A Genealogy of His Fathers – 1 Nephi 5:14-17

14 And it came to pass that my father, Lehi, also found upon the plates of brass a genealogy of his fathers; wherefore he knew that he was a descendant of Joseph; yea, even that Joseph who was the son of Jacob, who was sold into Egypt, and who was preserved by the hand of the Lord, that he might preserve his father, Jacob, and all his household from perishing with famine.
15 And they were also led out of captivity and out of the land of Egypt, by that same God who had preserved them.
16 And thus my father, Lehi, did discover the genealogy of his fathers. And Laban also was a descendant of Joseph, wherefore he and his fathers had kept the records.
17 And now when my father saw all these things, he was filled with the Spirit, and began to prophesy concerning his seed—
(1 Nephi 5:14-17)

One of the purposes of the Book of Mormon is “to show unto the remnant of the house of Israel what great things the Lord hath done for their fathers” (Title Page). Based on the passage above, the brass plates fulfilled a similar function for Lehi. Not only was he able to read about his spiritual heritage, he was able to connect the dots and understand how he was related to these great prophets who had lived more than a thousand years earlier. Thus, the characters in these stories were not only relevant for the great lessons they taught; they were his family. Nephi tells us that “when [his] father saw all these things, he was filled with the Spirit.” Surely the connection with his ancestors was an important part of his heart being opened to the Spirit of the Lord.

President Henry B. Eyring has taught that learning about our ancestors can invite the Spirit of the Lord into our lives:

Many youth have discovered that giving of their time to do family history research and temple work has deepened their testimony of the plan of salvation. It has increased the influence of the Spirit in their lives and decreased the influence of the adversary. It has helped them feel closer to their families and closer to the Lord Jesus Christ. They have learned that this work saves not just the dead; it saves all of us (see D&C 128:18) (“Gathering the Family of God,” General Conference, April 2017)

This weekend, I will dedicate some time to learning more about my ancestors. Like Lehi, I will remember the debt that I owe to the people who have gone before and prepared the way for me. I will also remember that learning about them and connecting with them can bring me closer to God.

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Zoram Did Take Courage at the Words Which I Spake – 1 Nephi 4:28-30, 33, 35

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….
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….
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.
(1 Nephi 4:28-30, 33, 35)

A few years ago, I was talking with a church leader and describing some of the challenges facing my children, work colleagues, and others. After listening to me, he responded with some words of advice: “A leader can do a lot to calm the fears of the people around them.” At that moment, I realized that I was falling short of my potential. I had accurately identified other people’s fears, and I was able to empathize with them, but I was not doing a good job of helping them regulate their emotions so that they could make wise decisions. That realization helped me to be a better leader.

In the book Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman identifies five skills associated with emotion management:

  1. Self-awareness – recognizing our own emotions while they are happening
  2. Self-regulation – managing our own emotions
  3. Self-motivation – “marshalling one’s own emotions in the service of a goal”
  4. Empathy – identifying emotions in others
  5. Handling relationships – “managing emotions in others”

(Daniel Goleman (1995), Emotional Intelligence,  New York, NY: Bantam Books, p. 43)

Based on the scripture passage above, Nephi was adept at the fifth of these skills. When Laman, Lemuel, and Sam became frightened and began to panic, Nephi calmed their fears. When Zoram subsequently panicked, Nephi’s words helped him to “take courage.” Unlike Lemuel, who consistently allowed himself to be stirred up by the words of Laman, Nephi was able to influence the emotions of the people around him and to help them overcome their negative emotions.

Today, I will take responsibility not only for managing my own emotions but for helping the people around me to manage theirs. When people around me become agitated or irritated, I will remember that I can help them calm their fears.

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He Hearkened Unto the Words of Laman – 1 Nephi 3:28

28 And it came to pass that Laman was angry with me, and also with my father; and also was Lemuel, for he hearkened unto the words of Laman. Wherefore Laman and Lemuel did speak many hard words unto us, their younger brothers, and they did smite us even with a rod.
(1 Nephi 3:28)

What do we know about Lemuel? Not much. We never hear of him doing anything on his own. His name appears 31 times in the Book of Mormon, almost always in conjunction with his older brother, Laman. The two of them act together so often that it almost seems superfluous to list both of their names. When Laman complained, you can bet that Lemuel was complaining too. When Laman got angry, so did Lemuel. When Laman was frightened, Lemuel was too. They persecuted their brother Nephi together, were chastised together, and repented together. They even appeared together in their father’s dream and jointly rejected his plea to eat the fruit of the tree of life (1 Nephi 8:17-18).

How much of an active role Lemuel might have played in their decisions is not clear, but passages like the one above give the impression that Laman was the ringleader. Nephi tells us that Lemuel became angry because “he hearkened unto the words of Laman.” Does that make him less culpable? Perhaps. But as Neal A. Maxwell pointed out, Lemuel cannot escape full responsibility for his behavior:

Lemuel was not only Laman’s dutiful satellite, but he was also his enabler by allowing himself to be “stirred up” by Laman (see 1 Ne. 16:37–38). If, instead, Laman had been fully isolated, certain outcomes could have been very different. We have enablers in our society too. They allow themselves to be stirred up against that which is good. They are not entitled to a free pass any more than Lemuel. Like him, their comparative visibility is low, but their hypocrisy is high! (“Lessons from Laman and Lemuel,” General Conference, October 1999).

