I’m once again stealing my mom’s spiritulectual property (yes, I am copyrighting that phrase), but about a year ago she shared an interpretation of a scripture story that I’d never considered before. Not because it’s a story I’d never read before, in fact it’s probably one of the most frequently read scripture stories in the church. Let’s talk about Nephi going and getting the brass plates. (If you want to quickly review the story this is Nephi Chapters 3-5) So let’s start from the beginning. Lehi has fled into the wilderness from the people of Jerusalem who want to kill him for prophesying uncomfortable truths. Then when he gets there he tells his four sons – Laman, Lemuel, Sam & Nephi – that they need to go back to Jerusalem to retrieve the scriptural records of their people. Laman and Lemuel complain about it, but Nephi shows faith and says,
I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.
Then the rest of the story goes that they all 4 return to Jerusalem, Laman and Lemuel are whiny faithless crybabies, and Nephi gets the brass plates that contain their records all by himself. Right? Wrong! I’ve read this story so many times that when I read it that’s sorta how it goes in my head. Nephi trusts in the Lord, and succeeds because he was obedient to the Lord’s commandments. But I sort of skip through the meat of the story.
What happens is they return to Jerusalem and attempt to get the plates – and fail. Not just fail a little bit, but fail pretty spectacularly. Twice. Let’s go through that part of the story and try to forget that we already know the ending, and walk through the steps.
First they send Laman in to talk to Laban about getting the plates and he is chased away and Laban threatens his life (1 Nephi 3:11-13). Laman tends to get a pretty bad wrap, but my guess is that he knew going into this that Laban wasn’t likely to just hand over the plates willingly. Despite that, and even with his reluctance to go in the first place, he puts his faith in the Lord and goes anyways. Only to be rejected and almost lose his life over the matter. Yeah, Laman doesn’t do all the greatest things in his life, but he shows some pretty strong faith in this matter.
When he comes back, they want to give up. Instead, Nephi comes up with this cockamamie idea that they can go back to their old home and retrieve all the riches their father had accumulated and attempt to purchase the plates, even though Laban has already promised to kill them if they come back. Already Laman and Lemuel could easily say, “Look, we did what the Lord commanded and it didn’t work. We clearly didn’t have His protection and help in getting the plates so maybe this wasn’t what we were supposed to be doing after all.” Please pause and pretend for a second that you don’t know the ending to the story and try to see it from their point of view. If someone were to tell you about a situation they were going through that was similar you would probably feel justified telling them, “Hey, you gave it your best shot and that’s good enough.” But no, they are again faithful and go along with Nephi’s plan in spite of adversity.
So off they go back to their house and gather together all of their precious worldly possessions to trade for these scriptural records. Think for just a second of the trial that would be all by itself. You’ve been driven from your home and now you’re going to go back and take all the valuable things you have and trade them just for a copy of the scriptures. Clearly even Laman and Lemuel had a vision of just how precious those records were. They gather all these things and go back to Laban with a decent proposition – all of our riches for the plates of brass. Laban decides he likes the idea of the riches, but not of giving up the plates, so he sends his guards to kill the brothers so that he can keep their possessions without an exchange. The brothers have to flee the city and barely escape with their lives.
Think for a second how Laman and Lemuel must be feeling at this point. They’ve now given up all of their precious possessions and almost been killed in the attempt to get the brass plates. Their adrenaline must be running at a serious high from that experience. So they get back to being alone as brothers and start taking it out on Nephi. Of course they shouldn’t harm their brother but imagine what they must have been thinking, “We told you this was a bad idea. You risked all of our lives and sacrificed all of our possessions – for nothing. If we hadn’t listened to you we would have been heading back to our father safe and sound with the possibility of getting those possessions back. Now they’re gone forever and we could be dead thanks to you.” If my little brother had talked me and my siblings into something like that and it had failed I’d be ticked to say the least. I’m not one for physical violence (I’m the runt of our family, that would be a poor choice of problem resolving methods for me), but I can understand at least a little why they found a stick and started walloping on their brother who had put them into such a terrible situation.
Then of course the story ends in the way we expected it to from the beginning. An angel comes and tells off Laman and Lemuel for their lack of faith, Nephi goes back and gets the plates by miraculous means and they return to their father victorious. But I want to pause for a second and think more about the middle of the story. Why can’t we skip all of the lives being threatened and the loss of property and just have Nephi go in, chop of Laban’s head and walk out with the plates in the first place? Surely the Lord could have made that work out just fine, so why go through all that rigmarole? I think this is an excellent example of what Moroni teaches us in Ether 12:6,
And now, I, Moroni, would speak somewhat concerning these things; I would show unto the world that faith is things which are hoped for and not seen; wherefore, dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith.
I would venture that these crazy trials didn’t come despite their faithfulness in following the commandments but almost because of their faithfulness. They needed to know how valuable these records really were to them, and I’m sure they didn’t really realize just what they were willing to sacrifice for them until they’d actually done it. The Lord doesn’t just provide everything for us, because by working for things we recognize the value of our blessings. It’s something I want to remember more as I face trials. I know I’ve had times when I’ve thought, “I know what I felt like I was supposed to do, but it’s just not working out. I’ve given it my best shot and maybe I should just give up and do something else.” But just because something isn’t working out now, or you haven’t been miraculously been placed exactly where you thought you’d end up – that doesn’t mean things aren’t working out the way they should. Remember what the Lord told the Prophet Joseph in Liberty Jail –
If thou art called to pass through tribulation; if thou art in perils among false brethren; if thou art in perils among robbers; if thou art in perils by land or by sea;
If thou art accused with all manner of false accusations; if thine enemies fall upon thee; if they tear thee from the society of thy father and mother and brethren and sisters; and if with a drawn sword thine enemies tear thee from the bosom of thy wife, and of thine offspring, and thine elder son, although but six years of age, shall cling to thy garments, and shall say, My father, my father, why can’t you stay with us? O, my father, what are the men going to do with you? and if then he shall be thrust from thee by the sword, and thou be dragged to prison, and thine enemies prowl around thee like wolves for the blood of the lamb;
And if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.
The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?
–Doctrine & Covenants 122:5-8 (emphasis added)
Even, and perhaps especially, when things don’t seem to be working out the way we’d expected they would when we are faithful it is not an excuse to give up. At those points the challenge to us is to strive even harder, strech even further and wait a little longer for the hand of God to be revealed. I’ve heard it said, “it will all be right in the end, so if it isn’t all right, then it’s not the end.” So if you’re going through trials and feel like you’re reaching the end of your rope, take courage. He who knows the end from the beginning is watching over you and is there to aid you and guide you. Righteous living does not ensure an easy course, but it will get you safely to your ultimate destination.