1 And it came to pass that they did worship the Lord, and did go forth with me; and we did work timbers of curious workmanship. And the Lord did show me from time to time after what manner I should work the timbers of the ship.
2 Now I, Nephi, did not work the timbers after the manner which was learned by men, neither did I build the ship after the manner of men; but I did build it after the manner which the Lord had shown unto me; wherefore, it was not after the manner of men.
3 And I, Nephi, did go into the mount oft, and I did pray oft unto the Lord; wherefore the Lord showed unto me great things.
4 And it came to pass that after I had finished the ship, according to the word of the Lord, my brethren beheld that it was good, and that the workmanship thereof was exceedingly fine; wherefore, they did humble themselves again before the Lord. (1 Nephi 18:1-4)

I’m impressed about what these verses say about the revelations Nephi received.

Verse 1 says the Lord showed Nephi from time to time how he should work the timbers of the ship. I think this is cool because it describes a process of continual, specific revelation to solve mechanical problems. How did the Lord show Nephi? It could have been in open daylight vision. It could have been in dreams. It could have been a combination of the two. But however the Lord showed, it got the job done.

I wondered why Nephi didn’t describe in more detail what the Lord showed him when other spiritual experiences he had he gets pretty specific about. Eventually I realized that while it would expand on that pattern of revelation, all it would teach us beyond that was how Nephi built his ship. That might interest archeologists, but its value for salvation is very low. We don’t have to build ships to be saved in the kingdom of God.

Even if we know next to nothing about the ship Nephi built, we can extrapolate a few of the constraints on the design. 1) It had to be a ship for a non-seagoing people, so it had to be easy to learn and easy to use. 2) It had to be something that could be built with the materials available at that location.

Verse 2 says Nephi didn’t work the timbers like how men had learned, nor did he build the ship like men built, but he did it the way the Lord showed him. It implies Nephi had some idea of what ships should look like and what he was doing looked different. It seems he also had a little bit of knowledge (but perhaps not all) about how ships were made, and the Lord’s directions were different there too. It takes faith to follow the Lord’s directions when they are different from our own previous notions, so Nephi’s observation and obedience says a lot about his faith.

That phrase “not after the manner of men” and “after the manner which the Lord had shown unto me” seems to hold a more generally applicable lesson. Man has a small amount of wisdom gained over time, but aren’t there things we’ve learned to do after the manner the Lord has shown us, which is different from the manner of men?  Some examples I think of immediately are, “no power or influence ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood” or “he who is greatest among you shall be your servant” or “love your enemies and pray for them.”  There’s a bit of a risk when you go differently, following the Lord’s way for the first time; you wonder if it will work better or not. It takes faith.  (What other things can you think of that we know to do which are not after the manner of men?)

Verse 3 tells of Nephi going to the mount oft and praying oft and the Lord showed him great things. It seems Nephi wasn’t just receiving revelation about how to build the ship, but was getting other revelations as well—things he called “great.” He doesn’t tell us what they are, but we at least know he valued them. To me this teaches the blessings that can be ours if we will pray “oft” instead of just at the obligatory times of meals, church meetings, and morning and evening.

Verse 4 tells of how once the ship was finished, Nephi’s brothers saw it was good and they humbled themselves. If the boat building had been up to them, they would never have started since even if they got past murmuring, they would have had a hard time catching the vision of what to do. If you can’t start a project until you can tell it is good, and it doesn’t look good until the end, you will never start. Humbling oneself at the end instead of the beginning is too late.

I get down on Laman and Lemuel here, but I think far too often I have some of the same problems. I’m thankful for Nephi’s great example to show what I should do instead.

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