Thou hast declared unto us hard things
1 Nephi 16
In 2012 with Mitt Romney running for president, there was a lot of press about Mormonism, both good and bad. One topic was how the high standards of the Church “cause” women in Utah to take prescription anti-depressants and young people to commit suicide over a variety of issues. As sad as these issues are, there really is no direct corollary that shows the Church “caused” any of these tragedies. What it does show is that the people involved would not or could not adapt to the expectations. For the world, the solution would be for the Church to loosen up its standards, allowing young people to serve missions while sexually active, or look the other way when people transgress.
In the beginning verses of chapter 16, Nephi experiences the same response from his older brothers. Nephi’s teachings brought on by his brothers’ confusion over the dream Lehi had regarding the Tree of Life meant that wickedness was not acceptable. In the dream, Laman and Lemuel were not willing to follow their father to the Tree of Life, instead choosing a different path.
The call for repentance and obedience was a difficult one for them. If only God would allow them to return to Jerusalem and live out their lives in comfort and spiritual ignorance, rather than force them into a harsh existence in the Arabian desert. Already they attempted to kill Nephi once, leaving him bound in the wilderness for wild animals to tear apart. And the Lord had already delivered Nephi out of their hands on several occasions. Clearly, this was no Promised Land, nor was it a desirable land to travel through, and it depressed them to think they were being forced to live a nomadic and spiritual life, rather than the comfortable city life they were used to living.
Nephi actually agreed with them that the things he taught were hard.
“And now it came to pass that after I, Nephi, had made an end of speaking to my brethren, behold they said unto me: Thou hast declared unto us hard things, more than we are able to bear.
And it came to pass that I said unto them that I knew that I had spoken hard things against the wicked, according to the truth; and the righteous have I justified, and testified that they should be lifted up at the last day; wherefore, the guilty taketh the truth to be hard, for it cutteth them to the very center.
And now my brethren, if ye were righteous and were willing to hearken to the truth, and give heed unto it, that ye might walk uprightly before God, then ye would not murmur because of the truth, and say: Thou speakest hard things against us.
And it came to pass that I, Nephi, did exhort my brethren, with all diligence, to keep the commandments of the Lord.
And it came to pass that they did humble themselves before the Lord; insomuch that I had joy and great hopes of them, that they would walk in the paths of righteousness” (1 Ne 16:1-5).
While he could still get them to be humble and repentant now, the time would come when they would insist that such requirements and standards were insufferable. They would attack the standard bearer as mean-spirited and down right evil. Interesting how the wicked insist that their “standard” is the correct one. While it provides a rush of exhilaration for a moment, sadly, it does not provide true and lasting joy to the sinner. Increasingly, we see this happening in our day, even as the world embraces greater sin and rejects the calls of the prophets.
My father dwelt in a tent
“Now, all these things were said and done as my father dwelt in a tent in the valley which he called Lemuel” (1 Ne 16:6).
Nephi has repeated this concept several times. His father dwelt in a tent. It is a significant statement that is often bypassed in our reading the journeys of the Nephites across the desert. In ancient Israel, Moses set up a tent that sat in the midst of the tribes of Israel. This was the center place, where the Presence of the Lord (Shekinah) was experienced, where revelations were received, and where the important decisions of the Israelites were made. Lehi’s tent also is a place of the Shekinah, as Lehi saw Christ in his dream of the Tree of Life. His tent was the center place for his people, where important decisions were made, and where miracles and revelations occurred. Lehi’s tent symbolized the Tabernacle of Moses, or the Temple of Solomon in its purpose.
Again, in noting that Lehi dwelt in a tent, Nephi then commences to explain what occurred next at the tent.
“And it came to pass that I, Nephi, took one of the daughters of Ishmael to wife; and also, my brethren took of the daughters of Ishmael to wife; and also Zoram took the eldest daughter of Ishmael to wife” (vs 7).
His tent becomes the place for weddings. Herein lies a connection with the modern LDS temple, whose highest ordinances and rituals involve returning into God’s presence, and in marrying or sealing families together for the eternities. While we are not told if their weddings at Lehi’s tent were forever or not, the symbolism still is there.
Again, Lehi receives a commandment “by night” in his tent that they should depart on the morrow. Upon rising in the morning, Lehi finds a brass item outside his tent door.
“to his great astonishment he beheld upon the ground a round ball of curious workmanship; and it was of fine brass. And within the ball were two spindles; and the one pointed the way whither we should go into the wilderness” (vs 10).
This is Lehi’s encounter with the Liahona, a compass-like item with interesting capabilities. It uses spindles to point the way forward in the desert. Why would it need two spindles?
According to Don Bradley, both spindles had drawings around them. The first spindle's drawings were probably north, south, east, west. The second spindle had drawings for things they would need: travel to the New World, food, water, etc. (Don Bradley, "The Lost 116 Pages").
