As he gazed upon this scene, he "saw numberless concourses of people, many of whom were pressing forward, that they might obtain the path which led unto the tree by which (he) stood… (But) 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)… many were drowned in the depths of the fountain." But, he "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."
However, as Lehi cast his eyes "round about, (he) 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…. And he also saw other multitudes feeling their way towards that great and spacious building." (see 1 Nephi 8:2-33)
Obviously, this was a symbolic dream, meaning that each of the things that Lehi saw in this dream was not to be taken literally but was meant to represent something else. Lehi's son, Nephi, wanted to know what these things meant and so, one day, he knelt in earnest prayer to know for himself what the meaning of this dream was. In answer to that prayer an angel appeared unto him and showed him the tree that his father, Lehi, had seen. Then the angel asked Nehpi, "What desirest thou? And (Nephi) said unto him: To know the interpretation thereof."
The angel then showed Nephi the coming of the Son of God in the flesh and said, "Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father! Knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw?" Nephi answered, "Yea, it is the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore, it is the most desirable above all things."
Next Nephi beheld the rod of iron that his father had seen and was told it "was the word of God, which led to the fountain of living waters, or to the tree of life." (see 1 Nephi 11:8-25) And the angel spake again "saying: Behold the fountain of filthy water which thy father saw; yea, even the river of which he spake; and the depths thereof are the depths of hell. And the mists of darkness are 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. And the large and spacious building, which thy father saw, is (the) vain imaginations and the pride of the children of men. And a great and a terrible gulf divideth them; yea, even the word of the justice of the Eternal God, and the Messiah who is the Lamb of God" (see 1 Nephi 12:16-18).
Most members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are very familiar with this story but perhaps not many of them appreciate the significance of its message. Therefore, it might be worth taking a closer examination at the symbolism in this story.
At the very beginning of Lehi's vision he finds himself traveling for many hours through darkness before he finally arrives at a wonderful and glorious tree whose fruit is sweet and is most desirable above all other fruit. Later on he turns around and sees others who are likewise traveling along a narrow path through a mist of darkness as they head toward the tree. But, before we examine the significance of this darkness, let's first examine the tree.
In answer to his prayer, an angel appears and Nephi tells him he wants to know the interpretation of the dream his father had. Rather than giving him a direct answer, the angel shows Nephi the birth, ministry, and death of Jesus Christ. It is after this vision that the angel asks, "Now do you know what the tree represents?" Nephi answers, "Yea, I know. It is the love of God."
The apostle John wrote, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). God, the Father, has so much love for us that He willingly gave His only begotten Son as a sacrifice for our sins so that we could live eternally with Him if we love Him and keep His commandments. We call this the "good news" or, in other words, the gospel. This same John also wrote, "Blessed are they that do his commandments that they may have right to the tree of life" (Revelation 22:14).
In our day the Lord has revealed that those who keep the commandments will someday "be clothed upon with robes of righteousness, with palms in our hands, and crowns of glory upon our heads, and reap eternal joy for all our sufferings" (D&C 109:76). This is not describing how we will be living with God but rather showing us how we will be living like God, possessing all that He has, both in power and authority. We refer to this condition as exaltation, and it is only when we reach this level of salvation that man can truly have a fullness of joy. Thus, the tree that Lehi saw represents eternal life and exaltation is its fruit.
But, as Lehi saw, it is not easy to reach this tree. It takes time, effort, diligence, and perseverance, and along the way there are many things that can prevent us from reaching it. Before reaching the tree himself, Lehi had "traveled for the space of many hours in darkness" symbolizing the long journey he had taken before reaching the tree of life. And, as Lehi also saw, he was not alone in this journey. There were numberless concourses of people who likewise desired to obtain this fruit and who diligently pressed forward along the path that led to it, but, unfortuately, only a few made it all the way.
One of the reasons for this is because the path is "strait and narrow." We often tend to interpret this as meaning that the road is "straight" but the word used here is "strait" which means "a narrow passage; something that is strict or ridged" (the American Heritage Dictionary). However, in this case, either word is appropriate in describing the path that leads to exaltation.
