Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Why Did Ishmael Follow Lehi into the Desert? Part I

It is interesting that most members when reading the first part of 1 Nephi, do not question why Ishmael agreed to take his family into the desert when Lehi sent his sons for him. It seems safe to assume that Ishmael was quite old, for within a couple of years, three at the most, he dies along the borders of the Red Sea, and is buried in “a place which was called Nahom” (1 Nephi 16:34). This area NHM (Nahom) was a very old and established area, even in 600 B.C., of an ancient NHM tribe known to have been in that area. Whether he died in this place, or earlier and was carried to this place, is unknown. 
Lehi reached the area () of the Red Sea (1 Nephi 2:5), then traveled three more days nearer () the Red Sea (1 Nephi 2:6)
    Once Lehi left Jerusalem, they traveled southward toward the Red Sea, for that is the first recorded area they reached (1 Nephi 2:5), which was probably the northern area of the Gulf of Aqaba, near the present day city of Ezion-Geber. They would have traveled along the Wadi Araba, a section of the Jordan Rift Valley running north-south between the Dead Sea, and the Gulf of Aqaba, also called the Gulf of Eliat, a distance of about 190 miles from Jerusalem. Once near the Gulf (called the Red Sea in Nephi’s record), they traveled about 50 miles more, heading south for three more days to a valley Lehi called Lemuel, where they pitched their tents. This entire travel time was about 14 days and covered about 230 miles, averaging about 17 miles per day (ancient caravans along this route average about 20 miles per day, but Lehi had his wife along, and probably traveled a little slower).
It seems that Lehi and his sons might have traveled to the Gulf of Eilat of the Red Sea before, for they seem to have known it well. Nor did the Lord intervene with the Liahona until after they had made camp in that valley. It was a regularly traveled route, and one that might have been used by Lehi in his business which would have required donkeys and tents, which he had readily available when the Lord told him to flee into the wilderness (1 Nephi 1:3-4). Whether Lehi traded with the caravans or came into the Sinai to mine copper and metal ore—Nephi’s capability with bellows and smelting is evident (1 Nephi 17:11)—is not known, but either way, he probably had traveled this way with his boys in the past, perhaps several times.
    At this point, after a few days rest, Lehi sent his sons back to obtain the brass plates from a distant relative, Laban, who was the keeper of the family record of the Jews 1 Nephi 5:16). While the Lord appeared to Lehi in a dream, or vision, (1 Nephi 3:2) and commanded him to get the plates, it seems likely that Lehi would have known about Laban and the record, and that they were on sheets of brass. Nephi and his brothers not only seem to have known where Laban lived (1 Nephi 3:11), but also knew him enough to fear going to his house and drew lots to see who was to go (1 Nephi 3:16). In addition, it seems Nephi’s mother, Sariah, knew Laban well enough to know that “the Lord hath protected my sons, and delivered them out of the hands of Laban” (1 Nephi 5:8).
Since Lehi was fairly wealth, for he had “gold and silver and all manner of riches (1 Nephi 3:16), and precious things” (1 Nephi 2:4). How he obtained this, we are not told, but that wealth was sufficient to cause Laban, already a wealthy man and custodian of a treasury (1 Nephi 4:20), to try and kill Nephi and his brothers to obtain Lehi’s wealth (1 Nephi 3:25). As a result, Lehi would have been known among the people of Jerusalem, and probably without where he, himself, lived. He also made enemies in Jersualem with his preaching (1 Nephi 1:19-20).
    In any event, after sufficient time for Lehi to read the record of the Jews on the Brass Plates, find out about his genealogy, and then spend some time prophesying and preaching to his family (1 Nephi 5:17), the Lord commanded him to send Nephi and his brothers back to Jerusalem after Ishmael and his family (1 Nephi 7:1-2). 
Again, it would seem that Nephi and his brothers knew where Ishmael lived, going to his house (1 Nephi 7:4); nor did they hesitate or fear requesting Ishmael to follow them into the wilderness with his family. The result of this discussion caused Ishmael to take his family into the wilderness with Lehi’s four sons (1 Nephi 7:5). Not only was this event passed over briefly, but there seems no resistance on Ishmael and his family to up and leave their home and follow Lehi (1 Nephi 7:6).
