Saturday, November 2, 2013

Why Did Ishmael Follow Lehi into the Desert? Part V

Continuing from the last post about why Ishmael followed Lehi into the wilderness and more about what is meant by Ishmael’s household and the household of Lehi.
We often think of modern terms when reading ancient script, such as the Bible or Book of Mormon. This is very true when trying to consider the size and numbers of both Lehi and Ishmael’s families. While the term “household” is not used in conjunction with Lehi’s family, it is used when introducing Ishmael’s family that went with Nephi and his brothers into the wilderness to join Lehi.
    The word household is mentioned 13 times in the scriptural record. In each case, it would seem to include more than a man and his immediate family. The first use is in Nephi when we learn of Ishmael and his household, later, after Ishmael died, and just before Lehi’s death in the Land of Promise, Lehi blesses all his sons and their familes, then Nephit writes: “when my father had made an end of speaking unto them, behold, he spake unto the sons of Ishmael, yea, and even all his household” (2 Nephi 4:10), and after that, Nephi tells us: 
“And it came to pass after my father, Lehi, had spoken unto all his household, according to the feelings of his heart and the Spirit of the Lord which was in him, he waxed old. And it came to pass that he died, and was buried” (2 Nephi 1:30-32). In this, Nephi tells us that his father’s household included not only all his sons and their families, but also Ishmael’s children, and Zoram (2 Nephi 1:30)—neither Ishmael’s sons nor Zoram would be considered part of Lehi’s household if such term meant only the immediate children, and only blood relatives, for Ishmael’s sons were not his immediate children, and Zoram was not a bloodline.
    In another instance, when Aaron converted the Lamanite king and the queen, it is written following the mention of the king’s servants in the king’s house, that: “he did minister unto them, insomuch that his whole household were converted unto the Lord” (Alma 22:19-22; 22-23; 23:3). Under the injunction to Call upon God, the Nephites were told to “Cry unto him in your houses, yea, over all your household, both morning, mid-day, and evening” (Alma 34:21), suggesting whoever was in that house was to be prayed for, whether family, workers, servants, or whoever. We also find the term household in the writings of Ether: “and there he pitched his tent, and also his sons and his daughters, and all his household, save it were Jared and his family” (Ether 9:3), again suggesting there were others included in household other than just the person’s family. And again, “for Heth had perished by the famine, and all his household save it were Shez” (Ether 10:1), and the prophesy to Coriantumr, “if he would repent, and all his household, the Lord would give unto him his kingdom and spare the people” (Ether 13:20), and “Coriantumr repented not, neither his household, neither the people” (Ether 13:22), with both phrases suggesting more than just a man, his wife, and children.
    In my own family over the years, my household when younger, consisted of my wife, seven children and myself (a dog, three cats, 2 rabbits, and a couple of hamsters) under one roof. Today, it consists of 16 adults and 28 grandchildren, each family under a separate roof—but still my household. However, in ancient Israel, a household not only consisted of parents and their children, but also their married children, grandchildren, servants, business associates and slaves—all under one roof. While slavery was by no means an enviable status, slaves were members of the household, and under some circumstances they had inheritance rights (Luke 20:9-16), and were certainly to be treated well by their masters. In New Testament times, slaves were to please God by their service (Ephesians 6:5-8).
We know that Ishmael’s household, whoever that included, came into the wilderness with Ishmael. We know that Lehi’s household at least included, beyond his own children, Ishmael’s sons and their families, and Zoram and his family. In figuring numbers, we should keep in mind that to manage a deep sea vessel, capable of sailing ten thousand miles across the deep ocean, there would have been a need for at least some 20 males capable of crewing the ship—we know of only nine. There might have been another two to four within the families of Ishmael’s two sons. Still, others were most likely needed, say half a dozen servants? So when we read in the Bible about households—or in more recent translations, about families—we must understand what that household contained. A concept we are used to including in our thoughts when reading the Book of Mormon. Whether or not Ishmael and Lehi’s households contained such extra people we are not told, but it would certainly answer how a sailing ship about 100-foot in length, "driven forth before the wind," and capable of bracing the deep ocean was built and later crewed and handled, as well as a temple like Solomon’s was built.
    While people today do not like to think that the Hebrews had slaves, even during the time of Lehi, such was the case. We don’t read “slave” in the scriptural record, but in Hebrew culture, one word, ebed (meaning slave or servant) is used for both situations—and in English translations of the Bible, the distinction is sometimes emphasized by translating the word as "slave" in the context of non-Hebrew slaves, and "servant" or "bondman" for Hebrew slaves. It is also certain that Israelites owned Hebrew slaves during the time of the Babylonian exile (600 B.C.) The laws governing Hebrew slaves were more lenient than laws governing non-Hebrew slaves, and in many households in Lehi’s time, slaves (servants) were part of the household, along with their families. And certainly, if Lehi had servants and their families in  his household at the time he was told to leave, he certainly would not have left them behind for two reasons: 1) a man was responsible under law for the safety, protection, feeding, and treatment of his servants and to leave them to fend for themselves would be unthinkable, and 2) leaving any one behind who knew the family had left would have invited pursuit by the Jews who sought Lehi’s life. Thus, it is not a stretch to think that Lehi’s household, and that of Ishmael, might have included others than those directly mentioned.
So did Nephi have more than two sisters? Did two older sisters marry Ishmael’s two sons? Were other sisters born at Jerusalem before leaving, in the wilderness or at Bountiful, or once reaching the Land of Promise? We are simply not told, nor can we speculate beyond the fact that “sisters” are mentioned and they would appear not to have been ones already married to Ishmael’s sons, for no mention of their families or children are included in Nephi’s off-handed comment. Surely no mother is going to leave her children, at least the younger ones, and go off with her brothers.
    Also, while we do not know for certain, it would seem from the scriptural references involving the term “household,” that more than immediately family members and their families are included. If that is so, then the numbers of both Lehi’s household and Ishmael’s household might have included servants and their families. And if that is true, the numbers involved in the two groups, those who went with Nephi, and those who stayed with Laman and Lemuel, could be far greater than we might have earlier understood. But, again, we simply do not know from the scriptural record.

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