(If you have access to an old airline ticket and a copy machine, you may want to "white-out" the destination and arrival time on the ticket and then photocopy and cut out one for each class member. Start class by passing out the tickets and offering them all to go on an amazing adventure with you. Answer all questions about the destination or the itinerary or the travel route with "It's a surprise!")
Imagine being given an airline ticket with a departure date and a gate number, but no destination printed on it. Let's suppose you have just retired and so you have no work obligations, and you can take your immediate family with you. Would you take the flight? What things might you be worried about? Are there any conditions under which you would take the flight? (If you knew and trusted the person who planned the trip.)
A five-year-old would take that plane trip with his family, if a close relative he loved gave him the ticket. He would not have to know where the plane was going, and he would have total confidence that everything about the trip would be great. Five-year-olds are used to being dragged here and there without knowing the destination. They get a kick out of the bugs and garbage trucks and dandelions that they see along the way. Sometimes they complain, but they are actually much more accommodating than any of us adults would be. "Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven" (Matt 18:4). Little children really have great faith in their parents, and we should have faith in our Parent and the trips He plans for us.
Most of us, at some point in our lives, experience a journey in which we thought we knew the destination, but when we got off the plane, we were in an entirely different place. Do we spend our time indignantly asserting our rights and shaking our fist at the Lord, or do we leave the airport and enjoy the sights? You'll see examples in your own life, but here are couple from mine: Just as I filled out admittance forms to attend college since all my children would now be in school, I found out another baby was coming--major destination change! It was eleven years before I got back to college.
A couple of years after that baby, my husband and I saved up to go on a romantic trip to Paris for our 20th wedding anniversary; instead we spent that time and money (plus a home equity loan) to travel to Russia to adopt our daughter Marisha. This was one of the most challenging "journeys" of our lives, and took two years to complete. We never made it to Paris, but the Lord's plans were better than ours, and those two children have greatly enriched our lives. I thank the Lord every day for these precious souls.
Today our lesson is all about journeys. Lehi and his family were given "tickets" with a somewhat hazy destination and no arrival time posted at all. Even the mode of transportation was not listed, and it changed enroute. The journey went on for years. They had marriages, births and deaths before it was over. At times they thought they had arrived, only to find they had to move on again.
(Just for fun, if it's not Fast Sunday, you may offer small packages of peanuts and disposable cups of soda to the class like the airlines do.)
THE JOURNEY OF THE LEHITES
Here is some interesting research from the Neal A. Maxwell Institute regarding the journey from the Valley of Lemuel:
"After traveling for 'the space of four days' Lehi's group camped at a place they called 'Shazer,' [1 Ne. 16:13] which by normal traveling distance (about a hundred miles) would correspond to the prominent ancient oasis now called Wadi Al Azlan. Here they began to hunt wild game with bows and arrows and continued to do so after traveling for 'many days' in the 'same direction,' which would have taken them into the general area of modern Jiddah.
"This area, midway down the eastern shore of the Red Sea, is known for a combination of heat, humidity, sand, and salt that rusts car fenders in a few months and turns limber any dry wood brought from other areas. Here Nephi broke his steel bow [1 Ne. 16:18] and the wooden bows 'lost their spring,' but Nephi found wood for new bows [1 Ne. 16:23] and then found wild game nearby at the top of a mountain [1 Ne. 16:30]. Around Jiddah grows the pomegranate tree, excellent for bowmaking, and to the east, as there are farther north, are mountains with wild asses, gazelles, grouse, partridge, etc., which are still hunted with 'slings,' as Lehi's group hunted.
"After again traveling 'many days' in 'nearly the same course,' Lehi's group stopped 'for the space of a time' in a place 'which was called Nahom' [where they buried Ishmael; 1 Ne. 16:34], evidently a well-established oasis on the route, and then turned and traveled 'nearly eastward from that time' [1 Ne. 17:1]. The ancient Trail did indeed take exactly such a turn (because of the interruption of high mountains coming directly to the seacoast) at modern Al Kunfidah, then going up the wadi system to the ancient caravan city of Najran and branching there. The main route then went south to ancient San'a, which by 600 B.C. had developed into an alternate source of frankincense, and the other route continued east, through the southern edge of the desolate sand desert known to modern explorers as 'the Empty Quarter,' until it came out to the fertile Qara Mountains in Dhofar, the original ancient source of frankincense and the only such spot (about twenty miles long) on the entire fourteen-hundred-mile southern coast. Joseph Smith's account got the turn exactly right and also the area of increased desolation and 'much affliction,' including the interesting detail that the emigrants lived on raw meat [1 Ne. 17:2], not being allowed 'much fire,' in this the one area of the trail where we now know they would have been in greatest danger of Bedouin raiders.
