodus also does not tell us where the Israelites miraculously crossed the Red Sea or in which direction they traveled once they were on the other side. Consequently, it is difficult to determine if Mount Sinai is, for example, in the north or south of the area we call the Sinai Peninsula or located in another region of the Middle East, such as Arabia. . . . Religious and secular scholars typically refer to three specific geographical areas as probable locations for Mount Sinai: southeastern Sinai Peninsula, northwestern Sinai Peninsula, and northwestern Arabia. [Ray L. Huntington, "Do We Know Where Mount Sinai Is?" in The Ensign, April 1998, pp. 32-33] [See the commentary on 1 Nephi 11:1; 3 Nephi 25:4]
1 Nephi 4:2 Moses (Illustration): A Latter-Day Saint View of Moses (What the Bible Teaches; What the Latter-day Revelation Adds) [Todd B. Parker and Robert Norman, "Moses, Witness of Jesus Christ," in The Ensign, April 1998, pp. 26-28]
1 Nephi 4:2 Moses (Mt. Sinai-Horeb):
According to George Potter, mount Sinai is important to Book of Mormon readers for the following reasons: (1) It would have been the most ancient of all temple sites known to Nephi; (2) It would have been a dedicated site--a place where special "temple" ordinances might be performed (see D&C 37:55); (3) It probably was located near the Valley of Lemuel; and (4) It might possibly play a part in the Second Coming. In D&C 29:13 we read: "For a trump shall sound both long and loud, even as upon Mount Sinai, and all the earth shall quake, and they shall come forth--yea, even the dead which died in me, to receive a crown of righteousness, and to be clothed upon, even as I am, to be with me, that we may be one." Muslims hold that it is the actual site where God will take the faithful when He comes in the Last Days. This implies that Sinai has a special connection with God and his covenant people.
The following is a list of what the scriptures say about mount Sinai:
1. According to the book of Exodus, Moses is said to have led the children of Israel out of Egypt by crossing the Red Sea. They continued to journey until they camped around mount Sinai, the place where Moses received his calling while watching over the flocks of his father-in-law Jethro in the land of Midian. There they were met by Jethro (Exodus 2:15, 19; 3:1-8, 10, 12; 18:1, 5). Midian is said to be located in the furthest northwest corner of Arabia called Midian (Exodus 4:19-25--See the LDS Bible map).
2. The burning bush and subsequently the camp of Israel were said to be on the backside of the mountain, the side away from the homeland of Moses and Jethro (Exodus 3:1-2).
3. There was an altar built of unhewn stones (Exodus 20:24-26).
4. Sinai had a brook (Deuteronomy 9:21).
5. An altar of the Golden Calf was made within sight of the mount (Exodus 32:17-19).
6. Boundary markers were erected to prevent the children of Israel from coming upon the mountain (Exodus 19:23).
7. Twelve pillars were set up for each tribe (Exodus 24:4).
8. Sinai had a habitable cave that was used by Elijah (1 Kings 19:8-9).
9. The mountain was "exceedingly high" (Moses 1:1).
10. There was room for approximately 3,000,000 Israelites to camp next to the mountain (Exodus 12:37).
11. From the campsite at the foot of the mountain, the children of Israel could see the presence of God (Exodus 19:17-18).
12. There was ample grazing for the animals of the Israelites for an extended period of time.
13. The apostle Paul placed the Mountain of Moses in Arabia (Galatians 4:25). Since Paul spent time in Arabia, it is possible that he actually visited the mountain himself: "Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia . . ." (Galatians 1:17).
Although 55% of the modern locations of biblical place-names are still lost to us, there are several key place-names that have been carried down from antiquity.159 One of these is Midian were mount Sinai was located. The account of Moses reads that he fled from the face of pharaoh, and came to the land of Midian and sat down by a well:
Now the priest of Midian had seven daughters: and they came and drew water, and filled the troughs to water their father's flock. And the shepherds came and drove them away: but Moses stood up and helped them, and watered their flock. (Exodus 2:15-17)
There is ample scholarly evidence that Midian was both a town and also a "land" in northwest Arabia.160 The land of Midian has its western border on the eastern shore of the Gulf of Aqaba. Its capital city, Madyan (Midian), was a major halt of the ancient frankincense trade route from southern Arabia to Egypt, and would have been a good place for Moses to have come upon as he fled along the trail from Egypt.161 The official name of the town is now al-Bada'a, however modern Arabic maps of northwest Arabia still show the name of the town as Shu'ayb, the Arabic spelling of Jethro.
Over a thousand years ago, the early Islamic geographer Al-Hauqal wrote that there was a well in Midian from which Moses watered the flocks of Jethro (Shu'aib). He explained, even then, that the name of the town was derived from the tribe of Jethro.162 Writing in the same period, Al-Muqqaddasi wrote, "Here may be seen the stone which Moses removed when he gave water to the flocks of Shu'aib. Water here is abundant."163 Abdulla Al-Wohaibi, who compiled the writings of Arab geographers between A.D. 900-1100 noted that "the attention that Madyan [Midian] has always attracted from the Arab geographers is due to the fact that it is mentioned in the Qur'an in connection with the story of the prophet Shu'aib [Jethro].164
Arab geographers place the land of Midian west of the city of Tabuk,165 which infers that the land of Midian reached only a short distance into the interior of Arabia (Tabuk is less than 150 miles east of the Gulf of Aqaba). Although local traditions can be misleading, the local habitants of Midian (al-Bada'a) have a rich tradition of Moses and his father-in-law Jethro. Besides the traditional name of the town being Jethro, the locals will readily show you the caves of Moses, the wells of Jethro, the wadi Horeb, the wadi Moses, and the Waters of Moses. Intriguingly on a visit to Midian, the renowned Arabia explorer H. St. John Philby also wrote of "circles of Jethro" from which he could view a mount "lauz": "From here my guide and I climbed up the cliffs to visit the 'circles' of Jethro on the summit of Musalla ridge, from which we climbed down quite easily to our camp on the far side. . . . A cairn marked the spot where Jethro is supposed to have prayed, and all around it are numerous circles, . . . from here I had a magnificent view of the whole of Midian mountain range, with Lauz [Jebel al-Lawz] and its sister peaks in the northeast."166 As Philby described, the mount al-Lawz is visible from al-Bada'a (town of Midian) and is to its northeast. The Bible seems to suggest that al-Lawz might be mount Sinai. If Moses took Jethro's flocks there (Exodus 3:1), this implies that the mountain is in the vicinity of Al-Bada'a.
The Bible also says that Moses led the flocks of Jethro to the "backside of the desert, and came to the mountain of God, even to Horeb" (Exodus 3:1). Since Arabia has long been known as "the desert" or "the wilderness," its backside would be to the interior or east, not to the shoreline of the Gulf on the west. This would imply that the burning bush was on the eastside of the mountain, which is the opposite side from the town of al-Bada'a (Midian)--Jethro's home. The Qur'an states that the Lord appeared to Moses on the "right side" of the mountain.167 This is exactly the location where Potter's group found monuments and petroglyphs.
In contrast, Potter's group has observed large Bedouin camps in and around the mountains of Midian. Historian Abdulla Al-Wohaibi indicates that Midian was "a flourishing ancient town with numerous wells and permanently flowing springs whose water had a good taste. There are farms, gardens and groves of palm trees."168 In ancient times there appears to have been more than enough fodder for sheep in Midian. The Greek Agatharkides of Cnidos wrote of Midian, "the country is full of wild camels, as well as of flocks of deer, gazelles, sheep, mules, and oxen." As a result he also noted that the game "attracts numerous lions, wolves, and panthers."169
The traditional tourist site for Mount Sinai is located at St. Catherine's monastery on the Sinai Peninsula. All we know is that a psychic had convinced Constantine that this remote mountain near the southern end of the Sinai peninsula was the sacred mountain. Tim Sedor and George Potter visited St. Catherine's and found it a poor candidate for precisely the same reasons outlined by Larry Williams and Bob Cornuke in their book Gold of Exodus :
1. Moses would not have driven Jethro's flocks nearly two hundred miles to a land that is almost entirely void of fodder for sheep.
2. There is not enough room for a large encampment at the St. Catherine's site. Indeed the nearest campsite would have been what is referred to as the wadi of the Rest. This wadi could not have been where the children of Israel camped because the mountain is not visible from the campsite, and we know that the children of Israel were able to see the presence of God on the mountain.
3. Moses, a man of eighty years of age, would have needed to climb a mountain that requires mountaineering equipment to scale.
4. The mountain has no source of drinking water. Why would Moses have led more than 2.5 million people to a place with no water?
5. There is no archaeological evidence that there was an encampment of nearly 3,000,000 people.
6. None of the other features described in the Bible are found there (i.e. cave, markers, pillars, etc.)
Concerning this tourist location of Mt. Sinai at St. Catherines in the Sinai peninsula, one has to ask what Moses's reasons would have been for taking Jethro's flocks the great distance out of Arabia and into Egypt's Sinai Peninsula where the pasture was inferior and Moses was a wanted man. C. S. Jarvis, Britain's governor of the Sinai peninsula of Egypt after WWI, became acquainted with the area during his long tenure there as perhaps no other westerner before him. In an article entitled "Yesterday and Today in Sinai" he wrote that there was no way the Israelite multitudes and their livestock could have traveled through-much less sustained themselves for more than a year-in the "tumbled mass of pure granite" of the southern Sinai. Furthermore, it should be remembered that Egyptian garrisons protected the copper mines near St. Catherine's mountain.
