1 Nephi 2: mikveh

CLICK HERE to read 1 Nephi 2.

So there is Lehi, having his dream-visions about what is going to happen to Jerusalem.  The people are mad at him for preaching to them, and they try to stone him like they have tried to kill the other Old Testament prophets.  So Lehi is ready to take his family and leave Jerusalem, because he knows Jerusalem is about to be destroyed (which did happen, just as he and Isaiah and the other prophets prophesied it would).  Only when they leave Jerusalem, they leave everything behind.  Lehi was a wealthy dude, with a good business and a nice house and a good life.  But he left it because the Lord told him to go.  So he went.

This is another Old Testament pattern:  when you leave your home, you go wander in the wilderness.

Think Moses leading the tribes of Israel.

I think of my life, and the wilderness of the last decade.

This “wandering” (searching for truth) in the wilderness (living my own way, how I want to live it – instead of living my life the way God has asked me to live, and so in that way being disobedient) is a type of bondage.  More so than bondage, it is a time of testing and proving. The Lord leads the people through the wilderness, to give the people an opportunity to do what He says, to go where He says, to be obedient.  The Lord LEADS them to give the people an opportunity to FOLLOW.  He always does it the same way because He is the same God as always; He doesn’t change.  So in the Old Testament, the Lord led Moses who acted as a prophet (leading the people); now the Lord leads Lehi, who acts as a prophet leading his family.

So this is Lehi, being obedient, because he is FOLLOWING.

Verse 3:  “And it came to pass that he was obedient unto the word of the Lord, wherefore he did as the Lord commanded him.”

So Lehi leads his family into the wilderness, leaving behind his land and his money and “stuff”.

He only took his family, provisions (food, etc.), and tents (tabernacle-ness! points to the Temple!).

Verse 5 talks about the family traveling near the Red Sea.  This is fun because the Red Sea is famous in scriptures.  The Israelites crossed the Red Sea to escape the Egyptians, right?  But think of it conceptually, not just historically… in Hebrew, the word for the water is “mikveh”.  It’s more than just water, but a hope of cleansing (Ezra 10:2, the people returning to the covenant).  It is a restoring of holiness and sanctification.  Mikveh means something purifying is taking place, a being made holy (a separation, a setting apart).  Mikveh was for Gentiles who wanted to become Jews: they had to be baptized by immersion, have the name of God pronounced over them (proper authority), and they came out washed and sanctified, even holy.  They were considered then to be clean and pure, absolved of all sin, and clean from all influence of the world (that sins of that generation), their non-Jewish birth (the blood of that generation), and any contamination of evil.

So when the “mikveh” is used for Moses leading the people across the Red Sea at the River Jordan, it isn’t just a crossing through the water on dry land… it is their baptism.

This is amazing, and one of the things right in front of me my whole life in Scripture, but I never caught it until later, until the Hebrew, until having the full story.

But here is what is even more amazing: this is where Jesus was baptized, in that same place!  The place where Jesus was baptized was the same place as where the Israelites crossed over!

So not only was the crossing of the Red Sea the baptism (mikveh) of the Israelites, but it was also foreshadowing the atonement.

To me, that is amazing.  Beyond poetic, beyond pure beauty, beyond profound.

So the Red Sea wasn’t just a miracle of parting waters… it was also an ordinance.  It was the people returning to the covenant.  It was their “setting apart”, their being made “holy”.

So there is Lehi, near the shore of the Red Sea, traveling through the wilderness with his family – much like the Israelites did.

Lehi understands all this, and after three days in the wilderness (symbolism also pointing to the atonement, with three days in the tomb),  Lehi stopped and pitched his tent.

His tent, of course, is now his home since they left Jerusalem.

But the “pitching his tent” is also a Hebrew phrase that refers to focusing on, literally pointing to, or participating in the Temple.  Anytime scriptures talk about pitching tents, it has both literal and symbolic meaning.  I “pitch my tent” in my house, and I “pitch my tent” when I get up each morning and read my scriptures and say my morning prayers.  It means literally setting up their tents, but it also means motivation and intent and the action of their faith – which always points toward the Temple.

