God’s Hit List in the Book of Mormon

HawkgrrrlAsides, book of mormon, death, faith, lamanites, Nephi, obedience, plan of salvation, questioning, religion, scripture, theology 40 Comments

One of the most unseemly and disturbing images in the Book of Mormon is when Nephi is commanded to cut the head off of Laban who lies drunken at his feet.  So, what did Laban do to get on God’s hit list?  Did he deserve it?  Was it necessary?  And how did some of the other deserving baddies (such as Laman & Lemuel) escape with their heads intact? 

For the purpose of this post, I will set aside war-time or mass killings (sorry, but the arm cutting off incident is out) and only consider the individual killings in which God was specifically implicated in the text as an accomplice.

Back to Laban.  This Book of Mormon story is often cited as an example of Nephi’s obedience.  It is also pretty disgusting.  After Nephi hacks off his head with his own sword, he takes the clothes off the headless body and puts them on so he can pretend to be Laban.  Yech.  Nephi hesitates.  He doesn’t ask if Laban deserves to die in his sins, like when Hamlet vacillates about killing his uncle.  He hesitates because he doesn’t want to get his hands dirty.  He doesn’t want to commit a sin.

10 And it came to pass that I was aconstrained 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 aLord hath bdelivered 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 ctaken away our property.

  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 aslayeth the bwicked to bring forth his righteous purposes. It is cbetter that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in dunbelief.

Does Laban deserve to die?  Not to blame the victim, but any decent defense attorney would point out that Laban was not a nice guy.  He wouldn’t give them the brass plates even for a very generous price; up to that point, he was merely being difficult.  After that, he lusted after their property and stole from them, and then he ordered his servants to kill them.  And he was a lush, lying drunken in the streets, so not even a polite, gentlemanly sort of person.  The Spirit’s rationale is basically “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few,” in this case, Laban.

Was the murder justifiable homicide?  Would Nephi have been convicted for this murder?  I’m no legal expert, but I have watched a lot of Law & Order, so I’m close.  Nephi could plead self-defense because Laban had ordered his servants to kill him and his brothers.  He could probably plead severe emotional disturbance after the beating he took from his brothers who didn’t want to go back and the difficulty of leaving their home to live in the desert.  He might even get that defense upgraded to PTSD (post-tramatic stress disorder).  Nephi would also have a solid case to plead insanity (he saw an angel in the cavity of the rock and heard a voice tell him to kill Laban).  And he was really just doing what God (or the Spirit) told him to do, so he could have rolled on God (or the Spirit) in a plea bargaining agreement.  And no jury is going to convict God (they might convict the Spirit, but just try putting Him in a holding cell), even on Law & Order.

So, Laban was on God’s hit list because he was wicked, and he was at the wrong place at the wrong time and got in the way of God’s plan.  So he had to go.  But, didn’t a nation dwindle and perish in unbelief anyway?  The Lamanites weren’t exactly church-going, law abiding citizens for the next few hundred years.  So shouldn’t Laman and Lemuel have been on God’s hit list to prevent their future generations from dwindling and perishing in unbelief due to their poor examples?

I see a few problems with killing off Laman & Lemuel:

  • While many of their kids were bad, many were good.  In fact, they kind of came out on top at the end.  Although not all benefited from the plates of brass, some did.
  • The spirit progeny of prematurely dead Laman & Lemuel would presumably still have to be born somewhere, some other time.
  • Can you really totally blame the parents?  Don’t we believe that men will be punished for our own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression?
  • God didn’t order the hit; therefore, it’s not okay to kill.  The rule is don’t kill.  Except when God says.  Then, go for it.

Contrast this with another group of people in the Book of Mormon who were on God’s hit list:  the faithful who were being martyred in the auto-da-fe after being converted to Christianity by Alma and Amulek.  Amulek wanted to stretch forth his hand to stop the killing

11 But Alma said unto him: The Spirit constraineth me that I must not stretch forth mine hand; for behold the Lord receiveth them up unto himself, in aglory; and he doth suffer that they may do this thing, or that the people may do this thing unto them, according to the hardness of their hearts, that the bjudgments which he shall exercise upon them in his wrath may be just; and the cblood of the dinnocent shall stand as a witness against them, yea, and cry mightily against them at the last day.

Admittedly, there are some differences to these two incidents:

  • Nephi takes action, whereas Alma is constrained to non-interference.  He does not actively kill anyone.

  • Laban was guilty of attempted murder and died in his sins.  The victims in Alma’s story were completely innocent and would theoretically have salvation.

  • Laban was standing in the way of other people’s salvation (or so we are told).  The victims in Alma’s story were killed to provide damnation to their killers.  Weren’t they pretty much damned already?  Alma wanted to stop the killing, not prevent it from starting. 

So, who is safe from God’s hit list in the Book of Mormon?  Not the wicked, and not the innocent and righteous.  So, perhaps the real lessons here are:

  1. When and how we die isn’t that important to God, just how we live our lives.  No one is totally safe from being killed in nasty ways.  Think of that as you are drifting off to sleep tonight.

