Driven Towards the Promised Land – Reading Nephi – 18:1-8

This post is part of a series of reflections on I Nephi. If you’re interested, the introduction to the series is here. To peruse earlier entries, click the authors tab at the top of the page and then click on my name. I welcome your own thoughts on these specific verses (or on my reflections) in the comments below.

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I Nephi 18:1-8

“And they did worship the Lord”—that’s the conclusion to the whole row. I wonder at it. What was the change? Was it that here we get Nephi, perhaps even inadvertently acknowledging that Laman and his cohort did in fact worship God, regardless of everything else—and that the change here is merely that in addition, they submitted themselves to Nephi’s oversight in constructing the ship? The other obvious possibility is that their submission to Nephi and the work of the ship was accompanied by a change in Laman’s cohort’s religious practices. In this case, why were they reluctant to so worship the Lord before? Why was this the dramatic turn that went hand in hand with their willingness to submit to Nephi’s leadership and help him to build the boat? Of course I don’t know. But I strongly suspect that Nephi’s political and ecclesiastical leadership went together. One plausible option is that perhaps Lehi’s altar in Bountiful was overseen by Nephi. I imagine that bringing your sacrifice not simply to God but to your younger usurping brother would have been a hard pill for Laman to swallow. But perhaps after the dramatic events of the preceding chapter he did indeed swallow it or some such other pill.

It’s conspicuous that the text notes that Nephi did not build the ship after the manner of men. The implication, of course, is that Nephi knew and understood how “men” built ships. He was self-consciously aware of the differences in his own construction. Since there were no shipwrights in Jerusalem, this argues strongly in favor of there being local shipwrights. I do not believe it changes the claim that God showed Nephi how to construct the ship to likewise claim that God did it through local shipwrights. This is especially true since Nephi wasn’t creating a fishing or local trading vessel, but a vessel capable of a transoceanic voyage. The lesson seems to me to be that if you need miraculous teaching or if you desire to learn from God, you ought well to look around you to see what educational resources God has in fact already provided.

Another curious phrase concerns the fitting out of the ship. They took their supplies, whatever they’d brought with them, “every one according to his age.” What one could take was determined according to age (as opposed to size, need, etc). Age mattered. This is another aspect that highlights the fault-lines in the political conflict between Nephi and Laman. It also argues for why­—despite Nephi’s visions that determined for the family that they were moving, and despite the merit Nephi earned for having actually built an exceedingly fine ship—it was Lehi and not Nephi who (at least formally) instructed the family when it was time to load up and leave.

A sidenote: being a backyard beekeeper myself, I can’t help but notice that they took honey “in abundance.” Since one couldn’t go down to a local Arabian Peninsula supermarket to get the honey, this likely means they went during or just after the honey flow (i.e., the nectar flow). If it was Virginia, this would probably be sometime in July. After the nectar flow, the bees have to start eating their honey in order to survive until the next spring. Either they destroyed numerous bee colonies in order to gather many small quantities into an abundance, or they harvested at the typical time of harvest and left around mid summer. The other possibility is that they saved up honey over a period of years or that they traded for others’ built up supply; in which case they might have left at any time.

I love the final line here, a metaphor for life: “and we did put forth into the sea and were driven forth before the wind towards the promised land.” I hope that the winds of this world likewise drive me toward the promised land, or that the ship I’m in is so designed as to take advantage of the winds’ power, whichever way they blow, in order to move me in that direction.

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