Quite a while ago, I wrote about how some of the travel stories in the Book of Mormon have common themes and are great examples of trials, tribulations, and struggles during a trip, including the idea that a journey might not just be defined as the time period elapsed or distance traveled between point A and point B. Recently in re-reading the Jaredite journey, I liked a particular phrase (and theme) that could be related to the pre-journey and preparations that set the stage for the journey more than the actual journey (even though I love the journey on it’s own). I know that many times this Jaredite journey has been ‘likened’ unto our mortal journeys, but what about the preparation, instruction, and stage-setting that took place prior to the actual journey?
This story starts out in Genesis 11:4-9 where the people become ‘confounded’. Their language or ability to communicate with each other was disrupted to the point that they couldn’t ‘understand one another’s speech’. Soon after this confusion, the people become ‘scattered abroad upon all the face of the earth’. The notable exception to this mass confusion is the brother of Jared, his family, and a few of their friends. Ether 1:33-37 tells us that the brother of Jared ‘cried’ unto the Lord for the continued ability to ‘understand’ his brother (Jared), and then cried unto the Lord a second time to expand this restored understanding to their family and friends, and that ‘the Lord had compassion upon them, that they were not confounded’. Now, with the language confounded (mostly), and the people being scattered abroad upon all the earth, there is little doubt that these guys (the Jaredites) knew that the Lord was ‘in his anger’ – and in a very humble way the brother of Jared asked the Lord (in verses 38-39) for some additional guidance. He asked the question ‘whither shall we go’? He did not ask if they had to go, or if they could stay where they were – he asked ‘whither’.
The response from the Lord in verses 41-42 is one that sets the tone for this blog post, and is the hallmark of a pre-journey stage setting. He says: ‘Go [get all your stuff and your families], and meet me in the valley which is northward. And there will I meet thee, and I will go before thee into a land which is choice above all the lands of the earth. Yes. Sign me up for that journey. I can’t imagine it was very hard to follow that advice – even in these circumstances.
So, let’s set this stage for ourselves at the same time as the Jaredites. I can imagine that the mass of people in the pre-existence experienced some level of ‘confusion’ (potentially being ‘confounded’) when Lucifer introduced his plan, campaigned for our support of his plan, and even starting gaining a significant following who thought his plan was a good one, and the assurances of being ‘saved’. There was essentially the introduction of a ‘new’ or ‘alternative’ means of communication. In addition, let’s not discount that fact that the Lord had instructed each of us that we would all (by necessity) be ‘scattered abroad upon all the earth’ – which meant we had to leave the place of our residence. This left all of us with at least the choice of which voice (communication) to follow and seek to understand. After the differing plans were presented and the confusion set in, we hopefully followed the example of the brother of Jared and ‘cried’ unto the Lord and asked him to lessen the effect of the ‘confusion’ that was present (which is code for ‘please allow me and my family to keep ‘understanding’ the right voices). Then, I like to think of us (our loved ones, families, etc.) counseling with one another being thankful that we could understand each other, expecting and hoping that even though the Lord will be sending us out on a journey, that He would ‘carry us forth into a land which is choice above all the earth’ and letting that hope guide us to humbly approach the Lord and asking the same question that the brother of Jared did; ‘Lord, whither shall we go’?
Next, let’s imagine the Lord’s response to the brother of Jared as our response: ‘Go to and gather together [your flocks] and go down into the land which is northward. And there will I meet thee, and I will go before thee into a land which is choice above all the lands of the earth. Our flocks in the pre-existence could likely represent our knowledge, understanding, talents, characteristics, growth, motivation, testimony, etc. that we were blessed with or developed during our time there. He essentially gave us the opportunity to ‘gather’ it all together, mentally prepare ourselves, and meet him ‘in the land which is northward’1 for our next step in the preparation stage. Notice that there is no timeline or due date for this ‘gathering’. The process of ‘gathering’ our stuff in the pre-existence could be hundreds or thousands of years.
