Poor Choice of Words
My old seminary teacher's adoration for Nephi comes in large part from what God tells him in verse 5:
And now, because thou hast done this with such unwearyingness, behold, I will bless thee forever; and I will make thee mighty in word and in deed, in faith and in works; yea, even that all things shall be done unto thee according to thy word, for thou shalt not ask that which is contrary to my will.Nephi is so righteous that God gives him a blank check. God promises to give Nephi anything he asks for because he knows Nephi's not going to ask for anything God opposes. Or at least...that's how I used to interpret the verse.
Except why does God say "thou shalt not ask that which is contrary" to his will? That makes it sound like a commandment rather than an expression of confidence in Nephi's virtue. Seems like some form of the word "will" would have worked better. God saying "thou wilt not ask that which is contrary to my will" is more reflective of how this story was taught to me in seminary.
Phenomenal Cosmic Power
God then enumerates a list of things he's going to give Nephi the power to do. He can summon the wrath of God to smite his people (because he's going to be really excited to kill everybody whose wickedness he was just lamenting), he can cause famine and pestilence, and he now has what the chapter heading terms as "the sealing power." That seems to be drawn from verse 7:
Behold, I give unto you power, that whatsoever ye shall seal on earth shall be sealed in heaven; and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven; and thus shall ye have power among this people.But is that really the sealing power, as in the power to marry spouses and unite their families for eternity? It's kind of difficult to say, considering that this is really all that the chapter has to say about the subject. The biggest support to the claim that Nephi was given the sealing power is that the chapter heading says so.
What's weird about this is the parallel promise that, in addition to that sealing stuff, whatsoever Nephi shall "loose" on earth will also be "loosed" in heaven. It baffles me as to why tearing things asunder for eternity would be an important power to grant a prophet and what righteous purposes this kind of ability could be used for. It sounds to me like a poetic addendum to the promise of sealing power, which makes me think that it's not the same kind of sealing power. I think the whole passage is an exaggerated, poetic illustration meant to indicate the breadth of the promise God is making to Nephi as opposed to a literal reference to any specific abilities he's granting.
Also, it's not 1843 yet and Joseph Smith hasn't needed to come up with a weird doctrinal excuse for polygamy.
Divided in Unity
Spurred by some seriously intense divine promises, Nephi immediately begins preaching to anyone who will listen—which is pretty much nobody. In fact, the people he's calling to repentance get so fed up with him that they try to throw him in jail. Luckily, he has some backup (verse 16):
But behold, the power of God was with him, and they could not take him to cast him into prison, for he was taken by the Spirit and conveyed away out of the midst of them.
But even stranger is that, as Nephi is whisked from multitude to multitude, things take a turn for the worse (verse 18):
And it came to pass that they would not hearken unto his words; and there began to be contentions, insomuch that they were divided against themselves and began to slay one another with the sword.So the Nephites seem to universally label Nephi as an obnoxioius kook, yet for some reason they get so angry about it that they split into two apparently different anti-Nephi camps and started slaughtering each other.
Uh, what? That's kind of weird, right? Especially since the previous chapter gave the impression that a decent number of people were convinced of his prophetic calling following his assistance in bringing the murderer of the chief judge to justice. Now, however, everyone is against him yet they seem to take him so seriously that being against him in a slightly different way incites violence.
That doesn't make much sense to me.