Category Archives: Temple

Nephi and the Ship: A type of the Atonement and the Temple

Who doesn’t love Nephi? Artist Arnold Friberg captures the moment of Lehi’s family finally reaching the promised land in rich and sincere detail. Observe Sariah in particular. Imagine how relieved she must have felt to finally, as she might have put it, “get a move on”. 🙂 (Well, that’s what my mom would’ve said, anyway!)

Yet at the same time, doesn’t this moment register as strange to anyone? I mean, what a way to start a book! “Let’s build a wooden ship (in 600 B.C., mind you) to sail across the harsh Pacific waters in hopes of a better land, despite all the gold, precious silver, and other riches in great abundance at home.” Can’t you kind of see why Laman and Lemuel complained so much? I mean, yeah, they had freezing cold hearts and equally as cold intentions, but if you take the synopsis of the first book of Nephi and really condense it, doesn’t it sound sort of…strange? No? Hmmm…well, OK, maybe it’s just me.

But if by chance you do find this opening act a little tough to follow, perhaps we can look at a few concepts that will bring this first and perhaps most significant chapter in the Book of Mormon to greater light.

Remember when God, in his righteous indignation, sent down a great flood (oh, to be a weatherman in those days!) that literally encompassed the whole earth? What was the water itself specifically symbolic of? It is clear that water, in many scriptural instances, is symbolic of the judgments of God. Take Moses and the Read Sea for example (Exodus 14:21+22). God withheld his judgements from Moses and the children of Israel, but as soon as the Egyptians came in after them? SWOOSH! You’ve just been judged. Hardcore.

So isn’t that essentially the same thing God did in Genesis 7? Sure! God exercised his judgment with the flood, and reiterates this fact in Moses 7:32-45.

Let’s stay on the topic of Noah and his more than incredible ark. If the water represents God’s judgments, what does the ark represent? Or rather, what is the only way we can be saved from the judgments of God? While the first principles and ordinances of the gospel are important, one cannot hope to get there without the atonement. The atonement is typified in the ark, bringing Noah’s family safely across the waters of God’s judgment.

But Lehi and his family are also crossing a big sea by boat. Aha! See, this is where it all comes together. This isn’t just a story about building boats from some celestial blueprint and crossing the unfathomably deep, dark, and cold Atlantic waters (which they knew nothing about) to some unknown body of land. This is another tender reminder that Christ’s atonement is all encompassing and eternal. Nephi typifies Christ in his construction of the boat (and in many other aspects of his life! We’ll do a separate study on that!), which was meant to carry his family to safety and rescue them from the judgments of God. And truly, only a boat could’ve ensured safe passage across the sea. So could only the merciful atonement meet the demands of justice. As we sing in one of my favorite hymns, “Jesus, Savior, Pilot Me” (Hymn 104), Christ is our “wonderful sovereign of the sea”.

But there’s even a little more symbolism! Most modern temples around the world face east, just like Biblical times, because the saints, from the beginning of time, have always been westward. So it was with Lehi and his family. After the boat was constructed, it set sail from the east to the west. Truly, we could even compare that ship to the temple, which saves families and carries them to the promised land.

Comments? Insights? I’d love to hear them! Enjoy the rest of your Sabbath 🙂


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