One evening, the Lord commanded Lehi that the next day he needed to continue on his journey into the wilderness.
When Lehi woke up the next morning, he found a “ball of curious workmanship” on the ground at the door of his tent. This ball had spindles and pointed the way he should go in the wilderness. Later on, we will learn that they called this the Liahona.
Lehi and his family gathered their provisions, the things that the Lord had given them, and seeds of every kind, and then they departed into the wilderness.
They traveled across the river and journeyed for four days in a south-southeast direction.
Lehi and his family pitched their tents in a place that they called Shazer – which means twisting or intertwining.
Nephi and his brothers took their bows and arrows and went into the wilderness to slay food for their families. After restocking on their food, they took their journey up again – following the same southeasterly direction and trying to stay in the more fertile parts of the wilderness, which were near the Red Sea.
They traveled for many days, slaying food by the way – with their bows and arrows and slings.
The path of their travel was given to them by the directions on the ball that Lehi found on his doorstep. It led them in the more fertile parts of the wilderness.
After traveling “many days” they pitched their tents for a “space of time” – so they could rest up and obtain food for their families.
The More Fertile Parts of the Wilderness
At first, I thought I’d study more about the Liahona, since it is just such an interesting thing. But, then I found myself going down a rabbit hole. And since I only have a few minutes left of scripture reading time – that’s that.
Here’s what stood out to me today:
“And we did follow the directions of the ball, which led us in the more fertile parts of the wilderness.” – 1 Nephi 16:16
I’ve usually thought of Lehi’s journey in the wilderness as just terrible. I know that the scriptural meaning of the word wilderness isn’t quite what we think of it. I know that when I think of the “wilderness,” I think of something like the Appalachian Trail or a National Park. I think of some place that is protected by our government from development.
When I was a kid, I lived in Texas and then later in Pennsylvania.
In Texas, a “wilderness” spot (which was hard to find in Houston), was near the Bayou. It was full of trees, snakes, water, wildflowers, and all sorts of critters. When I was a youth, I’d go to girl’s camp (at a camp called Camp Liahona!) It was in the woods of East Texas. We would play in streams and in the woods. Of course, we had to be careful because the place was riddled with rattlers.
In Pennsylvania, the wilderness was the woods.
If you have read My Side of the Mountain, then you get a good idea of what it was like – oaks, maples, beech, birch, walnut, pine, more trees than you could imagine. There were squirrels, chipmunks, deer.
The wilderness, in my experience, has been a place of peace and wonder.
But, in the Book of Nephi, and pretty much all of the scriptures as far as I can tell, the wilderness means something else. It is dangerous. It is wild. It is void of food. It’s not this refuge of peace that we might think. It is the sparse desert. It’s a “waste” place. In Isaiah, we read:
“For the Lord shall comfort Zion: he will comfort all her waste places; and he will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving, and the voice of melody.” – Isaiah 51:3
Here, in Isaiah, the wilderness will become Eden. (My experiences in the “wilderness” were more Eden-like! They were peaceful, joyful, and restoring. They weren’t stressful waste places.)
In the story of Lehi and his family – the wilderness is the opposite of the promised land.
Lehi had to travel through the difficult wilderness to get to the promised land. And Lehi had no control on the vastness of the wilderness that he would have to traverse. His traveling in the wilderness was simply the process. It was the path to the promised land. It wasn’t a punishment. It was the way!
We read that Lehi had a Liahona. This was direct guidance from God, according to their faith. And where did it lead them – in the more fertile parts of the wilderness. Isn’t that a comfort?!
Even though they still had to travel in the wilderness, the impact of that wilderness was a little gentler.
The Fertile Parts
So- we live in the modern, information age. We have the answers at our fingertips. I went to google maps and looked up the Red Sea. I looked at it with the satellite view. For the most part, the Arabian Peninsula is a dry wasteland.
The Nafud Desert is in the Northern part of the Arabian Peninsula.
Then there is another desert, the Rub’al Khali – which encompasses most of the southern THIRD of the Arabian Peninsula.
In between the deserts is another desert.
Imagine traveling through this wilderness! For years!
And Lehi didn’t have google maps. He couldn’t look at the whole peninsula with a satellite view. He couldn’t see that – despite these insane deserts, there is a fertile place. Right along the border of the Red Sea.
That mountain range! It isn’t the promised land, to be sure. But it is fertile.
Go do a search on google maps. When you do, look at the pictures that people have added. Among this desert, there is a mountain range that is significantly more fertile than the deserts that surround it.
I can only imagine the comfort that Lehi felt as that Liahona guided him and his family to the fertile parts of this dry, hot land. Even the fertile parts aren’t easy. This is all still the wilderness. But the Lord supported them in their wilderness. He guided them personally.
Anyway, I know this isn’t the most “spiritual” of posts, but hopefully we still learn something today. For me, I know it is good for me to remember that He will guide us. Even when we are surrounded by danger and deserts on every side, if we remain faithful and close to the Lord, then He will guide us to the “more fertile” parts of our own “wilderness.”
Nephi, his brothers, and Zoram marry the daughters of Ishmael.
Lehi had kept all of the commandments that had been given him. Nephi was also greatly blessed.
Confidence that Comes from Keeping the Commandments
I wrote about this a little while ago here. It is a concept that is still really on my mind.
Lehi and Nephi kept God’s commandments.
The commandments that Lehi had kept were both general commandments (covenants and the ten commandments and such) and also personal commandments – like bearing testimony to the Jews, fleeing Jerusalem, getting the plates, and getting Ishmael and his family.
Having his sons marry the daughters of Ishmael was another personal commandment that Lehi had kept.
