This post is part of a series of reflections on I Nephi. If you’re interested, the introduction to the series is here. To peruse earlier entries, click the authors tab at the top of the page and then click on my name. I welcome your own thoughts on these specific verses (or on my reflections) in the comments below.
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Like the story of Moses (to which Nephi often refers) the story of Lehi’s & Saraiah’s exodus is epic and foundational, as well as typological. Each of us can see ourselves and our lives reflected in the journey. Sometimes, the most striking elements are not the ways in which their story resonates, but the way in which it differs from our own. And sometimes it does both. I’ve wandered through my wilderness. I often hope to embody Nephi’s ethic while worrying that I more accurately portray his older brothers’. I’ve wandered in the wilderness, with ears and heart less finely attuned—or perhaps my ears and heart are merely more “subtle” instruments—than a Liahona to guide me. Or perhaps it is only my faith that is more “subtle.” I have wandered in the wilderness, but not for eight years—I start to feel “exceedingly” afflicted after a few months.
But I’ve wandered in the wilderness, and I continue to wander. I’ve not yet come to Bountiful, let alone the Promised Land (though like Laman, I think right now that I’d far prefer Bountiful to Lehi’s & Sariah’s eventual promised land). I’m grateful for my Lemuels and Shazers and Nahoms, my temporary respites. And I trust that if I endure (apparently, for more than a few months and even a few years), I’ll experience the deep joy that Nephi only briefly alludes to in the coming out of the wilderness and into a land prepared. I hope my faith is such to believe in and make my way toward and co-create a Promised Land, and that I’ll not simply wallow in the mire of dreams for a future life.
Irreantum— it’s a beautiful word. What language is that? Surely our Nibleys and our linguists have had a field day with this word. But I’m ignorant, and wonder at the term. I also wonder, who called it that? Who was there already? A land as rich and abundant as Nephi describes was undoubtedly already inhabited, even if only sparsely or intermittently. I suspect that part of the “prepared” nature of the land consisted in the other inhabitants and the benefits to their families that came from those inhabitants.
Nephi notes that despite their hardship, they were all incredibly happy to have hit Bountiful—to get a bit of fruit and honey. This juxtaposed fact further highlights the hardship they passed through. It also highlights how understandably upset his brothers would have been when Nephi—who seems to be a clear leader of the families at this point—starts taking steps to leave. How long was it before this happened? Surely long before the wilderness wounds were healed. And whose timing drove them? Was it the Lord’s? Or was it Nephi’s own zeal or perhaps wanderlust? Would Zion have failed had they rested longer? Perhaps they were reaching the critical tipping point, where the family would have split rather than all journey on together had they remained (and if so, would that have been a bad thing?). Regardless, the beauty of Bountiful was likely its own sharp thorn when they so soon had to leave.
In all of this, I see their suffering and hardship as a focal point. Nephi revived that Old Testament passage that it is better for one man to perish than for a whole nation to dwindle. This exodus—like the earlier exodus—makes me wonder if it isn’t likewise the case that it is better for one generation (the founding generation) to perish, than for a dispensation to be still born. The mysteries of God in this are impenetrable.
But the great lesson here is the reality of joy. Nephi shows us how to have joy, even if we’re being sacrificed.
My thoughts are pretty much aligned with your thoughts as to this period in the journey of clan Lehi/Nephi. There are oases in a wilderness journey that tempt a sojourner to remain and not struggle on, as the land of the lotus eaters for Odysseus on in his epic Odyssey recounted by Homer.
This is a nice segue into a sea voyage, but a little premature for your posts, sorry.
The Book of Mormon Onamasticon is useful for looking up odd words and their possible etymologies. It’s really a fantastic resource few know of.
At that point it’s a good sign etymologies are pretty speculative although their favored meaning is to “thoroughly watered.”
FARMS did a paper on it back in the day, although clearly it’s pretty speculative.
Ah! I’ve always wanted one of these. Thank you Clark, for the resource and for indulging my laziness by pointing it out to me.
