1 Ne 17:2 we did live upon raw meat in the wilderness, our women...were strong
The juxtaposition of these two phrases is not meant to show a causal relationship. Rather, it was to show that even though the diet was not ideal, the women gave plenty of suck and were strong. Both the Bible and the Book of Mormon are written in the Hebrew style which is basically patriarchal. The result is that the record contains precious few descriptions of the contributions of the women to society. This should not be construed to mean that there weren't any. Rather, we should glean all we can from those passages which show the fortitude of these women. Certainly, traveling through the Arabian Peninsula while being heavy with child is no small sacrifice. These women had left all behind. They had to exercise faith in the Lord and in Lehi's visions.
1 Ne 17:4 Why did it take them 8 years to travel the Arabian Peninsula?
Nephi doesn't explain much of what goes on during those 8 years. Why did it take them so long? They traveled for a period then stopped and set up their tents. This was the way of travel in the desert, but it doesn't take 8 years to travel that far. They traveled as directed by the Liahona but only when it was working. It must not have been working because the Lord was punishing the rebellious in the family-Laman, Lemuel, the sons of Ishmael and their wives for murmuring. Speaking of Lehi's family, Alma later recorded, 'They were slothful, and forgot to exercise their faith and diligence and then those marvelous works (ie. the Liahona) ceased, and they did not progress in their journey; therefore, they tarried in the wilderness, or did not travel a direct course, and were afflicted with hunger and thirst, because of their transgressions...for as our fathers were slothful to give heed to this compass (now these things were temporal) they did not prosper; even so it is with things which are spiritual' (Alma 37:41-43).
This is exactly what happened to the children of Israel. The Lord was prepared to bring them into the land of their inheritance soon after they departed from Egypt. However, the people were so wicked and faithless in their attitude about battling the inhabitants of the land, that the Lord made that entire generation wait (for 40 years). Joshua and Caleb were the only adults of that generation that did not die before the children of Israel were allowed to inhabit the land (Num 26:65). Thus the forty years of wandering in the wilderness were the result of the idolatry, faithlessness, and murmuring of the children of Israel.
1 Ne 17:5 the land which we called Bountiful
"After traveling a vast distance in a south-south-easterly direction (16:14,33), the party struck off almost due eastward through the worst desert of all, where they 'did wade through much affliction,' to emerge in a state of almost complete exhaustion into a totally unexpected paradise by the sea. There is such a paradise in the Qara Mountains on the southern coast of Arabia.....
"Of the Qara Mountains which lie in that limited sector of the coast of south Arabia which Lehi must have reached if he turned east at the nineteenth parallel, Bertram Thomas, one of the few Europeans who has ever seen them, writes:
'What a glorious place! Mountains three thousand feet high basking above a tropical ocean, their seaward slopes velvety with waving jungle, their roofs fragrant with rolling yellow meadows, beyond which the mountains slope northwards to a red sandstone steppe....Great was my delight when in 1928 I suddenly came upon it all from out of the arid wastes of the southern borderlands.'
"...Compare this with Nephi's picture....It is virtually the same scene: the mountains, the rich woodlands with timber for ships, the rolling yellow meadow a paradise for bees, the view of the sea beyond, and above all the joyful relief at the sudden emergence from the 'red sandstone steppe,' one of the worst deserts on earth." (Lehi in the Desert and The World of the Jaredites, pp. 125-6)
Fertile coastal mountains and vegetation in Wadi Sayq, Oman
After rain in Dhofar, near Wadi Sayq, probable site for Bountiful
1 Ne 17:5 What is Irreantum?
The many waters that Nephi is referring to is the Arabian Sea adjacent to the Indian Ocean.
1 Ne 17:12 the Lord had not suffered that we should make much fire
Most scholars suggest that the family needed to remain secret so that they would not fall prey to maurading bands of local Arabs.
"One illuminating 'aside' by Nephi explains everything. It was only after they reached the seashore, he says, that his people were able to make fires without danger...That tells all. 'I well remember,' writes Bertram Thomas, 'taking part in a discussion upon the unhealthfulness (danger) of campfires by night; we discontinued them forthwith in spite of the bitter cold.' Major Cheesman's guide would not even let him light a tiny lamp in order to jot down star readings, and they never dared build a fire on the open plain where it 'would attract the attention of a prowling raiding party over long distances and invite a night attack.' Once in a while in a favorably sheltered depression 'we dared to build a fire that could not be seen from a high spot,' writes Raswin. That is, fires are not absolutely out of the question, but rare and risky-not much fire, was Lehi's rule. And fires in the daytime are almost as risky as a night: Palgrave tells how his party were forced, 'lest the smoke of our fire should give notice to some distant rover, to content ourselves with dry dates,' instead of cooked food.
