Evidence #363 | August 15, 2022

Exodus and Nephi’s Journey

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Nephi’s subtle allusions to the journey of the children of Israel in biblical accounts are consistent with the Israelite heritage of the Book of Mormon.

The Exodus was a foundational event for ancient Israel. “No other event in the history of Israel,” notes Yair Zakovitch, “is given so much attention by biblical writers as is the Exodus.” He argues that the Exodus includes more than just the departure from Egypt, and it “ends only when the Israelites enter the land of Canaan.”1 Understood this way, the Exodus encompassed the Sinai covenant, the miraculous events of the desert, and Israel’s many rebellions during that time.2

Terrence Szink and several other Latter-day Saint scholars have highlighted many examples of the Exodus pattern throughout the Book of Mormon.3 A separate evidence summary demonstrates that Nephi, in his account of Lehi’s flight from Jerusalem, makes subtle allusions to the Israelite departure from Egypt.4 This evidence summary will highlight parallels in the wilderness journeys contained in each account.

Manna and the Liahona

When the children of Israel traveled through the wilderness, they were worried about food and murmured because of hunger. In response, the Lord miraculously provided manna for them to eat. “And in the morning the dew lay round about the host. And when the dew that lay was gone up, behold upon the face of the wilderness there lay a small round thing, as small as the hoar frost on the ground” (Exodus 16:14).

Israelites gathering manna. Attribution unknown. 

Similarly, just before his family departed from the Valley of Lemuel, Lehi “arose in the morning, and went forth to the tent door” and “to his great astonishment he beheld upon the ground a round ball of curious workmanship” (1 Nephi 16:10). One of its functions was to help them find food in the wilderness (1 Nephi 16:13–16, 30). Thus, both groups of desert wanderers encountered a divine gift upon the ground in the morning which was round in shape and helped them avoid starvation.  

As for its appearance, the manna was said to be “like coriander seed” (Exodus 16:31). A discussion of seeds also shows up in Nephi’s account. Immediately after reporting that Lehi discovered the Liahona, Nephi notes that his family gathered “seed of every kind” (1 Nephi 16:11).

The Israelite manna was a miraculous gift, but God gave specific instructions about how it should be gathered. When the Israelites “hearkened not” to the Lord’s instructions, the manna “bred worms and stank” (Exodus 16:20). Similarly, Nephi reported that the “pointers which were in the ball … did work according to the faith and diligence and heed which we did give unto them” (1 Nephi 17:28; cf. Alma 37:40). When they failed to heed the Lord, they lost their way and were “were afflicted with hunger and thirst” (Alma 37:42).

Food that is Sweet

According to the Exodus account, the manna was sweet. “And the taste of it was like wafers made of honey” (Exodus 16:31). The Lord did not allow Lehi and his family to cook meat with fire as they traveled in the wilderness, but promised them, “I will make thy food become sweet, that ye cook it not” (1 Nephi 17:12).

Murmuring in the Wilderness 

The account in Exodus states that the children of Israel murmured because they were afraid of hunger (Exodus 16:2–3). Nephi’s family also repeatedly murmured and complained about hunger and the lack of food (1 Nephi 16:19–20, 35, 39).

Better to Have Died

In both the Exodus account and Nephi’s record, the Lord’s people expressed the view that it would have been better to die than to have suffered afflictions in the wilderness. “And the children of Israel said unto them, Would to God we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 16:3). On another occasion they murmured, “Would God that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would God that we had died in this wilderness!” (Numbers 14:2). The Israelites complained of the dangers to “our wives and children” (v. 3).

As for Nephi’s family, Laman and Lemuel complained that “our women have toiled, being big with child; and they have borne children in the wilderness and suffered all these 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 17:20).

Return to Egypt

In the biblical account, the Israelites were afraid when the heard the report of those who had surveyed the land of promise. “And all the congregation lifted up their voice and cried; and the people wept that night and all the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron” (Numbers 14:2). Murmuring then turned to rebellion as some were prepared to stone them. “And they said to one another, Let us make us a captain, and let us return into Egypt” (v. 4).

This progression of mourning to murmuring to rebellion to a desire to return to a land of captivity can also be found in Nephi’s account. When Ishmael died, “the daughters of Ishmael did mourn exceedingly because of the loss of their father, and because of their afflictions in the wilderness; and they did murmur against my father because he had brought them out of the land of Jerusalem … And thus, they did murmur against my father, and also against me; and they were desirous to return again to Jerusalem” (1 Nephi 16:35).5 As in the Numbers account, mourning and murmuring nearly turned to murder as Laman and Lemuel contemplated a violent change in leadership: “Behold, let us slay our father, and also our brother Nephi, who has taken it upon himself to be our ruler and our teacher, who are his elder brethren” (v. 37).


