Book of Mormon
“The Vision of the Tree of Life”
The symbols in the vision of the tree of life.
The people in the vision of the tree of life.
A study of this lesson will help us understand the symbols in the vision of the
tree of life and the application of these symbols in our lives.
Scripture references for study:
Note: Underlined scripture references have been hyperlinked
to the LDS Scriptures at LDS.org and will open in a new window.
notes: Click on links for expanded information.
Lesson 3 Handout (PDF)
Dreams & the Tree of Life
"And it came to pass that while
my father tarried in the wilderness he spake unto us, saying: Behold, I
have dreamed a dream; or, in other words, I have seen a vision." (1
WHAT DO YOU DREAM ABOUT?
We normally dream about images that are familiar, such as family,
home, and work.
I often have repetitive dreams, but almost always with images of things I have experienced. I
dream about places I have lived in past years, including my childhood home.
I still dream about my father, even though he passed years
The images in Lehi’s dream, like our dreams, were images familiar to Lehi. They came from the desert world in which Lehi was wandering.
This is evidence supporting the fact that the Book of Mormon is
of Semitic origin and not written by an American in the 19th Century.
Two Examples (see An Approach to the Book of Mormon by Hugh Nibley).
1 Nephi 8:4-8:
1 Nephi 8:9,20:
A lone traveler, Lehi, in "a dark and dreary waste."
He "traveled for the space of many hours in darkness."
In desperation he "began to pray unto the Lord that he would have mercy on me."
Images from Arabic lyric poetry or inscriptions scratched on rocks.
This image is among the most common that haunt the early Arab poets.
The standard nightmare of the Arab = traveling long distances through dark
and dreary wastes all alone.
In the inscriptions, a thousand lone wanderers send up prayers in desperation,
Hugh Nibley: "Only one who had actually seen those
things could have dreamed them; only one who had been haunted by those
fears and frightened by those situations would ever have been visited by
them in a dream of the night." (Collected Works of Hugh Nibley,
The Tree-of-Life tradition is known in many cultures around the world,
particularly from the Near East to Greece to India and also in Central
A "large and spacious field."
A "large and spacious field, as if it had been a world."
This is the symbol of release from fear and oppression.
The Arab poet describes the world as "maidan," or large and spacious field.
The images usually include a tree, often white or with white fruit, springs
or a pool of water, a path leading to the tree, and sometimes people under
The Egyptians had an elaborate Tree-Of-Life literature.
This is literature that Lehi may have been familiar with and influenced
The first modern writings on these tree of life concepts appeared in Europe
in 1836, six years after the publication of the Book of Mormon.
Lehi's Dream - 1 Nephi 8
Nephi said that we should "liken" the scriptures unto ourselves for our
"profit and learning" (1 Nephi 19:23-24). Elder Bruce R. McConkie
said, "It does not suffice to present gospel truths
in an abstract and impersonal way. True principles benefit mankind only
when they live in the souls of men" (The Promised Messiah, p516). As discussed above, Lehi dreamed of images from his world. As we seek
to understand Lehi's dream and teach it to our families, we need to find
ways to make it live, as it lived for Lehi and his family.
"And it came to pass that
while my father tarried in the wilderness he spake unto us, saying: Behold,
I have dreamed a dream; or, in other words, I have seen a vision. And behold, because of
the thing which I have seen, I have reason to rejoice in the Lord because
of Nephi and also of Sam; for I have reason to suppose that they, and also
many of their seed, will be saved. But behold, Laman and
Lemuel, I fear exceedingly because of you; for behold, methought I saw
in my dream, a dark and dreary wilderness." (1 Nephi 8:2-4)
Lehi says that he followed a man dressed in a white robe. Lehi followed
him and found himself in a "dark and dreary waste"
(1 Nephi 8:7).
WHAT IS THIS DARK AND DREARY WASTE OR WILDERNESS?
It may be a symbolic representation of fallen man in the lone and dreary
- Compared to our heavenly home, is this not a lone and dreary world?
"And after I had traveled
for the space of many hours in darkness, I began to pray unto the Lord
that he would have mercy on me, according to the multitude of his tender
mercies. And it came to pass after
I had prayed unto the Lord I beheld a large and spacious field." (1
WHAT IS THE LARGE AND SPACIOUS FIELD?
