We examine the Book of Mormon with a great sense of urgency because it was written to show us our own predicament: Jerusalem of Lehi’s day was just like the world we live in-full of abominations-and about to be destroyed. We are commanded to escape from the threat of Babylon just as Nephi was (compare 1 Ne. 1:13 to D&C 1:16). Nephi is a noble example of trust in the Lord as he leads his family to a land of promise and to faith in Christ. In this lesson we will explore these questions:
- How did Nephi demonstrate obedience, faith, and courage?
- How did Nephi’s response to trials differ from the responses of many of his family members?
Throughout sacred history, the Lord has shown his mercy to the faithful by helping them to escape the “awful monster” (2 Ne. 9:10) of captivity and death. Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and Moses were each inspired to take their people out of the world and into a place of safety-a promised land which is itself a prefiguring of eternal life in the celestial kingdom of God. The pattern continued in the latter days as the Saints escaped destruction at the hands of their enemies and trekked westward to establish Zion in a place where they could flourish and worship in peace.
Each of these epic journeys constituted not only an escape from the “vale of sorrow” but also a pilgrimage to a “far better land of promise,” as Alma denotes it (Alma 37:45). But these were not easy journeys. Afflicted with famine, hardship, and uncertainty, the wandering saints of former days had only their faith to sustain them, while the world continually beckoned to them. Many of the children of Israel murmured in the wilderness, longing for Egypt; and in our own day a good many members of the Church shrank from the journey west and lost themselves once again in Babylon.
The story of Lehi is of such an epic escape. The Lord showed Lehi in vision the fate of Jerusalem and commanded him to “take his family and depart into the wilderness” to a “land of promise . . . which is choice above all other lands” (1 Ne. 2:2, 20). The life of a faithful Latter-day Saint re-enacts these epic escapes of Abraham, Moses, and Lehi. We too are called on to come out of Babylon and to “take our journey” back to the presence of our Heavenly Father. From the example of Nephi, we can learn how to take the journey of life successfully.
Nephi wanted his readers (us) to know about the challenges of his journey to the Promised Land because he knew it was a story of the Lord’s deliverance that would give us courage. He recognized the pattern of the Lord’s dealings with his people and knew that the story of his small family re-enacted a similar exodus: that of the children of Israel from Egypt. “Quite probably, Nephi . . . consciously wrote his account of the wilderness journey in a way that would remind the reader of the Exodus of the children of Israel from Egypt.” We have the privilege of drawing strength from Nephi’s example of obedience, faith, and courage.
Pointing the Way
When Lehi’s family was at last ready to take their journey into the wilderness, Lehi awoke to find “upon the ground a round ball of curious workmanship . . . and within the ball were two spindles; and the one pointed the way whither we should go” (1 Ne. 16:10). The Lord never leaves his faithful children without direction. The instrument not only pointed the way, but was full of writing “which was plain to be read, which did give us understanding concerning the ways of the Lord; and it was written and changed from time to time, according to the faith and diligence which we gave unto it” (1 Ne. 16:28-29). The ball’s instructions eased the path by leading them “in the more fertile parts of the wilderness” (1 Ne. 16:16).
As we face our own journeys through life, we should keep in mind the symbolic importance of Lehi’s compass, known to them as the Liahona. Alma likens the instrument to the scriptures and the words of the prophets: “It is as easy to give heed to the word of Christ, which will point to you a straight course to eternal bliss, as it was for our fathers to give heed to this compass, which would point unto them a straight course to the promised land” (Alma 37:44).
Alma notes that when the Lehites were “slothful and forgot to exercise their faith and diligence” the director ceased working “and they did not progress in their journey; therefore they tarried in the wilderness, or did not travel a direct course” (Alma 37:41-42). We are thus reminded that if we study faithfully the word of God and diligently keep it, the Lord will guide our steps.
Wading Through Much Affliction
Throughout the journey, the family of Lehi struggled with hunger, death, and dissension. “We did travel and wade through much affliction in the wilderness,” Nephi writes. I have been to the Arabian Peninsula where Nephi journeyed and have seen firsthand how desolate that land can be. To take families through the mountains and deserts must have been nigh impossible. Starvation threatened when Nephi and his brothers lost the use of their metal bows. No longer able to hunt game, “they did suffer much for the want of food.”
The response of Laman and Lemuel, Nephi’s brothers, was to take counsel of despair. They “did begin to murmur exceedingly . . . against the Lord.” Even Lehi began to murmur. Nephi, on the other hand, faced the brutal reality of their situation and did what he could. “I did make out of wood a bow, and out of a straight stick, an arrow: wherefore, I did arm myself with a bow and an arrow, with a sling and with stones. And I said unto my father: Whither shall I go to obtain food?” (1 Ne. 16:23). By the Lord’s direction and his own efforts, Nephi was able to find the food his family needed.
