March 19, 2013 by FHElessons
Here is the next story in my Book of Mormon Stories series. This one was written by my mother. You can find the introduction to this series as well as a timeline of all the Book of Mormon stories HERE. If you would like to view the story previous to this one, the Jaredites and What Became of Them, click HERE.
If you would like to use any image in this post for your Family Home Evening lesson, just click on it, and you will be taken to lds.org where you can print the image for your own use or use it in a slide show.
from lds.org media library
Sariah, Woman of Faith
Wife of Lehi
Mother of Laman, Lemuel, Sam, Nephi, Jacob, Joseph, and several daughters
Daughter of God
Found in 1 Nephi 1-19 in the Book of Mormon
Sariah, the matriarch of the faithful family who left Jerusalem for the Promised Land in the Americas, is an important character in the Book of Mormon account of the Gospel in the New World, but her part in the story is often overlooked, perhaps because her life was too intricately woven into that of her family. We speak often of the trials the men faced and the commissions they were given, of their faith or lack thereof, but only rarely do we seem to mention Sariah and the important part she played. This is not because Nephi left her out in his account, for he speaks of her frequently and with love and favor. So here let us think of this strong and faithful daughter of God who was given a special calling just as certainly as was her husband, Lehi. They stood together united in marriage, supporting, comforting, discussing, and working together to accomplish the seemingly impossible task the Lord had asked of them.
In the beginning of the story, Sariah is a woman of wealth and ease. Her husband has provided her and her children with a comfortable home and the all the things that went with wealth in that time. We are told that the family had gold and silver and many precious things. (1 Nephi 3:22).
Nephi honors her along with his father as he begins his account which became the beginning of the Book of Mormon. He says that he was “born of goodly parents” and describes his home as being full of learning and knowledge. They were acquainted with the Lord and prayed to the Lord for direction.
Although this home was comfortable and full of peace and security, all was not well in Jerusalem. The people had strayed from worship of their God, and idolatry was spreading. Although the Lord had called righteous prophets to warn the people, the corrupt government had also provided corrupt prophets who led society away from God and supported and even encouraged the people in their wicked ways. We know this from the biblical account of Jerusalem at this time, about 600 BC.
from lds.org media library
Lehi was one of the prophets called to preach repentance to the people of this time and to warn them that if they did not repent, Jerusalem itself would be destroyed. This was not a message they cared to hear, and so they even made serious threats against Lehi’s life. Imagine Lehi coming home and warning his wife and family of these threats. He prayed for guidance as I suppose Sariah prayed too, asking for protection for those she loved. Lehi received a series of miraculous visions and dreams describing what would happen to Jerusalem and ending with the instruction “that he should take his family and depart into the wilderness.”
Nephi describes the Lord giving them this opportunity for protection as a “tender mercy” (1 Nephi 1:20), but think of the burden on Lehi’s shoulders as he thought of all that would be involved. And think of Sariah as Lehi shared this instruction with her. Imagine the weight that fell upon her shoulders as she prepared to secretly move her whole family and household out into the wilderness for an unknown period of time. Think of the packing, the planning, the work involved for the wife and mother. But Nephi was right in calling the instruction a “tender mercy”, for it would provide the protection for which Sariah and her family prayed in the face of death threats against their husband and father. The journey out into the unknown would have taken physical strength and emotional and spiritual courage. We will see further evidence of these attributes as we continue Sariah’s story.
We next hear of Sariah as she and her family leave all they have –their house, their riches, the land of their inheritance, taking only the immediate family – Lehi, Sariah, Laman, Lemuel, Sam, and Nephi – along with provisions and tents. The scripture states simply, “And my father dwelt in a tent.” (1 Nephi 2:15) Of course, he does not mention that his mother also “dwelt in a tent”, quite a change in her life.
from lds.org media library
The youngest son, Nephi, asks in prayer if what his father is requiring of them is correct and receives assurance that what is happening is of God. (1 Nephi 2:16) He shares this information with Sam, the brother just older than he, who accepts the message, but the 2 oldest brothers rebel – not an unexpected response from children forced to move by their parents. We have no record of Sariah’s prayers at this point. Perhaps she prayed as Nephi, to know if Lehi’s direction was correct. But then again, she and Lehi had been married for a long time, and she may have known him well enough to accept his prophecy and join him on his word.
Lehi’s next direction from the Lord is that his sons should return to Jerusalem and get the scriptures and genealogical family records from a family member by the name of Laban. The sons describe this requirement as “a hard thing”, but Nephi is courageous and utters his now famous response, “I will go and do the things which the Lord has commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.” (1 Nephi 3:7) I wonder who taught Nephi that principle.
Later we learn that Sariah herself had misgivings about sending her sons back into danger. They are late in returning, and the longer they wait, the more fear she has that her sons have been killed and even that the whole family will die in the wilderness. She complains against Lehi, calling him a “visionary man”. (1 Nephi 5:2) Lehi, as a loving husband, keeps reminding her that they would die if they stayed to see Jerusalem destroyed and assuring her that God had assured him their sons would return safely.