"And it came to pass that
I beheld a tree, whose fruit was desirable to make one happy. And it came to pass that
I did go forth and partake of the fruit thereof; and I beheld that it was
most sweet, above all that I ever before tasted. Yea, and I beheld that
the fruit thereof was white, to exceed all the whiteness that I had ever
seen. And as I partook of the
fruit thereof it filled my soul with exceedingly great joy; wherefore,
I began to be desirous that my family should partake of it also; for I
knew that it was desirable above all other fruit." (1 Nephi 8:10-12)
As a teenager, a friend and I went on a summer hike
to the top of a mountain peak. It took us several hours to reach the
summit. It was a strenuous hike and we were tired and thirsty when
we reached the top. We had not carried a lot of supplies, but we brought along some oranges
that we placed in the snow to
the oranges had cooled, we skinned them and began to "partake." I
am sure it was the combination of circumstances, but I have never eaten oranges
that tasted so good. In some ways they were like Lehi's fruit, for
on that day they were "desirable above all other fruit."
LEHI WASN'T TALKING ABOUT ORANGES. WHAT DOES
THIS IMAGE REPRESENT?
Nephi learned that it represented the "love
of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men"
(1 Nephi 11:22).
This "love of God" is manifest in the gift of his
Son (see 1 Nephi 11:7, 20-22).
God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever
believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."
Lehi sees himself "partake of the fruit" (1
This represents the partaking of the powers of Christ
and his atonement: forgiveness of sins, as well as feelings of peace, joy,
and gratitude. Ultimately through partaking of the powers of the gospel,
one is qualified to partake of the greatest fruit of the Atonement -- the
blessings associated with eternal life.
1 Nephi 15:22, Nephi explains to his brothers
that this is the tree of life. Elder McConkie states that this tree
is, "Figuratively, the tree from which
the faithful pick the fruit of eternal life. To eat thereof is to inherit
eternal life in the kingdom of God." (DNTC,
WHAT INFLUENCE DOES THE LOVE OF GOD HAVE IN OUR LIVES?
Knowledge of this love gives us hope. Indeed,
we are in a "dark and dreary waste" at times. The challenges and
burdens in this life can almost be too much. For many it is and they
simply give up. As we partake of this fruit, we are spiritually nourished
and are given strength for the journey ahead. Our hope is renewed. And, like Lehi, once we have tasted of the fruit, we desire to share it
with our loved ones. Unlike the limited supply of oranges I had on
the day of the hike, there is plenty of fruit from the tree of life to
go around and we can share freely.
- See Resource Note 1: The Tree of Life, a
Personification of Christ.
as I cast my eyes round about, that perhaps I might discover my family
also, I beheld a river of water; and it ran along, and it was near the
tree of which I was partaking the fruit."
(1 Nephi 8:13)
WHAT DOES THIS RIVER OF WATER REPRESENT?
Nephi learned that "the depths thereof are the
depths of hell" (1 Nephi 12:16).
Nephi later explained to his brothers that "it
was an awful gulf, which separated the wicked from the tree of life, and
also from the saints of God. And I said unto them that it was a representation
of that awful hell, which the angel said unto me was prepared for the wicked"
(1 Nephi 15:28-29).
Brother Hugh Nibley provides this explanation: "When
he dreams of a river, it is a true desert river, a clear stream a few yards
wide with its source but a hundred paces away (1 Nephi 8:13-14) or else
a raging muddy wash, a sayl of 'filthy water' that sweeps people away to
their destruction (1 Nephi 8:32;12:16;15:27). In the year 960 a.d., according
to Bar Hebraeus, a large band of pilgrims returning from Mekka 'encamped
in the bed of a brook in which water had not flowed for a long time. And
during the night, whilst they were sleeping, a flood of water poured down
upon them all, and it swept them and all their possessions out into the
Great Sea, and they all perished'." (Collected Works of
Hugh Nibley, 5:45)
When we sin and fail to keep the commandments of God, it is as though a
"river" or "an awful gulf" is cast between us and eternal life. If
we do not repent and come unto the Lord, like the band of pilgrims we shall
be eternally swept away.
"And I beheld a rod of
iron, and it extended along the bank of the river, and led to the tree
by which I stood. And I also beheld a strait
and narrow path, which came along by the rod of iron, even to the tree
by which I stood; and it also led by the head of the fountain, unto a large
and spacious field, as if it had been a world." (1 Nephi 8:19-20)
Lehi is painting a picture for us. The picture I see is a narrow
canyon where I have hiked many times over the years. A stream runs through
the middle of this canyon. Along one side of the canyon is a "narrow
path." This narrow path through the canyon eventually opens up into
a "large and spacious field." On this particular trail there is, in fact,
a rod of iron. It is a four inch galvanized pipe that carries water from
the higher reaches of the mountain down to the valley. In Lehi's dream, we find the path leading on to the tree.
