Monday, November 13, 2017

Understanding Lehi’s Promise – Part I

There has been much written about the promise of the Lord given to Lehi, and much of this by theorists who are trying to make a point not found in the scriptural record—and that is Lehi and his people were not alone in the Land of Promise despite everything in the entire scriptural record suggesting the contrary. Beginning with M. Wells Jakeman, who founded the Department of Archaeology at Brigham Young University in 1946, and often referred to as the “father of Book of Mormon Archaeology” by the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, it has been believed that there were numerous other people besides the Jaredites, Mulekites and Lamanites in the Land of Promise before, during and after the Nephites.
Like all Mesoamericanists, Jakeman saw no problem with his map of the Land of Promise being nearly 90º skewed from the descriptions Mormon left us in the Book of Mormon. The location of Izapa, Mexico, is where the stone was found, and it is said to have been inhabited since 1400 B.C. and became a major settlement 300 to 50 B.C., which was the time frame of the Stela 5

It was Jakeman who developed the idea of “Lehi’s Vision of the Tree of Life,” from a carving on a stone called Stela 5 found at Izapa, near Mexico’s southern border with Guatemala, and placed a development stage not far from where Lehi is claimed by Mesoamericanists to have landed, as early as 1400 B.C.
    The reason for the insertion of all these different peoples and cultures by Mesoamerican theorists is that Mesoamerica is accepted by other ancient writings such as the Popol Vuh (1554 A.D.) by an unknown author, and Ixtlilxochitl (1600 A.D.), a direct descendant of Ixtlilxochitl I and II who had been tlatoque (rulers) of Cuitlahuac, the penultimate Aztec ruler of Tenachtitlan, to have had cultures dating back before the Nephites.
    Besides Jakeman, John L. Sorenson was also part of the University Archaeological Society, the forerunner of the Ancient America Foundation, where Jakeman, Sorenson, Ross T. Christensen, and others, were part of the cadre at B.Y.U. archaeology that centered on Mesoamerica and insisted that though the scriptural record is silent about the issue, claims there were other people in the Land of Promise.
    As Sorenson was fond of saying when he introduced something that was not in the scriptural record nor part of LDS thinking on the subject—such as (p146) “The Lamanties in the original immigrant group became dominant over a native population of folk already scattered on the land when Lehi arrived”—and adding, “Latter-day Saints are not used to the idea that other people than Lehi’s immediate descendants were on the Book of Mormon scene,” and suggesting, “Abundant evidence from archaeological and linguistic studies assures us that such people were indeed present.”  He also states: “Many Latter-day Saints will have to change their thinking markedly to adjust to [this].”
    In addition, it was Hugh Nibley, speaking of other people in the Land of Promise, and stating that Jaredite survivors intermingled with Mulekites, Nephites and Lamanites. As he wrote: “Many Latter-day Saints had oversimplified how complete the ‘destruction’ of the Jaredites was” (Nibley, Lehi in the Desert and the World of the Jaraedites, Bookcraft, Salt Lake City, 1952, pp238-247).
    So given all that, and many similar comments that claim there were others in the land, we need to look at the actual scriptural record and see what Lehi tells us regarding anyone else in the Land of Promise, either before, during or after he arrived to see if we are oversimplifying and misunderstanding and need to get used to other concepts.
    Picking up the record with Nephi’s second book, we find that Nephi had taught his brothers, then ended and Lehi began teaching them. Verse 3 begins with “And he also spake unto them concerning the land of promise, which they had obtained—how merciful the Lord had been in warning us that we should flee out of the land of Jerusalem” (2 Nephi 1:3).
    After reminding them of the fate of those at Jerusalem, he states: “notwithstanding our afflictions, we have obtained a land of promise, a land which is choice above all other lands; a land which the Lord God hath covenanted with me should be a land for the inheritance of my seed” (2 Nephi 1:4-5).
    Lehi reminds his wayward sons and the sons of Ishmael and their families, both wives and children, that the Land of Promise was for all of them—Lehi’s children and descendants. At this point, he inserts a parenthetical future-tense-comment that others would come to the Land of Promise from other countries by the hand of the Lord.
    Far too many theorists want to point to this and claim other people were both in the land and coming to the Land of Promise, but that is not what is said here. In fact, we have an explanation from Nephi earlier describing this later event, i.e., others being led to the Land of Promise in Nephi’s visions, whose vision was the same as Lehi’s had been (1 Nephi 11:1, 7-8). He then goes on to describe the “coming from other countries” when he describes seeing in the vision “a man among the Gentiles, who was separated from the seed of my brethren by the many waters; and I beheld the Spirit of God, that it came down and wrought upon the man; and he went forth upon the many waters, even unto the seed of my brethren, who were in the promised land (1 Nephi 13:12)” and he saw “many multitudes of the Gentiles upon the land of promise” (1 Nephi 13:14).
