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1 Nephi 17
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1 Nephi 17
1 Nephi 17:1–4
1 And it came to pass that we did again take our journey in the wilderness; and we did travel nearly eastward from that time forth. And we did travel and wade through much affliction in the wilderness; and our women did bear children in the wilderness.
2 And so great were the blessings of the Lord upon us, that while we did live upon raw meat in the wilderness, our women did give plenty of suck for their children, and were strong, yea, even like unto the men; and they began to bear their journeyings without murmurings.
3 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.
4 And we did sojourn for the space of many years, yea, even eight years in the wilderness.
Even though they had hardships, they came to accept them and cease murmurings. Nephi couches that statement as a positive, though one might just as easily read it as a defeated attitude. That, however, is certainly not Nephi’s message. He qualifies that statement to make certain that we know that they were strengthened in their afflictions.
With an easterly turn at Nahom, Lehi’s family would be traveling in a more dangerous path. It is probable that they did not create cooking fires so as not to invite brigands. That doesn’t mean that they gnawed raw meat from the bone, however. Bedouins have long prepared a meat that is preserved, but not cooked. For some reason, Nephi doesn’t clarify this statement until later in verse 12, which states: “For the Lord had not hitherto suffered that we should make much fire, as we journeyed in the wilderness; for he said: I will make thy food become sweet, that ye cook it not” (1 Nephi 17:12).
Finally, we are told that they spent eight years in the wilderness. This was a journey that should take months, not years. S. Kent Brown has examined the contexts in which the word sojourn is used in the Bible and suggests that it may mean a time in captivity. If they had met unfriendly tribes, they might have purchased their freedom through scribal services, as not all communities would have had someone who could read and write.
1 Nephi 17:5–6
5 And we did come to the land which we called Bountiful, because of its much fruit and also wild honey; and all these things were prepared of the Lord that we might not perish. And we beheld the sea, which we called Irreantum, which, being interpreted, is many waters.
6 And it came to pass that we did pitch our tents by the seashore; and notwithstanding we had suffered many afflictions and much difficulty, yea, even so much that we cannot write them all, we were exceedingly rejoiced when we came to the seashore; and we called the place Bountiful, because of its much fruit.
As with other places, with the exception of Nahom, the family gives this location a name. After years of difficult travel through a wilderness, they arrive on a coast which abounded in fruit and wild honey. Although Nephi tells little of the journeys themselves, the contrast between the privations before arriving in this new location were so remarkable that Nephi probably could not help but mention it. They call the place Bountiful, a name that will be used again much later in the Nephite history, but without any known reference to this Bountiful, which is clearly named for its abundance after lack. Nephi’s statement that “we were exceedingly rejoiced” is probably an understatement upon arriving in a land which supplied so much after their time in a land that supplied so little.
There is no known etymology for Irreantum. The Book of Mormon Onomasticon (a database of possible meanings for Book of Mormon names) lists four possibilities, but does not appear to endorse any of the four.
Nephi does not mention that they realized that they must continue their journey by crossing those great waters. He simply indicates that the journey is over by stating that they have pitched their tents on the seashore.
1 Nephi 17:7–10
7 And it came to pass that after I, Nephi, had been in the land of Bountiful for the space of many days, the voice of the Lord came unto me, saying: 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.
8 And it came to pass that the Lord spake unto me, saying: Thou shalt construct a ship, after the manner which I shall show thee, that I may carry thy people across these waters.
9 And I said: Lord, whither shall I go that I may find ore to molten, that I may make tools to construct the ship after the manner which thou hast shown unto me?
10 And it came to pass that the Lord told me whither I should go to find ore, that I might make tools.
The simple reading of these verses is that the Lord tells Nephi to construct a ship. It is more interesting than that. The Lord speaks to Nephi but doesn’t say any more than that he should “arise, and get thee into the mountain.” The implication is certainly that the Lord has something to say, but why couldn’t he say it the first time?
Going to the mountain was significant. It is particularly significant considering that Nephi is constructing his story so that there are parallels to Israel’s story. Three months after the departure of the children of Israel from Egypt, Moses went up the mountain to speak with Yahweh (Exodus 19:1-3). The nature of the message is different, but Nephi sees the location as important, and makes sure that the parallel of a leader of a family in exodus goes up on a mountain to speak with God. It is a continuation of the trajectory that shows Nephi becoming the ruler and teacher not only of his brothers, but of the whole family. A prophet is not only a prophet for his own people, but even for those who do not accept him.
These verses help us understand that Nephi was familiar with metalworking. That could only have been true if it were part of the family business, which contributes to our understanding of Lehi as a metalsmith. Nephi doesn’t ask how he could make tools, but only where to find the necessary ore. Yahweh tells him, and he obtains the ore.
