Who exactly are the Lamanites? In the very beginning, Nephi simply referred to those who sought to destroy him as “his brethren.” Nephi’s oldest brother was Laman and it was Laman who should have inherited the role of leader but because Laman was apathetic, slothful and hard hearted, the role was passed to Nephi by the Lord. Thereafter, anyone who dissented, or who joined with any dissenters who fought against the Lord were called Lamanites after the original dissenter, whether they descended from Ishmael, Lemuel, Zoram, etc.
D&C 10:45 Behold, there are many things engraven upon the plates of Nephi which do throw greater views upon my gospel; therefore, it is wisdom in me that you should translate this first part of the engravings of Nephi, and send forth in this work.
46. And, behold, all the remainder of this work does contain all those parts of my gospel which my holy prophets, yea, and also my disciples, desired in their prayers should come forth unto this people.
47. And I said unto them, that it should be granted unto them according to their faith in their prayers;
48. Yea, and this was their faith—that my gospel, which I gave unto them that they might preach in their days, might come unto their brethren the Lamanites, and also all that had become Lamanites because of their dissensions.
Here the Lord declares that all had become Lamanites who dissented from His gospel. Eventually, however, they had all, including the Nephites, become dissenters. But my focus is solely on those who descended from Joseph, namely, Lehi’s descendants.
It is obvious that Lehi had made a serious study of the brass plates, which not only contained his genealogy, but also the law and the prophets and was as current as the time they had left Jerusalem. These plates contained prophets that our own canon in the Bible is lacking. Two prophets, whose writings have been omitted from the Old Testament as we have it, but still quoted were Enoch (quoted in the New Testament) and Zenos (quoted in the Book of Mormon). Lehi understood well Zenos’ allegory of the tame and wild olive trees, all representative of the scattering and gathering of Israel.
One of his youngest sons, Jacob, was so impressed by it that he quoted much, if not the entire allegory, recording it in his own book. Lehi and his family were keenly aware of the implications of this allegory concerning their posterity and it was their most fervent desire that their descendants, being a remnant of Joseph, be forever preserved.
If you are familiar with this allegory found in Jacob 5, I am only going to touch on a very tiny portion. I would love to expound on the entire allegory in this chapter, but another time. In D&C, verse 46 above, the Lord declares that it is because of the faith and the prayers of His prophets and disciples that their posterity were preserved, despite the fact that they were ripe for destruction.
Jacob’s own son, Enos, because of his great faith and fervent supplication, was granted this great favor:
Enos 1:11 And after I, Enos, had heard these words, my faith began to beunshaken in the Lord; and I prayed unto him with many long strugglings for my brethren, the Lamanites.
12 And it came to pass that after I had prayed and labored with all diligence, the Lord said unto me: I will grant unto thee according to thy desires, because of thy faith.
13 And now behold, this was the desire which I desired of him—that if it should so be, that my people, the Nephites, should fall into transgression, and by any means be destroyed, and the Lamanites should not be destroyed, that the Lord God would preserve a record of my people, the Nephites; even if it so be by the power of his holy arm, that it might be brought forth at some future day unto the Lamanites, that, perhaps, they might be brought unto salvation—
14 For at the present our strugglings were vain in restoring them to the true faith. And they swore in their wrath that, if it were possible, they would destroy our records and us, and also all the traditions of our fathers.
15 Wherefore, I knowing that the Lord God was able to preserve our records, I cried unto him continually, for he had said unto me: Whatsoever thing ye shall ask in faith, believing that ye shall receive in the name of Christ, ye shall receive it.
16 And I had faith, and I did cry unto God that he would preserve the records; and he covenanted with me that he would bring them forth unto the Lamanites in his own due time.
17 And I, Enos, knew it would be according to the covenant which he had made; wherefore my soul did rest.
There is an unwritten pattern in the Book of Mormon that is discernible to those who know what to look for and this pattern is also found in the Old and the New Testament as well as the Doctrine & Covenants. This pattern is the method that the Lord uses to commune with those who have, through their faith and diligence in obedience, made their calling and election sure and received the Lord as their Second Comforter as the Savior promised his apostles in the New Testament. And thus they become special witnesses and prophets who declare repentance to their people and make the path of the Lord straight among their people.
Enos was one such man who had found favor with the Lord because of his unwavering faith. And the Lord answered him, saying:
18 And the Lord said unto me: Thy fathers have also required of me this thing; and it shall be done unto them according to their faith; for their faith was like unto thine.
19 And now it came to pass that I, Enos, went about among the people of Nephi, prophesying of things to come, and testifying of the things which I had heard and seen.
The Lord declared to Enos that his father Jacob and Jacob’s father Lehi had also desired the same thing and by so acknowledging them, and also by their own words, which we read in the first books of Nephi, we know that they had also received the same gifts.
In Zenos’ allegory, we see that a small part clearly refers to the Nephite/Lamanite nation. Lehi was keenly aware of this and there is no doubt in my mind that he impressed upon his sons the fact that his family was making history and that this small band, making their way out of Jerusalem was fulfilling prophecy! This was also near and dear to Jacob’s heart and we see him expound much in 2 Nephi chapters 6-10.
Back to the allegory that Jacob included in his record. The following verse indicates the fruit of Lehi’s loins:
Jacob 5:25 And he said unto the servant: Look hither and behold the last*. Behold, this have I planted in a good spot of ground; and I have nourished it this long time, and only a part of the tree hath brought forth tame fruit, and the other part of the tree hath brought forth wild fruit; behold, I have nourished this tree like unto the others.