Lehi, though still in the wilderness, could confidently go to the Lord for help and instruction – he was keeping the commandments. I imagine that there could have been room for temptation. So often, I know that I’m VERY MUCH prone to this, we keep a commandment and then expect good consequences – immediately (or almost immediately).
For example, if I had been Lehi, I think I would have fled from Jerusalem and then figured that I’d reach the promised land within a few months. Hahaha! It took them eight years to finally arrive at the promised land!
I would have been tempted to look around me – after several months and think, Okay…any day now…I’d really like to be in that promised land…I’ve kept the commandments, so the Lord is bound to bless me…any day now…
Maybe I wouldn’t have been that bratty about it. But still – I know that I would have been relatively impatient. Or I would have expected the blessings to come from my sacrifices and obedience earlier. Earlier than eight years, anyway.
But that’s not faith.
Instead, we can learn from Lehi’s and Nephi’s examples. They were confident in their righteousness. They kept the commandments. They recognized the blessings of the Lord – even if those blessings did not yet include arrival to the promised land. They didn’t doubt that blessing would come. They simply trusted in God – that each challenge was a step closer to the blessings that the Lord promised to fulfill.
We each face challenges in our lives that will try our faith. These challenges come to us in many ways – but what they have in common: we have the choice to trust in God. We have the choice to keep His commandments. And we have the choice to notice God’s blessings in our lives.
“…And also, I, Nephi, had been blessed of the Lord exceedingly.” – 1 Nephi 16:7-8
Nephi recognized his blessings of the Lord while he still suffered afflictions in the wilderness. I suppose that recognizing these blessings will help us to navigate the wilderness of our lives better.
One last thing…maybe Nephi also had a better perspective than I do sometimes. I sit here and think Wow. Nephi was able to be grateful and praise God – even in the wilderness of his affliction. But maybe I’m forgetting something. Maybe Nephi didn’t see the wilderness of his affliction as a terrible thing. Maybe Nephi did a better job remembering that the wilderness of his affliction was the route to the promised land! Though it was wilderness and full of affliction, it was the path to blessings! It was a blessing! Without that wilderness, there would be no promised land.
Put another way – let’s imagine that the blessing, the promised land, is the top of the mountain.
The mountain tops are beautiful, and the Lord will direct us to them, but there is only one way to get there – up.
Often, we are eager to be the top of the mountain, then after the initial novelty of the trail to the top wears off, we start to curse the very trail that will take us to the mountain top!
Nephi understood that the wilderness of his affliction wasn’t some kind of personal vendetta that God had against him and his family. In fact, it was just the opposite. The wilderness of affliction was the path to the promised land. It was a blessing. This wilderness, these challenges, came as a direct consequence of keeping the commandments. And, even though they were difficult, they were propelling him forward – closer to the promised land.
So – if we are keeping the commandments – and we are still in the wilderness of our own afflictions, we can take confidence. We are on the path that will lead to the promised land, to the mountain top view. We can be confident that the Lord will continue to guide us. We can be confident that He will strengthen us no matter what we face next. When we keep the commandments, we can be confident and happy – even long before we reach our final goal.
Yikes! We don’t want to get into rebellion territory. Which is why it is important to understand murmuring. Murmuring often (but perhaps not always) leads to rebellion. On the other hand, someone who is rebelling against God will also always murmur against Him.
Okay. Let’s keep studying this.
So – a reminder – Murmuring: To grumble and complain against God’s purposes, plans, or servants.
How might we complain or grumble against God’s purposes?
I suppose we should take a moment right now to remind ourselves of what God’s purposes are. I’ve done a little bit of research – in the Bible Dictionary, the Topical Guide, etc. And it led me to the scripture that I was already thinking of…
“For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” – Moses 1:39
This is what we know. This is what has been revealed to us. Ultimately, the Lord’s purpose is helping US to have immortality and eternal life. That is a big-time macro level view of God’s purpose. But He also has “micro” purposes that we aren’t always aware of…(which, of course, can be tracked back to this “macro” purpose).
For example, as we read in 1 Nephi 9, Nephi was commanded to make two sets of plates. The larger one (which was the one that he was already making) was to contain the history of his people. The smaller one (which was the one that God commanded him to make in addition to the large plates) contained the ministry of Nephi and the things that were of most spiritual value.
It wasn’t all that easy for Nephi to write another set of records. I mean, it’s so easy to overlook this fact! I’ve got like 3 blogs. I don’t know how many journals. I can type around 80 words a minute. Writing more! hahaha! That is not that difficult. It would be harder for me to be commanded to write less!
Nephi didn’t have a laptop or a journal with fun and colorful pens. He didn’t have a typewriter. He wasn’t writing on a scroll of paper with a quill pen and ink. He was engraving his writings on metal! This would have been hard to do.
Not only would it have been hard, but the Lord didn’t exactly tell him why he needed to do it. Nope. The Lord simply commanded Nephi to do this thing. And Nephi explains:
“Wherefore, the Lord hath commanded me to make these plates for a wise purpose in him, which purpose I know not.” – 1 Nephi 9:5
Even though Nephi didn’t understand God’s purpose, he didn’t murmur against it! It’s remarkable. There are times when we do understand God’s purpose, yet we murmur. Nephi didn’t know God’s purpose, nor did he murmur against it. Instead, Nephi rooted his faith in what he knew about his Heavenly Father: the purpose would be wise. Nephi understood God’s general purpose, and this helps to give him the strength to do things even when he doesn’t understand the specific purpose.
We have the advantage of hindsight, and we know the Lord’s purposes. The first 116 pages of the Book of Mormon (comprising of the record of Lehi, Nephi, and the others who kept historical records up until King Mosiah) were lost and destroyed. But we aren’t completely void of these early records. Instead, Nephi started writing that second record – of the ministry. He trusted in God’s purposes without grumbling. He obediently began a new record, and taught those who inherited these plates to record the ministry of the people. And because of His obedience, we still have his words.
