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|Title||Nephi, Lehi and Samuel the Lamanite|
|Publication Type||Magazine Article|
|Year of Publication||1977|
|Date Published||December 1977|
|Keywords||Lehi (Son of Helaman); Nephi (Son of Helaman); Prophet; Samuel the Lamanite|
An intimate look into the lives and human characteristics of the prophets in the Book of Helaman—Nephi, Lehi, and Samuel. At a time when their nation was ripe in iniquity shortly before the coming of the Savior to the Nephites, these great men stood firm in defending the truth.
Nephi, Lehi, and Samuel the Lamanite
By Brian Best
They tried to prepare their people for the Lord’s coming.
Most of us are incurably romantic in our attitudes toward life. We like to mentally entertain happy endings, lucky breaks, effortless successes, and sudden character transformations. Some among us even seem to regard salvation as a matter of good fortune and hope God will be particularly merciful on that great and final judgment day.
Yet, over and over, the scriptures demonstrate that life is not a romantic fairy tale, but a law-abiding and largely predictable reality. Mercy is not something to be bestowed upon us gratuitously at the day of judgment, but something that has already been offered through the atonement of Christ, and we are able to receive that mercy only upon conditions of repentance and obedience.
In its unwavering insistence on the conditions that govern justice and mercy, the Book of Mormon is perhaps the most emphatically antiromantic book ever written. On nearly every page it drives home the all-important lesson that the choices we make operate unerringly in a universe of law to bring about predictable consequences. To the writers of the Book of Mormon, nothing is more insidiously false than the notion that God dispenses mercy freely no matter what we do and that our salvation depends chiefly upon his tenderheartedness. Prophet after prophet emphasizes the contrary: that justice cannot be robbed and that mercy can be granted only according to laws and conditions. Alma speaks for them all when he explains:
“According to justice, the plan of redemption could not be brought about, only on conditions of repentance of men in this probationary state, yea, this preparatory state; for except it were for these conditions, mercy could not take effect except it should destroy the work of justice. Now the work of justice could not be destroyed; if so, God would cease to be God.” (Alma 42:13.)
The book of Helaman vigorously illustrates this same teaching: that man must use his agency to choose the way of salvation according to the conditions upon which mercy is based; otherwise, he will forfeit the proffered blessings according to the laws and judgments of a just God. As Nephi and Lehi, the sons of Helaman, pursue the duties of their ministry, and as Samuel the Lamanite joins with them later in their largely futile efforts to prepare a rebellious people to accept the coming Christ, we see that even God is unable to reclaim those who refuse to accept the conditions that would allow them a place in the merciful plan of redemption.
But if the teetering of man between the claims of justice and the claims of mercy were all the scriptures offered for our edification, the reading might have very little human appeal. It is often difficult to get excited about abstract principles, even when they affect our eternal destiny. Fortunately, the Book of Mormon, like all the scriptures, has another dimension that makes it possible for us to share feelingly in the conflict. When we read the book of Helaman, for instance, we do not just read of the conflict of good and evil; we read of people involved in that conflict, people who feel strongly about what is happening to themselves and to others.
Nephi, the son of Helaman, through whose eyes (though at times with Mormon’s editorial comment) we see most of the events, is not just a recorder, not a computerized robot collecting and storing up evidence for and against the children of men; he is a dedicated and caring human being. When we read his words or those which he quotes from the teachings of Samuel the Lamanite, we are permitted to share in more than just historical or doctrinal observations and judgments; through these words we also experience the proper and powerful feelings of a servant of God and come to know more fully how it feels to be righteous and obedient. Through sharing vicariously the aspirations and disappointments, the joys and sorrows of Nephi or Samuel, we discover more fully the love of virtue which we ourselves possess and come to recognize more expertly and cherish more earnestly the behavior and feelings which constitute that virtue.