"...All this bears out the conviction, supported both by modern experience and the evidence of archaeology, that Lehi was moving through a dangerous world." (Lehi in the Desert and The World of the Jaredites, pp. 72-3)
1 Ne 17:12-3 I will make thy food become sweet, that ye cook it not; And I will also be your light in the wilderness
When we have difficulties, we often ask the Lord to remove our obstacles, to bring a quick end to our suffering. In the Lord's plan, instead of removing our afflictions, He often wants us to continue in our tribulations, but gives us the necessary strength to come out victorious. The people of Alma, the elder, had been righteous but still they were overcome by local Lamanites who laid heavy burdens on their backs. The Lord's response was as follows, And I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs, even while you are in bondage; and this will I do that ye may stand as witnesses for me hereafter, and that ye may know of a surety that I, the Lord God, do visit my people in their afflictions (Mosiah 24:14). Lehi's family was to know that the Lord visits his people in their afflictions. We should learn this lesson as Lehi's family did. Notice that He doesn't always take the afflictions away according to the timetable of the afflicted.
1 Ne 17:17 Our brother is a fool, for he thinketh that he can build a ship
The carnal man is quick to point out one's weaknesses and limitations. Although Laman and Lemuel had seen the hand of the Lord many times, and even heard his voice, they still thought as a carnal man thinketh. They had not learned the lesson, with God all things are possible (Matt 19:26).
1 Ne 17:20 it would have been better that they (our women) had died before they came out of Jerusalem
With this phrase we must turn again to the similarities between the faithlessness of Nephi's elder brothers and the murmuring attitude of the children of Israel wandering in the Sinai Peninsula: all the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron: and the whole congregation said unto them, Would God that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would God we had died in this wilderness! And wherefore hath the Lord brought us unto this land, to fall by the sword, that our wives and our children should be a prey? Were it not better for us to return into Egypt? (Num 14:2-3)
Human nature is myopic. In both of these situations, the children of Israel and Lehi's family, the Lord is trying to bring the people into a promised land. He is trying to bless them with things they couldn't even dream of, even a land flowing with milk and honey. Nephi tried to get his brothers to see the similarities between their situation and the children of Israel, ye know that is must needs be a good thing for them, that they should be brought out of bondage (v. 25). Yet the shortsighted would rather return to the slavery that feels comfortable than patiently wait on the Lord and receive the greater blessing. We are often the same with our spiritual trials. We would like everything to just return to the way it was, rather than patiently understand that the will of the Lord is to bring us through our tribulation into a spiritual land of promise.
1 Ne 17:30 leading them by day and giving light unto them by night, and doing all things for them
Here we see another similarity between the children of Israel and Lehi's family. The children of Israel were led in the wilderness by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (see Ex 13:21). Lehi's family was led by just as miraculous a means, the Liahona.
1 Ne 17:32-5 the children of this land...who were driven out by our fathers, do ye suppose that they were righteous? Behold, I say unto you, Nay.
It is not our purpose here to comment on Old Testament events. However, Nephi's question is instructive and deserves some comment. It will be remembered that after the children of Israel wandered in the wilderness for 40 years, they began to enter the land of Canaan, but they had to do it by force. When they fought the inhabitants of the land, they would kill men, women, children, and livestock (Josh 6:21). This is always hard to understand for those who believe God is a merciful God. It is hard to tell from reading the Old Testament why the Lord is so ruthless with these people.
Nephi makes it clear that they were wiped off the face of the earth because of their wickedness. They had become ripe like the people in Noah's day, they were ripe in iniquity and the fullness of the wrath of God was upon them (v. 35). The Lord is not just indiscriminately wiping them out because the children of Israel need a place to live. He is delivering just rewards to the idolatrous inhabitants of the land. Nephi goes on to explain that the Lord would not have chosen Israel had they not been more righteous, thus confirming that the Lord esteemeth all flesh in one (v. 35).
