Wednesday, August 5, 2015

It’s a Matter of Attitude – Part I

Not long ago someone sent me a lengthy writing about Nephi and his reaction to the Lord telling him to go build a ship. They used this as a means to suggest that Nephi was, in fact, a ship builder of some type, though he lived in an area where ships were not built. As he put it: “When Nephi was commanded by the Lord to build a ship, his only reply was, ‘whither shall I go to find ore to molten, that I may make tools to construct the ship?’” (1 Nephi 17:9). 
    To many, this evidently seems like a statement of fact that Nephi was not troubled about building a ship, that he felt completely confident in being able to do so. And that all he wanted to know was where would he find ore to make tools—another indication they claim shows Nephi was an experienced carpenter and builder.
Iron ore mine where it is now understood that iron in primeval seas rusted by bacteria and form obvious deposits that can be seen where seas have receded over time where structures of iron carbonate minerals occur (siderite, FeCO3), just as they do in geological iron formations
    I have always found attitudes like this to be strikingly negative. Why wouldn’t Nephi feel he could do so? He didn’t need any previous knowledge or experience, or even know anything about building, ships, or manufacturing of any kind. What he did know was all he needed to know—albeit a type of knowledge that seems beyond most people today.
    Long before this command, long before Nephi had any of the experiences we know about, long before he had exhibited his undying faith in the Lord, Nephi made it quite clear what type of attitude he possessed about such matters.
    I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them” (1 Nephi 3:7).
    After all, he had a perfect faith in the Lord. As he said, “And now, if the Lord has such great power, and has wrought so many miracles among the children of men, how is it that he cannot instruct me, that I should build a ship?” (1 Nephi 17:51), and also “If God had commanded me to do all things I could do them. If he should command me that I should say unto this water, be thou earth, it should be earth; and if I should say it, it would be done” (1 Nephi 17:50).
    How many of us today have such an attitude? How many who are called to be a Bishop, a President of an organization, or put in charge of a very special and complex assignment have such an attitude? I am reminded of when I was a Bishop many years ago and was given an assignment by the Stake President to get my Ward members to attend Know Your Religion (a monthly evening class conducted by BYU in our area during eight months of the year). I prayed about this for a time, then called a woman in the Ward to be in charge of this assignment. She was very reluctant, never having done anything like that before, and not considering herself either a leader or a sales person.
    Though there were many interesting steps along the way, the point is she gained the confidence she had lacked and in the long run, her singular three-week effort caused our Ward to sell more tickets than every other Stake in California. She did the same thing in pre-selling Education Week tickets (a four day conference held in our local area each year), and the following year even accomplished more in both programs—which resulted in such an explosion of spiritual knowledge in our Ward it had a remarkable effect on every other program and effort, including meeting attendance, home and visiting teaching, temple attendance, etc.
Know Your Religion classes a purpose to drive deeper into topics not commonly discussed or developed on the weekly Sunday meetings. The classes always filled the chapel and though meant for adults, often families attended
    Unfortunately, just the opposite is more often true, for far too many people today seem to think they cannot do something without a great deal of training, experience, and previous involvement in such activities. However, Nephi knew implicitly that the Lord could show him how to build a ship. He also had sufficient confidence in his own ability that he could follow the Lord’s instruction and accomplish the task in which the Lord would direct him. What he didn’t know in that moment was where he could find ore—obviously, the ore he needed was not apparently available to him in that area of Bountiful, which he had seen or explored.
    After being in the land of Bountiful “for the space of many days,” the voice of the Lord came to Nephi to get up on a mountain (1 Nephi 17:7). And after reaching the mountain top, the Lord said further, “Thou shalt construct a ship, after the manner which I shall show thee, that I may carry thy people across these waters” (1 Nephi 17:8)
    He did, however, understand that metal was made from ore, and metal tools would be necessary to make such a ship as the Lord showed him. Evidently, neither on that mountain, nor anywhere else he had yet been in Bountfiul, contained an ore bearing rock that he thought he could use to make the tools.
    Because we live in a world today of plenty, which is readily available to us, we are not used to thinking in terms of items in their natural state. As an example, if I need to make something out of wood, I go to Home Depot and buy the wood; if I need paper for my printer, I go to Staples or Office Depot and buy a ream of paper, if I need food, I go to a grocery store and buy the food. Nephi, on the other hand, was in the midst of his store—the natural environment in which he lived. The person who sent me that information, as well as its author, saw Nephi’s question and immediately decided 1) Nephi was a carpenter, and 2) he was also a metallurgist.
    As the sender of the article wrote: “According to Keith Christensen, Nephi came from the interior of Judah where ships were not built. Yet he does not plead inability to build one. His question is limited to ore to make tools to do the construction. He exhibits no doubt about his ability to make the tools and build the ship. Obviously, then, Nephi had those skills to begin with.”

On the other hand, I read that and see a young man with considerable trust in the Lord and confidence in his ability to do what the Lord told him. To me, Nephi looked around that mountain top and down on the valley and river inlet below and saw, or had earlier seen, trees from which the wood could be used, he had seen or could see the waterway and inlet in which he could safely build his ship and launch it, and obviously knew of the water (Irreantum) on which he would cross the great deep.
    As for finding ore in the area of Khor Rori, which is the location most likely Nephi built his ship and most closely matches the scriptural record at this point, he was unaware of any metal bearing ore. It might also be of interest to know that when Nephi asks the Lord “whither shall I go that I may find ore to molten, that I may make tools to construct the ship after the manner which thou hast shown unto me?” (1 Nephi 17:9), many have thought it would have been right underfoot or close by in Bountiful; however, the scriptural record sheds no light on that issue. Nephi asked, and the Lord told him. Where that was, we are not informed. However, twenty miles away to the east is Jebel (Jabal) Samhan, a large mountainous area along the coast that makes up the point along the end of the Qara Mountains to the east of Khor Rori iron ore is located.
Iron ore is found at the base of the Jabel Samhan, twenty miles east of Khor Rori and an easily accessible location for Nephi to reach; Top: Map showing (yellow arrow) the location of Jebel Samhan; Bottom: The series of cliff facings of Jebel Samhan that overlook the point and the sea where Iron ore was found
    It just so happens that iron ore is found at the base of Jebel Samhan. The location of iron ore at this spot is significant. Since Nephi was a days ride from the rest of the family, he constructed a bellows where the ore was (1 Nephi 17:11), and smelted the ore to make tools (1 Nephi 17:16). According to George Potter & Richard Wellington, Discovering The Lehi-Nephi Trail, (July 2000), p. 247, this makes perfect sense. Why would Nephi carry the ore back to Khor Rori? It would take many journeys to get enough. It was far easier to smelt the ore and make the tools at the mount and just carry the tools back.


  1. Verses 17 and 18 would seem to be proof against Nephi having such knowledge. The murmurs and complaints of his brethren were based on his not having that knowledge and not believing that he had been instructed in such by the Lord.

  2. Absolutely. In fact, it is part of the following article just posted above