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Book of Mormon Lesson #7: “I Know in Whom I Have Trusted,” 2 Nephi 3-5 (Sunday School)

Posted by joespencer on January 30, 2012

Just as with my last post, I’m here again free to spend a bit more time focused on details, since only three chapters are being considered here. After this lesson, we’ll be doing some racing again, and unfortunately through the most important part of Nephi’s record (one week on 2 Nephi 6-10, one week on 2 Nephi 11-25, and one week on 2 Nephi 26-30). Since I’ll be frustrated by the necessity of racing later, I want to try to relish the experience of taking my time with 2 Nephi 3-5.

The difficulty is that I find these three chapters among the less interesting in the Book of Mormon. They’ve got some remarkable things in them (some of the prophecies and complications of 2 Nephi 3 are quite important), and they’ve got some beautiful things in them (Nephi’s psalm in 2 Nephi 4 of course comes to mind), and they’ve got some structurally crucial things in them (2 Nephi 5 is of critical importance for the structure of Nephi’s record)—but all these things are, I think, relatively straightforwardly explainable. (Interestingly, each of the three chapters under consideration here were individual chapters in the original Book of Mormon, making them all the easier to tackle here.) I anticipate this post being a bit shorter than usual as a result, and I’ll take advantage of the time that leaves me to get to work on the series of posts that will keep me busy for the next few weeks and that I’m going to try to say as much as I can about.

To work, then—but with the reminder that the preliminaries post remains important (indeed, becomes quite important again at this point).

2 Nephi 3

After the heavy focus on Jacob, Lehi’s attention turns to Joseph, his “last born,” also “born in the wilderness of … afflictions” (2 Nephi 3:1). And there’s talk again of consecration, though less of afflictions than of “this land, which is a most precious land” (3 Nephi 3:2). This point is important, since it orients the whole of what follows, just as the parallel consecration in 2 Nephi 2 oriented the whole of that discussion. At issue throughout 2 Nephi 3 is the role that Joseph’s seed will play in the unfolding history of the promised land. And it all begins with the promise, in verse 3, that “thy seed shall not utterly be destroyed.” That sort of promise can be found often enough in the scriptures, but we’re too quick to pass over it. Here it’s clear that Joseph’s seed will be preserved because crucial things are going to happen among them. And all of this is to be explained, it seems, by taking a look at the prophecies of Joseph of Egypt: “For behold, thou art the fruit of my loins, and I am a descendant of Joseph, which was carried captive into Egypt—and great was the covenants of the Lord which he made unto Joseph” (2 Nephi 3:4).

The prophecies we get in the remainder of the chapter play an important role in the Book of Mormon. Grant Hardy (in Understanding the Book of Mormon) has done some really remarkable work in bringing this out. (If you haven’t read his book, I highly recommend it. What he has to say about 2 Nephi 3 comes out only in the last part of the book, in his discussion of Moroni.) I’ll leave those details to him and focus here just on what’s happening in this chapter alone.

Verse 5 introduces this story:

Wherefore, Joseph truly saw our day, and he obtained a promise of the Lord that out of the fruit of his loins the Lord God would raise up a righteous branch unto the house of Israel—not the Messiah, but a branch which was to be broken off, nevertheless to be remembered in the covenants of the Lord—that the Messiah should be made manifest unto them in the latter days, in the spirit of power, unto the bringing of them out of darkness unto light—yea, out of hidden darkness and out of captivity unto freedom.

Now note first that these are Lehi’s, not Joseph’s words. They summarize and introduce rather than quote. But what is all this about? To this point in Nephi’s record, we’ve had a pretty clear divvying up of latter-day peoples into three groups: the Jews, the remnant(s) of Israel, and the Gentiles. And each of these groups has been relatively easy to identify: the Jews are, of course, the Jews; the remnant of Israel is the Lamanites (and other remnants similarly isolated branches of Israel, perhaps); and the Gentiles are everyone else, but especially Europeans. But with Lehi’s introduction here—as clarified by the rest of the chapter—that threefold division of the world becomes complicated. Why is that? It seems that there’s a branch of Joseph of Egypt’s lineage that can’t be reduced to any of these groups.

