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Lesson Plan for 1 Nephi 16-22



Last week we read of Nephi's panoramic vision of salvation history for his posterity and all mankind. We don't typically think of it, but Nephi's vision in chapter 11 of the Tree of Life consists of chapters 12-14 as well. This is important because it informs this week's reading, particularly how and why Nephi quotes Isaiah. Nephi reinterprets and repurposes Isaiah to fit his own revelatory experiences. One of Isaiah's main messages is the remnant of Israel who will be gathered in the last days. Nephi's vision allowed him insight into Isaiah that made it "plain" to him and to "liken" it to his family. It can be plain to us if we seek to understand more fully the mission of Christ and the gathering of Israel in our time.

In addition to this, it is also worth noting an unmistakable endowment of power and knowledge Nephi has after his revelation received on the mountaintop. For he, like prophets before him, had seen and heard unspeakable things (see 1 Nephi 14:28 & 3 Nephi 28:13). Interestingly, Elder Neal A. Maxwell has noted the parallel Nephi's experience has with other holy men in the scriptures:

"According to the Prophet Joseph Smith, the crucial holy endowment was administered to Moses ‘on the mountaintop.’ President Joseph Fielding Smith expressed the belief that Peter, James, and John also received the holy endowment on a mountain, the Mount of Transfiguration. Nephi, too, was caught up to an exceedingly high mountain (see 1 Nephi 11:1) and was instructed not to write or speak of some of the things he experienced there (see 1 Nephi 14:25)." (Lord Increase Our Faith (Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft, 1994), 78)

It is slight speculation, but a pretty mature bit of speculation to realize that Nephi has now been anointed to be and do things that give him confidence he didn't have before. Nephi had marvelous faith before, but now he is ready to lead a people and has the legitimate authority to do so. Despite him seeing the total destruction of his posterity in vision, he maintains hope in The Holy One of Israel who will do a marvelous work and a wonder in the last days. This marvelous work and wonder is more than just the existence of the restored church. It is the spreading of temple blessings to the world. Therefore, the message of the remnant from Isaiah and repurposed by Nephi goes hand in hand with the endowment of power Nephi received on the mount and the endowment of power received in Holy Temples in our day. Temple blessings and the gathering of Israel go hand in hand. President Nelson has put it most succinctly:

"Anytime you do anything that helps anyone—on either side of the veil—take a step toward making covenants with God and receiving their essential baptismal and temple ordinances, you are helping to gather Israel. It is as simple as that." (1)

Elder Maxwell echoes the same thing:

"The great garner into which the sheaves should be gathered is the holy temple." (2)

This is the stated purpose of the Book of Mormon on the title page and it is the profound purpose of Isaiah's and Nephi's spiritual writings and revelations. Again, President Nelson is on the same page with Isaiah and Nephi:

"It is significant that the Savior chose to appear to the [Nephites] at the temple. It is His house. It is filled with His power. Let us never lose sight of what the Lord is doing for us now. He is making His temples more accessible. He is accelerating the pace at which we are building temples. He is increasing our ability to help gather Israel. He is also making it easier for each of us to become spiritually refined. I promise that increased time in the temple will bless your life in ways nothing else can." (3)

Often times within the gospel we compartmentalize gospel truths. When we see "things as they really are" truth increasingly becomes "circumscribed into one great whole." We see the Kingdom and its Christ moving forward in one singular purpose. We will see that the gathering of Israel and the reasons we build temples are one in the same!

LIAHONA = "To Yahweh, Look!"

The manual, rightfully so, wants us to see the struggle of Lehi and his family and see ourselves in the narrative. That can provide powerful applications for our lives. Many gospel principles can be found in these stories if we follow that advice.

