Sunday, January 26, 2020

Come Follow Me: 1 Nephi 16-22

Come Follow Me: 1 Nephi 16-22

Thou hast declared unto us hard things
1 Nephi 16 

In 2012 with Mitt Romney running for president, there was a lot of press about Mormonism, both good and bad. One topic was how the high standards of the Church “cause” women in Utah to take prescription anti-depressants and young people to commit suicide over a variety of issues.  As sad as these issues are, there really is no direct corollary that shows the Church “caused” any of these tragedies.  What it does show is that the people involved would not or could not adapt to the expectations.  For the world, the solution would be for the Church to loosen up its standards, allowing young people to serve missions while sexually active, or look the other way when people transgress.

In the beginning verses of chapter 16, Nephi experiences the same response from his older brothers.  Nephi’s teachings brought on by his brothers’ confusion over the dream Lehi had regarding the Tree of Life meant that wickedness was not acceptable.  In the dream, Laman and Lemuel were not willing to follow their father to the Tree of Life, instead choosing a different path. 

The call for repentance and obedience was a difficult one for them.  If only God would allow them to return to Jerusalem and live out their lives in comfort and spiritual ignorance, rather than force them into a harsh existence in the Arabian desert.  Already they attempted to kill Nephi once, leaving him bound in the wilderness for wild animals to tear apart.  And the Lord had already delivered Nephi out of their hands on several occasions.  Clearly, this was no Promised Land, nor was it a desirable land to travel through, and it depressed them to think they were being forced to live a nomadic and spiritual life, rather than the comfortable city life they were used to living.

Nephi actually agreed with them that the things he taught were hard.

“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.
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.
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.
And it came to pass that I, Nephi, did exhort my brethren, with all diligence, to keep the commandments of the Lord.
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” (1 Ne 16:1-5).

While he could still get them to be humble and repentant now, the time would come when they would insist that such requirements and standards were insufferable.  They would attack the standard bearer as mean-spirited and down right evil.  Interesting how the wicked insist that their “standard” is the correct one.  While it provides a rush of exhilaration for a moment, sadly, it does not provide true and lasting joy to the sinner. Increasingly, we see this happening in our day, even as the world embraces greater sin and rejects the calls of the prophets.

My father dwelt in a tent

“Now, all these things were said and done as my father dwelt in a tent in the valley which he called Lemuel” (1 Ne 16:6).

Nephi has repeated this concept several times.  His father dwelt in a tent.  It is a significant statement that is often bypassed in our reading the journeys of the Nephites across the desert.  In ancient Israel, Moses set up a tent that sat in the midst of the tribes of Israel.  This was the center place, where the Presence of the Lord (Shekinah) was experienced, where revelations were received, and where the important decisions of the Israelites were made.  Lehi’s tent also is a place of the Shekinah, as Lehi saw Christ in his dream of the Tree of Life.  His tent was the center place for his people, where important decisions were made, and where miracles and revelations occurred.  Lehi’s tent symbolized the Tabernacle of Moses, or the Temple of Solomon in its purpose.

Again, in noting that Lehi dwelt in a tent, Nephi then commences to explain what occurred next at the tent.  

“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” (vs 7).

His tent becomes the place for weddings.  Herein lies a connection with the modern LDS temple, whose highest ordinances and rituals involve returning into God’s presence, and in marrying or sealing families together for the eternities.  While we are not told if their weddings at Lehi’s tent were forever or not, the symbolism still is there.

Again, Lehi receives a commandment “by night” in his tent that they should depart on the morrow. Upon rising in the morning, Lehi finds a brass item outside his 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” (vs 10).

This is Lehi’s encounter with the Liahona, a compass-like item with interesting capabilities. It uses spindles to point the way forward in the desert.  Why would it need two spindles? 

According to Don Bradley, both spindles had drawings around them. The first spindle's drawings were probably north, south, east, west. The second spindle had drawings for things they would need: travel to the New World, food, water, etc. (Don Bradley, "The Lost 116 Pages").

 Later, we find that the wording on the Liahona changed from “time to time.”  This is highly significant because no other such item is described in ancient scripture.  When we compare what is written here with other verses given to Joseph Smith, we find that the Lord gives his seers a “stone” or item that helps them see hidden things.  