  2. God merely cares that His plan goes forward unchecked, so interfering with His plan could lead to an unfortunate incident involving one’s death.  I’m just sayin’.

 So, will God cut Laban some slack on judgment day for being killed at his peak of wickedness since the order came down from on high?  And would the world have been a better place without Laman and Lemuel making it to the promised land?

And how does this compare with God’s hit list in the OT?  (No one is on God’s hit list in NT or D&C–and in the D&C, a few are pretty darn lucky they are not!)  The weirdest individual killing in the OT, IMO, is Uzzah being killed for steadying the ark.  It would be hard to argue that Uzzah was in the way of God’s plan.  So, does that mean that individual killings in the OT (implicating God) are to make an example out of someone or to teach an object lesson (e.g. “don’t steady the ark”)?  Or is that just the best we can do with such weird material when confronted with teaching a Gospel Doctrine lesson?  Or, perhaps the ark had some sort of technological security system that made it fatal to steady vs. God actually having to intervene in real-time to strike Uzzah down (a la the Smoke Monster on LOST).

Comments 40

  1. I’ve always thought that Nephi is going to the Telestial Kingdom for being a racist and a murderer.

    The Book of Mormon has the very same problem that the Bible does. There are lots of good things in both books, and lots of bad things too.

    And the weirdest killing in the OT is not Uzzah, in my opinion. The weirdest killing is Onan. A death sentence for coitus interruptus because you don’t want to impregnate your brother’s widow?

  2. One more possible reason:

    People who are trying to follow God assume that those who “disobey or defy” the commandments those people believe came from God are rejecting God by doing so. Blasphemy and heresy have been punishable by death in those civilizations for years, so . . .

    If someone is killed because they violated the commands of God, and if God instituted those commands, then “God killed him” can be seen as a reasonable description of the punishment. I don’t accept it, but it’s easy to understand why those people would have recorded it that way. (“Hey, it’s not our fault; God commanded it.”)

  3. The killing of Laban in the BoM has always bothered me, even when I was very believing. God is omnipotent, which means he has the power to give and take life. If God had really wanted Laban dead, he certainly was capable of doing his own dirty work here. Would it have been acceptable for Nephi to say: “Look God, if you want him dead just stop his heart and I’ll get the clothes and do the rest”? That sinereio would have been a lot cleaner and less traumatic for Nephi.

    In our modern world, killing because God said so would certainly get you committed to a mental institution or prison and justifiably so. This is core to the problems of history. It would seem that men and women can violate all kinds of moral and ethical laws in the name of God. Once you’re convinced that God is on your side, it would seem that there are no lines that can’t be crossed. (And you all wonder why I say that God only just tolerates religion)

    The polygamy thing supposedly started from an angle with a drawn sword. What would really have happened if Joseph Smith would have said: “Go ahead and whack off my head. I think before I break my marriage vows to Emma, I better have a long talk with God.” This kind of integrity is rare in our world, but how different the church might have been had our early leaders kept their moral compass.

    I still believe in God and also think that our feelings of right and wrong come directly from him. This sets our moral compass and anyone who tries to convince others to override that compass whether it is lying, killing, or committing adultery, we should have the strength of character to say NO and let the consequences follow. Ok, Sunday school is over for today…

  4. On my mission. I remember after finally convincing people to read the BoM and right off the bat, they run into this story about Nephi killing Laban and it disturbs them immediately.

    Look at it from their point of view: They are reading a story about a man that is supposed to be instructed by God to do his dirty work.

    If Nephi were alive today, he would be arrested for theft, impersonating a politician, kidnapping and of course decapitating the man and leaving his body there for detectives to find can’t look good for him.

  5. There are a few lessons to be learned by Laban’s demise:

    1) God is good at crime. When CSI: Jerusalem finds a headless Laban the next day, and a missing Zoram and plates, who is the #1 suspect? Zoram. They waste a few days looking for the wrong guy until the case goes cold. If Laban is left alive, when he gets over his hangover and is told that Zoram absconded with the plates, he says, “Who, my Zoram? No, he’s worked for me for years. Wait a minute, it must’ve been those pesky kids who were asking for them a few days ago! After ’em!”

    2) The immeasurable preciousness of the scriptures. No way does Nephi take a lackadaisical attitude towards the scriptures having taken a man’s life over them.

  6. This story is strange (so is the JS polygamy one), but it really does seem consistent with OT stories (same era). Imperfect, sometimes unsympathetic heroes doing odd and inexplicable things because they are God’s chosen people. Generally, I find Nephi insufferable, but is he any worse than Joseph? They are probably fairly on par. Joseph has a very interesting story, but his brothers’ turning on him is in large part because he’s such a self-righteous boor.

  7. “Was the murder justifiable homicide?”

    I thought we were supposed to view that incident within the context of War; the war between Laban’s family and Lehi’s family.

