After Lehi had his dream of the tree of life, his sons had some choices, and, based on those, in the next few hours had radically different experiences. Laman and Lemuel went to their tent and fought about the meaning of the dream, and Nephi was swept up to a mountain and given a vision. What Laman and Lemuel missed out on in insisting on their war of words!

You can also find it on any of these platforms by searching for Meridian Magazine-Come Follow Me.

Maurine and Scot Proctor have taught Book of Mormon for many years in Institute and have spent extensive time in the Arabian peninsula, following Lehi’s trail. They are the creators of a foundation that has sponsored a multi-year archaeological study of the best candidate for Nephi’s Bountiful in Oman. They have written a book on the Book of Mormon, as well as immersed themselves in the culture, history, and geography. of the scripture.

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Maurine

After Lehi had his dream of the tree of life, his sons had some choices, and, based on those, in the next few hours had radically different experiences. Laman and Lemuel went to their tent and fought about the meaning of the dream, and Nephi was swept up to a mountain and given a vision. What Laman and Lemuel missed out on in insisting on their war of words!

Scot

Hello, we are Scot and Maurine Proctor and this is Meridian Magazine’s Come Follow Me podcast. Our lesson today is “Armed with Righteousness and the Power of God,” and covers 1 Nephi 11-15, where we see Nephi’s remarkable vision. The full transcript for this podcast is at latterdaysaintmag.com/podcast and while you are there please sign up for our free daily updates so you can get the breaking news of the Church.

It is funny how seemingly small choices, accumulating one after another, make so much difference. When Lehi had his dream, wouldn’t you have been tempted to think, “Wow. That’s incredible. I’m sure glad he told me about it.” Doesn’t it seem like it would have been enough to experience this second hand? You might have thought, “Something like that could never happen to me,” or “It would take so much work to draw close enough to the Lord to receive revelation.” Nephi did not think that and we have been blessed by what he did instead.

Maurine

His choice gives us a pattern for how to receive revelation. First, Nephi desired to know the things which his father had seen. Desire is a pivotal word here. We are not talking about some lackluster, pathetic wish that crosses his mind and then leaves. He is passionate and fervent and wants to know God so much, that he puts this first over discomfort or ease or anything else. He is laser focused. 

When I think of desire, I think of Abraham. He was also a man of yearning desires for God. He writes, “And, finding there was greater happiness and peace and rest for me, I sought or the blessings of the fathers…having been myself a follower of righteousness, desiring also to be one who possessed great knowledge, and to possess a greater  knowledge” (Abraham 1:2).  

What we are seeing here is the key role of our desire in drawing close to the Lord. Abraham has it. Nephi has it. I suspect every truly righteous person has been on fire with desire for heavenly things. We may sometimes think of ourselves as filled with all kinds of desire, but in reality, we don’t want too much. We want too little. We want chocolate, escape, a vacation, a great meal, when all the time what is offered us is so much more.  We are too easily satisfied with temporary pleasures or relief, when, in fact, the great God of heaven offers us glorious and soul-expanding.

Scot

We are like children playing on the seashore with pebbles, when there is gold available. We can do something about our desires. We can pray to desire what the Lord is willing to give us. We can pray to want righteousness, to want God. It is not that we’ve found our place on earth, it has found its place in us. We want a Costco poppy seed muffin instead of ascending to the mountain of the Lord.

When Nephi says that he believed “that the Lord was able to make… known unto me,” the things his father had seen, he is acting on faith. He sounds like Joseph Smith when he prayed the night that Moroni came. Joseph said as he began to pray, “I had full confidence in obtaining a divine manifestation, as I previously had one” (Joseph Smith—History 1:29).

Nephi, too, had had a previous experience. But the more we have interaction with the Lord, feel his revelations, see His hand in our lives, the more faith we have. No wonder he will say later to his brothers, disputing about their father’s vision, “Have ye inquired of the Lord?” They answered “We have not; for the Lord maketh no such thing known unto us” (1 Nephi 15:8,9).

