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God in 1 Nephi 18

God  • the Lord

1 Nephi 18:1

The Lord did show me from time to time

The Book of Mormon shows God’s patience in helping His children to achieve

And it came to pass that they did worship the Lord, and did go forth with me;

and we did work timbers of curious workmanship.

And the Lord did show me from time to time

after what manner I should work the timbers of the ship.

1 Nephi isn’t so much an autobiography as a story of God.  Nephi has told us that God promised to help him build the ship, and now he tells us that God did indeed do as He promised.

1 Nephi 18:2

After the manner which the Lord had shown me

The Book of Mormon shows that God can teach people new things,

new and better ways of doing something

Now I, Nephi, did not work the timbers

after the manner which was learned by men,

neither did I build the ship after the manner of men;

but I did build it after the manner which the Lord had shown unto me;

wherefore, it was not after the manner of men.

Nephi re-emphasizes the point that building the ship was God’s project – He commanded it and He directed it.  Nephi knows himself to be a competent and versatile person, and when first given the command he didn’t ask for building instructions, but only for directions on obtaining the requisite ore – quite a raw material.  He may have seen ships, or even seen ships being built, and thought he could do it himself, as he made a bow and arrow himself.  But this is not to be an exercise in humility, where he tries it his way and it doesn’t work.  God steps in from the beginning to direct the enterprise.  And Nephi is very emphatic that he has never seen a ship like this one before.

1 Nephi 18:3

I did go into the mount oft

The Book of Mormon teaches us to pray often,

and the Lord will show us great things

And I, Nephi, did go into the mount oft, and I did pray oft unto the Lord; wherefore the Lord showed unto me great things.

This is an intriguing little verse.  First of all, we notice that it’s a cause-and-effect relationship.  Because Nephi prayed, the Lord showed him great things.  In context, Nephi was praying about his calling – what the Lord had asked him to do, which exceeded his own knowledge and abilities.  He does not tell us what was the nature of these “great things” that the Lord showed him.  Were they great carpentry techniques?  Maritime architecture?  Were they follow-ups to his great vision, as detailed in 1 Nephi 11-14?  Were they possibly expositions on the Book of Isaiah? Whatever they were, unlike his great vision, they were his alone, and not something that he shares with us.

We can liken this Book of Mormon scripture to ourselves.  We can determine to go into the mount oft to pray, whether our “mount” is a literal wilderness high place (not practical for most of us), another secluded area, the holy temple, or our own closet (Matthew 6:6).  And we can expect the Lord to show us great things.  Of course, Nephi never presents as a person waiting for every detailed instruction, but as a person who moves ahead with whatever skill and knowledge he has, and at the same time reaches for guidance and instructions from the Lord, and this must also be our model.  We can pray about our own assignments – our families, our Church callings, and always our perpetual assignment to love our neighbors as ourselves.

This may be a good day to spend some time in your journal recording how the Lord has instructed you.

1 Nephi 18:4

The workmanship was exceedingly fine

The Book of Mormon teaches that God is an exacting workman

And it came to pass that after I had finished the ship,

according to the word of the Lord, my brethren beheld that it was good,

and that the workmanship thereof was exceedingly fine;

wherefore, they did humble themselves again before the Lord.

Because they saw that the work commissioned and directed by the Lord was good, Laman and Lemuel’s faith increased, and they were humbled, knowing this work was beyond their own abilities.  

In the Bible, Genesis chapter 1 attributes “good” to God’s creative work seven times:  Day 1 the light was good, Day 3 the seas and land were good, and the plants were good, Day 4 the lights were good, Day 5 the marine and flight animals were good, and the dry land animals were good, and finally Day 6 everything was “very good.”

Through the ages people of faith have deepened their faith in God by their observations and experiences of His creation, namely, in the natural world.  Scientists, by their closer, more focused and quantified observations have also been led to humble themselves before God and acknowledge Him.  Here are a few quotes, among many available:

“There are many ways in which people are made aware of their power to believe in the supremacy of Divine guidance and power: through music or visual art, some event or experience decisively influencing their life, looking through a microscope or telescope, or just by looking at the miraculous manifestations or purposefulness of Nature.”

—Sir Ernst Chain, winner of the 1945 Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology “for the discovery of penicillin and its curative effect in various infectious diseases.”

“To know the mighty works of God, to comprehend His wisdom and majesty and power; to appreciate, in degree, the wonderful workings of His laws, surely all this must be a pleasing and acceptable mode of worship to the Most High, to whom ignorance cannot be more grateful than knowledge.”

