Everyone carries painful memories of being scolded by a parent or a teacher for not trying to learn. I can still hear in my mind a German teacher, short enough to look me in the eye as she stood at my desk, saying, “Du bist ein —————,” which translated means that she thought I was a donkey for not learning and that some day I would be sorry. Indeed, I am sorry. And I’m sorry for a hundred other times and places I was slow or unable to learn. But more than the regret I feel for choosing not to learn from a German teacher and a piano teacher and so many others, my heart aches for the days—even months and years—when the Master would have taught me how to use faith and repentance and the Holy Ghost and charity, but could not get my attention.
If you share those regrets with me—and surely you have a few—and if you long to be a better learner, you will find both solace and suggestion in the life of the brother of Jared. Bow with him, as the book of Ether describes a rebuke that changed his life and can help change yours:
“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).
The numbers in that sad account are keys to the brother of Jared’s problem and to the Master’s solution: four years and three hours. The brother of Jared, and his caravan of people and animals, had been stopped four years in a journey they knew was to take them over many waters to a promised land. And the Master took not a minute, not five minutes, but three hours of His time to rebuke inattention. What do those four years and three hours show us about barriers and gateways to learning?
To me, the importance of the four years stems from the fact that the Jaredites were in a time of inaction during a journey that began with the chaos of the Tower of Babel, then swept across the uncharted wastes of Asia and would, following the Lord’s rebuke, take them through the depths of hurricane-tossed oceans to a land choice above all others—all under the Lord’s direction. Elder Spencer W. Kimball captured that drama in a general conference talk:
“This unparalleled book should intrigue navigators: unprecedented land treks near-unbelievable in length, scope, and hazard are chronicled and ocean crossings, and the circling of the world centuries before the Vikings—crossings fraught with all the dangers imaginable, including storms, hidden reefs, hurricanes, and even mutiny. This first recorded ocean crossing was about forty centuries ago, of seaworthy, ocean-going vessels without known sails, engines, oars, or rudders—eight barges like and near contemporary with Noah’s ark, long as a tree, tight as a dish, peaked at the end like a gravy boat (see Ether 2:17), corked at top and bottom, illuminated by molten stones (see Ether 2:20; Ether 3:1 ff.), perhaps with radium or some other substance not yet rediscovered by our scientists. Light and like a [fowl] upon the water, this fleet of barges was driven by winds and ocean currents, landing at a common point in North America probably on the west shores” (in Conference Report, April 1963, pages 63–64).
The leader of this perilous journey was the brother of Jared (from other sources we know his name was Mahonri Moriancumer [see footnote in George Reynolds, “The Jaredites,” Juvenile Instructor, 1 May 1892, page 282]). Except for those four years, his recorded life exemplifies the fusing of a capacity for bold action with teachability. That unlikely combination is revealed early in the story, when both his personal power and unresisting relationship with his brother Jared appear as background in the narrative while the Lord confounds the Tower builders:
“And the brother of Jared being a large and mighty man, and a man highly favored of the Lord, Jared, his brother, said unto him: Cry unto the Lord, that he will not confound us that we may not understand our words.
“And it came to pass that the brother of Jared did cry unto the Lord, and the Lord had compassion upon Jared; therefore he did not confound the language of Jared; and Jared and his brother were not confounded” (Ether 1:34–35).
Once Mahonri Moriancumer had obtained that blessing for himself and his brother, he accepted counsel from Jared again to pray that their friends not be confounded, and that blessing, too, was granted. Again he accepted counsel to ask if God would lead them to a promised land and got that blessing. In fact, he got more than the blessing; he got the call to leadership:
“And it came to pass that the Lord did hear the brother of Jared, and had compassion upon him, and said unto him:
“Go to and gather together thy flocks, both male and female, of every kind; and also of the seed of the earth of every kind; and thy families; and also Jared thy brother and his family; and also thy friends and their families, and the friends of Jared and their families.
“And when thou hast done this thou shalt go at the head of them down into the valley which is northward. And there will I meet thee, and I will go before thee into a land which is choice above all the lands of the earth” (Ether 1:40–42).
The man who could take counsel from his brother, as well as from God, was told the reason for his blessings: “And thus I will do unto thee because this long time ye have cried unto me” (Ether 1:43). Mighty and large as Moriancumer was, his leadership position came only partly because of his capacity for action; he also relied on the Master, who taught him constantly in the practical details of the journey:
“And it came to pass that the Lord commanded them that they should go forth into the wilderness, yea, into that quarter where there never had man been. And it came to pass that the Lord did go before them, and did talk with them as he stood in a cloud, and gave directions whither they should travel.
“And it came to pass that they did travel in the wilderness, and did build barges, in which they did cross many waters, being directed continually by the hand of the Lord” (Ether 2:5–6).
How could Moriancumer—a man able to accept his brother’s counsel, a man blessed by the Master’s personal attention for his mighty prayer, a man strong enough to lead people and flocks of every kind across trackless wastes and seas and finally reach the edge of the great ocean—how could he 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:
“And now I proceed with my record; for behold, it came to pass that the Lord did bring Jared and his brethren forth even to that great sea which divideth the lands. 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” (Ether 2:13).
