2 Ne 2:1-5
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Relationship to Chapter 2. The relationship of Verses 2:1-5 to the rest of Chapter 2 is discussed at Chapter 2.
Message. Themes, symbols, and doctrinal points emphasized in Verses 2:1-5 include:
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- 2 Ne 2:1. The "And now, X, I speak unto you" phrase that opens this chapter echoes 2 Ne 1:30, the first time Lehi turns from one addressee to another in this discourse. It also anticipates verse 14, where the same construction is found next. (It is perhaps worth mentioning that the somewhat more restricted "And now" construction—a marker in LDS scripture generally of an important shift even as some broader continuity is maintained—appears two other times in the chapter: verse 14 and verse 22.) Both of these instances of the longer construction are of some importance for interpretation of chapter 2 (as well as a further instance of the same phrase, to be found in 2 Ne 3:1). That the construction quite clearly plays the role at least of redefining the intended audience of the address, then the present chapter is, through the repetition of the construction, split in two: 2 Nephi 2 can be broken into two major parts, one addressed primarily to Jacob (verses 1-13) and one addressed to all of Lehi's sons (verses 14-30). While the implications of the shift in verse 14 for interpretation of the whole chapter are undeniably numerous, one must not fail to notice how this point forces a reinterpretation of this very first verse: though Lehi addresses himself to Jacob quite directly here, and though that direct address will continue through the first thirteen verses without fail (witness verse 11: "If not so, my first-born in the wilderness..."), the particularity of this address will be questioned retroactively by Lehi's quite sudden shift in the middle of the chapter (verse 14). Hence, even as this first verse would appear to limit Lehi's interests to Jacob alone, it must be quite clear from the very beginning that Jacob's particularity is being canceled by the anticipatory echoes to be heard in the formalistic construction by which he is singled out in the first place. Jacob is thus hardly isolated or abstracted from his context by the direct address (by name!) of verse 1. Rather, he is given to his context, is named only within the broader context that he apparently cannot escape.
- This contextuality becomes clearer still with Lehi's next words: "Thou art my first-born in the days of my tribulation in the wilderness. And behold, in thy childhood thou hast suffered afflictions and much sorrow, because of the rudeness of thy brethren." Two contextualizations, ultimately in tension, are at work in these two sentences. The second might be cited first, since it is the simpler of the two: Jacob's very life has been contextualized by "the rudeness of [his] brethren," has its place only within the framework of the familial conflicts that so much occupy Nephi's narrative of the travels through the wilderness and across the sea. Less obvious in meaning is the first contextualization: "Thou art my first-born in the days of my tribulation in the wilderness." Certainly relevant here is the desert backdrop, the suffering on Lehi's part, the days that are emphatically plural. But of more interest and importance, in the end, is Lehi's audacity in labeling Jacob—albeit, of course, with an important caveat—his "first-born." In fact, much can be made of this label: it is certainly of some significance that Lehi does not use the title in chapter 1. This is especially interesting in light of the fact that he will, during the same series of discourses, refer to Laman (curiously in the third person) as his "first-born," but only after having labeled Jacob such first, and only in an address to Laman's apparently innocent children (2 Ne 4:3). It is this connection or anti-connection with Laman that speaks so loudly in this verse: Jacob is named precisely in that he is aligned with, and yet held in an almost horrible tension with, his oldest brother, Laman, the (actual) first-born. Though the second contextualization is perhaps the more explicit, it is this first that is far richer in implication by its linguistic binding together of Jacob and Laman.
- But all of this is only the backdrop to something still more curious at work here: an allusion to 1 Ne 1:1. Actually, such an allusion on Lehi's part, given the chronology and historical details of 2 Ne 5:31, would have been impossible, which means that one of two situations obtains here: either Nephi to some degree at least doctors Lehi's actual discourse so that it nicely matches up with what he had written in 1 Ne 1:1, or it is rather Nephi's famous first verse that alludes to this discourse. The point is of some exegetical, as well as of some hermeneutical, interest. Before fleshing out some of the implications, the parallel construction of the two passages should be spelled out more explicitly. Set side by side:
I, Nephi, And now, Jacob, I speak unto you: having been born of goodly parents Thou art my first-born in the days of my tribulation in the wilderness therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father; and having seen many afflictions in the And behold, in thy childhood thou hast course of my days... suffered afflictions and much sorrow, because of the rudeness of thy brethren.
