I do not know how many times that I have read 1st Nephi chapter 1 in the Book of Mormon, let alone how many times I have read the first verse in that chapter. Yet, even now, I find what I see is an amazing insight in that first verse as I re-read it.
My purpose for reading the Book of Mormon this time through is to find aspects of deliverance in how the Lord deals with leading his people to liberty and freedom. Under this purpose, I noticed something new in the first verse of 1 Nephi.
I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father… yea, having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God, therefore I make a record of my proceedings (1 Ne 1:1; emphasis added).
The keyword here in this oft read scripture is “somewhat”. Why was Nephi only taught “somewhat” in the learning of his father? Nephi’s purposeful distinction is interesting; especially when he follows up that he had a “great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God”. Nephi even drives this point home two verses later.
And 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 (1 Ne 1:3; emphasis added).
Nephi’s knowledge was only “somewhat” based on “all the learning of [his] father,” yet he stands firm and steadfast in declaring that the record he makes “is true” and “according to [his] knowledge”. Nephi’s knowledge is not formed entirely on his father’s knowledge, but Nephi has sought out the Lord on his own through his own desire to know of the goodness and mysteries of God. It is this foundation of knowledge and learning that leads Nephi to receive a promise from the Lord to obtain a choice land where his posterity can live in peace and freedom. It is wise, however, to take note that Nephi does give us a taste of what he was “somewhat” taught from his father.
Knowledge as a Necessary Step of Repentance
The Greek word of which this is the translation denotes a change of mind, i.e., a fresh view about God, about oneself, and about the world. Since we are born into conditions of mortality, repentance comes to mean a turning of the heart and will to God, and a renunciation of sin to which we are naturally inclined.
Against the popular view of repentance as a “sackcloth and ashes” type of activity, to see not only our Heavenly Father in a new light, but to see ourselves and our relationship to him in a new light, is the very heart of repentance. Lehi went through such a process himself as the Lord showed him the destruction of Jerusalem if the people did not themselves repent. Exclaimed Lehi,
Great and marvelous are thy works, O Lord God Almighty! Thy throne is high in the heavens, and thy power, and goodness, and mercy are over all of the earth; and, because thou art merciful, thou wilt not suffer those who come unto thee that they shall perish! (1 Ne 1:14)
Lehi’s example to his young son most certainly inspired his son to obtain a witness of his own. Nephi sees his people’s reaction to Lehi’s preaching repentance, as the people in Jerusalem mocked his father’s prophecy. Yet, in this moment of social ridicule, Nephi’s own understanding and knowledge guides his path. As Nephi explains to us,
Therefore, I would that ye should know, that after the Lord had shown so many marvelous things to my father, Lehi, yea, concerning the destruction of Jerusalem, behold he went forth among the people, and began to prophesy and to declare unto them concerning the things which he had both seen and heard.
And it came to pass that the Jews did mock him because of the things which he testified of them; for he truly testified of their wickedness and their abominations; and he testified that the things which he saw and heard, and also the things which he read in the book, manifested plainly of the coming of a Messiah, and also the redemption of the world (1 Ne 1:18-19).
Nephi’s knowledge of truth concerning what his father spoke of came by way of his own receiving of a divine witness; otherwise, Nephi could not truly know, as he says, (1) of his people’s wickedness and (2) the truthfulness of his own record thereof. It is necessary that Nephi must have gone through his own repentance process to have a testimony of what his father spoke of concerning “the redemption of the world”. Indeed, deliverance is a form of redemption, so Nephi must be acquainted with both – for he writes with the specific purpose to
Show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance (1 Ne 1:20).
Nephi knows the source of knowledge, truth, redemption, and deliverance. The only way that he could truly know of his father’s repentance process is to have gone through it himself. Through such a process of discovering himself anew through seeing God anew, he then knows the mysteries and goodness of God – and in this knowledge he is obedient to the command of God to keep a record of his testimony, that we may know in whose name we may all seek and receive deliverance from the chains of this world. Even in the name of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. There is no way to obtain true and lasting deliverance without exercising faith and receiving a witness of knowledge made truth by the Holy Ghost.