Feast upon the Word Blog

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A Failure to Communicate

Posted by BrianJ on August 12, 2014

The story of the Jaredites contains a brief account of the Lord “chasten[ing the brother of Jared] because he remembered not to call upon the name of the Lord” (Ether 2:14). Unfortunately, the text gives no reason for why the brother of Jared faltered, yet still uses this moment as a turning point in the story.

Why did the brother of Jared stop praying*?

A History of Personal Communication 

The brother of Jared built a history of praying and the Lord built a history of responding to those prayers:

Ether 1:33-35

Jared prompts his brother to pray that the Lord “will not confound us that we may not understand our words.” The brother of Jared does so and the Lord complies.

Ether 1:36-37

Jared reminds his brother to ask the Lord to spare their friends also. Asked and granted.

Ether 1:38-43

Jared urges his brother to ask “whether [the Lord] will drive us out of the land… into a land which is choice above all the earth.” The Lord answered the brother of Jared by speaking directly to him, promising to “go before” his family, and his friends and their families to “a land which is choice above all the lands of the earth.” Interestingly—and perhaps as foreshadowing—the Lord adds the explanation for why he would bless the Jaredites: “And thus I will do unto thee because this long time** ye have cried unto me.”

Ether 2:1-5

The Jaredites followed the Lord into the aforementioned valley, whereupon “the Lord came down and talked with the brother of Jared” and “commanded them that they should go forth into…that quarter where there never had man been”—all the while, the Lord lead them and “did talk with them as he stood in a cloud, and gave directions whither they should travel.”

Ether 2:6

Their travels led them across many waters and, we can assume, numerous other obstacles. All the while, they were “directed continually by the hand of the Lord.”

Ether 2:7-8

The Lord hadn’t lost sight, however, of the ultimate goal: he would not lead the Jaredites just to a wonderful land, but to a land that “was choice above all other lands.” This promise, however, came with a warning: “that whoso should possess this land of promise…should serve…the true and only God, or they should be swept off.”

Ether 2:13

The Lord led the Jaredites all the way to the border of the ocean that divided the old world from the new. “And as they came to the sea they pitched their tents; and they called the name of the place Moriancumer; and they dwelt in tents, and dwelt in tents† upon the seashore for the space of four years.”

And there we have it: a history—spanning unspecified years or decades—of the brother of Jared and the Lord communicating and working together.

Communication Breakdown

Given the above history, it comes as something of a shock in verse 14 that

at the end of four years that the Lord came again unto the brother of Jared, and stood in a cloud and talked with him. And for the space of three hours did the Lord talk with the brother of Jared, and chastened him because he remembered not to call upon the name of the Lord.

What happened to all that great communication they had demonstrated for so long? What would cause a man with the brother of Jared’s experience to stop praying?

Every commentary that I could find fell into three categories (with a lot of overlap between them):

Apathy, Complacency

“[It] seems highly unlikely that a man of the spiritual stature of the brother of Jared—one who had received marvelous manifestations and had previously exercised great faith in the Lord—would suddenly cease praying to his Maker. It may be that what this verse is saying to us is that Mahonri Moriancumer was chastened by the Lord because he had not fully followed and implemented the counsels of the Lord previously received. It may be that in the relative comfort of the seashore he had allowed his prayers to become less fervent, more casual and routine. He may have been calling upon the Lord in word, but not in faith and deed” (McConkie, Millet, and Top. Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon, 4:269, emphasis added***)

Laziness, Comfort

“The Brother of Jared, as recorded in the Book of Mormon, seemed to have difficulty with prayer…. [T]he Lord did bless them and led them towards the Promised Land by a pillar of fire, like Moses and the children of Israel, through the wilderness until they reached the great ocean. I am sure they needed a rest and the Lord allowed that.  However, after four years of resting, Mahonri-moriancumer was chastised…. It is difficult to believe that he forgot to pray.  However, it is very possible that he did not go to the Lord in mighty prayer, seeking direction.  He probably was comfortable in his situation and possibly really didn’t want to know if the Lord wanted them to cross the great waters” (Janet Lisonbee, “Pray and Stay Awake!“, Meridian Magazine, emphasis added).

