It’s a shame that not many of the women mentioned in the Book of Mormon are done so by name. I would love to have known the name of Nephi’s wife. Besides Sariah, Nephi’s mom, his wife is one of the first women mentioned in the Book of Mormon. Just like her mother-in-law, she is very important to the story of Nephi’s family.
Nephi’s wife was a daughter of Ishmael, the only other family that Lehi was told to bring out of Jerusalem. Some Book of Mormon scholars speculate that this was not only because Ishmael had the same amount of daughters as Lehi had sons, but that he had two sons, which may have married Lehi’s daughters previous to the beginning of the Book of Mormon.
This woman began to show her true character before Nephi even married her. Laman and Lemuel decided to rebel against Lehi, as did two of Ishmael’s daughters (probably the two that were being wooed by them. However, Nephi’s wife didn’t rebel. She stuck by her father and Lehi’s decisions. Even after that, when Laman and Lemuel threatened to take Nephi’s life, his future wife, Ishmael’s wife, and one of his sons were able to soften their hearts to let Nephi go. (1 Nephi 7: 6, 19).
A little while later, there were many marriages: Laman, Lemuel, Zoram, Sam, and Nephi all wed daughters of Ishmael. However, the honeymoon (if you could call wondering in the wilderness a honeymoon) was short lived as Ishmael died. His entire family began to mourn for him, including Nephi’s wife, which is reasonable when your father dies. However, this mourning got the better of his family and they began to murmur against both Nephi and Lehi for dragging them into the wilderness away from their home, comforts, and extended family (1 Nephi 16:7, 27, 35-36). Now, my father is still alive, so I can’t really relate, but I have friends whose fathers have passed away fairly young and I wouldn’t blame them for feeling some resentment. After all, it is part of the stages of grief.
Yet, Nephi’s wife journeyed on. Nephi mentions that his wife, as well as his sisters-in-law were strong women in the wilderness:
And we did travel and wade through much affliction in the wilderness; and our women did bear children in the wilderness. And so great were the blessings of the Lord upon us, that while we did live upon raw meat in the wilderness, our women did give plenty of suck for their children, and were strong, yea, even like unto the men; and they began to bear their journeyings without murmurings.
And our women have toiled, being big with child; and they have borne children in the wilderness and suffered all things, save it were death; and it would have been better that they had died before they came out of Jerusalem than to have suffered these afflictions. (1 Nephi 17:1-2,20)
Nephi said that “it would have been better that they had died before they came out of Jerusalem than to have suffered these afflictions.” My goodness! What pioneers! What strong women! What faithful women! What sacrificial women! What determined women!
There is an interesting omission of Nephi’s wife is when the group is on the boat headed to the Promised Land. Again, sinning had taken place and the Liahona had stopped working during some bad storms. Everyone was afraid and Laman and Lemuel tied up Nephi, leaving him exposed to the elements. Yet, 1 Nephi 18:9 never mentions Nephi’s wife being part of this. It only says, “my brethren and the sons of Ishmael and also their wives”, so I assume that she is being loyal to Nephi and has faith in God and the Liahona. I remember growing up seeing a picture presented during Primary of Nephi being tied up on the boat, Laman and Lemuel looking scared, and a woman and little boy crying and hugging Nephi. That is how I imagine Nephi’s wife: sad that her husband is so afflicted and that her family is disobedient.
I assume that after they all land in the Promised Land that Nephi’s wife continued to support him and his ministry and reign.
Endure to the End
Nephi’s wife, though she may have faltered once or twice that we know of, always stuck by Nephi’s side. She never gave up and endured to the end.
When I read the story of Nephi’s wife I can’t help but think of how similar her story is to Emma Smith’s, the wife of the prophet Joseph. Even though these two women lived hundreds and hundreds of years apart they both experienced similar blessings and trials. Both of these women were married to men who became prophets while very young. Both of their husbands were persecuted by wicked men (even though Nephi had it worse because the wicked men were his brothers) who attempted to kill them multiple times. Both women left comfortable homes behind in order to support their husbands and to follow the teachings of the gospel. They both wandered in the wilderness (remember Ohio, Missouri and Illinois were literally wilderness countries in Emma’s time) for most of their married lives. They both bore children while wandering in the wilderness– we know Emma lost several children and can only suppose the Nephi’s wife may have also. Both of these women sustained their husband’s callings and supported them in the difficult work the Lord had called them to do. Also, they both helped their husbands lead their people to a promised land and start a new life–Nephi to the Americas and Joseph to Ohio, Zion and Nauvoo. They were no strangers to heartache, disappointment and fear. Yet, even despite the great trials these women faced they were strong in their faith in Jesus Christ and endured faithfully to the end. I’d like to think that these two are now great friends up in heaven, each understanding perfectly what the other has suffered and what it is like to be the wife of a young, persecuted prophet.