So if mount Sinai is not in the Sinai peninsula, and if it is indeed in the land of Midian, then where exactly is it? A bluntly naive thing to do is to just pick up a modern road map and follow it. The most widely used road maps in Arabia are published by Eng. Zaki M.A. Farsi. His map guide to Tabuk170 covers the land of Midian. The modern roadmap shows a trail leading east from the wadi I'fal, about ten miles north of Al-Bada'a. The trail heads directly towards a towering V shaped mountain that towers into the sky. The name of the valley is "wadi Musa," meaning the valley of Moses. The wadi Musa (valley of Moses) ends at the western base of the V shaped mountain. On the "backside" or "eastside" of this very peak is where we [Potter's group] found the monuments that suggest that it is the real mount Sinai. [George Potter, "Where Is The Real Mount Sinai," E-published by Nephi Project, February 2002 at http://www.nephiproject.com/sinai.htm]
1 Nephi 4:2 Moses (Mt. Sinai-Horeb) [Illustration]: Map showing the site of St. Catherine's, one of the proposed sites for Mount Sinai, and also the Arabian site, another candidate for Mount Sinai. [George Potter, "Where Is The Real Mount Sinai," E-published by Nephi Project, February 2002 at http://www.nephiproject.com/sinai.htm]
1 Nephi 4:2 Moses (Mt. Sinai-Horeb) [Illustration]: Photograph taken from the base of St. Catherine's, which is to the left, and not in site of the wadi of the Rest (in the distance), where according to one theory Israel supposedly camped. [George Potter, "Where Is The Real Mount Sinai," E-published by Nephi Project, February 2002 at http://www.nephiproject.com/sinai.htm]
1 Nephi 4:2 Moses (Mt. Sinai-Horeb) [Illustration]: Susan Potter at the base of the St. Catherine's, one proposed candidate for Mount Sinai. [George Potter, "Where Is The Real Mount Sinai," E-published by Nephi Project, February 2002 at http://www.nephiproject.com/sinai.htm]
1 Nephi 4:2 Moses (Mt. Sinai-Horeb) [Illustration]: George Potter at the Arabian site which has been proposed as a candidate for Mount Sinai. [George Potter, "Where Is The Real Mount Sinai," E-published by Nephi Project, February 2002 at http://www.nephiproject.com/sinai.htm]
1 Nephi 4:2 Moses (Mt. Sinai-Horeb) [Illustration]: Well at al-Bada'a which locals claim is the well of Jethro. [George Potter, "Where Is The Real Mount Sinai," E-published by Nephi Project, February 2002 at http://www.nephiproject.com/sinai.htm]
1 Nephi 4:2 Moses (Mt. Sinai-Horeb) [Illustration]: One of eleven boundary markers next to the Arabian candidate for Mount Sinai (the tribe of Levi, the priests, had no separate camp. [George Potter, "Where Is The Real Mount Sinai," E-published by Nephi Project, February 2002 at http://www.nephiproject.com/sinai.htm]
1 Nephi 4:2 Moses (Mt. Sinai-Horeb) [Illustration]: Remains of one of the marble columns at the Arabian candidate for Mount Sinai. [George Potter, "Where Is The Real Mount Sinai," E-published by Nephi Project, February 2002 at http://www.nephiproject.com/sinai.htm]
1 Nephi 4:2 Moses (Mt. Sinai-Horeb) [Illustration]: Two stone pathways lead to "Altar of Moses" at the Arabian Sinai site. The entire monument is made of unhewn stones. [George Potter, "Where Is The Real Mount Sinai," E-published by Nephi Project, February 2002 at http://www.nephiproject.com/sinai.htm]
1 Nephi 4:2 Moses (Mt. Sinai-Horeb) [Illustration]: Calf carvings that surround the entire structure alleged to be the "golden calf" altar at the Arabian Sinai site. [George Potter, "Where Is The Real Mount Sinai," E-published by Nephi Project, February 2002 at http://www.nephiproject.com/sinai.htm]
Note* George Potter and his companions have discovered more information concerning this candidate for the Mountain of Moses. He and Richard Wellington plan to author a book that discusses the mountain, the trail of the children of Israel to it, the place where they crossed the Red Sea, and the campsites they stayed in prior to reaching Mount Sinai.
Note* The apostle Paul seems to have known Sinai's location, as he referred to it along with its symbolic meaning relative to the ability of the Lord's covenant way to free a people from bondage through obedience to those covenants as they wander through the wilderness to the promised land where by covenant they will be adopted in and become a chosen people:
For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman.
But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise.
Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which genereth to bondage, which is Agar [related to Hagar].
For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children.
But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.
For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband.
Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise.
But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now.
Nevertheless what saith the scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.
So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free.
So for Nephi and Lehi, to go to reside in the Valley of Lemuel which was near Mt. Sinai is very symbolic relative to the bondage into which the children of Israel were plunging themselves by disobedience to the covenants they had made originally at that same location. Moreover, this area which included Mount Sinai would be the place where Nephi, like Moses, prepared himself to lead the children of Israel--remnants of the tribe of Joseph--through the wilderness to their promised land. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]
1 Nephi 4:2 [Moses] Truly Spake unto the Waters of the Red Sea and They Divided Hither and Thither, and Our Fathers Came through out of Captivity, on Dry Ground:
In a devotional address delivered on March 2, 1999 in the Marriot Center, Jeffrey Holland related the following:
Virtually everyone in the room knows the formula for revelation given in section 9 of the Doctrine and Covenants--you know, the verses about studying it out in your mind and the Lord promising to confirm or deny. What most of us don't read in conjunction with this is the section that precedes it--section 8. In the revelation the Lord defined revelation:
I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart. [I love the combination there of both mind and heart. God will teach us in a reasonable way and in a revelatory way--mind and heart combined, by the Holy Ghost.] Now, behold, this is the spirit of revelation; behold, this is the spirit by which Moses brought the children of Israel through the Red Sea on dry ground. [D&C 8:2-3; emphasis added]
Question: Why would the Lord use the example of crossing the Red Sea as the classic example of "the spirit of revelation?" Why didn't he use the First Vision? Or the example from the book of Moses we just used? Or the vision of the brother of Jared? Well, he could have used any of these, but he didn't. Here he had another purpose in mind.
Usually we think of revelation as information. Just open the books to us, Lord, like: What was the political significance of the Louisiana Purchase or the essence of the second law of thermodynamics? It is obvious that when you see those kinds of questions on a test paper, you need revelation. Someone said prayer will never be eliminated from the schools so long as there are final examinations. But aside from the fact that you probably aren't going to get that kind of revelation--because in this Church we do not believe in ex nihilo [something out of nothing] creation, especially in exams--this is too narrow a concept of revelation. May I suggest how section 8 broadens our understanding of section 9, particularly in light of these "fights of affliction" that Paul spoke of and that I have been discussing.
First of all, revelation almost always comes in response to a question, usually an urgent question--not always, but usually. In that sense it does provide information, but it is urgently needed information, special information. Moses' challenge was how to get himself and the children of Israel out of this horrible predicament they were in. There were chariots behind them, sand dunes on every side, and just a lot of water immediately ahead. He needed information all right--what to do--but it wasn't a casual thing he was asking. In this case it was literally a matter of life and death.
You will need information, too, but in matters of great consequence it is not likely to come unless you want it urgently, faithfully, humbly. Moroni calls it seeking "with real intent" (Moroni 10:4). If you can seek that way, and stay in that mode, not much that adversary can counter with will dissuade you from a righteous path. You can hang on, whatever the assault and affliction, because you have paid the price to--figuratively, at least--see the face of God and live.
Like Moses in his vision, there may come after the fact some competing doubts and some confusion, but they will pale when you measure them against the real thing. Remember the real thing. Remember how urgently you have needed help in earlier times and that you got it. The Red Sea will open to the honest seeker of revelation. The adversary does have power to hedge up the way, to marshal Pharaoh's forces and dog our escape right to the water's edge, but he can't produce the real thing. He cannot conquer if we will it otherwise. "Exerting all [our] powers to call upon God, "the light will again come, the darkness will again retreat, the safety will again be sure. That is lesson number one about crossing the Red Sea, your Red Seas, by the spirit of revelation.
Lesson number two is closely related to it. It is that in the process of revelation and in making important decisions, fear almost always plays a destructive, sometimes paralyzing role. To Oliver Cowdery, who missed the opportunity of a lifetime because he didn't seize it in the lifetime of the opportunity, the Lord said, "You did not continue as you commenced." Does that sound familiar to those who have been illuminated and then knuckled under to second thoughts and returning doubts? "It is not expedient that you should translate now," the Lord said in language that must have been very hard for Oliver to hear. "Behold, it was expedient when you commenced; but you feared, and the time is past, and it is not expedient now" (D&C 9:5, 10-11; emphasis added).