I think that you could argue, still, that God’s purpose was our immorality and eternal life – that is why we need scriptures! To know how to inherit what God has. So it is probably best to keep this major purpose in mind, and feel confident that the little things – the little commandments – will serve a great purpose.
One last thing on purpose…what if we murmur against that purpose? The immortality and eternal life of man…I suppose it happens sometimes. I suppose that there are people who murmur against this beautiful purpose. Maybe they think it is foolishness – that there is no such thing as immortality or eternal life. Maybe they have such a hard time understanding God that they can’t even begin to grasp that He would be a God with a purpose.
Murmuring against God’s purpose probably doesn’t apply to most people. Most of us want to be happy! Most of us don’t want to be cast off from all light and life and joy. Most of us hear of God’s entire purpose, work, even glory, and we are filled with comfort and joy. I mean, hearing that God wants to bless me with His greatest blessings fills me with comfort and peace! I bet most people feel the same way when they learn God’s purposes.
Why would people think of murmuring against this purpose? I suppose it’s the same thing we’ve read before:
“…And they did murmur because they knew not the dealings of that God who had created them.” – 1 Nephi 2:12
Okay. I need to move on.
So, the next thing that we might grumble or complain about are God’s plans. I think that this is where the purposes of God are put into action. So, we may murmur against His beautiful plan – outright. It’s beautiful and hopeful!
But we forget that the purpose can’t be accomplished without plans and execution. And that is where we sometimes start to murmur.
Let’s think of another scriptural example.
When Nephi and his brothers went to obtain the plates of brass from Laban, they didn’t succeed after the first attempt. They were pretty depressed— even when Nephi thought of a plan. They returned to Jerusalem, got all of their goods and precious things, and then approached Laban essentially to buy the plates. He refused. Laban chased them out of town and robbed them of all of their possessions in the meantime. Laman and Lemuel didn’t take this failure well. We read:
“And it came to pass that Laman was angry with me, and also with my father; and also was Lemuel, for he hearkened unto the words of Laman. Wherefore Laman and Lemuel did speak many hard words unto us, their younger brothers, and they did smite us even with a rod.” – 1 Nephi 3:28
Laman and Lemuel had already been murmuring about this entire exercise – to get the plates. And yet, somehow they were cajoled into doing it. Then…after two attempts – they still don’t have the plates, have lost all of their precious possessions, they nearly lost their lives, they are being hunted by a powerful man in the city, and they have no more hope. How will they get the plates? Unfortunately, it’s not all that surprising that they murmured.
They aren’t the only ones who have experienced this in life – choosing to obey God’s commandments, only to be faced with extreme difficulty and adversity.
It’s easy to forget the God that created us and then murmur against Him. When we murmur against His plans and commandments for our lives, we are also murmuring against His purpose. We forget that these plans and commandments and are given to us so we can succeed – in receiving immortality and eternal life. When we murmur at the onset of afflictions, we forget that God is capable of consecrating our afflictions for our gain. (back to that purpose again).
This one can be the hardest, in my opinion.
It’s one thing to trust in God and even to trust in His plans. God is perfect. His purpose – it’s amazing. His plans, though difficult, have purpose, and He will strengthen us to overcome them.
But his servants…well they’re human.
It’s easy for us to judge them and murmur against them because they aren’t perfect. They make mistakes. They don’t have the big picture that God has. They may not have as much intelligence or experience as we do.
Not only that, but we are taught:
“We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.
Sad Experience! It’s the nature of almost all men to exercise unrighteous dominion. Yet God lets us, feeble humans, serve Him in so many capacities.
So – we need to sustain and love our leaders, rather than murmur against them. Does this mean that we need to blindly obey our priesthood leaders, point blank? No, not really. It probably means that we need to understand their true roles, and then delineate between what they do and do not have dominion over.
But we can still sustain them in their calling, even when they might step on our toes. We can forgive, still make our choices, and even support them to do what is in their mantel to do.
It is what God has asked us to do.
And, if we trust His purpose, then we’ll trust His plan. If we trust His purpose and plan, then we will not murmur against those whom He has called to execute His plans.
This is getting long, and I know that there is more I could write about this…One last thing – I don’t want to say that all leaders are perfect! They aren’t! I don’t think that we should just blindly say, “we must obey the priesthood!” Because there have been times when I’ve had leaders that exercised unrighteous dominion. There have been times when I’ve needed to raise my voice – not in anger or in contention, but lovingly and persuasively, to show that I truly sustained my leader – we are on the same team with the same purpose.
I know that it isn’t always black and white. I know it gets grey, but I also know that there is a way for us to sustain our leaders, even when they aren’t perfect. If it wasn’t possible, then the Lord would have organized our church differently.
I’ve got to wrap this up. We don’t want to murmur! I don’t want to murmur! It is a sure path to apostasy.
So – what’s the antidote? As usual – humility. Prayer. Trusting in God. When we know the God that created us, we will believe Him. We will adore, praise, and worship Him. We won’t even think to murmur because we love Him.
Thanks for reading today…And remember, this is a short look at a huge subject. What I’ve written isn’t complete. It’s just a starting point.
After seeing the vision, Nephi goes to his father’s tent – where his brothers are arguing.
Nephi teaches his brothers what the symbols of the dream meant, and what Lehi’s prophecies meant.
Nephi and His Brethren
We just spent studying 1 Nephi 11, 12, 13, and 14. These chapters are all comprised of Nephi’s experience with learning the meaning of what Lehi meant by his dream and then his following prophecies.
