And there will I bless thee and thy seed, and raise up unto me of thy seed, and of the seed of thy brother, and they who shall go with thee, a great nation. And there shall be none greater than the nation which I will raise up unto me of thy seed, upon all the face of the earth. And thus I will do unto thee because this long time ye have cried unto me. (Ether 1:43)
The Lord's reason for giving a land of promise to and raising up a great nation of the Jaredites strikes me with power. He doesn't even mention obedience, but rather, diligently crying unto Him. It seems to me here that what He delights in is the relationship. It's that Mahonri Moriancumr trusts Him and brings to Him his problems, ideas and requests. And not just Mahonri Moriancumr. It's Jared that keeps asking his brother to seek the Lord; first so that their language won't be confounded; then that their friends' language won't be confounded; and eventually, to find out if the Lord wants to bring them out of Babel to a choice land. This continual taking recourse to Him is what opens the way for them and their friends to become great and to receive their promised land.
Of course obedience matters. Of course crying unto the Lord has to happen with real intent. But diligently crying unto Him both shows and deepens intent. Obedience will follow, because the more we seek after God, the more we come to trust Him. And when we genuinely trust Him, we do as He directs.
I think it's significant that a few years later, the fault for which the Lord chastens the Brother of Jared is "he remembered not to call upon the name of the Lord" (Ether 2:14).
I have a hard time believing that the Brother of Jared just forgot to pray. A scenario that seems more plausible to me is this: After being brought by the Lord to the seashore, the Brother of Jared first received the instruction the Lord would later repeat in Ether 2:16: "Go to work and build, after the manner of barges which ye have hitherto built."
The people of Jared had crossed small bodies of water along their journey in airtight barges, without light. It had been difficult but endurable. But now, they were on the edge of an ocean, with water extending beyond the horizon. Their barges would be death traps on the ocean.
Suppose the Brother of Jared declared what the Lord had told him, that they needed to build more of those barges. Suppose Jared, who had a quick and analytical mind, pointed out that the only kind of barges they knew how to build would never do on so great an expanse of water. Had his brother heard right? Mahonri Moriancumr may have gone back and asked the Lord again, only to receive the same direction: Go to work and build, after the manner of barges which ye have hitherto built.
It would have appeared that the Lord was asking them to do something impossible; unthinkable. Still, the Brother of Jared had deep faith. He knew that God meant them good, not harm. He may have considered the possibility of a miracle that would allow them to survive in airtight vessels. He may have thought (like Abraham about Isaac -- see Hebrews 11:19) that God would raise them up from the dead. He might have been able to bend his mind around it intellectually, but been unable to bring himself to actually go to work and build those death traps. Or maybe it wasn't his fear that stopped him, but the terror of those who were with him. Maybe every time he raised the issue, his wife looked at their little ones and started to hyperventilate. Maybe his people were so horrified at the prospect of taking those barges across the ocean that he couldn't bring himself to pull a crew together to build them.
I can imagine him feeling ashamed that he didn't have the faith he needed to obey. I can imagine him feeling like God must be tired of telling him the same thing, over and over, and him not doing anything about it. And then, maybe he stopped appealing to the Lord, because what was the use if he still couldn't do what the Lord had asked?
They camped in tents on the seashore for four years, unable to set down roots, knowing their journey wasn't done and that a terrifying crucible still lay ahead. It would have been a situation rife with frustration, a breeding ground for contention. And the Brother of Jared may have tried to resolve those contentions using his own wisdom, because he was too ashamed to face the Lord when he still hadn't obeyed, until things got so bad that he finally got back down on his knees and once again knocked on the doors of heaven.
Then the Lord talked with him for three hours... and chastened him, but not for failing to build the barges. It was for failing to cry unto the Lord. What I think the Brother of Jared learned, what I think his prayer in Ether 3:2 shows that he learned, was that God is not offended by our weakness and brokenness. (Experiencing both is part of the point of mortality). He only cares that we bring our troubles to Him so that He can help us and ultimately lead us to the desires of our hearts.
According to this speculative scenario, after finally crying unto the Lord again, the Brother of Jared had the power to do what he had been cringing from for four years. He still didn't know how this was going to work. He fully understood that the barges he was making were not survivable. But his faith and courage had been strengthened to the point that he could make them anyway. He got unstuck. He moved forward as far as he could and then, refusing to get stuck again, he asked the Lord for help. Shortly after that, he was brought back into the presence of the Lord.
Perhaps the reason I love this so much is because there have been times in my life when I could not find the power within myself to follow the promptings of the Spirit in the face of crushing expectations from others. I remember feeling frozen and ashamed, because I knew what I should do, what the Spirit was directing me to do, and I could not bring myself to do it. The only thing I could do was to cry out in my heart to Heavenly Father, asking for strength and courage. It came. It wasn't immediate. That time was so dark that I don't remember whether my paralysis lasted for weeks, months or years. I only know that I grew, that the Lord was patient with me, and that finally He set me free.
God wants to lead each of us to our promised land. The key to getting there is not proving our worthiness with our faith and obedience. It is crying unto Him from the depths of our fear and our unworthiness, returning again and again in spite of our failings, bringing our discouragement, our blindness and shame to the throne of His grace. And it is doing this for a "long time" -- however long it takes. In the end, if we continue, the strength we seek will come, the scales of darkness will fall from our eyes, He will touch our lives like He did the 16 stones, and we will see His hand.