This parallel is all the more striking if one continues with 1 Ne 1:1 and into 2 Ne 2:2:
nevertheless, having been highly favored Nevertheless, Jacob, my first-born in the wilderness, of the Lord in all my days; yea, having had a great knowledge thou knowest the greatness of God; of the goodness and the mysteries of God... and he shall consecrate thine afflictions for thy gain.
- The parallels between these two passages are worth drawing out at length because of the richness of what Nephi does in the (textually) earlier passage. Though the commentary there should ultimately be consulted, it is worth pointing out here that the parallel passage draws on a fourfold structure (divided up by the repetition of the word "having") that nicely lays out Nephi's life as following a creation-fall-atonement-veil pattern. The connections between this fourfold pattern and the temple are obvious enough (and are discussed at some further length in the commentary at 1 Ne 1:1), and Nephi even appears to suggest that his entire record (1-2 Nephi) is structured by the same fourfold pattern. This complex allusion to the temple, worked into the first verses of the present chapter under consideration, is of some importance given not only the theological content of the discourse Lehi is here delivering, but also because of the "calling" to be extended to Jacob in verse 3: Jacob is eventually to be given to the "service of God," which would seem to have reference to his becoming a priest in the temple (see the commentary below for verse 3; also the commentary for the mention of consecration in verse 2). There would be reason, it seems, to see this chapter as saturated, from the very start, by temple patterns, language, and theology.
- This focus on the temple is of further importance given the near disinheritance at work in 2 Ne 1:29: only a few verses earlier, one finds Lehi telling his "actual" first-born that his blessings are to be given to Nephi if Laman and Lemuel do not "hearken unto him." Inasmuch as Nephi is thereby designated not for the service of the temple but for the more "political" work of governance, it falls to Jacob to head up the spiritual, ritual side of Nephite culture (two first-borns, perhaps two messiahs: Nephi the king, and Jacob the priest). That these two first-borns are to work side by side is not only stated explicitly in verse 3 ("thou shalt dwell safely with thy brother, Nephi"), but the parallels between this address to Jacob and Nephi's own self-introduction in 1 Ne 1:1, worked out above, are indicative of this same division of labor of sorts. And this pairing is of broader exegetical importance in Nephi's text: Nephi's birth, as announced in the first chapter of 1 Nephi, and Jacob's birth, as announced in the eighteenth chapter (1 Ne 18:7), function as the two ends of the stretch of Nephi's text that falls under the rubric of "creation" (in the fourfold pattern he takes as the template for his record). And all of these hints of the parallel roles of Nephi and Jacob, quite subtly at work here, point to the two records Nephi will soon be making, with their differing purposes (see 1 Ne 6; 19; and 2 Ne 5).
- It is of some consequence—and is a marked irony—that Jacob is linked to Nephi precisely as he is linked to Laman: through his being addressed as the "first-born." That Nephi is never referred to directly by this title, while Jacob is so referred to twice in just the first part of this chapter, is significant: it would appear that Lehi was trying to deflect some of the animosity usually reserved for Nephi to Jacob. Put another way, it would seem that Lehi takes the occasion to establish the pairing of Nephi and Jacob as a righteous parallel to the rebellious Laman and Lemuel (though what Lehi is doing with Joseph in chapter 3 still remains to be discussed). This is done, at the end of this first verse, with an explicit mention of "the rudeness of [Jacob's] brethren." The tension of the moment should not be missed. It is a tension, however, that is nicely taken up in the next verse.
- 2 Ne 2:2: Parallels with verse 26. There seem to be interesting parallels in this verse and in 2 Ne 2:26, viz., "fulness of time" and the idea of "salvation unto men" here with "redeem the children of men" in verse 26. (See the link below for more details on this parallel, along with several others between vv. 3-6 and vv. 26-27.)
