Friday, August 29, 2008

Revisiting the story of Nephi bursting his bands

Today I noticed something I hadn’t before. Remember the story of Nephi praying to burst the ropes that he was tied with when his brothers had tied him up and wanted to leave him to be eaten to wild beasts?
But it came to pass that I prayed unto the Lord, saying: O Lord, according to my faith which is in thee, wilt thou deliver me from the hands of my brethren; yea, even give me strength that I may burst these bands with which I am bound. (1 Nephi 7:17)
Before today, I always thought that Nephi was just praying to bursting his bands. Today, I realized that if he had only burst the ropes, that didn’t necessarily mean that he was saved…
18 And it came to pass that when I had said these words, behold, the bands were loosed from off my hands and feet, and I stood before my brethren, and I spake unto them again.
19 And it came to pass that they were angry with me again, and sought to lay hands upon me… (I Nephi 7:18-19)
Nephi wasn’t necessarily saved, because his brothers could tie him up again. It could have turned into a comical cycle without additional help—tie up, burst bands, tie up, burst bands, tie up, burst bands—until his brothers get tired of it and kill him.

No, when the Lord delivers people, He doesn’t go halfway. How does the Lord completely save Nephi?
…but behold, one of the daughters of Ishmael, yea, and also her mother, and one of the sons of Ishmael, did plead with my brethren, insomuch that they did soften their hearts; and they did cease striving to take away my life.
20 And it came to pass that they were sorrowful, because of their wickedness, insomuch that they did bow down before me, and did plead with me that I would forgive them of the thing that they had done against me. (1 Nephi 7:19-20)
Lord completed Nephi’s deliverance by inspiring other people to speak to his brothers for him in such a way that his brothers were softened, realized the magnitude of their sin, and begged Nephi’s forgiveness. That change of attitude seems like it was the most effective deliverance.

If Nephi had had any less faith in the Lord’s power, it may not have happened that way. I notice that he prayed, “O Lord, according to my faith which is in thee, wilt thou deliver me…”

Something I wonder about is whether Nephi was envisioning deliverance in the way that it came, or whether he knew the Lord had the power to save him to the extent that Nephi envisioned himself finishing the journey side-by-side with his brothers and no hard feelings between them at all and didn’t worry about how that might come about.

Perhaps it was both, because he asked for a specific kind of deliverance—"give me strength that I may burst these bands with which I am bound"—but he also prayed for general deliverance “from the hands of my brethren”, which left it up to the Lord how that would be done.

If the Lord wanted to, He could have just inspired the same three people to speak for Nephi and then Laman and Lemuel would have untied Nephi themselves and Nephi wouldn’t have had to burst his bands. But the Lord was merciful to Nephi and wanted to grant Nephi deliverance in the way that Nephi wanted. Maybe because there was nothing wrong with Nephi bursting his bands in that situation. Maybe it would strengthen Nephi's testimony.

Something this teaches me is that it is good to have both general and specific aspects to my prayers. The general aspects give the Lord the freedom to bless me in a way that is best for me according to His much higher wisdom. The specific aspects can help me notice immediately how the Lord is answering my prayers and alert me to try to discern the other ways the Lord has blessed me.