Chapter 2: An Exodus Archetype

In his description of Lehi’s exodus from Jerusalem, Nephi maintains all the connections and parallels with Israel’s exodus out of Egypt he can. Subsequent Book of Mormon exoduses, such as his own from the land of first inheritance to the land of Nephi, King Mosiah’s exodus from the land of Nephi to Zarahemla, and so forth, follow the same pattern. That pattern consists of (1) an oppressive situation at home that becomes intolerable, whether of wickedness, bondage, or persecution; (2) the Lord’s commanding a prophet to lead his people from their established location to a new land of promise; (3) those who believe in the revelations of the Lord leaving behind what is near and dear and being led by a prophet through the wilderness; and (4) their finally inheriting a new promised land.

This pattern is equivalent to a hero’s journey, in which the hero or heroine experiences a transformation that takes the person to a higher level. The exodus thus becomes an integral part of a participant’s spiritual progression, just as it was for Nephi and other Book of Mormon individuals and groups. The ramifications of such an event grow more meaningful as we approach what Joseph Smith calls the “winding-up scene” of the last days and face our own possible participation in an exodus.

Parallels between the exodus out of Jerusalem and the exodus out of Egypt include the Lord’s command to depart (1 Nephi 2:2; Exodus 3:7–10); sacrifice to the Lord after three days’ journey (1 Nephi 2:6–7; Exodus 3:18); habitation in tents (1 Nephi 2:15; Exodus 18:7; 33:8); divine guidance on the journey (1 Nephi 16:10; Exodus 13:21); murmurings in the wilderness (1 Nephi 2:11–13; 5:2; Exodus 15:24; 16:2–3); a rebellious desire to return (1 Nephi 7:6–7; Numbers 14:3–4); a record of scriptures (1 Nephi 4:15–17; 5:11-13; Exodus 17:14); victory over enemies (1 Nephi 4:2–3, 12–13; Exodus 14:26–28; 17:8–13); and the promise of a new land of inheritance (1 Nephi 5:5; Exodus 33:1–3). Several times in his account, Nephi makes direct connections between the exodus out of Jerusalem and the exodus out of Egypt (1 Nephi 4:2–3; 17:23–42).

Nephi’s view, however, is not limited in time but encompasses events past, present, and future. Considering to whom he is writing—his own people and the Gentiles of the latter days—his account is not merely a history but also a type and shadow of what will take place before the Lord’s coming to reign on the earth. Not only does Nephi “liken all scriptures [including the exodus out of Egypt] unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning” (1 Nephi 19:23), he enables his latter-day readers to some day liken his exodus to themselves. Having seen our day, he adapts his writing to what will be of most worth to his readers.

While the Spirit forbade Nephi to describe many details of his end-time vision (1 Nephi 14:28; 22:29), he is nevertheless comfortable with instead quoting those passages from Isaiah that predict a future exodus of the Lord’s people out of Babylon and their wandering in the wilderness to Zion (1 Nephi 20:20–21; 21:9–12, 22; Isaiah 48:20–21; 49:9–12, 22; cf. Exodus 5:1; 17:6). In his book, Isaiah defines “Babylon” as the world in its wicked state on the eve of its destruction (Isaiah 13:1, 9, 11, 19) and “Zion” as those of the Lord’s people who repent, to whom the Lord comes in the last days (Isaiah 59:20). Zion is also a place of safety and divine protection (Isaiah 4:5–6), to which the Lord’s people will return from the four directions of the earth in a new exodus like the exodus out of Egypt (Isaiah 11:11–12, 15–16; 35:10; 51:10–11; cf. 2 Nephi 8:10–11; 21:11–12, 15–16).

So far as the new exodus concerns Latter-day Saints, a revelation given to the Prophet Joseph Smith of a future trek to the New Jerusalem says that “the redemption of Zion must needs come by power; Therefore I will raise up unto my people a man, who shall lead them like as Moses led the children of Israel. For ye are the children of Israel, and of the seed of Abraham, and ye must needs be led out of bondage by power, and with a stretched-out arm. Even as your fathers were led at the first, even so shall the redemption of Zion be” (D&C 103:15–18). Parallels with the exodus out of Egypt are again evident (cf. Exodus 6:6; Deuteronomy 9:29).

In sum, the account of Lehi’s exodus from Jerusalem to a new Promised Land preserves all the components of an archetypal exodus and therefore nuances any scriptural exodus, whether past or future. Besides its many other spiritual benefits, reading the Book of Mormon will thus help prepare our minds for the events that will precede the Lord’s coming to the earth. Of that time of judgment, the Lord says, “I will give unto you a pattern in all things, that ye may not be deceived” (D&C 52:11, 14).