As a literary document the Book of Mormon, at least in the first twenty or so chapters, there are pretty clearly defined antagonists to Nephi’s protagonist. To say that Nephi’s two oldest brothers, Laman and Lemuel, make life difficult for the rest of the family would be to understate the facts. Let’s take a look at some of the things these brothers did that probably did not endear them to the rest of the family.
The first inkling of Laman and Lemuel’s contrary behavior we see is in chapter 2 of First Nephi. “They did murmur many things against their father, because he was a visionary man, and had led them out of the land of Jerusalem, to leave the land of their inheritance, and their gold, and their silver, and their precious things, to perish in the wilderness.” At this point in the story they are complainers. They complain about their life in general. They felt they had been asked to give up too much for a reason they just didn’t understand. “And this they said he had done because of the foolish imaginations of his heart.”
But these boys didn’t stop with complaining. In chapter 3, while attempting to obtain the plates of brass from Laban, a military leader in Jerusalem, Laman and Lemuel are frustrated enough with their little brother. And they beat him. With a stick. Beating him to such a degree an angel was sent to stop it. In my mind the angel prevented the death of Nephi.
In chapter 7, while the brothers were returning from their second trip back to Jerusalem to bring back Ishmael and his household, Laman and Lemuel again were overcome with anger against their little brother. Whether or not they were influenced at all by Ishmael’s sons is a point of conjecture, but they tied up Nephi and left him in the desert for the wild beasts to eat. Nephi was again delivered from death by divine intervention. His brothers apologized and everything was great again.
That wasn’t the last time Nephi’s brothers tried to kill him though. It happened in the land of Bountiful on the seashore and on a number of other occasions. The last being in the promised land, when the threat was so great Nephi took his family and the people who would follow him and left his brothers, never to return.
When we read about Laman and Lemuel it’s not hard to see them as wicked men who did nothing but complain. Who tried to kill their own brother and father, because of words and beliefs they would not accept. It’s easy to view these older brothers as wicked, evil and just plain bad. And we wouldn’t be wrong in thinking that.
However, I think we overlook a very important truth when we label these young men this way. For all their murmuring, complaining and plotting Laman and Lemuel still did what was asked. When asked to return to Jerusalem for the plates of brass; lots of complaining, but they still went. When asked to return again for Ishmael’s family and daughter to marry; lots of… okay, no complaining. When asked to leave their home and possessions and go live in the desert for 8 years; lots of complaining, but they did it. Build a boat? Complain some more, but they did it anyway.
Do We Complain Too Much?
I can’t help but think of my own life and all the complaining I’ve done. I’ve had situations that have been difficult. Whether it has been financial problems, relationship problems or any other, how much did I complain. I would complain to anyone who would listen about how hard it was, how I didn’t deserve this problem… basically wallow in a little self-pity. It was tough to get through all of those trials.
At times I’m asked to do things I really don’t want to do. Things that seem really difficult. Or even something that doesn’t seem to have a logical reason behind it. It doesn’t make sense. For instance, moving our family to Oregon has not been easy. We still don’t know why we were supposed to move, but I and my wife still believe that we were told to do so.
Doing the task we’ve been asked to do, without explanation or reason, is one way we grow and learn. Laman and Lemuel, unfortunately, never seemed to learn the lessons that were being taught. They seemed to hold onto a grudge that followed them until the day they died, even tearing their family apart. This grudge was passed on to their children, grandchildren and so on, leading to the pain and suffering of countless people through wars and a learned hate.
While it is good to do good out of a sense of duty, or even fear, like Laman and Lemuel, it is much better to do good out of a sense of love.