These were the Gentiles, of course, that came out of Europe, first with Columbus, then the Spaniards, then the English, etc. Speaking of these, Nephi says: “And I, Nephi, beheld that the Gentiles who had gone forth out of captivity did humble themselves before the Lord; and the power of the Lord was with them” (1 Nephi 13:16) and “were driven out of the hands of all other nations” (1 Nephi 13:19).
    These Gentiles that the Lord brought to the Land of Promise were those who were to inherit the land, a far future event from when Lehi is speaking to his children, and telling them of this land that is theirs if they live righteously. He goes on to say, “Yea, the Lord hath covenanted this land unto me, and to my children forever, and also all those who should be led out of other countries by the hand of the Lord” (2 Nephi 1:5, emphasis added—note its future tense).
    When the Lord makes a covenant, it is always in effect with him as long as the recipient(s) remain worthy to receive it. The Lord made this covenant that the Land of Promise would always be for Lehi “and his children forever,” and also the Lord, knowing Lehi’s seed would not remain valiant to this promise, promised the land to the Gentiles that would later replace them.
    So we have a double promise here—to Lehi’s seed that remained valiant, and there were many down through the nearly 1000 years of their existence in the land, and especially those who lived during the 200 years of the Nephite Golden Age following the Savior’s crucifixion and appearance.
    But note there is no mention of anyone besides these two groups inheriting the land! At the time of Lehi, he and his family were all that were there. Much later, of course, after the Nephites were gone and the Gentiles came to take claim of their inheritance, the second part of this land promise took effect—and we are in that stage of the promise at this very moment.
    Lehi then goes on to make it crystal clear that this land was to be for his children until the Gentiles came to take over, and, as he states in the future tense: “that there shall none come into this land save they shall be brought by the hand of the Lord” (2 Nephi 1:6), which would come in due time with the Gentiles.
    Therefore, as Lehi states, “this land is consecrated unto him whom he shall bring. And if it so be that they shall serve him according to the commandments which he hath given, it shall be a land of liberty unto them; wherefore, they shall never be brought down into captivity; if so, it shall be because of iniquity; for if iniquity shall abound cursed shall be the land for their sakes, but unto the righteous it shall be blessed forever” (2 Nephi 1:7).
    Again, this is a “forever” blessing and promise. And now, for those who want to bring people there during the time of the Nephites, Lehi goes on to make it quite clear that this Land of Promise was to be protected from other groups at all times. “And behold, it is wisdom that this land should be kept as yet from the knowledge of other nations; for behold, many nations would overrun the land, that there would be no place for an inheritance” (2 Nephi 1:8, emphasis added).
    Lehi then goes on to clinch the discussion and make it quite understandable that this Land of Promise was, indeed, choice above all other lands—specifically to those who would reap the blessings of it, i.e., Lehi’s descendants, and those of the Gentiles the Lord later brought. He says, “Wherefore, I, Lehi, have obtained a promise, that inasmuch as those whom the Lord God shall bring out of the land of Jerusalem shall keep his commandments, they shall prosper upon the face of this land” (2 Nephi 1:9).
    Again, those being referred to are those two groups: 1) Lehi’s group (which would later include the Mulekites), and 2) the Gentiles he would lead to the land following Columbus and more specifically, the English (or Europeans) who came to settle and inherit the land.
    To these the Lord has promised the land. No one else!
    By “English,” or Europeans, is meant the same connections as those who joined the Nephites—for it was to the Nephites anciently that the land was promised, so the Muleites became Nephites, and it was also in current times that the land was promised to those who settled here and joined together to form one basic people—not one in nationality, but one in purpose!
(See the next post, “Understanding Lehi’s Promise – Part II,” in which we see that no other people could have been in the Land of Promise prior to Lehi’s landing (other than the Jaredites), and certainly no one there at the time of his landing (the Jaredites had been annihilated), and none came after except those the Lord brought here as shown in Nephi’s vision)

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