Chapter 4 – Lehi as a Representative Man
We now are going to get into the meat of the BoM with its very first prophet. It is an interesting chapter in that it gives us a glimpse of what Lehi’s former life may have been all about.
“In the brief compass of Nephi’s account, which is an abridgment of his father’s own journal, whose type it imitates and continues”
By the time Nephi writes his short plates, 20 years have passed. Lehi likely has been dead many years. Do the short plates actually show an abridgement of Lehi’s journal? Or would that likely be found on Nephi’s large plates? As it is, we do not see much of Lehi beyond his visions and blessings given to his children.
“The opening verse of the Book of Mormon explains the expression “goodly parents” not so much in a moral sense as in a social one”
This is an interesting point to make on a book that focuses primarily on the spiritual. Are we to presume that Lehi may not always have been a very “active” religious person until his calling? Often we think of prophets as having been holy and wonderful since their youth (like Samuel the prophet). Yet, many prophets were called out from normal life and into their mission: Moses, Jacob, Peter, etc. Isaiah went from being a powerful counselor in the King’s palace to a wild prophet that spent a year running around naked!
Lehi may very well have spent most of his life as a merchant, traveling to many distant places. Then, in his later years, settled down to enjoy his wealth, was suddenly called to his mission from a burning pillar of fire. In fact, we see that Lehi’s family is startled by this big change in his demeanor and style, as they begin to call him a visionary man, and perhaps even deranged.
There are some who doubt Lehi was a merchant that traveled everywhere. After looking at the evidence, I still think Nibley was right on this account.
Nibley compares Lehi to other wise men of the period: Solon, Thales, etc. Many of these spoke against the excesses of the period. Each was a prophet to his own people, while traveling extensively. It sounds like this was the description of the leading man of the period. Wise counselors that traveled around were the heroes of the period.
Then, Nibley contrasts Lehi with the others. All of them used philosophy to find reason and joy in life. Perhaps Lehi was like this most of his life. What was the difference then? Lehi has a vision of the throne room with God. He is invited to join the divine council. They give him the divine book, and as he reads it, he is able to speak with the tongue of the angels in the great council. Lehi no longer has to look for answers just among men, for God will later reveal to him the Tree of Life and the fruit that brings true joy.
When we consider the names of some of the major Greek philosophical groups, such as Cynics and Stoics, we can plainly see that their methodology and philosophy fell far short of happiness.
The philosophers and religious founders of the era sought answers horizontally. Once God revealed himself to Lehi, the prophet could find answers vertically through revelation. Perhaps when Nephi teaches his people in a way different than that of the Jews, he may have been referring to the difference between horizontal and vertical religion.