This becomes clear with the next verses, where we begin to get, as Lehi reports them, the actual words of Joseph of Egypt (who provides the Lord’s words to himself):

A choice seer will I raise up out of the fruit of thy loins, and he shall be esteemed highly among the fruit of thy loins. And unto him will I give commandment that he shall do a work for the fruit of thy loins, his brethren, which shall be of great worth unto them, even to the bringing of them to the knowledge of the covenants which I have made with thy fathers. And I will give him a commandment that he shall do none other work save the work which I shall command him. … Unto him will I give power to bring forth my word unto the seed of thy loins, and not to the bringing forth my word only, saith the Lord, but to the confounding of false doctrines and laying down of contentions and establishing peace among the fruit of thy loins and bringing them to the knowledge of their fathers in the latter days, and also to the knowledge of my covenants, saith the Lord. … Behold, that seer will the Lord bless. … And his name shall be called after me, and it shall be after the name of his father. … I will give unto him that he shall write the writing of the fruit of thy loins unto the fruit of thy loins. And the spokesman of thy loins shall declare it. And the words which he shall write shall be the words, which is expedient in my wisdom should go forth, unto the fruit of thy loins. … And they shall cry from the dust—yea, even repentance unto their brethren, even that after many generations have gone by them. … And the weakness of their words will I make strong in their faith, unto the remembering of my covenant which I made unto thy fathers. (2 Nephi 3:7-8, 11-12, 14-15, 18-21)

The details here make clear that the seer in question can only be Joseph Smith, the work in question can only be the translation and promulgation of the Book of Mormon. So what? Well, here we have a clear indication, right in the Book of Mormon, that Joseph Smith is to be understood to be less a Gentile than a direct descendant of Joseph of Egypt. In some sense that’s no surprise: we’re familiar, after all, with D&C 86:8-10. But just as D&C 86:8-10 seems to have come as a bit of a surprise to the early Saints (on this see Cooper’s Promises Made to the Fathers), this bit situating Joseph Smith within the covenant—rather than within the Gentile context—comes as a bit of surprise to the reader of Nephi’s record. Everywhere else in the Book of Mormon, the translation and promulgation of the Book of Mormon is understood to be the work of the Gentiles. This little wrinkle is a most complex gesture, and one that I’m not sure I know how to think about yet—without, that is, running into wild speculations about the whole of the British Isles being the settling place for an enormous group of Ephraimites after the destruction of the Northern Kingdom, etc. (Is it of any importance that it’s only Lehi who picks up on this? Though Nephi records these words, they don’t change the way he talks about the Gentile role in things in 2 Nephi 25-30….)

It’s worth mentioning that the string of prophecies I quoted above is woven with a similar string of prophecies concerning Moses, with whom the latter-day seer from Joseph’s lineage is compared:

And he shall be great like unto Moses, whom I have said I would raise up unto you to deliver my people, O house of Israel. And Moses will I raise up to deliver thy people out of the land of Egypt, but a seer will I raise up out of the fruit of thy loins. … I am sure of this thing, even as I am sure of the promise of Moses. For the Lord hath said unto me: I will preserve thy seed forever. And the Lord hath said: I will raise up Moses, and I will give power unto him in a rod. And I will give judgment unto him in writing, yet I will not loose his tongue that he shall speak much, for I will not make him mighty in speaking. But I will write unto him my law by the finger of mine own hand, and I will make one a spokesman for him. And the Lord said unto me also: I will raise up one unto the fruit of thy loins, and I will make for him a spokesman. (2 Nephi 3:9-11, 16-18)

Why this constant recourse to and comparison with Moses? This, I think, is of very real importance. It sets up a kind of mirroring of raised-up figures at either temporal extreme of the meridian of time. Long before Christ comes Moses, establishing Judaism. Long after Christ comes Joseph Smith, establishing Mormonism. Between them is Christ, establishing Christianity. Of course, all kinds of concerns might be raised here, but there’s an interesting succession of Abrahamic religions being laid out in this text.