Pride

“How could Moriancumer…pitch his tent and, four years later, be chastened for forgetting the Lord?

“The very brevity of the description of those four years tells much….

“Can’t you almost hear the sighs of relief as the burdens are set down, the flocks are let to feed in the coastal plain, the tents are pitched†, and the place is named for the great leader who brought them safely through? The scriptures don’t tell us why the people ‘remembered not to call upon the name of the Lord’ (Ether 2:14) during those years, but our own experience may give us a clue. When we face an unknown wilderness or a strange sea…our hearts soften and we beg for blessings and weep when they’re given. But when it’s harder to see the needs or the blessings—when our tents are pitched†—it’s easy to forget the Master and think more of the part our own courage and exertions may have contributed. Sometimes those around us make that forgetfulness more likely by praising us and attributing the victory to us. Most of us spend a good part of our lives in perils so nearly invisible that self-reliance comes easily, and accepting counsel from brothers, or from God, comes hard” (Henry B. Eyring, “The Brother of Jared: An Expert at Learning”, Ensign, Sept. 1996, emphasis added).

A Fourth Category

I’d like to propose a fourth category to explain the decline in the brother of Jared’s prayers:

Frustration, Abandonment

How many years had the Jaredites followed the Lord through the wilderness? Less than one or two? Perhaps, but how long would it have taken to build barges to cross “many waters”? How often did they have to resort to this? Is there emphasis in saying that they were led “continually”; i.e., not just pointed five miles down the road?

Let’s assume that their journey took several years—at least three and possibly many more. (By comparison, Lehi and his family spent eight years in the wilderness before boarding the boat that Nephi built.) Thus, for several years, the Lord guided them continually, appearing in a pillar of fire and speaking frequently and directly with the brother of Jared.

And then…nothing. In verse 13, the Lord brings them to the seashore and we don’t hear from him again until verse 14—four years later! The Lord promised that he would guide the Jaredites and they followed him. Surely throughout the course of their journey they pitched their tents† countless times, but when the Lord started to move, they packed it all up and moved with him. Surely they discovered many inhabitable lands along the way, but when the Lord said, “No, I have some place better for you,” they left those lands behind. Thus, when they arrived in the place that they would come to call Moriancumer, they waited for the Lord to show them the next route. And they waited, and waited, and waited.

During that waiting period, did the brother of Jared ever pray? Probably: it’s hard to imagine his prayers being turned off as if by a switch. And how did the Lord answer those prayers? We don’t know—and possibly, neither did the brother of Jared. There is no record of the Lord’s responses (and perhaps there were none to record).

Day after day, the brother of Jared prayed for guidance, but received none. Over time, he grew weary, at first stopping to pray for direction, then slowly stopping to pray for other things. It’s not that he didn’t want to pray, it’s that he didn’t want to keep praying for the same thing over and over if the Lord had no intention of responding (let alone granting his prayer!). After a while, the Lord’s warning echoed in the brother of Jared’s ears:

“whoso should possess this land of promise…should serve…the true and only God, or they should be swept off”

“Is that it?” he may have wondered. “Have we not properly served God and now the deal is off?” So the Jaredites waited. And waited and waited.

Chastisement and Telephonic Drano

Whatever reasons the brother of Jared had, the Lord disagreed:

And it came to pass at the end of four years that the Lord came again unto the brother of Jared, and stood in a cloud and talked with him. And for the space of three hours did the Lord talk with the brother of Jared, and chastened him because he remembered not to call upon the name of the Lord (Ether 2:14)

Interestingly, the brother of Jared didn’t seem to put up any kind of resistance, suggesting that either he agreed with the Lord that he had sinned, or that he didn’t really care “who was right” but was just happy that the Lord was talking again.