In order to relate more completely to the problems of Nephi, Lehi, and Samuel as recorded in the book of Helaman, let us become familiar with the historical setting of the book. It begins about 52 B.C. with a brief summary of the events that precede Helaman’s becoming chief judge over the Nephites and introduces us to the newly organized band of robbers begun by the assassin Kishkumen and continued after his death by Gadianton. In a parenthetical note, Mormon tells us that as we read on through the Book of Mormon we will see that this band of robbers finally causes the entire destruction of the Nephite nation. (Hel. 2:12–14.) But in Helaman’s day the band is small, only a minor threat to political stability.
At the death of Helaman, about 39 B.C., Nephi, his eldest son, becomes the chief judge. (Hel. 3:37.) Nine years later, recognizing the inability of law to govern an overwhelmingly lawless society, and realizing also his inability to be fully effective as both judge and prophet, Nephi yields up the judgment seat to Cezoram and with his brother, Lehi, begins an untiring thirty-year ministry to try to convert his people from their sinful ways. (Hel. 5:1–4.) The difficulty of their task is overwhelming—much like trying to eliminate crime, governmental corruption, immorality, and unbelief from a modern nation.
In fact, the Nephite nation was very much like those we are familiar with. Its representative form of government depended for its stability on its laws and on the integrity of its citizens and public officials. (Hel. 5:2.) Moreover, the Nephites were in a time of great prosperity and, except for a few minor conflicts, were enjoying peace following a devastating war that had occurred about twenty years earlier. (See Alma 48–62.) Crime, in the form of the Gadianton robbers, was making rapid advances, even among members of the church. And finally, because of their wealth and prosperity, the people were becoming increasingly proud, worldly, rebellious, and contemptuous of the poor and the humble believers in Christ. Add to these circumstances the fact that prophets were foretelling the imminent coming of Christ—within about forty years, as it turned out—and we see how similar their day was to our own.
One other note should perhaps be added. The Nephites were becoming increasingly wicked; yet, like people nowadays, they seem not to have recognized how far they had degenerated from the truths they had once known. Even at the height of their wickedness, shortly before the birth of Christ when Samuel the Lamanite was preaching of their impending destruction, they still seem to have retained some semblance of religious belief. According to Samuel, they said among themselves, “If our days had been in the days of our fathers of old, we would not have slain the prophets; we would not have stoned them, and cast them out.” (Hel. 13:25.) To hear them talk, one would surmise that they thought of themselves as enlightened, civilized, and properly religious. As in our day, pride, worldliness, and sin seem to have captured them unawares. Thus, to them, the prophets who called attention to their sins seemed to be madmen or schemers deserving of persecution (see Hel. 13:26); to them, those who taught of the birth of one to be called Christ, the Son of God, seemed to be teaching unreasonable doctrines or attempting to impose a fable upon the people in order to keep them in subjection through superstition. Their criticism of Samuel’s teachings about the coming of Christ and the marvelous signs that would attend his birth illustrates well how their faulty religious attitudes and beliefs kept them from comprehending the truth of Samuel’s message:
“We know that this is a wicked tradition, which has been handed down unto us by our fathers, to cause us that we should believe in some great and marvelous thing which should come to pass, but not among us, but in a land which is far distant, a land which we know not; therefore they can keep us in ignorance, for we cannot witness with our own eyes that they are true.
“And they will, by the cunning and the mysterious arts of the evil one, work some great mystery which we cannot understand, which will keep us down to be servants to their words, and also servants unto them, for we depend upon them to teach us the word; and thus will they keep us in ignorance if we will yield ourselves unto them, all the days of our lives.” (Hel. 16:20–21.)
This is not the speech of persons who admit they have abandoned religion and are rebelling willfully against God. It seems very likely that the great wickedness of these people was not very different from what the world today accepts as normal. And in that world, where the pursuit of wealth, power, and pleasure is the norm and where religion is mostly a formal ritual, it is usually the true prophet, not the sinner, who is made to appear abnormal.
