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Sunday School Lesson #7 (Book of Mormon)

Posted by Jim F. on February 9, 2008

Sunday School Lesson 7: 2 Nephi 3-5

I wrote notes on these chapters in 2004. You can find them at: http://www.timesandseasons.org/?p=400

Those are still my best shot at asking questions about the chapters that I hope might help people think about these chapters, whether for personal study or to prepare for a lesson. However, I think I can add a few new comments. So, I am repeating the questions here, with added questions. Many of the additional questions come from my good friend, Arthur Bassett, though I’ve often changed them.

Chapter 3

Verses 1-25: Notice the use of types and shadows in these verses: Lehi blesses his son Joseph by telling him of Joseph of old who prophesied of Moses and the latter-day Joseph. Presumably this blessing to Joseph was more than just information. Presumably it gave him something he could use in his own life. In addition, it presumably compares Moses and Joseph Smith in a way that helps us understand each better. Is this use of types and shadows the way that we are to apply the scriptures to ourselves? Of what types do we see shadows in today’s world? What might Joseph have learned about his mission when he read these verses? Do you think he understood what he was reading as we do? What advantage might we have in understanding them?

Verses 1-3: How old was Joseph when he received this blessing? Why is that noteworthy? Why might Lehi have named this son “Joseph”? Might he have intended to say something with that name? What? (And why might they have named their first son born in the wilderness “Jacob”?)

Verse 5: To what degree has this prophecy been fulfilled? If you think it is still being fulfilled, what would it take for it to be completed?

Verses 7-8: Whom are these verses about? What does it mean to say “he shall do no other work, save the work which I shall command him”?

Verse 12: Lehi says that the writings of Judah and those of his descendants “shall grow together.” What does that metaphor mean? What does it tell us about the relation of the Bible and the Book of Mormon?

Verse 15: How is the Prophet Joseph like Joseph in Egypt? How did the ancient Joseph bring the Lord’s people salvation, and how is that like what modern Joseph did? The name “Joseph” means “to add to” or “to take away my reproach.” Is that name significant to the meaning of this prophecy?

Verse 16: What is “the promise of Moses”?

Verse 17: How were the ancient Joseph and Moses the same? What is the significance of a rod? What rod did Joseph Smith have?

Verse 18: How many spokesmen did Joseph Smith have? How does the fact that he had more than one cohere with this verse? What does this tell us about prophecy?

Verse 23: What does it mean to say that Lehi’s son Joseph is blessed because of the covenant? How is he blessed? Why is it an important blessing to know that your descendants many generations hence will not be destroyed?

Verse 24: Joseph Smith isn’t a descendant of Lehi. To whom, then, is this verse referring?

Chapter 4

Verse 3: First Lehi blesses Joseph. Then he blesses the children of Laman, then those of Lemuel. Why does he bless their children rather than them? Is your answer the result of an inference you’ve made or do you have scriptural evidence for it? Why would the children of Laman and Lemuel be blessed before Sam?

Verses 5-6: If Lehi is speaking to his sons and his daughters (verse 5; see also verse 3), on whom does he say that the curse will be placed (verse 6)? What do you make of Lehi’s explanation of his children’s rebellion? What do you make of the self-sacrifice implicit in Lehi’s promise?

Verse 11: What is the blessing to Sam? How is that a blessing? Does it explain Sam’s absence in Jacob 1:13?

Verse 12: Nephi says that Lehi gave his blessing “according to the feeling of his heart and the Spirit of the Lord which was in him.” What do you make of that phrase? Are those two sources of blessing or is this a pleonastic expression for one source of blessing? If Nephi is speaking of two sources for the blessing, what might that tell us about our own blessings?

Verse 14: Nephi tells us “a more history part [of this story] are written upon mine other plates.” If a fuller version of the other story is on the other plates, why repeat the story here, especially given that writing on the plates must have been difficult?

Verses 15-35: Is this a reasonable outline of these verses?

15-16: Nephi’s thesis: he delights in the things of the Lord
17-19a: Nevertheless, sorrow and woe
19b: Nevertheless, trust
20-25: Why he trusts
26-29: The response to sorrow and woe
30: The praise of God
31-33: A prayer for deliverance
34: A promise to trust God
35: A testimony of God’s faithfulness

If so, can you explain the movement from one section to another?

