1 Nephi 16:19-22 — LeGrand Baker — “they did suffer much for the want of food”

1 Nephi 16:19-22 

19 And it came to pass that we did return without food to our families, and being much fatigued, because of their journeying, they did suffer much for the want of food.
20 And it came to pass that Laman and Lemuel and the sons of Ishmael did begin to murmur exceedingly, because of their sufferings and afflictions in the wilderness; and also my father began to murmur against the Lord his God; yea, and they were all exceedingly sorrowful, even that they did murmur against the Lord.
21 Now it came to pass that I, Nephi, having been afflicted with my brethren because of the loss of my bow, and their bows having lost their springs, it began to be exceedingly difficult, yea, insomuch that we could obtain no food.
22 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, did speak much unto my brethren, because they had hardened their hearts again, even unto complaining against the Lord their God.

Writing an autobiography is an exceedingly difficult task. When we begin, there is a tangle of motives and perspectives with which he must deal. Some people write to “set the record straight,” to tell one’s own story, to show how things came to be—but always from hindsight, knowing how the story ends. It is also a daunting task. If we are honest, if we do not deliberately seek to portray ourselves as something we are not, writing can be a soul-wrenching experience, as we remove the facades and expose our inner Self for everyone to see. Nephi’s task was complicated beyond that because what he was writing was autobiographical but not actually an autobiography. He and his family spent eight years on a trail that could have taken them as little as four months. The Hiltons have calculated,

It is 2,156 miles from Jerusalem to Dollar, Oman/Bountiful. This is less than a four-month journey. Lehi’s group took eight years to do it. Where were they camped for the seven years and eight months that remained?{1}

No doubt, Lehi and his family had spent most of that time either in camp or among the people who lived in the cities, but Nephi tells us almost nothing about those times. His intent was only to write “the things of God” (1 Nephi 6:3-6, 2 Nephi 5:29-34). He does that by avoiding the events that do not give context to the principles he wishes to teach. Notwithstanding his care in doing that, we are often inclined to read First Nephi as a travel narrative, rather than a doctrinal essay.

Nephi was a prophet who had been commissioned by God to write holy scripture. He knew that, as do we, but it is easy for his readers to lose sight of his intent when we come across stories like this one about the discontent of his brothers and brothers-in-law, and even the discouragement of his father. He seems to be making himself the hero of his own story when he writes, “I, Nephi, did speak much unto my brethren,” but those words can more accurately be read as an abbreviated memory of his intense sorrow and frustration. The Lord had promised him that his posterity would inhabit a new world. The conclusion of the journey was not the issue because, in his mind at least, it was not in doubt. What was in doubt was the salvation of his brothers’ souls through the exercise of their agency. The issue was whether they world obey God and be blessed accordingly.


{1} Lynn M. Hilton and Hope A. Hilton, Discovering Lehi (Springville, Ut., Cedar Fort, Incorporated, 1969), 32.

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