2 Nephi 4

2 Ne 4:5 if ye are brought up in the way ye should go ye will not depart from it

Lehi is obviously quoting the passage from Proverbs, Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it (Prov 22:6). His use of this scripture is interesting because his two sons, Laman and Lemuel, seem to be an exception to this general rule. There is nothing from the record of Nephi which would indicate that Lehi had done a poor job as a father. On the contrary, on many occasions he plead with them, with all the feeling of a tender parent and with the entreaty, hear the words of a trembling parent (1 Ne 8:37, 2 Ne 1:14).

There are those souls who will not respond to a righteous upbringing. The agency of man is given to all and if a spirit of rebellion festers in the soul, all the righteousness in the world will be rejected. The fact that some children raised in good environments will rebel while their siblings faithfully follow the Lord makes one wonder about the attitude and spirit of the individual in the pre-mortal sphere. We often quote the scripture, that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world (Alma 34:34). It is just as true that the same spirit which we possessed in the pre-mortal life is the same spirit which possesses our bodies now. Nevertheless, the proverb of Solomon is generally remarkably true. Solomon should know-he probably had hundreds if not thousands of children born to him by his 700 wives and 300 concubines (see 1 Kings 11:3).

2 Ne 4:6 the cursing may be taken from you and be answered upon the heads of your parents

Lehi was concerned for the salvation of his grandchildren and great grandchildren. Doubtless, he was familiar with the scriptures like Ex 20:5-6, I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me. And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments. Lehi wanted Laman and Lemuel to be held responsible for the mistakes of their children. It was because of this blessing that the Lord God will not suffer that ye (Lehi's grandchildren) shall perish; wherefore, he will be merciful unto you and unto your seed forever (v. 7).

A careful review of the scriptures reveals that parents can be held responsible for some of the sins of their children but children cannot be held responsible for the sins of their parents. Parents can only be held responsible for the sins of the children if they were negligent in teaching them of their duties. This is similar to the responsibility of prophets-if they don't call the people to repentance they can be held responsible for the sins of the people (Ezek 33:4-6, Jacob 1:19). Speaking of parents who do not teach their children the basic principles and ordinances of the gospel, the Lord has said, the sin be upon the heads of the parents (DC 68:25). See also DC 29:47-8. This is an exception to the general rule as taught by Ezekiel, The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son (Ezek 18:20). Therefore, it is just for God to hold Laman and Lemuel responsible for the sins of their children because they were negligent parents.

Joseph Fielding Smith

"The scripture in question is as follows: '... visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me.'

"The second Article of Faith reads: 'We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam's transgression.'

"...What your question means, as I interpret it, is this: You have an idea that the commandment means that when a man sins his children will be held responsible for his folly and be punished for it, for three or four generations. The commandment does not mean anything of this kind. The Lord never punishes a child for its parents' transgressions. He is just and merciful. The real meaning of this visiting of the iniquity is that when a man transgresses he teaches his children to transgress, and they follow his teachings. It is natural for children to follow in the practices of their fathers and by doing so suffer for the parents' iniquity which they have voluntarily brought upon themselves.


"There are numerous other passages of scripture showing the mercy and justice of the Lord and that they are not to be punished for the fathers' transgression. Here are a few:

"'The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin.' (Deut 24:16)

"'But the children of the murderers he slew not: according unto that which is written in the book of the law of Moses, wherein the Lord commanded saying, The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, nor the children be put to death for the fathers; but every man shall be put to death for his own sin.' (2 Kings 14:6)

'In those days they shall say no more, The fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the children's teeth are set on edge.