Later, we find that the wording on the Liahona changed from “time to time.” This is highly significant because no other such item is described in ancient scripture. When we compare what is written here with other verses given to Joseph Smith, we find that the Lord gives his seers a “stone” or item that helps them see hidden things.
“Now Ammon said unto him: I can assuredly tell thee, O king, of a man that can translate the records; for he has wherewith that he can look, and translate all records that are of ancient date; and it is a gift from God. And the things are called interpreters, and no man can look in them except he be commanded, lest he should look for that he ought not and he should perish. And whosoever is commanded to look in them, the same is called seer.
But a seer can know of things which are past, and also of things which are to come, and by them shall all things be revealed, or, rather, shall secret things be made manifest, and hidden things shall come to light, and things which are not known shall be made known by them, and also things shall be made known by them which otherwise could not be known.” (Mosiah 8:13, 17).
“And the Lord said: I will prepare unto my servant Gazelem, a stone, which shall shine forth in darkness unto light, that I may discover unto my people who serve me, that I may discover unto them the works of their brethren, yea, their secret works, their works of darkness, and their wickedness and abominations” (Alma 37:23).
“Then the white stone mentioned in Revelation 2:17, will become a Urim and Thummim to each individual who receives one, whereby things pertaining to a higher order of kingdoms will be made known;
And a white stone is given to each of those who come into the celestial kingdom, whereon is a new name written, which no man knoweth save he that receiveth it. The new name is the key word” (D&C 130:10-11).
In conjunction with the Urim and Thummim, seer stone descriptions, and the Liahona, we find items that contain information on any topic one seeks after. There are some topics a person ought not to look for, as it can pull them down into evil things. It reveals the higher order of God’s kingdom, as well as the secret works of evil men. It can reveal new text for the viewer to read. And it is protected by the new name, a password. Such items, in other words, are special celestial computers designed by God for seers of ancient days. The Liahona was similar to a modern GPS device, which shows a person how to arrive to his/her destination, and can also provide guidance through text on a screen. Just as having an IPhone with internet connection can bring a world of information to one’s finger tips, so too can we see the same things described by Joseph Smith in 1829.
The Place Called Nahom
“And it came to pass that Ishmael died, and was buried in the place which was called Nahom” (1 Ne 16:34).
In the journey through the Arabian desert, Nephi normally states that when they arrived at a place to stay, they would call it by a name they created (Valley of Lemuel, for instance). However, they arrived at a location, which Nephi said was already named “Nahom.”
Since its translation, critics have dismissed the Book of Mormon for having no known locations. In recent years, however, some possible locations have been found in the Arabian desert. One that is most definitely a bullseye is the place Nahom.
Lehi and his followers stopped on the traveling along the Frankincense Spice Trade Route because of the death of Ishmael. There was much mourning, because Ishmael would have to be buried outside of the Promised Land, and left behind by his family.
In recent decades, along the path taken by Lehi along the Red Sea, a location has been found. Three altars or markers have been found with the place name NHM on them. Ancient Semitic writing did not have vowels, so modern scholars could transcribe this as Nehem, Nihm, or Nahom and be accurate. At the spot is an ancient temple of the nomadic Nihm people. Here along the trade route they had a large cemetery used to probably bury their own, as well as travelers who died along the trade route. The cemetery, altars, and other things found at the site date to the 6th-7th centuries BC - exactly the time frame when Lehi was there.
The chances of such a location being known in Joseph Smith’s day are almost nil. In other words, Joseph Smith had it right. For those who claim it was a lucky guess, then they need to determine just how lucky Joseph Smith was in guessing dozens of things correctly in the Book of Mormon. Eventually, the statistical probability of all his correct “guesses” makes it basically impossible to believe to just be guesses.
Because of their mourning, the children of Ishmael, Laman and Lemuel all began to plot against Lehi and Nephi. They believed that Nephi’s claims of visions and authority were not from God, but just a ploy to lead them into the wilderness, where he could become their ruler. Such though probably comes from Jerusalem, where Zedekiah was just made king in the year Lehi became a prophet. Zedekiah's brother, Jeconiah was changing alliances from Babylon to Egypt, believing the Egyptians would protect Jerusalem. They didn't. Instead, Babylon came in, dethroned Jeconiah and set up his brother as king. Still, as Nibley notes in his book, "An Approach
Interestingly, it is the “voice of the Lord” (vs 39) that chastens them, until they were humbled and repentant. It seems that part of the chastisement was the inability to obtain food. Hunger is a powerful tool for humbling people, and it seems that it was a part of the Lord’s chastising.