But let me get on to what I take to be the point of all this. It must not be forgotten where all this began, namely, with Lehi’s son Joseph. The point of the recitations is to explain to young Joseph that something would be done to redeem his surviving seed in the last days. This is clear in the last verses of the chapter:

And now behold, my son Joseph: after this manner did my father of old prophesy. Wherefore, because of this covenant thou art blessed, for thy seed shall not be destroyed, for they shall hearken unto the words of the book. (2 Nephi 3:22-23)

But if that’s clear, this passage is followed by one that is difficult to know how to interpret:

And there shall raise up one mighty among them which shall do much good, both in word and in deed, being an instrument in the hands of God, with exceeding faith to work mighty wonders and do that thing which is great in the sight of God, unto the bringing to pass much restoration unto the house of Israel and unto the seed of thy brethren. (2 Nephi 3:24)

Is this a reiteration of the prophecies of Joseph Smith from earlier in the chapter? Or is this something else entirely? Is Lehi adding a prophecy of his own here, that one of his son’s seed will be raised up as well as Joseph Smith, one who would do some great things in the work of the covenant? The text is unfortunately ambiguous, and we have interpretations (by prophets and by scholars) defending both possibilities. I leave it here as an open question.

I’ll turn, now to 2 Nephi 4, but not without noting all over again that the emphasis remains here, as always in Nephi’s writings, on the covenant.

2 Nephi 4

I don’t know that I want to say much of anything about verses 1-11, since they speak for themselves (except, perhaps, for the curious fact that Sam gets a second blessing here in verse 11). I’ll focus on what comes after Lehi’s death in verse 12:

And it came to pass that after Lehi had spake unto all his household, according to the feelings of his heart and the Spirit of the Lord which was in him, he waxed old. And it came to pass that he died and was buried.

So, what happens next?

And it came to pass that not many days after his death, Laman and Lemuel and the sons of Ishmael were angry with me because of the admonitions of the Lord. For I, Nephi, was constrained to speak unto them according to the word (for I had spake many things unto them—and also my father before his death—many of which sayings are written upon mine other plates, for a more history part are written upon mine other plates … . (2 Nephi 4:13-14)

Well, this was predictable. But I’m less interested in the same old story here than in what Nephi does with it. If you look carefully at how I punctuated verses 13 and 14, you’ll notice that they end in the middle of a parenthetical aside which remains unfinished in the quotation. The closing parenthesis will not come, curiously, until the very end of 2 Nephi 4. More or less the whole of this chapter is a parenthetical aside, inserted right into the middle of the final conflict (before actual breakup) between Nephi and his brothers. That placement is perfect, since the rest of this chapter is the so-called “psalm of Nephi,” Nephi’s extended reflection on the temptation he constantly experiences to rage against his brothers. For anyone who says that Nephi is all arrogance and self-conceit (and that Nephi’s brothers are the more sensible folks), this poem should be read as a corrective: Nephi is more self-critical than we tend to allow. And for anyone who says that Nephi is simply righteous and untouched by anger and jealousy and so is a perfect example of righteousness throughout his story (and that Nephi’s brothers are simply wicked, wicked, wicked), this poem should be read as a corrective: Nephi is more self-critical than we tend to allow. In short, as I tried to show in my post on 1 Nephi 1-5, Nephi’s relationship to himself in writing his history is much more nuanced than we tend to believe. There are important indications that he’s attempting in a single gesture both to criticize and to defend his past actions. Neither what might be called the “conservative” reading (where Nephi is perfect and we’re all simply to learn from him) nor what might be called the “liberal” reading (where Nephi just wants us to think he’s perfect but he’s either clueless or covering up) does justice to the text. This “psalm” is proof.

So let me say a bit about the psalm itself. (And if you didn’t hear or don’t often re-listen to “I Love the Lord,” performed a few years ago in a priesthood session at General Conference, go listen to it now!)

