Lehi’s Dream, Variation 3
Posted by NathanG on November 10, 2011
1 Nephi contains three different versions of Lehi’s vision of the tree of life. The first is Lehi’s vision as he relates it to his family (1 Nephi 8). The second is Nephi’s expanded version comprising (1 Nephi 11-14). The third and shortest is Nephi’s brothers’ short version (1 Nephi 15 and maybe a little of 16). I want to point out a few parallels between the three versions and then talk about an observation from the third version.
Why was it received?
Lehi: Not explicitly stated. I suppose Lehi is thinking a lot about his children and their future. Family members are mentioned specifically by name, and their individual part in the dream seems to be the reason why Lehi shared the vision. I’m sure he is a worried parent.
Nephi: 1 Ne 10:17 Nephi wants to see, and hear, and know of these things, by the power of the Holy Ghost. “These things” referring both to the things Lehi saw in his vision, and what Nephi has taken time to write in the first part of chapter 10 including the future of the Jews and the Gentiles and the grafting in of the branches into the olive tree.
Nephi’s brothers: They want to know what Lehi meant about the natural branches of the olive tree. They also ask what certain parts of the vision meant.
How was it received?
Lehi: Beheld in a vision. Not much recorded about what led up to the vision.
Nephi: Beheld in a vision. Desired to know what Lehi knew and behold what he beheld. He was pondering the words when he was caught away in his vision.
Nephi’s brothers: Argued amongst themselves about what it meant. Did not inquire of the Lord because “the Lord maketh no such thing known unto us.” (1 Ne 15:8). They ask Nephi instead. (How often do we turn to whom we view as expert instead of the Lord).
How did the vision affect the person.
Lehi: Rejoiced over Nephi and Sam, but feared exceedingly for Laman and Lemuel (1 Ne 8:3-4)
Nephi: Grieved over the things he beheld. “Overcome because of my afflictions, for I considered that mine afflictions were great above all, because of the destruction of my people, for I had beheld their fall.” (1 Ne 15:5)
Nephi’s brothers: Thou has declared unto us hard things, more than we are able to bear.” (1 Ne 16:1) Interestingly, this seems to have humbled them as they are not recorded causing many other problems until they are in the land Bountiful (they complained, but didn’t really cause trouble when Nephi broke his bow).
The Third Version
When Nephi gives his brothers an explanation of the vision and answers their question about the branches of the olive tree, he follows these proportions.
Natural branches of the olive tree and of the Gentiles—9 verses
Tree of life—1 verse
Iron rod—2 verses
River of water—10 verses
Striking. The most important part (or so it seems) gets one measly verse. It’s possible he expounded more on each point, but didn’t record it, but it’s possible that this reflected where Laman and Lemuel’s worries or needs were.
Nephi points out Lehi didn’t pay much attention to the filthiness of the water, but talks extensively about it, and here is where I made an interesting observation. He states
that it was an awful gulf, which separated the wicked from the tree of life, and also from the saints of God (1 Ne15:28).
He also states (seemingly out of nowhere)
that our father also saw that the justice of God did also divide the wicked from the righteous; and the brightness thereof was like unto the brightness of a flaming fire, which ascendeth up unto God forever and ever, and hath no end. (1 Ne 15:30)
The filthy and the justice of God both serve to separate the wicked from the righteous. Are we to somehow relate the two to one another? Why was it important for Nephi to include the discussion of the justice of God, which with the description of it’s brightness seems to be a purposeful contrast to the filthiness of the water? One approach is to consider the two groups involved. If I’m righteous, I probably see clearly that what separates me from the wicked is filthiness (that I have been cleansed from) of the river of water. The justice of God is in my favor at this point (see Alma’s discussion of the plan of restoration and the justice of God in Alma 41) and probably not what is obviously separating me from the wicked. However, if I’m wicked, I’m looking across the water and at some point realize I am separated from the righteous by the blinding justice of God. It stands in stark contrast to the filthiness that I see around me. In fact, it’s quite possible that I don’t even recognize my own filthiness, the filthiness of the water before me, nor the filthiness surrounding me. As filth becomes common, it becomes difficult to recognize the filthiness anymore. Earlier this year we sold our house. In preparation for showing the house, we did a deep clean. I was amazed at how much filth I had allowed to build up. Our house was usually neat and tidy, but until that moment, I never even considered how much filth there really was. Other examples of filthiness we may not even be aware of include vulgar language in the workplace, which is so common in my profession, that people don’t seem to even notice how often their language is offensive. Similarly, premarital sex is the expected norm to a point that many people just think that’s the way life is. The filthiness becomes such a way of life that only the justice of God will lead the wicked to realize they are separated from both the tree and the saints of God.
Let’s hope we are not blindly allowing our own filthiness to separate us from the tree?