This post is a nearly verbatim copy of some comments I left on another blog a couple of years ago, which I mentioned here. I have done a very little bit of editing to keep it flowing smoothly.
The comments were as follows:
Let me take up the apparent contradiction of Nephi slaying Laban in light of D&C 98.
It was mentioned that Nephi apparently did not follow the law that was given to his people which we have written in D&C 98: 23-32. That law states that only after three offenses, in which a man smites your family and you bear it patiently, only then are you justified in dealing justice out if that man still hasn’t repented and comes against you a fourth time.
Now, in the case of Laban, there were four offenses done. The record only specifically mentions three, because it was written by Nephi, and Nephi only had personal knowledge of three offenses, but there were in actuality four offenses committed by Laban, the first one known only by the Lord.
When Lehi preached to the Jews, the Jews sought to slay him. Laban was one of those Jews that sought to slay him at that time. The Lord subsequently commanded Lehi to flee into the wilderness with his family, because his life and the lives of his family, were endangered by the Jews (which included Laban.) That’s offense #1, which was unknown to Nephi.
Then the Lord commands Lehi’s sons to go get the plates from Laban. Why did the Lord command Lehi’s sons and not Lehi? Because Laban was one of the Jews who tried to kill Lehi and Laban did not know the sons of Lehi, but he did know Lehi. So, had Lehi gone to get the plates, Laban would definitely have tried to kill him.
Then Laman goes in to talk to Laban and Laban tries to kill him, calling him a thief. That’s offense #2.
Offenses #3 and #4
Then Laman, Lemuel, Sam and Nephi take their father’s riches in to Laban in an attempt to buy the plates, thinking that he won’t try to kill them this time since they are now offering riches for them. Nevertheless, Laban sends his servants to kill all four men (offense #3) and steals their goods (offense #4.)
Offenses #3, #4, #5, #6, and #7
Since offense #3 consisted in an attempt to kill four men, it might be counted as four offenses, not one, bringing the grand total to 7.
Full compliance with D&C 98
This fully complies with the law given in D&C 98, as it allowed Nephi to kill Laban with full justification for the special case in which “thy life is endangered by him” (D&C 98:31). Nephi and his brothers were hiding out in the cave because Laban’s servants were actively searching for them to kill them and Lehi was in the wilderness because the Jews would send soldiers to kill him if they knew where he was. Their lives weren’t just in danger once, but were continually in danger, and if the authorities knew where they were, they would all be killed (the entire family.)
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 Ne. 4:36)
What Laban would have done if he had been spared
The Lord knew what Laban would have done had his life been spared. Had the plates been taken without his knowledge and he been left alive, he would have known it was Lehi or his sons that had stolen it and he probably would have ordered a search both in Jerusalem and in all the regions round about to find the family and those plates. No expense would have been spared. Lehi and family going missing is no big deal. When Lehi and family left, the Jews searched a bit and then stopped. But the plates of brass going missing is an altogether different matter. Laban would have known who would have been responsible for the theft and would have been diligent in looking for them until found, causing grave and dangerous problems for Lehi and family.
Thus we see that the Lord acted according the law of expediency, yet still precisely followed the law He gave to these Nephites. This was not an exceptional case.