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Lesson Plan on 2 Nephi 3-5



We begin in 2 Nephi exactly where 1 Nephi ends, in the middle of a family gathering after Nephi ends explaining Isaiah to Laman & Lemuel. We transition to Lehi giving all his sons a blessing and exhortation while nearing the end of his life. This is reminiscent of Adam when he gathered his children together to bless them in the valley of Adam-ondi-Ahman and Moses who gathered Israel around Mount Nebo to pronounce blessings and covenants upon the people. For this reason, scholars identify Lehi here as "conducting a covenant renewal ceremony." It also sets the stage well for what Nephi is going to do in 2 Nephi as a whole. It is a shift in narrative in that we barely get any narrative in 2 Nephi. In other words, most of the book is someone giving some sort of exegesis on scripture, whether that person is Lehi, Nephi, Jacob, or Isaiah. It is heavily focused on the covenants made with the House of Israel and its various broken-off branches/remnants.

Why the shift in style by Nephi? He tells us in 1 Nephi 19:5 that when 2 Nephi chapter 5 ends he will proceed to give "the more sacred" part of his record. That narrative shift will largely include Isaiah and other theological exhortations, as already stated. Why aren't there any miracles? Why not stories from Nephi's kingship? Why nothing about Nephi's family? For that matter, why did Nephi end up giving the small plates to his brother, Jacob, and not to a son? Why was, simply, "a man" (see Jacob 1:9) anointed to be Nephi's kingly successor and not one of Nephi's sons? This is magnified when Nephi himself tells us in 1 Nephi 10:1 that these small plates were for him to recollect the events of his reign and ministry.  Where do we get an account of his reign other than very briefly in 2 Nephi chapter 5?  Where is his ministry in 2 Nephi? There is no narrative of any kind of ministry from Nephi in this book, but there is some doctrinal/theological commentary from him when he writes on these small plates. I think Nephi does provide us some answers, for example, he totally changes his designs from what he said in 1 Nephi 10:1. After experiencing this spiritual struggle he writes in 2 Nephi 4:15 that these small plates will now include "the things of my soul."

According to Latter-Day Saint scholar and professor of religious history, Grant Hardy, the question of "What is going on with Nephi?" might have a hint of an answer in an inclusio (a biblical literary device that brackets a section of scripture with the same line or motif to emphasize a principle or doctrine) Nephi has around the entire book of 2 Nephi. The front of this inclusio or bracket is found in 2 Nephi 1:15 where Lehi says "the Lord hath redeemed my soul from hell." The back of the inclusio is found in 2 Nephi 33:6 where Nephi also says "[the Lord] hath redeemed my soul from hell." In the middle of this inclusio we get two other instances of individuals being redeemed: one about Jacob in 2 Nephi 2:3 where Lehi comments on a young Jacob enjoying such a high spiritual privilege and, two, from this week's reading where Nephi asks the Lord, "O Lord, wilt though redeem my soul?" (see 2 Nephi 4:31) Therefore, there appears to be some spiritual frustration, at least, by Nephi during the later/middle years of his life that finally comes to a sense of closure by the time he receives the blessing of full redemption in 2 Nephi 33:6. Nephi's Psalm as a whole is also evidence of this frustration. In other words, there is "stuff" going on in Nephi's life that is causing Nephi a lot of spiritual heartache. If we add to this that Nephi took upon the role of King that he did not want (see 2 Nephi 5:18), we get a sense of the following according to Dr. Grant Hardy:

"... God seems further away than He did in 1 Nephi. Nephi himself appears as someone who is struggling to make sense of a life that did not turn out as he had expected... Yet 2 Nephi tells a story that is well suited to the difficulties of middle age, to those who struggle with life's disappointments when previous assumptions about God... appear to have been discredited. It offers a model for responding to adult discontent and frustrations, especially when faith seems difficult... If 1 Nephi appeals to adolescent sensibilities, 2 Nephi is scripture written for grown-ups." (Annotated Book of Mormon, Oxford Press, p. 80-83)