1 Ne 17:36 the Lord created the earth that it should be inhabited
This seems like a harmless, simple phrase. In the 21st century, however, many are concerned with burgeoning population statistics. Can the earth hold all these people? Aren't we going to consume all the natural resources and leave nothing for our grandchildren? Some have become almost religious about the preservation of Mother Earth. Certainly, we should be wise stewards of the earth. We should not waste resources or pollute the beauty of nature. But we do not need to limit our family size because our many children will consume too many resources. Indeed, the Lord created the earth that it should be inhabited. The Lord created the earth for us and not the other way around. The earth, like all of God's creations, is meant "to fill the measure of its creation."
1 Ne 17:41 What is a fiery flying serpent?
A fiery flying serpent is a poisonous snake. "Fiery" refers to being poisonous and "flying" probably refers to their striking motion in an attempt to bite. The Book of Mormon, as in many other instances, teaches us as much about this Bible story as the Bible does. Numbers states that after the people had murmured again, the Lord sent serpents which bit them. Then the Lord said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live. And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived (Num 21:8-9).
John makes brief mention that the serpent raised by Moses represented the Messiah being lifted up on the cross (Jn 3:14). It is Alma who teaches us that there were many who perished, simply because they did not believe that it would heal them. He continues:
O my brethren, if ye could be healed by merely casting about your eyes that ye might be healed, would ye not behold quickly, or would ye rather harden your hearts in unbelief, and be slothful, that ye would not cast about your eyes, that ye might perish?
If so, wo shall come upon you; but if not so, then cast about your eyes and begin to believe in the Son of God, that he will come to redeem his people, and that he shall suffer and die to atone for their sins; and that he shall rise again from the dead, which shall bring to pass the resurrection, that all men shall stand before him, to be judged at the last and judgment day, according to their works. (Alma 33:21-2)
The imagery of Christ as a serpent continued long after the death of the Nephites. One of the ways in which the god, Quetzalcoatl, is represented is as a feathered serpent.
"Now, the strange fact is that the winged serpent, or the feathered serpent, plays a prominent part also in the religious concepts of the American Indians, and in their traditions. Among the ancient Mexicans, one of the divinities was known as 'the feathered' or 'plumed serpent,' Quetzalcoatl, which name corresponds to the 'flying serpent' of the Hebrews. Quetzalcoatl among the Mexicans was what the brazen serpent was to the Hebrews-the representative of the healing, life-giving power." (Reynolds and Sjodahl, Commentary on the Book of Mormon, vol. 1, p. 267)
1 Ne 17: 41 because of the simpleness of the way, or the easiness of it, there were many who perished
Boyd K. Packer
"How silly," some must have said. 'How can such a thing cure me? I'll not show my stupidity by paying any attention,' and some would not look....
"And today many say, 'How silly! How could accepting Christ save me?' They will not turn their heads to look nor incline their ears to hear. They ignore the great witness that comes from these conferences. We ought to, indeed we must, heed the counsel of these men, for the Lord said, 'What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.' (DC 1:38)" (Conference Report, Oct. 1, 1968, p. 76)
Harold B. Lee
"Some may say all of what I have said sounds so simple. It is. It is like the rod of Moses on which the serpent-bitten Israelites had only to look to be healed. But, as the Book of Mormon reminds us, 'because of the simpleness of the way, or the easiness of it, there were many who perished' (1 Nephi 17:41). Strange as it seems, some men are, as Jacob described them, forever 'looking beyond the mark' (Jacob 4:14), missing the plain and simple truths in their search for complexity!" (Teachings of Harold B. Lee, p. 334)
Rex D. Pinegar
"Brothers and sisters, we must not fail to do the simple and easy things that the gospel requires and thereby deny ourselves and our families the great blessings that the Lord has promised....Charles Francis Adams, the grandson of the U.S. ambassador to Britain. Amidst his responsibilities, he had little time to spare. He did, however, keep a diary. One day he wrote, 'Went fishing with my son today-a day wasted!' On that same date, Charles's son, Brooks Adams, had printed in his own diary, 'Went fishing with my father today-the most wonderful day of my life' (Daily Guideposts, 1994). President Hunter has said, 'Frequently it is the commonplace tasks that have the greatest positive effect on the lives of others' (BYU 1986-87 Devotional and Fireside Speeches, p. 115). I pray that we will heed the counsel of our prophet and have the faith to follow the Savior by doing the simple things His gospel requires." (Ensign, Nov. 1994, p.82 as taken from Latter-day Commentary on the Book of Mormon compiled by K. Douglas Bassett, p.53)
1 Ne 17:45 he hath spoken unto you in a still small voice
The still small voice is not barely audible to the receptive soul. When the Lord communicates this way, the still small voice penetrates every fiber of the individual's being. This is taught in 3 Nephi when the survivors of the destructions which attended Christ's crucifixion gathered at the temple, they heard a voice:
and it was not a harsh voice, neither was it a loud voice; nevertheless, and notwithstanding it being a small voice it did pierce them that did hear to the center, insomuch that there was no part of their frame that it did not cause to quake; yea, it did pierce them to the very soul, and did cause their hearts to burn.
