And it came to pass that the Lord did warn me, that I, Nephi, should depart from them and flee into the wilderness, and all those who would go with me. (2 Ne. 5:5.)
The fifth chapter of 2 Nephi opens with Nephi's account of his anguished prayers regarding the hatred his brothers, Laman and Lemuel, had toward him. The answer to Nephi's prayer came in the form of a warning for him to "flee into the wilderness" rather than to confront his brothers.The division between Nephi and Laman and Lemuel came because his older brothers had apostatized from the teachings of the Lord, as well as the instructions of their father, the prophet Lehi.
In Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Elder George C. Reynolds and Janne M. Sjodahl wrote:
"The account of the great schism in the family of the departed prophet begins with the statement that the anger of the oldest brother against the younger had increased to the degree that Laman had begun to consider plans for the destruction of Nephi.
"The refuge and defense of Nephi, then, was prayer. Such was his education and training, but to all appearances prayer did not avail. The enmity increased. Laman forgot that he had had his chance of leadership and failed. (See 1 Ne. 3:11, 14.)
"God hears and answers prayers. That is an eternal truth, solid as the everlasting hills. The Apostle John assured the members of the church in his day that, `Whatever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments and do those things that are pleasing in his sight. (1 John 3:22.) But he also said in the same epistle (1 John 5:16) that there is a sin `unto death' and `I do not say that ye shall pray for it.'
"From the tenor of this epistle it appears that the `sin unto death' which the apostle had in mind was apostasy. For when a sinner rejects the Savior which God has provided, and His atonement, there is no other savior, no other means of salvation.
"But Laman was about to add fratricide to apostasy. Hence the Lord commanded Nephi to depart. Evidently this was the only means of preventing Laman from plunging himself headlong into the whirlpool of everlasting destruction. For, by following the divine promptings and leaving the settlement, Nephi prevented the heinous crime of fratricide."
How could Laman and Lemuel - sons of a prophet - come to the point that they could apostatize and even threaten the life of a brother?
In his October 1986 general conference address, Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Council of the Twelve explained that without "precious, spiritual perspective, the human family is seldom more than one generation away from deep doubt and even great disbelief. Laman and Lemuel doubted and murmured because, wrote Nephi, "they knew not the dealings of that God who had created them.'" (1 Ne. 2:12.)
Elder Maxwell said Laman and Lemuel "were provincial, just like forgetful Israel: `and there arose another generation after them, which knew not the Lord, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel.'" (Judges 2:10.)
Elder Maxwell further said, "If people are without the truths of God's plan of salvation for very long, some may not even `believe [these truths], when they are taught.'" (Mosiah 1:5.)