There is a silent period of a few decades where we don't really get much information from Nephi; after Lehi dies and after the family splits (see 2 Nephi 5:34). That, and possibly other troubles, weigh heavily on him. We can only guess what Nephi is experiencing, but it is a principle for us. Nephi writes his, at least in part, most sacred writings (see 1 Nephi 19:5) during what appears to be the most spiritually trying time of his life. This isn't to cut Nephi down to size as much as it shows how the difficulty of life didn't stop for him after the miraculous events of the Lehite exodus. Like Joseph Smith, Nephi appears to have also thought at times, "O God, Where art thou?" (see D&C 121:1) despite profound spiritual experiences in the past. Nephi might have lost his family, or at least felt he had.

With all this in mind, let's read, in part, Nephi's Psalm. It is also worth noting that Nephi appears to purposefully include this psalm of lament over any kind of last council or blessings he received under the hand of his father, Lehi. Nephi includes Lehi's last words to everyone else, but not him, in other words. Maybe it hurt too much to recollect those words because he felt like he failed somehow? Either way, we get a sense of Nephi's reasoning to lament.

READ 2 NEPHI 4:16-19, 26-28, 34-35

"16 Behold, my soul delighteth in the things of the Lord; and my heart pondereth continually upon the things which I have seen and heard.

17 Nevertheless, notwithstanding the great goodness of the Lord, in showing me his great and marvelous works, my heart exclaimeth: O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities.

18 I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me.

19 And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins; nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted.

26 O then, if I have seen so great things, if the Lord in his condescension unto the children of men hath visited me in so much mercy, why should my heart weep and my soul linger in the valley of sorrow, and my flesh waste away, and my strength slacken, because of mine afflictions?

27 And why should I yield to sin, because of my flesh? Yea, why should I give way to temptations, that the evil one have place in my heart to destroy my peace and afflict my soul? Why am I angry because of mine enemy?

28 Awake, my soul! No longer droop in sin. Rejoice, O my heart, and give place no more for the enemy of my soul.

34 O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever. I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh; for I know that cursed is he that putteth his trust in the arm of flesh. Yea, cursed is he that putteth his trust in man or maketh flesh his arm.

35 Yea, I know that God will give liberally to him that asketh. Yea, my God will give me, if I ask not amiss; therefore I will lift up my voice unto thee; yea, I will cry unto thee, my God, the rock of my righteousness. Behold, my voice shall forever ascend up unto thee, my rock and mine everlasting God. Amen." (me is italicized in verse 26 because it reflects what the Book of Mormon original and printer's manuscript says, see here. It changes Nephi's intent from talking about generalities to his personal experiences from 1 Nephi.)


 How or where does Nephi find comfort? What principles for our lives might we learn from Nephi's extremity?

Your vicissitudes most likely differ from Nephi's, but the principles remain the same. President Boyd K. Packer once commented on the diverse kinds of trials we all face:

"We may foolishly bring unhappiness and trouble, even suffering upon ourselves. These are not always to be regarded as penalties imposed by a displeased Creator. They are part of the lessons of life, part of the test. Some are tested by poor health, some by a body that is deformed or homely. Others are tested by handsome and healthy bodies; some by the passion of youth; others by the erosions of age. Some suffer disappointment in marriage, family problems; others live in poverty and obscurity. Some (perhaps this is the hardest test) find ease and luxury. All are part of the test, and there is more equality in this testing than sometimes we suspect." (1)

Echoing the words of Nephi, Elder Ronald A. Rasband highlights how we all have "things of [our] soul[s]" and what they should remind us of:

I [extend] an invitation for each of you to consider the seven “things of my soul” …: love God the Father and Jesus Christ, our Savior; love your neighbor; love yourself; keep the commandments; always be worthy of a temple recommend; be joyful and cheerful; and follow God’s living prophet. I invite you to identify your own eight, nine, and ten. Consider ways you might share your heartfelt “things” with others and encourage them to pray, ponder, and seek the Lord’s guidance. The things of my soul are as precious to me as yours are to you. These things strengthen our service in the Church and in all areas of life. They commit us to Jesus Christ, they remind us of our covenants, and they help us feel secure in the arms of the Lord. (2)

