Evidence #364 | August 15, 2022

Tabernacle, Ship, and Nephi

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Scripture Central


Nephi’s account of building a ship under the Lord’s direction shows him to be a prophet like Moses.

The figure of Moses greatly influenced subsequent prophets in ancient Israel and how they were perceived by their contemporaries. According to Yair Zakovitch, “The imprint of the Exodus on biblical historiography is secured by the many covert allusions to it within the Bible. These ‘quiet’ references lurk in accounts of other events, which were fashioned on the literary pattern of the Exodus, and in the biographies of biblical characters which were modeled after Moses.”1

Although biblical writers may sometimes explicitly mention the prophet of the Exodus by name, they are usually more subtle. As Dale Alison notes, “most of the typological features remain covert” and the narrator of the text assumes that we the readers possess “a far-reaching knowledge of Scripture or tradition and so leave it to us to descry the implicit: there is no exhibition of the obvious.”2 Noel Reynolds, David Seely, and Terrence Szink have shown how such subtlety is also found in Book of Mormon accounts of Nephite prophets who are presented as being leaders like Moses.3 One example of this pattern can be found in Nephi’s account of building a ship.

Prophet on the Mountain

In the Exodus account, the Lord commanded Moses, “Come up to me in the mount and be there” (Exodus 24:12), after which “Moses went up into the mount” (v. 15). Similarly, when Nephi’s family was camped at Bountiful by the sea, the Lord commanded him to “Arise and get thee into the mountain. And it came to pass that I arose and went up into the mountain” (1 Nephi 17:7).

A view along the shore of Khor Kharfot, showing a prominent peak that may have been the mountain where Nephi prayed. Photo by Warren Aston.

Divine Pattern Revealed

When Moses was on the mountain, the Lord commanded him to build a sanctuary “according to all that I shew thee, after the pattern of the tabernacle, and the pattern of the instruments thereof, even so shall ye make it” (Exodus 25:9). The Lord later declared, “And thou shalt rear up the tabernacle according to the fashion thereof which was shewed thee in the mount” (Exodus 26:30).

When Nephi was on the mountain, the Lord commanded him to build a ship, telling him, “Thou shalt construct a ship after the manner which I shall show thee” (1 Nephi 17:8). Nephi also affirms that “the Lord did show unto me from time to time after what manner I should work the timbers of the ship” (1 Nephi 18:1). He further explains that he “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” (1 Nephi 18:2). It is noteworthy that, in contrast to Moses who employed skilled workmen endowed with divine wisdom to fashion furniture for the tabernacle, it is Nephi himself to whom the Lord grants knowledge and understanding for the construction of the ship.

Filled with the Spirit of God

The Lord blessed Bezaleel, the chief craftsman in the Exodus account, and “filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship” (Exodus 31:3; 35:31). When Nephi’s brothers questioned his ability to build a ship, the Lord likewise filled Nephi with “the Spirit of God” (1 Nephi 17:47). The account repeatedly draws attention to Nephi being filled with spiritual power and divine understanding, demonstrating that the ship was ultimately crafted by the power of God and not man.

Nephi, being filled with the Spirit, shocks Laman and Lemuel. Image via churchofjesuschrist.org. 

Others Inspired to Help with the Work

In Exodus, other Israelites were divinely moved upon and inspired to contribute and assist in doing the work of building the tabernacle. It speaks of “Aholiab and every wise hearted man in whose heart the Lord had put wisdom, even everyone whose heart stirred him up to come unto the work to do it” (Exodus 36:2). After Nephi’s brothers were “wrought upon” by the “Spirit of God” (1 Nephi 17:52), they humbled themselves “and did go forth with me and did work the timbers” (1 Nephi 18:1).

The Work is Very Good

Both the Exodus story and Nephi’s account make note of the nature of the work that was done under divine direction. The inspired craftsmen in Exodus are described as “cunning workmen” who “devise cunning work” (Exodus 35:35). This involved the “carving of timber, to work in all manner of workmanship” (Exodus 31:5). They did “devise curious works, to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass, and in the cutting of stones, to set them, and in carving of wood, to make any manner of cunning work” (Exodus 35:32–33). Rather than describing something devious or strange, the words “cunning” and “curious” in this context mean that the ship was carefully crafted with great skill and quality.