Every one of us runs the risk of fear. You do, and I do. Did you catch the line I tried to emphasis as I read the account from the Pearl of Great Price? For a moment in that confrontation "Moses began to fear exceedingly; and as he began to fear, he saw the bitterness of hell" (Moses 1:20). That's when you see it--when you are afraid.
That is exactly the problem that beset the children of Israel at the edge of the Red Sea. That is lesson number two. It has everything to do with holding fast to earlier illumination. The record says, "And when Pharaoh drew nigh, the children of Israel lifted up their eyes and behold, the Egyptians marched after them; and they were sore afraid."
Some, just like those Paul had described earlier, said, "Let's go back. This isn't worth it. We must have been wrong. That probably wasn't the right spirit telling us to leave Egypt." What they actually said to Moses was, "Wherefore hast thou dealt thus with us, to carry us forth out of Egypt? . . . It has been better for us to serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness" (Exodus 14:10-12)
And I have to say, "What about that which has already happened? What about the miracle that got you here? What about the frogs and the lice? What about the rod and the serpent, the river and the blood? What about the hail, the locusts, the fire, and firstborn sons?"
How soon we forget. It would not have been better to stay and serve the Egyptians, and it is not better to remain outside the Church nor to reject a mission call nor to put off marriage and so on and so on forever. Of course our faith will be tested as we fight through these self-doubts and second thoughts. Some days we will be miraculously led out of Egypt--seemingly free, seemingly on our way--only to come to yet another confrontation, like all that water lying before us. At those times we must resist the temptation to panic and to give up. At those times fear will be the strongest of the adversary's weapons against us. "And Moses said unto the people, Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord . . . The Lord shall fight for you."
In conformation the great Jehovah said to Moses, "Speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward" (Exodus 14:13-15; emphasis added).
That is the second lesson of the spirit of revelation. After you have gotten the message, after you have paid the price to feel his love and hear the word of the Lord, "go forward." Don't fear, don't vacillate don't quibble, don't whine. You may, like Alma going to Ammonihah, have to find a route that leads an unusual way, but that is exactly what the Lord was doing here for the children of Israel. Nobody had ever crossed the Red Sea this way, but so what? There's always a first time. With the spirit of revelation, dismiss your fears and wade in with both feet. In the words of Joseph Smith, "Brethren [and, I would add, sisters], Shall we not go on in so great a cause? Go forward and not backward. Courage, brethren; and on, on to the victory!" (D&C 128:22)
The third lesson from the Lord's spirit of revelation in the miracle of the crossing of the Red Sea is that, along with the illuminating revelation that points us toward a righteous purpose or duty, God will also provide the means and power to achieve that purpose. Trust in that eternal truth. If God has told you something is right, if something is indeed true for you, he will provide the way for you to accomplish it (see 1 Nephi 3:7). [Jeffrey R. Holland, "'Cast Not Away Therefore Your Confidence'," pp. 4-7, http://speeches.byu.edu/devo/98-99/HollandW99.html]
1 Nephi 4:3 And to Destroy Laban, Even As the Egyptians:
Brant Gardner notes that Nephi's selection of an example to inspire Laman and Lemuel to try again to obtain the brass plates from Laban is very interesting. Of all the stories he could have chosen, Nephi selects a story in which the Lord killed the enemy: "the Lord is able to deliver us, even as our fathers, and to destroy Laban, even as the Egyptians" (1 Nephi 4:3). . . . Nephi may not have had any conscious plan to find and kill Laban, but if we can assume that his speech to his brothers was inspired, then the Lord provided a precursor to the events which followed. [Brant Gardner, Commentary on the Book of Mormon, 1Nephi/1 Nephi 4, p. 1]
1 Nephi 4:4 The Walls of Jerusalem:
According to Hugh Nibley, in an old Saints Herald, Emma Smith was being interviewed after the death of the Prophet. She said when they got to this passage (Joseph Smith was translating with the seer stones), he looked up with surprise and said, "Emma, did Jerusalem have walls?" He didn't even know the city had walls. He didn't know anything about what he was writing here. Yes, Jerusalem had walls. [Hugh W. Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Semester 1, p. 159]
1 Nephi 4:5 I, Nephi, Crept into the City:
Nephi left his brothers outside the city wall, and by night, "crept into the city and went forth towards the house of Laban" (1 Nephi 4:5). According to Reynolds and Sjodahl, just how and why Nephi "crept" into the city is not explained. In the large gates of a walled city, there was a small door or rather window, through which those who were entitled to enter might do so, when the gate was closed for the night. Nephi might have literally "crept" in through such an aperture, by the grace of the watchman. It was always a small opening, sometimes only two feet square. Nephi, the son of a prominent, well-to-do citizen, coming alone to the gate, a belated wanderer unfortunately overtaken by the shadows of the night, might readily have obtained an entrance through what some have called "the needle's eye," particularly if he had a piece of money with which to make his account of himself plausible. If the brothers had come together at that hour, however, suspicions might have been aroused. The wisdom that inspired Nephi is seen in his conduct, and his account is so simple, so natural, as to make a perfect impression of its authenticity on the mind of the careful reader. [George Reynolds and Janne M. Sjodahl, Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 1, pp. 36-37]
1 Nephi 4:5 I, Nephi, crept into the city [by night] (Illustration): Nighttime exposure of the Kidron Valley on the east and south of the city Jerusalem. The brothers could have come up this way and easily secreted themselves in this ravine outside the walls of the city while Nephi crept in to find Laban. [Scot and Maurine Proctor, Light from the Dust, pp. 20-21]
1 Nephi 4:7 He Had Fallen . . . He Was Drunken:
In Nephi's narrative he writes that he "beheld a man, and he had fallen to the earth before me, for he was drunken with wine. And when I came to him I found that it was Laban" (1 Nephi 7:7-8). The words "fallen" and "drunken" are used in the scriptures in association with people who have rejected the Lord's covenant to a point that they are ripe for destruction (see Jeremiah 13:9-15; Mormon 6:16-19). This could have been Nephi's implication relative to the state of Laban. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]
1 Nephi 4:7 He Was Drunken with Wine:
According to Reynolds and Sjodahl, the Hebrews were not, generally speaking, an intemperate people, but they enjoyed festivals. . . . It is not improbable that Laban had celebrated, in the midst of convivial friends, his acquisition of the property of Lehi, for that was an unexpected "harvest." There are some notable instances of intemperate drinking on record in the Hebrew Scriptures. One less known might be of interest here. In 1 Samuel 25:1-38, we find that Nabal was a wealthy sheep owner. On one occasion, when Nabal was feasting with his shearers, David (who had fled from Saul and was with his followers in the wilderness) sent word to him and asked for food as a recognition for the [apparent covenant] protection David had given to him and his flocks. Nabal refused. David then prepared for a raid on his property. But Abigail, the wife of Nabal, saved the situation by sending to David, without the knowledge of her husband, a handsome gift of provisions. In the meantime, Nabal feasted and drank. The next day, when he heard what his wife had done, he suffered a heart attack: "His heart died within him, and he became as a stone." About ten days afterwards he died. [George Reynolds and Janne M. Sjodahl, Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 1, p. 37] [See the commentary on 1 Nephi 3:3]
Note* The condition of Laban (in a "drunken" and "fallen" state) is symbolic in scripture of a covenant people ripe for destruction because of disobedience to the covenant. If Laban was the covenant caretaker of the record of Joseph (the plates of brass), and if this story is also meant to be symbolic, then he had apparently not been obedient to his covenant responsability relative to the plates. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]
1 Nephi 4:9 And I Beheld [Laban's] Sword . . . and the Workmanship Thereof Was Exceeding Fine:
Daniel N. Rolph explains that though the Book of Mormon reveals that the sword of Laban (1 Nephi 4:9) served as an ancestral and hereditary sword of the ancient Nephite prophets, evidence suggests that the weapon may have been the birthright sword of biblical tradition, a sacred heirloom that may have been wielded by the patriarchs up until the time of Joseph of Egypt. Laban, being a descendant of Joseph, inherited the birthright sword and the plates of brass, both treasures eventually coming into the possession of Nephi, who was both a prophet and a descendant of Joseph, as was Joseph Smith, Jr. . . . Was it accidental, or an act of Providence, that Nephi brought the sword as well as the plates out of Jerusalem to the land of promise? It is interesting to learn that, according to Jewish tradition, the antediluvian patriarch Methuselah slew myriads of demons with a "wonderful sword," a weapon Abraham is also said to have inherited, by which he "conquered the kings . . . Esau thus received it, as heirloom, from Isaac, since he was the first-born. This sword passed to Jacob when he purchased the birth-right." [Daniel N. Rolph, "Prophets, Kings, and Swords: The Sword of Laban and Its Possible Pre-Laban Origin," in Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Spring 1993, pp. 73,75-76] [See the commentary on 1 Nephi 5:16]
1 Nephi 4:9 The Hilt Thereof Was of Pure Gold . . . the Blade Thereof Was of the Most Precious Steel:
In referring to the sword of Laban, Nephi speaks of a hilt of "pure gold" and a blade of "the most precious steel" (1 Nephi 4:9). Hugh Nibley claims that such ceremonial swords and daggers with hilts of finely worked gold have been common in the Near East throughout historic times. Many exemplars from Egypt and Babylonia repose in our museums, but none is more famous or more beautiful than the fine steel dagger with its hilt of pure gold and finest workmanship, that was found on the person of the youthful King Tutankhamen. It has even been suggested that this dagger was one of those two sent many years before by King Dushratta of the Mitannin to the then reigning pharaoh as the most royal of gifts and described in a contemporary document as having hilts of gold and blades of steel. Nephi's term "precious steel" is interesting, for in his day real steel was far more precious than gold, being made possibly of meteoric iron and of superlative quality. The famous Damascus blades, of the finest steel the world has ever seen, were always made of meteoric iron, according to Jacob--an indication of very ancient origin. Even in modern Palestine swords and daggers have been "mostly of Damascus or Egyptian manufacture." No Arab prince to this day is ever seen in native dress without his khanjar, the long curved dagger of Damascus steel with its gorgeous hilt of gold. These ceremonial weapons are often heirlooms of great antiquity and immense value. At any time from the Amarna period (15th century B.C.) to the present, then, Laban would be required by the etiquette of the aristocratic east to carry just such a weapon as Nephi describes. [Hugh Nibley, Lehi in the Desert, F.A.R.M.S., p. 108]
1 Nephi 4:9 I beheld his [Laban's] sword (Illustration): Ancient Steel Daggers. [John Welch and Morgan Ashton, "Ancient Steel Daggers," in Charting the Book of Mormon, F.A.R.M.S., Packet 1.
