1 Nephi Chapter 16


thekabalist

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Here's chapter 16. I was a bit tired today but I still hope you like it despite my shortcomings.

1 And now it came to pass that after I, Nephi, had made an end of speaking to my brethren, behold they said unto me: Thou hast declared unto us hard things, more than we are able to bear.

Hard things: The Hebrew term for hard is קשה (kasheh) can not only mean severe but also something that is rather cruel or unfair. When we combine this with the rest of their sentence that it was more than they could bear it becomes evident that they felt that they were questioning G-d’s justice.

2 And it came to pass that I said unto them that I knew that I had spoken hard things against the wicked, according to the truth; and the righteous have I justified, and testified that they should be lifted up at the last day; wherefore, the guilty taketh the truth to be hard, for it cutteth them to the very center.

3 And now my brethren, if ye were righteous and were willing to hearken to the truth, and give heed unto it, that ye might walk uprightly before God, then ye would not murmur because of the truth, and say: Thou speakest hard things against us.

Cutting to the very center: Nephi says that truth takes the guilt and cuts it to the very center. What does he mean with such an expression? We must still bear in mind the olive tree imagery that was being used by Nephi up until this point.

This imagery is interesting because the Israelites were forbidden of consuming certain kinds of food especially when it came from the mixing with heathen nations. One of the prohibitions stated by the Mishnah and expounded upon by the Gemarah is the fact that if an olive tree belonged to a heathen then the Israelite was only allowed to eat the olive if the kernel didn’t fall from the rest of the olive without being cut.

Thus says the Gemarah:

“R. JOSE SAYS: THOSE OLIVES HAVING STONES READY TO DROP OUT [sHELAHIN] ARE PROHIBITED. What is to be understood by shelahin! — R. Jose b. Hanina said: Those olives whose kernels drop out as soon as one takes them in his hand.” (b. Avodah Zarah 40b)

Cutting to the kernel or to the center as Nephi puts it was a means to ensure that the olive hadn’t suffered any contamination from the inside. Therefore when Nephi uses such imagery he is saying that the truth will do exactly this: When those who are away from G-d hear the truth then the truth cuts through the kernel of the person in an attempt to separate that which is clean from that which is unclean. Just like what happens with the olives whose kernels drop out those who are wicked to their core immediately reveal themselves as such when in contact with the truth.

4 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, did exhort my brethren, with all diligence, to keep the commandments of the Lord.

5 And it came to pass that they did humble themselves before the Lord; insomuch that I had joy and great hopes of them, that they would walk in the paths of righteousness.

Great hopes: It is interesting to note that Nephi chooses to use the word “hopes” instead of the word “hope” when referring to his brothers. A possible hint as to why he would do that could come from the gematria of the word “hopes”. The numeric value of the word “hopes” (תקוות - tikvot) is 912. This is a very rare number that is also the numeric value of the word האשרות (haasherot). The term “asherah” was used to refer to the idol tree-poles which were greatly involved in the idolatry of Israel. Could it be that Nephi was trying to indicate that the reason he was unsure of their recovery was their previous involvement with idolatry?

6 Now, all these things were said and done as my father dwelt in a tent in the valley which he called Lemuel.

7 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, took one of the daughters of Ishmael to wife; and also, my brethren took of the daughters of Ishmael to wife; and also Zoram took the eldest daughter of Ishmael to wife.

The eldest daughter: Why did Nephi bother to tell us that Zoram took the eldest daughter of Ishmael? This appears to be an encrypted message.

We have already seen how name “Zoram” means “strange people” or “foreign people”. Now the term used for “eldest” is the Hebrew בכור (bechor). What is interesting is that the letter ב can also mean the preposition “in”. If we consider it as such we could read this as meaning “b’cur” which would mean “in the furnace”.

The name Ishmael also has a special meaning which is “G-d heard”. Now considering the expression “to wife” in Hebrew would be something like “unto him wife”, we have Nephi’s encrypted message revealed:

G-d would hear and take unto him his wife which was like a strange people in the furnace. This is way too much in like with Nephi’s message to be coincidental.

8 And thus my father had fulfilled all the commandments of the Lord which had been given unto him. And also, I, Nephi, had been blessed of the Lord exceedingly.

9 And it came to pass that the voice of the Lord spake unto my father by night, and commanded him that on the morrow he should take his journey into the wilderness.

Journeying on the morrow: Why did the heavenly voice tell Lehi to travel the following day? Why not ask him to travel by night?

