Lesson 36: On the Morrow Come I into the World
3 Nephi 1-8
Purpose: To help class members understand the need to endure faithfully in times of trial and temptation.
It’s been an exciting few weeks for the Church and its members, so I’d like to take a few minutes to recap. Would one or two of you like to say – briefly – something about Conference?
After last session, I had dinner with a group that included a 19-year-old BYU student who had an appointment later than evening to meet with her bishop about serving a mission. What do you think the changes in missionary age might mean for the Church, and for the young people affected?
How many of you visited the Church History Library in the past two weeks to view the “Treasures of the Collection” exhibit? What items in the exhibit did you appreciate most? What did the exhibit as a whole mean to you? Why do you suppose the Church mounts exhibits like that?
Something else was announced this week that you may or may not have heard, something I think is important enough to be sure you know about. The University of Virginia has established a Chair of Mormon Studies in its Department of Religious Studies, a chair named for LDS historian Richard L. Bushman. This isn’t the first such chair established, but it’s the first one outside the traditional Mormon region in the West. Whoever is named to that chair will begin his or her work by next fall semester. From the announcement:
“Three years ago, the department identified Mormon studies as an emerging field that merited serious academic study in the context of other important world religions,” said Kevin Hart, Edwin B. Kyle Professor of Christian Studies and immediate past chair of the department, who led the effort to establish the Bushman Chair. “We have seen growing interest on the part of both faculty and students from a wide variety of academic specialties.”
What does it mean to you that other people – some LDS, no doubt, but chiefly not LDS – think the Church and its people “merit serious academic study”? Do you welcome that kind of study, or are you hesitant? Why?
This is an interesting time to be a member of the Church, both for the opportunities we have for strengthening our faith, fulfilling our obligations as Church members, and for facing increased scrutiny from people who are not of our faith. It may seem a bit of a stretch to find a connection between the events of this week and events in the Book of Mormon, but despite the difference in details, I’ve been struck by parallels this week between our day and the period of Third Nephi we’ll turn to now.
SCRIPTURE DISCUSSION AND APPLICATION
1. The signs of the Savior’s birth vindicate those who have endured in faith.
2. The Gadianton robbers come to battle against the Nephites.
3. The Nephites live righteously and prosper, but pride and dissensions arise.
4. “I am a disciple of Jesus Christ.”
Between stake and general conferences, and the temple dedication, our discussion of the Book of Mormon has been a little choppy over the past weeks. Let me remind you where we are: The Nephites and Lamanites have been engaged in a long period of serious warfare. The fortunes of war, and the behavior of the people, have been linked, at least the way Moroni abridges the story: When the people are righteous, they flourish and have peace … but they also have a tendency to become proud, and then wicked, which plunges them into more warfare and sorrow, which causes them to repent and become righteous again. At times, the Lamanites are more responsive to the gospel than are the Nephites, a reversal of most of the history of the Book of Mormon to this point. In fact, it is a Lamanite prophet, Samuel, who preached a message of repentance to the Nephites in our last discussion. He warned the Nephites that they would be destroyed if they did not repent. As he urged them to turn to Christ in claim a remission of their sins, he prophesied about Christ’s birth and mission and death, in unusually specific detail. Some of the Nephites repented and began to watch for the fulfillment of Samuel’s prophecy; others became more wicked than ever before.
This brings us to the record of Third Nephi. We’re going to spend most of our time this afternoon with just the first few verses of Chapter 1, so please turn there now.
3 Nephi 1:1
1 Now it came to pass that the ninety and first year had passed away and it was six hundred years from the time that Lehi left Jerusalem; and it was in the year that Lachoneus was the chief judge and the governor over the land.
The Book of Mormon pays a lot of attention to chronology – this happened in this year, that happened in the next year. When this verse speaks of 91 years having passed away, what event is it referring to? [The establishment of the rule by judges.] Ninety-one years in our own history takes us back to 1921. That’s the year my mother was born. Heber J. Grant was president of the Church that year, and Franklin D. Roosevelt was president of the United States. Who in this room was living then? [Keepa’ninnies: My ward has several members, including two who regularly attend my class, who are older than 91!] In the broadest possible outlines, how is our world now different from 1921?
