2 Nephi 5:16, 18, 26 — LeGrand Baker — Nephi as king
2 Nephi 5:16
16 And I, Nephi, did build a temple; and I did construct it after the manner of the temple of Solomon save it were not built of so many precious things; for they were not to be found upon the land, wherefore, it could not be built like unto Solomon’s temple. But the manner of the construction was like unto the temple of Solomon; and the workmanship thereof was exceedingly fine.
In the ancient Near East, kings built temples. Indeed, the building or restoring of a temple was a necessary beginning to a new dynasty. Nephi is aware of that, and builds the temple as though he were king. He does not write, “we built a temple,” he writes, “I, Nephi, did build a temple.” In so saying he assumes both the prerogative and responsibility of an anointed king.
The temple, he says, is built after the pattern and manner of construction of Solomon’s temple, except it was not built of so many precious things. He does not tell us what those “precious things” are, but he has just told us in the preceding verse,
15 And I did teach my people to build buildings, and to work in all manner of wood, and of iron, and of copper, and of brass, and of steel, and of gold, and of silver, and of precious ores, which were in great abundance(2 Nephi 5:15).
So the precious things the temple lacked, was not the gold which adorned the interior of the Solomon’s temple and covered the cherubim throne in the Holy of Holies, nor was it the gold and silver implements which were used in the temple service. So it must have been the material from which the temple itself was constructed. Our Bible (and, one may presume, the brass plates also) gives a detailed account of the construction of Solomon’s temple. Part of that detail reports,
19 And the king commanded, and they brought great stones, costly stones, and hewed stones, to lay the foundation of the house.
18 And Solomon’s builders and Hiram’s builders did hew them, and the stonesquarers: so they prepared timber and stones to build the house. (2 Kings 5: 17-18)
Such a labor would have been beyond the ability of Nephi and his colony. The stone like that which Solomon used was not available to Nephi, either because it did not exist there, or because it was in the mountain and could not be gotten out. So the Nephite temple was probably not built of wood, rather than stone. But the wood would have been inferior, at least in Nephi’s judgement, to the giant cedars of Lebanon which Solomon imported to construct his temple. Nevertheless, Nephi was very pleased with what he and his people had done.
The dimensions of the temple of Solomon are given in the scriptures, so Nephi and his builders could have followed those with some accuracy. Notwithstanding those details, in our day the description in the Bible is not sufficient for one to know what the temple looked like. But for Nephi and his people that would not have been a problem. They had been in Jerusalem and seen the original.
The most sacred part of the temple was the Holy of Holies with the throne of God at its back wall. The throne had winged cherubim on each side. Their wings reached to either side and to the top of the room, which was about 16 feet high.
When Nephi’s temple was completed it would have been dedicated to the Lord.
Following Solomon’s example, Nephi would have done that personally. Temples in the ancient Near East were dedicated during the New Year’s festival. In Palestine this occurred in the fall of the year, in October or November. Nephi and his people were trying to live the Law as Moses had directed, so it is likely that this temple would have been dedicated during that same festival. The Feast of Tabernacles was a eight day feast which culminated in the renewing of covenants with God and in the enthronement or re-enthronement of the king. Mormon scholars have shown that King Benjamin’s address and the enthronement of his son Mosiah took place during such a festival.
As Nephi’s temple was being completed, it was entirely appropriate that the question would arise about whether Nephi would accept the title of king. Even before the offer was made Nephi had served as though he were king. Now, even though he rejected the title, he rejoiced in the fact that it was offered to him. .
18 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.
19 And behold, the words of the Lord had been fulfilled unto my brethren, which he spake concerning them, that I should be their ruler and their teacher. Wherefore, I had been their ruler and their teacher, according to the commandments of the Lord, until the time they sought to take away my life (2 Nephi 5:18-19).
In ancient Israel the king had three main functions. First, he was commander in chief of the armies, and responsible for all international relations. Second, he was the chief judge of the people. That is, he was the court of last appeal, much like the American Supreme Court. Third, he was something like the president of the church. The priests and Levites took care of the routine matters of daily sacrifice and services, but on special occasions the king could conduct and perform sacrifices himself. He could, and did, use the Urim and Thummim, and he could go into the Holy of Holies and speak with God. Near the conclusion of the Feast of Tabernacles he gave a lecture about the sanctity of the Law of Moses, and thus he was the chief teacher, as well as the chief priest and prophet.
After the Israelites left Egypt, the first man to hold the office, though not the title, of king was Moses. But Moses divided his authority between himself and his brother Aaron. Moses retained the powers of chief judge, and military and diplomatic leader; but he gave the Urim and Thummim and the authority which went with it to his brother Aaron.
Nephi apparently rejected the title “king” because he intended to follow Moses’ example. He retained the military and judgship authorities, but give the church leadership to his brothers Jacob and Joseph.
26 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, did consecrate Jacob and Joseph, that they should be priests and teachers over the land of my people (2 Nephi 5:26).
Many years later, King Mosiah did that same thing when he made Alma I head of the church. That authority was joined again in the person of Alma II, who promptly divided it again. Only this time he kept the ecclesiastical authority for himself and gave the military, diplomatic, and domestic judgship responsibilities to someone else who was called the “Chief Judge.”
Nephi’s temple is important for the same reasons that Solomon’s temple was important. It represented the creation of a new dynasty and a new nation. It also represented the covenants associated with kingship, priesthood, and it gave the people the opportunity to participate in all the ordinances which were a part of their temple worship.