After Nephi asked his brothers why they hadn’t prayed, he then proceeds to answer their questions. Here is a quick synopsis of what he taught them.
The House of Israel was compared to an olive tree.
In the latter days, the seed of Lehi will have dwindled down because of unbelief and sin. Many generations after Christ manifested himself to the people of earth, he would come to the Gentiles and then from the Gentiles to the remnants of Lehi, Nephi’s and Laman and Lemuel’s children and also to remnants of all the House of Israel.
The remnants of Lehi’s family will know that they are covenant people of the Lord in the latter days, and they will come to a knowledge of their Redeemer.
The people who are brought back into remembrance of their covenants will be like the branches of the olive tree – grafted back into the true olive tree.
None of this will happen until after the Savior is rejected by the House of Israel and then the Gentiles have scattered Israel.
Once Israel is restored, they won’t be confounded again.
Now, after telling his brothers this, they were pacified. I guess it made a little bit of sense to them. Then, they asked Nephi what his father’s dream meant. He explained:
The tree is a representation of the tree of life.
The iron rod is the word of God.
The river of filthy water was filthiness and there was an awful gulf separating the wicked and the righteous – this was a representation of hell.
We have studied this in the past few posts, but just to get our brains going, let’s ask ourselves – why would Nephi know and understand Lehi’s prophecies? He was the younger brother. Why would he have information and understanding that his elder brethren didn’t have???
Nephi humbly went to the Lord. He had already spent a lot of time pondering. He was trying to do the work to figure out this mystery. Nephi pondered and he prayed. With sincerity, Nephi asked God to understand the meaning of what Lehi taught, and he made himself worthy of being taught by the Spirit.
Because of Nephi’s manner in trying to understand Lehi’s dream and prophecy, what followed? An amazing vision! He not only learned the interpretation of the dream, but what it really meant for him and for all of humanity. Nephi saw the Savior. He experienced God’s love. And then he bore witness of it for the rest of his life. He became the prophet. He became the leader of his new land.
Instead of facing his inability to understand what his dad meant with frustration, Nephi was patient and searched. This searching resulted in an experience that changed his life in a positive way forever.
Think of Nephi’s brothers. Like Nephi, they didn’t understand what Lehi’s dream or prophecies were all about.
Unlike Nephi, they didn’t go and humbly seek the answers. They didn’t pray. They didn’t turn to the Lord.
Instead, they went to their father’s tent and argued.
They were still arguing when Nephi had arrived. Nephi asked them why they didn’t ask, and they just said because God wouldn’t tell them.
They weren’t humble. They weren’t faithful. They didn’t have real intent. So they never even asked. They just got upset.
Nephi was able to calm them down a little bit, and then he explained what the dream meant! So – everything was hunky dory, right?
But we can see the difference between their experience and Nephi’s. Yes, Nephi taught them, and yes they were even inspired by it. But this wasn’t the same thing. They hadn’t truly sought, so they never truly found – or had the same kind of life changing witness that Nephi had. Even though they learned the meaning of the dream, it never really stuck with them.
Eventually Nephi’s brothers will defect and rebel – becoming completely cut off from God or from their religion…Understanding the meaning of Lehi’s visions or prophecies didn’t make much of a difference in their lives.
This makes me think of something Elder Bednar said in General Conference:
“If all you or I know about Jesus Christ and His restored gospel is what other people teach or tell us, then the foundation of our testimony of Him and His glorious latter-day work is built upon sand. We cannot rely exclusively upon or borrow gospel light and knowledge from other people—even those whom we love and trust.” – David A. Bednar
It seems that all Nephi’s brothers knew about Jesus Christ and His gospel (not yet restored at the time, but the same gospel!) what what other people told them. They knew what their father told them. They knew what Nephi told them. And even then, did they even really know? I’m not sure. It just seems that it went in one ear and out the other. In any case, their experiences with the Lord were limited to the words of others.
So, Nephi’s brethren’s experiences were limited to the words of Lehi and Nephi, and – at least in this chapter – his brethren were pacified. But they were not converted.
As Elder Bednar states, their testimonies were built on sand. Instead of relying only on what their father and brother said, Nephi’s brethren needed to go to the Lord themselves. They needed to have their own experiences. They needed to seek, ask, knock. Recall what the Lord pleaded:
“Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:
For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.” – Matthew 7:7-8
The Lord wants us to understand. He wants to reveal to us. He wants us to experience His love, light, and joy. He doesn’t expect us to go through our lives in darkness and misunderstanding. The Lord will reveal to us, if we, like Nephi, will go to Him with faith and real intent.
Asking, seeking, knocking – it can be hard work. We shouldn’t think it is just some easy, blithe thing to communicate with God. We need to search, to ponder, to pray. We need to meditate. We need to fast. We need to work. Later in the Book of Mormon, Alma shares how he gained knowledge and testimony:
“And this is not all. Do ye not suppose that I know of these things myself? Behold, I testify unto you that I do know that these things whereof I have spoken are true. And how do ye suppose that I know of their surety?
46 Behold, I say unto you they are made known unto me by the Holy Spirit of God. Behold, I have fasted and prayed many days that I might know these things of myself. And now I do know of myself that they are true; for the Lord God hath made them manifest unto me by his Holy Spirit; and this is the spirit of revelation which is in me.” – Alma 5:45-46
One thing I feel like I keep learning as I study the Book of Mormon is that Nephi wasn’t inherently special. He wasn’t given special treatment or favor by the Lord. Nephi was a normal dude. He wasn’t a mythological demigod. He wasn’t Hercules. He was normal! He had the same advantages and access to God and His power as anyone else in his family did.
This isn’t to say that Nephi was not a good guy. Because he was! But Nephi is an example of the grace of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Nephi is an example of how when we will humble ourselves and do what God has asked us to do (ask, seek, knock!), then we will be blessed and strengthened. When we exercise our faith, we will experience tender mercies that will make us mighty to deliverance.
