Realistic vs. Faithful

And now, behold thy brothers murmur, saying it is a hard thing which I have required of them; but behold I have not required it of them, but it is a commandment of the Lord.

This is a classic case of the (so-called) realist vs. the man of faith. Being realistic, practical, and prudent is good—in its time. But this wasn’t a time to be realistic. When the Lord asks something of you, it’s time to exercise confidence in the Lord, and if you can’t do that, learn to do it. If you find yourself putting practicality over your trust in the Lord, then you need to change. It’s that simple.

And you can.

Nephi not only had the right attitude, he explained how to get the right attitude. What had Nephi been doing right before his father told him about his new assignment? He’d been speaking with the Lord.

And it came to pass that I, Nephi. . . did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit me, and did soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father; wherefore, I did not rebel against him like unto my brothers. (1 Ne. 2:16)

“Yeah,” you might say, “but the thing I’m being asked to do is a really big deal!”

Really? I guess God didn’t know that, so you better tell him. Tell him that your agenda is more important than His. Go ahead—tell Him. See what He says. Maybe He’ll change His mind. Just be prepared for when He ends up changing your mind. And don’t judge your future, faithful self against your present “practical” self—that will just embarrass you later.

God knows what He’s doing with you. Trust Him.

1 Nephi 1:3 – Nephi Knows

It takes a lot of confidence to say, “I know I’m right.” In fact, I’d have to say it takes more than confidence – it takes spiritual conviction. Even the accomplished scientist won’t say, “I know this theory is true.” So what is it that gives Nephi the right to say that he knows the things he’s writing is true? Some would call this blind, naïve, or delusional. But that’s assuming that Nephi is wrong. But he’s not wrong, and he knows it.

1 Nephi 11:16-17

And he said unto me: Knowest thou the condescension of God?

And I said unto him: I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.

2 Nephi 4:35

Yea, I know that God will give liberally to him that asketh. Yea, my God will give me, if I ask not amiss; 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. Amen.

2 Nephi 25:7

But behold, I proceed with mine own prophecy, according to my plainness; in the which I know that no man can err; nevertheless, in the days that the prophecies of Isaiah shall be fulfilled men shall know of a surety, at the times when they shall come to pass.

8 Wherefore, they are of worth unto the children of men, and he that supposeth that they are not, unto them will I speak particularly, and confine the words unto mine own people; for I know that they shall be of great worth unto them in the last days; for in that day shall they understand them; wherefore, for their good have I written them.

2 Nephi 31:1

And now I, Nephi, make an end of my prophesying unto you, my beloved brethren. And I cannot write but a few things, which I know must surely come to pass; neither can I write but a few of the words of my brother Jacob.

1 Nephi 3:7

And it came to pass that I, Nephi, said unto my father: I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.

So anyway, there’s a few of the things Nephi knows. So I guess the next question is, how does he know? Well, since Nephi’s the one we’re talking about let’s see if Nephi can answer that for us:

1 Nephi 10:19

For he that diligently seeketh shall find; and the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto them, by the power of the Holy Ghost, as well in these times as in times of old, and as well in times of old as in times to come; wherefore, the course of the Lord is one eternal round.

2 Nephi 32:4-5, 8

Wherefore, now after I have spoken these words, if ye cannot understand them it will be because ye ask not, neither do ye knock; wherefore, ye are not brought into the light, but must perish in the dark.

For behold, again I say unto you that if ye will enter in by the way, and receive the Holy Ghost, it will show unto you all things what ye should do.

And now, my beloved brethren, I perceive that ye ponder still in your hearts; and it grieveth me that I must speak concerning this thing. For if ye would hearken unto the Spirit which teacheth a man to pray ye would know that ye must pray; for the evil spirit teacheth not a man to pray, but teacheth him that he must not pray.

It kind of sounds like he’s saying, if you don’t know, I’m not going to tell you. But he doesn’t stop there. He says that you need to seek the answer from God. If you don’t know the gospel is true, or you don’t know what to do to get real solid answers to your prayers, ask God, and seek an answer. Truly seek. Beg for it. Listen for it. Humble yourself to receive whatever answer he gives you. God really does want you to know, but He’s not going to force it on you. You have to ask. You have to seek it. Really seek it.