    But even so I believe we err in judging Nephi’s action within the modern context where the rule of law is crucial. I mean back in those days there were no state troopers or detectives or multilayered court systems.

    To me, this incident is just the same as hanging those Nazi’s after Nuremberg, or Mussolini’s hanging, or Saddam’s trial and execution.

  8. “If God had really wanted Laban dead, he certainly was capable of doing his own dirty work here.”

    I thought, also, that God does his work through his children or rather uses people, both wicked and righteous, to achieve his aims and purposes?

    But above all (for us Mormons) I’d say that its an aberration to claim that God does ‘dirty work’.

  9. I think you missed one in the NT.
    Look up Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11), struck down for lying about the sale price of their property in order to hide the fact that they kept some of the proceeds instead of giving it all as their consecration offering. Perhaps, as with Uzzah, God wanted to make a point?

    As for Nephi vs. Laban, this was the 6th century BC Jerusalem, not 20th century America. Evidently according to the Law of Moses, “1) He was a varmint that needed killing” and “2) I didn’t like in wait for him, but God delivered him into my hands” was an acceptable defense against the charge of murder. Hence Nephi’s care in establishing that 1) Laban was indeed such a varmint (armed robbery & attempted murder) and 2) Nephi went into the city that night unarmed and without a plan.

    (I’d like to argue that going about armed and then getting falling down drunk in the street would have qualified Laban for a Darwin Award, but I don’t think that one works)
    Laman and Lemuel

  10. I think you missed one in the NT.
    Look up Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11), struck down for lying about the sale price of their property in order to hide the fact that they kept some of the proceeds instead of giving it all as their consecration offering. Perhaps, as with Uzzah, God wanted to make a point?

    As for Nephi vs. Laban, this was the 6th century BC Jerusalem, not 20th century America. Evidently according to the Law of Moses, “1) He was a varmint that needed killing” and “2) I didn’t like in wait for him, but God delivered him into my hands” was an acceptable defense against the charge of murder. Hence Nephi’s care in establishing that 1) Laban was indeed such a varmint (armed robbery & attempted murder) and 2) Nephi went into the city that night unarmed and without a plan.

    (I’d like to argue that going about armed and then getting falling down drunk in the street would have qualified Laban for a Darwin Award, but I don’t think that one works)
    Laman and Lemuel

  11. I just think we really have to hand it to Nephi for his skills. Just think! First, he chops Laban’s head off, severing veins and major arteries, which surely bled profusely. If you had the misfortune of watching that “terrorist” video of a man being decapitated back in 2001/2002, you know it’s not an easy or clean feat in itself. Then, Nephi manages to remove Laban’s clothing, and there’s no mention whatsoever that the clothes were a bloody mess! In fact, we don’t even hear about Zoram finding the disguised Nephi covered in blood (not even his hands, let alone the clothes!).

    Now, I understand that a severed artery will tend to restrict, and can even stop the bleeding, but that’s not an instant thing. I think we all need to give Nephi the respect he’s due for an absolutely bloodless decapitation!

  12. For Nephi to actually cut off an unarmed man’s head, whether he had it coming or not, is dirty work. You can strain at the knat and swallow the camel about the legitimacy of this act, but for me it’s not reconcilable.

    Carlos said: “But above all (for us Mormons) I’d say that its an aberration to claim that God does ‘dirty work’.”

    I think you’re starting to get the point. God doesn’t do dirty work nor does he tempt others to do it for him. When someone commits a violent horrible act, rest assured the instruction didn’t come from the God I know. I refer you to the point I was trying to make earlier. (Comment #4)

    This is no different than our FLDS brethren in Texas. They’re absolutely convinced that God has ordered them to live polygamy and make babies with young teenagers so to give the righteous spirits in heaven a proper home. Does anyone here actually believe God is telling these people to live this way? How can we dismiss their testimonies? These are the kind of things that happen when we believe God is capable of allowing and even commanding acts that are morally wrong.

  13. Doug G, I’ll just say that I’ve learned not to say that God “never” does (fill in the blank). He has surprised me too many times to make such a statement. Would God kill someone or command someone to kill someone else? I have no doubt about it – none, at all. Did He command Nephi to kill Laban? I think so, but the reasoning bothers me a bit – since it’s not consistent with my own culture and perspective.

    Frankly, I like the fact that this story is at the beginning of the BofM. It tends to separate those who place limitations on God from those who don’t pretty quickly, which saves a lot of time when the invitation to pray about the book happens. The whole point of Moroni 10:3 is to “remember” that God really can and does interact with His children, putting the reader in the frame of mind/heart/spirit to ponder and pray with a belief that God really can do what is promised. Believing “God would never (fill in the blank)” tends to restrict that type of faith.

    Nick, If you chop off someone’s head who is sitting or standing, you get a bloody mess on clothing. If you do it to someone who is lying down or suspended upside down, you often don’t. (I know this from firsthand experience on a farm/ranch with animals. It is easy to kill something that bleeds profusely without getting lots of blood on yourself or the thing being killed.) At night, a few spots of blood would be easy for Zoram to miss. Again, I know this from firsthand experience, after having others point out the blood on my clothes that I and others had not noticed.

