Lehi's Family

LEHI STANDS AT THE FOUNTAINHEAD of the Book of Mormon testimony of the coming Messiah (1 Nephi 10:6), through whom all may come to partake of the fruit of eternal life and receive exaltation promised from the foundations of the world. It is a worldwide book. It is a book that takes Israel, not just from a small place in Jerusalem, but to span the continents and the oceans of the world, to invite all to come unto Christ.

From everything we know in the Book of Mormon we have every reason to believe that Lehi was raised up as an unusual man with great determination, knowledge, and faith. That allowed him to undertake and complete a very difficult assignment and a very important one: that the true understanding of the ancient Israelite religion and their expectation of the coming of the Messiah would not be lost as Jerusalem was obliterated. Lehi knew that he carried a valuable treasure, more valuable than the gold or the plates on which these words were written. He knew that he’d been entrusted by the Lord with a task that only could be accomplished by marshaling all of the resources, all of the knowledge, all of the literary heritage, all of the inspiration, that only a prophet of God, with the aid of God, could bring about. Lehi traveled; Lehi organized his family; Lehi founded a civilization. This was no small order.

Lehi went forward in faith, going off into uncharted parts of the world. Using his knowledge, using what he was told by God; putting together everything he possibly could, but risking everything; putting his life on the line, willing to obey and to follow the commandments of God. All who have the Book of Mormon owe an incredible debt to Lehi, Sariah, and their posterity.

The Law of Moses, of course, affected Lehi in one very important way. In Deuteronomy 18, there is a prohibition against being a false prophet, making false prophecy a capital offense. This was a problem in Lehi’s day. There were many false prophets, and it was very difficult for people to differentiate between the true and false prophets (Jeremiah 28–29). This was one of the reasons that Jerusalem was so vulnerable and eventually fell. Many citizens followed false prophets who told them what they wanted to hear, namely that Jerusalem was impregnable and would never be destroyed.

  John Welch
   

Lehi is in the image of what the brass plates taught about the ancients, the chosen family of Abraham. The role of patriarch for Lehi is the same. There’s a Jewish legend that you never say, “The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” you say, “The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob,” to make it clear that each of those patriarchs himself reached for and received and understood the truth of the living God. So that expression—the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—does not occur in the Book of Mormon; it is always the other way—a Jewish tradition. But a patriarch is the guide and stay first of all of his family. A patriarch cares, not just for a large posterity but, like Abraham, cares that they be like the stars in merit and worth and blessedness.

We are to come out of Babylon (Jeremiah 51:6; D&C 133:14), which means both confusion and darkness and even idolatry, and not even touch as it were the remnants of that, being cut off, literally cut off. That combines with the symbolism of a kind of rebirth. And that’s what was happening to the family of Lehi and Sariah.

  Truman Madsen
   

Lehi is not only the prophet of his people, he is in residence; he is their patriarch, their father, and they gather round, worship together, offer sacrifices together, study the brass plates together.

  Virginia Pearce
   

SARIAH

The Book of Mormon begins with a family, but more precisely with a couple, Lehi and Sariah.

  John Welch
   

It is impossible not to love this story. For one thing, Nephi begins his record in the very first sentence by putting himself in the context of a family. We women are used to having to put ourselves between the lines of the stories. But in this story, we are right there—more obvious than in many stories in the sacred scriptures. Sariah is named; we see what she’s doing, and we even hear her words from her own mouth several times.

  Virginia Pearce
   

 Men had power and women had influence. The women, perhaps, were not vocal in public about what they felt and thought, but in private their husbands paid attention to them.

  Ann Madsen
   

A woman’s role would have been essential. For example, Sariah would have had to manage somehow to put together the food during that trip; this was not an easy thing. Nephi might have gone out hunting, but Sariah would have to be prepared to cook whatever he brought back. She would be managing a lot of the domestic details, and there’s a great deal to manage.

  Daniel Peterson
   

Family dynamics were really interesting in Lehi’s family as they traveled along. For instance, they are sent back to bring Ishmael and his family so they would have his daughters to provide wives for Lehi’s sons (1 Nephi 7). And, marriage is a very, very significant event in a family in this time period.

  Jo Ann Seely
   

It should bring a smile that Laman and Lemuel murmured, complained about going back at all for the plates, but they were willing to go back for wives.

  Truman Madsen
   

In Ezekiel 16, God uses the marriage covenant as an analogy for the covenant relationship that he has created between himself and the house of Israel. Looking behind that analogy, we can see certain elements of this sacred marriage covenant as practiced in ancient Israel. It involved an oath and a covenant. A washing with water, anointing with oil, clothing with embroidered cloth and with linen garments, and a crown being placed upon the head of the bride.

  John Welch
   

I look at Sariah and I can not imagine a woman’s life turning upside down faster than hers did. I look at this woman who had wealth, who must have had a network of extended family, a routine of traditions, and friends and stability in Jerusalem, and then to have it turned upside down within the space of such a short amount of time. Her sons go back to get Ishmael’s daughters, suddenly everyone is married, she’s got in-laws to integrate into her family overnight.

  Virginia Pearce
   

When these sons get married, they bring in new members of the family, and Lehi is going to function as the patriarch of this greater, extended family.

  Jo Ann Seely
   

Thinking of the marriage between Lehi and Sariah, when I see the way Lehi responded to Sariah’s accusations when she fears she has lost her sons, it is such a beautiful model for a marriage. When she accuses him and mocks him for being visionary, he doesn’t defend himself even in a small way, but he reaches out and comforts her. I think it is beautiful.

