There is a story – a true story. About a ship, a family, and their journey to a better place. This story is much more than just a nice story about a trip across the ocean, which is why it was selected among the thousands of other stories written long ago to be included in the “most correct of any book on earth.”1
Nephi and his extended family had gone through many afflictions and struggles in order to build a boat (not after the manner of men) from scratch that would allow them to cross the great waters. This was no easy task, yet together they persevered, built the ship, gathered many provisions, boarded the ship and then set sail for a better world. During this sailing trip they were “driven forth before the wind towards the promised land”2 and things were looking up. Struggles and sacrifice had created strong familial bonds, humility, gratitude, and hope, and traction to move forward to another new beginning.
On this journey, after they “had been driven forth before the wind for the space of many days”3 a portion of his family on the boat “began to make themselves merry… to speak with much rudeness, yea, even that they did forget by what power they had been brought thither, yea, they were lifted up unto exceeding rudeness.” Happiness and prosperity and progress had given way to rest, which led to complacency, which always results in forgetfulness.
Fearing that this rudeness and forgetfulness would incur the displeasure of God, and because he knew that this whimsical merriment and exceeding rudeness would no doubt have detrimental consequences to everyone aboard the ship, Nephi “began to speak to them with much soberness; but rather than pay attention to his words, “they were angry with [Nephi]” because they did not enjoy him to telling them what was right.4 Nephi warned them that their behavior was inappropriate. He even warned them “with much soberness.” Much soberness is code for “he told them in very plain terms that what they were doing was a bad idea and that they should stop.” We might even say that he used words like ‘declare’ or ‘warn’). These people thought and assumed that it was their right to have a little fun, and to decide what was okay and not okay all by themselves, and therefore paid little heed to his words. In fact, they became angry at Nephi because of his words, and rather than give heed to his warnings they let their anger lead them to action.
Laman and Lemuel took it upon themselves to enforce their opinions by constraining Nephi. Nephi explained; they “took me and bound me with cords, and they did treat me with much harshness”. As this was happening, Nephi demonstrated no amazing show of power, called down no “signs” from heaven to thwart the mutiny, and likely just calmly yet unmistakably made his position known. Essentially, Nephi allowed Laman and Lemuel to make their choice and to practice their agency. The Lord (and Nephi) – just like he has in many other instances, and just like he does today – “did suffer it that he might show forth his power, unto the fulfilling of his word which he had spoken.”5 The Lord provides agency to everyone, and everyone means everyone, even when what those people are choosing is harmful.
At this point, I imagine that those individuals who bound Nephi with cords, and who treated him or spoke to him with much rudeness were quite pleased with themselves. Their actions may have even been met with cheers and applause from others who were tired of Nephi preaching to them about Gods expectations and their behavior – and more importantly about the age-old promise of punishment for disobeying the commandments. Perhaps they thought that now that Nephi was bound and captive they could be at peace, or that Nephi would change his mind about what is acceptable behavior when he realized and watched their seemingly innocent merriment had not brought forth immediate negative consequences or even when it was explained to him that exceptions should be made to laws while traveling on a boat, after all – times were different now. It wasn’t the golden days of Jerusalem or the old world any more; they were in a new world on the ocean, they had grown up and things had changed.
There is a critical detail that Laman and Lemuel either didn’t consider, or didn’t think was important enough to worry about in their celebrations. Nephi was the navigator of the ship. He was the one that could read the compass. He was the one that knew where to go and how to get there.
As soon as Laman and Lemuel had tied Nephi up, “the compass that pointed the way whither they should go”6 – “did cease to work”. 7 These two (Laman and Lemuel), and all of their followers – in their haste to be comfortable with their own merriment and by attempting to silencing any naysayers by force – had forfeited their navigational capabilities all in the very same act for which they were celebrating victory.
At this point in the story, a tragic observation is captured in the record. A simple yet profound truth that reads “they knew not whither they should steer the ship.”8 It wasn’t just that they couldn’t steer the ship – although it was that too. These guys knew the hopeful destination existed but they had no idea how to get there. These are the guys that wanted to be in charge of the ship and wanted to tell everyone on board that despite what Nephi was saying, that everything was going to be fine, and as a side note they didn’t want anyone else making things difficult for them along the way. This was okay for a little while; a few hours, maybe even a few days, but some time after their we-tied-Nephi-up party “there arose a great storm, yea a great and terrible tempest, and [they] were driven back upon the waters.”9
As with all decisions to disobey God’s law and/or to ignore the warnings of the prophets, at some point unfavorable consequences are guaranteed to follow. As soon as this storm came around some of the other passengers on the boat likely started to see that Nephi had been right all along, and were became uncomfortably aware of the situation. The only way to peace and safety was to do exactly what Nephi had told them; obey to the Lord, be humble, repent, and keep the commandments. Everything else is the opposite of that law and will eventually end up in pain and regret.