1 Nephi 4:9 Steel (Bronze):
According to Hunter and Ferguson, it should be noted that references in the Old Testament to "steel" were, apparently, to the metal we now refer to as bronze. Prior to the eighteenth century there was no such word in English as "bronze." That copper-tin alloy was anciently referred to as "steel" to distinguish it from brass. Not until the eighteenth century did the English word "bronze" come into use. Thus, the King James translators necessarily rendered the Hebrew word "nechushah" (pronounced nekh-oo-shaw) as "steel," distinguishing it from "nechosheth" which is generally rendered "brass." The word "steel" is also used in the Book of Mormon on four occasions. (1 Nephi 4:9, 16:18; 2 Nephi 5:15; Ether 7:9) [Milton Hunter and Stuart Ferguson, (Ancient America and the Book of Mormon, p. 277] [See the commentary on 1 Nephi 3:3, Brass]
1 Nephi 4:9 Steel:
According to Reynolds and Sjodahl, it is true enough that in most, if not in all, of the passages in the Old Testament where the English version has "steel" the original has a word that means "copper." But in Jeremiah 15:12, where the Prophet asks: "Shall iron break the northern iron and the steel?" scholars have suggested that "the northern iron" may mean steel, while the "steel" mentioned is copper. In Nahum 2:4, where the prophet speaks of raging chariots that seem like "torches," the word translated "torches" (paldah) should be rendered "steel." [George Reynolds and Janne M. Sjodahl, Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 1, p. 38]
1 Nephi 4:9 Steel:
According to Matthew Roper, many critics of the Book of Mormon have cited the mention of "steel" in 1 Nephi 4:9 as evidence against the Book of Mormon's historicity. "Steel," it is argued "was not known to man in those days."171 Today, however, it is increasingly apparent that the practice of "steeling" iron through deliberate carburization was well-known to the Near Eastern world from which the Lehi colony emerged. "It seems evident that by the beginning of the tenth century B.C. blacksmiths were intentionally steeling iron."172 A carburized iron knife dating to the twelfth century B.C. is known from Cyprus.173 In addition to this,
A site on Mt. Adir in northern Israel has yielded an iron pick in association with 12th-century pottery. One would hesitate to remove a sample from the pick for analysis, but it has been possible to test the tip of it for hardness. The readings averaged 38 on the Rockwell "C: scale of hardness. This is a reading characteristic of modern hardened steel.174
Quenching, another method of steeling iron, was also known to Mediterranean blacksmiths during this period. "By the beginning of the seventh century B.C. at the latest the blacksmiths of the eastern Mediterranean had mastered two of the processes that make iron a useful material for tools and weapons: carburizing and quenching."175 Archaeologists recently discovered a carburized iron sword near Jericho. The sword, which had a bronze haft, was one meter long and dates to the time of King Josiah, who would likely have been a contemporary of Lehi.176 Hershel Shanks recently described the find as "spectacular" since it is the only complete sword of its size and type from this period yet discovered in Israel.177 [Matthew Roper, "Unanswered Mormon Scholars," in FARMS Review of Books, 9/1 1997, pp. 149-150] [See the commentary on 1 Nephi 17:9]
1 Nephi 4:10 I Was Constrained by the Spirit That I Should Kill Laban:
According to John Tvedtnes, critics of the Book of Mormon point to Nephi's slaying of Laban in 1 Nephi 4 as evidence that the Book of Mormon is false. They contend that God would never have approved such an act. God's commandment to expel and destroy the wicked inhabitants of the land of Canaan (Deuteronomy 7:1-2) puts the lie to this kind of reasoning. More important are the legal issues behind Nephi's actions, discussed at length by John W. Welch ("Legal Perspectives on the Slaying of Laban," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 1/1 (Fall 1992), 119-141). Among the evidences for justifying Nephi's actions, Welch refers to the precedent of Moses' slaying of the Egyptian in Exodus 2.
An ancient rabbinic source sheds further light on Moses' actions. According to Abot de Rabbi Nathan 20, Moses summoned a court of ministering angels and asked them if he should kill the Egyptian, to which the angels responded "Kill him."178 The same story is told in Midrash Rabbah Exodus 1:29, which adds that, before calling on the angels for counsel, Moses perceived that no righteous persons would descend from the Egyptian man.
A similar tale is told of David in the Tosefta Targum on 1 Samuel 17:43, where we read that, before killing Goliath, David looked up to heaven and saw the angels deliberating the fate of the giant. The Lord then expresses his will to David by telling him which stone to put in the sling. It should be noted that the story of David has other parallels with that of Nephi:
(1) Goliath and Laban were dressed in armor (1 Samuel 17:4-6; 1 Nephi 4:1);
(2) David and Nephi cut off their adversaries heads with the man's own sword (1 Samuel 17:51; 1 Nephi 4:18);
(3) Both David and Nephi took the dead man's armor (1 Samuel 17:54; 1 Nephi 4:1); and
(4) David and Nephi each took the dead man's sword, which became a national treasure (1 Samuel 21:9; 22:10; 1 Nephi 4:21; 2 Nephi 4:14; Jacob 1:10; Words of Mormon 1:13; Mosiah 1:17; D&C 17:1).
