Posts

Symbolism in Nephi’s journey to the promised land

The story of Nephi’s journey to the Promised Land is well known and widely told amongst Mormons.  It’s a beautiful and compelling story, rife with principles and drenched in doctrine.   But I sometimes wonder if we overlook many of the most meaningful and marvelous symbolic lessons within it.  Here I’d hope to explore at least a few of these, and invite you to share with us those that I’ve missed by adding your own comments.

If you’re familiar with the story, feel free to skip ahead to the first symbol, otherwise, perhaps you’d enjoy a brief refresher of what happened more than 2600 years ago (view the illustration).

 

Early in The Book of Mormon we find the story of the prophet Lehi, who was commanded to take his family and leave Jerusalem around 600 B.C.

After departing into the wilderness with little more than their tents and a few supplies, and after experiencing untold trials, the family of Lehi eventually made it to the seashore.  There, Nephi, a righteous son of Lehi, was commanded by the Lord to build a ship.  This ship was to carry them across the ocean to a promised land that had been prepared for them, a land where they would enjoy freedom and prosperity.

Nephi, who of course had never built a ship, least of all one that could sail across the ocean, didn’t doubt or complain.  Rather, he simply inquired “Lord, whither shall I go that I may find ore to molten, that I may make tools to construct the ship…”

The Lord told Nephi where to go, and showed him how to construct the ship, using “curious workmanship”.

Once complete, and likely with much anticipation, Nephi and his family went into the ship, and launched into the sea.  They were carried before the wind for many days, after which many of them began to “rejoice”.  But they got carried away, and Nephi, fearing that the Lord would be angry, tried to persuade them back to humility and righteousness.

His two older brothers, Laman and Lemuel, weren’t keen on their younger brother acting as their ruler, so they took and bound him, and treated him “with much harshness”.  Upon so doing, the Lord, angry at their wickedness, caused the Liahona (a compass he’d provided them in the wilderness, and that worked upon their righteousness) to stop working.  A great storm arose, and they were driven back for four full days.

During all this time, Nephi remained bound, and in much pain.  On that fourth, and final day, when the tempest became “exceedingly sore”, Laman and Lemuel thought they would die, and so released Nephi and begged his forgiveness.  Nephi, in spite of his swollen and sore limbs, forgave them and did not complain about his afflictions, but rather worshiped the Lord and prayed for assistance.

The tempest died, Nephi took the compass, which resumed working, and after “many days” of travel, they landed upon the promised land (the American Continent), where they were blessed in abundance.

 

To Nephi the Lord said “And I will also be your light in the wilderness; and I will prepare the way before you, if it so be that ye shall keep my commandments; wherefore, inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall be led towards the promised land, and ye shall know that it is by me that ye are led.”

Always has the Lord blessed the lives of the righteous, and prepared for them a place or circumstance of similar abundance.  As we work to keep the commandments of God, and endeavor to be as obedient, faithful, and enduring as Nephi, so too will the Lord prepare for us a “land of promise”.

 

Nephi’s ship, can appropriately symbolize our own lives.  Just as the Lord commanded Nephi to build a ship, strong, and secure enough to carry his family to the Promised Land, so too has he commanded us to build our own lives, and make them strong enough to carry ourselves, and even our families to our own “promised land”.

What’s more, of the ship Nephi observed:  “Now I, Nephi, did not work the timbers after the manner which was learned by men, neither did I build the ship after the manner of men; but I did build it after the manner which the Lord had shown unto me…” (1 Nephi 18:2).  So too, have we been commanded to live, not as the world liveth, but as God lives, to build our lives not after the manner of men, but after the manner of god.

Only then, will we find our lives a vessel sufficiently capable to weather the storms of life, to provide shelter for those we love, and that will allow us to endure to end.

 

Not after the manner of men

When the Lord told Nephi to build the ship, not only was it after a fashion completely foreign to him, but it was a work that he’d never before done.  But never did he complain, never did he doubt, rather always he simply went forward with faith.

Many times in our lives we may be asked by the Lord to do things that we have not before done, or that may seem impossible.  But our faith should be in God, for with God, all things are possible. 

Of this, Nephi said “If god had commanded me to do all things I could do them.  If he should command me that I should say unto this water, be thou earth, it should be earth; and if I should say it, it would be done. Now, if the Lord has such great power, and has wrought so many miracles among the children of men, how is it that he cannot instruct me, that I should build a ship?”

We must always remember, when seemingly overburdened, or overwhelmed by the requirements set before us, that while relying solely on our own native capacity our task may be impossible, but when we involve the Lord in our lives, we augment our capacity with his, and can do anything.

Seek the Lord often

It is also enlightening that Nephi includes “I did go into the mount oft, and I did pray oft unto the Lord; wherefore the Lord showed unto me great things”.

