What do you think of the book of Ether in the Book of Mormon – Another Testament of Jesus Christ? My thoughts of this book were recently changed because of a statement made by my instructor. He said that the book of Ether is one of his favorite books in the Book of Mormon. Before I give you his reasons for feeling the way he does, let me just say that I had never considered this book to be among my favorites.
The book of Ether begins about 2200 B.C. If you remember the history of the Bible, Noah and seven members of his family were saved on the ark along with many animals. From these eight people, the earth was repopulated; however, many of Noah’s descendants became wicked. They thought they could reach heaven by building a tower known as the Tower of Babel. The name apparently comes from the Lord confounding the common language of the people and then scattering them across the earth. (See Ether 1:33; Genesis 11:5-8.)
A man named Jared and his brother were apparently among the more righteous people in the area. Jared suggested to his brother that he “Cry unto the Lord, that he will not confound us that we may not understand our words” (Ether 1:34). The brother – “a large and mighty man, and a man highly favored of the Lord” – did as Jared suggested, and the Lord did not confound their language. Then Jared suggested to his brother that he go back to the Lord and ask that the language of their friends not be confounded, and the Lord did not confound the language of their friends (Ether 1:36-37).
Jared then said unto his brother, “Go and inquire of the Lord whether he will drive us out of the land…” (Ether 1:38). The brother did cry unto the Lord, and the Lord “had compassion upon him” (Ether 1:40). The Lord told the brother of Jared, “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 1:41-42).
Jared, his brother, their friends, and their families gathered their flocks, caught fowls of the air, prepared a container to carry fish, and another container to carry honey bees. They went down into the valley, and the Lord came down in a cloud and spoke to the brother of Jared (Ether 2:1-5). The Lord told them to build barges and cross
many waters to get to the “land of promise, which was choice above all other lands, which the Lord God had preserved for a righteous people” (Ether 2:6-7). The Lord warned the brother of Jared that the people would prosper if they stayed righteous but would be swept off the land if they became wicked (Ether 2:8).
After all these experiences, the brother of Jared forgot to pray. Four years later the Lord again came down in a cloud and chastised the brother of Jared for three hours “because he remembered not to call upon the name of the Lord” (Ether 2:14). The brother of Jared apparently got the message because he and the people with him built eight barges in preparation for crossing the mighty waters to the land of promise. The barges were built after the pattern given to them by the Lord. When the barges were finished, the brother of Jared went to the Lord three different times with three problems: (1) there was no way to provide air to the passengers, (2) the barges had no means of steering them, and (3) the barges had no means of light.
The conversations between the Lord and the brother of Jared are the very best part of the book of Ether. They provide great spiritual lessons and are possibly the reason why my instructor likes this book so much. The brother of Jared had three problems, and the Lord handled the problems in three different ways. For the problem about air to breathe, the Lord told the brother of Jared to “make a hole in the top, and also in the bottom; and when thou shalt suffer for air thou shalt unstop the hold and receive air. And if it be so that the water come in upon thee, behold, ye shall stop the hole, that ye may not perish in the flood” (Ether 2:20). The brother of Jared and the people made two holes in each barge for air. The first problem was solved.
For the second problem, the Lord told the brother of Jared, you must trust me to steer the barges. “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” (Ether 2:24-25).
The brother of Jared had to put his trust in the Lord to guide the barges, but the Lord provided directions on how to obtain air to breathe. The third problem, how to light the barges, was not so easy. When the brother of Jared went to the Lord about lighting the barges, the Lord asked him a question: “What will ye that I should do that ye may have light in your vessels?” Then he gave further explanation: “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” (Ether 2:23). After explaining that the people would be as whales in the sea, the Lord asked again, “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 2:25).
In other words, the Lord did not provide an answer about how to light the barges. The brother of Jared went into the mount Shelem – which apparently was quite tall – and “did molten out of a rock sixteen small stones; and they were white and clear, even as transparent glass” (Ether 3:1). He carried the sixteen small stones to the top of the mountain and cried again unto the Lord. He showed the stones unto the Lord and said,
“And I know, O Lord, that thou hast all power, and can do whatsoever thou wilt for the benefit of man; therefore touch these stones, O Lord, with thy finger, and prepare them that they may shine forth in unto us in the vessels which we have prepared, that we may have light while we shall cross the sea” (Ether 3:4).
The Lord heard the prayer of the brother of Jared and “stretched forth his hand and touched the stones one by one with his finger.” The brother of Jared saw the finger of God “and it was as the finger of man, like unto flesh and blood.” The brother of Jared was “struck with fear” and fell back (Ether 3:6).
The Lord said, “Arise, why hast thou fallen?” and the brother of Jared answered that he “knew not that the Lord had flesh and blood” (Ether 3:8).
“And the Lord said unto him: Because of thy faith thou hast seen that I shall take upon me flesh and blood; and never has man come before me with such exceeding faith as thou hast; for were it not so ye could not have seen my finger. Sawest thou more than this?” (Ether 3:9).
The brother of Jared answered: “Nay; Lord, show thyself unto me.” To the Lord’s question, “Believest thou the words which I shall speak?” the brother of Jared answered, “Yea, Lord, I know that thou speakest the truth, for thou art a God of truth, and canst not lie.”
The Lord showed himself unto the brother of Jared and said, “Because thou knowest these things ye are redeemed from the fall; therefore ye are brought back into my presence; therefore I show myself unto you….
“And never have I showed myself unto man whom I have created, for never has man believed in me as thou hast. Seest thou that ye are created after mine own image?
“Behold, this body, which ye now behold, is the body of my spirit; and man have I created after the body of my spirit; and even as I appear unto thee to be in the spirit will I appear unto my people in the flesh” (Ether 3:10-16). The faith of the brother of Jared was rewarded with a miracle and the greatest of all blessings – being admitted into the presence of the Savior.
The brother of Jared and his people were on the water – or in the water – for 344 days. Think of it! They were tossed around by the wind and the waves for more than eleven months. They eventually reached the land of promise. “And when they set their feet upon the shores of the promised land they bowed themselves down upon the face of the land, and did humble themselves before the Lord, and did shed tears of joy before the Lord, because of the multitude of his tender mercies over them” (Ether 6:11-12).
I assume that they were very happy to be on solid ground once again. I tried to visualize life in an enclosed barge for more than eleven months and being tossed around by the winds and the waves. It sounds absolutely horrible to me! Were any of them claustrophobic? Did anyone get sea sick because they could not watch the horizon? How did they deal with personal hygiene and the many smells? The writings do not address any of these questions but simply states that “they did sing praises unto the Lord … did thank and praise the Lord all the day long; and when the night came, they did not cease to praise the Lord” (Ether 6:9).
The story of the brother of Jared shows us how to communicate with God. My instructor suggested that we frame our problems in questions and then determine how we hope God will answer our questions. Do we expect God to solve our problems like He did by suggesting putting holes in the barges for air? Are we willing to put our lives in the hand of God and trust Him to do with us as He will? Do we hope for a miracle when we take our problems to the Lord? Do we expect to see God?
My understanding of the experiences of the brother of Jared is much different after my week of studying the book of Ether. I encourage you to look at the writings of Ether and see if it is one of your favorite books in the Book of Mormon.