As always, use the Official Gospel Doctrine Manual in your preparation, these ideas are supplemental.
The Book of Ether is like a mini-Book of Mormon. It is a second witness of Christ, and a second witness of how nations disintegrate when they reject Christ. Over the years of teaching the Book of Ether, my students and I have compiled a list of how the Book of Mormon as a whole and the Book of Ether individually are similar witnesses:
The Book of Ether is a second witness of Jesus Christ:
- Numerous Book of Mormon prophets saw the Savior
- The Brother of Jared saw the Savior
The Book of Ether is a second witness for how nations fall as a result of rejecting Christ:
- Jaredites and Nephites both experienced the pride cycle
- Jaredites were told to serve God or be “swept off;” Nephites were told to keep the commandments and “prosper in the land”
- Secret combinations destroyed both civilizations
- Wicked kings eventually lead to captivity in both civilizations
- The Lord in His mercy sent prophets to the wicked in both civilizations
- The Lord also used famines to bring repentance in both civilizations
- The land was cursed in both civilizations when people set their hearts on their possessions
- Both Moroni and Ether say in the end, “It mattereth not” what happens to me.
6-33 – “Ether … was a descendant of Coriantor…” Most of the Book of Ether covers the first and last generation of Jaredites. In Ether 1:6-33 trace Ether’s family tree backward, all the way to Jared. From verse 33 through the rest of the Book of Ether, we move forward in time, learning about each of these generations until we get all the way to Ether who witnessed and chronicled the final war among the Jaredites and hid the record. The first six chapters speak only of the first generation, or of Jared and his brother and their journey to the promised land. Chapters 7-11, move quickly through the next 28 generations, then the last chapters, Ether 12-15 cover the last generation of Jaredites.
34 – “That he will not confound us” Notice the order of requests — first, “do not confound us,” then, “do not confound our friends,” and finally, “lead us to a new land.” We are reminded of Enos who prayed for himself, then his friends, then his enemies, then for the preservation of the records.
35 – “and the Lord had compassion…” Notice the Lord’s compassion mentioned in this verse and again in verses 37 and 40.
42-44 – “thus I will do because…” The Lord tells the Brother of Jared that he will grant all of these requests “because this long time ye have cried unto me” – a verification of what the Lord has promised repeatedly throughout scripture, “ask and ye shall receive.” Elder Jeffrey R. Holland taught:
God is anxiously waiting for the chance to answer your prayers and fulfill your dreams, just as He always has. But He can’t if you don’t pray, and He can’t if you don’t dream. In short, He can’t if you don’t believe. (https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/jeffrey-r-holland_terror-triumph-wedding-feast/)
3 – “They did also carry with them deseret” For some reason, Moroni chose to share this interesting ancient word with us. He could have simply said, “they did also carry with them honeybees,” but instead, he gave us the actual word. Hugh Nibley, in a private conversation with my friend Brad Wilcox, said that he would have believed the Book of Mormon was ancient based on the word “deseret” alone. Hugh Nibley explained the significance of the word “deseret” in this lengthy but interesting excerpt:
By all odds the most interesting and attractive passenger in Jared’s company is deseret, the honeybee. We cannot pass this creature by without a glance at its name and possible significance, for our text betrays an interest in deseret that goes far beyond respect for the feat of transporting insects, remarkable though that is. The word deseret we are told (Ether 2:3), “by interpretation is a honeybee,” the word plainly coming from the Jaredite language, since Ether (or Moroni) must interpret it. Now it is a remarkable coincidence that the word deseret, or something very close to it, enjoyed a position of ritual prominence among the founders of the classical Egyptian civilization, who associated it very closely with the symbol of the bee. The people, the authors of the so-called Second Civilization, seem to have entered Egypt from the northeast as part of the same great outward expansion of peoples that sent the makers of the classical Babylonian civilization into Mesopotamia. Thus we have the founders of the two main parent civilizations of antiquity entering their new homelands at approximately the same time from some common center—apparently the same center from which the Jaredites also took their departure, . . . the Egyptian pioneers carried with them a fully developed cult and symbolism from their Asiatic home. Chief among their cult objects would seem to be the bee, for the land they first settled in Egypt was forever after known as “the land of the bee,” and was designated in hieroglyphic by the picture of a bee, while every king of Egypt “in his capacity of ‘King of Upper and Lower Egypt’ ” bore the title, “he who belongs to the sedge and the bee.”