  14. #13

    The problem is, what business do we have judging the God of the whole earth, or his commands to people of a different time, place, and culture by a 20th century American standard of morality? That seems somewhere on the order of using one’s wristwatch to declare that the atomic clock at the NIST is off.
    There’s a name for the attitude that one’s own culture (and its standards of morality) is the standard by which all others should be judged…it’s called ethnocentrism, and is usually compounded of ignorance and pride.
    While I agree that our sense of morality has the light of Christ as its foundation, that light can be easily distorted and obscured by the traditions of our culture, which include some doctrines of men and some of devils.

  15. Ray,

    Thanks for your perspective. I appreciate your respectful approach to my understanding of God even though it conflicts with your own. I absolutely believe God has many “nevers” in his work with us here on earth. I’m of the opinion that if a war in heaven really did occur, and free agency was the supreme decider for being on God side, then God by necessity has many things he will never do. Killing and commanding other to kill would undo much of what he was all about in the beginning… Just my opinion and worth about what you’re paying for it.

    As you brought up the promise in Moroni, perhaps you could help me with the circular logic here. The title page of the Book of Mormon states that the purpose of the record is to convince both the Jew and the Gentile that Jesus is the Christ. The promise in Moroni states that in-order to find out if the Book of Mormon is true, one must ask with real intent, having faith in Christ… In other words, only those who already have faith in Christ can get a witness that this second witness of him is true. That make the Book of Mormon’s mission statement un-attainable for Jews as I discovered in my first area in Australia which was around 80% Jewish.

  16. >>> I still believe in God and also think that our feelings of right and wrong come directly from him. This sets our moral compass and anyone who tries to convince others to override that compass whether it is lying, killing, or committing adultery, we should have the strength of character to say NO and let the consequences follow

    Doug G, I used to think this way too, so I do understand where you are coming from.

    But hasn’t the thought ever crossed your mind that maybe, just maybe, on really really rare and exceptional occaisions, that your personal conscience just might fail you due to lack of full information?

    It was that realization that finally changed my mind. Prior to that, I was (without actually realizing it) holding on to a near perfect faith in my own conscience and also my own ability to discern right and wrong based on whatever facts happened to be available to me at the time.

    But with time I came to realize that the idea that God would never ever do something that I would initially see as evil (given my lack of information that is) was impossible and even self contradictory if I’m assuming God has all knowledge and I don’t. I was finally forced to surrender that notion in favor of faith in God instead of in myself.

    And once I surrendered it, I realized that it was quite reasonable that God *would* expect Nephi (and me through Nephi’s story) to learn this very fact first hand as a way of learning to give up my faith in myself in favor of faith in Him.

    That is why I do in fact see Nephi’s story as possibly completely consistent with God’s will. I am in no position to see things as God does and so I cast no judgment on such an act and will let God do so instead.

    Now I know what the standard counter argument is to this point I’m making. It’s “well now you’re allowing everyone to do whatever they want so long as they say God said so!” No, I’m not saying that. I am saying it’s never ever my place to judge them in the final judgement and that I’m going to let God do it. I simply lack faith in myself to be the final judge with the complete level of certainty I used to hold.

    But in the mean time, I will make non-final judgements based on whatever knowledge I currently have available and using my meager and imperfect ability ti discern. To me this means I will obey and up hold the law of the land. If that means I arrest a polygamous group for breaking a law that in fact God commanded them to do, so be it. I have faith that God will understand that without Him giving me a revelation on the subject, I was right to arrest them. Since God didn’t give me that particular revelation, I will certainly not be held accountable for following the law of the land (as He has commanded me in scripture) in the mean time.

    People will do many bad things in this life and using God as an excuse is how we always do it, even atheists. (Of course atheists justify it via “ethics” rather than via “God’s will” but that is in fact the very same thing. They just don’t know it.) So I don’t really buy that the idea of revelation from God somehow causes people to be more apt to do immortal acts. I think the cause and effect are backward when stated that way.

    But ruling out the possiblity that a seeming immortal act is in fact moral once you have all the facts is way too much faith in myself to believe any more. And it’s just not reality of our complex and morally messy world.

  17. That’s a great question, Doug, but it would apply just as well to Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, atheists, etc. just as well as Jews. I served my mission in Japan, where FAR more than 80% of the people were not Christian.

    First, in order to get to the promise in Moroni, one should have read the entire Book of Mormon. I can’t stand it when members or missionaries jump to that invitation after just a few select passages; it should be the culmination of reading the entire thing. If someone has shown their sincere effort to “investigate” by reading that much, at the very least they have exercised a degree of faith (at least desire, as described in Alma 32) in that process.

