When we lived in Jerusalem, life was good. My father, Lehi, had a large house with a lot of land, which we looked forward to inheriting, and gold and silver and many “precious things” (1 Ne. 2:4.) In fact, our property could have been classified as “exceedingly great” (1 Ne. 3:25.) There was peace in the land and prosperity and we even gained some prominence among “the elders of the Jews” (1 Ne. 4:22,27) for Father had become one of “the brethren of the church” (1 Ne. 4:26.) Lemuel and I were old enough, by that time, to learn the workings of the Jews and we were active in our religion, making sure that we always followed the brethren of the church.
But then everything came to a screeching halt when Father prayed one day and imagined seeing a great vision in which he claimed that everyone at Jerusalem was wicked and in need of repentance, including the other church elders, otherwise they would be destroyed. He claimed to have seen God and even started in again, as the false prophets who had done before him, such as Neum, Zenock and Zenos, with the false doctrine of the worship of some being, which he called the messiah, who was to come in some future day. He said that his “brethren” (1 Ne. 5:4) of the church, which was the leadership, would perish and that a remnant of the Jews would be carried captive into Babylon. In short, he completely lost his mind.
As you can expect, the blow-back from this pretended revelation and prophecy was immediate. He (and anyone following his teachings) was denounced by the elders as apostate. My brother Lemuel and I tried to reason with him, but to no avail. He continued to claim God had spoken to him.
One morning Father woke us all up and said that we had to flee into the wilderness that very day. He claimed to have received word from the Lord in a dream the previous night, that the elders of the Jews had secretly convened a council and had appointed and authorized Laban to use his military forces to seek out and assassinate him privily. (Now, Laban was one of the chief generals of the Jews.)
Lemuel and I complained about this situation continuously, but we went with him anyway because we figured that this might just be temporary insanity and when Father got some clean, pure air he would come to his senses and return to Jerusalem.
After we had traveled for the third day, complaining to him and attempting to reason with him the whole time, Father set up camp and proceeded to call us (Lemuel and me) to repentance! Us! He was the one disobeying the elders of the Jews and acting crazy and he had the nerve to call us rebellious! So, we laid our arguments before him as plainly as possible, telling him he was apostate and crazy and foolish; that there were no signs whatsoever of wickedness among the Jews or impending destruction for Jerusalem; that he contradicted church leadership and that even if he was right about the elders of the Jews sending Laban to assassinate him, it must be because he deserved it. We brought up the false prophet Zenos who was also killed for prophesying essentially the same thing that Father had prophesied. If Zenos deserved it, for preaching blasphemy, then so did Father. We told him that if the elders had pronounced a sentence of death upon him, then he needed to do the right thing and submit to their authority and face the penalty for his actions and words. And if he wasn’t willing to submit to them, that we, as followers of the church leadership, had every right to execute the penalty in their behalf, for they did not know where he was, but we did.
At this point he got really crazy and he seemed to have some kind of evil spirit come upon him which totally spooked us, so we just dropped the matter altogether and decided to stop arguing with him until he was a little more in control of himself. We were more convinced than ever that Father had totally gone off the deep end.
At first it was only Father talking crazy and Lemuel and I were the only voices of reason, besides our mother, Sariah, who held doubts about the whole matter, but did not voice them out loud to Father, though she did voice them to Lemuel and I. But then our youngest brother Nephi became infected with Father’s delusions and claimed to have also seen God. Then he preached this new religion to Sam, who ended up believing his words. Lemuel and I tried to explain to Nephi that these imagined revelations were going against the edicts of the elders of the Jews at Jerusalem and therefore were of the devil, but he would not listen.
The next morning Father said he got another dream from his false god, who commanded us to go back to Jerusalem to get the plates of brass from Laban. We protested, of course! Laban was the chief captain of 50 captains and had tens of thousands of men at his disposal. Plus, he was mighty enough to slay 50 soldiers himself, so that even if we were able to get through his 50 bodyguards/captains, dealing with Laban alone was suicide.
We explained to Father that the plates of brass needed to remain in the hands of Laban (who was an Ephraimite) in his well guarded treasury. It was the stick of Ephraim and it was the duty of the Ephraimites to keep it. We were of the tribe of Manasseh and we had no business interfering with the affairs of, nor taking that which pertained to, another tribe. Besides, Laban was the right man to keep the record, since he was appointed by the elders of the Jews because of his Ephraimitish lineage and also because of the numerous army of men that he employed. Who could better guard and protect the record than the uniquely qualified Laban? Surely, not us.
