Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Faith of Lehi: A Prophet for His Time

When Joseph Smith began the translation of the plates, he started with the Book of Lehi, which translated into 116 pages of hand-written manuscript. Scribe Martin Harris, in trying to relieve at least curiosity of his wife and family, and the ridicule from Palmyra’s tavern crowd, he sought to borrow the manuscript to help provide “a further witness of their actual existence and that he might be better able to give a reason for the hope that was within him” to his wife and family. When these pages were lost, the Lord directed Joseph to translate from the “small plates” Nephi made and abridged his record upon “for a wise purpose in him, which purpose I know not” (1 Nephi 9:5). 
Consequently, as most every member knows, in the Book of Mormon, as we have it today, the record of 1 Nephi was written by Nephi, who had included a brief abridgement of his father’s record. Thus, we have a very incomplete record of Lehi, and know so little about this stalwart prophet. But Lehi is more than a “typical” prophet. And despite the fact that we do not have much information about him we can discover Lehi himself gives one key to his character.
    When Sariah, supposing that her sons had “perished in the wilderness or at the hands of Laban,” accuses Lehi of being a “visionary man.” Lehi agrees: “I know that I am a visionary man; for if I had not seen the things of God in a vision I should not have known the goodness of God, but had tarried at Jerusalem, and had perished with my brethren” (1 Nephi 5:24).
    Dreams and visions (1 Nephi 8:2) seem to have dominated Lehi’s life; he was called by the Lord in a vision in which he saw Christ and the twelve apostles (1 Nephi 1:6-14). In another prophecy he foretold the Babylonian captivity, the ministry of the Messiah, and the preaching of the gospel to the gentiles (1 Nephi 10:3-14). Even the journey into the wilderness was commanded in a dream (1 Nephi 2:1-3). In other dreams Lehi was commanded to send his sons back to Jerusalem to obtain the plates of Laban (1 Nephi 3:2-4), and later to persuade Ishmael and his sons and daughters to join them (1 Nephi 7:1-2).
    When his sons returned with the plates of Laban, the first thing the patriarch did was to “offer sacrifice and burnt offerings unto the lord; and they gave thanks unto God of Israel” (1 Nephi 5:9), for the safe passage of the sons and their return.
    It was only after that act of faith and devotion that Lehi was willing to satisfy his curiosity toward the records the Lord deemed so important for him to have. He then “took the records which were engraven upon the plates of brass, and did search them from the beginning” (1 Nephi 5:10-11).
    Lehi was not the only prophet of his time whose name the Old Testament has forgotten. Nephi says that just prior to his father’s call “there came many prophets, prophesying unto the people that they must repent, or the great city Jerusalem must be destroyed” (1 Nephi 1:4). These were among the messengers of God that the Bible tells us were “mocked,” their messages “despised,” and themselves “misused” (2 Chronicles 36:16-19)
    No prophet who sees beyond the immediate situation to the fall of a nation is ever popular with the people of that nation; and most of the time, unfortunately, he is ignored. Numerous Old Testament prophets found themselves in that position, and many of them were stoned or otherwise killed by the Jews (1 Thessalonians 2:14,15; Matthew 23:37; Acts 7:52).
In the midst of his preaching (1 Nephi 1:18), because the Jews became angry with him for pointing out their wickedness and prophesying of the coming of the Lord, they sought his life (1 Nephi 1:20). The Lord had something else in mind, however, and told Lehi to take his family and depart into the wilderness (1 Nephi 2:2), and he never wavered. Now Lehi was a wealthy man, with gold, silver and many precious things, but being obedient (1 Nephi 2:3) he left it all behind (1 Nephi 2:4) and headed into the wilderness as told.
    There is an interesting parallel between Lehi’s performance and that of members in our day. When the Saints were driven out of Nauvoo, they came west, following their leaders who the Lord directed. Because of their faithfulness and obedience, the Church survived the persecutions and mob attacks and settled in a far away land (the territory of Utah) where it could worship as they chose and build up the kingdom. Like Lehi, they didn’t ask why they had to leave their comfortable homes, secure setting and sheltered lives—they took what they could carry and left everything else behind.
    It might be of interest today to compare such action with the typical attitude sometimes displayed by the younger generation of members today who seem to feel they need to know “why.” One such individual told me recently, “Look, we live in the information age—we want to know the what, where, when and why of everything.”
    The halls of Wards today seem to echo with the questions: “Why did the Church change their stance about the Priesthood?” “Why can’t children of gay marriages be baptized?” “Why are women denied the Priesthood?” etc., etc., etc. I was asked recently what my favorite scripture was, and though I have many, my all-time favorite and has been since I first studied it, is Amos 3:7: “Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret until his servants the prophets.”
    It seems in my generation, when asked to pack up and leave, we did it. It also seems in today’s generation, there is a hesitancy and a desire to know “why must I?” Perhaps I am mistaken in this, but it certainly seems to be the case.
    Lehi, however, didn’t ask anything. He didn’t hesitate, or need any further information. He simply left his wealth and comfort and fine home and headed into the wilderness. In this case, the wilderness was a barren desert.
The Negev, a Hebrew word meaning “dry,” is a rocky desert that runs along the Sinai desert, full of wadis, box canyons, deep craters, tall sand dunes and loess (wind-blown dust); to the other side is the Arava Valley, the hottest, southern stretch of the Arabah, 103 miles in length from the Dead Sea to the Gulf of Aqaba—it was through this area Lehi took his family
    Lehi’s reliance was on the Lord alone, and he turned from a dangerous and important task of preaching repentance to the Jews, to pursue an even more dangerous and important task. No longer would he try to change a nation. Now he would create one; he would raise up a righteous people for the Lord.
    Lehi’s family had always been important to him, but now his entire calling focused on his children and their children. His own sons and daughters were his mission, with no distractions. And suddenly the role of patriarch and the role of prophet became one role. It was for the benefit of “his seed” that he was commanded to send his sons for the plates of Laban (1 Nephi 5:19), and when he asked Ishmael and his family to share the journey, he was choosing the mothers who would help shape his righteous progeny (1 Nephi 7:1-2).
    At the end of his life, when he learned in a vision that Jerusalem had been destroyed, he did not mourn for the city he had loved and served so well. Instead he reminded his children that they lived in “a land of promise, a land which is choice above all other lands” (2 Nephi 1:5). He had been a prophet to his family, and he was satisfied (2 Nephi 1:14-15).
    The stature of Lehi as the Prophet and leader of the Family was never in question. Nephi makes that clear in no matter how close he himself came to the Lord, the revelation that dealt with where the family should go came to Lehi. The Lord spoke to Lehi “by night, and commanded him that on the morrow he should take his journey into the wilderness” (1 Nephi 16:9).
The “ball of curious workmanship” that directed them on their way appeared before Lehi’s tent (1 Nephi 16:10). When Nephi’s bow broke and he made another to keep the group alive, he went to his father to find out where he should go to get meat (1 Nephi 16:23-26, 30-31). And though the Lord spoke to Nephi to command him to build a ship (1 Nephi 17:8), Lehi received the Lord’s direction to enter it and begin the voyage (1 Nephi 18:5).
    When his wayward sons rebelled, Lehi rose to lovingly correct them. He understood their murmuring nature (1 Nephi 3:5), but never lost hope for his two older wayward sons (2 Nephi 1:17,19), and held out hope for them to the end (2 Nephi 1:24), but he did not excuse their wayward behavior and rebellious nature, warning them of a possible future that awaited them (2 Nephi 1:29) if they did not change.
     Lehi was the perfect example of a father, servant and leader. One we could all emulate.

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