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1 Nephi 18
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1 Nephi 18
The Ship is Built by Revelation
1 Nephi 18:1–3
1 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.
2 Now I, Nephi, did not work the timbers after the manner which was learned by men, neither did I build the ship after the manner of men; but I did build it after the manner which the Lord had shown unto me; wherefore, it was not after the manner of men.
3 And I, Nephi, did go into the mount oft, and I did pray oft unto the Lord; wherefore the Lord showed unto me great things.
Similar to Nephi’s earlier stories of conflict with his brothers, this conflict is described in detail. Similarly, things an historian would want to know are skimmed over with very few details. We would love to know more about where Nephi found the materials to build the ship. We would love to know more about how he did it, and how long it took for so few people to build a seaworthy vessel. Nephi tells us only that Yahweh showed him how to do it from time to time and that it was not done in the way that was common at that time, or perhaps in that region.
The historical structure of 1 Nephi exists to provide the temporal structure onto which are placed the scenes that demonstrate how Nephi moves from youngest son to teacher and ruler over his brothers. When an historical event occurs that does not move that purpose forward, it is described only quickly. Everything about how Nephi writes 1 Nephi declares that it really does not have history as its purpose. That should not be surprising as Nephi has already declared that what he writes on the small plates is expressly not history, but rather somehow an elaboration of what he sees as more sacred things. In this case, the sacred thing is the fulfillment of the personal prophecy that he would be a ruler and a teacher over his brethren.
Sailing to the Promised Land
1 Nephi 18:4–7
4 And it came to pass that after I had finished the ship, according to the word of the Lord, my brethren beheld that it was good, and that the workmanship thereof was exceedingly fine; wherefore, they did humble themselves again before the Lord.
5 And it came to pass that the voice of the Lord came unto my father, that we should arise and go down into the ship.
6 And it came to pass that on the morrow, after we had prepared all things, much fruits and meat from the wilderness, and honey in abundance, and provisions according to that which the Lord had commanded us, we did go down into the ship, with all our loading and our seeds, and whatsoever thing we had brought with us, every one according to his age; wherefore, we did all go down into the ship, with our wives and our children.
7 And now, my father had begat two sons in the wilderness; the elder was called Jacob and the younger Joseph.
Three verses in a row begin with “and it came to pass.” Nephi is moving his story along quickly. The first verse indicates that the ship is built. The second records the command to enter the ship, and the third recounts provisioning the ship for the journey.
What is interesting is the next verse (verse 7). Nephi mentions that he has two brothers born in the wilderness. It is possible that these two were twins, as the first was named Jacob and the younger Joseph. Since Lehi was of Joseph’s lineage, had he had the two sons at different times, we might have suspected that he used that name first. The fact that he didn’t, but went in order of the genealogy, with Jacob first and then Joseph, suggests that both sons were born at the same time so that the naming would make more sense.
Apart from the naming, however, the very presence of this verse is unusual as it is out of time sequence. The sons were born in the wilderness, but not mentioned until now. It appears that when Nephi concluded the previous sentence by mentioning that they all went down into the ship with their wives and children, that he was reminded that he hadn’t noted the birth of the brothers. As Nephi wrote this in the New World and knew that Jacob would be the recipient of this set of plates, he undoubtedly realized that his readers would need to know who he was.
We are seeing Nephi making a last-minute adjustment to his record, triggered by the idea that the whole family, went into the ship—with the specific mention of children being the most likely trigger, as both Jacob and Joseph would have been children at the time.
1 Nephi 18:8–9
8 And it came to pass after we had all gone down into the ship, and had taken with us our provisions and things which had been commanded us, we did put forth into the sea and were driven forth before the wind towards the promised land.
9 And after we had been driven forth before the wind for the space of many days, behold, my brethren and the sons of Ishmael and also their wives began to make themselves merry, insomuch that they began to dance, and to sing, and to speak with much rudeness, yea, even that they did forget by what power they had been brought thither; yea, they were lifted up unto exceeding rudeness.
We expect that a sailing vessel would be driven before the wind, but that doesn’t mean that the winds are always blowing in the right direction. In fact, assuming a location for Bountiful on the east coast of the Arabian Peninsula, the winds are usually blowing in the wrong direction.
The exception is during an El Niño year. During that year, the winds change to be favorable to a Pacific crossing for the Lehite ship. While there were certainly various reasons that kept Lehi and his family 8 years in the wilderness, one of the reasons the Lord may have allowed that length of time was the necessity of having the ship finished near to the time that the appropriate winds were blowing.
Nephi uses the departure to set up the next story. As with the others, this is a story that will demonstrate that Yahweh favors Nephi over his older brothers. Most interesting is that this is set up by singing and dancing. It might appear that these two things are inherently dangerous, but that isn’t the intention here. Nephi continues to draw parallels to the Exodus story. As Moses returns to his people, he finds them singing and dancing (Exodus 32:18–19). The children of Israel were singing and dancing as part of a religious practice that harkened to their time in idolatry. Nephi uses that image to demonstrate that while Laman and Lemuel had times of repentance, they too were quick to forget.
1 Nephi 18:10–14
10 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; wherefore, I, Nephi, began to speak to them with much soberness; but behold they were angry with me, saying: We will not that our younger brother shall be a ruler over us.