“Now Ammon said unto him: I can assuredly tell thee, O king, of a man that can translate the records; for he has wherewith that he can look, and translate all records that are of ancient date; and it is a gift from God. And the things are called interpreters, and no man can look in them except he be commanded, lest he should look for that he ought not and he should perish. And whosoever is commanded to look in them, the same is called seer.
But a seer can know of things which are past, and also of things which are to come, and by them shall all things be revealed, or, rather, shall secret things be made manifest, and hidden things shall come to light, and things which are not known shall be made known by them, and also things shall be made known by them which otherwise could not be known.” (Mosiah 8:13, 17).

“And the Lord said: I will prepare unto my servant Gazelem, a stone, which shall shine forth in darkness unto light, that I may discover unto my people who serve me, that I may discover unto them the works of their brethren, yea, their secret works, their works of darkness, and their wickedness and abominations” (Alma 37:23).

“Then the white stone mentioned in Revelation 2:17, will become a Urim and Thummim to each individual who receives one, whereby things pertaining to a higher order of kingdoms will be made known;
And a white stone is given to each of those who come into the celestial kingdom, whereon is a new name written, which no man knoweth save he that receiveth it. The new name is the key word” (D&C 130:10-11).

In conjunction with the Urim and Thummim, seer stone descriptions, and the Liahona, we find items that contain information on any topic one seeks after.  There are some topics a person ought not to look for, as it can pull them down into evil things. It reveals the higher order of God’s kingdom, as well as the secret works of evil men.  It can reveal new text for the viewer to read. And it is protected by the new name, a password.  Such items, in other words, are special celestial computers designed by God for seers of ancient days. The Liahona was similar to a modern GPS device, which shows a person how to arrive to his/her destination, and can also provide guidance through text on a screen.  Just as having an IPhone with internet connection can bring a world of information to one’s finger tips, so too can we see the same things described by Joseph Smith in 1829.

The Place Called Nahom

“And it came to pass that Ishmael died, and was buried in the place which was called Nahom” (1 Ne 16:34).

In the journey through the Arabian desert, Nephi normally states that when they arrived at a place to stay, they would call it by a name they created (Valley of Lemuel, for instance). However, they arrived at a location, which Nephi said was already named “Nahom.”  

Since its translation, critics have dismissed the Book of Mormon for having no known locations.  In recent years, however, some possible locations have been found in the Arabian desert. One that is most definitely a bullseye is the place Nahom.

Lehi and his followers stopped on the traveling along the Frankincense Spice Trade Route because of the death of Ishmael.  There was much mourning, because Ishmael would have to be buried outside of the Promised Land, and left behind by his family.

In recent decades, along the path taken by Lehi along the Red Sea, a location has been found. Three altars or markers have been found with the place name NHM on them. Ancient Semitic writing did not have vowels, so modern scholars could transcribe this as Nehem, Nihm, or Nahom and be accurate.  At the spot is an ancient temple of the nomadic Nihm people.  Here along the trade route they had a large cemetery used to probably bury their own, as well as travelers who died along the trade route.  The cemetery, altars, and other things found at the site date to the 6th-7th centuries BC - exactly the time frame when Lehi was there.  

The chances of such a location being known in Joseph Smith’s day are almost nil.  In other words, Joseph Smith had it right.  For those who claim it was a lucky guess, then they need to determine just how lucky Joseph Smith was in guessing dozens of things correctly in the Book of Mormon. Eventually, the statistical probability of all his correct “guesses” makes it basically impossible to believe to just be guesses.


Because of their mourning, the children of Ishmael, Laman and Lemuel all began to plot against Lehi and Nephi.  They believed that Nephi’s claims of visions and authority were not from God, but just a ploy to lead them into the wilderness, where he could become their ruler. Such though probably comes from Jerusalem, where Zedekiah was just made king in the year Lehi became a prophet. Zedekiah's brother, Jeconiah was changing alliances from Babylon to Egypt, believing the Egyptians would protect Jerusalem. They didn't. Instead, Babylon came in, dethroned Jeconiah and set up his brother as king. Still, as Nibley notes in his book, "An Approach

Interestingly, it is the “voice of the Lord” (vs 39) that chastens them, until they were humbled and repentant. It seems that part of the chastisement was the inability to obtain food.  Hunger is a powerful tool for humbling people, and it seems that it was a part of the Lord’s chastising.