I don’t want to get carried away in commenting on the details here, so let me begin by breaking the “psalm” up into parts and hope that keeps me on track:

(1) Verses 15-16 — Introductory Delight in Scripture
(2) Verses 17-19a — Self-Loathing Nonetheless
(3) Verses 19b-25 — Affirmation of God’s Goodness
(4) Verses 26-27 — Consequent Questions about Self-Loathing
(5) Verses 28-30 — Self-Encouragement
(6) Verses 31-33 — Prayer of Petition
(7) Verses 34-35 — Prayer of Praise

Let me take these in turn.

2 Nephi 4:15-16

Nephi’s psalm begins with a few words about his relation to God’s word, beginning with a focus on scripture—God’s word to those before him—and then turning to God’s word to him specifically. In each case, he speaks of his soul delighting and his heart pondering. This clear repetition (heart delights, soul ponders) is clearly intentional, and the ordering of heart and soul will turn out to be important. Moreover, it’s important to note that everything begins with a situation in which Nephi is the (double) recipient: God is giving him something (scripture, revelation), and he responds to it with delight and pondering. There is a kind of call-and-response ordering of things at the beginning of the psalm: a gift has been given, and that gift both makes Nephi happy and gives him to think.

2 Nephi 4:17-19a

This beautiful start to the psalm is then—rather quickly—turned on its head. The indication of the turn-around is as clear as can be, since verse 17 begins with “Nevertheless.” Importantly, as if to make all the clearer that there is a complete reversal at work here, Nephi adds a “notwithstanding” clause: “notwithstanding the great goodness of the Lord in shewing me his great and marvelous works.” In this little clause Nephi gives us a summary of what he’s outlined in verses 15-16: a situation in which the Lord is the exemplar of goodness in that He shows “great and marvelous works.” But note the slight shift that’s already begun with that summary: the giving is going on, but the delighted, pondersome response has disappeared, even in the summary. Why? Well, because of what follows: “Nevertheless … my heart exclaimeth: O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh. My soul grieveth because of mine iniquities” (2 Nephi 4:17). The response has now become entirely self-centered: “O wretched man that I am!” There’s a kind of refusal of grace at work here, a response to the overwhelming gift of scripture and revelation that turns the occasion of the gift into a reason to deplore oneself. And note the clear reversal of the pattern of verses 15-16: “my heart sorroweth” and “my soul grieveth.” In the place of delight is sorrow, and in the place of pondering grieving. Further, “flesh” takes the place of scripture, and “iniquities” take the place of “the things of the Lord.” Everything has come to focus on Nephi’s own self. And note that heart and soul have been reversed: in verses 15-16, it was soul and then heart, but now it is heart and then soul, as if the very order of things has been turned backward. Grace has become an occasion to obsess over oneself, not to celebrate God’s goodness: “When I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins” (2 Nephi 4:19). Though we might be inclined to see this as a mark of humility, Nephi will show that everything described in these two and a half verses is meant to be understood to be a mark of pride.

2 Nephi 4:19b-25

Suddenly, we have a turn back to receptiveness, a rejection of the rejection of the gift, marked by another “Nevertheless.” Here, interestingly, all talk of soul and heart melts away for a few verses, leaving off Nephi’s actual response to God. The focus, for these five and half verses, is entirely on God’s goodness. That goodness is manifested, of course, in what God’s done to and for Nephi, but there’s nothing of Nephi’s response. The point is just to recount the indications of God’s goodness. We leave the proud response of self-abhorrence behind to take up the humble response of, well, not praise but at least recognition. What we get, at any rate, is a list of God’s mercies to Nephi: led through the desert, preserved on the ocean, filled with God’s love, protected from enemies, received knowledge by visions, been the recipient of angelic visitations, carried away in the Spirit, witnessed the unwriteable—Nephi’s had a great many signs of God’s love, despite whatever wretchedness there is in Nephi. Now, let me make a note or two about these verses. First, how interesting that Nephi speaks of his “enemies” and not of his “brethren.” But that’s a minor point. More importantly, let me note that most of this list deals with Nephi’s singular vision in 1 Nephi 11: his cry was heard, he had visions, his prayers were heard, angels ministered, he was carried by the Spirit into mountains, he saw great things, he was forbidden to write them. That, I think, shouldn’t be missed. But coming to the more poetic, imagistic point, let me note also that there’s a pretty beautiful play on first the horizontal plane (verses 19b-22) and then on the vertical plane (verses 23-25) here. Horizontal: crossing the desert, crossing the ocean, dealing with (human) enemies, etc. And then, much more powerfully, vertical: voice sent on high, and angels came down; carried into exceeding high mountains, and then (but not until verse 26) there will be talk of God’s condescension. This up-and-down motion particularly marks what will turn in the next verses into a return journey to the right sort of response to God’s goodness.

