Bad Guys of the Book of Mormon (Paperback)
by Dennis Gaunt
“I loved this book! I never thought that I'd like a gospel book, but this one was fun and actually written for young people. I read it in one sitting! I loved the humor ('Hello, Moroni. My name is Ammoron. You killed by brother. Prepare to die!') as well as the questions to ponder.” — Amy, age 15
“These bad guys have earned their place on the wall of the Zarahemla police station. I highly recommend it.” — John Bytheway, author of Righteous Warriors: Lessons from the War Chapters in the Book of Mormon
Your enemy is smart. You can be smarter.
Warning! This book contains information about a deadly enemy's top secret plans of world domination and total destruction. Your mission — should you choose to accept it — is to learn what the enemy is planning as well as what his weaknesses are so that you will be prepared to defeat him.
Gathered here are case studies of some of the enemy's top soldiers in his army — Laman and Lemuel, Korihor, King Noah, Amalickiah — as well as the strategies that allowed the Lord's righteous warriors — Nephi, Alma the Younger, Abinadi, Captain Moroni — to defeat them.
President Ezra Taft Benson said, “The Book of Mormon exposes the enemies of Christ . . . . It fortifies the humble followers of Christ against the evil designs, strategies, and doctrines of the devil in our day.” By learning about the bad guys, by studying their traits, tricks, and tactics, we will be able to see clearly the plans and plots Satan used in Book of Mormon times. And because they are the same plans he is using today, we will have “insider information” on how to defeat him.
- Chapter 1: Whiners in the Wilderness
Laman and Lemuel
- Chapter 2: It May Be Spacious, but It Ain't That Great
Lessons from the Other Side of the River
- Chapter 3: "I Am So Smart!S-M-R-T!"
- Chapter 4: "Have a Great Summer!"
The "Yearbook" of Omni
- Chapter 5: Kings for a Day, Losers for Life
King Noah, Amulon, and the Wicked Priests
- Chapter 6: Popular Like Me
Nehor and Amlici
- Chapter 7: A Frenzied and Deranged Mind
- Chapter 8: "Is It in You?"
- Chapter 9: Throwdown with Captain Moroni
Zerahemnah, Amalickiah, and Ammoron
- Chapter 10: Stealth Fighters
Secret Combinations among the Nephites and the Jaredites
- Chapter 11: From Bad to Good
Alma and the Sons of Mosiah, Amulek, Zeezrom, and Corianton Notes
Reviewed by Beth Roach for the Association for Mormon Letters
I was intrigued and interested by the title of Dennis Gaunt's book, "Bad Guys of the Book of Mormon," but frankly, I was surprised at how much trouble I had starting the book. The tone is friendly, knowledgeable, and with vocabulary that is modern and funny that teenagers and older readers can relate to, with insightful and enlightening commentary and frequent quotes from current General Authorities. My hurdle with starting the book was this: every time I wanted to read the book, I found that my teenagers had carried it off to their rooms. The author has been a seminary teacher and has an obvious love of the scriptures and for the youth. His great sense of humor comes out in the descriptions and commentary which quickly hooks the reader into looking at the scenes and people of the Book of Mormon in a fresh new way.
If you were on a championship sports team and you were given the play book from the team that was your biggest rival and greatest threat to help you prepare for competition, would you read it so you could know how they will be coming at you or would you toss it aside? The author explains the Book of Mormon to be just like that. In it, we find the shortcut version that explains how Satan uses the same methods and arguments now to deceive and confuse and pacify that he used centuries ago. The author quotes extensively from General Authorities and auxiliary leaders, including the last six prophets, most of the apostles who have served in the last 30 years, Elaine Dalton, Julie B. Beck, and many others, as the star coaches on our side to teach us how to counteract the tricks that Satan is trying on us. Their quotes target specific ways to deal with various situations we encounter. Each chapter ends with "Lessons Not Learned," which summarize the main points of the chapter in just a few catchy sentences and "Lessons to Learn," offering several questions to reflect on and some suggested activities like reading certain hymns or writing responses to questions in a journal.
Gaunt walks us through each scene, giving an analysis of each bad guy and his motivations and flaws. Starting with probably the best known ones, Laman and Lemuel, we go through the whole trip in the wilderness with the whiners making excuses and take another look at the people in the great and spacious building from the Tree of Life vision. He examines people that I had never considered to be in the bad guy group, like Omni, whom he describes as a reluctant follower, doing things because he is commanded to and grudgingly at that.
Gaunt acknowledges that we don't know much about the authors of the shortest book in the Book of Mormon and maybe they aren't in the same category as Laman and Lemuel, but sees the _ã–there is not much room on the plates, so I didn't write much_ã� as a built-in excuse for procrastination. He compares it to the plates we have been handed, referring to our time everyday, which is definitely limited. What do we choose to fill our plates with? Do we make excuses about what we spend our time on by saying, _ã–Well, there isn't enough room in my day to'read'pray'help others'go to church'or (fill in the blank)? I had to stop and take a look at what I am filling the limited space on my _ã–plates_ã� with; is it really all that important or am I justifying my choices?