Nephi's bothers tie him up because they want to return to Jerusalem. Image via churchofjesuschrist.org.

The Lord Intervenes

When the Israelites rebelled against Moses and Aaron, Joshua and Caleb begged the people to repent, reminding them that “the Lord is with us” (Number 14:9). The violent plot in the biblical story was ultimately stopped by the Lord himself, who slayed the spies who had given the evil report.

After describing Laman and Lemuel’s plot to kill him and his father, Nephi observed, as did Joshua and Caleb, that “the Lord was with us, yea even the voice of the Lord came and did speak many words unto them and did chasten them exceedingly; and after they were chastened by the voice of the Lord, they did turn away their anger, and did repent of their sins” (1 Nephi 16:39).

Brass Serpent and Liahona

When the children of Israel spake against the Lord and Moses, they were afflicted with fiery serpents. When they repented and pled for help, the Lord commanded Moses, “Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live. And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived” (Numbers 21:9).

Notably, the Liahona was also a divinely prepared object made of “fine brass” (1 Nephi 16:10). Many generations after Lehi’s family arrived in the promised land, Alma taught his son Helaman about the divine symbolism inherent in the Liahona. He explained, “do not let us be slothful because of the easiness of the way; for so was it with our fathers; for so was it prepared for them, that if they would look they might live” (Alma 37:46). When read in context, Alma is clearly connecting the Liahona with the biblical account of the brass serpent.

Lehi finds the Liahona outside his tent in the wilderness. Image via churchofjesuschrist.org. 

Led By the Light

When the children of Israel were led out of Egypt, the Lord provided light for them in the wilderness. “And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them by the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light” (Exodus 13:21–22). As with their Israelite ancestors, the Lord also provided light for Lehi’s family: “And I will be your light in the wilderness, and I will prepare the way before you.” He further promised that if they were obedient, they would be “led towards the promised land; and ye shall know that it is by me that ye are led” (1 Nephi 17:13).6

Crossing Bodies of Water

When Nephi’s brothers learned that he was planning to build a ship, they mocked him saying, “Our brother is a fool, for he thinketh that he can build a ship; yea, and he also thinketh that he can cross these great waters” (1 Nephi 17:17). A miraculous water crossing was, of course, also a prominent feature of the Israelite Exodus from Egypt. In his response to his brothers’ complaints, Nephi even specifically mentions this famous event: “Now ye know that Moses was commanded of the Lord to do that great work; and ye know that by his word the waters of the Red Sea were divided hither and thither, and they passed through on dry ground” (v. 26).

Nephi and his brothers building a ship. Image via churchofjesuschrist.org.

Having established God’s power in relation to past events, Nephi then claimed access to the same power in the present: “If God had commanded me to do all things I could do them. If he should command me that I should say unto this water, be thou earth, it should be earth; and if I should say it, it would be done” (v. 51). Nephi thus presented himself as a new Moses with the same divine power to help his people miraculously traverse a formidable body of water and enter into their own promised land.

Rebellion on the Waters and the Golden Calf

When Moses was on the mount and did not return, the children of Israel engaged in mischief and built a golden calf saying, “These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt” (Exodus 32:4). The people then held a feast in which they “sat down to eat and to drink and rose up to play” (v. 6). Here, the word play is translated from the Hebrew verb ṣāḥaq, which means to laugh, mock, jest, or make sport.7 Modern Bibles have thus translated it variously as “indulge in revelry,” “engage in lewd behavior,” “party,” and “make merry.”8 When Moses descended from the mount, he heard “the noise of them that sing” and “saw the calf and the dancing” (Exodus 32:18–19).

When rehearsing this account in the book of Deuteronomy, Moses stated, “Remember, and forget not, how thou provokedst the Lord thy God to wrath in the wilderness …. Also in Horeb ye provoked the Lord to wrath, so that the Lord was angry with you to have destroyed you” (Deuteronomy 9:7–8). The only thing that saved them was Moses pleading with the Lord on their behalf (Exodus 32:10–13).

A similar rebellion occurs in Nephi’s account. During his family’s ocean voyage, Nephi beheld that his “brethren and the sons of Ishmael and also their wives began to make themselves merry, insomuch that they began to dance, and to sing, and to speak with much rudeness, yea, even that they did forget by what power they had been brought thither” (1 Nephi 18:9). Nephi’s fear “lest the Lord should be angry with us and smite us because of our iniquity” (1 Nephi 18:10) recalls the Lord’s anger in the golden calf rebellion. And just as the intervention of Moses saved the Israelites from destruction, so too was Nephi’s intercessory prayer key to saving his family from being swallowed up in the sea (1 Nephi 18:21–22).

