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“Wanderers in a Strange Land”: Exiles Coming Home to Christ

President Kauwe, Vice President Walker, honored guests, beloved faculty colleagues, staff, and students, and dear friends in the community, good morning and Aloha!

I wish to speak to you today on displacement and exile as scriptural and theological concepts, especially as they relate to the Fall of Adam and Eve, the Abrahamic Covenant, Israel’s Exodus from Egypt, and the Atonement of Jesus Christ, including his resurrection from the dead, and the mortal experience. The Book of Mormon elucidates these topics in remarkable ways. Moroni states on its title-page that it was written to “show unto the remnant of the house of Israel what great things the Lord hath done for their fathers; and that they may know the covenants of the Lord, that they are not cast off forever—And also to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations.”[1]

All of us, at some point in our lives we will feel “cast off,” displaced, or exiled: from a homeland, from family, from friends, or from community. Such displacement can leave us feeling lonely and isolated, anxious and depressed, unmoored and adrift. Sometimes we feel like a complete distortion of who we were in better days. We feel lost. We can even feel like strangers within our own homes. Sometimes we lose hope entirely. The recent pandemic has given much of the world a concentrated dose of these feelings.

BYU–Hawaii students are not unfamiliar with such displacement. Most of our highly international student body is now living far away from home. Many were born or raised in diaspora communities. Relocating to a foreign country to go to school can be a profoundly lonely experience. Many of us are now living in a nation with customs very different from those we grew up with, speaking English as a second language—a strange tongue. Yes, English is a strange language as virtually any linguist will tell you.

As a warm-up exercise in my religion classes at the beginning of most semesters, I read with students Isaiah’s prophecy of the gathering of Israel in Isaiah 11:11 (also found in 2 Nephi 21:11): “And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall set his hand again the second time to recover the remnant of his people, which shall be left, from Assyria, and from Egypt, and from Pathros, and from Cush, and from Elam, and from Shinar, and from Hamath, and from the islands of the sea.” Isaiah describes a gathering from seven nations. The names in this list of nations, of which most students typically recognize only one or two, are less important than the number. In Hebrew numerology, seven is a number symbolizing completion, perfection, and fullness. Just to be sure that his audience gets the point, Isaiah adds an eighth element: “the islands of the sea”—an expression that ought to resonate with everyone at BYU–Hawaii, given our location and target area. [2] A show of hands in one of my normal-sized religion classes in most cases, reveals representation from at least seven different nations and “the islands of the sea.” In other words, BYU–Hawaii religion classes—and I would guess many other BYU–Hawaii classes—look like the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. When the nations where students have served missions are considered, similar totals emerge. All of this speaks to the mission of the Church generally, but to the unique mission of this university in particular. In the big picture, the gathering of scattered Israel, collectively and individually, constitutes the overarching purpose, for why each of us is here right now.

The Atonement of Jesus Christ empowers the complete fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant in all its particulars, including the gathering and restoration of God’s people to “all their lands of promise”[3] In the unique Book of Mormon collocation “lands of promise”, I hear the Savior’s particular reassurance to indigenous peoples everywhere who have been displaced and often exiled from homelands through the direct effects of colonialism and modern economics. I hear his promise that all such wrongs will be made right and that they will be “gathered home to the lands of their inheritance”[4] or “the lands of their possessions”[5]

The Book of Mormon shows how every kind of exile and displacement—spatial, spiritual, communal, or personal—can be overcome through the power of Jesus Christ’s atonement. It shows us how to access that power through the making and keeping of divine covenants. One of the reasons the Book of Mormon’s message is so penetrating is that it was written by real exiles. Those exiles were themselves acquainted with the traditions detailing ancient Israel’s long experience with exile and displacement. They belonged to a people who conceived of the Fall of humankind as an exile from the presence God, a people who came to the temple to recite the story of Jacob and the house of Israel:

“A Syrian ready to perish [or, a wandering Aramean] was my father, and he went down into Egypt, and sojourned there with a few, and became there a nation, great, mighty, and populous”[6]

