A Dictionary of the Book of Mormon/Laban
LABAN. A rich, unscrupulous and powerful Israelite of the tribe of Joseph, though a dweller in Jerusalem (B. C. 600). While Lehi and his little company were resting in the valley of Lemuel, that patriarch was commanded of the Lord to send his sons back to Jerusalem to obtain certain records that were in the possession of Laban. The records, which were engraven on plates of brass, being intimately associated with Lehi's ancestors, were highly necessary for the welfare of his descendants when they established themselves in a new home, far from communication with any other people.
When the elder sons of Lehi were informed of the Lord's wishes, they entered many objections to returning to Jerusalem. They claimed to be afraid of Laban, who was a man of considerable influence, having much wealth and many servants at his command. It was not until Nephi had plead with them that they would consent to go. Though young, he had learned an exceedingly valuable lesson, that the Lord does not require His children to do impossible things, but that when He gives them a command He opens up the way for them to accomplish His requirements. Nephi felt at this time that if the Lord desired that they should have the records, then in the possession of Laban, He would control circumstances in such a way that they could obtain them.
The young men accordingly returned to Jerusalem. When they reached the holy city, it was decided that Laman, being the eldest, should first go to Laban and endeavor to obtain the records. Laman had no faith in his mission and, consequently, was unsuccessful. He was much abused by Laban for asking for the records, and returned to his brothers feeling very downhearted. The young men then decided that they would endeavor to purchase the records from Laban, so they went to their father's house, and gathered up some of the valuables that they had left therein when they deserted their home for the journey into the wilderness. Taking these precious things to Laban, they offered them to him in exchange for the plates. He, seeing how great was the value of the property offered him, desired to obtain it without giving up the records in return. He, therefore, with the aid of his servants, drove the young men from his house and sent his retainers to slay them, but he did not permit them to carry back the valuables they had brought. These he kept for himself.
After this second unsuccessful effort, Laman and Lemuel were very angry, and they went so far as to beat their younger brothers, Sam and Nephi, with a rod. While doing so, an angel appeared before them and upbraided them for their evil conduct. This rebuke for a time quieted them, but the effects of this heavenly visitation were short lived.
Laman and Lemuel were now very anxious to return to the wilderness, but Nephi would not consent. He was determined that, by the help of the Lord, he would not go back without the records. Accordingly, he resolved to make the next attempt himself; so when night came, he walked towards the city, being followed at some distance by his brothers. They do not appear to have had the courage to enter the gates, but stood without the walls, while Nephi entered the city, not knowing exactly where he should go, or what he should do, being led by the Spirit of the Lord within him. As he approached the house of Laban, he perceived a man lying on the ground in a drunken stupor. A brief examination showed him that the man was Laban. The Spirit of the Lord directed Nephi to slay Laban, for he was a robber and, at heart, a murderer. He had robbed the sons of Lehi of the property they had taken to him in their effort to exchange it for the records, and had afterwards sought their lives. But, though fully justified, Nephi shrank from taking the life of a fellow being. Never before had he shed human blood. But the Spirit of the Lord whispered to him it was better that one man should be slain than that a whole people should perish in ignorance. If Lehi's company and their descendants should go to the new land, which would afterwards be their home, without any account of the dealings of God with their forefathers, the mighty works He had done for their preservation, and the laws which He had given that they might please Him, they would gradually grow in darkness in all these respects, and by and by lose sight of their Creator, and become a wicked, degraded and unbelieving people.
Nerved by this monition, Nephi drew Laban's sword from its scabbard, and cut off his head. He then quickly disrobed the body and placed the dead man's armor on his own person. Thus attired, he entered the house of Laban, and, it being dark, it was not easy to recognize him. Assuming the voice of Laban, he called to a servant named Zoram, who had the keys of the treasury, and told him to bring the plates which he needed. Zoram, deceived by the voice and the armor of his master, at once obeyed.