Chapter 16 begins with Nephi and his brothers marrying Ishmael's daughters. Afterward, Lehi and Nephi find a "curious" object outside Lehi's tent door. Two things here: 1) the phrase 'tent door' is only used twice in the Hebrew Bible, one is when Abraham encounters the Lord in Genesis 18:1 and the other is when Moses inaugurates the Tabernacle in Exodus 33:7-10, 2) The term "curious" is virtually only used in the Hebrew Bible (or much of the Brass Plates Lehi had in his possession) to describe the Ephod that carried the breastplate, which carried the Urim & Thummim on the High Priest's clothing. That is "curious" given how the Liahona functioned as a type of Urim & Thummim and how both the Liahona and Urim & Thummim might share similar meanings within their etymology (Hebrew or Egyptian). Both things taken together, we have parallels to the ancient Israelite temple experience that invoke how sacred these events were. Although Nephi or Lehi never call it the Liahona, it becomes known as such throughout Nephite history. Many intriguing theories exist on how the Liahona functioned (including this one) as well as many thoughts on what the term "Liahona" means, but all are fairly similar. One scholar, Matthew Bowen, gives us the most up-to-date "best guess" scholarship offers and it can teach us a lot. He suggests it is Egyptian and it means, "To Yahweh, Look!." (4) Nephi and the guiding Angel in his vision of the Tree of Life uses the term "look" emphatically nearly 35 times. Similar phrases litter the Book of Mormon which might suggest "Liahona" was wordplay to teach and reteach the principle of "look[ing] to God and live" (see Alma 37:47).

Let's transition to when Nephi breaks his bow.

READ 1 NEPHI 16:19-34

"19 And it came to pass that we did return without food to our families, and being much fatigued, because of their journeying, they did suffer much for the want of food.

20 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.

21 Now it came to pass that I, Nephi, having been afflicted with my brethren because of the loss of my bow, and their bows having lost their springs, it began to be exceedingly difficult, yea, insomuch that we could obtain no food.

22 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.

23 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, did make out of wood a bow, and out of a straight stick, an arrow; wherefore, I did arm myself with a bow and an arrow, with a sling and with stones. And I said unto my father: Whither shall I go to obtain food?

24 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.

25 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.

26 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.

27 And it came to pass that when my father beheld the things which were written upon the ball, he did fear and tremble exceedingly, and also my brethren and the sons of Ishmael and our wives.

28 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, beheld the pointers which were in the ball, that they did work according to the faith and diligence and heed which we did give unto them.

29 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.

30 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, did go forth up into the top of the mountain, according to the directions which were given upon the ball.

31 And it came to pass that I did slay wild beasts, insomuch that I did obtain food for our families.

32 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."


What gospel principles can we learn for ourselves and/or our families from what happened here?

The manual has a good line, "If you ever wonder why bad things happen to good people like Nephi and his family, you may find insights in these chapters. But perhaps more important, you will see what good people do when bad things happen." (5)

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, while quoting Paul, has eloquently said:

"I have often thought that Nephi’s being bound with cords and beaten by rods must have been more tolerable to him than listening to Laman and Lemuel’s constant murmuring. Surely he must have said at least once, “Hit me one more time. I can still hear you.” Yes, life has its problems, and yes, there are negative things to face, but please accept one of Elder Holland’s maxims for living—no misfortune is so bad that whining about it won’t make it worse. Paul put it candidly, but very hopefully. He said to all of us: “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but [only] that which is good … [and] edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers." (6)

This lesson about a family in extremity is a great lesson about how tongues can do much good or, frankly, make the rest of the family "miserable like unto [oneself]." (see 2 Nephi 2:27) We find this lesson played out over and over again during these rough years, eight years to be exact (see 1 Nephi 17:4), in the wilderness. Lehi calls these years "the days of my tribulation in the wilderness" (see 2 Nephi 2:1). One has to wonder how much of that tribulation was inflicted by those whom he loved most because of their tongues and attitude.

Another item worth highlighting is that Lehi murmurs here as well. He, as a prophet and patriarch of the family, falls into the easy trap of murmuring in extremity and trial. So while we want to have the attitude, tongue, and "mind of Christ," we can also be a little forgiving of ourselves when we fall prey to this temptation, especially in the most difficult moments.

A detail that might help inform our understanding of this story and others takes place back in verse 10. Have you ever noticed how Nephi tells us that the Liahona had two spindles, but he only tells us the function of one of them? What does the other one do? The first spindle pointed the direction, but I have seen comedians, who are members of the church, jokingly suggest the second spindle must have been a receptacle of 5G signal or it could have always pointed the way to the nearest women's restroom given all the children apparently born during this 8 year wilderness period. All joking aside, various journal entries from associates of Martin Harris (the scribe of the lost 116 pages) tell us that the second spindle pointed towards a picture or a description of where the first spindle was pointing. (see Don Bradley's The Lost 116 Pages, p. 149-150) 

Chapter 16 ends with another round of murmuring after Ishmael dies. It takes the literal voice of the Lord to turn away their anger from killing Lehi & Nephi. As a side note, probably the greatest archeological evidence we have for the Book of Mormon deals with the details of these verses, particularly 1 Nephi 16:34. See here if interested in learning more.


