|Drawing by Chris White |
Everyday I see new evidence that the Lord loves us -Really loves us. He has promised that if we will ask, with sincerity, that he will never leave us alone and that he will protect us and guide us to our promised land -like he did Lehi. In my class tonight we discussed this very principle. We talked about prophets and how the Lord uses prophets to establish his Kingdom on the earth. We talked about Lehi and how we can be like Lehi.
We learned that prophets teach us about spiritual truths, bear testimony of the divinity of Jesus Christ and write the word of God into what we call Holy Scripture. Through prophets we have the power and authority given to men to act in God's name for the salvation of his children - the priesthood. They teach us wonderful patterns of behavior and principles of truth: like prayer, revelation, forgiveness, patience, temperance, etc. Prophets help us understand our relationship to God as we seek to obtain eternal life. The relationship between God and his prophets is a good one to model after.
So I asked the class to read the first few books of Nephi and to look for Lehi's relationship with the Lord. I found a few clues that I thought were pretty good, but as is usually the case when the spirit of God takes over the lesson, together we all found some that surprised us. And tonight the teacher became the student.
Not a Prophet?
As we listed many of Lehi's roles and characteristics on the board, one sister said, "and he wasn't a prophet." I asked her why she believed this and she described very accurately how he had been listening to the prophets prophesy, so how could he be a prophet? Okay... I didn't see that before. So we read on and discovered that indeed, in the beginning of his story, before he left Jerusalem, he was a merchant, a father, a Jew, a citizen of Jerusalem, a student of Hebrew but he probably was not always a prophet. Wow.
Called to be a prophet
But he believed the prophets! That set him apart. And because he believed, he gained a conviction to follow the pattern that prophets follow. He had to ask. So (if) he wasn't a prophet in verse 5 when he knelt by the rock and prayed "with all of his heart, in behalf of his people," certainly by verse 6 when he beheld a pillar of fire, he was on his way. I don't know about you, but I have never seen a pillar of fire "dwell" before me on a rock when I prayed. I believe this was his calling. God needed him to do what only Lehi could do. He would be called in his dispensation to lead a nation to a promised land.
We talked about the unlikeliness of being called as a prophet. Don't think so. But still there are things that we are called to do that only we can do. Things that the Lord knows. So no matter who we think we are, our wealth, our station, our place in life, God made it plain to Lehi that he knew who Lehi was and that there was a work meant solely for Lehi to do. Are we any different? Does God not have a job for each of us? A job that only we can do that will change the course of our family's life?
Prayer - sincere heartfelt prayer - can open the heavens. Lehi was so filled with the spirit of God because of all he heard and saw, in answer to his prayer, that he trembled. Soon he had to go home. When he got home he fell on his bed and had a vision. His spirit had been touched by the truth of testimony and he had to know. He had to pray and ask for himself. And when he prayed he found out that God had a lot more in store for him than he might have thought. But mostly he found out that God loved him and that he didn't have to perish with all of Jerusalem. But .. he would have to share his new knowledge. and that's where life began to change for him and his family.
Filled with the Spirit of Revelation
At home he was thus so “overcome with the Spirit and the things which he had seen, that he was carried away into a "vision.” (vs7-8) While caught up in his vision in which he sees God and his apostles, he is given a book that foretells of Jerusalem's destruction. He rejoices that he will not have to be destroyed. Why? Because he knows the truth. And now that he knows the truth he can obediently follow God's spiritual direction that will lead him to a promised land.
He thus had his confirmation of prophesy concerning the people and place that he had called home his entire life.
Later the Liahona is given to Lehi to direct their travels. Like a compass it worked strictly by the power of revelation and the Holy Spirit. When Lehi fails to ask God, the Liahona fails to work. Lehi was the only one who could use it. Not even Nephi could usurp his father in this calling as a prophet to interpret the direction his people were to travel.
Lets back it up a bit. Lehi was also a goodly parent, (1 Nephi 1:1) who taught his sons and particularly Nephi knowledge and the culture and learning of the Jews through Egyptian Hebrew(1 N 1:2). He cared about the welfare of his family. He cared about the welfare of his neighbors. He questioned. He asked. He listened. He received. He educated his family and he worried about what would become of them. He was a father filled with great love and dedication to his family. Else why would he have prayed? If his heart was not set on the things of an eternal nature, why would he have cared?
So in our class we talked about what makes a prophet a prophet. Lehi had asked to know. And when he asked God gave him: a pillar of fire, the spirit of God, a vision, revelation, understanding, a book that filled him with the Spirit, dreams, and knowledge about how our actions affect the paths that we are on. There are many of us who dream but this does not make us a prophet. Dreams need the power of revelation to be interpreted in truth. As a literal descendent of Joseph of Egypt, his propensity for vision and dreams came naturally.
Lehi's dreams and his visions give him guidance and strength in truth. Through his dreams and visions we learn of the tree of life, the dark and dreary wastelands, the large and spacious buildings, the iron rod, the book of life, God and his twelve apostles, the tender mercies of the Lord, the need to depart and travel towards the promised land, and many other truths.
Lehi accepted his call to be a prophet when he courageously shared all that he had learned with anyone who would hear. Even though they had stoned and killed the prophets before him, he was not afraid. He understood that the "tender mercies" would give him "the power of deliverance." (vs 20) The revealed truth of God is powerful. It moved Lehi to change. It moves us all to change. It is the basis for the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Lehi reverenced God. His reverence for God and his omnipotent power is expressed in verse 14 and 15 when upon the realization of his Father’s love for him he extols his gratitude and praise upon God. He realizes God's love, power, goodness and mercy for him. He understands that God will not "suffer those who come unto 'him' that they shall perish." (1N1:14) As long as he gives all of his faith and obedience to God, God will protect him from destruction - destruction from stoning or from the destruction of Jerusalem. Who wouldn't be grateful at the realization of this source of eternal life?