But every one shall die for his own iniquity: every man that eateth the sour grape, his teeth shall be set on edge.' (Jer 31:29-30)

'The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.' (Ezek 18:20)" (Answers to Gospel Questions, vol. 1, pp. 82-3)

Gordon B. Hinckley

"Parents haven't measured up to their responsibilities. It is evident. A nation will rise no higher than the strength of its homes. If you want to reform a nation, you begin with families, with parents who teach their children principles and values that are positive and affirmative and will lead them to worthwhile endeavors. That is the basic failure that has taken place in America....parents have no greater responsibility in this world than the bringing up of their children in the right way...." (Ensign, Nov. 1996, pp. 48-9 as taken from Latter-day Commentary on the Book of Mormon compiled by K. Douglas Bassett, p. 99)

Spencer W. Kimball

"Though the parents are not always charged with the failures of their children, we are sure that many times the failures of the children could be charged to the parents....We realize that there are times when belligerent sons and daughters may draw upon themselves the condemnation, having totally ignored and failed all the teachings that have been given them. But we the parents cannot escape the responsibility that is ours of training our children.... As we think of these young people who rebel against their parents and society, we wonder, have you held your family prayers with regularity? Do you have your family home evenings regularly? Are your children taught to be faithful and true? Most parents protect their children with shelter for their comfort, tender care and medicine for their illnesses, clothes for their looks and comfort, and food for their taste and growth, but what do they do for their souls?" (Tokyo Area Conference Report, Aug. 1975, pp. 38-39 as taken from Latter-day Commentary on the Book of Mormon compiled by K. Douglas Bassett, p.99)

2 Ne 4:11 thy seed shall be numbered with his seed

This is consistent with other scriptures in the Book of Mormon and D&C. The term "Samites" is never found. This is because they were numbered with the "Nephites." In Jacob's list of the "ites" of the Book of Mormon, "Samites" are notably absent, Now the people which were not Lamanites were Nephites; nevertheless, they were called Nephites, Jacobites, Josephites, Zoramites, Lamanites, Lemuelites, and Ishmaelites (Jacob 1:13). DC 3:17-18 lists the Nephites, Jacobites, Josephites, Zoramites, Lamanites, Lemuelites, and Ishmaelites. Again "Samites" are notably absent.

This is remarkable doctrinal consistency for the machinations of an unschooled farm boy from Vermont. Unless, of course, he was a prophet of God.

2 Ne 4:15-16 Nephi uses classic patterns of Hebrew poetry

Nephi's favorite prophet, Isaiah, is famous for a pattern of Hebrew poetry called parallelism. Nephi emulates this in many of his passages including these verses. Of Hebrew poetry, Victor Ludlow writes:

"Parallelism is the most distinctive quality of Hebrew poetry, and it is found in most of the famous biblical passages. In parallelism, a thought, idea, grammar pattern, or key word of the first line is repeated or continued in the second line. There are two basic types of parallelism, grammatical and semantic. Grammatical or 'form' parallelism is often difficult to identify, especially in non-Hebrew translations, because the rhyme schemes, grammar forms, conjugation patterns, prefix or suffix parallelisms, and so on may not carry over into the new translation. However, semantic parallelism is more easily recognized in English and other non-Semitic language translations since it is a 'theme rhyme' or 'idea pattern' in which the thought or meaning in one line is related to an idea of another line in a variety of parallel patterns." (Isaiah: Prophet, Seer, and Poet, p. 32)

He goes on to describe seven different types of semantic parallelism. The passage in question exhibits two of these types.

a) For my soul delighteth in the scriptures,

b) and my heart pondereth them, and writeth them for the learning and the profit of my children.

a) Behold, my soul delighteth in the things of the Lord;

b) and my heart pondereth continually upon the things which I have seen and heard.

These passages exhibit synthetic parallelism and synonymous parallelism. In synthetic parallelism, "the second line completes or complements the thought of the first in a variety of possible combinations...An idea is introduced in the first line, which is incomplete or generates questions about that idea. The second line then completes the idea, or answers a question raised by the first line." (Isaiah: Prophet, Seer, and Poet, pp. 33-4) In verse 15, the first thought, my soul delighteth in the scriptures, is completed in the second line, and my heart pondereth them and writeth them for the learning and profit of my children.