Reformed Egyptian

1:2 “the language of the Egyptians”

I make a record in the language of my father, which consists of the learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians.

That sounds to me like Lehi wrote in Hebrew style, but in the Egyptian language – well, some kind of Egyptian language. Obviously Lehi would be fluent in Hebrew, but why would he speak or at least know how to write in Egyptian?

“We don’t know what Lehi’s occupation was, but since he was conversant in the Egyptian language and he seemed some-what familiar with the ways of the desert, it is logical to assume that he had some occupation or some previous experiences that utilized both skills.”

H. Donl Peterson, “Father Lehi,” in First Nephi, The Doctrinal Foundation, ed. Monte S. Nyman and Charles D. Tate Jr. (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1988), 55–66.

Okay, so I guess Lehi probably did work that was facilitated by a knowledge of the Egyptian language. I looked up in some commentaries to see what Judah’s relationship to Egypt was like at the time, and here’s what I found. I would summarize, but it would take me more words to say what they did:

1Nephi 1:1–3 . The Book of Mormon Language

In Mormon 9:32–33 , Moroni indicates that the plates were written in reformed Egyptian that had been altered by the Nephites according to their manner of speech. Some scholars believe that reformed Egyptian was a type of shorthand. Moroni explains that if the plates had been larger they would have been written in Hebrew, and then the record would have been without imperfections (see v.33 ). This suggests that reformed Egyptian must not have been as precise and accurate as Hebrew, and it must have required less space to write reformed Egyptian than to write Hebrew. Knowing this gives us a greater appreciation of how efficient the reformed Egyptian language must have been.

The Hebrew language is very compact when compared to English and many other western languages. A typical English sentence of fifteen words will often translate into seven to ten Hebrew words. We have no indication of the size of the characters Mormon and Moroni used, but if they rejected Hebrew because the plates were not “sufficiently large” ( v.33 ), then reformed Egyptian must have been a language remarkable for its ability to convey a lot of information with few words.

Book of Mormon Student Manual Chapter 2 – 1 Nephi 1 – 5

The language seems to have had some changes over the course of the thousand years that the Book of Mormon covers. The native Nephite language was Hebrew, which was also altered over time by the Nephites. The Book of Mormon was written in reformed Egyptian because the Hebrew characters are too large. See verse 33.

Also, See footnotes to the Title page for possible reasons for the record to be engraved on gold (rather than some other substance), though it is not certain whether the plates were made of gold, or just a gold-colored metal. Here are the verses mentioned in the last quote:

Mormon 9:32-34

32 And now, behold, we have written this record according to our knowledge, in the characters which are called among us the reformed Egyptian, being handed down and altered by us, according to our manner of speech.

33 And if our plates had been sufficiently large we should have written in Hebrew; but the Hebrew hath been altered by us also; and if we could have written in Hebrew, behold, ye would have had no imperfection in our record.

34 But the Lord knoweth the things which we have written, and also that none other people knoweth our language; and because that none other people knoweth our language, therefore he hath prepared means for the interpretation thereof.

Don’t ask me why this is so interesting, but I think it is. Not only did they write in an obscure language, but they wrote in a language that no one understands by now. Wouldn’t that be cool to write in a language NO ONE can read without God’s help?

Maybe I’ll start keeping my journal in a language no one can read…

Wait, with my handwriting I guess it kind of already is.

Just kidding. I went digital a few years ago and I’ll never go back! But I could print it in Wingdings.

