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Destroyed by the Hand of the Lord
Moroni’s introduction to the Jaredite record contains the sobering phrase “destroyed by the hand of the Lord” (Ether 1:1). We are told in advance what befell this ancient people. Having just read through the awful annihilation of the Nephites in Mormon’s own book, we now receive another witness again on a civilization-sized scale of the curses associated with breaking the Lord’s covenants and not living righteously upon this land of promise. Both abridgements in the Book of Mormon, Moroni’s synopsis of Ether’s plates (Ether 1-15), and his father Mormon’s condensation of Nephi’s plates (1 Nephi 1-Mormon 7) recount the downfall of two consecutive nations due to their blatant disregard for the things of God.
No mere history primer, Moroni warns that the gentile nation that will become powerful upon the Promised Land in the latter-days should “serve the God of the land, who is Jesus Christ,” or else they “shall be swept off” when the “fulness of his wrath cometh upon them when they are ripened in iniquity” (Ether 2:12, 9 respectively). The book of Ether should be seen as a historically accurate documentation of the fruits of wickedness, and also as a potential type of things to come. Alma warned Helaman against revealing the secret combinations that destroyed the Jaredites by saying that, “there is a curse upon all this land, that destruction shall come upon all those workers of darkness, according to the power of God, when they are fully ripe except they repent before they are fully ripe” (Alma 37:28, 31).
Out of Babylon
Jared and his brother lived in a most interesting time and place. They were confronted with the incredible wickedness of ancient Babylon. It was there that Nimrod was directing the wicked work of constructing the Tower of Babel. Ancient sources shed light on why they were building the evil edifice. According to the Jewish historian Josephus, Nimrod was a grandson of Ham, son of Noah. He was a tyrannical and powerful leader who successfully convinced the people to defy God for destroying their ancestors in the flood, hence their tower building campaign.
He also led them to believe that their prosperity was the product of their own devices (see Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book I, 4:1-3). Nibley notes that Nimrod was bent on avenging his ancestors’ death by engaging God in an archery match and was building the tower high enough to shoot his arrows into heaven (Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, vol. 5:165). In this state of spiritual rebellion the Lord didn’t send rain, but confusion, hence the meaning of the name Babel in Hebrew (Josephus, Book I, 4:3). Literally the Lord changed their language from the unity of Adam’s tongue to a jumble of unintelligible speech from which our modern multiplicity of languages stems.
Faithful Prayers and Faithless Forgetting
Jared and his brother didn’t subscribe to the false religion of their day. Instead they turned to Lord for the help they needed. First, they received the ability to keep their language intact, and then they asked if perhaps the Lord would a “carry [them] forth into a land which is choice above all the earth” (Ether 1:38). Indeed, the Lord did invite them to leave Babylon, as he had directed his humble children in earlier times (see Moses 6:17 for the first recorded exodus). The Lord will protect and provide for all of his children who will “cry unto” him with their specific petitions (Ether 1:34, 36, 38). But, as so often in the case, his children tend to forget the Lord in times of prosperity. After being led to the valley they called “Moriancumer” (an apparent reference to the brother of Jared’s name; see Improvement Era, July 1905, 705), the record states that “he remembered not to call upon the name of the Lord” (Ether 2:14). Just as Moses later warned the Israelites on their way into the Promised Land, “beware, lest ye forget the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:1), so we should be warned against the false pacification that “all is well” in our own supposed “Zion” (2 Nephi 28:21). The record does not indicate whether the brother of Jared ceased to pray completely, or whether his prayers had turned “less fervent, more casual and routine” (see McConkie, Millet & Top’s Commentary on the Book of Mormon, 4:269). At any rate, he did not “call upon the name of the Lord for his brethren who were with him” (Ether 2:15) so that they had not as yet progressed to their ultimate destination the Promised Land.
