One of the most important things the Lord desires to communicate to us through our readings and studies in the Book of Mormon and in the scriptures in general is patterns. We are to see patterns, understand patterns, follow patterns.
In the last lesson we were shown the pattern of the wilderness journey or the exodus pattern. We find ourselves in the world. There is trouble in the world. We leave the world. In order to truly leave the world we must journey through a wilderness. In that wilderness certain things happen, but most importantly we must come to know that we are led by the Lord and we are dependent upon him. (See 1 Nephi 17:13) Finally, by and by, we arrive in the promised land. That pattern is easy to see with Lehi and his family and as we come to know that pattern well we see it repeating all through the scriptures, from Adam and Eve, to Abraham, to the archetype Children of Israel, to Alma, to the Mormon pioneers. It is the pattern of our whole eternal existence. But even more importantly, and more intimately, this pattern is the journey of the human heart and soul; the journey of repentance.
Search, Ponder and Pray
Nephi leads us in a subtle way to come to understand another pattern, one that is critical for us in our relationship with God and are acquisition of the knowledge of eternal things. “And it came to pass after I, Nephi, having heard all the words of my father, concerning the things which he saw in a vision, and also the things which he spake by the power of the Holy Ghost, which power he received by faith on the Son of God-and the Son of God was the Messiah who should come–[now: here comes the pattern] I, Nephi, was desirous also that I might see, and hear, and know of these things, by the power of the holy Ghost, which is the gift of God unto all those who diligently seek him, as well in times of old as in the time that he should manifest himself unto the children of men.” (1 Nephi 10:17 emphasis added) Nephi teaches us more clearly: “For he that diligently seeketh shall find; and the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto them, by the power of the Holy Ghost, as well in these times as in times of old, and as well in times of old as in times to come; wherefore, the course of the Lord is one eternal round.”
Now, if we haven’t got it yet, Nephi shows us the way to “see, and hear, and know of these things,” and gives us the results of following this pattern. “For it came to pass after I had desired to know the things that my father had seen, [note that first step] and believing that the Lord was able to make them known unto me, [our faith must be present without doubt], as I sat pondering in mine heart is a critical element to the acquisition of the things of eternity], I was caught away in the Spirit of the Lord [this: now, is when personal revelation begins to come], yea, into an exceedingly high mountain, which I never had before seen, and upon which I never had before set my foot. And the Spirit said unto me: [this is most exciting of all] Behold, what desirest thou?” (1 Nephi 11:1,2)
What? The first thing the Spirit says to Nephi is “what do you want?” The Lord is intimately interested in what it is we want! He wants to answer the righteous desires of our hearts. He wants to satisfy Nephi’s curiosity and burning desire to see the tree his father saw and understand its meaning. The Spirit begins this great vision by asking that simple question to Nephi. Remember the beginning of the pattern: “after I had desired to know the things that my father had seen…” So it is with the Prophets, so it is with each of us.
Joseph F. Smith was sitting in his room on the third of October, 1918, “pondering over the scriptures; and reflecting upon the great atoning sacrifice that was made by the Son of God, for the redemption of the world…” (D&C 138:1,2) Pondering is a powerful tool and necessary for us to start the process of revelation. Note that Nephi was pondering about the tree of life and wanted to know what it meant-and he would find out that it was the very symbol of Jesus Christ. Joseph F. Smith was pondering the atonement-the central meaning of the Gospel. The Prophet Joseph and Sidney Rigdon, during the translation of the Bible, were pondering over the resurrection (the atonement). “Now this caused us to marvel,” they recorded, “for it was given unto us of the Spirit. And while we meditated upon these things, the Lord touched the eyes of our understandings and they were opened, and the glory of the Lord shone round about us.” (D&C 76:18,19) Even the young Prophet Joseph Smith, when he went to the grove to pray, essentially was pondering over and praying about not just what church he should join, but about how he could obtain forgiveness for his sins (the atonement). The Lord gives us the pattern for obtaining personal revelation and the way is sure and the results are indeed marvelous.
The Lamb of God
Lest anyone miss the central theme of the great vision of Nephi, the name of the Lord most often referred to in the vision is “the Lamb,” or “the Lamb of God.” In fact, ‘the Lamb’ is used 55 times in the vision. Why the Lamb? Again, in this dramatic, sweeping, panoramic view of the history of the world, seeing all things from the beginning and gazing to the very end of the world, and we have but a small part of what Nephi saw, the Spirit and the angel of the Lord want to emphasize one thing above all else: the atonement which is wrought by this, the Lamb of God. The central message is His atoning sacrifice. If we miss that, we think of this vision as just an historical and chronological accounting of the world to Nephi so that he might know what order things are going to happen.