Maurine

Sometimes we can identify with Laman and Lemuel in this moment. We think maybe the Lord won’t talk to us or won’t answer us. Yet, he stands there with his arms outstretched toward us.  In our relationship with the Lord, who moves away? It’s not Him, but us, and maybe that move is sponsored by our unbelieving thoughts like these, “Why should I try? He won’t talk to me anyway?” He will and He does, and we have to be patient with that process. 

So Nephi has this glorious moment, saying, “As I sat pondering in mine heart I was caught away in the Spirit of the Lord, 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; Behold what desirest thou?” (1 Nephi 11: 1,2)

Three ideas jump out here. First, he is pondering on heavenly things, and this kind of pondering opens the door to revelation. If I were the Adversary and I wanted to keep the Latter-day Saints in the shallows, caught up in trivial things, I would distract them to death. I would suggest to them that the best way to arrange your life is to keep it as noisy and busy and task-centered as possible. I would fill every empty space with the radio in the car, the cell phone at your finger tips and drown them in easy entertainment so they never thought a deep thought or contemplated their inner life or cried out to the Lord. 

Scot 

The second idea is that Nephi is transported to an exceedingly high mountain, this one not of this world. What is interesting here is that mountains in scripture are where prophets go to meet God. Moses goes to a mountain to receive the law and see God face to face. The brother of Jared goes to a mountain and is visited from the Lord, and now Nephi comes here.  Mountains in the scriptures are temples—and how can you tell? A temple is a place we go to be ushered into God’s presence, and this is the role we see mountains play in scripture. The essence of a temple experience is being ushered into the presence of God.

Finally, look how important his righteous desires are, for the first thing the Spirit says to him is “What desirest thou?” What now will come to Nephi is a sweeping, grand vision that will show him the coming of the Messiah to the Jews, the expanse of Nephite history, and the scope of the Gentile experience. It will portray the rise and fall of nations and peoples, wars and conflict, the intervention of God to reverse the division, the birth and death of new ages, the impulses and temptations of generations.

What Lehi has seen in his dream in allegory, is now played out before Nephi as it will be lived out in history. The great gulf that divides the righteous from the wicked, the systems of thought that would be a great mist of darkness, the mocking from the world.

Maurine

In this way, his vision becomes the perfect preamble to the Book of Mormon and its destiny. Scene upon scene, it shows Nephi what will happen to his people and the part their story will play to another nation—ours. We have seen other prophets have these comprehensive visions—Enoch and Moses—for example, and suspect that if we had the record, additional prophets who had the weight of dispensations or peoples had similar all-encompassing views. 

Nephi’s vision points to all that we will then watch transpire as we read the record.

It is noteworthy, too, that Nephi’s vision is apocalyptic. He sees not only the end of his people, but the end of the world.  Although, he sees it, Nephi cannot write it:

Scot 

Nephi is told:

24 And behold, the things which this aapostle of the Lamb shall write are many things which thou hast seen; and behold, the remainder shalt thou see.

25 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).

Maurine

In chapter 11, the Spirit, in the form of a man, unfolds a vision to Nephi to answer his question about the tree of life, and then the Spirit asks Nephi to “Look” and describe what he sees.  At this point, the Spirit leaves Nephi’s presence and an angel comes to be Nephi’s guide.

The beauty of this tree exceeds all beauty and the whiteness exceeds “the whiteness of the driven snow”. It is “the tree which is precious above all” (1 Nephi 11:8,9). To understand what this tree is, Nephi is shown “a virgin most beautiful and fair above all other virgins” bearing a child in her arms.

And the angel said unto me: Behold the aLamb of God, yea, even the bSon of the Eternal cFather! Knowest thou the meaning of the dtree which thy father saw?” (1 Nephi 11:21)

I have often asked my Institute students when teaching these verses,  “So what is the tree of life?” and everyone can dutifully answer from a lifetime of learning, “It is the love of God.”

“Yes,” I say, “but what is the love of God? We just saw it.” It has been surprising to me how many don’t take that connection further to say, the tree of life represents the Savior and His atoning sacrifice and mission. Jesus Christ’s life was a love note from God the Father to us. The tree of life, yes, is the love of God, but the love of God for us is personified in His Son. “For God so loved the world, that he gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).  

