1 Nephi Chapter 18
1 Nephi 18 Voyage to the Promised Land
Chapter 18 is notable for its account of the voyage to the Promised Land.
1 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.
verse 1 "from time to time" We have previously discussed Nephi's need for much expert help from at least one shipwright, from an experienced captain of large boats, and from experienced crew members.
2 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.
verse 2 In Joseph Smith's day the Arabian Peninsula was not well known to Americans and was generally understood to be a desert wasteland, devoid of timber that could have been used for shipbuilding. As we discussed in the commentary for 1 Nephi 17:6, there now exists convincing evidence that Oman's Dhofar coast is the probable location of Nephi's Bountiful, where he and his family constructed the ship that carried them to the Americas. Oman, with its borders on the Arabian Gulf and the Indian Ocean, is relatively geographically isolated, and its history, according to archaeologist Michael Rice, is "most notably a record of Oman's marriage with the sea." He continues: "Her people have always been energetic and courageous seamen, probably from the earliest times. Oman's ships are distinctive and her sailors were foremost among the seamen of Islam" (The Archaeology of the Arabian Gulf, 5000-323 BC, 246-48). Ancient Oman played an important role in early trade routes and served as an international center for trade by sea. Long before 600 BC, their trade linked India, Persia, Mesopotamia, Africa, Egypt, and eventually China. In ancient times it was the natural location to build and launch a ship for a journey eastward into the Indian Ocean. It is likely that Nephi learned his skills as a shipbuilder from the Omani shipwrights.
One possible meaning of this verse is that Nephi was shown by the Lord some variations in the usual Omani techniques of ship construction. Another possible meaning, however, of this verse is that the Omani style of ship construction was unique and differed from the rest of the world. Hence the Omani ships were built in a manner which was "not after the manner of men." The Omani used a distinctive ship, the "sewn boat," which, though of very ancient origin, is still used by modern Omani. These sewn boats, also called "booms," are wooden boats, but they are not nailed. They are completely stitched together, without using nails. Approximately 56,000 meters of coconut hair rope are required to sew together one complete ship. Using these vessels, the Omani have maintained active trade with neighboring countries over most of a five-thousand year period. It is highly improbable that Joseph Smith or his contemporaries knew that southern Arabia was home to world-class mariners and shipbuilders for millennia. We do not know whether Nephi built his ship in the Omani style (which would have been different from "the manner of men" he would have known from the Mediterranean) or whether the construction style the Lord showed him was different from both of these. But the reputation of ancient Oman as a center of shipbuilding demonstrates clearly that the necessary materials for the successful constructions were available in that land in Lehi's day.
The skills required to build a large and seaworthy ship and to successfully complete a treacherous journey from the coast of Arabia to the Americas carrying a large group of people are considerable. Practically speaking, they could not have been obtained by Nephi, the revelation to which he was entitled notwithstanding, without help. And so it appears the Lord led him to a place where the body of accumulated knowledge and tradition of sailing were already in place.
3 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.
verse 3 "into the mount oft" In modern-day English, we may prefer the preposition "onto" here rather than "into."
4 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.
verse 4 It is interesting to remind ourselves that Laman and Lemuel had no choice but to board the ship and go with Nephi. The only way out of Bountiful was back through the foreboding desert or out to sea.
5 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.
verse 5 Even though it was Nephi who had been receiving the revelation relative to the specific task of building the ship, notice who it was that received the revelation regarding the group's departure. Lehi is the priesthood leader in charge.
6 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.
verse 6 "every one according to his age" Here it is suggested that the sequence in which the group entered the ship was determined by their rank in the family, which rank was in turn determined by their age.
"we did all go down into the ship, with our wives and our children" Obviously Lehi and Sariah, by this time, had some grandchildren (see also a mention of Nephi's children in 1 Nephi 18:19). Just how large is the traveling group? Since Lehi and Sariah had two children, Jacob and Joseph, while traveling in the wilderness we might well expect the younger couples to have been more fertile and to have had at least as many children as their parents did over that same time period. Let us make a few assumptions. First, we may assume that Nephi's older brothers (Laman, Lemuel, and Sam) each had at least four children. This is assumed because shortly after arriving in the promised land, Lehi will bless the "sons and daughters" of Laman (2 Nephi 4:3) and the "sons and daughters" of Lemuel (2 Nephi 4:8). Nephi's sisters will be mentioned in 2 Nephi 5:6, but we know they were married to Ishmael's sons. Nephi went back to get Ishmael's family, so his sisters were presumably already married to Ishmael's sons before they left Jerusalem. Since these two couples had been married for at least eight years, they most likely had more than four children each. We will assume that each couple had four. Nephi states that his "children" traveled on the ship (verse 19), and so we will assume that he and his wife also had four children.