The girls and women don't get a pass here either. The author looks at them as well, especially the wicked Jaredite princess who encourages the secret combinations which led to her family falling apart and the destruction of her entire society. Some of the most insightful chapters for me involved the bad guys fighting Captain Moroni, especially the sneaky and despicable Amalickiah who posed as Lehonti's ally while he was carefully plotting his destruction and then took over the Lamanite kingdom through deceit.I would highly recommend this book to any teenager or young adult and anyone who counsels, teaches, advises or parents them or some mature preteens with a basic familiarity with Book of Mormon people and strong reading. You can read it to laugh, you can read it to learn, but you will probably end up doing both.
- Size: 6" x 9"
- Pages: 256
- Published: 07/2011
About the Author
DENNIS GAUNT has been an avid student of the scriptures for as long as he can remember. He studied history and English at the University of Utah. He taught seminary and institute in CES for a number of years, and currently serves as the Gospel Doctrine teacher in his ward. He and his wife, Natalie, live in Sandy, Utah.
Whiners in the Wilderness
Laman and Lemuel
<When we think of the most famous bad guys in the Book of Mormon, what two names immediately come to mind? Laman and Lemuel, of course. They have become almost synonymous with words like “whining,” “murmuring,” and “complaining.” It’s almost a knee-jerk reaction: Someone says the word “murmur,” and someone else immediately says, “Laman and Lemuel!” We often don’t even distinguish between them anymore. One automatically follows the other. It’s like their names have been pushed together in our vocabulary, creating a whole new word to describe whiners and complainers: Lamananlemuel.
Laman and Lemuel are sort of the “gold standard” of Book of Mormon bad guys. Walk into any LDS meetinghouse on any given Sunday, or into any seminary or institute class during the week, and odds are pretty good that you’ll hear a talk or lesson where Laman and Lemuel are being used as examples of how not to act—even if the subject being discussed isn’t the Book of Mormon.
Whenever the Old Testament story of Joseph’s older brothers hating him for his spirituality and visions comes up, there’s the parallel of Laman and Lemuel hating Nephi. When the lesson is about Moses, and the class is discussing how often the Israelites complain about this or that while in the wilderness, someone always brings up the comparisons to Laman and Lemuel. When studying the life of the Prophet Joseph Smith, and how his older brother Hyrum was always faithful and supported him, there’s usually the question, “What if Laman and Lemuel had been more like Hyrum Smith?” In the New Testament, when we hear the Pharisees grumbling and conspiring against Jesus, we don’t have to strain too hard to hear Laman and Lemuel’s voices among the chorus.
Keeping It Real
When we read 1 Nephi, I think there’s a tendency to cast the different characters in our minds as though we were watching a movie. Every ward and branch library has copies of the same Book of Mormon pictures, which, to a certain extent, have become the standard of how we imagine Nephi and the rest of his family. As a result, we feel like we “know” Nephi. He’s big and strong, with an iron jaw and perfectly combed hair. He wears an old, animal skin humbly draped over one shoulder and has arms like Arnold Schwarzenegger. And let’s not forget how good he is, either. Nephi is so good, it’s almost a little sickening at times. (It’s not hard for me to imagine the effect Nephi’s constant righteousness had on Laman and Lemuel. If I were them, I might want to beat up Nephi sometimes, too.)
But what about Laman and Lemuel? Do we “know” them as well as we “know” Nephi? Well, we sure think we do. They’re older than Nephi, with dark beards and nice clothing, and they look grouchy all the time. Oh, and they’re bad guys, too.
We all have ingrained in our minds the simple couplet, “Nephi good. Laman and Lemuel bad.” And sometimes, that’s as far as we take it. Elder Neal A. Maxwell said that Laman and Lemuel are “mistakenly regarded by some as merely ‘stick figures.’”1 As we read those first chapters of the Book of Mormon, we can always count on Nephi to do the right thing, and Laman and Lemuel to whine about it. It’s like we’ve reduced the people in the Book of Mormon to cartoon caricatures.
I admit that I, too, tend to label Nephi and his brothers with easy categories of good and bad. But the truth is that they were real people, and real people are more complex than one-dimensional stereotypes. Nephi very likely had his bad days like the rest of us; he just didn’t write much about them. On the other hand, I imagine Laman and Lemuel had their occasional good days as well. (Though their relative good days were somewhat few and far between, and sandwiched between at least four attempts to kill Nephi!)
Nevertheless, it’s vitally important to view Laman and Lemuel as real people with real thoughts and feelings, but who ultimately made very bad choices. To see them as nothing more than evil “stick figures” isn’t really any more fair to them or helpful to us than it is to view Nephi as a rock-chested Superman with perfect teeth. The Lamans and Lemuels that we have to deal with in our life aren’t Snidely Whiplash cartoon villains with black capes and long mustaches. More often than not, they’re people we know as well as Nephi knew his own brothers. Perhaps even more importantly, we all need to guard against our own tendencies to give in to our inner Lamananlemuels.
There are lots of references to Laman and Lemuel’s numerous problems in the Book of Mormon, but I think there are three main, “big picture” problems that cover a host of other smaller problems. They are
• Failing to understand the dealings of God.
• Being “past feeling.”
• Having a victim mentality.
All three problems are related to each other and show the spiritual decline that comes from a lack of faith and an unwillingness to repent. Let’s examine each problem, as well as some of their consequences.
