Monday, December 26, 2011

Book of Mormon Gospel Doctrine Lesson 2 “All Things According to His Will” 1 Nephi 1-7

Book of Mormon Gospel Doctrine Lesson 2 “All Things According to His Will”
1 Nephi 1-7

Lehi’s Theophany
1 Nephi 1:5-20

As discussed in lesson 1, the Book of Mormon is a book of ascension, or a “How to” book on returning into the presence of God, which is what a theophany is: standing in God’s presence.

Lehi went to the Lord to pray for the people, whom the prophets called to repentance. In praying for others, he received an unexpected vision and experience.

The first part of the vision occurred as he prayed for the people in the wilderness.  As he prayed, a “pillar of fire” appeared on a rock, where “he saw and heard much”.  From the very beginning, Lehi takes the role of Moses, who also initially saw God as a pillar of fire or burning bush.  This is an importance symbolism, because Moses’ goal at Sinai with the Israelites was to have them all purify themselves and ascend the mountain into the presence of God (D&C 84:19-26).  For Lehi, this would be his work for his family, and would continue into succeeding revelations, but first beginning with himself.

Later, after returning to Jerusalem, he experienced another vision.  In this one, the heavens opened and he saw God sitting on his throne, with the divine praising God.  In this instance, Lehi experienced his theophany, seeing God.  Not only that, but he saw the divine council that other prophets also experienced in their theophanies (Isaiah 6:1-8, Rev 4:1-6).

Lehi’s vision continues, wherein he saw One descend from heaven.  Twelve others followed him down and spread across the earth.  These were divine beings, as Lehi notes their luster: The first one, Jesus Christ, shown greater than the sun, while the Twelve apostles shown brighter than the stars of heaven.  It could also be that the Twelve shown brighter than many of the other heavenly beings, also known as the “morning stars” (Job 38:7).  The descended Lord gave him a book to read, wherein he was filled with the Spirit and prophesied of Jerusalem’s destruction by the Babylonians.

Lehi exclaimed,
“Great and marvelous are the works, O Lord God Almighty! Thy throne is high in the heavens, and thy power, and goodness, and mercy are over all the inhabitants of the earth; and because thou art merciful, thou wilt not suffer those who come unto thee that they shall perish!” (1 Ne 1:14).

He spoke directly to Almighty God (Hebrew: El Elyon), who he just saw seated on His throne. He understood the mercy he showed forth to those who rebelled, sending many prophets to them, and giving them many opportunities and generations to repent.  Lehi also understood the Lord granting blessings to the obedient, not allowing them to be destroyed.  This would foreshadow his own escape into the wilderness with his family.

Although his visions were very abbreviated by Nephi, Lehi’s visions are very similar to an ancient Jewish/Christian text called the Ascension of Isaiah.  In the Ascension of Isaiah, the prophet ascends through ten levels of heaven, seeing the increasing glory of the angels that dwell in those levels.  Isaiah entered the throne room, where the highest angels worshiped God, Christ and the Holy Ghost.  Isaiah is dressed in white, so as to be able to be in the higher levels.  In the seventh heaven, he is given a book to read.

“21. And whilst I was still speaking with him, behold one of the angels who stood nigh, more glorious than the glory of that angel, who had raised me up from the world.22. Showed me a book, [but not as a book of this world] and he opened it, and the book was written, but not as a book of this world. And he gave (it) to me and I read it, and lo! the deeds of the children of Israel were written therein, and the deeds of those whom I know (not), my son Josab” (Ascension of Isaiah, chapter 9:21-22).  

Here, we see that he reads about Israel, just as Lehi read about Israel in his day. John the Revelator would also receive a book, which he would eat (read), telling of his mission to the lost tribes of Israel.

And, as with Lehi, Isaiah saw Christ descend through the levels of heaven on his way to earth.  On reaching each level, Jesus’ glory lessened, so that those around him could tolerate his presence..

Lehi then preached repentance to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.  Here, he would have shared his visions with them, and the things he read in the book, regarding Jerusalem’s fate if they did not repent.  Such teachings went directly against the beliefs of the day.  Since the days of Josiah, the temple priests had changed worship both inside and outside the temple. Such changes were discussed in  lesson 1, the Mosaic Law and the work of the temple had been changed. The temple no longer was a place that prepared people to be in the presence of  God and his angels.  Instead, it was a place of animal sacrifice, and nothing much more.  The people needed to repent and make major changes to their religion, including the temple worship.

Lehi in the Wilderness
1 Nephi 2-7

Lehi traveled down near the borders of the Red Sea, along what is known as part of the Spice or Incense Road.  It connected Egypt with the Mediterranean and eastern spice areas.  Normally, the route was taken by large caravans, to ensure protection from bands that awaited.  Lehi’s small band didn’t have that option.  So, while they traveled near the route that followed the Red Sea, they probably stayed off the main trail for protection.  Later, Nephi will note that they did not have fires in the wilderness, but ate their meat raw.  This also was probably due to the dangers of robbers along the routes taken.