Ether 2:1-7 next explains the various preparations that the Jaredite party completed; they gathered flocks, fowls, vessels, honeybees, fish, and all manner of seeds. Please note that they went on a mini-journey (to the land northward) as preparation for and part of the ‘gathering’ for the real journey to the promised land that was in the future. Then the Lord guided and directed them, and ‘gave directions whither they should travel’ along the way (another journey). In addition, they did ‘build barges, in which they did cross many waters’. Let’s pause and ask ourselves if during this preparation stage the lord was helping them learn and grow and experience things that would help them later on? (Hint: building barges to cross many waters during their pre-journey might be a helpful thing to learn because the Lord knows that He will soon ask the brother of Jared to build ‘barges’ ‘to cross that great sea which divideth the lands’ – which is their big journey). The fascinating phrase during this preparation/gathering/mini-journey activity is that the Jaredites were ‘being directed continually by the hand of the Lord’. After their mini-journey, the Jaredites take a little break (potentially thinking they had arrived at the promised land) – only to realize that the Lord was just wrapping up the ‘preparation’ or ‘pre-journey’ phase.
This little break earns the brother of Jared a 3-hour chastisement, which prompts him to quickly repents and is then told to ‘go to work’ (Ether 2:14-16). Notice how the ‘work’ that the brother of Jared is told to do, is remarkably similar to the ‘work’ that they had already done (during the preparation journey). They are asked to build barges ‘after the manner which they had [already] built’. I wonder if the Jaredites were grateful for the knowledge and experience they had gained during their pre-journey when they were asked to cross the great sea…probably.
When we liken ourselves and our pre-mortal journeys to the Jaredites, we can see some themes that help us understand that the journey we took during our ‘gathering’ and ‘preparing’ in the pre-existence and those growing experiences we no doubt had which took us to ‘the land northward’ for our next meeting with the Lord are very real mini-journeys that were preparing us and giving us experiences that will likely be drawn out of us during our ‘real’ journeys (if and when they come) during the pre-existence and certainly here on earth.
The next step in the Jaredite journey occurs when most of the requisite preparations have been completed, and the brother of Jared is putting the finishing touches on a few things before they cross the great sea. I see this last little series of exchanges as a final closeout meeting in order to make sure everything is in tip-top shape before they actually ‘set forth’. In verses 18-20 (still in Ether Chapter 2) the brother of Jared says; “I have performed the work which thou hast commanded me, and I have made the barges”… But, then he explains that he sees 2 potential problems: 1) There is no light, and 2) we can’t really breathe in these barges. The lord handles problem number 2 by instructing him to make a hole in the top and the bottom, but leaves problem 1 apparently unsolved.
The brother of Jared makes the holes as instructed, and then comes again to the Lord regarding his first problem (light) – and asks the Lord ‘wilt thou suffer that we shall cross this great water in darkness’? I don’t know what the Jaredites had used for light in their previous barges, but it seems to me that the Lord was using this situation as a teaching opportunity for the brother of Jared to work some things out on his own – essentially study it out in his mind and come up with a solution – because He doesn’t answer the question directly, but does give some basic guidelines; they couldn’t have windows (they’d break), and couldn’t have fire (burning boat in the middle of the tempest tossed ocean could be bad news). Then, in addition, he gave some context for the brother of Jared to consider (while he is coming up with a proposed lighting solution) that he (the barges) will be a ‘whale in the midst of the sea’, and that the ‘mountain waves shall dash upon you’, and that he will be ‘in the depths of the sea’ due to the winds, the rains, and the floods that He will send forth.
At this point – the Lord says something totally amazing – “behold, I prepare you against these things; for ye cannot cross this great deep save I prepare you against the waves of the sea, and the winds… and the floods” – essentially letting the brother of Jared know (or remember) that the previous years of instruction, focused ‘gathering’ and the mini-journeys have all been ‘preparation’ against the trials that have been laid out, and that are sure to come in the ‘real’ journey. The reason that is important is because that he literally could not cross the ‘real’ journey save he was prepared. Amazing. Yet, not as amazing as the next question he asks – ‘therefore what will ye that I should prepare for you that ye may have light when ye are swallowed up in the depths of the sea’? I have prepared you for all these things – but, what is it that you need, or what else would you like as ‘preparation’ for this great journey – when (a key word), when ye are swallowed up in the depths of the sea. He doesn’t ask what he needs for light when it’s sunny and calm, The Lord asks what he needs for light ‘when [he is] swallowed up in the depths of the sea’. When we think of these things being ‘prepared’ for the journey (these things being the winds, the floods, the rains, and the mountain waves) and realize that they are a necessary part of the journey – He doesn’t ask the brother of Jared what he needs to avoid them, He asks what he needs ‘when he is swallowed by them’.