The tame and wild fruits refer to the Nephites and the Lamanites. Lehi and Jacob knew well their part in history and I believe the blessing they most desired of Jesus Christ was to spare their descendants that they do not utterly perish. This also became Enos’ charitable desire. Remember that faith, hope and charity go hand in hand. We cannot see Christ unless we become like Him and charity encompasses qualities that meet this requirement. Enos exemplified charity in his humble request. And so Jesus Christ grants Enos this gift as He also granted it to Jacob and Lehi.
Back to the allegory:
49 And it came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard said unto the servant: Let us go to and hew down the trees of the vineyard and cast them into the fire, that they shall not cumber the ground of my vineyard, for I have done all. What could I have done more for my vineyard?
50 But, behold, the servant said unto the Lord of the vineyard: Spare it a little longer.
51 And the Lord said: Yea, I will spare it a little longer, for it grieveth me that I should lose the trees of my vineyard.
There are times when the Lord sees that his vineyard is completely worthless and ready for the axe/fire. In His mercy, he may allow His servant to intercede. Moses was such an example of the servant of the vineyard as we read in the Old Testament concerning the wicked Israelites:
Numbers 14:11 ¶And the Lord said unto Moses, How long will this people provoke me? and how long will it be ere they believe me, for all the signs which I have shewed among them?
12 I will smite them with the pestilence, and disinherit them, and will make of thee a greater nation and mightier than they.
13 ¶And Moses said unto the Lord, Then the Egyptians shall hear it, (for thou broughtest up this people in thy might from among them;)
14 And they will tell it to the inhabitants of this land: for they have heard that thou Lord art among this people, that thou Lord art seen face to face, and that thy cloud standeth over them, and that thou goest before them, by day time in a pillar of a cloud, and in a pillar of fire by night.
15 ¶Now if thou shalt kill all this people as one man, then the nations which have heard the fame of thee will speak, saying,
16 Because the Lord was not able to bring this people into the land which he sware unto them, therefore he hath slain them in the wilderness.
17 And now, I beseech thee, let the power of my Lord be great, according as thou hast spoken, saying,
18 The Lord is longsuffering, and of great mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression, and by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation.
19 Pardon, I beseech thee, the iniquity of this people according unto the greatness of thy mercy, and as thou hast forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now.
20 And the Lord said, I have pardoned according to thy word
Psalms 106:21 They forgat God their saviour, which had done great things in Egypt;
22 Wondrous works in the land of Ham, and terrible things by the Red sea.
23 Therefore he said that he would destroy them, had not Moses his chosen stood before him in the breach, to turn away his wrath, lest he should destroy them.
Returning to the allegory:
*verse 63 Graft in the branches; begin at the last that they may be first, and that the first may be last, and dig about the trees, both old and young, the first and the last; and the last and the first, that all may be nourished once again for the last time.
Because of the intercession and intervention of His servants Lehi, and also Jacob and Enos, the Lamanites are allowed to be spared by the Lord as He spared the ancient Israelites for Moses’ sake. And so the final gathering of Israel begins with the Lamanites, bringing us to our day, the latter days.
D&C 49:24 But before the great day of the Lord shall come, Jacob shall flourish in the wilderness, and the Lamanites shall blossom as the rose.
Since those days, the Lamanites, as the Lord describes in D&C, have mingled with many other cultures, including Gentile cultures who have visited from Spain, England, France, etc. having settled in both American Continents in centuries past. As President Spencer W. Kimball once put it:
For a thousand years after the closing of the Book of Mormon record, these people wandered in spiritual darkness and were scattered upon the American continents and the isles of the sea. They lost their written language, their high culture, and, worst of all, their knowledge of the living God and his work. Faith was replaced by fear, rich language by crippled dialects, and an understanding of God and his ways by idolatry, even human sacrifice.
Since the coming of the white man to the Americas, they have been driven mercilessly, killed, and degraded. When Columbus came, these descendants of the Book of Mormon peoples and those with whom they had mixed numbered in the millions and covered the islands of the Pacific and the Americas from Point Barrow to Tierra del Fuego. But the conquerors found a prey, and in the land southward they robbed and despoiled and slaughtered in the name of gold and silver. In the land northward the 400-year “Battle of America” drove the tribal nations, much reduced in numbers, into the far corners of desolate lands. The peoples of the isles of the sea were corrupted by European and American seaman adventurers and were reduced nearly to extinction by disease.
Someone said, “If my pen might have the gift of tears I would write a book and call it ‘The Indian,’ and I would make the whole world weep,” Only the most brazen soul could fail to weep when contemplating the fall of this people, and yet it was the decree of the Lord that the Lamanites should be preserved in the land, that this remnant of Joseph should again come into their promised inheritance…So, my appeal today is for the Lamanites, all the Lamanites, the Mexicans, the Polynesians, the Indians, to live the commandments of God and prove themselves worthy of this choice land. And a further word of caution: Keep your strength up to high purpose. Keep your eye single to the glory of God. Maintain your faith and live the principles of the gospel…
The Lamanites must rise again in dignity and strength to fully join their brethren and sisters of the household of God in carrying forth his work in preparation for that day when the Lord Jesus Christ will return to lead his people, when the millennium will be ushered in, when the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory and its lands be united and become one land. For the prophets have said, “The remnant of the house of Joseph shall be built upon this land; and it shall be a land of their inheritance; and they shall build up a holy city unto the Lord, like unto the Jerusalem of old; and they shall no more be confounded, until the end come when the earth shall pass away.” (Ether 13:8)