In the harsh desert climate where Lehi’s family travelled, rivers were seasonal and more often dry than otherwise, and as a result valleys were more often barren than green. After extensive days of travel through hot, dry lands, the travelers came upon a lush, green valley, fed by a rare stream of water that flowed year round. One can only imagine the relief and comfort this oasis of life gave the weary travelers. Lehi took advantage of the stark contrast between the barren desert and the thriving valley to give an object lesson to his sons, Laman and Lemuel.
“And when my father saw that the waters of the river emptied into the fountain of the Red Sea, he spake unto Laman, saying: O that thou mightest be like unto this river, continually running into the fountain of all righteousness!
And he also spake unto Lemuel: O that thou mightest be like unto this valley, firm and steadfast, and immovable in keeping the commandments of the Lord!” –1 Nephi 2:9-10
As I considered these words, I was struck with the contrast in the two laments; Lehi wishes one son to move–continually flow into the fountain of righteousness–but the other, Lehi wishes to be immovable. How can we make sense of these contrary images?
One interpretation is that the river represents actions, whereas the valley represents principles. Our principles should be fixed and unassailable, while our deeds should be continuously flowing forth to join “all righteousness.” Such a combination brings peace and fulfillment in our lives.
Yet how easy it is in the world to accomplish just the opposite, to have our principles be fluid and our righteous deeds sporadic or non-existent. As the forbidding desert landscape Lehi’s family passed through, the nature of man tends toward spiritually arid conditions: our lesser natures prefer self-serving deeds to selfless ones, producing fountains of stagnant water that do not flow, do not impart life; our lesser natures default to the idea that principles are relative, unique and changeable by individual circumstance and personal preference, not “steadfast and immovable.”
Yet how refreshing it is to come upon a soul who has determined to be continually running, yet steadfast and immovable.