WHAT IS THE STRAIT AND NARROW PATH?
The gospel path is straight and narrow.
"Enter ye in at the strait gate, for wide is the
gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there
be which go in thereat; Because strait is the gate and narrow is the way,
which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it" (Matthew
"I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man
cometh unto the Father, but by me." (John 14:6)
In my picture, one must stay on the path or else he or she may slide down the hill and into
the stream. There is only one path through
the canyon. And there is only one way to the "tree of life" or eternal
life, that fruit which is "desireable above all other fruit."
"And I saw numberless concourses
of people, many of whom were pressing forward, that they might obtain the
path which led unto the tree by which I stood. And it came to pass that
they did come forth, and commence in the path which led to the tree. And it came to pass that
there arose a mist of darkness; yea, even an exceedingly great mist of
darkness, insomuch that they who had commenced in the path did lose their
way, that they wandered off and were lost. And it came to pass that
I beheld others pressing forward, and they came forth and caught hold of
the end of the rod of iron; and they did press forward through the mist
of darkness, clinging to the rod of iron, even until they did come forth
and partake of the fruit of the tree." (1 Nephi 8:21-24)
Lehi now sees masses of people heading up the path towards the tree. He also sees a "great mist of darkness" that covers the path. Many
of those on the path "wandered off and were lost." On my canyon trail,
such a great mist of darkness would be dangerous. I can visualize
people slipping on the hillside, some even losing control and sliding into
On another hike during my teen years, my friends and I were climbing at
night. Though there wasn't a mist as such, the darkness was great
and the trail was obscure. We navigated the trail for a period of
time, but eventually we "wandered off" the main trail on to a side trail
and "were lost" until daybreak when we were able to finally regain our bearings.
In Lehi's dream, others were able to press through the "mist of darkness,"
remain on the trail and eventually "partake of the fruit of the tree."
- WHAT ENABLED THEM TO DO THAT?
WHAT DOES THE GREAT MIST OF DARKNESS REPRESENT?
It is symbolic of "the temptations of the devil,
which blindeth the eyes, and hardeneth the hearts of the children of men,
and leadeth them away into broad roads, that they perish and are lost"
(1 Nephi 12:17).
WHAT SORTS OF "MISTS OF DARKNESS" DO WE ENCOUNTER IN OUR DAY?
During my night climb, we persisted through the darkness thinking we were
on the path. Sometimes we think we are on the path when we are, in
fact, being led astray. Temptations can be subtle. They may
come from trusted friends. We may be influenced by attractive advertising
or seductive media presentations.
Those that made it through the "mist" did so by clinging to the "rod of
iron." WHAT DOES THE ROD OF IRON REPRESENT?
It is the word of God. "And it came to
pass that I beheld that the rod of iron, which my father had seen, was
the word of God, which led to the fountain of living waters, or to the
tree of life" (1 Nephi 11:25).
Only by clinging to the "rod of iron" can we be safe from the depths of
"filthiness." As Nephi said to his his brethren, "...and
whoso would hearken unto the word of God, and would hold fast unto it,
they would never perish; neither could the temptations and the fiery darts
of the adversary overpower them unto blindness, to lead them away to destruction"
(1 Nephi 15:24).
Many years ago, my wife and I drove from the Pacific Northwest to Utah for the Christmas
holiday. We were traveling at night. When we reached southern
Idaho, several miles from the Utah border, we encountered a fierce blizzard. We were literally encountering an "exceedingly great mist of darkness." So fierce was the blizzard that the road ahead was completely whited out. We could see nothing. Though we were on the freeway, we slowed our
speed to about 15 miles an hour, centered our car on the white line on
the side of the road, and clung to that line. I do not think we could
see more than 10 to 15 feet ahead. Had it not been for that white line and our strict attention and adherence to it, we could not
have made it. Our lives may well have depended on staying on the
"strait and narrow" line.
In our lives, we need a guide to find our way up the path, through the mist of
darkness, and on to the tree of life. We are blessed in our time to have
the "word of God" in abundance. Not only do we have the scriptures,
but we also have the monthly First Presidency message in the Ensign, along with General Conference talks. Adherence
to these messages is just as vital to our spiritual survival as was
following the highway marker line to my family's physical survival.