Two questions arise at this point. Why did the Lord choose Ishmael’s family, and why did Ishmael, and his entire household, agree to go into the wilderness at the word of Nephi? Yes, the Lord softened their hearts (1 Nephi 7:5), but still it seems most people would have offered some resistance to such a proposal, especially adult children, even in the Middle East. It was not until they were already on the trail toward Lehi’s camp that some second thoughts seem to have occurred, when “as we journeyed in the wilderness, behold Laman and Lemuel, and two of the daughters of Ishmael, and the two sons of Ishmael and their families, did rebel against us; yea, against me, Nephi, and Sam, and their father, Ishmael, and his wife, and his three other daughters. In which rebellion they desired to go back to Jerusalem” (1 Nephi 7:6-7).
    Again, the question begs, why did Ishmael agree to follow Lehi? And why did Ishmael’s family of five daughters and two sons, with their own families, agree to such an unknown journey? And when the rebellion began, no doubt inspired by Laman and Lemuel, why did Ishmael, his wife, and three of his daughters not join the movement to go back to Jerusalem?
    In the Middle East among the Arabs and Jews anciently, it was the rite of parents to arrange marriages for their children, and for the father of a family to make such an arrangement with the father of another family, typically a friend and someone well known to him, and general from the same or closely related tribes. Such arrangements were usually made when the children were young, and the arrangement became binding for the time until they were married. Thus, the likelihood that Lehi knew Ishmael before sending his sons back to get him is well founded in the ancient custom of the time.
In fact, the two fathers generally signed a contact and formed a covenant and bond (promise of an everlasting and enduring relationship of marriage between their children meant to last a lifetime, called Ish Ve’Isha). The period after that time can last as long as the agreement states, though it is generally a shorter period than longer—but in the time of Lehi, it was often from childhood. In ancient Israel, a Jewish marriage consisted of two stages: 1) bethrothal ceremony, known as erusin or kiddushin, which means the bride becomes sanctified (dedicated) to the groom, and 2) nuptials, called chuppah (the canopy under which the couple stands during the wedding ceremony—later in Talmudic times, the room where the marriage was consummated was called the chuppah) and Kichah (taking, the formal acquisition of the wife).
    In ancient Israel, when the first stage of the marriage covenant and bond, the kikddushin, was performed, the couple were actually married, though consummation did not take place until after the second stage, the chuppah. However, the rules of adultery applied after the kiddushin even though the actual nuptials or wedding ceremoney (chuppah) had not yet taken place. While we do not know the actual condition of the relationship between Lehi’s sons and Ishmael’s daughters, it is possible, and probably likely, that some relationship like the kiddushin had taken place—certainly the marriage covenant and bond between the two parents.
    If this were the case, then Ishmael had no choice but to follow Lehi into the desert, for his daughters belonged to Lehi’s sons. It would also explain why his two daughters that paired off with Laman and Lemuel later rebelled, since once their bethrohed wanted to turn back to Jerusalem, they were duty bound to follow them. It also tells us why the Lord commanded Lehi to send his sons back for Ishmael’s family, and why Ishmael’s family were all swayed by Nephi’s words—for once it was clear that the Lord had commanded Lehi to flee into the wilderness and that the sons were following along with him, the daughters of Ishmael were willing to follow.

(See the next post, “Why Did Ishmael Follow Lehi into the Desert? Part II,” to see how this bethrohed state affected the women who are said to have rebelled against Nephi and following Lehi into the wilderness, and also the state and number of Nephi’s sisters)

1 comment:

  1. Just found your blog and I love it!! I have always believed that there was a connection between Lehi/Sarah and Ishmael.