2 Nephi 4:26-27

Nephi’s draws the obvious conclusion from the series of indications in the preceding verses: “if I have seen so great things, if the Lord in his condescension unto the children of men hath visited me in so much mercy”—there’s the final “down” that completes the vertical theme—“why should my heart weep and my soul linger in the valley of sorrow?” Note the move well: we remain with the heart-and-then-soul ordering of the wrong response, and we’re still stuck in weeeping and sorrow, but all of this appears here in the form of a rhetorical question—Why? This is clearly the journey out of miserable self-loathing, proud appropriation of grace for one’s own self-obsessed wallowing in self-pity. The questions—and the heart-and-then-soul ordering, coupled with unfortunate things in heart and soul—continue into verse 27: “Why should I give way to temptations, that the evil one have place in my heart to destroy my peace and afflict my soul?” But then with one last question—“Why am I angry because of mine enemy?” (2 Nephi 4:27)—Nephi makes the last step of his journey and arrives at the border between self-pitying pride and praising humility. That that is the last question is unmistakably significant: Nephi’s last question focuses—again through the language of “enemy” rather than “brethren”—on the fact that it’s precisely his brothers that he obsesses over the most.

2 Nephi 4:28-30

Sudden eruption, and we come back to soul-and-then-heart, the right ordering that obtained at the beginning of the psalm: “Awake, my soul! No longer droop in sin! Rejoice, O my heart! And give place no more for the enemy of my soul!” (2 Nephi 4:28). Self-encouragement as he crosses into praise (it’ll begin in verse 30), this puts everything back in the right place. But still more, human enemies have given way to “the enemy of my soul,” as Nephi recognizes the real danger: the singular and non-human enemy of his soul (the devil—his own pride). A bit more encouragement in verse 29, and then he begins his actual praise: “Rejoice, O my heart, and cry unto the Lord and say: O Lord, I will praise thee forever!” (2 Nephi 4:30). And the rest of the psalm will be petition and praise, all in the right, original orientation.

2 Nephi 4:31-33

The soul-and-then-heart business continues with Nephi’s petition: “O Lord, wilt thou redeem my soul … because that my heart is broken and my spirit is contrite!” (2 Nephi 4:31-32). The petition, it’s clear, is made in the right way. Interestingly, the petition comes back—almost obsessively—to the theme of enemies. But now that Nephi’s got his heart in the right place (so to speak), there is a crucial difference: before he was angered by his enemies, and wanted to see them quake before him; now he asks only to be “deliver[ed] … out of the[ir] hands” (2 Nephi 4:31), only to find “a way [of] escape before [them]” (2 Nephi 4:33). The petition is, moreover, filled with desert imagery: Nephi looks for deliverance from an enemy, asks that the gates of the evil city (“hell”) be shut before him while the gates of the good city (God’s “righteousness”) remain open (2 Nephi 4:31), seeks “the path of the low valley” while hoping to “be strict in the plain road” (2 Nephi 4:32), asking God not to “place a stumbling block” in his way while “hedg[ing] … the ways of [his] enemy” (2 Nephi 4:33). Even the bit about being encircled around in the robe of thy righteousness is desert imagery, as Nibley showed some time ago (see his article on the atonement from the Ensign from 1990, particularly under “Semitic Origins”). Nephi hopes to be made one with the Lord as he escapes from his enemies in the desert. Receiving that, Nephi finally turns to praise.

