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Lesson Plan for 1 Nephi 6-10



The last time we were in Sunday School we discussed Moroni's threefold purpose of The Book of Mormon. To quickly summarize:

1. To show the remnant of the House of Israel the great things the Lord had done for their fathers.

2. To bring a knowledge of the covenants of the Lord unto the remnant of the House of Israel.

3. To convince Jew and Gentile (all people) that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, and that he manifests himself unto all nations.

It is worth noting that when we begin in 1 Nephi, we are not reading Mormon's or Moroni's compiled record. The small plates of Nephi make up a third of The Book of Mormon, but they were not original to Mormon's and Moroni's painstaking process. We all know the story of the lost 116 pages, but what is not so well known is that Joseph Smith finished translating the rest of the large plates before he went back and translated the small plates of Nephi to place at the beginning of the record (the small plates make up 1 Nephi through Omni).

With all that said we should understand why Nephi's, Jacob's, and other's voices come through unfiltered to us. We learn in 2 Nephi 5:28-33 that Nephi is commanded to begin writing these small plates 30 years after they had left Jerusalem. It is implied in 1 Nephi 19 and the end of 2 Nephi 5 that it took an additional few decades for Nephi to slowly and methodically craft his message on the small plates. He has the wisdom of an older man and has taken the time to craft a masterpiece witness that echoes the three-part purpose of the Book of Mormon as noted above.

As an example of how masterful Nephi is, and as an example of what Nephi really wants us to understand, let's look at Nephi's layout. As a quick note, moving forward, it is helpful to understand that Nephi's original chapter breaks do not exist in our current Book of Mormon. The original chapters are usually much larger than our current chapters. Our current chapter breaks are from the 1879 edition of The Book of Mormon, which was completed by Orson Pratt with the help of a young James E. Talmage. Now, a look at Nephi's layout via the rigorous research of Joseph M. Spencer. (1)

Nephi transitions us fairly plainly through this narrative structure in 1 Nephi chapters 10 & 19 as well as the ending of 2 Nephi chapters 5, the very end of 30, and the very beginning of 31. You might notice that the break between 1st & 2nd Nephi is pretty meaningless as 1 Nephi ends within the same familial conversation 2 Nephi begins with (maybe Nephi temporarily ran out of plates?). Joseph Spencer makes the breathtaking conclusion, "Nephi’s fourfold structure effectively reproduces what the Book of Mormon elsewhere calls the plan of redemption." (An Other Testament, p. 42)

It should be self-evident the temple motifs found within Nephi's structure. This informs our readings this week and next week as most of those chapters take place with the creation section of his narrative. The Come Follow Me Manual for the past two weeks has focused on the family-centric message of these first 10 chapters of 1 Nephi. It shouldn't be that far of a stretch for us to connect the dots in our minds.

For example, Henry B. Erying has taught:
"There is nothing that has come or will come into your family as important as the sealing blessings. There is nothing more important than honoring the marriage and family covenants you have made or will make in the temples of God." (2)

For those who have read Lehi's vision this week, you see both motifs converge as Lehi's vision is about family, seed, and posterity while the location of the dream is "best understood as the garden of Eden." (3) You see sacred time (the family, seed, and posterity) converge on sacred space (the garden of Eden, the location of the Tree of Life).

Nephi gives us great very plain hints at this being his intent for the narrative structure in the first verse of The Book of Mormon. See if you identify the motif of family and temple herein:

"1 I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father; and having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days; yea, having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God, therefore I make a record of my proceedings in my days." (italics and bold added for emphasis)

The ancient Near Eastern understanding of the term mysteries was that of one initiated into rites of a particular religion or ancient cult. (4) Nephi says 'therefore' because he is writing the small plates for posterity and his knowledge of the covenants, keys, and powers that we receive from Jesus Christ in the temple. He writes his record in such a way that all these things are plain and veiled from our view.

I hate that we don't get to give time to Lehi's vision in chapter one, or Nephi's chiasmus surrounding chapter 3 verse 7, or how Nephi has to wrestle with 1 Nephi 3:7 when he is commanded to kill Laban. Of that Laban experience Elder Jeffrey R. Holland has bluntly said it is "squarely in the beginning of the book—page 8—where even the most casual reader will see it and must deal with it... “I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded” (1 Nephi 3:7). I confess that I wince a little when I hear that promise quoted so casually among us. Jesus knew what that kind of commitment would entail, and so now does Nephi." (5)

Today we begin after Lehi diligently goes through the Brass Plates, he sends his sons back to Jerusalem to grow his family, and his family begins to pick seeds for their long journey to the promised land (see chapter 7-8:1). With the way Lehi quotes Zenos' allegory of the Olive Tree when he comments on his vision in chapter 10 (see also Jacob chapter 5), it could very well be that Lehi has that and seeds on his mind. That would have opened the mental door for the Lord to reveal The Vision of the Tree of Life to him.