In a letter to W.W. Phelps, the prophet Joseph Smith said, Yea, thus saith the still small voice, which whispereth through and pierceth all things, and often times it maketh my bones to quake (DC 85:6).
Gordon B. Hinckley
President Hinckley "told of his recent interview with CBS News reporter Mike Wallace, which is scheduled to air on 60 Minutes in February.
"When asked by Mr. Wallace, 'How does Jesus speak to you?' President Hinckley said he told him the voice of the Lord doesn't come in dramatic fashion, but as with the prophet Elijah 'through the still, small voice.'
"'It is the voice of the Spirit which speaks, and which will speak to you concerning your own problems, if you will seek for wisdom and understanding in prayer. There is no doubt in my mind that that voice speaks and is heard.'" (LDS Church News, Deseret News, Jan. 20, 1996)
Boyd K. Packer
"We do not have the words (even the scriptures do not have words) which perfectly describe the Spirit," he told new mission presidents and their wives at a seminar on 19 June 1991. "The scriptures usually use the word voice, which does not exactly fit. These delicate, refined spiritual communications are not seen with our eyes nor heard with our ears.... It is a voice that one feels more than one hears.
"Once I came to understand this, one verse in the Book of Mormon took on profound meaning and my testimony of the book became fixed. The verse had to do with Laman and Lemuel, who rebelled against Nephi. Nephi rebuked them and said: 'Ye have seen an angel, and he spake unto you; yea, ye have heard his voice from time to time; and he hath spoken unto you in a still small voice, but ye were past feeling, that ye could not feel his words' (1 Nephi 17:45)."
"I have come to know that inspiration comes more as a feeling than as a sound," Elder Packer repeated in general conference, October 1979. He then counseled: "Ponder and pray quietly and persistently.... The answer may not come as a lightning bolt. It may come as a little inspiration here and a little there, 'line upon line, precept upon precept' (D&C 98:12).
"Some answers will come from reading the scriptures, some from hearing speakers. And, occasionally, when it is important, some will come by very direct and powerful inspiration. The promptings will be clear and unmistakable."
"He recalled what the Prophet Joseph Smith said:
'A person may profit by noticing the first intimation of the spirit of revelation; for instance, when you feel pure intelligence flowing into you, it may give you sudden strokes of ideas.... And thus by learning the Spirit of God and understanding it, you may grow into the principle of revelation, until you become perfect in Christ Jesus. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 151).'"
(Lucile C. Tate, Boyd K. Packer, A Watchman on the Tower, p. 280)
Bruce R. McConkie
"We have a testimony when we have managed to attune our souls to God so that the Holy Spirit speaks to the spirit that is within us. We must hear the still, small voice. When that witness is given, then we know of ourselves that the work is true, and on appropriate occasions we stand up and bear that record to the world. All the missionaries who succeed, do so because they are testifying missionaries. They bear witness to what they of themselves know of the divinity of the work. We have a little formula that we follow in order to gain a testimony: We desire in our hearts to know if the work is true; we study the principles that are involved; we practice them in our lives; and we pray to God and ask him to reveal the truth to us, on the same basis that the Prophet used when he read in the book of James:
"'If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.'" (BYU Speeches, Sept. 29, 1964, p. 7)
1 Ne 17:45 ye were past feeling
"True religion is a feeling. It is common in anti-Mormon literature for attacks to be made on prayer and on trusting one's feelings as sources for obtaining truth. In the realm of spiritual understanding both are fundamental. Truth is felt. Falsehood is often clothed in erudite and sophisticated arguments. One does not have to be able to refute the argument to know that it is false. Truth feels good; falsehood does not.
