Lehi and Nephi were both diligent record keepers. They had a great testimony of the worth of the record. I believe they continually wrote down the events of their daily lives, especially regarding the time period after they were commanded to leave Jerusalem. Nephi himself records, that the records that he and his father kept contained not only their genealogical records but an extensive account of their “proceedings in the wilderness”. I like to think that the records they were keeping were more of a daily journaling experience. It was this type of record that Mormon used when he proceeded to create his volume of scripture called The Book of Mormon, which he abridged from all the records he had received. These were the large plates, given to Joseph Smith by Moroni. We no longer have an account of these records I make mention of, due to the lost manuscript fiasco of Martin Harris.
The record we do have today for the first part of the Book of Mormon is not one that was kept on a daily basis, it is an account of remembering. The Lord commanded Lehi to take his family and leave Jerusalem around 600 BC. It wasn’t until somewhere between 588 and 570 BC that the Lord gave Nephi the commandment to create another record besides the daily one he had been keeping. This command was given after they had finally reached their destination in the Promised Land. (1 Nephi Chapter 19) Nephi was to take a look back over his life, or his spiritual progression, and record the more “plain and precious” parts that had occurred. This process allowed him to better instruct his posterity of the path which must be followed to gain the same standing with the Lord that he had. Nephi had proved himself worthy to have the sealing power (which we will discuss in more depth in future posts), therefore, his record becomes a firsthand account of the process necessary for us to gain “power in the priesthood”, just like he did. This is a record of great worth.
Just for the heck of it, let me round off the number of years that must have passed from the time they left Jerusalem to the time Nephi was commanded to create another record, to about 35 years. Do you suppose he had a different perspective on things when he was, let’s say, 20 years old and living in the moment, as opposed to when he was 55 years old looking back on his journey?
Nephi explains to us that there is a difference.
1 Nephi 19:4 Wherefore, I, Nephi, did make a record upon the other plates, (large ones that got abridged by Mormon) which gives an account, or which gives a greater account of the wars and contentions and destructions of my people. And this have I done, and commanded my people what they should do after I was gone; and that these plates should be handed down from one generation to another, or from one prophet to another, until further commandments of the Lord. (He certainly knew that these records were necessary for the salvation of the entire world, therefore he impressed this upon his posterity as well.)
5 And an account of my making these plates shall be given hereafter; (It is here he introduces the second set of records he is required to make) and then, behold, I proceed according to that which I have spoken; and this I do that the more sacred things may be kept for the knowledge of my people.
6 Nevertheless, I do not write anything upon plates save it be that I think it be sacred. And now, if I do err, even did they err of old; not that I would excuse myself because of other men, but because of the weakness which is in me, according to the flesh, I would excuse myself.
Nephi explains that even though everything he writes about on all plates is sacred to him, the “walk down memory lane” plates, or smaller record, will contain the “more sacred things.”
Nephi tries to explain this to us right in the beginning of his smaller record.
1 Nephi 1:16 And now I, Nephi, do not make a full account of the things which my father hath written, for he hath written many things which he saw in visions and in dreams; and he also hath written many things which he prophesied and spake unto his children, of which I shall not make a full account.
17 But I shall make an account of my proceedings in my days. Behold, I make an abridgment of the record of my father, upon plates which I have made with mine own hands; wherefore, after I have abridged the record of my father then will I make an account of mine own life.
Nephi abridged the record of his father first, which is why we do not have a lot of details concerning Lehi. Then he proceeded to give the abridged account of his own life up to the point he was commanded to make this second set of records. It is important that it is his life that we experience, written by his own hand, because this allows him to testify with the assurance, “I know that the record which I make is true; and I make it with mine own hand; and I make it according to my knowledge.” It is a firsthand account! Imagine the worth of such a record of instruction.
Do all people understand the value of this account?
Nephi explains further:
1 Nephi 19:7 For the things which some men esteem to be of great worth, both to the body and soul, others set at naught and trample under their feet. Yea, even the very God of Israel do men trample under their feet; I say, trample under their feet but I would speak in other words—they set him at naught, and hearken not to the voice of his counsels.
I love how Nephi compares his record to Jesus Christ. It is interesting to me that we learn of the time of the coming of Christ almost as a side note. Nephi simply mentions it as he is trying to make a point about how some will not value the record he will keep. How apropos that Nephi would refer to this record, which is literally the backup plan, in comparison with the Atonement of Jesus Christ. I believe he is trying to make the point that the information that is contained in this record is as important as the Atonement itself; because it is necessary to understand the process he will teach in the record to apply the Atonement in its fullness. I guess it is evident that taking the Book of Mormon too lightly will damn us in our progression, or in other words, we will literally be under condemnation.
As Nephi abridges his own record, he, like Mormon, makes parenthetical notes. Chapter 6 of 1 Nephi is an example of a parenthetical note he places in the account. Another point in which Nephi inserts a parenthetical note is in Chapter 9.
It is in Chapter 9 that we learn that even Nephi does not fully know why the Lord has commanded him to make this second set of plates.
1 Nephi 9:5 Wherefore, the Lord hath commanded me to make these plates for a wise purpose in him, which purpose I know not.
6 But the Lord knoweth all things from the beginning; wherefore, he prepareth a way to accomplish all his works among the children of men; for behold, he hath all power unto the fulfilling of all his words. And thus it is. Amen.
Nephi simply testifies that the Lord has prepared a way to accomplish all His works. How comforting to know that for each of us the Lord, in His wisdom, has prepared a way. This way includes not only the Atonement, but the necessary instruction on how to fully apply it in our lives, which we now have in the Book of Mormon because of these small plates of Nephi.
And thus it is.