Hidden Fire in the Book of Mormon

As Lehi’s family is traveling through the wilderness, Nephi writes:

For the Lord had not hitherto suffered that we should make much fire, as we journeyed in the wilderness; for he said:…I will…be your light in the wilderness; and I will prepare the way before you, if it so be that ye shall keep my commandments; wherefore, inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall be led towards the promised land; and ye shall know that it is by me that ye are led. (1 Nephi 17:12-13)

Lehi’s family traveled through the wilderness toward their promised land just as their Israelite forefathers had traveled through their wilderness under Moses toward their land of promise. The Lord told Nephi that his family did not need fire because he would be the “light” that would lead them. He led them by the “director” or brass ball. Alma, looking back on the wilderness journey, observes:

And now I say, is there not a type in this thing? For just as surely as this director did bring our fathers, by following its course, to the promised land, shall the words of Christ, if we follow their course, carry us beyond this vale of sorrow into a far better land of promise. (Alma 37:45)

The hidden surprise here is that the word director in our English Book of Mormon was probably translated from the Hebrew word urim (as in Urim and Thummim) in Alma’s original writing [1]. Besides indicating the sacred Urim and Thummim, urim also means “fire” and suggests “light.” By using the word director (urim), Alma is making a poetic allusion back to Nephi’s mention of the Lord as the fire and light that guided their fathers to the promised land. He is simultaneously making a second allusion to the Pillar of Fire and Moses’s Urim and Thummim that guided the ancient Israelite forefathers in their wilderness (Exodus 13:21). Alma was a poet, and his poetry makes more sense in Hebrew.

1. Stan Spencer, “Reflections of Urim: Hebrew Poetry Sheds Light on the Directors-Interpreters Mystery,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 14 (2015): 187-199.

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