In ancient Israelite culture the idea of travelling by night was that one was fleeing a place like a fugitive. It was seen as either a sign of desperation or a sign of being put out of a land. The Zohar says the following about this:

“He asks: Why did they travel day and night? Let them walk by day, and not by night like people who are fleeing. “ (Zohar Beshalach 4:53)

Now consider this: Jerusalem was on the verge of being sieged and soon the people would have to flee from it by day and by night and travelling by night would symbolically mean that they were being driven from the land given their sin. So when the heavenly voice tells Lehi to travel on the morrow it means that Lehi was leaving with his head held high because he was actually being spared for his obedience.

10 And it came to pass that as my father arose in the morning, and went forth to the tent door, to his great astonishment he beheld upon the ground a round ball of curious workmanship; and it was of fine brass. And within the ball were two spindles; and the one pointed the way whither we should go into the wilderness.

The brass ball: What’s the spiritual meaning of this object being made like a brass ball?

First let us examine the reason for the shape of the object. In ancient Judaism the shape of the ball meant hardships in a peregrination. Because the ball was tossed in many directions. Prophet Isaiah demonstrates this idea

“Behold, the LORD will carry thee away with a mighty captivity, and will surely cover thee. He will surely violently turn and toss thee like a ball into a large country: there shalt thou die, and there the chariots of thy glory shall be the shame of thy lord's house.” (Isaiah 22:17-18)

But why would the ball be made of brass? Again in ancient Judaism the brass was a color that was connected with nourishment. The Zohar says the following:

“In the Book of King Solomon there are high secrets concerning the brass altar as we said. About the earthen altar it is written: "An altar of earth you shall make to Me". This is a regular secret, which is Malchut. When other mountains dominate and Malchut has to nourish them, She becomes colored in this color of brass in order to nourish them. For then Malchut is called ‘the brass altar’ and they are called 'brass mountains'.” (Zohar Terumah 24:237)

So when G-d reveals unto them a “brass ball” they would have understood this as symbolically representing the fact that even though their peregrination would be harsh that they could trust that G-d would sustain and nourish them.

11 And it came to pass that we did gather together whatsoever things we should carry into the wilderness, and all the remainder of our provisions which the Lord had given unto us; and we did take seed of every kind that we might carry into the wilderness.

Why did Nephi mention the seed of every kind separately from the other things? This is not unintentional. As we have already seen the Hebrew word for seed is זרע (zerah) and it can also mean offspring. The verb to seed is לזרוע (liz’roah) also means to scatter. So when Nephi mentions bringing the seed “into the wilderness” he is saying that he knew that his offspring would be scattered.

12 And it came to pass that we did take our tents and depart into the wilderness, across the river Laman.

13 And it came to pass that we traveled for the space of four days, nearly a south-southeast direction, and we did pitch our tents again; and we did call the name of the place Shazer.

We have already seen that the number 4 is very relevant in Jewish thought because it refers to the day in which G-d created the lights that governed the appointed time. So when Nephi says that they traveled for 4 days it means that they traveled during the time appointed by G-d unto them.

Name etymology: Shazer. This appears to derive from the verb לשזר (lish’zer) – notice that the first letter ל indicates the infinitive and is not part of the root. This verb means to interweave.

In the Torah when the people of israel traveled through the desert every stop has a deep spiritual meaning to it. The same can be assumed here. If we combine this with the verses immediately above we can see that Nephi was concerned that the scattering of his seed would come with the mixing with other nations. It is important to observe however that this isn’t xenophobia as Judaism has always accepted marriage with other people as long as they converted into the House of Israel. So this mixture here would likely mean a scenario without conversion which eventually would lead the people to idolatry.

14 And it came to pass that we did take our bows and our arrows, and go forth into the wilderness to slay food for our families; and after we had slain food for our families we did return again to our families in the wilderness, to the place of Shazer. And we did go forth again in the wilderness, following the same direction, keeping in the most fertile parts of the wilderness, which were in the borders near the Red Sea.

Bows and Arrows: Why did Nephi mention that they took their bows and arrows when they went hunting? Once again the answer could be the underlying Hebrew. The Hebrew word for bow is the word קשת (keshet) which can also be translated as hardship or severity. The imagery of an arrow in Israelite thought is that of something that enters and hurts the core. If we combine this with the previous verse we can see how the mixed multitude that would likely arise from Nephi’s brothers brought about hardships that pierced the family in its very heart.

