"For behold, it came to pass that the Lord spake unto my father, yea even in a dream,
and said unto him: Blessed art thou, Lehi, because of the things which thou hast
done; and because thou hast been faithful and declared unto this people the things
which I commanded thee, behold, they seek to take away thy life. And it came to
pass that the Lord commanded my father, even in a dream, that he should take his
family and depart into the wilderness. And it came to pass that he was obedient
unto the word of the Lord. . . and it came to pass that he departed into the wilderness.
And he left his house, and the land of his inheritance, and his gold, and his silver,
and his precious, things, and took nothing with him, save it were his family, and
provisions, and tents, and departed into the wilderness...
And it came to pass that the Lord commanded him that I, Nephi, and my brethren, should
again return unto the land of Jerusalem, and bring down Ishmael and his family into
the wilderness...And it came to pass that the we went up unto the house of Ishmael,
and we did gain favor in the sight of Ishmael, insomuch that we did speak unto him
the words of the Lord. And it came to pass that the Lord did soften the heart of
Ishmael, and also his household, insomuch that they took their journey with us down
into the wilderness to the tent of our father...
And it came to pass that I, Nephi, took one of the daughters of Ishmael to wife,
and also, my brethren took of the daughters of Ishmael to wife...And it came to pass
that we did again take our journey in the wilderness...And we did travel and wade
through much affliction in the wilderness, and our women did bear children in the
wilderness. And so great were the blessings of the Lord upon us, that while we did
live upon raw meat in the wilderness, our women did give plenty of suck for their
children, and were strong, yea, even like unto the men; and they began to bear their
journeyings without murmurings. And thus we see that the commandments
of God must be fulfilled. And if it so be that the children of men keep the commandments
of God he doth nourish them, and strengthen them, and provide means whereby they
can accomplish the thing which he has commanded them; wherefore, he did provide means
for us while we did sojourn in the wilderness...yea, even eight years...and notwithstanding
we had suffered many afflictions and much difficulty, yea, even so much that we cannot
write them all, we were exceedingly rejoiced when we came to the seashore..." 1
Nephi 2:1-4, 7:2-5, 15:7, 17:1-4, 6
Thus far in the Book of Mormon story the family has been near their home in Jerusalem,
in familiar territory. But as they were about to embark into the dry and desolate
Arabian wilderness, the Lord provided them with an instrument which would guide them
“And it came to pass that as my father arose in the morning, and went forth to the
tent door, to his great astonishment he beheld upon the ground a round ball of curious
workmanship; and it was of fine brass. And within the ball were two spindles, and
the one pointed the way whither we should go into the wilderness.”
As might be expected when confront with subjects never before pictured, there were
opinionated, personal versions on almost every detail. Little things like the color
of Nephi’s hair were open to debate and everyone had an opinion.
A baffling question involved the picturing of the Liahona. Of course any reader of
the Book of Mormon knows the very limited description of the instrument. To illustrate
the problem between words and pictures, let us consider a speaker (perhaps a BYU
professor) who is known as an expert on the Book of Mormon. Let’s call him Mr. Words.
He delivers a speech on what a marvelous device was the Liahona. After the lecture
come questions from the audience.
Question: “Just how large was the Liahona?
Speaker: “Oh, we’re not told that. But it was round and had these pointers
Question: “How did they see the pointers? Was there open work in the design
for them to see through? Or was the top hinged to open up for viewing?”
Speaker “We are not told that either. But it was a wonderful instrument,
working according to their faith.”
Question: “What did they do with it when not in use? Was there a bag or
a stand to keep it in, or did they just let it roll around on the deck of the ship?”
Speaker “Oh, we’re just not told that. But it was of curious workmanship,
Now, Mr. Words hasn’t told us anything any reader of the book doesn’t already know.
But he’s off the hook. He’s still an “expert” so to speak. Dealing only in such words
as we read, he hasn’t had to really tangle with the answers. Now comes Mr. Pictures.
He’s the artist, who doesn’t know the answers any more than Mr. Words or anyone else.
But he can’t duck. No, he has to grit his teeth and paint something. There is no
tube of oil paint Labeled ‘when you don’t know, use this’. So I painted something
that seemed reasonable, of a size easily handled, and designed a suitable tripod
to rest it on.
When asked “How do you know the Liahona was that size?”
I answered, “I don’t know.”
“Then how can you paint it that size if you don’t know?”
It was G.K. Chesterton who once said: ”Art, like morality, consists in drawing the
At last I decided that an historical painting was not a wax-works museum reconstruction.
If every detail had to be proved, there would be no creative work of any kind, and
strict orthodoxy must yield to some degree.”