2 Nephi 4:34-35

Everything closes with Nephi’s praise: “O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever!” (2 Nephi 4:34). Rejecting “the arm of flesh” (2 Nephi 4:34), Nephi puts his trust entirely in God: “I know that God will give liberally to him that asketh—yea, my God will give me if I ask not amiss!” (2 Nephi 4:35). The conclusion to all this is well worth quoting at length, since it marks Nephi’s resolute decision at the end of all this: “Therefore I will lift up my voice unto thee—yea, I will cry unto thee, my God, the rock of my righteousness! Behold, my voice shall forever ascend up unto thee, my rock and mine everlasting God!” (2 Nephi 4:35). Might we raise such a prayer of praise!

2 Nephi 5

This chapter brings the second stretch of Nephi’s record to an end, the stretch associated, on my argument, with the Fall. It thus brings to a head the themes of scattering, anticipated destruction, and Eden that have occupied the past handful of chapters (1 Nephi 19–2 Nephi 5). It also marks the actual division of the Lehites into two rival camps, one of them explicitly “cut off from the presence of the Lord” (2 Nephi 5:20). (It’s absolutely necessary, to make any sense of what I’m saying here, to read the preliminaries post I link to in the introduction above.) I want to offer just a handful of brief comments on this chapter, all focused on the way the narrative here brings Nephi’s “Fall” to its completion.

2 Nephi 5:1-7

The chapter opens with a return from Nephi’s psalm to the event that that psalm interrupted: anger on the part of Nephi’s brothers. But now that the psalm has been presented, Nephi offers this word to reintroduce the setting: “Behold, it came to pass that I, Nephi, did cry much unto the Lord my God because of the anger of my brethren” (2 Nephi 5:1). Lest anyone think that Nephi’s “enemies” throughout that psalm were not his brothers, I think that makes pretty clear what he meant. But then things spin out of control, with Laman and Lemuel deciding yet again to kill Nephi—but this time without any ameliorating influence from Lehi. Hence verse 5: “And it came to pass that the Lord did warn me that I, Nephi, should depart from them and flee into the wilderness, and all they which would go with me.” We get a list of the company in verse 6 (which is where we learn for the first time that Nephi had “sisters”!), and then the leave into the wilderness to journey for “many days” before setting up camp (2 Nephi 5:7). And thus the division between the Nephites and the Lamanites is created. Nephi won’t mention the radicality of this division or split until later in the chapter.

2 Nephi 5:8-18

Next comes a longish series of developments in the newly settled land of Nephi: (1) naming the new land and the people (verses 8-9); (2) taking the Law of Moses as their way of life (verse 10); (3) the beginnings of sedentary life (verse 11); (4) giving the brass plates, the Liahona, and Laban’s sword a symbolic role in the new society (verses 12-14); (5) preparations for war (verse 14); (6) the beginning of Nephite craftsmanship (verse 15); (7) the building of a temple (verse 16); (8) the foundation of industriousness (verse 17); (9) naming Nephi as king (verse 18)—all this before Nephi actually goes on to say something explicit about the significance of the division between his people and his brothers’ people. Obviously, part of what Nephi’s doing here is giving us the full order of his own people before distinguishing them from the Lamanites. But there are many interesting details in the verses just summarized—particularly, in my opinion, the symbolic political role granted to the triad of the brass plates, the Liahona, and the sword of Laban and the subsequent building of the temple. These mark the monarchy that’s taking shape here in a remarkable way, and they’ll continue to play an important role in that monarchy to its end: when Benjamin crowns the last Nephite king, Mosiah II, we’ll see these things emerge in the story again (a coronation speech given at the temple and a ritual passing to the new king of precisely those three indicators of authority: the plates, the ball, the sword). Also significant, given what’s about to come in the “Atonement” stretch of Nephi’s record, is the fact that there is mention of building the temple here. The construction of the temple immediately precedes the arrival of what the text presents as three angels (Jacob, Isaiah, and Nephi) with a divine message about reconciliation with God (2 Nephi 6-30) preparatory to passing through the veil into God’s presence (2 Nephi 31-33). If there’s any doubt about the temple connections I mention in my preliminaries post, I think the fact that the “Atonement” stretch of Nephi’s record is set off by the building of the temple should remove it.