As we begin chapter 17, they travel eastward through, most likely, modern-day Yemen (see here). They are blessed with an underrated miracle of sweet meat (they couldn't eat cooked meat because the Lord had told them not to make "much fire", see 1 Nephi 17:12). They make it to "Bountiful" (which has, possibly, been located in our day, see here) and Nephi is called up to the top of a mountain where he receives a revelation to build a boat and a revelation on how to build that boat. He proceeds to build this heaven-inspired ship, much like Noah with the Ark and Moses with the Tabernacle.

READ 1 Nephi 17:17-22

"17 And when my brethren saw that I was about to build a ship, they began to murmur against me, saying: Our brother is a fool, for he thinketh that he can build a ship; yea, and he also thinketh that he can cross these great waters.

18 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.

19 And now it came to pass that I, Nephi, was exceedingly sorrowful because of the hardness of their hearts; and now when they saw that I began to be sorrowful they were glad in their hearts, insomuch that they did rejoice over me, saying: We knew that ye could not construct a ship, for we knew that ye were lacking in judgment; wherefore, thou canst not accomplish so great a work.

20 And thou art like unto our father, led away by the foolish imaginations of his heart; yea, he hath led us out of the land of Jerusalem, and we have wandered in the wilderness for these many years; and our women have toiled, being big with child; and they have borne children in the wilderness and suffered all things, save it were death; and it would have been better that they had died before they came out of Jerusalem than to have suffered these afflictions.

21 Behold, these many years we have suffered in the wilderness, which time we might have enjoyed our possessions and the land of our inheritance; yea, and we might have been happy.

22 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."


The manual asks us to contrast Nephi's account of traveling through the wilderness with his brothers' account. What did Nephi know or do that helped him have a faithful perspective? Or what did Laman & Lamuel do or not do?

Elder Neal A. Maxwell has written:

"There was murmuring  because Nephi broke his steel bow and also because he couldn't possibly build a ship (see 1 Nephi 16:18-20; 17:17). Those same murmurers, insensitive to their inconsistency, quickly surfeited themselves on the meat brought back by Nephi's new bow. They also sailed successfully over vast oceans to a new hemisphere in the ship that Nephi couldn't build. Strange, isn't it, how those with the longest lists of new demands also have the shortest memories of past blessings?" (If Thou Endure It Well, p. 125.)

Nephi proceeds for 24 verses to recount the history of Israel in order to show Laman & Lemuel how faithful the Lord has been to their fathers. Interestingly, Stephen does the same thing in Acts chapter 7. Both accounts have a lot of borrowed language from the covenants made within Deuteronomy. In essence, these would have been things Laman & Lemuel (and other wicked Israelites) would have "plainly" understood. Nephi then insightfully asks, "if the Lord has such great power, and has wrought so many miracles among the children of men, how is it that he cannot instruct me, that I should build a ship?" (see verse 51)


How can we ask ourselves a similar question? In the midst of doubt or trial, how can we remember that if we hold fast to the Lord he will prosper us the same way he did Nephi, Moses, and others of old?

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland recently made a point where he asks a very similar question Nephi asked of his brothers in verse 51:

"... many... today have deeply personal hopes: hope for a marriage to improve, or sometimes just hope for a marriage; hope for an addiction to be conquered; hope for a wayward child to come back; hope for physical and emotional pain of a hundred kinds to cease. Because the Restoration reaffirmed the foundational truth that God does work in this world, we can hope, we should hope, even when facing the most insurmountable odds... So, I ask, “If so many of our 1820 hopes could begin to be fulfilled with a flash of divine light to a mere boy kneeling in a patch of trees in upstate New York, why should we not hope that righteous desires and Christlike yearnings can still be marvelously, miraculously answered by the God of all hope?” We all need to believe that what we desire in righteousness can someday, someway, somehow yet be ours... We have every reason to hope for blessings even greater than those we have already received because this is the work of Almighty God, this is the Church of continuing revelation, this is the gospel of Christ’s unlimited grace and benevolence." (7)

We learn in chapter 18 that Nephi, during this time in Bountiful, "did go into the mount oft" and "prayed oft" which resulted in "the Lord show[ing] unto [him] great things." (see verse 3) The simple application from this is that Nephi was a frequent "temple attendee."  The same opportunity and blessings await us if we "go into the mount oft." President Nelson has taught this truth abundantly during his ministry:

"When you bring your temple recommend, a contrite heart, and a seeking mind to the Lord’s house of learning, He will teach you... If you don’t yet love to attend the temple, go more often—not less. Let the Lord, through His Spirit, teach and inspire you there. I promise you that over time, the temple will become a place of safety, solace, and revelation." (8)

As chapter 18 continues, they leave Bountiful and cross the sea. It is my opinion, and I would only share this during a lesson if directly asked, but leaving Bountiful on a temple-like ship has echoes of Adam and Eve leaving the Garden of Eden. Bountiful is also the name of the city and temple the Lord appears unto the Nephites to in 3 Nephi 11, obviously drawing a parallel to the Garden of Eden. Bountiful is described as a lush and abundant place in chapter 18. Also, they traveled eastward to get to Bountiful (some of the more scriptural and scholarly analysis of what ocean they crossed to get to the promised land has the shortest route going eastward through the Pacific, but that goes a step too far and endorses a Book of Mormon geographic view as scriptural when the Church has no official stance on Book of Mormon geography). Adam and Eve left the Garden eastward and built an altar. This is interesting given the research of Joseph Spencer I brought up in our last lesson that suggests 1 Nephi 19 marks the beginning of Nephi's "fall" portion of Nephi's narrative structure (see here). The parallel to see in this is the relationship "the fall" has with Israel's scattering (i.e. Israel fell through its scattering), which brings us to Nephi's first lengthy quotation of Isaiah.


Chapter 19 is an aside commentary a much older Nephi adds in to explain his purpose in making the small plates and he explains some of its structure. Within this he appears to refer to his Isaiah quoting as a part of the "more sacred" and "plain and precious parts" of his record and ministry (see verses 3 & 5). He makes another interesting comment about Isaiah, speaking of his brothers:

READ 1 Nephi 19:23

"23 And I did read many things unto them which were written in the books of Moses; but that I might more fully persuade them to believe in the Lord their Redeemer I did read unto them that which was written by the prophet Isaiah; for I did liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning."


Why does Nephi quote Isaiah, simply?

If your answer is "so that he might more fully persuade his brothers to believe in the Lord their Redeemer, " you got it right!


As you have read Isaiah this past week, how have you seen Christ in them or "been more fully persuaded" to believe in Him?

As noted in the beginning of the lesson, Isaiah ties Christ, the temple, and everything into the redemption or gathering of Israel. President Nelson has commented:

"That gathering [of Israel] is the most important thing taking place on earth today. Nothing else compares in magnitude, nothing else compares in importance, nothing else compares in majesty. And if you choose to, if you want to, you can be a big part of it. You can be a big part of something big, something grand, something majestic!... Now, participating in the gathering of Israel will require some sacrifice on your part. It may even require some changes in your life. It will definitely take some of your time and energy and your God-given talents. Are you interested?" (9)

Nephi's use of Isaiah in chapters 20-21 is interesting if you compare it to the differences it has with the KJV version of the text. What becomes obvious is that Nephi is "likening" Isaiah to his small scattered portion of Israel. He likens it to many of the themes he saw in Vision in chapters 11-14.


How can all this inform how we "liken" Isaiah or the scriptures unto ourselves?

Likening the scriptures unto ourselves must be grounded in Jesus Christ. They can give us avenues of application to our personal life, but if that isn't grounded in the overall picture of gathering and redeeming Israel, we are aloof and untethered in our study of the gospel. In other words, portions of scripture like Isaiah hold little application for us unless we understand how we fit into "the most important thing taking place on earth today", in the words of President Nelson.

What does the personal application look like? It isn't complicated and it ties right back to the temple:

"When we speak of the gathering, we are simply saying this fundamental truth: every one of our Heavenly Father’s children, on both sides of the veil, deserves to hear the message of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ." (10)

Our ministering efforts, our family efforts, our family history efforts, our scripture study efforts, our professional efforts, and so forth, all are towards the end of accomplishing this gathering and it all culminates in the Lord's house.

The Prophet Joseph Smith once taught:

"... what was the object of gathering the Jews, or the people of God in any age of the World?... The main object was to build unto the Lord a house whereby he could reveal unto his people the ordinances of his house and the glories of his kingdom, and teach the people the way of Salvation... It was the design of the Councils of heaven before the world was, that the principles and Laws of the Priesthood were predicated upon the gathering of the people in every age of the world." (11)

May this macro view of the gospel help inform the why in our micro everyday living. 


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