BoM Lesson 3
Posted by BrianJ on January 13, 2008
1 Nephi 8-11; 12:16-18; 15
I’m going to try to highlight some of the online resources for this lesson, as well as add a few thoughts of my own.
Okay, obviously this is just my opinion, but…. I think what will be most difficult for many trachers of this lesson is that they will try to “cover it all.” Certainly that’s a potential problem with every lesson, but the challenge here is that it is actually possible to do it. The result is a lesson where the teacher reads through each symbol, asks the class what it means, and succeeds in getting through the lesson without ever getting to the lesson.
One could argue for taking that kind of approach with small children or very new members, but it really would become an argument (at least from me). I just don’t see how memorization or matching games helps anyone. I don’t care whether my 6-year old knows what the “rod of iron stand for” or not; what I desire is that it means something to her.
The “solution” is obvious: pick one thing to discuss and do it well. I hope that what follows will give you some ideas and resources to do just that.
Commonly Addressed Themes
Obviously, most commentaries focused on the Vision of the Tree of Life—the title of the lesson—and most lesson plans break down the material by Visions and People.
• Bill Beardall has a nice collection of related quotes from various church leaders.
• James E. Neumann begins with a brief discussion of some other dreams in the scriptures. I like this approach and think it could be developed more fully into a complete (45 min) lesson. Neumann breaks down the lesson by topic: i.e., all verses pertaining to the rod of iron, then all those concerning the people Lehi saw, etc. He concludes with a word exercise on the “4 C’s”:
“Mark the following words in your scriptures: commence (1 Nephi 8:22), caught hold (1 Nephi 8:24), clinging (1 Nephi 8:24), and continually (1 Nephi 8:30). These words help us understand what we must do to reach the tree of life: we must commence in the strait and narrow path, catch hold of the rod of iron and cling to it, and continue moving toward the tree.”
• Meridian Magazine has a short article on the meaning of the tree:
“What is this tree that is so irresistibly delicious? Our quick answer is the “love of God,” which is indeed correct, but a more detailed answer is given Nephi in chapter 11…. The tree is the Savior and his atonement that is represented as so inexpressibly beautiful and sweet.”
• Brad Constantine inserts sometimes extensive color-coded commentary (often quoting from various other sources) into the full text of the scriptures. The benefit is that it includes commentary on verses outside of Lehi’s dream (e.g., chapter 15), but I hesitate to use it in creating a lesson because the format gives a sort of “this is all there is” feel (though I highly doubt that that was the intent of the author). Rather, I would work on my own lesson and then go there to consult on a particular verse.
• Ted Gibbons does a nice job of moving past what the symbols represent to what they mean:
“If someone chooses to leave the rod and the path, what other roads does the dream indicate that they might then walk?” “Why would Satan want our eyes to be blinded? What are the things in the dream he does not want us to see? Why would Satan not want us to see the tree/the rod/the river of filthy water?” “If the tree, the rod and the river are obscured, what are people left to seek in the dream?” “Take some time to identify the four groups of people mentioned in the dream. Compare the characteristics of each of the groups. You will find an interesting comparison between these groups and the four groups in the parable of the sower in Matthew 13.”
• PonderIt has an introduction to Margaret Barker seminar on the OT meaning of “white fruit” and “rod of iron.” I highly, highly recommend looking into the part about the rod of iron (especially if you will be attending my class; hint, hint).
• Brant Gardiner posted extensive notes. Here are a few highlights:
“It is tempting to look only at verse 24 and not the importance of clinging to the iron rod. …. The iron rod is a guide, not an end.”
“The most difficult image is the building standing in the air – “high above the earth.” It appears likely that the building is shown detached from the “world” because the large and spacious field in which Lehi stands is representative of the larger path to celestialization, and the building has no part in that. It is visible to it, it obviously can effect it, but has no true place in the world of the tree.”
“Something about his father’s vision struck Nephi more strongly than any other vision his father had received. Nephi did not request … a replay of the vision which sent the brothers back to Jerusalem for the brass plates. Nevertheless, this vision impresses him tremendously. The reason for that impression is not in the symbology which Nephi has already described, but in the ultimate meaning of those symbols, the meaning of which is the part of the vision which so intrigued him that he would ponder it.”
“In verse 33 Nephi sees Christ lifted up on the cross and slain. This event in the life of Christ had such a profound impact on the Christian community that the cross is the quintessential symbol for Christ throughout much of the world. The imagery of that death, and the language of the cross permeate the New Testament letters. How does this image appear in the Book of Mormon?”
Because most commentaries focus on the dreams, many important and interesting points are often neglected (but not on purpose!). For example, I found only one blog post that even briefly discussed the phrase “one eternal round” in 10:19 and a little bit of discussion on the Feast Wiki (see here and here).
Why is that? Is it because we don’t find the phrase important (I doubt this), don’t notice it (focus entirely on the vision), or just don’t understand it well enough to say anything about it? I’ll confess that I fall a bit into the last category: I really don’t get it.
