Sariah - Matriarch of the Book of Mormon

SariahSariah is the matriarch of the Book of Mormon. It is not hard to see a connection between her and Sarah, the matriarch of the Old Testament. Not only are their names similar, but they also share similar stories. Both women had prophetic husbands, both left comfortable homes to roam the desert in tents, neither had an ideal family situation, and both had moments of doubt about God’s plan for their lives. The theme of both women’s lives can be summed up in the promise God gave Sariah and her family: “I will . . . be your light in the wilderness; and I will prepare the way before you . . . and ye shall know that it is by me that ye are led” (1 Nephi 17:13). God led Sariah, as He did Sarah before her, and the impact of her good choices was felt for generations.

• Living in Jerusalem •

Sariah is especially fascinating because she is not only a Book of Mormon woman, but she is also an Old Testament woman. She lived in Jerusalem during a very turbulent political time period. In her younger years, Jerusalem was ruled by a righteous king named Josiah, who repaired the temple, taught his people the scriptures, and encouraged them to become a righteous people again. Yet despite Josiah’s reforms, the people did not repent and were attacked by the Egyptians, who killed Josiah and took control of Jerusalem and the Israelite nation (2 Kings 23:29–36). The people anointed Josiah’s son Jehoahaz to be their king, but he was imprisoned by the Egyptians (vs. 33–34). The Egyptians ousted Jehoahaz and instead appointed Eliakim, another son of Josiah, to rule Judea. They changed his name to Jehoiakim (vs. 35), and forced him to pay tribute to the pharaoh.

This is an excerpt of Walking With the Women of the Book of Mormon.

Babylon and Egypt were fighting for political control of the entire Mediterranean region, and when Egypt lost to the Babylonians, Jehoiakim was forced to serve the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar (2 Kings 24:1). The Jews hated Babylonian rule, and after only three years of oppression, Jehoiakim rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar (something the prophet Jeremiah had warned him not to do; see Jeremiah 27:6–11). The Jews were still holding on to Messianic hopes and believed that because God had “chosen” them, they could not fall as a people. They were wrong.

In retaliation for this uprising, the Babylonians sent bands of Chaldeans, Syrians, Moabites, and Ammonites to lay waste to the land of Judea. They killed Jehoiakim and “filled Jerusalem with innocent blood” (2 Kings 24:4). The Jews then made Jehoiachin, the eighteen-year-old son of Jehoiakim, king, but the Babylonians besieged Jerusalem only three months into his reign. The siege lasted eight years before Jehoiachin surrendered (vs. 12) and Nebuchadnezzar marched into Jerusalem, captured the entire royal family, stole the treasures from the temple, and took ten thousand people captive—particularly the “men of might” and the “craftsmen and smiths” (vs. 15–16). He left only “the poorest sort of the people” (vs. 14) behind. Nebuchadnezzar then chose a man named Zedekiah, whom he hoped would be a “puppet” leader and do everything the Babylonians asked him to do.

The Book of Mormon begins, as Nephi tells us, in “the first year of the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah” (1 Nephi 1:4), which helps us to better understand why Nephi wrote that he had “seen many afflictions in the course of [his] days” (1 Nephi 1:1). The Jerusalem Lehi and Sariah were living in was a city ravaged by political instability, starvation, and war. Sariah was raising her children in a tumultuous city at a very difficult time!

It was in the midst of this political and religious turmoil that Lehi prayed to the Lord “even with all his heart, in behalf of his people” (vs. 5). In response to his prayer, he received a vision of Jesus Christ and the Twelve Apostles. They gave him a book that prophesied of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Jews’ captivity in Babylon. His “whole heart was filled, because of the things which he had seen, yea, which the Lord had shown unto him” (vs. 15), and he began to share his vision with others and to prophesy to the people of Jerusalem “the things which he had both seen and heard” (vs. 18).

The Jews were angry with him because of his preaching and attempted to kill him just like they had the other prophets of his day—Jeremiah, Zephaniah, and Habakkuk. This situation would not have been easy for Sariah! Lehi’s situation in Jerusalem was precarious, and he was warned in a dream to flee. In response, he “left his house, and the lands of his inheritance, and his gold, and his silver, and his precious things” (2:4) and fled into the wilderness, taking only his family, tents, and provisions.


• Now I Know •

The reactions among Lehi’s family to this journey out of Jerusalem were mixed. While Laman and Lemuel did not openly defy their father, they made their unhappiness well known. Laman and Lemuel clearly identified with the ruling class of Jerusalem and shared their belief that the prophets—like Lehi—were wrong; Jerusalem could not possibly be destroyed. Nephi, on the other hand, had a great desire to know if what his father had seen was true. The answer was given to him when the Lord visited him in a vision. Nephi shared his experience with his older brother, Sam, who also believed.

We don’t know how Sariah responded to her husband’s sudden religious zeal and decision to move the family into the wilderness. But we do know that later, when she thought that her sons had been killed on their journey to Jerusalem to get the brass plates, Sariah accused Lehi of being a “visionary man” (1 Nephi 5:2). This was not a term of endearment. Sariah was angry with Lehi. She was upset, not only because she was afraid all her sons had been killed but also because Lehi had taken her away from the “land of [their] inheritance” (vs. 2), where she may have enjoyed a life of security. It would have been hard for her to leave everything behind for an uncertain future.

Lehi diffused Sariah’s anger by acknowledging that he was a visionary man, and reminding her of the promise he had received from the Lord that they would be guided to a promised land. Lehi’s words appear to have comforted Sariah, which leads us to suspect that the choice to move their family into the wilderness had not been a one-sided decision. Sariah had also gained a testimony of Lehi’s vision and mission. In fact, when her sons finally did return from Jerusalem, safe and with the brass plates in tow, Sariah exclaimed, “Now I know of a surety that the Lord hath commanded my husband to flee into the wilderness; yea, and I also know of a surety that the Lord hath protected my sons” (vs. 8). Up to this point, Sariah had been making decisions based on faith, but now, after the trial of her faith, she knew.

I am impressed by Sariah’s testimony and her bold use of the words “I know of a surety.” I am sometimes hesitant to use the words “I know” when sharing my testimony. It feels safer to say “I believe” or “I feel.” I am keenly aware of my inadequate understanding of spiritual things, so saying “I know” seems a bit daring. Yet Sariah’s story shows that there are many different ways to gain knowledge, and one of them, as she demonstrated, is through experience.

In science, we gain knowledge through experimentation; we try things out and see if they consistently work. For example, I can easily say, “I know that if I drop a ball, it is going to hit the floor.” Granted, there is always the possibility that it might not, but my experience with gravity has always been consistent. Because of that, I feel no hesitation is saying I know that the law of gravity exists. In a similar way, the more we experiment with gospel principles, the more consistent our experience with faith becomes. I think this is why we often include personal stories in our testimonies. Our experiences with faith are what build our knowledge of God. Like Sariah, we must first walk out in the wilderness for a time, having faith in Jesus Christ, before we gain the experience to be able to say, “I know.”

This is an excerpt of Walking With the Women of the Book of Mormon.