Writing about this chapter is harder than I thought it would be. Because the vision lends itself to artists’ renditions – even Sunday school teachers are used to sketching out the various symbols on a board – from a young age we have in our minds an idea of what Lehi saw. The challenge with Lehi’s dream is that we are so familiar with the details that it’s perhaps difficult for the Spirit to get past and teach us beyond what President Uchtdorf calls the massive iron gate of what we think we already know. In this post (and subsequent posts that deal with the vision), I’ll try and outline what I think are a few novel ways to consider the various symbols of the vision and the vision as a whole. As with a lot of what I write, my thinking is significantly influenced by what others have said. I’ll try and point out which ideas come from where, and if you can I’d recommend you read through the references at the bottom of each post.
I’ll try to avoid using Nephi’s interpretation of the vision as much as possible (although some is inevitable) because I want to try and imagine what it would be like to read the vision for the first time in the context of the original chapter II. I’ll probably just work through the text in a fairly straightforward manner. But before I get into the details at a verse level, I first want to consider what, for me at least, is a new idea about the vision as a whole.
It has been suggested that the Exodus story, the Temple, and Lehi’s dream are all just different portrayals of the same plan of salvation.1 The symbols in Lehi’s dream take on added meaning when we see their equivalents in the Exodus story or the Temple. For example, we read in Genesis 3:24:
So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life. (Emphasis added)
Essentially, the concern of Lehi’s dream was about the way that leads back to the tree of life. In the post referenced above it reads:
The way is not a literal road, but a symbolic path representing a course of life or a manner of living. The people in Isaiah’s vision went to the temple to learn how to live a godly life. They went to learn the manner in which they must live in order to return to the tree of life and partake of its fruit. This manner of living is also referred to as the “name” of the Lord. When Moses asked God to “shew me now thy way,” God responds by proclaiming the name of the Lord:
Now therefore, I pray thee, if I have found grace in thy sight, shew me now thy way that I may know thee, that I may find grace in thy sight: and consider that this nation is thy people. (Ex. 33:13)
And the LORD descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation. (Ex. 34:5–7)
The Lord revealed his name as a list of his attributes. It is clear that the way/name of the Lord is a manner of living. This adds deeper meaning to the concept of taking upon ourselves the name of the Lord. Taking on Christ’s name involves a new manner of living, taking upon ourselves his attributes, becoming as he is. The way and the name are closely related. Thus, Nephi concludes a chapter in which he had not previously used the word “name” by saying: “this is the way; and there is none other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved” (2 Ne 31:21).
There are other scriptures that connect the way with the name of the Lord, e.g. 2 Nephi 9:41. Does this connection between the way and the name of God affect your understanding of what it means to take upon us His name? Does it affect how you interpret Lehi’s vision?
The idea that the Lord’s name is the way and can be described as a list of attributes should have added meaning for those who have received their temple endowment. During the endowment we receive a number of tokens. The names of the first three tokens are connected to our premortal and mortal identities and to the name of Jesus Christ. But the name of the fourth token doesn’t sound like a name at all, rather it sounds like a requested blessing, or a list of attributes, or perhaps the way to live in order to return to God’s presence.
In a fascinating article about putting on names, Truman Madsen makes the following points regarding the name of God:
- There is a great deal of sacredness surrounding the name of God;
- God’s name was only mentioned once a year in ancient Israel by the high priest in the holy of Holies;
- Receiving the name was a privilege of obedience;
- The name of God may be complex;
- The name of God the Father is not uttered in the world, but is known by those who have it.2
Madsen seems to imply that the name of God the Father is guarded with utmost sacredness but revealed to temple initiates, and that it must be taken upon the initiate in order to become like the Father, even as we take upon ourselves the name of the Saviour when we are baptised.
To these thoughts we might also add the following from Elder Oaks:
It is significant that when we partake of the sacrament we do not witness that we take upon us the name of Jesus Christ. We witness that we are willing to do so. (See D&C 20:77.) The fact that we only witness to our willingness suggests that something else must happen before we actually take that sacred name upon us in the most important sense.
What future event or events could this covenant contemplate? The scriptures suggest two sacred possibilities, one concerning the authority of God, especially as exercised in the temples, and the other—closely related—concerning exaltation in the celestial kingdom.3
Well, we’re a long way down this rabbit hole so I think I’ll leave it there for this week. But I’d be interested to know how closely you think all this talk of the way and the name of God relates to Lehi’s vision as I’ll be drawing on it as we work through the text.
Additionally, what other parallels do you see between the Exodus story, the Temple, and Lehi’s dream? For example, the Exodus story and the Temple can be divided into three geographical areas with boundaries to cross – Egypt, the wilderness, and Canaan; the outer court, the inner court, and the holy of holies. Is there a similar division in Lehi’s vision?
Next week’s reading: More of the same (settle in, we might be here a while)