Even more interestingly, is that immediately in verse 15, the Lord starts giving instructions again. This open communication continues throughout the remainder of Chapter 2 and all of Chapter 3, even down to nitty gritty details like how to open and close windows and grand revelations like having the veil lifted. Whatever held up their communication before was…simply…gone.

__________________

*I considered the possibility that since the text says nothing about “praying,” but rather “calling upon the name of the Lord,” that there is a meaningful difference. In other words, the brother of Jared continued to pray, but wasn’t “calling upon” the Lord. Perhaps “calling” meant:

1) fervent prayer; i.e., the brother of Jared wasn’t praying earnestly enough (vain repetitions, carelessness, haste, etc.)

2) prayer of supplication specifically, not just prayer of praise; i.e., the brother of Jared was still praying, but wasn’t asking for anything

3) offering sacrifice, or some other ritualized form of worship; i.e., the brother of Jared still prayed, but didn’t perform other acts of devotion (akin to performing daily prayer but not attending the temple)

I rejected options 2 and 3. Option 2 just seems odd; I really only considered it as part of my brain-storming. Option 3 holds plausibility, but doesn’t fit the narrative either before or after the chastisement: the brother of Jared frequently asked for something from the Lord without any mention of ritual. Thus, I hold to option 1, he prayed less fervently, but also believe it is possible that he stopped praying altogether.

** Was it a “long time”? It reads like three simple prayers in rapid succession, but we have no hints in the text for how long this narrative took. Were the other people around Babel confounded and scattered over the course of hours, or days, or years? Maybe even decades?

*** Quoted from “Jared and His Brother,” TR Valletta, “Fourth Nephi, From Zion to Destruction,” Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1995, 303–22.

† Elder Eyring views the pitching of tents as indication that the Jaredites had settled into the land with the intention to stay. That seems plausible…for a few weeks or months. But four years?! Pitching tents suggests that they expected and/or hoped for a short stay. It also reminds me of a similar verse in 1 Nephi 2:15, “And my father dwelt in a tent.” If the Jaredites planned to stick around for a while, then pitching tents made sense. If they planned to stay for a very long while, however, then they would have replaced those tents with houses. (This note added after publishing.)

10 Responses to “A Failure to Communicate”

  1. Robert C. said

    Fascinating thoughts, Brian — thanks for this post.

  2. NathanG said

    Nice to think about

    I think the barges they already built were a bad memory (definitely some design issues to clarify), and there was a reluctance to call upon the name of the Lord out of fear or reluctance to be led across the waters, which means the miserable, dark, suffocating barges again, especially when they were in such a nice place. So maybe a bit of all categories. I think I have personally convinced myself of self-directed spirituality by praying without truly wanting guidance. I want confirmation that my decisions are good, or at the least that they are not bad. I don’t trust that the path the Lord would lead me down is as easy as the one I would choose.

    Maybe Moroni left the details out so we could speculate what happened and our speculation will often draw on our own weakness in prayer. I definitely tend to project my own shortcomings on those in the scriptures. Doesn’t really matter if I’m historically right if I am instructed in a better way. Or maybe that attitude is even wrong. Maybe I need to only need to seek what the Lord wants and not just what works for me.

    • BrianJ said

      Thanks for the interesting note about barges. I hadn’t noticed the significance of the Jaredites’ past experience with barges before. I had assumed that their previous barges were somewhat different, but that’s not what the text says at all. It says that the barges were the same and only then do the Lord of the brother of Jared start making modifications.

      Still, I’m not ready to ascribe any reluctance to the Jaredites. Verse 16 offers no indication of reluctance:

      And the Lord said: Go to work and build, after the manner of barges which ye have hitherto built. And it came to pass that the brother of Jared did go to work, and also his brethren, and built barges after the manner which they had built, according to the instructions of the Lord.

      Granted, it doesn’t explicitly say that they went “straightaway” to work, but the text offers no hint of delay. Furthermore, it isn’t until they completed construction on all the barges that the brother of Jared goes to the Lord with his concerns over the design:

      O Lord, I have performed the work which thou hast commanded me, and I have made the barges according as thou hast directed me. And behold, O Lord, in them there is no light; whither shall we steer? And also we shall perish, for in them we cannot breathe, save it is the air which is in them; therefore we shall perish. (Verses 18-19)

      It seems to me that the Jaredites were waiting for instruction from the Lord, whatever that instruction might be.