–Nicolaus Copernicus

“Another source of conviction in the existence of God, connected with the reason and not with the feelings, impresses me as having much more weight. This follows from the extreme difficulty or rather impossibility of conceiving this immense and wonderful universe, including man with his capacity of looking far backwards and far into futurity, as the result of blind chance or necessity. When thus reflecting I feel compelled to look to a First Cause having an intelligent mind in some degree analogous to that of man; and I deserve to be called a Theist.”

—Charles Darwin

“Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the Universe–a spirit vastly superior to that of man, and one in the face of which we with our modest powers must feel humble.”–Albert Einstein

“The first gulp from the glass of natural sciences will turn you into an atheist, but at the bottom of the glass God is waiting for you.”

—Werner Heisenberg  

“I believe that the more thoroughly science is studied, the further does it take us from anything comparable to atheism. . . . If you study science deep enough and long enough, it will force you to believe in God.”—Lord William Kelvin

“…Those laws are within the grasp of the human mind. God wanted us to recognize them by creating us after his own image so that we could share in his own thoughts… and if piety allow us to say so, our understanding is in this respect of the same kind as the divine, at least as far as we are able to grasp something of it in our mortal life.”

–Johannes Kepler

"The most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being. . . . In the absence of any other proof, the thumb alone would convince me of God’s existence." – Isaac Newton

“The more I study nature, the more I stand amazed at the work of the Creator. Science brings men nearer to God. . . . Little science takes you away from God but more of it takes you to Him.”

—Louis Pasteur, the founder of microbiology and immunology.

“I believe in God. In fact, I believe in a personal God who acts in and interacts with the creation. I believe that the observations about the orderliness of the physical universe, and the apparently exceptional fine-tuning of the conditions of the universe for the development of life suggest that an intelligent Creator is responsible.”

“The best data we have (concerning the Big Bang) are exactly what I would have predicted, had I nothing to go on but the five books of Moses, the Psalms, the Bible as a whole. . . .

“If there are a bunch of fruit trees, one can say that whoever created these fruit trees wanted some apples. In other words, by looking at the order in the world, we can infer purpose and from purpose we begin to get some knowledge of the Creator, the Planner of all this. This is, then, how I look at God. I look at God through the works of God’s hands and from those works imply intentions. From these intentions, I receive an impression of the Almighty.”

—Arno Penzias, the 1978 Nobel Prize recipient in physics

“Being an ordinary scientist and an ordinary Christian seems perfectly natural to me. It is also perfectly natural for the many scientists I know who are also people of deep religious faith.”

—William D. Phillips, who won the 1997 Nobel Prize in Physics for development of methods to cool and trap atoms with laser light.

“It seems to me that when confronted with the marvels of life and the universe, one must ask why and not just how. The only possible answers are religious. . . . In the words of Psalm 19, ‘The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament showeth his handiwork’. Thus scientific research is a worshipful act, in that it reveals more of the wonders of God’s creation.”

–Arthur L. Schawlow, Professor of Physics at Stanford University and winner of the 1981 Nobel Prize in Physics.

“When I began my career as a cosmologist some twenty years ago, I was a convinced atheist. I never in my wildest dreams imagined that one day I would be writing a book purporting to show that the central claims of Judeo-Christian theology are in fact true, that these claims are straightforward deductions of the laws of physics as we now understand them. I have been forced into these conclusions by the inexorable logic of my own special branch of physics. . . . From the perspective of the latest physical theories, Christianity is not a mere religion, but an experimentally testable science.”

—Professor of Mathematical Physics Frank Tipler, author of The Physics of Christianity and The Physics of Immortality. Tipler is one of the two founders of the famous anthropic principle regarding the fundamental physical constants necessary for the origin of life. He became a Christian as a result of his science.

“As we conquer peak after peak we see in front of us regions full of interest and beauty, but we do not see our goal, we do not see the horizon; in the distance tower still higher peaks, which will yield to those who ascend them still wider prospects, and deepen the feeling, the truth of which is emphasized by every advance in science, that ‘Great are the Works of the Lord’.”

—Sir Joseph J. Thomson, Nobel Prize winning physicist, discoverer of the electron, founder of atomic physics.

“I build molecules for a living. I can’t begin to tell you how difficult that job is. I stand in awe of God because of what he has done through his creation. My faith has been increased through my research. Only a rookie who knows nothing about science would say science takes away from faith. If you really study science, it will bring you closer to God.”

