I understand that this title is black-and-white. Most people are not one thing or the other (whatever thing it is), but bits of both. For Laman & Lemuel, they were also not wholly one thing, but were very close to it, from the evidence we have. I think they also developed through the years of the journey & after arriving in the Americas. There was probably a bit more chance near the beginning, for them to be otherwise; but at almost every opportunity, they rejected those, & what they were became more permanent.
Recently, I’ve seen – in the new Book of Mormon videos (I think the videos are really good, for the most part) – and heard – in Sunday School class – views which paint these two brothers as more ordinary, decent sort of people struggling with the hardships of their lives and journey. That you or I, too, might feel annoyed at a younger sibling telling us what to do, or be exhausted with the trials of the journey, or unsure what was going to happen to us, or protective of a spouse and children. In this view, Laman and Lemuel just had a different view, or were being honest, or didn’t know enough. But, basically, they were good people. Right?
Wrong. They weren’t. The problem with this view is that it’s too shallow. It takes a few surface details and turns them into the whole story, and applies them to you or me. When you look beyond those few details, it’s clear that Laman & Lemuel were hardhearted, selfish bullies who were wilfully blind. Harsh, but true! I have evidence, which I’ll share later. They didn’t understand God’s plan, and they didn’t want to. They thought that a righteous life meant keeping the rules of what the Mosaic Law had become in their time, but not the deeper meaning of it. Not the way it could lead them to Christ and wholeness, but how it could justify them so they could be free to do what they wanted, saying they were keeping the requirements. Consider the contrast with Nephi, who wanted to know more, to learn what more he could do to be right before God; who was willing to do His will, including when it led him towards things he’d never considered. Laman and Lemuel (maybe I should just call them ‘L&L’) didn’t see that a righteous life is about sanctification and dedication to God and His will. They didn’t see, and didn’t want to see, the deeper things.
They ostensibly followed their father, perhaps because the Law required it, but whenever it became about more than physically obeying, or beyond what they were willing to endure, they rebelled, and got angry at others. (I suspect this – their anger response – was a habit, not one that just arose during their wilderness journey). They thrashed Nephi and Sam on one of these occasions – to the point of perhaps killing them if they hadn’t been stopped; tied up Nephi twice, and wanted to kill him numerous times. They refused to help him build the ship until they were forcibly humbled by overpowering logic and physical force from God, complained at every available point, and plotted to murder Nephi (again!) once their father died. Then they taught their children that Nephi and those with him were evil, had robbed and deceived them, and taken away everything good in their lives (similar, perhaps, to groups who teach today that all their problems are because of ‘the West’, or capitalism, or Europeans coming). They taught them that they should hate the Nephites and take revenge whenever possible.
Laman and Lemuel were not just ordinary, decent people who were a little put out by their difficult experiences, or a bit jealous of their younger brother. They were people who never bothered to do the work necessary to overcome their ‘natural man’ – work that we all have to do over our whole lives. As a result, their rebellious, prideful, ugly natures became ever stronger. They were enemies to God, and because their father and Nephi were mouthpieces for Him, they were enemies to them as well.
You can also find the Book of Mormon videos on You Tube: https://www.youtube.com/user/mormonLatvian/playlists?view=50&sort=dd&shelf_id=15 – To be clear, my interpretation of how they portray Laman & Lemuel is personal, and might not be how it was intended – or it might have been meant as a balanced portrayal, and I got one side.
This is the end, but for those who’d like some more of the evidence, here are some footnotes:
- Lehi speaks firmly to L&L due to murmuring
- They say he left Jerusalem b/c he has foolish imaginations in his heart
- L&L complain about leaving their nice things (they seem to have cared most about this – perhaps their main goal – nice things and a pleasant life/’riotous living’)
- Nephi observes that they didn’t know the workings of God, their creator
- L&L don’t believe Jerusalem can be destroyed – like the Jews in the city who’d tried to kill Lehi for saying it could.
- They did as Lehi said, finally, b/c he spoke w/ Spirit & power, & their bodies shook from it.