1 Nephi 17:11–15
11 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, did make a bellows wherewith to blow the fire, of the skins of beasts; and after I had made a bellows, that I might have wherewith to blow the fire, I did smite two stones together that I might make fire.
12 For the Lord had not hitherto suffered that we should make much fire, as we journeyed in the wilderness; for he said: I will make thy food become sweet, that ye cook it not;
13 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.
14 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.
15 Wherefore, I, Nephi, did strive to keep the commandments of the Lord, and I did exhort my brethren to faithfulness and diligence.
As Nephi writes, he marks the progress of time and movement through his narrative with the phrase “and it came to pass.” At times, when moving quickly through certain events, he will have three or four sentences in a row that begin with “and it came to pass.” Here we have a section that begins with “and it came to pass.” When this little section ends, the next starts again with “and it came to pass.”
Nephi was writing at a time prior to the use of punctuation. As Joseph dictated the translation, there was no indication of punctuation. The compositor did a pretty good job of making it easier to read by adding punctuation, but what could be done during Nephi’s day? In Nephi’s day, he could use verbal markers that would clue the listener or reader that a new thought, or section, had begun. That is the function of “and it came to pass” in the Book of Mormon. It occurs frequently when Nephi records history. In 2 Nephi, when Nephi is discussing prophecy, it is very rare.
Verse 12, which speaks of the family not making fire during their journey appears to be an aside that Nephi made which was not planned. It was triggered by making fire for the forge. That is not at all like making a fire for food, but it triggered his remembrance that he hadn’t explained why they had eaten raw meat. We can tell that it is an aside because it is out of timeframe, and out of the context of the rest of this text.
1 Nephi 17:16–18
16 And it came to pass that I did make tools of the ore which I did molten out of the rock.
17 And when my brethren saw that I was about to build a ship, they began to murmur against me, saying: Our brother is a fool, for he thinketh that he can build a ship; yea, and he also thinketh that he can cross these great waters.
18 And thus my brethren did complain against me, and were desirous that they might not labor, for they did not believe that I could build a ship; neither would they believe that I was instructed of the Lord.
The literary purpose of these verses is to lead into the next section’s litany of Laman’s and Lemuel’s complaints. Nevertheless, it begins with a very plausible scenario. Nephi receives the command to make a ship, and by the time he could be observed making tools for the project, his brothers well understood that he was serious.
The situation is very human, and very understandable. Laman and Lemuel had a legitimate reason to suggest that “our brother is a fool, for he thinketh that he can build a ship.” This was a large task even if it were only to be a coast-hugging vessel. This was to be a ship that would cross the oceans into the complete unknown. Laman and Lemuel would have known enough of sailing to understand how difficult that was. They knew Nephi and knew his upbringing, so they knew he had never done anything like this before. They were reluctant to spend hard labor on a project that was doomed to failure.
In this incident, Nephi is showing another story that is similar to the return for the plates of brass. It is an impossible situation made possible only through God’s assistance. The brothers will eventually help, but only after they had seen that it was really going to happen.
1 Nephi 17:19–22
19 And now it came to pass that I, Nephi, was exceedingly sorrowful because of the hardness of their hearts; and now when they saw that I began to be sorrowful they were glad in their hearts, insomuch that they did rejoice over me, saying: We knew that ye could not construct a ship, for we knew that ye were lacking in judgment; wherefore, thou canst not accomplish so great a work.
20 And thou art like unto our father, led away by the foolish imaginations of his heart; yea, he hath led us out of the land of Jerusalem, and we have wandered in the wilderness for these many years; and our women have toiled, being big with child; and they have borne children in the wilderness and suffered all things, save it were death; and it would have been better that they had died before they came out of Jerusalem than to have suffered these afflictions.
21 Behold, these many years we have suffered in the wilderness, which time we might have enjoyed our possessions and the land of our inheritance; yea, and we might have been happy.
22 And we know that the people who were in the land of Jerusalem were a righteous people; for they kept the statutes and judgments of the Lord, and all his commandments, according to the law of Moses; wherefore, we know that they are a righteous people; and our father hath judged them, and hath led us away because we would hearken unto his words; yea, and our brother is like unto him. And after this manner of language did my brethren murmur and complain against us.
The specifics of the complaints are instructive of the intrafamilial content that we see frequently. They will eventually lead to the dissolution of the family and Nephi separating himself and those who would go with him from Laman and Lemuel.
Laman and Lemuel are described as favoring Jerusalem, not just as a place, but as an interpretation of religion. They represent within the family all of the reasons that Lehi was commanded to leave. They even represent, at times, those who would have slain Lehi.
