The Book of Mormon teaches that the righteous do not criticize the truth
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.
Truth is in the Lord’s domain. We should not complain about it, or take it as a
personal insult or affront. It is independent in its sphere. We should respect
it, hearken to it, give heed to it, and embrace it. In doing so, we become righteous,
and we learn and are enabled to walk uprightly before God. When we accept truth,
we are open to learning more truth. There is always more. Any person, in any stage
of development, can look up and see truth beckoning to a higher path, one nearer
1 Nephi 16:4
I did exhort my brethren
The Book of Mormon gives an example of a brother who cares about his siblings
And it came to pass that I, Nephi, did exhort my brethren, with all diligence,
to keep the commandments of the Lord.
Again, as in 1 Nephi 15:25, Nephi goes beyond answering his brothers’ questions about
the meanings of different elements of the Tree of Life allegory to teaching them
the application of what they have learned. We may admire the images and complexity
of this allegory and ponder its theoretical meaning, but every element points to
one simple conclusion: Keep the commandments.
Keep the commandments, because you have them; you do not have to wander about in
the darkness. Keep the commandments, because you do not want your life to be defined
by and overwhelmed by filthiness. Keep the commandments, because you do not want
to be separated from all that is good. Keep the commandments, even though it is
difficult, and others, including society in general, is mocking you. Keep the commandments,
because in the vicissitudes of this life, they are a constant and reliable guide
to lasting happiness. Keep the commandments, because that will enable you to experience
the love of God, the greatest possible joy.
1 Nephi 16:5
I had joy and great hopes of them
The Book of Mormon teaches that when people are humble,
they are more willing to walk in the paths of righteousness
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.
Although we know the rest of the story, Nephi didn’t. He had been shown a panoramic
vision of his people, but not the short-term of his own and his brothers’ lives.
He didn’t know how long it would take for his seed and his brothers’ to separate.
Pride is the great evil the Book of Mormon teaches about, and humility is the antidote.
So Nephi felt hopeful. Ironically, when people of our generation see their loved
ones doing well, they say “I’m proud of them!”
1 Nephi 16:8
I had been blessed exceedingly
The Book of Mormon correlates
keeping the commandments with receiving great blessings
And thus my father had fulfilled all the commandments of the Lord
which had been given unto him.
And also, I, Nephi, had been blessed of the Lord exceedingly.
We have seen Nephi reiterate, over and over, the importance of keeping the commandments.
When we read these verses we automatically apply them to the generalized commandments
that have been given to everyone in common, like the Ten Commandments, and Jesus’s
statement that the greatest commandment is to love God, and then our neighbor. But
Nephi is speaking specifically of commandments given uniquely to his family.
Lehi has been commanded to do three things: 1. Leave Jerusalem. 2. Send his sons
back to Jerusalem for records. 3. Send his sons back to Jerusalem for Ishmael’s
family for wives. After the first had been accomplished, Nephi says “And it came
to pass that he was obedient unto the word of the Lord, wherefore he did as the Lord
commanded him.” (1 Nephi 2:3) After the second, Nephi writes “And it came to pass
that thus far I and my father had kept the commandments wherewith the Lord had commanded
us.” (1 Nephi 5:20) This verse is similar, encompassing all the commandments to
Lehi had to do all the work and planning to leave Jerusalem. But the other two commandments
were orders conveyed through him to his sons, and they managed the logistics and
accomplished them. His role wasn’t even properly leadership, as he was absent in
the planning and execution. Nevertheless he gets credit for keeping these commandments.
Now that the brothers are married, all the commandments have been fulfilled, and
the story is ready to go on.
Nephi doesn’t take any credit at this point for keeping commandments, though he has.
He focusses more on the blessings the keeping of these commandments have brought
him personally. As a result of following his father into the wilderness and listening
to his tales of visions, and personal prayer, Nephi began to receive communication
with the Spirit (1 Nephi 2: 16, 19-24). As a result of his commitment not to give
up during the setbacks of the Brass Plate acquisition mission, he continued to learn
to listen to the Spirit, and saw firsthand deliverance from the Lord, both from the
hand of Laban and from his own brothers’ hands. (1 Nephi 3:29, 4:12) Reading the
Brass Plates may have stimulated Lehi’s spiritual advancement toward receiving the
Tree of Life vision. Certainly that was a further blessing to Nephi.
