1 Nephi 11 tweet: N desires 2c what Lh saw. N sees the ToL + condescension of God. N sees Jesus lifted on the X. N sees the 12 and the fall of G&S building.
In the last post, I mentioned that 1 Ne 10–14 comprise chapter III from the original edition of the Book of Mormon. Last week we looked at 1 Ne 10, which is Lehi’s prophecy prompted by his vision of the tree of life. 1 Ne 11–14 is Nephi’s own visionary experience. 1 Ne 11–12 deal with what Joe Spencer refers to as the “pre-European phase of Nephi’s vision” and 1 Ne 13–14 deal with the “European phase of the vision”. To break it up further, 1 Ne 11 (what I’ll cover in this post) is concerned with Christ’s ministry in the Old World, and 1 Ne 12 His ministry in the New World.
The first thing I note about 1 Ne 11 is the role desire and belief play in bringing about Nephi’s vision. Nephi references his desire and belief in verse 1. Then the Spirit questions him about his desire and belief in verses 2 and 4 (which Nephi confirms in verses 3 and 5). Finally, the Spirit tells Nephi that he is blessed because of his desire and belief in verse 6. These companion virtues work together to open up Nephi’s great visionary experience in the chapters that follow.
The question we might then ask is, is it possible to alter or modify our own beliefs and/or desires? They seem to exist outside of our own will, don’t they? They are what they are and our beliefs/desires are more liable to influence our actions than vice versa, right? While our behaviour is more obviously under the control of our own will, Elder Neal Maxwell clearly taught that “like it or not, reality requires we acknowledge our responsibility for our desires”.1 He elaborated:
Of course our genes, circumstances, and environments matter very much, and they shape us significantly. Yet there remains an inner zone in which we are sovereign, unless we abdicate. In this zone lies the essence of our individuality and our personal accountability.1
Of the fundamental importance of desire to our mortal experience, Elder Maxwell explained:
The absence of any keen desire—merely being lukewarm—causes a terrible flattening (see Rev. 3:15). William R. May explained such sloth: “The soul in this state is beyond mere sadness and melancholy. It has removed itself from the rise and fall of feelings; the very root of its feelings in desire is dead. … To be a man is to desire. The good man desires God and other things in God. The sinful man desires things in the place of God, but he is still recognizably human, inasmuch as he has known desire. The slothful man, however, is a dead man, an arid waste. … His desire itself has dried up”.1
Whatever else may be said about Nephi, I think he is in essence defined by his desires and beliefs. Perhaps at times they were done to excess. But they were also apparently what caused the unfolding of the great revelations of the following chapters, and ultimately I think it was his desire and belief that drove his whole family – and Ishmael’s too – to their promised land. His experience should cause us to contemplate what it is that we truly believe and desire.
Moving on, we note that from verses 12 to 14 there is a shift from the Spirit to an angel who acts as Nephi’s guide. Why do you think there is this change? It seems to me that the role of the Spirit in this vision is to interrogate Nephi’s desires and beliefs – the things of his heart. Having passed this examination, the angel comes and in essence acts as a guide, consistently inviting Nephi to look and then asking him questions to determine his understanding and providing some clarifying comments himself. Do you see any other differences in the roles the Spirit and the angel play?
At the heart of Lehi’s vision is the tree of life (which isn’t actually referred to as the tree of life until 1 Ne 11:25). In this chapter we learn of Nephi’s interpretation of that great symbol. Verses 16 through 25 are worth reading closely. What is it about Mary and the Christ child that explain that the tree is the love of God? Julie Smith points out that the only other scripture that references God’s love being shed abroad is Romans 5:5:
And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.
Does this verse help us better understand Lehi’s vision and Nephi’s interpretation? I find it interesting that this verse links the love of God to the concept of not being ashamed, which is also a feature of Lehi’s vision. And what should we make of the image of love shedding itself? Is this connected to the blood Christ shed for the sins of the world? (Thanks to Mark Liptrott for that thought.)
Also from this interpretation, verses 22 and 23 seem to use desire and joy synonymously. Considering the earlier thoughts re. desire, what are the implications of this connection between desire and joy?
Julie Smith makes this interesting point re. the love of God:
So if we think about Lehi’s vision, we need to conclude that the love of God is something that you have to seek and choose to partake of, and that it is most desireable. That some people don’t even want it; that large numbers of people who are actively looking for it will wander off and not get it; that people who do partake of it might feel ashamed; that the building occupants make fun of people who partake of it. Is this how you normally think of the love of God? (I have to confess that I normally think of the love of God as free and easily available, there for everyone, and reaches out to you the very second you make the teeniest effort to get it. This vision causes me to reconsider that.)2
Does Lehi’s vision cause you to reconsider what it means to experience God’s love? On first consideration, love is such a non-threatening word. The thought of love generally evokes warm feelings and fond memories. But I think that is largely because we have been conditioned by worldly ideas of love. Of course, many of these ideas correlate well with the nature of God’s love, but I think there is a tendency to cherry-pick those aspects of love that we feel good about or that come naturally to us. However, we ought to remember that the ultimate manifestation of God’s love was demonstrated in the unimaginable horror of Gethsemane and as Christ was left utterly alone and in agony on the cross of Calvary. This should cause us to pause and realise that God’s love is not necessarily as easy to understand or recognise as we might naturally first think.
This is already longer than usual, but in closing here are a couple more questions for your consideration:
v27: Why was the baptism of Christ so central to the visionary experiences of Lehi and Nephi (see 1 Ne 10:9–10, 1 Ne 11:27, 2 Ne 31:4–8)?
v27: Does the symbol of the dove post-Christ’s baptism have any connection with the dove that Noah sent out post-flood (symbolic of earth’s baptism)? Bearing in mind that Noah’s dove brought back on olive leaf, is there any connection with the tree of life (see section heading to D&C 88)?
It feels like there is a lot of text I haven’t touched on. Is there anything else in Nephi’s interpretation of Lehi’s vision that you’ve noticed this time through?
If there’s space, I’ll maybe pick up a couple more questions from the last few verses of the chapter in next week’s post.
P.S. Bonus points if you spot the Stone Roses ref
Next week’s reading: 1 Nephi 12