Scot 

Later in Alma 32, when Alma is teaching the people about faith, he compares the word to a seed, and tells them if they will plant the word or seed, in their heart and not cast it out, “it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me” (Alma 32:28). 

Now notice, what does that seed grow up to be as it is carefully nourished. It is the tree of life. The same wording is used, with fruit “which is sweet above all that is sweet, and which is white above all that is white, yea, and pure above all that is pure; and ye shall feast upon this fruit even until ye are filled, that ye hunger not, neither shall ye thirst” (Alma 32:42).

As we align with Him, the Lord and His light becomes interlaced with our very nature and soul. The tree of life grows in us.

Maurine

That image is powerful, visceral. With this sweetness offered, who would choose anything else? Yet, Nephi says that after Christ is slain, “I saw the multitudes of the earth, that they were gathered together to fight aagainst the apostles of the Lamb” (1 Nephi 11:34). Why? Why? Why? Why would anyone turn down a gift so sweet? It is because of the pride of the world, generations and multitudes that are in that great and spacious building stuck on the search for self-importance, hoping to be smart and cool, and intellectual or powerful or at least in with the popular crowd of any age. Seeking to control others because they have the answers. Their point of view will save the world. Humility has never been admired by this group. Mocking, disdain, pointing fingers, anything that can lift them above another is the way.

That great and spacious building is a house of cards that will fall to destruction.  Nephi sees it.

Scot

And, though Nephi and his family are enduring a wilderness journey to flee the world, the promised land will not be exempt from this . The reasons will be the same. 

Where the Lord seeks Oneness, and Zion is for those of one heart and one mind, Satan loves to foment division. He sows hatred, contests for superiority and attention. We can even feel it in ourselves, every time we hope it is our point of view that will triumph in a conversation or every time we want more than our neighbor—even if that is more attention.

To his heartbreak, and we can feel it because Nephi is describing what he personally saw, he says, “I beheld multitudes of people, yea, even as it were in number as many as the bsand of the sea” and they were “gathered together to battle, one against the other; and I beheld awars, and rumors of wars, and great slaughters with the sword among my people,” and this continues for generations. (1 Nephi 12:1,2,3).

Maurine

The only people who are at peace are those who come to the tree of life and the only nations at peace are those who do the same. Otherwise war and factions and hatred and divisions dominate then and now.

Nephi sees the mists of darkness, lightnings, the earthquakes that destroy the land, and, he says, “I saw the heavens open, and the Lamb of God descending out of heaven; and he came down and showed himself unto them” (1 Nephi 12: 6).

Only then there is peace for those who have faith in Christ and whose garments “are made white in His blood” (1 Nephi 12:6). It is the only way. They become a people of whom there are none happier, but it cannot last beyond three generations. The fourth generation begins to turn to the old divisions, taking up residence in the great and spacious building again. The old wars will begin all over again. 

Scot

Nephi’s heart is seared when he sees that his people are lost in the mists of darkness “which blindeth the eyes and hardeneth the hearts of the children of men” and are overcome by their enemies, which are his brothers’ own posterity.

President Ezra Taft Benson in his foundational talk, called “Beware of Pride” told us why after the Nephites had so much, it came to such a terrible end. “Most of us think of pride as self-centeredness, conceit, boastfulness, arrogance, or haughtiness. All of these are elements of the sin, but the heart, or core, is still missing.

“The central feature of pride is enmity—enmity toward God and enmity toward our fellowmen. Enmity means ‘hatred toward, hostility to, or a state of opposition.’ It is the power by which Satan wishes to reign over us.

Pride is essentially competitive in nature. We pit our will against God’s. When we direct our pride toward God, it is in the spirit of ‘my will and not thine be done’ As Paul said, they ‘seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s.’(Philip. 2:21.)

“Our will in competition to God’s will allows desires, appetites, and passions to go unbridled.” (See Alma 38:123 Ne. 12:30.) https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/1989/04/beware-of-pride?lang=eng

Maurine

As a result “they had dwindled in unbelief they became a dark and loathsome, and a filthy people, full of idleness and all manner of abominations” (1 Nephi 12:23). The story of the world is exactly like this—one of lost promise. 