Verses 17-35 are often referred to as “the psalm of Nephi.” It isn’t uncommon in the Church to hear some criticize Nephi for the way he treated his brothers or to voice suspicions about the prejudices that may inform Nephi’s account. What does this psalm suggest about those criticisms and suspicions?

Verses 15-16: What makes Nephi begin to think about the scriptures? In other words, what has just happened that motivates verse 15? What are “the things of the Lord” (verse 16)? Surely a good part of what Nephi means has already been mentioned in verse 15, namely the scriptures. But what else might he have in mind?

Verse 17-18: Why does Nephi, of all people, grieve about his iniquities? What is the connection between seeing the goodness of the Lord and grieving about one’s iniquities? What does Nephi’s grief teach us? What iniquities might Nephi have had? Given the context, what sins might he have found particularly tempting? Do verses 13 and 27-29 suggest an answer to this question?

Verse 19: Here we see Nephi turn from grief, in the beginning of the verse, to hope, in the end. What does the change we see happening in this verse tell us about our own sorrows? Is sorrow or guilt bad? What is the difference between Nephi’s sorrow and harmful sorrow? Compare 2 Corinthians 7:10. What is the sorrow to death? When do we find ourselves in the kind of sorrow Nephi experiencing? If someone is experiencing the sorrow to death rather than the sorrow to life, how can that change? Does 2 Nephi 33:3 help us understand this psalm better?

Verses 20-25: What things is Nephi grateful for? Can you draw specific parallels to the things we should be thankful for? Are these some of the “things of the Lord,” mentioned in verse 16? How does memory serve Nephi in this verse? How ought it to serve us?

Verses 26-30: What is Nephi’s answer to the troubles he has—to his weakness in the face of temptation, for example? Might his use of the phrase “valley of sorrow” be a reference to some seminal experience in his life? A scriptural passage? What does it mean, and why is it appropriate to that meaning? When Nephi says that his flesh has wasted away, is he being literal or metaphorical? If the latter, what might he mean by that phrase? Why would his afflictions make his strength slacken? Is Nephi’s question at the end of verse 27 a summary of the previous questions in that verse, or is the verse merely a list of different sins? Why is “enemy” singular in verse 27 and plural in verse 29? When did Nephi’s soul “droop in sin”? What was that sin?

Verse 30: What is the place of praise in worship? For Nephi it seems central to the experience he describes here. Where do we find it in our own experience and worship? How might we find ways to praise God more?

Verses 31-35: Why does this psalm of Nephi end in a prayer? In our more ordinary terms, what are the things Nephi prays for?

Verse 32: Since obedience seems to be what I do rather than what the Lord does for me, what does it mean to pray to be obedient? How does having a broken heart and a contrite spirit shut the gates of hell? What does it mean to pray that the Lord’s gates of righteousness will not be shut before Nephi?

Verse 33: What does it mean to be encircled in the robes of the Lord’s righteousness? (Compare Isaiah 61:10 and Baruch 5:2—Baruch is in the Apocrypha.) What surrounded Nephi in verse 18? Does this tell us anything about how Nephi was moved to rise above his guilt? What does it tell us about getting beyond our own guilt? When Nephi prays that the Lord won’t place a stumbling block in his path, what is he asking? Isn’t it bordering on blasphemy to suggest that the Lord does place stumbling blocks in our way?

Verse 34: Is there a significant difference between faith in God and trust in God? What does it mean to trust in the arm of flesh? When might we find ourselves doing that?

Verse 35: Compare this verse to James 1:5. What might Joseph Smith have thought as he translated this verse? What does it mean to say that God is the rock of my righteousness?

Chapter 5

Verses 1-7: Contrast verse 1 with 2 Nephi 4:27-29. Following the pattern of Moses and Israel that Nephi has referred to on several occasions (and also of Abraham, who separates himself from Lot), Nephi leaves Laman and Lemuel, taking his family and those who would follow him into the wilderness. The Doctrine and Covenants uses a related imagery when it commands us to leave Babylon. (See, for example, D&C 133:5, 7, and 14.) What kinds of meanings can this type have for us today? How can we today leave “Babylon” and go into the wilderness? Where is the wilderness today?