Therefore, Nephi, Lehi, and Samuel were neither popular nor very successful in the long run in their efforts to save their society, although the power of the miracles that attended their ministry did result temporarily in great conversions among both the Nephites and the Lamanites.
In contrast to the shifting, unstable, materialistic ways of the people generally is the steadfastness and stability of these three prophets and the few who faithfully follow them. They seem to be a race apart—a different kind of being altogether than the other souls they walk among. They are spiritual men, sons of God; those who reject them are natural men, or enemies of God. Walking in obedience to divine law, these prophets participate more and more fully in the mysteries of God, “having many revelations daily” (Hel. 11:23), while the foolish masses lose even the knowledge they once possessed, until, as Alma warned, they “know nothing concerning his mysteries; and … are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction. Now this is what is meant by the chains of hell” (Alma 12:11). In fact, so far did these people go in their rejection of the word of God that they were about to place themselves outside the saving power of either justice or mercy. Samuel prophesied that were they to continue in their sins and not repent, they would soon find it said of them:
“Your days of probation are past; ye have procrastinated the day of your salvation until it is everlastingly too late, and your destruction is made sure; yea, for ye have sought all the days of your lives for that which ye could not obtain; and ye have sought for happiness in doing iniquity, which thing is contrary to the nature of that righteousness which is in our great and Eternal Head.” (Hel. 13:38.)
Notice that Samuel did not tell them they had offended God and were about to be cut off from his love; rather, he told them that their behavior was contrary to the nature of happiness and righteousness, or that they had gone contrary to eternal law and were separating themselves from that which is the nature of God.
Not only did these people reject divine law; they also rejected the witness of many signs and miracles. And Samuel explained to them that even greater signs would be given as the birth of Christ drew nearer, “to the intent that there should be no cause for unbelief among the children of men.” (Hel. 14:28.) Then, stressing once more the laws by which the destiny of men is governed, Samuel explained that these many signs and wonders would be given so “that whosoever will believe might be saved, and that whosoever will not believe, a righteous judgment may come upon them.” (Hel. 14:29.) Finally, detailing the laws according to which salvation or damnation is administered to mankind, he admonished:
“Remember, remember, my brethren, that whosoever perisheth, perisheth unto himself; and whosoever doeth iniquity, doeth it unto himself; for behold, ye are free; ye are permitted to act for yourselves; for behold, God hath given unto you a knowledge and he hath made you free.
“He hath given unto you that ye might know good from evil, and he hath given unto you that ye might choose life or death; and ye can do good and be restored unto that which is good, or have that which is good restored unto you; or ye can do evil, and have that which is evil restored unto you.” (Hel. 14:30–31.)
In Samuel’s pleading tone, we see again that the power of the book of Helaman lies in its concern for real human souls, not just in its concern with abstract principles of good and evil. We see it unfolding through the eyes, minds, and hearts of righteous men who, fired by the vision and power of God, are doing all they can to avert catastrophe and are being frustrated every step of the way by the very persons they are laboring so diligently to save. The pain of the irony alone is at times almost overwhelming.
Because the book of Helaman is largely taken from the record of Nephi, we know more of his personal battle against the evils of his day than we do of his brother, Lehi. Although Lehi undoubtedly labored and suffered in much the same way that Nephi did, we know nothing of his personal feelings but are told only generally of his diligence and righteousness. Along with Nephi, he determined to “preach the word of God all the remainder of his days” (Hel. 5:5); he accompanied Nephi in his preaching in the land Bountiful and the land southward; he assisted in the conversion of many dissenting Nephites and 8,000 Lamanites in and around the land of Zarahemla; and he shared with Nephi a remarkable spiritual experience in a Lamanite prison. He also accompanied Nephi on the futile mission to the land northward and continued with Nephi in the ministry around Zarahemla, experiencing many revelations and doing much preaching among the people. We are told that he “was not a whit behind [Nephi] as to things pertaining to righteousness.” (Hel. 11:19.)