Nephi’s vision continues and he sees the formation of a great and abominable church, “whose founder is the devil” (1 Nephi 14:17). It has “dominion over all the earth, among all nations, kindreds, tongues and people” (1 Nephi 14:11) It is portrayed almost like a shopping bazaar in Babylon with “gold, and silver, and silks and scarlets, and fine-twined linen,” and “for the praise of the world do they destroy the saints of God, and bring them down into captivity” (1 Nephi 13:9) What is that abominable church? 

President Dallin H. Oaks said, “Because no religious denomination—Christian or non-Christian—has ever had ‘dominion’ over all nations of the earth or the potential to bring all the saints of God down into ‘captivity’ this great and abominable church must be something far more pervasive and widespread than a single “church” as we understand that term today. It must be any philosophy or organization that opposes belief in God. And the ‘captivity’ into which this ‘church’ seeks to bring the saints will not be so much physical confinement as the captivity of false ideas.” (Dallin H. Oaks, “Stand as Witnesses of God”, March, 2015).

Scot

These philosophies of the great and abominable church (the name in German is much more effective:  Grosse und Abschoicliche Kirke –which is now grosse und greulreiche Kirche) take many forms depending on the period in history and the place in the world. They may be utopian ideologies that seek to coerce behavior to, as they see it, make the world a better place, transformed in their image. Communisn and fascism were such ideas. These philosophies may be those that strip God of His true attributes and recast Him as frightening and vengeful. 

Maurine

We were just listening to a course last night on the medieval world, and the professor said that if you lived then, you would have been terrified that when you died you were going to hell. That was what was so vividly portrayed for you.

Scot

They may be systems of ideas that suggest there is no such thing as truth or morality. They may be ideas that say man is the measure of all things and abandon the knowledge that there is any such thing as truth. 

Maurine

The great an abominable church can take so many forms, but it does reflect its founder, the devil, and so you need to look no farther than the war in heaven to understand what his big ideas are. Whenever you see these big ideas at work, the adversary has been busy.

First, that God should be moved from His place, that He is no longer the sovereign of all things.  Satan wanted God’s glory from the beginning and he still does. Wherever there are systems of thought that abandon God at the center or replace him with a caricature of His true attributes, this is the great and abominable church at work. At his worst, Satan not only seeks to replace God, but to persecute those who will not comply. Believers have been martyred, burned, beheaded, thrown into the arena and much more over the centuries, but they have also been mocked, disdained, imprisoned and marginalized for their beliefs. In our day and age, it might be as nuanced as you are not to mention God in polite company, and certainly not at work for fear of criticism or retribution. 

Scot

Second, in the war in heaven, Satan sought to redefine what virtue meant. He posed his arguments as if he were the one standing for good and that he only had our best interests at heart. His devious plan he claims is virtue, and those who do the most brutal things often say they do it for good. Even Laman and Lemuel will insist that the people in Jerusalem were good, though among their activities were sacrificing children to the false god Molech in the valley just south of the walls of the city. 

Satan basically claims that he does everything for good, otherwise he would have less appeal. More specifically, he tells people that his philosophies are for their good. Follow him and they will be less frightened, less lonely, more satisfied, more lovable, more powerful.

Maurine

Third, Satan’s philosophies always have an element of coercion. The reason in the war in heaven that he claimed he could save everybody, is that moral agency would be abandoned. Systems that have his mark upon them insist, you must do it my way or you must see it my way or some kind of social punishment follows.

Now, no matter how much dominion Satan’s great and abominable church seems to wield, God is always stronger and will triumph. Nephi can see such a sweep of history because God knows the end from the beginning. He knows when and how to intervene.

Scot

Yes, Nephi “looked and beheld a man among the Gentiles, who was separated from the seed of my brethren by the many waters; and I beheld the Spirit of God, that it came down and wrought upon the man; and he went forth upon the many waters, even unto the seed of my brethren, who were in the promised land.”

