Source:Echoes:Ch5:2:Sacrifice in the wilderness

Lehi's sacrifices in the wilderness

Lehi's sacrifices in the wilderness

The chief question concerning Lehi's sacrifices in the wilderness is how Joseph Smith knew the proper sacrifices that travelers were to offer according to the Mosaic law. The answer is that he did not. But Lehi did. And he offered sacrifices suitable for the occasions noted in Nephi's narrative, including burnt offerings for atonement.17

Nephi's account highlights three occasions on which his father, Lehi, offered sacrifices (to be distinguished from burnt offerings). These occasions were when the family arrived at their first campsite (see 1 Nephi 2:7), when the sons of Lehi returned with the plates of brass (see 5:9), and when the sons returned with the family of Ishmael (see 7:22). In each instance, Nephi specifically connects the offering of sacrifices with thanksgiving. Such a detail allows us to know that these sacrifices were the so-called peace offerings that are mandated in the law of Moses (see {{b||Leviticus|3|}).18 According to {{b||Psalms|107|}, a person was to "sacrifice the sacrifices of thanksgiving" for safety in journeying (v. 22, emphasis added), whether through the desert or on water (see vv. 107:4–6, 107:19–30).

The burnt offerings are a different matter entirely. They are for atonement rather than thanksgiving (see Leviticus 1:2–4). This type of offering presumes that someone has sinned and therefore the relationship between God and his people has been ruptured, requiring restoration.19 The priests offered this sort of sacrifice twice daily in the sanctuary of ancient Israel on the chance that someone in Israel had sinned. While the priests could not know that some Israelite had sinned, the Lord obliged them to make the offering anyway. In this sense it was a just-in-case sacrifice.

Lehi offered burnt offerings on two occasions. The second occurred after the sons had returned from Jerusalem with the family of Ishmael in tow (see 1 Nephi 7:22). Had there been sin? Yes. The older sons had sought to bind Nephi and leave him in the desert to die (see 7:6–16). Even though they repented and sought Nephi's forgiveness (see 7:20–21), Lehi felt the need to offer burnt offerings for atonement. In the earlier instance, Lehi offered such sacrifices after the return of his sons from Jerusalem with the plates of brass (see 5:9). Had there been sin? Again, the answer is yes. The two older brothers had beaten the younger two, drawing the attention of an angel (see 3:28–30). There was also the matter of the unforeseen death of Laban (see 4:18:{{{4}}}; 5:14,16). Even though Nephi knew through the Holy Spirit that the Lord had commanded him to kill Laban and thus justified Laban's death (see 4:11–13),21 Lehi was evidently unwilling to take any chances that the relationship between God and his family had not been securely reconciled. So he offered burnt offerings, exactly the right sacrifice for the occasion.[1]


  1. S. Kent Brown, "New Light from Arabia on Lehi's Trail," in Echoes and Evidences of the Book of Mormon, edited by Donald W. Parry, Daniel C. Peterson, and John W. Welch (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2002), Chapter 5, references silently removed—consult original for citations.