The Arabian Bountiful
1 Nephi 17

From Nahom, the group turned east, spending years in the wilderness, bearing children, and continuing to their next major destination.  From reading of verse 4, “we did sojourn for the space of many years, yea, even eight years in the wilderness” we can determine that the 8 years of traveling may have begun as they left Jerusalem, or perhaps even from Nahom as they left the “civilization” of that area and re-entered an even more hostile environment away from the well traveled spice road.  In other words, their traveling through Arabia took eight years, which may not have included the time spent at Bountiful nor the ocean voyage.

The Arabian Bountiful is the next site that has likely been found in recent years.  Nephi describes a location on the eastern Arabian coast which included certain things to be present.  Among the things Nephi required are:

1. The location must lie nearly eastward of Nahom (1 Nephi 17:1).[3]
2. The coast must be accessible from the interior desert.
3. Both the general area and the location when the Lehites camped must be fertile and capable of producing crops.
4. It must be a coastal location (1 Nephi 17:5).
5. It must be very fertile, with "much fruit and also wild honey" and small game (1 Nephi 17:5-6).
6. Timber must be available with which to build a ship (1 Nephi 17:8).
7. Freshwater must be available year-round.
8. A mountain must be located nearby to account for Nephi's reference to going to a mountain to "pray oft" (1 Nephi 18:3).
9. Cliffs overlooking the ocean must be present to account for Nephi's brother's attempt to throw him "into the depths of the sea" (1 Nephi 17:48).
10. Ore and flint must be available with which to make fire and fabricate tools to build a ship" (1 Nephi 17:9)
11. No resident population at the time of the Lehite's arrival.
12. Wind and ocean currents capable of carrying a ship out into the ocean (1 Nephi 18:8)

Each of these items is found in a narrow strip of land off the Arabean Sea in modern day Oman, called Wadi Sayq.  One would think there is no such thing as such a wonderful garden spot in the Arabian peninsula, but we can see from this photo taken nearby that it is.  Wadi Sayq is a very small area along the coast line, virtually unknown in America in Joseph Smith’s day.

Photo taken near Wadi Sayq in Oman

We also learn another important fact that Joseph Smith most likely would not have known. Lynn and Hope Hilton noted that the term the Nephites used for the ocean was “Irreantum”, meaning “many waters.”  The actual ancient Arabic term for the Arabean Sea was “Erythraeum”, which is very similar sounding to Irreantum.

How Prayer and Self-reliance work together

When the Lord commanded Nephi to build a ship, Nephi didn’t ask the Lord to give him the lumber and tools for the job.  Instead, he asked where he could find ore to make the tools he would need.  Often we ask the Lord to handle situations for us that we either can completely handle ourselves, or we have control over at least a part of it.  Thinking through our struggles and determining which part we can manage, and then giving the rest to the Lord to help us with, ensures the assistance of the Lord. He gives us such tasks so that we can grow in faith and ability.  But he often requires us to think of a solution in which he becomes our helper, and not just having Him hand all things to us simply because we ask.

God will help us with our school work, but he will not do it for us.  He will help us with a test, but we must study diligently first.  Nephi teaches his brothers that Moses was able to lead Israel through the wilderness.  The Lord managed the parts they had no control of, such as how to feed thousands or millions of people every day.  For Israel, the Lord gave them manna.  For Nephi’s people, they could not build fires in the wilderness (probably to avoid contact with robbers), but God made the meat they caught taste “sweet” or taste cooked.

In teaching his brethren in chapter 17, Moses becomes the archetype for Nephi.  Moses led Israel out of Egypt and into the wilderness, en route to the Promised Land.  Nephi and Lehi also were leading their small band of Israel into the wilderness from an apostate Jerusalem, and towards a land of promise.  While Moses caused the Red Sea to divide by God’s power, through God’s power Nephi was going to build a ship wherein they would cross the ocean.  Both Moses and Nephi had murmurers to deal with, and God chastised them in order to drive them along to the Promised Land.  If Moses could do such great things, then Nephi could build a ship with the Lord’s help.