An even greater lack of information hampers our efforts to come to know Samuel’s personality. We know little of the man except what we can glean from the brief summary of his activities and the extensive quotations from his preaching. We know that he was a man of courage and determination and that he was obedient to the Lord’s commands. After he had preached to the Nephites for many days, “they did cast him out, and he was about to return to his own land” (Hel. 13:2); but when the voice of the Lord came to him, commanding him to return and continue his prophesying, he immediately obeyed (Hel. 13:3). A lesser man might have been daunted by the refusal of the populace to let him enter the city, but Samuel, determined to obey the Lord, climbed upon the city wall and “cried with a loud voice, and prophesied.” (Hel. 13:4.)
We discover that Samuel was close to the Spirit and sensitive to its promptings: he preached and prophesied “whatsoever things the Lord put into his heart.” (Hel. 13:4.) We know, too, that he was commanded and instructed by an angel of the Lord (Hel. 14:9, 28), and that the power of the Lord protected him from physical harm: when the rebellious Nephites tried to kill him, “the Spirit of the Lord was with him, insomuch that they could not hit him with their stones neither with their arrows.” (Hel. 16:2.)
The portion of Samuel’s prophecies contained in Helaman 15 is a sobering warning to those who have been called the people of God. Samuel reminds the Nephites that they “have been a chosen people of the Lord” (Hel. 15:3) in contrast to the Lamanites, whom the Lord has not favored “because their deeds have been evil continually … because of the iniquity of the tradition of their fathers” (Hel. 15:4). The Nephites have no cause for pride, however, because the Lamanites are steadfast and firm “when they are once enlightened” (Hel. 15:10), and Samuel declares that “it shall be better for them than for you except ye repent” (Hel. 15:14).
Samuel’s exhortation and warning do not come from any cultural smugness, however, but from love for the Nephites—his “beloved brethren.” (Hel. 15:1.) Only when the Lord no longer restrains him and when the Nephites make an attempt on his life does he return to his own country—where he begins “to preach and to prophesy among his own people.” (Hel. 16:7.)
Thus, through Nephi’s quotations from the preaching of Samuel, we are able to perceive the tenacity and depth of devotion and feeling of that great prophet; but our insight into his personality is necessarily limited because we are seeing him through the eyes of another. Nephi himself remains central throughout the book of Helaman; it is his personality that dominates. If we are to share the feelings of a prophet, if we are to taste personally the joy of seemingly great missionary successes and then the pain of watching all those successes disintegrate as a society plummets toward destruction, we must do so through him.
When the account of this Nephi begins, we learn of the riches and pride within the church and the wickedness of the people generally—and we learn of Nephi’s choice to yield up the judgment seat and turn to preaching, since he had become “weary” because of the iniquity of the people. (Hel. 5:4.) We at once can see the human element in Nephi’s choice: we see that his turning to full-time preaching is not only the right or reasonable thing to do, it is the thing he must do because of his feelings about extremely distressing circumstances. The record then tells us more about this man whose emotions are involved in his decisions. He and his brother recall the words of Helaman, their father. We notice that these words are urgent and tender. Over and over we hear a loving, dedicated parent entreating: “My sons … my sons … my sons” (see Hel. 5:6–8); “O remember, remember, my sons” (Hel. 5:9); “and now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation” (Hel. 5:12). Is it surprising that sons of such a father would also feel deeply and urgently the need to preach repentance to a society falling into unbelief?
Moreover, these men were not merely preaching doctrine learned by rote; they, like their father, had experienced personally the power and wisdom of God. Nephi tells us that he and his brother preached with “great power and authority, for they had power and authority, given unto them that they might speak, and they also had what they should speak given unto them.” (Hel. 5:18.)