- 2 Ne 2:2. Given the connection with 1 Ne 1:1, worked out above, this verse begins with an already rich "nevertheless." But it is followed immediately by what seems somewhat oddly placed: a repetition of "Jacob, my first-born in the wilderness." At least in part, this doubles or sustains the tension introduced by the announcement of this title in the first verse: Jacob is again caught up in tension with Laman through a paired opposition between Nephi/Jacob and Laman/Lemuel (now perhaps in an even more tense reference, given its significant proximity to "the rudeness of thy brethren" at the close of verse 1). But the significance of this repetition is hardly thereby exhausted. In fact, it is worth pointing out that there is a kind of logical movement between the two instances of the title in these first two verses, one that might be read on the one hand as an abridgment and on the other hand as a progression toward identity. Abridgment: what is in verse 1 "Jacob, I speak unto you: Thou art my first-born in the days of my tribulation in the wilderness" becomes in verse 2 "Jacob, my first-born in the wilderness." It is almost as if Lehi goes through and snips out parts of the longer version in verse 1: "I speak unto you: Thou art" and "in the days of my tribution." Progression toward identity: whereas in verse 1 "Jacob" functions as an already given name and "first-born... in the wilderness" functions as a title that is being given (through the "Thou art"), in verse 2, the title is already as given as the name is. "My first-born in the wilderness" is now as "automatic," so to speak, as is the common name "Jacob." In the end, of course, it must be admitted that this abridgment and this progression toward identity are two sides of the same coin. And it is of the utmost significance that this is accomplished specifically by putting Jacob, along with Nephi, in tension with Laman and Lemuel.
- It is also quite significant that this full-blown identity, this already-givenness of the title with the name, is given expression precisely as Jacob is said to know the greatness of God. The point deserves careful attention.
- 2 Ne 2:3. Lehi says that he knows his son Jacob has been redeemed because of the righteousnes of thy Redeemer and then goes on to explain why "salvation is free" (v. 4). The emphasis here seems to be on what God has done to make redemption possible. In this context, the mention of Jacob's afflictions seems to set the stage for the later discussion of opposition (rather than, say, establishing a direct relationship between Jacob's personal trials and redemption).
- Of curious interest in this verse is Lehi's blessing upon Jacob of being dedicated to "the service of thy God." The word "service" in the Old Testament is almost universally used in reference to the work of the temple priests. That Jacob clearly goes on to be associated quite closely with the temple (see 2 Nephi 6-10, and of course Jacob 1-3) perhaps suggests that this is precisely what is at work here: Lehi sets Jacob the task of becoming a temple priest. If this is the case, then the whole of this chapter might be re-read according to temple themes: Lehi discusses the creation, the fall, and the atonement. Moreover, this perhaps clarifies the consecration Lehi promises in verse 2: Jacob's negative experiences will somehow work to his benefit as a temple priest.
- 2 Ne 2:4: Free. It is interesting that Lehi uses the word free two different ways in describing the atonement in this chapter. Here, the meaning is probably #11 in Webster's 1828 dictionary: "gratuitous; not gained by importunity or purchase." See v. 26 for the other useage.
- 2 Ne 2:4. Lehi says "salvation is free." Lehi means salvation is free to us. In 1 Cor 7:23, Paul tells us our salvation is "bought with a price." Since Christ has paid the price for our salvation, it is free to us in the sense that we do not have to suffer as Christ did for our own sins if we repent (see D&C 19:16 and surrounding verses).
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- 2 Ne 2:1: Jacob. Why did Lehi name this son Jacob? Is the name somehow related to the circumstances of his birth? Does naming his son Jacob somehow cast Lehi in the role of Isaac? What might this mean? The name Jacob means "supplanter" in Hebrew--how might Lehi see this Jacob as a supplanter?
- 2 Ne 2:1: My first-born. Why does Lehi choose to see Jacob (his fifth son) as some sort of first-born? How does the theme of a first-born prefigure the later discussion here of Christ and first-fruits?
- 2 Ne 2:1: Days of my tribulation. If Lehi sees his son born in the wilderness as a first-born, does that somehow mean that these days of tribulation somehow mark a new beginning for Lehi? What are tribulations? How does the concept of tribulations contextualize or prefigure the later discussion here?
- 2 Ne 2:1: In the wilderness. What does Lehi mean by wilderness? Is it important that his tribulations occur in a wilderness? How are Lehi's "days of tribulation in the wilderness" separated from or related to his pre-existent days in Jerusalem or his later days in the paradise of the promised land? Does Lehi somehow see his whole journey as a type of our premortal, mortal, and post-mortal existence?
- 2 Ne 2:1: My tribulation vs. thy childhood. What might Lehi be trying to say by mentioning/paring/comparing/contrasting his tribulations with Jacob's childhood?
- 2 Ne 2:1: Afflictions. What are afflictions and how are they related to the theme of this discourse?
- 2 Ne 2:1: Sorrows. What are sorrows and how are they related to the theme of this discourse?
