When one is outnumbered in the cause of truth it helps to remember how the Lord protects his servants against the armies of the world - as seen in the following story: Elisha had been giving military advice to the king of Israel to help the Israelites avoid the Syrian army. When the Syrian king heard that Elisha's divine interventions were giving away their military positions, he sent his entire army to take out Elisha.
'...behold an host (of Syrians) compassed the city both with horses and chariots. And his (Elisha's) servant said unto him, Alas, my master! how shall we do?
And he answered, Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them.
And Elisha prayed, and said, LORD, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the LORD opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.
And when they came down to him, Elisha prayed unto the LORD, and said, Smite this people, I pray thee, with blindness. And he smote them with blindness according to the word of Elisha.' (see 2 Kings 6:8-18)
With the help of the Lord, Elisha and his servant defeated an entire Syrian army. This was the same kind of faith that Nephi had. His message to his faithless brothers was, in effect, 'Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them.'
Heber J. Grant
"That is the kind of faith to have. Let us be faithful in keeping the commandments of God and then we know that we can win the battle, though we may be opposed by a man with his tens of thousands. The final result was that Nephi got the plates." (Conference Report, Oct. 1899, p. 129)
In trying to encourage his brothers to believe in the power of the Lord, Nephi reminds his brothers of the great exodus from Egypt. The exodus is referred to very frequently in the Jewish tradition. Why? Because the Lord had shown His incredible power in such a magnificent way - and he had done it to the greatest political power on the earth at that time. The Lord did this so 'That all the people of the earth might know the hand of the LORD, that it is mighty: that ye might fear the LORD your God for ever' (Joshua 4:24). The act becomes the great symbol of the power of the God of Israel. The Book of Mormon prophets refer to this great event in many more passages. In the Bible, it is referred to at least 12 times (Deu 11:4, Josh 2:10, 4:23, 24:6, Neh 9:9, Ps 106:7,9,22, Ps 136:13,15, Acts 7:36, and Heb 11:29).
"Nephi was not the only prophet in scripture to shed a man's blood. Moses killed an Egyptian when Moses saw the Egyptian beating a Hebrew slave; when he looked around and saw that no one was watching, Moses killed the Egyptian and buried him in the sand (Ex. 2:11-12). Fearing that he might get caught, Moses fled to the land of Midian...Nephi's reference to Moses as he and his brothers moved quietly toward Jerusalem that dark night turns out to be more prophetic and more significant than Nephi probably realized at the time. Nephi urged his brothers, 'Let us be strong like unto Moses. . . . Let us go up; the Lord is able to deliver us, even as our fathers, and to destroy Laban, even as the Egyptians' (1 Nephi 4:2-3). Although Nephi had the destruction of the Egyptian army in mind (he assumed he would encounter Laban's fifty), in the end it was not an army that Nephi destroyed, but a single man. Nephi became strong like unto Moses, following the archetype who set into motion the exodus of Israel from Egypt. Even so, the slaying of Laban inexorably sealed the destiny of Lehi's party as exiles from the land of Jerusalem until they likewise arrived at their new Promised Land. In retrospect, the parallel between the actions of Moses and Nephi was surely strengthened by the fact that both had been involved in the excusable killing of a man." (John W. Welch, "Legal Perspectives on the Slaying of Laban," FARMS Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, vol. 1, no. 1 (Fall 1992), 139)
Emma Hale Smith
When my husband was translating the Book of Mormon, I wrote a part of it, as he dictated each sentence, word for word; and when he came to proper names he could not pronounce, or long words, he spelled them out. And while I was writing them, if I made any mistake in spelling, he would stop me and correct my spelling, although it was impossible for him to see how I was writing them down at the time.
Even the word Sarah [Sariah] he could not pronounce, at first, but had to spell it, and I would pronounce it for him. When he stopped for any purpose, at any time, he would, when he commenced again, begin where he left off without any hesitation.