The Arabian Bountiful
1 Nephi 17
From Nahom, the group turned east, spending years in the wilderness, bearing children, and continuing to their next major destination. From reading of verse 4, “we did sojourn for the space of many years, yea, even eight years in the wilderness” we can determine that the 8 years of traveling may have begun as they left Jerusalem, or perhaps even from Nahom as they left the “civilization” of that area and re-entered an even more hostile environment away from the well traveled spice road. In other words, their traveling through Arabia took eight years, which may not have included the time spent at Bountiful nor the ocean voyage.
The Arabian Bountiful is the next site that has likely been found in recent years. Nephi describes a location on the eastern Arabian coast which included certain things to be present. Among the things Nephi required are:
1. The location must lie nearly eastward of Nahom (1 Nephi 17:1).
2. The coast must be accessible from the interior desert.
3. Both the general area and the location when the Lehites camped must be fertile and capable of producing crops.
4. It must be a coastal location (1 Nephi 17:5).
5. It must be very fertile, with "much fruit and also wild honey" and small game (1 Nephi 17:5-6).
6. Timber must be available with which to build a ship (1 Nephi 17:8).
7. Freshwater must be available year-round.
8. A mountain must be located nearby to account for Nephi's reference to going to a mountain to "pray oft" (1 Nephi 18:3).
9. Cliffs overlooking the ocean must be present to account for Nephi's brother's attempt to throw him "into the depths of the sea" (1 Nephi 17:48).
10. Ore and flint must be available with which to make fire and fabricate tools to build a ship" (1 Nephi 17:9)
11. No resident population at the time of the Lehite's arrival.
12. Wind and ocean currents capable of carrying a ship out into the ocean (1 Nephi 18:8)
Each of these items is found in a narrow strip of land off the Arabean Sea in modern day Oman, called Wadi Sayq. One would think there is no such thing as such a wonderful garden spot in the Arabian peninsula, but we can see from this photo taken nearby that it is. Wadi Sayq is a very small area along the coast line, virtually unknown in America in Joseph Smith’s day.
Photo taken near Wadi Sayq in Oman
We also learn another important fact that Joseph Smith most likely would not have known. Lynn and Hope Hilton noted that the term the Nephites used for the ocean was “Irreantum”, meaning “many waters.” The actual ancient Arabic term for the Arabean Sea was “Erythraeum”, which is very similar sounding to Irreantum.
How Prayer and Self-reliance work together
When the Lord commanded Nephi to build a ship, Nephi didn’t ask the Lord to give him the lumber and tools for the job. Instead, he asked where he could find ore to make the tools he would need. Often we ask the Lord to handle situations for us that we either can completely handle ourselves, or we have control over at least a part of it. Thinking through our struggles and determining which part we can manage, and then giving the rest to the Lord to help us with, ensures the assistance of the Lord. He gives us such tasks so that we can grow in faith and ability. But he often requires us to think of a solution in which he becomes our helper, and not just having Him hand all things to us simply because we ask.
God will help us with our school work, but he will not do it for us. He will help us with a test, but we must study diligently first. Nephi teaches his brothers that Moses was able to lead Israel through the wilderness. The Lord managed the parts they had no control of, such as how to feed thousands or millions of people every day. For Israel, the Lord gave them manna. For Nephi’s people, they could not build fires in the wilderness (probably to avoid contact with robbers), but God made the meat they caught taste “sweet” or taste cooked.
In teaching his brethren in chapter 17, Moses becomes the archetype for Nephi. Moses led Israel out of Egypt and into the wilderness, en route to the Promised Land. Nephi and Lehi also were leading their small band of Israel into the wilderness from an apostate Jerusalem, and towards a land of promise. While Moses caused the Red Sea to divide by God’s power, through God’s power Nephi was going to build a ship wherein they would cross the ocean. Both Moses and Nephi had murmurers to deal with, and God chastised them in order to drive them along to the Promised Land. If Moses could do such great things, then Nephi could build a ship with the Lord’s help.
1 Nephi 18
As Lehi’s family loads the boat for their long voyage, they must realize they are now embarking on an entirely different experience. They were definitely leaving Jerusalem forever behind them. They would no longer travel in the heat of the desert, but float for days at a time on ocean currents. While it is not mentioned, it is likely they followed along coast lines of Asia until hitting the Pacific Ocean. From there, they would probably hop from island to island, much like Polynesian ocean travelers of the time did between South America and Australia. In stopping at such places, they could stock up on food, water, and other needed supplies for the continued journey.
During one leg of this journey, possibly after obtaining much provisions, including alcohol, Laman and his merry band chose to party. While ancient Israel trusted Moses while passing through the Red Sea, but then turning rebellious at the foot of Sinai while Moses was delayed, rebellion also occurred on Nephi’s ship. Forgetting God, and wanting to enjoy a wild party at sea, they turned their backs on Nephi and began acting like their counterparts in apostate Jerusalem, even as ancient Israel turned away from Moses and back to the gods of Egypt.