It’s important to understand this about Nephi because then, we can apply it to ourselves. We, too, can have experiences with the Lord as Nephi did. Of course, our experiences will be different. But they will come. We can gain testimony. We can have our own relationship with the Lord. We can be strengthened.
So – it makes me ask myself, am I being like Nephi or like his brethren? Am I asking the Lord for guidance and help in my life – with sincerity? Or am I casual in my communication with God? Am I seeking my own experiences, or do I expect understanding and help without any effort of my own?
After seeing the vision of the tree of life, and then returning to the tent of his father, Nephi sees that his brothers are disputing. They are arguing about the meaning of what Lehi had been teaching them.
Nephi asks his brothers if they had inquired of the Lord, and they hadn’t.
Nephi then asks his brothers a few more “How is it?!?!” questions…
How is it?!?!?! AGAIN!
So – back in chapter 7, Nephi asked his brothers How is it that… You can read more about that here.
Since then (chapter 7), Nephi and his brothers have successfully returned to the tent of their father in the wilderness with the family of Ishmael, Lehi has told his family about his vision of the tree of life, Lehi has prophesied of the Savior and of the scattering and gathering of Israel, and Nephi has had the vision of the tree of life – including its interpretation.
I guess we don’t know everything that has happened since. I’m sure that time passed. I’m sure that the days grew long, even if the weeks were short. It is obvious that even though at the close of chapter 7, Laman and Lemuel were repentant and praying to God, things had changed by now. They were forgetting again. All of the How is it…??? questions that Nephi had asked had long been forgotten, and Nephi’s brothers were back into their old habits. They were having disputations in their father’s tent.
In 1 Nephi, we read of their exchange:
“And I said unto them: Have ye inquired of the Lord?
9 And they said unto me: We have not; for the Lord maketh no such thing known unto us.” – 1 Nephi 15:8-9
They hadn’t asked the Lord? Why not? Because, according to them, the Lord wouldn’t make such a thing known to them. I still feel that their argument on why they shouldn’t pray is idiotic. But whatever. We all do it to an extent.
And maybe I should be a little more understanding. Maybe they Lord wouldn’t have made these things known to them. I mean, remember – before Nephi could receive the vision, the Spirit asked him a few things – did he believe the words of his father? Would he be willing to testify of the Savior after he saw this vision. (See 1 Nephi 11:4-6.) Would Nephi’s brothers have lived up to the requirements of such understanding??? Perhaps not. So, maybe they were right when they said that the Lord wouldn’t make such things known to them.
I don’t mean to sound skeptical or like Laman and Lemuel. What I mean is – we know that if we want to receive witness, then we need to pray with real intent. Perhaps they didn’t pray with real intent, in which case they are right – what’s the point of praying for knowledge if they don’t have real intent in the first place?!?
Well… anyway. Here is Nephi’s response to his brothers:
“Behold, I said unto them: 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?
11 Do ye not remember the things which the Lord hath said?—If ye will not harden your hearts, and ask me in faith, believing that ye shall receive, with diligence in keeping my commandments, surely these things shall be made known unto you.” – 1 Nephi 15:10-11
How Is It that Ye Do Not Keep the Commandments of the Lord?
Here is the heart of the issue. Nephi’s brothers won’t keep the commandments. They will not love God and keep Him at the center of their lives and worship. They don’t trust Him. They don’t pray to Him. They don’t seek Him.
Nephi asks why they don’t do it. It’s a fair question. Already they have had some pretty miraculous experiences. They even had a change of heart in the past, albeit short-lived…but why? Why won’t they keep the commandments of the Lord?
We know, from 1 Nephi 2:12 why people murmur:
“And thus Laman and Lemuel, being the eldest, did murmur against their father. And they did murmur because they knew not the dealings of that God who had created them.” – 1 Nephi 2:12
Laman and Lemuel knew the command:
“Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” – Exodus 20:3
They also knew the commandment that was given time and time again in the Old Testament:
“5 And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.” – Deuteronomy 6:5
Laman and Lemuel knew that loving God and worshipping Him were central to their entire belief. They knew that they should pray. They knew that their actions should mirror their feelings toward Him.
And if they would have kept these commandments – to have no other god before God, to love Him with all their hearts, soul, and mind, then they would have known the dealings of that God that created them. They wouldn’t murmur. They would pray with real intent. They would have their prayers answered.
How Is It that Ye Will Perish Because of the Hardness of your Hearts?
Perishing. Death. This is the result of refusing to keep the commandments. This is the result of nurturing a hard heart.
It sounds funny when I write it nurturing a hard heart. But it happens. Sometimes, instead of creating fertile ground in our hearts, we actually work hard to keep our hearts too hard for faith to grow.
We do this through doubt, murmuring, skepticism, anger. These choices keep our hearts nice and hard…
Which leads, invariably, to perishing. Now, I’m not say that we’ll just drop dead right now. No. I mean, we all know that death is a fact of life. It is the fact of life.
But when we harden our hearts against God – we deaden our spirits. He is life, so our choice to harden our hearts against Him cuts us off from the source of life, light, and hope.
My time for studying is up, so I will stop for now. Nephi asks his brothers another question – Do you not remember things which the Lord hath said?, and I will study this later.
But for our purposes today, these two question listed in verse 10 are good gauges for us, too. Do we keep the commandments? What is the condition of our hearts?
When you think about these questions, what are your answers?
One last thing, I am not trying to suggest that we are perfect. We simply need to be doing our best. In fact, I’ll answer these questions for myself as best as I can in hopes that it will help you, too.