Nephi found trust with the Savior in his covenants. An interesting detail that underscores this is how many times Nephi uses the name-title "Lord" in his psalm (this would have most likely been Jehovah or Yahweh in the Hebrew/reformed Egyptian). It occurs 10 times and, according to John W. Welch, that parallels the ancient Israelites' most holy day of the year, Yom Kippur (or Day of Atonement). (3) During the prayers or recitation of psalms by the High Priest on that day he was supposed to use the name of the Lord (Jehovah or Yahweh) 10 times. Perhaps Nephi crafted his psalm to remind him, literally, "in whom [he had] trusted"? Maybe it was crafted to be a part of Nephite ritual to remind all Nephi's faithful family in whom they should trust?


Let's rewind a bit and go back to 2 Nephi chapter 3. After Lehi's profound teachings about the Fall of Adam and the Atonement of Christ to his son Jacob, we began our reading this week with Lehi's teaching of his very young son, Joseph. This son was no older than 10 years old, if not younger, at this time. Therefore, this chapter could be a good example of how to teach our younger children or at least an example of how a holy man in Lehi taught his youngest children. Lehi tells Joseph that he was born "in the days of [his] greatest sorrow" (see 2 Nephi 3:1) which is an odd beginning for such an impressionable kid, but maybe there is insight in it. Who knows? 

Lehi chooses to quote a lengthy portion of writings from Joseph of Egypt, who shares the same name as Lehi's son. Contextually, according to the very similar JST of Genesis chapter 50, Joseph of Egypt gives these words on the opposite side of life that Lehi's son is on. Namely, Joseph of Egypt is on his deathbed (see JST Genesis 50:24).

READ 2 NEPHI 3:6-7,9-11, 15, 20-21

"6 For Joseph [of Egypt] truly testified, saying: A seer shall the Lord my God raise up, who shall be a choice seer unto the fruit of my loins.

7 Yea, Joseph truly said: Thus saith the Lord unto me: A choice seer will I raise up out of the fruit of thy loins; and he shall be esteemed highly among the fruit of thy loins. And unto him will I give commandment that he shall do a work for the fruit of thy loins, his brethren, which shall be of great worth unto them, even to the bringing of them to the knowledge of the covenants which I have made with thy fathers...

9 And he shall be great like unto Moses, whom I have said I would raise up unto you, to deliver my people, O house of Israel.

10 And Moses will I raise up, to deliver thy people out of the land of Egypt.

11 But a seer will I raise up out of the fruit of thy loins; and unto him will I give power to bring forth my word unto the seed of thy loins—and not to the bringing forth my word only, saith the Lord, but to the convincing them of my word, which shall have already gone forth among them...

15 And his name shall be called after me; and it shall be after the name of his father. And he shall be like unto me; for the thing, which the Lord shall bring forth by his hand, by the power of the Lord shall bring my people unto salvation...

20 And they shall cry from the dust; yea, even repentance unto their brethren, even after many generations have gone by them. And it shall come to pass that their cry shall go, even according to the simpleness of their words.

21 Because of their faith their words shall proceed forth out of my mouth unto their brethren who are the fruit of thy loins; and the weakness of their words will I make strong in their faith, unto the remembering of my covenant which I made unto thy fathers."


What do you know about Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ because of what Joseph Smith taught? How is your life different because of what the Lord restored through Joseph Smith? What would your life be like if the Restoration had not happened?

Some critics of the Book of Mormon consider this long quotation from Joseph of Egypt as very "convenient." What is interesting about this prophecy is that Joseph also prophesies of Moses before Moses is even born! We have no record of that in the Old Testament other than the JST, but there is evidence of Joseph of Egypt prophesying of Moses in other ancient sources. Some Aramaic manuscripts of Genesis dating to the second century A.D. have Joseph plainly prophesying of such. For more information, see here. The idea is that Joseph Smith is consistent with some ancient traditions that were unknown during his day and age, giving further plausibility that these words in 2 Nephi chapter 3 are a literal restoration of something Joseph of Egypt wrote.