Keeping on the fertile parts: The Hebrew word for fertile is the word פורה (poreh) which comes from the word פרי (pri) which means fruit. So Nephi was saying that he was keeping them on the fruitful side of the journey. This could be interpreted spiritually as meaning that as long as his brothers were following the lead of Nephi and his father they were able to produce good spiritual fruit. Once they strayed away they would become spiritually dry.

15 And it came to pass that we did travel for the space of many days, slaying food by the way, with our bows and our arrows and our stones and our slings.

Stones and slings: This also has a deep spiritual meaning. Ancient Kabbalah compares the rolling stone coming out of the sling as spiritual hollowness. The stone represents the word of G-d. When the word departs from someone what is left is hollowness:

“But if it does not so merit, a number of angels of destruction are directed against it, and push it outside. Woe to that soul that wanders in vain as a stone in the hollow of the sling. This is what was said: "and the souls of your enemies, them shall he sling out, as out of the hollow of a sling" (Zohar Pinchas 4:14_

So when Nephi refers to their stones and slings he is saying that his brethren would become spiritually empty once they abandoned the word of G-d.

16 And we did follow the directions of the ball, which led us in the more fertile parts of the wilderness.

17 And after we had traveled for the space of many days, we did pitch our tents for the space of a time, that we might again rest ourselves and obtain food for our families.

The space of a time: The Hebrew term for time is the word עת (et) which can mean “time” or “era”. It could be that Nephi is referring to the fact that there would come an era in which they would be spiritually stalled until the kingdom of G-d could again be advanced.

18 And it came to pass that as I, Nephi, went forth to slay food, behold, I did break my bow, which was made of fine steel; and after I did break my bow, behold, my brethren were angry with me because of the loss of my bow, for we did obtain no food.

Breaking the bow: We have already seen how the bow represented hardships. Now the word to break is the Hebrew word לשבור (lish’bor) which can also mean to quench or to appease. So we can here see Nephi in his priestly role. The idea that his brethren were upset with him “breaking the bow” could spiritually be understood as referring to the fact that they resented his role as an appeaser before G-d of His wrath that incurred upon them because of the sins of his brothers.

We can also understand breaking the bow as removing the might because Jeremiah 49:35 says:

“So said the Lord of Hosts: Behold I am breaking the bow of Elam, the chief of their might.”

To this Rashi interprets: “the bow of Elam: The might of Elam”

So we can also understand this as Nephi’s brethren seeing Nephi as a hindrance to their own power. As we can see there are many layers of deep spiritual meaning to the words of Nephi

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.

Murmuring: It is relevant that Nephi uses the word “murmur” seven times in this chapter. Seven is a very important number in Judaism because it means completeness especially completeness of a time cycle. So when Nephi uses the word “murmur” seven times he is implying that his brethren murmured against G-d during the entire journey.

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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.

23 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, did make out of wood a bow, and out of a straight stick, an arrow; wherefore, I did arm myself with a bow and an arrow, with a sling and with stones. And I said unto my father: Whither shall I go to obtain food?

Wood: Again we see Nephi making use of ancient Israelite imagery. In ancient Kabbalah the wood was symbolic of a righteous priest. The Zohar says the following:

“The wood is the wood of Abraham, namely chassadim drawn from the right column, called ‘Abraham’, as written: "And the priest shall burn wood on it every morning," the priest being a man of chesed [lovingkindness].” (Zohar Tzav 10:76)

You can see Nephi saying that he would take upon himself all those symbols of the hardship and emptiness of not following G-d which is exactly what you would expect a priest to do.

24 And it came to pass that he did inquire of the Lord, for they had humbled themselves because of my words; for I did say many things unto them in the energy of my soul.

25 And it came to pass that the voice of the Lord came unto my father; and he was truly chastened because of his murmuring against the Lord, insomuch that he was brought down into the depths of sorrow.

Depths of sorrow: The Hebrew word for depth is the word עומק (omek) which also has an idea of inscrutability. So Nephi is saying that his father’s sorrow could not be measured. It is also important because the word depth has the gematria of 216.

Some Christians associate this with the Christian number of the beast. After all 216 is 6x6x6. If such assessment is true then it could be that Lehi was desperate in his realization that his very own sons would be following the wicked assembly.

26 And it came to pass that the voice of the Lord said unto him: Look upon the ball, and behold the things which are written.

27 And it came to pass that when my father beheld the things which were written upon the ball, he did fear and tremble exceedingly, and also my brethren and the sons of Ishmael and our wives.

