1 Nephi 16 tweet: Lh sons marry Ih daughters. They find Liahona. N breaks bow, all murmur. N slays beasts, all humble. Ih dies at NHM. L&L want to kill Lh&N.
1 Ne 16 marks the start of chapter V in the original chapter divisions of the Book of Mormon (chapter V incorporates 1 Ne 16–1 Ne 19:21). After describing Lehi’s and his own visions, in chapter V Nephi returns to the journey narrative of the people. The always useful feast upon the word (FUTW) commentary highlights that there are three major sections in 1 Ne 16–18:1
- 1 Nephi 16: The land journey
- 1 Nephi 17: Building the boat
- 1 Nephi 18: The water journey
And as Joe Spencer suggests, it’s probably important to remember that 1 Ne 16 and 1 Ne 18 were originally part of the same chapter:
Chapter 16 (the story of the journey across the desert to Bountiful) and chapter 18 (the story of the journey across the ocean to the promised land) are clearly meant to be parallel. Separating them is the situation at Bountiful, which they together set off. Each narrative follows something of the same pattern, detailing a major, life-threatening crisis during which Nephi doesn’t lose his head, while everyone else does—including Lehi.2
As a heads up, when we come to 1 Ne 18 we’ll compare and contrast the water journey narrative with the land journey narrative we work through now in 1 Ne 16.
v1: Here, Laman and Lemuel (I assume Laman and Lemuel but I suppose ‘my brethren’ might also have included Sam) complain that Nephi’s interpretations of Lehi’s vision (i.e. 1 Ne 15:21–36) were hard against them, even more than they were able to bear. In the previous chapter, Nephi found them arguing with one another because Lehi’s prophecies concerning the olive tree (see 1 Ne 15:2,7 and 1 Ne 10:2–15) were hard for them to understand. What is the difference between hard things against them and things that were hard to understand?
One difference is that with the things that were hard to understand it was because they were hard in their hearts (1 Ne 15:3). But the things that were hard against them cut them to the centre (1 Ne 16:2), in spite of their hard hearts. I think this distinction in the word of God is important – at times the word is hard against us and will cut us to the core in spite of the condition of our hearts; at other times it is hard to understand because of the condition of our hearts.
v5: In spite of Nephi’s hard words against them, his brothers humbled themselves before the Lord. And in this instance their humility was different in that Nephi had hope that they would walk in the paths of righteousness (the way of the tree of life?). Why do you think this time they humbled themselves in such a way as to cause Nephi joy and hope?
One possibility is that in this instance they were humbled because Nephi preached to them the word of God (i.e. 1 Ne 15). Elsewhere, they are humbled by external circumstances, e.g. later in this chapter due to a lack of and then subsequent provision of food; and in 1 Ne 18 due to the storm which threatens their lives and is then calmed. Alma differentiates between those who are humble because of circumstance and those he refers to as ‘truly humble’ because of the word (see Alma 32:12–15). Perhaps this difference is at play here.
v9: Why do you think the voice of the Lord came to Lehi at night? And after they had been in the valley of Lemuel for so long, why the urgency for them to begin travelling again the very next day?
v10: The party wake up the next morning to find what we later learn is called a Liahona. Robert Smith suggests that Laman may have believed that Nephi himself had made the Liahona as a way to deceive his brothers3 – see v38 where Laman says of Nephi: “he worketh many things by his cunning arts, that he may deceive our eyes, thinking, perhaps, that he may lead us away into some strange wilderness”. Certainly it’s true that Nephi was a skilled metal worker, e.g. the plates he made for keeping his records on; additionally, he seems to have been the only member of the group with a steel bow. So when a ball of curious metal workmanship appears at the tent door one morning, the natural reaction may have been to assume Nephi’s hand was in its production.
v12: Just a note to say that crossing water is recurring motif in a new stage of God-directed journeys.
Now we come to the incident at the heart of the chapter and which in some ways marks a shift in the leadership of the group from Lehi to Nephi – the breaking of Nephi’s bow. A lot of ink has been spilled over what happens here. So I’ll just point out a couple of things that were new to me this time round.
v20: While Laman, Lemuel and the sons of Ishmael murmured exceedingly, Lehi is the only one who is described as murmuring against God. Do you think this is significant?
v23: A lot is often made of the fact that Nephi goes to Lehi and asks where he should go to obtain food. And while Lehi does humble himself and inquire of the Lord, the record doesn’t actually say that Lehi is the one who tells Nephi where to go, rather he goes according to the directions of the Liahona (see v30). Do you think this is significant?
The FUTW commentary makes this interesting observation:
Brass and steel. Nephi juxtaposes a steel object (Nephi’s bow) whose great military strength is unable to save them with another object made of soft brass (the Liahona) that does have the power to save but because it conveys the word of the Lord.1
This reminds me of another example where the durability of the word is juxtaposed with weaponry – see Mosiah 8:9 and 11 where the integrity of gold plates filled with engravings is contrasted with swords whose hilts had perished and whose blades were cankered with rust. This theme of the word being more powerful than the sword (or bow) recurs throughout the Book of Mormon. I’ll pick it up again another time.
Finally, regarding verses 30 and 31, someone made the following interesting suggestion at the FUTW blog:
Why was Nephi directed to go “up into the top of the mountain” to slay beasts? Was that just where the animals were, or is there something else going on? Since mountaintops are holy places, actual natural temples, is there something else going on here related to killing beasts on mountains/temples?
I found the footnote in verse 31 interesting–it leads to Genesis 9:3, where the LORD provides a covenant to Noah and his posterity after the flood. In that instance, Noah on the mountaintop is given a covenant that in part allows him to kill wild animals for food. In some traditions, humans hadn’t yet been given the right to kill animals for food until this point.
Is there something here about Nephi renewing that covenant with the LORD in this incident?4
In the interest of word count I’ll end it there for this week. I’ll cover Ishmael’s death and the first half of 1 Ne 17 next week.
Next week’s reading: 1 Nephi 16:33–17:22