He told us in 1 Nephi 1:1 that he had been exceedingly blessed of the Lord; he repeats
that assertion here, after unfolding to us all the revelations he has received. Knowledge
is the blessing. And the more we read of the Book of Mormon, the more knowledge
1 Nephi 16:9
The voice of the Lord spoke
And it came to pass that the voice of the Lord spake unto my father by night,
and commanded him that on the morrow
he should take his journey into the wilderness.
This is the fourth personal commandment Lehi has received.
The Lord is directing their major movements, putting them in positions to fulfill
their life missions, and then letting them live out their lives moment by moment
in these positions.
We often pray for guidance in the big decisions – who should I marry, where should
I live, what career should I choose. The Lord has given this particular guidance
to Lehi’s family, because it all relates to their life mission. If it didn’t relate,
would He give it in every instance, or are some of these areas places where we can
use our agency and choice and develop for ourselves?
1 Nephi 16:11
Our provisions which the Lord had given unto us
The Book of Mormon teaches us to give God the credit for everything we have
And it came to pass that we did gather together
whatsoever things we should carry into the wilderness,
and all the remainder of our provisions which the Lord had given unto us;
and we did take seed of every kind that we might carry into the wilderness.
This is a curious verse. When they originally left Jerusalem, three days’ journey
ago, Nephi specified that they only took family, provision, and tents. The listing
for the next leg of the journey seems to include three different classes of things.
Maybe, though they didn’t take all their gold, they took some of it, and bought
these additional supplies, particularly seeds.
Furthermore, as readers, we envision Lehi and family alone for eight years, since
Nephi never mentions anyone else. We envision that they’ve been in the wilderness
this whole time, but Nephi says they’re going into the wilderness. Perhaps they
had come to a community, which seems reasonable to expect to find wherever you find
water in the Arabian Desert. Or perhaps the original word, now translated “wilderness,”
was more like desert, which is how it’s translated into certain languages, like Spanish.
They must have camped, or tarried, at the Valley of Lemuel for a long time, to warrant
mentioning that they had to gather everything up.
Whatever these details, Nephi gives the Lord credit for their provisions.
1 Nephi 16:20
Murmuring against the Lord
The Book of Mormon shows
that even the strongest can complain occasionally when difficulties arise
And it came to pass
that Laman and Lemuel and the sons of Ishmael did begin to murmur exceedingly, because
of their sufferings and afflictions in the wilderness;
and also my father began to murmur against the Lord his God;
yea, and they were all exceedingly sorrowful,
even that they did murmur against the Lord.
This is a very sad verse. They’ve traveled and hunted food; apparently the remainder
of their provisions wasn’t really a lot. The murmurings of Laman and Lemuel are
predictable, but to see Lehi joining in the complaints is heart-breaking. They must
have been very hungry and weak, and so tired of this rigorous new life. Glorious
visions of heaven and promised land have faded away as the present reality of hand-to-mouth
existence dominates their consciousness.
1 Nephi 16:22
I did speak unto them
The Book of Mormon shows
that the righteous must sometimes speak up in the Lord’s cause
And it came to pass that I, Nephi, did speak much unto my brethren,
because they had hardened their hearts again,
even unto complaining against the Lord their God.
Nephi has told us that his father murmured, but he does not confront his father.
He again encourages his hard-hearted brothers to stop complaining against God. Nephi
suggests that heart-hardening can exist on different levels, and one of the lower
levels is complaint against God. Does this mean that if a person is experiencing
a complaining spirit he is hard-hearted?
1 Nephi 16:24
He did inquire of the Lord
The Book of Mormon shows that when we speak up in behalf of God’s plan,
we can sometimes help people change their hearts and attitudes
And it came to pass that he did inquire of the Lord,
for they had humbled themselves because of my words;
for I did say many things unto them in the energy of my soul.