"Most startling, the Book of Mormon provides exactly all the details (now proven, but which no one knew in the 1820s) of Salalah [which Lehi called "Bountiful;" 1 Ne. 17:6]: This small, unique spot is favored six months of the year by southwest monsoon winds that cloak the mountains in mist and produce the anciently precious frankincense which brought the caravan trail there—and also produce flowers, honeybees, fruit, and huge 'sycamore-figs' [which] can produce long timbers of strong hardwood, remarkably free from knots and resistant to sea water and used even today to make ocean-going [vessels]. There is also iron ore in the mountains [1 Ne. 17:16], a beach where Lehi's emigrants could 'pitch . . . tents by the seashore' but one which terminates abruptly on the west in cliffs that drop a hundred feet 'into the depths of the sea' [1 Ne. 17:48]. And the seasonal monsoon winds that produce the fertility of this unique area also provide a unique source of power that we now know opened up trade across the open sea to India in the first century A.D. and by which Nephi's ship would have been 'driven forth . . . towards the promised land' of America [1 Ne. 18:8]. In Joseph Smith's time, as we have seen, neither the shipbuilding skills and materials nor the favorable winds on this desert shore of Arabia were known about in the west." (Eugene England, Through the Arabian Desert to a Bountiful Land: Could Joseph Smith Have Known the Way?, Maxwell Institute BYU Publication)
It's fascinating to know exactly where the journey took place, but it is more important to learn what the journey can teach us about our own lives. Nephi gives us the point of the story:
"AND THUS WE SEE, that the commandments of God must be fulfilled. And if it so be that the children of men keep the commandments of God he doth 1) nourish them, and 2) strengthen them, and 3) provide means whereby they can accomplish the thing which he has commanded them; WHEREFORE, he did provide means for us while we did sojourn in the wilderness" (1 Ne. 17:3).
But not everyone on the trip felt so positive about the journey, and no one felt so positive about it all the time. Let's look at this story to see how we can be better travelers and find joy in our journeys.
HOW TO BE A HAPPY CAMPER DURING LIFE'S TRAVELS
1. Trust that the destination is a land of promise
Lehi and Nephi constantly affirmed their complete trust in the Lord that the end of the journey would be worth it. If we can learn to do this, everything will go a little easier.
2. See the blessings in every part of the journey
"...And we did travel and WADE THROUGH MUCH AFFLICTION in the wilderness; and our women did bear children in the wilderness." (Don't you expect the next sentence is going to be a complaint about that? Nope, it's Nephi, remember?) "And SO GREAT WERE THE BLESSINGS of the Lord upon us, that while we did live upon raw meat in the wilderness, our women did give plenty of suck for their children and were strong..." (1 Ne. 17:1-2)
3. Be patient in delays, side-tracks, or extentions to the journey
"And it came to pass that we did pitch our tents by the seashore; and notwithstanding we had suffered many afflictions and much difficulty, yea, even so much that we cannot write them all, we were exceedingly rejoiced when we came to the seashore; and we called the place Bountiful, because of its much fruit." (1 Ne. 17:6)
When they stopped at the shore of the Red Sea, they called the place Bountiful. When they got to America, they called that land Bountiful, too. There is never any indication that Lehi knew that the promised land would be across the sea until Nephi was told to build a ship; they were already living in a wonderful location. It seems very likely that the travelers thought that the Bountiful by the Red Sea was their final destination, their promised land. Was it possibly a little disheartening to find out that they had only just begun their journey at that point, eight years after leaving Jerusalem, and the most treacherous part lay ahead? [1 Ne. 17:4] When we find that a difficult life journey has yet another twist to it, can we calmly load up our bags and keep going?