Nephi is tied to the mast of the ship. Image of churchofjesuschrist.org.


Allusions to Israel’s activities in the desert in Nephi’s record are consistent with the pattern found in the Bible. Szink, in a study of the Exodus pattern in the Book of Mormon, notes that while one could argue that some examples of the Exodus pattern may have been gleaned from the Bible, the “parallels to Exodus occur at dozens of places throughout the Book of Mormon record.” In his view, “no hasty copying of the Bible could have produced such complex similarities, not to mention the differences that remain. In fact, because they are so quiet and underlying, no Latter-day Saint until our day has even noticed these comparisons. Nephi clearly composed a masterpiece full of subtle literary touches that we are only now beginning to appreciate.”9

S. Kent Brown, “The Exodus Pattern in the Book of Mormon,” BYU Studies 30, no. 3 (Summer 1990): 111–126, reprinted in S. Kent Brown, From Jerusalem to Zarahemla: Literary and Historical Studies of the Book of Mormon (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1998), 75–98.

David R. Seely, “‘A Prophet Like Moses’: Deuteronomy 18:15–18 in the Book of Mormon, the Bible, and the Dead Sea Scrolls,” in “To Seek the Law of the Lord”: Essays in Honor of John W. Welch, ed. Paul Y. Hoskisson and Daniel C. Peterson (Orem, UT: Interpreter Foundation, 2017), 360–374. 

Noel B. Reynolds, “The Israelite Background of Moses Typology in the Book of Mormon,” BYU Studies 44, no. 2 (2005): 5–23. 

Noel B. Reynolds, “Lehi as Moses,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 9, no. 2 (2000): 26–35.

Alan Goff, “Boats, Beginnings, and Repetitions,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 1, no. 1 (1992): 67–84.

Terrence L. Szink, “Nephi and the Exodus,” in Rediscovering the Book of Mormon: Insights You May Have Missed Before, ed. John L. Sorenson and Melvin J. Thorne (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1991), 50–51.

Alan Goff, “Mourning, Consolation, and Repentance at Nahom,” in Rediscovering the Book of Mormon: Insights You May Have Missed Before, ed. John L. Sorenson and Melvin J. Thorne (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1991), 92–99.

George S. Tate, “The Typology of the Exodus Pattern in the Book of Mormon,” in Literature of Belief: Sacred Scripture and Religious Experience, ed. Neal E. Lambert (Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1981), 245–262.

BibleExodus 13:21–22Exodus 14:16Exodus 14:21–22Exodus 14:29Exodus 16:2–3Exodus 16:3Exodus 16:14Exodus 16:15Exodus 16:20Exodus 16:31Exodus 32:4Exodus 32:7Exodus 32:10Exodus 32:18–19Exodus 32:25Numbers 14:2Numbers 14:3Numbers 14:4Number 14:9Numbers 21:9Book of Mormon1 Nephi 16:101 Nephi 16:111 Nephi 16:13–161 Nephi 16:19–201 Nephi 16:26–291 Nephi 16:301 Nephi 16:351 Nephi 16:371 Nephi 16:391 Nephi 17:121 Nephi 17:131 Nephi 17:201 Nephi 17:281 Nephi 17:511 Nephi 18:91 Nephi 18:21–22 Alma 37:38–47


Exodus 13:21–22

Exodus 14:16

Exodus 14:21–22

Exodus 14:29

Exodus 16:2–3

Exodus 16:3

Exodus 16:14

Exodus 16:15

Exodus 16:20

Exodus 16:31

Exodus 32:4

Exodus 32:7

Exodus 32:10

Exodus 32:18–19

Exodus 32:25

Numbers 14:2

Numbers 14:3

Numbers 14:4

Number 14:9

Numbers 21:9

Book of Mormon

1 Nephi 16:10

1 Nephi 16:11

1 Nephi 16:13–16

1 Nephi 16:19–20

1 Nephi 16:26–29

1 Nephi 16:30

1 Nephi 16:35

1 Nephi 16:37

1 Nephi 16:39

1 Nephi 17:12

1 Nephi 17:13

1 Nephi 17:20

1 Nephi 17:28

1 Nephi 17:51

1 Nephi 18:9

1 Nephi 18:21–22

Alma 37:38–47

Literary Features
Exodus Parallels
Exodus and Nephi's Wilderness Journey
Book of Mormon

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