Problem #1: EPIC FAILure to Understand
We first meet Laman and Lemuel not long after they’ve left Jerusalem with Lehi and the rest of the family. They’ve traveled to a river valley out in the wilderness near the Red Sea, where Lehi has just named the river after Laman, the valley after Lemuel, and has promised great spiritual things for his two oldest sons (see 1 Nephi 2:8–10). Nephi then tells us the reason Lehi did this was “because of the stiffneckedness of Laman and Lemuel; for behold they did murmur in many things against their father. . . . And they did murmur because they knew not the dealings of that God who had created them” (1 Nephi 2:11–12). It appears that Lehi named the valley and river after his oldest sons to help strengthen their already weakening spiritual condition.
Laman and Lemuel are best known for being world-class murmurers, yes, but it’s important to understand that their murmuring has its roots in their lack of faith in God and in their failure to understand Him. It’s not that they don’t understand fundamental things about God because they murmur; they murmur because they don’t understand fundamental things about God. Their murmuring is a symptom of a much deeper spiritual illness.
Everything that happens from here on out between Laman and Lemuel and Nephi is really just an extension of Laman and Lemuel’s failure to understand this basic principle. Elder Neal A. Maxwell spoke of this when he said,
Thus Laman and Lemuel did not understand the relationship of mortals with God, and, worse still, they did not really want to understand. They sought to keep their distance from God. . . .
Laman and Lemuel also displayed little lasting spiritual curiosity. Once, true, they asked straightforward questions about the meaning of a vision of the tree, the river, and the rod of iron. Yet their questions were really more like trying to connect doctrinal dots rather than connecting themselves with God and His purposes for them. They certainly did not “liken” the answers to themselves (see 1 Ne. 19:23).2
This lack of understanding and its consequences is seen in detail when the Lord sends Nephi and his brothers back to Jerusalem to get the brass plates from Laban in 1 Nephi 3–4. (I like to visualize the scripture stories as much as possible; it helps me understand where Laman and Lemuel are coming from.)
We know that Lehi was a very wealthy man (most scholars assume he was a merchant-trader of some kind), and when he took his family out of Jerusalem, he left all their gold, silver, and other precious things behind (see 1 Nephi 2:4). Imagine what that dinnertime conversation must have been like! Lehi announces that the Lord wants them to leave Jerusalem before it’s destroyed, and they can only take a few tents and provisions with them. Everything else has to stay behind. I can practically hear the forks hitting the dinner plates and see the blank stares of disbelief from the family members as they try to process what Dad has just said.
I think Laman and Lemuel probably took the news the hardest because, in their minds at least, they had the most to lose by leaving Jerusalem. I doubt Lehi and Sariah had spoiled their kids, but Laman and Lemuel had likely grown up the longest with wealth. They were probably used to a life of privilege and probably had a sense of entitlement. They may have even had a hand in running the family business while Lehi was preoccupied with prophesying against the wicked people of Jerusalem. And Laman, being the oldest son, stood to inherit most of his father’s wealth and land. It’s pretty hard to lay claim to a vast fortune when you’re stuck out in the wilderness! From Laman and Lemuel’s perspective, leaving everything behind was the worst possible thing they could imagine, because they couldn’t imagine that God would ever ask them to do it.
Most scholars estimate that it took about two weeks of hard travel through the wilderness to arrive at the oasis near the Red Sea that would be renamed the valley of Lemuel. We’ve likely all been on long family vacations, stuck in the same car with each other for hours on end, but I guarantee none of us has ever been on a trip like this. Imagine two straight weeks of riding camels and walking in the blistering sun through hundreds of miles of scorching hot sand. No air conditioning, no backseat DVDs, no iPods, no ice-filled coolers with drinks, no snacks, and no rest stops at restaurants or gas stations. They couldn’t even play the license plate game! Nothing but slogging through the wilderness, day after day, hearing constant streams of “Are we there yet?” and “I’ve got sand in my sandal!” coming from Laman and Lemuel’s general direction.
Now imagine: After only a short time to rest in the valley of Lemuel, they’re asked to go back to Jerusalem with Nephi and Sam to get the brass plates from Laban. Two more weeks back through the desert they had just crossed, two more weeks being stuck with Nephi and Sam. How excited do you think Laman and Lemuel were at that point? I can practically hear their grumbling now: “Go back? Are you kidding me? We just got here! If Dad was really a prophet, we would have just picked up the stupid brass plates on our way out of town the first time!”
With all the griping going on in the background, meanwhile, Nephi simply tells his father, “I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded,” and then testifies of his faith in the Lord’s ability to help them do hard things (1 Nephi 3:7). Quite a contrast, to say the least.
Nevertheless, Laman and Lemuel make the trip back to Jerusalem with their brothers, probably whining all the way. We know what happens next in 1 Nephi 3: Laman fails to convince Laban to give up the plates, and when the brothers try to bribe Laban with their gold and silver from their old house, Laban steals their goods, tries to have them killed, and they have to flee for their lives. They hide in a cave, and Laman and Lemuel proceed to take out their anger by beating their brothers with a stick.
Why were they so angry? Again, let’s look at things from their perspective. They’d failed twice to get the plates, and were probably blaming Nephi and Lehi for having sent them on this journey. Imagine, too, how it must have felt for them to return to their old house—where they’d been living only a month or so earlier—and pack up all their precious things, only to have them stolen by Laban a short time later! Now that really must have hurt. But that’s not even the worst of it. What’s the first thing they noticed when they got back to Jerusalem, after all that hard traveling through the wilderness?