How often then do we seek out the Lord, how often do we find ourselves on the “mount”, or in the temple, or seeking the Lord in other holy places?  Doing so is a critical component of receiving the necessary inspiration to guide us as we build our own ships.  It is true, that as we seek the Lord he will show, even unto us, great things.

Line upon line

It should also be noted, that while Nephi knew what he was building, he was not given it all at once.  He said “And the Lord did show me from time to time after what manner I should work the timbers of the ship”. 

How often we want to know it all, to see the end from the beginning, but generally it is simply not so.  Instead we are given line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little.  We are expected to build our lives step by step, strengthened by the exercise of faith and our ongoing reliance upon continued revelation and intervention from the Lord.

As Nephi, we too must seek the Lord often, and not shun aspects of our lives that push us out of our comfort zone.  For again, we’re building the ship, our lives, after the manner of God, according to his vision, and not our own – a principle so beautifully portrayed in the famous poem “Life Sculptor” by George Washington Doane.

 

The compass provided by the Lord to Lehi and his family clearly represents the spirit of God, the companionship of the Holy Ghost.  It’s profound and vital guidance hinging upon our own righteousness, humility, and willingness to obey.  Often we may find ourselves directionless, wondering which way to turn, with feelings of isolation and helplessness.  But it doesn’t have to be so.

We too have been provided a spiritual compass, but its value is only as good as the heed we give it.  When we attempt to steer our own lives, on our own course, and look not for the directions from the Lord, we too may find ourselves lost, alone, and facing the fierce winds of the world.

But by repenting of our sins, turning back to God, and asking for his help, we’ll find our course correcting itself as the spirit takes hold of the reigns of our life.  The seas of the world seem calmer when we sail with God, in truth, the very wind that so previously tortured our existence, becomes the pushing power that drives us forward.  But only when we remember God, and include him in our lives.

 

At times, we may find ourselves in the position of Nephi, endeavoring to teach, but finding ourselves regularly rejected, or even persecuted.  But as with Nephi, we must never let fear of failure or fear of man, prevent us from proclaiming the gospel, and standing up for that which is right.

And in those times when, alas, even confronted by our fiercest adversaries, may we too be as forgiving as Nephi, too focused on an eternal perspective to let the fleeting actions of others long win our attention.

 

Perhaps even more often we find ourselves in the position of Laman and Lemuel.  There are inspired leaders, such as Nephi, all around us.  These leaders seek to guide us, they care for our souls and seek our welfare.  But often their counsel comes sharply, is unwelcome, or at least unexpected.  Often, just as Laman and Lemuel, we shun that counsel, whether in anger or not, and by so doing, bind those leaders, at least symbolically, from their ability to help us.  Not with physical cords, but with mental, emotional, and spiritual deafness.  By turning a blind eye, and a deaf ear to their inspired guidance, we bind them just as Nephi.

When we do this, we are left unto ourselves, to face the world alone, and we find the wind against us gaining strength, with the seas and troubles of life working against us.

We must not be like Laman and Lemuel of whom Nephi proclaimed “And there was nothing save it were the power of God, which threatened them with destruction, could soften their hearts”.

We must elect to be humble, before we’re compelled to be humble.  Life is too good, too sweet, too rich for us to waste our time with the self-inflicted burdens that only come from “going it alone”.  Instead, may we embrace the Lord, and let his strength be our own, that our lives might be lived in righteousness, and that we too, may find ourselves with our families, safe in a Land of Promise.

Rusty

P.S.  To read or listen to the full story of Nephi’s marvelous journey online, click here.

Video – Christ in America

Here’s a video from YouTube, a collection of beautiful works of art, with music and an overlay of spoken scripture (some of my favorites).

httpvh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JhbrR2FtP1o

 

How wonderful to have access to the full record of Christ’s visit and teachings to the ancient inhabitants of the American continent.

To get your own Book of Mormon, or to learn more about it, click here.

Rusty

Discussing an open canon

As I describe here “Writing an open canon, line upon line“, one of the foundational principles taught in scripture is the notion that we are instructed line upon line, precept upon precept. 

The premise of this principle is that we don’t have it all.  That there is more to come and it will be distributed by degrees (the subject for a future post).

It’s the assumption of “what I have taught you, is not all I have to teach… there’s more.”

But most traditional Christian denominations believe that there is no more, accepting instead the idea of a closed canon. 

What a dreadful thought, at least to one who has witnessed the incredible clarity gained through additional scripture (which is why “out of the mouth of two or three witnesses, shall every word be established”).    