But Father would not listen. He judged Laban as wicked and the tribe of Ephraim as unworthy to keep the record and said that his false god had commanded that the state of affairs be changed and that from now on Manasseh would keep the stick of Ephraim, for it was the record of Joseph, started by him while he resided in Egypt, written in Egyptian, and containing the writings of all the prophets of the tribes of both Ephraim and Manasseh, as well as many of those of Judah. Thus, although it was called the stick of Ephraim, it pertained to both tribes. He claimed it was the prerogative of his false god to decide which of the two tribes would keep the record and that the removal of the plates of brass from Ephraim to Manasseh would be a type of what would happen in the latter-days among the Ephraimitish-assigned Gentiles, who would likewise be removed, along with their records, to the tribe of Manasseh, which would be his seed. And many such false and foolish prophecies did our father make.
In particular, Father prophesied that we would be able to obtain the plates of brass and bring them down to the wilderness, to our father. Lemuel and I saw this as an opportunity to prove that our father was wrong and thus bring him and our younger brothers to their senses, when we returned without the plates. So we agreed to go up.
We found a large cave in which to hide and luckily, the servants of Laban did not find us! At this point, I had had enough of Father’s nonsense! I began to chastise Nephi, and also Sam, for these pretended revelations and prophecies, for their state of apostasy, for putting our lives at risk, for jeopardizing our inheritance and losing our riches to Laban. We could no longer live in Jerusalem in safety, for even if we returned to our house, Laban would seek us out when he learned of it and finish the job he had started! By Nephi’s foolish suggestion, we had cut off all hope of ever being able to live a normal life among our friends and extended family in Jerusalem! At my words, Lemuel also began to scold them, but instead of receiving the just chastisement of their older brothers, these two twerps began speaking back to us and defending their position, so I thought it expedient to not spare the rod and I began to strike them with a stick I found in the cave.
Once again, the evil spirit that had come upon Father was present in the cave, but this time we could not only feel its presence, but we could see it with our own two eyes. It was a devil appearing as an angel of light and it declared that Laban would be delivered into our hands and that we were to go back up to Jerusalem. And then it vanished.
Lemuel and I were again shaken up by this malignant presence, and the dangers this evil spirit was putting us into, by pitting us against one so mighty as Laban. We continued to protest the situation but decided to follow Nephi and Sam up to the walls of Jerusalem, for we thought it best that we all should stay together. When we got to the walls, Nephi, our foolish brother, wanted to enter the city alone and we let the fool go. If he wanted to commit suicide, that was his prerogative. We told him we would wait for him that night, but if he didn’t return before morning, we would leave for Father’s camp.
We saw Laban walking towards the spot where we were hiding, his servant beside him, and we thought Nephi was dead and now so were we. We began to run away, but Laban called out to us, in the voice of Nephi! Our brother was not dead, but was only wearing the garments of Laban! And the servant of Laban was carrying the plates of brass!
After Nephi had recounted this fantastic story of how he had slain Laban and obtained the plates of brass, we just nodded acceptance of it, for we were too elated at being liberated from Laban’s future attempts at our assassination to argue with Nephi over his preposterous story of divine intervention.
Lemuel and I now found ourselves surrounded in a sea of deluded individuals. Our mother, Sariah, who previously had had well-grounded doubts about the pretended revelations of Father now was fully convinced that he was a great seer, prophet and revelator, because of the story of how Laban was slain and the record obtained. She saw the whole thing as this marvelous miracle and sign of the prophetic calling of her husband and converted to the new, apostate, family religion of the worship of this future messiah. Even Zoram, the servant of Laban, was converted, for he also could not see it as anything other than a sign from God that Ephraim and the Jews at Jerusalem had been judged by God and been found wanting. The plates of brass in the hands of Lehi, said he, and Laban’s death, was proof positive that the power of God was with Lehi. The fool would not consider the possibility that Nephi just had dumb luck.
Afterward, Father had another one of his pretended revelations, this time telling us to go back up to Jerusalem and bring Ishmael’s family down to the wilderness so that we could intermarry with them. Now, Ishmael and his family were our family friends from way back, so we had no problem with this, especially now that the danger of Laban trying to kill us was no longer an issue.
After Nephi had recounted to them about Laban and the plates, Ishmael and almost all of his family converted to the new false religion. All these fools saw the story as evidence of God’s approval. However, two of Ishmael’s daughters, the two that Lemuel and I had always liked, and also the two sons of Ishmael, did not believe all this nonsense. They were church men, like we were, and believed in following the brethren of the church as we did. The two daughters were also astute, as they were, following the elders of the Jews and their edicts with exactness.
On our journey to the wilderness, the six of us got to thinking about the situation. If we went to the wilderness, we would be surrounded by fanatics. If we returned to Jerusalem, what did we have? Lemuel and I could not return to our house, for although there was land and a house, there was nothing to support us, for Father had taken all the provisions and all our riches had been stolen by Laban. If the sons of Ishmael returned to their father’s house, they also had a house and land, but no provisions, for their father had taken everything with him. But we thought that if we went back together (the six of us), perhaps by working together we would be able to make a living and start life all over from the messes that our father’s had made of their, and our, lives. So, we concluded our council and made an announcement to everyone of our decision.
