In order to understand why the people threatened the life of Lehi when he prophesied concerning the impending destruction of Jerusalem, it might be necessary to review briefly the historical situation in the Near East about 600 B.C. When the Book of Mormon record begins in Jerusalem about 600 B.C., the kingdom of Judah is a vassal state of Babylonia and is ruled by a twenty-one-year-old puppet king, Zedekiah. The great military and economic powers in the Near East at this time are: (1) Babylonia, which just a few years before had defeated the Egyptians at the Battle of Carchemish and had thus "earned" the right to control the small kingdom of Judah ("southern" kingdom), which is located between these two great powers; (2) Egypt, which had passed the peak of her military power but still had great cultural and economic influence; and (3) Assyria, which had conquered the kingdom of Israel ("northern" kingdom) about 722 B.C. and was awaiting further opportunities for conquest.
Zedekiah does not want his kingdom to be under the control of Babylonia, however, and he and some of his advisers are considering forming an alliance with Egypt in an attempt to throw off the Babylonian yoke. Jeremiah and the other prophets of the Lord are warning against such an alliance. The position of the prophets is not a popular one with the political and economic leaders of Judah, however. Hence the prophet Jeremiah is persecuted and frequently thrown into prison (the references in the Bible that refer to this period are 2 Kings 23-25; 2 Chronicles 36; Jeremiah 26-39). Lehi, another prophet, is warned by the Lord to flee from Jerusalem to escape the destruction that the prophets state will surely result from an alliance with Egypt (1 Nephi 1:12; 2 Nephi 2:14). The Book of Mormon opens with the flight of Lehi and his colony from Jerusalem, and thereafter it is primarily concerned with their trip to a promised land and with the history of their descendants over a 1,000-year period.