More Rebellion
1 Nephi 18

As Lehi’s family loads the boat for their long voyage, they must realize they are now embarking on an entirely different experience.  They were definitely leaving Jerusalem forever behind them.  They would no longer travel in the heat of the desert, but float for days at a time on ocean currents.  While it is not mentioned, it is likely they followed along coast lines of Asia until hitting the Pacific Ocean. From there, they would probably hop from island to island, much like Polynesian ocean travelers of the time did between South America and Australia.  In stopping at such places, they could stock up on food, water, and other needed supplies for the continued journey.

During one leg of this journey, possibly after obtaining much provisions, including alcohol, Laman and his merry band chose to party.  While ancient Israel trusted Moses while passing through the Red Sea, but then turning rebellious at the foot of Sinai while Moses was delayed, rebellion also occurred on Nephi’s ship.  Forgetting God, and wanting to enjoy a wild party at sea, they turned their backs on Nephi and began acting like their counterparts in apostate Jerusalem, even as ancient Israel turned away from Moses and back to the gods of Egypt.

Only the fear of absolute destruction would cause them to change and repent.  This is how it will be with people of Telestial desires.  They are considered the enemies of God, and will be until they repent.  In death, their spirits will go to prison hell, where they will suffer until they completely and fully repent of all their sins.

“Therefore I command you to repent—repent, lest I smite you by the rod of my mouth, and by my wrath, and by my anger, and your sufferings be sore—how sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not.
For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent;
But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I;
Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink” (D&C 19:15-18)

For the Telestial in the Spirit World, they will suffer extremely until such suffering causes them to be humble enough to repent.  We get an idea of how this works from Alma 36, where he tells his son about his own experience in such a hell.  His only escape was faith and repentance.

So it was for Laman and his followers.  They were at the point where only the absolute threat of destruction would cause them to repent.  While the storms blew for several days, they refused to release Nephi from his cords.  Not until they saw absolutely no other recourse would they repent.
In doing so, they showed that they were only ready for a Telestial glory, and then only when forced into it.

1 Nephi 19-22

These chapters are very important as a study in Nephi’s beginning to understand the writings on the Brass Plates.  He quotes prophets that were very important to the tribe of Joseph and the other Northern Tribes of Israel.  Here we get the first mention of Zenock and especially Zenos, who would also be important to Jacob and other Nephite authors.  Isaiah also gets his first main mention, as Nephi quotes chapter 48 of Isaiah, and uses it with Zenos’ writings to help predict the future of his people, the world, and its end times.

It is possible that Zenock is another form of the name Enoch.  It is possible that the Nephites had some of his writings, which never made it into the Bible.

“but that I might more fully persuade them to believe in the Lord their Redeemer I did read unto them that which was written by the prophet Isaiah; for I did liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning” (1 Ne 19:23).

For Mormons, this is an important concept in how to interpret the scriptures, and in applying them to ourselves.  A danger, however, that afflicts many Christians in regards to using scripture, is they tend to “over-liken” the scriptures unto themselves.  Instead of first understanding the ancient context and then finding how it applies, many tend to read scripture entirely from a modern viewpoint.  In doing so, we miss much of the important concepts being taught by the prophets, simply because we do not understand the context in which they write.

For example, in several of these lessons, I’ve shown how Lehi and Nephi use Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and Moses as archetypes for their own callings from God.  While to some it may seem insignificant, such symbolism ties the author to the ancient patriarchs and prophets, giving them authority for the things they do.  Without such ancient archetypes to follow, Nephi’s beheading of Laban would just be murder, rather than an example of following in the path of earlier prophets, such as Moses slaying the Egyptian to protect a slave, or David killing Goliath.

As in Nephi using the story of Moses to justify his building a ship, such context was very important for Nephi to relay to us.  For us then to miss such an important thing means we may not place as much importance on it, or may take the story out of context.