Jerusalem was still there. It hadn’t been destroyed at all! Laman and Lemuel probably saw all their old friends and neighbors going about their regular business as if nothing was wrong. I can imagine some of them calling out, “Hey, Laman! Lemuel! Where have you guys been? Come on, we’re going to a barbecue over at Ishmael’s place. I heard his daughters will be there!”
We often have this mental image of Lehi’s family fleeing Jerusalem as if in a scene from an action movie: a slow-motion, dramatic shot of people running away, literally seconds before Jerusalem explodes in a ball of fire. But the reality is that Jerusalem wouldn’t be destroyed until several years later, long after Lehi’s family had crossed the ocean to the promised land (see 2 Nephi 1:4).
I have to imagine that seeing the city still standing as if nothing was wrong had to be infuriating for Laman and Lemuel. No wonder they were so angry with Nephi and Sam! No wonder it took an angel’s intervention to get Laman and Lemuel to stop beating their brothers (see 1 Nephi 3:29). No wonder, that, after a second trip back to a still-not-destroyed-Jerusalem to get Ishmael’s family, Laman and Lemuel were angry enough to try to kill Nephi yet again (see 1 Nephi 7:16).
Lehi’s family spent eight years in the deep wilderness of the Arabian Peninsula, some of the harshest environment on earth. Even Nephi admits that it was rough: “We had suffered many afflictions and much difficulty, yea, even so much that we cannot write them all” (1 Nephi 17:6). Perhaps the most amazing thing, as someone once said, is not that Laman and Lemuel complained, but that Nephi didn’t.
During that most difficult time, children were born, including Jacob and Joseph. Bearing a child is hard enough for a woman in the best of circumstances; I can’t even begin to imagine what it must have been like out there in the desert. And all while living on raw meat, as well (see 1 Nephi 17:1–2)! Yet, because of the blessings of the Lord, the women of the company—who had much more reason to complain than Laman and Lemuel ever did—“began to bear their journeyings without murmurings” (1 Nephi 17:2). And while no definitive word exists, I’m willing to bet Mrs. Laman and Mrs. Lemuel’s husbands never quite caught this particular lesson, which might have been the most important one of the whole journey: “And if it so be that the children of men keep the commandments of God he doth nourish them, and strengthen them, and provide means whereby they can accomplish the thing which he has commanded them” (1 Nephi 17:3).
We all have hardships to pass through in this life. When Elder Richard G. Scott’s wife passed away, I’m sure it was a very difficult time for him. But observe the spiritual perspective he was able to maintain: “I have never complained because I know it was His will. I have never asked why but rather what is it that He wants me to learn from this experience. I believe that is a good way to face the unpleasant things in our lives, not complaining but thanking the Lord for the trust He places in us when He gives us the opportunity to overcome difficulties.”3
An abiding faith in God could have given Laman and Lemuel spiritual strength and perspective when they needed it most. Instead, Laman and Lemuel’s failure to understand God’s dealings and exhibit faith in Him resulted in their continued spiritual decline, and they likely subjected the rest of the family to eight years of murmuring and whining from the back of the caravan.
I love Elder Jeffrey R. Holland’s thoughts about Laman and Lemuel: “I have often thought that Nephi’s being bound with cords and beaten by rods must have been more tolerable to him than listening to Laman and Lemuel’s constant murmuring. Surely he must have said at least once, ‘Hit me one more time. I can still hear you.’ Yes, life has its problems, and yes, there are negative things to face, but please accept one of Elder Holland’s maxims for living—no misfortune is so bad that whining about it won’t make it worse.”4
Eight years of whining in the wilderness hadn’t done much to improve Laman and Lemuel’s spirituality. However, their overall attitude probably improved considerably once they saw the land they named Bountiful. And why not? Bountiful was on the seashore and was filled with “much fruit and also wild honey” (1 Nephi 17:5). Besides, who doesn’t love going to the beach? Laman and Lemuel must have “exceedingly rejoiced” (1 Nephi 17:6) along with everyone else when they saw how amazing the place was. They’d survived the harsh desert and had come to a lush, fertile, and beautiful area. Maybe trading in dusty old Jerusalem for some prime beachfront property wasn’t such a bad deal after all. Things were finally looking up for ol’ Laman and Lemuel. This had to be the “promised land” that Lehi kept talking about. Yep, life was going to be pretty good here.
And then, wouldn’t you know it, Nephi announces that he’s building a ship.
Problem #2: Past Feeling
“A ship? Are you crazy, Nephi? Why on earth would you want to build a ship and sail away from this place? It’s gorgeous here, and we’re finally out of the stupid desert! Why can’t we just stay here on the beach? Besides, I’m pretty sure we’re far enough away from Jerusalem that if it is ever ‘destroyed,’ like you and Dad keep yammering about, we’re not going to be affected. Anyway, you’re a fool if you think you can build a ship, Nephi. I mean, what do you know about shipbuilding or sailing, or anything? Oh, and if you think we’re helping you build this ship of yours, you’re nuts” (see 1 Nephi 17:17–18).