The Lord has declared, "Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you" (Deuteronomy 4:2). The reason why God requires us to be so strict in keeping His commandment is because "truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come; And whatsoever is more or less than this is the spirit of that wicked one who was a liar from the beginning" (D&C 93:24,25).
Since the word of God is truth, the very act of adding something to or subtracting something from truth makes the statement untrue. For example, if you tell the truth but add something more than what is truth, then, by definition, you have added an untruth. If you leave something out when telling the truth you run the risk of creating a false impression. In the same way, when we add or subtract anything to what God has commanded us, we are not following truth.
We can use the principle of tithing to illustrate this point. Tithing is the giving of one-tenth of our increase back to God. Tithing doesn't mean giving nine percent of our increase and it doesn't mean giving eleven percent. It means giving exactly ten percent. If we give more or less we can't call it "tithing."
The principle of baptism is another example. It is so essential to entering into the kingdom of God that even Jesus Himself had to fulfill this righteous law. However, to be effective, it requires a belief in Jesus Christ, repentance of past sins, and being completely immersed in water by someone who has the proper authority from God to perform this ordinance. If someone is baptized without the proper authority or without repenting of their sins or without complete immersion, they will not be allowed into the kingdom of heaven. Today there are many Christians who believe in Christ with all of their heart and in the principle of repentance but who don't feel that baptism is necessary for salvation. However, if a person isn't baptized exactly as God commands, without adding or subtracting anything to His word, they will not be counted among God's people.
This may seem like a rather strict, ridged, narrow interpretation of God's word, but the scriptures record God's displeasure with King Saul when he failed to follow the Lord's commandments exactly as he was instructed (see 1 Samuel 15:2-22). Likewise, Moses was rebuked for striking a rock twice when he was told to do it only once. (see Numbers 20:9-12).
There are those who think that God dreams up commandments just to see if we'll do whatever He tells us. However, nothing could be farther from the truth. Before we can inherit all that God has we have to learn how to do all the things that God does. That means we have to learn how to behave like Him, think like Him, and act like Him. To help us do that, God gives us commandments. We can think of them as being our instruction manual on how to become like God. Therefore, the ultimate purpose for every commandment we receive from God is to help us become more like Him. And once we have learned how to do that then we are worthy of possessing all that He has.
Perhaps we can understand this principle better if we look at it like following a chemical formula. If you take two atoms of hydrogen and combine it with one atom of oxygen you get water. But if you add one extra atom of oxygen or subtract just one atom of hydrogen you don't get water. You get something else. And the same is true when it comes to following the commandments. When we fail to follow them exactly as God has prescribed we can't expect to develop into the kind of being who is fit to live a god-like life throughout eternity. So, when Lehi saw a path that was strait (or straight) and narrow it was a perfect representation of the path we must follow in order to inherit eternal life.
However, as Lehi also saw, there were countless number of people who desired to stay on this path as they kept their eyes fixed on the tree of life but then there arose a "mist of darkness" that caused these people to lose sight of where they wanted to go. As a result, they lost their way and failed to reach the tree. The scriptures interpreted this mist as being the temptations of the world but in a more basic sense it represents our inability to clearly see the truth.
Over the course of human history there have been countless people who have sincerely sought to find God, yet, despite this fact, they have succeeded only in creating countless number of religions. Even within the Christian faith there are tens of thousands of different beliefs about how to become saved and what God wants us to do. The reason for this is because people have been unable to clearly see the truth. When speaking of the Jews of his day, the apostle Paul wrote that "their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same vail untaken away in the reading of the old testament… even unto this day, when Moses is read, the vail is upon their heart" (2 Corinthians 3:14,15).
It's hard to reach a destination if we can't see where we're going, therefore Satan seeks to cloud our mind so we lose our way and thereby lose our salvation. He does this in many ways, one of which is through the temptations of the world. The very act of being tempted gives us two choices which then causes us to struggle to decide which one we want. If our vision was clear there would be no struggle because we could clearly see which path was best to follow. But the very fact that we struggle to decide what to do indicates that our vision has become clouded. It has been said that if we could clearly see evil for what really is, no one would ever accept it. Therefore, Satan has to disguise it in order to make it look appealing.
