Returning Again to Jerusalem…The Benefit of Not Knowing the End from the Beginning – 1 Nephi 7:1-5

Read 1 Nephi 7:1-5 here.

Context and General Information

  • After Lehi finished prophesying, the Lord spake to Lehi – He wasn’t supposed to take his family into the wilderness alone, but that his children would need people to marry so thy could raise up seed unto the Lord.
  • The Lord commanded Nephi and his brothers to return to Jerusalem to bring Ishmael’s family into the wilderness.
  • Nephi and his brothers embark again toward Jerusalem.
  • Nephi and his brothers go to Ishmael’s house, gain favor with him, and speak the words of the Lord to him.
  • Ishmael’s heart is softened by the Lord. His family agrees to accompany Lehi’s family to the promised land.

Returning Again to Jerusalem

If you’ve been reading along in the Book of Mormon, then you know (back in chapter 2), Lehi and his family left Jerusalem. They are now somewhere on the Arabian Peninsula near the shores of the Red Sea. They have fled from Jerusalem for the safety of their father’s life. People in Jerusalem didn’t particularly like him because he testified of their wickedness and pled with them to repent – warning them that Jerusalem would soon be destroyed otherwise.

Lehi and his family left quickly one night. Then, after they make it a safe distance from Jerusalem, the Lord commands Lehi to send his sons back to Jerusalem to get the plates of Brass.

Despite the whining of Laman and Lemuel, Lehi’s sons packed up and headed to Jerusalem – eventually finding themselves having accomplished that which was commanded them. They make it back to their father – who is in his tent in the wilderness. They have the plates of Brass and now they also have someone else – Zoram, originally the keeper of Laban’s treasury.

So – now Lehi and his family are ready to move on toward the promised land, right?

No.

In chapter 7, we read:

“And it came to pass that the Lord commanded him that I, Nephi, and my brethren, should again return unto the land of Jerusalem, and bring down Ishmael and his family into the wilderness.” – 1 Nephi 7:2

So – now Nephi and his brothers are headed back to Jerusalem again.

There are so many things that we can learn from this. I think that I’ll focus on one major point:

The Benefit of NOT Knowing the End from the Beginning

It’s so easy to be critical of the Lord (not smart, but easy to do). It’s easy to wonder “why?” Why did the Lord have Lehi leave, only to have his sons go back to get the plates? Why did the Lord have his sons get all the way back to their father in the wilderness, only to have them go back again to get Ishamel? It seems inefficient. (Though, I actually think that the Lord is perfectly efficient. More on that later, maybe).

And it doesn’t matter why the Lord had them go back. I’ve often found myself saying things like, “I don’t mind doing what the Lord wants me to do, I wish I just knew more of what that was.” It’s a temptation – to want to know the end from the beginning. What’s going to happen? Where will I end up? How many steps will this take?

I suppose that it would have been a temptation for Lehi to wonder – where is the promised land? What path are we taking? When will we finally make it there? It might have been a temptation to want to know what was in store – while saying “I’m willing to do whatever it takes, I just want to know what it is.”

Often, when we talk about knowing the end from the beginning, we frame it up as lacking faith. We sometimes say, “The Lord won’t tell us the end from the beginning because He is testing our faith.” I actually only think that this is partially true. I mean, of course we need to have faith, and these trials absolutely build our faith. But I don’t think that the Lord keeps us from knowing the end from the beginning just because he is trying our faith.

My opinion is that the Lord doesn’t tell us the end from the beginning because He is merciful.

And here’s what I mean – imagine if Nephi knew the end from the beginning. Let’s say that Lord said to him: Okay. first of all – traveling to the promised land is going to take you eight years. You’ll leave Jerusalem, no you’ll flee Jerusalem, and then you’ll turn back to get the scriptures.

Oh – you’ll get beat up, you’ll lose all of your possessions, and you’ll have to kill a man and dress up in his clothes to get the scriptures. Then, after you bring those scriptures back into the wilderness to your dad, don’t get too comfortable because you’ll be headed back to Jerusalem to talk Ishmael and his family into coming out to the wilderness.

You get the idea (there was so much more I could have written, too – eating raw meat! Building a boat. Breaking a bow! so much more…but you get the idea).

If Nephi had known more of the future that he would face, would he really have proceeded with the same kind of tenacity? With the same kind of diligence and discipline? Would he really have gone through the process? Or would he have tried to short-cut it?

If Lehi knew that he’d send his sons back to Jerusalem twice, would he have left Jerusalem in a rush? Or would he have tried to “hack” the process and go get Ishmael before they left? Would he have tried to get the plates from Laban before leaving – all with good intentions since his sons would have been sent back to do it anyway?

I tend to think of life like the game: The Legend of Zelda.

Opening_Zelda_Game_in_1986

Welcome to my childhood… 🙂

For those of you who don’t know, The Legend of Zelda is this old-school nintendo game. I had it when I was a kid. The game is a quest. You know the ultimate goal – to save Zelda and the entire land of Hyrule from the evil Gannon. In the game, you play the character called Link.