Other “neglected” points include:
• Discussion of the two waters mentioned in the dreams. See 11:25 and 12:16. Were there more than two bodies of water in the dream? What’s going on in 12:16?
• Not much discussion about the gulf that divides (12:16-18). What is the gulf that divides them? Who does it divide? How? What does “divide” mean? Is the “word of the justice of God” the same as the iron rod, or something else? How is God’s word sometimes represented as something that “divides”?
• A lot (and I mean a ubiquitous lot) of discussion points to the “4 C’s,” but surprisingly little commentary challenges the idea. What are the 4 C’s? “Commence (1 Nephi 8:22), Caught hold (1 Nephi 8:24), Clinging (1 Nephi 8:24), and Continually (1 Nephi 8:30).” Are all of the C’s good things? NathanG on the Feast Blog challenges the idea that clinging to the rod is a good thing, given that those who did so ate the fruit and then fell away. Was their loyalty entirely toward the rod and not the tree? Be sure to read the short discussion that follows.
• New Cool Thang has a very nice post on “the way” as used in various scriptures, from OT to BoM. Note also the first comment, which elaborates this theme throughout the BoM. I really liked this as a potential lesson focus.
Mostly, I will highlight some of the questions that I think would be worth developing into mini- or full lessons. The first set come from the Feast Wiki:
• As members of the church, who leads us to the tree?
• Why would Lehi pray for mercy while traveling in the darkness? Was there something more to the dream than just being in the dark?
• Why does this verse echo the phrase “a tree to be desired to make one wise” found in Gen 3:6?
• Why was it necessary for the iron rod to follow the route of the river from its head to the tree?
• What does it mean that the people “fell down”? (8:30)
• Is power the only thing the Lord uses to fulfill his words? (9:6)
• Extensive discussion of 10:1-4 is found on the Feast Wiki. I don’t know how it would work in a Sunday School lesson, but I found it interesting.
• What does it mean to be “led with one accord”? (10:13)
• What is the difference in the faith expressed by someone who believes that the Lord can do something versus one who believes the Lord will do something? When is each appropriate? (11:1)
• Compare Nephi’s ‘formula’ for having the mysteries of God unfolded to Alma’s formula for nourishing a seed of faith in Alma 32:41: (1) have desire, (2) nourish this desire with faith, diligence and patience. (See accompanying exegesis of chapter 11 on the Wiki.)
• What exactly is the condescension of God? Why does the angel ask Nephi about the condescension of God rather than about something else? (11:16)
• “Word of God” can be understood in two ways: (1) as in Hebrews 11:3, where it means simply “God’s words” or (more often) (2) God’s revelations.
• Verse 11:34 tells us that the building is the wisdom of the world. If we compare that to 1 Nephi 8:26-27 we see that the world and its wisdom is derision of those who are outside. What does that mean? 1 Ne 12:18 says that the building is human vain imaginations and pride. How do those three versions of the building fit with one another?
• What did it mean to “hold fast” to the scriptures for a people who had no concept of, or experience with, personal ownership of scriptures? (15:24)
• Very interesting questions about hell, justice, gulf, etc. in 15:26-36.
Jim F. posted notes for chapter 11 on Times and Seasons. Here are some of my favorites (whatever that means):
• Compare the personage who responds to Nephi’s desire with that who responded to Lehi (1 Nephi 1:5-6). Are they the same being?
• Before Lehi saw the tree, he went through a dark and dreary space and a large and spacious field (1 Nephi 8:7-9). Why do you think those things are omitted from Nephi’s experience?
• Why is beauty a representation of good and godliness? What do you make of the fact that verses 13 and 15 describe the virgin in the same language used in verses 8-9 to describe the tree? How is the birth of Christ the interpretation of or explanation of the tree?
• Having seen the birth, Nephi says that the tree is the love of God (verse 22). How does he get that from what he has seen?
• Why does Nephi see a vision of the crucifixion of Jesus, but not of his resurrection?
And a few questions of my own:
• 11:2 – When are we asked a question similar to what Nephi is asked by the Spirit? Is that coincidence or an important insight into Nephi’s experience? Does that relate to Nephi’s admonitions in chapter 15?
• 15:10 – “How is it that ye will perish, because of the hardness of your hearts?” Is the comma original? Try reading it with and without.
• 15:20 – Why do Nephi’s brothers respond so well to him here as opposed to how they responded in the past? What is different?
• 15:34-35 – Nephi explains the existence of hell in an interesting way: you have all these souls that cannot go to heaven, so there had to be some place to put them. Why would the devil prepare hell? What does that even mean? Nephi doesn’t even hint at anything like the three degree of glory (i.e., celestial, terrestrial, telestial), but promotes a dichotomous view: heaven or hell. Why?
I wouldn’t ever want to deal with this in class, but here and here is some information for members of the yet-to-be-organized “Archaeologist Ward”. It’s about a possible (or not) Mesoamerican rendering (Stela 5) of Lehi’s dream.
Here is some info on Joseph Smith Sr.’s dream, which was remarkably similar to Lehi’s.