You can read 1 Nephi 17:10-16 here.
Context and General Information
- The Lord told Nephi where to go find ore to make tools.
- Nephi made a bellows out of the skin of beasts to blow the fire. Then, he smote two stones together to make fire.
- Up to this point, Nephi hadn’t made many fires on the journey in the wilderness. The Lord instructed them not to and made other arrangements for them. He made their food become “sweet” so they didn’t need to cook it.
- The Lord also promised to be their light in the wilderness. He prepared the way for them. If they kept His commandments, then they would be led toward a promised land. Also, after arriving at the promised land, they would know that it was the Lord that delivered them from destruction. And that He is God.
- So – Nephi strived to keep the commandments and motivated his brothers to do the same.
- And Nephi made tools out of the ore which he melted out of the rock.
It Is by the Lord that We Are Led
We often say that the Lord works in mysterious ways. And here, we see it again. Even though the Lord works in mysterious ways, the purpose isn’t so mysterious.
So – earlier in chapter 17, Nephi asked the Lord:
” And I said: 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
And then we read:
“And it came to pass that the Lord told me whither I should go to find ore, that I might make tools.” – 1 Nephi 17:10
Once Nephi knows where to find the ore, he makes a bellows, and then makes a fire. And then Nephi lets us in on this fact about their journey – a fact that he had hinted at earlier in the chapter:
“For the Lord had not hitherto suffered that we should make much fire, as we journeyed in the wilderness;…” – 1 Nephi 17:12
The Lord commanded them not to make much fire. And if we think back, the only times I guess that they made fire would be the times when they were offering sacrifices of burnt offerings to Him. (See 1 Nephi 2:7,1 Nephi 5:9, 1 Nephi 7:22.)
I am so familiar with the story of Nephi’s journey to the promised land, that I haven’t put much thought into this idea. I’ve always known that the Lord commanded Lehi’s family not to make many fires. And that He would make their meat “sweet” to them – as if it had been cooked. Okay. That’s fine with me. I accept it. If the Lord can cause Manna to come down to the children of Israel while in the wilderness, why wouldn’t he be able to “cook” the food for Lehi and his family?
I’ve never had a problem with this detail. I’ve never had a question about it. I’ve never really put much thought into it.
But maybe it’s good to right now…because I don’t think that the only reason the Lord did this for them is the same as what I assumed in the past.
In the past, I kind of thought that the reason the Lord had them make few fires was for their safety. (And I still think that this was a reason). Hugh Nibley explored this concept in one of his writings. (You can read it here).His ideas have permeated our Latter-day Saint Culture – for good reason, too. I think that he is partially right.
If Nephi and his family were burning fires in the Arabian Peninsula, they would have attracted a lot of attention. They would have put themselves into a bit of danger. Remember, this is a harsh land. Food isn’t easy to come by. They would have been easy targets for marauders and others that might have tried to attack them. The Lord didn’t want Nephi and his family to fail on their journey to the promised land, so He gave them a commandment that would protect them. After arriving to the Promised land, this would not be a commandment they had to keep. It was just a temporary one.
But here’s a question. God could perform miracles. God gave them a Liahona. God taught Nephi how to make a boat! God caused manna to come down for the children of Israel. Why did God have them not make fires? Why didn’t he just let them make fires and then give them a miracle of protection?
Well, the Lord answers that Himself in the Book of Mormon. We read:
“For the Lord had not hitherto suffered that we should make much fire, as we journeyed in the wilderness; for he said: I will make thy food become sweet, that ye cook it not;
13 And I will also be your light in the wilderness; and I will prepare the way before you, if it so be that ye shall keep my commandments; wherefore, inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall be led towards the promised land; and ye shall know that it is by me that ye are led.
14 Yea, and the Lord said also that: After ye have arrived in the promised land, ye shall know that I, the Lord, am God; and that I, the Lord, did deliver you from destruction; yea, that I did bring you out of the land of Jerusalem.” – 1 Nephi 17:12-14
The Lord knew that the commandment He gave them – not to build many fires – would result in a few problems, so he also posed solutions.
Problems and Solutions
One – How to Cook Food Without Fire? The Lord would make their food become “sweet,” so they didn’t need to cook it.
Two – Who Will Be their Light in the Wilderness – The Lord would be their light. He would prepare the way for them. We don’t have more details on this, but just imagine it. The night would be pretty dark without any fires. And night can come pretty early certain times of the year! Right now, in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, sunset is at 6:14 PM. Early nights. Not much traveling when the days get short! (Of course, there was probably substantial traveling during the cooler times of the year – the problem, sunset comes earlier!)…So even though we don’t have more detail on how the Lord was their light in the wilderness, we know that He was. Metaphorically, and I think probably also literally.
