It’s a well-worn Mormon trope that Laman and Lamuel were a couple of halsstarrige gangsters. Exhibit A: L&L are beating Nephi and Sam with sticks; an angel appears and gives them a rollicking; L&L begin anew their murmuring ways. “How,” we ask, exasperated, “could anyone see an angel and not be spurred on to ecstatic moral heights?”
When you read the scene in 1 Nephi 3, what do you see in your mind’s eye? Probably a Gabriel/Moroni-style angel, resplendent in dazzling white, freshly arrived via a conduit to the celestial worlds. If this is indeed how the angel appeared, then Laman and Lemuel were bounders and cads of the first order.
But there is nothing in the text which demands such a reading. All we have is the following: “an angel of the Lord came and stood before them, and he spake unto them…And after the angel had spoken unto us, he departed.”
In the Hebrew Bible, “angel” means simply “messenger (mal’ak) of God.” Reading backwards, we syncretise all such messengers into the mass of cherubic hosts, but there is no reason to read every mal’ak as being of the Metatron type. Hebrews (13:2) tells us that some have “entertained angels without knowing it,” and the Patriarchs conversed with angels who appeared as ordinary men. (As far as the Sodominians could tell, the angels hosted by Lot were just three ordinary blokes.)
Thus, the angel of 1 Nephi 3 may have appeared simply as a traveller along a dusty path, commanding enough respect to cause the brothers to cease their beatings yes, but not enough to awaken them from their moral stupor and recognised as an “angel” as such only by holy Nephi.
In other words, I wonder whether when picturing this angel we should think of Ben Kenobi in Beggar’s Canyon rather than this.