Verse 6: Are the sisters mentioned here the sisters who married the sons of Ishmael (which would mean they left their husbands, who stayed with Laman and Lemuel) or are they other sisters?

Verse 12: Why does Nephi take these objects with him? The plates, of course, are needed because they have a record of his people. However, the other objects—the Liahona—seems no longer to be working. Is there a place for sacred objects in true religion? What might that place be?

Verse 15: How could Nephi teach these skills to his people? Where did he learn them? This is the first mention of buildings rather than tents. What does that suggest?

Verse 17: What is the significance of Nephi building this temple?

Verse 19: When Nephi says he became his people’s ruler and teacher, is he using these two words to say the same thing (pleonasm or hendiadys, as in Genesis 1:1 when it says that the world was “without form and void” in the beginning, or when an angry sister tells her brother to “shut up and be quiet”), or is he saying he was two things, that he was a ruler and he was a teacher? If we think of “ruler and teacher” as two ways of saying the same thing, what might that tell us about being a ruler? A father or mother? Does it say anything about contemporary politics? If we think of “ruler and teacher” as different things here, what does that tell us about Nephi’s relation to his people?

Verses 20-25: What is the curse that came upon those who followed Laman and Lemuel? Was it the darkened color of their skin or something else? If it was the darkness of their skin, how does that explain their idleness and mischief? If it was something else, what was it?

Verse 27: Nephi says that he and his people “lived after the manner of happiness.” What does that phrase say that “we lived happily” doesn’t say? What is “the manner [or ‘way’] of happiness”?

Verse 30: How does the Lord explain the need for another set of plates to Nephi? What might that have meant to him in his situation?

Verse 34: Forty years had passed away since what? Since Lehi’s first preaching? Since leaving Jerusalem? Since setting sail? Since arriving in the Promised Land? What evidence do you have for your answer?

20 Responses to “Sunday School Lesson #7 (Book of Mormon)”

  1. Robert C. said

    Thanks for these notes, Jim.

    (I edited the link to your post 4 years ago, so you might want to double check my edit.)

  2. phdinhistory said

    Types and shadows were an integral part of the law of Moses. Now that the law of Moses has been fulfilled, how much do we still need types and shadows? Are types and shadows less common in the modern era, replaced with the expectation that we are supposed to walk by faith?

    Nephi says in an upcoming chapter that “all things which have been given of God from the beginning of the world, unto man, are the typifying of him” (2 Ne. 11:4). Should our aim be to see all good things in this world (see Moses 6:63) as exclusively types of Christ? Are we being prideful if we imagine that things in our lives are types or shadows of people and events in the scriptures? Or is the Book of Mormon designed to provide types and shadows of the Lord’s coming that we can personally apply and liken to our latter-day lives and circumstances?

  3. phdinhistory said

    With hindsight, I think it is fairly easy for us to see that Joseph Smith served as a seer, that the book he translated was comparable to the Bible, restore doctrines missing from or misunderstood by Christendom, physically gather the descendants of Israel, and follow the example of biblical Joseph in delivering modern people from a spiritual famine. But I doubt that Joseph grasped these things in their fullness as he was still near the beginning of his translation of the Book of Mormon. Perhaps the only thing we can be certain that Joseph understood at this point was that he came from a background of weakness.

  4. phdinhistory said

    The Index to the Scriptures suggests that Joseph was born around 595 B.C. Nephi’s remarks in 2 Ne. 5:26-28 provide evidence that Joseph became a priest and teacher around the year 569 B.C. If we assume this ordination took place shortly after Lehi’s death, and that Lehi blessed all of his children shortly before his death, then Joseph was probably in his early to mid-20s when Lehi spoke to him in 2 Ne. 3. Lehi may have waited until Joseph reached this age because it was considered the point where Joseph was old enough to take on adult responsibilities. After all, Joseph of Egypt was only an assistant to his shepherd brothers at the age of 17.

    Lehi may have chosen to name his son Joseph after his biblical progenitor since they were both among the very last sons born to a prophetic patriarch. Lehi may have also selected this name with the expectation that Joseph would become a leader in an abundant land, far from the wilderness where he was born. Perhaps Lehi had the foresight to see that Jacob, in accordance with the meaning of his name, would “supplant” Nephi as prophet and that Joseph, in keeping with his name, would “add” to Jacob’s priestly leadership.

