Bullets, a Book, and a Beheading

I’m going to tell a story about airplanes, much like how Elder Deiter F. Uchtdorf tells such stories. My story is a little different than his, however. 

There I was, sitting on a commercial plane with a loaded, concealed firearm. I had been trained to shoot and kill anyone threatening a plane—any hijackers or anyone with a bomb. Using the element of surprise is key to winning lethal confrontations so I could not reveal anything about my mission. Besides, it was classified. 

I had just lied to the person sitting next to me about the purpose of my travel and my livelihood. I couldn’t say I was on a counterterrorist mission and that I had a pistol. I couldn’t tell her or anyone else that I had been trained to shoot fast and accurately. In the scenario- and reality-based training in a mock airplane, I shot terrorists in the face who even acted like they had a bomb. I won top gun shooting competitions among the Federal Air Marshals. I couldn’t say any of that. 

Then, right after I had lied to the lady sitting next to me so I could conceal my identity and protect other undercover law enforcement operators, Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles walks onto the plane. It was the longest four-hour flight of my life. I thought a lot about my career choices and about the phrase mentioned five times in the Book of Mormon—“the work of death.” 

Telling stories about guns or swords seems somewhat dark, especially if spoken from the church pulpit. But there are a lot of war stories in the Book of Mormon so why not talk about them from the pulpit? In fact, right off the bat, not even ten pages into the book the warrior-prophet-historian named Mormon complied, a gruesome story is told about a beheading. Mormon thought it was important enough to write about, and Nephi, the prophet who actually cut Laban’s head off with Laban’s own sword, felt it was worth detailing too. But why?

President Jeffrey R. Holland, then the president of BYU, spoke to students about this gruesome scene years ago. He prefaced talking about the slaying of Laban by pointing out that Nephi did so “in order to preserve a record, save a people, and ultimately [taking the records from Laban eventually] lead to the restoration of the gospel in the dispensation of the fulness of times,” but that Nephi did not know that at the time “How much is hanging in the balance as Nephi stands over the drunken and adversarial Laban I cannot say,” says President Holland, “but it is a very great deal indeed.” (Jeffrey R. Holland, “The Will of the Father,” BYU Speeches, Jan. 17, 1989.)

Nephi knew the commandment “Thou shalt not kill,” much like how I knew it and thought about it on the long plane flight with then-Elder Dallin H. Oaks. But Nephi says he “was constrained by the Spirit that [he] should kill Laban” (1 Nephi 4:10).

President Holland explained,

We don’t know why those plates could not have been obtained some other way—perhaps accidentally left at the plate polishers one night or maybe falling out the back of Laban’s chariot on a Sabbath afternoon.

For that matter, why didn’t Nephi just leave this story out of the book altogether? Why didn’t he say something like, “And after much effort and anguish of spirit, I did obtain the plates of Laban and did depart into the wilderness unto the tent of my father?” At the very least he might have buried the account somewhere in the Isaiah chapters, thus guaranteeing that it would have gone undiscovered up to this very day.

But there it is, squarely in the beginning of the book—page 8—where even the most casual reader will see it and must deal with it. It is not intended that either Nephi or we be spared the struggle of this account. (“The Will of the Father,” BYU Speeches, Jan. 17, 1989.)

What he says next is most powerful. President Holland continued, 

If Nephi cannot yield to this terribly painful command, if he cannot bring himself to obey, then it is entirely probable that he can never succeed or survive in the tasks that lie just ahead.

“I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded” (1 Nephi 3:7). I confess that I wince a little when I hear that promise quoted so casually among us. Jesus knew what that kind of commitment would entail, and so now does Nephi. And so will a host of others before it is over. That vow took Christ to the cross on Calvary, and it remains at the heart of every Christian covenant. (“The Will of the Father,” BYU Speeches, Jan. 17, 1989.)

Where are we in our own conversion? Do we understand the voice of the Spirit strong enough to act as Nephi did, even if it’s going against our own will and interests? Will we shrink when tested—when the burdens and trials of life and living the gospel pour upon us, not as blessings, but as burdens? Like Elder Neal A. Maxwell once rhetorically opined, “as we confront our own lesser trials and tribulations, we too can plead with the Father, just as Jesus did, that we ‘might not … shrink.’” (“Apply the Atoning Blood of Christ,” Oct. 1997.)

Will we forget the covenants and the trials that others have painstakingly gone through to receive the sacred books of scripture? For instance, what a burden it was for Lehi’s sons to go back to Jerusalem to get the plates! The older sons murmured and complained, and then Nephi was confronted with killing a man! And he did so. All so we could have records—the scriptures! Think of it, a man was killed so Lehi and his sons could have scriptures and so we could have the Book of Mormon today! Without the brass plates taken from Laban, the Book of Mormon wouldn’t be what it is, and may I be bold enough to say, we wouldn’t have the Book of Mormon and the gospel wouldn’t be restored unless Lehi and Nephi obtained those sacred, wonderful, cherished words found in the brass plates.

And what should we do? Read the sacred words of scripture, especially those words found in what Joseph Smith called “the most correct of any book on earth,” even the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ.

We must stop “treat[ing] lightly the things [we] have received” in order to get out from “under this condemnation.” We must “repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon and the former commandments which [the Lord] has given…not only to say, but to do according to that which [He has] written” (Doctrine and Covenants 84:54-57).

We will be able to soar—to fly high—with the words of life found in the Book of Mormon. That sacred book of scripture led to the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We can soar to great heights, even to the highest and holiest realms of the celestial kingdom because of the “keystone of our religion,” even the Book of Mormon. We will not crash if we if we “feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do” (2 Nephi 32:3) We should not eat morsels; we should feast upon the words of Christ, especially those words found in the Book of Mormon. 

If we want to rise in elevation (altitude) and in attitude, we need to embrace the words of the prophets, ancient and modern. We must take truth for our guide. As we read daily from the Book of Mormon, we discern truth. We will be blessed, and we will begin to see miracles in our lives and in our relationships as we daily sup from the inspired pages of the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ.

Jeffrey Denning

Jeffrey has written award-winning articles for the Washington Times, Guns.com, and other publications. He is the author of seven books, including Warrior SOS: Military Veterans’ Stories of Faith, Emotional Survival and Living with PTSD. He teaches courses on peer support, suicide prevention, and other mental wellness and resilience to public safety professionals. If you would like Jeff to speak at your event or training please contact him HERE.

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