“A Stranger in a Strange Land”: Biblical Etiology and the Poetics of Exile

Nearly thirty years ago, Bruce J. Boehm produced an insightful study on Book of Mormon references to “wanderers,” “strangers,” and “sojourners” in relation to the biblical Exodus motif and its use in the Book of Mormon.1 My approach today will be somewhat different. I will examine how Book of Mormon prophets and writers relied on biblical etiologies and prophecies of exile to describe their situation in the Promised Land. I begin with an explanation of biblical Hebrew etiology (a term I will explain momentarily), the Fall of Adam and Eve, and the ancient Israelite concept of exile.

Biblical etiology and wordplay involving the names of people and places are an integral part of biblical Hebrew narrative. Regarding biblical etiology, Michael H. Floyd, has stated the following:

“As a critical term applied to narrative etiology refers to stories that tell how something came to be or came to have definitive characteristics. In Scripture such stories are typically told about names of persons, places, rites and customs, ethnic identities and natural phenomena.”[7] The books of Genesis and Exodus are highly etiological in character and their narratives manifest a high number of explicit and implicit etiologies.

Floyd further observes: “Ostensibly etymological explanations of personal and place names, actually based on wordplay, are a frequent type of etiology” in the Hebrew Bible. Explicit etiologies are often marked by Hebrew wordplays intended to engage a Hebrew speaking audience, in much the same way puns in tweets, clickbait titles, and newspaper headlines are intended to grab the attention of modern audiences.

Gershom: A Stranger There

The naming of Moses’s and Zipporah’s son constitutes one such etiology:

“And she [Zipporah] bare [Moses] a son, and he called his name Gershom [gēršōm]: for he said, I have been a stranger [gēr] in a strange land [bĕʾereṣ nokriyyâ]."[8] The importance of this particular etiology is highlighted by its repetition later in the post-exodus wilderness narrative sixteen chapters later: “And her two sons; of which the name of the one was Gershom [gēršōm]; for he said, I have been an alien [gēr] in a strange land [bĕʾereṣ nokriyyâ]."[9]

Regarding this etiological explanation of Gershom Robert Alter has observed: The “name-speech … break[s] the name into ger, ‘sojourner,’ and sham, ‘there,’ though the verbal root of the name g-r-sh would appear to refer to banishment.”[10] Moses’s life had come to epitomize exile and displacement. He had been an Israelite slave by birth, had been given up by his parents to protect him from genocide, had been adopted into the Egyptian royal household, and raised as an Egyptian. He was later forced to flee from his Egyptian home, and then lived among Midianites with whom he intermarried, as an exiled gēr—a “protected citizen, stranger”[11] or “sojourner.”[12] In other words, the Exodus text in both places is explaining and punning on the name Gershom in terms of two similar sounding, but etymologically unrelated words encapsulating Moses’s personal story: the noun ger and the verb gāraš.

The Hebrew noun gēr derives from the Hebrew verb gār “to dwell as an alien and dependent [sic].”[13]The etiology for Gershom’s naming echoes an earlier statement in the Genesis narrative about Abraham going to Egypt during a time of famine:

“And there was a famine in the land: and Abram went down into Egypt to sojourn there [lāgûr šām]; for the famine was grievous in the land.”[14] Following the Babylonian sacking of Jerusalem (587/586 BCE), the destruction of the temple, and the exile of king Zedekiah to Babylon, the prophet Jeremiah invoked this detail from Abrahamic history in warning survivors against attempting to flee to Egypt in a kind of “reverse exodus”:

And now therefore hear the word of the Lord, ye remnant of Judah; Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel; If ye wholly set your faces to enter into Egypt, and go to sojourn there [lāgûr šām]; then it shall come to pass, that the sword, which ye feared, shall overtake you there in the land of Egypt, and the famine, whereof ye were afraid, shall follow close after you there in Egypt; and there ye shall die. So shall it be with all the men that set their faces to go into Egypt to sojourn there [lāgûr šām]; they shall die by the sword, by the famine, and by the pestilence: and none of them shall remain or escape from the evil that I will bring upon them.[15]