Why do you suppose Nephi, while writing his record, would refer to that passage of time? [It might be simply because that’s how his culture dated events – or it might be that, like us, a reminder that time is passing causes us to think about where we have been and where we are going. Perhaps like we have just done in recalling developments in our era, this was a reminder to Nephi or those he expected to read his record to reflect on the same things.]
“It was six hundred years from the time that Lehi left Jerusalem.” As I look back over all the dates given in the Nephite record during the past couple of hundred pages, I find that it is quite common to date events by the reigns of judges, but very rare to remind the people of events as far back as the days of Lehi and Nephi and leaving Jerusalem. What is Nephi’s purpose here in pointing back to Lehi leaving Jerusalem? [The people are conscious that the five years prophesied by Samuel the Lamanite are about to expire, and also that a time prophesied by Lehi is also about to arrive:]
1 Nephi 10:4
Yea, even six hundred years from the time that my father left Jerusalem, a prophet would the Lord God raise up among the Jews – even a Messiah, or, in other words, a Savior of the world.
1 Nephi 1:2
2 And Nephi, the son of Helaman, had departed out of the land of Zarahemla, giving charge unto his son Nephi, who was his eldest son, concerning the plates of brass, and all the records which had been kept, and all those things which had been kept sacred from the departure of Lehi out of Jerusalem.
So we have a change in church leadership, from one man named Nephi to his son, also named Nephi. The father turns over to his son the important relics of the past: the records, the records, among which he specifically mentions the original brass plates from 600 years before, and other relics that had been kept since that same time. What relics would be included? [Sword of Laban, Liahona, the perhaps other things throughout their six hundred year history since the departure of Lehi out of Jerusalem.]
Doctrine and Covenants 17:1
Behold, I say unto you, that you must rely upon my word, which if you do with full purpose of heart, you shall have a view of the plates, and also of the breastplate, the sword of Laban, the Urim and Thummim, which were given to the brother of Jared upon the mount, when he talked with the Lord face to face, and the miraculous directors which were given to Lehi while in the wilderness, on the borders of the Red Sea.
Why were those items, at least the ones we can name – the plates, the sword, the Liahona – considered sacred? [Part of the reason may be because, like the Liahona, they were created by God and given in a miraculous manner. The sword, however, was a temporal thing, important because of the event it was associated with, not because it itself was holy.] Are there relics that we, as modern Latter-day Saints, consider sacred? What about the documents that were on display at the Church History Library this week – would you consider any of them sacred, in any sense? Why preserve them, if not? What is their value to the Church and its members? Is it fair to say, or is it an exaggeration to claim that documents like some of those on display at the library – a page from the original manuscript of the Book of Mormon, the statement signed by the First Presidency regarding the extension of priesthood to all worthy male members – serve the same purpose for us as the Nephite relics served for that people?
Continuing the story, 3 Nephi 1:3
3 Then he departed out of the land, and whither he went, no man knoweth; and his son Nephi did keep the records in his stead, yea, the record of this people.
What other men in sacred history can you think of who “departed” without the people knowing what became of them?
Samuel the Lamanite, Helaman 16:7-8, is probably not such a case; although “he was never heard of more among the Nephites” he was reported to have gone home “to preach and to prophesy among his own people.”
Alma the Young, Alma 45:18-19:
18 And when Alma had done this he departed out of the land of Zarahemla, as if to go into the land of Melek. And it came to pass that he was never heard of more; as to his death or burial we know not of.
19 Behold, this we know, that he was a righteous man; and the saying went abroad in the church that he was taken up by the spirit, or buried by the hand of the Lord, even as Moses. But behold, the scriptures saith the Lord took Moses unto himself; and we suppose that he has also received Alma in the spirit, unto himself; therefore, for this cause we know nothing concerning his death and burial.
Moses, Deuteronomy 34:5-6
5 So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord.
6 And he buried him in a valley in the land of Moab, over against Bethpeor: but no man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day.
