2 Nephi 1-10: “The Manner of Happiness”

This week I am combining last week and this week’s chapters. I apologize for it being late, but I have been traveling a lot recently. We will be hitting the first ten chapters of 2 Nephi. 2 Nephi can be split into 4 parts and we will hit parts 1 and 2 this week.

Part 1(Chapters 1-5) is the culmination of division of Nephi’s family. I believe this is symbolic for the division that happens within God’s family of children and so it is important to notice and think about the things that caused the division and then the ramifications of the division.

Part 2 (Chapters 6-10) is our first introduction to Jacob and his teachings on the atonement. Jacob becomes instrumental in presenting a clear and understandable Gospel of Jesus Christ and the great plan of God. Nephi clearly abdicates the leadership of the people to Jacob at a young age and Jacob has a powerful relationship with the Savior that motivates his teachings.

Part 3 (Chapters 11-24) is Nephi quoting Isaiah. These chapters lay the foundation for what Nephi saw as his purpose of writing his record and the key principles that were necessary for his people to study and think about into the future.

Part 4 (Chapters 25-33) is Nephi’s interpretation and “real talk” about what it means to follow Christ and God. These are Nephi’s final, and most important, words to his posterity.

CHAPTERS FOR STUDY WEEK 6-7 – 2 Nephi 1-10

– Opposition is a requisite to agency and faith. Trying to remove opposition is not the plan of God.

– Although happiness is available in any situation, there are certain life characteristics that will make happiness more likely.

– Faith is founded on the atonement of Jesus Christ.

History and Context:
– Opposition as a key component to faith is something Lehi is very specific in addressing. He goes so far as to say that without sin there would be no righteousness. I think this is a key concept that many of us struggle with.  I have written on it in other posts, but our desire to remove opposition usually results in decreased faith and increased struggle with opposition. What Lehi suggests is that opposition is how we find faith, and happiness and therefore we must accept opposition as part of our mortal experience. 

– While birthright is not mentioned explicitly in the Book of Mormon, it is at the cultural root of the conflict between Laman and Nephi. Nephi methodically taking over the leadership of the family, and then being given the birthright from Lehi at his last blessing before Lehi dies is a complete affront to Laman. It is difficult for us to understand how subversive and humiliating this would have been for Laman. Add that to all the other conflicts and fissures in their relationship it is easy to see how things ended so badly. 

– In 2 Nephi 3 we get such a great explanation of why the Book of Mormon is important as a companion to the Bible: “Shall grow together, unto the confounding of false doctrines and laying down of contentions, and establishing peace…bringing them to the knowledge of their fathers int he latter days, and also to the knowledge of my covenants.” I have many friends who may misunderstand the Book of Mormon to be replacing or superseding the Bible, but they are meant to work together to help us understand the doctrine of Christ, establishing peace, and reminding us that God is real and covenants are important. 

– Nephi’s Psalm is interesting because it brings us into the soul of a prophet. It helps us know that Nephi struggles and that he isn’t just the perfect son and leader, but a broken and shaken man who is witnessing his family being divided and feeling some responsibility for it. I am sure he still feels pain for killing Laban, but in any case to see his struggles makes him real like many prophets are not. I feel his pain and love him more because of it. The other interesting part of the psalm is that it follows the model of ancient psalms. It is astoundingly ancient Near Eastern with is structure and composition as a psalm of lament.  This structure is something that highlights Nephi’s culture and his love of the scriptures. 

Invocation – 4:16-17
Complaint – 17-19
Confession of Trust – 20-30
Petition – 31-33
Vow of Praise – 34-35 

– The curse described by Nephi in Chapter 5 is a difficult passage and is similar to passages in the Old Testament about “black” skin and “curses.” I want to discuss this important point, but first I want to use a recent quote about the idea that dark skin is tied to cursing by God from the church itseld:

“The Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects unrighteous actions in a pre-mortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past, and present.”

With that being said, what do the scriptures mean when they talk about this cursing?  I want to give three ideas that can help us understand this better. 