Although Nephi says he spoke much to his brethren, it was not a private conversation;
his father heard and repented also. While this is a really sad section for us to
read, learning that the great prophet Lehi murmured and complained against God, it
is also encouraging to realize that anyone, at any point, is subject to weakness.
Weakness of the flesh can overpower strength of spirit. We each know our own weaknesses.
They do not have to be permanent fixtures of our lives and our selves, fatal and
tragic blots on our character. Like Lehi’s complaining, they can be merely passing
phases that we learn and grow from. We can see the importance of encouraging others
in their faithfulness to the Lord, as Nephi’s words helped Lehi recover his footing.
1 Nephi 16:25
He was truly chastened
The Book of Mormon shows
that the repentance process involves great sorrow for our sins
And it came to pass that the voice of the Lord came unto my father;
and he was truly chastened because of his murmuring against the Lord,
insomuch that he was brought down into the depths of sorrow.
God was silent while Lehi was complaining. God knew He had to direct Lehi’s group,
for His own purposes, but He did not react with anger or self-defense, as a person
would. He exercised restraint, waiting until Lehi humbled himself and stopped complaining
before He spoke to him. Lehi may have been sorry before, but God taught him more
fully the folly of his complaining and murmuring. He didn’t sugar-coat it. Repentance
and forgiveness are more than just changing direction. There must be godly sorrow.
And our attitude matters. There aren’t any in-between times when it’s all right
to have a bad attitude of some sort. It’s always harmful. King Benjamin will later
tell us to watch our thoughts and our words, or we’ll commit sin. (Mosiah 4:30)
1 Nephi 16:26
Look upon the ball
The Book of Mormon teaches us
that God prepares a way for us to receive messages from Him
And it came to pass that the voice of the Lord said unto him:
Look upon the ball, and behold the things which are written.
Lehi has experienced wonderful visions and guidance from the voice of the Lord. But
the Lord, in His foreknowledge, knew that would change, so he provided the Ball before
it was needed. After Lehi manifested a lack of faith and a murmuring spirit, the
Lord is changing His mode of communication. He will communicate through an instrument,
and not directly.
This is somewhat reminiscent of when the Children of Israel were offered the opportunity
to see God and commune with Him, to become a holy people. But they rejected that
offer, and chose to hear Him only through Moses. It is also reminiscent of Joseph
Smith who lost his gifts of translation and communication with God as a result of
his lack of faith in accepting God’s answers.
1 Nephi 16:29
By small means the Lord can bring about great things
The Book of Mormon teaches
that certain writings can give us understanding concerning the ways of the Lord
And there was also written upon them a new writing, which was plain to be read, which
did give us understanding concerning the ways of the Lord;
and it was written and changed from time to time,
according to the faith and diligence which we gave unto it.
And thus we see that by small means the Lord can bring about great things.
When the families saw the writing on the Ball, they were afraid. They have taken
for granted this instrument from the Lord, seeing it as always reliable, always directing
them to the locations where they’ll find food. After all, when one has a compass,
one trusts that it will function, in day or night, in sunshine or storm. They viewed
it as a gift from God, but not as a continuing gift. It is a shock to discover that
this instrument, like prayer, needs faith and diligence to function, just as it would
be a shock to someone relying on a compass’s directions to find oneself in the presence
of a mass of iron, and consequently a non-functioning compass. It’s especially a
shock to Lehi’s group because they’re already weakened by hunger. They’re pretty
much compelled to be humble. They know they were led in the most fertile parts of
the desert, and that without that guidance they would have been much worse off already.
Nephi draws a “thus we see” lesson from this, but I find it so vague that I’m not
sure exactly what he wants us to understand. A miraculous compass-ball does not
seem a small thing to me. Was the Ball a physically small thing, to do such a great
thing as providing knowledge and therefore food to the families? Does humanity’s
constant need of nourishment make us a small thing, so close to death and despair?
1 Nephi 16:32
How great was their joy!
The Book of Mormon correlates
physical, mortal food with the spiritual feast of the gospel
And it came to pass that I did return to our tents,
bearing the beasts which I had slain;
and now when they beheld that I had obtained food, how great was their joy!
And it came to pass that they did humble themselves before the Lord,
and did give thanks unto him.