A particularly impressive witness of the power of God occurred when they found themselves in a Lamanite prison, kept “many days without food.” (Hel. 5:22.) When the Lamanites and the Nephite dissenters came to the prison to put them to death, suddenly they found themselves “encircled about as if by fire.” (Hel. 5:23.) In the way the following sentence repeats certain words, notice traces of the amazement they must have felt: “Nephi and Lehi were not burned; and they were as standing in the midst of fire and were not burned.” (Hel. 5:23.) These men were human. In the prison they experienced hunger, fear, apprehension, then amazement and hope as they participated in this mighty miracle. “When they saw that they were encircled about with a pillar of fire, and that it burned them not, their hearts did take courage.” (Hel. 5:24.)
Recognizing that “God [had] shown … this marvelous thing” (Hel. 5:26), they began to preach with boldness. Suddenly the earth trembled, the walls of the prison shook, and a cloud of darkness overshadowed the prison. (Hel. 5:27–28.) Through this cloud a voice was heard: “Repent ye, repent ye, and seek no more to destroy my servants whom I have sent unto you to declare good tidings.” (Hel. 5:29.) The voice spoke again. Nephi tries to share with us the unusual nature of this voice and the power with which it affected him. This voice, he says, was “not a voice of thunder, neither … a voice of a great tumultuous noise, but … a still voice of perfect mildness, as if it had been a whisper, and it did pierce even to the very soul.” (Hel. 5:30.) Yet each time the voice spoke, the walls of the prison trembled as if they were about to fall. The voice came a third time, speaking “marvelous words which cannot be uttered by man; and the walls [of the prison] did tremble … and the earth shook as if it were about to divide asunder.” (Hel. 5:33.) Through all this, the people in the prison were so awestruck and fearful that they could not move. Then through the cloud of darkness they saw the faces of Nephi and Lehi, and “they did shine exceedingly, even as the faces of angels.” (Hel. 5:36.)
Who can read of this experience, allowing his mind’s eye to picture it, without feeling more deeply about the reality of God, about Nephi and Lehi, and about the significance of his own life. Vicariously, we experience something of what Nephi and Lehi experienced. We participate in a real-life drama with living prophets, and like them we are amazed, overjoyed, exalted in our feelings. In brief, we learn more than just doctrine.
With this miraculous event, the great work of conversion among the Lamanites commenced. The three hundred persons who witnessed these miracles in the prison were converted and began to testify among their brethren. Before long the entire Lamanite nation was filled with believers. (Hel. 5:49–50.) Their hearts changed, they laid down their weapons, yielded up the lands they had won by conquest from the Nephites, and returned to their own lands. (Hel. 5:51–52.) Lamanite missionaries then began to testify to the Nephites. (Hel. 6:4–5.) Surely Nephi is reflecting his own intense feelings of joy when he writes: “The people of the church did have great joy because of the conversion of the Lamanites, yea, because of the church of God, which had been established among them. And they did fellowship one with another and did rejoice one with another, and did have great joy.” (Hel. 6:3.)
Imagine the happiness of Nephi and Lehi about 29 B.C. as they beheld the results of their labors: “peace in all the land, insomuch that the Nephites did go into whatsoever part of the land they would, whether among the Nephites or the Lamanites.” (Hel. 6:7.)
Then Nephi, accompanied by Lehi, began a six-year missionary journey in the land northward (Hel. 6:6, 7:1), during which the people there “did reject all his words” (Hel. 7:3). Undoubtedly discouraged, Nephi returned to Zarahemla, only to find that the peaceful situation he had left such a short time before had degenerated considerably. He found “the people in a state of … awful wickedness, and those Gadianton robbers filling the judgment-seats—having usurped the power and authority of the land; laying aside the commandments of God.” (Hel. 7:4.) Here we get one of our most intimate glimpses of the man Nephi. The record states:
“Now this great iniquity had come upon the Nephites, in the space of not many years; and when Nephi saw it, his heart was swollen with sorrow within his breast; and he did exclaim in the agony of his soul:
“Oh, that I could have had my days in the days when my father Nephi first came out of the land of Jerusalem, that I could have joyed with him in the promised land; then were his people easy to be entreated, firm to keep the commandments of God, and slow to be led to do iniquity; and they were quick to hearken unto the words of the Lord—
“Yea, if my days could have been in those days, then would my soul have had joy in the righteousness of my brethren.
