I’ve read the story of how Nephi got the brass plates so many times that I didn’t feel like there was anything more I could get from it. I’m sure you know that feeling. I’m now learning that when I feel that way as I start reading a scripture story, I must pray and ask for the Lord to teach me. I’m finding that He answers those prayers.
One of the main features of this story that cannot be avoided is that Nephi kills Laban. Today I asked myself, Just what can I learn from this? It was a tough question, and it needed to be asked. And the answer needed to be something good because we all know better than to interpret it as a message to kill people that get in our way when we’re trying to keep the commandments. It had to be something I could really apply in my life. I finally realized that it is a great message about the necessity of killing our own natural man or woman.
For the natural man [and woman] is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father. (Mosiah 3:19)Laban is a prime example of what the natural man or woman is like; instead of submitting, he resists. Further, the crimes that Laban committed against Nephi and his brothers are exactly the same as the crimes that our natural man commits against our spiritual man. “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” (1 Nephi 4:11). The natural man tries to kill the spiritual man. He doesn’t listen or obey the commandments of God. And he tries to usurp the privileges, riches, and inheritance of the spiritual man for his own nefarious use. No compromise is possible in our war with our natural man. Our natural man must die. Laban is the natural man in all of us.
In this story, we can see Nephi as the spiritual man in all of us. Nephi’s focus was on obtaining the brass plates (the word of God) and keeping God’s commandments, and our spiritual man has that same desire to be good. (How different Nephi’s focus is from Laban’s focus on and lust after the things of the flesh!) Just like Nephi is the one who kills Laban, the spiritual man in us must kill the natural man in us.
The way that Laban was killed is very much like the process of killing our natural man. Just like Laban was beheaded, killing our natural man involves cutting off our evil thoughts. Laban was killed with a sword. The sword has been used in the scriptures as a metaphor for the Spirit and the word of God. “And take…the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Helaman 4:12). When our spiritual man wields the word of God and the Spirit and submits to it, the natural man begins to be beheaded.
Image from What to Mormons Believe?, "thou shalt not kill?", http://www.whatdomormonsbelieve.com/2008/07/shalt-thou-kill/