11 And it came to pass that Laman and Lemuel did take me and bind me with cords, and they did treat me with much harshness; nevertheless, the Lord did suffer it that he might show forth his power, unto the fulfilling of his word which he had spoken concerning the wicked.
12 And it came to pass that after they had bound me insomuch that I could not move, the compass, which had been prepared of the Lord, did cease to work.
13 Wherefore, they knew not whither they should steer the ship, insomuch that there arose a great storm, yea, a great and terrible tempest, and we were driven back upon the waters for the space of three days; and they began to be frightened exceedingly lest they should be drowned in the sea; nevertheless they did not loose me.
14 And on the fourth day, which we had been driven back, the tempest began to be exceedingly sore.
Nephi makes it very clear that this incident is a continuation of the birthright conflict with Laman and Lemuel. He specifically notes that they are angry with him because they “will not that our younger brother shall be a ruler over us.” Nevertheless, as the story unfolds, that is just what will be shown.
The set up for the incident has Nephi bound. While that was certainly a physical binding, Nephi parallels it to a spiritual binding, as indicated by the Liahona’s failure to work. The combination of the dire storm and the inability to use the Liahona to find a way out intensifies the problem.
There are two possibilities that are interesting for noting that the tempest was in its fourth day. Read from the Old World perspective, this would be an actual count of days, since the symbolic number would have been three days. However, if Nephi is writing for New World descendants, he might have included four days because in the New World the number four was particularly significant. Perhaps it was a coincidence that the actual count that happened to be symbolic in the New World.
1 Nephi 18:15–20
15 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.
16 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.
17 Now my father, Lehi, had said many things unto them, and also unto the sons of Ishmael; but, behold, they did breathe out much threatenings against anyone that should speak for me; and my parents being stricken in years, and having suffered much grief because of their children, they were brought down, yea, even upon their sick-beds.
18 Because of their grief and much sorrow, and the iniquity of my brethren, they were brought near even to be carried out of this time to meet their God; yea, their grey hairs were about to be brought down to lie low in the dust; yea, even they were near to be cast with sorrow into a watery grave.
19 And Jacob and Joseph also, being young, having need of much nourishment, were grieved because of the afflictions of their mother; and also my wife with her tears and prayers, and also my children, did not soften the hearts of my brethren that they would loose me.
20 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.
The simple story is that the brothers finally see their peril and realize that binding Nephi might be behind it. Nephi doesn’t leave it there, however, and after noting that he was released, he takes an aside. It feels as though these verses are an afterthought, that once again Nephi realized that while he was concentrating on telling his story, he left out some important information. He must have realized that his readers would wonder where the rest of his family was in this drama, and so he provides that information. He then returns to the story by repeating that they had loosed him.
The use of repetitive resumption strengthens the hypothesis that this was an aside rather than text that had been planned for this point in the story. For more information on repetitive resumption, see 1 Nephi 6: 1–6.
Arrival in the Promised Land
1 Nephi 18:21–23
21 And it came to pass after they had loosed me, behold, I took the compass, and it did work whither I desired it. And it came to pass that I prayed unto the Lord; and after I had prayed the winds did cease, and the storm did cease, and there was a great calm.
22 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, did guide the ship, that we sailed again towards the promised land.
23 And it came to pass that after we had sailed for the space of many days we did arrive at the promised land; and we went forth upon the land, and did pitch our tents; and we did call it the promised land.
The immediate result of loosing Nephi is that the Liahona works again, and Nephi’s prayer calms the storm. This becomes a direct indication that Nephi has now become the prophet, and therefore ruler and teacher, over not only his brethren, but over the whole family.
Ancient Israelites understood Yahweh as a god of storms, and when Nephi is able to invoke the calming of the storm, it is a clear signal that Yahweh is with him. When the Liahona works for him, it leads to his statement that “I, Nephi, did guide the ship.” He has become the leader.
The next verse is the beginning of the intended ending for 1 Nephi. It will not end where Nephi planned it, for reasons discussed later, but the arrival in the New World is the intended end. Thus, they arrive, and called it the promised land. Interestingly, they didn’t receive a revelation that it was a promised land, only that since they had arrived, it must have been.
1 Nephi 18:24–25
24 And it came to pass that we did begin to till the earth, and we began to plant seeds; yea, we did put all our seeds into the earth, which we had brought from the land of Jerusalem. And it came to pass that they did grow exceedingly; wherefore, we were blessed in abundance.
25 And it came to pass that we did find upon the land of promise, as we journeyed in the wilderness, that there were beasts in the forests of every kind, both the cow and the ox, and the ass and the horse, and the goat and the wild goat, and all manner of wild animals, which were for the use of men. And we did find all manner of ore, both of gold, and of silver, and of copper.
As part of the conclusion of their journey, Nephi gives a nod to Genesis, where each new phase is greeted with the acknowledgement that it was good. Thus, they are in their new land of promise, and its goodness is witnessed by fecundity. They have what they need to sustain themselves. They have abundance.
It would be interesting if the abundance here is intended to echo the naming of the Old World as Bountiful—to leave a land of bounty to arrive in another.
The most important part of the verse about finding the animals and ore is the part about the ore. It is not complete in the current chapter divisions, because it is separated from the verse it leads to. The first verse of chapter 19 followed directly after this verse, with no chapter break. The significance of that connection will be examined with the first verse of chapter 19.
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