“But behold, I am consigned that these are my days, and that my soul shall be filled with sorrow because of this the wickedness of my brethren.” (Hel. 7:6–9.)
Recall that Nephi uttered this lament upon a tower in his garden, pouring out his soul to the Lord in his agony. People passing by happened to overhear him and marveled at the depth of his mourning. Hurriedly, a multitude gathered to discover the cause of such great grief. (See Hel. 7:10–11.) Read Nephi’s words (see Hel. 7:13–29) as he chides these people for their unbelief and wickedness. The words are not just “doctrine” to be learned by chapter and verse; they are the passionate overflowing of a man’s sorrow, and they range from desperate pleading (“O repent ye, repent ye! Why will ye die?”) to amazement and exasperation (“O, how could you have forgotten your God in the very day that he has delivered you?”).
Picture Nephi’s frustration as he tried to convince the people that he was indeed the Lord’s messenger by prophesying the murder of the chief judge (Hel. 8:27–28), only to find himself accused of being an accomplice and cast into prison (Hel. 9:16–20). Picture then the results of his second prophecy regarding the man who had committed the murder. (See Hel. 9:25–36.) When the prophecy turned out to be true, Nephi was hailed as a great prophet; some even called him a god. (Hel. 9:40–41.) But in their controversy over exactly what Nephi was, the people became angry with one another, divided into disputing parties, and went their ways, “leaving Nephi alone, as he was standing in the midst of them.” (Hel. 10:1.) Left alone, isolated from his fellow beings, Nephi perhaps felt very lonely and discouraged.
Yet notice how the command of God prevailed over all Nephi’s moods and disappointments. Nephi started toward his home, “pondering upon the things which the Lord had shown unto him.” (Hel. 10:2.) Suddenly, a voice spoke to him, saying: “Blessed art thou, Nephi, for those things which thou hast done; for I have beheld how thou hast with unwearyingness declared the word, which I have given unto thee, unto this people.” (Hel. 10:4.) Certainly the Lord knew of Nephi’s personal grief and chose this moment to buoy him up. But more! This time it is obvious that the Lord was regarding his servant in a new and very special way:
“Because thou hast done this with such unwearyingness, behold, I will bless thee forever; and I will make thee mighty in word and in deed, in faith and in works; yea, even that all things shall be done unto thee according to thy word, for thou shalt not ask that which is contrary to my will.
“Behold, thou art Nephi, and I am God. Behold, I declare it unto thee in the presence of mine angels, that ye shall have power over this people, and shall smite the earth with famine, and with pestilence, and destruction, according to the wickedness of this people.” (Hel. 10:5–6.)
One is reminded of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s comment: “When the Lord has thoroughly proved him, and finds that the man is determined to serve Him at all hazards, then the man will find his calling and his election made sure.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 150.) And then, obedient to the Lord’s command, Nephi turned around, without even returning to his home, and began again to preach repentance to the people.
With only intermittent successes, this mighty prophet continued to serve faithfully, once asking the Lord to bring a famine upon the people in order to bring a halt to their wickedness and warfare, rather than destroy them. (Hel. 11:4–5.) Yet, never one to give up hope, Nephi readily consented to plead with the Lord to end the famine when, three years later, the people showed some evidence of repentance. (Hel. 11:7–9.) His prayer for them shows how deeply he could love his people even in their iniquity:
“O Lord, thou didst hearken unto my words when I said, Let there be a famine, that the pestilence of the sword might cease; and I know that thou wilt, even at this time, hearken unto my words, for thou saidst that: If this people repent I will spare them.