The thing about Link is that he is just some nobody in the kingdom. He doesn’t have any special powers, tools, knowledge or even wealth to make saving the kingdom even seem possible. BUT IT IS! The only thing Link has going for him is that he is willing.

Even though you know the ultimate goal – saving the kingdom – you can’t just go to the main castle and fight Gannon. At first, Link only has a small wooden sword. It can’t really stand up against minor enemies – let alone Gannon. So, instead, of facing him head-on, you have to follow the quest – you have to go to the first castle, then the next, and the next. It seems inefficient, why not just go and get Gannon from the beginning? But, by going through the various levels, by taking the time to explore and even “get off track,” you are actually being much more efficient because you are rewarded along the way. Maybe you pick up a boomerang. Maybe you pick up more strength or an “extra life.” You might get another sword -more powerful than the wooden one. Maybe you’ll get bombs, or a shield, or bows and arrows.

I think that this is the way the Lord works. He knows that we need more tools, experiences, knowledge, and power in our lives. In order for Lehi and his family to have succeeded in living in the Promised land, they needed the experience of traveling there. And if they had the map laid out before them – with every experience outlined, I think that they would have tried to short-cut the whole thing. They wouldn’t have picked up Laban’s sword if they had done it a different way.

The fact is – in order to really succeed in the promised land, Lehi and his family would need several things. We will find out more as we study the Book of Mormon, but so far we know they need:

  1. Their lives. If Lehi didn’t flee immediately, I think he would have been killed.
  2. The Brass Plates – this is critical for maintaining their language, their religion, and their culture.
  3. The Sword of Laban – this will prove useful later.
  4. Zoram – He was rescued from a wicked Jerusalem and would remain a friend with Nephi forever.
  5. Opportunities for Family – When Nephi procured the plates of Brass, the Lord whispered “it is better that one man should perish than a whole nation dwindle and perish in unbelief.” Laban did perish, and what would the purpose in his perishing be, if there was not a “nation” that would benefit from it? Going to the Promised land – and all of the things listed here (points 1-4) would have no purpose at all if Nephi’s family died within one generation. They needed spouses and a way to create a nation. If they wanted to succeed in the promised land then they needed families.

This is why the Lord is directing them as He is directing them. He has a long-term mindset. He doesn’t want them to merely make it to the promised land. He wants them to live after the manner of happiness once they get there. The various afflictions on their journey to the promised lands are like the “levels” and “adventures” in the Legend of Zelda – where they pick up the tools and expertise that they need in order to one day realize their goal.

This is the benefit of not knowing the end from the beginning. We are more willing to do it the Lord’s way when we don’t see the overwhelming tasks ahead of us. And we need to do things the Lord’s way if we want to really succeed.

 

 

Advertisements

Paths, Obstacles, and Joy

The families of Lehi and Ishmael left Jerusalem around 600 BC. They were heading to an unknown promised land, but had to venture through the wilderness before arriving. The trip took about eight years.

This voyage through the wilderness was fraught with toil and affliction, and after some time into the journey, Ishmael passed away.

The death of Ishmael brings sorrow. In the Book of Mormon, we read:

“And it came to pass that Ishmael died, and was buried in the place which was called Nahom.” – 1 Nephi 16:34

It is worth noting that “Nahom” means consolation – to be sorry, or to console one’s self.

The death of Ishmael is difficult for morale. He was the patriarch of his family. The daughters mourn pretty vocally. And I can see why it would be so hard. Ishmael and his family had left Jerusalem – to escape destruction and death. They were going to a promised land.

It is so easy to start the path to the promised lands of our lives, but the thing is, the greater the reward, the more difficult the path. Regardless of where we are headed, we are all headed for trials and adversity. It’s a part of life.

So – we know that death = misery and life = joy. People tend to make choices that reflect this sensibility. We put on seat belts, we wear helmets, we cut sugar. We don’t want to die. We do what we can to avoid dangerous situations while still striving to live an abundant life.

Yet there are times when during our lives – even when we’re on the right path – we’re exposed to difficulties that nearly feel like death and danger. For Lehi and Ishmael’s family – they left the general safety of their lives in Jerusalem and went into the wilderness. The wilderness, compared to their homes, might have felt like a death trap! They couldn’t imagine the impending destruction of Jerusalem (and the danger that would accompany this hostile takeover), but they were directly experiencing physical challenges in the desert. Food was scarce. Temperatures probably reached extreme highs and lows. Danger lurked everywhere in the desert. It would be natural to want to flee this circumstance. It doesn’t seem joyful or life-sustaining.

And that’s the thing we learn from Lehi and Ishmael’s experiences. This was the path to happiness. This obstacle – of the wilderness – was the way to the promised land. It doesn’t seem intuitive – that such suffering will result in joy. Still, sometimes we have to go through these hellish, sorrowful experiences in order to make it to our joy.

I believe that there is always joy in the journey. But it is also crucial to identify the fact that there are times when it is hard. We have our own “Nahom” points – when the only option left is for us to console ourselves. But we can take courage. The Lord will not fail us. Though we mourn, we will be comforted. And eventually, we will experience joy that will equal, if not surpass, the pain we experienced along the way.