[John A. Tvedtnes, "The Slaying of Laban," in The Most Correct Book, pp. 110-111]
1 Nephi 4:10 I was constrained by the spirit that I should kill Laban (Illustration): "I was constrained by the spirit that I should kill Laban: but I said in my heart: Never at any time have I shed the blood of man. And I shrunk and would that I might not slay him." [W. Cleon Skousen, Treasures from the Book of Mormon, Vol. 1, p. 1047]
1 Nephi 4:10 I was constrained by the Spirit that I should kill Laban (Illustration): Nephi Slaying Laban. Nephi was "constrained by the Spirit" to kill Laban. Artist: Scott Snow. [Thomas R. Valletta ed., The Book of Mormon for Latter-day Saint Families, 1999, p. 12]
1 Nephi 4:10 I Said in My Heart:
The phrase "I said in my heart" is a Hebrew idiom for I said to myself (compare Ecclesiastes 3:17-18). [Zarahemla Research Foundation, Study Book of Mormon, p. 10]
1 Nephi 4:10 I Shrunk and Would That I Might Not Slay Him:
According to Verneil Simmons, Nephi argued with himself as to whether he was justified in killing Laban in order to secure the necessary record. Perhaps we can better understand Nephi's thinking at this crucial moment if we read a reference found in the Doctrine and Covenants. The ancient law commanded that three times one should forgive the enemy who came against him. But if the enemy should come a fourth time, then he was in the hands of the offended for judgment (D. & C. 95:5-6). Nephi knew that Laban had first threatened to kill Laman, then had attempted to kill all four of them when he saw the wealth they possessed. He knew Laban had robbed them of that treasure, and would try again to kill them if they came to accuse him. [Verneil W. Simmons, Peoples, Places and Prophecies, p. 68]
Cleon Skousen explains that Laban had violated three of the ten commandments. Coveting or lusting after other people's property with the intent of cheating them out of it is a direct violation of the tenth commandment (Exodus 20:17). . . . Laban also ordered his servants to pursue Nephi and his brethren for the purpose of killing them and obtaining their riches. Under the law he would have been held accountable as an "accessory" if not an actual principal in conspiring to commit both robbery (commandment #8 -- Exodus 20:15) and murder (commandment #6 -- Exodus 20:13). [W. Cleon Skousen, Treasures from the Book of Mormon, Vol. 1, p. 1040]
1 Nephi 4:10 I Shrunk and Would That I Might Not Slay Him:
Hugh Nibley notes that this account of Nephi slaying Laban in order to obtain the brass plates is always criticized. People say, "This is such a bloody thing that should never have happened. This shouldn't have been put in the Book of Mormon story." In response to this, brother Nibley relates the story of some Arabs which were in his Book of Mormon class. After lecturing them on the slaying of Laban, one of them by the name of Fayek Salim and another student came up to him and were really worried. They said, "Why did [Nephi] wait so long to cut off [Laban's] head? That was not according to Arab custom or behavior. It was his chance." Yet Nephi did wait a long time. He had a real struggle here, you'll notice. [Hugh W. Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Semester 1, p. 159]
1 Nephi 4:12 Slay him for the Lord hath delivered him into thy hands (Illustration): Nephi Slays Laban. [Gary E. Smith, Verse Markers, Book of Mormon, Vol. 1, pp. 3,4]
1 Nephi 4:12 The Spirit said unto me again: Slay him, for the Lord hath delivered him into thy hands (Illustration): Laban Slain By His Own Sword. Artist: Ronald Crosby. [Mary Pratt Parrish, The Book of Mormon Story, p. 6]
1 Nephi 4:13 The Lord Slayeth the Wicked to Bring Forth His Righteous Purposes:
In a larger view, destruction of the wicked is an act of mercy. Paul speaks to this subject (1 Corinthians 5:5), as does Amulek in his teachings to Korihor (Alma 30:47) and to the Zoramites (Alma 34:8-16). [Zarahemla Research Foundation, Study Book of Mormon, p. 10]
1 Nephi 4:13 It Is Better That One Man Should Perish:
It is intriguing that this phrase spoken to Nephi by the Spirit, "It is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief" is the same phrase prophetically spoken by Caiaphas, the high priest, regarding Jesus (see John 11:49-52, "And one of them, named Caiaphas, being the high priest that same year, said unto them, Ye know nothing at all, Nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not. And this spake he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation; And not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad"). [Zarahemla Research Foundation, Study Book of Mormon, p. 10]
Concerning the message of the Spirit to Nephi: "It is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief" (1 Nephi 4:13), John Welch and Heidi Parker produce recent research which shows that this "one for many" principle operated from a time much earlier in the Israelite culture.
Second Samuel is a pivotal example, King David sought the life of Sheba, a rebel guilty of treason. When Sheba took refuge in the city of Abel, the leader of David's army confronted the people of the city and demanded that Sheba be turned over to him. Rather than turn Sheba over, or face military destruction, the people of the city of Abel beheaded Sheba themselves. David's army then retreated. This episode became an important legal precedent justifying the killing of one person in order to preserve an entire group.
A second Old Testament case is preserved more fully in the Jewish oral tradition. It involved Jehoiakim, the king of Judah who rebelled against the Babylonian leader Nebuchadnezzar. Nebuchadnezzar demanded that the Jewish Council surrender Jehoiakim or the nation would be destroyed. Jehoiakim protested, "Do they set aside one life in favor of another?" Unmoved, the Jewish Council replied, "Did not your forefather do exactly that to Sheba ben Birchri?"179 Jehoiakim was subsequently given over to Nebuchadnezzar, who took him to Babylon (see 2 Chronicles 36:6), where presumably he was executed.
Because Zedekiah would become king of Judah less than four months later (see 2 Chronicles 36:9-10, and because the Book of Mormon story begins by mentioning "the first year of the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah" (1 Nephi 1:4 ), Nephi could have been very aware of the "one for many" principle. . . .
Not only is this a point that few legal historians are aware of even today, but once again, Joseph Smith would have had no way of knowing. [John W. Welch and Heidi H. Parker, "Better That One Man Perish," FARMS Update, Number 118, in Insights an Ancient Window, June 1998, p. 2]
One might also wonder if Nephi interpreted the Spirit's "one for many" remark in a covenant perspective. In other words, because all covenant works are based on the atonement of Christ, and because Nephi received a covenant promise from the Lord just before embarking on the trip to retrieve the plates from Laban (see 1 Nephi 2:16-22), the Spirit might have been reminding Nephi of Christ's atonement ("it is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief" (1 Nephi 4:13). [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes] [See the commentary on Alma 30:47]
1 Nephi 4:13 It is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief (Illustration): Chart: "When Is It Better for One Man to Perish Than an Entire Nation?" [John W. & J. Gregory Welch, Charting the Book of Mormon: Visual Aids for Personal Study and Teaching, F.A.R.M.S., Chart #115]
1 Nephi 4:13 It Is Better That One Man Should Perish:
In 1 Nephi 4:13 the angel states that "it is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief." According to Kelly Ogden, the reader should compare this statement with the warning of Alma to Korihor: "Behold, it is better that thy soul should be lost than that thou shouldst be the means of bringing many souls down to destruction" (Alma 30:47). [D. Kelly Ogden, "Answering the Lord's Call," in Studies in Scripture: Book of Mormon, Part 1, pp. 28, 33]
1 Nephi 4:18 I . . . Took Laban by the Hair of the Head, and I Smote off His Head with His Own Sword:
According to Daniel Rolph, it is interesting that in Legends of the Jews we find a similar story to that of Nephi and Laban. In that story a renegade prophet named Balaam sold out to the Moabites. He is specifically addressed by Phineas as an archetype for that "Aramaean Laban who tried to destroy our father Jacob," and, like the Laban of Nephi's time, this Laban/Balaam's head was struck off by Phineas with a special sword.180 Furthermore, this Phineas might also have been an archetype for Nephi, or for those Nephite prophets and kings descended from the tribe of Joseph. Phineas (or Phinehas), the grandson of Aaron (Exodus 6:25), considered to be a descendant of Levi, is traditionally stated to have descended also through the lineage of Joseph.181 Moses reportedly bestowed upon him the leadership of the people while the Israelites were fighting the Midianites of the trans-Jordan region, along with the ark of the covenant, the Urim and Thummim, and the gold plate of the mitre that rested on the high priest's forehead. [Daniel N. Rolph, "Prophets, Kings, and Swords: The Sword of Laban and Its Possible Pre-Laban Origin," in Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Spring 1993, pp. 76-77] [See the commentary on 2 Nephi 7 by Richard Anthony]
1 Nephi 4:19 I Had Smitten Off His Head with His Own Sword:
Why did Nephi cut off the head of Laban? Wouldn't some other form of execution have been quicker and less gruesome for Nephi? Again, the smiting off of the head is a part of Hebrew culture. Beheading among these people was a testament against them of the judgments of God (see William Hamblin and Brent Merrill, Warfare in the Book of Mormon, pp. 335-36) as quoted from a CES symposium talk given by John G. Scott, "The Miracle of First Nephi," 1997).
1 Nephi 4:19 I Took the Garments of Laban and Put Them upon Mine Own Body:
Nephi says that after he had smitten off Laban's head "with his own sword, [he] took the garments of Laban and put them upon [his] own body; yea, even every whit; and [he] did gird on [Laban's] armor about [his] loins" (1 Nephi 4:19). Now if Nephi was holding Laban by the hair while cutting the drunken man’s head off, Nephi would have had a difficult time avoiding blood being splattered all over not only his own person, but all over Laban’s as well. With Laban passed out in front of him, Nephi probably had time to ponder just what he would have to do in order to take full advantage of the situation. Anticipating the blood, Nephi might have stripped the clothes off Laban before he cut off his head. Then, Nephi could have discarded his own blood-soaked clothes and put on the garments of Laban. Thus, the idea of Nephi putting on the garments of Laban fits into the picture in a very practical way.
