CLICK HERE to read 1 Nephi 17.
Lehi and his family, including Nephi and his brothers and their new wives, get back to traveling through the wilderness. They travel for years and years, even having children along the way. The Lord provides for them along the way, so that even the women and children were strong and well.
“And thus we see that the commandments of God must be fulfilled. And if it so be that the children of men keep the commandments of God he doth nourish them, and strengthen them, and provide means whereby they can accomplish the thing which he has commanded them; wherefore, he did provide means for us while we did sojourn in the wilderness.”
This begins a fun pattern in this chapter, where almost anytime it says “wilderness” you could replace it with “mortality” and re-read the verse for yourself, as if it were for you right now today.
You can also replace “the promised land” with “celestial-ness”.
The more you read and study the Book of Mormon, the more everything gets defined, so that it becomes as if you are studying a hundred books at once as you read. I love this. It “feels” very Hebrew in this way, in the layers of it, and it has taught me so much about the Bible that I never understood before reading the Book of Mormon, even though it was right in front of me my whole life.
So Nephi’s family is traveling through the wilderness, and comes to the seashore. They are glad to stop and rest. I can only imagine, now that I have children, how very glad to stop and rest they must have been.
While Nephi is there resting, the Lord tells him to go to the Temple. I mean to say, the Lord tells him to go to the mountain. This is always a symbol for the Temple, especially in the context of one character being set apart. It is how they are made sacred, or consecrated, from the others. It means covenant-making happened, and new challenges issued. It means getting new assignments, because covenant-making is always about eternal things, not about settling in to get comfortable with temporary things.
“Arise, and get thee into the mountain. And it came to pass that I arose and went up into the mountain, and cried unto the Lord” (verse 7).
Nephi goes to the Temple to prays to receive instruction.
Instruction comes, and the Lord tells Nephi to build a ship. I wonder if Nephi was surprised at this, or if his mind flashed back the way mine always does in these moments, where suddenly a hundred random experiences make sense as preparation. The Lord says that He will show Nephi the pattern, so that it can safely carry the whole family across the waters (ocean).
Nephi doesn’t question. He simply asks for the tools. He knows the Lord has the blueprints (Noah’s ark), and He knows the Lord will keep His promise of teaching him (maybe even through Noah!). Nephi is wise, to be willing to do the impossible but humble enough to ask for the tools to accomplish it.
The Lord shows Nephi where to go find ore, so that he can make tools to build his ship.
Then Nephi gives another famous monologue, where he pauses the story to look up at the audience and address us directly, as if he were standing here in the room with us. Sometimes I can hear his voice, or even see him, as he speaks, quoting what the Lord told him:
“And I will also be your light in the wilderness; and I will prepare the way before you, if it so be that ye shall keep my commandments; wherefore, inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall be led towards the promised land; and ye shall know that it is by me that ye are led” (verse 13).
This “light in the wilderness” is the same sheckinah as the presence of the Lord that led the Israelites out of Egypt and through the wilderness with a pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night. Consider that while substituting the words to liken it the Savior speaking to you: “And I will also be your light in mortality; and I will prepare the way before you, if it so be that ye shall keep my commandments; wherefore, inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall be led towards the celestial kingdom; and ye shall know that ye are led”.
Verse 14 continues this pattern:
“Yea, and the Lord said also that: After ye have arrived in the promised land, ye shall know that I, the Lord, am God; and that I, the Lord, did deliver you from destruction; yea, that I did bring you out of the land of Jerusalem.”
This applies to Nephi and his travels with his family through the wilderness.
But it also applies to us, and judgment day. When that time comes, we will know the truth of all things, and we will see clearly what He has done for us. We will know He has delivered us, and that it is by His work that we are able to live again in the presence of our Heavenly Father.
It applies to me even this day, knowing that the Lord did deliver me from destruction (pre-baptism) and lead me to the promised land (this life of happiness, despite the challenges of the journey).
“Wherefore, I, Nephi, did strive to keep the commandments of the Lord, and I did exhort my brethren to faithfulness and diligence” (verse 15).
It is obedience that qualifies us for the Spirit of the Lord, for that sheckinah presence that leads us through mortality.
Then, as if there were not layers and layers more to those two verses, Nephi goes back to his story, jumping right back to how he was making tools to build his ship.
When his brothers saw him starting to build a ship, the murmuring started up again (reminds us of Noah and the ark). Murmuring and complaining, they continued to try to get out of helping because they did not want to work. Nephi points out how this proved their lack of faith: “for they did not believe that I could build a ship; neither would they believe that I was instructed of the Lord” (verse 18).
As always when his brothers start to have their hard hearts lacking faith instead of soft hearts growing in faith, Nephi grieves.
The more he grieves their sad spiritual state, the more his brothers mock him.
So now they are not just murmuring, but also lacking faith; they are not only mocking him, but blaming Nephi’s behavior on being like their father, “led away by the foolish imaginations of his heart” (verse 20). They keep complaining, saying that if they were back home in Jerusalem, they could be enjoying their inheritance by now.
Because his brothers will not keep the commandments, Nephi tries to help them at least remember them. He reminds them of who God is, so that they can find their testimony. He reminds them of what God has done for them, including the being led out of bondage and slavery in Egypt.
“Now ye know that the children of Israel were in bondage; and ye know that they were laden with tasks, which were grievous to be borne; wherefore, ye know that it must needs be a good thing for them, that they should be brought out of bondage” (verse 25).
Again, it reads a lot like our pattern in mortality: being in bondage and being laden with difficult tasks.
But, says Nephi, it is a good thing for them, and helps them be brought out of bondage.
Nephi reminds them of the crossing of the Red Sea, and of the manna in the wilderness.
Then Nephi goes back to the sheckinah: “And notwithstanding they being led, the Lord their God, their Redeemer, going before them, leading them by day and giving light unto them by night, and doing all things for them which were expedient for man to receive…” (verse 30), they hardened their hearts and blinded their minds, and reviled against Moses and against the true and living God.
Nephi talks about how the Lord loves all people, even as one people; but it is those that reject the words of God that lose (or do not earn) blessings.
Then Nephi goes back to his litany about who God is, that the Lord (Jehovah) created the world, and that He will lead the righteous people to His “Promised Lands”.
“And he loveth those who will have him to be their God” (verse 40).
Nephi then reminds them of their covenants, and of their “fathers”: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
After all this reminding, Nephi says “Ye are swift to do iniquity but slow to remember the Lord your God. Ye have seen an angel, and he spake unto you; yea, ye have heard his voice from time to time; and he hath spoken unto you in a still small voice, but ye were past feeling, that ye could not feel his words…”
And that just made those brothers mad.
The brothers tried to grab Nephi and drown him!
But Nephi says, “In the name of the Almighty God, I command you that ye touch me not, for I am filled with the power of God” (verse 48).
Nephi tells his brothers to stop murmuring and complaining, and to help do what the Lord has asked!
Nephi says that he knows that the Lord can accomplish His work in His way in His timing.
He knows it.
We learn in later chapters that this kind of knowledge is more than only faith, and even more than testimony, but must be developed through that process of study and pondering and relationship and revelation.
We will see it play out in the next chapter, when the ship is finished!