You can read 1 Nephi 18:1-4 here.
Context and General Information
- Laman and Lemuel worship the Lord. They also help Nephi with building the boat.
- The ship was not worked “after the manner of men,” but Nephi built the boat in the way that God instructed him.
- Nephi went to the mount often to pray. The Lord showed him great things.
- When they were finished building the ship – according to the word of the Lord – they all beheld that it was good, the workmanship was fine. And they were all humbled before the Lord.
It Was Not After the Manner of Men
In the past, I haven’t usually cared much about Nephi’s boat – how was it built? How did it get across the ocean? etc. I have always figured that if we needed to understand certain specificities, then Nephi would have included that information.
However, there is some information that he included:
“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.” – 1 Nephi 18:2
We don’t know what kind of boat that Nephi built, but what we do know is that it was not built after the manner of men. The Lord showed him how to do it.
So let’s think about Nephi. He had been traveling in the wilderness for years. He made it to Bountiful. He had received instruction to build a boat. He made bellows and started making tools (this probably took a few months – to kill an animal, prepare the hide, make tools, etc.) So much of what Nephi had experienced in the wilderness was new – including this situation – building a boat.
And I would imagine that Nephi hadn’t really seen anything like this before. Yes, he had travelled along the shores of the Red Sea, but they knew that it was the Red Sea. They knew that on the other side of the Red Sea was Egypt and Africa. But by the time that they reached Bountiful, they were not on the Red Sea anymore. They called this “Irreantum,” which was “many waters.”
They were on the borders of the Arabian Sea, which is a part of the Indian Ocean. Many waters, indeed!
And now, Nephi has to build a boat. There is no real reason for us to think that he had ever built a boat before. The boats used on inland seas (the Sea of Galilee, for example) were not quite the same as a boat that would have been needed to cross the ocean.
The Phoenicians were known for sailing and voyaging, they had better ships that could withstand more, but still, they primarily were in the waters of the Mediterranean Sea (as far as I know).
And how familiar would Nephi really be with those types of boats? They would probably be a faint memory. I mean, we know that Nephi was very young (nevertheless large in stature), when he left Jerusalem. So what did he really know about boats? What was his concept of a boat or a ship? I can’t imagine.
And then he gets the assignment to build a boat.
Nephi has full confidence in the Lord, and he begins to follow his instructions – and all he really shares with us is that this boat was “not after the manner of men.”
Okay…so the real thing that I want to think about is how often we face this in our lives. And are we as humble or faithful to accept God’s way of doing things – rather than our way or the way of those around us?
In late 2006, I was a young (divorced) single mother of two. I had been dating people off and on. I had a desire to be married again, but I wasn’t going to rush into anything – so I was just kind of doing my best without putting it all into my own hands (does that make sense).
Anyway, one day I was meeting with my Bishop, and he had a suggestion for me – that I “give the Lord something to work with, and go online.” It was not the suggestion that I was expecting, and I wasn’t really all that quick to follow it.
In a way, I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. Why go online? Why not meet someone the normal way – in person?!?!
But a few days later, I felt a prompting, just to obey for obedience sake.
What followed was my meeting this guy online. He didn’t live in my state. I didn’t actually think anything of it. I didn’t think that we would really get into any kind of relationship. I just read his blog and thought it was funny.
But one email led to another. Which led to another. Which eventually led to phone calls and falling in love. In fact, I fell in love with him before I ever met him.
We met. We got engaged. We got married. And now we’ve been married for 11 years, he adopted my two daughters and then we’ve had two more children.
The thing is, this didn’t happen a “normal” or “conventional” way. The Lord helped me through my problems in his own way…it was “curious workmanship,” for sure.
But this experience taught me something – we can trust the Lord. He will instruct us better than our own wisdom, experiences, or instinct. He sees the end from the beginning.
When I first met Homey (my husband) online, he was really cool, and I remember thinking – this is better than what I would have come up with for myself!. He really was.
And now, 11 years later, I can say the same thing even more emphatically. I have seen how wise the Lord was in letting us meet and bringing us together. I can see how wise the Lord was in letting us meet in such an unconventional way. It has been a strength and blessing for our marriage and lives.
Homey and I met online, fell in love through phone calls and emails in a matter of only two months, and then finally met, got engaged, married, and I moved cross-country within six months for my first email to him. This was not after the manner of men. Yes – there were times we had concerns. But throughout, the Lord guided us and comforted us. The Spirit does not bear false witness, so we could trust the comfort and guidance that He gave to us.
I hate to think what would have happened if I had insisted on doing things a more conventional way. I hate to think what would have happened if I insisted that the Lord did not work a “curious workmanship” in my life that was “not after the manner of men.”
If Nephi had insisted on building a boat in a way that was more familiar to him, no doubt it would have sunk; they wouldn’t have made it to the promised land.
Go To The Mount Oft and Pray
How does this work, though? How do we allow the Lord to work a “curious workmanship” in our own lives?
Well, Nephi gives the answer in his example:
“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.” – 1 Nephi 18:3
Nephi didn’t have the answers to building this boat. He didn’t have a blueprint. He had the spiritual guidance from the Lord, so he had to stay in a state that enabled him to receive such instruction. This was achieved through consistent and thoughtful prayer.
The Lord reveals to us line upon line, precept upon precept. It wouldn’t have been helpful for Nephi to receive every single step of the instructions to build a boat all at once. Nephi did step one, then he received instruction for step two. He did step two, went to the Lord, and received instruction for step three. And so on.
When we are allowing the Lord to work a “curious workmanship” in our lives, we don’t need to get frustrated by the need for constant counsel with God. We don’t need to be frustrated that we don’t know every step. Though it is hard (faith building!) to receive only one step at a time – or to only have the path before us dimly lit – we can do it. We don’t need to see the end from the beginning because we have a God who does see the end from the beginning!
Oh – and another thing. We don’t need to get frustrated with ourselves when we aren’t “successful” after completing the first “step.” We don’t need to think we are making mistakes or lacking faith. We don’t need to think that if we were more faithful, then we would simply be successful right away.
Building the boat was a process. When they finished the boat – it wasn’t because they were finally being faithful for that very last step. All of the instructions and steps leading up to the finishing of the boat weren’t mistakes. It’s not like if they only had more faith, then they would have been able to make the ship in one step in a day.
Often, the “curious workmanship” in our own lives takes on a similar process. Yes we need to be faithful, but faith is what takes us through every step – not only the final step. Instead of getting bogged down when we have to go back up the “mount” to pray for more guidance, we can rest assured that we are on the right path…we just have to keep on keeping on.
We can take comfort in those metaphorical (or maybe even literal) trips to the tops of the mountains – to the trips to the temple – to the trips that take us to our knees so we can be counseled by God and shown great things.
There is so much more that can be considered in these scriptures, but I need to wrap it up right now.
What Nephi did – building a boat not after the manner of men – was pretty hard. But he did it. He didn’t rely on his own genius. He just relied on his own determination to do as the Lord instructed. We know that it worked! We know that Nephi built a boat and when it was finished, everyone saw that it was good! We know that this boat delivered them to the promised land.
Our lives can be hard, too. We may not be building boats, but we often have times in our own lives where we have to put our full trust in the Lord as he directs us to do something that may seem highly unusual. But, like Nephi, when we put our trust in the Lord, we will find comfort and eventual deliverance.