Anytime we identify only with the heroes of a scriptural story, we may be walking away from an important invitation to grow. It is by seeing ourselves in flawed people that we come to understand what we yet lack and what the Lord would have us do to develop spiritually. This may be especially true of our relationship with Laman and Lemuel.
In Lehi’s vision (1 Nephi 8), Sariah, Sam, and Nephi came gladly to partake of the fruit. Lehi looked for Laman and Lemuel, wanting them to join the family. “And it came to pass that I saw them, but they would not come unto me and partake of the fruit” (1 Nephi 8:18).
We typically sit in Sunday School class or family scripture study and cluck at Laman and Lemuel’s rebelliousness. We identify with Nephi and the good guys. We consider ourselves more spiritual and devoted than those contrary brothers. However, making harsh judgments about them shows that we don’t understand them or the culture from which they came.
King Josiah’s reforms had a dramatic impact on Jewish culture. Around 622 BC, Josiah found the book of the law (probably the same law in the book of Deuteronomy) in the temple in Jerusalem. This led him to make major changes in religious practice including “removing pagan altars and idols from the Temple, destroying rural sanctuaries and fertility cults, and centralizing worship at the Temple of Jerusalem” (Encyclopaedia Britannica).
One of the effects of the Josian reforms was to focus the people on the written law. One side-effect of this change was to diminish any expectation of continuing revelation. Thus, it was perfectly natural, when Nephi inquired of Laman and Lemuel, “Have ye inquired of the Lord?” (1 Nephi 15:8), that they would respond “We have not; for the Lord maketh no such thing known unto us” (1 Nephi 15:9).
What they may have been saying was, “Are you serious? We have the law! We don’t need your dreams and visions. We follow the law faithfully and you desecrate it with your religious innovations.”
Laman and Lemuel may have been fully religious—in following Jewish law and custom according to Josiah’s reforms. In the context of Judaism at the time, Lehi and Nephi were the religious innovators, the apostates, the rule-breakers. In fact, that is one reason Nephi rejoices in Isaiah. Isaiah was a pre-Josian revelator who delighted in his visions of a coming Messiah. Nephi wanted to be like Isaiah.
Laman and Lemuel were scandalized by Lehi and Nephi’s religious innovations. They saw their revelations as suspect. They saw Lehi and Nephi as breaking the sacred tradition from Deuteronomy.
If that is true, there is a clear parallel with modern Christianity and the Restoration. Joseph was the outlier. He defied all religious rules and traditions of his time.
Joseph tells of being in the company of one of the Methodist preachers when he “took occasion to give him an account of the vision which I had had. I was greatly surprised at his behavior; he treated my communication not only lightly, but with great contempt, saying it was all of the devil, that there were no such things as visions or revelations in these days; that all such things had ceased with the apostles, and that there would never be any more of them” (JS-H 1:21).
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