Evidence #218 | July 27, 2021

Nephi’s Funeral Sermon

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Scripture Central


Nephi’s emphatic lament and funeral-themed speech in Helaman 7–8 is akin to the symbolic actions carried out by several biblical prophets.

Nephi’s Lamentation

When Nephi (son of Helaman) returned to Zarahemla from his mission to the land northward, he found the people in a state of “awful wickedness” (Helaman 7:1–4). Especially concerning were the appointed judges who were judging unrighteously and leading the people astray (vv. 4–5). Filled with sorrow, Nephi climbed upon his tower, which was situated next to the highway that led to the chief market,1 and poured out his soul unto the Lord in great lamentation (vv. 6–9).

Nephi’s prayer was then witnessed by passersby who “ran and told the people what they had seen, and the people came together in multitudes that they might know the cause of so great mourning for the wickedness of the people” (Helaman 7:11). When the people had gathered, Nephi prophesied to them concerning their sins (vv. 13–29).

Staged Symbolic Actions

While Nephi’s mourning and lamentation could have been spontaneous, there is reason to suspect it was somewhat staged or planned in advance. Support for this proposal comes from the way that several Old Testament prophets enacted similar public demonstrations, each of which had a poignant symbolic purpose.2

On one occasion, the Lord told Isaiah to “loose the sackcloth from off thy loins, and put off thy shoe from thy foot,” which would have made him appear as a slave without his upper garment (Isaiah 20:2).3 As explained by Hebrew scholar Donald Parry, “Isaiah’s action was to be a sign, for as Isaiah walked like a slave, even so would the Egyptians become slaves to the Assyrians (Isaiah 20:2–4).”4

Jeremiah uses a yoke to symbolize impending bondage. Artist unknown. 

Similar examples can be seen in the ministry of Jeremiah, who was a contemporary of Lehi.5 Jeremiah was instructed by the Lord to create a scene by breaking an earthen jar near the gate of the city and then declare, “Thus saith the Lord of hosts; Even so will I break this people and this city, as one breaketh a potter’s vessel, that cannot be made whole again” (Jeremiah 19:11).

In another instance, the Lord told Jeremiah, “Make thee bonds and yokes, and put them upon thy neck” (Jeremiah 27:2). After this, Jeremiah was to send these symbolic items to various neighboring kings and tell them to submit themselves to the yoke of Babylonian rule (v. 8–11). Jeremiah then declared, “I spake also to Zedekiah king of Judah according to all these words, saying, Bring your necks under the yoke of the king of Babylon, and serve him and his people, and live. Why will ye die?” (vv. 12–13).

A Symbolic Funeral Speech?

Interestingly, Nephi asked the very same question to the people of Zarahemla as Jeremiah had to the people of Jerusalem. In a state of great mourning and lamentation—so effusive that the people gathered to witness the scene—Nephi declared: “O repent ye, repent ye! Why will ye die?” (Helaman 7:17).6 In one sense, the people themselves were dying—at least spiritually speaking. Yet, they were also in real danger of physical calamities and ultimately death: “thou shalt be utterly destroyed except thou shalt repent” (v. 24). Further solidifying this morbid context, Nephi revealed that, due to the wickedness of the people, someone important had indeed just died:

Yea, even at this time ye are ripening, because of your murders and your fornication and wickedness, for everlasting destruction; yea, and except ye repent it will come unto you soon. Yea, behold it is now even at your doors; yea, go ye in unto the judgment-seat, and search; and behold, your judge is murdered, and he lieth in his blood; and he hath been murdered by his brother, who seeketh to sit in the judgment-seat. (Helaman 8:27)

Just as prophets like Jeremiah had staged symbolic actions in public settings to emphasize prophetic pronouncements, Nephi’s actions may have been “staged as a prophetic allegory in the form of some kind of a funeral sermon,” in which he “attracted attention to his message by carrying on as if someone had just died.”7

Elevated structures at Palenque. Image via soulspring.org.

For one thing, it is hard to imagine that Nephi captured the attention of the crowd inadvertently. He surely would have known that his manner of lamentation was near a prominent highway and therefore would be witnessed by those heading to or from the chief market. Perhaps more significant, the timing of Nephi’s outpouring of grief, in conjunction with the death of the chief judge, seems too fortuitous to be mere happenstance. It wouldn’t be surprising to discover that, like Isaiah and Jeremiah, Nephi had been directed toward that particular action at that specific time by the Lord, either by direct command or through inspiration.8


Whatever degree of intentionality was present in Nephi’s actions, whether on his part or as directed by revelation, his funeral speech was certainly akin to the symbolic actions of prophets who came before him. Much like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and others, Nephi got the people’s attention in a dramatic fashion which proved to be symbolically relevant to his foreboding prophetic message. This biblically-styled narrative provides yet another evidence of the Book of Mormon’s ancient Hebrew origins and literary sophistication.  

John W. Welch, “Was Helaman 7–8 An Allegorical Funeral Sermon?” in Reexploring the Book of Mormon: A Decade of New Research, ed. John W. Welch (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1992), 339.

Donald W. Parry, “Symbolic Action as Prophetic Curse,” in Reexploring the Book of Mormon: A Decade of New Research, ed. John W. Welch (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1992), 206–208.

Bible:1 Kings 11:29–392 Kings 13:15–19Isaiah 20:2–6Jeremiah 13:1–11Jeremiah 19:1–13Ezekiel 18:31 Ezekiel 33:11Book of Mormon:Helaman 7–8


1 Kings 11:29–39

2 Kings 13:15–19

Isaiah 20:2–6

Jeremiah 13:1–11

Jeremiah 19:1–13

Ezekiel 18:31

Ezekiel 33:11

Book of Mormon:

Helaman 7–8

Customs and Ceremonies
Nephi's Funeral Sermon
Book of Mormon

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