Elder Jacob de Jager gave such an example of the importance to not only understand, but not to be misunderstood.  He had been in a meeting concerning new teaching materials.  After the meeting ended:

“President Romney stopped and said, “Now, Brother de Jager, how are you going to teach all these inspired materials?”
I paused, thinking of an answer that would satisfy a member of the First Presidency of the Church. I replied, “President Romney, I shall teach in such a way that everyone will understand.”
President Romney, a twinkle in his eye, said, “That’s not enough; you shall teach in such a way that no one will misunderstand these divine materials.” Then he walked on.
Now, many years later, I begin to see more and more the wisdom of his counsel. People do easily misunderstand, like the sweet old sister I met in the ZCMI shopping mall the other day.
“Aren’t you that Dutchman who spoke in general conference a while ago?” I said, “Yes, ma’am.” Then she continued, “Oh, I loved your Holland story about the boy with his finger in the dike.” I remarked, “Well, sister, that was not exactly the subject of my talk; I was talking about saving souls.” But she went on to say, “You know, I heard that story for the first time when I was still in school, and I am so pleased you told it again.”

This is the danger of “likening unto ourselves” without first building a solid foundation of the context of the text first.  There are some members who focus only on the war chapters. Others see very grim preaching about repentance. Some do not notice the teachings regarding the temple, of theophany/ascension (cf 1 Nephi 1) or other very important teachings.  Many skip over the Isaiah sections, because they do not see how it fits in so perfectly and importantly into what Nephi is trying to teach us.  We become like the nice lady who loves the story of the boy with his finger in the dike, without understanding the real context and meaning.

Yes, liken them unto yourselves. But first spend time learning what the ancient prophets initially meant by their writing.


Nahom articles

Arabian Bountiful articles


Elder Jacob de Jager, “Let There Be No Misunderstanding” (Oct 1978 General Conference):

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Come Follow Me: 1 Nephi 11-15

Come Follow Me: 1 Nephi 11-15

Lehi had shown he was a great prophet from the visions he had (1 Nephi 1). These visions directed him to call repentance to the people of Jerusalem, flee to the new Promised Land, obtain the Plates of Brass, get Ishmael to provide wives for his sons (akin to Abraham getting Isaac a wife from his home land), etc. Up to this point, Nephi was obedient, having received a testimony of his father being a prophet. With Lehi's great Vision of the Tree of Life, Nephi could have just sought a testimony that it was real and true. Instead, this was his moment to become a prophet in his own right. He sought to receive the Vision, not knowing he would have his father's vision and so much more. His vision would go beyond the Tree of Life and family, to future generations of Nephites, the Gentiles, John's Revelation, and the Second Coming of Christ. 

Nephi’s Vision of the Tree
1 Nephi 11-15

Nephi desired to “know the things my father had seen.”  As with his father, his journey begins with meditation and prayer near the beginning of it.  As he pondered, the Holy Ghost lifted him to a high mountain. Whenever a person in scripture or in ancient Jewish/Christian writings has an experience on a high mountain, one knows it will be a temple-like experience, where the person is prepared to enter God’s presence and glory (Matthew 17, Revelation 21:10).  We see this in the Apocalypse of Paul, with Moses’ ascent of Sinai, and the brother of Jared as he saw Christ.

We learn something important regarding the Holy Spirit - he is human-like in form, for Nephi spoke with him as a man talks to another man.  The Spirit tested Nephi’s faith prior to giving him such a powerful experience.  He was asked if he believed his father’s Lehi’s words, and in God.  The Spirit then testified of the Father and Son, which is his main responsibility to mankind.  Then the Spirit probed him, to see what things he already understood (1 Ne 11:3-6)
An interesting dialogue occurs between Nephi and the Spirit.  The Spirit tells him that after seeing the Tree of Life, he would see the Son of Man descend from heaven.  Upon seeing the tree, Nephi asked to know the interpretation of it.  The Holy Spirit then showed him the virgin Mary.  Nephi still was not sure of the interpretation.

“And he said unto me: Behold, the virgin whom thou seest is the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh.And it came to pass that I beheld that she was carried away in the Spirit; and after she had been carried away in the Spirit for the space of a time the angel spake unto me, saying: Look! And I looked and beheld the virgin again, bearing a child in her arms. And the angel said unto me: Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father! Knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw? And I answered him, saying: Yea, it is the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore, it is the most desirable above all things” (1 Ne 11:18-22).