And one time, while he was translating, he stopped suddenly, pale as a sheet, and said, "Emma, did Jerusalem have walls around it?"
When I answered, "Yes," he replied, "Oh! I was afraid I had been deceived."
He had such a limited knowledge of history at that time that he did not even know that Jerusalem was surrounded by walls. (Hyrum and Helen Andrus, Personal Glimpses of the Prophet Joseph Smith, [American Fork, UT: Covenant Communications, 2009] pp. 28-29)
Nephi had no idea how he was going to get the plates. He just knew that the Lord would help him accomplish the thing which He had commanded. This is true faith - to put your total trust in the Lord.
Harold B. Lee
"More than ever before, I understand what the ancient prophet Nephi felt when he had been given the seemingly insurmountable task by his father, Lehi, to gain possession of the brass plates...I must go on many occasions, as did Nephi of old, being 'led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do.' Yes, though the night be dark, 'I do not ask to see the distant scene-one step [is] enough for me.'" (Conference Report, Apr. 1970, pp.125-126 as taken from Latter-day Commentary on the Book of Mormon compiled by K. Douglas Bassett, p. 16)
Harold B. Lee
"Walk to the edge of the light, and perhaps a few steps into the darkness, and you will find that the light will appear and move ahead of you." (Lucille C. Tate, Boyd K. Packer: A Watchman on the Tower, p.138)
The sword of Laban became a symbol of the Lord's power to preserve the righteous. It was built of fine materials and was later used by Nephi as a pattern by which he made more swords for his people (2 Ne 5:14). Laban's sword was preserved by the Nephites and passed down with the holy records to the days of Moroni. DC 17:1 reveals the promise that the three witnesses of the Book of Mormon would get the privilege of seeing the sword of Laban. That this promise was fulfilled was attested to by the testimony of David Whitmer (see commentary on the testimony of the three witnesses).
"In Jerusalem around 600 B.C., the powerful Laban was slain by the young Nephi with Laban's sword. Nephi then brought the sword with his father's family across the ocean to the Americas. The sword was revered in Nephite history and preserved until the nineteenth century, which hints at the importance of the blade.... Nephi 'did take the sword of Laban, and after the manner of it did make many swords' (2 Nephi 5:14). ... The sword is also only mentioned by the Nephites three times after that, which 'suggests that the weapon was not only well known, but also unique, wielded by kings, with no comparable weapon being used by others.' In this sense, the sword was strictly part of the regalia and was not used or handled by any individuals beside the king.
"Held by the Nephite kings and leaders, the people saw the sword of Laban as a religious symbol and a sign of the leader's kingship and power....The scant references to the sword of Laban in the Book of Mormon are all associated in some way with victory.
"The sword of Laban was preserved through the centuries along with the plates, the Urim and Thummim, and the Liahona, items which formed a collection of sacred relics. These sacred implements were passed down by the leaders throughout Book of Mormon history. Of these 'national treasures a real king was required to possess anciently,' the sword of Laban was 'a symbol of power and rule.' When King Benjamin transferred 'charge concerning all the affairs of the kingdom' to his son Mosiah about 130 B.C., he also bequeathed the sacred relics, including the sword of Laban (Mosiah 1:15-16)." (Brett L. Holbrook, "The Sword of Laban as a Symbol of Divine Authority and Kingship," FARMS Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, vol. 2, no. 1 (Spring 1993), 53-4.)
