Lehi is accused by his family (particularly Laman and Lemuel) so many times of being “a visionary man” who is “led away by the foolish imaginations of his heart” that it seems to me we must spend some time thinking about it and what it means.

It is possible Lehi had a tendency to get big ideas that were too much for him to implement or that fizzled when he tried them or that distracted him.  If this had been a common occurrence, it would be really easy for his family to roll their eyes at his insistence they leave Jerusalem.  We have no idea if this was really the case because the Book of Mormon only shows he was right and shows nothing indicating he was ever wrong.  All we have is the frequent repetition of “visionary man” or “led by the foolish imaginations of his heart,” which hint at incidents of failure.

Looked at from this perspective (which is a speculative one, I might add) we start to understand the extraordinary faith it took for Lehi to lead his family out into the wilderness and for his family to follow.  Lehi had a vision, yes, but would his family believe him?   From this perspective, Laman and Lemuel’s concerns appear much more rational, and Nephi’s faith seems even more amazing.  We begin to see why Nephi had to pray for his own witness that his father was doing the right thing.  If Lehi hadn’t had a past history of fizzled big ideas why would he need to?  We see how much reason Sariah had to rejoice when her son actually didreturn with the brass plates, obtained under such miraculous conditions.  It was a sign that God really was behind it!

It is one thing to follow someone who is always right and whose grand ideas always work out, but it is quite another to follow someone who has had lots of grand ideas in the past that didn’t work out.  How does one know if this person is really inspired? 

This question is also one I ask of myself, since I have had a lot of big ideas that never quite came to fruition (although I’ve had a pretty fair number that have worked too).  Failure has happened enough that I often find myself feeling rather Laman-and-Lemuel-ish toward myself, wondering, “Okay, is this another one of THOSE ideas?”  This is one reason why I am grateful for my patriarchal blessing and for the scriptures and the prophets’ words.  I try to measure my aspirations and dreams and “brilliant ideas” by them.

Sometimes we talk about Laman and Lemuel as if their arguments had no basis in reality.  But when we consider that they had very good reason for their concerns in this aspect, they become real opponents, not strawmen, which then makes Nephi’s acts and words of faith and the miracles of the family’s preservation all the more powerful. 

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