First of all, the background -- it's Lesson 2 "All things according to His will" and I had read my way through the story of all the ways in which Nephi and his brothers had tried to obtain the brass plates, and failed. Finally in 1 Nephi 4 they try one last time and Nephi entered Jerusalem:
And I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do. (1 Ne. 4:6)
The manual asks "What are some situations in which we might need to be “led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which [we] should do”? (1 Nephi 4:6). What can we learn from Nephi’s words: “Nevertheless I went forth”? (1 Nephi 4:7)."
I thought of a couple of different times when I had to make choices in my life -- taking steps into the darkness because I didn't know exactly what I was going to do or why and I had to trust that things were going to work out -- and just go forth. With these experiences in my mind I read on through the chapter of how Nephi was led to the unconscious figure of Laban in the streets and "was constrained by the Spirit" to kill him (4:7-10). In regards to this, the manual asked: "Why was Nephi reluctant to kill Laban? (See 1 Nephi 4:10.) How did Nephi become convinced that he should kill Laban? (See 1 Nephi 4:11–18.)"
In reading those verses, and thinking on those questions, I identified that Nephi was reluctant to kill Laban because he had never "shed the blood of man" and "shrunk" from the task. This isn't surprising because I believe most people would hesitate to kill another human being (no matter who it was) and it's less surprising given the fact that Nephi had been raised with the law "Thou shalt not kill" and it would be difficult for anyone to accept that they were being asked to break a commandment... yet, as put by the prophet Joseph Smith, this was "revelation adapted to the circumstances" and "whatever God requires is right, not matter what it is, although we may not see the reason thereof til long after the events transpire" (TPJS p. 256). Having to be obedient in the face of a seemingly contradictory position is a scary place to be!
This connected to what I was thinking about earlier, about moving forward and not knowing what you are going to do but just continuing onward, because as I have moved forward I have been faced with the challenge to do things that I did not want to do -- and, tho not to the same degree as Nephi, at one time my choice even seemed to fly in the face of what I understood to be right...
Nephi began to be convinced that he should kill Laban as the Spirit explained to him that the Lord had delivered Laban into his hands and as he thought about how Laban had already tried to take his life and had taken his property (vs 11). As Nephi thought on that, the Spirit again told him to slay Laban, explaining that the Lord "delivered" Laban into Nephi's hands for that purpose, so that he could slay "the wicked" and "bring forth" the "righteous purposes" of God (vs 13) -- those purposes being that Nephi and his descendants could have the plates and thereby not "dwindle and perish in unbelief" by having the scriptures/the law contained thereon.
As he thought on all of this, Nephi fully realized "that the Lord had delivered Laban into [his] hands for this cause—that [he] might obtain the records according to his commandments. Therefore [he] did obey the voice of the Spirit" (1 Ne. 4:17-18).
Now this isn't where the line of questioning ends... By referring by to a well known verse the next question in the manual connects everything in the story (and in the answers to the previous questions) to one very critical concept...
1 Nephi 3:7:
And it came to pass that I, Nephi, said unto my father: I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.
- How did the Lord “prepare a way” for Nephi to do what he had been commanded to do? How has the Lord prepared ways for you to keep His commandments?
As I thought about how to answer to this question, what gripped me here is that that the Lord didn't just prepare the way for Nephi to obtain the plates by putting Laban in Nephi's path, he also prepared the way for Nephi to do what needed to be done in order to get the plates. In other words, the Lord prepared Nephi -- to accept the instruction to kill Laban in order to obtain the plates.
First, by letting him fail to obtain them the first couple times so that he could see that there was no other option. How could a good man like Nephi kill another man if he thought that somehow there might be another way?
Second, by ensuring that Nephi understood the importance of the plates in helping he and his family to keep the Lords commandments. How else could he see that the ends justified the means?
And third (and most important), by implanting in Nephi's heart an ability to seek out and recognize the directions of the Spirit -- something that he had practiced many times before then. Without this, how could he ever have take the step to disregard previous commandments in order to obey immediate revelation?
Yes, we take steps into the darkness, "not knowing beforehand" what we are going to do, but WE DO NOT GO UNPREPARED.
I do not think that it is coincidental that manual was put together this way -- to ask this question in regards to this specific preparation. It opened my mind and heart up to new ways of understanding how the Lord has prepared ways for me to keep His commandments by preparing ME to be able to keep them.
I hope you will spend some time pondering how this story is also your story... I testify it will enlighten your understanding and fill you with a renewed sense of love and gratitude for the Lord and his goodness.