President Ezra Taft Benson: "Success in
righteousness, the power to avoid deception and resist temptation, guidance
in our daily lives, healing of the soul—these are but a few of the promises
the Lord has given to those who will come to His word. Does the Lord promise
and not fulfill? Surely if He tells us that these things will come to us
if we lay hold upon His word, the blessings can be ours. And if we do not,
then the blessings may be lost. However diligent we may be in other areas,
certain blessings are to be found only in the scriptures, only in coming
to the word of the Lord and holding fast to it as we make our way through
the mists of darkness to the tree of life (see 1 Nephi 8:19-23)."
(Ensign, May 1986, p81)
President Benson: "Some of our members have
become disturbed because of derogatory things said about the Church and
its leaders, or because of misrepresentations about our doctrines or our
practices. But opposition is not new to the Church. We have had opposition
in the past, and we shall continue to have opposition in the future. Do
not become discouraged by what others say or do. Stay on the strait and
narrow path. You do this by holding fast to the iron rod—the words of God
as contained in the scriptures and as given by His living servants on this
earth (see 1 Nephi 8:19)." (Ensign, Apr 1984, p8)
Lehi saw a
second group of people who entered onto the path, pressed forward holding onto
the rod through the mist of darkness until they arrived at and partook of the
fruit of the tree of life. After they had partaken of the fruit of the
tree they looked around and "were ashamed" (1 Nephi 8:25).
WHAT HAPPENED TO THESE PEOPLE?
They were more concerned with the opinions and philosophies and acceptance
of the world than with the designs of the Lord.
DOES THIS HAPPEN TO MEMBERS OF THE CHURCH TODAY? WHY?
Elder Boyd K. Packer: "Note that the test
came after they had followed the rod of iron, after they had partaken of
the fruit.... What is the test? Why did they falter? It had something
to do with becoming ashamed in the face of scoffing and mocking or pointing
fingers." (BYU Speeches, Apr 12, 1966, p4).
HOW CAN WE OVERCOME THIS CHALLENGE?
"And I also cast my eyes round
about, and beheld, on the other side of the river of water, a great and
spacious building; and it stood as it were in the air, high above the earth.
And it was filled with people, both old and young, both male and female; and
their manner of dress was exceedingly fine; and they were in the attitude of
mocking and pointing their fingers towards those who had come at and were
partaking of the fruit."
(1 Nephi 8:26-27)
WHAT DOES THE GREAT AND SPACIOUS BUILDING REPRESENT?
It represents worldly wisdom, as well as "vain imaginations and the
pride of the children of men" (1 Nephi 11:35;
These people all had one thing in common, they prized the praise and ways
of man above the praise and ways of God, and mocked and scoffed at those
who attempted to live a godly and simple life.
Brother Nibley gives us this interesting insight: "By
now most of us have seen photographs of those wonderful ancient Arab houses
(first 'discovered' in the 1930s) built after the Babylonian design of
Lehi's day, 'ten-and twelve-story skyscrapers that . . . represent genuine
survivals of ancient Babylonian architecture,' with their windows beginning,
for the sake of defense, twenty to fifty feet from the ground. At night
these lighted windows would certainly give the effect of being suspended
above the earth. The eighth book of Hamdani's al-Iklil is devoted to describing
the early castles of Arabia, 'great and spacious buildings' which 'stood
as it were in the air, high above the earth'." (Collected Works
of Hugh Nibley, 6:257-258)
Lehi saw a another group pressing forward, "continually
holding fast to the rod of iron" until they came and partook
of the fruit of the tree (1 Nephi 8:30).
These are they who remained steadfast and proved faithful to their covenants.
WHAT WAS IT THAT DISTINGUISHED THIS GROUP FROM PREVIOUS GROUPS?
They were "continually holding fast to the rod of iron."
The Book of Mormon is the word of God and is a "rod of iron."
Those who hold fast to and diligently study the Book of Mormon will be
led through the mists of darkness and have the strength to resist the mocking
of the world.
I think this is one of the main reasons we have been given the Book of
Mormon. Without this incredible tool we would find it difficult
to resist the temptations and mockery of the world.
President Ezra Taft Benson: "There
is a power in the book that will begin to flow into your life the moment you
begin a serious study of the book. You will find greater power to resist
temptation. You will find the power to avoid deception. You will find the power
to stay on the strait and narrow path." (Ensign,
Nov 1986, p7)
Lehi beheld a fourth group of people, "multitudes
feeling their way towards that great and spacious building."
WHO WERE THESE PEOPLE?
They never even got on the path leading to the tree
of life. These are the people of the world
"grasping like blind
men or seizing upon anything that would lead them through whatever obstacles
were there, so that they could enjoy the approbation of the affluent and
a welcome from the worldly wise." (Doctrinal
Commentary on the Book of Mormon, 1:60).
