2 Nephi 1:28-9 – LeGrand Baker – Birthright blessing
2 Nephi 1:28-9
28 And now my son, Laman, and also Lemuel and Sam, and also my sons who are the sons of Ishmael, behold, if ye will hearken unto the voice of Nephi ye shall not perish. And if ye will hearken unto him I leave unto you a blessing, yea, even my first blessing.
29 But if ye will not hearken unto him I take away my first blessing, yea, even my blessing, and it shall rest upon him.
Lehi’s statement to his sons sounds a bit strange. It almost seems that he is saying to Laman, “If you obey Nephi and let him be boss, you will receive the birthright, but if you don’t obey Nephi he gets to keep it for himself.” That sounds a bit like “Tails, Nephi wins; heads, Laban losses.” But that is not Lehi’s intent.
Lehi’s promise is a refraction of light from the many facets of the birthright blessings of priesthood and kingship.
In Old Testament times, birthright blessings were usually given to the first born son, however there were many exceptions to that rule, Jacob in place of Easu, Joseph in place of Reuben, David in place of his older brothers, Solomon in place of David’s other sons, perhaps Lehi in place of Laban, are only a few examples. But they are good examples, nonetheless.
All of the sons of a man’s wives had his father’s protection and received some inheritance. (The difference between a “wife” and a “concubine” was not the legal status of the union, but the legal status of the woman. The children of a wife could inherit; while the children of a concubine could not.) The portion of the birthright son was twice that of the other sons, “a double portion (See Deuteronomy 21:17, for example.) That principle of a double portion accounts for Joseph’s having two tribes, Ephraim and Manasseh, rather than one tribe, like all the other brothers. If one’s father was the king, as David or Solomon, then rather than a double portion, the birthright son would receive the entire kingdom.
Lehi seems to be telling Laman that if he wishes to inherit the kingdom there are principles which he must obey. Lehi apparently has possession of the Royal regalia of the house of Manasseh. If that is what the brass plates, sword, and clothing are, Lehi is king or lord of the house of Manasseh. If that is so, Lehi’s offering his oldest son the kingdom is a very real offer. And the fact that Laman knew there was a chance he could loose that royalty, probably accounts for both his desire to return home and his bitterness toward his father and brother.
So Lehi is saying, “If you wish to inherit my royal birthright, which is the kingship of the house of Manasseh, then you must obey the principles which Nephi can teach you. If you do not obey those principles, then the kingship will go to Nephi.”
But there is more to the birthright than that, especially when one is dealing with the birthright blessings associated with the covenant of Abraham, which is also what Lehi was talking about. That question is still about “kingship,” but kingship of quite a different kind. The best description I know of this kind of kingship is in the 121st section of the Doctrine and Covenants.
45 Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distill upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.
46 The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever. (D&C 121:45-46)
The scepter, which is “an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth” sounds like something without substance, but only if one does not know the meanings of “righteousness” (Zadok) and of “Truth” (Knowledge which is consistent with eternal reality, as described in D&C 93). If one understands that, then the scepter is very substantial indeed.
Just a few verses before, and while he was still addressing his sons, Lehi mentioned an “armor of righteousness.” Whenever else in the scriptures such a figure of speech is used, it incorporates two united meanings into one. It suggests being clothed in the sacred clothing of priesthood and kingship, but it also suggests adhering to the principles of righteousness and to the covenants which the clothing imply. Otherwise the clothing is only clothing, and not an “armor” at all. For a discussion of the sacred clothing described in and explained by the scriptures, see: 2 Corinthians 6:3-7; Ephesians 6:11-18; D&C 27:12-18; Alma 46:11-28; Exodus 28:1-29:10, 38:31-39:32; Leviticus 8:6-13; Zechariah 3:1-10.
This birthright/kingship of the blessings of the covenant of Abraham has much the same symbolism in action and ordinance and clothing as an earthly kingship has. Indeed the scriptures strongly suggest that the later was copied from the former.
In the famous conversation between Elijah and Elisha, just before Elijah was taken to heaven, “ Elijah said unto Elisha, Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away from thee. And Elisha said, I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me.(2 Kings 2:9) Elisha is asking to receive the birthright blessings of Elijah’s priesthood, which would include the sealing power. He received that when Elijah’s cloak (royal/priesthood garment) fell from the chariot of light in which Elijah was taken to heaven, and Elisha picked up the cloak and made it his own.
Isaiah uses the same kind of imagery when he introduces the idea that the dead will receive the sealing blessings of the priesthood. In the first three verses of chapter 61, Isaiah promises that the Saviour will visit the dead and “comfort” them. In the last two verses of that chapter, Isaiah recites a hymn sung by the dead who are about to be sealed, and thereby receive “the double.” The verse I will quote is between them, and within their subject context. Of the dead, Isaiah says,
7 For your shame ye shall have double; and for confusion they shall rejoice in their portion: therefore in their land they shall possess the double: everlasting joy shall be unto them. (Isaiah 61:7)
That verse can only be understood in the full context of its chapter, but in that context, it is much simpler than it sounds. Let me go through it with you, and show you.
7 For [meaning, in exchange for] your [He is addressing this promise to the dead. So “you” are the dead people, and “they” are the living who will do “your” temple work.] shame [repentance for not having accepted the gospel in your physical life] ye [plural] shall have double [birthright blessings of the covenant of Abraham]; and for confusion [consequences of not having those blessings during your physical life — the most obvious of those consequences is probably that families are not sealed together.] they [the gentiles–those who are living, and who do the temple work for the dead] shall rejoice in their portion: therefore in their land they shall possess the double [That is, the living will also receive the double portion, the kingship/priesthood blessings of the covenant of Abraham]: everlasting joy shall be unto them. (Isaiah 61:7)
Thus Isaiah promises the “double” to both the living and the dead. The “double” he promises may be exactly what it says it is. For example, as one lives according to the covenants associated with the blessings of Abraham, one may receive a second baptism, this one by fire and the Holy Ghost. So, it seems to me, the “double” promised with the birthright blessings of Abraham probably includes other things which may also come in twos, such as, perhaps, both a symbolic and a literal walking behind the veil.
In these priesthood/birthright/kingship blessings there is no exclusivity, such as there is in the power which is invested in a ruling monarch. In the kingdoms of this world, only one person may rule at a time. But the Kingdom of God, both in this world and in the eternities, is a kingdom of kings and of queens. The promise in the Beatitudes, “Blessed are the poor in spirit who come unto me, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” is not a promise of citizenship in that kingdom, it is a promise that the kingdom will be theirs, that they will possess it, that they will be its kings and its queens.
Thus, (to get back to our verses in 2 Nephi) Lehi promised the earthly kingship/birthright to Laman, if he would obey the principles taught his brother, Nephi, but said he (Lehi) would transfer that kingship/birthright to Nephi if Laman did not obey those principles. Given Nephi’s attitude toward his brothers, that would have been seen as a great blessing not just by Laman, but by Nephi as well.
Lehi also promised the birthright/kingship blessings of his priesthood to ALL of his children who would live according to the covenants. This priesthood kingship is as universal as righteousness can cause it to be. That birthright Lehi could promise to each of his children at once, with the understanding that if any one of his children received its kingship in fullness, it would not lesson the double portion available to each of his other children.
If Lehi’s statement is understood in that light, then what he says might be transposed into our contemporary language as, “Heads you may all win, tails, you may all win, also.”