In verse 15, Joseph of Egypt says that Joseph Smith will be "like unto [him]." Elder Neal A. Maxwell has given a stunning analysis of this:

"In one of [Joseph Smith's] last letters from Liberty Jail, [he] wrote, “I feel like Joseph in Egypt” (The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, comp. Dean C. Jessee [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1984], p. 409). It was not an idle comparison, for it reflected an important verse in the third chapter of 2 Nephi. Ancient Joseph spoke of the latter-day seer, saying, “And he shall be like unto me” (2 Nephi 3:15).

When Joseph Smith, Jr., was given a blessing by Father Smith in December 1834, an extensive portion of that blessing informed modern Joseph of his special relationship to ancient Joseph (see Joseph Smith, Sr., blessing, 9 Dec. 1934, Church Historical Department, 1:3–4).

The comparisons between the two Josephs, of course, reflect varying degrees of exactitude, but they are, nevertheless, quite striking. Some similarities are situational, others are dispositional. Some are strategic, such as ancient Joseph’s making stored grain available in time of famine (see Genesis 41:56), while modern Joseph opened the granary of the gospel after years of famine.

First, both Josephs had inauspicious beginnings. Initially, they were unlikely candidates to have had the impact they did on Egyptian history and American history, respectively.

Both had visions at a young and tender age (see Genesis 37:2–5 and JS—H 1). The visions brought to both men hate from their fellowmen (see Genesis 37:5–8 and JS—H 1:21–26). Both knew sibling jealousy. Modern Joseph had to contend with a mercurial brother, William, whom Joseph forgave many times (see HC 2:353–54).

Both Josephs were generous to those who betrayed them. Ancient Joseph was generous to his once-betraying brothers whom he later saved from starvation (see Genesis 45:1–15).

Both prophesied remarkably of the future of their nations and the challenges their governments would face (see Genesis 41:29–31 and D&C 87).

They both knew what it was to be falsely accused, and they both were jailed.

Both, in their extremities, helped others who shared their imprisonment, but who later forgot their benefactors. In the case of ancient Joseph, it was the chief butler (see Genesis 40:20–23). Joseph Smith worried over an ill cell mate, Sidney Rigdon, who was freed in January 1839. The Prophet rejoiced. Three months later, the Prophet inquired “after Elder Rigdon if he has not forgotten us” (Writings, p. 399).

Both Josephs were torn from their families, although ancient Joseph suffered through this for a much, much longer time.

Very significantly, both were “like unto” each other in being amazingly resilient in the midst of adversity. This, in each man, is a truly striking quality.

Both were understandably anxious about their loved ones and friends. Ancient Joseph, when his true identity became known, inquired tenderly of his brothers, “Doth my father yet live?” (Genesis 45:3). From Liberty Jail, the Prophet Joseph Smith, with comparative awareness, wrote, “Doth my friends yet live if they live do they remember me?” (Writings, p. 409).

Indeed, these two uncommon men had much in common, being truly “like unto” each other!" (4)

As a last note, to help us get more to the heart of Lehi's message to his son Joseph, the word "covenant/s" occurs more in this chapter than the name Joseph does. In other words, more important than the players involved is a knowledge of the everlasting covenant. Again, Lehi provides us a possible framework for teaching this to even our younger children. 


Nephi finally splits from his brothers, as much as it hurts, because it was absolutely necessary for his protection. Nephi and those who followed him travel many days in the wilderness where they settle, observe the commandments of the Lord, and prosper exceedingly. Here Nephi also builds a temple after the manner of Solomon's temple. I like to personally note that they had no church at this point (that doesn't occur until Mosiah 18, hundreds of years later). Instead, what the Nephites had with their temple was "a family-based priesthood order."(5)

READ 2 NEPHI 5:26-27

"26 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, did consecrate Jacob and Joseph, that they should be priests and teachers over the land of my people.

