Posted by: isaiahsfan | April 2, 2007

1 Nephi 4 — Life Lessons

posted by marilyninhouston

I have learned so many life’s lessons from studying Chapter 4.    The first one comes from Nephi trying to persuade his brothers to follow the Lord’s commandment to obtain the plates.    Laman and Lemuel wanted to take the easy way out and quit.  Even divine intervention (the angel) wasn’t enough to soften their hearts – they saw the angel with their eyes, but still murmured and complained and wanted to go home.   What Nephi does in vs. 2 is to quote scripture to them.   He went to the story of Moses and the Children of Israel, a story Laman and Lemuel knew to be true, and likened the scriptures to their current situation.  He also bore his testimony to them, and asked them “Wherefore can ye doubt?”  Because of this, they listened to their younger brother (which is unusual) and they followed him.   Likening this to my life, trying to persuade my children to keep the commandments of the Lord when their desires might possibly be to take the (temporary) easier road, reading scriptures can strengthen them and help them to follow through with what they know in their heart to be right.

The next lesson comes from vs. 6.  “And I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do.  Nevertheless, I went forth…..”   What a lesson in pure faith.  How many times does fear of the unknown keep us from going forth.  I’m sure Nephi didn’t particularly want to go forth, not knowing where to go or what to do.   He did, however, want to be obedient.   He wanted to do what the Lord wanted him to do, so he needed to put one foot in front of the other and go forth.    My daughter, Jessica, who would like to be married, often tells me, “the Lord can’t guide a parked car.”  Even though she doesn’t particularly like some of the Singles activities, she would still go to put herself in a position where she can be guided.  I didn’t particularly want to teach piano lessons, but I felt guided into that direction.   Thank goodness I went down that path.   My family’s life, as well as my own, is immensely better because I teach piano. 

What we learn from Nephi killing Laban is that having faith and going forth does not make the task easy, just possible to accomplish.   Killing Laban is possibly the hardest thing Nephi had to do in his life.   However, it made obtaining the plates possible.   I don’t have an accurate reference source, but in my notes it says that according to the law at the time of Nephi, a life can be taken if 1)  it is self defense, 2)  a Commandment was broken,  3)  your property was taken.   1)  Laban tried to kill Nephi and his brothers   2)  The Lord had commanded the brothers to obtain  the plates and Laban would not obey  3)  He stole their property.  Legally (and morally) Nephi was justified in taking Laban’s life.

In vs. 18 where Nephi smotes off Laban’s head, the footnote takes us to 1 Sam. 17:51 – the story of David and Goliath.  Goliath, (Laban) being all powerful, and David (Nephi) obtaining power over him against all odds, by relying on the Lord and being on his errand.  I have seen the power of the Lord succeed against seemingly impossible odds, and it awes me everytime I think about it.     Vs. 13, “Behold the Lord slayeth the wicked to bring forth his righteous purposes…..” can be likened to our lives in so many ways.   It is better to offend one friend who doesn’t have righteous desires than to be kind and loving and follow them down the wrong path.  Of course, good judgment must be used here (leaving the 90 and 9, etc.)  

It is obvously a miracle that after Nephi put on Laban’s clothes that he was able to persuade Zoram, in Laban’s voice, to take him to get the plates, and then follow him outside the city walls to his “brethren”.  You can imagine Zoram’s feelings when he found out that Nephi was not Laban.  Of course he wanted to flee.  In vs. 32 Nephi was able to convince Zoram that if he went with them, he would be a free man, and not a servant any more.  He convinced him by swearing “…as the Lord liveth, and as I live, ..”  Back then, a person’s word was very important.   They didn’t have advanced communications, and if someone lied about anything important it could cause needless chaos in a community.   If a person swore on anything that had life to it, the statement took on a greater meaning, and you could believe them for real.  If you swore on your own life, it was even more believable, and if you swore on the Lord’s life, it was iron-clad believable.   Nephi swore on both the Lord’s life, and his own life, so Zoram knew he would be a free man if he chose to go with them.  I would tend to believe that Laban was not a very nice man to work for, and freedom might look very attractive.  (As a side note, the Lord gives his oath to us in D&C 17:6  that the Book of Mormon is true)

