Posted by: cheryljunegirl | April 16, 2007

What can we learn from Sariah? 1 Nephi 5

Posted by cheryljunegirl 

There is so much information to cover in this chapter, but I would like to discuss Sariah to start.  There are not a lot of women specifically mentioned by name in the Book of Mormon, so to have Nephi devote almost half a chapter to his mother is noteworthy in my opinion.  One of the first things we learn about and from Sariah is the devotion of a ‘goodly’ mother.  In verse one we read that “Sariah, was exceedingly glad, [upon the return of her sons] for she had truly mourned because of us.”  In verse two we further read that “she had supposed that we had perished in the wilderness; and she also had complained against my father, telling him that he was a visionary man; saying:  Behold thou hast led us forth from the land of our inheritance, and my sons are no more, and we perish in the wilderness.  Verse three again states that she “complained against my father”.  I found the following information about Sariah’s “complaint” at FARMS.  I think it is very interesting:

At first glance,  we might want to dismiss this part of the story as a negative image, since it depicts Sariah as “complaining”.  But in structuring the account, Nephi starts with the end, highlighting her gladness and joy in contrast to her mourning over her sons and sacrifices.  This shows the focus is not on the fact that she complained, but rather on the outcome of the experience.  Nephi recognized the validity of both her fear and her joy.  Of all the stories he could tell about his mother, why does he choose this one?  In it we hear an echo of the account of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath.  Like the widow, Sariah had been asked by a servant of God to sacrifice all her material goods and seems to have lost her son[s].  She too complains and the prophet recognizes the validity of her concerns.  He offers no rebuke; instead Elijah prays to the Lord on her behalf.  Lehi’s response to Sariah is just as exemplary.

Lehi comforts Sariah, he does not belittle or dismiss her concerns.  The comparison to the story of Elijah is confirmed on comparing Sariah’s response to the delivery of her sons and the restoration of the widow’s son.  Sariah spake saying, ” Now I know of a surety that the Lord has commanded my husband to flee into the wilderness; yea, and I also know of a surety that the Lord hath protected my sons, and delivered them out of the hands of Laban, and given them power whereby they could accomplish the thing which the Lord had commanded them.”  The widow says, ” Now by this I know that thou art a man of God, and the word of the Lord in thy mouth is true.” The comparison makes Lehi and Elijah in the same way that biblical stories of Elisha parallel Elijah’s acts and demonstrate that Elisha was Elijah’s successor.  So, of all the stories Nephi could choose to tell about his mother, he chooses one that likens her to an exemplary woman in the scriptures.   Kevin and Shauna Christensen, “Nephite Feminism Revisited:  Thoughts on Carol Lynn Pearson’s View of Women in the Book of Mormon” in FARMS Review of Books, Volume 10, Number 2, 1998, pp. 21-22

One question that I have is what is the difference between a complaint and murmuring?  In my mind, before reading this chapter again, I had always thought of Sariah as murmuring here, but Nephi does not use that word for her, like he did for his brothers.  This makes me think there is somehow a difference between the two.  What do you all think?

I have a great deal of admiration for Sariah.  It can not have been easy to follow her husband into the wilderness, leaving all the comforts of her home and all of her associations.  It does not say that she ever murmured about that when the family first left Jerusalem.  To follow the words of a prophet it a remarkable thing and I think somehow even more remarkable when that prophet is your husband.  Emma Smith comes to mind here.  To be the wife of a prophet would be a very hard role, I think.

I’ll stop here for now.  I would love to hear some ideas on what you think of Sariah.  I will add more later in the week about some of the other topics covered in chapter 5.



  1. Cheryl,
    I love your insights. The parallel of prophets is great.
    I think Nephi included this story to teach men how to deal with their wives. We need our feelings and concerns to be validated, not dismissed, and we need to be comforted and reassurred. Lehi was kind and loving, patient and strong. A great role model for any husband.

    I do not think what Sariah was doing was murmurring. When you murmur, Satan has a foothold in your spirit. I think she was mourning, which can bring you closer to the Spirit.

  2. Your question about murmur vs. complaint has had me thinking the past few days about what the difference is between the two, if there is one. I think that there is a very distinctive difference but thought I would do a little “research”. I’ve been polling people on what they believe the difference between murmuring and complaining is. My seminary class said, almost in unison, that murmuring was secretive and behind your back, while complaining is right to your face. One of our customers said that when you murmur, it is because you don’t support someone/thing and you are trying to undermine or sabatoge them. Complaining is giving a reason you don’t like something, not that you believe it shouldn’t come to pass. Aurie says that complaining is not agreeing with something but doing it anyway. Murmuring is disagreeing and having no intentions to support or follow thru with something. I think they all have valid points. I really like your comment, Marilyn, about Satan having a foothold in your spirit when you murmur. I, like you Cheryl, think that Sariah was an amazing woman. I think that Nephi chose the correct word to make a distinction in her actions. I have complained many times about things but never doubted their necessity or validity, and was willing to do my part to bring it to pass. I think complaining is a human frailty, but that murmuring is consciously crossing the line into disobedience. I’m off to work and will continue my “research” the rest of the day.

