In part two of this Women in the Book of Mormon series (click here for part one) we will look at Sariah, wife of Lehi. Sariah may mean “YHWH is ruler” as a version of the Hebrew Seraiah. Vowels were not written in Hebrew at the time, and Seraiah as Sariah may have been the female version of this male name. It could also be a variation of Sarah or a combination of Sarah and Saria, or even even just Saria with an “h.” Names seem to have meaning in scripture, and one of the meanings of Saria is “contentious.” Combining “princess” and “contentious” to make Sariah has meaning for Lehi’s wive, as she is one of the mothers of all the Nephites and Laminites and she does become “contentious” at points on the journey.
Sariah is interesting in that she is the woman that represents the believer living with believers. She faithfully leaves with Lehi in 1 Nephi 2: 5. However, one of the problems of being a woman at this time is that her place is one of submissiveness. She could not stay behind, as who would care for her? She was Lehi’s property and to be cared for by Laman, the oldest son, should Lehi die. We do not hear much of her thoughts on the journey out of town, as she likely would not have discussed them with anyone but Lehi.
The next time we hear about Sariah, her four sons are coming back from obtaining the Brass Plates (1 Nephi 5). She had been mourning, thinking her sons had died. It is easy to come to the conclusion that Sariah may have thought her husband had gone mad and lead them into the wilderness to die. In fact, she says so in verse 2, calling him “a visionary man” or in other words, crazy.
Behold thou hast led us forth from the land of our inheritance, and my sons are no more, and we perish in the wilderness. – Saraih, 1 Nephi 5: 2
However, unlike her oldest sons, Laman and Lemuel, Sariah realized that she was wrong about Lehi when her boys came home safely with the plates. This is a very important lesson in the story, and one reason Sariah’s story is so important. Lehi had a vision, Sarah, Laman and Lemuel doubted. Nephi did not and was rewarded with his own visions. Sam believed Nephi. The only person that had a real change of heart was Sariah. Rather than putting her faith in the Lord, she had faith in her husband, and knowing him to be a human man with faults, she saw his weaknesses and these gave her doubts. But when her sons came back, she realized her faith should be in the Lord, not Lehi.
Now I know of a surety that the Lord hath 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 hath commanded them. And after this manner of language did she speak. – Saraih 1 Nephi 5: 8
She knew that Lehi was a man of God because he had prophesied that everything would be okay, their sons would come back safe, in verse 5 of the same chapter. And, we know that Saria had truly been born again as in Lehi’s vision of the tree of life, Sarai partakes of the fruit (1 Nephi 8: 14-16).
However, this didn’t mean that everything went well for Saria. Nephi breaks his bow in chapter 16, leading even Lehi to murmur. They finally get to a sort of paradise, only to have Nephi build a ship so they can travel unknown water to go where, they knew not (1 Nephi 17-18). She had at least two more children in the wilderness, two sons were names – Jacob and Joseph. Laman, Lemuel, and the sons of Ismael made things harder on the ship (1 Nephi 18). Yet, as far was we know, she never again lost her faith. That strength is one that readers can lean on when the Lord has testified to us, yet we do not see the path as clearly as he does.
We do not know Sariah’s fate after reaching the promised land. Did she die before Lehi? It does not mention one mourning the other. Did she stay with Laman, as the Law required, or did she flee with Nephi? One would imagine that she might be too old for yet another journey at this point. Either way, her story as been told and her example for women is there for all to read.
Sariah teaches us much, for she is a woman of faith – a believer among fellow believers. She was likely a righteous woman, yet she had doubts – as all of us do at times. She questioned the sanity of her husband, but didn’t fault the Lord. Most importantly, she had the Spirit and thus knew Lehi was a prophet when God’s Word, through Lehi, came to pass. She then humbled herself and followed the prophet, even though the path was hard. The lesson here is that we can have doubts, as long as we recognize truth when we see it. The husband is the head of the household, and Sariah followed Lehi in spite of her fears. She places her faith in the Lord and kept that faith until the end and partook of the fruit of the tree of life. She is a marvelous example for women.
Image: Full-scale model of the gold plates based on Joseph Smith’s description by John Foxe. CC BY-SA 3.0