2:1 Going against deuteronomist doctrine? Nephi seems to be setting the stage for the contrast of the “Jews” at Jerusalem with Laman and Lemuel on their side, with Lehi as a “visionary man” and Nephi on the other side. Two competing belief systems and two competing authorities. Lehi’s party separating themselves from the Jews at Jerusalem is literal but also theological. This is emphasized throughout Nephi’s record.
2:2 “that he should take his family and depart into the wilderness.” This was very common. We see it frequently in the Old Testament during times of war with foreigners and when there is internal conflict in Jerusalem. This was done even before the Israelites arrived in Canaan. Archeological digs show that ancient Canaanites who had fled during war time to caves in the wilderness. David fled to caves in En-Gedi, the Jews fled to caves when the Romans attacked. Today, we see this in other parts of the middle-east such as Afghanistan. It is a very old practice.
2:4 This is possibly point “B” in the 1 Nephi chiasmus, corresponding to arriving in the promised land in chapter 18.
2:5 Possibly on the eastern shore of the Gulf of Aqaba, one of two “finger” gulfs connected to the Red Sea at its northern point. An interesting point is that some of the local Arabs believe that this is the area where Moses crossed the Red Sea.
2:6 Many have tried to find the area of the Valley of Lemuel measuring a three day traveling distance from Jerusalem. However, though this may be the case, no where in 1 Nephi are we told where the wilderness starts. Lehi’s party may have travelled a day or more before they reached what they considered to be “the wilderness”. Funny how we make assumptions so easily in our minds without a truly critical reading.
2:7 Critics of the Book of Mormon have often had a problem with this verse. How can Lehi offer a sacrifice when he is not at the temple? However, there could be many reasons for this, and specifically, a likely reason for this being mentioned by Nephi. First, there are at least three other temples that have been built outside of Jerusalem with full approval of the High Priest, two in Egypt and one in southern Palestine. Also, the Old Testament confirms that many times sacrifices were made on altars away from the temple. Another questions to consider is about priesthood. The Melchizedek priesthood and its functions have mostly been removed from the Old Testament. Since Lehi had the Melchizedek priesthood, perhaps he was able to build the altar and make the sacrifice by virtue of his authority. Also, one of the reasons Nephi specifies the “three day journey” may be that it was necessary to be three days’ journey away from the temple to offer sacrifices. Support for this practice, contrary to what many believe about the exclusiveness of temple sacrifice worship, is found in the Dead Sea Scrolls. In Temple Scroll: Column 52 it reads, “You shall not slaughter a clean ox or sheep or goat in all your towns, near to my temple (within) a distance of a three days’ journey . . ” (11QT 52:13-16).
In the reform of the deuteronomists which took place primarily under the young King Josiah, who began his reign approximately 44 years before Lehi departed Jerusalem, the “high places” of worship were destroyed and became forbidden. The question is, was this a positive move made by a righteous king, or was this part of a political agenda to centralized power in Jerusalem by corrupted religionists who supported King Josiah (Josiah was only 8 years old when he was placed on the throne)? We all know that the victors of wars and politics are those who write the history. Jeremiah was called to preach against those in power who continued to follow the reforms, and to warn the people of their sins. The narrative of Nephi seems to speak loudly and boldly against many of the reforms that had taken hold in Jerusalem. He seems to purposefully bring a contrarian view to the culture and practices of the “Jews”, or those in control at Jerusalem. Lehi’s altar is just one example of this. In direct contrast to a “centralized” Jerusalem, Lehi, with the proper authority from God, sacrifices in Arabia.
2:11 Might the murmuring of Laman and Lemuel have been increased due to the sacrifice away from the temple? Or perhaps they both questioned Lehi’s priesthood authority? After all, he was not of Aaronic decent. Did they not support the Melchizedek priesthood?
“a visionary man”. Seems like another point against the reforms. The deuteronomists seemed to shy away from “visions”. Nibley has his idea here from the Lachish Letters on this term, John Tvednes here.
Some scholars have speculated that the “land of their inheritance” may have been in En-Gedi, an oasis on the western shore of the Dead Sea. Though this land was given to the tribe of Judah, not Mannasah. It is also the place where David fled from Saul and hid.
2:12 “they did murmur because they knew not the dealings of that God who had created them.” How can Laman and Lemuel not know “the dealings of that God who had created them” when Lehi is their father? Nephi seems to setup a perfect example of deuteronomist followers in Laman and Lemuel. Lehi is departing because he is threatened with his life from those who have a specific belief system that is not in harmony with the prophets such as Jeremiah and Lehi. Laman and Lemuel do not want to depart and seem to have problems with Lehi’s and Nephi’s authority.
2:13 Of course, if Laman and Lemuel are “true believers” of the reform, they are not going to believe the prophets, including their father, but would believe that Jerusalem would be protected due to following a self-righteous and errant belief in a corrupted religion that cannot truly support the Davidic covenant that preserves Jerusalem.
Here we get a clear comparison of Laman and Lemuel to the reformers, “And they were like unto the Jews who were at Jerusalem, who sought to take away the life of my father.” Why? To kill your own father? Because it is religion and they believe they would be killing him in the name of God because he is preaching against what Laman in Lemuel believe to be God’s commandments. In other words, they were a part of that belief system, of that corrupted religion, and because Lehi was preaching against it, was practicing against it, they wanted to kill him. They probably thought that their father was worthy of death.
2:14 Lehi here is preaching against the corrupted religion and confounding its doctrine.
2:15 Interestingly, this short verse is placed smack in the middle of a continuous thought between verses 14 and 16. Jacob also “dwelt in a tent”. This phrase probably has a deeper meaning than the obvious and may imply something to the effect of authority, order, teaching, etc.
2:16 The phrase, “being exceedingly young, nevertheless being large in stature”, may indicate that Nephi is a teenager who has grown and physically matured beyond his years.
Here Nephi contrasts himself with Laman and Lemuel’s lack of knowledge of “the dealings of that God who had created them”, with his “great desires to know of the mysteries of God. Interestingly, immediately following this statement Nephi says, “wherefore, I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit me”. The primary lesson Nephi is giving us with this contrast is that of revelation. As in almost all eras of the Lord’s gospel being corrupted, revelation is almost always one of the first targets of the adversary. By coupling this personal revelation in with his contrasting of himself with Laman and Lemuel, he may be implying that they do not believe as much in personal revelation, and that this was a damaged principle brought by the reformers.
2:17 Nephi is following a missionary model, having prayed for confirmation of the truth, and being converted, he desires to share the “good news”.
2:18 Laman and Lemuel had spent too much time in an environment where they could be influenced. Perhaps Lehi was a recent “convert” to the truth and Laman and Lemuel grew up with the corrupted model of religion and have a tough time leaving it.
2:19 Here Nephi follows a common theme in his writing, we are blessed BECA– USE of our faithfulness. This is not speaking of unconditional love from God, but reward for doing what is right and exercising faith.
2:20 Isn’t this the case for all of us? We all “prosper, and shall be led to a land of promise” if we obey the commandments.
2:21 “cut off from the presence of the Lord” is used as a contrast to “land of promise”. Further, “cut off” may have implications of a broken covenant.
2:22 Just like Joseph of Egypt (Gen 37:6-8)