Nephi’s ship did not require precious metals, but it did require divine direction in woodcraft. “And we did work timbers of curious workmanship” (1 Nephi 18:1). When the ship was completed, Nephi’s “brethren beheld that it was good, and that the workmanship thereof was exceedingly fine” (1 Nephi 18:4).

Lehi and his family sail to the promised land. Image via churchofjesuchrist.org. 

The People Obey and Look upon the Completed Work

Both accounts indicate that after obeying God’s instructions, the people approvingly looked upon what they had created. “According to all that the Lord commanded Moses, so the children of Israel made all the work. And Moses did look upon all the work, and behold, they had done it as the Lord had commanded, even so had they done it” (Exodus 39:42–43).

After the Lord revealed his divine pattern for the construction of the ship, Nephi states, “Wherefore, I Nephi, did strive to keep the commandments of the Lord” (1 Nephi 17:15). He further reports that his brothers “did go forth with me; and we did work timbers” and that “after I had finished the ship, according to the word of the Lord, my brethren beheld that it was good” (1 Nephi 18:2–4).


Nephi’s subtle allusions to the building of the tabernacle in the wilderness cast him in the role of a prophet like Moses in the construction of the ship which would bring his father’s colony into a new land of promise. These allusions to Moses and the tabernacle help demonstrate the Book of Mormon’s literary complexity and ancient Hebrew origins.

S. Kent Brown, “The Exodus Pattern in the Book of Mormon,” BYU Studies 30, no. 3 (Summer 1990): 111–126, reprinted in S. Kent Brown, From Jerusalem to Zarahemla: Literary and Historical Studies of the Book of Mormon (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1998), 75–98.

David R. Seely, “‘A Prophet Like Moses’: Deuteronomy 18:15–18 in the Book of Mormon, the Bible, and the Dead Sea Scrolls,” in “To Seek the Law of the Lord”: Essays in Honor of John W. Welch, ed. Paul Y. Hoskisson and Daniel C. Peterson (Orem, UT: Interpreter Foundation, 2017), 360–374. 

Noel B. Reynolds, “The Israelite Background of Moses Typology in the Book of Mormon,” BYU Studies 44, no. 2 (2005): 5–23. 

Noel B. Reynolds, “Lehi as Moses,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 9, no. 2 (2000): 26–35.

Alan Goff, “Boats, Beginnings, and Repetitions,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 1, no. 1 (1992): 67–84.

Terrence L. Szink, “Nephi and the Exodus,” in Rediscovering the Book of Mormon: Insights You May Have Missed Before, ed. John L. Sorenson and Melvin J. Thorne (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1991), 50–51.

Alan Goff, “Mourning, Consolation, and Repentance at Nahom,” in Rediscovering the Book of Mormon: Insights You May Have Missed Before, ed. John L. Sorenson and Melvin J. Thorne (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1991), 92–99.

George S. Tate, “The Typology of the Exodus Pattern in the Book of Mormon,” in Literature of Belief: Sacred Scripture and Religious Experience, ed. Neal E. Lambert (Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1981), 245–262.

BibleExodus 23:12Exodus 23:15Exodus 25:9Exodus 26:30Exodus 31:3Exodus 31:5Exodus 35:31Exodus 35:32-33Exodus 35:35Exodus 36:2Exodus 39:42–43Book of Mormon1 Nephi 17:71 Nephi 17:81 Nephi 17:151 Nephi 17:471 Nephi 18:11 Nephi 18:21 Nephi 18:4


Exodus 23:12

Exodus 23:15

Exodus 25:9

Exodus 26:30

Exodus 31:3

Exodus 31:5

Exodus 35:31

Exodus 35:32-33

Exodus 35:35

Exodus 36:2

Exodus 39:42–43

Book of Mormon

1 Nephi 17:7

1 Nephi 17:8

1 Nephi 17:15

1 Nephi 17:47

1 Nephi 18:1

1 Nephi 18:2

1 Nephi 18:4

Literary Features
Exodus Parallels
Tabernacle, Ship, and Nephi
Book of Mormon

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