Abraham and Sarah, and their grandson Jacob with his large family had sojourned in Egypt at different times in the face of famine.[16] The Lord declared that he would not extend the same protection to their unrighteous descendants who were then going down to Egypt to sojourn there—lāgûr šām—like their ancestors did when facing famine. They would not receive this protection because they had been flagrantly violating the covenant he made with their ancestors and the covenant statutes upon which living in the promised land was contingent (such as those enumerated in the book of Deuteronomy). Nevertheless, the exile of all Israelites from their homeland—including the exile of Lehi, Sariah, and Ishmael and their families—was much less about divine punishment than it was about ensuring that “all the kindreds of the earth [would] be blessed” in fulfillment of the very covenant the people of Israel and Judah had broken.

Gāraš: Driven Out of the Temple-Garden

So, to summarize thus far: although the Exodus narratives etiologize (or explain) the name Gershom in terms of gēr (“stranger”) and šām (“there”), the name actually derives from the Semitic/Hebrew verb gāraš. As a derivation from the Semitic/Hebrew verb gāraš, Gershom recalls the first “exile” scenes in ancient scripture, to which I now turn.

In the ancient Israelite and Judahite worldview, the concept of exile begins with the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. As a story of divine expulsion, the Fall narrative serves as an etiology for the type of divinely decreed exiles that Israelites and Judahites later experience at the hands of the Assyrians and Babylonians—exiles which culminated in the loss of the covenant lands and the temple—the ritual presence of God.

BYU Old Testament scholar Donald W. Parry has convincingly shown how the Garden of Eden as depicted in Genesis fits the ancient temple typology9 first adumbrated by ancient Near East scholar John M. Lundquist.10 In the Fall narrative of Genesis, when Adam and Eve are cast out of their Garden-temple, Yahweh-Elohim’s expulsion of them is described in terms of the verb gāraš:

“Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken. So he drove out [waygāreš] the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life."[17] They were “driven out” or exiled eastward into the “lone and dreary world”—the telestial world corresponding to the outer court in the tabernacle and (later) the Jerusalem temple. In terms of temple typology, the “way” of return or the “way” of atonement was westward passing the Cherubim who stood as sentinels “keeping,” guarding, or mediating that “way” through veils and gates to God’s immediate presence. This “way” corresponds to the path to the tree of life in Lehi’s dream,11 the “way” Nephi defines as the doctrine of Christ in 2 Nephi 31:21, and the “way” to the gate whose “keeper” is “the Holy One of Israel” in 2 Nephi 9:41-42.

Nod: The Land of Wandering

Moses 5 records that after Adam and Eve were “shut out from [the Lord’s] presence” that they observed a system of typological sacrifices that were a “similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father, which is full of grace and truth."[18] Cain apostatized from the worship and teachings of his parents. In addition to his loving Satan more than God, Cain’s apostasy consisted in removing the christological typology of the required sacrifices. At Satan’s instigation, “Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord,”[19] an offering that was rejected.[20] After his fratricide of Abel, Cain, who had been a farmer, was cut off from the blessings of the soil:

“When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and a vagabond [nāʿ wānād] shalt thou be in the earth.”[21] That is, the Lord cursed the ground so that Cain’s attempts to farm it would prove futile and condemned him to spend the remainder of his life as a wandering fugitive. Cain complained, “Behold, thou hast driven me out [gēraštā ʾōtî] this day from the face of the earth; and from thy face shall I be hid; and I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond [nāʿ wānād] in the earth.”[22] Cain then began living in a land whose name symbolized his fate: “And Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, and dwelt in the land of Nod [nôd], on the east of Eden.”[23]

The land of Nod means “land of wandering” and its geography lay east of Eden, even further removed from the prototype temple, the divine presence, and divine atonement.

