“Like Unto the Jews Who Were at Jerusalem”

Brant Gardner

With these verses Nephi sets up the major conflict in the beginnings of the new colony. Laman and Lemuel are introduced as murmurers, as doubters, and as troublemakers. Not only do they grieve that they have left the things of the world (verse 11) but they are clearly unable to believe in the revelation of God through the prophets (verse 13). The conflict is clearly described as one between the world and God, with Laman and Lemuel representing the world (Jerusalem - "And they were like unto the Jews who were at Jerusalem, who sought to take away the life of my father" v.13) and the power of God (as witnessed by the events of verse 14).

In spite of the fact that Laman and Lemuel serve as the symbolic foils for the conflict between God and Mammon, they were literally hindrances to the progress of the small party. At this time, there are only six known members of the party which has taken flight from Jerusalem, and of the six, two are adamantly against the action. To make matters worse, the two who are against the action are the oldest and second oldest son. Given the relative position of males and females in Israelite society, Sariah's position as one of the six is fairly minor. Lehi stands at the head, but the next two in importance are Laman and Lemuel. Not only by their numbers, but by their birthright, Laman and Lemuel are important to the family, and their disagreement with their father is significant.

Nevertheless, the indication of the extent of their disagreement comes from Nephi, not necessarily Lehi. The only specific text we can trace to Lehi does not directly berate his sons, but does so only indirectly. Lehi does not condemn his sons outright, but rather attempts to place a positive side to their disruptions by desiring that they be better than they are.

Lehi does not specifically mention Laman's murmuring, but rather desires that he be like a river running to the fountain of righteousness. The implication is there, but the sentiment is positive. Likewise Lehi's desire for Lemuel to be firm as a valley places his transgressions in their most favorable and forgiving light. Were it not for Nephi's clear explication of their dissention, we would not guess the depths of their disaffection from Lehi's words alone.

Scriptural analysis:These verses provide one model of the reaction of the spiritually unfeeling to the word of God. Verse 11 states:

11 Now this he spake because of the stiffneckedness of Laman and Lemuel; for behold they did murmur in many things against their father, because he was a visionary man, and had led them out of the land of Jerusalem, to leave the land of their inheritance, and their gold, and their silver, and their precious things, to perish in the wilderness. And this they said he had done because of the foolish imaginations of his heart.

Note that Laman and Lemuel have clearly heard and understood the *fact* of their father's preaching. They have exposure to the word, and have understood the import thereof. However, they refuse to believe that the words have any validity. They begin by denouncing the messenger as a means of demeaning the message. Their father is a "visionary man". As discussed earlier, this is literally true. Lehi is a dreamer, and receives his revelation in the mode of dreams.

The difficulty in interpreting dreams, however, makes it easier to dismiss their meaning. Laman and Lemuel do not use "visionary" as a descriptive, but rather a pejorative word. Their "evidence" for their father's lunacy is that he has required that they leave their land of inheritance and wealth - certainly a foolhardy thing to do. Thus, rather than inspiration, Lehi's visions are no more that the "foolish imaginations of his heart".

As a model for those who cannot understand the things of God, Laman and Lemuel serve as remarkably typical examples. The world (its wisdom, its goods, its comforts) serve as the definition of what is real and important. When the word of God conflicts with the world (and any of those definitions) the world reigns supreme, and it must therefore be the word which is false and to be shunned.

Linguistic information:Nibley discusses the use of the term "fountain" in these verses:

"Nephi more than once refers to the river of Laman as "flowing into the fountain of the Red Sea"... I the first place we should note that Nephi does not call the Red Sea a fountain but speaks of a body of water as a "fountain *of* the Red Sea". To what can he be referring? "In Hebrew," writes Albright, "the word *yam* means '(large) river' and 'fresh water lake' as well as 'sea' in the English sense. In our case we cannot, however, he be sure whether the designation *yam* came originally from inland, referring to pure fresh water as the source of life, or... it referred to the Mediterranean as the main source of Canaanite livelihood." In the former case *fountain* is the best translation of the word, and it is certainly in this "inland" sense that Nephi uses it, for he employs a totally different expression, as we shall see, when speaking of the ocean (Nibley, Hugh. Lehi in the Desert, Deseret Book 1952, p. 88).

Redactive analysis: In the writing of this event, Nephi has chosen to keep the general events in their "historical" order. To this point in the narrative of Lehi's family, the textual focus is on Lehi and Lehi's actions. The imposition of the first person "I" of Nephi is limited to his introduction and some intercalated comments. The first person of Nephi is the writer/observer, and is not important to the text. Until the verses which follow.

When Nephi describes the events of his father's ministry, he correctly emphasizes Lehi's actions in the valley of Lemuel. To that end, the beginning text cites Lehi's desires for his two eldest sons. It is only after that exhortation that Nephi begins to shift the narrative focus of his record away from the work of his father, and into the events of his own life. The explanation of the sins of Laman and Lemuel at this point in the text serve to do more than simply elaborate the reasons behind Lehi's particular exhortations. They serve as a crucial background to the introduction of Nephi into the narrative. This will he be clearer in the discussion of verse 16 to follow.

Multidimensional Commentary on the Book of Mormon