In synonymous parallelism, "a theme of the first line repeats itself in the second line, but in slightly different words." (Isaiah: Prophet, Seer, and Poet, pp. 32) The ideas in verse 15 are repeated in verse 16 with slightly different concepts. The phrase, 'For my soul delighteth in the scriptures' is repeated in verse 16 as 'my soul delighteth in the things of the Lord.'

In The Encyclopedia of Mormonism, another poetic style is discussed-that of chiasmus, or the repeating of concepts in the reverse order in which they were presented. This pattern is described as following the general patterns (a-b-b-a),  (a-b-c-c-b-a), etc:

"In the Psalm of Nephi (2 Ne. 4:15-35), the initial appeals to the soul and heart are accompanied by negations, while the subsequent mirror uses the heart and soul are conjoined with strong affirmations, making the contrasts literarily effective and climactic:

A) Awake, my soul! No longer droop in sin.

B) Rejoice, O my heart, and give place no more for the enemy of my soul.

                                                C) Do not anger again because of mine enemies.

                                                C) Do not slacken my strength because of mine afflictions.

                                    B) Rejoice, O my heart, and cry unto the Lord, and say:

A) O Lord, I will praise thee forever; yea, my soul will rejoice in thee, my God, and the rock of my salvation. [2 Ne. 4;28- 30.]" (The Encyclopedia of Mormonism, edited by D. Ludlow, p. 182)

2 Ne 4:15 For my soul delighteth in the scriptures

If you were to hand a Book of Mormon or a Bible to the average American teenager and have them read any passage, they would probably not understand what it meant. They would probably say that the passage was completely boring, and they would not continue reading unless forced to by a school or church teacher. The scriptures, on first reading, can be drudgery. How could anyone "delight" in the scriptures?

The scriptures are like an old pair of shoes. When new, the leather wears on your feet; the shoes are stiff, unfamiliar, and uncomfortable. With time the shoes mold to your feet and become like an extension of your natural body. With the scriptures, the more time you spend with them, the more comfortable they become. As we persist in reading the scriptures, they become more understandable, more inspiring, and more delicious to the soul.

The Lord has invited us to come unto him and learn of him, Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls (Matt 11:28-9). What better way is there to learn of the Savior than to study the word of God? We need to develop and foster a love of the scriptures. We need to become like Nephi in our love of the things of the Lord. The effect of diligent scripture study is to become strong in the things of the spirit, Alma did rejoice exceedingly to see his brethren; and what added more to his joy, they were still his brethren in the Lord; yea, and they had waxed strong in the knowledge of the truth; for they were men of a sound understanding and they had searched the scriptures diligently, that they might know the word of God (Alma 17:2).

Spencer W. Kimball

"During the war in Vietnam, some of our men were taken prisoner and kept in nearly total isolation. Permitted no access to the scripture, they later told how they hungered for the words of truth, more than for food, more than for freedom itself. What they would have given for a mere fragment of the Bible or Book of Mormon that lay so idly on our shelves? They learned by hard experience something of Nephi's feelings when he said: [2 Ne 4:15-16]." (Ensign, Sept. 1976, p. 4 as taken from Latter-day Commentary on the Book of Mormon compiled by K. Douglas Bassett, p. 101)

2 Ne 4:15 The importance of pondering the scriptures

It is often while pondering that the Spirit speaks to us. Joseph F. Smith was pondering over the scriptures when he was shown his vision of the spirit world (DC 138:1). Nephi was pondering as he walked home when he heard a voice telling him, Blessed art thou, Nephi, for those things which thou hast done (Hel 10:2-4). Moroni gives us a pattern for pondering. He suggests we 1) read the scriptures, 2) remember God's mercy and dealings with the children of men, and 3) ponder it in our hearts. Moroni 10:3 reads, Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in you hearts. If we do this, we will have the truth manifested to us by the power of the Holy Ghost. This promise is not limited to determining the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon; it applies to all things (Moroni 10:5).

