There Was Nothing Save It Were the Power of God…Could Soften Their Hearts – 1 Nephi 18:17-20

17 Now my father, Lehi, had said many things unto them, and also unto the sons of Ishmael; but, behold, they did breathe out much threatenings against anyone that should speak for me; and my parents being stricken in years, and having suffered much grief because of their children, they were brought down, yea, even upon their sick-beds.
18 Because of their grief and much sorrow, and the iniquity of my brethren, they were brought near even to be carried out of this time to meet their God; yea, their grey hairs were about to be brought down to lie low in the dust; yea, even they were near to be cast with sorrow into a watery grave.
19 And Jacob and Joseph also, being young, having need of much nourishment, were grieved because of the afflictions of their mother; and also my wife with her tears and prayers, and also my children, did not soften the hearts of my brethren that they would loose me.
20 And there was nothing save it were the power of God, which threatened them with destruction, could soften their hearts; wherefore, when they saw that they were about to be swallowed up in the depths of the sea they repented of the thing which they had done, insomuch that they loosed me.
(1 Nephi 18:17-20)

I have a question about this story: Why didn’t Nephi pray for the strength to burst the bands, as he had done before? Why did he wait until his brothers were willing to untie him?

First, a little background:

  • Nephi and his family were traveling on a ship which they had built, following guidance from a divinely provided compass called the Liahona.
  • During the trip, two of his brothers (Laman and Lemuel) and the sons of Ishmael, together with their wives, began to behave “with much rudeness,” forgetting that they had been led to that point by the hand of God (1 Nephi 18:9).
  • When Nephi corrected them, they became angry with him, and tied him up (1 Nephi 18:10-11).
  • Immediately afterward, the Liahona stopped working, and their ship was soon engulfed in a large storm (1 Nephi 18:12-13).
  • They were in the storm for four days, during which time the storm became progressively larger and more furious (1 Nephi 18:14-15).
  • During this time, Nephi intentionally refrained from complaining. He prayed constantly, but instead of pleading for deliverance, he “did praise [God] all the day long” (1 Nephi 18:16).
  • As detailed in the passage above, neither Nephi’s elderly parents, nor his younger brothers, nor his wife, nor his children could convince Laman and Lemuel to set him free. It was only when they believed that they were about to die that they repented and untied him.

Nephi had been in a similar situation before. After traveling to Jerusalem to convince Ishmael and his family to join them in the wilderness, his brothers Laman and Lemuel and the two sons of Ishmael had rebelled against him and tied him up with the intention of leaving him “in the wilderness to be devoured by wild beasts” (1 Nephi 7:16). On that occasion, Nephi acted with more urgency:

But it came to pass that I prayed unto the Lord, saying: O Lord, according to my faith which is in thee, wilt thou deliver me from the hands of my brethren; yea, even give me strength that I may burst these bands with which I am bound.
And it came to pass that when I had said these words, behold, the bands were loosed from off my hands and feet, and I stood before my brethren, and I spake unto them again (1 Nephi 7:17-18).

So my question is this: since Nephi had been tied up by his brothers before and had resolved the situation by breaking free with the help of the Lord, why didn’t he do the same thing this time? Why did he wait until his brothers were willing to untie him?

Here are a few ideas:

  1. Even after Nephi burst his bands on the prior occasion, Laman and Lemuel were still angry with him. They were calmed down by several members of Ishmael’s family. But as Nephi tells us above, no one on the ship had been able to soften their hearts this time. If Nephi were to set himself free this time, it would probably have only escalated the tension.
  2. On the earlier occasion, their stated intention was to abandon him. He needed to resolve the situation quickly to prevent a catastrophic outcome. But on the ship, no one was going anywhere. There was time to wait it out and allow the brothers to come to their senses.
  3. The Lord was already acting on his behalf, rendering the Liahona useless and sending a storm. Rather than ask for help, he needed to recognize that he had already received the assistance he needed. Like the children of Israel on the banks of the Red Sea, he simply needed to “stand still and see the salvation of the Lord” (Exodus 14:13).

Today, I will remember that the adversity I experience may serve the purpose of giving other people an opportunity to grow. When I am required to endure a trial or a challenge for a period of time, I will follow Nephi’s example and exercise faith in God, recognizing that He may be accomplishing important work in the lives of His children through my afflictions.

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