My whole relationship with God was tranformed when I learned this truth. I hope that by sharing it with you it will strengthen your relationship with him, too. This can only be learned through the Spirit. I offer only pointers that can help you on your journey of discovery.
God never commands his children to murder eachother. Now, I am not saying there aren't times when it isn't reasonable or justified. What I am saying is that the Eternal Father does not command it.
I believe that all the stories of "God commanded killings" are either to be understood symbolicly and/or stories of people who are not One with God.
I'd like to start by looking at the story of Nephi and Laban. This story is actually one of the least offensive because we are dealing with a man who reportedly is wicked and tried to kill Nephi and his brothers. The reason I want to start with this story is because I believe we have strong evidence that it was not commanded by God.
The account is in 1 Nephi 3-4.
We have Lehi tell his sons to go and get the brass plates from Laban back in Jerusalem. The brothers return and draw lots. Laman goes and asks Laban for the plates. Laban calls him a thief and tells his gaurds to kill him. Laman gets away and returns to his brothers.
Next, the brothers all go to their estate and get everything worth money to attempt to purchase the plates. Laban is greedy and takes their stuff and orders his gaurds to kill them. Again, the brothers escape and hide.
Nephi decides to go back to Jerusalem alone. He records that he believes the Lord will help him obey this command (to get the plates). He compares Laban to the Egyptians.
1 Nephi 4:6 And I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do.
7 Nevertheless I went forth, and as I came near unto the house of Laban I beheld a man, and he had fallen to the earth before me, for he was drunken with wine.
8 And when I came to him I found that it was Laban.
9 And I beheld his sword, and I drew it forth from the sheath thereof; and the hilt thereof was of pure gold, and the workmanship thereof was exceedingly fine, and I saw that the blade thereof was of the most precious steel.
10 And it came to pass that I was constrained by the Spirit that I should kill Laban; but I said in my heart: Never at any time have I shed the blood of man. And I shrunk and would that I might not slay him.
11 And the Spirit said unto me again: Behold the Lord hath delivered him into thy hands. Yea, and I also knew that he had sought to take away mine own life; yea, and he would not hearken unto the commandments of the Lord; and he also had taken away our property.
12 And it came to pass that the Spirit said unto me again: Slay him, for the Lord hath delivered him into thy hands;
13 Behold the Lord slayeth the wicked to bring forth his righteous purposes. It is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief.
14 And now, when I, Nephi, had heard these words, I remembered the words of the Lord which he spake unto me in the wilderness, saying that: Inasmuch as thy seed shall keep my commandments, they shall prosper in the land of promise.
15 Yea, and I also thought that they could not keep the commandments of the Lord according to the law of Moses, save they should have the law.
16 And I also knew that the law was engraven upon the plates of brass.
17 And again, I knew that the Lord had delivered Laban into my hands for this cause—that I might obtain the records according to his commandments.
18 Therefore I did obey the voice of the Spirit, and took Laban by the hair of the head, and I smote off his head with his own sword.
19 And after I had smitten off his head with his own sword, I took the garments of Laban and put them upon mine own body; yea, even every whit; and I did gird on his armor about my loins.
The "still small voice" tells Nephi he should kill Laban. Nephi hesitates and then goes through the justification process in his mind. One of the reasons he uses is that his people need the law/commandments or they will dwindle in unbelief. Nephi is breaking 3 commandments to secure the plates. So how important are the commandments? It appears that following anything the Spirit says trumps them. That makes this an unreasonable justification.
The other problem with this idea is that God could easily have Nephi write the law himself. We believe in revelation and inspiration, so this can easily be remedied.
He also can't know that his people will dwindle in unbelief or not. And, as history would have it, his people DO dwindle in unbelief even with the brass plates!
Nephi chops off Laban's head using the sword then he removes Laban's clothing and puts it on. The clothing would be drenched in blood. Ew!
There is absolutely no reason to believe that Nephi couldn't have stripped Laban and gotten the plates without killing him. Many will argue that Laban would have sent his men after Nephi and his people. Since we know that Nephi and his brothers were successful in getting away 2 other times this is not a valid arguement. It is also not valid if we believe that God can do anything.
I was reading another blog yesterday and it was pointed out that Nephi uses nearly the same wording and same reasoning for killing Laban as was used to put Jesus to death! Yikes! That seems a bit odd. Is Laban to be understood as a Christ symbol? Compare to verse 13 above.
