Annotated Book of Mormon
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1 Nephi Chapter 4

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Book of Mormon Annotations

Chapter 4

 

1 And it came to pass that I spake unto my brethren, saying: Let us go up again unto Jerusalem, and let us be faithful in keeping the commandments of the Lord; for behold he is mightier than all the earth, then why not mightier than Laban and his fifty, yea, or even than his tens of thousands?

 

2 Therefore let us go up; let us be strong like unto Moses; for he truly spake unto the waters of the Red Sea and they divided hither and thither, and our fathers came through, out of captivity, on dry ground, and the armies of Pharaoh did follow and were drowned in the waters of the Red Sea.

 

3 Now behold ye know that this is true; and ye also know that an angel hath spoken unto you; wherefore can ye doubt? Let us go up; the Lord is able to deliver us, even as our fathers, and to destroy Laban, even as the Egyptians.

 

4 Now when I had spoken these words, they were yet wroth, and did still continue to murmur; nevertheless they did follow me up until we came without the walls of Jerusalem.

 

5 And it was by night; and I caused that they should hide themselves without the walls. And after they had hid themselves, I, Nephi, crept into the city and went forth towards the house of Laban.

 

6 And I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do.

 

7 Nevertheless I went forth, and as I came near unto the house of Laban I beheld a man, and he had fallen to the earth before me, for he was drunken with wine.

 

8 And when I came to him I found that it was Laban.

 

9 And I beheld his sword, and I drew it forth from the sheath thereof; and the hilt thereof was of pure gold, and the workmanship thereof was exceedingly fine, and I saw that the blade thereof was of the most precious steel.

 

10 And it came to pass that 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.

1 Ne 4:10-13

The LDS Church teaches that when personal revelation contradicts the prophets (as in “Thou shalt not kill”—kind of a biggie), that personal revelation is wrong . . . But not for Nephi? How is Nephi killing Laban different from religiously justified terrorism and cultic murder like Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple?

Why would it be necessary to kill Laban to obtain the plates? Wouldn’t an all-powerful God be able to provide other solutions? According to 1 Ne 3:7, God always prepares a way for a person to accomplish what God commands. God commands “Thou shalt not kill,” yet Nephi sees no way to accomplish this commandment.

Assuming it is necessary to have the plates to preserve their language and teach the law, God is still mightier than all the earth according to 1 Ne 4:1. Instead of making it so that Laban could not know where to search for them after regaining consciousness or just giving Laban a common alcohol induced blackout form of amnesia, God commands Nephi to cut off the head of a defenseless man lying unconscious at his feet. Considering the fallibility of prophets and the fallibility of the epistemology of revelation, considering the propensity of God to “test” his adherents (i.e. Abraham and Isaac), what would justify this killing?

The explanation given by the Spirit to Nephi (“It is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief” - 1 Ne 4:13) is the same explanation given by the high priest Caiaphas for killing Jesus (“It is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not” – John 11:50).

11 And the Spirit said unto me again: Behold the Lord hath delivered him into thy hands. Yea, and I also knew that he had sought to take away mine own life; yea, and he would not hearken unto the commandments of the Lord; and he also had taken away our property.

Annotation for 1 Ne 4:10-13 above

12 And it came to pass that the Spirit said unto me again: Slay him, for the Lord hath delivered him into thy hands;

Annotation for 1 Ne 4:10-13 above

13 Behold the Lord slayeth the wicked to bring forth his righteous purposes. It is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief.

Annotation for 1 Ne 4:10-13 above

14 And now, when I, Nephi, had heard these words, I remembered the words of the Lord which he spake unto me in the wilderness, saying that: Inasmuch as thy seed shall keep my commandments, they shall prosper in the land of promise.

 

15 Yea, and I also thought that they could not keep the commandments of the Lord according to the law of Moses, save they should have the law.

1 Ne 4:15-16

 

Why couldn’t they have the law through revelation? Think about how often the Lehites are reported to receive direct communication from God. Couldn’t God use ongoing revelation to provide a path for Nephi to keep the commandment to not kill? Why couldn’t God have provided the contents of the brass plates to the Lehites by a seer stone in a hat kind of method like he did to Joseph Smith? Joseph didn’t use the plates to do the translation, so why would the Lehites need the brass plates to know what’s on them? (See Book of Mormon Translation) Or, God could have used the liahona. First Nephi 16:26-29 tells us that God used the liahona to write instructions to the Lehites. Wouldn’t that have been a better way than killing an unconscious man?

