Sunday, March 18, 2012

1 Nephi 16: Desert Fever

Nephi faces several challenges in Chapter 16.  First, he's still trying to teach his hardheaded brothers about God and God's plan and the dream of the Tree of Life.  Second, his family begins to travel through the desert some more.  Third, Nephi breaks his bow and needs a new one to hunt for food for his family.  It's just a rough week for him, I guess.

Hard Truth
When Laman and Lemuel struggle to accept the things that Nephi tells them, Nephi responds with this:  "The guilty take the truth to be hard, for it cutteth them to the very center."

This scripture is commonly cited to explain away apostates or nonbelievers.  The idea is that they must have some sin in their lives that makes it uncomfortable to accept the truth of the gospel.  What Nephi said is actually true in some situations, but the church uses it frequently and poorly as a dismissive assessment of other people's states of mind.

My corollary?  "Those who think for themselves take what fallaciously claims to be truth to be flawed, for it ignoreth reason and encourageth blind faith."

Okay, I guess Nephi's has a better ring to it.

Marrying an Entire Family
Nephi marries a daughter of Ishmael.  Nephi's brothers marry daughters of Ishmael.  Zoram marries a daughter of Ishmael.  I wonder if it was like picking teams on the playground.  Zoram wasn't even family, so he didn't really get to choose a wife--he was stuck with whoever was left. Poor Zoram.

Seriously, though, it seems pretty weird that there are five women and five men and they decide to go ahead and marry each other.  I realize that they're going to wind up populating a continent and all, but I don't think I  would have gone along with that.  What are the odds that these five couples would actually get along?  And what about Nephi's sisters?  Are they just going to have to remain celibate for the rest of their lives?  Why not run back to Jerusalem really quick and grab a family that has a couple of eligible bachelors?

This isn't strong evidence that the Book of Mormon isn't true, of course, but it's definitely strong evidence that the Book of Mormon is freakin' weird.

The Magical, Mystical Liahona
The Liahona.  What a weird little spherical device.  It's reminiscent of Jack Sparrow's compass in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.  It supernaturally guides Nephi's family to what they desire most--or, more accurately, to what God desires for them.  It also seems to have writing that appears on the sides to tell them what to do.  Its origins are unknown, its design is confusingly conveyed, and its functionality appears to be vast.

The Liahona, to me, is yet another attempt of Smith's to assert the validity of the Book of Mormon by filling it with visions and miracles.  A strange ball of curious workmanship that works based on your level of faith!  That must have come from God!

What's the Deal with that Bow?
Nephi's steel bow breaks and suddenly he can't hunt food for his family.  Everyone fears that they'll starve to death in the wilderness.  Even his brothers' bows had "lost their springs...insomuch that [they] could obtain no food."

So Nephi takes matters into his own hands, makes a new bow out of wood, and then follows the Liahona to where he can find food.  But he says he takes a sling and stones with him too.  In fact, he says earlier, in verse 15 that they've been "slaying food" the whole time not only with bows and arrows but also with stones and slings.

So what was the big deal with breaking the bow?  It seems like they'd had a viable alternative to a bow and arrow all along.  And then it appears that the Liahona solves a different problem--where to go to find the food.  Was the problem that they couldn't kill it or that they couldn't find it?  Make up your mind!

A Snapshot of Early Mormonism
Take a look at verse 38, in which Laman (apparently acting on his own for once!) accuses Nephi of making everything up and manipulating them:
Now, he says that the Lord has talked with him, and also that angels have ministered unto him. But behold, we know that he lies to us; and 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.  And after this manner did my brother Laman stir up their hearts to anger.
This may be the only time during which Joseph Smith actually appears to be prophetic.  Take everything that was said here about Nephi and apply it to the early church.  Joseph and his leadership lied and worked many things by his cunning arts to deceive his followers.  Then his successor, Brigham Young, led them away into some strange wilderness (Utah), where he made himself a king (governor) and ruler (president of the church) over them, so that he could do with them (marry their women) according to his will and pleasure.


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