This chapter sets Lehi’s family back on their journey: “And we did travel and wade through much affliction in the wilderness.” (1)
Wading suggests slogging, working, trudging in my mind. You don’t wade through water fast. Water bogs you down. It takes effort to lift each leg as sand sucks your feet down with each step.
Afflictions are much the same. We want to sprint across them to get them over with as quickly as possible, but it takes tremendous effort to wade through them, making us stronger.
This strengthening power is shown next. Nephi tells how even though their women gave birth and had only raw meat to subsist upon, they were enabled to make the journey.
[They] “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.
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.”1 Nephi 17:2-3
When we are obedient, God nourishes us both physically and spiritually. He enables us to do more than we could have done alone, even impossible things.
Growth, not distance
They lived in the wilderness for 8 years. That’s a long time. Why didn’t the Lord just set them upon their journey to the promised land immediately?
Why did He make them wait so long?
God doesn’t seem to be in a rush to get us from one place to another. He is helping us to BECOME something—not travel somewhere. If we move from one destination to the next without growing, that probably saddens Him.
Lehi’s family probably grew a lot in those 8 years the Lord had them wait in the wilderness. He needed them strong before they started the final leg of their journey.
When we seem to be waiting in life, ask God what He wants you to learn and become while you wait. Chances are, the promised land is in your near future. But you must become more of something before Christ starts you on that journey.
God is aware of us
Bountiful was the name of the fruitful, lush spot of wilderness the Lord had them camp at. It had much fruit and wild honey “and all these things were prepared of the Lord that we might not perish.” (5)
Though they might have felt alone and cast out, the Lord was mindful of them. He didn’t just lead them away from Jerusalem and forget about them. He prepared Bountiful for them to rest and receive nourishment before the next part of the journey.
When we feel alone or forgotten (stranded in a wilderness), believe that God is aware of you.
Maybe the heavens seem silent. Maybe nothing is going right in your life. Maybe the mists of darkness surround you.
But don’t give up or think that God doesn’t care.
If you exercise faith in Jesus Christ and hold fast to the “rod of iron,” even when everything logically points to the idea that He isn’t there, or doesn’t care, you will come to see (eventually) that He is very aware of you. He loves you. He feels your loneliness. He feels your pains. He feels your agony. And He can make all things right in the end.
Believe that He has prepared you to become someone glorious if you keep pressing forward with hope, even in darkness. Christ can turn pain into joy, darkness into light, misery into happiness, loneliness into belonging.
Pray to see how your trials can help you become more like our Savior.
Let’s build a ship!
Nephi is my hero. When he is commanded to build a ship, he didn’t say, “I have no clue about ship building” or “I’ve never done it” or “I left my tools back in Jerusalem. No ship building for me.” Instead, he says:
“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 me?”1 Nephi 17:9
He believed God would enable him to do this impossible task and then made a specific request of where to go to find the needed raw materials.
If our prayers aren’t being answered, ponder whether you’re being specific enough in what you’re asking. Are you asking for the raw materials you need to get started?
Don’t just say: “Give me a missionary opportunity.” Instead, figure out your weakness and say something like: “I have a hard time talking to others, especially strangers. How can I overcome my shyness and know what to talk about with others?
As we come to know ourselves and the raw materials we’re working with, our prayers become more specific. We are humble and aware of where we fall short and what we need help with.
Generic prayers wield generic blessings (or no blessings at all).
Nephi’s brothers mock him when he begins to build a ship, calling him a fool. When Nephi grieves because of their hard hearts, they rejoice, 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.”1 Nephi 17:19
They see through a dim lens, only noticing the negative.
Nephi saw through bright lens, focusing on blessings.
Nephi saw how God blessed their women and made them strong in their sufferings. Laman and Lemuel saw only hardship and what they were missing out on. They dwelt in the past, refusing to embrace the present. They say:
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.”1 Nephi 17:21
A spiritually strong person will be happy no matter what their circumstances because they trust God and don’t give into doubt, laziness, or fear.
Many times we have to leave our comfort zone to serve the Lord, even maybe “build a ship.”
Nephi talks about Moses and the children of Israel he led out of Egypt. He reminds his brother how the Lord “did straiten them in the wilderness with his rod; for they hardened their hearts, even as ye have.” (41)
Straiten means: to make narrow; to hem in; confine; to restrict in freedom; to subject to distress, privation, or deficiency.
The Lord hemmed the Israelites in through adversity; He confined them in a wilderness to restrict their freedom, giving them one of two choices: 1) follow God, or 2) be follow their own desires to their destruction.
One of the straitening experiences that happened in Moses’s wilderness were poisonous serpents. Nephi reminds his brothers how merciful God was to the Israelites during this time.
…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.”1 Nephi 17:41
If they looked up to the symbol Moses raised that represented Christ, they were healed. It was simple, but it worked. Those who didn’t believe such a simple thing could heal them didn’t look up…and they perished.
When God sends adversity our way, He also provides a way to be healed.
In nature, my brother taught me that where there is a poisonous plant, there also grows nearby the antidote for it…if you know what to look for (ex: mugwort treats poison oak reactions).
God has given us the antidote to every pain, every sorrow, every challenge and trial we will experience in this life…the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
But we have to know where to look for His healing. We can’t get there through the great and spacious building in Lehi’s dream. We must hold fast to the iron rod (the word of God) and press forward to the tree of life with the precious fruit. Repentance starts the healing process.
That cure might seem simple. Repentance? That’s all I have to do. That won’t work, some might say. Or maybe they discount words from God’s living prophet on the earth because they seem too simple-minded to bring about such great blessings, or maybe they think they are too out of touch with political correctness of the day.
But repentance works. It immediately brings Christ’s healing and enabling power into our lives.
The weight of sin
Nephi bears testimony that he knows God commanded their father to lead them from Jerusalem so they wouldn’t be destroyed. He tells them “Ye are swift to do iniquity but slow to remember the Lord your God.” (45)
This makes me think about trying to lose weight. It took me a little over a year one time to lose 20 pounds. And I had worked super hard to do that. But then my family went on vacation and I gained 8 pounds back within 3 days. So sad!
Sin seems to be the same as extra weight. It takes lots of diligence and hard work to shed sinful habits from our lives. But if we’re not careful, those habits can return swiftly if we get casual in our relationship with God.
Faith to do all things
Nephi’s older brothers are angry and “desirous to throw [him] into the depths of the sea.” (48)
Nephi didn’t cower. He commands them not to touch him and to stop murmuring against their father and to help him build the ship.
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.”1 Nephi 17:50
Do I have this kind of faith? Faith to do all things?
One thing that stands out to me throughout this story is when Laman and Lemuel speak, they rarely mention God. But when Nephi speaks, he references the Lord’s name often and is always praising Him and being grateful to Him for all his blessings. He literally takes upon himself the name of Christ, by doing this.
When we are baptized, we covenant to take upon us the Name of Christ and always remember Him and keep His commandments. This builds faith to do all things.
Thought on Wrought
Nephi says: “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?” (51)
Wrought is defined as: carefully formed or worked into shape by artistry or effort; elaborately embellished; ornamented.
God carefully worked miracles in Nephi’s life. They were planned to inspire testimony, protect his family. Miracles are shaped by the artistry of the Master to ornament and embellish the lives of the righteous.
The next verse uses Wrought in a different way. After Laman and Lemuel were confounded by God, they dared not touch Nephi, “lest they should wither before me, so powerful was the Spirit of God; and thus it had WROUGHT upon them.” (52)
Another definition of Wrought is: processed for use; beaten into shape by tools; hammered; deeply stirred.
The Spirit literally beat them into shape, so to say, so they dared not sin against Nephi anymore by trying to take his life.
How has my spirit been wrought upon lately?