Let’s take a break and put ourselves back into our pre-mortal Jaradite ‘type(s)’. We complete the work that the Lord has asked us to do in the pre-existence. We have finished the majority of our requirements, we have ‘gathered’ our flocks and our other things, we have mentally prepared (and we even traveled to ‘the land which is northward’ to meet up with the Lord and receive a few more instructions along the way). Then, we worked through a mini-journey to get to the seashore and are asked to ‘build a barge to cross the great sea’, which we do. After all these preparations, we feel like we are nearly ready, but there are a couple of nagging questions that have been lingering in our minds that we’d like answered before we take the plunge into ‘the depths of the sea’ (mortality). So, we humbly ask the lord for a little more clarification on a couple of things. Our concerns could have been based on the makeup or functions of our physical bodies (pain, weakness, illness, disease and death) or they could have been based on situations or even family relationships (stress, emotional turmoil, etc.), they could have been based on the functionality of the veil that we would pass through, – or they could have been based on areas that the Lord seems to have been quietly waiting for us to work out on our own – but his guidance to us would be the same. He would help us to re-remember that “behold, I prepare you against these things; for ye cannot cross this great deep save I prepare you against the waves of the sea, and the winds….and the floods”. He says to us; ‘I prepared you [yes, just you] against everything that you will see down there. There is no way you could make it without everything I’ve taught you here. But, since you’re concerned about it, ‘what will ye that I should prepare for you that ye may have light when ye are swallowed up in the depths of the sea’? In addition to all that I’ve prepared you for (and against) in mortality, what more do you need/want to give you light when ye get completely buried by it all? Such an amazing question!
This question (what else do you need?) spurred the brother of Jared to go to work. No doubt he laid out a plan, thought about his options, worked through the pros and cons of each idea, and finally settled on a plan that would give light to the barges. He likely talked it over with his family based on their previous building of barges. They learned from their experience, previous experience from others and the scriptures and he went to work on a solution. In Ether 3:1 we learn that the brother of Jared ‘went forth unto the mount, (which is exceedingly high) and did molten out of a rock sixteen small stones’. With this passage we learn some things that the brother of Jared did not do. He did not wander to the nearest rock pile from his tent/house and grab 16 stones. He did not walk to the river and select a few clean rocks. He did not even just go chip out a few clear rocks from a larger clear rock. What he did do was ‘go forth unto an exceedingly high mount, and molten out of a rock sixteen small stones; and they were white and clear, even as transparent glass’. Molten (the verb) is the past participle of melt, but when used as an adjective means liquefied by heat; in a state of fusion or produced by melting and casting.2 This means that it wasn’t very easy for the brother of Jared to make these sixteen stones and they most certainly were not something that he found on the ground. He created them with a singular purpose in mind.
Once he had diligently created and developed his sixteen stones, ‘he did carry them in his hands upon the top of the mount’, presenting his proposed solution to the Lord. He asks the Lord to ‘not be angry with thy servant because of his weakness’, – and acknowledging what may appear to the Lord as a completely weak and rudimentary solution – to ‘look upon me in pity’ and ‘suffer not that they shall go forth across this raging deep in darkness’. So humble and so powerful – but he’s not done. He says; ‘behold these things (he doesn’t even dare call them anything other than ‘things’) which I have molten out of the rock’…therefore touch these stones, O Lord, with thy finger, and prepare them that they may shine forth in darkness; and they shall shine forth unto us… that we may have light while we shall cross the sea’. Then, as the story unfolds, we realize that this humility and this faith that the brother of Jared demonstrated (remember, we are still in the preparation and pre-journey stage) is the catalyst for maybe the most amazing vision and experience ever. They are so great in fact, that we can’t even read them because they would overpower us [and they’ve been sealed] (see Ether 12:24 and Ether 4:4-5). The Lord touches the stones – or as it’s referred to in both Ether 3:4 and Ether 6:2 the Lord ‘prepared’ the stones – ‘and they did give light unto the vessels’ – because ‘the Lord caused stones to shine in darkness, to give light unto men, women, and children, that they might not cross the great waters in darkness’. Now, after each phase of his preparation (‘after they had done all these things’) the Jaredites ‘got aboard of their vessels or barges, and set forth into the sea. He was finally ready to start his journey.
