Scripture: The light of Christ, which is universally available, is the ultimate measure of truth. (See commentary accompanying 2 Nephi 5 and Moroni 1:6.) When the truth of what sinners hear reveals their separation from God, the light of Christ bears witness that the preaching is correct. Hearing the truth causes pain to the sinful soul. The sinner who chooses to repent will still experience some form of moral or emotional pain, leading to godly sorrow, cleansing, and forgiveness.
In contrast, the unrepentant sinner attempts to escape from the pain, often by one of the two reactions described in this passage: by mocking or attacking the source of the painful truth. The Book of Mormon is quite instructive about how the unrighteous can respond to the gospel. For instance, Jacob exhorts his listeners: “Do not say that I have spoken hard things against you; for if ye do, ye will revile against the truth; for I have spoken the words of your Maker. I know that the words of truth are hard against all uncleanness; but the righteous fear them not, for they love the truth and are not shaken” (2 Ne. 9:40). The ultimate inappropriate defense against the pain caused by hearing Yahweh’s word is denial and rejection. Denial is the process of hardening the heart, the first reaction of Jerusalem’s inhabitants when they mocked Lehi.
Text: Verse 19 says “the coming of a Messiah.” The use of the indefinite article rather than the definite article the may suggest that this is not specifically referring to a title for the exalted Jesus but to the generic idea of a messiah, or “anointed one.” The use of the indefinite article also occurs in 1 Nephi 10:4 and 2 Nephi 25:18. It is paralleled by five instances of “a Christ,” which is the Greek-derived equivalent of “anointed one.” (See Jacob 7:0; Alma 30:13, 15, 26; and Hel. 16:18.) Nevertheless, caution must be exercised in any analysis that relies heavily on lexical items in a translation.
History: The threats on Lehi’s life were apparently common in that time period. Aaron P. Schade, a Ph.D. candidate in Northwest Semitic epigraphy at the University of Toronto, describes similar conditions during Lehi’s lifetime:
Lehi’s life was not the only one in jeopardy. Probably early in the reign of Jehoiakim (609–598), an important event occurred involving one Urijah (Jer. 26:20–23). Urijah (ca. 609) had prophesied against Jerusalem (just as Jeremiah had done and Lehi would do), thus infuriating the king and his officials. Fearing for his life, Urijah fled to Egypt. He was pursued by a posse of the king headed by Elnatan and was captured and returned to Jerusalem, where he was executed and disrespectfully cast into a grave. A similar pursuit is related in Lachish ostracon 3.13–18. A commander named Konyahu, son of Elnatan, had gone down into Egypt; this letter seems to be describing the need for more men for an organized posse or a deputized search team.