    Next, when you look at Moroni 10:3 the key is to “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 your hearts.” The key word is “remember” – and that remembrance can be of the mercies of God in ANY people’s history. Once the reader remembers God’s mercy to others (including their own ancestors/people), they are told to ponder and pray about what they have read – which is FULL of references to and teachings about Christ. Hence, if one exercises enough faith to read the book, then remembers God’s mercy, then ponders the words of the Christ-focused book and prays about it – then they can pray with real intent, having faith in Christ.

    I believe we short-circuit the process of the exercise of faith by introducing the promise too early and jumping to “pray about it” without inviting the reader to follow the prerequisite steps laid out in the invitation itself. In that situation, the reader really can’t pray “having faith in Christ;” with the proper and prescribed preparation, that same reader definitely can pray with sincere faith.

  18. I ran across a really good article on the killing Laban issue:


    As always, it’s important to study and then consider the environment in which the record was created. For example, how many people consider that this story was recorded well after it actually happened and that it might be a part of a larger allegory? (Those are just a couple of issues considered in the linked article.)

  19. One more quick point about Moroni 10:4-5.

    The promise in v. 4 is VERY different than the promise in v.5. Verse 4 says God will “manifest” the truth of the Book of Mormon – meaning “to make clear or evident to the eye or the understanding; show plainly.” There is no statement about HOW that will be done – just that the truth will be clear or evident – that it will be understood. That doesn’t imply “knowledge” in any way; it just promises some kind of recognition or understanding.

    Verse 5 says that all things “may” be known by the *power* of the Holy Ghost. “May” is “used to express possibility” – meaning it is the power of the Holy Ghost that makes it possible to “know” all things. This verse doesn’t say that everyone, or even anyone, can know all truth; it doesn’t say that one must have the “Gift of the Holy Ghost” in order to know truth; it says nothing about HOW the Holy Ghost’s power works or operates in allowing us to know; it merely says that it is the power of the Holy Ghost that allows us to “know the truth of all things”.

  20. Ray,

    I think you answered this conundrum in the only way you could. Your logic doesn’t work because the missionary program of the church has never encouraged investigators to read the whole book before praying about it. I’m not sure how missionary work is being done now, but during my time we were told to get people committed and in the water within two weeks or they would never make it.

    The promise is circular logic and as I believe the evidence has shown, the BoM as not been very effective in helping non-Christians accept Christ. I spent a fair amount of time in Japan myself and I can tell you that retention numbers are dismal.


    I wondered where you’ve been hiding… Life is never as simple as you or I would like it to be. I’ll agree that the majority of questions concerning God are up to interpretation and in the eye of the beholder. Is it so wrong to believe that God does have some core values that are non-negotiable? For me, I can’t make myself believe in any other kind of God. The fact that so many things are done in his name that hurts innocent people is telling.

    I don’t believe in judging people, but I certainly have the right and the responsibility to judge actions. You know the whole judge the sin not the sinner thing. So, to be very honest with you, I won’t excuse the actions of early church leaders when they lied, committed adultery, or murdered a group of emigrants. I’m not going to judge what Gods punishment may be for those crimes, but I won’t condom them either.

  21. So, Doug, you are saying the promise doesn’t work because we haven’t applied it correctly? I can’t argue with that, but I can’t see how you can take our mistake and say the Book of Mormon hasn’t worked as a tool to convert non-Christians. How can it be the fault of the Book of Mormon if we haven’t asked people to do what it says they need to do?

    Also, nearly all of the solid conversions I experienced in Japan were a direct result of the Book of Mormon – among those who read the entire thing and did exactly what it asked them to do. That’s the same thing I have heard from others who were teaching non-Christians. The process works often when fulfilled; not much when it isn’t. That’s our problem, not the book’s. How can we say it’s circular reasoning when it actually works quite well when it is followed?

    Btw, I would never “condom” them either. *grin*

  22. Ray,

    I think you missed my point. I didn’t talk about the baptism rate in Japan (although that is very low as well). I said the retention rate was bad which shouldn’t have been if reading the book provided such a strong assurance that it’s true. I spent five years in Japan and I know if what I speak…

    Not that I’m a skeptic or anything (yah right), would you mind providing some data to back up this statement?

    “Also, nearly all of the solid conversions I experienced in Japan were a direct result of the Book of Mormon -among those who read the entire thing and did exactly what it asked them to do. That’s the same thing I have heard from others who were teaching non-Christians. The process works often when fulfilled;”

    Your statement sounds good to members who need the confirmation that the promise works for non-Christian people, but that hasn’t been my experience nor does it seem the numbers show much success in places like the orient. Good salesmanship may have gotten lots of baptisms at one time, but if only 10% are staying, what does that say about the promise?

    Ray, I’m not trying to be difficult, but Japan is one area that I’m all too familiar with…

  23. I always thought the stories of divinely-commanded death in the scriptures illustrate one very important thing: the sheer fact of life is not as important to God as it is to us as modern Westerners. That may offend our sensibilities, but God sees a much larger picture than any of us can comprehend.