But more than the practical aspect of this narrative, one should appreciate the covenant symbolism here. Raymond Treat says that in his book, The Miracle of the Scarlet Thread, Richard Booker outlines the steps ancient Hebrews typically followed in making a covenant. They exchanged robes and belts, . . . . A man's robe was symbolic of all his material possessions. . . . The ancient belts were weapons belts. Therefore, the message of giving one's belt was "all the power I have I now give to you. If necessary, I will defend you to the death." (Raymond C. Treat, "Understanding Our Covenant," in Recent Book of Mormon Developments, Vol. 2, pp. 34-35)
So the story of what happened to Laban might be representing the symbolic loss of covenant blessings through unrighteousness, and the bestowing of those blessings upon Nephi, who kept the covenant. Much of this covenant symbolism is highlighted in the textual headings that accompany The Covenant Story, however for the benefit of the reader, a quick review of the textual story from a covenant perspective is in order:
Nephi desires to know the mysteries of God and obediently desires the way of his father. He cries unto the Lord and the Lord visits him (1 Nephi 2:16-18). The Lord covenants with Nephi and promises that if he is obedient he will be led to a promised land (1 Nephi 2:19-24). Nephi returns to the tent of his father who is waiting for him with an errand from the Lord. Nephi is to return to Jerusalem to obtain the word of the Lord (the plates of brass). Nephi and Lehi, the Lord's servants, are obedient to their covenants and seek first to obtain the Lord's word. Nephi "knows" because of the covenants he has previously made with the Lord that the Lord will provide a way that he might accomplish this task. Nephi returns to Jerusalem where they are initially rejected by Laban (1 Nephi 3:1-18). Nephi is willing to give all that he possesses in order to be faithful to his covenants with the Lord. He gathers up his gold and silver and precious things to exchange for the plates of brass but once again Laban rejects them and seeks their lives (1 Nephi 3:19-27). Nephi's brethren rebel against Nephi, but an angel appears to proclaim Nephi's covenant calling to be a ruler over his brethren (1 Nephi 3:28-30). Like Moses, Nephi is willing to give his life, if necessary, to honor the covenants he has made with the Lord. The Lord's way is mightier than all the earth. Nephi travels in darkness with only the spirit of the Lord to guide him (1 Nephi 3:31--4:5). Nephi comes across a "fallen" and "drunken" Laban. He is "constrained by the Spirit" to kill him but he hesitates. He is reminded of covenant law and Christ's covenant with his people. Nephi slays Laban "with his own sword" (1 Nephi 4:6-18) Nephi clothes himself with Laban's covenant responsibilities regarding the records of Joseph (see above). He speaks in Laban's voice to Laban's servant. Nephi obtains the plates (1 Nephi 4:19-29). Nephi promises with an oath to Laban's servant that those who hearken to the Lord's servant will have place with him. Nephi returns to the tent of his father (1 Nephi 4:30-38). Upon witnessing Nephi's return, Lehi and Sariah confirm the covenant way to the promised land by offering their testimony and their sacrifices and burnt offering unto the Lord (1 Nephi 5:1-9). Lehi and Nephi search the scriptures. They testify of their fathers. The scriptures are of great worth in their journey through the wilderness towards the promised land (1 Nephi 5:10-22).
[Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]
1 Nephi 4:19 I Did Gird on His Armor:
Brant Gardner notes that after slaying Laban, Nephi dons Laban's clothing (even every whit) and Laban's armor. Nephi specifically says that he does this after severing Laban's head. Clearly there was a significant amount of blood. Wasn't Nephi worried about wearing obviously bloodstained clothes? Hugh Nibley says the following:
Laban was wearing armor, so that the only chance of dispatching him quickly, painlessly, and safely was to cut off his head--the conventional treatment of even petty criminals in the East . . . The donning of the armor was the natural and the shrewd thing for Nephi to do. A number of instances from the last war could be cited to show that a spy in the enemy camp is never so safe as when he is wearing the insignia of a high military official--providing he does not hang around too long, and Nephi had no intention of doing that. No one dares challenge "brig brass" too closely (least of all a grim and hot-tempered Laban): their business is at all times "top secret," and their uniform gives them complete freedom to come and to go unquestioned." (Hugh Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Mormon, pp. 99-100)
[Brant Gardner, "Brant Gardner's Page, "http://www.highfiber.com/~nahualli/LDStopics/1 Nephi/1 Nephi4.htm, pp. 8-9]
1 Nephi 4:20 I Went Forth unto the Treasury of Laban:
Nephi mentions that he "went forth unto the treasury of Laban" (1 Nephi 4:20) apparently without any help. Could Nephi have been familiar with the location of Laban's treasury? [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes] [See the commentary on 1 Nephi 3:3]
1 Nephi 4:20 The Treasury of Laban:
The brass plates had been kept in "the treasury of Laban," from which Nephi retrieved them (1 Nephi 4:20-24). According to John Tvedtnes, the concept of keeping books in a treasury, while strange to the modern mind, was a common practice anciently, and the term often denoted what we would today call a library. Ezra 5:17-6:2 speaks of a "treasure house" containing written records. The Aramaic word rendered "treasure" in this passage is ginzayya, from the root meaning "to keep, hide" in both Hebrew and Aramaic. Also from this root is the Mishnaic Hebrew word g'nizah, denoting a repository for worn synagogue scrolls, and gannaz, meaning "archivist," or one in charge of records. The Mandaean182 word ginza has several meanings, one of which is "library." [John Tvedtnes, The Book of Mormon and Other Hidden Books: Out of Darkness unto Light, pp. 155-156]
1 Nephi 4:20 The Treasury of Laban:
Jeff Lindsay notes that on Rabbi Yosef's "Jewishness of the Book of Mormon" internet maillist, an inquirer wondered if the mention of Laban's "treasury" in First Nephi made sense in the Hebrew and in ancient Israel. Rabbi Yosef's e'mail of April 27, 1998 explains that it makes excellent sense, being "exactly in keeping with the culture and language." "Treasury" in Hebrew is "genizah," a word also used for a room in ancient synagogues where scrolls were stored. By way of support, Rabbi Yosef explains:
The early "Church Father" Epiphanius, in his Panarion, section 30, relates the story of a Jew named Josephus (Yosef) who became a believer in Messiah after reading Hebrew copies of Acts and John which he found in a "genizah" (treasury) in Tiberias, Israel (Epiphanius; Panarion 30:3,6). You may also have heard of an archaeological find known as the "Cairo Genizah," in which such an ancient store room of scrolls was found in the remains of an ancient synagogue.
How many New York farmboys would have known about an ancient Jewish practice of storing sacred records in a "treasury"? [Jeff Lindsay, "Laban's Treasury," Book of Mormon Evidences, [http://jefflindsay.com/BMEvidences.shtml, Jan. 7, 2001]
1 Nephi 4:20 The Servant of Laban:
According to Verneil Simmons, as Nephi approached the treasury he had the good fortune to meet Laban's steward who carried the keys to the room. Nephi described Zoram as the "servant of Laban" (1 Nephi 4:20) but we know at once that he was not a slave or a hired servant. He not only had the keys to the most important chamber in the house (1 Nephi 4:20) but he was also informed about the political situation in the city, and Laban's position of authority in it (1 Nephi 4:22,27). He immediately questioned Nephi, thinking him to be his master, concerning the business that had taken Laban out at night to consult with certain Jewish leaders (1 Nephi 4:22). Zoram must have been the trusted steward who had charge of Laban's household, one who was treated as a near-equal since he felt free to question Laban about his secret affairs. The role and position of the steward in a wealthy household is well documented by many ancient texts. [Verneil W.Simmons, Peoples, Places and Prophecies, pp. 68-69] [See the commentary on 1 Nephi 4:35; 5:13]
1 Nephi 4:20 I Commanded Him in the Voice of Laban:
According to Brant Gardner, the most suspect part of Nephi's disguise was certainly his own voice. In the dark, wearing the armor of Laban, he might be mistaken for Laban. But would that mistake be repeated when Nephi spoke to a servant who would surely know? . . . Yet Nephi endeavored to speak, and found that he spoke with Laban's voice. That experience would have even further supported his understanding that the Lord was behind his actions. [Brant Gardner, "Brant Gardner's Page, Book of Mormon Commentary, http://www.highfiber.com/~nahualli/LDStopics/1Nephi/1Nephi4.htm, p. 7]
Note* It should also verify to the reader that, symbolically, Nephi had been given the authority (or voice of Laban) as far as the records of Joseph's lineage were concerned. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]
1 Nephi 4:22 The Elders of the Jews:
Hugh Nibley notes that Nephi tells us casually but emphatically that things at Jerusalem were controlled by "the elders of the Jews," who were holding nocturnal meetings with the powerful and influential Laban (1 Nephi 4:22-27) Poor Zedekiah plays no part at all--his name occurs half a dozen times in the Book of Mormon but only to fix a date. These elders were no friends of Lehi; for if they had been, his life would never have been in danger. As it was, he "was driven out of Jerusalem" (Helaman 8:22; 1 Nephi 7:14) by the only people who could have driven him out, the important people, those responsible for the "priestcrafts and iniquities" that were to be the ruin of them at Jerusalem (2 Nephi 10:5).