President Kimball has indicated that appropriate and powerful prayer must be two-way communication with the Lord:
“Is prayer only one-way communication? No! One of the reasons ‘prayer is the soul’s sincere desire’ [Hymns, 1985, no. 145] is because prayer is such a privilege not only to speak to our Father in Heaven, but also to receive love and inspiration from him. At the end of our prayers, we need to do some intense listening even for several minutes. We have prayed for counsel and help. Now we must ‘be still, and know that [he is] God’ (Ps. 46:10). Learning the language of prayer is a joyous, lifetime experience. Sometimes ideas flood our mind as we listen after our prayers. Sometimes feelings press upon us. A spirit of calmness assures us that all will be well. But always, if we have been honest and earnest, we will experience a good feeling a feeling of warmth for our Father in Heaven and a sense of his love for us. It has sorrowed me that some of us have not learned the meaning of that calm, spiritual warmth, for it is a witness to us that our prayers have been heard” (Ensign, Oct. 1981, 5).
My Spirit Will Not Always Strive With Man
It should be noted that the Lord’s forgiveness of this four-year delinquency was somewhat swift (Ether 2:15). A common misunderstanding about repentance is that some pre-determined period of time must pass before forgiveness, acceptance, and further guidance may be received. Instead, we may find the Lord more willing to help us in our times of self-inflicted need than we had supposed. Except in cases of conscious and consistent disobedience (what Elder Maxwell has called “ritual prodigalism” in the Ensign, Nov. 1988, 33) the Lord’s “spirit continues with the honest in heart to strengthen, to help, and to save, but invariably the Spirit of God ceases to strive with the man who excuses himself in wrong-doing” (Spencer W. Kimball, TSWK, 86).
I know by personal experience that this is true. I had always assumed that when I made a mistake I would automatically lose the spirit. On a particular occasion when I had erred and I knew it, I prayed fervently to know when I could receive his spirit again. I asked to know how long it would take before I could enjoy the much needed feelings and impressions that I had come to rely upon. The response was as clear as it was surprising. That wonderful spiritual voice communicated to me that I could have his spirit as soon as I was ready to go forward. I quickly inventoried and willingly renewed my commitment to living right when I was immediately and somewhat unbelievably rewarded with the familiar ministrations of the spirit. This wonderful and merciful revelation to me was no license, however. As the Lord warned the Jaredite progenitors, “my spirit will not always strive with man; wherefore, if ye will sin until ye are fully ripe ye shall be cut off from the presence of the Lord” (Ether 2:15).
I am so grateful for a loving, merciful and accessible Lord and I desire to increase my devotion and dedication to him and his gospel.
What Will Ye That I Should Do?
The fullness of the Lord’s forgiveness to the brother of Jared can be seen in the vision he was afforded. This man was able to see the entire person of Jehovah and even all the inhabitants of the earth, past and future (Ether 3:15-17, 25). Why? Because he approached the Lord in perfect faith! How was his faith perfect? Let us look at the process that culminated in such an epiphany.
1. He repented and called upon the Lord (Ether 2:15).
2. He followed the instructions he received (Ether 2:16-17).
3. He asked for specific further help, which he received and followed (Ether 2:18-21).
4. He asked for help again for a still unresolved challenge, and received the instruction to make his own plan and present it to the Lord for divine assistance which he did (Ether 2:22–3:5).
5. He sought for further revelation when the opportunity was granted (Ether 3:10)
6. He was willing to believe in all the Lord’s words, even previous to receiving them (Ether 3:11-12)
We can see a pattern for our own personal progression in this. Initially the Lord rewarded the brother of Jared’s repentance with revelation the plans for the barges. Of exceeding interest is the fact that these plans were incomplete! When he had been obedient in constructing according to the Lord’s plans he found that there were two enormous problems: no light and no air. As observers we are led to ponder why our omniscient God would give incomplete blueprints. Yet, is this not in accordance with the Father’s fundamental plan of tutoring his children grace for grace, even as he had trained his beloved son Jesus (D&C 93:11-20)?