    To God, our life is a brief interlude in the span of eternity. The duration of life is not nearly as important as the caliber. I personally believe that each of God’s children will be given the absolute best situation possible to give opportunity for them to return to Him. If they are missing certain elements of life during their lifespan it is only because, at the very least, those elements are not necessary for that person’s exaltation.

  24. I think SilverRain has the right gist here–life is precious, but it belongs to God. I think that God was trying to teach this lesson to Nephi in some respects, and Nephi to us. God could have just as easily arranged it such that Nephi found Laban choked on his own vomit and dead in the alleys. It isn’t a far stretch for someone who has passed out from their liquor.

    So we have to conclude that God not only wanted Laban killed, he wanted Nephi to do the actual killing. So why? What would Nephi learn from this? First, I think, that God puts our mortal probation on a slightly different scale than we normally do. From our limited scale, it is the ultimate evil to kill someone. Why? Because of the irrevocability of the act–it is a violence that cannot be redressed and that person may have unrepented sins (I’ve been pondering the Philosophy of Sin for a long time now, and it’s something I think we should be paying attention to more carefully). Such a fact cannot apply to God, however, meaning that it is not evil for him to take the mortal life of one of his children, precisely because he can restore them to life should he so choose, and because he also knows the state of their soul and whether or not they would choose to repent (probabilities and quantum states not withstanding, I think God has a pretty good handle on the which of the potential outcomes will happen if He changes something, which is why we get statements in the scriptures like, “the days of suffering must shortened, were it not so all life must perish”, which I believe is somewhere in the D&C referring to the last days, but I’m having trouble with the source, as usual).

    So what else does Nephi learn? He already knew minor obedience–getting the plates. I think it teaches the cost of obedience, the cost of faith. Like Abraham, Nephi had to learn that faith can demand a high price. I think the FLDS are learning that now. Is their religion the same as mine? No, and it may ultimately may not be ‘inspired’, but that does not lessen their faith in it, and in God. I think that for the majority of them, things will be will well with them at the day of judgment. Their leaders, if they have acted in bad faith, will pay any cost for any abuse, not those who have trusted in God and their religion, whose faith is sincere.

    I think Nephi would have come away with a heightened sense of value for the plates, as someone else mentioned. I think this is why when his bow later broke, he is the one who remained strong while others wavered a bit. I wonder how long it was before he told his family what he had done. How long before this became common knowledge? Or did his use of Laban’s clothing make it obvious? Was he tempted to lie and say he simply took the clothes off the drunken man? (Of course, I might have taken the clothes off him first, then killed the sot…).

    It is a weighty passage, and I had an investigator who couldn’t get past this part. I don’t blame her, and at the time I lacked the sophistication to deal with it. I’m not sure that anyone could have convinced her that this was proper, and there are a lot of members of the church that have trouble with it, obviously. In the end, it comes down to, I think, does God have the right to hold mortal life in his hands?

  25. Gentlemen,

    Apparently my lack of ability to express myself is showing. I’ve never said that God doesn’t have the power and the right to give and take life. I guess that’s my whole point, it’s His power not ours. So when somebody writes in the scriptures that they’ve taken a human life and then seeks to justify this act by making God an accomplice, I can’t go there. I don’t limit this to Nephi and Laban but to all the Old Testament killing, raping, lying and so forth in the name of God. Once God commands someone to kill, the Pandora’s Box is open. Now anyone can say “thus saith the Lord” and commit all types of atrocities. I don’t believe God ever opened that box. Men trying to justify their sins may have written it, but murder is murder any way you slice it or him. (Sorry, bad humor)

    I also can’t abide this notion that 2500 years ago life was any less precious to God than it is today. So if God did command men to kill then, what would prevent him from commanding it again today? Perhaps the prophet get inspired to have Doug G killed because his writings on the internet are hurting to many people’s testimonies and God has let him know that it would be better for one man to die, than a whole cyber community dwindle in unbelief. What do you think? I know, I know, my blogging here is not influential and therefore not a threat. But if it were, some of you may be willing to be a tool in God’s hand… (Ha, ha)

    The 9/11 hijackers were very convinced that God had commended them to fly those planes in the Trade Centers and Pentagon. In the Muslim religion, they are heroes and have many virgins waiting for them in heaven. How are they any different then Nephi? To the Muslim world, our capitalist society is evil and needs to be brought down. If they can’t do it with terrorist acts, then perhaps killing the economy with higher and higher oil prices will work. Hopefully you a least see my point…

  26. You said that very well, Doug, and I respect that position. I also agree with the general concept wholeheartedly. I just can’t bring myself to say that it could NEVER happen. As I said previously, He’s surprised me too many times to go there.

    I think we will have to agree to agree on 90% and disagree on 10%.

  27. #2: Thanks for the link to BCC. Another link there leads to clips from HBO’s “Flight of the Conchords” with which I was completely unacquainted until now. I never had a reason to want HBO, but now I do.