4. Have faith even while having questions
When the Lord commanded them to leave this beautiful and fruitful land Bountiful by crossing a treacherous sea in a homemade ship, everyone had questions. But Nephi's questions were useful. "Lord, whither shall I go that I may find ore to molten, that I may make tools to construct the ship?" Do the questions we ask when we are in challenging positions reflect our faith? Instead of asking "Why me?" as Laman and Lemuel did, can we ask "What do you want me to do?" as Nephi did?
5. Don't waste effort looking back or thinking what might have been
Laman and Lemuel chose to whine and complain. "It would have been better" to have died in Jerusalem, they said. However, they didn't really think they would have died in Jerusalem, because the next thing they said was that instead of suffering in the wilderness, "we might have enjoyed our posessions," "we might have been happy." (1 Ne. 17:20-22) But the destruction of Jerusalem really did happen and their "afflictions in the wilderness" were mighty blessings compared to the real "might-have-beens."
Do we complain about our blessings?
6. Recognize the Lord's hand in the journey
As the Lord said to Nephi, "I will also be your light in the wilderness; and I will prepare the way before you, if it so be that ye shall keep my commandments; wherefore, inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall be led towards the promised land; and ye shall know that it is by me that ye are led." (1 Ne. 17:13)
Look for "the light in the wilderness." Keep track of it in your journal. Give thanks for it in your evening prayers.
7. Use the scriptures as a map
Nephi wanted his brothers to see that they were being guided by the Lord, and that they would reach their destination, so he likened their journey unto another journey they were familiar with from their scriptures, the Brass Plates:
"Do ye believe that our fathers, who were the children of Israel, would have been led away out of the hands of the Egyptians if they had not hearkened unto the words of the Lord?" (1 Ne. 17:23)
He reminded them of what they knew about this trip ("ye know"), and that the hand of the Lord did it all ("by his words").
- YE KNOW that the children of Israel were in bondage
- YE KNOW that they were laden with [grievous] tasks.
- YE KNOW that it must needs be a good thing [for them to be freed].
- YE KNOW that Moses was commanded of the Lord to do that great work.
- YE KNOW that BY HIS WORD the waters of the Red Sea were divided...and they passed through on dry ground.
- YE KNOW that the Egyptians were drowned in the Red Sea.
- YE KNOW that they were fed with manna in the wilderness.
- YE KNOW that Moses BY HIS WORD smote the rock...to quench their thirst...[despite being led by the Lord] they hardened their hearts and blinded their minds and reviled against Moses and against...God.
- ACCORDING TO HIS WORD he did destroy them.
- ACCORDING TO HIS WORD he did lead them.
- ACCORDING TO HIS WORD he did do all things for them.
- And there was not any thing done save it were BY HIS WORD.
- YE KNOW that they were led forth BY HIS MATCHLESS POWER in the land of promise.
- YE KNOW that BY THE POWER OF HIS ALMIGHTY WORD he can cause the earth that it shall pass away.
- YE KNOW that BY HIS WORD he can cause the rough places to be made smooth, and smooth places shall be broken up. (1 Ne. 17:25-31, 42, 46)
8. Know the Lord can be trusted because he 1) loves, 2) covenants, 3) remembers
This is the most important thing to keep in mind, and will make all the other things easier to do. After re-telling the story of the exodus from Egypt, Nephi reminded his brothers of the character of God--that He is the Creator of the earth and of each of them, that He raises up the righteous and destroys the wicked, that He leads the righteous into promised lands, that He rules high in the heavens...
"And he loveth those who will have him to be their God. BEHOLD, he 1) loved our fathers, and he 2) covenanted with them, yea, even Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and he 3) remembered the covenants which he had made; WHEREFORE, he did bring them out of the land of Egypt.
FINDING HOPE IN ISAIAH
After Nephi taught his brothers from the scriptures about the exodus, he read to them from another scripture. (Ask your students to identify it from 1 Ne. 19:23--Isaiah.) There were two reasons that Nephi gave for reading from Isaiah in verses 23 and 24. Each of them is begun with the word THAT.
- "THAT I might more fully persuade them to believe in the Lord their Redeemer."
- "THAT ye may have hope."
"All ye, assemble yourselves, and hear; who among them hath declared these things unto them? [That would be the prophets, specifically Isaiah.] The Lord hath loved him; yea, and he will fulfil his word which he hath declared by them...
