In my previous ward I was called to teach the Valiant Boys in Primary (9-12 year olds). During my short time teaching them (almost a year), we studied and discussed topics in the Book of Mormon. We spent far more time on Lehi’s exodus from Jerusalem than what the lesson manual allotted, but I was consistently impressed at the enriching conversation that we were having with that young group of boys on the subject. So long as there was interest, we continued to talk about it.
On one Sunday I asked the boys whether they would follow their fathers into the wilderness. They were curiously surprised at the questions that I followed up with.
“Would you have Followed?”
Let’s say that it is your father who had a dream where the Lord told him to uproot your family from of your luxurious home and head into the mountains. Would you have followed?
Let us say that your family is quite wealthy, and you’re use to every luxury that money buys. Leaving your home and going into the mountains means that you would leave behind your pizza dinners (the boys all said they loved pizza the most) in order to only eat raw meat (you couldn’t have fires in the mountains), your Nintendo DS (they all love video games) to read only scriptures (that’s all you can carry), and everything that they like to play with (leaving every possession at home). Would you have followed?
Your father comes to you and continues to tell you the continued story of his dream where he sees that your neighbors’ willful wickedness will bring about their deaths by an invading army (which seems unlikely because your country has the superior army in any region). Your father has gone door-to-door warning your neighbors to “repent and turn to the Lord” (whatever that’s supposed to mean) to the point that everyone is angry and talking about him. Would you have followed?
There is no immediate or physical proof of anything your father says, as nothing around you in your home or community is out of the ordinary. On its face, you have only your father’s word. Would you have followed?
Would I have Followed?
The difference between Nephi and his brothers Laman and Lemuel in how they approached their father’s message shows the necessary steps to how they approached their obedience. While all three brothers physically followed, only Nephi followed with his heart and actually inquired of the Lord – which led him to seeing more than his own father had seen.
Knowledge made truth comes by a witness of the Holy Ghost because of obedience to true and correct principles in the form of a testimony. A testimony only comes by the Spirit through much prayer and fasting, in humbly petitioning the Lord for answers to our questions. Nephi did not follow his father’s counsel and words because of his father’s perceived reputation or through blind faith in tradition, but because Nephi had a personal relationship with Christ and could receive direct and personal revelation – revelation that his brothers (who didn’t believe and constantly murmured) had not received.
And it came to pass that I beheld my brethren and they were disputing one with another concerning the things which my father had spoken unto them…
For he truly spake many great things unto them, which were hard to be understood, save a man should inquire of the Lord; and they being hard in their hearts, therefore they did not look to the Lord as they ought…
And they said: Behold, we cannot understand the words which our father hath spoken…
And I said unto them: have ye inquired of the Lord?
And they said unto me: We have not; for the Lord maketh no such thing known unto us.
Behold, I said unto them: How is it that ye do not keep the commandments of the Lord? How is it that ye will perish, because of the hardness of your hearts?
Do ye not remember the things which the Lord hath said? – If ye will not harden your hearts, and ask me in faith, believing that ye shall receive, with diligence in keeping my commandments, surely these things shall be made known unto you (1 Ne 15: 2-3,7-11).
Obedience to the Lord means leaving the world behind. Deliverance entails giving up what we think is right and “ours” for the Lord to bless us. Said Ezra Taft Benson,
Men and women who turn their lives over to God will discover that He can make a lot more out of their lives than they can. He will deepen their joys, expand their vision, quicken their minds, strengthen their muscles, lift their spirits, multiply their blessings, increase their opportunities, comfort their souls, raise up friends, and pour out peace. Whoever will lose his life in the service of God will find eternal life.
Indeed, it is pride only that keeps us believing that our way is better than the Lords. It is enmity between us and our Heavenly Parent that keeps us in ignorance while believing that we know ourselves better than He that first identified and organized us from unformed intelligence.
Nephi’s humility demonstrates great strength, as his obedience to the Lord enables him to identify his father’s testimony as a divine decree.
And it came to pass that I, Nephi, being exceedingly young, nevertheless being large in stature, and also having great desires to know of the mysteries of God, wherefore, I did cry unto the Lord; and behind he did visit me, and did soften my heart that I ddi believe all the words which had been spoken by my father; where I did not rebel against him like unto my brothers ( 1 Ne 2:16).
It is most poignant to remark that Nephi’s blessing for obedience and testimony result in the Lord’s covenant of obtaining a “promised land”. The Lord’s clear response leaves no room for misunderstanding His desires to lead and deliver his children from captivity, death, and slavery to liberty and freedom.
And it came to pass that the Lord spake unto me, saying: Blessed art thou, Nephi, because of thy faith, for thou hast sought me diligently, with lowliness of heart.
And inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments, ye shall prosper, and shall be led to a land of promise; yea, even a land which I have prepared for you; yea, a land which is choice above all other lands.
And inasmuch as thy brethren shall rebel against thee, they shall be cut off from the presence of the Lord.
And inasmuch as thou shalt keep my commandments, thou shalt be made a ruler and a teacher over thy brethren.
For behold, in that day that they shall rebel against me, I will curse them even with a sore curse, and they shall have no power over thy seed except they shall rebel against me also.
And if it so be that they shall rebel against me, they shall be a scourge to thy people, to stir them up in the ways of remembrance (1 Ne 2:19-24).
There is no sense of Nephi’s revolution from bondage and persecution in Nephi’s intent, motivation, or desires. Nephi’s receiving of a land of promise – a conditional promise of liberty and freedom upon his and his posterity’s obedience to the commandments – came as deliverance, as the Lord led Nephi and his family from bondage.
The only way that I can know whether I would have followed my own father into an unknown wilderness is to have a personal relationship with Christ through a witness of the Holy Ghost. Only through such a testimony can the Lord lead and of his children to freedom and safety.