“Yea, O Lord, and thou seest that they have repented, because of the famine and the pestilence and destruction which has come unto them.
“And now, O Lord, wilt thou turn away thine anger, and try again if they will serve thee? And if so, O Lord, thou canst bless them according to thy words which thou hast said.” (Hel. 11:14–16.)
But within ten years all was corrupt again, and the whole of chapter twelve of Helaman records a powerful lamentation which contrasts human frailty with God’s goodness. There is some question as to whether this chapter is a quotation of Nephi’s words or a commentary by the abridger, Mormon. But even if the passage is not Nephi’s work, it seems to reflect the attitudes and philosophy which must undergird the kind of life he lived. Beginning with a general comment on the “unsteadiness of the hearts of the children of men,” the author seems to offer an apology for the human race; nevertheless, he goes on hopefully to assert his faith that “the Lord in his great infinite goodness doth bless and prosper those who put their trust in him.” (Hel. 12:1.) This law he regards as a certainty, and though most of the rest of his lamentation bemoans man’s foolishness, pride, and disobedience, he concludes by praising “our great and everlasting God” and reasserting his faith in the everlasting nature of God’s eternal law and the absoluteness of his word:
“And behold, if the Lord shall say unto a man—Because of thine iniquities, thou shalt be accursed forever, it shall be done.
“And if the Lord shall say [unto a man]—Because of thine iniquities thou shalt be cut off from my presence—he will cause that it shall be so.
“And wo unto him to whom he shall say this, for it shall be unto him that will do iniquity, and he cannot be saved; therefore, for this cause, that men might be saved, hath repentance been declared.
“Therefore, blessed are they who will repent and hearken unto the voice of the Lord their God; for these are they that shall be saved. …
“And I would that all men might be saved. But we read that in the great and last day there are some who shall be cast out, yea, who shall be cast off from the presence of the Lord;
“Yea, who shall be consigned to a state of endless misery, fulfilling the words which say: They that have done good shall have everlasting life; and they that have done evil shall have everlasting damnation. And thus it is. Amen.” (Hel. 12:21–23, 25–26.)
It is sobering that the narrative of Nephi’s loving and untiring service in behalf of his people must end with this passage reaffirming the immutability of God’s laws and man’s inability to be saved except through obedience to those laws.
While the signs and wonders increased as the time of the birth of Christ drew near, Nephi continued to preach and baptize whatever converts had responded to the teaching of Samuel and himself. (It is interesting that there is no record of Samuel’s ever having baptized any of the people who were converted through his preaching: “As many as believed on [Samuel’s] word went forth and sought for Nephi … desiring that they might be baptized.” [Hel. 16:1; see also Hel. 16:3–5.]) Lehi may have died, since he is not mentioned toward the end of the book of Helaman. Yet “notwithstanding the signs and the wonders which were wrought among the people of the Lord, and the many miracles which they did, Satan did get great hold upon the hearts of the people upon all the face of the land.” (Hel. 16:23.)
Nephi’s mission ended sometime during the year before Christ’s birth. After “giving charge unto his son Nephi, who was his eldest son, concerning the plates, … he departed out of the land, and whither he went, no man knoweth.” (3 Ne. 1:2–3.) Like Moses, this special servant of God seems to have been taken by the Lord for special purposes.
It would be difficult to find in all of scripture a more devoted and powerful prophet than Nephi, the son of Helaman. As we read his account of his own labors, as well as the labors of Lehi and Samuel the Lamanite, our hearts are touched by the intensely human concern of these prophets for the people to whom they are sent to minister. Yet, with all their humanity, they stand as unfaltering witnesses of the irrevocability of eternal law—not only of the just law that judges and condemns the unrepentant, but of the law of mercy by which glory enters and transforms the lives of all those who choose to obey the commandments of God.
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