- 2 Ne 2:1: Rudeness of thy brethren. What does Lehi mean by rudeness? If rudeness can be read as something like roughness or violence, how might that relate to the theme of this discourse? Is it important that afflictions and sorrows can be seen as coming from other actors in the story, even by brothers?
- 2 Ne 2:2: Nevertheless. How does this word shift the grounds of Lehi's discourse and reconfigure Jacob's experience? Can we see the whole nature of Christ's redeeming work in this act of bringing consecration, gain, blessings and safety in spite of ("nevertheless") our afflictions and sorrow?
- 2 Ne 2:2: Thou knowest. What does Lehi mean by this? How does Jacob know, and how does Lehi know that Jacob knows?
- 2 Ne 2:2: Past, present, and future. What is happening here as Lehi moves from the past (hast suffered) to the present (knowest) to the future (shall consecrate)? How does knowing "the greatness of God" in the present influence our past and future?
- 2 Ne 2:2: The greatness of God. What does this mean? What is "the greatness of God"? How can the greatness of God be known?
- 2 Ne 2:2: Consecration. What does it mean to have afflictions consecrated for one’s good? To think about that, we probably have to think about what the word “consecrate” means. In Webster’s dictionary of 1828 (a dictionary that reflects American usage of Joseph Smith’s time), the first definition of consecration is the one that comes from the Latin roots of the word: “to make or declare something sacred.” If we take that meaning, what does it mean for affliction to be made sacred? How does that occur? Is it connected to somehow knowing the greatness of God?
- 2 Ne 2:2: For thy gain. How can our afflictions be made for our gain? What does it mean to gain? What do we have to gain? Does the Atonement of Christ somehow make it so our afflictions somehow provide some kind of gain to our eternal souls? If so, how do our souls gain from this experience?
- 2 Ne 2:3: Wherefore. What does this wherefore ("because of that") refer to? Is knowing the greatness of God still relevant to this taking place?
- 2 Ne 2:3: Thy soul. What does Lehi mean by soul? Is it our modern view of a united body and spirit, or something else?
- Jacob is blessed that he will be safe and that he will spend his days in the service of God. How often do we think of our service as a blessing? We speak of our service in terms of our callings (which makes a lot of sense) but do we sometimes think of it as a duty rather than a blessing? What is the difference, and what difference does that make?
- Notice that Lehi says, “I know that thou art redeemed, because of the righteousness of thy Redeemer.” We sometimes speak as if our obedience brings our redemption. In the New Testament, Paul warns against thinking in those terms. But Paul’s doctrine isn’t only New Testament doctrine. Here we see Lehi attributing redemption to Christ rather than to us. (Joseph Smith said, “that man was not able himself to erect a system, or plan with power sufficient to free him from a destruction which awaited him is evident from the fact that God [. . .] prepared a sacrifice in the gift of His own Son who should be sent in due time, to prepare a way, or open a door through which man might enter into the Lord’s presence, whence he had been cast out for disobedience” (Teachings 58).) How do we square what Lehi says here with our usual understanding? What does it mean to say that the righteousness of the Redeemer redeems us rather than that he does? What does it mean to say to Jacob, still a young man, that he is redeemed rather than that he will be?
- 2 Ne 2:4: The ideas in this verse move from “you have seen Christ in his glory” to “your experience is the same as that of those who will know him when he comes to earth” to “the Spirit is the same at every time” to “the way for salvation has been prepared from the beginning and salvation is free.” It is not difficult to see the connection of the first three ideas, but how is the fourth idea connected to the three that precede it? Why is it important to know that the way is prepared “from the fall"? What does Lehi mean when he says “salvation is free"? How does that fit with what he says in v. 3?
- 2 Ne 2:5: What does Lehi mean when he says that men are instructed sufficiently to know good from evil? Where and when do we receive that instruction? When is the law given to us? Is it given to everyone? If so, what does Lehi mean by “law” here?
- 2 Ne 2:5: What does it mean to be justified? What does justification have to do with justice? Is it relevant that both words have the same root? Lehi says that we are cut off from that which is good by the law, both by the temporal and by the spiritual law. What does it mean to be cut off from the Father by the temporal law? by the spiritual law? What is Lehi referring to when he says “that which is good"? If he means “the presence of the Father,” why does he put it this way rather than that?
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- 2 Ne 2:3. See this post by Jacob J. at the New Cool Thang blog for parallels between vv. 3-6 and vv. 26-27.
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