If we transplant ourselves back in time to when we had been asked by the Lord (what else we needed to give us light when we were to be swallowed), and think about the process that the brother of Jared went through before he approached the Lord with a potential solution, it can open up some interesting possibilities in our characters, our personalities, our interests, and maybe most importantly, our talents. If we each took that pre-mortal time individually to reflect on the question (what is it that you want for light during the dark days of your journey) internally answering the question. We – just like the brother of Jared – likely counseled with loved ones, reflected on past mini-journeys or preparations, looked at the pros and cons of various different possibilities, and then ultimately, we selected an option that we felt was the best solution. Hopefully each of us came up with these solutions after much prayer, meditation, and work, and didn’t just pick up some rocks that were in the nearby field. Then, if we imagine the term ‘molten stones out of rock’ to be synonymous with ‘developed talents, or abilities, or skills, or compassions, or character traits’ that would allow for ‘light’ to shine in times of greatest darkness, then we can see how amazing of a parallel this really is. As we (young and struggling premortal spirits) worked so hard to develop a solution for a journey that we barely understood, the natural results of that hard work would have made us feel incredibly humble as we approached the perfection of the Lord and asked Him to ‘not be angry with thy servant because of his weakness’ and to ‘look upon us with pity’ while we feebly explained to a perfect spirit how or why we felt this meek and lowly talent could help us when we are ‘swallowed in the depths of the sea’. Yet, we continued and asked the Lord to ‘prepare our stones, that they may shine forth in darkness… that we may have light while we cross the sea’. Our stones are the individual talents, abilities, gifts, and natures that we spent time developing in the pre-existence molting out of rock – and as the Lord had compassion on us – he ‘prepared’ them and caused them to shine in darkness for our journey through mortality. Even though it was the brother of Jared who created the stones, and brought them to the Lord, and even though the talents or gifts were developed by us through much hard work (in the pre-existence and here) it was and is the Lord who causes them to shine. We bring our gifts and our talents to the Lord, and he gives them light. Then we, like the brother of Jared, hopefully use that humility and that blessing from the Lord as a catalyst of spiritual power and faith to sustain us through the long journey ahead. Then, and only then were we ready to ‘get aboard our vessels and set forth into the sea’.
Once the Jaredites were sufficiently prepared, boarded, and actually in the water, ‘the Lord God caused that there should be a furious wind blow upon the face of the waters, towards the promised land; and thus were they tossed upon the waves of the sea before the wind… they were many times buried in the depths of the sea, because of the mountain waves which broke upon them, and also the great and terrible tempests which were caused by the fierceness of the wind… the wind did never cease to blow towards the promised land… and thus they were driven forth before the wind’ (Ether 6:5-8). If I imagine a voyage across the sea (cruise, sailing, etc.) I don’t want to see the following words; furious wind, tossed upon the waves, buried in the depths, mountain waves, great and terrible tempests, fierceness of the wind, and wind did never cease. Yet, somehow the Lords words ‘I prepare against these things’ may have echoed just enough in the Jaredites ears that they understood the reasons, plus the fact that these winds ‘did never cease to blow towards the promised land’. It may have helped them realize that the mountain waves that were burying them in the depths of the sea, were somehow getting them closer to their destination. And, there is little doubt that those bright white stones prepared by the Lord offered comfort, peace, and light during the most troubling of times, and also provided them a constant reminder of the hard work, faith, humility, and presence of a savior and guide who would never leave them alone.
Once we as pre-mortal spirits were sufficiently prepared, were able to have our final pre-mortal pep talks and interviews and had both feet in the water of mortality, ‘the Lord God causes that there to be a furious wind blow upon the face of the waters, towards the promised land; and thus are we tossed upon the waves of the sea before the wind… we are many times buried in the depths of the sea, because of the mountain waves which break upon us, and also the great and terrible tempests which are caused by the fierceness of the wind… the wind will never cease to blow towards the promised land… and thus are we driven forth before the wind’. It helps us to know that the great and terrible tempests, the mountain waves, and the repeated burying in the depths of the sea, are all due to the fierceness of the wind.
The fierceness of this wind is in direct proportion to the fierceness of His love – since that furious wind is eagerly blowing each of us towards the promised land. In times of trouble, when we are swallowed up, and when it seems as if there is no way out of the darkness – let us recall the gifts, talents, and small stones that we have molten out of rock that were touched and prepared by the Lord to give us and others traveling with us light specifically for those times – when we are seemingly buried in the darkness and remember, that being buried in the depths was always part of the plan.
1 ‘The Land which is northward’ could represent any check-in station where we evaluate or re-evaluate our direction, trajectory, or standing before the Lord. It could also represent a very real change of phase or responsibility. It’s use in this story was a launching pad or starting line for the first part of the journey. I don’t think it is strange to think of ‘the land which is northward’ being a starting line for any and all new journeys. It is also likely that ‘the land which is northward’ could reference the temple since that is where he can give us counsel and direction and help us determine our location and/or direction in our various journeys.