Elder Neal A. Maxwell said that Laman and Lemuel “could scarcely remember their last rescue long enough to meet their next difficulty.”5 Apparently, the only thing Laman and Lemuel could remember about the last eight years was how rough it had been. They couldn’t see the blessings the Lord had given them or all the ways He had helped them across the wilderness (see 1 Nephi 17:2–3). As soon as it looked like the journey wasn’t over yet and that they might actually have to help contribute some more, Laman and Lemuel immediately fell back into their old habits, and the murmuring resumed.
Elder Maxwell also described murmurers as having “short memories,” and then mused, “Strange, isn’t it . . . how those with the shortest memories have the longest lists of demands!”6
Laman and Lemuel certainly had a laundry list of grievances they had suffered during their years in the wilderness. “Behold, these many years we have suffered in the wilderness, which time we might have enjoyed our possessions and the land of our inheritance,” they moaned. I can practically hear the “woe is me” tone of their voices as they reached the climax of their complaints, “And we might have been happy” (1 Nephi 17:21 emphasis added).
You know what? They were probably right. They probably would have been “happier”—at least, according to their limited definition of happiness—if they’d stayed at home. Nephi would certainly have had fewer headaches if Laman and Lemuel had stayed behind, anyway! (Of course, I have to wonder what Laman and Lemuel would have said once the destruction of Jerusalem began.)
Nephi accused Laman and Lemuel of being “swift to do iniquity but slow to remember the Lord your God.” He then described their condition as being “past feeling, that ye could not feel his words” (1 Nephi 17:45). They were spiritually desensitized; their spiritual pilot light had gone out—a natural consequence of never having understood the dealings of God in the first place.
When Lehi had his vision of the tree of life, he was saddened because Laman and Lemuel “would not come . . . and partake of the fruit” (1 Nephi 8:18). In Lehi’s vision, Laman and Lemuel were not interested in the spiritual fruit, and they weren’t interested in the gospel fruit in real life, either. They had never understood the scriptures because they had never taken the time to read them and inquire of the Lord as Nephi had done (see 1 Nephi 15:8–9). If only Laman and Lemuel had been as hungry for spiritual food as they were hungry for actual food when Nephi’s bow broke (see 1 Nephi 16:18–19)! While Nephi was turning to the Lord to find food for the family, Laman and Lemuel were busy reading the take-out menus from the great and spacious restaurant.
I wonder if we sometimes act the same way as Laman and Lemuel did when our families or friends try to share the gospel fruit with us. For instance, parents who try to have weekly family home evening or regular scripture study sometimes have kids who roll their eyes and grumble about how “lame” it is. I imagine that Laman and Lemuel did plenty of eye rolling when Lehi told them why he named the valley and river after them.
Despite having grown up in such a righteous family, Laman and Lemuel were largely unfamiliar and uncomfortable with spiritual things. Their sense of laziness and entitlement didn’t apply only to their refusal to help build Nephi’s ship, which would physically take them across dangerous seas to the promised land, but they also had no interest in building their personal spiritual ships—their testimonies—which they would need to get across the dangerous seas of everyday life and ultimately back to the promised land in the presence of God. By being “past feeling,” Laman and Lemuel didn’t notice—or possibly care—that they were drifting aimlessly in leaky spiritual dinghies.
President Boyd K. Packer taught that “the Holy Ghost communicates with the spirit through the mind more than through the physical senses. This guidance comes as thoughts, as feelings, through impressions and promptings. It is not always easy to describe inspiration. The scriptures teach us that we may ‘feel’ the words of spiritual communication more than hear them, and see with spiritual rather than mortal eyes.”7
Spiritual things are delicate in nature, and depending on what we choose to participate in, they can be heightened and polished or dulled and destroyed. Laman and Lemuel, by the way they lived their lives and the choices they made, had systematically shut off the channels of communication from the Holy Ghost. In our own technology-laden lives, it has become even easier to block those channels of spiritual communication. A click of the mouse, a press of a button, and we can suddenly find ourselves unable to find our “spiritual signal.” “This is a noisy and busy world that we live in,” said Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin. “Remember that being busy is not necessarily being spiritual. If we are not careful, the things of this world can crowd out the things of the Spirit.”8
Elder David A. Bednar taught about how we grow spiritually, saying that the process “typically does not occur quickly or all at once; it is an ongoing process—not a single event. Line upon line and precept upon precept, gradually and almost imperceptibly, our motives, our thoughts, our words, and our deeds become aligned with the will of God. This phase of the transformation process requires time, persistence, and patience.”9
Becoming “past feeling” doesn’t happen all at once, either. Just like the process for spiritual growth, the process for becoming “past feeling” is gradual and almost imperceptible. This isn’t a coincidence. Satan likes to copy everything Heavenly Father does, but twists them to his purposes. So if Heavenly Father uses tiny steps to help us grow spiritually, Satan will use tiny steps to help us become “past feeling.” Satan doesn’t want us to feel the Spirit, but he also doesn’t want us to notice as we slip farther and farther away from God, either.