Why is it that upon seeing Mary with the baby that suddenly he understood the Tree of Life to mean the love of God?  Here we come to an ancient Jewish belief that was lost from the temple in the days of King Josiah and the Deuteronomist reforms.  In reforming the religion, many things were removed from the temple, including the Tree of Life, angels, and being in the presence of God (Shekinah).  

Anciently, it was believed that God had a wife or consort, named Asherah.  She was known to be the goddess of wisdom and fertility (love).  Archaeologists have found evidence of her as being a part of the worship of both Elohim and Yahweh. In Proverbs, she is known as Wisdom (Proverbs 8).  Lost from the temple teachings in Lehi’s day, the concept of Asherah, the Tree of Life, the wife of God would have stood out in the Brass Plates and recognized immediately by Nephi.  In speaking of this at the 2005 Library of Congress, Joseph Smith Symposium, Old Testament scholar Margaret Barker noted that such a teaching in the Book of Mormon was perfectly understood and accepted in 600 BC.

In seeing the mortal mother of God represented by the Tree of Life, Nephi understood that the Tree of Life signified the wife of God, or Heavenly Mother as LDS call her, shedding forth her fruit that would make one happy.  The fruit was white beyond description and was the thing that gave spiritual life and joy.  The fruit is Jesus Christ.

   Condescensions of God

Nephi is shown two condescensions of God, or two times when God descends below mankind. (1 Ne 11:16, 26).  The first was a condescension of both Father and Son in bringing forth the birth of Jesus through a mortal mother.  Jesus would descend from his throne on high, and become mortal, leaving the Father behind.  The second was at Jesus’ baptism, where the Lord of all set the example of baptism for all the rest of us to follow.  Though he was perfect, he was baptized to fulfill all righteousness and the will of the Father.

The condescension continued as Christ walked the earth, taught and healed during his ministry - the King of Israel as the humble servant, and then suffered physical and spiritual death (My God, why hast thou forsaken me?) in the Garden and on the Cross, so that we may be lifted up by him.

In death, he descended into the catacombs of the dead, where he opened the prison doors and brought forth the First Resurrection.  Such was the condescension of God.

The Future Nations

While Lehi’s vision focused primarily on his family, and linked him symbolically to Abraham, Nephi’s vision will link him to Joseph or Moses, leaders not only of families, but of nations.

Nephi’s vision follows the timeline of the Nephites, where he sees the future division of the people, their wickedness and their repentance at the coming of Christ to his people.  He then witnessed the Nephite destruction and the survival of the Lamanites, who would remain in the dark and dreary wilderness until a future restoration would occur.

Unlike Lehi’s vision that focused on his family, Nephi’s vision takes him further to see the nations of the Nephites and Lamanites, the coming of the others, and the Second Coming of the Lord.  His is a an expansive vision with an entirely different focus than that of his father’s.  

He sees the coming of the Gentiles to the promised land, with Columbus inspired to cross the ocean, even as his father Lehi was inspired to do.  He foresees the land of liberty and the day when the Gentiles would fall into sin, becoming like the wicked Lamanites, living in a telestial state outside the presence of God, and losing the blessings of the promised land (1 Ne 12-14).

A discussion ensues regarding the two churches: that of God and the Devil.  The great and abominable Church has sometimes been believed to be the Catholic Church and perhaps the Protestant religions that broke away from it.  However, we see that Nephi described the abominable church as one that led men’s souls to hell.  According to LDS belief, this cannot include these faiths, as they do not lead men down to hell.  Instead, they call people to Christ, and are among the honorable men of the earth which shall inherit the Terrestrial kingdom (D&C 76).  Instead, we should see the great and abominable Church as any organization that leads people away from Christ, down paths of destruction.  We shall see in the Nephite record that this includes organizations that resemble Gadianton Robbers, who seek to get gain and power by any method necessary, including theft and murder.  Among other places, these can be found as gangs, business organizations, or even in government, if such organizations seek power and gain and are willing to murder to obtain or maintain that power.

