First of all, this is a hefty chapter in terms of doctrinal understanding but I find it interesting how it was specifically given to Jacob, Lehi's "first-born in the days of my tribulation in the wilderness" (v.1). Lehi recognized all the turmoil his young son had witnessed at the hand of his brothers and as any loving and God-fearing father would do Lehi is blunt in expounding on the topic of agency to this tender-aged son who is about to lose his father in death. Lehi reminds and reassures Jacob that, "...thou knowest the greatness of God; and he shall consecrate thine afflictions for thy gain. Wherefore, thy soul shall be blessed, and thou shalt dwell safely with thy brother, Nephi; and thy days shall be spent in the service of thy God" (v.2-3).
When I took a Teachings of the Living Prophet religion class at BYU-Idaho from then-President David A. Bednar he taught us how to look for the 1)doctrine 2)principles 3)applications in the teachings/writings from our modern and ancient prophets. This chapter is loaded with all 3. Instead of taking the fun out of it for you, I will mention a few and leave the rest to you to do in your own study. (With conference coming up this is also fun to do for every talk given by our leaders- find the overarching doctrine/topic, the principles/sub-topics, and the specific application of each in your life.)
Doctrine 1: Redemption(v.6)
Principles of Redemption: Agency(v.5), Atonement(v.8/10), Repentance (v.7), Punishment(v.10), Grace(v.6), Truth(v.6), the Holy Messiah(v.6), Resurrection(v.8), Intercession(v.10), Plan of Happiness, Justice of God(v.12), Enticement(v.16), Judgement (v.10)
Application: Recognizing opposition in all things(v.11), knowing/teaching/choosing good from evil (v.5), broken heart and a contrite spirit (v.7), believing in Him(v.9), living righteously(v.13), acting for ourselves/choosing the good despite enticement from bad(v.16)
Do you see of fun this could be? I could go on and on and I could change the doctrine to Repentance or Agency and different principles would apply and the application would change slightly. Do you see how different doctrines work as principles for other doctrines? I love how the Gospel of Jesus Christ is so interconnected and purposeful. Every practice, belief and doctrine we live and believe in has a profound purpose that helps us live our daily lives in accordance with His will in order to become more like Him, so we can return to live with Him again.
This chapter points out the importance of one of our greatest gifts that we came to earth with: agency and what it is, when, why, and how to use it for our good/happiness. Agency is the RIGHT TO CHOOSE GOOD FROM EVIL, not just to choose. There is so much power in that. Lehi explains in verse 17 that according to his understanding the devil was an angel of God who fell from heaven because he sought that which was evil before God (to strip us of agency, which we know we already had in the pre-existence). This chapter makes me even more grateful for Adam and Eve and their CHOICE to partake of the forbidden fruit together for them and us. The scripture mastery verses sum the fall's purpose of nicely:
22 And now, behold, if Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen, but he would have remained in the garden of Eden. And all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end.
24 But behold, all things have been done in the wisdom of him who aknoweth all things.
This knowledge helps us to understand the importance of the redemption however, explained in verse 26, that a Messiah would come to redeem us from the Fall so we truly could be free forever if we would choose correctly. This verse also explains that there are 2 ways to freedom of choice:
1) knowing good from evil
2) to act for themselves and not to be acted upon
Think about that for a while.
I have a great (lengthy) quote from Elder George Q. Cannon that I'll sum up my remarks with. In relation to verse 27 (scripture mastery) about how men are free to choose liberty and eternal life or captivity and death, think on this:
"It is a remarkable fact, that there is no blessing that God has promised unto us that any human being, that any angel, or any devil can take from us... But man himself, by sinning, can rob himself of his blessing; he can prevent its fulfillment; but no human being can do it beside himself. Remember this, Latter-day Saints; remember it, and treasure it up in your hearts, that you have salvation within your own keeping. If you are damned, you damn yourselves; you will be the instrument of your own damnation. It will not be because God will damn you; it will not be because Satan has such power that he can take away every blessing from you; it will not be because of anything of that kind. How will it come about? It will come to every soul by wrong-doing on the part of that soul. He or she alone can bring condemnation on himself or herself. There is no other power can do it. Hence if we are damned we shall have no one to blame but ourselves..."
(Elder George Q. Cannon, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 26, p. 249-250).
There is so much power in our choices. We can bring upon ourselves the happiness we seek or the damnation we long to avoid. It all boils down to if we choose the good over the evil AND how and if we act or if we are acted upon.
I love how Lehi explains that this discourse on agency to all his sons is his only "object, save it be the everlasting welfare of your souls" (v.30). His life seems to be the ultimate symbol of agency (I mean whose isn't, right?) but he lead lead his family into the wilderness, crossed a sea to the promised land, got the Liahona which depended on choosing good, had the vision of the tree of life which encompassed the doctrine of Agency, and was father to vary diverse sets of sons who chose good and evil consistently. As a mother I couldn't think of anything better to infuse into my children... because the doctrines, principles, and applications of the gospel of Jesus Christ are so much a part of agency that there is no avoiding the other doctrines of salvation.
***I have a great testimony building story about verse 14 that I'll share in the comments. Please don't miss it and feel free to add yours.***