Laman and Lemuel didn’t start out completely bad any more than Nephi or Jacob started out completely good. It takes time to become bad, just like it takes time to become good. Laman and Lemuel even had their good moments along the way, too. In fact, there are at least seven times where the scriptures record how Laman and Lemuel were humbled, repented, or were convinced of the power of God—however temporarily.10
And consider this: Since the Liahona worked “according to the faith and diligence and heed which we did give unto [it]” (1 Nephi 16:28), and since Lehi’s family made it through the wilderness safely, perhaps Laman and Lemuel were at least trying to be good at some point along the way. On the other hand, the journey did take eight years, and perhaps that was due to more than a few whine-induced “rest stops.”
When Alma later taught his son Helaman about the Liahona, he pointed out, “They [Lehi’s family] were slothful, and forgot to exercise their faith and diligence and then those marvelous works ceased, and they did not progress in their journey; therefore, they tarried in the wilderness, or did not travel a direct course, and were afflicted with hunger and thirst, because of their transgressions” (Alma 37:41–42).
Had Laman and Lemuel (and perhaps even some of the other family members) been more consistently faithful instead of whining and murmuring, it sounds like the journey through the wilderness would not have taken so long. There is another lesson here for us as well—that even though the Lord may ask us to do difficult things that feel like “going out into the wilderness” at times, He doesn’t want to leave us there any longer than necessary. How long we spend in the wilderness is sometimes up to us. How much time do you and I spend arrogantly and foolishly wandering in our own wildernesses, when an attitude of humility and an increase of faith in God could perhaps shorten the journey?
Laman and Lemuel’s problems stemmed from a lack of faith and understanding in God, until they had become “past feeling.” Elder Dallin H. Oaks explained that spiritual growth “requires far more than acquiring knowledge. It is not even enough for us to be convinced of the gospel; we must act and think so that we are converted by it. In contrast to the institutions of the world, which teach us to know something, the gospel of Jesus Christ challenges us to become something. . . . It is not enough for anyone just to go through the motions.”11
This idea helps us understand how Laman and Lemuel could see miraculous things—including an angel—and hear the voice of the Lord, and then still turn around and want to kill Nephi. They never let the gospel seed take root in them. They went through those brief spiritual moments, but never allowed the lessons of those moments to go through them. By being “past feeling,” they were never fully converted to the gospel, and thus never “became” anything good.
We see the same type of people all around us. People who go to church on Sunday and raise their hand automatically to sustain the bishop, but who then grumble and complain when he asks them to do something. Friends who come to seminary or institute and talk about living the Lord’s standards, but who then casually go see inappropriate movies and say, “It’s no big deal.” Missionaries who serve in the field mainly to impress their girlfriend, or because they were promised a car, or for some other reason, but who then don’t follow the mission rules and work hard. As Elder Oaks said: “It is not enough for anyone to just go through the motions.”
Problem #3: The “Victim” Mentality
This third “big picture” problem of Laman and Lemuel’s isn’t as readily apparent as the other two. After all, there isn’t a scripture in the 1 Nephi account where Laman and Lemuel directly say, “We’re the real victims here, and it’s all Nephi’s fault.” There are hints of this victim mentality, however. Laman and Lemuel certainly think Nephi has been lying to them all this time (see 1 Nephi 16:37–38), and they believe that Lehi and Nephi were being too judgmental about the people of Jerusalem, who really weren’t all that bad (see 1 Nephi 17:22).
Following the death of Lehi, Laman and Lemuel remark that they believe “our younger brother thinks to rule over us; and we have had much trial because of him; wherefore, now let us slay him, that we may not be afflicted more because of his words” (2 Nephi 5:3; emphasis added). Clearly Laman and Lemuel’s victim mentality contributed to the split between the Nephites and the Lamanites.
It’s not until much later in the Book of Mormon that we see the full legacy of Laman and Lemuel’s actions and attitudes. In Mosiah 10, Zeniff lays out the reasons why the Lamanites hated the Nephites so much:
They were a wild, and ferocious, and a blood-thirsty people, believing in the tradition of their fathers, which is this—Believing that they were driven out of the land of Jerusalem because of the iniquities of their fathers, and that they were wronged in the wilderness by their brethren, and they were also wronged while crossing the sea;
And again, that they were wronged while in the land of their first inheritance, after they had crossed the sea. (Mosiah 10:12–13; emphasis added)
Three times Zeniff points out that Laman and Lemuel felt like they were the victims and that Nephi was the real bad guy!
Years later still, the traditions that Laman and Lemuel believed continued to live on in the hearts of their descendants. When Ammon and King Lamoni met with Lamoni’s father, one of the first things he asked Lamoni was, “Whither art thou going with this Nephite, who is one of the children of a liar?” (Alma 20:10). Shortly thereafter he says, “Lamoni, thou art going to deliver these Nephites, who are sons of a liar. Behold, he robbed our fathers; and now his children are also come amongst us that they may, by their cunning and their lyings, deceive us, that they again may rob us of our property” (Alma 20:13). Generations later, the idea of the Nephites being “children of a liar” was almost part of Lamanite DNA. They couldn’t see their own brethren as real people anymore, but had reduced them to stereotypes and cartoon caricatures. In their way of thinking, it was simply, “Laman and Lemuel good. Nephi bad.”