"Who can assess the value of pondering, the impact of a righteous soul meditating upon the eternal word?  Who can measure the worth of careful and deep reflection upon the things of God?  'The things of God are of deep import,' Joseph Smith wrote from the Liberty Jail, 'and time, and experience, and careful and ponderous and solemn thoughts can only find them out' (Teachings, p. 137).  Some of the greatest revelations of all time have come as a direct result of pondering.... 

"Pondering and meditation are forms of sacred devotion, quiet and effective moments of prayer by which man draws near to the infinite and is made a partaker of the things of God.  In regard to savoring the words of holy writ, Nephi exulted: 'My soul delighteth in the scriptures, and my heart pondereth them.... Behold, my soul delighteth in the things of the Lord; and my heart pondereth continually upon the things which I have seen and heard.'" (2 Nephi 4:15-16.) (McConkie and Millet, Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon, vol. 1, p. 75)

There is a reason why scriptures require more than a casual reading. They are filled with truths of eternal importance, often packed so closely together, that you can't get all the meaning on the first pass. This principle is beautifully taught in the following passage:

"We might ask why the scriptures have to be pondered to be understood and appreciated. After all, we don't need to ponder newspapers or magazines. We understand them at a first reading. What makes the scriptures different?

"An analogy might help. The scriptures are like a symphony. The problem with a symphony, if it can be called a problem, is that there is so much going on at the same time that an inexperienced listener feels bewildered, not knowing what to listen for, or how to make sense of everything. But the music lover knows what to do. He picks out a theme carried by the string section, compares it to a variation on that theme by the oboes, and hears the composer being playful or reflective or joyful. Unlike the novice, he hears and feels the effects of the details that give the symphony, in all its complexity, its power and impact." (Dennis and Sandra Packard, "Pondering the Word," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, p. 51)

2 Ne 4:17-35 the Psalm of Nephi

These verses have been called "the Psalm of Nephi." The tone and content of these verses is similar to the style seen in the book of Psalms. A psalm is a poetic prayer set to music. The Bible Dictionary explains, "The Psalms collectively are called in Hebrew Tehillim or 'Praises,' but the word mizmor, which denotes a composition set to music, is found in the titles of many of them." Some themes common to Nephi's psalm and to the psalms of David are:

  1. Reliance on God, my God hath been my support (2 Ne 2:20)
  2. The suffering and afflictions of life, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death (Ps 23:4)
  3. The importance of trusting in the Lord, O Lord...I will trust in thee forever (2 Ne 4:34)
  4. The relationship to one's enemies, let not mine enemies triumph over me (Ps 25:1)
  5. Supplications to the Lord for divine help, O Lord, wilt thou encircle me around in the robe of thy righteousness! (2 Ne 4:33)
  6. A broken heart and a contrite spirit, The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise. (Ps 51:17)
  7. Rejoice and praise, Rejoice, O my heart, and cry unto the Lord, and say: O Lord, I will praise thee forever (2 Ne 4:30)
  8. The redemption of the soul, he shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities (Ps 130:8)

2 Ne 4:17 O wretched man that I am!...my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities

What iniquity is Nephi talking about? If there is a prophet in history who could be characterized as faultless and faithful, it would be Nephi. He has faithfully returned to Jerusalem twice, traveled in the wilderness, he was the only member of his family who did not murmur when the family was suffering with hunger, he built a ship, and remarkably didn't complain when bound on the ship for three days. What is bothering him?

The record makes it clear that not long after the glue of the family, Lehi, had died, the conflict between Nephi and his older brothers sharpened (v. 13). In the past, it had seemed as if Nephi was not bothered by his brothers' attitude and anger. At this point, the family is in a crisis. Nephi is angry with his brothers for being angry with him. This anger is what he is referring to in these verses, why should I give way to temptations, that the evil one have place in my heart to destroy my peace and afflict my soul? Why am I angry because of mine enemy? Awake, my soul? No longer droop in sin. Rejoice, O my heart, and give place no more for the enemy of my soul, Do not anger again because of mine enemies (v. 27-28).

