“Neither Did They Believe That Jerusalem Could Be Destroyed According to the Words of the Prophets”

Alan C. Miner

In considering the chronological theories of those who propose that Lehi left Jerusalem after 597 B.C. (historically considered as the “first year of the reign of Zedekiah” -- 1 Nephi 1:4), one might wonder how Laman and Lemuel could say that they did not believe “that Jerusalem … could be destroyed” (1 Nephi 2:11,13). History records that the events preceding the reign of Zedekiah resulted in the overpowering of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, and the deportation of 10,000 of the most important and wealthy people (2 Kings 24:14). Perhaps in reading 1 Nephi 2:11-13, we should not stress the words “could be destroyed” and instead stress the phrase “according to the words of the prophets.”

If Laman and Lemuel truly believed what they said, and had survived all these historical events, they might have felt that the worst was over. But why would they feel that way? One reason has to do with which “prophets” Laman and Lemuel were referring to. Although Jeremiah foretold an exile of 70 years (Jeremiah 29:10), the false Jewish prophets in both Babylon and Judah argued that it would last only two years (see Jeremiah 28:1-4). Zedekiah, along with the false prophets and princes surrounding him, looked to Egypt as a way of rebuilding Judah’s army and making a stand against Babylon. Laman and Lemuel knew that the army of Egypt had forced the Babylonians to withdraw from Israel once before in 601 B.C. Perhaps they felt that with only a two year exile “according to the words of [their] prophets,” and Zedekiah’s alliance with Egypt, they would have been secure in Jerusalem. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes] [See Appendix A]

“Neither Did They Believe That Jerusalem Could Be Destroyed According to the Words of the Prophets”

According to Potter and Wellington, the apparently strong reaction of the people of the city to Lehi’s message, their hard-hearted rejection to the call of repentance from a Prophet of the Lord, can best be understood in the light of the events of the previous century. In 701 Sennacherib, king of the Assyrians, mounted a campaign against Syria and Palestine with the aim of capturing the road to Egypt in preparation for his campaign against the Egyptians. Egypt’s allies surrendered one by one as the Assyrian army approached and the Egyptian army was defeated at Eltekeh in Judah. Sennacherib laid siege to Jerusalem. Attempts to buy off the Assyrian army proved fruitless (2 Kings 13-16) and without allies Hezekiah’s position seemed hopeless. Yet, at this time of near desperation, the Prophet Isaiah came forward to bolster the courage of the people by saying “He shall not come into this city … For I will defend the city to save it …” (Isaiah 37:33,35). Despite attempts to incite insurrection in the ranks of the defenders Hezekiah’s resistance was successful. Sennacherib cut short the attack and left Palestine with his army which, according to the Old Testament (2 Kings 19:35), had been decimated by an epidemic, leaving some 185,000 dead.

In the years that followed, this event would be recounted until “Later generations could ascribe this deliverance to nothing less than a supernatural intervention, second only to one which had secured the freedom of the Israelites from the Egyptian captivity.” Regarding this event Professor Benjamin Mazar wrote:

Embellished by legendary accretions, it strengthened the popular view of the impregnability of the city, and the ultimate sanctity and inviolability of mount Zion and the Temple. This confidence remained intact through subsequent generations down to the last years of the monarchy, until the day that the city walls were breached, the defending forces overwhelmed, and the city itself destroyed by the armies of the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezaar."

In Laman and Lemuel we see the perfect embodiment of that same mindset:

Neither did they believe that Jerusalem, that great city, could be destroyed according to the words of the prophets. And they were like unto the Jews who were at Jerusalem, who sought to take away the life of my father. (1 Nephi 2:13)

[George Potter & Richard Wellington, Discovering The Lehi-Nephi Trail, Unpublished Manuscript (July 2000), p. 2]

Note* How could the Jews at Jerusalem feel that the city was impregnable until the destruction in 587/6 B.C. when in 597 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar had just taken 10,000 people, including the royal family, the palace officials, members of the army and all the craftsmen and smiths to Babylon (see 2 Kings 24:14-16)? [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes] [See the commentary on 1 Nephi 17:22]

“Neither Did They Believe That Jerusalem Could Be Destroyed According to the Words of the Prophets”

According to Gerald Lund, in those last ten years of the reign of Zedekiah, the question that was asked again and again by the Jews was, Is Jerusalem really going to be destroyed? This was partly because the false prophets were confusing the people and partly because the Jews couldn’t believe “God’s people” would ever fall… . During the reign of Zedekiah, who was appointed to replace Jehoiachin as the ruler in Jerusalem, Zedekiah did not learn a thing from the previous tragedies brought on by Nebuchadnezzar, nor did the people of Judah. In Jerusalem, false prophets began to abound, predicting that Babylon would be overthrown and the captives returned. While both Jeremiah and Ezekiel strongly denounced these men (see Jeremiah 28, 29; Ezekiel 13), their presence added to the general confusion abounding in Jerusalem.

In the face of Nebuchadnezzar’s successes in Palestine and the eventual fall of Judah, four important questions naturally arose in the minds of the people:

1. Is Jerusalem really going to be destroyed?

2. If God is really God, and we are really his chosen people, why is he allowing this to happen? (See Ezekiel 4-24)

3. If we are being destroyed for being like the other nations (which Ezekiel and other prophets had said many times), then why aren’t those nations destroyed?

4. What will this tragedy mean for the covenant? What will happen to all of the promises God has made about Israel’s eventual triumph and salvation?

In the writings of Ezekiel, these four basic questions seem to be understood and answered

As for the question of whether Jerusalem was really going to be destroyed, Ezekiel gives an unqualified, resounding, thundering, Yes! It is the major theme of chapters 4-9, 11-12, 15, 19, 21-22, and 24. They all say Jerusalem has had it. That is a pretty hard answer to miss. Ezekiel himself went through several topological or symbolic actions to dramatize the coming disaster. For example, in chapter 4 he took a tile and drew a picture of Jerusalem on it. Then he put an iron pan against it. In that same chapter, by command of the Lord, he had to lie on his side for so many days, symbolizing the captivity, and then he was told to cook his bread with cow dung to symbolize that the people in Judah would eat defiled bread in coming times. In chapter 5 Ezekiel cut his hair and divided it into thirds, burning some and scattering some, again symbolizing what the people would suffer. In chapter 12 he moved his whole household, showing that the house of Judah was going to be moved out of their dwelling place in Jerusalem. In chapter 24 we read that Ezekiel’s wife died on the very day Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem … The Lord said in essence that the death of Ezekiel‘s wife would serve as a type and symbol of Jerusalem’s destruction… . Ezekiel was told not to mourn for his wife. Jerusalem was the bride of Jehovah, but there could be no mourning, for her tragedy was just and fully deserved. [Gerald N. Lund, “Ezekiel: Prophet of Judgment, Prophet of Promise,” in Isaiah and the Prophets , pp. 80-87]

Step by Step Through the Book of Mormon: A Cultural Commentary