Sam is the third son of the prophet Lehi, whose story is told in the Book of Mormon. There are only a ten mentions of Sam, but many church leaders have noted there are interesting lessons to be learned from this valiant young man who appears never to have held a leadership position and who is often not even mentioned in accounts of the events in which he participated.
Lehi was the first prophet of the Book of Mormon. He lived in Jerusalem and was a prophet just prior to the fall of Jerusalem. He was married to Sariah, and had at least six sons. Daughters are mentioned later in the Book of Mormon and may have married into the family that joined them on their wilderness journey prior to the beginning of the account.
The oldest two sons were Laman and Lemuel. Both lacked the faith of their father and are best noted for their tendency to whine when asked to obey God. Later, their rebelliousness turned violent and they attempted to murder their younger brother Nephi many times.
Sam was the third son. He managed to overcome the tendency of children to follow in the footsteps of older siblings and chose instead to follow the teachings of his family and his religion. This may have set the stage for the righteousness of the next youngest brother.
Nephi, the fourth son, was also righteous and would be chosen by God to lead the family and the church following the death of his father. His leadership began, however, in his teenage years.
Two additional sons were born in the wilderness and also followed the good example of their father and of Sam and Nephi.
When Lehi’s life was threatened as a result of his prophecies concerning the wickedness of the people and the future fall of Jerusalem, God instructed him to leave behind his home and possessions, which were great, and flee into the wilderness with his family. They would eventually travel by boat to what is today known as the American continent.
We first gain a glimpse of Sam’s character in 1 Nephi 2. Lehi tells his family of a vision he had. Nephi wanted to understand the vision better, so he prayed to God and received his own vision, the first of which we have a record for the young teenager. He told Sam of his vision:
17 And I spake unto Sam, making known unto him the things which the Lord had manifested unto me by his Holy Spirit. And it came to pass that he believed in my words.
18 But, behold, Laman and Lemuel would not hearken unto my words; and being grieved because of the hardness of their hearts I cried unto the Lord for them.
In the next chapter, the boys are asked by God to return to Jerusalem to obtain important records after the family has fled. Laman and Lemuel complained about the task. Nephi gave a famous speech about his willingness to obey and his faith that God would help them. Interesting, there is no record of Sam’s response, suggesting he simply quietly did as he was asked, not rebelling and perhaps so comfortable with obedience that he did not need to make a speech.
Throughout the account of this family, the author, Nephi records his own reactions to the events, naturally, and also usually records the reactions of his two oldest brothers. He seldom mentions Sam’s reactions. Howard W. Hunter, a former president and prophet, said of Sam:
“Many who read the story of the great prophet Nephi almost completely miss another valiant son of Lehi whose name was Sam. Nephi is one of the most famous figures in the entire Book of Mormon. But Sam? Sam’s name is mentioned only ten times in the scriptures. When Lehi counseled and blessed his posterity, he said to Sam:
“Blessed art thou [Sam], and thy seed; for thou shalt inherit the land like unto thy brother Nephi. And thy seed shall be numbered with his seed; and thou shalt be even like unto thy brother, and thy seed like unto his seed; and thou shalt be blessed in all thy days” (2 Ne. 4:11).
The role of Sam was basically one of supporting and assisting his more acclaimed younger brother, and he ultimately received all the blessings promised to Nephi and his posterity. Nothing promised to Nephi was withheld from the faithful Sam, yet we know very little of his service and contribution. He was almost an unknown in life, but he is obviously a victor in the annals of eternity.”
Sam’s contributions, while perhaps not recognized in his own life, contributed to the overall events. He was an unquestionable support and comfort to his younger brother. After the deaths of the parents, Nephi was forced to take his supporters and leave home because the two oldest brothers were determined to kill him. Sam chose to go with Nephi and their descendents were joined together as one civilization. Although he was passed over for reasons we don’t know as the leader of his people in favor of his younger brother, he appears not to have complained about this, as did Laman and Lemuel. In fact, we note that he gave his full support to his brother’s leadership from the very start. He is an example to us that God honors not just the “stars” of the story of Christianity, but also those valiant people who work quietly in the shadows.