1 Ne 17:7-18:4

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Home > The Book of Mormon > First Nephi > Chapters 16-18 > Chapter 17 / Verses 17:7-18:4
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Relationship to Chapters 16-18. The relationship of Chapter 17 to the rest of Chapters 16-18 is discussed at First Nephi 16-18.

Story. Chapter 17, the story of building the boat, consists of five major sections:

Message. Themes, symbols, and doctrinal points emphasized in Chapter 17 include:


This section is for detailed discussion such as the meaning of a symbol, how a doctrinal point is developed throughout a passage, or insights that can be further developed in the future. Contributions may range from polished paragraphs down to a single bullet point. The focus, however, should always be on understanding the scriptural text consistent with LDS doctrine. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

1 Ne 17: The land journey[edit]

  • Chapter breaks. The natural breaks do not follow the chapter breaks chosen by Orson Pratt.
  • Outline as a chiasm.
• Nephi instructed to build a boat (17:7-16)
• brothers complain (17:17-22)
• Nephi's exhortation (17:23-47)
• brothers confounded (17:48-55)
• the boat is built (18:1-4)

1 Ne 17:7-16: Nephi instructed to build a boat[edit]

  • 1 Ne 17:13-14: Recognizing the Lord's hand. The Lord stresses that Nephi will come to know that the Lord had led Nephi and his people to the promised land. It is interesting that the Lord seems to desire not just that his people be delivered but that they realize that it is by his hand that it happens. The Lord follows this pattern in other dealings with his people--such as in Exodus 3, where the Lord stresses the importance of letting Pharaoh and the other Israelites know that it is by his hand and authority that Moses comes to deliver them. Later, in Exodus 20:5 the Lord goes so far as to say he is a "jealous God." In modern times we are commanded to "confess his hand in all things" (D&C 59:21). It appears to be important doctrine to recognize the Lord's hand in good things that happen--and in turn the importance of doing good in the name of the Lord. Some Christian sects take this doctrine to the extreme of arguing that morality does not count unless done as an act of faith--in the name of the Lord (see, e.g., The Deadly Dangers of Moralism). Such a doctrine seems inconsistent with scriptural passages where the Lord indicates he will bless non-believing people for the commandments they do keep (see, e.g., Jacob 3:5-6). That said, it seems obvious that to take the next step beyond being just a moral people to being the Lord's covenant people requires an actual relationship with him. Such a relationship in turn requires knowledge of God and what he has done and will do for us.

1 Ne 17:17-22: Laman and Lemuel complain[edit]

  • 1 Ne 17:21. Verse 21 shows what damage can happen from looking back. Luke 9:62 reminds us that we should not look back once we have made a righteous choice.
  • 1 Ne 17:22: Statutes and Judgments. This term appears repeatedly in the Old Testament (see, e.g., Deut 4:1), where it is a translation of two words. Choq is the word translated as "statute." It means an ordinance, limit, boundary enactment, decree, ordinance specific decree law in general enactments, or civil enactments prescribed by God. It is derived from the word chaqaq, which means to carve, cut, or inscribe. Mishpat is the word translated as "judgment." It refers to the act of deciding a legal case, a court, litigation, a judicial decision or right and justice. It is derived from the word shaphat which is a verb meaning to govern or judge. The phrase "statutes and judgments" also appears elsewhere in the Book of Mormon (see, e.g., 2 Ne 1:16).
  • 1 Ne 17:22-24. These verses set up the extended discourse by Nephi that follows. In verse 22 Nephi's brothers insist that the people at Jerusalem were "a righteous people" because they "kept the statutes and judgments of the Lord, and all his comandments, according to the law of Moses." One way of looking at this confrontation and others between Nephi and his brothers is to see it as a contest between dueling approaches to reading the scriptures. Notice that Laman and Lemuel are not irreligious. They appeal to scripture, but do so in a particular way, adopting a self-consciously legal approach to them. They refer to Moses, but only as a lawgiver and their focus is on "the statutes and judgements" of that law. Nephi responds by also invoking Moses, but in a very different way, namely as a prophet who led his people from bondage to a promised land. Notice that Nephi's reading of the Moses story implicitly places himself and his brothers within the narrative. In doing so, he recapitulates an earlier confrontation over interpretation (see 1 Ne 15:5 ), but this time in a much more elaborate manner.
  • 1 Ne 17:22. This verse shows Laman's understanding of what it means to be righteous. He says, "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;". So, to him, to be righteous means to keep the statutes and judgments, and all the commandments of the Lord, according to the law of Moses. To Laman, keeping the behavioral laws passed down to them, like how many steps you can take on the Sabbath, was the definition of righteousness. "Keep the commandments" meant to be obedient to the past commandments of God, given to the prophets of old.
Nephi's definition of righteousness is in sharp contrast to Laman's. Everything Nephi says and does in this chapter reveals Nephi's 3-part definition -- a righteous person...
  • Is able to receive directives from God by revelation,
  • Believes that God will give them the power to bring them about whatever they are commanded, and
  • Is determined to act on God's here-and-now directives, no matter how far-fetched they seem.
Twice in this chapter Nephi provides an example of a righteous person, once in the front and once at the end, God commands Nephi personally to do something, and he does it. To Nephi, "keep the commandments" doesn't only mean obeying the commands of God given through past prophets (Laman's view), but extends beyond that to include the commandments God gives him personally in the present.

