Wednesday, November 23, 2011

How Did Lehi Know Where to Go When Fleeing Jerusalem?

When Lehi was told by the Lord to flee into the wilderness (1 Nephi 2:2), he not only had tents, donkeys, seeds and other provisions at his immediate disposal to take with him, he also knew exactly where to go. For the first two hundred miles to the Gulf of Aqaba where he camped in a valley he named Lemuel, where a year ‘round river flowed, which he called Laban, Lehi had no instrument to tell him where to go. While he may well have been inspired of the Lord in which direction to flee, a knowledge of the route would have been essential.

How did Lehi know where to travel and where the water holes would be?

As discussed in the last post, Lehi would have had knowledge of, and intercourse with, the Arabs who traveled by caravan north and south along the king’s highway from the Arabian Sea to the Syrian markets far to the north.
These caravaners would have had an extensive knowledge of the trails, the water holes, and where oaises were located. This king’s highway, of course, was merely a route—not a specific trail. Often many miles wide, and undefined other than it being a more-or-less flat terrain, the Frankincense Trail covered over 2200 miles from what is now Oman in the southern Arabian Peninsula, then westward across the Empty Quarter, turning northward paralleling the Red Sea, one trail along the shore, another along the eastern slope of the foothills, and both converging around the Dead Sea before heading northward past Jerusalem (which was on top of a mountain) and into Syria, trading at every opportunity along the way.
After camping in a valley near the Red Sea (1 Nephi 2:6) for upwards of two years while the brass plates were obtained, read and studied, and after Ishmael’s family was retrieved and joined them, and after five weddings took place, the Liahona appeared as the colony was ready to continue their journey (1 Nephi 16:19). This compass showed them the way “in the more fertile parts of the wilderness” (1 Nephi 16:16). Before this, however, there is no mention of any aid to help Lehi find his way to that first camp along the Red Sea, approximately 200 hundred miles distant from Jerusalem, which he called the Valley of Lemuel (1 Nephi 2:14).

Thus, it can be assumed that Lehi specifically knew where he was going when he left his home, and had a working knowledge and understanding of the routes available to him down to the Red Sea (Gulf of Aqaba). And, with the likelihood that Lehi over the years would have taken his four sons down the mountain to trade or buy from the caravans, it would also explain why the boys would have had experience with the large tents of the day—something that those within the city would not have known.

It should be kept in mind that to modern man who gives little attention to traveling—he hops in a car, gases it up, and heads off along one of the many interstate freeways where food and gas stops are frequent. But in 600 B.C., one's very life depended upon knowledge of terrain, water holes, and oases. For someone living within the city of Jerusalem, such knowledge would be both unknown and unnecessary. When traveling around Israel, as some did, a distance of a little over a hundred miles from north to south, overnight stops were in caves that pockmarked the routes, and along trails or roads that were many hundreds of years old. Such travel on foot was a time-consuming process, but not dangerous. Travel along the route Lehi took was dangerous and any lack of knowledge of the route could end up in disaster.

When Lehi stopped in what he called the Valley of Lemuel, there was a year ‘round river or stream that flowed down from the hills and into the Gulf of Aqaba. There he stayed for some time while his sons retrieved the brass plates and later went back for Ishmael’s family.

Nephi describes his father going forth and returning (1 Nephi 1:5,7) and we can see how, during one of these encampments along the caravan trail where Lehi would have had not only time to rest while waiting for a caravan, but also meditate upon the matters of his soul. At such a time he could have received his future calling from the Lord. Nephi describes his father receiving his calling while away from home, then returning exhausted after the experience (1 Nephi 5:7).

While on one of these trips into the desert, encamped along a trail awaiting the caravan, Lehi might have been engaged in mighty prayer to the Lord. Here he would have had time on his hands and his concerns over the people of Jerusalem must have weighed heavily on his mind, for many prophets had been sent among them to warn the people of their evil ways (1 Nephi 1:13). Here Lehi might have had his vision of the pillar of fire and saw many things that made him "quake and tremble" (1 Nephi 1:6). After this experience, and, perhaps, after the caravan passed by and he concluded his business, “he returned to his own house at Jerusalem” where he cast himself on his bed in exhaustion from the trip and the spiritual experience (1 Nephi 5:7).

From then on he was involved in his prophetic ministry, before eventually being led to the Land of Promise.


  1. Thank you. I used some of your information toward a better perspective with my gospel doctrine class.