Why do you suppose Nephi – the youngest one, the one now keeping the record – wanted us to know about his father’s ambiguous departure? What does he want us to think about his father? [Do not create the idea in class members’ minds if it is not already there, but if anyone speculates, as I have heard, that Nephi was translated, be prepared to point to the speculation in the day of Alma the Younger as another instance of speculation that seemed to fit the same circumstance but which is not authoritatively confirmed; likewise, we should not be too fixed in our speculations here– the youngest Nephi may just as well have been drawing parallels between the spirituality of these prophets and not the circumstances of their deaths.]
3 Nephi 1:4
4 And it came to pass that in the commencement of the ninety and second year, behold, the prophecies of the prophets began to be fulfilled more fully; for there began to be greater signs and greater miracles wrought among the people.
What is the difference between “prophecies of the prophets,” and “signs”and “miracles”?
3 Nephi 1:5-6
5 But there were some who began to say that the time was past for the words to be fulfilled, which were spoken by Samuel, the Lamanite.
6 And they began to rejoice over their brethren, saying: Behold the time is past, and the words of Samuel are not fulfilled; therefore, your joy and your faith concerning this thing hath been vain.
Let’s read again what Samuel did say about the timing of his prophecy:
2 And behold, he said unto them: Behold, I give unto you a sign; for five years more cometh, and behold, then cometh the Son of God to redeem all those who shall believe on his name.
That sounds pretty specific, doesn’t it? If someone had predicted on January 1, 2000, that something would happen in “five years more,” when would you expect it to happen (assuming you believed the prediction)? [Whatever is suggested, suggest an alternate: Either the event should happen on January 1, 2005, or else it should happen by January 1,2005. Either option is a legitimate interpretation.]
Which way did the wicked people interpret Samuel’s prophecy? [That it should happen sometime before the end of the five year period, which was rapidly drawing to a close.]
3 Nephi 1:7-8
7 And it came to pass that they did make a great uproar throughout the land; and the people who believed began to be very sorrowful, lest by any means those things which had been spoken might not come to pass.
8 But behold, they did watch steadfastly for that day and that night and that day which should be as one day as if there were no night, that they might know that their faith had not been vain.
What do you think about the faith of these believers? Do they really have faith, if they’re “sorrowful”? Do they really doubt, if they “watch steadfastly”?
Does this describe your faith at times? Are fears and doubts and sorrows and questions always evidence that you don’t really have faith? What is the real evidence of faith?
Think about this event as a model for our own day. It has been prophesied that in our generation, the gospel will be preached to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people – yet how practical is it to believe that even the 50-something-thousand missionaries we have today can accomplish that? It has been prophesied that in our day the Church would come out of obscurity – yet how practical is it to believe that when Latter-day Saints make up 1% or 2% of the [adult] American population, and far, far less than that on a world scale? [Hopefully somebody will bring up the lesson’s introduction about changes leading to an increased missionary force, and about the UVa announcement – these small things with potentially huge consequences happen quietly yet constantly. Even if it seems logically impossible, we can have faith in the fulfillment of prophecy, sustained by our noticing of these “signs and miracles.”]
The faith of these people, and the unbelief of others, were about to have real consequences. 3 Nephi 1:9:
9 Now it came to pass that there was a day set apart by the unbelievers, that all those who believed in those traditions should be put to death except the sign should come to pass, which had been given by Samuel the prophet.
In the previous verses, it seemed to me that there were many believers, and that the unbelievers were only “beg[inning] to say that the time was past.” What does this verse suggest about the growth in numbers and power of the unbelievers?
Was this an idle threat? I mean, have we ever seen the wicked put whole groups of believers to death before, in the Book of Mormon civilizations?
wives and children in Ammonihah, Alma14:8 [about 80 years earlier than 3 Nephi]
8 And they brought their wives and children together, and whosoever believed or had been taught to believe in the word of God they caused that they should be cast into the fire; and they also brought forth their records which contained the holy scriptures, and cast them into the fire also, that they might be burned and destroyed by fire.
Lamanites killed by Amulonites, Alma 25:7
7 And it came to pass that those rulers who were the remnant of the children of Amulon caused that they should be put to death, yea, all those that believed in these things.
