Small Miracles + Promised Lands – Part I
In tackling this topic, I am admittedly venturing into an area with which I do not have much familiarity, knowledge or expertise. So, as you read, peruse and ponder this topic in your own life, take what I say with a huge grain of pink Himalayan salt. In fact, come to think of it, everything I write should be taken with an abnormally large grain of salt.
A simple comment over at LDSFreedomForum.com spurred this topic and this article. In response to a solicitation to add and share thoughts on especially poignant stories from the Book of Mormon, one response simply and matter-of-factly stated: “There’s also great symbolic significance in Lehi’s journey to a promised land. It signifies the trek each of us must make to acquire our promised lands.” And, with that in mind, I begin this topic. I open with a few pertinent questions, such as what is a promised land, how does one qualify for a promised land and why are they important. Perhaps you already know the answers to these simple questions and, if so, I would hope you would share them.
The terms “promised” and “land” occurs 43 times throughout scripture. The Bible contains 10 of these references, the Doctrine & Covenants contain 5 of these references and the Book of Mormon contains 27 of these references. The Book of Mormon, therefore, provides approximately 63% of all the references to a promised land. One may rightfully ask, therefore, why the focus, relative to the other easily accessible scriptures, on promised lands in the Book of Mormon. A sampling of the references within the Book of Mormon include a discussion on Moses and the Red Sea, the Brother of Jared crossing the ocean, and the story of Lehi and his sons leaving Jerusalem. Of these references, if we dissect it even further, there is one reference from Christ while speaking with the Nephites shortly after his resurrection about a future land of promise, three references refer to the Brother of Jared, two references refer to Moses, while the remaining references deal either directly or indirectly with the story of Lehi and his sons, a total of seventeen references.
Hopefully, from that brief and imperfect dissection of these verses we begin to see a pattern on this topic of promised lands. The story of Lehi and his sons and their journey from Jerusalem to the Americas accounts for almost 40% of the total references to “promised lands” or “lands of promise” in modern day, easily accessible scripture. I fully acknowledge that there may be other scriptures out there in the world which may discuss this topic in detail, perhaps better than the above references, but this article is focused solely on the Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine & Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price. These are the sources I am referring to when I say “easily accessible.”
Therefore, almost out of necessity, this essay will focus almost entirely on the story of Lehi and his sons. Acknowledging that the Book of Mormon was edited and compiled by its namesake, Mormon, one should inquire as to why the focus in the first couple of books (1 Nephi, 2 Nephi, Jacob) and the underlying theme of promised lands and the voyage necessary to obtain and find them.
Hugh Nibley once stated that the story of the Liahona and Lehi’s journey out of Jerusalem, into the wilderness and on towards the promised land was nothing more than a metaphor for what we should all be pursuing while on this ephemeral earth:
“It was a “type and shadow” of man’s relationship to God during his earthly journey.”
One of the great discussions on this topic within the Book of Mormon is a rather small section within the Book of Alma. Within this section we read of Alma the Elder instructing his sons, specifically his son Helaman. Alma explains to Helaman the purposes of the Liahona, the “compass” of such a “curious…workmanship.” The Liahona was specifically designed as a temporal tool, a tangible, physical tool to be used by Lehi’s family in their journey to the promised land. What it was is precisely what it was not. The Liahona was not an intangible, untouchable, easily mistaken “voice” or “whispering” they would occasionally hear. Though it worked in concordance with their faith and how well they followed its directions, it nevertheless was a tangible reminder of who was helping them on their voyage. Hugh Nibley describes the Liahona as being the following:
Listing the salient features of the report we get the following: The Liahona was a gift of God, the manner of its delivery causing great astonishment. It was neither mechanical nor self-operating, but worked solely by the power of God. It functioned only in response to the faith, diligence, and heed of those who followed it. And yet there was something ordinary and familiar about it. The thing itself was the “small means” through which God worked; it was not a mysterious or untouchable object but strictly a “temporal thing.” It was so ordinary that the constant tendency of Lehi’s people was to take it for granted—in fact, they spent most of their time ignoring it: hence, according to Alma their needless, years-long wanderings in the desert. The working parts of the device were two spindles or pointers. On these a special writing would appear from time to time, clarifying and amplifying the message of the pointers. The specific purpose of the traversing indicators was “to point the way they should go.”