We may not be pioneers today, traversing wilderness, or going through the same physical trials they did. We may not all be married to persecuted prophets or leaders of the church. However, we go through similar trials. You, or someone in your family, may be persecuted for your beliefs. You may be the first to accept the Gospel in your family, which comes with its own set of trials. Be strong and endure to the end. Take heart from Emma and Nephi’s wife.
Nephi’s wife was strong both physically and spiritually. I can’t imagine all that she suffered through since even Nephi regretted all the tribulations the women had to endure! But, endure she did. She lived through the entire journey and gave birth and survived the childbirth. She stuck with her husband. She believed in the Liahona and tried many times to help soften Laman and Lemuel’s hearts.
We as women are stronger than we realize. Just think about childbirth in of itself and how strong God made our bodies to be able to do it (whether or not with medical help). Think of all the times you have heard general authorities laud our gender. We are tough creatures. Quentin L. Cook said:
God placed within women divine qualities of strength, virtue, love, and the willingness to sacrifice to raise future generations of His spirit children…Our women are not incredible because they have managed to avoid the difficulties of life—quite the opposite. They are incredible because of the way they face the trials of life. Despite the challenges and tests life has to offer—from marriage or lack of marriage, children’s choices, poor health, lack of opportunities, and many other problems—they remain remarkably strong and immovable and true to the faith. Our sisters throughout the Church consistently “succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees.” (“LDS Women are Incredible!”, Ensign May 2011)
Have a Righteous Influence over our Husbands
I wonder if Nephi would have been as strong in spirit and determination if his own wife and children rebelled against him. How much harder would the journey have been? How many more lamentations would Nephi have added to the large plates? Nephi’s wife was an helpmeet for him. She stuck up for him. She believed in him and followed him.
Think of the phrase: “Behind every great man is a great woman.” Well, the first printed citation of that phrase is from the Texas newspaper The Port Arthur News, from February 1946. This was headed – “Meryll Frost – ‘Most courageous athlete of 1945′”:
“As he received his trophy, the plucky quarterback unfolded the story of how he ‘came back’. He said ‘They say behind every great man there’s a woman. While I’m not a great man, there’s a great woman behind me.'”
I’m sure Nephi would have said the exact same thing. Nephi is pretty humble in writing on the plates. I’m sure he felt the same way about his wife as Meryll Frost did his. I absolutely love the reflections and thoughts that Anthony D. Perkins of the 70 shared about Nephi’s wife:
When Lehi’s family left Jerusalem, Nephi probably relied on his father, mother, and his brother Sam for this support. But I suggest that along the journey his new bride became that trusted anchor…My studies have caused me to ponder their courtship and life together…
I am confident that Nephi’s wife strengthened his resolve to do the many hard things the Lord commanded him to do. I testify that in our day, a virtuous man and a worthy woman, sealed for time and all eternity in the temple, can likewise do difficult things as equal partners…
I invite each of you to become the type of person that your current or future spouse can draw on for wise counsel and strength. Drifting aimlessly without spiritual or temporal purpose will not enhance your prospects for a successful marriage. Do not retreat into an impenetrable shell because of prior relationship rejections and pains. Invest yourself in finding a mutually compatible companion and be willing to move forward in faith when you feel you have found the right person. Do not let fears of repeating the broken marriage of your parents or your friends keep you from that crowning covenant. (“Nevertheless I Went Forth”, BYU Devotional February 4, 2014)
I have never paid so much attention to Nephi’s wife before. But, even the quietest women in the scriptures can have quite an impact on not only the people around them, but also us in modern times. I hope that each of us takes courage and heart from Nephi’s wife’s strong, determined, faithful example and apply it to our own lives.
Thank you, Nephi’s wife.