And it came to pass that they would that I should be their king. But I, Nephi, was desirous that they should have no king; nevertheless, I did for them according to that which was in my power. (2 Nephi 5:18)

This is kind of a strange verse in that we see that Nephi doesn’t want to be king, but concedes in some way, but not fully, as it says he did for them what was in his power.  So I asked myself, “Okay, what did ‘what was in my power’ look like?  How much did he give in?  Did he give in completely and he doesn’t want to say so, or partially, and if so, why doesn’t he say how much?”

I looked at the footnotes and there were quite a few that talked about it.  First, we get Jacob’s view in 2 Nephi 6:2:

Behold, my beloved brethren, I, Jacob, having been called of God, and ordained after the manner of his holy order, and having been consecrated by my brother Nephi, unto whom ye look as a king or a protector, and on whom ye depend for safety, behold ye know that I have spoken unto you exceedingly many things.

So it seems as if Nephi was considered a king by his people, even if he repudiated the title.  It also seems as if the portion of the role he was comfortable with was “protector.”  He probably felt there was no need for a king except as a leader to organize the society for defense.

We get another interesting detail in Jacob:

Now Nephi began to be old, and he saw that he must soon die; wherefore, he anointed a man to be a king and a ruler over his people now, according to the reigns of the kings.
 10 The people having loved Nephi exceedingly, he having been a great protector for them, having wielded the sword of Laban in their defence, and having labored in all his days for their welfare—(Jacob 1:9-10)

Nephi was uncomfortable with being king himself, but he was able to anoint someone else to be king.  And we see again that Nephi is called a “great protector” and the added detail that he labored all his days for their welfare.  It sounds like he was a good servant-leader, which would be why they’d want to remember his name.  (Interestingly enough, the tradition of calling their kings Nephi dies out by the time Mosiah(1) takes the group to leave the land of Nephi. ) It is also interesting that the man Nephi anointed as king is never identified in the text, almost as if it isn’t important.  We don’t know if he was a son of Nephi or a nephew or a Zoramite or someone completely outside the Lehite group.

In the final analysis, it is rather ironic that Nephi’s name was considered synonymous with “king” such that his name was used as an honorary title for future Nephite kings even though he didn’t want to be a king to his people.  He didn’t seem to mind noting that he had been a “ruler and teacher” over his elder brothers, but he didn’t care for it with reference to those willing to follow him.  It is possible that he had some closet ambition for ascendency over his older brothers, and that was as far as it went.

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