2 Nephi 5:19-25

Now comes one of the more troublesome passages in Nephi’s record. After having described the sedentary foundations of Nephite civilization comes the introduction of the Lamanites and the official division between the two peoples—the Lamanites being cut off from the Lord’s presence, kicked out of the paradisaical realm of the Nephites—is set forth in the starkest terms. But it’s precisely because of how stark those terms are that this passage can be a bit unnerving: the Lamanites are described in terms that perhaps border on what today would pass for racism. At any rate, Nephi opens this by mentioning that the Lehitic covenant (from 1 Nephi 2—take a look at the notes on that chapter) has been fulfilled, Nephi becoming a “ruler” and a “teacher” before the Lamanites were “cut off from the presence of the Lord” (2 Nephi 5:19-20). And then comes the description of the Lamanites themselves: hard in their hearts, “cursed” with “a skin of blackness” (2 Nephi 5:21), “loathsome” unless they repent (2 Nephi 5:22), contagious in their cursing (2 Nephi 5:23), “an idle people, full of mischief and subtlety” because non-sedentary (2 Nephi 5:24), and, as predicted from the beginning, “a scourge” for the Nephites if they turn to evil (2 Nephi 5:25). Whatever in this description might bother or rankle, Nephi’s own purposes are clear. He means to draw a very sharp distinction between the two now fully separated peoples. He’s certainly accomplished that!

2 Nephi 5:26-34

Nephi comes back from the Lamanites to his own people in order to say a few words preparatory to what he’ll have to say about the creation of the small plates: the monarchical priesthood is now organized (2 Nephi 5:26), the people live “after the manner of happiness” (2 Nephi 5:27), and “thirty years” had passed away (2 Nephi 5:28), during which Nephi “had kept the records” of the large plates (2 Nephi 5:29). And then he gets on to what he promised way back in 1 Nephi 19—as I explained in my post dealing with that chapter. Remember that there Nephi laid out the basic structure of his record by claiming that “the more sacred things” would come immediately following his account of the production of the small plates. We’ve now come to that account—verses 30-33. The consequence is that “the more sacred things” begin, clearly, with 2 Nephi 6, and so the “Atonement” stretch occupies Nephi’s next twenty-five chapters. Things couldn’t, I think, be much clearer. Nephi inserts only one intervening word between the account of making the small plates and the beginning of the “Atonement” part of the record: “And it sufficeth me to say that forty years had passed away, and we had already had wars and contentions with our brethren” (2 Nephi 5:34). Why this? It marks the full culmination of the division between the two groups, and it clearly echoes the sequence following the Fall from Genesis: Cain and Abel. It into that kind of strife that the atonement chapters will insert themselves, attempting to overcome so much misery.

And with that, we come, at long last, to what is unmistakably the most important part of Nephi’s record. We’ve got a couple of weeks to spend on it. We’ll see what justice can be done to it.

2 Responses to “Book of Mormon Lesson #7: “I Know in Whom I Have Trusted,” 2 Nephi 3-5 (Sunday School)”

  1. kirkcaudle said

    I never noticed it before, but it is very interesting that the Nephites build up a military (5:14) before they construct a temple (5:16) after the split. This almost seems like the preliminary stages of the prophecy stated in 1 Ne. 12:15-16, that the two sides will battle and end up sinking into “the depths of hell.”

  2. […] to Choose Liberty and Eternal Life,” 2 Nephi 1-2 (Sunday School)kirkcaudle on Book of Mormon Lesson #7: “I Know in Whom I Have Trusted,” 2 Nephi 3-5 (Sunday Scho…wood floor on RS/MP Lesson 42: “The Gathering of the House of Israel” (Gospel […]

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