  3. Jared Cook said

    I find it fascinating that so many commentators just dismiss out of hand the idea that the Brother of Jared simply forgot to pray, because, they say, obviously a man of such faith would not just forget to pray. But taking the scriptures at face value, I think we have to accept it as a real possibility that he really did just forget to pray. The attitude that doesn’t take that possibility seriously seems to smack of some version of prophetic infallibility. Lots of us forget to pray. The fact that the Brother of Jared was apparently chosen to receive the word of the Lord for this group does not make him immune from that. It’s not hard to imagine. You are really tired one night and you go to bed without saying your prayers. The next night you are really tired and you do the same thing. Before you know it, a week has gone by, then a month, then a year, then a few years.

    Having said that, I think you may also be on to something in looking at whether there is a distinction between praying and “calling upon the name of the Lord.” In addition to the possibilities you suggest above in the original post, I would add that the phrase seems to emphasize the name of the Lord. We are taught to pray to the father in the name of the son, and told that whatsoever we ask in the name of the son will be given. Perhaps the Brother of Jared’s problem was that he was not calling upon the name of the son in his prayers.

    • BrianJ said

      I agree that we are wrong to ever ascribe to prophets some kind of immunity from sin. I do, however, think that it’s fair to say that such-and-such seems out of character for that prophet and therefore seems a less likely explanation:

      “Why wasn’t President Monson at church today?”

      “He’s probably sick or visiting another ward.”

      “Or maybe he’s staying home to watch WB’s Buffy marathon.”

      “Yeah…maybe.”

      Note that I’m not disagreeing with you. I agree that it’s possible that the brother of Jared eventually ceased praying altogether. I just don’t think it likely that a person with his history and situation would stop praying merely because he forgot to pray. It’s hard to forget a pillar of fire from last week; but from last year, or two years ago…? Then, yeah.

      Interesting point about the name of the Lord.

      • BrianJ said

        You know what? I take that back: there is absolutely no way, short of mental illness, that anyone could forget being led by a pillar of fire. Not after two years, not even after two centuries.

      • Jared Cook said

        Good point about the pillar of fire. But I don’t think you have to forget the pillar of fire to forget to pray. I understand what you’re saying about him maybe not praying for a while, but you don’t think it likely that he just forgot to. At the same time, though, that’s what the verse says, not just that he stopped praying, but that he “remembered not to call upon the name of the Lord.” I’m not disagreeing with you that forgetting to pray would be out of character, but I think the conclusion that we have to draw is that the brother of Jared did something that was out of character for him, not that because it was out of character, it probably didn’t happen and the verse must be wrong. (Unless of course, we conclude that maybe he was still saying prayers, but that he didn’t “call upon the name of the Lord” in doing so.

  4. BrianJ said

    (I just added a brief footnote to the original post about the temporary nature of pitching tents instead of building houses.)

  5. Matthew said

    If this is an unwelcome tangent from your post feel free to remove this comment….

    Let’s assume (similar to Janet’s interpretation) that the Brother of Jared had been praying previously and then stopped because now he no longer had anything to pray for. If asking is how we manifest our faith and also the means of exercising our faith leading to its growth, is lacking something to pray for a moral failing?

    • BrianJ said

      Not a tangent. I don’t know how to answer though. I’m reluctant to say it would be a moral failing in part because I don’t know that lacking faith is a moral failing. Although, I might say that it would be a moral failing to be so blind/ignorant/self-absorbed that you can’t even think of something to request on behalf of others.

      Here’s a side question for you: If not having prayers answered demands having more faith, but having them granted leads to knowing (I’m invoking Alma here), then why wouldn’t the Lord answer more prayers? i.e., does the Lord want us to have more faith than knowledge?

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