1 Nephi 9
Nephi kept two accounts.
The large plates - contained an account of the reign of kings, wars, and
The small plates - contained the "more part of the ministry."
WHY DID THE NEPHI MAKE THESE SMALL PLATES?
Commanded for a "wise purpose" (1 Nephi 9:5). Nephi did not know.
As we know from Church history, Martin Harris lost the first 116 pages of
manuscript. The small plates contained a parallel history.
1 Nephi 10
Summary of Lehi’s prophecies:
Lehi speaks of the destruction of Jerusalem, the captivity of the Jews in
Babylon, and their eventual return (v1-3).
Lehi prophesies of the coming of the Messiah (v4-6).
Lehi prophesies of John the Baptist (v7-10).
Lehi speaks of Christ's death and resurrection (v11).
Lehi on the scattering and gathering of Israel (v12-16).
Nephi says that after he had listened to Lehi’s recitation of his
vision and these prophecies that "I...was desirous
also that I might see, and hear, and know of these things by the power
of the Holy Ghost" (v17).
1 Nephi 11
1 NEPHI 11:1. Nephi ponders in his heart.
HOW IMPORTANT IS THIS PROCESS OF PONDERING? DO WE TAKE THE TIME TO
PONDER, AS DID NEPHI?
Joseph Smith wrote from Liberty Jail: "The things
of God are of deep import and time, and experience, and careful and ponderous
and solemn thoughts can only find them out." (TPJS, p137)
Pondering opens the door to revelation.
The First Vision, and subsequent events, came as a result of young Joseph
pondering and reflecting on
According to Kent P. Jackson (Professor of Ancient Scripture, BYU),
record in 1 Nephi 11-15 is one of the great revelatory and literary masterpieces
of all time." (Studies In Scripture, 7:36)
DO YOU FEEL THAT WAY ABOUT THESE CHAPTERS? IF NOT, WHY?
- Do we need to go back and study, and pray, and ponder it in our hearts?
Nephi converses with the Spirit of the Lord.
Nephi has been conversing with the Lord (v1-11). He says that "I spake unto him as a man speaketh; for
I beheld that he was in the form of a man; yet nevertheless, I knew that
it was the Spirit of the Lord; and he spake unto me as a man speaketh with
The expression "Spirit of the Lord" is used forty times in the Book of
Mormon, and almost without exception it has reference to the Holy Ghost. Given that usage of terms
throughout the book, then this reference seems to speak of the Holy
In the remainder of this chapter, Nephi sees the mortal mission of the
Following the death of the Savior, Nephi saw "the house
of Israel gathered together to fight against the twelve apostles of the Lamb"
Isn't it peculiar that it was the covenant people who were primarily responsible
for the death of the Savior and continued to fight against the church and
This has continued to be true in this dispensation. Many of our greatest
trials have been brought upon us by those in the Church.
Joseph Smith: "When you joined this Church you enlisted
to serve God. When you did that, you left the neutral ground, and you
never can get back on to it." (Encyclopedia of Joseph Smith's
The question for us is: WHERE WILL WE STAND?
We have left neutral ground.
1 Nephi 15
When Nephi returned to Lehi's tent he found his brothers disputing over
the things which Lehi had spoken to them.
WHY DIDN'T THEY 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." (v3)
Nephi inquires of his brothers the cause of their disputations. Their
reply, "Behold, we cannot understand the words
which our father hath spoken" (v7).
Nephi then asks the question that provides the answer, "Have
ye inquired of the Lord?" (v8).
As we seek to understand Lehi's dream, and the subsequent prophecies of
Lehi and Nephi, we need to ponder and inquire of the Lord, as did Nephi. Otherwise, we will be like his brethren "disputing with one another" and
Gospel Doctrine Notebook
Record your thoughts on Lehi's dream. What does it mean to you to hold to
the iron rod? What things can you do in your life to make sure that you are
holding on to the rod and to insure that you partake of the fruit of the tree of
Resources Used In This Lesson
An Approach To The Book of Mormon by Hugh Nibley.
Collected Works of Hugh Nibley.
Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon by Joseph
Fielding McConkie and Robert L. Millet.
Doctrinal New Testament Commentary by Bruce R. McConkie (DNTC).
Encyclopedia of Joseph Smith's Teachings, edited by Larry E. Dahl and Donald Q.
Studies In Scripture editied by Kent P. Jackson.
Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith (TPJS).
The Promised Messiah by Bruce R. McConkie.
Gospel Doctrine Class
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