Summary: Most members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are very familiar with the story of how the Jaredites left the tower of Babel at the time when God confounded the language, traveled to the sea, built barges, and journeyed to the American continent. The reason why we find so many stories in the scriptures is because they’re a tool meant to teach us truths about God and life. This article examines the story of the Jaredites to see what lessons we can learn from it.
“And the Lord said: Go to work and build, after the manner of barges which ye have hitherto built. And it came to pass that the brother of Jared did go to work, and also his brethren, and built barges after the manner which they had built, according to the instructions of the Lord” (Ether 2:16).
Most members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are very familiar with this story. It happened shortly after God had confounded the languages of those who were attempting to build a large tower “whose top may reach unto heaven” (Genesis 11:4) that caused the people building it to be scattered abroad over all the face of the earth because they could no longer understand one another.
As an interesting side note, the scriptures don’t say that everyone working on this tower had their language changed, although that’s what many people assume, but is that assumption correct?
It can safely be said that this tower would have to be very large if it was to go up very high, and to erect such a structure would require the efforts of a large number of people. Let’s say there were a thousand laborers working together on this project, if God created nine extra different languages where every one-hundred people could all speak the same language, yet they wouldn’t be able to communicate with the other nine hundred workers. That would cause enough confusion in communication that it would be nearly impossible to continue building this tower.
We see this in the book of Ether where a man named Jared asked his brother to plead with the Lord to keep them from having their language changed. Obviously, if Jared could communicate this message to his brother, they must have both been speaking the same language or they would have been unable to understand what each other was saying.
The Lord told the brother of Jared to gather his family together, along with Jared and his family, as well as their friends and their families, and go down to the plains that were north of where they were living and there God would guide them to where he wanted them to go. Obviously, all of these people would have to be speaking the same language in order for this information to be shared among them. And because they were following the instructions of Jared, they became known as the Jaredites.
During their journey, “they did cross many waters” which required them to build barges in order to get to the other side (Ether 2:6), but in time they came to the sea where “they pitched their tents; and they called the name of the place Moriancumer” (verse 13).
As another side note, it is a Middle Eastern custom that when coming upon a land that has no known name, the person arriving there will give it a name that has some meaning to them. Usually, this name could be that of a person. For example, in the Book of Mormon, after Lehi left Jerusalem and was living in a valley in the wilderness, he called that place, “the valley of Lemuel” (2 Nephi 2:8) after the name of one of his sons, and he called a nearby river “the river of Laman” after the name of his eldest son. (1 Nephi 2:8).
The place where the Jaredites had camped by the sea they “called the name of the place Moriancumer,” but why did they choose that name? Throughout the book of Ether, we are never given the name of the brother of Jared, but we know that he had been commanded by God to be at the head of this group of people (Ether 1:42), and it was this person whom God had spoken with and through whom he guided the Jaredites to this particular place by the sea. Did they therefore name this place Moriancumer after the name of Jared’s brother? It’s certainly a possibility.
After living by the sea for four years, the Lord came to the brother of Jared and commanded him to build barges “after the manner which ye have hitherto built.” In other words, what God was asking them to build was the same kind of ship they had previously built when they had crossed the “many waters” during their journey through the wilderness. In the Book of Mormon, the term “many waters” is used to describe a large body of water, such as the sea of Galilee, the Great Lakes in the United States, or the ocean (1 Nephi 13:10).
In this case, what the Lord asked the brother of Jared to do was to make eight boats that would be used to cross the ocean, but they were to be built according to the pattern they had previously used to cross the “many waters.” In other words, the design and construction of these eight vessels were already familiar to the Jaredites.
“And it came to pass that the brother of Jared did go to work and built barges after the manner which they had [previously] built, according to the instructions of the Lord.” It’s important to notice the wording of this verse. It would be easy to interpret it as saying that God gave them instructions on how to build these barges, but what it actually says is that the brother of Jared went to work doing what God had instructed him, which was to “build barges after the manner they had built” in the past.
However, this time they weren’t going to travel across a large lake. This time they would be traveling on the sea and would be doing so for a much longer period of time, which means there would have to be some special modification to the design of these barges. We’re told that “they were exceedingly tight, even that they would hold water like unto a dish; and the bottom thereof was tight like unto a dish; and the sides thereof were tight like unto a dish; and the ends thereof were peaked; and the top thereof was tight like unto a dish; and the length thereof was the length of a tree; and the door thereof, when it was shut, was tight like unto a dish” (Ether 2:17).
A dish is round and so it is assumed that the barges the Jaredites built was likewise round. Many members of Christ’s restored church have pictured these barges looking more like two bowls, with the top bowl upside down over the bottom bowl. What this picture suggests is that these barges looked more like a slightly flattened ball.
However, a barge is not round like a ball nor is shaped like a saucer or a dish. It is a flat, low shallow box-like boat that is usually rectangular in shape, where it’s much longer than it is wide. When the scripture says that the bottom of the barge was “tight like a dish” it doesn’t mean it was in the shape of a dish but that it was watertight like a dish, and indeed, the bottom of a barge is watertight, as are its sides and top.
A circular object has no front or back to it nor does it have a length to it. It only has a radius which is the same length in all direction. Yet the description the scriptures give of the barges the Jaredites built “was the length of a tree… and the ends thereof were peaked.” If something has a length to it, then of necessity it has to also have a width, and the barges the Jaredites built also had ends (plural) to it. That means, they had a front end and a back end to them.
Barges can have space between the top deck and the bottom of the boat where cargo can be stored. The Jaredites not only used these barges to transport themselves but also their flocks and the seeds they had been commanded to bring with them, which were kept in between the top and bottom of the barge.
If the vessels the Jaredites traveled in were shaped more like a bowl, as is commonly depicted, then everything would gravitate down toward the middle, which would make them highly impractical to carry cargo, especially with animals. For that reason, cargo ships have to have a flat bottom.
Also, a flat barge is more stable in water than a round vessel. A round vessel would be easily flipped upside down by any strong wave, whereas a long barge is more likely to stay upright, even when completely submerged for a short period of time. Imagine what that journey would be like if the vessels were frequently being turned upside down every time it was hit by a large wave or in rough seas. Also, a barge is meant to travel in shallow water and therefore does not sit deep in the water. This fits the description that the barges the Jaredites built “were light upon the water, even like unto the lightness of a fowl upon the water.”
We’re told that after they had completed all their preparations, “they got aboard of their vessels or barges, and set forth into the sea, commending themselves unto the Lord their God. And it came to pass that the Lord God caused that there should be a furious wind blow upon the face of the waters, towards the promised land; and thus they were tossed upon the waves of the sea before the wind… And it came to pass that the wind did never cease to blow towards the promised land while they were upon the waters; and thus they were driven forth before the wind” (Ether 6:4-5,8).
God provided the propulsion in the form of “a furious wind [that did] blow upon the face of the waters… [and] the wind did never cease to blow,” which is what pushed their boats “toward the promised land.” What we see is that this wasn’t a calm, luxury vacation cruise for the Jaredites. We’re told that “they were many times buried in the depths of the sea, because of the mountain waves which broke upon them, and also the great and terrible tempests which were caused by the fierceness of the wind” (verse 6).
This was a very rough and no doubt uncomfortable ride for them, which lasted for 344 days (verse 11). In hindsight, we know they made it safely to the promised land, but for them it must have seemed like an eternity as they went day after day, week after week, and month after month, being tossed about, being rocked back and forth, and being frequently buried under mountains of water. Under such conditions, most people would have wondered if they were going to survive such a journey, or if they would ever stand on land again.
And yet, despite all they had to endure, we’re told “And they did sing praises unto the Lord; yea, the brother of Jared did sing praises unto the Lord, and he did thank and praise the Lord all the day long; and when the night came, they did not cease to praise the Lord” (verse 9).
The Jaredites didn’t pray to God in the anguish of their soul, pleading for help and relief from their distress, but rather “they did sing praises unto the Lord… and did thank and praise the Lord all the day long.”
This is an exciting story that would make a great movie, but the reason why we find so many stories in the scriptures is because they’re a tool meant to teach us truths about God and life, and so it is with this story.
One of the indirect truths we can learn concerns how we understand the scriptures. For example, in the Bible we read that God confounded the language of the people, and most Christians interpret that as saying everyone everywhere in the world began speaking in a different language. That means, if there were a thousand people building the tower at Babel, then there were a thousand different language being spoken.
However, that’s not what the scriptures tell us. The purpose God had in mind for confounding the languages was to prevent the people of the city from building the tower (Genesis 11:8). As we have seen, all it would take to do this is to have every hundred people speaking a different language.
Another assumption is that everyone in the world at that time was living in the city of Babel, but from the biblical account, we know there were people living in many other locations, and that the only people who had their language changed were those who were working on the tower. Therefore, it’s safe to assume that nothing happened to the language of those who lived outside the city or who were not working on the tower.
Another assumption many people make is that the “barges” the Jaredites traveled in were round and looked like two bowls joined together on top of one another, but as we’ve read, that concept doesn’t fit the description given in the scriptural account.
What this illustrates is that people frequently make false assumptions about what the scriptures say, which has led to many arguments among believers in the Bible, both between religious denominations as well as within religious organizations. The lesson we can learn from this is to be careful how we understand and interpret the scriptures. It’s very easy to infer something the scriptures don’t say, and this happens far more frequently than most people realize.
Another lesson we can learn from this story is when Jared saw that people were speaking in different languages, he had his brother ask the Lord for two things. The first was not to confound their language, and the second was to ask where they should go. God answered both of these requests.
Later, God led them through the wilderness to the sea, yet throughout this journey they had no idea where they were going. Instead, they trusted in God and went forward in faith. They also exhibited this same attitude when they were traveling on the ocean. God had told them he would take them to a land choice beyond all others, however, their faith in that promise must have been sorely tested as they spent nearly a year on the sea being tossed about by terrible storms.
There are times in life when we face uncertain situations, where it may appear that we’re going through a spiritual wilderness, or our life feels as if it’s being battered by one hardship after another. It’s easy to have faith in God when things are going well in our life, but it’s during the tough times when our faith in God is needed more than ever to get us through.
However, we need to remember Alma’s words when he said that “faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, [but] which are true” (Alma 32:21). Faith means trusting in God when we don’t know where we’re going, how we’re going to get there, how things will work out, or how God is going to make the impossible happen.
Another lesson we can learn from this story is to do what God asks, and more often than not, he doesn’t ask us to do something new. Most of the time he asks us to do what we already know how to do. When the Lord told the brother of Jared to make barges, he didn’t give him a radically different design. Instead, he told him to make the same kind of barges he already knew how to build. It’s by doing the small and simple things we’ve repeatedly been told to do that great things are brought to pass (Alma 37:6), and this was certainly true for the Jaredites.
Notice also that the account tells us that “the brother of Jared did go to work, and also his brethren [to build the] barges.” The brother of Jared didn’t do all the work himself but was aided by “his brethren.” Even Nephi needed the help of his brothers to construct the ship God had commanded him to build. The lesson here is that as we “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12), we don’t do so alone.
All of us struggle to live the gospel in one way or another, and if we are going to be saved, we have to work together. This is what ministering is all about. Where someone is strong in one area, they use their strength to help those who are weak in that area, but all of us have weaknesses and need the strength of others to help us succeed.
Although the journey across the sea was rough, it was nonetheless necessary. It was the fierce winds that caused the waves to become like roaring mountains, yet it was the winds that propelled the barges forward. If the winds had been calm, the Jaredites wouldn’t have made any progress. And the same is true with us. Many times, it’s the hard things we go through in life that help us to progress the most spiritually. Although those times are never pleasant, yet they are necessary for our growth.
The Jaredites apparently knew this because in the midst of all their troubles, they sang praises and gave thanks to God. We often give thanks to God when things are going well in our life or when we recognize blessings we’ve received from him, but we should also give thanks to God even when we’re experiencing problems. As the Lord reminded Joseph Smith, all of these things give us experience and are for our good (D&C 122:7).
The brother of Jared expressed this same concept when he said, “I know, O Lord, that thou hast all power, and do whatsoever thou wilt for the benefit of man: (Ether 3:4). When we’re going through hard times, we need to remember that whatever God does, he does it for our benefit.
Yet, hardship can also sink a soul instead of helping them to progress. However, this is because they don’t follow God’s instructions. If all that God does for the children of men is designed for their benefit, and that includes having us go through hard times, then God will provide a way for us to safely make it through our difficulties.
But if we don’t follow his instructions, then it’s our fault when our ship begins to take on water and is in danger of sinking. It was by attending to the small details of making sure every inch of each barge was carefully covered with waterproofing material that the Jaredites were able to remain safe inside their barges, no matter what was happening outside. It’s when we attend to doing the small and simple things God asks of us, that we will be kept safe and protected from the storms of life. But when we neglect doing the things God has asked of us that, we’re creating problems for ourselves.
These are just a few of the many things we can learn from the story about the brother of Jared.
Related articles can be found at Teachings from the Book of Mormon