From the first, students of hieroglyphic were puzzled as to what sound value should be given to the bee-picture. . . . We know that the bee sign was not always written down, but in its place the picture of the Red Crown, the majesty of Lower Egypt was sometimes “substituted for superstitious reasons.” If we do not know the original name of the bee, we do know the name of this Red Crown—the name it bore when it was substituted for the bee. The name was dsrt (the vowels are not known, but we can be sure they were all short). . . . (Lehi in the Desert and the World of the Jaredites, pp. 184-85.)
The state of “Utah” was nearly called the state of “Deseret.” Joseph Fielding McConkie explains:
Mormon settlers applied for statehood in 1849 under the name Deseret – a Book of Mormon name meaning “honeybee” (Ether 2:3). Their bid for statehood was rejected, as were five subsequent attempts. In 1896 they were finally accepted into the Union under the name Utah, there being no sentiment among the bodies of Congress to allow the Book of Mormon name. In the meantime, the Saints had completed and dedicated the Salt Lake Temple, which took them forty years to build. Of interest is the fact that Utah is a Ute Indian word meaning “tops of the mountains.” Thus, the “mountain of the Lord’s house” had been built as designated in the “tops of the mountains,” or “Utah,” if you prefer the language of the Lamanites to whom Christ promised the place of his presence (3 Nephi 20:22). (Gospel Symbolism [Bookcraft, 1999], 130.)
Although deseret was not allowed as a state name, Utah is nicknamed the “Beehive State,” and the State Motto is “Industry.” A beehive is the central symbol on the Utah state flag. Brigham Young wanted to show that bees are industrious, but that they work together.
10-12 – “Serve God or be swept off” verses 8-10 repeat this warning three times. While the Nephites were told if they kept the commandments they would “prosper in the land,” the Jaredites were told to serve God or be “swept off.” One of my religion professors called this the “divine broom.”
11 – “And this cometh unto you, O ye Gentiles” Here is a message from generations past, “Don’t do what we did!”
13 – “they called the name of the place Moriancumer” We learn from church history, that Joseph Smith blessed the baby of Reynolds Cahoon and gave him the name of “Mahonri Moriancumer,” then explained that was the name of the Brother of Jared. Here in Ether 2:13, we have the name, “Moriancumer,” and footnote13a which offers a possible explanation:
Now it was the custom of the people of Nephi to call their lands, and their cities, and their villages, yea, even all their small villages, after the name of him who first possessed them; and thus it was with the land of Ammonihah.
14 – “For the space of three hours” Imagine having a three hour conversation with the Lord! I have heard some say that the brother of Jared was chastened by the Lord for three hours, but the more I look at it the more I believe he conversed with the Lord for three hours, and that a part of that conversation was a chastening.
17 – “tight like unto a dish” Five times in this verse, the barges are described as “tight like unto a dish,” probably meaning watertight, which is obviously essential for a vessel intended to travel upon the water.
19 – “in them there is no light” Three problems: There is no light, no way to steer, and not enough air. The Lord answers the third question by instructing the Brother of Jared to make a hole in the top and in the bottom. I’ve often asked my classes what they think the bottom hole was for, and most have responded with “a toilet and place to get rid of garbage.” According to the laws of physics, you could open the bottom hole and not have the water come in as long as the top hole was closed.