But because this comes up so frequently in discussions here, I decided it was worthy of a dedicated post, so that we could explore it together.  Hopefully we will each gain appreciation for the other’s views.  I can only assume I am egregiously ignorant in understanding the notion of a closed canon, for the premises upon which it is based just seem so rejectable.

It seems to me, that in order to accept a closed cannon, you must accept at least one of the following:

God has already told us all there is to tell

Under this premise, I could accept that perhaps additional scripture is unnecessary. 

But I can’t get past the mere idea of this.  First, if we had been given it all, we would not be given line upon line, but rather the whole truth all at once, which seems absurd, realistically, to assume that the sum-total of God’s knowledge could somehow fit within a single volume of scripture.  My goodness, even if it were a bazillion pages long, it couldn’t even come close to containing the full breadth and depth of God’s eternal knowledge.  To assume that “well, this is all there is” seems shockingly arrogant. 

I cannot accept that somehow God has run out of things to say.

God is unable to speak to man today

Surely, if he were simply unable, this could account for the ongoing silence anticipated by accepting a closed canon.  But that contradicts the very notion of an omnipotent God.

I cannot accept that God has run out of ways or the ability to communicate.

God us unwilling to speak to man today

Perhaps if he’s not unable, then he’s unwilling, but why would that be?  Why would he so clearly establish a pattern of prophets and others who record the revelations of God, and which become known as scripture.  Why would he be unwilling to communicate through revelation today, for the bible said that it is “upon this rock” the rock of revelation that his very church shall be built, and in countless references has he instructed man to turn to God, to ask God, to Knock, and in return he will answer, and open.

I cannot accept that God is simply unwilling to communicate.

God’s words today are less important

If you accept that there’s no way on earth or in heaven that the Bible can contain the sum total of all God’s knowledge, and that he HAS told us he’d continue to instruct us line upon line, precept upon precept… if you accept that god is neither unable, or unwilling to speak to man today, then it seems you must accept the principle of revelation.

But if you accept the principle of revelation, to say the canon is closed, is to say that the words he says today are somehow less important than those he said in the past, as if they’re somehow drowned out by words he spoke some 2,000 years ago.  Why would his words to man spoken 2,000 years ago be worthy of canonization, but the words he speaks to man today, are not? 

If God lives (and I attest that he does), then he speaks, and if he speaks, then his words are of equal, if not greater importance for us today, for they are given directly TO us, in our time, for our benefit, and in consideration of our specific needs and circumstance.

How is man somehow able to decide which of his words should be “canon” and which of his words are unworthy?

But I have a testimony that the words of God are all true, and that there is no end to his instruction, and that all instruction from God must be considered equal, eternal, and ongoing, and as such, am happy to belong to a religion that embraces an open canon, that it may never be found saying “we have enough”.

Rusty

P.S.  See also a video of Jeffrey R. Holland discussing an open canon, and “Writing an open canon, line upon line

Therefore I make a record

Note:  This post is part of a series “What IS in the Book of Mormon“.  A series dedicated to those who believe in the Book of Mormon and enjoy discussing its profound principles, and those who are simply interested in understanding what kind of teachings are found within it.  As such, comments here should be reserved for discussing the principle, and not the source, or else they will be removed.  For open discussion of the Book of Mormon itself as the Word of God, click here (link coming soon).

The Book of Mormon opens with a poignant personal declaration by an ancient prophet, Nephi, from Jerusalem, about 600 B.C.

He says, in the very first verse of the Book of Mormon, and by way of introduction…

I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father; and having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days; yea, having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God, therefore I make a record of my proceedings in my days.

Aside from the gratitude he obviously feels towards his father and mother, and what they had taught him (illustrating itself a powerful principle of parenthood), and his ability to see his afflictions within a higher perspective, he makes three statements in rapid succession, which results in a call to action.

  1. I have been taught (and blessed with good parents)
  2. I have been highly favored of the Lord
  3. I have a knowledge of the gospel (mysteries of God)

And then he uses the word “therefore”, which means in that what he’s about to do, he does because of these things.  Then he tells us what he’s going to do about it:  “… therefore I make a record…”

Often we have been encouraged to make a record of our own life, to keep a journal, so (among other reasons) that our posterity for generations to come might have the benefit of Nephi… to be taught by goodly parents.

A journal allows the lessons we learn from life to disseminate throughout the generations, cultivating an ever-expanding contribution to the society of our family and friends.

My you find the specific motivations necessary for you to reach the conclusion of Nephi, that you too, might find yourself saying “…therefore, I make a record.”

Let not the lessons you sacrifice so much to learn today, end today.

Rusty

Subscribe to Ongofu | Get Ongofu by Email

If you’ve enjoyed this post, please bookmark it by clicking on the button below, and selecting a service so others can find it too. Many thanks.

Bookmark and Share