Nah…

1 Nephi 1:2 – Thirty Year Old Journal

“therefore I make a record of my proceedings in my days”

Sometimes we assume that the book of 1 Nephi is like a journal – that Nephi kept it as he went along. Maybe that’s the case for the other plates he kept, I don’t know, but with the version we have access to, Nephi wrote his record 30 years after Lehi’s family left Jerusalem, and well after the time they arrived in the Promised Land. (see 1 Nephi 19:1-5 / 2 Nephi 5:28-31)

1 Nephi 19:1-5

4 Wherefore, I, Nephi, did make a record upon the other plates, which gives an account, or which gives a greater account of the wars and contentions and destructions of my people. And this have I done, and commanded my people what they should do after I was gone; and that these plates should be handed down from one generation to another, or from one prophet to another, until further commandments of the Lord.

5 And an account of my making these plates shall be given hereafter; and then, behold, I proceed according to that which I have spoken; and this I do that the more sacred things may be kept for the knowledge of my people.

2 Nephi 5:28-31

28 *And thirty years had passed away from the time we left Jerusalem.

29 And I, Nephi, had kept the records upon my plates, which I had made, of my people thus far.

30 And it came to pass that the Lord God said unto me: Make other plates; and thou shalt engraven many things upon them which are good in my sight, for the profit of thy people.

31 Wherefore, I, Nephi, to be obedient to the commandments of the Lord, went and made these plates upon which I have engraven these things.

32 And I engraved that which is pleasing unto God. And if my people are pleased with the things of God they will be pleased with mine engravings which are upon these plates.

33 And if my people desire to know the more particular part of the history of my people they must search mine other plates.

34 And it sufficeth me to say that *forty years had passed away, and we had already had wars and contentions with our brethren.

Why does that matter, you ask? Well, I suppose it doesn’t, really. I just thought that was kind of cool.

1 Nephi 1:1 Nephi’s Record

“therefore I make a record of my proceedings in my days”

Sometimes we assume that the book of 1 Nephi is like a journal – that he kept it as he went along. Maybe that’s the case for the other plates he kept, I don’t know, but with the version we have access to, Nephi wrote this record 30 years after Lehi’s family left Jerusalem, and well after the time they arrived in the Promised Land.  (see 1 Nephi 19:1-5 / 2 Nephi 5:28-31)

Why does that matter, you ask? Well, it doesn’t, really. I just thought that was kind of cool.

Then again, maybe you could draw the lesson from it that keeping a journal is not enough, we should write our life history, too.

Okay, so maybe that’s not the intent, but that’s a good lesson, too!

1 Nephi 1:1 – The Mysterious Mystery of… of… Mysteries!

Having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God”

I’m sure you’ve been in church when someone has said something like, “Let’s not dive too deeply into the mysteries,” or, “that’s one of the mysteries that we don’t really need to know right now.”

Of course, they are right. The things which the Lord has not revealed are not presently important for us to have. Things like the how dinosaurs fit into the plan, the precise location of the lost tribes of Israel, and the date of the second coming are all interesting subjects that we’ll someday understand, but don’t need to now. But whenever I read verses like this one (1 Nephi 1:1), I have to question if mysteries is the right word to refer to things we’re not meant to know.

Why do I say that? Well, it just seems like every time the scriptures are talking about mysteries, they’re talking about something we should be trying to obtain.

The Scriptural Definition of “Mysteries” seems to be “Knowledge received through the Holy Ghost” (Except when spoken by a wicked person). The Scriptures say that the mysteries are “that which bringeth joy, that which bringeth life eternal” (D&C 42:61). It also seems clear that in order for one to receive mysteries, they must do so by the Holy Ghost. If the Holy Ghost is not the means of making the knowledge known or confirming the knowledge of a mystery, a person cannot receive it.

1 Corinthians 2:4-14

4 And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power:

5 That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.

6 Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought:

7 But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory:

8 Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

9 But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.

10 But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.

11 For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.

12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.

13 Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.

14 But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

1 Nephi 10:17-19

17 And it came to pass after I, Nephi, having heard all the words of my father, concerning the things which he saw in a vision, and also the things which he spake by the power of the Holy Ghost, which power he received by faith on the Son of God—and the Son of God was the Messiah who should come—I, Nephi, was desirous also that I might see, and hear, and know of these things, by the power of the Holy Ghost, which is the gift of God unto all those who diligently seek him, as well in times of hold as in the time that he should manifest himself unto the children of men.

