Helaman named his sons Nephi and Lehi, so that they would remember and follow the examples of their first parents who came from the city of Jerusalem and established their civilization in a new land (Helaman 5:6-7).
Nephi and Lehi took this charge seriously. Years later, as they embarked on a mission, they remembered their father’s words (Helaman 5:5, 14). And when Nephi returned to his home in Zarahemla years later, he contrasted the wickedness of his people with the righteousness and happiness of the people in the days of the earlier Nephi (Helaman 7:7-9).
So it’s not surprising that he would remind his people of earlier prophets, including the earlier Lehi and Nephi, when they questioned his authority to call them to repentance.
The civil authorities, who felt threatened by his words, called upon the people to reject Nephi and his message. “Why do you suffer this man to revile against us?” they asked (Helaman 8:5).
Nephi understood the implications of this question. He was a lone voice in a crowded city. He had just been rejected in the north (Helaman 7:1-3). There is strength in numbers. If the people refused to listen, would that render him powerless?
In response to this question, Nephi reminded the people of other prophets who had spoken on behalf of God in earlier times:
- Moses parted the Red Sea and lifted up a brazen serpent which healed his people (Helaman 8:11-15).
- Abraham saw that Christ would come and rejoiced (Helaman 8:17).
- Zenos gave his life for his testimony (Helaman 8:19).
- Zenock, Ezias, Isaiah, and Jeremiah all testified that the Son of God would come to earth. Jeremiah’s words should have particular credibility, since he also prophesied that Jerusalem would be destroyed, and that prophecy was fulfilled (Helaman 8:20-21).
- Lehi was rejected in Jerusalem for preaching the gospel. His son Nephi also testified of Christ (Helaman 8:22).
I think Nephi was making several points by appealing to so many past prophets:
- Just because a prophet is rejected doesn’t mean he is wrong.
- The words of prophets are consistent over time. Nephi was not alone—he was part of a long tradition of preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.
- Prophets are willing to make great sacrifices to fulfill their responsibilities. They will not be intimidated by those who wish to silence them.
- Prophets can perform miracles and can reveal events which will happen soon. These provide evidence that the prophet’s words about more distant realities are also true.
Today, I will remember Nephi’s message about prophets. I will be grateful for so many prophets throughout history and today, who have revealed the truth even when it’s not popular, even when they must make great sacrifices to do so. I will remember that being aligned with truth is better than being aligned with popular opinion. Strength in God is better than strength in numbers.