  • Exogamy (Marrying Outside of the Group) – In the context of Nephi’s situation he ties this dark skin as something that made it easier for his posterity to not marry.  This not “marrying outside of the group” is common idea and belief system. Add to that idea the facts that Nephi was writing this decades later, and Laman’s family was intermarrying with the native population. It is easy to see how Nephi separated the people based on their skin color. Nephi’s posterity was not marrying outside of the group as part of a covenant matter. Laman’s posterity was becoming dark skinned as they intermarried with the world around them. This could have been Nephi and Mormon’s reason for tying a curse with their darker skins. I don’t think it is reasonable to believe that all of the sudden Laman and his whole family turned dark skinned when Nephi and his family left, and that when Lamanites joined the church hundreds of years late they turned white. In fact, when some Lamanites convert in the middle of the Book of Mormon no transformation happens. I believe this same idea is at play with Israelites and marriage when it comes to Cain in the Old Testament.  
  • Ancient Racist Attitudes – Another key factor is that animosity was created at the time of Nephi and Laman’s falling out, which grew to staggering proportions over the centuries. This would have likely fostered racism within their posterity and even the authors themselves. This is a true pattern in life. When you look at countries that have been around for centuries, events hundreds of years in the past are often the source of bitter hatred, racism, and bigotry toward their peoples. This clearly happened to the people in the Book of Mormon. Leaders calling their skins a cursing would have been a way to differentiate and keep their people separate.  
  • Symbolic Darkness – In 2 Nephi 30:6, Nephi predicts the scales of darkness will begin to fall from Lamanite eyes. Dwindling in unbelief is often tied to darkness, and faithfulness is tied to whiteness. This could therefore be a symbolic meaning of pureness when taught by the leaders of these people. In fact, I think much of the use of dark and white is meant to be symbolic in later teachings of prophets in the Book of Mormon, but it would have fostered racist feelings and actions among both people. 

More than likely all three things are at play, but in any event, the worst thing about these ancient attitudes is that it has informed and influenced hundreds of millions of people in the last two thousand years to use the color of skin as a weapon, including some leaders of the church teaching false doctrines like this.

Nephi, however, does make a point of explaining the doctrine and how God sees his children:

“For none of these iniquities come of the Lord; for he doeth that which is good among the children of men; and he doeth nothing save it be plain unto the children of men; and he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.” 2 Nephi 26:33

This is a tough subject matter, with a lot that could be said, but part of our fallen world is anger, hatred, pride, and prejudice. However, it can be overcome through forgiveness, humility, love, and understanding. Racism should not be a part of any Christian believer, and it takes effort to overcome and eradicate, an effort we should all engage in. 

– In 2 Nephi 6 we see a second documented case of Priesthood structure being fitted to circumstance. Levites, at this time, were the only authorized holders of the priesthood and Lehi was not from that tribe. However, like Jethro at the time of Moses, priesthood can be used by the Lord in patriarchal ways and in different structures to further His plan. 

– Jacob’s sermon which he delivers and Nephi feels is critical to include on the plates is a typical of what is called a Covenant/Treaty pattern of sermon that were common in ancient Near Eastern teachers. Jacob would have learned this from Nephi and his father, but the structure is as follows:  

Preamble and recitation of titles – 6:1-4
Historical Overview – 6:5-9, 22 (Chapters 7-8 reading Isaiah as context)

Stipulations of the Covenant – 9:23-26
Cursings and Blessings – 9:27-43
Witness formula – 9:44
Recording of Contract – 9:52 

Opposition: The Curse of Divided Families
Lehi gives blessings to his children as he is on his death bed. This is reminicent of Isaac giving his blessing to Jacob and Esau. Even more interesting is that Nephi glosses over the blessings for him, Laman, Lemuel, and Sam (the older children) and instead focuses heavily on Jacob and Joseph. I will get to this in a minute, but one thing he does not when speaking to his children that are fighting with each other I found powerful, “Awake! and arise from the dust, and hear the words of a trembling parent.” This really hit me as I thought of the pain Lehi was feeling watching his family fall apart. I think this affected Nephi all of his life.

Nephi is clearly setting the stage in the records for Jacob and Joseph to take over the leadership of the community. He spends an extenisve amount of time on their blessings and the doctrines that were taught to them in the blessings. Doctrine that focused on the reality of opposition, the choice to follow the Savior, the importance of records and remembering our ancestor’s experiences with God and the importance of keeping covenants.

Nephi then shows us the feelings of pain that come with the division of families. The true curse of the Lamanites was shared by the Nephites, the curse of division and separation. When you look at the story you can see the types of character traits that permeate those involved (Nephi and his brothers). Pride, jealousy, exclusion, lack of forgiveness, self righteousness, ignoring warnings of the Lord, and justification for actions. These attitudes grew deeper and deeper over the years resulting in the most painful experience for the family. I think it is a symbolic lesson for our own separation with God and our fellow human beings. We must do what we can to have the “opposition” attitudes in our relationship with God and neighbors – humility, understanding, inclusion, forgiveness, repentance, patience, faith, and self-awareness.

Living After the Manner of Happiness
Fearing for their life, Nephi and all who would follow take off to leave and find a place to establish their own community. I will take on this section of the chapters in more detail below, but Nephi explains the differences in the resulting lifestyles of the Nephites and Lamanites over the last 4 decades as a way of warning his posterity to stay in the group and stay close to God. Because it is recorded after the fact, it seems like everything happens really quickly, but it is more likely these changes and differences happened over 30-40 years.