It was pointed out to me that Lehi, through all of his difficulties in Jerusalem, in prophesying, in leading his family always looked forward to where they were going. He didn't get bogged down with where they had been, where they were, or the problems they faced. (Okay he did murmur once when Nephi broke his bow. He was hungry(1N1:6)) Lehi's constant communication with the Lord kept him happy and optimistic about life. (My favorite prophet has always been President Gordan B. Hinckley because he exuded the epitome of optimism.) Even before his death Lehi could only bless his children with positive words of hope and prosperity. He is a man who gives full credence tot he promises that God has given him. His seed - though they will have difficulty - will not be utterly destroyed because God had made him a promise.
Faithful and Obedient -
The first thing he does upon leaving Jerusalem and setting up camp is to build an altar to God and offer sacrifice and worship. (1 N 2:1) Religious rites keep our minds and bodies obedient to the laws of heaven. Lehi shows his obedience in many ways. I have to believe that he, like Nephi, was also of goodly parents who taught him the importance of strict obedience and respect for God's higher laws.
Compassion and Sorrow
Is it possible to have Godly mercy extended to you and you yourself not want to do the same for others? Lehi knew that all he had heard was true and he wanted to help protect those with whom he lived and did business with, those with whom he had grown old with and raised his family with. But he was mocked and “cast out” (vs 20). In 2 N 1:17 we learn that his heart was sorrowful for the fear that his family would be cut off and destroyed forever. I imagine it was difficult for him to learn that his children did not share his deep understanding of God's love.
Even Sariah murmured and two of his sons were disrespectful and rude. Were they not taught like Nephi? Sariah called him a visionary man and complained, but Lehi comforted her. He did not rebuke her. He did not become frustrated and distraught, he comforted her. He was a good husband and a strong family leader. Why? Because he drew his strength from his undeniable faith in God. Consider what he has asked Sariah to do?
Now consider how he can convince her and his sons that this is the right thing to do. He has no visual aid, no map, no travel guide, no plan. He only has his faith in God and this is what he must use to comfort and lead his family.
Lehi wrote. (1N1:16) The Lord commanded him to write and keep records of all that he had seen and heard and bear testimony of it. His record known as the plates of Lehi were first given to Joseph Smith and were part of the original small plates of Nephi. The information on these plates were very similar to accounts given in the other sections of the small plates of Nephi so that when Martin Harris looses these plates of Lehi, the Lord does not have Joseph Smith re-translate them.
His words were lost to the world. 2430 years after he leaves Jerusalem, the Lord restores them as the Book of Mormon and they act as a second witness to Jeremiah, the prophet of his time. Though we do not have the actual words, Joseph Smith was told that the essence of their teachings were contained in the other books of Nephi.
He understood what would be needed for their trek in the wilderness to the promised land. He was not leaving for fear for his life. He was leaving because the Lord commanded him to so that the Lord might preserve him and his family. As a leader of a family he knew that they would need more than food and water and shelter to survive. They would need hope of a better tomorrow. This would come from the brass plates that contained the record of the Jews ( or the 1st five books of the books of Moses .ie. the Torah).
Leaders are not inherently strong, they receive strength from somewhere. Lehi's strength in leadership came from his deep understanding of scripture. Upon receiving the Brass plates, the first thing he does is to search them. (1 Neph 5:10.) Upon seeing the book in his vision, he reads it and is filled with the spirit of God. As a leader he understood the power of positive reinforcement and he rehearses to his family the many things the Lord has done. (2N 1:1). He understood the need of physical provisions so he had his family pack seed of every kind. (1 N 8:1) He was humble and did not take credit for that which was God's. His humble submission to God's will gave him problem solving skills, insight, the ability to know the future, and how to comfort those whose faith was not like unto his own.
As a patriarch he gave all of his children blessings, much like the tradition of Israel. As a historian and genealogist he recounted his family history to his children often. He understood the need for a people to have and share a common story. The rich culture of the plates of brass gave him a rich heritage from which to teach his children as well as the lineage of his family. I was surprised to realize that Lehi had most likely never read the fullness of the brass plates before. Even though Laban was his cousin, he had kept the plates but had not shared their significance nor their faith value.
Lehi understood the need for the power of revelation. He understood that revelation begets revelation and that his ability to follow the Lord's guidance through the wilderness would require him to have the power of scripture. His life changed when he took that first step to listen, to learn, to live and to lead others to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
We too can be like Lehi. We too can search the scriptures and harvest from them not just the stories but the power of revelation that lives within them. We too can accept the tender mercies of the Lord and receive the protection that comes to them that follow him.(1N1:20) We too can be like Lehi and find our own promises of the Lord. We can find our own promised land of truth and peace and prosperity. We can look for the patterns of the prophets, the peace that exudes from their words and their actions, and we can use the conviction of truth to change what needs to be changed in our own lives.
Lehi has many notable characteristics. I am sure that others will find many more in the few verses that describe his relationship with God and his family. I am sure that as they do they will discover the power and wonder revelation brings into our lives. What a wonder it is that God loves us enough to call prophets who can see what we cannot. What a blessing it is to behold the Kingdom of God here on earth, to witness in the lives of those who testify. What a wonder God's love is to behold.
Today I am thankful, like Lehi, for God's merciful love for me. And I too want to share. I want to try to be like the prophets that first inspired Lehi. I want to try to be like Father Lehi.