"Christ spoke of the inability of the wicked to 'understand with their heart' (Matthew 13:15), while the righteous 'understood in their hearts' things too marvelous to utter (3 Nephi 19:33-34). Describing the spirit of revelation for Joseph Smith, the Lord said, 'I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart' (D&C 8:2). Because of their wickedness, such understanding was lost to Nephi's rebellious brothers." (McConkie and Millet, Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon, vol. 1, p. 137)
Neal A. Maxwell
"President Harold B. Lee has called our attention to the phrase 'past feeling' which is used several places in the scriptures. In Ephesians, Paul links it to lasciviousness that apparently so sated its victims that they sought 'uncleanness with greediness.' Moroni used the same two words to describe a decaying society which was 'without civilization,' 'without order and without mercy,' and in which people had 'lost their love, one towards another.' Insensate, this society saw violence, gross immorality, brutality and all kinds of 'kamikaze' behavior. Nephi used the same concept in his earlier lamentation bout his brothers' inability to heed the urgings of the Spirit because they were 'past feeling.' The common thread is obvious: the inevitable dulling of our capacity to feel renders us impervious to conscience, to the needs of others, and to insights both intellectual and spiritual. Such imperceptivity, like alcoholism, apparently reaches a stage where the will can no longer enforce itself upon our impulses." ("For the Power is in them...", p. 22)
Neal A. Maxwell
"Some young people belong to peer groups in which there is an almost constant celebration of the senses: tactile, visual, and aural. It is significant that three prophets (Nephi, Paul, and Mormon) in three different cultures and at three different times, each used the same two words to describe a people who had celebrated the senses so much that they had lost their capacity to feel. The words 'past feeling' appear in the scriptures to depict people who had become sufficiently encrusted in their excesses that they killed their capacity to feel. The very capacity to feel which they celebrated was lost in the process of celebration. They were in a situation in which increasingly stronger stimulants were needed to feel anything, and finally no dose was large enough to appease their appetites." (A Time to Choose [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1972], 15 - 16.)
Neal A. Maxwell
"Ironic though it is, ultimately those so warped by pleasing the carnal mind and by wrongfully celebrating their capacity to feel soon lose their capacity to feel, finally becoming 'past feeling' (1 Ne. 17:45; Moro. 9:20)." (One More Strain of Praise [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1999], 66.)
1 Ne 17:45 ye could not feel his words
Boyd K. Packer
We cannot express spiritual knowledge in words alone. We can, however, with words show another how to prepare for the reception of the Spirit. The Spirit itself will help. “For when a man speaketh by the power of the Holy Ghost the power of the Holy Ghost carrieth it unto the hearts of the children of men.” (2 Ne. 33:1.)
Then when we have a spiritual communication, we can say within ourselves, this is it! This is what is meant by those words in the revelation. Thereafter, if they are carefully chosen, words are adequate for teaching about spiritual things.
We do not have the words (even the scriptures do not have words) which perfectly describe the Spirit. The scriptures generally use the word voice, which does not exactly fit. These delicate, refined spiritual communications are not seen with our eyes, nor heard with our ears. And even though it is described as a voice, it is a voice that one feels, more than one hears.
Once I came to understand this, one verse in the Book of Mormon took on a profound meaning, and my testimony of the book increased immeasurably. It had to do with Laman and Lemuel, who rebelled against Nephi. Nephi rebuked them and said, “Ye have seen an angel, and he spake unto you; yea, ye have heard his voice from time to time; and he hath spoken unto you in a still small voice, but ye were past feeling, that ye could not feel his words.” (1 Ne. 17:45; italics added.) (“The Candle of the Lord,” 25 June 1982; https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/1983/01/the-candle-of-the-lord?lang=eng)
1 Ne 17:55 they fell down before me, and were about to worship me
"Here Laman and Lemuel received a powerful, tangible witness that the power of the Lord was with Nephi. Their immediate reaction was to fall down and worship Nephi (vs. 55). In doing so they demonstrated a common mistake of men, namely, they wanted to worship the man with the power rather than God, the source of the power. Sometimes Saints become deeply attached to missionaries or Church leaders who are instruments in bringing spiritual power into their lives, without realizing that it is not the man but the source of the power he demonstrates-namely God-that should be worshiped. Like other prophets faced with this tendency to personal adoration, Nephi teaches where the true worship should be centered." (Book of Mormon Student Manual, 1981, p. 45-6) See also Acts 10:25-6.