—James Tour, one of the world’s leading nanoscientists

“The vast mysteries of the universe should only confirm our belief in the certainty of its Creator. I find it as difficult to understand a scientist who does not acknowledge the presence of a superior rationality behind the existence of the universe as it is to comprehend a theologian who would deny the advances of science.”

“They (evolutionists) challenge science to prove the existence of God. But must we really light a candle to see the sun? They say they cannot visualize a Designer. Well, can a physicist visualize an electron? What strange rationale makes some physicists accept the inconceivable electron as real while refusing to accept the reality of a Designer on the grounds that they cannot conceive Him?”

“Although I know of no reference to Christ ever commenting on scientific work, I do know that He said, “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” Thus I am certain that, were He among us today, Christ would encourage scientific research as modern man’s most noble striving to comprehend and admire His Father’s handiwork. The universe as revealed through scientific inquiry is the living witness that God has indeed been at work.”

—Werner von Braun

(Click here for sources and many more quotes)

The Book of Mormon teaches, along with the Bible, that one path to knowing God may include recognizing the good works that He does, either in His original creation or in His direction of imperfect men.

1 Nephi 18:5

The voice of the Lord

And it came to pass that the voice of the Lord came unto my father,

that we should arise and go down into the ship.

God speaks to people to help them along.  They may ask for His guidance, but ultimately it is He who chooses when and what to reveal, and when to keep silent and let His children work out their own situation.

Often enough the communication which He initiates is a surprise to the hearer, an unexpected assignment, like His command to Lehi and his family to leave Jerusalem.  It is a challenge to accept these unexpected assignments, whether from the Lord’s Spirit or His designated agent, like the bishop.

In this Book of Mormon verse, however, the revelation is an expected message.  We do not know how long they waited for this instruction.  Noah waited two months in a (doubtless) stinking ark after he had assured himself that the land was dry, before the Lord gave the command to disembark.  Sometimes the waiting can be as challenging as the unexpected.  We must always trust in the Lord’s timing.

1 Nephi 18:6

Fruits and meat and honey in abundance

The Book of Mormon teaches that there is a time to gather provisions

And it came to pass that on the morrow, after we had prepared all things,

much fruits and meat from the wilderness, and honey in abundance,

and provisions according to that which the Lord had commanded us,

we did go down into the ship, with all our loading and our seeds,

and whatsoever thing we had brought with us, every one according to his age; wherefore, we did all go down into the ship, with our wives and our children.

Obviously this Book of Mormon family didn’t do all this preparing the morning they boarded the ship.  But as Nephi is writing both about his own life and in testimony of God’s goodness and deliverance, the ship-building project received his first attention and was most memorable, and all the preparations, which must have been extensive, are written more as an after-thought.  

Nephi says that the Lord had commanded the gathering of food.  The Lord would give instructions on this because, although His people have developed great self-reliance and toughness on their trek through the wilderness, a long sea-voyage was still beyond their learning curve.

It is not clear when all the food-gathering and preparing occurred.  Food gathering is seasonal; we may assume that at the appropriate season the Lord had commanded them concerning the collecting and drying of fruits and meats.  It may have begun before the ship-building, happened at the same time as the ship-building, or perhaps all efforts may have been directed first to the ship, and then to the food.  

They gathered according to their age.  The oldest child must not have been over 8 years of age, but doubtless all these children worked and helped as much as possible.

1 Nephi 18:10  

We will not

The Book of Mormon shows that we should respect God’s anger

And I, Nephi, began to fear exceedingly lest the Lord should be angry with us,

and smite us because of our iniquity,

that we should be swallowed up in the depths of the sea;

wherefore, I, Nephi, began to speak to them with much soberness;

but behold they were angry with me, saying:

We will not that our younger brother shall be a ruler over us.

Obviously this is not the first time the Book of Mormon records that Laman and Lemuel have had bad attitudes and bad actions.  In speaking of his own feelings concerning this, on three separate occasions Nephi has said he was “grieved because of the hardness of their hearts.”  (1 Nephi 2:18, 1 Nephi 7:8, 1 Nephi 15:4 In the most recent ship-building, brother-shocking experience, Nephi introduced a new element into his feelings:  fear.  He feared for his brothers’ sake, realizing how spiritually perilous these repeated refusals to maintain faithfulness were to his brothers.  He feared lest they should be cast off.

