I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud
Thus far, the brother of Jared and God have been communicating through prayer. The brother of Jared asks for things, God grants things, and then at the end of the last chapter, God actually says things in response to a prayer. But apparently that relationship is about to take an odd turn (verse 4):
And it came to pass that when they had come down into the valley of Nimrod the Lord came down and talked with the brother of Jared; and he was in a cloud, and the brother of Jared saw him not.Why?
They've already talked. The brother of Jared has heard God's voice before. So what is accomplished by having God visit him in person, only to shroud his physical form? Especially when he's about to actually walk ahead of this roving group to lead the way? Couldn't he have given them a Liahona? Couldn't he have given the brother of Jared some inspiration? Maybe he could have come to him in a dream and drawn him a map. Why would God visit personally and make sure nobody saw him?
My guess, honestly, is that Joseph Smith was again trying to legitimize his fictional scripture by linking it again with the Bible—so he had God revisit his pillar of cloud trick spoken of in Exodus.
Terms and Conditions
God seems to make a hasty decision in anger as evidenced in verse 8:
And he had sworn in his wrath unto the brother of Jared, that whoso should possess this land of promise, from that time henceforth and forever, should serve him, the true and only God, or they should be swept off when the fulness of his wrath should come upon them.Okay, "sworn in his wrath" is not an encouraging act to be ascribed to a deity. The Mormon god is supposed to be just and reasonable, right? As opposed to hotheaded and capricious? And yet...here he is, in a fit of rage, making a decision that will affect millions of people over countless generations. Not good.
But also it doesn't really seem fair the way that the principle taught in this chapter is hammered in over the next few verses—and really throughout the Book of Mormon. So this is a land of promise, that's fine. So whoever lives here should serve him...ehhhh, okay. I mean, as long as everyone knows about this agreement to obey or be obliterated, I guess I could get behind it. And also as long as everyone has the option to leave if they don't want to be included in this rather one-sided covenant.
What God is really doing here is holding people accountable for things that he told their distant ancestors. Which is absolute baloney. If he expects the Jaredites to uphold their end of the bargain, he should probably make sure that future Jaredites actually know that the bargain exists. Instead, he gets to throw a fit every time a few centuries goes by and not every person in the country is appropriately genuflecting to his glory. This is a smaller-scale satire of the Plan of Salvation, really, because God has made a unilateral decision, made demands on his children, denied them access to knowledge of the decision and the demands, and thereby forced them into a system designed for their failure—a failure which he reserves the right to sanctimoniously cite as evidence against his children at a later date.
Also, the promised land that he's talking about in these verses is America. So if possessing America without unflinching service to God results in being wiped off the face of the earth, how come the Nephites got exterminated but the Lamanites didn't? I mean, the Lamanites are still around in the present day, so if they have it coming to them, why does God seem to hesitate for a couple of millennia before laying the smack down?
World of Pure Imagination
Now we get to the infamous Jaredite barges (verse 17):
And they were built after a manner that they were exceedingly tight, even that they would hold water like unto a dish; and the bottom thereof was tight like unto a dish; and the sides thereof were tight like unto a dish; and the ends thereof were peaked; and the top thereof was tight like unto a dish; and the length thereof was the length of a tree; and the door thereof, when it was shut, was tight like unto a dish.This description is pretty useless. I mean, I guess that the main takeaway here is that the barges are watertight. And it sounds like maybe they're completely enclosed—more akin to a submarine than to a galleon. But I don't understand what it means that the ends were "peaked" or what importance that detail carries. And I certainly don't know how big they are because "the length of a tree" depends one what kind of tree we're talking about here. Dogwood? Redwood? Give me a hint, here, Ether.
I, for one, am also very interested in how thousands of years ago, the Jaredites were able what is essentially a submarine, complete with watertight doors.