You can read 1 Nephi 11:8-23 here.
Context and General Information
- According to Nephi’s desire and faith, the Spirit begins to show Nephi the things that Lehi saw in a dream.
- Nephi sees the tree his father saw – it exceeds all beauty.
- After seeing the tree, the Spirit tells Nephi that it is most precious above all. The Spirit then asks Nephi, “What desirest thou?”
- Nephi wants to know the interpretation of this tree.
- Nephi spoke to the Spirit as a man speaks to another man. The Spirit was in the form of a man, but Nephi knew it wasn’t actually a man.
- The Spirit answers Nephi by telling him to Look!
- Nephi saw Jerusalem, Nazareth, and a virgin.
- The Spirit asks Nephi if he knows the condescension of God, but Nephi doesn’t.
- The Spirit explains that the virgin that Nephi sees is the mother of the Son of God. She was carried away in the Spirit, then the Spirit told Nephi: Look!
- Nephi looked and saw the virgin bearing a child in her arms – the Son of God.
- Through this, Nephi begins to understand the meaning of the tree- the love of God – it is the most desirable above all things and the most joyous to the soul.
What Desirest Thou? (Deux)
FYI, we will be studying this section of scriptures for more than one day. Just letting you know now.
We have already studied Nephi’s desire. He wanted to know the the things his father had seen. This is how chapter 11 opens. Now, after a little back and forth, the Spirit rejoices – Nephi has the desire and faith in order to learn more about this dream. The Lord will grant according to Nephi’s desires.
So then, what we read next looks like this, right? (Spoiler alert, this is NOT how it goes).
The Spirit pulls down a giant blackboard, dons a pair of glasses and writes at the top of the Blackboard: Lehi’s Dream. “Get your plates and etching tool out Nephi. You’re gonna need to take notes.”
Then he continues, “First all – the tree. It symbolizes the love of God. Okay? Get it? Let me know when you’re done writing…”
If you’ve read the text, then you know that there is no blackboard, no glasses, no list of meanings.
The Spirit doesn’t just show Nephi the dream and tells him what it means. Instead, the Spirit commands: Look!
And Nephi looks.
This is kind of fascinating to me. Look! The command, “Look!” appears at least 12 times throughout the vision that Nephi sees. (There are other similar commands, too – like Behold…but I didn’t count the “beholds.”) Instead of answering Nephi’s question outright, the Spirit bids him to look.
And what does Nephi see? We read:
“And I looked and beheld a tree; and it was like unto the tree which my father had seen; and the beauty thereof was far beyond, yea, exceeding of all beauty; and the whiteness thereof did exceed the whiteness of the driven snow.” – 1 Nephi 11:8-22
So – Nephi sees the tree of life. Nephi confirms this:
“And it came to pass after I had seen the tree, I said unto the Spirit: I behold thou hast shown unto me the tree which is precious above all.” – 1 Nephi 11:9
After this the Spirit asks Nephi again What desirest thou?
You know, as I write this, I realize that the Spirit probably already knew the answer to this.
Think about it. Nephi had already been praying and pondering – to know what Lehi saw. Then, after Nephi was taken away into a high mountain the Spirit asked him “What desirest thou?” He probably already knew the answer then. Nephi told him – to see what his father had seen.
Then, as we know, the Spirit asked Nephi if he believed. Yes, Nephi believed. Rejoicing! The Spirit shows Nephi this one thing – a tree. Then asks him again, “What desirest thou?”
Why is he asking this again? Why is it so important for Nephi to reiterate what he desires so many times? I firmly believe that the Spirit already knows what Nephi desires. We know that the Spirit can discern our thoughts. So, why is the Spirit asking this again?
I can’t say that I know for sure.
Right now, the only thought I’m having is prayer.
I don’t know if it is the right train of thought, but we’ll see where it goes.
Remember the parable:
“And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint;
Saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man:
And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary.
And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man;
Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.
And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith.
And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them?
I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” – Luke 18:1-8
This is such an interesting parable. I found the following in the Institute Manual:
“Luke stated the main message of the parable of the importuning widow and unjust judge- “men ought always to pray, and not to faint,” (Luke 18:1). The Greek word translated as “to faint” means to become discouraged or weary or to tire of something. In the parable, praying without giving up is represented by a widow who repeatedly appeals to a judge to remedy her injustice.” – New Testament Student Manual
“To faint” means to become discouraged or weary or to tire of something. Nephi doesn’t get discouraged or tired when repeatedly asked “What desirest thou?”
In fact, I kind of wonder – even though the Lord probably knew his heart and what he desired, maybe Nephi needed to say it. To get better answers, we need better questions. The Lord was willing to answer his questions, but he had to ask them first.
