Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Traveling with the Liahona and afflictions in 1 Nephi 16

This is the chapter in which Nephi and his brothers marry Ishmael’s daughters, Lehi finds the Liahona outside his tent, the Liahona guides them on their journey, Nephi breaks his bow and his brothers murmur, Ishmael dies and his daughters murmur, and Laman and Lemuel are chastened by the Lord’s own voice.  I have a number of observations to make in this chapter.

Food insecurity and a can-do attitude

One of the main concerns that causes the murmuring in Lehi’s family is lack of food, and while I used to condemn those that murmured about it, I have come to the conclusion that I probably would have done the same, especially when I consider the difficulty that have sometimes had with fasting.  Fasting teaches me that it takes a lot of extra self-control to be cooperative while hungry.  But I usually know where my next meal is coming from when I’m fasting.  Lehi’s people were dealing with pretty consistent food insecurity, and I imagine that would wear on anyone.   Because of this, I think Nephi’s example is truly stellar.  Even though he must have been just as hungry as everyone else, he tried to be part of the solution, rather than part of the problem. 

Nephi’s can-do attitude and focus on solutions reminds me of a little lesson I learned in the last house that we rented.  That house had some pretty consistent leaks through the front window when it rained, and at the beginning of our time staying in that house, I regret to say that when I called the landlord to tell him about them, I complained and blamed him.   Naturally, this did not go over very well.  Eventually I learned to report the problem with out complaining or blaming and to focus on finding solutions.  Once I learned that, repairs happened more quickly!  (Surprise, surprise!) 

Hypocritical criticism

I think it is odd that Laman and Lemuel got so torked at Nephi for breaking his bow when their bows had lost their springs.  Their bows were just as useless, so why are they getting down on Nephi?  It seems like hypocritical criticism.  It shows us something we need to be careful we don’t do—get angry at others for something we have done too.  (In my life, one of the things I get kinda picky about is keeping the house picked up.  I have to be careful to put away my stuff at the same time that I get after my husband for leaving things out.)

Carrying Capacity and seeking higher nourishment

Something else I noticed in this chapter is where Nephi finally finds food after the crisis of the broken bow:

 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. (1 Nephi 16:30-31, emphasis added)

The Liahona directed Nephi to the top of the mountains, a completely different place than where they usually got food, which was “slaying food by the way” (v15).  It makes me think that maybe staying in one place may have caused them to exceed the carrying capacity of the land and they had killed all the animals in the valley where they were traveling. 

I also think there’s a little lesson here for us about getting spiritual nourishment.  Sometimes the spiritual food we get in the normal course of our day is not going to be enough for the challenges we face.  So we have to follow the Lord’s directions and go to the top of the mountains—the temple—to get the strength we need.  We will have to seek it out, rather than just letting it come to us.  Yes, it is nice when it comes, but the Lord does not intend for us to always go through life as passive consumers of spiritual things, taking only what insight is conveniently found.  Rather, He wants us to learn to use our agency and search for what we need.

Nearly there…

Another observation I have is about the course they took in the wilderness.  In the beginning when they have the Liahona, Nephi notes that:

…we did go forth again in the wilderness, following the same direction, keeping in the most fertile parts of the wilderness, which were in the borders near the Red Sea….And we did follow the directions of the ball, which led us in the more fertile parts of the wilderness. (1 Nephi 16:14, 16)

After all the trouble with the hunger and broken bow is cleared up, they start moving again and we something different—“we did again take our journey, traveling nearly the same course as in the beginning” (v33)  It wasn’t exactly the same course, but it was nearly the same course.  I really wonder about that.  Suppose Nephi was nearly following the Liahona, but not completely?  Actually, he probably was following the Liahona carefully and still making it through the most fertile parts of the wilderness, but imagine what would have happened if they began deviating even a little bit from the course the Lord marked out for them?  As it was, they suffered a lot of hunger, thirst, and fatigue.  If they had almost followed, but not completely, they probably would have found themselves in much worse predicaments than they had.

This suggests a lesson to us.  How much blessing can we expect if we nearly keep the commandments, but not completely?  I suppose we can expect nearly to be blessed, but not quite.  But who wants a near-blessing when they can have a full blessing?  Or what if we nearly follow the prophets, but not completely?  Or what if we nearly fast (but not totally), or almost pray, or nearly keep the Sabbath day holy, but not completely, or almost have FHE, or get really close to having family prayer and scripture study, but not exactly?  We’d be ALMOST blessed… but not quite.  And just as Lehi’s family would have been in a bad way if they had wandered slightly off course, we will also be in a bad way, possibly suffering spiritual famine in our lives, if we wander slightly off course from the commandments.

Faith, diligence, and heed
Some of the best verses in this chapter are Nephi’s realization about how the Liahona works. 

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. (1 Nephi 16:28)

Faith, diligence, and heed are important qualities to cultivate.  ‘Faith’ happens when you believe that the source is good and will give good counsel that will really help.  ‘Heed’ happens when you try it out.  ‘Diligence’ is about following the counsel consistently over time. 

Sometimes we may be really good at one or two of these qualities, but not all of them.  We may be good at faith and heeding, but not so great at diligence.  Or we may be good at faith, but never quite make it to heeding and diligence.  In many aspects of the gospel, I’m pretty good at all three, but in some areas I haven’t quite got the diligence down yet.  To have consistent blessings, we have to have all three—faith, heed, and diligence—at work.

Laman and Lemuel’s suspicion

I suppose once Nephi figured out the Liahona was fueled by faith, diligence, and heed he worked hard to follow those pointers and put all his energy into that.  It is possible that he took possession of the Liahona and became the navigator for the journey.  If so, considering Laman and Lemuel’s tendency to suspicion, it would certainly make Nephi’s older brothers nervous to see Nephi with it all the time.  I think they thought he was manipulating the Liahona somehow, making it do what it wasn’t supposed to do, just to have control over where the whole group went.  Eventually their suspicions come out—

….he tells us these things, and he worketh many things by his cunning arts, that he may deceive our eyes, thinking, perhaps, that he may lead us away into some strange wilderness; and after he has led us away, he has thought to make himself a king and a ruler over us, that he may do with us according to his will and pleasure. (1 Nephi 16:38)

There are modern Laman and Lemuels today who suspect that prophets are just making it up about what is important to do.  They think the prophets just want the pleasure of being in charge and telling people what to do and where to go.  We need faith today in what the prophets warn us about, just as Lehi’s family had to have faith that the Liahona was really giving guidance from God and was not being meddled with by man.

Stopping places

A final observation I have is that it seems like Lehi’s party usually gets into trouble when they stop for a while to rest.  In 1 Nephi 16, it happens twice.  I can’t really see that the Liahona would tell them to stop; I think it would keep pointing the way, but that they decided to stop when they didn’t have faith to continue, and that’s when the Liahona wouldn’t work anymore. 

We kind of do the same thing to ourselves, I think, when we decide to stop following the guidance we get; when we do that, we don’t progress and we are more likely to get into a complaining frame of mind, and (strangely) that’s when the guidance doesn’t seem to do any good.  But it isn’t because there was anything wrong with that guidance; it is because we have ceased to move our feet.

What are your favorite verses in this chapter and why?


Ramona Gordy said...
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