1 Nephi Chapter 4


thekabalist

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OK guys here's chapter 4. This is the most interesting thus far:

1 And it came to pass that I spake unto my brethren, saying: Let us go up again unto Jerusalem, and let us be faithful in keeping the commandments of the Lord; for behold he is mightier than all the earth, then why not mightier than Laban and his fifty, yea, or even than his tens of thousands?

In Jewish culture, the number “ten thousand” symbolizes infinite resources. Therefore we can see the use of a Jewish literary device called synonymous parallelism in which (a) and (b) say the same thing:

(b) he is mightier than all the earth

© his tens of thousands

2 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.

At first the reader could be baffled as to why Nephi would state that Moses spoke to the waters of the Red Sea while the book of Exodus says that he hit them with his staff. However Nephi is actually citing an ancient Israelite oral tradition. In his book called Legend of the Jews thus writes Rabbi Ginsburg:

"Moses spoke to the sea as God had bidden him, but it replied, "I will not do according to thy words, for thou are only a man born of woman, and, besides, I am three days older than thou, O man, for I was brought forth on the third day of creation, and thou on the sixth." Moses lost no time, but carried back to God the words the sea has spoken, and the Lord said" "Moses, what does a master do with an intractable servant?" "He beats him with a rod," said Moses. "Do thus!" ordered God. "Lift up thy rod, and stretch out thine hand over the sea and divide it."

As we can see both Nephi and the book of Exodus are correct and each complements an aspect of the events that took place.

3 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.

The logic implied by Nephi is typical of semitic thought. Nephi uses a feature called by the school of rabbi Hillel “kol vechomer” which means “light and heavy”. The idea is to contrast light and heavy ideas to make your point. Most unknown to the modern reader is that the term Egypt which in Hebrew is written “מצרים” (mitzrayim) means “place of confinement”. In fact in Hebrew you would write “Egyptians” and “Egypt” with the exact same spelling. We have already talked about how “going up” refers to the higher level of spirituality represented by Jerusalem. At the same time the “place of confinement” in Egypt is considered to be the lowest spiritual level ever achieved by the Jewish people. So if G-d was able to deliver them in Egypt how much more would He deliver them in His own Holy City.

4 Now when I had spoken these words, they were yet wroth, and did still continue to murmur; nevertheless they did follow me up until we came without the walls of Jerusalem.

Nephi’s brothers stayed outside the walls of Jerusalem for a reason. In the narrative we later are told that Laban was with the elders of Jerusalem. The preferred place for the elders of a city to meet would be at the gates of the city. Knowing that Laban was an elder of the city it was a place where he could likely be found.

5 And it was by night; and I caused that they should hide themselves without the walls. And after they had hid themselves, I, Nephi, crept into the city and went forth towards the house of Laban.

Most likely for the same reason stated above Nephi didn’t enter the city through the main gates but rather through some alternative passage.

6 And I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do.

7 Nevertheless I went forth, and as I came near unto the house of Laban I beheld a man, and he had fallen to the earth before me, for he was drunken with wine.

Why didn’t Nephi simply say that Laban was drunk? Why did he bother saying that Laban had fallen to the earth? One must understand that for a Jew it is highly shameful to prostrate oneself to the point that it’s actually forbidden to be done on any occasion. A Jew will only prostrate before G-d on the Day of Atonement.

Prostrating to the earth was associated with an act of worshipping foreign gods. And so was the act of drinking wine out in the open which was also unusual for the Israelite society. Most likely Laban had been participating in some kind of ritual worship that involved drinking wine.

What is interesting is that by Jewish law the act of bowing down in worship of a strange god would merit the punishment of beheading as stated in the Talmud:

"one who prostrates himself before a mountain… renders himself liable to decapitation."

(b.Sanhedrin 61a)

The mountain described in this tractate is referring to the adoration of idols which occurred on the mountains.

8 And when I came to him I found that it was Laban.

9 And I beheld his sword, and I drew it forth from the sheath thereof; and the hilt thereof was of pure gold, and the workmanship thereof was exceedingly fine, and I saw that the blade thereof was of the most precious steel.

Why would Nephi bother to give us a description of Laban’s sword? The answer is simple:

The hilt of gold: The term “hilt” in Hebrew is ידית (yadit) which literally is the feminine form of the word יד (yad) which means “hand”. And the term “gold” in Israelite thought meant “pure spirituality”.

The blade of steel: The term “blade” in Hebrew is להב (lahav) which means both “blade” and also “flame”. Because of this, the term is associated with judgement. And “steel” or “iron” in Israelite thought meant “destruction”.

So what is Nephi telling us? That Laban received a judgement of destruction by the hands of someone who was spiritually pure.

