Nephi fascinates me. He is incredibly complex in his spiritual evolution throughout the first two books of the Book of Mormon, yet there is a simplicity in everything that he does. He acknowledges his heritage from his parents in instructing him and teaching him, but he takes credit that he, himself, wants to know the mysteries of God and takes the initiative to do so. The spark to follow God is developed and we see early on that his faith is obviously developing into the knowledge of God’s patterns of mercy, power, and deliverance.
We all know from heart Nephi’s quick and faithful response to Lehi when asked to return to Jerusalem (over 200+ miles) to retrieve the brass plates (no easy feat).
And it came to pass that I, Nephi, said unto my father: I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them (1 Ne 3:7).
Nephi had no plan in obtaining the plates, nor did Lehi offer one. All four sons left their parents alone in the desert to fend for themselves in accomplishing this task (a death sentence if something went wrong in Jerusalem (1 Ne 5:2)), yet only Nephi is recorded as being tenacious enough to keep plodding along when obstacles arise on this seeming fool’s errand. Whereas Laman and Lemuel see this adventure as yet another request from a crazed and delusional earthly father, Nephi sees beyond the temporal request and knows that the commandments is from his Heavenly Father.
After Laman’s failed — and rather pathetic — attempt at convincing Laban to let go of such a unique and important artifact such as the brass plates (1 Ne 3:10–14), Nephi’s divine optimism begins to seek for various ways to rationally persuade his brothers to maintain their focus and courage. In this “manner of language” Nephi “persuade[d] [his] brethren” by invoking an oath (“as the Lord liveth”), the need for faith in keeping the commandments, the fear of Jerusalem being destroyed, the wickedness of the people, the utility of needing a written record to educate their children in their language, the need for a historical narrative to teach their children, and the need for the knowledge of the prophets (1 Ne 3:15–21).
Finally, Nephi’s brothers relent and a second endeavor is attempted.
This endeavor ends badly.
Nephi’s third attempt, when he’s out of resources and talking points to convince his brethren any further (which is a bit of an understatement considering Laman and Lemuel were literally beating them with rods only to be delivered by an angel), is solely upon himself. This is okay to Nephi, for he states: “I was led by the Spirit…”
“I was led by the Spirit…” This is a powerful statement in and of itself. That is sufficient for Nephi to act. It demonstrates Nephi’s ability to seek, identify, and follow the Lord and his patterns of revelation already in his supposedly young age. However, when you couple this with Nephi’s admission of his strategic ignorance in how he would obtain the records — “not knowing beforehand the things which I should do” — we begin to see Nephi in a new light.
“Neverthless,” Nephi says boldly, “I went forth…” (1 Ne 4:7)
I don’t know if this statement says more about Nephi’s character or about how the Holy Ghost most often deals with God’s children. How often do we set forward on paths that we don’t know beforehand, only trusting in the Spirit as much as we know how — hoping that the Lord will be there to catch us? Nothing in Nephi’s record offers any evidence that he had any room for doubt, but the record proves out a statement from the Prophet Joseph Smith — from the Lectures on Faith — that is written on a monument outside of Carthage Jail:
When a man has offered in sacrifice all that he has for the truth’s sake, not even withholding his life, and believing before God that he has been called to make this sacrifice because he seeks to do his will, he does know, most assuredly, that God does and will accept his sacrifice and offering, and that he has not, nor will not seek his face in vain.
Nephi knew that his faith in God was not in vain. He had made choices in his life, as we all must choose to make in our own lives, to see the hand of the divine. Instead of seeing coincidence, dumb luck, or personal savvy, Nephi instead chose to see the hand of God in all things.
When all other things failed, when everyone else around him failed, and when he was out of ideas, Nephi was not detoured. He was led by the Spirit, and he knew that he was led by the Spirit, and that gave him confidence to step out boldly on his own away from his elder brothers to admit “Nevertheless, I went forth…” knowing that God would deliver him. And he did.