1 Nephi 16-22: “Spoken Hard Things Against Us”

This week’s chapters cover an eight year journey through pretty harsh wilderness. I am a fairly avid traveler and often travel with groups of people between 8-15 people. My trips are leisure trips and full of fun things, great food, and nice accommodations. Even with all those great things, a bad travel partner can potentially ruin any trip. With that in mind, consider being forced on a brutal journey with potentially many bad travel partners and for eight years. It is easy to see how people could lose their heads on a journey like Nephi and his family embarked on.

One very important thing I noticed about this week’s chapters is Nephi’s actual and symbolic ascension to the leadership of his family. He saves the family physically and spiritually while also recognizing how important it is to have a record of his history and of prophetic teachings to keep his posterity close to the Lord. However, becoming the leader does not end up being a grand reward for his faithfulness. He lived to watch his family fall apart and felt that pain all of his life. All of these feelings color Nephi’s narrative.

I have been asked to start adding the source books I am drawing from at the end of the posts in case anyone wants to read those books. I am on vacation next week and so I will post two sections on Feb 9th instead of posting on Feb. 2.


– Following mortal prophets and the Lord isn’t always easy or perfect.

– No one likes to be told they are wrong, however, humility is necessary when it comes to God. Revelation comes when we are willing to consider we are wrong.

– God doesn’t use lists to teach us because lists have exceptions. Scriptures are about the human experience so all people can learn ways to interact with God.

History and Context:
– There is a many-millennia old route that follows closely to water from Jerusalem on the same directional path that Lehi and his family took. It routes through a place called known as NHM (derivative of Nahom) on its way to multiple places that could be considered Bountiful. The route is called the Frankincense Trail, and NHM is a very ancient burial area that could match up with where Ishmael was buried on their journey to Bountiful. 

– The death of Ishmael is mentioned by Nephi, but it was probably a very important moment on their journey. Ishmael was likely the energy behind the decision for his family to join Lehi on their journey. His death would have likely confirmed to those resistant to the journey that is was a bad idea and could have even started dividing the families even further. 

– Shazer is translated similar to Shazher in Semitic languages and means trees and could have meant an area with a lot of trees.

– Remember that Nephi wrote the experiences 30-40 years later so it would have been difficult to remember all aspects of their experience and so it would make sense the narrative moves quickly and only focuses on parts Nephi finds to be important.  

– After the death of Isaiah a hundred years before Nephi there was a movement of Deuteronimists who sought to reform Judaism and as they revised and compiled scriptures they removed Isaiah from many records. Around the time of Josiah and Jeremiah this was changed and many of the prophets who came forward during that time insisted on including Isaiah in their sacred texts.  This was partly because of the destruction of Israel by the Assyrians, but also because many of the hidden records were discovered. Lehi and his family belonged to groups that felt his words were essential and that would have likely been the reason Nephi found Isaiah’s words so important.   

– Laman and Lemuel had legitimate criticisms of Nephi. He killed Laban, Ishmael was dead, he was seen as trying to take away Laman’s birthright and so when other members of the travelers sided with Laman they probably responded to convincing arguments.  

– One other thing I want to point out is that when the travelers arrived in the Americas there were already people there. Nephi may have been ignorant to this if their locations was underpopulated, or not really cared because his narrative is personal and geared toward preserving the gospel. Nephi’s narrative portion ends at the very beginning of 2 Nephi and moves to only teachings.  Those who recorded things on the plates after him recorded even less about what was happening around them other than conflict with “Lamanites.”  Nephi’s family would have married in the covenant and stayed isolated like the Jews in Israel for some period of time. However, Laman’s family would have likely integrated with the native population and it would have multiplied their people substantially during close to 500 years before the historical narrative picks up again.  

Broken Bows
After Lehi gathers Ishmael’s family with his outside of Jerusalem and their families are formally merged together in marriage, the Lord tells Lehi it is time to go and they embark on their journey into the wilderness. They are given a Liahona as a compass on their journey. During their journey, Ishmael dies, Jacob and Joseph are born, and for eight long years they struggle and suffer. Nephi shares one story that was important to him and highlights their struggles. The story shows a time when his bow breaks as they are hunting for food. Everyone is upset, tired, hungry and even Lehi is feeling forsaken. However, Nephi demonstrates faith and humility by asking his father where the Lord would like him to search for food.

