Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Laman & Lemuel’s arguments and Nephi’s rebuttals


In 1 Nephi 17 when Nephi is about to build a ship, his brothers are reluctant to work on it, so they use a number of arguments to try to discourage him.  Nephi is able to rebut them, however, and it is instructive to see how he does it, point for point, but not necessarily in order. 

 One thing is clear—he sees how their journey is a parallel of the exodus from Egypt, complete with manifestations of God’s power on one hand and murmuring people on the other.  He draws strength from this account, perhaps by seeing that his father (and him) play the part of Moses, and he reminds his brothers of how they have murmured like the children of Israel, he does this in order to encourage them to learn from the warning stories of Exodus about suffering and chastisement that come from murmuring.  (Laman and Lemuel may not see it that way, however; they may just think Nephi is beating them over the head for their past mistakes.)

So let’s look at how the arguments correspond.

Laman and Lemuel – You can’t build a ship.  You lack judgment.  You can’t accomplish that great work. (v19)

Nephi—If God told me to do all things, I could do them.  He could command me to do miracles and I could do it.  He’s done miracles in the past. If so, He can instruct me how to build a ship.  (v50-51)
(Nephi has an ironclad trust in the Lord, but He also has confidence in his ability to discern what the Lord wants him to do, and he's willing to do it.)
Laman and Lemuel—You’re like our father—led away by the foolish imaginations of his heart. (v20)

Nephi—The Lord leads the righteous away into precious lands (v38).  (It’s the Lord that does the leading.)  You are slow to remember the Lord.  You’ve seen an angel and heard him speak, you’ve heard the Lord’s voice, both when it was a still small voice and when it was like thunder.  But you are past feeling and hard in your hearts (v45-48).  (Nephi is suggesting they should know better than to call it foolish imaginations when they’ve had dramatic manifestations of their own, which they’ve forgotten.)

Laman and Lemuel—We have wandered many years in the wilderness and we have suffered and our women have suffered, and we’ve suffered everything except death (v20,21).

Nephi—The Lord had to straiten the children of Israel with a rod because they hardened their hearts, and He’s done the same to you.  The Lord straitened them because of their iniquity, one example being fiery flying serpents that He sent among them.  He also prepared the way for them to be healed by looking and it was so easy that many died because they thought it was too easy to work (v42).  (Nephi implies that if his brothers just looked to God, they would not suffered as much or they would have been healed much faster.)

Laman and Lemuel-- During the time we have suffered, we might have enjoyed our possessions and our land and been happy in Jerusalem (v21).

Nephi—It was a good thing that the children of Israel were led out of their hard bondage (v25). (Nephi implies therefore that it is a good thing the family has been led out of Jerusalem because they have suffered and been in bondage because of the wickedness of the people, and that would have continued if they had stayed.)

Laman and Lemuel—It would have been better if our families had died before they came out of Jerusalem than to have suffered as they have (v20). 

Nephi-- Jerusalem has become wicked and nearly ripe and about to be destroyed (v43). (Nephi implies that if Laman and Lemuel had stayed there, they and their famlies might have been dead by now, so it is not like they would have escaped something by staying.)

Laman and Lemuel—The people in Jerusalem were righteous.  They kept the commandments in the law of Moses.  Our father judged them (v22).

Nephi—The Jews tried to kill our father, and so have you, so you are murderers just like the Jews (v44).  You are quick to do iniquity and show to remember the Lord, even though you’ve had some amazing manifestations (v45).  (Nephi implies that Laman and Lemuel only think Jerusalem was righteous because L&L are as bad as them, so they don’t see a problem with what went on at Jerusalem.)

We see that Laman and Lemuel really pulled out all the rhetorical arguments they could think of to keep from having to take part in the ship-building project.  They question Nephi’s intelligence, they question Lehi’s and Nephi’s sanity, they call into question the need for any of the experiences they’ve had since leaving Jerusalem, and they try to invalidate any reason for having left.

Nephi is able to counter everything they say with a combination of 1) strong trust in the Lord, 2) personal application of the scriptures, 3) knowledge of right and wrong, 4) and memory not just of his own spiritual experiences, but those of his father and his brothers.  

We can use this same combination in our own lives to counter attacks on our faith, and it seems to me that Nephi hoped we see that and apply that lesson in our own lives. 

We can see that Nephi’s faith is a living thing that he uses all the time, whereas his brothers can barely muster any faith at all.  They forget almost as soon as they get out of whatever predicament they are in, so they are caught unprepared for each subsequent problem that requires faith. 

Now, if it were only an argument, it might not mean as much.  The thing that makes this story really special is that the Lord backs Nephi's arguments with a manifestation of power.  Laman and Lemuel may have thought there was no way to prove who was right, but the Lord zapped that notion right out of their heads.  I think that means that when we are standing up for our faith, the Lord will also back us up with power, though it may not involve shocking people.

I am trying to increase my faith these days.  When I wake up, I think about the work of the day and sometimes I quail just a little, but then I try to exert my faith that I can do good things and the Lord will help me.  I remind myself that I will be happier if I give it my best effort than if I try to avoid it.  I work to keep a positive attitude.  I pray for help and to be courageous, especially since I’ve had to fight anxiety for a while.