2 Ne 4:25 mine eyes have beheld great things, yea, even too great for man

Nephi has truly seen great things. As a part of his vision of the tree of life, he saw the entire history of the earth including the ministry of the Savior, the history of his people on the Americas, the Apostasy, the Reformation, the Explorers, the Pilgrims, the Revolutionary War, the Restoration of the Gospel, the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, the gathering of Israel in the last days, and finally, the end of the world as described by John the Revelator. See 1 Ne 11-15. He saw things that were so great that the Lord commanded that they be withheld from the record.

"All who have been entrusted with a 'high mountain' or temple experience have been given knowledge that they are not at liberty to share.  There are many sacred truths revealed to those worthy and ready to receive them that are 'not lawful for man to utter; neither is man capable to make them known, for they are only to be seen and understood by the power of the Holy Spirit, which God bestows on those who love him, and purify themselves before him' (D&C 76:115-16)." (McConkie and Millet, Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon, vol. 1, p. 218)

2 Ne 4:32 a broken heart and a contrite spirit

The doctrine of a "broken heart and a contrite spirit" begins with the law of sacrifice as contained in the Old Testament. Under that law, the firstborn were sacrificed in similitude of the Only-Begotten Son. We are quick to teach that the law of animal sacrifice was fulfilled in the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ. We are sometimes slow to realize that there was a replacement "law of sacrifice." The new law as taught by the Savior requires just as regular and frequent a sacrifice. The difference is that we are to sacrifice a broken heart and a contrite spirit upon the altar of discipleship. 3 Ne 9:19-20 reads as follows:

   And ye shall offer up unto me no more the shedding of blood; yea, your sacrifices and your burnt offerings shall be done away, for I will accept none of your sacrifices and your burnt offerings.

   And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost.

Through our faith in Jesus Christ we become his disciples and offer up a broken heart and contrite spirit. It is through this faith and sacrifice that we can obtain forgiveness of sins, Behold, he offereth himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law, unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and unto none else can the ends of the law be answered (2 Ne 2:7).This doctrine is even contained in the Old Testament, For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart (Ps 51:16-17).

Ezra Taft Benson

"Godly sorrow is a gift of the Spirit. It is a deep realization that our actions have offended our Father and our God. It is the sharp and keen awareness that our behavior caused the Savior, He who knew no sin, even the greatest of all, to endure agony and suffering. Our sins caused Him to bleed at every pore. This very real mental and spiritual anguish is what the scriptures refer to as having 'a broken heart and a contrite spirit.' (See 3 Ne. 9:20; Moro. 6:2; D&C 20:37, 59:8; Ps. 34:18; Ps. 51:17; Isa. 57:15.) Such a spirit is the absolute prerequisite for true repentance." (Ensign, Oct. 1989, p. 2)

Neal A. Maxwell

"The real act of personal sacrifice is not now nor ever has been placing an animal on the altar. Instead, it is a willingness to put the animal that is in us upon the altar-then willingly watching it be consumed! Such is the 'sacrifice unto [the Lord of] a broken heart and a contrite spirit.' (3 Nephi 9:20.)" (Meek and Lowly, p. 94)

2 Ne 4:35 I know that God will give liberally to him that asketh. Yea, my God will give me, if I ask not amiss

This is the promise given to those who pray in faith. As recorded in James, if any of you lack wisdom let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering (James 1:5-6). Nephi goes on to show that his faith is perfect in the principle of prayer as long as he does not 'ask amiss.' James also warned against asking for things for the wrong reasons, Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts (James 4:3). The Lord warns Oliver Cowdery not to ask for things he shouldn't, ask in faith. Trifle not with these things; do not ask for that which you ought not (DC 8:10). Our attitude when we pray for things that may not be according to the will of God should be like that of the Savior as he suffered in Gesthemane, nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done (Lu 22:42).