This is a key learning moment for us. Prophets and leaders are not perfect by design. Faith is hard and requires humility and unity. When it comes to working with people and following people there will always be problems, and they make faith difficult. If we can show humility and unity then our faith can increase and so can the faith of others.

Building a Ship and the Promised Land
Fast forward eight years and they arrive to the coast. It has food, shelter and relief from their worries. However, their journey in many respects has just begun. Another important step in Nephi’s ascension happens on the coast as Nephi begins getting the instructions from the Lord when Nephi is told to build a ship. This brings another conflict with his brothers and this time things get even more serious to where Nephi, through the power of God, compels his brothers to leave him alone. They begrudgingly help build the ship, but the enmity between the brothers is continually getting deeper.

On the journey there is a huge fight as Lehi and Sariah’s health is deteriorating. After the brothers bind Nephi, a huge storm hits the ship and until they are afraid for their lives they do not release Nephi. Once released, the storm abates but the animosity between the brothers is only worsened. The stage is set for the family falling apart and their relationship could not be worse at this point.

Scriptures are for People
Inside of the journey narrative, Nephi spends some time to write about the importance of scriptures and records for people’s faith. He points out three things I find to be key when it comes to the scriptures:

  • Their purpose is to bring all of God’s children closer to Him and to Jesus Christ.
  • There are errors in scriptures both by the writers, the scribes, the translators, and the people in the stories.
  • Scriptures are the experiences of others and are meant to be pondered and applied to our unique situations.

Our modern secular brains want lists and equations. We want God to just give us a list of things to do (and all the reasons behind the list that we agree with). We want formulas in our lives. If I work hard I will get money. If I am obedient my life will be amazing. Unfortunately, lists and equations don’t work for faith. They create complacency and convenience. They also don’t work for the many human exceptions, and with 70 billion humans who have lived there are many exceptions. This is why sacred texts are stories, experiences, symbolism, and exhortations. We can each apply the things we read differently and even differently throughout our own lives. It creates some conflict, but that conflict is the fertile ground where faith can be grown if we seek the Lord in our study.

Can you remember a time where things got so hard that you doubted God? What helped you get past that? What can we do in those situations?

How do you engage with the scriptures? What could you do different to get more out of them?

What would it have been like to live before Christ came to the earth? Would faith have been harder or easier?

Key Moment or Scripture: 1 Nephi 16:1-5 
And now it came to pass that after I, Nephi, had made an end of speaking to my brethren, behold they said unto me: Thou hast declared unto us hard things, more than we are able to bear.
And it came to pass that I said unto them that I knew that I had spoken ahard things against the wicked, according to the truth; and the righteous have I justified, and testified that they should be lifted up at the last day; wherefore, the bguilty taketh the ctruth to be hard, for it dcutteth them to the very center.
And now my brethren, if ye were righteous and were willing to hearken to the truth, and give heed unto it, that ye might awalk uprightly before God, then ye would not murmur because of the truth, and say: Thou speakest hard things against us.
And it came to pass that I, Nephi, did exhort my brethren, with all diligence, to keep the commandments of the Lord.
And it came to pass that they did ahumble themselves before the Lord; insomuch that I had joy and great hopes of them, that they would walk in the paths of righteousness. 

Who likes being told hard things? I like to call them Hard Sayings, and no one likes to hear them. Hard sayings cut to our cores and challenge our thoughts, behaviors, or philosophies. Even though we don’t like them, I believe they are critical to happiness and to righteousness. If we live our whole lives without being challenged with hard sayings then repentance and faith are replaced with pride and hard hearts which leads us away from God.

Hard sayings are meant to make us look inward, not outward.
Hard sayings are meant to challenge our faith and increase humility and sacrifice.
Without hard sayings our certainty can make us prideful and complacent.
Hard sayings bring revelation, progress, and unity.
Hard sayings must be repeated for us to learn from them.

This is one of the primary values of religious activity. When we expose ourselves to challenges in our lives we will be better for it. Repentance is the pathway to revelation and without hard sayings repentance is less likely.

Final Thoughts:
The narrative of Nephi is nearly over as he was setting his backstory and his people’s backstory. In 2nd Nephi he focuses on prophetic teachings, doctrines, and things that will benefit his posterity and so we get a clearer picture of the gospel moving forward.

  • Sources
    • Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon by Brant Gardner
    • A History of NaHoM by Warren P Ashton
    • Nephi’s Political Testament by Noel Reynolds