Bible students recognize today that affairs at Jerusalem were completely under the control of the "elders." The word "elders" has been understood to mean the heads of the most influential families of a city. In 1935 in the ruins of the city of Lachish, 30 miles southward of Jerusalem, a remarkable body of documents was found. They were military reports written at the very time of the fall of Jerusalem and saved from the flames of burning Lachish by being covered with rubble when the watchtower in which they were stored collapsed. Lachish was the last Jewish town to fall before Jerusalem itself went down, so here, in the fragments of some eighteen letters, we have a strictly first-hand, if limited, account of what was going on.183
Now in the Lachish letters we learn that the men who are running--and ruining--everything are the sarim, who actually are the elders, the term designating, according to J. W. Jack, "members of the official class, i.e. 'officers' acting under the king as his counselors and rulers." In these priceless letters "we find the sarim denouncing Jeremiah to the king and demanding that he be executed because of his bad influence on the morale of the people." In accusing the prophet of defeatism, the leading men of Jerusalem were supported by the majority of the people and by a host of popular "prophets" suborned by the court, by whose false oracles "Judahite chauvinism" was "whipped to a frenzy." To oppose this front, as Lehi did, was to incur the charges of subversion and defeatism.184 (Hugh Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Mormon, pp. 96-97) [Allen H. Richardson, David E. Richardson and Anthony E. Bentley, 1000 Evidences for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: Part Two-A Voice from the Dust: 500 Evidences in Support of the Book of Mormon, pp. 102-103]
1 Nephi 4:22 The Elders of the Jews:
According to Reynolds and Sjodahl, the "elders of the Jews" (1 Nephi 4:22) were shoterim. The shoterim had special duties during time of war. In the first place, they were to explain to the conscripts that certain conditions exempted them from service. When the army was ready for organization, the "officers" appointed captains to lead them. It was further the duty of these "officers" to take messages from the commander-in-chief to the people. They might be compared to the modern adjutant generals. [Reynolds and Sjodahl, Commentary on the Book of Mormon, vol. 1, p. 40]
1 Nephi 4:25 I Also Bade Him That He Should Follow Me:
According to Brant Gardner, Nephi's requirement that Zoram should accompany him is perhaps unusual. Laban had gone forth alone previously in the night, and now Nephi (acting as Laban) requires that Zoram should accompany him. One would think that Nephi's greatest urge would be to leave without any further encumbrance. Nevertheless he brings Zoram along. Perhaps Nephi required assistance in carrying the plates, or at least assistance in carrying them should he be required to wield his sword in their defense. [Brant Gardner, "Brant Gardner's Page, "http://www.highfiber.com/ ~nahualli/LDStopics/1 Nephi/1 Nephi4.htm, p. 12]
1 Nephi 4:26 The Brethren of the Church:
Nephi writes that while impersonating Laban and in his conversations with Laban's servant Zoram, he apparently said things that caused Zoram to suppose that he "spake of the brethren of the church" (1 Nephi 4:26). This mention of a "church," which Laban was apparently a part of, raises some interesting questions. Was this "church" like our Church today? Was Lehi's family a part of this "church"? There is a statement by Bruce R. McConkie which has been quoted as follows:
"Was there a Church anciently, and if so, how was it organized and regulated? There was not so much as the twinkling of an eye during the whole so-called pre-Christian Era when the Church of Jesus Christ was not upon the earth, organized basically in the same way it now is. Melchizedek belonged to the Church; Laban was a member; so also was Lehi, long before he left Jerusalem.
There was always apostolic power. The Melchizedek Priesthood always directed the course of the Aaronic Priesthood. All of the prophets held a position in the hierarchy of the day" (Bruce R. McConkie, "The Bible, a Sealed Book," in Supplement, a Symposium on the New Testament, 1984, p. 6) as quoted in Book of Mormon Student Manual for Religion 121 and 122, pp. 5-6]
Questions arise from this quote, not from what is said but in how it is understood:
(1) Was the organization of the "church" (mentioned in 1 Nephi 4:26) the same church to which Lehi belonged? The answer is "Yes," and "No." Although one of the definitions for the word "church" is "a particular sect, denomination, or division of Christians," there is another definition which means "the ecclesiastical government of a particular religious group, or its power, as opposed to secular government" (Webster's New World Dictionary). We might assume that among the Jews of Lehi's day, there was no separation of church and state, but is our assumption correct? How do we account for the fact that the lives of the chosen prophets of God, Jeremiah and Lehi, were sought by the government authorities? (See Jeremiah 11:18-23; 18:18; 1 Nephi 1:20). If Laban's "church" was composed of the Jewish ecclesiastical and governmental authorities, then in fact, Lehi and his family were part of that "church" also. To understand the other answers, it is necessary to lay a little more groundwork.
(2) What is an apostle, or apostolic power? According to Bruce R. McConkie, "An apostle is a special witness of the name of Christ who is sent to teach the principles of salvation to others. He is one who knows of the divinity of the Savior by personal revelation and who is appointed to bear testimony to the world of what the Lord has revealed to him." (Mormon Doctrine, p. 46). Again, both Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:1-19) and Lehi (1 Nephi 1:5-19) were special witnesses of the Lord, but were the ecclesiastical and governmental authorities of the Jews in agreement with their message? Was Laban in agreement with their message? I don't think so. (see Jeremiah 26:10-11; 1 Nephi 1:19-20.)
(3) In what way did the Melchizedek Priesthood direct the Aaronic Priesthood in the time of Lehi? According to another dictionary, "ekklesia [the Greek word for 'church'] was also used among the Jews (LXX) for the 'congregation' of Israel which was constituted at Sinai and assembled before the Lord at the annual feasts in the persons of its representative males (Acts 7:38)." (The Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Vol. 1, p. 283)
According to Cleon Skousen, we should remember that Moses received two sets of laws. The first law which was given to Moses was the Law of the Covenant, which prevails whenever the government of God is upon the earth. This Law was on the first set of stone tablets given to Moses and included all the higher ordinances of the Gospel--even the temple endowment (D&C 84:21-24, plus Inspired Version, Exodus 34:1). When Moses came down from the mount and found the people indulging in the fertility rites of the Egyptians (with several thousand of them naked, drunken and dancing around the fertility symbol of a golden bullock), he smashed the tablets on which the higher laws were written (Exodus 32:19; Deuteronomy 9:17). The Lord then had Moses make a second set of tablets which provided a lower order of laws designed to be a schoolmaster to the children of Israel so they could at least survive as a people until Christ came. (See Galatians 3:19,24) This became known as "the Law of Moses" or the "law of carnal commandments." It should be remembered, however, that this was the second "law of Moses." [W. Cleon Skousen, Treasures from the Book of Mormon, Vol. 2, p. 2036]
According to Bruce R. McConkie, through Moses the Lord attempted to set up the house of Israel as a kingdom of priests of the holy order, with each man and his family enjoying the full blessings of the patriarchal order and priesthood (Exodus 19:5-6; Deuteronomy 7:6). But Israel rebelled, rejected the higher law, and the Lord took Moses and the fulness of the priesthood from them (Inspired Version, Exodus 34:1-2; D & C 84:17-25). From then until the personal ministry of our Lord among men, the Aaronic Priesthood continued as the most prevalent authority of God on earth (D & C 84:26-28).
There were many times, however, and may have been at all times, prophets and worthy men in Israel who held the Melchizedek Priesthood. Joseph Smith said, "All the prophets had the Melchizedek Priesthood and were ordained by God himself," that is, those persons so honored held their authority by special dispensation, for the general priesthood rule found among the people was the Levitical order (Teachings, p. 181; Doctrines of Salvation, Vol. 3, pp. 80-102).
Regarding this Melchizedek Priesthood, McConkie quotes Joseph Smith, "All other authorities or offices in the church are appendages to this priesthood. . . . The Melchizedek Priesthood holds the right of presidency, and has power and authority over all the offices in the church in all ages of the world, to administer in spiritual things" (Teachings, p. 322). [Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, pp. 477-478]
Thus, the answer to how Lehi and Laban both belonged to the same Church of Christ, to how the basic organization of the Church was the same as in all dispensations, and how the Melchizedek Priesthood directed the Aaronic Priesthood lies in responsibility to proper authority. In other words, it was the obligation of every Jew to follow the presiding authority of the day, which authority was held by the prophets. Both Lehi and Laban were under obligation through Levitical covenants to follow the direction of the Melchizedek Priesthood. Lehi responded and was saved. Laban rejected the authority and was destroyed. [See the commentary on Mosiah 18:17 and Mosiah 25:19,23 for further discussion on the idea of a "church" among the Nephites]
1 Nephi 4:28 When Laman saw me he was exceedingly frightened, and also Lemuel and Sam (Illustration): "Laman, Lemuel, and Sam were deeply frightened when they saw Nephi suddenly appear before them dressed in the armour of Laban and accompanied by Laban's servant." [W. Cleon Skousen, Treasures from the Book of Mormon, Vol. 1, p. 1051]
1 Nephi 4:28 Fled From Before My Presence:
Allen & David Richardson and Anthony Bentley note that the Book of Mormon makes use of the authentic Hebrew usage of two prepositions that introduce a single prepositional phrase. For example, 1 Nephi 4:28 tells of some that "fled from before my presence." Jacob 5:30 indicates that "the servant went down into the vineyard." Also in Mosiah 7:6 "they went down into the land of Nephi." Mormon 2:24 speaks of those who "did not flee from before the Lamanites." Angela Crowell cites the following observation by William Gesenius:
Hebrew syntax calls for compound prepositions rather than the single preposition common in English. This usage is traced back to the literal translation of the Hebrew text. Compound prepositions are used to indicate the location and direction of the action as well as the action itself. (William Gesenius, Hebrew Grammar, p. 377, cited by Crowell in "Hebraisms in the Book of Mormon," Zarahemla Record, p. 4:)185
The example "from before" is a literal translation of the Hebrew words mippene and milliphen. The writer found that it was used twenty-three times in the Old Testament Hebrew text, but that it was translated into English (KJV & IV) only four times (for example, Genesis 23:4; Exodus 4:3; 1 Chronicles 11:13; Judges 11:23). The other verses all translate it "from," giving us a more precisely worded English sentence, even though in the Hebrew text it reads, "from before." It would have been quite difficult for Joseph Smith to have copied this Hebraism from the King James Version of the Bible when the construct only appears four times in the entire English text. Yet there are at least ten instances where the combination "from before" is found in the Book of Mormon. In this instance, the Book of Mormon contains a Hebraism "more literally" translated than its counterpart from the King James Version of the Bible. How can we account for this? It is remote that Joseph Smith on his own would have been able to identify this construct as a Hebraism. Rather, we see original Hebraic authorship and a correct translation through divine aid. [Allen H. Richardson, David E. Richardson, and Anthony E. Bentley, Voice from the Dust-500 Evidences Supporting the Book of Mormon, p. 267]
Note* The phrase "from before" is actually found at least 21 times: 1 Nephi 4:28, 30; 11:12, 29; 20:19; 2 Nephi 9:8; Mosiah 17:4; Alma 2:32; 44:12; 3 Nephi 4:12; 9:5,7,8,9,11; Mormon 2:24,25; 4:20,22; Ether 13:22; Moroni 9:15. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]
1 Nephi 4:32 As the Lord Liveth, and As I Live:
George Lamsa describes a similarly binding oath:
"I have lifted up my hand" is an Eastern saying which means "I have sworn before God." Easterners, when taking an oath, lift their hands toward heaven and invoke the name of God, whom they make a witness of the oath," . . . as a faithful witness in heaven" (see Psalms 89:37; 1 Samuel 12:5).