1 Ne 17:23-47: Nephi's exhortation[edit]

  • 1 Ne 17:26-30. Notice that Nephi focuses in on three elements in this recounting of Moses's leading the children of Israel:
  • Crossing the Red Sea
  • Manna and water in the wilderness
  • Murmurring against the prophet
There seem to be clear analogs in the experience of the Lehite party. They now sit on the shore of a sea that the Lord has commanded them to cross. When Nephi broke his bow, the Lord provided the party with a way to get food in the wilderness. Laman and Lemuel have murmurred against Lehi. It is also possible that the reference to the pillar of fire that led the Children of Israel in the desert is also a reference to the pillar of fire that first appeared to Lehi ( 1 Ne 1:6 ) thus launching the family's exodus into the wilderness.
  • 1 Ne 17:30-42. Verses 37 & 38 appear to be the center of a thematic chiasm that looks like this:
30a - God leads his people to the promised land
31  - God's word
  30b - His people harden their hearts and revile against His prophet
    35 - God favors/loves the righteous
    35 - Lord cleanses His people of iniquity
      36 - The Lord and the Earth
        37 - The Lord, the Righteous and the Wicked
        38 - The Lord, the Righteous and the Wicked
      39 - The Lord and the Earth
    40 - God favors/loves the righteous
    41 - Lord cleanses His people of iniquity
  42a - His people harden their hearts and revile against His prophet
42b - God leads his people to the promised land
45+ - God's word
Nephi is trying here to get Laman to see the truth, that the inhabitants of Jerusalem had become wicked and that the Lord was leading Lehi's family away because they were righteous. He emphasizes the ideas in 37 and 38 to try to persuade Laman that this is God's regular mode of operation - to lead out the righteous and then destroy the wicked. It will be interesting to see if this pattern is repeated in modern Israel's "Jerusalem" today.
  • 1 Ne 17:35: Ripe in iniquity. Nephi says here that the Israelites who entered the land of Canaan were favored over the previous inhabitants because those previous inhabitants were ripe in iniquity. This principle of the wicked being destroyed when they become ripe in iniquity, and the meaning of this term, are explored in the discussion of Hel 13:14.
  • It is important to note that Nephi did not tell his brethren that they "could not hear his words." Instead he was teaching them that spiritual messages most often come through feelings.
  • The Lord does not use an exotic method to send his children messages. He uses a medium that is already incredibly common to them. Because humans are creatures of emotion, the Lord's use of feelings to send messages to his children maximizes the number of people who will be equipped to receive these messages.
  • Because the Lord speaks to us through our feelings, we must ever be on guard to distinguish between our own emotions and feelings, one the one hand, and the feelings that carry the messages from our Heavenly Father on the other. These two things work through nearly the same channels and be easily mistaken for one another. The ability to figure out which feeling is which may be related to the gift of discernment. As we are obedient and perform the Lord's work here on earth, our capacity to distinguish between these two sources of feelings will be increased.
  • If we notice that the Lord seems to be sending us less messages, we should check ourselves and determine whether we have become the limiting factor. It may very well be that we have become too casual in our relationship with the Lord. To remedy this situation, we need to recommit to being obedient, loving, and serving.
  • Negativity in our thoughts, words, and actions can diminish the number of messages that we receive from the Lord. Dwelling on the negative in life can distort our natural feelings. We can find ourselves becoming cynical about situations, critical of others, and that everyone and everything falls short of our expectations. As we do so, we become emotionally crippled. We forget to find, or become unable to notice, the elements of good in everyone and everything. Once our feelings have become so one-sided, we shut ourselves out from the positive feelings that the Lord wants to send us. Should we be surprised to find it hard to communicate with a God who is the source of all goodness if we have convinced ourselves that his children and creation are full of faults?