Most important of their complaints is that had they remained they could have enjoyed their possessions and been happy. Because they never lived through the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem, they never understood that the life they had lived would have been taken from them anyway. They could see their own current difficulties but could never appreciate the difficulties from which they had been saved.
Nephi Recounts the Miracles of the Exodus
1 Nephi 17:23–25
23 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, spake unto them, saying: Do ye believe that our fathers, who were the children of Israel, would have been led away out of the hands of the Egyptians if they had not hearkened unto the words of the Lord?
24 Yea, do ye suppose that they would have been led out of bondage, if the Lord had not commanded Moses that he should lead them out of bondage?
25 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.
Nephi introduced the complaining brothers in order to show how he taught them. This part of the story is not told simply because it happened, or because no other important events occurred. This event is told because it furthers the story of how Nephi was a teacher over his brethren.
Nephi set up his theme in the previous verses where Laman and Lemuel did not want to leave Jerusalem. One of the subthemes of 1 Nephi is how Nephi paints his family’s journey as a recreation of the Exodus account. Thus, he notes that Laman and Lemuel did not want to leave Jerusalem, and the lesson he teaches them is about the children of Israel who were in bondage in Egypt and needed to leave.
Laman and Lemuel certainly would have not thought the two situations entirely comparable, as they were not in bondage in Jerusalem as Israel was in Egypt. As they noted, they had possessions and could have been happy. That, of course, is not Nephi’s point. The point is that they were commanded to leave, as was Israel.
Although there were differences, by likening Lehi’s family to Israel’s exodus from Egypt, Nephi reminds the brothers that there is a promised land awaiting them, and that it will be better at the end than it would have been if they had stayed, and better than it has been during the journey—just as it had been for Israel.
1 Nephi 17:26–29
26 Now ye know that Moses was commanded of the Lord to do that great work; and ye know that by his word the waters of the Red Sea were divided hither and thither, and they passed through on dry ground.
27 But ye know that the Egyptians were drowned in the Red Sea, who were the armies of Pharaoh.
28 And ye also know that they were fed with manna in the wilderness.
29 Yea, and ye also know that Moses, by his word according to the power of God which was in him, smote the rock, and there came forth water, that the children of Israel might quench their thirst.
Nephi has previously used the story of the destruction of Pharaoh’s army in the Red Sea, in 1 Nephi 4:2. On that occasion he was encouraging his brothers to return to Laban in spite of his ability to raise a small military force against them. At the time it was a story of God’s power to protect them against a powerful foe, and perhaps to foreshadow the death of Laban.
In this case, it is simply a reminder that God can overcome all obstacles. That is the reason that Nephi quickly follows the story of the Pharaoh’s armies with the story of the miraculous provision of food and water. Thus, the children of Israel were under Yahweh’s protection in their journey through the desert.
The obvious lesson for Laman and Lemuel was that they had already been miraculously preserved through the desert, and they could therefore expect that Yahweh would also overcome the small difficulty of building a ship.
1 Nephi 17:30–31
30 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, they hardened their hearts and blinded their minds, and reviled against Moses and against the true and living God.
31 And it came to pass that according to his word he did destroy them; and according to his word he did lead them; and according to his word he did do all things for them; and there was not any thing done save it were by his word.
As the children of Israel traveled through the wilderness, Yahweh led them. In spite of that obvious guidance, Israel murmured. In spite of Yahweh “doing all things for them which were expedient for man to receive, they hardened their hearts and blinded their minds.” Nephi adds that they reviled against Moses.
This is not a subtle lesson. Lehi’s family had received the ball, or director, which took the place of the column of smoke by day and pillar of fire by night that led the children of Israel. Laman and Lemuel are in the place of the children of Israel. In spite of the miraculous provision of food after the incident of the failed bows, Laman and Lemuel hardened their hearts.
Above all, Laman and Lemuel complained against their Moses. What is important at this point in the narrative is that while they have complained against Lehi before, we see more and more of their complaining being directed to Nephi. As Nephi is relating his family’s story, he is increasingly substituting himself in his father’s place as the family’s Moses.
We must remember that this is Nephi’s story, told for his own purposes, told thirty years after they left Jerusalem, and over twenty years after this event. The purpose of 1 Nephi is to bolster his position as the Nephite leader, and thus it is important to the story to have him become the de facto family leader.
1 Nephi 17:32–35
32 And after they had crossed the river Jordan he did make them mighty unto the driving out of the children of the land, yea, unto the scattering them to destruction.