22-23 – “what will ye that I should do that ye may have light in your vessels?” After the Brother of Jared solved the air problem, he again asked the Lord about the light problem. Interestingly, the Lord answered by asking a question – “what will ye that I should do?” He ruled out the use of fire, but put the problem right back on the Brother of Jared and asked again, “Therefore, what will ye that I should prepare for you?” (Verse 25). Was the Lord stumped? Was He out of ideas? Of course not. My mission president used to say, “the Lord gets the work done through his people, and he gets his people ‘done’ through the work.” Sometimes the Lord wants us to come up with our own ideas. When Oliver Cowdery attempted the translate, the Lord responded:
Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me. But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right…(D&C 9:7-8).
The Lord tutored the Brother of Jared by giving him the opportunity to think, ponder, pray and wrestle with the problem. A fascinating footnote suggests that the Brother of Jared may have turned to the account of Noah to find some answers. Footnote 23a, takes us to Genesis 6:16, which describes windows on Noah’s ark. The word “window” in Genesis 6:16 also contains a footnote. Evidently, “windows” was translated from the Hebrew “tsohar – some rabbis believed there were glowing stones which shown in the ark.” Perhaps the Brother of Jared learned that Noah had glowing stones, so he prepared his own stones and brought them to the Lord. The Lord could have said right at first, “Oh, just bring me some stones and I’ll touch them,” but instead, he let the Brother of Jared work on the problem himself, so that he could get the growth.
When I was on my mission, I served for a while in the mission office under President Menlo F. Smith, a very successful businessman. I walked in one day and said, “President, we have a problem in this area, what should we do?” He responded, “Elder Bytheway, never come to your boss with a problem. Always come with a recommendation!” Then he sat me and my companion down and taught us something he called, “The Five Levels of Delegation.”
- Level 1. Seek problems, solve them, keep it to yourself
- Level 2. Seek problems, solve them, report back
- Level 3. Seek problems, recommend a solution
- Level 4. Seek problems, ask the boss what to do
- Level 5. The Boss finds out about the problem and comes to you
“Elder Bytheway,” he said, “what you just did was level 4. I want you to work on level 3, and I might eventually move you up to level 2 or even level 1.” This experience caused me to think in a different way. I was not being treated as just an order-taker or errand-boy. I was expected to become a thinker and problem solver. A tall order for a teenager! This experience changed me as a missionary and as an employee. It also changed me in my church callings. I taught “The Five Levels of Delegation” to my ward council when I was a bishop so that we could all come to our meetings with recommendations instead of problems.
The Lord asked the Brother of Jared to study it out in his mind, and come up with a recommendation, which he did, perhaps inspired by the account of Noah and the ark.
2 – “Because of the fall, our natures have become evil continually” The Brother of Jared shows great humility in this prayer, as he acknowledges his fallen nature. Footnote 2d takes us to Mosiah 3:19 where King Benjamin teaches, “For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord.” The fall of man, as noted in an earlier lesson, is one of the “three pillars of eternity” (the creation, the fall, and the atonement). If we understate the importance of the fall, we understate the importance of the atonement.
9 – “because of thy faith, thou hast seen…” This is a sermon in a sentence – it does not say, “now that you have seen, you will have faith,” but “because of thy faith, thou hast seen.” In the world, “seeing is believing,” but in the gospel, “believing is seeing.”
15 – “Never have a showed myself unto man” This is a strange statement, since we know that the Lord has shown himself unto other prophets. In my margin, I have added the words “in this manner” because of this insight from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland:
A final explanation—and in terms of the brother of Jared’s faith the most persuasive one—is that Christ was saying to the brother of Jared, “Never have I showed myself unto man in this manner, without my volition, driven solely by the faith of the beholder.” As a rule, prophets are invited into the presence of the Lord, are bidden to enter his presence by him and only with his sanction. The brother of Jared, on the other hand, seems to have thrust himself through the veil, not as an unwelcome guest but perhaps technically as an uninvited one. Said Jehovah, “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. . . . Never has man believed in me as thou hast.” Obviously the Lord himself was linking unprecedented faith with this unprecedented vision. If the vision itself was not unique, then it had to be the faith and how the vision was obtained that was so unparalleled. The only way that faith could be so remarkable was its ability to take the prophet, uninvited, where others had been able to go only with God’s bidding. (Christ and the New Covenant, 23).