10 And it came to pass that I was constrained by the Spirit that I should kill Laban; but I said in my heart: Never at any time have I shed the blood of man. And I shrunk and would that I might not slay him.

11 And the Spirit said unto me again: Behold the Lord hath delivered him into thy hands. Yea, and I also knew that he had sought to take away mine own life; yea, and he would not hearken unto the commandments of the Lord; and he also had taken away our property.

It is no coincidence that Nephi stated that Laban tried to take his life. According to Jewish law two are the kinds of people who deserve death by beheading: murderers and idolaters:

"the following are decapitated: a murderer, and the inhabitans of a seduced city."

(b.Sanhedrin 76b)

Laban fit both categories and thus was unequivocally slain in justice.

12 And it came to pass that the Spirit said unto me again: Slay him, for the Lord hath delivered him into thy hands;

13 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.

This seems in line with Enoch 95:3 which says:

" Fear not the sinners, ye righteous; For again will the Lord deliver them into your hands, that ye may execute judgement upon them according to your desires."

Being a scribe Nephi was likely familiar with the writings of Enoch.

14 And now, when I, Nephi, had heard these words, I remembered the words of the Lord which he spake unto me in the wilderness, saying that: Inasmuch as thy seed shall keep my commandments, they shall prosper in the land of promise.

15 Yea, and I also thought that they could not keep the commandments of the Lord according to the law of Moses, save they should have the law.

Why would Nephi worry about this? Wouldn’t ignorance be an excuse to them not keeping the law? Not according to Jewish law.

In Judaism, ignorance is only considered an excuse if it’s unintentional. If Nephi had acted negligently towards the law he would not have been excused. Rabbi Antine thus summarizes the Jewish take on ignorance:

“Ignorance might be a legal excuse but it is not a spiritual excuse. Nobody is expected to know everything. We do not know everything about halakha, we do not know everything about others and we don’t even know everything about ourselves. And when we lack knowledge we make mistakes; in ritual observance in our friendships (we hurt people). The question that everyone must ask him or herself is: Am I someone who is thirsty to learn more and change based on that knowledge? Am I someone who is content with where I am at, or am I always striving for more?”

16 And I also knew that the law was engraven upon the plates of brass.

17 And again, I knew that the Lord had delivered Laban into my hands for this cause—that I might obtain the records according to his commandments.

18 Therefore I did obey the voice of the Spirit, and took Laban by the hair of the head, and I smote off his head with his own sword.

Why did Nephi mention that he took Laban by the hair?

Hair is seen in Israelite culture to be a symbol of spiritual protection. By being able to take Laban by his hair Nephi is saying that the Spirit of G-d that was with him overcame the spiritual forces that might have been working behind the acts of Laban. This only reinforces the idea that Laban was indeed engaged in the worship of foreign gods.

19 And after I had smitten off his head with his own sword, I took the garments of Laban and put them upon mine own body; yea, even every whit; and I did gird on his armor about my loins.

20 And after I had done this, I went forth unto the treasury of Laban. And as I went forth towards the treasury of Laban, behold, I saw the servant of Laban who had the keys of the treasury. And I commanded him in the voice of Laban, that he should go with me into the treasury.

The term “key” has the gematria value of 528 which is also the value for the terms “salvation” (ישועה - yeshuah) and for the name “Yehoshua” which is one of the possible spellings of the Hebrew name of Jesus (יהושע). Nephi knew that the salvation of his people was in the hands of this man.

21 And he supposed me to be his master, Laban, for he beheld the garments and also the sword girded about my loins.

22 And he spake unto me concerning the elders of the Jews, he knowing that his master, Laban, had been out by night among them.

Either Laban was at a meeting with the elders of the city before he went to the pagan religious ceremony or more likely the elders of the city were all participating in such a blasphemous act. This would only show how corrupt indeed Jerusalem was at the time.

23 And I spake unto him as if it had been Laban.

24 And I also spake unto him that I should carry the engravings, which were upon the plates of brass, to my elder brethren, who were without the walls.

25 And I also bade him that he should follow me.

26 And he, supposing that I spake of the brethren of the church, and that I was truly that Laban whom I had slain, wherefore he did follow me.

The word translated as church is most likely the Hebrew word for “assembly” which was used to refer mostly to religious gatherings. This confirms our idea that the elders of the city were engaged in idolatry. It is worth noticing that religious gatherings often occurred at the gates of the cities and not only political meetings.

27 And he spake unto me many times concerning the elders of the Jews, as I went forth unto my brethren, who were without the walls.

28 And it came to pass that when Laman saw me he was exceedingly frightened, and also Lemuel and Sam. And they fled from before my presence; for they supposed it was Laban, and that he had slain me and had sought to take away their lives also.

29 And it came to pass that I called after them, and they did hear me; wherefore they did cease to flee from my presence.

