In verse 18 Nephi grieves over Laman and Lemuel’s inability to believe his words as Sam did. Nephi does not leave it at that, however, and prays for his brothers. In response, he receives not assurances for them but an outline of his own future mission.
Nephi’s preaching to his brethren also establishes the family’s mission from a second source, thus complying with the law of two or more witnesses confirming God’s word (Deut. 17:6). Nephi’s confirmation that his father’s actions are divinely inspired (v. 16) is followed immediately by a second witness from Yahweh. If Nephi had had earlier prayers answered equally dramatically, he does not record them. His description of his vision to Sam has an important narrative function; background for Nephi’s own prophetic calling (vv. 19–20) and his future rule over his family (v. 22). Interestingly, Yahweh says that Nephi will be led to the land of promise but does not mention Lehi. It is a slight but significant omission, foreshadowing Nephi’s taking his father’s place as leader of the family. Of course, it violates tradition to have the younger son rule over the elder, another parallel to Joseph the son of Jacob in the Old Testament. I argue that Nephi draws this parallel deliberately.
Nephi’s prophetic calling is related to his preparation. He is a man of faith who has sought Yahweh diligently (v. 19). He may have the gift of faith, but he also has the humility to use his faith, seeking to benefit others and not simply for selfish motives.
Since Nephi is praying for Laman and Lemuel, he receives information about them. Yahweh does not instruct Nephi on methods of converting his brethren. In fact, there is no hopeful message—rather the clear, though saddening, statement that if they rebel, they will be cut off. He will rule over his brothers, and the enmity will extend into a long-lasting feud between their respective lineages: “they shall be a scourge unto thy seed” (v. 24). It is important to remember that by the time this is written, this prophecy has already been fulfilled.
Reference: Verse 20 indicates that “inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments, ye shall prosper.” Eldin Ricks notes a possible background for that statement:
Later Nephite prophets amplified and enlarged this thought, and later historical events confirmed the truth of it until it became deeply rooted in Nephite thinking. The idea was not new to Nephi. Hebrew prophets had taught this truth to their listeners for many generations. The book of Deuteronomy expresses it again and again. Isaiah emphasized it, as also did Jeremiah and most especially Amos. It is particularly prominent in the writings of the seventh and eight century prophets. It was the philosophy of the ancient writer of Proverbs who said, “Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people.” [Proverbs 14:34] Thus a point of view that was already traditional among the people of the Old Testament was reinforced and given additional weight by this divine restatement.
Text: There is no chapter break at this point in the 1830 edition.