The Great Plan of God
In a sign that Nephi is turning over authority to Jacob and Joseph to minister and lead the people, Jacob is given very precious space in Nephi’s record to teach about the atonement of Christ. Jacob begins by using Isaiah to talk about the separation of mankind from God, both in reality and in actions and the resulting disbelief that can occur. He also teaches that God will not give up on us and that He will seek to gather us in the end. God has covenanted to save us and He has prepared a plan.

Jacob then teaches us about the “Great Plan of Our God” in which a Savior was sent to provide an atonement. The law which we will all fail to live up to is meant to teach us and lead us to God. When we have faith and repent then the atonement has bridged the separation between us and God, it also has power to help us change and become more holy. The fear of failure can be eliminated because all sin, pain, suffering, and consequences for sin have been paid for in advance, the only thing we cannot do is reject what Jesus is offering us.

So with that being our only chance to fail, rejecting Jesus, Satan has devised a plan that is so wonderfully put by Jacob –

“O that cunning plan of the evil one! O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish. But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God. But wo unto the rich, who are rich as to the things of the world. For because they are rich they despise the poor, and they persecute the meek, and their hearts are upon their treasures; wherefore, their treasure is their god. And behold, their treasure shall perish with them also.” 2 Nephi 9:28-30

If this doesn’t describe the world we live in now, I do not know what does. This warning is for me personally in so many ways, and I appreciate so much that Jacob points this out to his people. They will fail miserably in following this warning, just as we do, but it is profound to understand the way in which Satan seeks to get us to reject Jesus Christ. Jacob finishes up his powerful sermon with this quote that I find so important in our journey:

“Therefore, cheer up your hearts, and remember that ye are free to act for yourselves—to choose the way of everlasting death or the way of eternal life. Wherefore, my beloved brethren, reconcile yourselves to the will of God, and not to the will of the devil and the flesh; and remember, after ye are reconciled unto God, that it is only in and through the grace of God that ye are saved.” 2 Nephi 10:23-24

Why is our family often the people we are the most angry or harsh toward? What can we do to change that?

Do you have racist feelings or hateful feelings toward a class of people whether skin color, political affiliation, nationality, or religion? What can you do to change those feelings to love, compassion, and understanding?

How can we increase our happiness and those around us?

When is the last time you connected with Jesus Christ? What can you do this week to make a connection?

Key Moment or Scripture: 2 Nephi 5:27, 6, 10-13, 15-17
27 And it came to pass that we lived after the manner of ahappiness.
And all those who would go with me were those who believed in the bwarnings and the revelations of God; wherefore, they did hearken unto my words.
10 And we did observe to keep the judgments, and the astatutes, and the commandments of the Lord in all things, according to the blaw of Moses.
11 And the Lord was with us; and we did aprosper exceedingly; for we did sow seed, and we did reap again in abundance. And we began to raise flocks, and herds, and animals of every kind.
12 And I, Nephi, had also brought the records which were engraven upon the aplates of brass; and also the bball, or ccompass, which was prepared for my father by the hand of the Lord, according to that which is written.
13 And it came to pass that we began to prosper exceedingly, and to multiply in the land.
15 And I did teach my people to abuild buildings, and to bwork in all cmanner of wood, and of diron, and of copper, and of ebrass, and of steel, and of fgold, and of silver, and of precious ores, which were in great abundance.
16 And I, Nephi, did abuild a btempl
e; and I did construct it after the manner of the temple of cSolomon save it were not built of so many dprecious things; for they were not to be found upon the land, wherefore, it could not be built like unto Solomon’s etemple. But the manner of the construction was like unto the temple of fSolomon; and the workmanship thereof was exceedingly fine.
17 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, did cause my people to be aindustrious, and to blabor with their chands.

As a missionary I studied this chapter and had an insight that has always followed me. Nephi is outlining what living after the manner of happiness entails and he gives us some characteristics that will help us. I have seen these things ring true in my life and in the life of others. Here is how I see the list broken out in simple terms:

  • Believe in revelation.
  • Try to Keep the Commandments
  • Believe in the Law of the Harvest (Reap what you Sow)
  • Study the Scriptures
  • Follow the direction of the Holy Spirit
  • Have and Build Families
  • Be industrious and hard working
  • Make and Keep Covenants with God

It seems simple and also overwhelming at the same time, but I have seen these concepts bear the fruit of happiness so much that I can testify that they are true principles we should love by.

Joseph Smith said that Happiness is the object and design of our existence and these principles are a pathway for it in our lives. Tied together with opposition being important to experiencing happiness it is clear to me that happiness is not the absence of conflict or opposition, but it is something that happens inside of us if we respond to that opposition in ways that make us and others happy.

Final Thoughts:
Next week we delve into the “Isaiah Chapters” and I plan to talk through a little translation thoughts as well. It isn’t the most entertaining section of the Book of Mormon, but there is a lot of good context that prepares us for Nephi’s final words.

  • Sources
    • Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon by Brant Gardner
    • Understanding the Book of Mormon by Grant Hardy