Summary: In the Book of Mormon we read where Lehi had a dream and later recounted it to his family. However, what he saw was mostly symbolic in nature. His youngest son, Nephi, desired to know the things his father had seen and was later shown the vision and given the explanation of what it meant. Some people believe that visions like these only happened to highly spiritual people, but all of us can experience our own divine visions. This article explains how that can happen.
In the 11th chapter of 1 Nephi we read, “For it came to pass after I had desired to know the things that my father had seen, and believing that the Lord was able to make them known unto me, as I sat pondering in mine heart I was caught away in the Spirit of the Lord, yea, into an exceedingly high mountain, which I never had before seen, and upon which I never had before set my foot… And the Spirit said unto me: Believest thou that thy father saw the tree of which he hath spoken? And I said: Yea, thou knowest that I believe all the words of my father…[And the angel said,] blessed art thou, Nephi, because thou believest in the Son of the most high God; wherefore, thou shalt behold the things which thou hast desired. 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” (verses 1,4,5-7).
From these few verses we can learn many important things about visions and why people have them.
In the preceding chapter we read where Lehi had had a dream which he later recounted to his family. However, most of what he saw in that dream was symbolic in nature, but he wasn’t shown the meaning of them. After telling his family what he had seen, Nephi “desired to know the things that my father had seen.”
Lehi had four sons and a wife, and out of all of them, only Nephi had the desire to know what his father’s dream meant, and he believed, or had faith “that the Lord was able to make them (the meaning of the dream) known unto me.” However, Laman and Lemuel had no interest in knowing anything about the dream.
There are people in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who seem to have a deep understanding of the gospel while there are others members, who actively attend church every Sunday and who faithfully fulfill their callings, but who have only a basic knowledge of the plan of salvation. The difference between these two groups of people often centers around their desire to learn more.
For example, we’ve been asked to read the scriptures every day, but there are some members who don’t read the scriptures at all, while others squeeze this activity into their already overcrowded schedule so they can say they’ve done it. For them, reading the scriptures is something they can check off on their to-do list and then quickly move onto the next item on their day’s agenda. In most cases, these people don’t get much out of their scripture reading.
Then there are those who read the scriptures because they want to better understand what’s in them and are willing to take the time to ponder, study, search, and research what they’ve read. As a result of their efforts, their knowledge of the gospel continues to grow and deepen.
Although Lehi had told his family about his dream, Nephi wanted to know more about it, but from what we read in his record, it doesn’t appear that he was expecting to receive a similar vision. Instead, he “sat pondering in mine heart” the things his father told him. Apparently, Nephi was expecting his mind to be enlightened the more he contemplated what his father said.
Many, if not most of the visions Joseph Smith had, including some not found in the Doctrine and Covenants, came about because of questions he had, and those questions came as a result of him pondering the scriptures. The most well-known vision came as a result of him pondering James 1:5.
Joseph F. Smith had been the president of Christ’s restored church for 17 years, and was 80 years old, when he wrote the following after reading 1 Peter 3:18—20, “On the third of October, in the year nineteen hundred and eighteen, I sat in my room pondering over the scriptures; And reflecting upon the great atoning sacrifice that was made by the Son of God, for the redemption of the world” (D&C 138:1-2). As he sat in his room, pondering the scriptures, he received a glorious vision of the redemption of the dead
But God can also reveal many great and important truths to us without using visions. As he has said, “I will tell you in your mind and in your heart by the Holy Ghost” (D&C 8:2). This is how most revelations come to us.
Many times, as we sit and ponder what we’ve read in the scriptures, thoughts come into our mind which can bring insights that we hadn’t thought of before. Although these thoughts are not visions in the traditional sense of the word, they nonetheless help us to see and understand the things of God more clearly
Our knowledge of the gospel of Christ tends to happen from having a little thought here and a small insight there, but over time these flashes of inspiration begin to come together like puzzle pieces forming a picture. But if we merely read the scriptures quickly and then move on to occupying our mind with other things, then we can miss out on receiving what the Holy Ghost wants us to see.
Even so, it should be understood that not everyone will be enlightened to the same degree because not all have been given the same gifts of the Spirit (see 1 Corinthians 12:4-10). For that reason, some people will receive more insight than others, but without pondering and reflecting on the gospel, we usually don’t receive impressions from the Holy Ghost that can help broaden and deepen our understanding of divine truth.
