1 Nephi 11-14 An Overview of Nephi’s Vision
What is the point of 1 Nephi 11-14? This is not meant as a history lesson- this is a story about us and how we relate to God and his prophets, and more importantly- Jesus Christ. Teaching the history as related by Nephi is good- it is good to know that Nephi saw Columbus, and the Revolutionary War; but the real message lies in how the Nephites, the Jews, and the Gentiles reacted to the Messiah. Each group had a manifestation of the love of God, and each group had a struggle with a “false tree”, or a false Messiah that they must disregard as they cling to the rod of iron and partake of the fruit of the Tree of Life. The mists the Jews, Nephites and Gentiles faced are very similar to the mists in our day!
These chapters are tremendous- Nephi shows us that Lehi’s vision has application in our lives in a variety of ways. I believe that one of the main messages of Lehi’s dream is that God loves us and that understanding how he manifests himself to us is vital if we are to progress on our journey towards the tree.
Principle 1: Nothing is as sweet as the love of God. Look in 1 Nephi 11:8-9 for the adjectives that describe the Tree of Life. Nothing is as sweet, white or wonderful as the Love of God. All the things that man does today to try and “chase” the feeling of goodness that we as mortals sometimes experience falls far short of the actual feeling of being in the presence of God’s love.
Principle 2: The memory of the sweetness of the fruit is not enough to carry me- I must continually partake of the fruit. As you read the story of those that partake of the fruit and fall away, ask yourself this question: “Why did they fall away?” Some of the saddest scenes in my life have been when people that I know and love have chosen to leave the tree and head for the building. I have shed tears recently as someone I love has made this choice. I can only imagine what Lehi must’ve felt as he saw his own children make this awful decision! What pain! Clearly the memory of the love of God is not sufficient if we want to make it through the mists of our day!
The Greatest Moment – The Sweetness of the Love of God
The following is an illustration of this principle: that nothing is sweeter than the love of God. Elder David B. Haight has shared this and it is a story that so many can relate with:
When I was younger than most of you, growing up in a little town in Idaho, I thought the great moment of my life would be that I would be a successful baseball player for the New York Yankees. We would be in the World Series; the games would be three and three. Now, the seventh game–the deciding game–the ninth inning, score tied. And guess who would get up to bat? The pitcher would put the ball in just where I would like it, and I would knock it out of Yankee Stadium. The ball would become lost in the parking lot. I would be the hero of the World Series. I thought that would be the great moment of my life. But I want you to know that that isn’t so. Not that the World Series happened; however, I found the moment.
A few years ago I sat in a little white room in the Los Angeles Temple–a little, plain, simple room with no fancy adornments on the wall. My wife was there by my side. One son and his wife were there along with our daughter and her new husband. Our other son was kneeling at the altar holding the hand of the young lady he was about to marry. As I looked around the room, I thought, “David, you had your priorities out of order. Some athletic event or being the hero of some worldly event isn’t the great moment of your life.” I knew the great moment of my life was there, then, because all I had that was really important–remember, really important–was in that room. Some bishops and stake presidents somewhere had found all of my family worthy to be in that room. It is not the number of cars you own, or the number of white-faced cattle you might have in the hills, or the size of your bank account, but the eternal values that count. You remember the Lord said something about moth and rust getting through to our worldly possessions (see Matthew 6:20). I knew that the greatest moment in my life was having all of our family in that room in the Los Angeles Temple. Moments, reflection, blessings–these are the great moments of our lives. (Come, Listen to a Prophet’s Voice, David B. Haight was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when this fireside address was given at Brigham Young University on 7 March 1976.)
C.S. Lewis described this idea through his depiction of Aslan and how the children in Narnia interacted with him:
“When you were last here,” said Aslan, “that hollow was a pool, and when you jumped into it you came to the world where a dying sun shone over the ruins of Charn. There is no pool now. That world is ended, as if it had never been. Let the race of Adam and Eve take warning.”
“Yes, Aslan,” said both the children. But Polly added, “But we’re not quite as bad as that world, are we, Aslan?”
“Not yet, Daughter of Eve,” he said. “Not yet. But you are growing more like it. It is not certain that some wicked one of your race will not find out a secret as evil as the Deplorable Word and use it to destroy all living things. And soon, very soon, before you are an old man and an old woman, great nations in your world will be ruled by tyrants who care no more for joy and justice and mercy than the Empress Jadis. Let your world beware. That is the warning. Now for the command. As soon as you can, take from this Uncle of yours his magic rings and bury them so that no one can use them again.”
Both the children were looking up into the Lion’s face as he spoke these words. And all at once (they never knew exactly how it happened) the face seemed to be a sea of tossing gold in which they were floating, and such a sweetness and power rolled about them and over them and entered them that they felt they had never really been happy or wise or good, or even alive and awake, before. And the memory of that moment stayed with them always, so that as long as they both lived, if ever they were sad or afraid or angry, the thought of all that golden goodness, and the feeling that it was still there, quite close, just round some corner or just behind some door, would come back and make them sure, deep down inside, that all was well. Next minute all three of them (Uncle Andrew now awake) came tumbling into the noise, heat, and hot smells of London. (The Magician’s Nephew, chapter 15)
Principle 3: You don’t get out of the dark mist, or the river of filthiness, or the building by embracing them. If you want out of the mist, there is really only one way out, and that is by holding to the rod of iron.
