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: http://www.gnosis.org/naghamm/ascp.html
Ascension of Isaiah: http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/ascension.html
The Dead Sea Scrolls in English, by Geza Vermes: http://www.amazon.com/Complete-Scrolls-English-Penguin-Classics/dp/0140449523/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1325182867&sr=1-1
David Larsen’s Heavenly Ascent blog on the Three Men who visited Abraham: https://davidjlarsen.wordpress.com/2014/06/10/a-look-back-at-the-three-men-who-visited-abraham/
“What meaneth the Rod of Iron?”, Matthew L. Bowen: https://knowhy.bookofmormoncentral.org/knowhy/how-lehi-likened-the-scriptures-to-himself