Again we see the word “hear” being used with the meaning of “obey”. In Hebrew, the two terms are represented by the same word root (השמ)

30 And it came to pass that when the servant of Laban beheld my brethren he began to tremble, and was about to flee from before me and return to the city of Jerusalem.

31 And now I, Nephi, being a man large in stature, and also having received much strength of the Lord, therefore I did seize upon the servant of Laban, and held him, that he should not flee.

32 And it came to pass that I spake with him, that if he would hearken unto my words, as the Lord liveth, and as I live, even so that if he would hearken unto our words, we would spare his life.

33 And I spake unto him, even with an oath, that he need not fear; that he should be a free man like unto us if he would go down in the wilderness with us.

An oath in Israelite society was as binding as contract. This is why the servant was calmed down with such words. It was believed that those who broke their oaths invoked plagues upon themselves.

34 And I also spake unto him, saying: Surely the Lord hath commanded us to do this thing; and shall we not be diligent in keeping the commandments of the Lord? Therefore, if thou wilt go down into the wilderness to my father thou shalt have place with us.

35 And it came to pass that Zoram did take courage at the words which I spake. Now Zoram was the name of the servant; and he promised that he would go down into the wilderness unto our father. Yea, and he also made an oath unto us that he would tarry with us from that time forth.

Name etymology: Zoram – In Hebrew “ זר עם” (“Zar am”) literally means “foreign/strange people”. This certainly wasn’t his birth name but it actually indicates that he was some sort of a war captive.

This is very important to understand why he would go with Nephi and his brothers. An Israelite “slave” would only serve until he paid his debts (or until he the year of Jubilee). However, a foreign captive would have remained a servant forever. Even with the death of Laban he would have remained a slave. So for him it was much better to take his chances as a free man on a new land.

36 Now we were desirous that he should tarry with us for this cause, that the Jews might not know concerning our flight into the wilderness, lest they should pursue us and destroy us.

Notice how Nephi doesn’t say that they were worried that Zoram would tell the others about the death of Laban. This is because in Jewish law the testimony of a foreign slave would never have been accepted as binding. Even if it was a second witness was required to establish matters as truthful. They were worried because the inhabitants of Jerusalem had intended to slay Lehi in the first place. If Zoram would tell them where Lehi was this could mean trouble for them.

37 And it came to pass that when Zoram had made an oath unto us, our fears did cease concerning him.

38 And it came to pass that we took the plates of brass and the servant of Laban, and departed into the wilderness, and journeyed unto the tent of our father.

At first sight Nephi seems to be repeating himself when he mentions departing and then journeying. However two different Hebrew concepts are at stake. The first one is עזוב (ezov) which means not only to depart but to forsake or abandon. This means they really abandoned everything on behalf of following G-d’s commandment. The second one is מסע (masah) which means journey and has a connection to one’s spiritual path. Therefore Nephi is telling us that to embark on this spiritual journey they forsook everything.

Edited by thekabalist
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hi thekabalist,

i had a couple of questions that have been floating around in my head of late about judaism.

in the lds church we believe that we can pray we can receive revelation from God about things that are pertinent in our lives and we believe that it can be through feelings. I was wondering if Judaism worked similarly or ?.

Also, as you probably know, those of us lds who have been endowed in the temple wear what is known as the garment of the holy priesthood that is worn under our clothing. Someone told me once that orthodox Jews also have some type of a garment that is worn that has religious significance. Is that true and is it something you can tell me about?

thanks

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exnonlds, please see this thread by thekabalist in which he talks about undergarments of the Jewish faith.

Also, I think your assessment of the LDS view of personal revelation is too simplistic. We do not just rely on our feelings. Our feelings are involved, but it is more than that. Joseph Smith described it as pure intelligence flowing through us.

If we relied solely on our feelings, then I have had some very spiritual expriences with Godiva dark chocolate.

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exnonlds, please see this thread by thekabalist in which he talks about undergarments of the Jewish faith.

Also, I think your assessment of the LDS view of personal revelation is too simplistic. We do not just rely on our feelings. Our feelings are involved, but it is more than that. Joseph Smith described it as pure intelligence flowing through us.

If we relied solely on our feelings, then I have had some very spiritual expriences with Godiva dark chocolate.

sorry you got that impression about what i was saying regarding the part feelings play in our communications with God. I only meant to see that it was understood that feelings were not excluded as a means that God is able to communicate with us from an lds perspective and to find out more about how that sort of things is viewed from a Jewish perspective.

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Thank you so much for doing this thekabalist. Your commentary is very enlightening. There are many things I would like to comment on, but I can't because I am currently visiting with family. But little things like th following are very revealing to me.

2 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.