I think it is important that Zoram went with them, also, because society would have someone to blame for Laban’s death, and they would not go looking for Nephi and his brothers as murder suspects.  I’m just guessing here, but I think that with Zoram missing, they would think Zoram would be the murderer.  Laban was a pretty important person around Jerusalem and I’ll bet there was a lot of pressure on someone to solve the crime.    Zoram would have been able to stay in the “cavity of the rock” with Nephi and his brothers and wait until the excitement died down before going in the wilderness again back to Lehi’s camp.   I read somewhere (again no reference source I remember) that this was the reason Sariah supposed that her sons perished in the wilderness.   They stayed in the cave for a couple of months or more until it was safe to leave on their journey without being searched.  Also, the symbolism of Christ as the Rock, and this group of men being surrounded by rock as they completed their mission, is fun to think about.  Maybe it was these guys that got bored and drew the pictures on the cave walls. 🙂



  1. love the life lessons learned Marilyn. I have a couple of more to add.

    1. obtaining and keeping the word of God in your life. I touched on this in the last chapter, but this chapter continues that theme. We learned in the last chapter that we can not obtain the word of God by the use of reasoning alone (failed attempt #1),and we can not obtain the word of God by riches (failed attempt #2). It is only by the Spirit that the true testimony and obtaining of the word of God occurs. Nephi was only able to obtain the plates when he was led by the Spirit. We also learn in this chapter that your geneaology is not going to allow you to necessarily keep the word of God in your life. Laban, by geneaology, was the keeper of the plates, but they were taken from him and given to someone who proved to be more righteous than he. His efforts to unrighteously keep the power of the word of God resulted in the loss of his own life. It is a little ironic that he was killed with his own sword. I think this sword, as is often the case in scriptures, is symbolic again of the word of God. Ultimately, the word of God is what is going to condemn the wicked when they face the Savior. You can not hold on to the word of God in unrighteousness, no matter what your lineage.

    2. Choices lead to servitude or freedom. This is the lesson I learn from Zoram. Aligned with Laban (wickedness) Zoram was a servant. He had to choose to follow Nephi (righteousness) who promised freedom. He could have stayed behind in his old setting remained a servant. Who would want to stay a servant. It is amazing how often we “serve” something that is familiar because we are scared of change. Zoram’s choice to follow Nephi led to not only personal freedom, but an inheritance in the Promised Land not only for himself but for his posterity. I see Zoram as somewhat of a convert. He was not born to freedom (in the covenant) but made a choice to follow righteousness. He received all the same blessings as the natural heirs for himself and his posterity. This gives me a lot of peace being a convert myself.

  2. Marilyn, did you know that our new RS president, Julie B. Beck, is a homemaker and a piano teacher? I know many families, including mine, who are very glad that you magnified your talents as a piano teacher. The Church is already reaping the benefits of the many children to whom you have given a love of the piano!

  3. I’ll try this again. A couple of my comments are lost somewhere in cyperspace.
    Cheryl N., I love your insights so much. I have never thought of Laban’s sword as symbolic of the Word of God that can and will condemn and destroy the wicked. The sword was a great protection to the righteous Nephite leaders who used it in later years, as was the word of God. I love being able to use my talent again, of saying “You are Right!” I really miss sitting across the table from Cheryl, Kelly, Jan and you and having the Spirit confirm to me that your insights are right on.
    Cheryl B., Thanks for your kind words. The reason I teach piano is to build up the Kingdom of God as my token offering to the Lord. Someday I hope some Primary President somewhere in the Church will reap the benefits. Are your kids still taking lessons, or at least playing?

  4. A quote from our buddy Hugh Nibley on the oath Nephi gave Zoram (in Approach to the Book of Mormon 128-129)

    “What astonishes the western reader is the miraculous effect of Nephi’s oath on Zoram. . . . The reactions of both parties make sense when one realizes that the oath is the one thing that is most sacred and inviolable among the desert people and their descendants. . . . 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 ‘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.’ . . . 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’ (1 Nephi 4:32).”

    We haven’t taken lessons since you, Marilyn. But the three YW girls all play in Church on Sundays and at home in FHE. Francesca practices almost daily. I’ll have to get the two youngest going again, although they do sit down occasionally with the easy Primary books.