  5. phdinhistory said

    Before Joseph Smith translated 2 Ne. 3, did he primarily view himself as a Gentile? As he translated this chapter, did he think the events described in verse 5 were applicable to Lehi’s “day” or to the latter days? Did Joseph understand this verse as describing how Lehi’s family was the branch sent to the American continent? Or did Joseph start to conceive of early converts to the church in his dispensation as descendants of Joseph of Egypt who were supposed to minister “unto the house of Israel”? To what extent did this chapter help Joseph to see that the ancestry and destiny of Gentile converts to the Mormon church were bound up with that of the Native American remnant of Israel? Did Joseph expect that the prophecy in verse 5 would be fulfilled at the Savior’s second coming, when he returned to the earth “in the spirit of power”?

    I suspect that the phrase “for our day,” as a description of why the Book of Mormon was written, entered the Mormon vocabulary through the General Conference talks of President Ezra Taft Benson. To what extent was Benson influenced by (and perhaps appropriating Lehite) wording in 2 Ne 3:5 when he coined this phrase?

  6. phdinhistory said

    Is it possible that king Mosiah I in the Book of Mormon was the first person who fulfilled the prophecy of 2 Ne. 3:6-8? Was Mosiah I described in Mosiah 8 and 28 as the first “seer” during Book of Mormon times? Was Mosiah I’s use of the “interpreters,” and service as a historian, seen by the Nephites as restoring “knowledge of the covenants”? Did the Nephites view Mosiah I as “a Moses,” not just because of the similarity between the two names but because Mosiah I actually delivered them out of the grasp of their enemies and into a new land? Can we surmise that Mosiah I performed “none other work, save the work which [the Lord] command[ed] him” by the fact that his successor-son Benjamin stressed how he had worked in the fields alongside his people so that they would not have to support him through taxes? Have we somewhat lost sight of the important role that Mosiah I played in the history of the Nephites, since the first few chapters of Mosiah (and the headnote for Mosiah) were likely contained within the 116 page manuscript that was lost and therefore do not appear in today’s version of the Book of Mormon?

    Of course, the traditional interpretation of 2 Ne. 3:6-8 views Joseph Smith as the “choice seer” foreordained to translate the Book of Mormon in the latter days. When the Lord commanded Joseph to “do none other work, save the work which I shall command him,” was he echoing his later explanation to Joseph that “in temporal labors thou shalt not have strength, for this is not thy calling” (D&C 24:9)?

  7. Jim F. said

    Robert C: When you see me on Tuesday, please tell me what I did wrong with that link so that I won’t do it again.

    Phd: Thanks for your observations and, especially for the additional questions.

    As for types and shadows: We live in an age where it is difficult to see or think in terms of types and shadows, but I don’t think they are any less relevant to us. One reason that attention to scripture is important is that it helps us see those types and shadows. I would go so far as to say that applying the scriptures to ourselves primarily means seeing types in them which are repeated in our own lives.

  8. Lisa F. said

    Jim —
    I don’t know who verse 24 is referring to…I had always thought it was Joseph Smith. Do you have any ideas?

    Lisa F.

  9. Jim F. said

    Lisa F: I’d also always thought verse 24 refers to Joseph. Now I am not sure who it refers to.

  10. NathanG said

    24 And there shall rise up one mighty among them, who shall do much good, both in word and in deed, being an instrument in the hands of God, with exceeding faith, to work mighty wonders, and do that thing which is great in the sight of God, unto the bringing to pass much restoration unto the house of Israel, and unto the seed of thy brethren.

    Does the wording in verse 24 necessitate this person being a direct descendent of Lehi? If someone is raised up “among them” is that equivalent to someone from that lineage? Could the “one mighty among them” be contemporary with his seed? Could it be that Lehi is not specifically referring to Joseph’s seed, but to all of Lehi’s seed, or to all of Joseph’s (of Egypt) seed? I definitely don’t know the answer, but I think the wording is vague enough that Joseph Smith can still fit the description of verse 24, especially when considereing the latter half of the verse and what we consider the destiny of the restored church to include.