Maybe, before being asked “What desirest thou?” Nephi hadn’t really verbalized his feeling. I’m not sure if this makes sense. I have found that there are many times when I have “feelings.” Then, if I’m asked to describe what I’m feeling, I have to kind of search to figure it out. If you are reading this blog, then you get to see me trying to sort out the feelings I have into words. I think that this process can lead to epiphanies.
So – maybe Nephi needed to say what he wanted so that he would know precisely what he wanted – so that the Lord could then answer his prayer. He needed to be asked repeatedly because for some reason, we have to pray in the same way – without getting discouraged, always expressing our faith.
The institute manual continues:
“Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught: “When lonely, cold, hard times come, we have to endure, we have to continue, we have to persist. That was the Savior’s message in the parable of the importuning widow. …” – New Testament Student Manual
I’m interrupting this quote for a second because I love what comes next, but I want to address one idea first. We have to persist. Nephi didn’t get frustrated when asked repeatedly, “What desirest thou?” He thought about it, and then he asked. He persisted, and this is why he received.
Okay, continuing on:
“Keep knocking on that door. Keep pleading. In the meantime, know that God hears your cries and knows your distress. He is your Father, and you are His child.” – New Testament Student Manual
I will go back to the experience that I shared in this blog post.
When I read this chapter and quote back in Heber, it was needful! I needed to read it! I already wrote about nudges. I kept feeling a nudge when I read the question “What desirest thou?” And I realized, I desire home.
The next day, when continuing on in 1 Nephi 11, I AGAIN read “What desirest thou?” Again, I had the nudge. At first, I kind of put the thought away – about my desire – because I had already explored it. Was it worth repeating? But, I was getting nudged. (And if you are reading this blog post, I hope it doesn’t annoy you to hear more about this story. Maybe you can find another commentary. For now, I’m going to keep sharing. Thanks!)
So, I asked myself again: What desirest thou?
The next nudge I received was the thought about the parable that I shared earlier. Were these two things related? Maybe not. As in, maybe not in a scholarly way. Don’t go to your Sunday School class and say that there is a relationship between the Spirit asking Nephi “What desirest thou?” and the parable of the importuning widow and the unjust judge. You may seem crazy.
Of course, this isn’t a scholarly blog. So yay!
Now here’s the connection. Yes, I pondered my desire. But had I been like that widow? Had I knelt down and prayed about it? Had I poured out my soul to the Lord telling him what I desired? Did I answer that question –What Desirest Thou? – again and again (like Nephi) so I could discover on a deep level exactly that which I desired, and so I could also receive it?
I mean, the Spirit wasn’t setting Nephi up! He asked Nephi what he desired so that Nephi would express his desire, so that then the Lord could deliver! AMAZING!
We’re kind of doing a part two on “What desirest thou?” today. I hope that’s okay. And we’re combining it with the parable told in Luke. What is it you desire? Does the Lord know it?
I have an admission to make – yes, of course the Lord knew that I desired home. He is omniscient, and I’m sure that He had heard me talk about my desire with my husband, my friends, and others. And yes, I had lightly mentioned it in a few of my prayers.
But I hadn’t cried day and night. I hand’t shared with Him my desires and why they are my desires. I pondered, yes. And I prayed, technically, but I knew that I was not praying the way that the Lord wanted me to pray. I knew that I was capable of praying in a way that really created an environment where I could commune with God. I’d had amazing experiences praying, and then I’d become lazy.
I realized that I take for granted that God knows my heart, and I just think that I should be lazy sometimes – let Him read my mind and answer my prayers. I don’t trouble the Lord. I don’t weary Him with my prayers, with my desires, with my gratitude.
And yet the Lord is so merciful and patient with me. Even though I hadn’t humbled myself in prayer the way I ought to, He loves me. He sees the efforts I make. And He was speaking to me through the words of Nephi:
What desirest thou?
I knew that my desire was righteous. And I knew that I need to kneel down, pray, and tell Him directly.
After realizing that I needed to trouble the Lord with my prayers, I made a decision to find a quiet place to pray, really pray, ever day. At the time, I was living in my in-laws house, and it was hard to really get comfortable for a quiet prayer.
So, I went outside and found a good spot…
…and prayed. I made an effort to pray here every day. I have wearied the Lord with my prayers, and the answer didn’t come right away, but the Lord has still gently guided me on the path. And at some future point, I know that I’ll receive what I desire.
So – what desirest thou? Think about it. Is it a righteous desire? Pray about it. Weary the Lord with your prayers. Ask, seek, knock…And He will answer.