“Wanderers Among the Nations”: Hosea’s Prophecy of the Josephite Tribes in Exile

Evidence from the Hebrew Bible suggests that ancient Israel viewed its own exile in terms of the Genesis fall-exile narratives. The prophet Hosea describes the destruction and exile of the Northern Kingdom of Israel—sometimes designated Ephraim (the dominant tribe in that kingdom)—in language that plays on the name Ephraim (which means ‘doubly fruitful’):
“Ephraim [ʾeprayim] is smitten, their root is dried up, they shall bear no fruit [pĕrî]: yea, though they bring forth, yet will I slay even the beloved fruit of their womb. My God [ʾĕlōhay] will cast them away [yimʾāsēm], because they did not hearken unto him: and they shall be wanderers [nōdĕdîm] among the nations.”[24]

Biblical scholar Katherine Murphy-Hayes observes that “the depiction of the fate of Ephraim in Hos 9:16-17 with a metaphor of drought and sterility is reminiscent of Cain’s fate.”[25] Hosea foresaw that Israel’s exile from the land of promise would be reminiscent of the early scenes of exile from the ancient past. The Deuteronomistic Historian who wrote 2 Kings reflected on the sins of idolatry, apostasy, bloodshed that precipitated the scattering of the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah in terms that echo the Fall narrative: The consequence for both nations was that the Lord “cast them out from his presence”[26], a statement that clearly echoes Adam and Eve’s expulsion for transgression and that Cain received for his much more serious sin of shedding the innocent blood of his brother. King Manasseh of Judah had been particularly guilty of shedding innocent blood.[27]

Fortunately, Book of Mormon prophets beginning with Lehi, Nephi, and Jacob help us see the bigger picture the Lord holds in view: the scattering and exile of Israel was much less about divine punishment than it was about God using the exile and scattering of Israel throughout the whole world to fulfill of the Abrahamic Covenant and God ensuring that the blessings of the atonement of Jesus Christ would be extended to the entire human family on both sides of the veil through its fulfillment. The scattering of Israel disseminated the descendants (or “seed”) of Abraham and Sarah throughout the world, enabling “all the kindreds of the earth [to] be blessed”[28] and Abraham to become “a father of many nations” or “Gentiles” in fulfillment of the God’s covenants.[29]

“Wandering in Strange Roads”: The Imagery of Exile in Lehi’s Dream

This telestial world into which Adam and Eve were “driven out” and in which we find ourselves is a land of exile—the “lone and dreary world” and, as Alma the Younger described it, a “vale of sorrow” beyond which lies a “far better land of promise.”[30]

Shortly after Lehi and his family had been driven into exile from the land of Judah and Jerusalem, Lehi had a dream-vision in which he found himself in “a dark and dreary waste” and “travel[ing] in darkness.”[31] Much of the imagery within the dream is described using the language of exile and wandering: “And it came to pass that there arose a mist of darkness; yea, even an exceedingly great mist of darkness, insomuch that they who had commenced in the path did lose their way, that they wandered off and were lost”[32]; “many were lost from his view, wandering in strange roads.”[33] The term “wandering” (nōdĕdîm) here corresponds to the lands east of Eden in Genesis and the prophecy of Hosea regarding the northern Israelites. “Strange” in 1 Nephi 8 denotes outside the covenant rather than simply “weird.” Note the “great and spacious building”[34] is also described as “strange” in this same sense in 1 Nephi 8:33.

It was an idolatrous anti-temple opposite the mountain-sanctuary with its tree of life.
After recounting his vision, Lehi expressed particular concern for the dream’s implications for his eldest sons:

“And it came to pass after my father had spoken all the words of his dream or vision, which were many, he said unto us, because of these things which he saw in a vision, he exceedingly feared for Laman and Lemuel; yea, he feared lest they should be cast off from the presence of the Lord. And he did exhort them then with all the feeling of a tender parent, that they would hearken to his words, that perhaps the Lord would be merciful to them, and not cast them off; yea, my father did preach unto them.”[35] Lehi worried about his sons, exiles already in the physical sense, becoming spiritual exiles also—that is, cut off from the spiritual blessings of the Lord’s presence (the Holy Ghost and the temple) and ultimately cast off from the presence of the Lord in eternity.