27 And it came to pass that we lived after the manner of happiness."

Jacob and Joseph, as noted in the next chapter and here, are ordained priests and teachers over the people. These are not priests and teachers like we have today. These are temple priests and teachers after the fulness of the Melchizedek Priesthood, "which is only received in the house of the Lord."(6) Therefore, the temple is the complete center of their society.


When we center our lives on the Lord's House, how might we then "live after the manner of happiness"?

Elder Marlin K. Jensen once said:

"A good test of how well we are doing in our quest to come unto Christ may be how we feel about the temple and our experiences there. Temple can be synonymous with happiness and joy. It was for Nephi and his people."(6)

What we will focus on last comes directly from the manual. The following verses have provided a lot of heartache and confusion for years. In fact, just four years ago the Church had to change the Come Follow Me manual after it was printed because it presented false information about the following verses. They deal with the curse that came upon the seed of Laman & Lemuel.

READ 2 NEPHI 5:20-21

"20 Wherefore, the word of the Lord was fulfilled which he spake unto me, saying that: Inasmuch as they will not hearken unto thy words they shall be cut off from the presence of the Lord. And behold, they were cut off from his presence.

21 And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them."

We should handle these verses delicately, but not avoid them. The manual quotes, unequivocally, President Nelson's words about differing colors of skin:

"I assure you that your standing before God is not determined by the color of your skin. Favor or disfavor with God is dependent upon your devotion to God and His commandments and not the color of your skin. I grieve that our Black brothers and sisters the world over are enduring the pains of racism and prejudice. Today I call upon our members everywhere to lead out in abandoning attitudes and actions of prejudice. I plead with you to promote respect for all of God’s children."(7)


How can we follow the call from our prophet to "lead out in abandoning attitudes and actions of prejudice" and to "promote respect for all of God's children"?

The manual states that "the nature and appearance of this mark are not fully understood." What I offer here are some thoughts based on some counsel from the late President M. Russell Ballard:

"... if necessary, we should ask those with appropriate academic training, experience, and expertise for help. This is exactly what I do when I need an answer to my own questions that I cannot answer myself. I seek help from my Brethren in the Quorum of the Twelve and from others with expertise in fields of Church history and doctrine." (8)

It helps to see the covenantal context of all this. The talk of cursing goes back to 2 Nephi 1:17 where Lehi promises curses on Laman & Lemuel if they would not repent. Nowhere is a skin of blackness mentioned there, but the curse of being "cut off" occurs there and is repeated by Nephi in 2 Nephi 5:20. As noted at the beginning of this lesson, Lehi is conducting a covenant renewal ceremony that we find elsewhere in scripture. According to Dr. Jan Martin, biblical scholars refer to these deathbed covenantal ceremonies as a "suzerainty" covenant or treaty. In the ancient world, these covenants typically included a cursing portion, just like how Moses does in various parts of the Book of Deuteronomy.

When Lehi and the Lord promise that they will be cut off it has a specific meaning in the Hebrew context. Dr. Jan Martin notes, "The word cut off in Hebrew covenant language is the prominent word for ending a covenant... If we read this through the covenant lens, we see the cut off as the ending of the official Lehitic covenant for Laman and Lemuel. They've chosen to come outside of it. And that's important because we don't want anyone to feel like Laman and Lemuel are being picked on, that God doesn't love them, but he does honor their agency and says, "Okay, you don't want to accept my prophet and you don't want to follow what he says. I get it. We'll let you end the covenant and I will let you guys be a separate group... Of course, with any covenant, we can always re-engage with it if we want to repent. Covenants with the Lord are always open-ended."(9)

It is also worth noting how these troubling verses are separated in our scriptures and are not original to the Book of Mormon. The versification of the Book of Mormon occurred in 1879. Therefore, some scholars note that a better break between these verses would be to have verse 21 begin with "For Behold" which starts a new thought and places the sore curse along with Laman and Lemuel being cut off from the Lord's presence and covenants.