  • In this verse, Nephi teaches that the Lord sends us messages made up of words as well as of feelings. Just like spiritual feelings are designed to be similar to our own emotions, these words from heaven are adapted to our own vocabulary. This means the Lord will send words to our minds that come from our own language. The words will be recognizable, in other words, because they are words with which we are already familiar.
  • Even though the Lord sends us words that we already know, it is the combination of those words that will be unique to the Lord. He will form the words he sends us into phrases and thoughts that we had not anticipated. Although he may bring things to our remembrance that we already knew, we will not have been thinking of these things at the time he sparked our memory. On other occasions, the Lord will reveal something new to us that is understandable because it is composed of words that we already know.
  • Elder B. H. Roberts used to say that the Spirit cannot draw upon an empty well. What this means is that the Spirit is limited in what it can reveal to us if we have a very small vocabulary and little schooling. As we gain an education and increase the number of words that we know, there is the potential that the Lord can send us more detailed messages. As our language and learning expand, the Lord can reveal to us a great number of connections between and patterns within the pieces of knowledge we have already obtained. Before we receive these revelations, however, these connections and patterns will not be obvious to us. It takes the influence of the Spirit to make us see what was always before our eyes or to understand what was comprehensible but never before comprehended.
  • The Lord likely wanted to send the same kinds of messages to Nephi and his brethren. They were, after all, in the same situation with needing to build a ship and to sail to the promised land. However, Nephi's ability to hearken to the Lord qualified him to receive more messages than his brethren. Like Nephi and his brethren, we may find ourselves in situations, like sacrament meetings, where just about everyone has the same ability to hear the same message with their physical ears. However, despite this common experience, there will likely be vast differences in the amount and types of spiritual impressions that each person in the congregation receives. Some of this revelation may be the same for most or all of the people in attendance, such as spiritual verification that what the speaker has said is true, but the rest of the revelation may be adapted to the needs and abilities of the individuals in the audience. Just as their were similarities and differences in the revelations received by Nephi and other members of his family, there can be unifying and personalized revelations received by us and the members of our wards.
  • Nephi teaches here that it is possible for people to reach the point where they are "past feeling" and can no longer detect the "still small voice." We should be aware of the things in our lives that dull our spiritual sensitivities and weaken our capacity to receives spiritual impressions through our feelings. In the world people talk about individuals who have suppressed, desensitized, or lost their conscience. This is an approximation of what Nephi is talking about. The result is that these individuals no longer feel a moral obligation to treat others with respect. The corollary is that love from another person may or may not touch the hearts of these individuals. It all depends on the extent to which these individuals have become "past feeling."
  • The Lord does not stop trying to talk to his children once they become "past feeling." He will, if necessary, use the language of physical force ("the voice of thunder") to get our attention. This switching on the Lord's part, from one mode of communication to another, is actually a demonstration of his mercy for his children. Rather than become offended that we have stopped listening to the still small voice, the Lord patiently and lovingly finds other channels through which to obtain our attention. He is slow to give up on us, even if we are quick to stop listening to him.
  • People are foolish and arrogant if they think their inability to hear and feel messages from the Lord is somehow proof that God no longer speaks to his children. These individuals are the ones who have broken the lines of communication. The Lord always stands ready to communicate to his children. In fact, the blame is entirely upon these individuals, rather than the Lord, because he has already made attempts to send messages to them, just like Laman and Lemuel received an angel, but they turned a deaf ear to these feelings and tuned out the Lord's voice to them.