Lehi’s dream of the tree of life and later Nephi’s vision of the same “things which [his] father saw” shaped how Nephi understood the covenant path or “the way.” As noted earlier, Nephi envisioned the doctrine of Christ, in terms of temple typology,[36] as “the way” of return from exile into the Lord’s presence, corresponding to the “the way of the tree of life” mediated by the Cherubim mentioned earlier.[37]

“We Did Sojourn in the Wilderness”: Lehi’s Family Living as Gērîm in the Arabian Wilderness

More than a century before their departure from Jerusalem, Lehi’s family were very likely descendants of Manassite refugees from the Northern Kingdom which fell in 721 BCE and Ishmael’s family, with whom the former intermarried, may have been descendants of Ephraimite[38] refugees also from the north, who were the focus of Hosea’s prophecy about them becoming “wanderers among the nations,” who later settled in Jerusalem.

Within only a few generations of exile from the kingdom of Israel, both families became exiles again. The Lehite-Ishmaelite journey from Jerusalem through the wilderness to Nahom seems to have taken about one year as S. Kent Brown suggests,[39] because their births of the first children occur around this time[40]. The next stage of the journey, which took them through the Rub’ Al-Khali (the empty quarter) of the Arabian Peninsula took another seven years before they reached the land Bountiful. Nephi mentions this almost off-handedly: “Wherefore, [the Lord did provide means for us while we did sojourn in the wilderness. And we did sojourn for the space of many years, yea, even eight years in the wilderness.”[41] Brown discusses the enormous significance of Nephi’s laconic remark: the Lehite and Ishmaelite clan appear to have lived as foreign dependents in some form of servitude in the harshest part of the Arabian wilderness during these years.[42]

Lehi would later describe this unforgiving place to his son Joseph, who was born there during that time, as “the wilderness of mine afflictions” and this particular time period as “the days of my greatest sorrow.”[43] Some of the family believed that it “would have been better that [their wives] had died before they came out from Jerusalem than to have suffered” in this land.[44]

“Broken Off … and Driven Out”: Expulsion from the Land of Promise

Laman, Lemuel, the sons of Ishmael, and many other members of their family struggled to accept their being “driven out” of Jerusalem. Nephi records that not long after their arrival in the Western Hemisphere, he read the words of Isaiah to these family members. The first two chapters of the writings of Isaiah that Nephi quotes in his small plates record are Isaiah 48 and 49. Isaiah 48 addresses scattered Israel in exile and emphasizes that they are still “chosen.” Isaiah 49 foretells how the Lord will act to gather Israel in fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant. Nephi’s framing of Isaiah 49, using the language of Zenos’s allegory and the Fall narrative, speaks to the family’s situation in exile:

“And again: Hearken, O ye house of Israel, all ye that are broken off and are driven out because of the wickedness of the pastors of my people; yea, all ye that are broken off, that are scattered abroad, who are of my people, O house of Israel”[45]

Nephi and Jacob both used the prophecies of Isaiah to reassure their people that their exiled state, like the physical and spiritual death incurred by the Fall, was only temporary. Isaiah explained that Jehovah had defeated Rahab (a monster that came to symbolize Egypt), the Sea, and the dragon (Tannin)—all symbols of chaos—and “ma[d]e a way for the ransomed to pass over” in the Exodus event. Interpreting Isaiah, Jacob taught that Jehovah (Jesus Christ) “prepare[d] a way for our escape from the grasp of … that monster, death and hell … the death of the body, and also the death of the spirit.”[46] Christ’s atonement as the “way of deliverance” makes it possible for “the redeemed of the Lord [to] return, and come with singing into Zion” [47] with “everlasting joy and holiness … upon their heads” and to “to obtain gladness and joy” while “sorrow and mourning shall flee away.”[48]