Today, I will choose to stand up for what is right. I will remember that I am never merely a passive spectator to what is happening around me. I am either contributing to positive outcomes or allowing negative ones. I will not allow myself to be influenced by people who are behaving in inappropriate ways.

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We Did Gather Together Our Gold, and Our Silver, and Our Precious Things – 1 Nephi 3:22-24

22 And it came to pass that we went down to the land of our inheritance, and we did gather together our gold, and our silver, and our precious things.
23 And after we had gathered these things together, we went up again unto the house of Laban.
24 And it came to pass that we went in unto Laban, and desired him that he would give unto us the records which were engraven upon the plates of brass, for which we would give unto him our gold, and our silver, and all our precious things.
(1 Nephi 3:22-24)

Why did Nephi and his brothers have to make three attempts before they were able to retrieve the brass plates as the Lord had commanded? One reason might have been to teach them persistence. But as I’ve thought about this story recently, I’ve thought of another possible reason: each of the attempts may have been specifically designed to teach them an important lesson.

  1. For their first attempt, they cast lots to decide who should go make the request. “The lot fell upon Laman,” the oldest (1 Nephi 3:11). But Laban refused to give the plates to Laman, and even accused him of being a robber. Perhaps this attempt taught the following lesson: You can’t do this alone. Even the oldest and most experienced among you can’t do it without help.
  2. The passage above describes the second attempt. Nephi convinced his brothers to go to their abandoned home, gather all of their “gold and silver and precious things,” and offer them to Laban as payment for the plates. This attempt was also unsuccessful. Ironically, Laban, who had called Laman a robber, had no scruples about forcibly taking their possessions. But this second attempt may have taught them the following lesson: The word of God is more valuable than silver and gold.
  3. By the third attempt, the older brothers were done; they wanted to go back to their father without completing the assignment. Nephi left them at the walls of the city and went into the city alone, following the promptings of the Spirit of the Lord. This attempt surely reinforced the following lesson: If we will listen, the Holy Ghost will teach us what we should do.

I think it’s particularly noteworthy that Laman and Lemuel both participated in the second attempt. They had previously complained about having to leave “their gold, and their silver, and their precious things” because they “knew not the dealings of…God” (1 Nephi 2:11). Now, at Nephi’s urging, they offered to trade those same possessions to obtain the word of God. However reluctantly they did this, it must have reinforced in their minds the principle which they needed to learn: the scriptures are worth more than the possessions we have left behind.

Today, I will look for lessons in both my successes and in my failures. As I work to accomplish good goals, I will not give up if I’m not successful the first time; I will keep trying. But I will also remember that my failures can teach me as much as my accomplishments, if I am willing to be taught.

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Return to Jerusalem – 1 Nephi 3:1-2

1 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, returned from speaking with the Lord, to the tent of my father.
2 And it came to pass that he spake unto me, saying: Behold I have dreamed a dream, in the which the Lord hath commanded me that thou and thy brethren shall return to Jerusalem.
3 For behold, Laban hath the record of the Jews and also a genealogy of my forefathers, and they are engraven upon plates of brass.
4 Wherefore, the Lord hath commanded me that thou and thy brothers should go unto the house of Laban, and seek the records, and bring them down hither into the wilderness.
(1 Nephi 3:1-4)

The learning process requires us to meet progressively more difficult challenges. When you’re learning math, you first master arithmetic, then build on those skills to learn algebra. When you train for a marathon, you gradually increase the distance of your long runs until you are able to manage a full 26.2 miles at once.

The same principle applies to spiritual growth. After Nephi prayed for help with the challenge of leaving his home, God softened his heart and helped him believe. Because of his increased faith, he received great promises from the Lord. It’s not surprising that the next event, as recorded in the passage above, was a new challenge: a commandment to return to Jerusalem and retrieve a set of sacred writings from a powerful leader.

The Apostle Paul urged members of the church who encountered challenges or difficulties to remember that this had happened to them before: “Call to remembrance the former days, in which, after ye were illuminated, ye endured a great fight of afflictions…. Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompence of reward” (Hebrews 10:32, 35).

After sharing this counsel from the Apostle Paul, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland provided the following words of encouragement:

With any major decision there are cautions and considerations to make, but once there has been illumination, beware the temptation to retreat from a good thing. If it was right when you prayed about it and trusted it and lived for it, it is right now. Don’t give up when the pressure mounts. Certainly don’t give in to that being who is bent on the destruction of your happiness. Face your doubts. Master your fears. “Cast not away therefore your confidence.” Stay the course and see the beauty of life unfold for you (“Cast Not Away Therefore Your Confidence,” BYU Devotional Address, 2 Mar 1999).

Today, I will remember that the challenges I face are indicative of progress and personal growth. When I encounter new and more difficult struggles, I will view them as evidence of my spiritual progress. I will not cast away my confidence but will stay the course and experience the growth that each new challenge can bring.