  5. Some articles on the “Lehi Cave,” if anyone is interested:

    Wikipedia, “Khirbet Beit Lei.”
    Kerry Shirts, “The Lehi Cave.”
    LaMar C. Berrett, “New Light: The So-Called Lehi Cave.”

  6. A life lesson brought to my realization this week with the reading and studing of ch. 4. I’ve been struggling with a problem for a while and praying for guidance and a solution. As I’m reading about Nephi et all trying to get the plates, knowing that there was a way to do it, but not yet being successful, I was reflecting on my own quest. I, too, had a witness that the Lord was aware of what I needed and would help/lead me to an answer.

    I never cease to be amazed at the reaction of Laman and Lemuel to the angel/answer: ‘the Lord will deliver Laban into your hands.’ They go back to status quo, murmur murmur, whine whine, but Nephi gets the answer and is rededicated to the cause. He knew the Lord would follow thru. So did I. I knew that the Lord will help me find the right way to deal with the situation at hand. In fact, he’d had a couple of brethren address part of the solution in General Conference this weekend, and I was able to immediately recognize the way I should act concerning my problem. Later, I also received an answer as to what I should do. That was the hard part. It is way out of my comfort zone and something that is very hard for me to do. So I did the next best thing–I tried to reason with the Lord for a better solution, an easier way out, one that didn’t require something so hard for me to do. As I was anxiously awaiting his response to my newly proposed solution I reread ch. 4. Words were all of a sudden written in big bold letters reminding me that I had been given my solution/answer and that it hadn’t changed—I needed to change my heart and heed his words. “…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. And the Spirit said unto me again: Behold the Lord hath delivered him into thy hands…”…”Therefore I did obey the voice of the Spirit…” I have come to realize and appreciate Nephi’s dedication to serve the Lord no matter what. It has come as an eye opener to me that I am not as willing as I thought to do the things that I’m commanded to do.

    I hope that this wasn’t too personal or away from the point, but it was really significant to me and I felt the desire to share. The BoM does bear witness of the gospel of Christ and does bring us closer to him when we heed it’s message. I know what I must do and I fervently pray that I can also ‘obey the voice of the Spirit.’ What great strength lies in the pages of this book when we seek it out!!!!

  7. Kelly, that wasn’t too personal at all, and I’m glad you shared it. That is the way the scriptures are supposed to work. It’s one of the things I most loved about our Isaiah study–to be able to see how the scriptures were working in all of our lives. In fact, it makes me a bit sad and nostalgic because I know if right now we were all sitting around Donna’s table, we would get to hear all the *details!* of your problem.

    Good luck on doing the hard stuff.

  8. I know that this is really inconsequencial but none the less something that I’ve wondered about for years. Laban being a man of influence, would not have been the first on the battlefield, consequently not the first to get bloodied up. How is it that Nephi could cut off his head–which is an incredibly bloody way to die, I might add–and put on his clothes and armor (which had to be covered in blood) and Zoram didn’t seem to take note. There is no mention of how he looked other than those that saw him assumed it was Laban because of the clothing. I’ve been looking for information about Laban and, other than the usual, there if no reference to him being a violent or aggressive man that would attribute to people not noticing his bloody appearance. Like I said, it really doesn’t matter, but something to ponder. Any insight out there?

  9. well the sword was a fabulous one and i think i’ve heard somewhere (CSI or something, lol) that if you make a really fast clean cut it will seal off the veins and arteries and there won’t be a lot of blood. great question Kelly.

  10. Brant Gardner quotes Nibley to answer that question:

    “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, where beheading has always been by the sword, and where an executioner would be fined for failing to decapitate his victim at one clean stroke…. [Nephi] was an expert hunter, a skilled swordsman and a powerful man: with due care such a one could do a quick and efficient job and avoid getting much blood on himself. But why should he worry about that? There was not one chance in a thousand of meeting any honest citizen, and in the dark no one would notice the blood anyway. What they would notice would be the armor that Nephi put on, and which, like the sword, could easily be wiped clean. 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 “big 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 Deseret Book 1957, p. 99-100).

  11. I’ve heard it said that he must have been laying downhill 🙂
    I like Cheryl’s quote best, tho. That’s the one that feels right.

  12. Cheryl, that makes the most sence of all the things that I’ve heard. Thanks for doing the research. Wiping off the armor seems a pretty easy thing to do, guess I was just looking for something not so ordinary.

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