16 And I also knew that the law was engraven upon the plates of brass.

Annotation for 1 Ne 4:15-16 above

17 And again, I knew that the Lord had delivered Laban into my hands for this cause—that I might obtain the records according to his commandments.

 

18 Therefore I did obey the voice of the Spirit, and took Laban by the hair of the head, and I smote off his head with his own sword.

I think this verse presents some challenges. First, the LDS Church teaches that when personal revelation contradicts the prophets (as in “Thou shalt not kill”—kind of a biggie), that personal revelation is wrong . . . but not for Nephi? How is Nephi killing Laban different from religiously justified terrorism and cultic murder like Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple?

According to 1 Ne 3:7, God always prepares a way for a person to accomplish what God commands. God commands “Thou shalt not kill,” yet Nephi sees no way to accomplish this commandment.

Assuming it is necessary to have the plates to preserve their language and teach the law, God is still mightier than all the earth according to 1 Ne 4:1. Instead of making it so that Laban could not know where to search for them after regaining consciousness or just giving Laban a common alcohol induced blackout form of amnesia, God commands Nephi to cut off the head of a defenseless man lying unconscious at his feet. Considering the fallibility of prophets and the fallibility of the epistemology of revelation, considering the propensity of God to “test” his adherents (i.e. Abraham and Isaac), what would justify this killing?

And, think about the mechanics of taking Laban by the hair with one hand and swinging a sword with the other hand with sufficient force and accuracy to smite off a head.

19 And after I had smitten off his head with his own sword, I took the garments of Laban and put them upon mine own body; yea, even every whit; and I did gird on his armor about my loins.

Nephi just cut off Laban’s head. Wouldn’t there be a lot of blood all over Laban’s clothes? It is possible that he took Laban’s clothes off first, so maybe the blood on Laban’s clothes is not an issue, but Nephi probably would have had a lot of blood on himself.

20 And after I had done this, I went forth unto the treasury of Laban. And as I went forth towards the treasury of Laban, behold, I saw the servant of Laban who had the keys of the treasury. And I commanded him in the voice of Laban, that he should go with me into the treasury.

 

21 And he supposed me to be his master, Laban, for he beheld the garments and also the sword girded about my loins.

Which way is it? The servant is so observant that he recognizes his master’s clothes and his master’s sword, but he’s so unobservant that he doesn’t notice a very young imposter imitating his master?

22 And he spake unto me concerning the elders of the Jews, he knowing that his master, Laban, had been out by night among them.

 

23 And I spake unto him as if it had been Laban.

 

24 And I also spake unto him that I should carry the engravings, which were upon the plates of brass, to my elder brethren, who were without the walls.

 

25 And I also bade him that he should follow me.

 

26 And he, supposing that I spake of the brethren of the church, and that I was truly that Laban whom I had slain, wherefore he did follow me.

 

27 And he spake unto me many times concerning the elders of the Jews, as I went forth unto my brethren, who were without the walls.

 

28 And it came to pass that when Laman saw me he was exceedingly frightened, and also Lemuel and Sam. And they fled from before my presence; for they supposed it was Laban, and that he had slain me and had sought to take away their lives also.

 

29 And it came to pass that I called after them, and they did hear me; wherefore they did cease to flee from my presence.

 

30 And it came to pass that when the servant of Laban beheld my brethren he began to tremble, and was about to flee from before me and return to the city of Jerusalem.

 

31 And now I, Nephi, being a man large in stature, and also having received much strength of the Lord, therefore I did seize upon the servant of Laban, and held him, that he should not flee.

 

32 And it came to pass that I spake with him, that if he would hearken unto my words, as the Lord liveth, and as I live, even so that if he would hearken unto our words, we would spare his life.

 

33 And I spake unto him, even with an oath, that he need not fear; that he should be a free man like unto us if he would go down in the wilderness with us.

 

34 And I also spake unto him, saying: Surely the Lord hath commanded us to do this thing; and shall we not be diligent in keeping the commandments of the Lord? Therefore, if thou wilt go down into the wilderness to my father thou shalt have place with us.

 

35 And it came to pass that Zoram did take courage at the words which I spake. Now Zoram was the name of the servant; and he promised that he would go down into the wilderness unto our father. Yea, and he also made an oath unto us that he would tarry with us from that time forth.

 

36 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.

 

37 And it came to pass that when Zoram had made an oath unto us, our fears did cease concerning him.

 

38 And it came to pass that we took the plates of brass and the servant of Laban, and departed into the wilderness, and journeyed unto the tent of our father.

 

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