33 And now, do ye suppose that the children of this land, who were in the land of promise, who were driven out by our fathers, do ye suppose that they were righteous? Behold, I say unto you, Nay.
34 Do ye suppose that our fathers would have been more choice than they if they had been righteous? I say unto you, Nay.
35 Behold, the Lord esteemeth all flesh in one; he that is righteous is favored of God. But behold, this people had rejected every word of God, and they were ripe in iniquity; and the fulness of the wrath of God was upon them; and the Lord did curse the land against them, and bless it unto our fathers; yea, he did curse it against them unto their destruction, and he did bless it unto our fathers unto their obtaining power over it.
When Nephi earlier inserted language associated with the Liahona to Yahweh’s guidance of Israel, we are on notice that this scriptural story has two faces, one looking to Israel, and one to Lehi’s family. When we hit this point in the story, the story is accomplished history for Israel, but in the future for Lehi’s family. Nevertheless, when Nephi wrote it, it was also accomplished history.
The short comparison is that just as the children of Israel entered their promised land, so too would Lehi’s family. It appears significant that Nephi mentions that Israel had to remove the Canaanites from their promised land. That appears to foreshadow others in the land into which Lehi’s family would arrive.
The most interesting part of this comparison, however, is the departure from the typical rhetoric of Israel’s conquest of their promised land. Nephi specifically notes that the people will be removed because they are, at that time, less righteous. However, Nephi makes a qualification that is never made for the Canaanites. Nephi emphasizes that Lehi’s family is not “more choice” than they, and that God “esteemeth all flesh in one.” In Nephi’s telling, it is important to note that it is not the inherent difference of the people, but only the degree to which they follow Yahweh. Regardless of Israelite, or the New World populations they would face, Nephi declares: “he that is righteous if favored of God.”
When Nephi wrote this, he was in the New World, and living among many of those who might have been displaced, but who had become righteous and part of the Nephite people. It was therefore important to note their essential equality, as they would form an important part of God’s people in the New World.
1 Nephi 17:33–40
36 Behold, the Lord hath created the earth that it should be inhabited; and he hath created his children that they should possess it.
37 And he raiseth up a righteous nation, and destroyeth the nations of the wicked.
38 And he leadeth away the righteous into precious lands, and the wicked he destroyeth, and curseth the land unto them for their sakes.
39 He ruleth high in the heavens, for it is his throne, and this earth is his footstool.
40 And he loveth those who will have him to be their God. Behold, he loved our fathers, and he covenanted with them, yea, even Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and he remembered the covenants which he had made; wherefore, he did bring them out of the land of Egypt.
These verses reinforce the message begun in the previous verses. There is a place promised for Israel, and a place promised to Lehi. In both cases, Yahweh will raise up his righteous nation, and destroy the wicked. However, the language continues to reflect the newer theological twist from the New World. It is not simply Israel against the world, but the righteous against the wicked. It is the righteous who are led, and the wicked who are destroyed to make room for them.
However, lest anyone assume that this is a promise to a lineage, Nephi clarifies: “and he loveth those who will have him to be their God.” That is not Yahweh the exclusive God of Israel, but Yahweh the God of all. These are verses that reflect the New World Nephi’s perspective, and probably the necessity of intermingling with the peoples they found in the New World.
1 Nephi 17:41–44
41 And he did straiten them in the wilderness with his rod; for they hardened their hearts, even as ye have; and the Lord straitened them because of their iniquity. He sent fiery flying serpents among them; and after they were bitten he prepared a way that they might be healed; and the labor which they had to perform was to look; and because of the simpleness of the way, or the easiness of it, there were many who perished.
42 And they did harden their hearts from time to time, and they did revile against Moses, and also against God; nevertheless, ye know that they were led forth by his matchless power into the land of promise.
43 And now, after all these things, the time has come that they have become wicked, yea, nearly unto ripeness; and I know not but they are at this day about to be destroyed; for I know that the day must surely come that they must be destroyed, save a few only, who shall be led away into captivity.
44 Wherefore, the Lord commanded my father that he should depart into the wilderness; and the Jews also sought to take away his life; yea, and ye also have sought to take away his life; wherefore, ye are murderers in your hearts and ye are like unto them.
Nephi has moved the comparison from Israel entering the promised land to the current children of Israel in Jerusalem. He had noted that the difference between preservation and destruction depended upon righteousness, and now turns to the specific unrighteousness of those in Jerusalem.
This has been a story of Moses, who came long before current Jerusalem. Therefore, Nephi begins with the children of Israel reviling against Moses, and parallels that to the children of Jerusalem reviling against Lehi. The unrighteousness of those in Jerusalem signals that they would no longer be preserved, and therefore, Nephi testifies that “they are at this day about to be destroyed.”