28 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, beheld the pointers which were in the ball, that they did work according to the faith and diligence and heed which we did give unto them.

29 And there was also written upon them a new writing, which was plain to be read, which did give us understanding concerning the ways of the Lord; and it was written and changed from time to time, according to the faith and diligence which we gave unto it. And thus we see that by small means the Lord can bring about great things.

This appears to be similar to the Urim and Thummim. The method with which a message appeared in the Urim and then was likely explained or illuminated by the Thummim is explained in the Aramaic Targum called Pseudo-Jonathan to Exodus 28:30:

“And thou shalt put upon the breastplate of judgment the Uraia, which illuminate their words, and manifest the hidden things of the house of Israel, and the Tumaia, which fulfil (or perfect) their work to the high priest, who seeketh instruction by them before the Lord; because in them is engraven and expressed the Great and Holy Name by which were created the three hundred and ten worlds, and which was engraven and expressed in the foundation stone wherewith the Lord of the world sealed up the mouth of the great deep at the beginning.”

30 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, did go forth up into the top of the mountain, according to the directions which were given upon the ball.

31 And it came to pass that I did slay wild beasts, insomuch that I did obtain food for our families.

32 And it came to pass that I did return to our tents, bearing the beasts which I had slain; and now when they beheld that I had obtained food, how great was their joy! And it came to pass that they did humble themselves before the Lord, and did give thanks unto him.

Wild beasts: The Hebrew term for beasts would be בהמות (behemot) which is also the Hebrew form of the name Behemoth. What is important about this is that there is an ancient Israelite tradition which says that the Behemoth was a creature that could only be hunted by the righteous as it was destined to become their feast. Could it be that Nephi is talking about a miracle here? Could it be that G-d fed them with a Behemoth? This would be in line with Israelite tradition.

Psalm 50:10 says:

“For all the beasts of the forest are Mine, the behemoth of the thousand mountains.”

Rashi comments this by saying: “the behemoth of the thousand mountains: That is (the bull) destined for the future feast [of the righteous], which grazes on a thousand mountains daily, and every day they grow back.”

33 And it came to pass that we did again take our journey, traveling nearly the same course as in the beginning; and after we had traveled for the space of many days we did pitch our tents again, that we might tarry for the space of a time.

34 And it came to pass that Ishmael died, and was buried in the place which was called Nahom.

35 And it came to pass that the daughters of Ishmael did mourn exceedingly, because of the loss of their father, and because of their afflictions in the wilderness; and they did murmur against my father, because he had brought them out of the land of Jerusalem, saying: Our father is dead; yea, and we have wandered much in the wilderness, and we have suffered much affliction, hunger, thirst, and fatigue; and after all these sufferings we must perish in the wilderness with hunger.

36 And thus they did murmur against my father, and also against me; and they were desirous to return again to Jerusalem.

Name etymology: The name Nahom would come from the Hebrew נחום which is the exact same spelling of the name of the prophet Nahum as in Hebrew the letter ו may sound like a “u” or like an “o”. This word literally means “consolation”.

Nephi makes a word-play here. Ishmael gets buried in Nahom which means consolation. After that Ishmael’s daughters begin their cry. The name Ishmael as we said means “G-d hears”. So “G-d hears” dies and is left behind at “consolation”. So the daughters of Ishmael begin to act as if G-d no longer hears (notice their mention of their afflictions) and thus become inconsolable. This word-play points to an evident underlying Hebrew thinking.

37 And Laman said unto Lemuel and also unto the sons of Ishmael: Behold, let us slay our father, and also our brother Nephi, who has taken it upon him to be our ruler and our teacher, who are his elder brethren.

38 Now, he says that the Lord has talked with him, and also that angels have ministered unto him. But behold, we know that he lies unto us; and he tells us these things, and he worketh many things by his cunning arts, that he may deceive our eyes, thinking, perhaps, that he may lead us away into some strange wilderness; and after he has led us away, he has thought to make himself a king and a ruler over us, that he may do with us according to his will and pleasure. And after this manner did my brother Laman stir up their hearts to anger.

39 And it came to pass that the Lord was with us, yea, even the voice of the Lord came and did speak many words unto them, and did chasten them exceedingly; and after they were chastened by the voice of the Lord they did turn away their anger, and did repent of their sins, insomuch that the Lord did bless us again with food, that we did not perish.

How could Laman and Lemuel plot to kill their own brother and father? What kind of twisted morals did they possess to even think of such an attempt.