The Lord had given MahonriMoriancumer “here a little” (2 Nephi 28:30) in regards to the barges. Then, after Mahonri was obedient to that “portion of his word” (Alma 12:9) the Lord gave him “there a little” (2 Nephi 28:30). In answer to his prayer, the Lord only resolved one of the problems air. The suggestion has been made that the issue of the air in such watertight vessels may have simply been “architecturally beyond” the brother of Jared (Robert L. Millet, Selected Writings of Robert L. Millet: Gospel Scholars Series [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 2000], 174 – 175.). After obediently following these still incomplete plans, Mahonri was left to inquire again of the Lord about the light. The response is intriguing. The Lord asks Mahonri, “What will ye that I should do that ye may have light in your vessels?” (Ether 2:23; also 25). Elder Harold B. Lee has offered the following commentary:
“Notice how the Lord dealt with this question [about the light]. As much as to say, ‘Well, have you any good ideas? What would you suggest that we should do in order to have light?’ Then the Lord went away and left him alone. It was as though the Lord were saying to him, ‘Look, I gave you a mind to think with, and I gave you agency to use it. Now you do all you can to help yourself with this problem; and then, after you’ve done all you can, I’ll step in to help you” (Improvement Era, Oct. 1966, 862-63).
All the Tools
As we reflect on this moment I think we can see how much the Lord wants us to become like him. He has given us all the tools required to progress to become as he is. In his marvelous omniscience he is both willing to give that which we cannot get ourselves (like air), but also willing to facilitate our own spiritual stretching for those things that are within our reach (like light) such that our own capacities are increased through the effort. It should be further noted that even though the brother of Jared made his own plan (possibly using what he knew of Noah’s similar sea-going experience; see Hugh Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Mormon, 337-38), his plan included the Lord; meaning that in the end his plan could only work by the infusion of God’s power, God’s grace. So it is with us. Work we must, even “all we can do,” but it has always been and it will always be that we are “saved by grace” (2 Nephi 25:23).
That is why Mahonri’s prayer is so powerful. He says, in effect, I know I’m not worthy (who ever is?), and I know these are pitiful offerings (rocks!) so don’t be mad;’ “nevertheless, O Lord, thou hast given us a commandment that we must call upon thee, that from thee we may receive according to our desires” (Ether 3:2; emphasis added). After all we can do it is the Lord who finally touches our efforts with his finger and fills them with light. Our small offerings then become illuminated with his light and his purposes can then be fulfilled. So, we should recognize that it is a commandment to call on the Lord for the help we need, not in spite of our weakness(es), but because of them! Our adversary is constantly seeking to undermine our confidence before the Lord, seeking to keep us from praying. How we could resist that temptation to feel unworthy to pray if we would remember Mahonri’s humble but clear declaration to the contrary.
Then, in this same prayer, Mahonri affirms that he knows that the Lord can do anything “for the benefit of man” (Ether 3:4). Elder Jeffrey R. Holland has written that “in a sense there may be no more powerful expression of faith spoken in scripture” (Christ and the New Covenant, 17). What a wonderful example of simple and profound faith for us to follow. If the Lord will, he can. I think that we can profitably appropriate the language of prayers recorded in the scriptures in our own prayers, especially this remarkable one by the brother of Jared.
In conclusion, the thing that impresses me most about these chapters in Ether is not the actual vision itself, but the molding process that preceded it. This barge-building moment provided the opportunity for Mahonri to exercise his faith faith that did become perfect enough to fulfill his immediate needs, but also behold the very presence of God. We should remember that in our lives the Lord is not really making ‘barges,’ houses, or careers; ultimately He is forming us into his true sons and daughters! (Ether 3:14). The real issue is not the implements or vehicles of the journey, but the trip itself (D&C 61:22). The brother of Jared stands as a truly inspirational and insightful example of repentance, obedience, faithful prayer, and ultimate revelation.