Addressing these problems and solutions doesn’t really address why the Lord did what He did. And we do postulate. We say, well, it kept them safe from raiding parties. But this isn’t what the reason that the Lord gave. The Lord tells us why:
“…and ye shall know that it is by me that ye are led.
14 Yea, and the Lord said also that: After ye have arrived in the promised land, ye shall know that I, the Lord, am God; and that I, the Lord, did deliver you from destruction; yea, that I did bring you out of the land of Jerusalem.” – 1 Nephi 17:13-14
The Lord understands every law of nature, physics, chemistry, biology. He can do what He wants because He understands the workings of this world He created. And yes, He does support us. He will be our light in the wilderness. He will provide for us. But he doesn’t always make things easy for us just because. He usually provides for us in a way that still tries our faith so we can learn the exact thing He was trying to teach Nephi – that it was the Lord God, and ONLY HIM that delivered us.
Imagine for a moment if Nephi and his family did have fire. If they traveled that dangerous Arabian Peninsula with light and a means to cook their meat. And imagine if the Lord had performed another miracle that gave them safety despite the fires that they built.
I think that it would easy for them to remain ignorant. They didn’t know the land. They were from Jerusalem. Mecca is 1,000 miles from Jerusalem This is a 15 hour drive. To Yemen, close to where Lehi’s family might have changed directions (perhaps Nehor) – it is a 1,500 mile journey. And then from the possible location of Nehor to the possible location of Bountiful is about 950 miles or so. (Depending on the route they took, of course).
I know that all of this is speculative. But follow me for a second. They were more than a thousand miles away from their home! I haven’t really taken the time to appreciate this fact. They didn’t know the area. They didn’t truly understand the danger. And if Heavenly Father had allowed them to cook their food while performing a miracle of keeping them safe then they might not have understood the danger they were in. Maybe they would have arrived to the Promised Land and naively thought that they did it themselves even though God was protecting them. They could have naively thought that they directed their own path, found and cooked their own food, and that they didn’t really need the Lord to deliver them. They never would have been aware of the danger.
It seems like they still weren’t super aware of the danger (if they are, then Nephi doesn’t share it in the record that we have).
So the Lord, through the commandment He gave (not to have fires) and the miracles He performed (cooking their food and being a light in the desert) Both kept them safe and gave them an experience that kept them reliant on Him and strengthened their testimony in Him.
“Wherefore, I, Nephi, did strive to keep the commandments of the Lord, and I did exhort my brethren to faithfulness and diligence.” – 1 Nephi 17:15
Because of this commandment, challenge, and miracle – Nephi was motivated to strive to keep the commandments of God. He also was able to convince his brothers to do the same. They needed God. They needed God’s miracles. So they needed to obey.
Wrapping this up.
I think that the Lord does the same things in our lives. He gives us commandments that seem strange – maybe counterintuitive. He gives us commandments that seem harder than another more obvious option. And, during the trial, when we keep His commandments, we are blessed, but we are also still challenged. They often require faith.
I mean, think about Nephi and his family. I assume it was an act of faith to bite into a raw steak. I think that his family probably looked forward to cooking their food later on. Think about the children of Israel. Every night, they went to sleep wondering, would it still rain Manna tomorrow?
Even when we’re keeping the commandments, and we are being blessed, faith is required during the trial!
I have experienced this in my own life, and this scripture actually gives me great comfort. I have tried to follow the commandments I have received from God (the promptings, the impressions, etc), even when it seems counterintuitive. Even when, at times, I’ve been criticized by others.
Recently, I had this experience, defending why I was making certain decisions. In explaining this, I realized, If I really want to succeed, then I must do this the Lord’s way. What good is it to achieve my goal if at the end, I lose my faith in God. What good is it to achieve my goal if I then am filled with naivete and pride – thinking that I did this myself? If I do this the Lord’s way, then not only will I achieve my goal, but I will do it in a way that my soul stays intact.
So – I think that this is why the Lord commanded Nephi and his family not to make fire. What good would it have been if they made it to the promised land, but forgot God in the process? By experiencing this commandment, the trial that it gave them, and the miracle that ensued because of their faith, Nephi and his family were able to make it to the promised land safely, and also knowing that God led them safely to deliverance.