As this storm worsened, and the situation became dire, Laman and Lemuel “began to be frightened exceedingly lest they should be drowned in the sea; nevertheless, they did not loose [Nephi].”10 They continued in their ignorance and likely shouted loud enough for everyone to hear that Nephi was still the crazy one and promised that the storm will pass soon enough. They probably even told everyone that the storm had nothing to do with Nephi being bound and that it was just a coincidence.
It wasn’t until these two brothers understood that “the judgments of God were upon them, and that they must perish” that they realized the mistake they had made. They finally understood that despite their hopes and dreams, they really had no idea what they were doing. They didn’t know how to steer the ship. To make matters worse, during this tempest, “they (Laman and Lemuel) did breathe out much threatenings against anyone that should speak for [Nephi]”11 or who shared Nephi’s values. They didn’t show any concern for the other passengers on the boat or how the very real consequences of their actions affected all of them. They didn’t do what was best for the entire group. They did what they wanted to do and demanded that everyone allow them to do it – and threatened them to stay quiet about any reminders to the contrary – even if it meant death by tempest for every single person aboard the ship.
Only when Laman and Lemuel saw that “they were about to be swallowed up in the depths of the sea” and they finally understood that they had willingly forfeited the right to proper navigation by trusting in themselves and in their own judgment rather than the Lord and his compass did they truly see. In other words – after being driven backwards upon the waters, and after experiencing a mighty tempest that threatened to destroy the entire party, it wasn’t until they came to the point of their own imminent death did they “hear” the words and warnings that Nephi had spoken. It is a sobering fact indeed to realize that they really may have only been in it for themselves all along.
Yet, in a flash of long overdue wisdom, these two repented, loosed Nephi from his cords, and he (Nephi) ”took the compass, and it did work whither [he] desired it. And it came to pass that [he] prayed unto the Lord… and the winds did cease, and the storm did cease, and there was a great calm.”12 Following that, “Nephi did guide the ship, that [they] sailed again towards the promised land.”13 Problem solved, crisis averted, lessons learned, and they were back on course.
The solution to surviving the great and terrible storm was so simple, and the solution to our great and terrible tempest is still so simple. Follow the prophet, because “he knows the way.”14 The prophet and his apostles are the ones that can use the compass and that “know whither to steer the ship”. If we try and put ourselves in charge, by discounting their words or their counsel, ignoring them, or becoming angry with them (essentially binding them), we run the risk of veering off course and being driven backwards.
The last note about this story that I feel is important for us all to remember, is the fact that everyone in the story – both the people who were listening to Nephi and the people who were not – were in the same boat – literally. They were all experiencing their own individual journeys within the group journey. The interaction between the two groups was necessary, because after all, “it must needs be that there is an opposition in all things”15 and that includes opposition in opinion and the use of our agency. I highly doubt that Nephi and his immediate family reacted to his being bound by cursing Laman and Lemuel or calling them names, shunning their families, throwing their hands in the air, losing hope, or asking to take the emergency raft to the nearest island where they could live by themselves – even if that’s what they wanted to do. I am positive that Nephi and his family didn’t begin to “speak with much rudeness” towards Laman and Lemuel. I like to think that they fervently prayed and continued to exhibit faith and even let Laman and Lemuel know of their love for them as members of their family and boating party, all while continually declaring and enforcing their values and where they stood on the issue by their quiet yet powerful examples of faithfulness and humility to the Lord.
We are all on a journey. We have someone who is steering the ship and even better than that; there is someone that is causing the wind to blow – which drives our boat towards the promised land. The Lord is in charge, and we do not need to doubt that fact. Let us follow his enticings, be loyal to him, and act like him to be quiet yet powerful examples and demonstrate where we stand by shining with brightness, love, kindness, and hope.
1 See the Introduction to the Book of Mormon Another Testament of Jesus Christ
2 1 Ne. 18:8
3 1 Ne. 18:9
4 1 Ne. 18:10
5 1 Ne. 18:11
6 1 Ne. 16:10
7 1Ne. 18:12
8 1 Ne. 18:13
9 1 Ne. 18:13
10 1 Ne. 18:13
11 1 Ne. 18:17
12 1 Ne. 18:21
13 1 Ne. 18:22
14 Children’s LDS Songbook, 110, “Follow the Prophet”
15 2 Ne. 2:11