When Lehi’s prophecy is proved correct as the sons return, Sariah rejoices and is comforted. Good thing since this is not the last time the sons will be sent back to Jerusalem. Later they are sent to go back again, this time to the home of Ishmael and bring him and his family out with them. Historians believe from the description in the Book of Mormon and the customs of the time, that Ishmael was most probably a near kinsman of Lehi’s or Sariah’s. It may even be that some of Sariah’s daughters were already married to the sons of Ishmael since interfamily marriage was desirable at that time. Also the record says that two of the sons of Ishmael were married, and it just happens that two of the daughters of Lehi and Sariah appear in the record at this time. If so, Sariah would certainly have been relieved at this trip, rather than worried as she had been at the last one. Certainly her sons would have been more than willing since the stated purpose of this trip was to obtain wives for these sons. The record states that all the family “did give thanks unto the Lord”. (I Nephi 7:22)
from lds.org media library
At this point Lehi has another vision in which he begs his family to come to him at the Tree of Life and partake of its fruit which represents the love of God. (1 Nephi 8) He sees an iron rod representing the Word of God which helps people who are on the path to the tree, but he also sees mists of darkness and a worldly group of mocking people in a “great and spacious” building, both of which make staying on the path difficult. And sadly he sees that his sons, Laman and Lemuel refuse to come with their mother to him. What a sad and frightening thing for these parents. With this knowledge Lehi would spend many extra hours teaching and prophesying to these two wayward sons, hoping to change their attitude and to give them enough spiritual understanding that they would repent. Oh, how mothers and fathers suffer when their children go astray, knowing the future pain that these children will suffer.
At this point the Lord places a “brass ball of curious workmanship” outside Lehi and Sariah’s tent to be found in the morning. This ball, called the Liahonah, is to act as a compass to guide their journey. The only catch is that it only works when they are righteous. Now the children are married and all is set for their journey to a land of plenty that Lehi has seen in a dream.
from lds.org media library
Nephi records that they suffered much hunger and hardship. Ishmael dies and his family mourns. They live on raw meat and He describes the women as being as strong as the men. They bear children and nurse them successfully, and they bear their suffering without murmuring. Not so for Laman and Lemuel. For them murmuring has become a way of life. It is important to note here that it was not just the young women who were bearing children, but Sariah also. She gave birth to two sons, Jacob and Joseph, and at least two daughters during this difficult journey.
When they reach the seashore, Nephi is instructed by the Lord to build a ship to carry the family across the ocean. Quite an undertaking involving mining, smelting the ore, making the tools, logging, and other tasks in preparation for the actual ship building. Nephi says that he “did go unto the mount oft, and I did pray oft unto the Lord”. There he was taught stepwise to build the ship, “not after the manner of men…but…after the manner which the Lord had shown me” (1 Nephi 18:2)
As they took their journey out onto the sea, Laman and Lemuel increased their resistance to the point of violence, which caused Lehi and Sariah such grief as to be sick and to nearly die. Jacob and Joseph also suffered, being young and still needing their mother for nourishment. (1 Nephi 18:18-19)
The date notations at the bottom of the pages of 1 Nephi indicate that it probably took about 11 years from the time this family left Jerusalem until they were safely in the promised land. However, Nephi records it truly was a land of promise and plenty – more work for Sariah, of course, but what joy in knowing their faith had been rewarded and she would again have a permanent home. She and Lehi had completed a super-human task given them by the Lord. Now we know who probably taught Nephi the principle he shared with us in the beginning. (1 Nephi 3:7) And for the rest of us, we have learned too, that the Lord will help us do hard things. We may not think we are strong enough, but we know that He is.
One final thought – We cannot leave this story without noticing the parallel between the lives of Sariah, the wife of Lehi, and Sarah, the wife of Abraham. Both left urban lives of wealth and ease to follow and support their husbands as they were called into the wilderness. Both suffered, both survived, both succeeded; Sarah to be the mother of the Old World Jewish nation who brought us the Bible, Sariah to be the mother of the New World Nephite and Lamanite nations who brought us the Book of Mormon. And both followed the example of Eve, who with her husband Adam, left the ease of the Garden of Eden to go into the world of trial and become the mother of us all.
Questions for Discussion:
- Would Lehi and Sariah and their children have been better off staying in their comfortable home in Jerusalem or journeying for 11 years in the wilderness?
- Does the Lord sometimes require hard things of us? Why?
- Only 3 women are mentioned by name in the Book of Mormon, yet obviously they were present, working alongside their husbands and fathers and sons. What can we do to help the women in our lives feel more recognized and appreciated?
- What are some similarities you see between the lives of Sariah (wife of Lehi), Sarah (wife of Abraham), and Eve (wife of Adam)?
- Elder Holland has said, “No misfortune is so bad that whining about it won’t make it worse.” (April 2007 general conference) Did Laman and Lemuel’s constant whining and murmuring help or hinder the situation for them and for the others who travelled with them?
If you would like to read the next story in this series, the story of Enos, click HERE.