At first the reader could be baffled as to why Nephi would state that Moses spoke to the waters of the Red Sea while the book of Exodus says that he hit them with his staff. However Nephi is actually citing an ancient Israelite oral tradition. In his book called Legend of the Jews thus writes Rabbi Ginsburg:

"Moses spoke to the sea as God had bidden him, but it replied, "I will not do according to thy words, for thou are only a man born of woman, and, besides, I am three days older than thou, O man, for I was brought forth on the third day of creation, and thou on the sixth." Moses lost no time, but carried back to God the words the sea has spoken, and the Lord said" "Moses, what does a master do with an intractable servant?" "He beats him with a rod," said Moses. "Do thus!" ordered God. "Lift up thy rod, and stretch out thine hand over the sea and divide it."

As we can see both Nephi and the book of Exodus are correct and each complements an aspect of the events that took place.

I never even thought about this aspect of the verses in question.

Thanks,

Vanhin

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  • 2 weeks later...

10.000 was interesting... eternal number. Cool

Many have critizised that Bom says Moses TALKED to the waters... Thank you for explaining the word!

The reasons for killing Laban is interesting. I also know there is an LDs scolstic, who thinks that maybe Nefi was a smith of sort and thus interested in the special beauty of the sward. he seemed to know a lot about metalls.

Rabbi Antines words are wise. Sometimes I feel it is better to be ignorent than acieve and search for knowledge... but that is not right either if we are given a chanse to learn.

About taking by the hair... cant help but I think of scalphunters... was it white men that touight that to indians or was it indians after all first?

"Either Laban was at a meeting with the elders of the city before he went to the pagan religious ceremony or more likely the elders of the city were all participating in such a blasphemous act. This would only show how corrupt indeed Jerusalem was at the time." I would go for them all beeing there. It is also interesting that Jews do not drink alcohol that much. Makes me think of Daniel adn teh others....:)

What you wrote about Zoram was highly interesting.

Thank you so much again, this opens a new world in scripturestudying for many of us.

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  • 1 month later...

10.000 was interesting... eternal number. Cool

Many have critizised that Bom says Moses TALKED to the waters... Thank you for explaining the word!

The reasons for killing Laban is interesting. I also know there is an LDs scolstic, who thinks that maybe Nefi was a smith of sort and thus interested in the special beauty of the sward. he seemed to know a lot about metalls.

Rabbi Antines words are wise. Sometimes I feel it is better to be ignorent than acieve and search for knowledge... but that is not right either if we are given a chanse to learn.

About taking by the hair... cant help but I think of scalphunters... was it white men that touight that to indians or was it indians after all first?

"Either Laban was at a meeting with the elders of the city before he went to the pagan religious ceremony or more likely the elders of the city were all participating in such a blasphemous act. This would only show how corrupt indeed Jerusalem was at the time." I would go for them all beeing there. It is also interesting that Jews do not drink alcohol that much. Makes me think of Daniel adn teh others....:)

What you wrote about Zoram was highly interesting.

Thank you so much again, this opens a new world in scripturestudying for many of us.

While i've not ever seen just hair being severed in mayan art... there are quite a few depictions of severed heads being held by hair... altho it's quite possible there is no connection.
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While i've not ever seen just hair being severed in mayan art... there are quite a few depictions of severed heads being held by hair... altho it's quite possible there is no connection.

Made me think of the old scalping habbitt of the indioans, even though they say it came from the French... The Nefites moved up North and Moroni traveled the USA for quite a while possibly teaching the people there... just made me think that maybe the habbit was not only from the France.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Thekabalist:

The hilt of gold: The term “hilt” in Hebrew is ידית (yadit) which literally is the feminine form of the word יד (yad) which means “hand”. And the term “gold” in Israelite thought meant “pure spirituality”.

The blade of steel: The term “blade” in Hebrew is להב (lahav) which means both “blade” and also “flame”. Because of this, the term is associated with judgement. And “steel” or “iron” in Israelite thought meant “destruction”.

So what is Nephi telling us? That Laban received a judgement of destruction by the hands of someone who was spiritually pure.

Kerry:

Heh...... very nifty insight. I wonder if that is why they mentioned Og and his iron bed? And then, on the other hand, what does this do to the iron rod in the BofM? Ooooooo, that's interesting.

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  • 3 weeks later...

I have spoken with many LDS and former LDS who have had doctrinal problems with Nephi killing Laban. They always quote the law in Exodus: Thou shalt not kill (or murder), but neglect to see the Jewish concept of law and justice that is at play, here.

If my memory serves me correctly, the fact that Laban attempted to kill Lehi's sons would classify him as a murderer in Jewish law. ie: an attempted act is to be punished as though it had been carried out successfully. Does anyone have any other information about that?

Thank you for all of this, Thekabalist! Your perspectives are unique and very enlightening. !תודה רבה

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