The scriptures note that Lehi’s journey towards their promised land was directed by many, many miracles. It was truly a divinely inspired trip of immense proportions. The scriptures describe these miracles, and the response to these miracles, as follows:
…therefore they had this miracle, and also many other miracles wrought by the power of God, day by day. Nevertheless, because those miracles were worked by asmall means it did show unto them marvelous works. They were bslothful, and forgot to exercise their faith and diligence and then those marvelous works ceased, and they did not progress in their journey…
Though the Liahona was none other than a temporal reminder of spiritual things, those who held the Liahona, saw its workings and were intimately aware of how it worked, nevertheless were “slothful” and “forgot to exercise their faith and diligence.” As I read this, I am forced to wonder how this could happen. How could these people so easily forget how the Liahona magically appeared outside of Lehi’s tent? Though verse 10 mentions Lehi’s honest surprise at finding such an instrument in front of his tent, I’m still left to wonder whether these “miracles” began to lose their luster over time. Lehi had been commanded in a dream the night prior that it was time, once again, to take up their journey the next day. He presumably woke up from this dream, walked out into the sunlight of the morning and there, for the first time, sees this brass compass. Had they become so familiar with, and expectant of, miracles that these same miraculous events began to lose their luster? Clearly, Alma described these “miracles” as “small means” occurring “day by day.” How can, as the text describes, something be both of “small means” and capable of showing “marvelous works?”
Perhaps, on our expectant voyages to our own promised lands we’re also witnesses to “small [miracles]” which occur “day by day” and we also are slothful in that we don’t notice them, don’t take them for what they’re worth, and fail to exercise our faith and diligence toward God’s ends.
Continuing on with the story as contained in the Book of Alma, Alma describes and relates to the reader exactly what the type and shadow of this Liahona was:
And now I say, is there not a atype in this thing? For just as surely as this director did bring our fathers, by following its course, to the promised land, shall the words of Christ, if we follow their course, carry us beyond this vale of sorrow into a far better land of promise. O my son, do not let us be aslothful because of the beasiness of the cway; for so was it with our fathers; for so was it prepared for them, that if they would dlook they might elive; even so it is with us. The way is prepared, and if we will look we may live forever. And now, my son, see that ye take acare of these sacred things, yea, see that ye blook to God and live.
Taking these verses to heart, a couple of questions immediately arise which necessitate an answer.
Q1: Who or what is our director?
Q2: Where is our promised land?
Q3: Where must we look?
The answers to these questions may be self-evident to you, the reader, but to me they are both complex and loaded. Alma provides answers to all these questions in a very short section of modern day scriptures, though the answers, in practice, are far from easy to implement. Or, are they?
A1: Our director is the words of Christ [personal revelation].
A2: Our promised land is “beyond the vale of sorrow,” and a “far better land of promise.”
A3: We must look to God … and live.
In counseling us to “look to God,” Alma is saying something that no other prophet, prophetess, or anyone else in modern day scripture has said. There is simply no other verse of scripture which contains this same language. Though it is true that others have said, and will said, something similar to what Alma here stated, the simplicity with which Alma spoke and wrote is worth mentioning. In order to obtain our land of promise, which land of promise is “beyond the vale of sorrow,” one must come to grips with both what “look[ing] to God” means and how one can “look to God.”
With that in mind, I will end this essay and pick up, in the next one, on the topic of “look[ing] to God.” These words of Alma and necessarily important, necessarily poignant and, for me at least, not easily understood. Though Alma describes the practicality of looking to God as easy and the only way to “live” and advance beyond the vale of sorrow into a “far better land,” I nevertheless am stuck on its easiness.
To be continued…
 See Alma 36:28.
 See Ether 7:27; Ether 6:5-16; and Ether 2:7-9.
 See 1 Nephi 5:5, 22; 1 Nephi 7:1, 13; among many others.
 See 3 Nephi 20:29.
 See Ether 7:27; Ether 6:5-16; and Ether 2:7-9.
 See Alma 36:28 and 1 Nephi 17:13-42.
 Nibley, Hugh. The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, Volume 17. Page 254.
 See Alma 37:38-46.
 See Alma 37:38-39.
 See Alma 37:43
 Nibley, Hugh. Page 254.
 See Alma 37:40-41.
 See 1 Nephi 16:10.
 See Alma 37:45-47.
 See Alma 37:45.