Thoughts on Laman and Lemuel: The "Bad Guys" in the Book of Mormon

Recently I've heard and read lots of debate about whether Laman and Lemuel were the "bad guys" in the Book of Mormon.



Most opinions seem to fall into two camps.

The Laman-and-Lemuel-Were-Kind-of-Righteous Camp 

Look at what Laman and Lemuel did.

  • They went back to Jerusalem to get the plates.  
  • They went back to Jerusalem to get Ishmael's family.  
  • They helped build the boat.  
  • They sailed to the Promised Land with the rest of the family. 
  • They saw an angel. 
  • They witnessed miracles. 
  • They asked Nephi to forgive them, over and over.  

They aren't the bad guys in the Book of Mormon; they are misunderstood.

The Laman-and-Lemuel-Were-Totally-Wicked Camp 

Look at what Laman and Lemuel did.

  • They tried to go back on the their promise to their father and return empty-handed. 
  • They beat up Sam and Nephi in a cave with sticks. 
  • They tied up Nephi on their way back from Jerusalem. 
  • They tied Nephi up on the ship.  (Who kept letting them have access to rope?) 
  • They plotted to murder Nephi and Lehi.  

And so it goes back and forth.
"They weren't all bad."
"They had murderous hearts!"

It reminds me of that scripture in Helaman 4:1

...there were many dissensions in the church, and there was also a contention among the people... 

I thought I'd write this article to weigh in with my opinion.  And here it is:

We are asking the wrong question.  

This is the question I think we should be asking.

Who was on the covenant path?  

In First and Second Nephi we see many references to covenants and temple rituals. Here are a few:
  1.  In Chapter 2, Lehi builds an altar of stones and makes an offering to the Lord (1 Nephi 2:7). He most likely was able to do this once he was away from Jerusalem and Solomon's Temple, otherwise he would have done it there. 
  2. Lehi dwelt in a tent (1 Nephi 2:15). Many scholars suggest this was symbolic of a temple or a place of worship.  
  3. Nephi shows a desire to "know the mysteries of God" which is knowledge given partly through ordinances and partly through revelation (TPJS, p. 324).   
  4. In Chapter 6 Nephi declares that his intent for writing this record is to persuade people to enter into the same covenant as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (1 Nephi 6:4). 
  5.  In Chapter 7 we see that they offered sacrifice and burnt offerings like what was done in Solomon's temple.  (1 Nephi 7:22). 
  6. Lehi expresses concern that Laman and Lemuel should be cast off from the presence of the Lord (1 Nephi 8:36). To enter into the presence of the Lord is a term used to indicate that one has made the necessary covenants.  
  7. When Nephi and Sam's families leave the Land of Inheritance and go to the Land of Nephi, they build a temple modeled after Solomon's Temple.  (2 Nephi 5:16) 
It think it's pretty clear once you have an understanding of what covenants looked like in the Old Testament that Lehi and Nephi made and kept covenants with the Lord.  
Nephi and his wife working on the temple. 

Under this lens, let's look again at what Laman and Lemuel did.  
  • They knew not the dealings of that God who had created them (1 Nephi 2:12).  We gain  a knowledge about God and the creation when we make covenants.
  • Laman shows a desire to break a promise he made to his father by returning to the wilderness empty handed after unsuccessfully getting the plates from Laban (1 Nephi 3:14).  This is showing disregard for promises, which is what we do when we make a covenant.  
  • Laman expresses doubt as to the power of the Lord (1 Nephi 3:31). 
  • They do not hearken to the word of the Lord (1 Nephi 7:9).  This means more than just to listen.  This means to follow God's commandments, or in others words to do what it is we covenant to do.  
  • They admit to not inquiring of the Lord, a necessary step in order to understand the words of a prophet (1 Nephi 15:3, 9).  
  • They look to Nephi for answers instead of the Lord (1 Nephi 15:26-36). Temple covenants endow us with power to receive personal revelation. 
  • They are "past feeling" and "slow to remember the Lord" (1 Nephi 17:45). 

It is clear, as Lehi saw in his vision, that Laman and Lemuel do not have any desire to walk on the covenant path.  

Their actions are not the concern as much as their hearts are. Dallin H. Oaks reminds us, "It is not enough for anyone just to go through the motions."  (See source below.)  We shouldn't be focused on what they were doing as much as what they were becoming.  

But more importantly, the question should be 

Am I on the covenant path?  

Do I recognize the voice of the Lord?  Do I desire to enter into His presence?  What am I becoming?  

Hopefully these kinds of questions do not spark any contention or disputations among us.  We should all be working together to help each other along the covenant path.  

Lehi's Dream by Jerry Thompson

Not an official publication of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 

All photos are screenshots from the Book of Mormon videos on YouTube unless otherwise sourced.  

For more thoughts on becoming, read Dallin H. Oaks General Conference talk from October 2000.  "The Challenge to Become" by clicking here.  


Kristina Murri said…
Interesting! Thanks for sharing. I had not thought about the difference in this way before.