Remember that Nephi and Lehi and their family are keepers of the Law of Moses. They intimately understand sacrifice and the slaughtering of animals upon an altar as a type of that which was to come. The symbol of the Lamb was clear to Nephi. “And not withstanding we believe in Christ,” Nephi would later write, “we keep the law of Moses, and look forward with steadfastness unto Christ, until the law shall be fulfilled. For, for this end was the law given; wherefore the law hath become dead unto us, and we are made alive in Christ because of our faith; yet we keep the law because of the commandments.
” (2 Nephi 25:24,25)
Nephi’s great desire is to know the meaning of this remarkable tree that his father, Lehi, saw. And he is going to know it beyond any doubt. “And I looked and beheld the Redeemer of the world, of whom my father had spoken; and I also beheld the prophet who should prepare the way before him. And the Lamb of God went forth and was baptized of him…And I beheld that he went forth ministering unto the people, in great power and great glory; and the multitudes were gathered together to hear him…and I beheld the Lamb of God going forth among the children of men. And I beheld multitudes of people who were sick, and who were afflicted with all manner of diseases, and with devils and unclean spirits…And they were healed by the power of the Lamb of God…And I looked and beheld the Lamb of God, that he was taken by the people; yea, the Son of the everlasting God was judged of the world; and I saw and bear record. And I, Nephi, saw that he was lifted up upon the cross and slain for the sins of the world.” (See 1 Nephi 11:27, 28, 31-33)
Plain and Precious Things
Another significant part of Nephi’s vision is his view of the Restoration of the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ in the last days. Nephi sees the formation of the United States of America, and the power of God which caused this to come about. He sees that the Gentiles who came to that land were coming out of “captivity.” What is that captivity? It is spiritual bondage and deprivation of knowledge. It is the lack of religious freedom in the ‘old world.’ It is not having the fulness of the gospel.
Nephi is shown that the Bible is had among the Gentiles in this ‘new world.’ “And I beheld a book, and it was carried forth among them.” Nephi was told that the book was like unto the plates of brass, except it was smaller, and it contained the covenants of the Lord unto the house of Israel.
“And the angel of the Lord said unto [Nephi]: Thou hast beheld that the book proceeded forth from the mouth of a Jew; and when it proceeded forth from the mouth of a Jew it contained the fulness of the gospel of the Lord, of whom the twelve apostles bear record…Wherefore, these things go forth from the Jews in purity unto the Gentiles, according to the truth which is in God.” (1 Nephi 13:24,25) Nephi is then shown that the great and abominable church, that church of the devil, “have taken away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and most precious; and also many covenants of the Lord have they taken away. And all this have they done that they might pervert the right ways of the Lord, that they might blind the eyes and harden the hearts of the children of men.” (1 Nephi 13:26,27)
Elder Bruce R. McConkie speaks of this in relationship to Satan’s plan: “Let me speak plainly. Satan hates and spurns the scriptures. The less scripture there is, and the more it is twisted and perverted, the greater is the rejoicing in the courts of hell.” (1) Part of the great plan of the Lord was to restore those things which were lost by bringing forth the Book of Mormon in the last days and many other books of scripture. “And after [the Bible] had come forth unto them I beheld other books which came forth by the power of the Lamb, from the Gentiles unto them, unto the convincing of the Gentiles and the remnant of the seed of my brethren, and also the Jews who were scattered upon all the face of the earth, that the records of the prophets and of the twelve apostles of the Lamb are true. And the angel spake unto me, saying: These last records, which thou hast seen among the Gentiles, shall establish the truth of the first…” (1 Nephi 13:39,40)
What are these books the angel showed to Nephi? Are they not the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price? And included among those books is the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible. Joseph Smith in his great work on the Bible brought about changes or additions in 3,410 verses of the Bible. This work is extremely significant in the restoration of the plain and precious things that Nephi saw. Elder McConkie spoke of the Joseph Smith Translation:
“May I be pardoned if I say that negative attitudes and feelings about the Joseph Smith Translation are simply part of the devil’s program to keep the word of truth from the children of men.
“Of course the revealed changes made by Joseph Smith are true-as much so as anything in the Book of Mormon or the Doctrine and Covenants.
“Of course we have adequate and authentic original sources showing the changes-as much so as are the sources for the Book of Mormon or the revelations.
“Of course we should use the Joseph Smith Translation in our study and teaching. Since when do any of us have the right to place bounds on the Almighty and say we will believe these revelations but not those?” (2)
The standard works of the Church and the Joseph Smith Translation have made “known the plain and precious things which have been taken away from [the Bible].” (1 Nephi 13:40) Let us utilize this coming year of study to immerse ourselves in the scriptures, following the patterns shown to us by the prophets, and come to know the words of the Lord and the atonement more than ever before.
1. The Joseph Smith Translation, The Restoration of Plain and Precious Things. Edited by Monte S. Nyman and Robet L. Millet. Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, 1985, p. 12.
2. Ibid, p. 14.