Interestingly, Nephi is told that his vision is like that of John the Revelator, and is commanded to not write most of the vision, because it was assigned to John to write it.  That John’s Revelation is an ascension text was discussed in my 2011 New Testament lessons on Revelation.  There is a big connection between the Book of Revelation and Nephi’s Vision of the Tree of Life.  Perhaps reading them together may bring forth interesting insights into both. Major keys is that both Nephi's revelation and John's Revelation are endowments: people falling from God's grace, dwell in a wicked world of disease, poverty, war and death. Satan rears his ugly head time and again to destroy mankind. The prophets and saints are often martyred. Then comes the Lord's salvation, as the wicked are destroyed and the righteous enter into God's kingdom. For John, this meant God's throne room (Rev 4) and the New Jerusalem coming down in glory with streets of gold and the Tree of Life in the middle of it. As with the endowment, we experience life in a Telestial world, with the hope that we will gain exaltation and eternal life, partaking of the Tree of Life and living forever in God's presence.

In 1 Nephi 15, Nephi notes he returned to his father’s tent.  Again, the tent represents the center of their universe.  It is where they council, and where Nephi explains the vision to his brothers.  It is akin to Moses’ Tabernacle, as a sacred place in the wilderness, where the family may receive revelation.


Apocalypse of Paul:

Ascension of Isaiah:

The Dead Sea Scrolls in English, by Geza Vermes:

My Old Testament article on Proverbs, where I discuss Wisdom as the wife of God:

Margaret Barker at Joseph Smith Symposium (session 2, second speaker):

Daniel C. Peterson, "Nephi and his Asherah"

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Come Follow Me: 1 Nephi 8-10

Come Follow Me: 1 Nephi 8-10

Lehi’s Vision
1 Nephi 8-10

As mentioned in previous lessons, Lehi is a future symbol of Abraham.  In his vision, much of the focus will be establishing his family in the promised land, just as Abraham was led to his own promised land in Canaan.

Lehi’s vision begins with him sharing his concerns for his family, and especially for Laman and Lemuel.  His discussion then switches to the beginning of the dream, where he found himself in  “a dark and dreary wilderness” (1 Ne 8:4).  Ancient and modern temple rites take us through a representation of trying and difficult times.  Such a dark place would represent what the Fall of Adam has caused for Lehi and his family.  They have left Jerusalem and the temple, which once symbolized God’s presence, and has left on a journey in a dangerous wilderness.  Their stop at the Valley of Lemuel was necessary, as verse one states they had to gather food for the next leg of their journey.  Perhaps they remained several months, in order to grow such things in a rare oasis in one of the driest places on earth.  

He found himself cast out of the Presence of God (Shekinah) both in the dream and in real life.  He is in a fallen world, what LDS would call a Telestial state.  His real life and dream symbolize Abraham’s departing from Ur of Chaldees, which was a grand and powerful place, and entering into the unknown deserts and wilderness of Canaan and Egypt.  Abraham would also have stopped often along the way in order to provide food as he continued his journey as a wanderer in a strange land.

“And it came to pass that I saw a man, and he was dressed in a white robe; and he came and stood before me.And it came to pass that he spake unto me, and bade me follow him.And it came to pass that as I followed him I beheld myself that I was in a dark and dreary waste.And after I had traveled for the space of many hours in darkness, I began to pray unto the Lord that he would have mercy on me, according to the multitude of his tender mercies. And it came to pass after I had prayed unto the Lord I beheld a large and spacious field” (1 Ne 8:5-9).

In many ascension/theophany/temple experiences, the person is met by an angelic guide.  In the Apocalypse of Paul, the Holy Ghost appears as a child to guide him in his ascension experience.  In the Book of Revelation, John is guided by an angel of great power and holiness. So powerful is this angel that John falls down to worship him (Rev 19:10). In the Ascension of Isaiah, the prophet is also guided by an angel in his ascent through the heavens.  Interestingly, in Nephi’s Vision of the Tree of Life, he is guided by the Holy Ghost in the form of a man, similar to Paul’s apocalypse.

It is very possible that the “man in the white robe” which Lehi saw was the Lord.  Lehi symbolizes Abraham, who while in the wilderness was visited by three men in white, one possibly being Jehovah (Genesis 18).  One LDS scholar, David Larsen, suggests that the being may have been the translated king Melchizedek, a symbol of Jehovah/Jesus Christ.  This concept derives partially from from the Melchizedek scroll of the Dead Sea Scrolls (11QMelchizedek), where it is proclaimed, “Melchizedek is Yahweh” and “Melchizedek is El.”