The next thing we learn comes from when the Spirit said to Nephi, “Believest thou that thy father saw the tree of which he hath spoken? And I said: Yea, thou knowest that I believe all the words of my father.”
Why did the Spirit ask Nephi this question, especially when even Nephi realized that the angel already knew the answer? The reason is because the angel was asking Nephi to bear his testimony of what he knew to be true.
But when he did bear his testimony of what he believed, notice that the angel responded by saying, “Blessed art thou, Nephi, because thou believest in the Son of the most-high God; wherefore, thou shalt behold the things which thou hast desired.” It was because of his belief in the Son of God that the angel said he would show Nephi the things he desired to know. What this seems to indicate is that if Nephi didn’t have a belief in the Son of God, then the angel wouldn’t have given him the knowledge he was seeking.
But where did Nephi get his knowledge about the Son of God? He told the angel that he believed all the words of his father, and it was his father who taught him about the Son of God (see verse 27). What this shows is the importance of parents teaching their children to have faith in Christ. The fact that some children, such as Laman and Lemuel, may not accept these teachings doesn’t diminish the responsibility parents have to teach their children about Jesus Christ, and help them gain a personal testimony of and become committed to following him.
But there’s another principle in these verses that is important to understand, which is that God only reveals divine truth, and imparts spiritual wisdom to those who desire it and are worthy to receive it. The Lord has explained, “For behold, I am God; and I am a God of miracles… and I work not among the children of men save it be according to their faith. (2 Nephi 27:23). The scriptures elaborate on this when they say, “And neither at any time hath any[one] wrought miracles until after their faith; wherefore, they first believed in the Son of God” (Ether 12:18).
Certainly, having an angel of God show a vision of the future and explaining its meaning can be considered a miracle, but why would God, who loves the world so much that he sacrificed his only begotten Son to save us all from sin, only perform miracles after we first believe in the Son of God? Shouldn’t he want to perform miracles for everyone, regardless of whether they believe in him or not?
Some think that people will believe in Jesus Christ if they see a miracle performed in his name, but those who do not believe in Christ will often explain away or discount miracles as mere coincidences. On the other hand, those who already believe in Christ, tend to view miracles as “proof,” or at least evidence of God’s power. Therefore, the reason why God performs miracles for those who have faith in him, isn’t to produce faith in people but to verify that their faith in him is justified.
For example, Laman and Lemuel witnessed many miracles, such as seeing an angel of God who rebuked them for their lack of faith, yet it only had a temporary effect on them. When they were asked to get the brass plates from Laban, they felt they had been given an impossible task, yet when Nephi was able to get them, they didn’t attribute that miracle to God. Many times, after suffering the consequences of tormenting Nephi, they plead for his mercy, but in time they again tried to kill him.
A better example is Jesus, who performed unheard of miracles in the presence of multitudes of people, yet the Pharisees, scribes, and even the chief temple priests refused to accept him for who he said he was, the Son of God. Instead, “they said, This fellow doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub the prince of the devils” (Matthew 12:24).
We can think of miracles as heavenly blessings, and whenever “we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience [to the law] upon which [that blessing] it is predicate” (D&C 130:10-21). In this sense, we can think of miracles as a gift God gives to those who put their faith and trust in him.
In another sense, since all miracles and blessings come from God, in order to receive them, we have to go to him, and those who go to him are those who have faith in him. Jesus explained, “For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift? Behold, he rejoices not in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift” (D&C 88:33). Therefore, “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you” (Matthew 7:6).
When God provides blessings and miracles to those who don’t believe in him, they don’t rejoice in him who is the giver of the gift but instead figuratively trample such blessings under their feet by taking them for granted while expecting to receive more without being thankful for them. This is why Moroni said, “if these things have ceased wo be unto the children of men, for it is because of unbelief, and all is vain” (Moroni 7:37).
And there is yet another thing we learn from the angel when he said, “that after thou (Nephi) 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.”
Those who have a testimony that Jesus is the Christ, that he is the Son of God, the Savior of the world, and in whom they place their faith and trust, likewise have a responsibility “to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places” (Mosiah 18:9), and to bear record of him.
To some, this experience Nephi had may seem extraordinary and something that only highly spiritual people have yet, if we have a desire to know more about the gospel and are willing to ponder the words of God as given through his prophets, our eyes will be opened, and we will see things that only the Spirit can show us. When that happens, then we too, like Nephi, can have our own spiritual visions.
Related articles can be found at The Nature of Spiritual Growth