3 Nephi 1:10-11
10 Now it came to pass that when Nephi, the son of Nephi, saw this wickedness of his people, his heart was exceedingly sorrowful.
11 And it came to pass that he went out and bowed himself down upon the earth, and cried mightily to his God in behalf of his people, yea, those who were about to be destroyed because of their faith in the tradition of their fathers.
Wait – who are Nephi’s people, according to these verses? [Both the wicked who threaten the killing, and the believers who are about to be destroyed, are called “his people.”]
Wouldn’t you suppose that Nephi, as leader of the believers, would probably be one of the first to be killed when the slaughter begins? What, then, do you think of his reaction as sorrow, rather than anger or fear or even doubt in the truth of the prophecy?
And then, of course, comes the wonderful reassurance in answer to Nephi’s prayer:
3 Nephi 1:12-21
12 And it came to pass that he cried mightily unto the Lord all that day; and behold, the voice of the Lord came unto him, saying:
13 Lift up your head and be of good cheer; for behold, the time is at hand, and on this night shall the sign be given, and on the morrow come I into the world, to show unto the world that I will fulfil all that which I have caused to be spoken by the mouth of my holy prophets.
14 Behold, I come unto my own, to fulfil all things which I have made known unto the children of men from the foundation of the world, and to do the will, both of the Father and of the Son – of the Father because of me, and of the Son because of my flesh. And behold, the time is at hand, and this night shall the sign be given.
15 And it came to pass that the words which came unto Nephi were fulfilled, according as they had been spoken; for behold, at the going down of the sun there was no darkness; and the people began to be astonished because there was no darkness when the night came.
16 And there were many, who had not believed the words of the prophets, who fell to the earth and became as if they were dead, for they knew that the great plan of destruction which they had laid for those who believed in the words of the prophets had been frustrated; for the sign which had been given was already at hand.
17 And they began to know that the Son of God must shortly appear; yea, in fine, all the people upon the face of the whole earth from the west to the east, both in the land north and in the land south, were so exceedingly astonished that they fell to the earth.
18 For they knew that the prophets had testified of these things for many years, and that the sign which had been given was already at hand; and they began to fear because of their iniquity and their unbelief.
19 And it came to pass that there was no darkness in all that night, but it was as light as though it was mid-day. And it came to pass that the sun did rise in the morning again, according to its proper order; and they knew that it was the day that the Lord should be born, because of the sign which had been given.
20 And it had to come to pass, yea, all things, every whit, according to the words of the prophets.
21 And it came to pass also that a new star did appear, according to the word.
The fulfillment of Samuel’s prophecy was a miracle to the Nephites. The record gives us no clue as to the cause of the all-night daylight. A new star did appear, according to 3 Nephi 1:21, but that was evidently after the night-without-darkness – that star is mentioned almost as an afterthought, and is not presented as the cause of the light (the star given as a sign in the Old World similarly is not described as bright enough to light the night as if it were daytime.) We don’t know whether the cause of the nighttime brightness was some celestial event that came and went in a single night. We don’t know whether, as some have speculated, a local volcanic eruption provided enough light to brighten the night. All we know is that the event – whatever it was – came on schedule, as prophesied, and that it was obvious and spectacular enough to vindicate the believers and halt the planned executions.
Although the fulfillment of Samuel’s prophecy was enough to reward the faith of the believers and to convince many of the unbelievers, this sign, as spectacular as it was, seems not to have had long-term effects in the Nephite world. Those who were convinced almost against their will were not really converted, and began to rationalize the dramatic sign as not having been all that miraculous after all. They caused doubt in the minds of others, and gradually, and very quickly, the people turned away from faith and toward unbelief. Their wars continued, the Gadianton Robbers gained in strength, pride returned as a feature of Nephite society, and political assassinations occurred.
It seems that even great signs and wonders do not guarantee permanent faith and righteousness. That is understandable, I suppose – even this miraculous event among the Nephites was followed by more than 30 years – a generation– with no further dramatic testimony, “only” the steady teachings of the prophets and the testimony of those few who remained faithful. The reward for that faith will be the subject of next week’s lesson.