The Book of Mormon gives an idea of the difficulties Lehi’s family faced as they
traveled through and lived in the Arabian desert for eight years. Nephi records,
“And we did travel and wade through much affliction in the wilderness; and our women
did bear children in the wilderness. And so great were the blessings of the Lord
upon us, that while we did live upon raw meat in the wilderness, our women did give
plenty of suck for their children, and were strong, yea, even like unto the men;
and they began to bear their journeyings without murmurings.”
The Lord gave Nephi’s family another challenge on their quest to find and inherit
the Promised Land: build a boat to cross the great waters. While his brother complained
and mocked him, Nephi’s only question was “Where shall I go to find ore to make tools?”
He did not doubt that the Lord would help him.
Enjoy Ryan Heywood’s haunting base vocal presentation of this song, accompanying
himself on the guitar.
The Lord gave Nephi instructions on how to build the ship, but he needed his brothers’
labor as well. They didn’t want to work for little brother, and did not believe
that they would be able to build a ship. After the Lord gave them a sign they could
understand, then they put their hands to the work:
“And it came to pass that the Lord said unto me: Stretch for thine hand again unto
thy brethren, and they shall not wither before thee, but I will shock them, saith
the Lord, and this will I do, that they may know that I am the Lord their God.”
“In YOUNG NEPHI SUBDUES HIS REBELLIOUS BROTHERS, Nephi is in the very first stage
of building a ship. Building a ship!!! Of course his brothers thought he had taken
grandiose leave of his senses. Before construction could begin, Nephi had to take
ore from the mountain and build a primitive forge to make the tools to build the
ship. Talk about starting from scratch! Since we don’t know what Nephi looked like,
I of course couldn’t paint a portrait. So what I did paint was the image of a man
who looks as though he could do what Nephi did. This, of course, required quite a
man. I made Nephi strong, not only in body but in spiritual power, as his bullying
brothers soon learned.”
“The ship that will carry Lehi’s family to the promised land fills the center of
the picture. The scene is calm and purposeful, with the men hoisting provisions and
the women waiting to board. At the right, three graceful women carrying jars resemble
a row of Greek statues, while a woman at the left holds her child in a pose like
a madonna. As the artist developed the final version of the scene, she added distinctive
details of “curious workmanship” to the ship (1 Nephi 18:1), including an unusual
prow and sails sewn together from many small pieces of fabric. Although propped firmly
in place, the ship leans toward rough seas. Its sails billow lightly as though it
is about to move toward the clouds beyond the horizon–a foreshadowing that the faith
impelling the family to build a ship and sail it to an unknown land will be tested.”
While on their trans-oceanic voyage, Nephi’s brothers became rude. When he chastised
them, the Book of Mormon records, “And it came to pass that Laman and Lemuel did
take me and bind me with cords, and they did treat me with much harshness; nevertheless,
the Lord did suffer it that he might show forth his power, unto the fulfilling of
his word which he had spoken concerning the wicked.”
Lehi’s family has arrived in the Promised Land – America. The rest of the Book
of Mormon describes the spiritual history of this great civilization until its downfall
a thousand years later. The Lord delivered this record to our civilization by an
angel, and we can read about and learn from these people, and their triumphs and
After troubles upon the water, Lehi’s family finally arrives at the Promised Land,
where they will settle and grow and spread.
The question when painting LEHI AND HIS PEOPLE ARRIVE IN THE PROMISED LAND was, how
to picture Nephi’s ship. In the Book of Mormon we read the puzzling words that it
was not built after the manner of men. So what did it look like? Again, Mr. Words
can duck, but Mr. Pictures can’t. He must paint something that somehow satisfies
us as looking real and reasonable. Faced with this decision, I reasoned that God,
who works by natural laws, not in defiance of them, isn’t going to instruct Nephi
to build a bizarre oddity defying all engineering logic, just to be different from
man’s usual designs. Just to conjecture, God’s instructions to Nephi might have revealed
something merely in advance of its time, unknown in that period of ship building.
Possibly such a simple thing as the steering rudder, not yet invented in Nephi’s
time, might have made his ship “not after the manner of men.” At least we may be
sure that they did have sails. For we are told they “were driven forth before the
In the picture of the ship’s arrival in the promised land, I added a bit of interesting
detail: the flying birds are not seagulls. They are the swallow-tailed Roseate Terns,
included because they are found in the waters off Central America, thus adding a
touch of geographical authenticity without trying to pinpoint any precise location.
In the painting, Father Lehi holds the sacred Liahona in his hands. It is the symbol
of the Lord’s fulfilled promise to His people. Illustrating as it does the Book of
Mormon, this picture may rightly be labeled as “religious art.” Yet, far from expressing
mere piety, it is filled with the bursting excitement of an adventure story, bringing
to our ears the joyous cry of “Land Ho!” The sacred Liahona held by Lehi has fulfilled
the Lord’s promise to His people, and has truly led them to the shores of the promised-land.