Evidence #339 | May 9, 2022

Lehi’s Calling (Rejection)

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Similar to other ancient call narratives, Lehi’s prophetic calling features three related motifs: rejection, reassurance, and protest.

In Nephi’s summary of his father’s record, Lehi is introduced to a council of divine beings (1 Nephi 1). In several ways, the details of Lehi’s heavenly encounter follow the pattern of prophetic call narratives found in biblical and pseudepigraphic literature.1 Three related aspect of the typical call pattern are rejection, reassurance, and protest. The prophet often protests because he is afraid of being rejected, and the divine reassurance is typically given to sooth such fears and self-doubts. Before discussing the presence of these themes in Lehi’s account, this evidence summary will first explore their form and function in biblical and pseudepigraphic texts.  

Rejection, Reassurance, and Protest in the Bible

After receiving a commission to deliver the Israelites from Egypt, Moses protested because he was “not eloquent” (Exodus 4:10). He was afraid of being rejected by the very people he was called to deliver. The Lord then assured him: “I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say” (v. 12).

God Appears to Moses in Burning Bush, by Eugene Pluchart. Image via Wikimedia Commons. 

In Isaiah’s prophetic call, he protested saying, “Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5). To reassure Isaiah, the Lord sent an angel to purge his sins with a “live coal … from off the altar” (v. 6). Isaiah was warned that his message would ultimately be rejected due to the people’s lack of spiritual perception. Yet with his sins purged, Isaiah was able to boldly proclaim, “Here am I; send me” (v. 8).

To Ezekiel, the Lord declared, “I send thee to the children of Israel, to a rebellious nation that hath rebelled against me” and “whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear … yet shall know that there hath been a prophet among them” (Ezekiel 3:7). Success, then, was about sharing the divine message, not about the result. The Lord assured Ezekiel: “And thou, son of man, be not afraid of them, neither be afraid of their words” (v. 6). To whatever degree they rejected Ezekiel, the Lord would still be with him.

Jeremiah’s prophetic call starts off with reassurance from the Lord: “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5). Knowledge of his foreordination apparently wasn’t enough, however. Jeremiah still protested: “behold, I cannot speak: for I am a child” (v. 6). The Lord then provided even further reassurance:

But the Lord said unto me, Say not, I am a child: for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak. Be not afraid of their faces: for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith the Lord. Then the Lord put forth his hand, and touched my mouth. And the Lord said unto me, Behold, I have put my words in thy mouth. (vv. 7–9)

Ultimately, Jeremiah was rejected by the people of Jerusalem. As the Lord foretold: “they shall fight against thee; but they shall not prevail against thee; for I am with thee, saith the Lord, to deliver thee” (v. 19).

The Prophe Jeremiah "Thus Saith the Lord," by Walter Rane.

Rejection, Reassurance, and Protest in the Pseudepigrapha

In Enoch’s prophetic calling recorded in 1 Enoch, the Lord declared, “Do not fear, Enoch, … come near to me and hear my voice” (15:1).2 A similar reassurance is given in 2 Enoch: “the Lord, with his own mouth, called to me, ‘Be brave, Enoch! Don’t be frightened!’” (1:8).3

The Apocalypse of Abraham begins with Abraham’s efforts to persuade his father, Terah, to cease his worship of false idols. Abraham, however, reports that “when [Terah] heard my speech he became furiously angry with me, because I had spoken harsh words against his gods” (4:6).4 Thus, in Abraham’s prophetic call narrative, he is rejected before (rather than after) he receives his divine commission. After destroying Terah and his household with fire, the Lord sends an angel to reassure Abraham. “And he said to me, ‘Stand up, Abraham, friend of God who has loved you, let human trembling not enfold you! For lo! I am sent to you to strengthen you and to bless you in the name of God, creator of heavenly and earthly things, who has loved you.’” (10:5–6).5

Isaiah, in the Ascension of Isaiah, knew from the outset that his prophetic commission would lead not only to his rejection but to his martyrdom. To King Hezekiah, he prophesied, “all these commands and these words will have no effect on Manasseh your son” and “by his hands I will be sawed in half” (1:7–9).6 Isaiah saw his grisly fate as part of his prophetic commission: “for with this calling have I been called” (1:13).7 Isaiah never offered any protest, but he was assured by an angel that after he completed his calling, he would be taken back to the heavenly realms which he visited in vision (11:34; cf. 1:13).8

The Prophet Isaiah, by Gustave Dore.

Rejection, Reassurance, and Protest in Lehi’s Prophetic Call

After Lehi preached the Lord’s message to the people, “the Jews did mock him” and were “angry with him; yea, even as with the prophets of old, whom they had cast out, and stoned, and slain; and they also sought his life, that they might take it away” (1 Nephi 1:20). In other words, they rejected him, just as they had rejected previous prophets. Yet, in the very next verse, the Lord comforts and reassures Lehi, saying, “Blessed art thou Lehi, because of the things which thou hast done; and because thou has been faithful and declared unto this people the things which I commanded thee, behold they seek to take away thy life” (1 Nephi 2:1).9

One thing that is missing from Lehi’s call is any sort of protest or complaint on his part. We do, however, get plenty of protests and murmuring from Lehi’s oldest sons, Laman and Lemuel. For instance, when telling Nephi about the commandment to retrieve the brass plates, Lehi reported, “thy brothers murmur, saying it is a hard thing which I have required of them; but behold I have not required it of them, but it is a commandment of the Lord” (1 Nephi 3:5).10 In effect, the Lord was commissioning them through Lehi, but they protested.11

