1 Ne 5:2 Sariah...also had complained
Before we are too quick to judge Sariah, we should remember the trial she is undergoing. While we sit and complain about 7am meetings, hard benches, and unfamiliar hymns, Sariah was contemplating the loss of all of her children, her home, and her friends. She had not yet obtained a testimony for herself that the plan of her husband was of the Lord. This comes only after the comforting words of Lehi and the return of her sons.
1 Ne 5:8 Now I know of a surety that the Lord hath commanded my husband to flee into the wilderness
Whenever a prophet proclaims a new commandment from the Lord, his followers must struggle with whether or not to accept it. This can be particularly difficult when the prophet is a family member. Remember, A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country, and in his own house (Matt 13:57, italics added). Followers with the greatest faith obtain a testimony for themselves - no longer leaning on the arm of another. With Lehi's family we see that Nephi obtained his testimony of the divinity of Lehi's plan through direct revelation (1 Ne 2:16), Sam obtained his because he believed in the words of Nephi (v. 17), and Sariah obtained it after the witness of her sons return. Laman and Lemuel, however, never obtained a testimony because they never sought for one. They had no desire to believe that their father might actually be a prophet of the Lord. When we reject the counsel of the prophets, it is often when we, like Laman and Lemuel, don't want to believe that the counsel is of the Lord. We therefore lack the desire which would bend the knee and humble the spirit.
1 Ne 5:9 and they gave thanks unto the God of Israel.
And in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things, and obey not his commandments. (DC 59:21)
1 Ne 5:10 he did search them from the beginning.
Scriptures are of little value unless they are searched. They are useful if they are "read," but the term "search" implies something totally different. To "search" is to try to understand, to look for personal meaning, to understand historical context, to reference other sources, to find resolution to conflicts, and to internalize principles. The Lord has never commanded the saints to "read" the scriptures; He always commands them to "search" them: search them diligently that ye may profit (Mosiah 1:7)....and search these things diligently, for great are the words of Isaiah (3Ne 23:1). The result of diligent searching is that one becomes as the sons of Mosiah who had waxed strong in the knowledge of the truth (Alma 17:2).
1 Ne 5:11-16 What was contained in the brass plates of Laban?
The description of Nephi is self-explanatory. The brass plates of Laban contained the history of the Jews from the creation down to Lehi's day. It included the Old Testament prophecies written prior to Lehi's day. Even the prophecies of Lehi's contemporary, Jeremiah, were contained on the plates (see 1 Ne 5:13). Almost all the major Old Testament prophets' prophecies were recorded. The Nephite record would not have included prophecies from Daniel, Ezekiel, Micah, or Malachi. This is hinted at by the ministry of the Savior among the Nephites. At that time, the Lord made sure that the most important scriptures were a part of the Nephite record. This required Him to rehearse some of the Old Testament prophecies which were either of great doctrinal importance or which the Nephites did not have. A careful study of 3 Nephi demonstrates that he mostly quoted Isaiah, Micah, and Malachi.
The plates of brass represented a larger body of literature than our current Old Testament. This is apparent from the statement of Nephi, it (today's Bible) is a record like unto the engravings which are upon the plates of brass, save there are not so many (1 Ne 13:23). The plates of brass obviously contained a considerable body of literature no longer extant in our Old Testament. It contained the words of many prophets whose message, without the Book of Mormon, would have otherwise been lost to the world. These were men who clearly taught of a Messiah who would come in the flesh to redeem his people. These prophets include Zenock, Zenos, and Neum (see the Book of Mormon Index).
1 Ne 5:11 the five books of Moses
The five books of Moses are referred to as the "Pentateuch." The Bible dictionary states:
"A Greek word meaning the fivefold book; a name given to the five books that stand at the beginning of our Bible, and that contain the Torah or law of Israel. The Pentateuch was written by Moses, although it is evident that he used several documentary sources from which he compiled the book of Genesis, beside a divine revelation to him. It is also evident that scribes and copyists have left their traces upon the Pentateuch as we have it today; for example, the explanation of Moses' supposed death (Deut. 34:5-12) was surely added by a later hand. But latter-day revelation confirms that Moses was the author of the first five books of the Bible."
The first five books of Moses represent the most important of all Jewish canon. The Torah is the Jewish bible and contains nothing more than the first five books of Moses. The Talmud contains many other Old Testament writings but these are considered to be less important - doctrinally and historically.