  11. NathanG said

    In 2 Nephi 5:20-25 I’ve often figured that the curse was being cut off from God and that the skin of darkness was a mark to make them undesirable to the small group of righteous people who couldn’t afford the risk of more apostasy due to mixing and mingling. More recently I’ve been uncertain what a skin of darkness even means to Nephi. When Nephi talks about exceedingly white skin in other instances I’m sure his definition of white is several shades darker than what my definition of white is. I am pasty white and imagine Lehi’s family were at least a fairly olive complexion. How much darker were Laman and Lemuel? Was their dark skin due to the lack of clothing? When the Ammonites were converted, there seems to be reference to the curse being lifted, but the first mention of skins of darkness leaving doesn’t occur until 3 Nephi when the Nephites and Lamanites were more integrated with each other.
    The only trouble I have with the above explanation is that a few instances in the Book of Mormon talk about the curse of darkness. Even with those references, I can’t imagine God really cares about the outward appearance and I assume the Nephites became casual with how they referred to the curse and the mark of the curse to a point where the two were referred to as one.

  12. Lisa F. said

    Jim —
    When I looked at this verse at http://www.scriptures.byu.edu, I found a talk by Spencer W. Kimball from the October general conference in 1947. He indicates that this prophet will come from among the Lamanite people. (Wish I could link it for you, but I am a true lurker and have no idea how.)

    There is another powerful talk from April 1947 (the link is in 2 Nephi 5:21-24), where he pleads the plight of Lehi’s descendants, details the abuses of the Native Americans, and asks for the help of members of the church.

  13. NathanG said

    Here is a link to the October talk.
    The earlier talk is found here.

    I wish Elder Kimball had mentioned this prophet more than in passing in the conclusion.

  14. brianj said

    nathan, 10: I agree that the referred could be Joseph Smith. Lehi says, “among them” not “from among them”. The later would preclude Joseph.

  15. cherylem said

    I think the Church is backing away from the idea that all Native Americans are Lamanite descendants. It’s hard to know who today’s Lamanites are, actually. (see http://juvenileinstructor.wordpress.com/2007/11/08/comparing-the-1981-2004-and-2006-book-of-mormon-introductions/)

    We had a (little) bit of a discussion regarding this issue here: https://feastuponthewordblog.org/2008/01/01/sunday-school-lesson-1-book-of-mormon/

  16. Lisa F. said

    Cheryl — agreed. The intro. to the Book of Mormon that was recently published by Doubleday indicates that the Lamanites were “one of” the groups that are the ancestors of the Native Americans. I had not read Pres. Kimball’s writings from that era before, and the emotion of his writings was very compelling to me.

    Nathan — hmmm…I still think he was speaking of this prophet as one of the Lamanite people.

  17. KCryder said


    See footnote (d) skin 2Nephi 30:6 3Nephi 2:15

    Whiteness refers to purity and blackness refers to the lack of it. 2 N 30:6 is quite clear about it.

    I have a great discourse by Marvin Perkins (Public Relations, Genesis Group) entitled “How to Reach African-Americans” in which he discusses in great detail how many times the word “white” (or any form of it) appears in all scripture and well as examining all the footnotes to it. He does them same with the words Black and Curse.

    I’d love to send a copy to you but for some strange reason, I can’t even send it from my husband’s docs to my own. BUT, you can go to http://www.blacksinthescriptures.com

    to get some more info and email Marvin asking for a copy of his discourse. Just tell him that the Cryders sent you to him. (anyone else interested feel free to do the same).

  18. KCryder said

    Oh and I agree that being cursed is being cut off from God and his people but not necessarily by demarcation—darkness of the countenance comes because of the lack of righteousness but is not intended to mean an actual color of skin. Hope that helps.

  19. RuthS said

    I have been reading all the various writings on Gospel Doctrine Net and found a statement by Ted Gibbons and Bruce R. McConkie that indicated that in V. 18 Mormon is the prophet , and Joseph Smith, Jr. is the spokesman. Does anyone have any thoughts on that?

    It looks to me from reading v. 23 and 24 together that there is someone from among the descendants of Lehi’s son Joseph who is to be raised up. Apparently that has not yet come to pass, at least not openly. I don’t see that the wording of the introduction to the Book of Mormon would have any bearing on the efficacy of that prophecy.

  20. […] did find where this issue seems to have been discussed already online, although not by any qualified scholars, and there are some interesting speculations […]

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