Sunday, January 27, 2019

How Did Lehi Know Where to Go When Fleeing Jerusalem?

When Lehi was told by the Lord to flee into the wilderness (1 Nephi 2:1) he not only had tents, donkeys, seeds of every kind, and other provisions at his immediate disposal to take with him, he also knew exactly where to go.
    It might be of interest to know that the word “seeds” is mentioned only four times in Nephi’s writing between leaving Jerusalem and planting the seeds they brought from Jerusalem into the soil where they landed in the Land of Promise. Thus the word “seeds” is mentioned:
1. In the valley of Lemuel after returning with Ishmael’s family (mentioned twice 1 Nephi 8:1);
2. When they boarded the ship Nephi built (1 Nephi 18:6);
3. When they planted them after landing in the Land of Promise (1 Nephi 18:24).
When Lehi left the area of Jerusalem, he packed his provisions and supplies on donkeys, which included the seeds “They had brought from the land of Jerusalem” (1 Nephi 18:24)

Most importantly, when Lehi left the land of Jerusalem, Nephi recorded that “he left his house, and the land of his inheritance, and his gold, and his silver, and his precious things, and took nothing with him, save it were his family, and provisions, and tents, and departed into the wilderness” (1 Nephi 2:4, emphasis added). Stated differently, there is no mention of obtaining any of these items, but that Lehi evidently already had such items, including his tents, seeds and whatever else he took in the form of provisions, which would have included cooking pots, etc.
    An intercedent thought involves the term “gold and silver,” which in the form of money would have been needed to some extent in the reprovisioning along the way, purchasing passage through clan-held lands, and most importantly, purchasing of camels once away from Jerusalem where camels did not go because the soil there was rocky, with sharp flints that would have slashed the camel’s large, unhooved, cushion-like foot. Thus the gold and silver left behind would likely have been in the form of objects or some of the “precious things” mentioned (1 Nephi 2:4).
    After trading to exchange his donkeys and purchase camels for the desert trek, the family headed south around the Dead Sea, for a two-hundred-mile trek to the Gulf of Aqaba. For the length of this trek to where Lehi camped in a valley he named Lemuel, where a year-round river flowed, which he called Laman, 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 previous posts, Lehi would have had knowledge of, and intercourse with, the Arabs who traveled by camel caravan north and south along the king’s highway—a road out of Egypt that was one of the oldest in the world, and 1,000 years old when Abraham was born. Less a road than a path, it had been worn in the earth by the feet of slaves, trudging from the Nile northward, a trade route of vital importance to the ancient Near East, beginning in Egypt, and stretching across the Sinai Peninsula to Aqaba, and from there turning northward across Transjordan, leading to Damascus and the Euphrates River. It also traveled southeast from Aqaba and along the Red Sea, then across the desert to present day Oman and an area called Salalah where the Frankincense trees grew.
If Lehi had contact with the camel caravans of his day, with whom some believe he conducted business trade, he would have known of the trails to the southeast along the Red Sea

These caravaneers would have had an extensive knowledge of the trails, the water holes, and where oases were located. This king’s highway, of course, was merely a route—not a specific, marked trail. Often many miles wide, and undefined other than it being a more-or-less flat terrain, the Frankincense Trail, or Incense trade route or the Spice Road, as it was more accurately called, comprised a network of major ancient land and sea trading routes linking the Mediterranean world with Eastern and Southern sources of incense, spices and other luxury goods, stretching from Mediterranean ports across the Levant (eastern Mediterranean lands) and Egypt, through Northeastern Africa and Arabia to India and beyond. The incense land trade from South Arabia to the Mediterranean flourished between the 7th century BC to the 2nd century AD. The Incense Route served as a channel for the trading of goods such as Arabian frankincense and myrrh; Indian spices, precious stones, pearls, ebony, silk and fine textiles; and from the Horn of Africa rare woods, feathers, animal skins, Somali frankincense and gold.
    The full route along the south was from the Salalah Plain in Oman in the southern Arabian Peninsula, then westward across the southern 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 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 (1 Nephi 16:10) as the colony was ready to continue their journey (1 Nephi 16:12).
Lehi with the Liahona; this was used along the trail toward Bountiful as an aid in direction and ease in travel

This compass showed them the way along the “most fertile parts of the wilderness, which were in the borders near the Red Sea“ (1 Nephi 16:14). 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 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 possessed, let alone know how to use.
    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 the terrain, life-saving 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, traveling along trails or roads that were many hundreds of years old. Such travel on foot was a time-consuming process, but not overly dangerous, though there was always the thought of thieves.
    Travel along the route Lehi took through the desert south of Jerusalem, and during the dry season, the sand-cushioned “superhighway” with gently sloping gradients and comfortable passageways through the rough and otherwise impenetrable hills. This route was well known even 800 years before Lehi when Moses mentioned it in asking permission to proceed along it without turning “to the right hand nor to the left” with the hosts of Israel on their way to Canaan (Numbers 20:17; 21:22).
    Though well traveled in the time of Lehi, this route was dangerous and any lack of knowledge of the route could end up in disaster. As an example, when Nephi’s steel bow broke, and the wood bows of his brothers lost their spring, they were unable to obtain food (1 Nephi 16:21). This was such a calamity that even Lehi began to murmur against the Lord for bringing them out into the wilderness. They began to suffer for lack of food. Not until Nephi made a bow and arrow and went hunting to obtain food, was their suffering relieved (1 Nephi 16:31).
    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 Ishmael’s family, and five weddings took place (1 Npehi 16:7).
    Nephi describes his father’s “comings and goings,” 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 1:7). 
Lehi praying while in the desert waiting for a camel caravan bringing goods northward and stopping at the foot of the mountains that lead up to Jerusalem

While on one of these trips into the desert, encamped along a trail awaiting for one of the Arba caravans, 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.
    Once receiving the Liahona, Lehi was led by the Lord, and much teaching went on with the Lord instructing in more than the direction to take, “which did give us understanding concerning the ways of the Lord, and it was written and changed from time to time, according to the faith and diligence which we gave unto it” (1 Nephi 16:29).
    While the Liahona for some time led them down along the coast of the Red Sea in a south-southeasterly direction (1 Nephi 17:1), a route that was marked fairly well by the direction of the sea, after Ishmael died, was buried and mourned, the Liahona sent them nearly eastward, which would have been up over the mountains and toward the great sand desert beyond. Here, there would have been no trail, as dim as it might have been, for moving through the sand desert required a firm knowledge of the water holes, which were much further apart here than they had been along the Red Sea.
    A day’s march along the Red Sea was between water holes where they could fill up their goatskin bags for the next day‘s travel; however, once into the sand desert, water had to last much longer for the water holes were more distant, where the sun was low and burned them with thirst, and where heat waves played tricks with their eyes.
    Lehi knew not where he traveled, but trusted in the Lord. The Liahona pointed the way and the prophet followed—and the others followed the prophet. Thus we see, that Lehi had prior knowledge of the route from the land of Jerusalem to the Red Sea, but from there, needed the Liahona, which the Lord provided, for guidance to continue his journey. His prior experience with the camel caravans passing along the King’s Highway below Jerusalem provided him with knowledge of his early travel to the area of Aqaba, and because of it, he was completely capable of leading his family there when the Lord told him to flee Jerusalem.

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