Not Knowing Beforehand

Only once in scripture is the phrase “not knowing beforehand” used:

1 Nephi 4:6 “And I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do.”

This verse comes, of course, right before Nephi stumbles onto a conveniently drunken Laban, which happy circumstance allows Nephi to complete the Lord’s command to secure the brass plates.  Nephi didn’t know how he was going to accomplish the Lord’s errand, but he was in the right spot, led by the Spirit, and he was anxious to obey.

The phrase “not knowing beforehand” is also used in the Lord’s most recent parable.

“And yet others reasoned among themselves that they should go and see the place their master had chosen not knowing beforehand what would be there.”

This group (the brick people) also had a difficult errand to perform. But, having gone to the right spot, and being anxious to perform the Lord’s will, they found that the Lord opened the way for them also to complete their task.

Is it coincidental that this phrase, used only once in scripture, is dusted off for use once again in the parable?  It is a memorable verse.  Did the Lord use it wittingly to bring to mind Nephi’s faith and obedience? Is the use of this phrase a shorthand way of communicating what the Lord thinks about the efforts of the “brick people?”

If the Lord’s use of the phrase “not knowing beforehand” is a literary device, it communicates a great deal that is not explicitly said.  In the John Wayne movie, “McKlintock,” the wife (Maureen O’Hara) gets angry and calls McKlintock by his full name: “George Washington McKlintock!” It’s a shortcut for the writers.  They just told us a ton about the character without actually having to say it. They ascribed to the character of McKlintock the nobility, power, and position of our first president.

In the parable another time saver is used.  The parable seems to be both history and prophecy.  Building the “house” is explicitly producing and agreeing on a guide and standard (“I say to you that there is need for but one house, and I accept the statement you have adopted and approve it as your statement to be added”).  But building the house also appears to be becoming the family of God, and building the future temple (closely related tasks).  If we are reading both an assessment of what we have already done and a preview of what comes next, how do we go about accomplishing those more difficult tasks?  The allusion to Nephi, and his successful completion of the Lord’s errand, tells us:

Don’t murmur; presume the Lord will open a way to complete the assignment; the use of casting lots is an acceptable way to proceed; be willing to use our riches to complete the assignment; don’t get discouraged if powerful men line up in opposition; if an angel yells at us for fighting among ourselves, listen to his criticism; take heart and remember the miracles the Lord has already performed for his people; listen to the Spirit; etc. (1 Nephi, Chapters 3, 4)

Gordon Platt