1 Nephi 13:12

This, of course, is Christopher Columbus, born in Genoa, who studied the Bible, was fascinated by maps, and began to have a vision for himself. He wanted to enlarge Christianity, but more specifically he wanted to find a route to the Indies in order raise the money to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. 

He left on August 2, 1492 with crew in the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria on a voyage that looked as if it were sailing to the very end of the earth. As the weeks passed and rations threatening low, the captains of the other ship said the men were ready to mutiny. They were edgy, apprehensive, nervous. Columbus asked for three days more to spot land before they would turn around, and one can imagine he spent that time in prayer. He wrote in his journal the night he spoke to the captains that his name was Christo-feren or Christ-bearer. He spent the night on the deck looking for any signs of land. Within three days they landed on the shore of a Caribbean island, which he named San Salvador which means Holy Savior. 

Maurine

Columbus said, “Those who heard my enterprise called it foolish, mocked me, and laughed. But who can doubt but that the Holy Ghost inspired me?”

Then Nephi sees multitudes of Gentiles coming out of captivity across the waters into the land of promise and “they did prosper and obtain the land” (! Nephi 13:14). Nephi said, “And I beheld that their mother Gentiles were gathered together upon the waters, and upon the land also, to battle against them.

And I beheld that the power of God was with them, and also that the wrath of God was upon all those that were gathered together aagainst them to battle.

And I, Nephi, beheld that the Gentiles that had gone out of captivity were adelivered by the power of God out of the hands of all other nations” (1 Nephi 13: 16-19).

Scot

It is clear that the Lord’s hand was upon the America revolution. Those who formed this nation conceived of a land of liberty unlike any other that had been on the face of this earth. The American founders felt their cause was glorious and they felt that they were doing their work for future generations. There was a spirit of freedom that moved upon this generation and that was the Spirit of the Lord.

Benjamin Franklin said, “Tyranny is so generally established in the rest of the world that the prospect of an asylum in America for those who love liberty gives general joy, and our cause is esteemed the cause of all mankind…and that we are fighting for their liberty in defending our own.” 

“He also said, “Glorious it is for the Americans to be called by Providence [meaning God] to this post of honor…it is a miracle in human affairs…the greatest revolution the world ever saw. 

Maurine

Thomas Paine said, “We have it in our power to begin the world over again. A situation, similar to the present, hath not happened since the days of Noah until now.” 

On July 1, 1776, the Continental Congress was still in a quandary about whether they would declare independence from Great Britain. John Dickinson, a skilled attorney stood and said to declare independence just now would be “to brave the storm in a skiff made of paper.”

Then John Adams arose. We don’t have the transcript of his talk, before us, but we know that as he gave it, as he wrote later, he was “carried out in spirit.” It thundered and bolts of lightning struck outside the window.

He echoed what he had written earlier in a letter:  “Objects of the most stupendous magnitude, measures in which the lives and liberty of millions, born and unborn are most essentially interested, are now before us. We are in the very midst of revolution, the most complete, unexpected, and remarkable of any in the history of the world.” 

Scot

It was “complete, unexpected, and remarkable” because the hand of the Lord was upon it as Nephi tells us. It was God who delivered those patriots out of the hands of a superior army—and they knew it. We have record of George Washington calling for days of fasting and pray among his troops for the blessing of Providence upon them. The spirit Washington felt was the one Nephi had witnessed in vision. Because of this vision, we need never wonder if this promised land has a unique mission on this earth, and was specifically designed as the birthplace of the restoration.

Maurine

These Gentiles had a book that had “proceedeth out of the mouth of a Jew” (! Nephi 13:23). Of course, that is the Bible, which was not so big as the plates of brass that the Nephites had, “nevertheless, they contain the covenants of the Lord, which he hath made unto the house of Israel; wherefore, they are of great worth unto the Gentiles,” (1 Nephi 13:23). When the book had come from the mouth of the Jew “it contained the fulness of the gospel of the Lord”, (1 Nephi 13:24) but for centuries before the American settlers brought the book with them to the new land there were “many plain and precious things that had been taken away” (1 Nephi 13:28) which caused “an exceedingly great many [to] stumble” (1 Nephi 13:29).

