I have read these two chapters (16 & 17) over and over again. I think they are critical chapters. In them, Nephi’s testimony is strengthened and Laman and Lemuel’s testimonies are revealed to be very weak and shallow. I think these two chapters are defining chapters in the history of Nephi and his brothers.
After Nephi received the great vision of the Tree of Life, his faith was tested once again. This time, he was tested physically and spiritually. Physical suffering led to spiritual growth. His bow broke and his brother’s bows had lost their spring and they could not use them to hunt animals. Consequently, the entire family suffered hunger and pain. The whole family, including Lehi, began to complain to the Lord. Nephi rises above all the complaining and speaks to his family and tells them to not complain. After exhorting them, he makes another bow and set of arrows. Nephi understood the patriarchal order and went to his father to ask him where he should hunt for food. By now, the Lord had chastised Lehi and he had humbled himself. In fact, the voice of the Lord had come and spoken to them all and chastised them for murmuring. They were instructed to look on the Liahona, whereupon Nephi found where he should find food for his family. Nephi obeys and does indeed find food to feed his family.
How do we react to tough times in our lives? Do we shrink and murmur about our station in life or do we stand tall and strong and face our challenges like Nephi did? Nephi must have felt bad about breaking his bow. He suffered hunger just like the rest of the family, but he chose not to complain. He controlled his feelings and stood stalwart and faced the challenge. The Lord knew that they were going to be fed. He knew that they would not die. He wanted to test them, to test their faith in Him. Nephi was the only one who passed the quiz.
Just another little note from this chapter; the voice of the Lord came to them two times in this chapter alone! And when His voice came, it was not to give them a wonderful revelation or comforting words. It came to chastise them for not being humble and for sinning. They did not want to learn what the Lord wanted them to learn and consequently, the Lord had to speak to them directly in order for them to understand. How often do we have to be chastised with verbal reprehension? Are we not sufficiently humble to seek what the Lord wants us to learn?
The Liahona is a curious thing to think about. Why did the Lord give them the Liahona? They seemed to be getting along fine without the compass. I personally tend to think that Lord gave them the Liahona for two reasons. First, He foresaw that they would be entering a difficult stretch of their journey and they needed direct guidance from the Lord. Since the Lord is an efficient engineer of souls, he made the compass to not only guide the family, but he made it so that the ball only worked according to their faith. Secondly, I think that the Liahona was given to the family for the benefit of Laban and Lemuel. The Lord had sent an angel to warn them, he had spoken directly to them and He spoke through Nephi to them. They were given many chances to believe. And now the Lord was giving them yet another more visible reason to believe in Him. Essentially the family did not have to trust in the Lord and then hope that their feet would lead them to the promised land. Rather, if they exercised their faith, the compass would actually show then in no uncertain terms where they should take their journey.