As a theme of his writings, Nephi informs the reader in the first chapter of First Nephi that his intention behind making his record is to “show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance” (1 Nephi 1:20).
According to Potter and Wellington, the commandment to write the small plates was given to Nephi some thirty years after Nephi left Jerusalem and it would appear that Nephi took approximately 10 years to write the first 25 chapters (2 Nephi 5:30,34). It appears that the time and distance separating Nephi from the events gave him the opportunity to reconsider events with a different perspective.
As Nephi sat in the Americas, it certainly wouldn’t have escaped his attention that their journey in Arabia could in some ways be divided into two parts, each a mirror image of the other:
1. Their first encampment was in a valley surrounded by mountains where a river flowed into the sea.
2. The family left that campsite and headed inland.
3. They crossed the mountain range.
4. They made their next camp at a place they called Shazer, a word associated with trees. According to Arabic writing the name could be represented by the consonants “Shzr.” Here they could find water and trees providing a stark contrast to the bleak terrain that surrounded them.
5. They traveled in an approximately S.S.E. direction with the mountains between them and the sea. The desert was inland of them.
6*. They reached Nahom.
5’ They changed direction to travel nearly eastwards with the mountains between them and the sea. The desert was inland of them.
4’ They reached their last encampment on the trail east. This was the ancient city of Ubar, found in the town interestingly now called “Shisr” (variant spelling Shasar). Here they could find water and trees providing a stark contrast to the bleak terrain that surrounded them.
3’ The family left that campsite and headed inland.
2’ They crossed the mountain range.
1’ Their last encampment was in a valley surrounded by mountains where a (seasonal) river flowed into the sea.
At the first and last campsites we read the stories that seem to make up the center focus for each half of First Nephi: (1) the obtaining of the brass plates, and (2) the building of the ship.
Apparently, these are points that Nephi wants us to pay particular attention to because of the learning principles included. We notice the similarity between each story here:
Obtaining of the Plates of Laban
Laman and Lemuel murmur. (1 Ne. 3:5)
Nephi urges them to be faithful. (1 Ne. 3:16)
Laman & Lemuel beat (attempt to kill?) Nephi with a rod. (1 Ne 3:28)
The Lord intervenes-an angel teaches Laman & Lemuel. (1 Ne 3:29)
The brothers grudgingly accept the will of the Lord and help Nephi obtain the plates (1 Ne 4:4)
The family is successful in obtaining the brass plates (1 Ne 5:10)
Building the Ship
Laman and Lemuel murmur. (1 Ne 17:17)
Nephi urges them to be faithful. (1 Ne 17:23)
Laman & Lemuel seek to throw Nephi into the depths of the sea. (1 Ne 17:48)
The Lord intervenes. Nephi is given power to shake his brothers. (1 Ne 17:53)
The brothers accept the will of the Lord and help Nephi build the ship. (1 Ne 18:1)
The family is successful in completing the ship. (1 Ne 18:5)
According to Potter & Wellington, there is a third chiasm though, one that appears in the outline of the journey noted previously. The center of that chiastic journey occurs at Nahom.* It is interesting to note the elements of the Nahom incident and compare them with the stories about obtaining the plates of Laban and building a ship:
Obtaining Food at Nahom
The daughters of Ishmael murmur (1 Ne 16:35)
Laman and Lemuel seek to kill Nephi and Lehi (1 Ne 16:37)
The Lord intervenes. He teaches the dissenters, who hear his voice (1 Ne 16:39)
The dissenters repent (1 ne 16:39)
They obtain food and are saved (1 Ne 16:39)
At previous stops we are told that it was for the purpose of hunting (see 1 Nephi 16:14; 16:17), however at Nahom we are not told this. The reason is simple. Here on the edge of the edge of the desert sands there is no game to be found. There is no mountain cover for the hunter, just endless waves of sand that stretch north east for 600 miles. This is the edge of the Rub’ Al-Kali--the Empty Quarter, where no man goes.
At Nahom, like the situation in obtaining the brass plates or the circumstances of building the ship, Nephi’s life is once again in danger. But even at this lowest time, starving, surrounded by the seemingly endless sands of the desert, and with his brothers baying for his blood, Nephi remains faithful to his covenants with the Lord, and they obtain food and are saved. How the Lord accomplished this we do not know. Whether it was by some miracle, like the miracle of the quail for the children of Israel, or by more simple means with some other travelers coming to the well and providing food, we do not know. Suffice it to say Nephi recognized the source of his salvation. [George Potter & Richard Wellington, Discovering The Lehi-Nephi Trail, Unpublished Manuscript (July 2000), pp. 271-274]
Note* With literary power and historical veracities that can only come from the Lord, Nephi’s narrative is to be a literal proof of his thesis: “I, Nephi,” will show unto you that the tender mercies [or covenant promises] of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen [or his covenant people], because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance“ (1 Nephi 1:20; emphasis added). Indeed, God’s covenant promises (”mercies“) are ”both temporal and spiritual" (see 1 Nephi 22:1,3). [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]
Note* How many times does Nephi record that he was delivered from death at the hands of his brethren? Perhaps seven events witness miraculous deliverance:
1. While obtaining the brass plates (1 Nephi 3:28-29)
2. While returning with Ishmael and his daughters (1 Nephi 7:16-19)
3. While starving at Nahom (1 Nephi 16:36-39)
4. While attempting to build a ship at Bountiful (1 Nephi 17 48-52)
5. While crossing the seas to the promised land (1 Nephi 18:10-21)
6. Because they left Jerusalem which was destroyed (2 Nephi 1:4)
7. While initially all together after landing in the promised land (2 Nephi 5:1-7)
[Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes] [See the commentary on 1 Nephi 5:13]
Through the Wilderness to the Promised Land
(1 Nephi )