Scot

Nephi learned that “the Lord God” would not “suffer that the Gentiles shall remain in that awful state of blindness” (1 Nepi 13: 32) because of those plain and precious things that had been removed. Instead other records would come forth that contain those doctrines that had been lost, specifically the Book of Mormon. And in a day when the truthfulness of the Bible is trampled, one of the roles of the Book of Mormon would be to “establish the truth”(1 Nephi 13:40) of the Bible. Those Bible-lovers who dismiss the Book of Mormon, don’t realize that the Book of Mormon is a second witness for the scripture they love. 

Maurine 

Nephi is told, “For the time cometh, saith the Lamb of God, that I will work a great and a amarvelous work among the children of men; a bwork which shall be everlasting, either on the one hand or on the other—either to the convincing of them unto cpeace and dlife eternal, or unto the deliverance of them to the hardness of their hearts and the blindness of their minds” (1 Nephi 14:7) Is the Book of Mormon that marvelous work? Yes, because it facilitates the work, but the marvelous work and wonder is even greater than the book. The phrase means the restoring of the covenant in the last days, the monumental building of the kingdom, using the small things of the earth. It is the gathering again of the tribes of Israel with surging missionary work facilitated by the Book of Mormon and other latter-day revelation. It is the restoration of priesthood and revelation. All plain and precious things. 

As LeGrand Richards said, “Joseph Smith, or any other man, could not have obtained all this information by reading all the books that have ever been written… In the face of it all, the wisdom of wise men does perish. ” LeGrand Richards “A Marvelous Work and a Wonder” p. 411.

Scot

In the last days, Nephi learns those Gentiles who shall “harden not their hearts against the Lamb of God “shall be numbered among the house of Israel” (1 Nephi 14:2), and “there are save two churches only; the one is the church of the Lamb of and God, and the other is the church of the devil; wherefore, whoso belongeth not to the church of the Lamb of God belongeth to that great church which is the mother of abominations; and she is the whore of all the earth.” (1 Nephi 14:10)

This, is, of course, in opposition to being wed to the true bridegroom, who is the Savior. Nephi also says,  “I beheld that the church of the Lamb, who were the saints of God, were also upon ball the face of the earth; and their dominions upon the face of the earth were small, because of the wickedness” (1 Nephi 14:12). When you consider the 7-1/2 billion people on the earth, our numbers at just over 16 million are small.

Maurine

Yet, though the numbers are small what a promise is upon the Lord’s saints. Nephi sees “that the great mother of abominations did gather together multitudes upon the face of all the earth, among all nations…to fight against the Lamb of God” but in this war “I, Nephi, beheld the power of the Lamb of God, and upon the covenant people of the Lord, who were scattered upon all the face of the earth; and they were armed with righteousness and with the power of God in great glory” (1 Nephi 14 :13).

Yes, we are warred upon—and this isn’t always a physical war. It is an emotional war, a spiritual war, a war of ideas for our souls, but we are not stripped or left alone in this battle. As covenant people, we are armed with righteousness and the power of God. What a wonderful, powerful idea that is.

Scot

When Nephi returns to his brothers having had this transcendent, transforming vision, they are just fighting in the tent. In his affliction, having seen the future destruction of his posterity—and maybe because of this affliction, he still hopes to rouse his brothers to repentance. He asks, “How is it that ye do not keep the commandments of the Lord? How is it that ye will perish, because of the hardness of your hearts?” (1 Nephi 15:10).

Nephi’s pleading is passionate, but the Book of Mormon is a book full of passionate pleadings from prophets who would warn us, help us, awaken us. With all their souls they are calling out to us, if we will only listen. You can hear their voices as if they were speaking directly to us—and, in fact, they are.

Maurine

Next week, the lessons is called “I Will Prepare the Way Before You” 1 Nephi 16-22, and we’ll talk about the wilderness journey. Because Scot and I have been on big parts of that journey many times, we will take you there. Don’t forget to tell a friend about the podcast. We don’t advertise it, so the only way your friends will know is if you tell them. When we finish, just pick up your phone and text a friend, or put it on Facebook. Thanks to Paul Cardall for the great music which begins and ends this podcast. See you next week.