CLICK HERE to read 1 Nephi 18.
In the previous chapter, the Lord told Nephi to build a ship. His brothers made fun of him, got a little rough, and threatened his life. Nephi taught them, they repented, and now are all back on the same team again.
This chapter opens with Nephi building his ship. He knows the Lord has the blueprints (Noah’s ark), and so Nephi just keeps praying for the tools and the know-how to do what the Lord has asked. It is an excellent example to us all, as deciding to obey is part of covenant-making, which means covenant-keeping is about the actual doing part of obedience. Covenant-making is agreeing with God’s plan, and covenant-keeping is the application of it.
“And it came to pass that they did worship the Lord, and did go forth with me; and we did work timbers of curious workmanship. And the Lord did show me from time to time after what manner I should work the timbers of the ship” (verse 1).
Nephi then says, specifically, he did not build his ship according to the custom or learning of his day, nor did he build it the usual way. But he built after the pattern the Lord provided. This is an important piece to remember, since we are to work hard aligning ourselves with the will of God rather than flowing with the ease of current culture or modern society. We live within these contexts, but our actions ought not be dictated by them.
To get the instructions he needed to build the ship, Nephi went to the mount (Temple) often, to pray to the Lord and to learn… “wherefore the Lord showed unto me great things” (verse 3).
When Nephi finished his ship, and his brothers saw that it was done and that it was good, “they did humble themselves again before the Lord” (verse 4).
Sometimes those closest to us don’t understand or believe until they see the evidence, until they see the good “work” that has been accomplished. Those who do not yet have faith will rely on ours at times, and those who have some faith but have not yet developed their testimonies will depend on ours. Those who have worked hard on their testimony, but not yet seen clearly through the lens of revelation until obtaining pure knowledge will hunger for our understanding while they learn to obtain it for themselves through study and prayer and obedience and tithing and fasting and temple worship.
It is Lehi, of course, since he is the leader of this little tribe – the prophet, even, for this group of people – it is Lehi that receives the word from the Lord that it is time to go to the ship. They prepare all they need, from food to seeds, all kinds of provisions. Everyone brought what they had, according to their age, and went to the ship along with their wives and children.
Also, Lehi now has two more sons, named Jacob and Joseph (named after the patriarchs in the Old Testament).
All the people get on the ship, and the ship takes off toward the promised land.
The wind drives the ship for days and days, and in the easy rest of traveling by ship – compared to difficult nomadic, hunting, or agrarian lifestyles – Nephi’s brothers get comfortable. Too comfortable, in fact. So much that the brothers and their wives begin to “make themselves merry”, speaking “with much rudeness”, and forgetting “by what power they had been brought thither” (verse 9).
Nephi knows that this is unacceptable behavior, and he knows the rules of the covenant. He knows the Lord expects them to be obedient, and that there are consequences when they aren’t.
“And I, Nephi, began to fear exceedingly lest the Lord should be angry with us, and smite us because of our iniquity, that we should be swallowed up in the depths of the sea” (verse 10).
He does what he always does: he tries to teach his brothers. They don’t want anything to do with it, though, and say that he can’t boss them around. There is some truth in this, as we must testify but we are also called to teach in the language of the people, and Nephi was a pretty intense guy who didn’t always have the best social skills. His message was critical, though, and they didn’t want any part of it. Then, as if rejection isn’t enough, Nephi’s brothers tie him up and get rough with him again.
Nephi shows his courage and strength when he says, “the Lord did suffer it that he might show forth his power, unto the fulfilling of his word” (verse 11).
All of us have been in some circumstance or another, some situation or experience, that is painful or difficult or scary or uncomfortable. This is when we can practice the courage of Nephi in keeping an eternal perspective, that “all things work together for the good of those who love God” (Romans 8:28). Can we be so brave as to say that the Lord has allowed it to happen, or suffered along with us through the experience, in order to “show forth His power, unto the fulfilling of His word”? Wow!
When Nephi’s brothers tie him up, their compass that shows where to go – the Liahona – stops working. There is a great storm that blows up, so big a storm that the brothers get scared. Fraidy cats.
“And it came to pass that we were about to be swallowed up in the depths of the sea. And after we had been driven back upon the waters for the space of four days, my brethren began to see that the judgments of God were upon them, and that they must perish save that they should repent of their iniquities; wherefore, they came unto me, and loosed the bands which were upon my wrists, and behold they had swollen exceedingly; and also mine ankles were much swollen, and great was the soreness thereof” (verse 15).
Nephi is sore from being tied up! And still his brothers do not let him go. Yet even now, Nephi remains faithful.
“Nevertheless, I did look unto my God, and I did praise him all the day long; and I did not murmur against the Lord because of mine afflictions” (verse 16).
This is part of where Nephi’s intensity comes, in that he is so very intently focused on the Lord and what He has both commanded and promised. Nephi strives to live faithfully to his covenants, no matter his circumstances, and regardless of how hard life seems at times.
Lehi tries intervening, but the brothers threaten anyone who tries to defend or rescue Nephi.
So now, just like the pattern in the Old Testament and throughout the Book of Mormon, because they have refused the prophet, further calamities and destruction come: the brothers all get very sick.
This is not to say that all sicknesses or afflictions are because of sin or wrong-doing. Such an idea is false doctrine, and should be corrected. We read this verse with verse 11 in mind, that sometimes we are challenged in life to teach us something or to in some way demonstrate who God is and what power is His. Elder Nelson recently said that:
Expect and prepare to accomplish the impossible. God has always asked His covenant children to do difficult things. Because you are covenant-keeping sons and daughters of God, living in the latter part of these latter days, the Lord will ask you to do difficult things. You can count on it—Abrahamic tests did not stop with Abraham.
Life is supposed to be hard sometimes. That’s why we are here. We are here to learn and grow through experiences, and we cannot make any progression without having those experiences. Understanding this gives us great comfort and strength through very difficult circumstances. Our happiness comes from this understanding, too, not in a fake Pollyanna kind of way, but in a legitimate understanding that is greater than the scope of our temporal comfort level at any given moment.
But in this case, we know the illness is related to their bad behavior. And they were so sick they almost died. Even Lehi’s sons and wife and Nephi’s own children all become sick.
“And there was nothing save it were the power of God, which threatened them with destruction, could soften their hearts; wherefore, when they saw that they were about to be swallowed up in the depths of the sea they repented of the thing which they had done, insomuch that they loosed me”.
So the brothers, again, repent.
And Nephi, again, forgives.
Nephi had every reason to be upset, and every reason to hold a grudge.
Nephi had every reason to punish, to retaliate, to kick his brothers off the boat and let them drown.
But he didn’t. He forgave them. He let it go.
Not only did he let it go, but he moved on: as soon as he was untied, he goes right to the compass and prays for the Lord to make it work. As soon as he prays, the storm settles down and the water is calm. It all happens very quickly in the story, but what life lessons for us to process!
Nephi guides the ship towards the promised land, and they are all very glad to arrive. They pitch their tents (including the tabernacle), worship (even in the temple), and begin to work hard. They till the earth and plant seeds and build their homes. The whole family is blessed in provision as the plants grow, and in provision as the animals are found for food. They also find metal materials that will help them in their work.
Lehi’s family – Nephi and his brothers and their wives – have safely arrived in the promised land, and they are blessed beyond abundance.
This, of course, is a type pointing to the peace we can have in our mortal journey while traveling towards eternal life, and the blessings and joy we will have once we arrive.
It’s a miracle, this journey of life.
We can either bring on the storms by murmuring about everything along the way, and by tying up those meant to help us, or we can do the hard work of guiding our ship towards home.