BoM 4: Scattered…but Not Forgotten

Towards the end of 1 Nephi we see a really tender moment between Nephi and his older brothers. Lehi’s family has just arrived in the promised land, everyone is getting settled and Nephi resumes his record keeping and Gospel instruction. In the process of reciting details prophesied about the anticipated Messiah’s earthly appearance, Nephi mentions the scattering of Israel. This would be a poignant moment for Nephi and his brothers: they belong to Israel but God commanded their family to separate themselves from Israel and take a harrowing journey to a new land. They have become part of the prophesied “scattered Israel.”

As I read about Israel being scattered across the isles of the sea, I realized how that must have sounded to Lehi’s children—the isles of the sea were probably the most remote and desolate places they could imagine; it might be roughly equivalent to someone saying “Mars” or “Jupiter” today. Lehi’s family was now completely cut off from everything familiar and comfortable, with no chance of getting “home” back.

But Nephi’s message, and the tender moment, looks ahead to the future of their children and grandchildren down to our present day when God has promised that He will remember the isles of the sea and gather Israel again.

Nevertheless, when that day cometh, saith the prophet, that they no more turn aside their hearts against the Holy One of Israel, then will he remember the covenants which he made to their fathers. Yea, then will he remember the isles of the sea; yea, and all the people who are of the house of Israel, will I gather in, saith the Lord, according to the words of the prophet Zenos, from the four quarters of the earth.

1 Nephi 19:15-16, BoM

Nephi’s message of hope in covenants, Christ, and the love of God doesn’t seem to be lost on his brothers—they end up asking more questions in order to better understand the prophecies. (See 1 Nephi 22, BoM.)

How often do we feel separated from “home” or like we’ve been “scattered on the isles of the sea”? Sometimes we feel like heaven has gone quiet. Sometimes our own choices have led us off the covenant path and away from God. Some of us wonder if we could ever find a way back or if God will even be aware of us anymore. But His promise to the ancient Israelites holds true for all of God’s children. He does remember us. No matter how far we’ve gone we are always within God’s reach. “Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God? But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows” (Luke 12:6-7, NT).

No matter how distanced we feel from heaven, God is always able and willing to close the gap and gather us back to Him.

Day 81: The wind never did cease

Ether 6

The Jaredite group received many tremendous blessings as recorded in Ether: The Lord agreed not to confound their language so that they could maintain established family and friend relationships; God led them away from Babel; God brought them to a promised land. Did you notice that God caused a great wind to blow the Jaredite barges to the promised land? The barges were out on the open sea. Even though God was in charge of the travel, the barges were still subject to the conditions of sea travel and the consequences of a “great wind” being active on the open water, including very stormy conditions. “And it came to pass that the wind did never cease to blow towards the promised land while they were upon the waters” (Ether 6:8).

“The wind never did cease.” God kept His promise to bring the Jaredites to the promised land and made it possible for the barges to arrive as quickly as possible. In fulfilling His promise and making blessings available, God also created interesting conditions for the Jaredites. I have experienced this in my own life, where I ask for a blessing that God readily promises but the path towards the fulfillment of the promise is fraught with unexpected difficulties. When we ask for a blessing, we need to be willing to accept the unasked for “consequences” of pursuing that blessing.

As we learn from the Jaredites’ experience, when God promises a blessing, He makes it happen. We can be assured that He will fulfill His promises. We also learn that we don’t need to worry too much about those unexpected “consequences” of pursuing a blessing. It strikes me that despite the constant wind and resulting storms, the barges were not impeded in their progress. The barges reached the promised land without injuries and without drownings. The people were kept safe during their entire voyage.

No matter what comes packaged with a blessing or answer to prayer, we need to stay the course and pursue the promise, knowing the God will keep us safe and follow through on all His promises.

Day 22: Irreducible Truths

Jarom 1:2, 9

I have mentioned before that I love patterns. I also love categorizing things and naming categories. One of my hobby horses is “irreducible truths,” or eternal truths or fundamental/foundational truths. I like using the term “irreducible” because it captures an important aspect of this category: The truths they describe cannot be reduced further; they are foundational to the universe and provide the answer for so many questions rather than being questions themselves.