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, which may for us be a move to a new place or mortal sickness in a loved one, 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.
No rebuke could have a happier ending than this one did for Moriancumer; nor can we hope for a much more helpful example. He repented.
“And the brother of Jared repented of the evil which he had done, and did call upon the name of the Lord for his brethren who were with him. And the Lord said unto him: I will forgive thee and thy brethren of their sins; but thou shalt not sin any more, for ye shall remember that my Spirit will not always strive with man; wherefore, if ye will sin until ye are fully ripe ye shall be cut off from the presence of the Lord” (Ether 2:15).
Repentance brought back teachability. Moriancumer again followed the directions he had received previously for building barges and also solved the problem of lack of air in the ships as directed by the Lord in detail. He then presented the problem of light to the Master. The way the Lord answered that question illuminates another aspect of teachability: a willingness on the part of the student to do his homework.
The Lord knew uncounted ways to light the ships, but he took time to define the problem, and then offered help only after Moriancumer had designed the solution. The brother of Jared did all he could to bring it into being and defined precisely what remained for the Master to do.
“And the Lord said unto the brother of Jared: What will ye that I should do that ye may have light in your vessels? For behold, ye cannot have windows, for they will be dashed in pieces; neither shall ye take fire with you, for ye shall not go by the light of fire.
“For behold, ye shall be as a whale in the midst of the sea; for the mountain waves shall dash upon you. Nevertheless, I will bring you up again out of the depths of the sea; for the winds have gone forth out of my mouth, and also the rains and the floods have I sent forth.
“And behold, I prepare you against these things; for ye cannot cross this great deep save I prepare you against the waves of the sea, and the winds which have gone forth, and the floods which shall come. Therefore what will ye that I should prepare for you that ye may have light when ye are swallowed up in the depths of the sea?” (Ether 2:23–25).
The brother of Jared heated rock to make 16 transparent stones, and then on Mount Shelem he asked the Lord for the part of the solution he could not provide: to make the stones emit light. But he didn’t simply ask as a child might ask a hurried parent or a student might ask a teacher flitting from pupil to pupil. He took time to plead for forgiveness. He acknowledged blessings. He proclaimed faith in God’s power.
The Lord honored the brother of Jared’s solution by touching the stones, and as he did so, the veil was removed from Moriancumer’s eyes and he saw the Lord’s finger. Astonished, he asked the Lord to show himself unto him. The Lord not only granted that request but also showed him a vision of the full panorama of the world’s history. So marvelous were the things shown to the brother of Jared that the record of it is hidden from us until we are prepared to receive it. President Joseph Fielding Smith, in a conference address, told us how to qualify as a people for that blessing:
“Now the Lord has placed us on probation as members of the Church. He has given us the Book of Mormon, which is the lesser part, to build up our faith through our obedience to the counsels which it contains, and when we ourselves, members of the Church, are willing to keep the commandments as they have been given to us and show our faith as the Nephites did for a short period of time, then the Lord is ready to bring forth the other record and give it to us, but we are not ready now to receive it. Why? Because we have not lived up to the requirements in this probationary state in the reading of the record which had been given to us and in following its counsels” (in Conference Report, October 1961, page 20).
That sober assessment seems to say that we need to be learners like Moriancumer after his repentance. Our negligence or lack of diligence in studying and keeping the commandments may be akin to the laxness of the Jaredites during the four years.
If we will open ourselves to learning, as the brother of Jared did, we can some day share the record of his spiritual blessings. The story seems to suggest that the main barrier to such blessings is our inability to feel the danger we are in if we do not receive spiritual counsel—if we forget to call on the Lord. The story also aptly illustrates the main gateway to these blessings, which is faith. Clearly shown in the time and care which the Master lavished on rebuking and teaching Moriancumer is the lesson that mighty prayer is heard and answered.
President Brigham Young directed our attention away from the sensational visions in the book of Ether and toward the lessons that must come first:
“But if you had faith to go out to the graveyard and raise up scores of the dead, that alone would not make you Latter-day Saints, neither if the visions of your minds were opened so as to see the finger of God. What will? Keeping the commandments of the Lord, to walk humbly before your God, and before one another, to cease to do evil and learn to do well, and to live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God; then you are a Latter-day Saint, whether you have visions or not” (in Journal of Discourses, 3:211).
This statement seems to suggest that, since few of us will have spectacular manifestations as the brother of Jared did, we might well add to that frequent picture of Moriancumer that pops into our minds (the blinding light from the stones on a mountaintop) the quiet scene of four years by a lovely seaside and the image of a three-hour interview. The tents by the sea could remind us that our dependence and gratitude must be unending, not just when we are in the “trackless wastes” or buried in some raging spiritual ocean. And a three-hour interview, longer than we may ever give our child or brother or husband or wife, could remind us of the availability, the patience, and the love of our Teacher. And with that sense of need and with that faith in God’s availability, we will have learned a crucial lesson from the brother of Jared, a master learner.
He remained teachable throughout his life, as shown by his last act: he accepted the counsel of his brother to give the people a king, despite his conviction that it would lead to captivity. Despite personal power and visions of the future from heaven, Moriancumer still sought trusted counsel. Apparently we can never know so much of heaven that we can’t learn from each other.