Friday, August 7, 2015

Are Laman and Lemuel Misunderstood? – Part I

In our day of Political Correctness and concerned hearts that see the good in all people, despite their deeds, we find an interesting dichotomy regarding feelings and evaluations today about Laman and Lemuel and the sons of Ishmael.
On the one hand, we have those who see nothing but evil in the two older of Lehi’s sons; and on the other hand, we have those who feel that these two rebellious sons were justified in their actions, being taken out of their security, away from their wealth, and taken into the wilderness on an extended camping trip that evidently would have tried the patience of a Saint.
    We also see those who tend to downplay Nephi’s extraordinary faith and patience, under the guise that he kept the record, therefore, made himself look better than he was; and those who think Laman and Lemuel’s rebellion was overstated.
    As one person wrote: “We can easily see Laman and Lemuel as being lost from the start, almost like stock characters in a novel, having little depth or complexity.” Of course, this is no doubt true of any individual we may choose to evaluate, or try to judge—our knowledge or view is colored by the limited information we have available and the degree we choose to look beyond the obvious.
    As an example, it is often asked, if Laman and Lemuel objected so vehemently about going into the wilderness, why did they go at all? Both were adults at the time fully capable of making their own decisions—or were they? They were adults of course, both in the late twenties or more, but what kind of choices were available to them?
    In 600 B.C. Israel, children of any age were under the direction and control of their father—he was the leader of their Family/Clan, he held the rights of decision, of distribution of his holdings and property, of all family choices and options. While it would be possible for a young man to strike out on his own, in most cases, he would do so without anything since the father owned everything. He would give up his rights to inheritance, and as the oldest son, Laman would have given up the rights granted to him under Primogeniture—the birthright, or “bechor.” This right of possession, into which the eldest son is born and takes rank over brothers and sisters, held the right of the greater part of Lehi’s wealth and their inheritance. However, it could only be claimed if that son lived as he was supposed to, being obedient in all things to his father and performing the tasks expected of him.
Honor thy father and they mother that thy days may be long upon the Earth (Exodus 20:12) 
    Not only was it customary, but absolutely necessary, for that son to do all that his father entrusted in him if he expected to inherit—and after the death of the father, the first-born son was the head of the family, responsible to provide for the widows of his father and his unmarried sisters, who had no hereditary rights—a prerogative of the first-born as the real head of the family after the father’s death that was deeply rooted in the domestic life of the Hebrews and Jews.
    Lehi, being a righteous man, had no choice when “the Lord commanded him, even in a dream, that he should take his family and depart into the wilderness”(1 Nephi 2:2). And when he announced that he was taking his family into the wilderness and to a far away “land of promise,” under the direction of the Lord, it was Laman’s responsibility to follow, expectedly without question or opposition.
    Consequently, Laman could have opposed his father and not gone with him, but in doing so would have given up his right to any inheritance or even care—left alone without possession of funds to fend for himself, with no rights to anything—not even a roof over his head or food to eat—that was owned by Lehi.
    As a result, Laman and Lemuel followed their father into the wilderness, but did so complaining at every opportunity, and constantly wanting to return to Jerusalem, their home, and their father’s wealth. It is probably not any different than what might be experienced today by the vast majority of young men in a similar situation.
    Consequently, if we do not look for deeper meaning in Laman and Lemuel’s story, we may fail to identify the necessary precepts to avoid the pitfalls they fell into and to which we are vulnerable today. After all, it was not just a matter of being the first born with Laman, but the pride of being in charge, of inheriting most of Lehi’s wealth, and more especially of not being subject to his younger brother—a major issue in the Middle East!
    To the credit of Laman and Lemuel, they agreed to leave everything they possessed and journey into the wilderness to an unknown location at their father’s request (1 Nephi 2:4); they agreed to leave their material possessions but also their hopes and dreams of a future among the only people they knew; they agreed to travel a three-day journey back to Jerusalem to fulfill the request of their father and the Lord to bring back the plates of brass (1 Nephi 3:9); they agreed to approach Laban and request the records, no doubt suspecting that the success of such a request was not likely (1 Nephi 3:11–14); having failed, they agreed with Nephi’s suggestion, to sacrifice all their family wealth in an attempt to secure the plates (1 Nephi 3:22); they dutifully returned to the tent of their father after successfully obtaining the plates (1 Nephi 4:38), where “they did rejoice exceedingly, and did offer sacrifice and burnt offerings unto the Lord; and they gave thanks unto the God of Israel” (1 Nephi 5:9).
    However, their sacrifice was not finished. They were soon commanded to return to Jerusalem again, this time to convince Ishmael’s family to sacrifice everything and join them on their journey to a still-unknown promised land. They agreed to this without murmuring (1 Nephi 7:3), and returned once again to the tent of their father in the wilderness after succeeding in their mission. While there, Lehi had a dream and Laman and Lemuel inquired as to the meaning of it (1 Nephi 15:2–3, 7); they were “pacified and did humble themselves before the Lord” as they began to understand the meaning of the dream (1 Nephi 15:20). They continued to inquire about the meanings of their father’s dreams (1 Nephi 15:21–26), and they did “humble themselves” again before the Lord (1 Nephi 16:5).
Later on, when Nephi commenced building a ship that would ultimately carry them beyond the hope of ever returning to their homeland again, Laman and Lemuel joined in and helped in the construction. After travailing in the wilderness for over a decade, they arrived in the promised land (1 Nephi 18:23). Finally, before his death, Lehi blessed all his family, including the sons of Ishmael (their parent having earlier died), and made great promises to them provided they lived righteously, and reminded them of “their rebellions upon the waters, and the mercies of God in sparing their lives, that they were not swallowed up in the sea.” Lehi reminded them, “notwithstanding our afflictions, we have obtained a land of promise, a land which is choice above all other lands; a land which the Lord God hath covenanted with me should be a land for the inheritance of my seed. Yea, the Lord hath covenanted this land unto me, and to my children forever, and also all those who should be led out of other countries by the hand of the Lord” (2 Nephi 1:2, 5).
But all of this was lost on Laman and Lemuel. Their concern was not about serving the Lord and the many blessings he had provided them, nor the future promises of a land more choice than any other as their land of promise—they were concerned about Nephi and continued to murmur against him, saying, “Yea, they did murmur against me, saying: Our younger brother thinks to rule over us; and we have had much trial because of him; wherefore, now let us slay him, that we may not be afflicted more because of his words. For behold, we will not have him to be our ruler; for it belongs unto us, who are the elder brethren, to rule over this people” (2 Nephi 5:3). Their entire future, the entire future of their posterity, the future of an entire nation, was condemned by that one, singular thought of not wanting Nephi to rule over them.
    In the scenario portrayed earlier, having eliminated all the negatives of Laman and Lemuel’s behavior and actions, it still came down to this one issue. Their pride in wanting to be in charge, to rule over others, to obtain the right of leadership.
(See the next post, “Are Laman and Lemuel Misunderstood? – Part II,” for an even more in-depth understanding of what drove Laman and Lemuel and caused them to rebel against their father, their family, and the Lord)

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