Is it possible that Lehi’s guide was Jesus Christ, Abraham, or some other individual symbolizing Christ?  That Lehi began praying to the Lord as he remained in the dark and dreary wasteland suggests that he may have prayed to the holy messenger he was with, again suggesting that the angel was Jesus.

It is when he prays to the Lord that the lights come back on, and Lehi is able to see all that is going on around him. Clearly, he has taken the first step in returning into the presence of the Lord’s glory, as he has prayed in faith. Lehi sees a big field, which represents the world we live in.  But then he sees his objective: the Tree of Life.  Note in 1 Ne 8:10 that it is the fruit which makes one happy.  This will be important to remember as we study the Tree’s significance during Nephi’s vision.

“And it came to pass that I beheld a tree, whose fruit was desirable to make one happy. And it came to pass that I did go forth and partake of the fruit thereof; and I beheld that it was most sweet, above all that I ever before tasted. Yea, and I beheld that the fruit thereof was white, to exceed all the whiteness that I had ever seen.And as I partook of the fruit thereof it filled my soul with exceedingly great joy; wherefore, I began to be desirous that my family should partake of it also; for I knew that it was desirable above all other fruit” (1 Ne 8:10-12).

As we study Nephi’s vision, we will learn what the symbol of the fruit means.  However, it is important that we note that this fruit is which makes one happy.  Later, Lehi would teach his son, Jacob, that “Adam fell that men might be, and men are that they might have joy” (2 Ne 2:25), and that it is the Messiah’s atonement that affords us that happiness.  The fruit, therefore, is Christ and his atonement.  True happiness only comes from partaking of the fruit of Jesus Christ by believing on him and repenting of our sins.  This will be a theme that we return to time and again in the Book of Mormon: that true joy comes to those who turn to Christ.

It is at this point, when Lehi partakes of the fruit that he symbolically is in the presence of the Lord. While all mankind must some day return into the presence of the Lord at the judgment bar (Alma 11-12), not all will choose to remain.  Instead, many cast their eyes elsewhere and are lured away by worldly enticements and attitudes, such as those represented by the people in the great and spacious building.  These are people who mock holy things and use peer pressure to cause us to turn our backs on Jesus and the happiness he offers us.  Many fall away from activity and faith in the LDS Church and other forms of Christianity.  They believe it to be too restrictive, too old-fashioned, or too worldly to desire to be lifted to a higher plain of happiness.  Many are lost in mists of darkness, following paths that lead them further and further away from the light, and deeper into the darkness which Lehi had just escaped by praying to the Lord for rescue.  And that is what it requires for each of us, a rescue.  We are all fallen from God’s presence.  Only through Christ can we return to His presence.  Only through continued faith and repentance may we remain in God’s presence.

Immediately, Lehi’s dream becomes personalized, as he focuses it on his own family.  The fruit of the Tree of Life is wonderful, and he wishes to share it with them.  He finds his wife, Nephi and Sam in one place, near the head of the river, eager to join him.  But Laman and Lemuel do not heed their father.  They are satisfied with what the world has offered them.  Later they will speak admirably of Jerusalem and its inhabitants, and condemn their father and Lehi for leading them away.

Lehi’s rod of iron, which Nephi will interpret to be the “word of God” has important ancient symbolism.  Matthew L. Bowen explained that in Egyptian, the term mdw  means both “staff” and “to speak”.  The term mdw-ntr meant divine revelation or sacred writing.  So the “rod of iron” means both a literal rod to grasp onto, but it also means divine revelation or writing.  The LDS children’s song, “To Nephi, Seer of Olden Time”, which states the “iron rod is the word of God” is literally correct.

Lehi’s tale ends with him exhorting his older sons, pleading with them to believe and turn to God. His is a vision of a small family striving to seek the promised land, the Tree of Life, the presence of God.


Apocalypse of Paul:

Ascension of Isaiah:

The Dead Sea Scrolls in English, by Geza Vermes:

David Larsen’s Heavenly Ascent blog on the Three Men who visited Abraham:


“What meaneth the Rod of Iron?”, Matthew L. Bowen: