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God in 1 Nephi 17

Almighty God  • God  • Lord

Lord their God  • Lord thy God  • Lord your God

Redeemer  • Spirit of God  • The True and Living God

1 Nephi 17:18

They did not believe

The Book of Mormon shows

how diminished people become when they lack faith in God

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.

There are several facets to the brothers’ reactions:

1.  Laman and Lemuel mocked and derided Nephi, calling him a fool.  People who do not want to follow the Lord’s counsel often utilize mockery and name-calling toward those who do:  goody-good, extremist, fanatic, etc.

2.  Unwillingness to participate, or perhaps laziness.  

3.  A limiting view of Nephi’s innate or developed abilities.  When we listen to detractors, we may lose confidence in our own direction and goals, and see only our limitations, as they do.

4.  The underlying foundational problem:  They did not believe that God had instructed Nephi.  Much of what we do in the Church is foolishness, as viewed from the outside, where people do not believe we have been instructed of the Lord.  The apostle Paul addressed this issue by embracing the title of “fool.”  His deep and abiding testimony of Christ and His work shone above any other distractions.

1 Nephi 17:22

They murmured and complained

The Book of Mormon shows

how people who do not accept His prophetic direction can justify their own acts

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.

First, we should note that these are the words of Laman and Lemuel.  If our study is to learn what the Book of Mormon teaches us about God, we might consider the source, and look upon this as possibly tainted testimony.

Verses 19-22 give a good synopsis of what Nephi has previously generalized as “murmuring.”  It’s a great study in perception:  

Laman and Lemuel perceive Nephi as “lacking in judgment,” while he himself describes events where he has shown initiative and creativity in problem-solving.  He also presents the Lord as accepting his attitude and promising blessings of teaching and leadership.  

Laman and Lemuel characterize Lehi’s directions as “foolish imaginations,” while Nephi respectfully describes the visions his father received from the Lord.  

Laman and Lemuel lament that their women have suffered and borne children in the wilderness, even going so far as to say that it would have been better for them to have died than undergone these rigors.  Nephi credits God with how their women have been strengthened on their journey, and built up their endurance.  

Laman and Lemuel look back at their life in Jerusalem, and think that happiness comes because of possessions.  Nephi looks forward to their life in the promised land, where God is leading them.

Laman and Lemuel believe that the people of Jerusalem were righteous, because they kept the Law of Moses.  Lehi and other prophets of course reproved them for unrighteousness.  If they actually had kept the Law of Moses they would have been a righteous people.  But salvation does not come by the Law of Moses.

Throughout this book we have seen how Nephi emphasizes the necessity of keeping the commandments, but he never refers to them as The Commandments, or a part of the Law.  The Law is foundational to life, but it is not the purpose of life.  The Commandments are simply the ground rules of the game.  But without a strategy, without a position in the game, it is all pointless.  Nephi is talking about receiving from God your own assignment, and then running with it.

1 Nephi 17:23

The children of Israel

The Book of Mormon teaches that God led the children of Israel out of bondage because they followed the prophet that He sent

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?

Laman and Lemuel have cited Moses and his law as evidence that the people of Jerusalem are righteous, and that staying in Jerusalem would have been preferable to this wilderness wandering.  Nephi picks up on this perfect segue, because their stories are so similar.  Throughout Moses’s leadership, both in Egypt and in the wilderness, the Israelites vacillated between faith and hesitancy, just as Laman and Lemuel have done.  Various miracles along the way – the plagues, the Red Sea crossing, the pillar of smoke and fire, the manna – and for Lehi’s group the prophetic assistance, the visitation of the angel, the voice of the Lord, and the Liahona - have boosted the faith component sufficiently that the people stayed the course and departed toward the promised land.

Nephi is pointing out how they received the Law of Moses, which Laman and Lemuel rely on: they followed a prophet into the wilderness.  That’s the word of the Lord.  It’s a current word.

What is the word of the Lord today?  (Hint:  General Conference)

1 Nephi 17:24

They were led out of bondage

The Book of Mormon supports the Bible in testifying that God called Moses as a prophet

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?

Nephi has pointed at the Lehi group as similar to the children of Israel: each must follow and obey to leave behind destruction and to enter a promised land.  He now changes direction and points to the leader himself.  The Lord leads different groups, but He seldom does it by consensus:  He chooses a leader, and gives instructions through him.

1 Nephi 17:26

Commanded of the Lord to do that great work

The Book of Mormon substantiates the Biblical record of Moses delivering the children of Israel by miracles

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.

The Lord commanded Moses to bring the children of Israel out of bondage.  It was a “great work” for each of the parties involved:

1.  It was great for the children of Israel, because they desperately needed to be rescued from their bondage and grievous situation.

2.  It was great for Moses because it stretched him beyond his capacities to develop into the leader of that great people.

3.  It was great because the Lord intervened with miracles on their behalf, specifically the dividing of the Red Sea.

The Lord has a great work for each of us, which will be a blessing to some of our brothers and sisters, which will enlarge our abilities, and which He will personally help with as needed.

