In a previous post, it was established that Zedekiah began his reign two years previous to the death of his father, Josiah. That post dealt mainly with the evidence for this. This post is about what this means for Lehi and Nephi and the narrative of the Book of Mormon.
First, time frame. Josiah died around 610/609 BC. This would place the first year of Zedekiah as 612/611 BC. Lehi left Jerusalem 600 years before the birth of Christ. The exact year of Christ’s birth is disputed by scholars, both religious and secular, but, in my opinion, the most likely year is 4/5 BC. This would give a departure year of 604/605 BC. That is to say, Lehi likely had at least 6 years of preaching in Jerusalem before leaving forever. 6 years of which we have no story, for Nephi did not record any story (except in the barest of outlines), and Mormon’s abridgment was lost as part of the 116 pages.
How did people react to his preaching? Nobody listened. Not even his own family. The Jews in Jerusalem sought to take away his life (1 Nephi 1:20), and his two eldest sons, Laman and Lemuel, were little different (1 Nephi 2:12-13). Laman and Lemuel would never accept his teachings. Lehi’s two other sons, Nephi and Sam, did not believe at any point during these years in Jerusalem. It appears that Sariah did not believe until after her sons returned carrying the plates of brass (1 Nephi 5:1-2, 8).
I say that Nephi did not believe during that period based on the timing of his conversion account. In 1 Nephi 2:16, Nephi writes that he did “cry unto the Lord” and the Lord “did soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father.” The fact that his heart needed softening implies that it was hardened, and did not believe his father’s words prior to this point. Nephi waited until after telling us about Lehi’s departure into the wilderness before providing this brief account. It would appear that this experience occurred while they were living in the wilderness, on the run from those who would kill Lehi. He had been preaching for many years, enduring many things, from mockery to death threats, but nobody believed him. His family obeyed him when he took them into the wilderness, but this was out of a sense of duty and obedience to their father, not because they believed anything he said. Small wonder that Lehi would be “exceedingly glad” when he heard Nephi say “I will go and do…” (1 Nephi 3:7-8).
All of this raises another question: How old were Nephi and his brothers when Lehi received his first vision? We know that Nephi was the youngest of the four, and he tells us that he was not just young, but “exceedingly young” (1 Nephi 2:16). How young is that? And is it related to why Nephi did not obtain a testimony prior to their departure into the wilderness? Lehi had been teaching his family the things he had seen in vision for several years by that point, yet it was not until they left that Nephi cried unto the Lord and had his heart softened. Perhaps, because of the childishness of his youth, although he desired to know the things of God (1 Nephi 2:16), he did not worry too much about it. When Lehi told his family they needed to depart into the wilderness, claiming that this was what God had ordered him to do, Nephi began to worry about these things. He began to take these things seriously, and he began to seek the Lord. Having been taught these things for what may have been the majority of his life certainly helped.