The death of Ishmael caused real sorrow to his daughters, who did “mourn exceedingly,” and they also began to murmur. “Our father is dead; yea, and we have wandered much in the wilderness, and we have suffered much affliction, hunger, thirst, and fatigue” (1 Ne. 16:35). The women also had to bear children in the wilderness. These difficulties must have been overwhelming.
Worse than the physical hardship and loss were the cruel dissensions that plagued the family. Laman and Lemuel were not only rebellious but murderous. They longed for the ease and comfort of the world. They were lazy, refusing to work with Nephi in building the ship. They were insulting (“our brother is a fool”) and treacherous (“behold, let us slay our father, and also our brother Nephi”).
In their carousing on the ship, they bound Nephi with cords and cruelly mistreated the rest of the family.
Laman and Lemuel typify the cynical and destructive forces at work in our world. Their view of people of faith? “Led away by the foolish imaginations of [their] hearts.” Their definition of happiness? “We might have enjoyed our possessions and the land of our inheritance; yea, and we might have been happy.” Their approach to the challenges of life? ” “My brethren did complain against me, and were desirous that they might not labor.”
As we view the world around us sinking more and more under the tide of sin, we recognize the “Laman-and-Lemuel” syndrome among many. They become desensitized to truth and virtue. They become “past feeling,” unable to feel the influence of the Spirit in their lives (1 Ne. 17:45).
Hearkening to the Truth
Nephi’s response to these nearly overwhelming challenges was an unwavering faith in the Lord and obedience to his instructions.
“Do you believe that our fathers, who were the children of Israel, would have been led away out of the hands of the Egyptians if they had not hearkened unto the words of the Lord? ” Thus Nephi begins his remarkable discourse on Exodus, likening the history of Israel’s wanderings to the situation of Lehi’s family (1 Ne. 17:23-43). We are in the same position, he seems to say to his brothers. “Do ye suppose that they would have been led out of , if the Lord had not commanded Moses that he should lead them?”
The message is clear: awaits those who fail to follow the Lord’s prophets. Spiritual is the inevitable result when we do not “hearken unto the words of the Lord.”
“By his word the waters of the Red Sea were divided . . . the Egyptians were drowned in the Red Sea, who were the armies of Pharaoh.” The Lord will not allow the forces of evil to overtake and destroy those who are faithful.
“Ye also know that they were fed with manna in the wilderness . . . there came forth water, that the children of Israel might quench their thirst.” The Lord provides spiritual as well as physical sustenance to us freely if we follow his commandments.
The Lord led them by day and gave light to them by night, “doing all things for them which were expedient for man to receive.” The faithful may count on the Lord’s guidance at every moment. We receive from his hand whatever is “expedient” for us; in other words, the blessings we receive are specifically tailored to help us progress in the Lord’s own way. Ultimately, he “leadeth away the righteous into precious lands,” emblematic of the celestial kingdom of God (1 Ne. 17:30, 38).
But the family of Israel, like Laman and Lemuel, had refused again and again to hearken. “They hardened their hearts and blinded their minds, and reviled against Moses and against the true and living God . . . even as ye have.” And the day of destruction awaits, Nephi warns. Speaking of the Jews at Jerusalem, Nephi declares that “the time has come that they have become wicked, yea, nearly unto ripeness . . . they must be destroyed, save a few only, who shall be led away into captivity” (1 Ne. 17:42-43).
Nephi’s exhortation that we should “liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning” (1 Ne. 19:23), is sobering when we consider the parallels between our own situation and Lehi’s. We too lie under the shadow of Babylon. Like the Jews at Jerusalem in Lehi’s day, the world nervously goes about its business without regard to the word of the Lord. “They set him at naught, and hearken not to the voice of his counsels” (1 Ne. 19:7).
Nevertheless, because “he loved our fathers, and he covenanted with them . . . and he remember[s] the covenants which he had made,” the “God of our fathers . . . yieldeth himself . . . to be lifted up . . . and to be crucified.” And he shall surely visit all the house of Israel in our day, “some with his voice, because of their righteousness, unto their great joy and salvation, and others with the thunderings and lightnings of his power.”
Like Lehi, we have been commanded to separate ourselves spiritually from the world to escape the of sin. Like Lehi, we each have a journey to take with our families either into the “precious land” of our Father’s kingdom or into captivity and death.
Our destiny is entirely our choice. We can choose to hearken or not. We can choose as Nephi did to listen to the Lord and be preserved by his power, or to choose as Laman and Lemuel did to harden our hearts. Both paths are hard, but while one leads to darkness and futility, the other leads to the light. The path that leads to the Savior, although challenging at times, is ultimately the path of “simpleness and easiness,” and our labor is to look to Christ and live (1 Ne. 17:41).
 Szink, Terrence L. “Nephi and the Exodus.” In Rediscovering the Book of Mormon, John L. Sorenson and Melvin J. Thorne, eds., Deseret Book, 1991, p. 38.