James, this is one of my favorite posts you’ve contributed thus far in your series: cogent, concise and compelling. There is so much depth in the Exodus pattern and it’s wonderful to see commentary about it in the Book of Mormon.
I was raised in Cache Valley Utah and we literally thought it was the best place on earth. Prayers in church thanked the Lord for the privilege of living there. My ancestors were original settlers and we visited their graves every spring, where my parents now rest. A closer look at memory and history takes some of the luster away but still something deep in my subconscious believes it. When I hear John Denver’s song, Country Roads, he is singing about Cache Valley not West Virginia.
I have wandered in the wilderness for about 40 years. I managed to stay here in Georgia for over 20 years and my Utah born children have very few memories of anywhere else except here. For them this home and it has been a promised land for them. If a person was into cost/benefit analysis, it does have Utah beaten in many categories, and not just football teams.
When I read this post I felt like Ishmael. I will die in the wilderness and never make it back to the old promised land- which actually doesn’t exist anymore except in my imagination, nor will I make it to a new promised land. We are strangers wandering this earth for the most part. We suffer the hardships of life and dream dreams of Irreantum.
“It is better that one man should perish…. ” And so will more. In fact the entire nation is also going to perish, eventually. This becomes sort of an ironic statement- describing a lost/extinct Nephite nation. Even if one is not among those who may think the Nephites never existed except in an allegorical sense.
Kurt M, as far as I can see you’ve made the intuitive leap Nephi did in looking back at his own family history and seeing the parallels.
It seems we may not realize Lehi’s family were not descendants of Judah but of Ephraim. It is quite likely clan Lehi had familial connections in the northern kingdom of Israel, while they lived in Jerusalem in the southern kingdom of Judah. They may have even lost family to the first exile which impacted the northern kingdom of Israel.
My understanding from various sources is that Lehi most likely was a merchant, and sojourning was part of his profession; he just may not have dragged the whole clan with him. I couldn’t even speculate on Ishmael, though the narrative implies clans Ishmael and Lehi were related.
Both Ishmael and Lehi could be seen as choosing a kind of self-imposed exile as opposed to an exodus, however, which would go a long way in explaining the negative reactions and persistent resistance of both the children of Ishmael and of Lehi. The succeeding generation just wasn’t invested in the journey, except for Nephi and likely Sam. The mitzvah involving honoring parents may have been the one element obligating those other than Nephi and Zoram.
Nephi recognized his father Lehi as a prophet, in addition to being his father. Nephi’s own vision quest confirmed this for him. I see Sam following Nephi’s lead as a sibling as I see Lemuel following Laman’s lead. Zoram, well, he’s along for the journey as he was no longer anyone’s servant and was evidently less attached to Jerusalem than the rest.
Again, somewhat educated guesswork, but still guesswork on my part lol.
Jerry, solid guesswork. I think most would agree.
I don’t quite understand what you mean by an “intuitive leap,” but it’s likely because my mindset is so established. I probably should have clarified my remarks since the “Exodus pattern” is also an academic term with more specific inferences than what I intended.
I was referring to the Exodus pattern in that is a pattern mankind follows in their journey back to God. Nephi’s journey is perhaps the example from scripture with the most similarities to the pattern set forth in the Old Testament, but the way I view the pattern we see similarities from it in the lives of all the prophets – and in our own lives today.
Nephi later will show at least one reason for his intuitive leap, namely, “I did liken all scripture unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning” (1 Ne. 19:23). In other words, even if far fewer details were similar to that of the children of Israel in the wilderness, Nephi would likely have still identified with them and their journey.
James weaved these thoughts together in a beautiful way, saying, “But I’ve wandered in the wilderness, and I continue to wander. I’ve not yet come to Bountiful, let alone the Promised Land… [but] I hope my faith is such to believe in and make my way toward and co-create a Promised Land.”
Kurt M, we have an understanding :)
Michael, my “intuitive leap”comment was actually meant for you, but I think we all have reached an understanding that, while not identical, is clear and personal, and respectful. Thanks to all for a delightful conversation. :)