The discussion about a skin of blackness that comes upon Laman, Lemuel, and their seed that the Lord "causes to come upon them" still remains troubling. Scholars, virtually universally, observe that nowhere in the ancient world are differing races described as being of different skin color. That is really something that doesn't happen until the 1600s (see here). Therefore, when ancient people in the Near East used terms like "white" or "dark", it was about motifs of creation or other narratives where light and dark are natural descriptions of good and evil; having nothing to do with skin color.

But Nephi uses the term "skin", specifically. What do we make of that? The current best theory among scholars out there is Nephi was describing a tattoo practice the Lamanites adopted. They would have been allowed by the Lord to self-apply it to distinguish themselves from the followers of Jehovah. The practice of tattooing has a long history within Mayan and other ancient American cultures. Interestingly, "there is no word for tattoo" within Egyptian hieroglyphs. Keeping in mind that the Book of Mormon was written in reformed Egyptian, this perhaps shows that Nephi uses the term "skin" because it was the closest word or hieroglyph he knew of to communicate this "tattoo".(10) Again, according to Dr. Jan Martin, the origin for the term "tattoo" comes from the great 17th-century explorer James Cook who observed people on the island of Tahiti doing the practice. In his journal, he literally describes the practice as "the people inlaying the color of black into their skin."

This would explain the events in Alma 55 where Captain Moroni searches for a Lamanite among his own troops. This Lamanite accompanies a group of other Nephites to take wine to the Lamanite guards. This suggests that the actual skin color between the Lamanites and Nephites was negligible, otherwise the plan would have failed. Why did Captain Moroni need the converted Lamanite? He probably had a "mark" or token that he could show the Lamanite guards or maybe could mend any sort of language barrier. (11) Another example is how this is consistent with the mark the Amlicites place upon themselves in Alma chapter 3 with the red placed on their foreheads. Alma 3:14-16 directly connects that self-inflicted mark with the earlier mark the Lamanites received. On top of all this, the law of Moses refers to "tattoos" as "marks" in Leviticus 19:28. It was a form of sacrilege and defied the covenants the Lord made with Israel.(12)

There are other valuable ideas surrounding this troubling text, but the overall message should be that the Book of Mormon doesn't teach doctrines of prejudice, but quite the opposite. One scholar has compiled an exhaustive list of "more than three thousand Book of Mormon verses [that] directly or indirectly impart an inclusive, anti-discriminatory message."(13)

Elder Neal A. Maxwell once offered this insightful advice:

"God’s second commandment, love thy neighbor, clearly leaves no room for racism. Yet it is not enough to be free of racism if one is simultaneously enslaved by other appetites... As we come closer to the Lord, He has promised to “show unto [us our] weakness” (Ether 12:27). Hence, general goodness is no excuse for failing to work on those things which we yet lack."(14)

In closing, I share these words from Elder Ahmad Corbitt:

"While these descriptions of the Lamanites’ skin color change are not doctrinally significant in my view, they do add important context. They highlight cultural challenges that existed for Book of Mormon peoples, foreshadowing challenges that humanity faces today. It is impressive that such references can ultimately enable the book to communicate such a timely, urgent, and global message of unity and harmony across race and ethnicity. Thus, the Lord’s overarching message of peace eclipses the cultural ethnocentricities of the book’s ancient writers and modern-day readers.34 For me, it is inspiring to read the Book of Mormon and to be reminded, by the references to skin color, that a loving Heavenly Father is using the book to guide the human family to greater unity and peace...In a display of divine irony, the Lord brought forth this racially unifying book in a land that was racially divided at the time, plagued with the slavery of Africans and the diaspora and maltreatment of Native Americans. Yet He also brought it forth in a land endowed with religious freedom and constitutional self-government. In His providence, He has, over time, raised up and inspired His children who enjoy these freedoms to facilitate ways for others to receive them, both within the United States and throughout the world, in order that His unifying gospel might be enjoyed by all." (15)


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