Do I keep the commandments – Yes, I’m striving to. I’m trying my best. Of course I have room for improvement, but I’m also not wilfully rebelling against God. I’m working through weaknesses and bad habits. The Lord is patient with me and my pride. But I’m doing my best to keep His commandments every day.
Above all, I’m doing everything I can to keep the commandment to repent – this commandment helps to cover my other mistakes!
I do love God. I love Him with all my might, mind, and strength. It isn’t much, but I love Him as much as I’m capable, and am working every day to become more capable.
I am also working as hard as I can to love my neighbors as myself. I’m trying to become better at giving others the benefit of the doubt, to be more patient, to be kinder. And I’m trying to do this better with myself, too – since I’m often my worst enemy.
Of course, I’m not perfect. I don’t think that this is what Nephi means. But I’m working hard every day to be able to kneel down and pray and repent and be straight with God. And I’m so grateful for the Atonement of Jesus Christ that makes my measly effort enough.
What is the condition of my heart
My heart may not be the most malleable heart on this earth, but I’m working really hard to keep it in good shape – both physically and spiritually. I know that when our hearts are physically hard, we will croak. The same is true spiritually.
I don’t want to die. I don’t want to be cut off from God. So I’m doing what I can to keep my heart soft. I try to read my scriptures and pray daily. I try hard to be grateful. I try to remember to trust God – to submit to His will. I’m trying to be charitable and kind.
Obviously, I’m not anywhere near perfect in this regard either. Thankfully, the Lord doesn’t expect compliance without mistakes. Instead, he expects our best effort at compliance and reliance on Him. When we do our best to comply to His commandments, and then we rely on Him to make up the rest of what we lack, then we are good!
The point in me sharing this is because I think that this is all possible!, and it is meant to be possible. Nephi isn’t special. He is just like you and me – he’s simply trying his best to keep the commandments and to keep his heart supple and soft.
His efforts are all the Lord requires. The same goes for us, too. All the Lord wants is for us to have real intent – to give a true effort.
I may not keep the commandments perfectly. I may not have the softest heart. But I AM making a daily effort – as much as I can. Because of my commitment to doing my best each day, and because of the Savior’s mercy and grace, I have been blessed. I have learned a lot. I have felt the companionship of the Holy Ghost. I know that if the Lord will have mercy on me, He will have mercy on anyone and everyone who seeks Him with real intent.
After Nephi saw the vision of the tree of life, he returned to the tent of his father.
When Nephi got to Lehi’s tent, he saw that they were arguing with each other – concerning the things that his father had said to them.
Lehi spoke many things that were hard to be understood…UNLESS the listener asked God for help in understanding.
Nephi was grieved because of the hardness of the hearts of his brothers.
Nephi was also very grieved because he saw the destruction of his people.
Nephi received strength from God, and then he asked his brothers why they were arguing. They said that they didn’t understand the olive tree metaphor.
Nephi asks if they have gone to God to understand, but they haven’t.
Back in Lehi’s Tent
Nephi returns to his father’s tent after his major vision…a few things:
One – Nephi is Depleted of Strength
Nephi just had a major vision. He saw that Christ would come to the world. He saw his birth, life, death, and resurrection. Nephi saw that the Savior would visit Nephi’s posterity in the Americas after his resurrection. Nephi saw many beautiful things.
However, he also saw some more troubling things, too. Nephi saw the death of the Savior, the pride of the world, and the complete destruction of his people. He saw the church of the devil grow in size and in power. He saw that wicked people with wicked intentions would even alter God’s word – causing the stumbling of many.
The vision, as recorded in 1 Nephi, ended on a hopeful note, though. After so much scattering and stumbling by the people of the earth, Nephi saw that God wouldn’t forget his promises. He would gather his people. He would bring about the Book of Mormon. He would do a marvelous work and a wonder. Of course, this wasn’t the end of the vision. Nephi saw more, but was forbidden to record it.
I can only imagine how exhausting this must have been. I have had some spiritual experiences that are a rush in the moment, and then after the rush, you feel a bit wiped out. It’s like a sprint.
So – Nephi returns to the tent of his father somewhat tired, wiped out, depleted of strength. I would imagine that he was also still deep in thought – perhaps even wanting to talk with his father.
In any case, I doubt that Nephi was thrilled to find, when he arrived at the tent of his father, his brothers fighting and disputing about what his father had spoken. I don’t know…I think it would have been a bit demoralizing. Not only was Nephi feeling a little bit wiped out, but that would have been a shock to then face his brothers and their petty arguments after such a spiritual high.
“And now I, Nephi, was grieved because of the hardness of their hearts, and also, because of the things which I had seen, and knew they must unavoidably come to pass because of the great wickedness of the children of men.
5 And it came to pass that I was 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 Nephi 15:1-10
So – yeah. He is tired. And then grieved because of the hardness of the hearts of his brothers – which probably just reminded him of some of the depressing things that he had learned in the vision he had had.
Nephi is so grieved he is overcome because of his afflictions. He’s out of it! This doesn’t sound like the Nephi we are accustomed to. He is overwhelmed.
I don’t know how long he was feeling overwhelmed, but at some point, he received strength, and then he deals with his brothers.
Two – Lehi did Speak Things that were Hard to Understand
For he truly spake many great things unto them, which were hard to be understood, save a man should inquire of the Lord; and they being hard in their hearts, therefore they did not look unto the Lord as they ought. – 1 Nephi 15:3
Let’s think about what Lehi said to them. I won’t go back into the details, but they include chapter 8 – which is the vision of the tree of life (remember – he didn’t give them the interpretation of this dream!); chapter 10 – which were prophecies of the scattering and gathering of Israel, the coming of a Messiah, the allegory of the olive tree.