We know this from the Israelite camp as they traveled through the wilderness.  The tabernacle (Temple) was in the middle of the camp, and each tribe surrounded it in a giant circle.  Each tribe “pitched their tents” toward the tabernacle.  We see it also in Mosiah 2:6:  “And they pitched their tents round about the temple (in the same manner as the Israelites did), every man having his tent with the door thereof towards the temple, that thereby they might remain in their tents and hear the words which king Benjamin should speak unto them”.

We see Lehi follow the same pattern, as immediately after pitching his tents, we read in verse seven: “And it came to pass that he built an altar of stones, and made an offering unto the Lord, and gave thanks unto the Lord our God.”

He worshipped in that Temple-like space.

In verse 9 we read about Lehi naming one of the rivers after his son Laman, which is a sweet act of love.  But it is also more foreshadowing.  When you think of the water as being like the mikveh, then you realize he is not just honoring his son and hoping for the best.  He is saying that Laman needs the mikveh.  Laman needs to be purified by the mikveh (cleansed by the atonement) to become righteous.

In the same way, in verse 10, Lehi compares his son Lemuel to the valley, in hopes that he will be “firm and steadfast and immovable in keeping the commandments of the Lord”.  So again, it is a call to repentance, a call to the mikveh, a call to obedience.

So we have poetic parallelism happening, because now we have the pattern over and over again and again.

The Israelites experienced the mikveh, and Jesus was baptized in the same place.

Through the mikveh, the Israelites returned to God, made their first covenants with God as a reclaimed people.

The Lord delivered the Israelites from bondage, and their submitting to mikveh was their act of obedience, their act of faith.

It reminds me of my own baptism.  I had been baptized when I was little, but not by the same authority.  And what I needed more than anything two years ago, was to be delivered from bondage.  I needed cleansing.  I needed to be “set apart”.  I needed mikveh.  Getting baptized was my first act of faith, my first act of obedience.  It was what began the process of cleaning up my life, of restoring me to who I was created to be.

So for the Israelites, it was what demonstrated to the Lord that they were willing to follow Him, to let Him lead them.

Now Lehi is calling Laman and Lemuel to obedience, to faith.

It’s our first signal that Laman and Lemuel are NOT being obedient and NOT acting in faith.

Lehi’s tender urging towards righteousness is our first sign that Laman and Lemuel are not willing to follow the Lord (or their father).

But, like the Lord, Lehi continues to offer invitations out of bondage.  He is saying “this is your way out, this is your way out”.

Verse 11 confirms the theory, saying that Lehi said what he did because of the “stiffneckedness” of Laman and Lemuel.  I love the “stiffneckedness” term!  It’s classic King James English, and so fun to say!  The word comes from literal stiff necks that would not bow (submit) to royalty.  So in this way, not submitting to the Lord (not being obedient, not being willing to follow) does mean they have “stiff necks”.

We can understand where they are coming for, as verse 11 continues to explain that Laman and Lemuel are upset because they had to leave everything.  Who wants to abandon their comfy, cozy, wealthy home (and implied local popularity) to go wander in the wilderness?  They have every reason to be upset!

Except that Lehi isn’t just crazy or weird or being foolish.

The Lord commanded Him to leave Jerusalem for their own safety.  It’s like Abraham getting Lot out of Sodom.

Maybe the impending wars have been around Laman and Lemuel all their lives, so they are just used to it.  Maybe they watched too much CNN, or lived too close to the sniper zone.  Regardless, Laman and Lemuel are now to the point where they think they can go back to their mansion-in-the-war-zone and remain un-injured.  They think everything is fine, just fine.  They are so whimpy about the wilderness that they think they would be safer back home with war coming at them.  Silly boys.

But more seriously, the problem is their “stiff necks”.  The problem is their lack of belief.  The problem is their un-willing-ness to submit to the tiniest bit of obedience to just do what the Lord has commanded, and to do it His way.

Because they did not want to be wrong, they blamed Lehi and called him crazy.  That’s worse than disrespectful.