These unrighteous children of Jerusalem are not only like the children of Israel who reviled against Moses, but lest the brothers miss the point, Nephi speaks to them directly. He says to them: “Ye are murderers in your hearts and ye are like unto them.” The brothers’ oft-stated desire to return to Jerusalem underscores how completely they are like those in Jerusalem who sought their father’s life.
1 Nephi 17:45–47
45 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; wherefore, he has spoken unto you like unto the voice of thunder, which did cause the earth to shake as if it were to divide asunder.
46 And ye also know that by the power of his almighty word he can cause the earth that it shall pass away; yea, and ye know that by his word he can cause the rough places to be made smooth, and smooth places shall be broken up. O, then, why is it, that ye can be so hard in your hearts?
47 Behold, my soul is rent with anguish because of you, and my heart is pained; I fear lest ye shall be cast off forever. Behold, I am full of the Spirit of God, insomuch that my frame has no strength.
At this point the story has ended. The comparison has been set, and now Nephi turns to explicitly condemning his brothers. He had just accused Laman and Lemuel of being murderers in their hearts. Now he continues to describe their unrighteousness.
The brothers have heard the voice of God as a still small voice, but they were past feeling. In this, Nephi describes the way that God speaks through the Holy Ghost to the majority of his children. It is in an impression rather than a dramatic declaration. Nevertheless, if we can feel that Spirit, we may know its source. The hardened heart is, by definition, past feeling.
Lehi had seen that Laman and Lemuel would not partake of the fruit of the tree of life. Nephi declares that he too, under the influence of the Spirit, also feels anguish for them.
Laman and Lemuel and Shocked with the Power of God
1 Nephi 17:48–51
48 And now it came to pass that when I had spoken these words they were angry with me, and were desirous to throw me into the depths of the sea; and as they came forth to lay their hands upon me I spake unto them, saying: In the name of the Almighty God, I command you that ye touch me not, for I am filled with the power of God, even unto the consuming of my flesh; and whoso shall lay his hands upon me shall wither even as a dried reed; and he shall be as naught before the power of God, for God shall smite him.
49 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, said unto them that they should murmur no more against their father; neither should they withhold their labor from me, for God had commanded me that I should build a ship.
50 And I said unto them: If God had commanded me to do all things I could do them. If he should command me that I should say unto this water, be thou earth, it should be earth; and if I should say it, it would be done.
51 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?
Nephi uses “and it came to pass” to show a movement in narrative time. The phrase emphasizes an event and shows it to be in a temporal sequence after the previous one. The phrase “and now” is also a textual marker, but it links different ideas in the same time periods.
Here, the first “and it came to pass” shows Laman’s and Lemuel’s response to Nephi’s lecture. Nephi responds, and the emphasis is on the Spirit protecting Nephi from his brothers.
The next “and it came to pass” shows Nephi’s response to them. The “and now” is part of the same discourse to his brothers but separates out the example of God’s power to the specific thing that has been requested.
1 Nephi 17:52–55
52 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, said many things unto my brethren, insomuch that they were confounded and could not contend against me; neither durst they lay their hands upon me nor touch me with their fingers, even for the space of many days. Now they durst not do this lest they should wither before me, so powerful was the Spirit of God; and thus it had wrought upon them.
53 And it came to pass that the Lord said unto me: Stretch forth thine hand again unto thy brethren, and they shall not wither before thee, but I will shock them, saith the Lord, and this will I do, that they may know that I am the Lord their God.
54 And it came to pass that I stretched forth my hand unto my brethren, and they did not wither before me; but the Lord did shake them, even according to the word which he had spoken.
55 And now, they said: We know of a surety that the Lord is with thee, for we know that it is the power of the Lord that has shaken us. And they fell down before me, and were about to worship me, but I would not suffer them, saying: I am thy brother, yea, even thy younger brother; wherefore, worship the Lord thy God, and honor thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long in the land which the Lord thy God shall give thee.
The brothers have been accused of murderous intentions. Although that was specifically in reference to Lehi, Nephi is now the focal point of the story, and that murderous intent appears to be leveled against him. Nephi displays his comparative righteousness to their unrighteousness in the Spirit’s protection.
Yahweh tells Nephi to “stretch forth thine hand.” That phrase is used often in the Old Testament as a statement that Yahweh will be destructive to those against whom the hand is stretched. That is clearly the intent here.
When the text says that Nephi would shock his brothers, we should not assume anything like an electrical shock. That would be anachronistic. It is another meaning of shock, which is “a violent striking” (in Webster’s 1828 dictionary), that we find the contextually appropriate meaning.
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