1 Ne 5:11-13 How could the American Indians have known of biblical teachings before the coming of the Spaniards?
"The brass plates obtained from Laban contained the five books of Moses (apparently similar to the first five books of the Bible -- the Pentateuch: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy), a record of the Jews from the beginning down to Zedekiah, and the prophecies of the prophets from the beginning down to Jeremiah. (1 Nephi 3:3-20, 5:11-13.) This would explain how the biblical stories were known by the American Indian groups even before the arrival of the Catholic fathers and their Bibles after the time of Columbus. Historians have concluded the American Indians knew of the story of the creation, the flood, etc., before the time of Columbus, although they have not been able to explain how the Indians came into possession of this knowledge.
"In volume 4 of his Antiquities of Mexico, Lord Kingsborough found so many evidences of biblical stories among the Indians that he concluded:
'It is unnecessary to attempt in this place to trace out any further scriptural analogies in the traditions and mythology of the New World, since the coincidences which have already been mentioned are sufficiently strong to warrant the conclusion that the Indians, at a period long antecedent to the arrival of the Spaniards in America, were acquainted with a portion at least of the Old Testament.' (London: Robert Havell, 1831 1848, p. 409.)" (Daniel Ludlow, A Companion to Your Study of the Book of Mormon, pp.98-99)
1 Ne 5:14 he was a descendant of Joseph
Verse 16 makes it clear that Lehi did not know which tribe he was from until he searched his genealogy in the plates of brass. It is not until Alma 10:3 that we learn that Lehi was a descendant of Manasseh, Joseph's son. Lehi's descent through Joseph is crucial to the "stick of Joseph" doctrine found in Ezekiel 37:16 and to the prophecies of Joseph who was sold into Egypt (Gen 29:22-26, see also JST Gen 50:24-38).
1 Ne 5:14 If Lehi was a descendant of Manasseh, shouldn't he have lived in the northern "kingdom of Israel" which was sacked in 721 BC?
This is an excellent question. If Lehi's forefathers had lived with the rest of the tribe of Manasseh, in the northern kingdom, they would have been sacked by the Assyrians (see maps 5 & 9). They would have become part of the "lost ten tribes." Apparently, many of the "children" of Manasseh and Ephraim dwelt at Jerusalem with the members of the southern kingdom, composed of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. 1 Chron 9:3 states, And in Jerusalem dwelt of the children of Judah, and of the children of Benjamin, and of the children of Ephraim, and Manasseh. (italics added) These individuals, whether of Benjamin, Ephraim, or Manasseh were all part of the Kingdom of Judah and therefore considered themselves Jews. Hence, Lehi was a Jew of the tribe of Manasseh.
1 Ne 5:15 And they were also led out of captivity
Nephi sees a similarity between the Lord delivering the children of Israel from the captivity of the Egyptians and the Lord preserving his family by leading them out of Jerusalem before it is destroyed.
1 Ne 5:19 these plates of brass should never perish neither should they be dimmed any more by time
This prophecy has been fulfilled in the sense that the Bible has been preached among all the peoples of the earth. The record of the Old Testament was never lost to mankind. However, Lehi's version of the plates of brass was more complete than our Old Testament, and we are told that the lost portions of the Old Testament are yet to be revealed.
Bruce R. McConkie
"In this connection, be it also remembered that the brass plates that Nephi took from Jerusalem contain more of the word of the Lord for the comparable period than does our present Old Testament. They, of course, will also come forth in due time as part of the restoration of all things. Indeed, Lehi prophesied 'that these plates of brass should go forth unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people who were of his seed. Wherefore, he said that these plates of brass should never perish; neither should they be dimmed any more by time.' (1 Nephi 5:18-19.)" (Bruce R. McConkie, The Millennial Messiah: The Second Coming of the Son of Man, p. 113.)
"These plates of brass, contained the prophecies of all the holy Prophets from the beginning-from the days of Adam; hence they must have contained the prophecies of Enoch, Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph in Egypt. The prophecies of Isaiah and many others of the holy Prophets were contained upon these plates of brass.
"Notwithstanding brass is a metallic substance capable of being dissolved and crumbling back, in a few years to the elements, yet there was a miracle wrought upon these plates of brass. The Prophet said that these plates of brass should not be dimmed by time, that God would preserve them to the latest generations. What for? In order that they might come forth and their contents be translated by the Urim and Thummim, that these contents might be declared to all nations, and kindreds, and tongues, and people, who were the descendants of Lehi upon the face of all this continent, from the frozen regions of the north to the very utmost extremities of South America. That all these nations should come to a knowledge of the things contained on those plates of brass." (Journal of Discourses,16: 55)