John 11:49 And one of them, named Caiaphas, being the high priest that same year, said unto them, Ye know nothing at all,
50 Nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not.
51 And this spake he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation;
Now, there are many scholars who have studied ancient culture and found parallels. I think that is neat, however it shows a cultural bias and does not make a case for a "God commanded" murder. Here is a paper by John W. Welch on the legal perspective of this slaying.
The problem for me is that they all use the 613 laws of Moses as their guide. We're told that many of these laws were given to the children of Isreal because of the hardness of their hearts (see Matt. 19:8).
We also have no evidence that the Nephite people used all the 613 laws of Moses. In fact, one could make a case that they didn't follow all of them. For sure, they didn't follow the ones that governed polygamy.
What do we know? We do know that they were governed by the 10 commandments. We also are told of another law given to Nephi in the Doctrine and Covenants.
D&C 98:23 Now, I speak unto you concerning your families—if men will smite you, or your families, once, and ye bear it patiently and revile not against them, neither seek revenge, ye shall be rewarded;
24 But if ye bear it not patiently, it shall be accounted unto you as being meted out as a just measure unto you.
25 And again, if your enemy shall smite you the second time, and you revile not against your enemy, and bear it patiently, your reward shall be an hundredfold.
26 And again, if he shall smite you the third time, and ye bear it patiently, your reward shall be doubled unto you four-fold;
27 And these three testimonies shall stand against your enemy if he repent not, and shall not be blotted out.
28 And now, verily I say unto you, if that enemy shall escape my vengeance, that he be not brought into judgment before me, then ye shall see to it that ye warn him in my name, that he come no more upon you, neither upon your family, even your children’s children unto the third and fourth generation.
29 And then, if he shall come upon you or your children, or your children’s children unto the third and fourth generation, I have delivered thine enemy into thine hands;
30 And then if thou wilt spare him, thou shalt be rewarded for thy righteousness; and also thy children and thy children’s children unto the third and fourth generation.
31 Nevertheless, thine enemy is in thine hands; and if thou rewardest him according to his works thou art justified; if he has sought thy life, and thy life is endangered by him, thine enemy is in thine hands and thou art justified.
32 Behold, this is the law I gave unto my servant Nephi, and thy fathers, Joseph, and Jacob, and Isaac, and Abraham, and all mine ancient prophets and apostles.
God revealed this law that was given to Nephi through Joseph Smith. What does this law tell us about how to deal with our enemies? You must bear him coming upon you 3 times, forgiving him each time. Then, you must warn him in the name of Jesus Christ to leave you and your family alone. IF he comes upon you a FOURTH time, you may do what you wish. Killing is justified, but sparing him will be rewarded for righteousness.
1 Nephi 3:13 We have our first encounter with Laban. He tries to have Laman killed.
1 Nephi 3:25 We have our second attempt to get the plates-this time by purchasing them. Laban tries to have them killed.
1 Nephi 4 we have Nephi going alone to retrieve the plates. He does not warn Laban, since Laban is passed out. He kills Laban and uses deception to steal the plates.
Nephi did not follow this law as outlined in D&C 98. Laban only "came upon" Nephi and his brothers TWO times. Plus, there was no warning given.
The scriptures also give us a warning and a lesson regarding the whisperings of the Spirit.
Ether 4:11 But he that believeth these things which I have spoken, him will I visit with the manifestations of my Spirit, and he shall know and bear record. For because of my Spirit he shall know that these things are true; for it persuadeth men to do good.
12 And whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do good is of me; for good cometh of none save it be of me. I am the same that leadeth men to all good; he that will not believe my words will not believe me—that I am; and he that will not believe me will not believe the Father who sent me. For behold, I am the Father, I am the light, and the life, and the truth of the world.
2 Nephi 15:20 Wo unto them that call evil good, and good evil, that put darkness for light, and light for darkness, that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!
There is nothing good about the shedding of blood. Any soldier will tell you that even justified killing has long lasting psychological consequences.
The sad part of the tale is that this was only the beginning of a culture of war and bloodshed. We are told that the very sword that beheaded Laban was then used as a model for the weapons of war the Nephites made to kill their Lamanite brothers (2 Nephi 5:14). The culture of violence continues throughout the rest of the BoM ending in the anihilation of the people.
That's all I've got on the Laban slaying. I may do a part two focused on some of the genocide of the Old Testament at another time.