“Wanderers, Cast Out from Jerusalem”[49]: Lehi’s Descendants as Wandering Exiles

Jacob teaches this doctrine as part of an interpretation of Isaiah’s most concentrated block of prophetic promises pertaining to the gathering of Israel from its scattered and exiled condition, Isaiah 49:22–52:2. Jacob not only saw the application of these promises for the descendants of Lehi collectively in the latter-days, but for individuals in the present who were struggling to maintain their faith:

“And now, my beloved brethren, seeing that our merciful God has given us so great knowledge concerning these things, let us remember him, and lay aside our sins, and not hang down our heads, for we are not cast off; nevertheless, we have been driven out [g-r-š] of the land of our inheritance; but we have been led to a better land, for the Lord has made the sea our path, and we are upon an isle of the sea.”[50]

Jacob calls his people to remembrance of their covenant knowledge of Jesus Christ and his atonement. That atonement, including the Lord’s resurrection, would guarantee the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant—“the covenant of the Father”—in all its particulars, including restoration from the exile of physical and spiritual death and full reintegration into the family of God. Jacob’s use of the phrase “isle of the sea” helps his people latch on to the promise of Isaiah 11:11 in which they could fully participate even after death.

That phrase, “an isle of the sea” should be particularly meaningful to all of us here at BYU-Hawaii. What Jacob says next helped his people understand that their situation was not unique or permanent but part of a much greater plan to bless the entire human family:
“But great are the promises of the Lord unto them who are upon the isles of the sea; wherefore as it says isles, there must needs be more than this, and they are inhabited also by our brethren. For behold, the Lord God has led away from time to time from the house of Israel, according to his will and pleasure. And now behold, the Lord remembereth all them who have been broken off, wherefore he remembereth us also.” [51] We should latch onto these words to, as they also speak to our present collective and individual circumstances and our institutional identity.

Many years later, near the end of his life, Jacob concludes his own record on the small plates with a description of the Nephites as “wanderers” in language that recalls Hosea’s prophecy in Hosea 9:17:

…[W]herefore, I conclude this record, declaring that I have written according to the best of my knowledge, by saying that the time passed away with us, and also our lives passed away like as it were unto us a dream, we being a lonesome and a solemn people, wanderers, cast out from Jerusalem, born in tribulation, in a wilderness, and hated of our brethren, which caused wars and contentions; wherefore, we did mourn out our days.[52]

As I have grown older, I have come to realize that Jacob’s words are strong evidence for the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. No young man like Joseph Smith—in his early twenties when the Book of Mormon was translated—would describe his lifetime as having “passed away” like a dream. We recall that Jacob, the son of Lehi and brother of Nephi, was born in exile. As a child of diaspora, Jacob had never experienced life in his family’s homeland. His words echo the pain of that deprivation. Jacob’s description of himself and his people as “wanderers” (nōdĕdîm) is consonant with the prophecy of Hosea 9 and the etiologies of exile in Genesis and Exodus. Nephi’s and Jacob’s successors never stopped viewing themselves as “wanderers,” even in a land they viewed as promised to them by divine covenant.

“Wanderers in a Strange Land”: Part I (Alma 13:23)

Evidence from later in the Book of Mormon suggests that the biblical etiologies of exile— “stranger[s] in a strange land”—and Hosea’s concept of exiled Israelites as “wanderers among the nations” continued as an important part of Nephite self-perception. Alma appealed to this Abrahamic covenant concept in his sermon to recalcitrant former Nephites and church members in the city of Ammonihah:

Now is the time to repent, for the day of salvation draweth nigh; yea, and the voice of the Lord, by the mouth of angels, doth declare it unto all nations; yea, doth declare it, that they may have glad tidings of great joy; yea, and he doth sound these glad tidings among all his people, yea, even to them that are scattered abroad upon the face of the earth; wherefore they have come unto us. And they are made known unto us in plain terms, that we may understand, that we cannot err; and this because of our being wanderers in a strange land; therefore, we are thus highly favored, for we have these glad tidings declared unto us in all parts of our vineyard.[53]

