When Lehi, the first Book of Mormon prophet we read of, was commanded by God to take his family into the wilderness to escape attempts on his life, his greatest challenge wasn’t leaving behind his wealth. It was the attitude of his two oldest sons, Laman and Lemuel.
They resented having to leave their comfortable lifestyle in Jerusalem and made certain everyone was aware of their unhappiness. In addition, when an angel later informed them that their younger brother Nephi, fourth in the family, was to become their ruler, they were furious. They were the oldest and felt they should have that honor, even though they were unwilling to earn it by obedience and faith.
At first, Laman and Lemuel seemed to have moments of humility, only to later be overcome again by pride. Few people go straight from good to bad. They take small steps that can eventually lead to disaster. Initially, the boys only whined. They complained about the hardships, the tent they now lived in, their father’s visionary ways, their younger brother’s faith and his attempts to help them change.
Eventually, violence entered into their lives. They tied up their younger brothers, beat them, and eventually tried to kill them. Even their parents were sometimes abused by them in their old age. Each act of violence made the next one easier, and each act took them further into the type of abuse that would lead to attempted murder.
The family tried. They prayed and they preached. God tried. He even sent angels on several occasions to rescue Nephi and warn Laman and Lemuel. The older boys were frightened by the angels, but not converted by them.
Finally, Lehi and his wife Sariah, whose older years had been filled with sorrow over the actions of their two oldest sons, died. At this time, even half-hearted attempts to repent ended. Laman and Lemuel seemed to have stopped trying. By now, their lifestyle was so completely foreign to that of God’s that they could not possibly still feel the Spirit.
With their parents gone, Laman and Lemuel decided to get rid of their brother for good by killing him and regaining leadership of the family. Like his father before him, Nephi was told by God to take those who would go and leave. Nephi did so, and those with testimonies, who wanted to live the gospel, left with him.
In time, the Nephites, as they came to be known, would send missionaries to the Lamanites (followers/descendants of Laman) to try once again to convert them. For now, though, Laman, Lemuel, and their families and followers were essentially cut off from God. They had no one who could teach the children about Christ’s teachings, and no one trying to bring the parents back into the gospel. They were physically separated from a prophet of God and, by their own choice, from God himself. God can’t be where evil is, so those who are choosing to behave in an evil way can’t have the Spirit with them to guide them.
God loves us and He wants us to feel His love and have His guidance at all times. When we lose that, it’s entirely through our own choices. We can choose to live well and earn the right to have him with us or we can choose to be selfish and short-sighted, living any way we like, without regard for the teachings of God. Choosing the latter requires you to forfeit the promised blessings. Jesus told us that if we love God, we must keep his commandments. Keeping them gives us blessings and allows us to feel God’s presence. Ignoring them, however, sends a clear message that we don’t value our Heavenly Father.
Laman and Lemuel treated God the same way they treated their earthly father: with scorn and disrespect. They chose not to make God the center of their lives and so eventually, they created a situation where they didn’t have to deal with God at all—or so they thought. It was a short-sighted solution to their desire to live selfishly. Over time, as we read the Book of Mormon, we see the consequences of their foolish decision. And likewise, we will one day pay the consequences in our own lives if we choose to disregard and ignore our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ.
This post was originally published in June 2018. Minor edits have been made.
Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.