After three days, Lehi and family camped.  Here, he named the valley Lemuel and the river that emptied into the Red Sea, Laman, after his eldest sons. It is possible that the Valley of Lemuel was recently discovered (1995), in a narrow canyon with a river that does not go dry in the dry season.

“And my father dwelt in a tent” (1 Ne 2:15).

Why was it so important for Nephi to tell us several times that his father dwelt in a tent?  Shouldn’t it be obvious? Only to one understanding the ancient symbolism.  It is what is implied, but not said that tells us what this means.  In conjunction with dwelling in a tent (1 Ne 7:22) we find that Lehi built altars in the wilderness and offered sacrifice upon them.  As did the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses, Lehi was a prophet in the wilderness. He lived a nomadic life, leaving behind the comforts of the city (as did Abraham in leaving Ur, or Moses in leaving Egypt).  The tent became a place of council and revelation.  For Abraham, the three angels (including Jehovah) came to his tent to council regarding Sarah’s pregnancy and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. For Moses and the nation of Israel, the tent would be expanded into a Tabernacle, a portable temple, where prophets and priests would council with God.

Lehi’s tent was their Tabernacle as they traveled through the wilderness.  Lehi was Abraham and Moses in the journey to the promised land.

While Jerusalem had rejected the ancient temple rites and the wilderness altars of Abraham and Moses, Lehi embraced these ideas.  He returned to his roots, which was the right way to worship God.  Why? Because it led people to God’s presence and the promised land.  The physical promised land symbolized the heavenly promised land we should all seek.  In receiving his own testimony of Lehi’s visions, Nephi was told:

20 And inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments, ye shall prosper, and shall be led to a land of promise; yea, even a land which I have prepared for you; yea, a land which is choice above all other lands. 21 And inasmuch as thy brethren shall rebel against thee, they shall be cut off from the presence of the Lord.” (1 Ne 2:20-21).

Here we see a dual prophesy. The righteous prosper both temporally and spiritually, being led to promised lands on earth and in heaven.  But the wicked are “cut off from the presence of the Lord.”  The people of Jerusalem, once a proimsed land, had rejected God’s covenants he made with Abraham in the wilderness, and now were cut off from God’s presence.  And in refusing to repent, they would not return into God’s presence in the heavens, either.  Again, we see the importance of the ascension into God’s presence, not only of the individual, but also the family (Lehi’s) and of the nation (Israel).

While Lehi would symbolize Abraham and Moses, Nephi would also symbolize ancient patriarchs.  In the ancient Middle East, the eldest son normally was the leader. Yet, as with Isaac and Jacob, Nephi was chosen to lead his older brothers. A special trip is made to find a wife for Nephi and his brethren, even as Abraham sent his servant to find Rebekah for Isaac, or Jacob leaving home to find his wives Leah and Rachel.

The Brass Plates
1 Ne 3-5

As mentioned in the first lesson, it is possible that the Brass Plates of Laban were the source for the “E” or Elohist scripture from the Northern Kingdom of Israel.  The plates were very important to both Lehi and Laban.  

For Laban, they were a source of unique power.  He may not have been a rich person, as he lusted after Lehi’s treasures brought to him by Nephi.  But the plates were used not only by Laban, but by the elders and leaders of Jerusalem.  When Nephi, disguised as Laban, told Zoram to retrieve them, Zoram did not seem to question taking the plates out in the middle of the night, or of talking about the “brethren” of the faith.  The “brethren” would have been the leaders of the community, including the temple priests.  They would have consulted the writings frequently, especially in dangerous times, such as the impending Babylonian invasion.  The texts, being from the Northern Kingdom, would be useful in showing them what things they should do concerning an invasion, as the Brass Plates probably would have included prophetic warnings, and perhaps historical texts concerning the kingdom’s destruction by Assyria.

For Lehi and his family, it would be necessary to have the plates in order to teach their children, and prevent them from falling away from God and towards destruction.  In fact, as Lehi studied the plates, he noted his genealogy, descending from Joseph, one of the early patriarchs.  Perhaps the plates guided him in the wilderness, on developing a religion for his family that would return them to the ancient worship: altars, animal sacrifice by non-Levites, and using his tent as a mobile Tabernacle or center for the council.

Divine books were definitely an important thing for Lehi, as the divine book given to him by the Savior helped him see the future of Jerusalem, and now the Brass Plates would guide him towards the ancient religion and a return to true worship, as he and his family prepared to travel towards the Promised Land and into the presence of the Lord.


Ascension of Isaiah:

Lesson one, part one:

Lesson one, part two:

Valley of Lemuel found?

Feast Upon The Word Book of Mormon lessons:

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