"It is worth noting...that many critics of the Book of Mormon have cited this passage as evidence against the Book of Mormon's historicity. 'Steel,' it is argued, 'was not known to man in those days.' Today, however, it is increasingly apparent that the practice of 'steeling' iron through deliberate carburization was well-known to the Near Eastern world from which the Lehi colony emerged. 'It seems evident that by the beginning of the tenth century b.c. blacksmiths were intentionally steeling iron.' A carburized iron knife dating to the twelfth century b.c. is known from Cyprus.fn In addition to this,
'A site on Mt. Adir in northern Israel has yielded an iron pick in association with 12th-century pottery. One would hesitate to remove a sample from the pick for analysis, but it has been possible to test the tip of it for hardness. The readings averaged 38 on the Rockwell "C" scale of hardness. This is a reading characteristic of modern hardened steel.'" (Matthew Roper, FARMS: Review of Books, vol. 9, no 1, 1997)
Nephi shows incredible spiritual maturity for his age. He is able to discern between the promptings of the Spirit and his own human emotions. Surely he would have been angry at Laban for the way he and his brothers had been treated at their last encounter, but his anger does not enter into the decision making process at any point.
Nephi is left to struggle with which of the Lord's commandments he should keep. He had been taught not to kill yet the Spirit was urging him to take Laban's life. He had to make a choice between two apparently conflicting commandments. Fortunately, this kind of spiritual conundrum is a rare occurrence. Adam was placed in a similar situation in the garden after Eve had partaken of the forbidden fruit. He could not "multiply and replenish the earth" and "not partake" at the same time. In these rare spiritual conflicts, one should follow the example of Nephi and Adam and choose the better of the two options, being 'led by the Spirit' (v. 6).
"A bitter test? A desire to shrink? Sound familiar? We don't know why those plates could not have been obtained some other way-perhaps accidently left at the plate polishers one night, or maybe falling off the back of Laban's chariot on a Sabbath afternoon drive. For that matter, why didn't Nephi just leave this story out of the book altogether?... It is not intended that either Nephi or we be spared the struggle of this account.
"I believe that story was placed in the very opening verses of a 531-page book and then told in painfully specific detail in order to focus every reader of that record on the absolutely fundamental gospel issue of obedience and submission to the communicated will of the Lord. 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. 'I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded'? Well, we shall see." (Jeffrey R. Holland and Patricia T. Holland, On Earth As It Is in Heaven, p. 139.)
This is a powerful argument and justifies taking the life of Laban. Also, there is no question that those who have a murderous heart as Laban did will eventually get their just reward. In this instance, the Lord wrought judgment on the neck of Laban earlier than He usually does-and He did it with the arm of Nephi.
Although this argument is powerful, one should be careful how it is used. Can it be transferred to different situations? Can the abused wife justify taking the life of her husband declaring, "It is better than one man should perish than that our family should dwindle and perish in unbelief"? Obviously not. This argument can be used for good or evil. For example, the exact same argument that the Spirit used to constrain Nephi to take Laban's life was used by Caiaphas to justify taking the life of Jesus Christ, Ye know nothing at all, Nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people and that the whole nation perish not (John 11:49-50). Thus, the key factor which justified Nephi was that he was expressly commanded of the Lord. Joseph Smith taught, "That which is wrong under any circumstance may be and often is, right under another...Whatever God requires is right, no matter what it is, although we may not see the reason thereof till long after the events transpire." (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 255-256 as taken from Latter-day Commentary on the Book of Mormon compiled by K. Douglas Bassett, p. 17)
The following story shows how cultural traditions greatly affect how we view an incident like Nephi's killing of Laban:
"Over the years Hugh Nibley has enjoyed telling a story about his Arab students in the early 1950s who were required to take the basic Book of Mormon class at Brigham Young University. Knowing that the Laban episode had been troublesome to the moral sensitivities of many twentieth-century readers, Nibley was puzzled when these students found the story somewhat implausible but precisely for the opposite reason he had expected. Instead of being troubled that Nephi had killed the unconscious Laban, the students found it odd that he had hesitated so long. While the reaction of these Arab students cannot be taken as evidence of the attitudes of the inhabitants of the city of Jerusalem around 600 B.C., it does reinforce the point that different cultures have unique values and idiosyncratic legal expectations. Accordingly, modern readers should be willing to consider not only the implications and moral bearings of ancient scriptural events upon contemporary society, but also to approach these developments in terms of the ancient dispositions and legal norms that would have operated as guiding principles in the lives of people years ago." (John W. Welch, "Legal Perspectives on the Slaying of Laban," FARMS Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, vol. 1, no. 1 (Fall 1992), 140)
"Some people have wondered why God needed to have Nephi kill Laban instead of telling him simply to put on Laban's clothes and go forth in disguise to get the plates. Leaving the drunken Laban alive, however, would probably have created serious problems...Even if Laban spent the night in the streets, the next morning he would have regained his senses and would have been furious. He would have led a search party to pursue and kill Nephi and his brothers and recover the plates of brass...With Zoram gone, people in Jerusalem could well have assumed that Zoram was the one who had killed Laban...If Laban had not been killed, however, he would have known Zoram and the circumstances well enough to have suspected what had happened and to have led an effective pursuit against Nephi and his brothers. These reasons explain why it was virtually essential to the completion of Nephi's task that Laban be killed, and with a little imagination several other reasons can probably be suggested." (John W. Welch, "Legal Perspectives on the Slaying of Laban," FARMS Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, vol. 1, no. 1 (Fall 1992), 132.)
"The portrait of Laban is absolutely marvelous...He was in charge of everything as the military governor, and the records were kept in his office. Who was Laban? He was military governor of Jerusalem, we are told. They were out by night, remember, in secret council with the elders (the sarîm) and he was in his ceremonial armor when he met with them. Laman and Lemuel said, 'He's in charge of fifty men in the city and ten thousand men in the field.' He was in charge of the city police. He was the governor of the city, and the records were kept at his house. They were family records, and he was related to Lehi. That was where they knew they could get their records because they were kept in the house of Laban, the military governor. Not a likely place to keep the genealogy of the people, but that's where it was. It was the same thing in Lachish. In a time of alarm, they were put there for safekeeping. That was the safest place to keep them. And sure enough, we learn from the Copper Scroll that when Jerusalem was threatened, they took all the documents they could and hid them in various places around the city. They were quick to get them to a safe place; that's what happened. That's probably why the brass plates and all the genealogy were being held under guard-kept under lock and key by Laban. Laban wouldn't let the brothers have them unless they paid him plenty, so they paid him plenty and he said, 'April fool.'" (Hugh Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, lecture 6)
Some critics of the Book of Mormon have contended that there should have been some record of the departure of Lehi's family in the Bible. Nephi makes it clear that their departure was in secret. Mormon reaffirmed this, 'he brought our fathers out of the land of Jerusalem, (and no one knew it save it were himself (Lehi) and those whom he brought out of that land)' (3 Ne 5:20). This was especially important after Nephi had killed Laban. If others had known about their departure, they would have been (correctly) blamed for Laban's death and been brought to judgment.
"...the oath is the one thing that is most sacred and inviolable among the desert people and their descendants: 'Hardly will an Arab break his oath, even if his life be in jeopardy,' for 'there is nothing stronger, and nothing more sacred than the oath among the nomads,' and even the city Arabs, if it be exacted under special conditions. 'The taking of an oath is a holy thing with the Bedouins, says one authority, 'Wo to him who swears falsely; his social standing will be damaged and his reputation ruined. No one will receive his testimony, and he must also pay a money fine.'
"But not every oath will do. To be most binding and solemn an oath should be by the life of something, even if it be but a blade of grass. The only oath more awful than that 'by my life' or (less commonly) 'by the life of my head,' is the wa hayat Allah 'by the life of God,' or 'as the Lord Liveth,' the exact Arabic equivalent of the ancient Hebrew hai Elohim. ...
"So we see that the only way that Nephi could possibly have pacified the struggling Zoram in an instant was to utter the one oath that no man would dream of breaking, the most solemn of all oaths to the Semite: 'As the Lord liveth, and as I live!'"(An Approach to the Book of Mormon, p.103-5)