Source:Rediscovering the Book of Mormon:Ch:6:2:Nephi's psalm and historical context

Nephi's psalm and historical context

Nephi's psalm and historical context

...let me share one example of how understanding context can enrich our appreciation of content. The example is drawn from Nephi's psalm (see 2 Nephi 4:15-35), in which he sorrows over his weaknesses and afflictions, rejoices in his blessings from God, and pleads for divine help and mercy. Although Nephi's lament never mentions Lehi, it occurs just after Nephi records the death of his father. Is this merely coincidence? I think not. Consider what the death of Lehi meant to Nephi. Father Lehi had held the family together, with great difficulty. He and Nephi had shared the same vision, literally (of the Tree of Life) and figuratively (of commitment to God). When Lehi died, Nephi lost a friend as well as a father and prophet; he lost his confidant, advisor, and shield against the hatred of his brothers. Thus Nephi had ample reason to reflect on his distress, as he does in his psalm.

Before Lehi's death, Nephi had foreseen in revelation the tragic division between Lamanites and Nephites (see 1 Nephi 12:22-23). When Lehi died, Nephi must have known that the long-dreaded crisis was now both inevitable and near. With no father to turn to but his Heavenly Father, Nephi cries for strength: so lonely is his new burden of leadership, so dangerous his enemies, and so strong the temptation to be angry "because of [his] enemies" (2 Nephi 4:29)—meaning, I suppose, his brothers. I like to read his psalm, then, by remembering its human context, recorded in a verse that immediately precedes it: "And it came to pass that he [Lehi] died, and was buried" (2 Nephi 4:12).[1]


  1. John S. Tanner, "Jacob and His Descendents as Authors," in Rediscovering the Book of Mormon, edited by John L. Sorenson and Melvin J. Thorne (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Co.; Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1991), Chapter 6.