Having a victim mentality is another way that Satan can trap us. If we believe that every bad thing that happens to us is someone else’s fault, we never have to take responsibility for our own actions. Of course there are some bad things that happen to us as a direct result of someone else’s actions, but even in those cases, we still have the choice as to how we will react. Laman and Lemuel’s victim mentality is all around us, too. We think that someone has wronged us in some way, so we seek revenge. We feel that someone has offended us at church, so we decide never to go back—that’ll show ’em!
Elder David A. Bednar said these powerful words about having a victim mentality: “It ultimately is impossible for another person to offend you or to offend me. Indeed, believing that another person offended us is fundamentally false. To be offended is a choice we make; it is not a condition inflicted or imposed upon us by someone or something else. . . . To believe that someone or something can make us feel offended, angry, hurt, or bitter diminishes our moral agency and transforms us into objects to be acted upon.”12
Even when Laman and Lemuel were finally rid of Nephi (and his followers), they weren’t happy. Zeniff points out that “they were wroth with him because he departed into the wilderness as the Lord had commanded him, and took the records which were engraven on the plates of brass, for they said that he had robbed them” (Mosiah 10:16; emphasis added). I find it interesting that Laman and Lemuel didn’t seem to care about the brass plates for all the years they had access to them, but only when they didn’t have them anymore.
I’m not sure how valuable the actual plates of brass were to either the Nephites or Lamanites in terms of money, but I imagine they could have been worth quite a bit in practical terms. Laman and Lemuel might have wanted the plates to melt them down so they could make tools or weapons—things that they saw as being much more useful than a boring old book of scripture that Nephi had used the plates for.
Contrast that perspective with what Moroni said as he was finishing the record on the gold plates (which were worth considerably more in dollar value than brass): “The plates thereof are of no worth, because of the commandment of the Lord. For he truly saith that no one shall have them to get gain; but the record thereof is of great worth” (Mormon 8:14; emphasis added). Some fourteen hundred years later, Moroni would warn Joseph Smith that, because Joseph’s family was so poor, “Satan would try and tempt [Joseph] . . . to get the plates for the purpose of getting rich.” Joseph then said, “This he forbade me, saying that I must have no other object in view in getting the plates but to glorify God, and must not be influenced by any other motive than that of building his kingdom; otherwise I could not get them” (Joseph Smith—History 1:46).
It was what was contained on the plates of brass that was so valuable to Nephi. Having access to the scriptures helped the Nephites spiritually for generations. When Mosiah discovered the people of Zarahemla, also known as the Mulekites, he learned that Mulek and his people had been directed by the Lord to leave Jerusalem about the same time as Lehi’s family, but they had not brought any written scriptures with them. As a result, “their language had become corrupted . . . and they denied the being of their Creator” (Omni 1:17).
Many people in the world today who are unfamiliar with scriptures have some pretty corrupt language indeed. The For the Strength of Youth pamphlet says, “How you speak says much about who you are. Clean and intelligent language is evidence of a bright and wholesome mind.”13 The opposite is also true: corrupt language is evidence of a dark and unwholesome mind. People with corrupt language are often the same people who don’t believe in God at all, or at least have some really strange ideas about Him. We are so blessed to have access to the words of God in the scriptures on a daily basis. Studying the scriptures daily will not only help keep our language “uncorrupted,” but also help every other aspect of our lives stay uncorrupted as well. The scriptures teach us correct principles, and when we understand those principles, we can understand “the dealings of God.”
One last thing to consider about how Laman and Lemuel felt “robbed” is hinted at by Nephi. He listed all the people who chose to be called Nephites, which included “Zoram and his family, and Sam, mine elder brother and his family, and Jacob and Joseph, my younger brethren, and also my sisters,” and then Nephi added, “and all those who would go with me” (2 Nephi 5:6). If everyone else specifically named on that list were the families of Zoram, Sam, Jacob, and Joseph, it’s possible that some of the others “who would go with” Nephi might have included some of Laman and Lemuel’s own children—giving the Lamanites just one more reason to hate the Nephites so viciously.
Like many of the Book of Mormon bad guys, Laman and Lemuel are actually rather tragic figures. They had the potential to be great men and useful tools in the hands of the Lord. They were “born of goodly parents” (1 Nephi 1:1) just like Nephi and Jacob. They had access—in their own immediate family, no less—to some of the greatest prophets and the most powerful teachings the world has ever known. They saw an angel, heard the voice of the Lord, and witnessed firsthand on numerous occasions the power and miracles of the Lord. But still they rebelled.
Laman and Lemuel’s downward slide toward spiritual oblivion didn’t happen by chance. They made the choice to not come to know God through the scriptures and personal prayer. They chose to stay far enough away from spiritual things that they became past feeling and spiritually dead inside. They chose to believe that they were victims and that everything bad that happened to them was someone else’s fault. Their choices—none of which, I’m sure, they believed were any big deal at the time—led to violence, evil, and depravity that affected generation after generation of people.
Nephi and Jacob went through the exact same wilderness experience and endured all the same hardships and trials that Laman and Lemuel did. But where Nephi and Jacob’s faithfulness and good attitude during those experiences helped them become better, Laman and Lemuel’s lack of faith and bad attitude caused them to simply become bitter.
Elder M. Russell Ballard sums things up beautifully: “With all my heart I hope and pray that you will be wise enough to learn the lessons of the past. You don’t have to spend time as a Laman or a Lemuel in order to know that it’s much better to be a Nephi or a Jacob.”14
Lessons NOT Learned
Laman says: “Why should I bother to read and pray about the scriptures? It won’t help me at all.”
