Joseph Smith Sr.’s Remarkable Vision of the Tree of Life
by Scot and Maurine Proctor

Many years before the First Vision, the Lord was speaking to the Prophet Joseph’s Father.

Dreams and Visions
Often times the Lord communicates with His children through dreams and visions. Joseph of Nazareth, husband of Mary, was taught and warned in dreams, however, the Prophet Joseph changed all the references to ‘dreams’ of this Joseph to ‘visions.’ “Behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a vision, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.” (Compare Matthew 1:20 with JST Matthew 2:3) “Then Joseph, awaking out of his vision, did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him…” (Compare Matthew 1:24 with JST Matthew 2:7) “And when they [the wise men] were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord, appeared to Joseph in a vision, saying, Arise and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and tarry thou there until I bring thee word…” (Compare Matthew 2:13 with JST Matthew 3:13)

Dreams and visions are often interchangeable in scripture. As Lehi was introducing his family to the marvelous spiritual experience he had been given concerning the tree of life he said: “Behold, I have dreamed a dream; or, in other words, I have seen a vision.” (1 Nephi 8:2) In the Church some refer to this experience as “Lehi’s Dream of the Tree of Life” and others refer to it as “Lehi’s Vision of the Tree of Life.” Whether dream or vision, it is given as a gift from God.

Joseph Smith Sr.’s Dreams
“Joseph Smith Sr. had been prepared to father a prophet. During the early childhood of young Joseph, his father had received seven prophetic dreams teaching him that a great work was about to come forth upon the land and that his family would take part in it.” (1) These dreams were profound in their meaning and powerful in their effect upon Joseph Smith Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith, the parents of the Prophet Joseph.

Unless one is intimately familiar with Lucy Mack Smith’s history of her son, one might miss the little known accounts of her husband’s dreams or visions which began in April 1811, and ended in 1819. (2)

Soon after the Smith’s move to Lebanon, New Hampshire, in the late spring or early summer of 1811, (3) Joseph Smith Sr. was given a dream which is strikingly similar to Lehi’s vision or dream of the tree of life, though the setting is somewhat different. Hugh Nibley commented on this: “It is interesting that Joseph Smith, Sr., had almost the same dream [as Lehi], according to his wife, who took comfort in comparing the wanderings of her own family with those of ‘Father Lehi.’ But what is significant is not the resemblance of the two dreams but the totally different settings of the two; when the prophet’s father dreamed himself lost in ‘this field [of] the world,’ he ‘could see nothing save dead, fallen timber,’ a picture which of course faithfully recalls his own frontier background.” (4) Lehi was traveling for hours “in a dark and dreary waste,” indicative of the geography, topography and setting of Lehi’s journey. The Lord always speaks to the children of men in their own language and context so that they might understand. (See D&C 1: 24)

The following is the text of Joseph Smith Sr.’s dream (this was his second dream or vision) taken from Lucy Mack Smith’s account. Over thirty correlations can be found between Lehi’s and Joseph Smith Sr.’s visions:

“I thought, said he, “I was traveling in an open, desolate field which appeared to be very barren. As I was thus traveling, the thought suddenly came into my mind that I had better stop and reflect upon what I was doing before I went any farther. So I asked myself, ‘What motive can I have in traveling here, and what place can this be?’

“My guide, who was by my side as before, said, ‘This is the desolate world, but travel on.’ The road was so broad and barren that I wondered why I should travel in it, for said I to myself, ‘Broad is the road, and wide is the gate that leads to death, and many there be that walk therein; but narrow is the way, and strait is the gate that leads to everlasting life, and few there be that go in thereat.’

“Traveling a short distance further, I came to a narrow path. This path I entered, and, when I had traveled a little way in it, I beheld a beautiful stream of water which ran from the east to the west. Of this stream I could see neither the source nor yet the mouth, but as far as my eyes could extend I could see a rope, running along the bank of it about as high as a man could reach, and beyond me was a low but very pleasant valley in which stood a tree such as I had never seen before. It was exceedingly handsome, insomuch that I looked upon it with wonder and admiration. Its beautiful branches spread themselves somewhat like an umbrella, and it bore a kind of fruit, in shape much like a chestnut bur, and as white as snow, or, if possible, whiter. I gazed upon the same with considerable interest, and as I was doing so, the burs or shells commenced opening and shedding their particles, or the fruit which they contained, which was of dazzling whiteness. I drew near and began to eat of it, and I found it delicious beyond description.

“As I was eating, I said in my heart, ‘I cannot eat this alone, I must bring my wife and children, that they may partake with me.’ Accordingly, I went and brought my family, which consisted of a wife and seven children, and we all commenced eating and praising God for this blessing. We were exceedingly happy, insomuch that our joy could not easily be expressed.

“While thus engaged, I beheld a spacious building standing opposite the valley which we were in, and it appeared to reach to the very heavens. It was full of doors and windows, and they were all filled with people, who were very finely dressed. When these people observed us in the low valley, under the tree, they pointed the finger of scorn at us, and treated us with all manner of disrespect and contempt. But their contumely we utterly disregarded.

“I presently turned to my guide and inquired of him the meaning of the fruit that was so delicious. He told me it was the pure love of God, shed abroad in the hearts of all those who love him and keep his commandments. He then commanded me to go and bring the rest of my children. I told him that we were all there. ‘No,’ he replied, ‘look yonder, you have two more, and you must bring them also.’ Upon raising my eyes, I saw two small children standing some distance off. I immediately went to them and brought them to the tree, upon which they commenced eating with the rest, and we all rejoiced together. (5) The more we ate, the more we seemed to desire, until we even got down upon our knees and scooped it up, eating it by double handfuls.

“After feasting in this manner a short time, I asked my guide what was the meaning of the spacious building which I saw. He replied, ‘It is Babylon, it is Babylon, and it must fall. The people in the doors and windows are the inhabitants thereof, who scorn and despise the Saints of God because of their humility.’ I soon awoke, clapping my hands together for joy.” (6)

Fulfillment of Prophesy
All of this reminds us of the words of the Prophet Joel, who said, “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit.” (Joel 2:28,29)


1. Proctor, Scot Facer. Witness of the Light, A Photographic Journey in the Footsteps of the American Prophet Joseph Smith. Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, 1991, p. 21.

2. See Revised and Enhanced History of Joseph Smith by his Mother, edited by Scot and Maurine Proctor, Bookcraft, Salt Lake City, 1996, chapters 13-17.

3. It appears that the dream or vision could have been received as much as a year later in the summer of 1812. See footnote 5.

4. Nibley, Hugh. Lehi in the Desert, The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, Volume 5. Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, and F.A.R.M.S., Provo, Utah, 1988, p. 44.

5. It is most likely that this dream was given to Joseph Smith Sr. sometime in the summer of 1812, after the birth of Catharine (July 28, 1812). The two children that were yet to be born in the Smith family were Don Carlos (March 25, 1816) and little Lucy (July 18, 1821). It is also possible that in the vision the two children that were to be gathered in with the family were their firstborn son, who had died, and Ephraim, who lived only eleven days.

6. Revised and Enhanced History of Joseph Smith by his Mother, pp. 64-66.