1 Nephi 3/4
- L&L murmur about going back to the city for records
- They want to return when it doesn’t work
- The next time it doesn’t work, they’re angry with Nephi & Lehi, ‘speak many hard words’ to them, and beat them with a rod
- An angel appears & stops them, tells them to go into the city again, that the Lord has chosen Nephi, & they will get the plates
- L&L murmur immediately after the angel leaves, questioning the veracity of his words
- Nephi recites historical evidence for trusting God & wonders how they can doubt after seeing an angel
- L&L are angry, again, and continue to complain, but go
- On the way back to their camp from the 2nd excursion to Jerusalem for Ishmael’s family, Laman, Lemuel, 2 of Ishmael’s daughters and his 2 sons & their families rebel against Nephi, Sam, Ishmael & his wife, & their 3 other daughters – they want to return to Jerusalem, again.
- Nephi speaks to them, again, about why they’re there & reminds them of all the Lord has done for them; he encourages them to faith & diligence.
- L&L are angry – ‘exceedingly wroth’ – with him, grab him and tie him up, planning to leave him in the desert for wild beasts to devour.
- Nephi prays for strength, the bands are loosed, & he speaks again to them. They’re angry again, & try to tie him up again, but 1 of Ishmael’s daughters, 1 of his sons, and their mother, plead with them until they desist.
- L&L are remorseful & beg Nephi for forgiveness.
- Nephi ‘frankly’ forgives them & tells them to pray to the Lord about it, which they do.
- L&L are angry with Nephi when his bow breaks, even though theirs also lost their springs. Nephi takes it, though, and takes responsibility for fixing the situation.
- When Ishmael dies, they make big speeches about how Nephi claims to have seen angels and to have spoken with God, but they know that he’s lying to them (even though they’ve also seen an angel) so that he can somehow lead them away into some strange wilderness and be a king and ruler over them (I mean, this is the obvious conclusion you’d come to, isn’t it?), so they & Ishmael’s sons should kill him and Lehi. God’s voice is heard and speaks to them, chastening them exceedingly. They repent & everyone’s able to find food again, so they don’t die.
- When Nephi starts making a ship, they say he’s a fool, ridiculing him, and refusing to help him & not believing God has told him to do it and how. Selective memory? Hardheartedness.
- Nephi at this point has to talk firmly & powerfully to them again (so repetitive), reminding them of what the Lord has done in the past & who He is, and how He is absolutely powerful enough to tell him to build a ship and show him how. He’s done far greater things than that.
- The brothers want to kill him again – throw him into the ocean – but Nephi is so filled with heavenly power that if they touched him, they would die. This stops L&L from harming him – only because they’re afraid. Some days later, God tells Nephi to give them a ‘shock’ through His power, which humbles them further; they even want to worship him, but Nephi tells them to worship God. They finally start working with him and eventually the ship is finished & they acknowledge its fine workmanship.
(I’m sure you’re seeing, and have often seen in past readings, the pattern here: Nephi, Sam, and Lehi – among others – learn God’s will and act to do it; L&L – & their homies – complain, want to turn back to comfort, mock them, get angry, become violent, express a desire to kill them, take the first steps towards it, others plead with them not to/God stops them, Nephi or Lehi talk to them/tell them off/remind them of the way things really are (truth), they are either angry, or angry and then repentant, and everyone can continue. Then, the next bump comes along and it happens again. See why I don’t trust that they were just regularly decent people with a few bad bits, who sometimes did mean things but mostly meant well? The only reason they ever stopped was because they were forced or convinced to. They were given a gazillion opportunities to change for good; it was a constant pushing back of their wickedness, not just incursions of it into their goodness.)
You can also read 1 Nephi 18 – they were about to kill everyone on the ship – and specifically throw Nephi overboard during a terrible storm they’d brought on – b/c they wanted to do whatever they wanted and not be stopped by the voice of reason or truth. And of course, at the end of their family story (but not the generational one), they plotted again to kill Nephi so he wouldn’t ‘rule over them’. Obviously, they never read or saw Spiderman, and didn’t get the principle that with power comes responsibility. They didn’t ever want the second, but always wanted the first.