1 Ne 17:48-55: Laman and Lemuel confounded[edit]

1 Ne 18:1-4: The boat is completed[edit]

Unanswered questions[edit]

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Prompts for life application[edit]

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Prompts for further study[edit]

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  • 1 Ne 17:7: What is the significance of prefacing, in the Old Testament way, this command with the word "Arise"?
  • 1 Ne 17:8: What precedents were there in scripture, that Nephi would have been familiar with, for building ships that were approved, let alone designed, by the Lord?
  • 1 Ne 17:9: In chapter 16, Nephi built a bow and asked his father where he should go to hunt. Here, he asks the Lord where he should go to find materials for the boat he is to build. Is that parallel instructive? What does this show us about Nephi? Does it suggest something for us?
  • 1 Ne 17:10: Was Nephi told, as well as shown, the exact location of the ore?
  • 1 Ne 17:11: Wouldn't Nephi have needed an oven or a catalyst, besides just blowing air, for super-hot fires that would make the ore molten?
  • 1 Ne 17:12: Were they allowed to build intense fires now that they were far removed from other societies who might notice their smoke?
  • 1 Ne 17:13: Was this a renewal or remaking of covenants?
  • 1 Ne 17:14: What does the Lord mean when he says “After ye have arrived in the promised land, ye shall know that I, the Lord, am God"? Doesn’t Nephi already know that?
  • 1 Ne 17:15: Nephi begins this verse with “wherefore.” In other words, what follows is a consequence of what preceded: Nephi strove to keep the commandments because the Lord promised that after arriving in the promised land he would know that the Lord is God, that the Lord delivered them, and that he brought them out of Jerusalem. How does that promise motivate Nephi’s striving for obedience?
  • 1 Ne 17:16: Were these ordinary tools or were they, like the ship, divinely designed?
  • 1 Ne 17:17: Was Nephi reluctant to share his ship building plans with his brothers or did he hope they would come around to believing in the plan once they saw his progress?
  • 1 Ne 17:18: In what circumstances did Laman and Lemuel blame the Lord for their misfortunes, rather than members of their immediate family?
  • 1 Ne 17:20: Is the claim that Nephi is like his father the only truth embedded in this accusation, or did Laman and Lemuel accurately represent the feelings of at least some of the young mothers in this group?
  • 1 Ne 17:21: Were Laman and Lemuel so shallow as to think that their pursuit of materialism could provide all of the happiness they wanted and needed in life?
  • 1 Ne 17:22: Nephi’s brothers say that they know that the people of Jerusalem were righteous because they kept the law of Moses. Were they wrong about that, or is their standard of righteousness the problem?
  • 1 Ne 17:22: Statutes and Judgments. Does anyone have any insight into the meaning of this phrase? Can you point me toward sources for a better sense of the meaning of "statutes and judgments" in the Old Testament? The definitions that I added here are from an online version of Strong's, but I suspect that there is more to this phrase than that. Are there any good online sources for this sort of thing?
  • 1 Ne 17:23: Nephi responds to their complaints by asking them to remember the Lord’s dealing with Moses and Israel. (Remembrance is a major theme in the Book of Mormon.) How will that remembrance answer their complaints?
  • 1 Ne 17:24: To what extent does Nephi see himself as a Moses for the group he is leading to the promised land?
  • 1 Ne 17:25: Nephi seems to be comparing the exodus of the Lehi party from Jerusalem with the exodus of the Children of Israel from Egypt. Does he mean to equate the experience of Lehi's family in Jerusalem with the bondage of the Israelites in Egypt? If so, in what way was Lehi's family in bondage in Jerusalem?
  • 1 Ne 17:26: Was Nephi saying they had been taught these stories or that they had a testimony of what happened back then?
  • 1 Ne 17:27: What is Nephi signaling to his brothers with his use of the word "but"?
  • 1 Ne 17:28: Would it be more accurate for Nephi to say "ye have heard"?
  • 1 Ne 17:30: Why is the word "Redeemer" absent from the writings of Moses?