When treaties and agreements were made in the name of God they were generally respected and kept even by the future generation. Other treaties and covenants were easily broken and repudiated, just as they are broken today (see Joshua 9:18). (George M. Lamsa, Old Testament Light. Harper & Row, 1964, p. 44)
[As quoted by Brant Gardner, "Brant Gardner's Page, "http://www.highfiber.com/ ~nahualli/LDStopics/1 Nephi/1 Nephi4.htm, p. 14]
1 Nephi 4:33 I Spake unto Him, Even with an Oath, That He Need Not Fear:
When Zoram saw Nephi's brethren and heard Nephi's real voice he got the shock of his life and in a panic made a break for the city. Hugh Nibley tells us that in such a situation there was only one thing Nephi could possibly have done, both to spare Zoram and to avoid giving alarm--and no westerner could have guessed what it was. Nephi, a powerful fellow, held the terrified Zoram in a vice-like grip long enough to swear a solemn oath in his ear, "as the Lord liveth, and as I live" (1 Nephi 4:32), that he would not harm him if he would listen. Zoram immediately relaxed, and Nephi swore another oath to him that he would be a free man if he would join the party: "Therefore, if thou wilt go down into the wilderness to my father thou shalt have place with us" (1 Nephi 4:34).
The Oath of Power: What astonishes the western reader is the miraculous effect of Nephi's oath on Zoram, who upon hearing a few conventional words promptly becomes tractable, while as for the brothers, as soon as Zoram "made an oath unto us that he would tarry with us from that time forth . . . our fears did cease concerning him" (1 Nephi 4:35, 37).
The reaction of both parties makes sense when one realizes that the oath is the one thing that is most sacred and inviolable among the desert people and their descendants: "Hardly will an Arab break his oath, even if his life be in jeopardy," for "there is nothing stronger, and nothing more sacred than the oath among the nomads," and even the city Arabs, if it be exacted under special conditions. "The taking of an oath is a holy thing with the Bedouins," says one authority, "Wo to him who swears falsely; his social standing will be damaged and his reputation ruined. No one will receive his testimony, and he must also pay a money fine."
But not every oath will do. To be most binding and solemn an oath should be by the life of something, even if it be but a blade of grass. The only oath more awful than that "by my life" or (less commonly) "by the life of my head," is the wa hayat Allah "by the life of God," or "as the Lord liveth," the exact Arabic equivalent of the ancient Hebrew hai Elohim. . . . So we see that the only way that Nephi could possibly have pacified the struggling Zoram in an instant was to utter the one oath that no man would dream of breaking, the most solemn of all oaths to the Semite: "As the Lord liveth, and as I live!" [Hugh Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Mormon, F.A.R.M.S., pp. 109-111]
1 Nephi 4:34 Thou Shalt Have Place with Us:
According to Hugh Nibley, when Nephi urged the frightened Zoram to join the party in the desert, he said: "If thou wilt go down into the wilderness to my father thou shalt have place with us" (1 Nephi 4:34). The correctness of the proposal is attested not only by the proper role of Lehi in receiving members and guests into the tribe but also in the highly characteristic expression, "thou shalt have place with us." For since time immemorial the proper word of welcome to the stranger who enters one's tent has been ahlan wa sahlan wa marhaban, literally [perhaps], "a family, a smooth place, and a wide place!" [Hugh Nibley, Lehi in the Desert, F.A.R.M.S., p. 52] [See the commentary on 1 Nephi 4:20; 5:13]
1 Nephi 4:34 If Thou [Zoram] Wilt Go down into the Wilderness to My Father Thou Shall Have Place with Us:
According to Hugh Nibley, when you are fleeing from the enemy and you go to a great skeikh's tent, you go in and kneel and put the Kaf (hem) of his garment on your shoulder (a figure we find very clear in the Book of Mormon), and you say, "Ana dakhiluka, I am your suppliant." He is obliged then to say, "Have a place; have a family; have a share in our tent." You are taken in. People move over so you have a place to sit down, and then you are a member. Nephi says the same thing in verse 34: "Therefore if thou wilt go down into the wilderness to my father thou shalt have place with us." [Hugh W. Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Semester 1, p. 162] [See the commentary on 2 Nephi 1:15 for the idea of the Lord wrapping us in his robes of righteousness and saying in essence, "I have a place for you." See also the commentary on Alma 5:25]
1 Nephi 4:35 Now Zoram Was the Name of the Servant:
Gordon Thomasson hypothesizes that Zoram was a Levite refugee from the Northern Kingdom, attached to Laban's household through generations of service (not servitude) to his tribe, thus accounting for his (ritual?) responsibility for keeping the plates and the appearance of what are possibly Levitical ordinances in Lehi's camp and colony prior to their joining with the Mulekites. This heritage could also account for the liturgical innovation found among the Zoramites. [Gordon C. Thomasson, "What's in a Name? Book of Mormon Language, Names, and [Metonymic] Naming," in Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Volume 3, Number 1 (Spring 1994), p. 16 n. 22]
1 Nephi 4:36 He Should Tarry with Us . . . That the Jews Might Not Know Concerning Our Flight:
After swearing an oath to Zoram that he would be safe if he went with them to the tent of their father Lehi, Nephi makes an interesting statement: "Now we were desirous that he should tarry with us for this cause, that the Jews might not know concerning our flight into the wilderness, lest they should pursue us and destroy us" (1 Nephi 4:36).
Brant Gardner asks, How could Zoram have known where to find Lehi? It appears that Lehi followed fairly well known and traveled trade routes for at least the early part of his journey. Having left a particular gate of Jerusalem, the direction to the trade route may have been obvious. [Brant Gardner, "Brant Gardner's Page, "http://www.highfiber.com/ ~nahualli/LDStopics/1 Nephi/1 Nephi4.htm, p. 15]
1 Nephi 4:38 We . . . Journeyed unto the Tent of Our Father:
The Hiltons discovered three routes out of Jerusalem (see illustration), each of which would have taken Nephi and his brethren to the city of Aqaba (formerly called Ezion-geber), which was the only way to the Arabian side of the Red Sea (the proposed location of the "tent of our father" -- 1 Nephi 4:38):
(1) One route went east from Jerusalem to Jericho through the bleak Judean wilderness, then crossed the Jordan River and went up and joined the King's Highway, going down the east bank of the Dead Sea through the towns of Madaba, Karak, and Petra to Aqaba, all of which are in the present-day Kingdom of Jordan. . . . This route was well-known even 800 years before Lehi; Moses mentioned it in asking permission to proceed along it with the host of Israel without turning "to the right hand nor to the left" on their way to Canaan (Numbers 20:17; 21:22). Although Nephi and his brethren would probably not have been in danger on this route, they would almost certainly have been delayed and taxed at each border as they passed through the kingdoms of Ammon, Moab and Edom.
(2) Another possible route leaves Jerusalem and goes south to Hebron, continues southwest to Beersheba, then goes down Wadi al 'Araba to Aqaba at the Red Sea.
(3) The third route goes east from Jerusalem on the same road as the first route, turns south just before Jericho, passes the Dead Sea on the west, continues past the caves and cliffs of Qumran, and then through the Wadi al 'Araba to emerge at Aqaba. Nephi and his brethren could have traveled the entire distance without crossing an international border, for the road all lay within Judea until after Aqaba. Even though this route exposed Nephi and his brethren to the Jewish government security forces longer, it was the shortest and fastest way to the Red Sea, which was their goal. [Lynn M. and Hope A. Hilton, Discovering Lehi, pp. 19-20] [See the commentary on 1 Nephi 2:5 for additional routes]
1 Nephi 4:38 We took the plates of brass . . . and journeyed unto the tent of our father (Illustration): Nephi Returns with Plates [Gary E. Smith, Verse Markers, Book of Mormon, Vol. 1, p. 3]
Geographical Theory Map: 1 Nephi 4:38 Nephi Journeys to the Tent of His Father (Year 001)