So far, then, we have a minimum of 40 people (Lehi, Sariah, Laman and his wife and four children, Lemuel and his wife and four children, Sam and his wife and four children, Nephi and his wife and four children, Jacob, Joseph, and Nephi's two sisters, their husbands, and their four children per couple). Then if we add the wife of Ishmael, Zoram, his wife, and their probably four children, we are up to 47 as a reasonable minimum. Then there is the possibility that Lehi and maybe even Ishmael had brought servants with them in the wilderness (see the commentary for 1 Nephi 17:8). In addition, one cannot rule out the possibility that some of the local people from Dhofar (Bountiful) joined the family. The Omanis had a great tradition of seafaring. When building the ship the family may have had help from the locals. The local young men would doubtless have been drawn by the adventure and romance of a far journey in the ship, and their seafaring skills would have been vital for the ship's crew. It is certainly possible that the total number of people on board the ship could have been in the neighborhood of 50 to 75.
7 And now, my father had begat two sons in the wilderness; the elder was called Jacob and the younger Joseph.
8 And it came to pass after we had all gone down into the ship, and had taken with us our provisions and things which had been commanded us, we did put forth into the sea and were driven forth before the wind towards the promised land.
9 And after we had been driven forth before the wind for the space of many days, behold, my brethren and the sons of Ishmael and also their wives began to make themselves merry, insomuch that they began to dance, and to sing, and to speak with much rudeness, yea, even that they did forget by what power they had been brought thither; yea, they were lifted up unto exceeding rudeness.
verse 9 "much rudeness . . . exceeding rudeness" What kind of activity might be referred to in this way? During their exodus from Egypt, the Israelites on at least one occasion involved themselves in lewd and lascivious dancing (see Exodus 32:18; Exodus 32:19, and 25). Perhaps this same type of behavior provoked this somewhat euphemistic description of their behavior.
10 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.
verse 10 Here, again, the rancor of Nephi's older brothers surfaces. Their resentment may have had, at least in part, a cultural origin. See the commentary for 1 Nephi 16:37.
11 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.
verse 11 "the Lord did suffer it" Sometimes the Lord will allow the wicked to abuse and mistreat the righteous. We might say that he allows them to dig their own spiritual grave.
12 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.
verse 12 The "compass" is, of course, the Liahona.
13 Wherefore, they knew not whither they should steer the ship, insomuch that there arose a great storm, yea, a great and terrible tempest, and we were driven back upon the waters for the space of three days; and they began to be frightened exceedingly lest they should be drowned in the sea; nevertheless they did not loose me.
14 And on the fourth day, which we had been driven back, the tempest began to be exceedingly sore.
15 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 wrists, and behold they had swollen exceedingly; and also mine ankles were much swollen, and great was the soreness thereof.
16 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.
verse 16 Take note of the relationship between Nephi and the Lord, particularly the humility that Nephi evidences. Presumably Nephi had done nothing to offend the Lord, yet Nephi assumed no automatic favors from the Lord. He approached the Lord with humble submissiveness.
17 Now my father, Lehi, had said many things unto them, and also unto the sons of Ishmael; but, behold, they did breathe out much threatenings against anyone that should speak for me; and my parents being stricken in years, and having suffered much grief because of their children, they were brought down, yea, even upon their sick-beds.
18 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.
verse 18 "lie low in the dust" Two of the definitions of "dust" in Webster's 1828 Dictionary of the English Language include "the grave" and "a low condition."
19 And Jacob and Joseph also, being young, having need of much nourishment, were grieved because of the afflictions of their mother; and also my wife with her tears and prayers, and also my children, did not soften the hearts of my brethren that they would loose me.
20 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.
verses 17-20 We continue to learn about the character of Laman and Lemuel. They were unmoved by the pleading of their elderly and ailing parents, the deprivation of their youngest brothers, and even the tears of Nephi's wife. Only the threat to their personal safety finally motivated them to release Nephi.
21 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.
22 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, did guide the ship, that we sailed again towards the promised land.
23 And it came to pass that after we had sailed for the space of many days we did arrive at the promised land; and we went forth upon the land, and did pitch our tents; and we did call it the promised land.
verse 23 What is your concept of this brand new Promised Land? What did Lehi and his group encounter there? What about other people? Did the emigrants from Jerusalem actually encounter indigenous peoples in the Promised Land? As many have read the Book of Mormon, they have developed the intuitive notion that father Lehi and his group were alone in a pristine land, never previously inhabited by man. Actually, the western hemisphere was inhabited millennia before Lehi and company arrived here. There were doubtless remnants from the Jaredite culture and probably other indigenous subcultures. It is probable later on, however, that the Nephites and Lamanites did multiply to become a significant part, though probably not a majority, of the Mesoamerican scene during the Book of Mormon years.
Dr. Joseph L. Allen (Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon, 237) suggested a possible scene encountered by Lehi's colony as they arrived in the promised land: "[They] were probably greeted by the scantily clothed, sun-baked, dark-skinned natives living along the coast. These natives were probably part of the great Jaredite nation. Most likely, Laman and Lemuel, in their traditional jealousy of Nephi, assumed the leadership of these natives. Thus began the great Lamanite culture."