  • 1 Ne 17:31: What does this verse mean by “there was not anything done save it was by his word"? What things is Nephi talking about, what the children of Israel did or what happened to them? What does “by his word” mean in this context?
  • 1 Ne 17:32: Was this the only version of the settlement of Canaan story that Nephi had ever heard?
  • 1 Ne 17:33: How can Nephi make such a sweeping and unfavorable judgment of the non-Jewish people who were in Canaan, when the Book of Mormon teaches that there must have been enough righteous individuals among the Canaanites for the Lord to deliver scripture to them and all other "nations of the earth" ([2 Ne 29:7)?
  • 1 Ne 17:34: Is Nephi hinting at the possibility that Jews did not have a monopoly on being the Lord's chosen people, that it was possible for righteous non-Jews to become "choice" in the eyes of the Lord?
  • 1 Ne 17:35: What does it mean to esteem (to value?) all flesh as one but to favor the righteous? How do esteem and favor differ?
  • 1 Ne 17:37: Does he wait longer to destroy wicked nations in this, the modern age, than he did in ancient times?
  • 1 Ne 17:38: Are some lands inherently more precious than others or is it the degree of righteousness or wickedness of the people living upon them that largely determines the worth of the land?
  • 1 Ne 17:39: What is the function of a footstool?
  • 1 Ne 17:40: How does Nephi explain Israel’s salvation? Is it because Israel was worthy of salvation? What does it mean to say that the Lord remembers his covenants? What does Nephi’s teaching in this verse suggest about us today? about our children?
  • 1 Ne 17:41: Are chastening and straitening the same thing?
  • 1 Ne 17:42: Why doesn't Nephi distinguish between generations who were wicked and those who were more righteous?
  • 1 Ne 17:43: What explanation would Nephi have given for the preservation of these few?
  • 1 Ne 17:45: Does this verse imply that the "still small voice" speaks without words, at least in the audible sense?
  • 1 Ne 17:46: Why does Nephi mix prophesied certainties with statements of capability?
  • 1 Ne 17:47: In the Old Testament, anguish is what sinners feel. After Christ comes, sorrow is what his disciples feel for the sins of the world. Is Nephi feeling both of these emotions?
  • 1 Ne 17:48: What does Nephi mean when he says the power of God is consuming his flesh? Is he echoing Old Testament passages that talk about sacrifices where divine fire consumes the flesh of the animal?
  • 1 Ne 17:49: Why is the word "labor"--which is found here and throughout the restoration scriptures--absent from the Bible?
  • 1 Ne 17:50: Why doesn't Nephi say that whatever the Lord commands will "happen"?
  • 1 Ne 17:50: Who or what is performing the action when Nephi says "it would be done"?
  • 1 Ne 17:51: What does vs. 51 tell us about God's willingness to instruct us in "mundane" tasks? Can we get similarly detailed instructions for the things God has commanded us to do?
  • 1 Ne 17:52: If Nephi's brothers were "past feeling," then what were they experiencing when the Spirit powerfully "wrought upon them"?
  • 1 Ne 17:53: Is the promise that Laman and Lemuel would "not wither" proof that they had suddenly started repenting?
  • 1 Ne 17:54: How should we interpret Nephi's use of physical force against his brothers in light of modern LDS instructions not to exercise dominion through compulsory means(D&C 121:37)?
  • 1 Ne 17:55: Why did Laman and Lemuel confess the hand of the Lord and then seemingly immediately attribute the divine intervention to their brother Nephi?
  • 1 Ne 18:1: Why didn't Nephi make a record of the ship building plans that he could refer back to as needed? Was the Lord providing feedback to Nephi's neophyte attempts at ship building?
  • 1 Ne 18:2: Was the boat designed to follow the laws of physics?
  • 1 Ne 18:3: Did these "great things" that Nephi beheld after mountain-top prayer pertain only to ship building? Or is it likely that Nephi's diligence was rewarded with even greater knowledge?
  • 1 Ne 18:4: What kinds of divinely-inspired workmanship in the world today can still inspire humility in the hearts of the children of men? To what degree is Alma's claim still applicable that all things upon the face of the earth are sufficient signs to turn people into believers (see Alma 30:44)?


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