In stark contrast, Nephi declared, “I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded” (1 Nephi 3:7). Nephi’s courageous attitude was surely due, at least in part, to the fact that, like Lehi, he also received a divine assurance: “I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit me, and did soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father” (1 Nephi 2:16). It may be that Nephi intentionally showed how these related aspects of the call narrative (rejection, reassurance, and protest) played out among Lehi’s sons. Not only were they assigned by the Lord to help Lehi carry out his divine commission, but their varying responses help explain why Nephi was chosen over Laman and Lemuel as Lehi’s prophetic successor.12


Just as in other prophetic call narratives, Lehi was rejected by the people and reassured by the Lord that he would ultimately be blessed for faithfully fulfilling his prophetic commission. Although Lehi himself never protested against the Lord, his oldest sons (who were asked to help carry out his commission) certainly did. This stands in contrast to Nephi, who, like Lehi, received a divine reassurance. When the participation of Lehi’s sons is accounted for, three related elements of the standard ancient call pattern (rejection, reassurance, and protest) are all present in Lehi’s call narrative.13

Stephen O. Smoot, “The Divine Council in the Hebrew Bible and the Book of Mormon,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 27 (2017): 155–180.

John W. Welch, “The Calling of Lehi as a Prophet in the World of Jerusalem,” in Glimpses of Lehi’s Jerusalem, ed. John W. Welch, David Rolph Seely, and Jo Ann H. Seely (Provo: FARMS, 2004), 421–448.

Blake T. Ostler, “The Throne-Theophany and Prophetic Commission in 1 Nephi: A Form Critical Analysis,” BYU Studies Quarterly 26, no. 4 (1986): 67–95.

BibleExodus 4:10Exodus 4:11Exodus 4:12Isaiah 6:5Isaiah 6:6Isaiah 6:8Jeremiah 1:5–9Jeremiah 1:19Book of Mormon1 Nephi 1:201 Nephi 2:11 Nephi 2:111 Nephi 2:161 Nephi 3:51 Nephi 3:71 Nephi 3:31


Exodus 4:10

Exodus 4:11

Exodus 4:12

Isaiah 6:5

Isaiah 6:6

Isaiah 6:8

Jeremiah 1:5–9

Jeremiah 1:19

Book of Mormon

1 Nephi 1:20

1 Nephi 2:1

1 Nephi 2:11

1 Nephi 2:16

1 Nephi 3:5

1 Nephi 3:7

1 Nephi 3:31

  • 1 See Stephen O. Smoot, “The Divine Council in the Hebrew Bible and the Book of Mormon,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 27 (2017): 155–180; John W. Welch, “The Calling of Lehi as a Prophet in the World of Jerusalem,” in Glimpses of Lehi’s Jerusalem, ed. John W. Welch, David Rolph Seely, and Jo Ann H. Seely (Provo: FARMS, 2004), 421–448; an earlier version was published as “The Calling of a Prophet,” in First Nephi, The Doctrinal Foundation, ed. Monte S. Nyman and Charles D. Tate Jr., Book of Mormon Symposium Series, Volume 2 (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1988), 35–54; Stephen D. Ricks, “Heavenly Visions and Prophetic Calls in Isaiah 6 (2 Nephi 16), the Book of Mormon, and the Revelation of John,” in Isaiah in the Book of Mormon, ed. Donald W. Parry and John W. Welch (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1998), 171–190; Blake T. Ostler, “The Throne-Theophany and Prophetic Commission in 1 Nephi: A Form Critical Analysis,” BYU Studies Quarterly 26, no. 4 (1986): 67–95.
  • 2 James H. Charlesworth, ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Volume 1: Apocalyptic Literature and Testaments (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1983), 137.
  • 3 Charlesworth, ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Vol. 1, 137.
  • 4 Charlesworth, ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Vol. 1, 690.
  • 5 Charlesworth, ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Vol. 1, 694.
  • 6 James H. Charlesworth, ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Volume 2: Expansions of the “Old Testament” and philosophical Literature, Prayers, Psalms and Odes, Fragments of Lost Judeo-Hellenistic Works (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1985), 157.
  • 7 Charlesworth, ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Vol. 2, 157.
  • 8 Charlesworth, ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Vol. 2, 176 (cf. 157).
  • 9 Note that chapters 1–5 in the current (2013) edition were all part of a single chapter in the original manuscript. See Thomas W. Mackay, “Mormon as Editor: A Study of Colophons, Headers, and Source Indicators,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 2, no. 2 (1993): 104.
  • 10 Another protest directly relate to Lehi’s commission comes at the end of this chapter: “And after the angel had departed, Laman and Lemuel again began to murmur, saying: How is it possible that the Lord will deliver Laban into our hands? Behold, he is a mighty man, and he can command fifty, yea, even he can slay fifty; then why not us?” (1 Nephi 3:31).
  • 11 When explaining the cause of his brothers’ murmuring, Nephi stated, “they knew not the dealings of that God who had created them” (1 Nephi 2:11). This is somewhat reminiscent of Lord’s response when Moses complained about his speaking ability: “Who hath made man’s mouth? or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? have not I the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say.” (Exodus 4:11). Like Laman and Lemuel, Moses protested because he didn’t yet understand that the Creator of all things could ensure his success.
  • 12 For more on this major theme in Nephi’s writing, see Noel B. Reynolds, “Nephi’s Political Testament,” in Rediscovering the Book of Mormon: Insights You May have Missed Before, ed. John L. Sorenson and Melvin J. Thorne (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1991), 220–229; Noel B. Reynolds, “The Political Dimension in Nephi’s Small Plates,” BYU Studies Quarterly 27, no. 4 (1987): 15–37.
  • 13 It should be noted that not every prophetic call narrative has every common element in the pattern. Even if the experience of Lehi’s sons were to be seen as tangential to his call narrative, Lehi’s account still clearly has two of the three elements (rejection and reassurance).
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Lehi's Calling
Lehi's Calling (Rejection)
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