  28. Doug G (#27)

    I happen to agree that it’s really difficult to conceive of God ordering someone to kill someone, then allowing them to follow through with it, and I especially agree that it opens a can of worms. Especially since my comments on today’s topic about Satan is essentially taking the position that for evil to persist it MUST be convinced that it is in the right. I take the position that those who do evil are either convinced that it is either right or they are acting irrationally (that is, they are either temporarily or permanently insane). Taken together, that means that you have to accede that the 9/11 hijackers truly believed that what they did was righteous.

    It does not mean, however, and this is important, that you have to accept that what everyone claims they were told to do by God actually came from God. Generally speaking you can exclude murder as a thing that God will tell someone to do, but the OT seeks to clarify what you can and can’t exclude as legitimate acts of God’s direction by establishing a set of direction. It does so poorly in many instances, and time has eroded so many of the lessons. Nephi is doing many of the same things, and I think he does so more clearly. He’s essentially saying that if God makes a command to do something that seems out of touch with the norm, and you question it, you will be told why, and that you have the right to explain it.

    I think if the OT were more complete, we’d find the same thing about many of those battles. God says, “Go kill everyone in that city, even the innocent babies, the animals and the old people”. Joshua [was it Joshua?] says, “That seems harsh, Lord, why can’t we just let some of them live–kill only the soldiers and men. We’ll raise the children as our own.” And God saith unto him, “I have required this thing of thee so that those children may come unto me and rest from the torment of their days, and so that the blood of the innocent may cry up from the ground as a testament as to the wickedness of their fathers, and so that the disease which doth issue forth from that place shall not spread forth into the land.” Or something like that. At least that’s how I see it. Frankly, I think that the Lord may have had any number of reasons, and he may not always reveal them all to his prophets, but I do think that if the Lord makes a requirement like this, he would explain it.

    Now, would something like that happen today? I doubt it. Frankly, it doesn’t seem necessary. Remember that all of these things happened not just with the leader of the church, but generally with the leader of the nation as well, which puts it in a different light. They were acting as a sovereign dispensing high justice in many cases, or in a time of war, which puts all this in a different light. Even Nephi, whose legal status was a bit murky, has some claim as a war-figure or a sovereign. Not as clearly as Moses or Joshua, but the connection is possible. That changes things a lot.

  29. Ben,

    In the words of Ray, we’re just going to have to agree to disagree on this point.

    Murdering an unarmed man lying in the gutter just goes too far. I have no issues with a man defending his family and his life and therefore deciding to take another. But even in those very rare insistences, there is usually a peaceful way out.

    I think we both understand that not everyone who claims communication from God is actually speaking to him. My belief is God is not two faced. He isn’t going to command men saying “thou shalt not kill” and then tell Nephi, go ahead the end will justify the means. To be honest, had our members believed this as I’m trying to convince you to believe, the Mountain Meadows Massacre would never have happened. Don’t you see, if your life is based on certain core values, nobody is going to convince you to put a gun to a young girl’s head and blow her brains out. To believe that in certain circumstances it could be ok is dangerous if not insane. I don’t believe you’re insane Ben, so please tell me why you’re not dangerous.

  30. Doug, your first sentence is not consistent with the rest of the comment, especially the last two sentences. If you are going to quote me, follow my example. *huge grin*

  31. Points not addressed so far:

    1. The Lord needed the Lamanites to be a scourge and reminder to the Nephites. Therefore the Lord needed Laman and Lemuel in the New World. Laban’s death in this manner prevented L & L’s going back to Jerusalem.

    In contrast to Comment #6, I believe that the first suspects upon Laban being found dead indeed would be those pesky sons of Lehi, who tried to beg then bribe Laban for the plates. It would have been known (by Laban’s household at least) that Laban had stolen Lehi’s stuff from the boys, and had ordered some of his servants to go kill them. So Lehi’s boys would be the prime suspects because of motive. And the missing Zoram would likely lead some to beleive that he was killed by Lehi’s kids too.

    The upshot of this point, is that by being the #1 suspects, Laman and Lemuel now can’t openly go back to Jerusalem. They can’t ditch Nephi and Lehi in the wilderness and go back and pick up their old life. Which is what I would have done if I were in their shoes, and thought my father and brother were idiots. (When they went back to get Ishmael and his family, they probably did it clandestinely.)

    2. Maybe God did Laban a favor.

    Background: A quick decapitation (or other quick form of brain death) while anesthetized with alcohol was likely a relatively painless and quick death. And it’s technically possible to sever the spinal cord from the back without cutting into major veins/arteries of the neck. The spinal cord is towards the dorsal (back) side of the bones of the spine. You don’t have to cut even half-way through the spinal column to reach it.

    Also, “smote off” does not necessarily mean a severing of the neck. With a stabbing motion, Nephi could have disrupted Laban’s medulla oblongata (base or brain stem), causing instant death (think “pithing” a frog in biology class), with virtually no blood letting, also solving the bloody clothes dilemma. “Smote off” could have been an idiom, and not meant to be taken literally as we would think.

