Sunday, May 25, 2008

Nephi Begins to Build a Ship (1 Nephi 17)

Listen now! Nephi gives the direction as "nearly eastward" in which they traveled for the remainder of their journey. If the speculated path of their travels is correct, this would cause them to be leaving the area of Nahom and heading into the most dangerous parts of southern Arabia...the present-day country of Yemen. It was likely a route through what is more commonly known as "The Empty Quarter" or "Al-Rub Al-Khali". Even today, this is a treacherous route, filled with wandering groups of nomads and full of lawlessness. The general condition is survival of the fittest as each group takes advantages of anothers weaknesses so as to survive on the scarce resources available in that area. This is the most likely reason why we are told by Nephi that their family subsisted on raw (uncooked) meat for the duration of that part of the journey. Had they built fires (even if fuel for such would have been available), they would have immediately drawn unwanted attention to themselves and been targeted by other tribes.

Heading almost directly eastward toward the Dhofar region of Oman would take them to a little band of verdant and fertile land. Whether they knew their ultimate destination at this point is not recorded, but it would make sense that they would have at least heard from the natives of Nahom that there would be a desirable destination at the end of that long and arduous trail. If not, it is safe to assume that they simply followed the compass and directions given to them by the Lord.

Upon arrival in this green oasis which they would call Bountiful, this is what they found:

It must have been a marvelous place in their sight after thousands of miles of sand, rocks, and looming demise. Not only that, but it is simply incredible that Joseph Smith, if, as the critics believe, he made it all up, would have guessed on pure luck a route that perfectly matches what we find in that region today. No maps of that area of the world existed for him to consult and no one in upstate New York had any inkling of what topology resources existed on the remotest southeast edge of Arabia.

Almost immediately after they arrive, the Lord speaks to Nephi and tells him to get up into a mountain for further instructions. Nephi obeys and when he arrives is told he is to build a ship large enough and strong enough to carry his family and provisions over the sea to a promised land. Any other man would have complained loudly about having to leave this newfound security for more uncertainty, but not Nephi. He simply asked where he might go to find ore so that he could make tools. The area of Khor Kharfot in this green region was found to have a deposit of a type of limonite or ferroan dolomite ore which has a composition such that it would have easily been turned refined into tools given what Nephi describes he was able to use to refine it.

Nephi's obedience by now is an expected reaction to seemingly impossible commandments. Likewise, Laman's and Lemuel's reactions seem to be just as predictable on the other end of the spectrum. Upon seeing Nephi preparing to build a ship, they immediately point out the lunacy of the endeavor and pour down verbal persecution on Nephi. No mention is made of Nephi ever asking them to help him, yet they seem to feel that he eventually will.

As if Nephi has finally has has had enough (after eight years of complaining), he counterargues that were it not for the miracles of the prophet Moses, they wouldn't even be having this conversation. If God could part the Red Sea so that the Israelites could cross on dry ground, God could make even the ocean into dry earth for them to cross over to the promised land. And if God could command that to happen, he could help Nephi to build a ship. (What also comes to mind here is the fact that Noah and seven of his family members built an ark that carried them to safety in the flood.) Nephi then reminds them of every miracle they had experienced thus far and their not having learned the intended lessons.

Of course, this made Laman and Lemuel very angry and they attempted to lay hands on him to throw him into the sea, but Nephi warned them that if they should touch him, they would wither "as a dried reed".

At this point, the Spirit must have been upon Nephi and on his brethren because Laman and Lemuel were visibly confounded and didn't even dare to touch him for several days. The Lord had Nephi further demonstrate His power to them by commanding Nephi to stretch out his hand with the intent that instead of withering, they would be "shocked" or "shaken".

It must have been an impressive feeling because it caused both of them to fall down and attempt to worship Nephi. He stopped them and simply told them to stop being rebellious, to honor their father and mother, and to worship God.