In a portion of the Book of Mormon known as, “The Prophecy of Nephi the Son of Helaman,” that prophet warned that destruction was imminent if the Nephites did not repent. Challenged to provide evidence for the truth of his words, Nephi reminded his audience of Moses. “Behold my brethren, have ye not read that God gave power unto one man even Moses, to smite upon the waters of the Red Sea, and they parted hither and thither, insomuch that the Israelites, who were our fathers, came through upon dry ground, and the waters closed upon the armies of the Egyptians and swallowed them up?” (Helaman 8:11). Nephi then reasoned that “if God gave unto this man such power” they should not dispute God’s ability to give unto Nephi power to know of the destruction which would come upon them if they did not repent (Helaman 8:12). The Lord’s power at the Red Sea, manifested through the Lord’s servant Moses is given as a precedent and a sign to the people in support Nephi’s prophetic claims.
Nephi is subsequently depicted in ways which recall the work of Moses at the Red Sea. He is falsely accused of complicity in the murder of the chief judge when he reveals the crime, putting his own life in danger. He is then miraculously delivered when he reveals the true identity of the murderer. In the aftermath of Nephi’s acquittal, his former accusers are left in confusion and like the waters of the Red Sea are divided among themselves. “And it came to pass that there arose a division among the people, insomuch that they divided hither and thither and went their ways, leaving Nephi alone, as he was standing in the midst of them (Helaman 10:1). Like the Israelites who were delivered from the Egyptian armies and passed through “the midst of the sea upon dry ground” (Exodus 14:22) and whom the Lord caused to “walk upon dry land in the midst of the sea” (Exodus 14:29), Nephi’s enemies leave him in safety “standing in the midst of them” (Helaman 10:1). His deliverance from the Gadianton-led faction is like Israel’s deliverance from the Egyptians. The allusion to the miracle at the Red Sea is further reinforced by the use of the words “hither and thither” which Nephi had previously used to describe that event (Helaman 8:11). (1)
The connection between Moses and Nephi is further reinforced when the Lord gives Nephi an endowment of power. “Behold I declare it unto thee in the presence of mine angels, that ye shall have power over this people, and shall smite the earth with famine, and with pestilence, and destruction, according to the wickedness of this people. . . . And behold if ye shall say that God shall smite this people, it shall come to pass” (Helaman 10:6, 10). The Lord gave Moses power to smite Egypt and its people with plague and pestilence (Exodus 3:20; 7:17; 8:2, 16; 9:15; 12:12-13, 23), and also gave him power to “smite” the waters of the Red Sea (Helaman 8:11). The wicked Nephites, like the chaotic waters can be smitten or divided according to God’s will. When the Lord commands Nephi to go forth again and warn to the people to repent, he warns that they will be “smitten even unto destruction” (10:14), but the people “harden their hearts” like Pharaoh (Exodus 8:15). Powerless to stop Nephi, they turn the sword on themselves and descend into a maelstrom of contention and bloodshed (Helaman 10:18).
Hoping to prevent his people from being swallowed up in the escalating destruction by the sword, Nephi asks the Lord for a famine and it is done (Helaman 11:4-5). In an interesting variation on the Red Sea miracle in which the Lord provided dry ground for the escape of his people, “the earth was smitten that it was dry” in order to bring the people of Nephi to repentance and salvation. As the more wicked Nephites perished , the residue are lead to repentance. Like the Egyptians who plead with Pharaoh to listen to Moses and let Israel go or “we be all dead men” (Exodus 12:33), the Nephites “began to plead with their chief judges and their leaders” to ask Nephi to cry unto the Lord to turn away the famine so they will not be destroyed. Nephi does so and the people are spared (Helaman 11:8-17).
The Lord’s blessings on Nephi show him to be a prophet like Moses, the one whom Nephi referenced to show that God gives power to his servants to foresee and foretell the destruction of the wicked. By evoking the events and language of the Red Sea deliverance, the narrative also teaches that God who led Israel through Moses to salvation is still present and will lead his people to safety and happiness if they will let him.
(1) The two words “hither and thither” are only used together in the Book of Mormon to refer to the miracle at the Red Sea in 1 Nephi 4:2; 17:26; Helaman 8:11) or the power of God the divide the dust of the earth (Helaman 12:7). They are also used of Elijah and Elisha who imitate the Red Sea miracle at the Jordan River (2 Kings 2:8, 14), a miracle which Joshua had performed after the Lord had promised, “as I was with Moses, so I will be with thee” (Joshua 3:7; also 16-17).