Alma reminded these families and individuals of their Abrahamic and Israelite identity as the Lord’s “people” who had been “scattered abroad upon the face of the earth” like the branches in the vineyard in Zenos’s allegory. He reminded them that the doctrine of Jesus Christ and his gospel had been made known unto them in plain terms because of their status as scattered “wanderers in a strange land.” Because of Alma’s powerful teaching, “many of them did believe on his words and began to repent and to search the scriptures.”[54] Many, including Zeezrom, began to live the doctrine of Christ. Many of them died as martyrs for that belief. Amulek, a wealthy citizen of Ammonihah and Alma’s strongest supporter, lost his family, fortune, friends, and everything else (see Alma 15:16)—an Abrahamic sacrifice.

“Wanderers in a Strange Land”: Part II (Alma 26:36)

Ammon’s speech in Alma 26, also recorded and preserved by Mormon in the book of Alma, blends the imagery of Zenos’s allegory of the olive tree with the Nephites’ with echoes of the Gershom etiology from Exodus and the prophecy in Hosea 9:16:

Now if this is boasting, even so will I boast; for this is my life and my light, my joy and my salvation, and my redemption from everlasting wo. Yea, blessed is the name of my God, who has been mindful of this people, who are a branch of the tree of Israel, and has been lost from its body in a strange land; yea, I say, blessed be the name of my God, who has been mindful of us, wanderers in a strange land.[55]

Bruce J. Boehm notes that Ammon seems to have made this statement about five years after Alma’s similarly-worded statement in Ammonihah.[56] Consistent with Zenos’s allegory of the olive tree, Alma and Ammon recognized they were part of a diaspora that fit within a larger divine program for extending the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant throughout the world.

For Ammon, his and his brothers’ success among the Lamanites constituted proof that God remains faithful to the covenant on behalf of descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who—like them—live as “wanderers” or exiles “lost” from their homelands “in a strange land.” Ammon’s phrasing “My God [ĕlōhay] [57] who has been mindful of us [cf. Heb. zĕkārānû or zākar lānû]” is the equivalent of saying “God who has remembered us.”[58] The Hebrew verb zākar can mean “be mindful”[59] as well as “remember.” Suzy and I named our eldest son Zachariah, meaning the “the Lord has remembered,” because we profoundly felt that he had remembered us in our life circumstances and had blessed us in accordance with the promises he had made to us, even when the time for the possible fulfillment of some of those promises seemed nearly past.[60]

The message of the Book of Mormon might be summarized in the words of Elder Jeffrey R. Holland: “however late you think you are, however many chances you think you have missed, however many mistakes you feel you have made or talents you think you don’t have, or however far from home and family and God you feel you have traveled, I testify that you have not traveled beyond the reach of divine love. It is not possible for you to sink lower than the infinite light of Christ’s Atonement shines.”[61]


There was no aspect of displacement and exile Nephi, Jacob, and many of their successors did not understand. They lived it. They knew their descendants and kin throughout the world in the latter days would be living in various kinds of exile, collectively and individually.

They knew we would need to know “we are not cast off forever,” but through living the doctrine of Christ and partaking of his atonement, we can be gathered home to him and to each other. The Book of Mormon teaches us how to make necessary covenants with God and keep them.

Dear sisters and brothers, we can do much to offset the feelings exile, displacement, isolation, and loneliness that those around us experience. I challenge each of us to do more this academic year to reach out to, check-up on, look after, and include each other. As we fully gather to the Savior as one BYU–Hawaii ‘Ohana together we will be better prepared collectively and individually to accomplish the institutional purposes and goals of this university: “to prepare students of Oceania and the Asian Rim to be lifelong disciples of Jesus Christ and leaders in their families, communities, chosen fields, and in building the kingdom of God.” This is an important part of the Lord’s effort to gather Israel for the final time on both sides of the veil. That work will not fail. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