23 – “these two stones” D. Kelly Ogden and Andrew Skinner have written: “The two stones, or interpreters (see 4:5), were a Urim and Thummim (Hebrew, meaning ‘lights and perfections’…), the very same instrument that Joseph Smith would later use (D&C 17:1). The Book of Mormon: Verse by Verse, 2:267). It is interesting that the flag for Yale University has Hebrew symbols on the front which mean “Urim and Thummim” and the Latin translation, “Lux et Veritas” which is usually translated as “light and truth.” See: http://archives.yalealumnimagazine.com/issues/01_03/seal.html
25 – “all the inhabitants of the earth” The Brother of Jared had a comprehensive vision, both in terms of time and content. Others, like John the Revelator, Enoch, Nephi and Moses have also experienced this kind of vision. Notice the footnote to Moses 1:8, where Moses “beheld the world and the ends thereof, and all the children of men which are, and which were created.” Did he see us? Sounds like he did! And why not, we’re a family!
1 – keep these things hidden until after the resurrection
4-5 – “never were greater things made manifest” What is written upon the sealed portion of the plates? Elder Bruce R. McConkie commented:
When, during the Millennium, the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon is translated, it will give an account of life in the premortal existence; of the creation of all things; of the Fall and the Atonement and the Second Coming; of temple ordinances, in their fulness; of the ministry and mission of translated beings; of life in the spirit world, in both paradise and hell; of the kingdoms of glory to be inhabited by resurrected beings; and many such like things. As of now, the world is not ready to receive these truths. (Doctrines of the Restoration, 277).
8 – “He that shall deny these things, let him be accursed” We must value and obey what he have before we’ll get more. This reminds us of the conclusion of the parable of the talents where Jesus said, “For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.” (Matthew 25:29).
18-19 – “repent all ye ends of the earth…” Here, three of the four principles and ordinances of the gospel from Article of Faith 4 are mentioned. The Book of Mormon is wonderfully consistent and keeping the main thing, the main thing! Believe, repent and be baptized.
4 – “in the mouth of three witnesses shall these things be established” That there would be three witnesses of the plates was directed by the Lord long before the plates were unearthed.
6 – “If I have no authority for these things, judge ye” Moroni, who at times expresses concern for how the Gentiles will receive the plates, is at other times seemingly less concerned: “Go ahead and make your judgment,” he seems to say, “but you’ll know I was telling you the truth when you see me at the last day.” (Moroni also said “judge ye” in Ether 4:10, as did Nephi in 2 Nephi 33:11).
It is interesting to compare the journey of the Jaredites with that of the Lehi. A few differences of note, the children of Lehi experienced some discord, characterized by “rudeness” and forgetting God (1 Nephi 18:9), whereas no such discord is mentioned among the Jaredites. The Jaredites sang praises (Ether 6:9), while the children of Lehi began to sing and dance (we presume with music), but it was evidently with a forgetful disregard. Also, it appears the Lord guided the Jaredite barges by “a furious wind” which did “never cease to blow towards the promised land” (verses 5, 8), whereas with the Lehi’s journey, the capability of steering the ship is mentioned (1 Nephi 18:13), and Nephi says that he “did guide the ship” with the help of the compass or Liahona (1 Nephi 18:22).22 – “The people desired … a king” This appears to be human nature. Once the reign of the judges was established in the Book of Mormon, there were always discontents or ambitious characters who wanted to go back to having a king.
23 – “Surely, this thing leadeth to captivity.” I always enjoy reading this verse in class, so that I can joke, “and the Brother of Jared said, ‘hey, don’t call me Shirley.’” Joking aside, a fascinating footnote takes us to a similar situation in the Old Testament when Samuel wanted hoped to make one of his sons a judge of the law, but the people wanted a king so that they could be “like the nations.” The Lord tells Samuel, give them what they ask – they have not rejected thee, they have rejected me. However, tell them what will happen if they have a king! It’s really worth reading 1 Samuel 8:7-20 to see the Lord’s warning.