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Thou Hast Sought Me Diligently, with Lowliness of Heart – 1 Nephi 2:19-20

19 And it came to pass that the Lord spake unto me, saying: Blessed art thou, Nephi, because of thy faith, for thou hast sought me diligently, with lowliness of heart.
20 And inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments, ye shall prosper, and shall be led to a land of promise; yea, even a land which I have prepared for you; yea, a land which is choice above all other lands.
(1 Nephi 2:19-20)

After leaving the city of Jerusalem, Nephi prayed to have his heart softened so that he could believe the words of his father and have an appropriate attitude about his new circumstances. When he received his answer, he was eager to share it with his brothers. One of them, Sam, believed him. But Laman and Lemuel refused to listen. Disheartened by their response, he prayed for them.

In the passage above, we read the first part of the Lord’s answer:

  • Addressing Nephi directly, He uses the singular word “thou.” He praises Nephi for his diligence and humility and acknowledges that Nephi has received or will receive blessings for his faithfulness.
  • Addressing Nephi’s concern for other family members, He provides a conditional promise to the group, using the plural word “ye.” If the family collectively will keep the Lord’s commandments, then they will “prosper, and…be led to a land of promise.”

I think there’s an important lesson in this passage. Many of the blessings that the Lord wants to give us are conditional on our obedience. “Blessings require some work or effort on our part before we can obtain them” (“Prayer,” Bible Dictionary). When we receive blessings from the Lord, it is natural for us to want those same blessings for the people we love. But we may not be able to obtain those blessings on their behalf. They may need to exercise their own agency in order to receive those blessings. We can certainly pray for them. We can encourage them and work to influence their behavior, but as Elder Robert D. Hales taught:

We cannot pray away another’s agency…. We can pray for guidance about when to speak, what to say, and yes, on some occasions, when to be still. Remember, our children and family members already chose to follow the Savior in their premortal realm. Sometimes it is only by their own life’s experiences that those sacred feelings are awakened again. Ultimately, the choice to love and follow the Lord has to be their own (“‘Come, Follow Me’ by Practicing Christian Love and Service,” General Conference, October 2016)

Today, as I pray for family members and others I love, I will remember the importance of their agency in receiving blessings from the Lord. I will ask for blessings on their behalf, and I will seek guidance on how to teach and encourage them. But I will remember that that they must ultimately make righteous choices in order to receive the blessings of the gospel in their lives.

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He…Did Soften My Heart That I Did Believe – 1 Nephi 2:16

16 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, being exceedingly young, nevertheless being large in stature, and also having great desires to know of the mysteries of God, wherefore, I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit me, and did soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father; wherefore, I did not rebel against him like unto my brothers.
(1 Nephi 2:16)

The prophet Alma taught that if we can’t believe, we can at least start with a desire to believe (Alma 32:27). The Savior taught His apostles, when they asked him to increase their faith, that they could accomplish great things with very little faith–the size of a mustard seed (Luke 17:5-6). I think the message is this: it doesn’t take much to get started. Like a parent working with a small child, our Heavenly Father will accept our small and unsophisticated efforts and will help us build from there.

When Nephi’s father announced that the family would abandon their home and their possessions to travel in the wilderness, the family members reacted in different ways. As we read yesterday, Laman and Lemuel complained, because they couldn’t understand their father’s decision. In the passage above, Nephi tells us how he coped with this disruptive change. He prayed, and the Lord helped him believe the words of his father.

I’m so impressed with Nephi in this passage. He makes it clear that he could have followed the examples of his older brothers. He must have been as uncomfortable, as apprehensive, and as confused as they were initially. Their father had made a monumental decision which would affect them for the rest of their lives. But unlike his brothers, Nephi was willing to pay the price to understand where his father was coming from.

He says that he wanted to know the mysteries of God. Those mysteries might have been very specific and very personal: Why do we have to leave our comfortable life? Where are we going? Why is this good for our family? How can I be sure that my father is really inspired?

He says that the Lord softened his heart so that he believed. This implies that he didn’t believe before he prayed. He wanted to understand, but he needed the Lord’s help to open his mind and heart enough to accept the truth.

He says that, because he believed, he didn’t rebel. Nephi sees that decision to pray as a watershed moment in his life. If he hadn’t asked for help, his life might have unfolded very differently. This decision to reach out to God during a confusing time in his life set him on a course which led him to miraculous spiritual experiences and great happiness.

As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland has promised:

When doubt or difficulty come, do not be afraid to ask for help. If we want it…humbly and honestly…we can get it. The scriptures phrase such earnest desire as being of “real intent,” pursued “with full purpose of heart, acting no hypocrisy and no deception before God.” I testify that in response to that kind of importuning, God will send help from both sides of the veil to strengthen our belief (“Lord, I Believe,” General Conference, April 2013).

Today, I will remember that God can soften my heart, as He did for Nephi. As I pray, I will not only ask for tangible blessings for myself and others, but I will ask for help in achieving an attitude of heart and mind which will enable me to face the challenges of the day with faith and optimism.

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