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.
* * * *
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.