So thus began the murmuring.

Murmuring is the fastest way to kill a relationship, to lose any change of understanding, to shut your mind and heart to learning new things.  Negativity is one of the most dangerous things in life, and the only poison more dangerous is straight up bitterness.  It leaves a person cold, unfeeling, and lost.  It moves them to destruction, separating them from loved ones or even their own identities.  It turns things inside out, so that people think they are bored, or stuck, or frozen, until they become so lost that they are blind to the brilliant opportunities around them… and not only that, but it is everyone else’s fault instead of their own.

People like this either do not know who they are, or they have forgotten.

You cannot know who you are and get lost in that space.

Verse 12 says “And they did murmur because they knew not the dealings of that God who had created them.”

They also didn’t believe the prophets (like Isaiah).

This escalated so much that they wanted to kill their own father!

But Lehi is filled with the Spirit of the Lord, confronts them, teaches them, and reprimands them.  They denied the tender parent moment earlier, with the naming of the river and valley, and so now it is direct chastisement.

Remember the first chapter yesterday?  How you get a warning before you are sent into bondage?  The naming of the river and valley was their warning.  Now they are busted big time.

Then in verse 15, we see one of the shortest verses in the Book of Mormon:  “And my father dwelt in a tent”.  I love this verse!   There are lots of layers to this, but the fun layer on the surface is just the follow-up to verse 14.  In verse 14, Lehi SLAMS his sons who had earned the bawling out.  Verse 15 is the “boo-yah, SNAP”.  It’s the “So there.”

Verse 14, the sons are saying “you can’t do this, dad.  You’re crazy, dad.  This is wrong, dad.  It’s impossible, dad.  We want to go back to our mansion…” whine whine whine.

Verse 15 is like BAM, not only could Lehi do it, but he did do it.  Just like that.

If this were written in Hebrew, it would be a play on words, and it is almost like a joke.  It’s a classic Hebrew understatement.   If I were the boss of translating this from the original language (which I am not), it would read more like “In your face, yo!”.   That’s what that little verse means.  It’s awesome and hilarious.

And that’s our introduction to Laman and Lemuel, the “bad sons” of Lehi (as compared to the good son, Nephi).

But then we get serious again in verse 16.  We get the “I, Nephi” again, which tells us to pay attention because we are about to get a Temple testimony.  He talks about his age, which I think is very interesting.  He says he is young, but large in stature… meaning that he is not adult (which would be age 30 in ancient Hebrew culture), but old enough (large in stature – grown – 18ish or more).

Nephi then says he has  – or really, for true literary analysis, he said “is having” – there is a present progressive verb tense going on that indicates he still feels this way even later in the present moment as he is writing this story.  I think that is significant.

Anyway, he has a desire “to know the mysteries of God”.  The word “mysteries” means “ordinances”, and that is not only ancient Hebrew use, or ancient Greek texts, but common through most all religions.  Nephi is wanting to know the “mysteries” (ordinances) of God (points to the Temple).

Because he wants to know (participate in!), he prays to the Lord.

The Lord responds – and we get more parallel-ness going on, this time comparing to the stiff-necked brothers.  Here the Lord comes to visit Nephi, and softens his heart.

That’s why it took me nine months to get baptized, from the time of meeting the first missionaries to my actual baptism.  It took nine months to “soften my heart”.  My neck was THAT stiff.

But Nephi continues his testimony, giving us a definition of “soft heart”: “that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father”.

For Nephi, or anyone else in his family, or for the Israelites being led by Moses, or for us today, it could read “that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by (whoever shared the words of the Lord with you)”, or “that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by the Prophet”.

And now, because he believed (act of faith) and because his heart was soft (participated in ordinances of the Temple, even), then he knew.  He KNEW.  This was his testimony.

And because he had testimony, he was obedient.  “wherefore, I did not rebel against him like unto my brothers”.

So now that he had his testimony, he had to TESTIFY!

