Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Family History: A Reoccurring Theme in the Book of Mormon

Recently I have become more interested in family history work. I used to roll my eyes as my grandma told yet another story of some long deceased ancestor I'd heard about countless times. In my mind family history was for old people and my ancestors had little to do with my present life. However, I slowly began to gain more interest in my genealogy as I realized just how important knowing your ancestors can be. Roots, in the form of ancestors, can play a significant role in determining identity, a fact that prophets in the Book of Mormon were well aware of as evidenced by the repeated resurfacing of the theme of family history throughout the book.
The importance of family history is first introduced in First Nephi when Nephi and his brothers are sent back to Jerusalem to get the plates from Laban. We learn that these plates contained scriptures that would be essential for Nephi's descendants to learn the truth of the gospel. However, in 1 Nephi 5:14 we also learn that the plates contained the genealogy of Nephi's family." Nephi's father, Lehi, finds "upon the Plates of Brass a genealogy of his fathers; wherefore he knew that he was a descendant of Joseph."
In my opinion the cool part here is not just the fact that they learned their family history, but that through this family history Nephi's family was taught something important. Later in the verse Nephi goes on to write that Joseph "was preserved by the hand of the Lord that he might preserve his father, Jacob, and all his household from perishing with famine." In learning his heritage Nephi learns, not only who he's descended from, but also the role of the Lord in the lives of his ancestors. Through his ancestors Nephi receives a confirming witness to his faith.
This theme of lessons through genealogy appears multiple times in the Book of Mormon and, up until recently, I'd never noticed it before.

Another example is found in Alma 36:2 as Alma the Younger counsels his son, Helaman, to remember "the captivity of [their] fathers; for they were in bondage, and none could deliver them except it was the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; and he surely did deliver them in their afflictions." In this verse Alma illustrates the importance of family history in two ways. First, he reminds Helaman of the captivity of their fathers, for Alma this literally referred to his own father who was once in captivity to the Lamanites. He wants Helaman to remember the struggles of his ancestors and to learn from them. Second, he calls to remembrance more distant ancestors through the reference or allusion to Abram, Isaac, and Jacob. In this way Alma reminds his son that they are a part of the House of Israel and, also, that the God that saved both their recent and distant ancestors is still at work today, there to help them in times of need.
From these stories I learned that family history is essential in learning who you are and how the Lord works in the lives of others. Through studying family history I learned that I'm not just Hillary, a college student and book worm. I'm Hillary, daughter of Michelle and George, granddaughter of Rodney, Linda, Catherine, and Larry. I am a result of my experiences as well as theirs. Going even farther back, I'm the something great-granddaughter of the man that founded my home city and of multiple, courageous pioneer men and women, a handful of which survived the trek with the Martin and Willie Handcart companies. I am the combined result of my decisions as well as the actions of faith of these great individuals, a fact that I am extremely grateful for. It is through family history work that I am able to realize just how amazing this blessing is.
It is a blessing emphasized, not only in my experience, but also in exploring this theme in the Book of Mormon.
Image from Olive Tree Genealogy Blog

1 comment:

  1. Family History is one of those things that I would like to look into more. Three of my siblings have learned about family history from my grandmother, but I have not been able to yet, and I think it would be something worth taking time to learn.