A logical extension of the mistaken presumption that Lehi's colony was alone in this new land is that the emigrants from Jerusalem (Lehi's group and the Mulekites-also from Jerusalem) then proceeded, over the centuries, to populate the entire western hemisphere by themselves. At one point in our church history, it was commonly believed that all American Indians were descendants of Lehi, Ishmael, Zoram, and the Mulekites. Be careful not to fall into this simplistic trap. The contemporary Indian cultures and language groups are too diverse to be explained by origination from these few ethnic groups sixteen centuries ago.
"we did arrive at the promised land" In early church history it was commonly believed that Lehi landed in Chile. This idea seems to have originated from a statement by Frederick G. Williams which stated that Lehi "landed on the continent of South America in Chile thirty degrees south Lattitude [sic]." In 1882 Franklin D. Richards attributed this statement to Joseph Smith. Subsequent research finds no evidence that Joseph ever made this statement (Re-exploring the Book of Mormon, edited by John W. Welch, 57-60).
24 And it came to pass that we did begin to till the earth, and we began to plant seeds; yea, we did put all our seeds into the earth, which we had brought from the land of Jerusalem. And it came to pass that they did grow exceedingly; wherefore, we were blessed in abundance.
25 And it came to pass that we did find upon the land of promise, as we journeyed in the wilderness, that there were beasts in the forests of every kind, both the cow and the ox, and the ass and the horse, and the goat and the wild goat, and all manner of wild animals, which were for the use of men. And we did find all manner of ore, both of gold, and of silver, and of copper.
verse 25 Apparently they encountered several types of domestic animals in the wilderness as well as "all manner of wild animals." How could domestic animals have been found in this pristine, uninhabited land? First, Nephi does not specifically state that the animals were domestic when first encountered. Second, as is stated above in the commentary for verse 23, archaeologists assure us that people already inhabited all parts of Mesoamerica in 580 BC. Thus, domestic animals might well have been found.
There are actually some twelve specific animals mentioned in the Book of Mormon. Six of them are found in this verse. The entire list of twelve includes the ass (see also Mosiah 12:5), the cow (see also Ether 9:18), the dog (Mosiah 12:2; Alma 16:10; Helaman 7:19; 3 Nephi 14:6), the goat (see also Enos 1:21; Ether 9:18), the wild goat, the horse (2 Nephi 12:7; Enos 1:21; Alma 18:9; Alma 18:10; Alma 18:12; Alma 20:6; 3 Nephi 3:22; 3 Nephi 4:4; 3 Nephi 6:1; 3 Nephi 21:14; Ether 9:19), the sheep (Ether 9:18), the ox (see also 2 Nephi 21:7; 2 Nephi 30:13; Mosiah 13:24), the swine (3 Nephi 14:6; Ether 9:18), the elephant (Ether 9:19), and the "curelom" the "cumom" (see the commentary for Ether 9:19). Also mentioned are calf, cattle, fowl, lamb, and fatling which are variations of the twelve already mentioned.
Since the classification and nomenclature of animals have varied so widely from culture to culture, it is probably best not to assume that these animals are the same as we know them today. For example, there is no good evidence that the cow as we know it was present in the Americas before the time of Columbus. What then is referred to in the Book of Mormon by the term "cow"? It is not entirely possible to know, but we might speculate. At the time of the Spanish conquest, some of the Indians of Mesoamerica owned and tended herds of deer. In Peru some pastoral Indians kept domesticated llamas. Could these be the Book of Mormon's "cow"? Perhaps also the "cow" is the bison or the alpaca?
"the horse" Some have long been troubled by the mention of the horse in the Book of Mormon since horses were not generally thought to be present in the western hemisphere before the time of Columbus. It would seem, however, that all one has to do is be patient. New discoveries are being made all the time. John L. Sorenson has reported, "Actual horse bones have been found in a number of archaeological sites on the Yucatan Peninsula, in one case with artifacts six feet beneath the surface under circumstances that rule out their coming from Spanish horses" (An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, 295-96). Also, can we be certain that the Book of Mormon's "horse" is, in fact, a true horse as we know the horse? Ancient Mesoamerican figures have been found with people riding on the back of deer, holding onto their ears or horns.
Brother Sorenson has suggested, using the list of animals known to have existed in Mesoamerica during Book of Mormon times, the following identities for other animals mentioned in the book: The "ox" may have been the tapir, the llama, or the bison. The "ass" might be the tapir or the llama. The llama or the paca might qualify to be called the "sheep." The "goat" may have been the deer, and the "swine" fits with the peccary. The "dog" is probably one of the species of dog indigenous to Mesoamerica.
Metaphorical references to animals also occur. For instance, "ye are his sheep . . . suffer no ravenous wolf to enter among you" (Alma 5:60); "the people had turned from their righteousness, like the dog to his vomit, or like the sow to her wallowing in the mire" (3 Nephi 7:8); "they shall be driven before like a dumb ass" (Mosiah 12:5); "they were struck with great fear, and fled from the presence of Alma and Amulek even as a goat fleeth with her young from two lions" (Alma 14:29).