1 Nephi 17:29

The power of God which was in him

The Book of Mormon teaches that God gives divine power to His chosen prophets

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’s focus continues to be on Moses.  He presents Moses’s situation as a team effort.  Yes, he’s important as a leader for the people, but he is operating only according to the power of God.  Nephi’s brothers have called upon the Law of Moses as the proof of righteous living, but Nephi is giving them a much bigger picture, emphasizing how the Lord honors His prophets by giving them power to help their people.  

The system of prophets chosen by God to lead the people was made by God.  It is well-exemplified in the travels of Moses.  Laman and Lemuel should give heed to and respect this system, as should we.  

1 Nephi 17:30

Leading them by day and giving light unto them by night

The Book of Mormon shows how people can rebel against God even in the midst of miracles

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.

We like to sugar-coat things.  We like to sugar-coat our own past (the good old days) and our own group (rah-rah-rah).  Laman and Lemuel are sugar-coating their people, claiming that they live the Law of Moses and therefore they are righteous. Nephi is talking about the unfaithfulness and unworthiness of the very people who first received the Law of Moses.

This verse can be read as an allegory for all people.  Few peoples have experienced the distinctive miracles given to and through Moses, but all peoples and individuals have some light given them from God.  All people have whatever they need, whatever is expedient to lead them closer to God.  They are judged by the light that they do receive, not by what they don’t know.  And too often they reject whatever He has given; they harden their hearts, blind their minds, and revile against the Lord’s messengers.  

This verse again emphasizes God’s attitude toward His prophets:  He aligns Himself closely with them, and when people revile His prophets they revile Him.

1 Nephi 17:31

According to His word

The Book of Mormon teaches that God does all things according to His word

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.

Jesus is the Word.  The prophets convey the word.  God’s words do not return to Him in vain.  If He gives the word that destruction must come, it must.  If He promises to lead His people, He will.  Although His people reject and revile against Him, He is constant and deliberate in His efforts to bring them to humility and righteousness.

1 Nephi 17:32

He did make them mighty

The Book of Mormon teaches

that God enabled the children of Israel to conquer the land He gave them

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.

Nephi continues with his listing of “all things” that the Lord did for His people.  He points out that the Lord continued to help them by strengthening them even after they arrived in the promised land, so that they could possess it.  

God has led Lehi’s group with the Liahona, and led them to food, and preserved them.  Nephi wants Laman and Lemuel to understand that is not all: He continues to lead them, and this time the route crosses the sea, in a ship that God will give them power to make.  The children of Israel could not conquer their promised land on their own strength, but on the strength received from the Lord.  

We must never say, “Thus far and no farther” with regard to following God’s direction.  When we come to an uncrossable sea, we must have faith that if He doesn’t divide the waters for us, He will enable us to walk on the waters, or give us the skill to maneuver over the obstacles.

1 Nephi 17:35

He that is righteous is favored of God.

The Book of Mormon teaches

that God destroys people when they are ripe in iniquity

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.

Nephi has just reminded his brothers of how lacking in faith the children of Israel were under Moses, but now he is telling them how much more wicked the native inhabitants of the land were.  I’m not enough of a historian to know how much more wicked the Canaanites were when Moses led his people toward the promised land than when God promised the land to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, hundreds of years earlier.  Only God can determine when a people is “ripe,” and then they must suffer the fullness of His wrath, which generally seems to be an invading, conquering army.

Nephi hasn’t been to their promised land, but He has faith that if the Lord is leading them there, then it is their turn to possess it.  But they must do it by faith.

A mixed and diverse people now inhabit the promised land.  We are not a united people.  Inasmuch as righteous people uphold the freedom that God has given us, and respect the right to freedom of all peoples, the land will continue to be blessed unto us.  We may find ourselves with different fellow-countrymen.

Modern inhabitants of the promised land need not fear a foreign invasion.  They need to be righteous and faithful to God, and then welcome anyone whom God leads to this land.  This land is your land; it can also be my land.  

1 Nephi 17:36

The Lord created the earth that it should be inhabited

The Book of Mormon teaches

that God created the earth for the sake of His children

Behold, the Lord hath created the earth that it should be inhabited;

and he hath created his children that they should possess it.

Nephi’s perspective began expanding in the previous verse:  God is not limited in which people He will love, but He favors those who are righteous.  

Nephi now broadens his views to encompass the whole earth.  In fact, the whole earth is a promised land, because each person is a child of God.  

There is beauty to be found in every part of the earth.  There are also challenges which develop people as they struggle against them.  Just as God prepared every needful thing for the children of Israel, and for Lehi’s group, He has prepared every needful thing on this whole earth, to be a blessing to His children in their mortal sojourn.

This scripture can help bring clarity to people who wonder if a minnow or a fly or an owl have the same worth as a human and his endeavors.

Our vision is so clouded!  We do not see ourselves and others as glorious children of light, but we can often admire and appreciate the beauties of nature.  We can say,

“To me the meanest flower that blows can give

Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.”

(Wordsworth, “Ode to Intimations of Immortality”)

But we do not recognize our own significance and magnificence.