It seems to me that great rejoicing in the Atonement is often evoked by great challenges in life. And Nephi’s Psalm in 2 Nephi 4 is a great case in point.
When we consider this chapter in perspective, we see that in verse 12 Lehi died. Think about what that would have meant to Nephi. Lehi was not only his father, but also the prophet leader. He was Nephi’s mentor and guide. What a keen loss this would have been for Nephi.
Lehi died and, as you might expect, Laman and Lemuel promptly got angry along with those who followed them.
Then Nephi’s thoughts turned to the record he had been keeping. I wonder if in some ways that was a burden to him as well. After all, it was his father who taught him in language and culture and now his father was gone. His father mentored and tutored him in keeping a sacred record and now he felt the pressure to try to keep the people together, to keep the record and to do the work of God.
Sometimes the Atonement becomes more meaningful when we get desperate.
In verse 15, Nephi said, “Upon these I write the things of my soul… For my soul delighteth in the scriptures.” And then in verse 16, “My soul delighteth in the things of the Lord.” But even as he rejoiced, he observed, “Nevertheless, notwithstanding the great goodness of the Lord…” (v. 17).
There is something about knowing the greatness and goodness of God that makes us more aware, more mindful, more burdened by our limitations and humanness. So he went on in verse 17, “Nevertheless, notwithstanding the great goodness of the Lord, in showing me his great and marvelous works, my heart exclaimeth: O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of my iniquities. I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me. And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth…”
Nephi gave us no clues about those sins and probably we don’t need to know. We don’t know if he was burdened that sometimes he forgot to do his chores or make his bed in the morning. We don’t know if perhaps he failed to save his best energy for prayer. We don’t know whether he had a sensitive soul that became troubled by fairly small mistakes and failings when God had blessed him so abundantly. Or perhaps Nephi was more like most of us—someone who blundered and soiled his life time and time again. Was he burdened by anger, lust, selfishness and all the other common afflictions of mortality? We don’t know. And we don’t need to know because the principles that Nephi teaches us in this great psalm are the same if our sins are of the minor variety or the larger, more common variety.
So he confessed to us, “Despite the goodness of God, my heart sorroweth, my soul greiveth because of my iniquities.” But then there was a turning point: “Nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted” (v. 19). That word trust is going to turn out to be very important in this chapter.
“My God hath been my support; he hath led me through mine afflictions… he hath preserved me… He hath filled me with his love… He hath confounded mine enemies…” (vs. 20-22).
I don’t know why it took me so long to notice that the real focal point had changed from what was so wrong with Nephi to what was so right with God. That’s quite a transformation isn’t it? Nephi was no longer focused on his little known and, to him, abundant shortcomings. His focus turned to God who time and again, in spite of all his weaknesses, blessed him, looked after him, magnified him, and enlarged him.
I think Nephi’s message is: God is able to do His work even with flawed, fallen, imperfect people like us.
Let’s jump to verse 26. “Oh then, if I have seen so great things…”
Have we seen such great things? Having seen great things, have we appreciated them? Having witnessed God’s work in our lives and in the lives of those around us, have we been mindful of that work and grateful for it?
“O then, if I have seen so great things, if the Lord in his condescension unto the children of men hath visited men in so much mercy, why should my heart weep and my soul linger in the valley of sorrow… why should I yield to sin…? Why should I give way to temptations…? Why am I angry because of mine enemy?” (vs. 26-27)
These questions are not asked in the sense of, “If I have been given such great training, then why do I behave so badly?” These questions are really very different. The real issue Nephi seemed burdened by was: “If the Lord has been so gracious, then why do I keep myself so vulnerable to sin? Why do I allow myself to be snared by evil?”
Then came the call from his soul which said, “Awake, my soul! No longer droop in sin. Rejoice, O my heart, and give place no more for the enemy of my soul” (v. 28). Notice the theme of “awake and rejoice”. Be mindful of God and His goodness. Be mindful of His readiness to help and bless us. And then, having done that, rejoice.
“Rejoice, O my heart, and cry unto the Lord, and say: O Lord, I will praise thee forever; yea, my soul will rejoice in thee, my God, and the rock of my salvation” (v. 30).
Then came that plea for divine help because Nephi wanted very much to resist any incursion of sin into his life. “O Lord, wilt thou redeem my soul? Wilt thou deliver me out of the hands of mine enemies? Wilt thou make me that I may shake at the appearance of sin” (v. 31)?
Make it so that sin is ugly to me and detestable and not the least bit attractive. Make it so that sin has no draw to me, but rather it is holiness that I crave. “May the gates of hell be shut continually before me, because that my heart is broken and my spirit is contrite” (v. 32)! Isn’t that the recognition that all that we have and are is a blessing from God and due to His goodness?
“O Lord, wilt thou encircle me around in the robe of thy righteousness” (2 Nephi 4:33)! In other words—my holiness ultimately is a sacred gift from Thee.
Let’s conclude with verse 34. “O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever. I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh; for I know that cursed is he that putteth his trust in the arm of flesh. Yea, cursed is he that putteth his trust in man or maketh flesh his arm.”
So Nephi really launched into this psalm in earnest as he said, “Nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted.” He concluded by saying five times: “trust”. Trust God, not myself. Trust God, not any other human. It is God who must save us. And he ended by proclaiming, “He is the rock, the everlasting God”
May we follow the great example set by Nephi. May we trust in God and throw ourselves on the merits, mercy and grace of the Holy Messiah.