Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Faith of Sariah: A Woman for Her Time

When Nephi and his brothers returned from Jerusalem after obtaining the Brass Plates from Laban and with Zoram in toe, Lehi and Sariah were both comforted, especially Sariah who had envisioned the death of her sons at the hands of her relative, Laban. While he was a notable citizen, probably one of the prominent elders of Jerusalem at the time, who commanded great wealth and many servants, who had in his charge the brass plates that the Lord wanted Lehi to obtain, he was not a righteous man, but dishonest, and suffered from avarice in obtaining wealth not his own.
    He had custody of the brass plates that Lehi's sons were to retrieve. He was killed by Nephi at the command of the Lord (1 Nephi 4:10) when Nephi found him in a drunken stupor on the streets of Jerusalem. Ironically, the imposing sword Laban carried to impress his fellow elders became a symbol of leadership and was wielded in defense of freedom by a number of Nephite leaders later in the Land of Promise.
    While Lehi and Nephi were people shaping the events of their lives, others, like Sariah, Sam and Zoram were more ordinary people, being caught in events rather than shaping them, people striving to be righteous when overpowering forces weighed against them, people whose social status may be akin to our own, though their experiences themselves may differ. As an example, Sariah was caught in the fear of what had happened to her four sons after their lengthy separation while the four boys went back to Jerusalem to obtain the Brass Plates from Laban.
Lehi’s visions and revelations gave him strength to leave “the land of his inheritance, and his gold, and his silver and his previous things,” taking only his family tents, and provisions into the wilderness (1 Nephi 2:4). But not everyone who followed him was blessed with dreams; most had to trust Lehi’s vision. Laman and Lemuel were complaining by the time the group reached its first camp a few days’ journey into the wilderness.
    While Lehi did not express doubts, he intensely desired to know the mysteries of God, saying: “I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit me, and did soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father; wherefore, I did not rebel against him like unto my brothers” (1 Nephi 2:16).
    Sariah was obligated to move with her husband; there is no evidence that she was less than supportive during the move, but neither is there evidence that she received visions. She seems to have given up her comfortable surroundings and more important her kinfolk, without complaint—but giving up her sons was more than she thought she could bear.
    The trip back to get the brass plates may have taken the boys more than a week. The meetings, plotting, scheming, travel down to get Lehi’s wealth and return up to Jerusalem and then the escape from Laban’s servants, the encounter with Zoram, etc., may have taken a few additional days, and the final trip back to Lehi’s tent in the wilderness another week or so. All in all, we are looking at upwards of three weeks or more—a long time when one fears the consequences of the separation and the difficulty of the task at hand.
Both Lehi and Sariah must have known something about the unrighteousness of their kinsman Laban. Surely Sariah had good cause to worry for the safety of her sons. Lehi comforted her, not by promising that they would not face difficulties in their journeys, but by pointing out that those who stayed in Jerusalem would perish. Then he bore testimony that God would deliver his sons “out of the hands of Laban” (1 Nephi 5:5).
    The importance of these brass plates is found in what they contained:
• The five books of Moses (the Jewish Torah);
• A history of the Jewish people, down to the reign of [then current] King Zedekiah;
• The prophecies of the Israelite prophets down to Jeremiah, seen in the Book of Mormon as a contemporary of Lehi; and
• A genealogy of all the tribes of Israel including a genealogy of Lehi's own ancestors, revealing him to be a descendant of Joseph, son of the patriarch Jacob.
    After reading the contents of the brass plates, Lehi prophesied that they would "never be dimmed any more by time," and that they would ultimately "go forth unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people" who were of his seed.
    It is understandable when Sariah complained as she faced the potential loss of some, or all four of her sons (1 Nephi 5:1-3). She had just traveled the distance between Jerusalem and the Valley of Lemuel and knew exactly when her sons should be returning. Her husband was a wanted man in Jerusalem-which might possibly lead to danger for her sons as well.
    Considering these coupled with the fact that losing her sons would cause others to think she was cursed by the Lord, and she’d have no one to care for her in her old age or defend the family name, we begin to understand her desperation. She loved her sons, and her grief for their potential demise was valid. The delay of her sons’ return tested Sariah as never before. Yet, the Lord knew that this was an important trial of faith for her to go through. She would need to face even harder trials in the years to come
    It is likely that Lehi, who was undoubtedly a merchant and traveled about (1 Nephi 1:7), and probably his sons, would have been experienced at traveling and living in a tent, but not Sariah or her daughters. Coming from a wealthy home with servants, they would not have been experienced at taking on the demands of desert living. At the same time, it is most likely that the household had servants and possibly household slaves who cooked meals and handled much of that type of activity, and certainly because of the degree of secrecy in their leaving, would have been taken along on the journey. Likely, Ishmael’s wife and daughters were probably in the same situation, though it is unknown what kind of wealth, if any, Ishmael would have possessed.
It should also be kept in mind that the tents of the period were large and bulky, made of camel skin, and contained at least three rooms with hanging rugs between and others to cover the ground. It is claimed that to carry the poles it would take one donkey (there were no camels in Jerusalem because of the sharpness of the rocks and shale on the ground atop the mountain that would have cut into the soft padding of the camel hoof), another to carry the rugs and interior, and a third donkey to carry the tent itself.
    There also would have been cooking utensils and other household goods to be carried, as well as whatever provisions they took and their seeds of every kind.
    There seems little doubt that living out of a tent would have been a rather frightful time, since living in the Arabian wilderness offered many challenges: intense climate, endless rolling sands with scarcity of water, and peril from wild animals. Children and grandchildren suffered from lack of food and water, hostile Arabian tribes who thought nothing of murdering for gain would have threatened at every turn—especially when they reached the Rub’al Khalil sand desert and the Lord told them to use no fire that would have attracted Beduin thieves and marauders.
    She gave birth to at least two sons, Jacob and Joseph, in their eight-year sojourn in the wilderness, and possibly two daughters, for Nephi had two sisters by the time he fled from his brothers with those who would go with him (2 Nephni 5:5). Indeed, her life was a difficult one but the only complaint she seems to have uttered was when she thought she might have lost her sons to Laban's evil nature.
    But even more unsettling, the lack of love between her two older sons and the younger two would have been devastating for Sariah. She was also faced with a difficult choice, if she was alive at the time, after her husband passed away. Nephi, was commanded to flee from Laman in order to preserve his life (2 Nephi 5:5). Nephi took all those who believed in the “warnings and the revelations of God” (2 Nephi 5:6). Sariah was in this category and it would have been a difficult experience for her to say goodbye, permanently, to her two oldest sons, their wives, and all of those grandchildren.
    We don’t know how long Sariah lived or whether she witnessed the conflicts between the people of Laman and the followers of Nephi that seemed unending. But we do know that Sariah followed a prophet into the wilderness and spent many long years living in harsh, difficult, and deplorable conditions.
    Yet from the shores of the Red Sea to the hills of the Land of Promise, her testimony remained firm as she did indeed testify, “Now I know of a surety that the Lord hath commanded my husband to flee into the wilderness” (1 Nephi 5:8).
    Sariah, by her living and nature, is an example of faith and obedience and one after whom we could all pattern our lives. 

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