This makes me think of one of my most favorite songs ever (even though it’s from when I was in undergrad):

So Nephi starts testify, or sharing what he knows to be true about what the Lord has done for him.  His brother Sam believes him, but Laman and Lemuel are back to not listening and not believing.

This grieves Nephi, because he is concerned for them (because it is his business), and he prays for them.

Nephi can’t make them believe, but he can teach them and he can pray for them.

The Lord responds to Nephi’s prayer, acknowledging his faith and acknowledging his diligent seeking of the Lord.

Really, truly praying is hard work.  Remember to pray every morning and every night is hard work.  Remembering to do my scripture study, and then to spend that time really studying (and not just checking it off my to-do list for the day) is hard work.  There is an above-and-beyond in effort, time, and energy that creates a deeper sincerity, a more real intent, and develops a higher quality of relationship that is more in tune with God.  That’s spiritual diligence.

The Lord also notices that Nephi is humble, that Nephi has demonstrated (by actions! his behavior has shown it!) that he understands he can do nothing without the Lord.  He is concerned for his brothers not because they won’t listen to him, but because he wants for them what he has.

Then, in verse 20, we get a very powerful verse.  It’s PACKED.

He acknowledges that Nephi is obedient (notice that this comes after being diligent and humble, and after those traits are demonstrated long enough to be able to be considered “faithful”), and because of his obedience the Lord gives him a blessing.

This is a covenant: if we are obedient, He will bless us.

We get Old Testament language here, with Nephi being told he will be led into “a land of promise”.  This of course is comfort (that his brothers didn’t wait around long enough for) that the family really would get to where they are going.  They won’t wander forever.

But it also points to celestial-ness.  It is our hope, too.  It is our promise, too.

If we are obedient, we will get home again.  We will be able to return to our Heavenly Father.

So not only is it possible, but He wants us to succeed!  And He shows us the way by providing rules and guidelines, things to do, activities to try, skills to develop and practice… all these things for us to be obedient to or within help us prepare to return to His presence.  He wants us to come home!

In the next verse, we get confirmation of this higher level (besides just the physical arrival at the end of their journey) of interpreting this as also returning to His presence at the end of this life journey.  It gives us a poetic opposite for those who do not obey, for those who rebel against the Lord’s way.

So we are back to the same pattern as the last chapter:

When we obey, we are “gathered”.

When we do not obey, we are “scattered”.

When we obey, we are “blessed”.

When we do not obey, we are sent into “bondage”.

But following the poetic pattern, the next verse goes back to the good but this time defining it.

All this “prepared for you” reminds me of John 14:2, where Jesus said “In my Father’s house are many mansions/rooms…”

The Greek for that verse directly means “In my Father’s presence…”

The Greek for the many mansions/rooms goes back to 1 Corinthians 15:40.

It means there is enough room for everyone.

It means everyone will be comfortable in, and agree with, where they are when we all return to our Heavenly Father.

This chapter of 1 Nephi 2 closes with that, the reminder that obedience brings blessings and that bondage stirs us up to remembering the Lord, remembering who we are.  The point of all of it is that He wants to bring us home, and has made a way.

These are the lessons of the Temple.

About Emily

I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since 2009. I serve as a Chaplain, and work as a counselor. I got bilateral cochlear implants in 2010, but will always love sign language. I choose books over television, and organics over processed. Nothing is as close to flying as ballroom dancing - except maybe running, when in the solo mood. I would rather be outside than anywhere else, especially at the river riding my bike or kayaking. PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy, and currently doing a post-doc in Jewish Studies and an MDiv in Pastoral Counseling. The best thing about Emily World is that it's always an adventure, even if (not so) grammatically precise. The only thing better than writing is being married to a writer. Nathan Christensen and I were married in the Oklahoma City temple on 13 October 2012, and have since fostered more than eighty-five children. We have adopted the six who stayed, and are totally and completely and helplessly in love with our family. Nathan writes musical theater, including "Broadcast" (a musical history of the radio) and an adaption of Lois Lowry's "The Giver". He served his mission in South Korea, has taught song-writing in New York City public schools, and worked as a theater critic for a Tucson newspaper. This is not an official Web site of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.