Ancient Israelite folk tradition still believed that other peoples could make wonders through the use of magic incantations. The accusation of practicing cunning arts was directly tied to an accusation of idol worshipping and thus was very serious. The Talmud gives an example of this:

“One day while [R. Joshua] was reciting the Shema', he came before him. His intention was to receive him and he made a sign to him with his hand, but the disciple thought he was repelling him. So he went and set up a brick and worshipped it. [R. Joshua] said to him, 'Repent'; but he answered him, 'Thus have I received from thee that whoever sinned and caused others to sin is deprived of the power of doing penitence'. A Master has said: The disciple practised magic and led Israel astray.” (b. Sotah 47a)

The practice of idol worshipping or of consulting with heathen gods in order to make magic required a death penalty according to the Torah-law of G-d. So this accusation was the pretext that they found so that they could believe that they weren’t actually practicing murder.

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Here's chapter 16. I was a bit tired today but I still hope you like it despite my shortcomings.

1 And now it came to pass that after I, Nephi, had made an end of speaking to my brethren, behold they said unto me: Thou hast declared unto us hard things, more than we are able to bear.

Hard things: The Hebrew term for hard is קשה (kasheh) can not only mean severe but also something that is rather cruel or unfair. When we combine this with the rest of their sentence that it was more than they could bear it becomes evident that they felt that they were questioning G-d’s justice.

2 And it came to pass that I said unto them that I knew that I had spoken hard things against the wicked, according to the truth; and the righteous have I justified, and testified that they should be lifted up at the last day; wherefore, the guilty taketh the truth to be hard, for it cutteth them to the very center.

3 And now my brethren, if ye were righteous and were willing to hearken to the truth, and give heed unto it, that ye might walk uprightly before God, then ye would not murmur because of the truth, and say: Thou speakest hard things against us.

Cutting to the very center: Nephi says that truth takes the guilt and cuts it to the very center. What does he mean with such an expression? We must still bear in mind the olive tree imagery that was being used by Nephi up until this point.

This imagery is interesting because the Israelites were forbidden of consuming certain kinds of food especially when it came from the mixing with heathen nations. One of the prohibitions stated by the Mishnah and expounded upon by the Gemarah is the fact that if an olive tree belonged to a heathen then the Israelite was only allowed to eat the olive if the kernel didn’t fall from the rest of the olive without being cut.

Thus says the Gemarah:

“R. JOSE SAYS: THOSE OLIVES HAVING STONES READY TO DROP OUT [sHELAHIN] ARE PROHIBITED. What is to be understood by shelahin! — R. Jose b. Hanina said: Those olives whose kernels drop out as soon as one takes them in his hand.” (b. Avodah Zarah 40b)

Cutting to the kernel or to the center as Nephi puts it was a means to ensure that the olive hadn’t suffered any contamination from the inside. Therefore when Nephi uses such imagery he is saying that the truth will do exactly this: When those who are away from G-d hear the truth then the truth cuts through the kernel of the person in an attempt to separate that which is clean from that which is unclean. Just like what happens with the olives whose kernels drop out those who are wicked to their core immediately reveal themselves as such when in contact with the truth.

Hey thekabalist. Thanks for doing this. You are probably very busy, so we appreciate you taking the time for this, even when you are tired. It is excellent commentary.

I did not know where "cutteth [them] to the very center" came from. I thought the context that you provided was very interesting and made a lot of sense. I did a quick search in our scriptures for "to the center" and I found the following references. I would be interested on your take on them.

Yea, by the power of his voice, do the foundations rock, even to the very center. (Hel. 12:12)

And it came to pass that while they were thus conversing one with another, they heard a voice as if it came out of heaven; and they cast their eyes round about, for they understood not the voice which they heard; and it was not a harsh voice, neither was it a loud voice; nevertheless, and notwithstanding it being a small voice it did pierce them that did hear to the center, insomuch that there was no part of their frame that it did not cause to quake; yea, it did pierce them to the very soul, and did cause their hearts to burn. (3 Ne. 11:3)

But it is they who do not fear me, neither keep my commandments but build up churches unto themselves to get gain, yea, and all those that do wickedly and build up the kingdom of the devil—yea, verily, verily, I say unto you, that it is they that I will disturb, and cause to tremble and shake to the center. (D&C 10:56)

The first two are from the Book of Mormon, and the last one is from our Doctrine and Covenants, but it tends to use the phrase in a similar fashion. What is your take on those other uses of similar phrases?

Regards,

Vanhin

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