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. (1 Nephi 18:11)I like that Nephi observes that the Lord suffered it to happen, because it shows Nephi’s faith was not shaken even when he wasn’t immediately delivered. He says that the Lord suffered it “that he might show forth his power”. How interesting! When the Lord delivered Nephi before, He showed His power, and when He suffered Nephi to be tied again and not immediately delivered it was to show His power.
Perhaps it is not so urgent this time that Nephi get free. In the desert they were going to leave him behind, but here he is still with them. They haven’t tossed him overboard.
No doubt Nephi was praying like crazy for deliverance and for his brothers to soften their hearts. When it didn’t happen immediately as it did before, notice how he bore up:
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. (1 Nephi 18:16)In the previous incident, Laman and Lemuel were softened when one of the daughters of Ishmael and her mother and one of Ishmael’s sons pleaded with them on Nephi’s behalf. Evidently they remembered this from last time, because this time they were determined not to listen to anyone else again.
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.It certainly looks like most of the people on the boat were absolutely miserable (though it says nothing about Laman and Lemuel’s wives and children..) and none of the lectures or tears or prayers had any effect.
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.
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. (1 Nephi 18:17-20, emphasis added)
I think that is a very scary thing—to be so hardened that a person is beyond influence from any other person. When the Lord can’t influence a person through other people, that’s when He has to get tough by threatening with destruction.
The Lord started by causing the Liahona to stop working to show them that they were without guidance and He wasn’t helping them. That didn’t work. Then the Lord caused the storm to come up and drive them backwards to show them that He was against them. That didn’t work. So the Lord had to make the storm so violent and extreme with waves so tall that when they were in the trough of the waves and looking up at each wave crest as it came towards them, it looked like they would be buried in the depths of the sea. This was to show them how near death was to them. (Did you know that a wind speed of 60 knots can raise waves 78 feet high?* That’s about as tall as two school buses turned on their end and stacked on each other!) Finally they got the message. “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” (1 Nephi 18:20)
One question I found I had in this incident is that Nephi said that the word of the Lord would be fulfilled “which he had spoken concerning the wicked” (1 Nephi 18:11). There was no hint of what that word would be, except for some footnotes that among other places steered me to Alma 14:11 where Alma is telling why the Lord is keeping him from saving the martyrs in Ammonihah:
But Alma said unto him: The Spirit constraineth me that I must not stretch forth mine hand; for behold the Lord receiveth them up unto himself, in glory; and he doth suffer that they may do this thing, or that the people may do this thing unto them, according to the hardness of their hearts, that the judgments which he shall exercise upon them in his wrath may be just; and the blood of the innocent shall stand as a witness against them, yea, and cry mightily against them at the last day. (Alma 14:11)This is enlightening, but because Alma came AFTER Nephi, Nephi didn’t have those particular words to remember. It is my guess that just as Nephi often used the story of the Israelites being led out of Egypt by Moses for inspiration and encouragement, he probably used that story in this case as well. I figure that since he was on the ocean, he probably thought about when the Israelites were going through the Red Sea and being pursued by the Egyptians. I went and looked for that in Exodus and here’s what I found:
17 And I, behold, I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians, and they shall follow them: and I will get me honour upon Pharaoh, and upon all his host, upon his chariots, and upon his horsemen.(Quick note: Recall that the Joseph Smith Translation of verse 17 said “And I say unto thee the hearts of the Egyptians shall be hardened”) This reminds us that the Egyptians were hardening their own hearts.
18 And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I have gotten me honour upon Pharaoh, upon his chariots, and upon his horsemen.
19 ¶ And the angel of God, which went before the camp of Israel, removed and went behind them; and the pillar of the cloud went from before their face, and stood behind them:
20 And it came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel; and it was a cloud and darkness to them, but it gave light by night to these: so that the one came not near the other all the night.
21 And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided.
22 And the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea upon the dry ground: and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left.
23 ¶ And the Egyptians pursued, and went in after them to the midst of the sea, even all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen.
24 And it came to pass, that in the morning watch the Lord looked unto the host of the Egyptians through the pillar of fire and of the cloud, and troubled the host of the Egyptians,
25 And took off their chariot wheels, that they drave them heavily: so that the Egyptians said, Let us flee from the face of Israel; for the Lord fighteth for them against the Egyptians.
26 ¶ And the Lord said unto Moses, Stretch out thine hand over the sea, that the waters may come again upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots, and upon their horsemen.
27 And Moses stretched forth his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to his strength when the morning appeared; and the Egyptians fled against it; and the Lord overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea. (Exodus 14:17-27)
I figure that Nephi thought of this particular section about how the Lord told Moses that He would allow the Egyptians to go on in the hardness of their hearts and He would discomfit them until they knew it was the Lord they were dealing with. (And of course by the time the Egyptians realized this it was too late.) Nephi knew his brothers would get themselves “swallowed up in the depths of the sea” (1 Nephi 18:15) like the Egyptians if they persisted in their hard-heartedness.
As it happens, Laman and Lemuel finally repent enough to untie Nephi… but I notice there is no record of any apology.
I really get a feeling from this story that the Lord was not only very kind and merciful to Nephi, but also to Laman and Lemuel, even when He was angry with them. It would have been so easy to strike them with lightening or wash them overboard or send a large sea creature with lots of sharp teeth to have them for lunch. But no, the Lord worked with persuasion and kept trying to find some way to speak to them in a way that they understood until they realized they were making a mistake. That point was reached when they were afraid they were going to die.
Gee, I really want to make sure I never have to be threatened with death before I’ll repent!
* “A Few Basics for Forecasting Waves”, Dr Steve Lyons, The Weather Channel, http://www.weather.com/activities/recreation/boatandbeach/surf/articles/surfingarticle_one.html