Now, on a perilous sea, Nephi is again afraid.  He does not fear the wind and the waves themselves, but he fears their natural consequences if the Lord does not uphold his family.  On the one hand he knows they will arrive in the Promised Land safely; he has seen their great history unfold before his eyes.  Is he doubting his own vision?  On the other hand, he must know that blessings are predicated on obedience and faithfulness.  Whatever his brothers are doing in their party, he knows it’s contrary to the will of the Lord, and thus might be the cause of losing the blessing and protection of God.  He has seen such a panorama of history, and he has seen many righteous people destroyed because of the wickedness of others.  It is possible to live among wickedness and not partake, but proximity has its risks.

Before Nephi expressed fear concerning his brothers he was a young, single man.  Young single men tend to have great self-confidence and believe that risks are dangerous for others, not for them.  But now he has advanced to the state of a married man, with a wife and children.  Such a man is a provider and protector, and, in confronting his brothers, he is fulfilling that role.

It is a frightening experience for Nephi to be on a boat with people who are heedless and unthankful of the Lord’s guidance and protection. It is likewise a sobering experience to see our ship of state listing, leaking, and being bombasted by the storm.

1 Nephi 18:11

Unto the fulfilling of His word

The Book of Mormon gives an example

of someone not complaining against God during severe trials

And it came to pass that Laman and Lemuel did take me and bind me with cords, and they did treat me with much harshness; nevertheless,

the Lord did suffer it that he might show forth his power,

unto the fulfilling of his word which he had spoken concerning the wicked.

I do not know which word of the Lord concerning the wicked Nephi is referring to.  There is nothing obvious about the words he or his father have previously received that would be applicable, and there is the whole Old Testament from which to draw these words.

Nephi narrates what happened.  He narrates some of his own feelings, and the feelings of others.  And he is careful to note his attitude toward the Lord.  He does not “charge God foolishly” (Job 1:22).  Although God has delivered him many times, Nephi does not expect to avoid all the consequences of wicked people.  He doesn’t take for granted God’s protection and care, and when it doesn’t seem evident, Nephi understands that God is still there, but for His higher purposes He allows the suffering to occur.

1 Nephi 18:12

The compass did cease to work

The Book of Mormon shows how wickedness prevents progress

And it came to pass that after they had bound me insomuch that I could not move, the compass, which had been prepared of the Lord, did cease to work.

As readers, we’re quite aware that the ball or compass had been prepared by the Lord. Nephi doesn’t want us to take this compass for granted and forget where it came from, as apparently his brothers had done.

What happens next is a direct example of Doctrine & Covenants 130:20,21:  “There is a law irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of the earth upon which all blessings are predicated.  And when we receive any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.”  The Lord had previously defined the law of the Liahona:  It works according to the faith and diligence and heed which are given unto it.  Now that Nephi could not exercise his faith and diligence and heed, due to being physically prevented from freely functioning, the compass no longer works.  When it worked it should have been a reason to marvel; now that it’s stopped working, that, too, is a testimony of God’s work.

1 Nephi 18:15

The judgments of God were upon them

The Book of Mormon shows

that some people will choose the right only when threatened with destruction

And it came to pass

that we were about to be swallowed up in the depths of the sea.  

And after we had been driven back upon the waters for the space of four days,

my brethren began to see that the judgments of God were upon them,

and that they must perish save that they should repent of their iniquities; wherefore, they came unto me, and loosed the bands which were upon my wrist, and behold they had swollen exceedingly;

and also mine ankles were much swollen, and great was the soreness thereof.

Laman and Lemuel have passed a judgment on Nephi, and decided in their wisdom to end his free movement by binding him painfully tight.  How they would like to believe that their judgments are always correct, that they are always right.  How they would like to believe that even God agrees with their reasoning.  It takes four frightening days of tempest to convince them, at least momentarily, to give up this delusion and recognize that the judgments of God are pointing at them.

It is well at this point to recall why they have tied Nephi up.  It is because he chastised them for their behavior.  He used words of persuasion, words of indictment for breaking God’s commandments.  They have responded to words with violence.  This is a trend we’re seeing in our world today: Impose harsh penalties against those who preach against sodomy, behead those who speak against the prophet.

1 Nephi 18:16

I did look unto my God

The Book of Mormon shows us to praise God all  day long,

even during severe adversity

Nevertheless, I did look unto my God, and I did praise him all the day long;

and I did not murmur against the Lord because of mine afflictions.

Throughout the Book of Mormon, many ideas are expressed in triplets, and this is one of so many cases.  If this had been written by a Western writer, the order would probably have been reversed to provide a crescendo of ideas, but in Hebrew tradition the most important idea is often placed first, with the other ideas being support phrases.