Instead of everyone giving us a blessing and wishing us luck, Nephi starts doing the same thing crazy Father had been doing, namely calling us, his older brothers, to repentance! He declared that we had rebelled against their new, false religion and that we hadn’t believed in the evil spirit that appeared to us or in any of the other false and pretended revelations and prophecies our insane father had pronounced. He, like Father, judged Jerusalem and the Jews as wicked and claimed that the imprisonment of the false prophet Jeremiah was proof that the Jews were ripening in destruction and that if we returned to Jerusalem we would perish! Nephi, like Father, fancied himself a prophet, seer and revelator. All this blasphemy and foolishness was too much for the six of us, for he went on and on in his condemnation of the leadership of the church at Jerusalem. We felt justified in shutting him up, as the Jews did with other false prophets, and we bound him with cords and left him there in the wilderness at the mercy of the real God of the heavens.
Just before we had finished our preparations to return to Jerusalem, Nephi walks up! Apparently he somehow got loose of the bands. Perhaps we hadn’t tied them sufficiently tight. Lemuel and I went to lay our hands on him and bind him down properly this time, but my future bride and her brother and their mother came forth and asked me to forgive Nephi his impertinence in speaking against his older brothers as he had done. I realized that Nephi was just a kid, although a foolish one at that, and that it was wrong of us to treat him as an adult, to face the adult consequences of his blasphemous actions. We apologized to him for how we had treated him and did our duty by praying to the Lord for forgiveness and also asking him to forgive us, which he did. But he again asked us to come down to the wilderness to Father and this time we consented, for we thought that perhaps with six people in the party who followed the brethren of the church at Jerusalem, we might be able to turn the tide of craziness and teach people the proper religion.
Commentary on Laman and Lemuel
Just as the church as a whole goes through three stages (the works of the Father, the works of men and the works of the devil), so do individual members of the church go through three stages: hot, lukewarm and cold. Laman and Lemuel were hot converts to the religion of the Jews, meaning that they experienced the works of the Father in the confirmation of the truth of the scriptures through personal revelation. This is why Nephi categorically states to them that “ye know that this is true” (1 Ne. 4:3.) They had received confirmation from the Holy Ghost that the scriptures were true and that the religion of the Jews was correct. So, they started out just as hot as Sam and Nephi did.
The problem with Laman and Lemuel was the church in which they grew up. Being the eldest, they were immersed in church culture. This, in and of itself, would not be a bad thing if the church manifested the works of the Father, but unfortunately for them, church culture in Jerusalem at that time was the third stage church, or the works of the devil. So, Laman and Lemuel became corrupted by the Jewish church, which turned their hotness into coldness. By the time their father, Lehi, had received his great vision of repentance, Laman and Lemuel had already chosen sides, and they sided with the church leadership at Jerusalem.
These two older brothers were torn between the loyalty they felt towards the elders of the Jews and the loyalty they felt towards their father and their family. The elders were saying and doing one thing while their father was saying and doing another. Ultimately, they mistakenly chose church over family and took the view that their family was apostate, damning themselves to hell.
Sam, Nephi, Jacob and Joseph were young enough to have escaped from the hellish church culture at Jerusalem, therefore, they were taught undiluted religion from their seer father, Lehi, who gave them the works of the Father, or first stage church. Because Lehi left Jerusalem, the younger brothers were not exposed to the corrupting (third stage church) influences of the Jews, as were the two older brothers.
All of the posterity of Lehi was special, producing children who, if taught the correct way would never turn from it (and conversely, if they were taught the incorrect way, would also “not depart from it” 2 Ne. 4:5), and that equally applied to Laman and Lemuel. They were special, even as special as Nephi, but Lehi got to them too late, after they had already chosen church over family. Had Laman and Lemuel been younger and not been exposed to the Jews, they would not have been corrupted by those influences and might have been seers, prophets and revelators, just like the rest of the men of the family.
Also, as Laman and Lemuel were “like unto the Jews who were at Jerusalem” (1 Ne. 2:13), the Jews at Jerusalem were also like unto Laman and Lemuel. In other words, to get an understanding of the kind of people that lived in Jerusalem at that time (the third stage church), all we need to do is look at these two men.
Finally, the opening scenes of the Book of Mormon, dealing with Laman and Lemuel, are a type of what will occur among the families of the modern church when it enters its final “works of the devil” stage. Keeping these things in mind may help us both understand the behavior of Laman and Lemuel, as well as the behavior of those future Lamans and Lemuels who will reside in the third stage church.