“How great was their joy!” is a phrase often used to describe bringing souls unto
Christ – bringing to eternal life those who were languishing in the valley of spiritual
death. Bringing life does bring joy.
Lehi had already humbled himself (v. 24,25). Apparently the rest of the family hadn’t,
but now they, too, are humble and thankful.
Jesus teaches us to give thanks for our daily bread, but we generally take it for
granted. A daily blessing, which is in totality more abundant than a one-time gift,
is less valued.
This is part of the need for opposition in all things. If we experience hunger once,
can we forever be grateful for food? When parents tell children to remember the
starving people in Africa, can the children become humble and appreciate what they
have? Perhaps if we can have a humble, grateful heart, we won’t need the correction
of having our blessings removed!
1 Nephi 16:38
He says the Lord has talked with him
The Book of Mormon shows that miracles do not convert
Now, he says that the Lord has talked with him,
and also that angels have ministered unto him.
But behold, we know that he lies unto us; and he tells us these things,
and he worketh many things by his cunning arts, that he may deceive our eyes, thinking,
perhaps, that he may lead us away into some strange wilderness;
and after he has led us away,
he has thought to make himself a king and a ruler over us,
that he may do with us according to his will and pleasure.
And after this manner did my brother Laman stir up their hearts to anger.
Miracles do not convert. People will believe what they choose to believe, what they
are willing to believe. They will look at all events through the lenses they have
created for themselves.
How can Laman claim not to believe that angels have spoken to Nephi, when he himself
was chastened by an angel? Nephi has previously reminded him of this event, and
it had convincing power. (1 Nephi 7:10) Now, however, Laman has overlaid another
narrative on top of this event, apparently crediting Nephi with “cunning arts.” Nephi
has shown that he is an innovative person. He may have natural skills, and he may
have spent his time developing various skills. We have seen him convincingly imitate
Laban to Laban’s servant. In the broken bow incident, Nephi was the one to figure
out how to make a wooden bow and arrow, not really a trivial project. Laman can
see that his little brother has talents he himself does not have. Enough time has
passed, enough other events have intervened that Laman can doubt what his own eyes
have seen. No doubt tricky Nephi got some friend to impersonate an angel in that
If an unbeliever can doubt the witness of his own eyes, how much easier it is for
unbelievers to doubt the testimony of others! In doubting the testimony of the three
witnesses to the gold plates, some claim to believe that Martin Harris dressed up
as an angel and fooled the other two witnesses. And of course when Jesus was resurrected,
the testimony of the empty tomb was contradicted by the guards, who claimed that
His disciples came by night and stole away His body.
While Laman may doubt what he has seen, he does not doubt his interpretation of Nephi’s
motives: he’s after power. Likewise detractors claim that the Golden Plates witnesses
were in on a conspiracy to make them all rich. Never mind that they never denied
their claims, even when persecution and not wealth followed the believers. Jesus’s
disciples are also credited with perpetrating a myth, and they, too, received persecution
and death at the hands of unbelievers.
People see what they want to see and believe what they want to believe. They believe
what they are willing to believe. They credit others’ motives with the desires and
reach and comprehension of their own hearts.
1 Nephi 16:39
The voice of the Lord
The Book of Mormon shows
that God speaks to people when He decides it is best for them to hear His voice
And it came to pass that the Lord was with us,
yea, even the voice of the Lord came and did speak many words unto them,
and did chasten them exceedingly;
and after they were chastened by the voice of the Lord
they did turn away their anger, and did repent of their sins,
insomuch that the Lord did bless us again with food, that we did not perish.
This short little parallelism shows us that the Lord, in His blessings, interacts
differently with His children in different circumstances. (Doctrine & Covenants
Generally His purpose is to persuade with longsuffering. And generally people reject
His message. It doesn’t mean that His message failed; it means that they get to
experience the consequences of disobedience and a lifestyle in opposition to His
way. They get to fulfill their purpose on earth by having a clear choice, and making
their own decision.
However, in this case the Lord has His own purposes in bringing the whole family
to the Promised Land, so He gives Laman and Lemuel the rare privilege of hearing