Only the fear of absolute destruction would cause them to change and repent. This is how it will be with people of Telestial desires. They are considered the enemies of God, and will be until they repent. In death, their spirits will go to prison hell, where they will suffer until they completely and fully repent of all their sins.
“Therefore I command you to repent—repent, lest I smite you by the rod of my mouth, and by my wrath, and by my anger, and your sufferings be sore—how sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not.
For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent;
But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I;
Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink” (D&C 19:15-18)
For the Telestial in the Spirit World, they will suffer extremely until such suffering causes them to be humble enough to repent. We get an idea of how this works from Alma 36, where he tells his son about his own experience in such a hell. His only escape was faith and repentance.
So it was for Laman and his followers. They were at the point where only the absolute threat of destruction would cause them to repent. While the storms blew for several days, they refused to release Nephi from his cords. Not until they saw absolutely no other recourse would they repent.
In doing so, they showed that they were only ready for a Telestial glory, and then only when forced into it.
1 Nephi 19-22
These chapters are very important as a study in Nephi’s beginning to understand the writings on the Brass Plates. He quotes prophets that were very important to the tribe of Joseph and the other Northern Tribes of Israel. Here we get the first mention of Zenock and especially Zenos, who would also be important to Jacob and other Nephite authors. Isaiah also gets his first main mention, as Nephi quotes chapter 48 of Isaiah, and uses it with Zenos’ writings to help predict the future of his people, the world, and its end times.
It is possible that Zenock is another form of the name Enoch. It is possible that the Nephites had some of his writings, which never made it into the Bible.
“but that I might more fully persuade them to believe in the Lord their Redeemer I did read unto them that which was written by the prophet Isaiah; for I did liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning” (1 Ne 19:23).
For Mormons, this is an important concept in how to interpret the scriptures, and in applying them to ourselves. A danger, however, that afflicts many Christians in regards to using scripture, is they tend to “over-liken” the scriptures unto themselves. Instead of first understanding the ancient context and then finding how it applies, many tend to read scripture entirely from a modern viewpoint. In doing so, we miss much of the important concepts being taught by the prophets, simply because we do not understand the context in which they write.
For example, in several of these lessons, I’ve shown how Lehi and Nephi use Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and Moses as archetypes for their own callings from God. While to some it may seem insignificant, such symbolism ties the author to the ancient patriarchs and prophets, giving them authority for the things they do. Without such ancient archetypes to follow, Nephi’s beheading of Laban would just be murder, rather than an example of following in the path of earlier prophets, such as Moses slaying the Egyptian to protect a slave, or David killing Goliath.
As in Nephi using the story of Moses to justify his building a ship, such context was very important for Nephi to relay to us. For us then to miss such an important thing means we may not place as much importance on it, or may take the story out of context.
Elder Jacob de Jager gave such an example of the importance to not only understand, but not to be misunderstood. He had been in a meeting concerning new teaching materials. After the meeting ended:
“President Romney stopped and said, “Now, Brother de Jager, how are you going to teach all these inspired materials?”
I paused, thinking of an answer that would satisfy a member of the First Presidency of the Church. I replied, “President Romney, I shall teach in such a way that everyone will understand.”
President Romney, a twinkle in his eye, said, “That’s not enough; you shall teach in such a way that no one will misunderstand these divine materials.” Then he walked on.
Now, many years later, I begin to see more and more the wisdom of his counsel. People do easily misunderstand, like the sweet old sister I met in the ZCMI shopping mall the other day.
“Aren’t you that Dutchman who spoke in general conference a while ago?” I said, “Yes, ma’am.” Then she continued, “Oh, I loved your Holland story about the boy with his finger in the dike.” I remarked, “Well, sister, that was not exactly the subject of my talk; I was talking about saving souls.” But she went on to say, “You know, I heard that story for the first time when I was still in school, and I am so pleased you told it again.”
This is the danger of “likening unto ourselves” without first building a solid foundation of the context of the text first. There are some members who focus only on the war chapters. Others see very grim preaching about repentance. Some do not notice the teachings regarding the temple, of theophany/ascension (cf 1 Nephi 1) or other very important teachings. Many skip over the Isaiah sections, because they do not see how it fits in so perfectly and importantly into what Nephi is trying to teach us. We become like the nice lady who loves the story of the boy with his finger in the dike, without understanding the real context and meaning.
Yes, liken them unto yourselves. But first spend time learning what the ancient prophets initially meant by their writing.
Arabian Bountiful articles
Elder Jacob de Jager, “Let There Be No Misunderstanding” (Oct 1978 General Conference):