But worldly temptations aren't the only way our minds become clouded. Satan employs a multitude of techniques to darken our minds to the truth. The Lord explained to Nephi that with some he "rages in the hearts of the children of men, and stirs them up to anger against that which is good. And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well-and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell… And (still) others he flattereth away, and telleth them there is no hell; and he saith unto them: I am no devil, for there is none-and thus he whispereth in their ears, until he grasps them with his awful chains, from whence there is no deliverance" (2 Nephi 28:20-22).
In each of these instances Satan is able to cause a figurative "mist of darkness" to come over people where they lose sight of what is good and can't see what is evil. This is why people argue over religion. Unable to clearly see what is truth, each person strongly and fiercely clings to what they think is true. This same situation existed even among the righteous Nephites. When Christ appeared unto them He chastised them for arguing over various points of doctrine, explaining that such contention was not of God but was inspired by the devil (3 Nephi 11:29).
Lehi saw that because of this mist of darkness some people wandered off the path that led to eternal life and followed other paths where they became lost. However, running beside the strait and narrow path was a river of filthy water that many on the path fell into and drowned. The angel explained to Nephi that this river represents "the depths of hell" which includes the filthiness of the world. The vision showed that because of being blinded, people leave the path of righteousness and submerge themselves in the ways of the world. They swim in filthiness and take delight in doing evil. While they may not become harden criminals, they nonetheless lie a little and dig a pit for their neighbor wherein they take advantage of one another, all the while justifying themselves in committing sin saying there is no harm in this (see 2 Nephi 28:8). And once immersed in this environment of filthiness they begin to feel comfortable in it until it becomes their natural state of living.
On the other side of this river of filth Lehi saw "a great and spacious building" that "was filled with people, both old and young, both male and female" dressed in fine clothing who "were in the attitude of mocking and pointing their fingers towards those who had" made it to the tree of life. However, Lehi also "saw other multitudes [who were] feeling their way towards that great and spacious building." From the geography of Lehi's dream it appears that the only way for these people to get to this great and spacious building from the strait and narrow path was by crossing through the river of filth. Having immersed themselves in sin they now actively sought companionship with other like-minded individuals. And as they did, they deliberately sought to separate themselves from the path of righteousness.
From their perspective, they had a completely different view of God than those who were on the path to eternal life or who had obtained it. And it was from their self-appointed perch of high intellectual wisdom that they viewed the things of God as being foolishness and looked down upon those who followed a belief in God as being an ignorant, unenlightened, naïve, and superstitious people. With such an attitude, rather than desiring the things of God, they only had distain for anything associated with righteousness.
The scriptures refer to this condition as having a "hard heart." It's as though such people have built a wall around themselves to deliberately prevent anything of the Spirit from getting through to them while insuring they are securely locked into a worldly way of life. The only way they can see things the way they really are is to have a change of perspective and the only way that can happen is by having a change of position, from one of looking down on others to one of looking up to God. But to do that they have to be willing to leaving the great and spacious building and get on the strait and narrow path.
However, for them to get from one place to the other doesn't require going back through the river of filth but by having their filthiness washed away. It is through having a humble and contrite heart, rejecting the ways of the world (known as repenting), and submitting themselves to the cleansing power of the Holy Ghost that a person becomes clean from the sins of the world. As the angel explained to Nephi "These are [they who are] made white in the blood of the Lamb, because of their faith in (Jesus)" (2 Nephi 12:11).
These are just some of the things we can learn from studying Lehi's vision. Although the scriptures are full of symbolism, the dream that Lehi had is notably remarkable for the richness of its imagery. Yet a lot of it goes unnoticed when we read God's word casually. It is only when we diligently study and ponder the scriptures that we come to better understand its message. And that is especially true of Lehi's vision.
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