18 For he is the same yesterday, to-day, and forever; and the way is prepared for all men from the foundation of the world, if it so be that they repent and come unto him.

19 For he that diligently seeketh shall find; and the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto them, by the power of the Holy Ghost, as well in these times as in times of old, and as well in times of old as in times to come; wherefore, the course of the Lord is one eternal round.

Alma 12:9

9 And now Alma began to expound these things unto him, saying: It is given unto many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him.

D&C 8:9-11

9 And, therefore, whatsoever you shall ask me to tell you by that means, that will I grant unto you, and you shall have knowledge concerning it.

10 Remember that without faith you can do nothing; therefore ask in faith. Trifle not with these things; do not ask for that which you ought not.

11 Ask that you may know the mysteries of God, and that you may translate and receive knowledge from all those ancient records which have been hid up, that are sacred; and according to your faith shall it be done unto you.

D&C 42:61

61 If thou shalt ask, thou shalt receive revelation upon revelation, knowledge upon knowledge, that thou mayest know the mysteries and peaceable things—that which bringeth joy, that which bringeth life eternal.

D&C 63:23.

23 But unto him that keepeth my commandments I will give the mysteries of my kingdom, and the same shall be in him a well of living water, springing up unto everlasting life.

Anyway, you get the idea. I think the Lord intends for us to seek those kinds of mysteries – meaning knowledge that must be obtained through the Holy Ghost, such as testimony and the Spirit of prophecy – stuff like that.

The only problem is, what do we call all the other weird stuff if we can’t call it mysteries? Freaky stuff? Nah, that sound too negative. Maybe just – weird stuff. Or perhaps speculation… yeah, I like that – speculative stuff. The word speculation has a bit of a bad rap already, so I guess it fits.

Affliction Resilience: Mr. Go-and-Do’s Tip for a Great Life

Cartoon by hartboy on flickr

“…and having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days…”

These are clearly the words of an optimist. Nephi wasn’t kidding when he said he’s seen many afflictions in the course of his days. Can you imagine having to leave your home, your bank account, and everyone you’ve ever known (other than your immediate family,) to go blaze a trail to an undiscovered country and settle there? Oh, and let’s just make you the leader of the new colony, too.

You’ve probably heard someone point out that Laman and Lemuel did do the things they were asked to do. They did leave Jerusalem with their riches. They did go get the plates. They did go back for Ishmael’s family. They did help build the boat. They even crossed the ocean like God commanded. What was the difference? Their attitude. They complained every step of the way, and tried every which way to get out of their duties. They never killed their father or brother, but they highly considered it. In the end, their attitude destroyed them and their posterity.

But what about Nephi? Didn’t he complain? As far as we know, he never did. He suffered all the same things his brothers did (including guilt – see 2 Ne. 4: 17), and though even his father complained at one point, it seems that Nephi never did.

I guess it’s too late for me to become like Nephi in that sense, but I can change. I can become one who doesn’t complain, doesn’t resist duties, and doesn’t put off what I should be doing.

In case at this point you’re experiencing doubts about my assertion that Nephi never complained, check this out:

1 And it came to pass that we did again take our journey in the wilderness; and we did travel nearly eastward from that time forth. And we did travel and wade through much affliction in  the wilderness; and our women did bear children in the  wilderness.

Sounds like he might be ready to complain, right? Here are his next words:

2 And so great were the blessings of the Lord upon us, that while we did live upon raw meat in the wilderness, our women did give plenty of suck for their children, and were strong, yea, even like unto the men; and they began to bear their journeyings without murmurings.

Did you catch that?! “We only get to eat raw meat, but it’s totally awesome, because the babies are still getting good mommy Juice – and these moms, by the way, are as buff as the guys, thank you very much. No complaints here!”

The closest some of us could come to saying something like Nephi said would probably be to tell about how there are plenty of things that suck about having children.

Wow, we’ve got a lot of growing to do!