The prophet Jarom (son of Enos) states a couple of these irreducible truths in his very brief section of the Book of Mormon. In verse two he writes about why his writings are so short, namely that previous prophets covered what he felt were the most essential doctrines. He names the Plan of Salvation as one of these foundational principles that is both essential and already covered in the writings to which he had access, “and this sufficeth me,” he concludes. If I ever wondered what the critical knowledge of the Gospel is, here’s my answer. The Plan of Salvation teaches us where we came from, why we are here on earth, and where we are going after this life; this is reality.

Another fundamental truth Jarom touches on appears in verse nine. He references previous scriptural writings to testify of the fulfillment of God’s word that, “Inasmuch as ye will keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land.” I love how the Book of Mormon references itself, how writers recollect past writings and confirm the fulfillment of prophecies. To me this is a witness of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, but, even more importantly, it is a testimony of God: It expresses the irreducible truth of God’s existence, His participation in our earthly experience, His role as covenant maker, and the simply stated fact that He fulfills ALL His words and promises. It behooves us to listen and heed His word.

Day 18: The bondage of mortality

2 Nephi 24:3

The promise for “rest” in the next life from specific conditions of mortality intrigues me, especially the conditions listed as hallmarks of the mortal experience. As I read this verse I wondered, “what is the “hard bondage” of mortality that we have been “made to serve?” Not everyone on earth has lived or will live in formal servitude but somehow mortality is defined by a type of bondage that all humans serve.

The word “made” could be interpreted literally as “God created us.” We were created to take on mortality and experience life in a physical body. In a way it’s a bondage of the spirit in a physical body, something divine and immortal tied to something mortal and dying. But other conditions of mortality create other scenarios of bondage. What about the human predilection for addiction or vices such as lying that ensnare our mortal bodies, compromise our agency and limit our freedom?

When we become attuned to the ways in which our spirits suffer from addiction, sin, interpersonal conflict, and more, God’s promise of rest in the next life becomes so much more poignant.

Day 17: Antitheses

2 Nephi 24:3

I love patterns and the scriptures are in no short supply. Some of my favorite Gospel patterns include pairings of opposites; I always find enlightenment in pondering how the Gospel resolves these antithetical equations.

Second Nephi 24:3 revolves around such a pattern. It contrasts eternity and mortality, promising rest in eternity as a salve to specific conditions of mortality. “And it shall come to pass in that day [the millennium/the day of resurrection, signaling the “start” of eternity from a human perspective] that the Lord shall give thee rest, from thy sorrow, and from thy fear, and from the hard bondage wherein thou wast made to serve.”

“Rest” is here presented as a condition of eternity. It resolves sorrow, fear, and bondage which serve as fundamental markers of the human experience. If eternity is the antithesis to mortality, then sorrow, fear, and bondage are the conditions of mortality and antithetical experiences to eternal life. In which case, we can identify defining characteristics of eternal life as the opposites of sorrow, fear, and bondage: namely joy, fearlessness, and freedom.

Day 9: Vows and Promises

1 Nephi 21

It’s no wonder Nephi loved these chapters from Isaiah. 1 Nephi 21/Isaiah 49 is chock full of the goodness of God. He is strong (v. 5); He is faithful (v. 7); He hears us, helps us, and preserves us (v. 8); He is merciful and will lead us to sustenance (v. 10); He comforts us (v. 13); He will not forget us (v. 15); He has graven us on the palms of His hands (v. 16); He will make us victorious over our enemies (v. 17). These tremendous promises by God to do all these things for us, His children, are confirmed in verse 18. God uses the phrasing of a vow or oath to formalize these promised blessings, “as I live, saith the Lord.” Because God is eternal, to swear by His life is like the ultimate promise. And He always keeps His promises.

This makes me want to do a better job keeping my word and teach my children how to keep promises. I’m going to review Sister Joy D. Jones’s talk “A Sin-Resistant Generation” from April 2017 General Conference.