    Now think what would have happened to Laban had he lived:

    The “favor of a quick death” comes into play because had Laban lived to see the conquest by the Babylonians, he, being a ruler/official, would have been singled out for some extreme torture by the Babylonians. He would not have been taken into captivity, except to be tortured to death. IE, he was going to die anyway, and most likely in a much more painful way than what Nephi did to him.

    3. It’s possible that God was training Nephi for future wars with the Lamanites. This was his first blooding.

    4. Laban’s execution by Nephi shows L & L, and the entire entourage, that he’s got cohones, that he’s warrior/leadership material. Like David killing Goliath, little Nephi now has gravitas and respect, he’s grown up, he’s now a man. Nephi’s possession of the sword and clothes is pretty good evidence that he did kill Laban even if L & L weren’t there to witness.

    5. Look at 1 Nephi 4:3: 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.

    Nephi is stating, or at least implying, ahead of time, that Laban is going to die. I think he knew in advance that Laban was to die, even if he didn’t know he was going to be called upon to be the executioner.

    It’s possible that the angel even said that Laban was to die, or even that the boys were going to kill Laban under the Lord’s direction and with the Lord’s power.

    BTW, when I joined the church, and in my mission, we asked people to read 3 Nephi chapters 11-26 first, along with Moroni 10:3-5.

  32. Ray,

    Of course you are correct, I didn’t quote you accurately and then I even went further and launched into another dissertation. You know for a high councilmen, you’re really ok. My apologies…


  33. “You know for a high councilmen, you’re really ok.”

    That’s both hilarious and sad. *chagrined grin*

    You’re not bad yourself, Doug. *real grin*

  34. Bookslinger – nice to see you over here (vs. Mormon Mentality where I usually see you). Love your points. A few responses:

    #1 – I had not considered this angle before (this event made it impossible for Laman & Lemuel to sneak home). Great point!
    #2 – ‘scuze me while I barf
    #4 – Nevertheless, they still tied him up to the mast of the ship. That’s gotta be pretty humiliating for a grown man, regarless of cojone size!
    #5 – OR, this is clear premeditation (if you are the district attorney)

  35. Alas, the terror of agency! Do we hear the Spirit correctly? Or do we let our own cultural biases delude us into thinking we hear correctly? Do we judge what someone else heard correctly, or is that a bias from our own culture? Choices do have consequences, and the posts above imagine a number of them.

    However, the problem is bigger than any scriptural tradition. What we see through our telescopes and in the fossil record seems to indicate that God (and by implication Christ as well) is NOT exclusively non-violent, however much that offends our culture. And if there were no God, we’d still be stuck with the idea that the universe was a violent place that was unimpressed with moderns’ concept of morality.

    For example, google “Death Star Galaxy”. You’ll be led to a NASA photograph of a small galaxy passing through a radiation jet from the black hole of a larger galaxy. Thousands of stellar systems of the smaller galaxy are being steralized by the radiation, their atmospheres being blown away like Noah’s flood spread across the stars.

    God as creator. God as destroyer. The same God. And our attempts to comprehend and follow must be willing to encompass both aspects.

    He maketh the asteroid to fall on both the sentient and non-sentient, so to speak.

  36. Interesting to note that anyone that believes in the bible should actually have no problem with a prophet of God killing someone, especially by sword. Consider Samuel the prophet in the Old Testament. The account is found in 1 Samuel 15:32-33. Let me quote it for you so that you don’t have to waste time looking it up. The background is as follows, Saul had destroyed the Amalekites, but saved some sheep, oxen, and King Agag. Samuel chastises Saul for not following the word of the LORD in killing King Agag, and does it himself.
    1 Sam 15:32 Then said Samuel, Bring ye hither to me Agag the king of the Amalekites. And Agag came unto him delicately. And Agag said, Surely the bitterness of death is past.
    1 Sam 15:33 And Samuel said, As thy sword hath made women childless, so shall thy mother be childless among women. And Samuel hewed Agag in pieces before the LORD in Gilgal.
    I could also cite how Moses was commanded to kill the man that gathered sticks on the Sabbath by command of the LORD, but I feel the example of Samuel is good enough.

  37. you know I dont know why people get their panties in a knot when they read about Nephi slaying Laban. if you really think about it that event took place 600 years before Christ when the law of moses was still in force… has anyone actualy read some of the law in the bible? what I mean to say is at that time it wasnt uncommon for Jews and other semetic people to slay wicked people. Aaron stabbed a man with a spear after the man took his philistine bride near the tabernacle was he wrong in doing that? what about when elijah called out bears to kill all those little children after calling him bald, there is another story in the old testiment where a woman was praised by God for nailing a mans head to the floor. in light of these stories I would say Nephi’s action was minor compaired to other people of the faith in old testiment times. furthermore I know a man who taught in an isreali school a while back and brought up the Laban story after the Israilis read the text they claimed that Nephi was a wimp for even contiplating not slaying Laban! my point is reading it in context shows that Nephi was more than justified in killing Laban.

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