  Virginia Pearce
   

LAMAN AND LEMUEL

We see a constellation of family that is so recognizable from our own lives that we just a vibrate to it. We see sibling rivalry, we see tension, and we can imagine what that does to a mother. Sociologists tell us that men primarily are interested in achievement and women primarily are tuned into relationships. I believe that, and I believe that’s probably a constant through the ages. If that’s true, you look at Sariah and what this must have meant to her. I imagine that the moment Lehi told her about what the Lord had instructed him to do, she anticipated what this would do to her family. She must have known how Laman and Lemuel would react. They had a pattern that we see afterwards, where the moment there was new information, they resisted it. She must have known what would happen when this was announced to them.

  Virginia Pearce
   

I think Sariah had the pressure of possibly being a mediator between her visionary husband and her sometimes defiant children.

  Jo Ann Seely
   

In a sense we are all Lehi’s family because we all have tensions in our family and struggles over whose going to be in charge and what the goals of the family are. We see this reflected quite nicely in the Book of Mormon. It is a real family. But it is also a microcosm of Judea as a whole, because within Judea you have different attitudes towards prophecy, the Lord, the scriptures, the temple, all of these different things.

  William Hamblin
   

The dynamics in the family are really interesting. That the loyalty of the two oldest sons, Laman and Lemuel, seems to be much more allied with that of the ruling class in Judah, than with their own father. And they see him as a kind of class traitor. Lehi is a very wealthy person, living on the outskirts of Jerusalem. His two older spoiled sons have grown up quite comfortably, in Jerusalem, and they are looking forward to the day when they will inherit all that property. What they see in their father is he betrayed their situation. He’s become this religious fanatic who is going to take them away from the place that is rightfully theirs. Deprive them of all the status and the comforts they were used to (1 Nephi 2:11; 17:20–21).

  Daniel Peterson
   

When they first leave Jerusalem, they’re leaving their inheritance. And the oldest, Laman, is the birthright son. He’s the one who would receive a double portion if he were staying.

  Ann Madsen
   

They weren’t convinced it was wise to leave their possessions, they weren’t convinced that Jerusalem would be destroyed, and they weren’t convinced there was a better place to go. Even though there were rebukes, voices, and even angelic appearances. They soon could brush that aside.

  Truman Madsen
   

We see that very often people comply or are obedient because they’re afraid not to, and that’s certainly the lowest level of obedience, but sometimes in our own families we resort to that. Then other times, Laman and Lemuel are persuaded. Nephi exhorts them. He is a convincing person, and they are persuaded on their own. They humble themselves, they are persuaded, but then they go back. There is even one place in this story where it says they know of a surety (1 Nephi 17:55), which is the same thing that Sariah says (1 Nephi 5:8), but they don’t hold on to it like Sariah does. The moment Sariah says she knows of a surety, she never goes back. She seems to have what Nephi has, which is tenacity, and Lehi, Sam, Jacob, and Joseph have it as well. It is just some kind of core that moves them forward once they make that decision. Laman and Lemuel just don’t believe. In the face of experience after experience after experience, they are motivated by fear.

  Virginia Pearce
   

And yet they went with their father because loyalty to the father is absolute in the Middle East. They take out their anxiety and their animosity to their father on their brother Nephi.

  William Hamblin
   

How could Sariah not love Laman and Lemuel? They’re her oldest sons, they’re not just her sons, they are her firstborn. They’re the children that arrive first and she has all of the hopes of her parenting, her dreams, lie with those sons. And when they go back to get the plates with Nephi and Sam, it isn’t just Nephi and Sam for whom she is fearful and mourning their loss, it is Laman and Lemuel too. I just can’t even imagine the heartbreak when they seek to destroy Nephi, and she lies close to death. I think it is not just over her fear for Nephi, it is her heartbreak over Laman and Lemuel and the loss she feels for them. Woman I know who have children like Laman and Lemuel, often take great comfort, great comfort, if they still have a loving relationship with family members. They will say, “we have left the faith but we still love one another and we still have a good time together.” And there is great comfort in that for the woman, but Sariah never even had that.

  Virginia Pearce
   

Lehi, Nephi says, pleads with Laman and Lemuel “with all the feelings of a tender parent” (1 Nephi 8:37).

  Truman Madsen
   

NEPHI

It is interesting to see that transition from Lehi the prophet to Nephi the prophet because it seems very smooth. We don’t see Lehi turning over anything; we don’t see any formal exchange.

  Virginia Pearce
   

Nephi’s own wonderful personality makes it possible for him to take the laughter and derision of his brothers “You—build a ship—what do you mean?” (see 1 Nephi 17:17–19), and Nephi just moves through—just does what needs to be done. On the ship, when his brothers tie him up and threaten to kill him, his faith is like a light. It cuts through all the darkness of his brothers (1 Nephi 18:11–21). He’s the Joseph of Egypt kind of example. And being a son of Joseph that makes perfectly good sense.

  Ann Madsen
   

Nephi is almost unreal. You can not even imagine time after time, every time he meets anything, he just blossoms before us. He’s almost miraculous in the way he meets challenges. He’s just so loving, kind, forgiving.

There is not one instance in any of their interactions where they are not pointing everyone toward the Lord. That Nephi is not asking them to follow him; he’s asking them to follow God. Lehi is not asking them to follow Nephi—he’s asking them to follow God.

  Virginia Pearce