Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Nephi as “king”?: 2 Nephi 5:18


And it came to pass that they would that I should be their king. But I, Nephi, was desirous that they should have no king; nevertheless, I did for them according to that which was in my power. (2 Nephi 5:18)

This is kind of a strange verse in that we see that Nephi doesn’t want to be king, but concedes in some way, but not fully, as it says he did for them what was in his power.  So I asked myself, “Okay, what did ‘what was in my power’ look like?  How much did he give in?  Did he give in completely and he doesn’t want to say so, or partially, and if so, why doesn’t he say how much?”

I looked at the footnotes and there were quite a few that talked about it.  First, we get Jacob’s view in 2 Nephi 6:2:

Behold, my beloved brethren, I, Jacob, having been called of God, and ordained after the manner of his holy order, and having been consecrated by my brother Nephi, unto whom ye look as a king or a protector, and on whom ye depend for safety, behold ye know that I have spoken unto you exceedingly many things.

So it seems as if Nephi was considered a king by his people, even if he repudiated the title.  It also seems as if the portion of the role he was comfortable with was “protector.”  He probably felt there was no need for a king except as a leader to organize the society for defense.

We get another interesting detail in Jacob:

Now Nephi began to be old, and he saw that he must soon die; wherefore, he anointed a man to be a king and a ruler over his people now, according to the reigns of the kings.
10 The people having loved Nephi exceedingly, he having been a great protector for them, having wielded the sword of Laban in their defence, and having labored in all his days for their welfare—(Jacob 1:9-10)

Nephi was uncomfortable with being king himself, but he was able to anoint someone else to be king.  And we see again that Nephi is called a “great protector” and the added detail that he labored all his days for their welfare.  It sounds like he was a good servant-leader, which would be why they’d want to remember his name.  (Interestingly enough, the tradition of calling their kings Nephi dies out by the time Mosiah(1) takes the group to leave the land of Nephi. ) It is also interesting that the man Nephi anointed as king is never identified in the text, almost as if it isn’t important.  We don’t know if he was a son of Nephi or a nephew or a Zoramite or someone completely outside the Lehite group.

In the final analysis, it is rather ironic that Nephi’s name was considered synonymous with “king” such that his name was used as an honorary title for future Nephite kings even though he didn’t want to be a king to his people.  He didn’t seem to mind noting that he had been a “ruler and teacher” over his elder brothers, but he didn’t care for it with reference to those willing to follow him.  It is possible that he had some closet ambition for ascendency over his older brothers, and that was as far as it went.


Ramona Gordy said...

Maybe Nephi was a wise man and remembered the record of Samuel the prophet. Samuel was a great leader and protector, judge and prophet over the Jews, but when he was old the people demanded a king. Samuel sought out the Lord with this dilemma
1 Samuel 8
6 But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” So Samuel prayed to the LORD.
7 And the LORD said to Samuel, “Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them

Now of course the Lord's purposes were met with the establishment of the house of David and the royal blood line
But Nephi could have also seen the coming corruption of future kings, and tried to warn his people against this.

I also thought that the people of Nephi were concerned about their identity. Nephi later states that he did not teach his children the ways of the Jews in Jerusalem, but they were knowledgeable concerning the establishment of temporal authority. Just like the people in Samuel's time, they could not wrap their faith around a "government" that did not have a "temporal king". Going forward even Alma the Sr, was asked to be king over the refugees of King Noah's court, and he very wisely refused and gave counsel against it.

Michaela Stephens said...

Excellent points, Ramona. His concerns probably stemmed from those issues as you say.

It may also be that the people understood unconsciously that collective decision-making is difficult and involved enough that in certain situations choosing a leader who is in sympathy with the aims and aspirations of the group will allow decisions to be made more efficiently, especially when time is of the essence, such as in war.
People tend to default to processes that bring efficiencies.