Powerful Images: The tree, rod, mist, building, river
I am going to put this dream into three historical contexts and we will illustrate this dream in these three contexts. Let’s look at 3 the groups of people that Nephi deals with- the Jews, the Gentiles, and Nephi’s descendants. We will see all 5 images illustrated in these three groups.
Principles of being lost, scattered and wasted/drowning
How do you get out of the river? You grab hold of the rod, whether that is the counsel of a priesthood leader, listening to the prophet, reading the word, you grab that rod and get out of the river. You don’t get out of the river by staying in the river. If you want out of the world, you have to do the things that will make it so that you are away from the river.
Think of the story of Peter sinking in the water (Matthew 14:29-31)- notice that when he takes his eyes off of the Savior, it is at this point when he starts to sink in the water.
The river in Lehi’s vision = all of the consequences we face when we take our eyes of the Savior Jesus Christ. It is at this point that we drown, when we abandon the path- 1 Nephi 15:26-30
Questions to consider:
How do we survive in our day by relating to the past?
What are the mists that blinded them and what are the mists that blind us today? What rods pulled them out and what will pull us out?
What was the manifestation of the Love of God to the Jews? The condescension of God in 1 Nephi 11 is the angel’s attempt to show Nephi how God manifested himself to the Jews of 33 A.D.
When teaching these chapters it is good to discuss the meaning of who Jesus is at this point. The Father came and descended to create the Savior- THE BIRTH, THE LIFE, THE LOVE OF THE SAVIOR are all manifestions of the love of God to the Jews. It must’ve been something else to have the Savior of the world among men for these years in and around the city of Jerusalem and in Galilee. This was the way God manifested himself to the Jews.
What are the mists that blinded the Jews so that they could not see Jesus correctly? Tradition. How many LDS are blinded today? When do we let traditions blind us to the love of God?
What gets you through the mist? The rod- personal revelation, scripture, prophets.
The Jews- pride was the opposite of the tree. What blinded the Jews? The Savior wasn’t what they expected- they were looking for another Jesus. What did the Jews want? Power and control. They wanted a messiah who would have given them power and control over their land, their destiny, and their ultimate freedom from Roman domination. Jesus was not what they expected!
In what river do the Jews drown? Nephi repeatedly speaks of the Jews being scattered, “Jerusalem shall be destroyed again (after 586 B.C.)… Wherefore the Jews shall be scattered among all nations; yea, and also Babylon shall be destroyed; wherefore the Jews shall be scattered by other nations” (2 Nephi 25:14-15). Titus, in 70 A.D. brought his army, doing horrible damage to Jerusalem, as well as destroying the temple. This slaughter, and the events surrounding Titus’ conquering of the city and its environs was prophesied by Jesus Christ, and history speaks of these things. What river have the Jews been drowning ever since? The Jews are drowning in a world without a Messiah. Nephi says, “… they need not look forward any more for a Messiah to come” because he has come. Jesus Christ came to the Jews and he will come again.
Nephites – chapter 12
What hardened their heart? Prosperity – Helaman 12:2 this is the mist of the Nephite nation.
What is the counterfeit tree for the Nephites? Riches
What is the counterfeit tree for the Lamanites? Revenge!
Lamanite traditions- I am wronged- it’s everyone else’s fault- Mosiah 10:12-16 … this is the river the Lamanites are drowning in… There are many in this world who feel as if they are victims of “the system”, that they are being victimized and that it is someone else’s fault for their bad lot in life. One of the messages of Lehi’s vision is that we are responsible for our own happiness. We can choose to be free, to act for ourselves, or we can choose to be victims. A careful reading of Mosiah 10 will demonstrate that this victim mentality was not only believed by the Lamanites who defected in Nephi’s day, but that this thought process was encouraged and taught to their children!
Principle: Your decisions can affect future generations.
A balance to this principle: The fact that your parents made a bad decision does not mean you are destined to be in the river. YOU are in the river for rejecting Christ now. YOU can get out anytime you are ready- the rod is always there.
Modern day – 1 Nephi 13-14
Tree- many evidences- the Bible is mentioned first, also the Book of Mormon.
Nephi’s testimony is tied with that of John the Revelator. Both testify of the calamities that will befall the Gentiles in the last days. Nephi tells us that even though he saw the events surrounding the last days, it was not for him to write: And behold, the things which this apostle of the Lamb shall write are many things which thou hast seen; and behold, the remainder shalt thou see. But the things which thou shalt see hereafter thou shalt not write; for the Lord God hath ordained the apostle of the Lamb of God that he should write them (1 Nephi 14:24-25).
A powerful mist in our time is the false churches. Nephi spends significant time discussing his concern for those in the latter days with respect to false churches. A careful examination of Joseph Smith Matthew will show that a big warning the Savior gives his disciples in relation to the end times is that we beware of false churches- you will miss the tree and the rod if you get caught up in false truths/half truths.
These are the churches that are formed because of the loss of truth in the Bible- 1 Nephi 22:23: “… The time speedily shall come that all churches which are built up to get gain, and all those who are built up to get power over the flesh, and those who are built up to become popular in the eyes of the world… must be brought low in the dust”
We see Nephi’s words fulfilled today as we see groups that emphasize one or all of these three things: 1. The desire for wealth, 2. The desire for power over the flesh, and 3. The struggle for power. In this verse I believe Nephi is using the word church to mean a group and not necessarily a church per se. He is describing the world we live in right now. The groups that are striving for gain and power over the flesh are those industries that want mankind to spend their money on things that are addictive or damaging to their spirits. Any class, when discussing this teaching of Nephi, could identify a myriad of ways that his words are fulfilled today.