  3. Very good, Kelly, I like the distinctions you found between murmuring and complaining.

    This post got me thinking about the relationship between Sariah’s grief and her complaints. I see some of the anger toward Lehi coming from her going through the stages of grief. In the grief process, or just in times of stress, there is often a marital disconnect. Like Marilyn, I love how Lehi handles Sariah’s concerns. When she complains that he is a visionary man, he agrees with her. Then he reasons with her and tells her why it is a good thing. He doesn’t get drawn into an argument over it. I’ve always loved in the Garden of Eden story when Adam discovers that Eve has partaken of the forbidden fruit how he avoids contending, arguing, and blaming. Instead, he inquires calmly, “Eve, do you know what fruit that is?” He asks questions to find out what her motivations were. She is able to explain why she did what she did, and they come to an understanding of one another.
    In the same way, Lehi uses calm words to soothe and comfort Sariah in her concern. I think this is so important when contention arises in the family. It would be so helpful to be able to stay calm and talk about the problem without condemnation. Often the complaining arises because of worry or stress, and the person really needs reassurance and comfort.

    Cheryl says, “to be the wife of a prophet would be a very hard role…” I think just to be the wife of a priesthood leader is a hard role. Just look at all of us BoM Groupies. We are all strong and intellectually oriented women. It’s sometimes difficult for us to take that supportive role to our respective husbands. I’ll never forget the story Cheryl told us once about Chris counseling the family on a certain matter, and her not understanding or following it–and coming to regret it later. I guess we’ve all experienced the difficulties of being a faithful, opinionated, capable woman and trying to balance that with being the wife of a priesthood holder who may have a different vision of how things should go!

  4. I have always felt that one of the keys to understanding the difference between Sariah’s complaints and the complaining of Laman and Lemuel lies in the reasons for their complaints.
    Leman and Lemuel’s murmuring stemmed from their doubts and selfish desires. Sariah’s complaints came from her motherly love for her children. The fear she felt was a fear rooted in love and concern for her children. I suppose that unselfish complaints are far less weighty than selfish ones. Especially when they deal with a persons family, role, and calling.
    While faith probably would have been a better course for her to take, I think we can gather that she had no serious problem by the fact that the record contains no other record of complaints from her. She afterward testified like Nephi that the Lord always prepares a way.

  5. I have long been intrigued by Sariah and appreciate your insights. I see Saraih as a woman who had been raised by her culture to support and follow her husband and who had done so out of duty and love. She does not question when she watches him leave daily to go preach in the streets of Jerusalem, she does not object when they leave every material comfort behind and head for the wilderness. But when her sons are missing all her motherly instincts overwhelm her and I believe her complaint is rooted in love and deep fear. This is probably the first time she has ever objected to Lehi and she is allowed this experience , I think, because the Lord loves her and wants her to have her own testimony, not rely on her husband’s. We see her valiant soul receive that witness , and though many heartbreaking experiences lie ahead, we should remember this woman, not because she complained, but because she never complained again. I agree there is a difference between complaining and murmuring. Complaining is a soul cry, asking for faith and understanding, born of a compassionate heart, while murmuring is born of selfishness and rebellion.

  6. First, i really like your site, and appreciate all the comments. i would like to add my opinion why i think it’s included.

    First, i appreciate how sincere and honest Nephi records his family history. He does not shy away from including things that can be seen as unflattering. He speaks of his older brothers murmuring, but also his own (2 Ne 4:17) flesh, iniquities, temptations, and sins. He even mentions the Prophet Lehi’s own murmurings, but all with a reason and purpose.

    Using Lehi as an example, (1 Ne 16:20) Lehi did murmur against the Lord, he did it because he was “exceedingly sorrowful” but it was still considered v.22 “complaining against the Lord their God” So yes Sariah was mourning but complaining is murmuring. Heavenly Father would never want us to complain or murmur.

    Now why i think these 9 versus are given to us. Why would Nephi include this unflattering event were his goodly mother murmured. I believe it to be the last verse describing the outcome “. . . THEY did rejoice exceedingly, and did offer sacrifice and burnt offerings unto the Lord: and THEY gave thanks unto the God of Israel” 1 Ne 5:9

    Before this the only other mention of offerings is 1 Ne 2:7 and it says “HE built an altar of stones, and made and offering . . . and gave thanks unto the Lord . . . ”

    What Nephi is really doing is giving us the account of how his mother came to (1 Ne 5:8) “know of a surety” of her husbands calling, and the Lords protection, deliverance, and power. Now Sariah and her husband can be one and together (1Ne 16:8) fulfill “. . . all the commandments of the Lord which had been given unto . . .” THEM. Whether Prophet or priesthood leaders wife, everything must be done as THEY, imo

    • *everything must be done as THEY, without complaining or murmuring

  7. This is an intriguing discussion! I was doing a bit of research on Sariah as I have a BOM Wednesday presentation to give to Primary age youth tomorrow. I am to play her part, tell her story as it were, to the children. I too have been a bit bothered by the unflattering view of Sariah that one can get at first glance of the scriptures mentioning her. I love the distinction brought up here, between complaining and murmuring. It has given me a more compassionate view of her, and the situation she was in. Thank you all!

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