"...I have sent him--the Lord thy God who teacheth thee to profit, who leadeth thee by the way thou shouldst go, hath done it." (1 Ne. 20:14, 17)
We can trust that the words of the prophets will be fulfilled for our journey because the Host of our tour, the Lord Himself, has sent them.
No matter how things are right now, everything will come right, because...
"Thus saith the Lord: In an acceptable time have I heard thee, O isles of the sea, and in a day of salvation have I helped thee; and I will preserve thee, and give thee my servant for a covenant of the people, to establish the earth, to cause to inherit the desolate heritages;
"That thou mayest say to the prisoners; Go forth; to them that sit in darkness: Show yourselves. They shall feed in the ways, and their pastures shall be in all high places.
"They shall not hunger nor thirst, neither shall the heat nor the sun smite them; for he that hath mercy on them shall lead them, even by the springs of water shall he guide them.
"And I will make all my mountains a way, and my highways shall be exalted." (1 Ne.21:8-11)
No matter where we live (even the remotest places, the isles of the sea), we will have a prophet to deliver the Lord's promises to us. If we are in a prison of sin or circumstance, we will be allowed to escape. If we are in darkness, we will be led into the light. We will be led to a high place (mountains, which generally mean temples in the scriptures) where we will be nurtured by the Lord. There we will be sheltered from the vicissitudes of life (heat and sun). All the mountains will become a way. (Temples the world over lead us to God.)
Even when times come that we think the Lord has forgotten us, we can be sure He hasn't and His promises will eventually be realized,
"For can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? [Even if she is a neglectful mother, a nursing mother will be reminded by her body that she has a baby to feed--it is impossible for her to forget!] Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee, O house of Israel.
"BEHOLD, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me." (1 Ne. 21:15-16) What is on the palms of Christ's hands? The scars of His crucifixion, His atonement for us. Even though He was resurrected to glory and to a perfect body, those scars remained as eternal symbols of His love and sacrifice for us!
But it is not just the House of Israel whom the Lord remembers:
"Thus saith the Lord God: BEHOLD, I will lift up mine hand to the Gentiles, and set up my standard [a banner, rallying troops or groups of people together] to the people; and they shall bring thy sons in their arms, and thy daughters shall be carried upon their shoulders.
"And kings shall be thy nursing fathers, and their queens their nursing mothers; they shall bow down to thee with their face towards the earth, and lick up the dust of thy feet; and thou shalt know that I am the Lord; for they shall not be ashamed that wait for me." (1 Ne. 21:22-23)
It is the spread of the true gospel restored in the United States (1 Ne. 22:7-9) to all those who do not have it, anywhere in the world and in any way, that is described by Isaiah. It is the fulfillment of the covenant to Abraham that in his seed all the kindreds or families of the earth should be blessed. Their thanksgiving will be great, and those who labored for the Lord will be gratified and not sorry for their service. Who are these people?
- Those who have the gospel are as "kings and queens," and if they spread the gospel through missionary service, they are "nursing fathers and nursing mothers" to those whom they bring to Christ, whether those people are next-door or in their Sunday School class or in a remote village in Africa.
- Those who live in circumstances equivalent to kings (with both spiritual and material blessings fit for royalty) become "nursing fathers and nursing mothers" by mentoring, fostering, or adopting children from situations which lack the light of the gospel, into an environment where they can learn of Christ.
- Those who, through their military or civilian service to less-privileged peoples, nurture and protect them and elevate their circumstances are "nursing fathers and nursing mothers".
- Can you think of others? There are many specific examples of "nursing fathers and nursing mothers" in the world around us.
Once we are underway on our own journey with the Lord as our Guide, it is our responsibility to bring others to find their way and follow the Light as well, until we reach the happy ending of all our travels when,
"He gathereth his children from the four quarters of the earth and he numbereth his sheep, and they know him; and there shall be one fold and one shepherd; and he shall feed his sheep, and in him they shall find pasture. And because of the righteousness of his people, Satan has no power; wherefore, he cannot be loosed for the space of many years; for he hath no power over the hearts of the people, for they dwell in righteousness, and the Holy One of Israel reigneth...
"But behold, all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people shall dwell safely in the Holy One of Israel if it so be that they will repent." (1 Ne. 22:25-26, 28)