Of course our ultimate goal is to become like the Savior, Jesus Christ, but I think emulating Nephi is a step in the right direction!

Taught Somewhat in All the Learning of My Father

What would Nephi’s education been like?

Well one thing for sure, traditional school’s in Nephi’s day were significantly different than they are today. Today the only thing religious that can be taught in school is the so-called constitutional “separation of church and state,” (which, interestingly, is never mentioned once in the constitution in any form). Nephi’s education would have been so immersed in the scriptures that it took precedence over math, science, art, and geography combined. He would have been taught reading, writing, and history intensely, mostly because it’ a vital part of scripture study and record keeping.

The bible dictionary talks about the kind of education Jesus would have received in His time, and I think the basic education system would have been the same in Nephi’s time.

“The divine law impressed upon parents the duty of teaching their children its precepts and principles, but little is known about the methods of teaching that were employed. Up to six years of age a child was taught at home, chiefly by the mother (cf. 2 Tim. 1: 5). The schools that all boys from six years old had to attend were generally held in the synagogues. Until a boy was ten no textbook was used but scripture. The aim was to encourage study by sense of duty rather than by reward or fear. Reading, writing, and grammar were taught, and in order that teaching might be thorough, no class even in the elementary school might exceed 25 pupils. The “religious question” could not exist in Jewish education any more than in Church schools today, for the whole purpose of education was religious. Nothing was regarded as worth learning except as it illustrated scripture. At home probably Bible stories were taught as with us, but the regular course at school began with the first seven chapters of Leviticus, so that a boy might know what outward acts were required of him; then the rest of the Pentateuch, the Prophets, and the remainder of the O.T. ”
Bible Dictionary, Education

Wouldn’t that be an awesome way to do school? What I find interesting is that Laman and Lemuel would have received the same kind of education. I guess it shows how much role agency plays in our education – secular and spiritual.

Goodly Parents

I suppose when Nephi says, “I Nephi, having been…” it might be as if he is saying, “I am writing this because…”

I’ve heard some people suggest that goodly could have actually meant wealthy. I would disagree, since it sounds better to mean good parents, or righteous parents, but then I looked for the word throughout the scriptures:

Which goodly do they mean in each of these verses?

Matt 13:45 ¶ Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls:

Well, I have to admit, I don’t think it’s talking about nice righteous pearls. Maybe it does mean wealthy – that is to say, expensive.

Deut. 6:10 …the land which he sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give thee great and goodly cities, which thou buildedst not,

Hmm… sound like rich here

Deut. 8:12 Lest when thou hast eaten and art full, and hast built goodly houses, and dwelt therein;

Uh… I guess rich again.

Gen 27: 15 And Rebekah took goodly raiment of her eldest son Esau, which were with her in the house, and put them upon Jacob her younger son:

Okay, okay. So maybe they all mean rich.

D&C 103:20 But I say unto you: Mine angels shall go up before you, and also my presence, and in time ye shall possess the goodly land…

D&C 103:24 And inasmuch as mine enemies come against you to drive you from my goodly land, which I have consecrated…

Well, now, those two could mean either or, I suppose, so… but I guess since they could still mean rich, expensive, or abundant,  I’ll just cancel those out.

Anyway, my point in all this was just to say that though I didn’t particularly prefer that definition, it’s not up to me, is it? So assuming that the scriptures are always using the same definition for the word goodly, I suppose we can draw from that that Lehi was rich – obviously he was good, too, but he was also rich. Not that it’s news, since we find out later that they had gold and silver to leave behind, and later to buy the plates with, but still…

Oh, great, now I’ll be one of those silly people that snicker in church for hearing people say things they don’t mean to imply. Someone’s going to stand up and say, “I, like Nephi, was born of goodly parents,” and I’ll be one of those obsessive compulsive folks that mentally lashes at them by thinking, “Oh, really? Your parents were rich?”

I’ll really try not to do that. Really.

But it does make me wonder why Nephi mentioned it in the first sentence of his book. It’s helpful to know later, but why at the very very beginning? Any ideas?