Lemuel says: “Yeah, you tell ’em, Laman!”
Laman says: “Feelings from this so-called ‘Holy Ghost’ are no big deal. I’ve even seen an angel, and it didn’t affect me.”
Lemuel says: “Right on, Laman! You da man!”
Laman says: “Nephi is such a liar and a jerk. He’s wanted to be a ruler over all of us from day one. It’s all his fault, that whiny loser.”
Lemuel says: “Laman, I’m tired and hungry. This is too hard. I want to go home and rest now.”
Laman says: “Shut up, Lemuel.”
Lessons TO Learn
• Life is hard, and it sometimes feels like a wilderness. How can understanding “the dealings of God” help you in your own personal wilderness experience?
• What things in your life might be leading you to become “past feeling” without you even realizing it? How can you feel the influence of the Holy Ghost more often?
• Why is it dangerous to blame someone else for your problems? How can you learn to forgive and not be offended?
Humorous and Inspiring - Loved it!
by Danyelle - reviewed on July 19, 2011
Dennis Gaunt has a fun writing personality. I love how he dived into the lives of the Bad Guys. He shares neat insights - things I never even considered - and makes it all so interesting. This is definitely not a dry gospel book. Be prepared to laugh one minute, then sit back the next and ponder how a certain statement effects your life. How you can be a hero and defeat the evil forces tempting you. This book is written for teens and young adults - who I am positive will LOVE it. But no way can they have all the fun and knowledge! Adults - college students, moms, dads, grandmas, grandpas - y'all need to read this one! It's absolutely unique and one to definitely add to your gospel library.
Recommended for Youth & Adults!
by Heather - reviewed on June 22, 2011
I had a conversation once with another Book of Mormon novelist about characterizing the infamously “wicked” King Noah. The other author thought he was wicked through and through, with no redeeming value. Perhaps that was the case toward the end of his life, although we cannot truly know the deep motivations or potential of another. I considered the “why’s” and “how’s” of King Noah and his evil court. What had led him through the series of events that culminated in sentencing a true prophet of the Lord to a fiery death? (See Mosiah 17.) Did King Noah have a lousy childhood while his father, King Zeniff, was busy running a nation and his mother attended to her vast queenly duties? Perhaps Noah was mistreated by a nanny who raised him; or perhaps he was the brunt of schoolyard jokes . . . Was he uncoordinated? Did he have a hard time making real friends? Was he a lousy hunter? Whatever drove Noah to spiral down the path of greed, selfishness, and eventual destruction, one thing is clear: we can learn from his choices. They were certainly subtle in the beginning. Maybe he stopped saying his prayers, he chose the wrong friends, or he let his pride swell exponentially as he prepped to become the heir to the throne. This same sentiment is echoed by author Dennis Gaunt in his non-fiction book, Bad Guys of the Book of Mormon. Reading about the villains of the scripture can teach us how to avoid the same pitfalls. Gaunt makes an excellent case for learning the enemies’ strategy in the ever-escalating spiritual war—a war in which two sides are battling for our souls. If we want to win, we must think like a military leader. A successful military leader studies every move his enemy is making. Gaunt suggests that we plan our own counter-attack by educating ourselves on the “bad guys in the Book of Mormon. Let’s learn to be smarter than they are. Let’s learn their tactics. See what tricks they used. Peek at their maps and plans. Pinpoint their lies. Point out the holes in their arguments. Let’s see how faithful people just like you and me resisted and defeated them in the past. Let’s be ready to face the bad guys of today” (8). I couldn’t agree more. I echo Gaunt’s petition that we must stay proactive, we must stay diligent, and we must stay educated and aware of the adversary’s power, so that, we can “rejoice and exult in the hope” of Christ (Alma 28:12). I highly recommend this book to adults and youth alike. Gaunt is witty, humorous and insightful, sharing personal experiences in a highly readable and entertaining way.
Informative AND entertaining
by Seanette - reviewed on January 13, 2012
This was definitely worth the reading time (will be re-reading repeatedly, I'm sure) and purchase price. Very informative book showing us where those guys we consider bad guys went off-course and how to learn from their mistakes without having to make those mistakes in turn. Also very entertaining read, with a very nice balance between humor and serious teaching. Looking forward to this author's next book, whatever it may be. ;)
Held more than one epiphany
by Jacinda - reviewed on April 02, 2012
As an avid reader and book lover, this book is just great. But as a parent of children, the book is more than great – it’s fantastic! For my oldest daughter  it seemed she had one epiphany after another while reading – never mind the family home evenings and morning devotionals she has been a part of for as many years lol. As a parent it was wonderful to have the book ‘stolen’ from me and enjoyed so much by her. It reinforced principles already taught and gave a clear understanding to its reader. She re-read these stories from scripture to capture the new perspective and is always eager to share this new found knowledge. The ways in which humor and gospel truth have been woven together show a master’s touch that can reach to young and old alike. It’s a fresh perspective never truly approached before and doesn’t fail to make its impact on gospel understanding. This book is destined to be re-read and re-read as each younger sibling begins to question as our oldest did – I just have to first get it to the book shelf, instead of finding it under her pillow, again. Love it!