[1] Title Page of The Book of Mormon
[2] 2 Nephi 21:11
[3] 2 Nephi 9:2
[4] 2 Nephi 9:2; 3 Nephi 21:8
[5] 2 Nephi 29:14
[6] Deuteronomy 26:5
[7] Michael H. Floyd, “Etiology,” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Dictionary of the Bible. 5 vols. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon 2007), 2:352.
[8] Exodus 2:22
[9] Exodus 18:3
[10] Robert Alter, The Hebrew Bible, Volume 1: The Five Books of Moses, Torah (New York: Norton, 2019)
[11] Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: Brill, 2001), 201. Hereafter cited as HALOT.
[12] Francis Brown, S.R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1996)
[13] HALOT 184
[14] Genesis 12:10; cf. Hebrews 11:9
[15] Jeremiah 42:15-17; see also vv. 21-22
[16] Genesis 12:10; 46:1–47
[17] Genesis 3:23-24; Moses 4:30-31
[18] Moses 5:7
[19] Moses 5:18-19
[20] Moses 5:21-23
[21] Genesis 4:12
[22] Genesis 4:14
[23] Genesis 4:16
[24] Hosea 9:16-17
[25] Katherine Murphy-Hayes, The Earth Mourns: Prophetic Metaphor and Oral Aesthetic (Leiden: Brill, 2002)
[24] Boehm, Wanderers in the Promised Land, 200
[25] Hosea 9:23
[26] 2 Kings 24:20, 2 Kings 17:18-29
[27] 2 Kings 21:16; 24:4.
[28] 1 Nephi 22:9-10; Genesis 12:3; 22:18
[29] Genesis 17:4-5; Abraham 1:2
[30] Alma 37:45
[31] 1 Nephi 8:7-8
[32] 1 Nephi 8:23
[33] 1 Nephi 8:32
[34] 1 Nephi 8:26, 31
[35] 1 Nephi 8:36-37
[36] See Jared T. Parker, “The Doctrine of Christ in 2 Nephi 31–32 as an Approach to the Vision of the Tree of Life,” in The Things Which My Father Saw: Approaches to Lehi’s Dream and Nephi’s Vision (2011 Sperry Symposium), ed. Daniel L. Belnap, Gaye Strathearn, and Stanley A. Johnson (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2011)
[37] Genesis 3:24; Moses 4:31
[38] Erastus Snow, Journal of Discourses 23:184-185.
[39] S. Kent Brown, “A Case for Lehi’s Bondage in Arabia,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 6/2 (1997): 205–17; see further S. Kent Brown, “Sojourn, Dwell, and Stay: Terms of Servitude,” in From Jerusalem to Zarahemla: Literary and Historical Studies of the Book of Mormon (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1998)
[40] 1 Nephi 17:20
[41] 1 Nephi 17:3
[42] S. Kent Brown, “Sojourn, Dwell, and Stay: Terms of Servitude,” in From Jerusalem to Zarahemla: Literary and Historical Studies of the Book of Mormon (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1998)
[43] 2 Nephi 3:1
[44] 1 Nephi 17:20
[45] 1 Nephi 21:11
[46] 2 Nephi 9:10
[47] Daniel Belnap, “I Will Contend with Them That Contendeth with Thee”: The Divine Warrior in Jacob’s Speech of 2 Nephi 6–10,” Journal of the Book of Mormon and Restoration Scripture 17/1–2 (2008): 20–39.
[48] Isaiah 51:11; 2 Nephi 8:11
[49] (Jacob 7:26)
[50] 2 Nephi 10:20
[51] 2 Nephi 10:21
[52] Jacob 7:26
[53] Alma 13:21-23
[54] Alma 14:1
[55] Alma 26:36
[56] Boehm, Wanderers in the Promised Land, 200.
[57] Hosea 9:23
[58] Pslams 115:12
[59] Pslams 8:4,
[60] 1 Samuel 1:19
[61] Jeffrey R. Holland, “Laborers in the Vineyard,” Ensign, May 2012