Additionally, we read:
“And it came to pass after I, Nephi, having heard all the words of my father, concerning the things which he saw in a vision, and also the things which he spake by the power of the Holy Ghost, which power he received by faith on the Son of God—and the Son of God was the Messiah who should come—I, Nephi, was desirous also that I might see, and hear, and know of these things, by the power of the Holy Ghost, which is the gift of God unto all those who diligently seek him, as well in times of old as in the time that he should manifest himself unto the children of men.” – 1 Nephi 10:17
Even Nephi, when he heard the words of his father, did not understand them. He didn’t know what this tree meant. Why were the people in the great and spacious building mocking the people partaking of the fruit of the tree? He didn’t know. Nephi could recognize that there was significance to his father’s dream, but he didn’t understand it.
Not only that, but Nephi didn’t completely understand the other prophecies that His father taught his children afterward.
Nephi wasn’t frustrated by his father. Nor was Nephi frustrated with himself for his lack of understanding. Nephi knew that he could go to the Lord, and that the Lord would help him understand what he needed to know.
We know that Nephi’s seeking yielded in finding. We know that the Lord unfolded the meaning of Lehi’s dream to Nephi. Not only that, but we know that this desire and faith of Nephi’s yielded a life-changing experience and testimony.
Without help from the Lord, Lehi’s dream and his prophecies were not easily understood.
Three – Have Ye Inquired of the Lord???
We know that Lehi’s words were hard to understand – not only for Laman, Lemuel, and Sam but also for Nephi. We also know that Nephi sought the Lord for understanding, and the Lord answered His prayer with an amazing vision.
(Note: I don’t know which brethren this included – Laman, Lemuel, and Sam? Maybe only one or two of them? Not sure, so from this point on, I’ll either say brethren or brothers.) Nephi’s brethren also had a hard time understanding Lehi’s prophecies. In fact, this was the cause of their disputation.
After getting some strength again, Nephi asked:
“And I said unto them: Have ye inquired of the Lord?” – 1 Nephi 15:8
It’s a fair question! This is exactly what he had done, and it was why he wasn’t in the tent disputing what his father’s teachings meant. He didn’t need to dispute. He asked God and now he knew.
How would it help us to think of this situation???…well, It’s like when my kids ask, “Mom, I can’t find my shoes!” and I say, “Did you look for them?” It’s so simple. In fact, this is almost an unfair comparison. When we go to the Lord, with real intent, then we will receive. The Lord implores:
Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:
8 For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seekethfindeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. – Matthew 7:7-8
“Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this which is done to the fig tree, but also if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done.
22 And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.” – Matthew 21:21-22
“Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you; seekme diligently and ye shall find me; ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” – Doctrine and Covenants 88:63
Nephi wasn’t being a jerk. It was an honest question…did they ask?
Four – Spoiler: They Didn’t Ask
Nephi asked his brothers if they had inquired of the Lord. And they hadn’t! Silly billies. You know…this wouldn’t have been so bad if it went like this:
Nephi: Hey…why are you guys fighting? Bro: Because of what dad was saying. It didn’t even make any sense. I mean, why didn’t we eat the fruit in his dream?! And why is he so worried about it? What’s the big deal, anyway. It was just a weird dream. I mean, did you hear that – there was a “great and spacious building” just floating on the air. Other Bro: Yeah, man. It made no sense. And then that olive tree stuff. What is dad talking about? He is a nut job. Bro: Right? What does an olive tree have to do with anything with us or with the gentiles? Hearing about olive trees is just making me hungry. Other Bro: Don’t you get it, the olive tree means that the Gentiles are going to try to rip you into pieces. Bro: Yeah right. They can’t do that. I mean, if they even think of coming at me, I’m gonna…— Nephi: Guys, guys…Stop for a second. What dad said was kind of confusing, but did you ask God to help you understand? Bro: Nope…that’s a good idea though. Maybe I should. Other Bro: Yeah…I didn’t even think of that. Thanks Nephi. I’m gonna go see if I can understand this better.
[Exit Bro and Other Bro – where they go and pray, each of them on their own, and receive the witnesses and understanding that they each need – dependent on their lives, missions, and God’s will.]
That would have been pretty cool.
Imagine what would have followed. Instead of coming back into Lehi’s tent to fight, they would have all starting talking about what they learned. They could have had a pretty edifying experience.
Unfortunately, it went nothing like that. Instead, it went like this:
“And I said unto them: Have ye inquired of the Lord?
9 And they said unto me: We have not; for the Lord maketh no such thing known unto us.” – 1 Nephi 15:8-9
I have never really understood their response – even though I’ve seen variations of it through the course of my life. But seriously…they didn’t pray because God doesn’t answer their prayers? But they didn’t pray in the first place? This is insane. Talk about a fallacy! Talk about false logic. I mean, this is kind of stupid.
Yet – I think that we do this in our lives. We make the decision for God before we even ask Him. We refuse to exercise our faith because we have already decided that He won’t answer our prayers.
It’s so sad, but we do this. We stop ourselves before we even start. Just like Nephi’s bros. Silly, silly, silly. Instead of being silly like them, we can learn from Nephi’s example. Ask God. Remember Him. Just try.
And one more thing – maybe their response isn’t so stupid. Maybe they felt that God doesn’t answer prayers because they had never experienced God before. Maybe they were right – maybe God wouldn’t make anything known to them.
Remember Oliver Cowdery’s experience. The Lord granted Oliver the chance to translate the records. But it was hard! Translating the records was not easy. It took a lot of effort to be spiritually tuned and translating.
This difficulty frustrated Oliver Cowdery. He gave up translating and then wondered why he wasn’t successful.
The Lord responded:
Do not murmur, my son, for it is wisdom in me that I have dealt with you after this manner.
