Monday, June 19, 2017

Nephi's Boat: Hardships and Faith -- 1 Nephi 17

What Happens

"Nephi is commanded to build a ship—His brethren oppose him—He exhorts them by recounting the history of God’s dealings with Israel—Nephi is filled with the power of God—His brethren are forbidden to touch him, lest they wither as a dried reed."
1 Nephi 17 Chapter Heading


In our last episode, they found the Liahona and Ishmael died, stirring up some disharmony in the group.  At the beginning of this chapter they are on the move again.

Nephi starts out by talking about some of the hardships that they are going through.  Eating raw meat, bearing children in the wilderness, and mentions in verse 4 that this has been going on for eight years. Yikes.  A good reminder that the journey to the promised land isn't an easy one.  I like Nephi's faith-promoting message in verse 3: "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."

This message is similar to what we have heard from Nephi before, in his "go and do" speech in 1 Nephi 3:7.  The difference here, I think, is that it is less naive and theoretical. Nephi's idealistic faith in God worked when he got the plates of brass, but now Nephi has lived for years in the wilderness and their whole group has gone through a lot of hardship.  Sometimes that tends to make us bitter, hardened, and less faithful, but Nephi was paying attention, and he knows that God is still strengthening and helping them during the long, enduring part of the journey, not just the fast, dramatic events.  It might be a message to us all that we need to hang on to some of that idealism of our youth, and that "sure" hope that it talks about in Ether 12:24.  But I'm jumping ahead, so back to the chapter.

They get to the sea, and there is a lot of fruit (which sounds better than raw meat), so they are happy.  They camp there, and Nephi is asked to build a ship.  Remarkably here, Nephi doesn't question the Lord or his own ability.  He merely asks where he can find ore to make the appropriate tools.  Now, that is faith.  I'm guessing I would have been a little bit like Nephi's brothers in verse 17 who question his sanity for thinking that he can just build a boat and cross the sea.

They go a little farther than just questioning his sanity though.  Every imagined past wrong comes up again.  They say (about the women) "it would have been better that they had died before they came out of Jerusalem than to have suffered these afflictions" (verse 20).  I sure hope their wives didn't overhear (or worse, actually agree with) this.  They also bring up the whole "we should have stayed in Jerusalem" thing where they believe "we might have been happy" (verse 21).  This is something that we do a lot too--idealize the past rather than living in the present.  I don't think that a years-long camping trip with raw meat, pregnant women and the resultant newborn babies sounds like much fun either, but this clearly shows that they were focusing on different things than Nephi was.  Nephi saw the suffering, but also the strength.  His brothers only saw the suffering, and discounted the strength... wishing to die instead, or at least saying that death was preferable for some of them.  And the whole insinuation that in all those years there was no happiness is a sad one, since that is most often something that we can choose, even in the worst circumstances.

Nephi reminds his brothers of all the Biblical (I guess Brass Platical in this case) accounts of miraculous events and the parallel story of Moses being led to the promised land.  He emphasizes that God "leadeth away the righteous into precious lands, and the wicked he destroyeth" (verse 38), and other acts of rebellion against God.  He reminds them in verses 45-46 that they actually saw an angel, and still they harden their hearts.

This lecture, of course, makes them angry, but as they go to throw Nephi into the sea, Nephi commands them not to touch him or they will wither.  As a testament to their underlying belief, they don't try.

Verse 51 is amazing: "And now, if the Lord has such great power, and has wrought so many miracles among the children of men, how is it that he cannot instruct me, that I should build a ship?"  Again, when faced with the choice between doubt and fear or belief, Nephi chooses faith.  He believes that if it happened for all the people in the scriptures, then it can happen for him.  Another good lesson we can take away from this.  God can instruct us as well.

Nephi's brothers are scared to touch him for several days, and then God advises Nephi to shock them with his touch (which is another unexplained miracle among many), after which they say that they know the Lord is with him.  If only that conviction would last.

Tune in next time, where we find out that it really doesn't.

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