In 1 Nephi chapter 4 right at the beginning of the Book of Mormon, we encounter a narrative where a young man is instructed by God to kill an unconscious individual.
I have to admit, on the surface, this is not a very appealing idea to entertain. I would like to share some insights to this account in hopes that it can offer some reasons as to why this happened the way that it did and what Nephi’s motivations may have been.
I’m assuming the reader already has a familiarity with the events that have led up to this point. Nephi and his brothers have made two attempts to secure the brass plates, and they have both failed. Laban falsely accused Laman of being a robber and tried to murder him, while the brothers were robbed of their property and barely escaped with their lives.
Nephi is still determined to obtain the plates and refuses to leave empty-handed. In an attempt to convince his brothers, he uses the example of Moses and the armies of Pharaoh.
“Therefore let us go up; let us be strong like unto Moses; for he truly spake unto the waters of the Red Sea and they divided hither and thither, and our fathers came through, out of captivity, on dry ground, and the armies of Pharaoh did follow and were drowned in the waters of the Red Sea.
Now behold ye know that this is true; and ye also know that an angel hath spoken unto you; wherefore can ye doubt? Let us go up; the Lord is able to deliver us, even as our fathers, and to destroy Laban, even as the Egyptians.” (1 Nephi 4:3-4)
Nephi is not only relating a story from the scriptures from memory but claims a direct parallel to those events with their immediate situation. Nephi uses scripture to govern his actions as he considers himself and his brothers as Moses with Laban as their ‘Pharaoh.’
His brothers are compelled enough by this argument to follow him back to Jerusalem, even though they continue to murmur.
Nephi proceeds alone being led by the spirit, trusting that God will provide a way and not knowing how things will turn out.
He soon encounters Laban who has fallen to the earth just as drunk as a skunk. Nephi sees his sword and immediately disarms Laban. As he takes a moment to admire the craftsmanship of the sword, the Spirit constrains Nephi to kill Laban.
Nephi had never killed a man and like most of us would probably do, shrunk away at the very thought of it.
Here is where I think the shift occurs in Nephi’s consciousness. The Spirit speaks again and says “Behold the Lord hath delivered him into thy hands.” To someone like Nephi who knew the scriptures, I think this key phrase communicated something very significant, another story from the Old Testament.
In 1 Samuel 17, the shepherd boy David approaches the massive warrior Goliath and says to him:
“This day will the Lord deliver thee into mine hand” (1 Samuel 17:46)
I think that Nephi associated the words of the Spirit with this particular verse and what happens next only serves to confirm my suspicions. This was a very personalized message to a person who had the capacity to read between the lines and understand what they needed to do.
The story of David and Goliath continues with David running toward Goliath and smiting him in the head with the stone killing him instantly, his body falling to the earth before him just like Laban lying before Nephi.
Next, David drew Goliath’s sword from its sheath and cut off his head. (vs.51) After that, he takes Goliath’s armor to his own tent.
I think that this story played through Nephi’s mind as the story and his present situation melded together, just as he overlayed the story of Moses and Pharaoh minutes before.
Nephi is thinking through things at this point. He recalls that Laban tried to take his life, defied the commandments of God, and then robbed them of their property. Laban had committed high crimes against the law that would have likely resulted in his execution if convicted.
The Spirit again repeats to Nephi “Slay him, for the Lord hath delivered him into thy hands; Behold the Lord slayeth the wicked to bring forth his righteous purposes. It is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief.” (1 Nephi 4:12-13)
Nephi recalls that his people must have these records if they are going to be able to keep the commandments and prosper in the land. (vs.14-15) He knew that the Lord had put Laban before him to secure those records. (vs.16-17) So he obeys the voice of the Spirit and in a manner identical to David, Nephi beheads Laban with his own sword. Nephi takes Laban’s armor as well, just like David took Goliath’s.
Based on Nephi’s precise knowledge of the scriptures and penchant to pattern his actions after them, I think that in this moral paradox, Nephi’s prior familiarity and understanding of the David and Goliath account helped him to act similarly and obey the Lord’s commandments with confidence.
The main takeaway I see is the importance of knowing the scriptures and how they can play a part in understanding the direction of the Spirit. God likes to provide multiple witnesses, and in this case, both acted together to provide guidance in a profound moral dilemma. I don’t think it is a coincidence that Nephi’s encounter with Laban mirrored David’s encounter with Goliath.
Furthermore, I believe that these two experiences coalesced into a prophetic description of how he saw the future villain the “great and abominable church” fall.
“…for they shall war among themselves, and the sword of their own hands shall fall upon their own heads, and they shall be drunken with their own blood.” (1 Nephi 22:13)
The drunkenness seems like a parallel to Laban, and the beheading with one’s own sword relates to Goliath and Laban. I think that Nephi’s ability to prophesy in this manner is due to his understanding of the scriptures and his own experiences in applying them to his own life.
Personally, I find Nephi’s story of great worth to anyone seeking to develop more confidence in following the Spirit and in keeping God’s commandments. With a knowledge of scripture, we have the framework for understanding and direction that comes to us from God. We can consider situations similar to our own and discover the principles that will guide us confidently on the path.
Remember that Nephi saw in his vision that the rod of iron that allowed one to make it through those mists of darkness (1 Nephi 8:) represented the word of God. Nephi seems to have taken that to heart by infusing the scriptures into his own life experiences.
The Biblical accounts fortified Nephi, and now both accounts, along with the guidance of the Spirit, can reinforce us today.