7 Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me.
8 But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right. – Doctrine and Covenants 9:6-8
Maybe Nephi’s brothers had had similar experiences. Maybe they had prayed, but underestimated the faith and effort required to know the mysteries of God. Maybe these past experiences shaded the response they gave when Nephi asked them if they had asked. Maybe they knew that the Lord would not reveal anything to them.
Of course, their response is almost an accusation against God. It seems that they take no accountability. They don’t seem to even consider the fact that they need to put forth a little bit of effort if they want to get answers.
Again, I think that this is something that we might do, too. There are times when I just kind of whine and pray and great things to come easily. Unwavering faith is the first step toward any kind of miracle, but it won’t get you to your destination on its own. To receive wisdom or experience miracles, then we must take the next step—unprecedented effort. Truly, faith without works is dead.
Okay. That’s all for today. We will be back in Lehi’s tent next time.
Nephi is seeing the vision of the tree of life and learning its interpretation.
The Angel told Nephi to look, and Nephi looked.
Nephi saw a man dressed in white. The Angel told Nephi that the man that Nephi saw was one of the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ. He would see the remainder of the prophecy that Nephi would see and he would write concerning the end of the world.
The things that this apostle will write are just and true. They would be written in the book that Nephi saw – the Bible. When he wrote it, they were plain, precious, and easy to the understanding of all men.
While Nephi would see the rest of the revelation, he was commanded not to write any more of it. The apostle that Nephi saw was ordained to write it.
Others have seen similar visions – of the world – and their records were sealed – to come forth to the House of Israel in their purity in the due time of the Lord.
Nephi learned that this apostle’s name was John.
Nephi was forbidden to write the remainder of the things that he saw and heard. What did did write is only a small fraction of the things that he saw.
Nephi testifies that what he saw in this vision are all true.
Nephi and John the Revelator
A few rambling thoughts…
One – Nephi
This event – seeing the vision of the tree of life – it is really when Nephi receives a witness. Remember what the Angel told Nephi before he showed Nephi the vision:
“And behold this thing shall be given unto thee for a sign, that after thou hast beheld the tree which bore the fruit which thy father tasted, thou shalt also behold a man descending out of heaven, and him shall ye witness; and after ye have witnessed him ye shall bear record that it is the Son of God.” – 1 Nephi 11:7
Nephi knew, even before seeing this vision that this knowledge would come with a responsibility. Nephi would be a witness of Christ. His witness is rather special.
Remember, also, that at the beginning of the vision, the angel asked knowest thou the condescension of God? And Nephi answers that he doesn’t.
Prior to this vision, Nephi had faith in God, yes. He had faith in Jesus Christ. He knew that if we trusted in God, then God would empower us to keep all of the commandments that He has given. Nephi knew some of the testimony of his father, but there was so much that Nephi didn’t know. When Nephi and his family embarked on their trip to the promised land, he was “exceedingly young.”
Nephi heard his father tell about his dream, and then Lehi witnessed of the coming of Christ. These discussions sparked something within Nephi – he wanted to know and understand what his father was talking about. He wanted to understand the vision of the tree of life better. He took it to the Lord.
Nephi didn’t know, then he prayed – with faith and real intent.
We hear about real intent a lot. What does it mean, exactly? Intention, purpose, resolved to do something… So – when we pray, we need to be resolved to do something. We can’t just idly pray asking God for whatever it is we are asking Him for. That would be a “vain repetition.” Instead, we pray with real intent. To illustrate this idea, I will quote a recent general conference address:
“When I was a young man, my parents joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We knew that the missionaries had been teaching them, but my parents had taken the missionary lessons alone.
After this surprising announcement, my brothers and I began to listen to the missionaries as well, and they each received the message of the Restoration with gladness. Although I was curious, my heart was not into changing my life. I did, however, accept the challenge to pray about whether the Book of Mormon was the word of God, but I did not receive an answer.
You might ask why Heavenly Father did not answer that prayer; I certainly wondered. I have learned since that the promise made by Moroni is accurate. God does answer our prayers about the truthfulness of the gospel, but He answers them when we have “a sincere heart” and “real intent.” He does not answer just to respond to our curiosity.” – James B. Martino
Nephi was more than simply curious about the meaning of his father’s dream. Nephi had an intention – to understand the mysteries of God so that he could be a better disciple; so that he could improve his life and his dedication to the Lord. This is why Nephi saw what he saw.
Now, at the end of chapter 14 in 1 Nephi, wee see that Nephi is a changed man. This vision was a major part of his development. He can’t turn back after this knowledge, either. After this vision, he was committed to the gospel, to His God, to His covenants. And Nephi stood as a witness – no matter how inconvenient it is – after the vision.
Two – John the Revelator
Just for fun…
Even though Nephi had the intention to do as the Angel told him to do – to witness of the Savior, near the end of the vision he received another command from the Angel – Nephi will see more, but this part he will not be a witness of. Instead, this responsibility would fall to the responsibility of another – John the Revelator.
This is a very comforting thing – that Nephi mentions John here and John’s duty – because John wrote a warning in Revelation that is often used to criticize members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:
“For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book:” – Revelation 22:18
Nephi did hear the prophecies that were given to John, and Nephi stopped with his witness – as instructed by the Lord. He didn’t “add unto these things” as John warned. It’s just really interesting to me. The Book of Mormon doesn’t add to John’s revelation. Nephi finished his record at this point. Later records of a vision like this are “sealed,” to come forth in the due time of the Lord.
In no way does the Book of Mormon “add to” or change John’s prophecy. Anyway – I wrote more about it a few years ago. You can read about it here if you are interested.
So – if you want to know more about what else Nephi saw, then just check out John’s record as written in the Bible!