Lehi delivered two separate messages to his generation at Jerusalem. These two messages provoked two separate reactions.
The first message was that they were wicked, and were engaged in abominations before God. (1 Ne. 1: 19.) In other words, these were sinful people needing to repent and return to God.
When the people heard “the things which he testified of them” their reaction was to mock and ridicule him and his message. (Id.) They had the scriptures, the priesthood, the Temple, the ordinances, and they were absolutely certain they were living their religion just as God wanted them to. They were “chosen” and were holy people. This idea of being “wicked” and engaging in abominable practices while they lived devoted lives seemed rediculous to them. Lehi could not be taken seriously. If there was anything to this message, then they would expect it would come from the established hierarchy, not some obscure trader living in Jerusalem. He wasn’t even a Levite for that matter.
The second message was much more serious. He spoke “plainly of the coming of a Messiah, and also the redemption of the world.” (1 Ne. 1: 19.) Since this was an idea the Jews of that day had rejected, Lehi’s testimony of Christ was too much. He was accusing them of apostasy. This aroused anger and even fury. The idea that these holy people, devoted to their religion, practicing the ordinances and preserving the Temple rites could be in a state of apostasy was too much for them to brook.
In response to this second message they had a second reaction: they wanted to kill him. (1 Ne. 1: 20.) They knew what to do with this kind of message. They would excommunicate, or “cast out” anyone who dared to preach this message. It threatened the pretenders who presided. It threatened the order of their day. It challenged the authority of the faith. It was too much.
Lehi would be either cast out (excommunicated). Or he would be “stoned” (an officially sanctioned religious punishment). Or he would be “slain” (a mob reaction not sanctioned by the religion). (Id.) The first two were to be imposed by the religious leaders. The third, however, would be popular reaction. An uncontrolled mob, showing spontaneous religious zeal, having been indoctrinated by their leaders to react in this manner. The leaders would prefer the third remedy. That would show their teaching was having the desired effect. If not, then the first two would be imposed.
Two messages, and two reactions. The popular practices of religion of Lehi’s day were condemning souls. No one was being saved. No leadership existed which would lead men back to God’s presence.
Lehi listened to the “many prophets, prophesying unto the people that they must repent” (1 Ne. 1: 4). He learned for himself, directly from God that this was a true message. He took up the message and he delivered his own testimony.
This was a message from God, whom He had met. This was authorized and, whether the Jews of his day would acknowledge it or not, it was binding upon them. Therefore, when they rejected his testimony against them and his message requiring them to repent, they rejected God’s word.
These deeply religious peers of Lehi’s were astonished at the idea an obscure merchant could speak with and for God. Once again the first chapter of the Book of Mormon introduces us to a world where God alone decides who He will call. Then, after a private audience with the Lord, the commissioned spokesman proceeds to cry repentance. These are radical ideas, and prove the Book of Mormon is no ordinary text. It is a warning from God, and its precepts will bring mankind closer to the truth than the precepts you will find in any other volume of sacred text.