Nephi provides us a succinct and universal formula for facing difficulties:  Look to God, praise God, and do not murmur against the Lord.  

Look to God for understanding, either of the specific trial or to renew an over-all perspective of mortality, as Nephi does in verse 11.  

Praise God – thank Him for blessings.  Whatever the trial is, it cannot overshadow the other blessings in one’s life.  For one who knows God, there are always blessings to recognize.  (There are blessings for those who do not know God, also, but they will have a harder time recognizing them.)

Do not murmur against the Lord, and do not complain in general.  It’s all one. Complaining is counter-productive to every enterprise.  It’s a pause in progress, which makes the subsequent journey unpleasant.  It’s a pause devoid of refreshment.  It’s like hikers struggling through thorns, and deciding to take a break by wallowing in a stinky swamp.  When they get back on the trail, the thorns are still there, they’ve lost time, and they have no good memories to show for it.

1 Nephi 18:18

Their grief and sorry

The Book of Mormon shows the debilitating effect of sin upon family members

Because of their grief and much sorrow, and the iniquity of my brethren,

they were brought near even to be carried out of this time to meet their God;

yea, their grey hairs were about to be brought down to lie low in the dust;

yea, even they were near to be cast with sorrow into a watery grave.

Here is another triplet graphically portraying what it means to die:  meet God, lie in the dust, and (in this particular case) receive a watery grave.  Meeting God is most important: it’s what the spirit does.  The body is left behind to lie in the dust or wash about in the sea.  Grief, sorrow, and iniquity are threatening to bring about the deaths of Nephi’s parents, and death is the ultimate grief and sorrow, particularly in the case of iniquity.

1 Nephi 18:20

Nothing save the power of God

The Book of Mormon shows how determined some people are

to ignore messages of goodness and peace from God

And there was nothing save it were the power of God,

which threatened them with destruction, could soften their hearts;

wherefore, when they saw

that they were about to be swallowed up in the depths of the sea

they repented of the thing which they had done, insomuch that they loosed me.

In chapters 3-5, Nephi presented the case where he of necessity and justice killed Laban.  He is now presenting the case where the Lord of necessity and justice indicates that the next step is to kill Laman and Lemuel, and those with them.

This theme is repeated throughout the Book of Mormon, the Old Testament, the New Testament, the Doctrine and Covenants, and always when God interacts with His children, at least in all the records we have, because we have such scanty records of righteous groups.  The scriptural records we have been given match our times and our needs.

Nephi points out that the time of words is past.  The words of his wife and children were of no avail.  Laman and Lemuel have rejected Nephi’s words to the extent that they want to permanently silence him.  They have likewise rejected the words of anyone who speaks for him, and similarly threaten them.  Even the words of their own parents fall on deaf ears.  Nephi emphasizes that the threat of their parents being “cast with sorrow into a watery grave” does not move the brothers; only the threat that “they [themselves] were about to be swallowed up in the depths of the sea” is sufficient to move them to repentance.  They have descended past the point of learning from and responding to words, of filial piety, of human kindness.

In this mortal school the Lord speaks to us in many ways, as described in Doctrine & Covenants 43:25.  “How oft have I called upon you by the mouth of my servants, and by the ministering of angels, and by mine own voice, and by the voice of thunderings, and by the voice of lightnings, and by the voice of tempests, and by the voice of earthquakes, and great hailstorms, and by the voice of famines and pestilences of every kind, and by the great sound of a trump, and by the voice of judgment, and by the voice of mercy all the day long, and by the voice of glory and honor and the riches of eternal life, and would have saved you with an everlasting salvation, but ye would not!”

1 Nephi 18:21

I took the compass, and it did work

The Book of Mormon shows

how God respects the word and desires of His servants

And it came to pass after they had loosed me, behold, I took the compass,

and it did work whither I desired it.  

And it came to pass that I prayed unto the Lord;

and after I had prayed the winds did cease, and the storm did cease,

and there was a great calm.

Like the disciples to come, Nephi cried unto the Lord in the midst of the storm.  But unlike those later disciples he prayed with that same faith that he had exercised during the ordeal, and when he took the compass in his hands, and not in frantic desperation.  The result was the same.  In a beautiful foreshadowing of the miracle that He would perform on the Sea of Galilee, the Lord respected Nephi’s plea, and the wind and storm ceased, and there was a great calm.

God in 1 Nephi 18 by the Numbers

25 verses

God is mentioned by name:  14 verses = 56%

Verses about God:  14 verses = 56%

God: 4

Lord: 14

1 Nephi 17 1 Nephi 19