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Light, Air and Navigation--Lessons From Ether 2 For Our Own Lives

In the second chapter of Ether, the Lord teaches the brother of Jared important principles about receiving answers to prayer.  Since we are to “liken all scriptures unto us,” we can learn much by pondering the story and the lessons taught therein.  

The Lord commanded the Jaredites to build barges (boats), after the manner that they had previously built barges and “according to the instructions of the Lord.”[1]  These barges were to carry the Jaredites across the ocean to the “land of promise.”[2]  It is significant that they followed the Lord’s instructions in building the barges.  Among other things, it shows that the Lord fully intended the tutoring experience that followed.  It is also important to note that, just as with Noah, Nephi and others, the Lord did not do for them what they could do for themselves, He did not build the ships for them.  

After the barges were completed, according to the instructions the Lord had given them,[3] the brother of Jared then went to the Lord with three questions (problems to solve), all related to the barges and the upcoming voyage.  The Lord answered each of these questions separately and in a different manner.

The first question related to light inside the ships. The barges were built “tight like unto a dish.”  There were no windows in the barges, and the Lord told the Jaradites that they would not go by the light of fire.[4]  Sunlight and fire were the usual and perhaps only means of illumination known to people at that time (at least those not familiar with the Old Testament (see footnote 6 below)).  However, the Lord made it clear to the Brother of Jared that he and his people would not receive illumination from windows or fire. 

In response to the question about light, the Lord told the Brother of Jared, in essence, to “do his homework” and come up with a proposed solution.[5]  This is exactly what the brother of Jared did and he eventually (surely after much thought, study and prayer) returned to the Lord with the proposal regarding the 16 small stones.[6]  After the brother of Jared had done what he could, including searching and pondering the scriptures, and had then fashioned the 16 stones, then he went back to the Lord. As he did so, the Lord did for him what he could not do for himself.  The Lord touched the stones, causing them to radiate light.[7]

The second question or problem related to how the Jaradites would steer the barges.  Apparently the instructions for the barges did not include any type of rudder or steering device.  As was previously mentioned, they had no windows, so they could not see to steer anyway.[8]  To this question, the Lord answered that it would not be their responsibility to steer, He would guide them to their destination. They were to get into the barges, not knowing or even being able to see where they were going.  He who created the earth and commands the wind and the waves[9] promised to steer the barges boats by the same wind and the waters.[10]  They would be required to trust Him and wait almost a year[11] in the barges before reaching the “land of promise”.  As they set foot on the land of promise, then, and only then, they would know that He had fulfilled His promise unto them.  In the interim, they would be required to exercise great faith in Him, amidst the many vicissitudes of their journey, not knowing exactly how long the journey would last or what they would encounter in the process.[12]

The third and last question the brother of Jared asked the Lord was related to oxygen, how they would have sufficient fresh air to be able to breathe during their journey.  The Lord gave a clear and immediate answer and instructions on how to remedy the situation.  The issue of air and breathing was one of immediate importance; they would not be able to wait long for this answer.  This truly was a situation where the Jaradites did not have the resources to solve the problem on their own (at least in a timely manner) and needed an immediate answer.

            As we travel on our journey through life, headed for our “land of promise,” we often encounter problems and difficulties.  If we are wise, we seek help from heaven.  Just as with the Jaradites, our question and problems generally fit into one of three categories:

1.        “Light problems”— things that are not urgent in nature, though we may feel otherwise, and that we have adequate knowledge and resources to address, at least partially (or would if we searched and studied the scriptures and used our talents and abilities we would know where to start);

2.        “Steering problems”— questions regarding the “overall plan” of our lives and how things will transpire over the course of time; and

3.        “Air problems”— rare instances of immediate need, for which we are not equipped to cope and requiring direct intervention from the Lord.  

When are prayers are not answered as quickly or in the manner we expect, part of the reason may be that although we believe we are involved with an “air” problem, in reality, we are dealing with a “light” or “navigation” problem.  Because we are wont to view all trials and perplexing situations as emergencies requiring the Lord’s immediate and miraculous assistance, we can become unduly stressed and frustrated when immediate help does not seem to be forthcoming.  However, when we understand the principles taught in Ether Chapter 2, we are better able to receive and understand answers to prayers. 

For example, if we realize that our particular problem fits into the “light” category, we are then willing to put in the work necessary before going back to the Lord with a proposed solution.  Likewise, if we understand that our problem is similar to the “navigation” question, we are better able to wait and trust the Lord, knowing that He is in control, He understands where our promised land is located and He knows how to guide us safely there.  In the end, we must come to understand and accept that He will no do for us what we can do for ourselves.  This should not surprise us, at least intellectually, given that we instinctively recognize the wisdom of this principle with regard to good parents and teachers and certainly His parenting and teaching skills far exceed those obtained by the very best of mortals.  Likewise, we must accept that very often He requires us to exercise great faith and trust in Him, even when we do not understand what is happening to us or around us (let alone what life has in store “just around the bend”). 

[1] Ether 2:16
[2] Ether 2:9
[3] See Ether 2:18
[4] See Ether 2:23
[5] Prior to first asking the Lord for help, perhaps the brother of Jared “took no thought, save it were to ask…” and the Lord therefore required that before he received the requested help, he was first required to “study it out in [his] mind; then ask…if it be right” (D&C 9:7-8).
[6] It’s very possible that he got this idea from studying his scriptures, particularly the story of Noah and the ark. Jewish tradition holds that Noah had a precious stone that shone in the ark, which provided light during their journey. (see Genesis 6:16, footnote 16a)
[7] see Ether 6:2-3
[8] The reality is that the Jaradites knew only that they were going to the “land of promise”.  They didn’t know where it was located or what course they would follow to get there.  Thus, even if they could steer, they would not know where to steer.
[9] See Matthew 8:26; Hymn 105
[10] See Ether 2:24-25; 6:5-8
[11] See Ether 6:11
[12] See Ether 12:6


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