The Come Follow Me Manual quotes a wonderful talk from the late President Boyd K. Packer in which he says:

"You may think that Lehi’s dream or vision has no special meaning for you, but it does. You are in it; all of us are in it (see 1 Nephi 19:23). Lehi’s dream or vision of the iron rod has in it everything a young Latter-day Saint needs to understand the test of life." (6) (Bold added for emphasis)

Keeping on our theme of seeing the temple in the vision, let's compare the above statement to another statement from President Boyd K. Packer:

"Ordinances and covenants become our credentials for admission into [God's] presence. To worthily receive them is the quest of a lifetime; to keep them thereafter is the challenge of mortality." (7) (Bold added for emphasis)

The two bolded phrases show us to look for the temple and the associated lessons of mortality in the vision. They are one and the same.

Lehi's vision begins with him seeing a dark and dreary wilderness and a man or angel. The man tells Lehi to follow him where he not only sees the dark and dreary wilderness, but he is now in it! This is a symbol of the fall of mankind. He is in darkness for "many hours" where he begins to pray unto the Lord for some tender mercies (see verse 8, this is the same phrase Nephi uses at the end of chapter 1 and associates it with the power of deliverance). Lehi is then delivered to a large and spacious field. This is where we pick up the reading.

READ 1 NEPHI 8:10-18

"10 And it came to pass that I beheld a tree, whose fruit was desirable to make one happy.

11 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.

12 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.

13 And 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.

14 And I looked to behold from whence it came; and I saw the head thereof a little way off; and at the head thereof I beheld your mother Sariah, and Sam, and Nephi; and they stood as if they knew not whither they should go.

15 And it came to pass that I beckoned unto them; and I also did say unto them with a loud voice that they should come unto me, and partake of the fruit, which was desirable above all other fruit.

16 And it came to pass that they did come unto me and partake of the fruit also.

17 And it came to pass that I was desirous that Laman and Lemuel should come and partake of the fruit also; wherefore, I cast mine eyes towards the head of the river, that perhaps I might see them.

18 And it came to pass that I saw them, but they would not come unto me and partake of the fruit."


We are going to learn this coming week that The Tree of Life symbolizes the love of God, which Jesus Christ is the personification of (see John 3:16). Where do we see Christ in the symbol of the tree or other places? What principles do those symbols teach us?

An interesting possibility comes from Latter-Day Saint Scholar, Legrand Baker. He has written that the word used to describe the cross Christ was crucified on as a tree in the New Testament (xylon) is the same word used to describe the Tree of Life in the Septuagint (the Greek version of the Old Testament). Therefore, many ancient Christians viewed the cross as a symbol of the tree of life (see, again, John 3:16). It also makes the symbols we find in the temple and Lehi's dream very plain. If the cross is the tree of life then Christ hanging on the tree is the fruit. If he is the fruit then his blood spilled are the waters of the life that flow freely beneath the tree that sustains and purifies all around it. His torn flesh that we partake is a ritual way we partake of The Tree of Life every week. (See LeGrand Baker, The Book of Mormon As An Ancient Israelite Temple, p. 42-57)


What principles do you learn when you observe how Lehi interacts with his family after he partakes of the fruit? Any other insights into principles, doctrines, or applications you see?

Lehi uses the phrase come unto me three different times between verses 15-18. It is a strong and repeated invitation and encouragement to come unto the tree or to return to the path. Some scholars, like John W. Welch, have suggested this is also about ordinances that Lehi is inviting them to partake of. Lehi would perform saving ordinances on his family as they walked the straight and narrow path leading to the Savior. This is supported by Nephi's discussion about baptism being a gate on the path in 2 Nephi chapter 31.

Elder Neal A. Maxwell has commented on these verses:

"Laman and Lemuel did not partake of the tree of life, which is the love of God (see 1 Ne. 11:25). The love of God for His children is most profoundly expressed in His gift of Jesus as our Redeemer: “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son” (John 3:16). To partake of the love of God is to partake of Jesus’ Atonement and the emancipations and joys which it can bring. Clearly, however, Laman and Lemuel did not have such faith—especially in a Christ yet to come! (see Jarom 1:11)." (8)

It is worth noting here that there is rich scholarship that suggests that Laman and Lemuel were not just caricatures of rebellious teenagers and young adults. To be brief, the language used in The Book of Mormon and in other writings within the ancient Near East at this time suggest Laman and Lemuel were adherents to an apostate temple tradition in Jerusalem. Their accusations of Lehi & Nephi of being "Visionary Men" was an epithet of this apostate tradition (referred to as Deuteronomists by scholars). This tradition, frankly, did not believe in visions, revelations, and visitations. It is also why you see contradictions in the Old Testament, particularly about the nature and form of God between the books of Exodus and Deuteronomy. This sets the stage for how Lehi would have understood The Great and Spacious Building later in his vision. In essence, Laman & Lemuel feel religiously justified by their not adhering to the admonition of their father and younger brother. You can relate to Lehi, therefore, if your family members deliberately choose to not keep the commandments or if your family members belong to another faith tradition that causes conflict for you. If interested, more about this idea can be read here.


What we are getting ready to read is the second half of Lehi's vision. Notice how it expands to not just being about Lehi's wife and sons. It is easy to see this as Lehi seeing virtually anyone and everyone else, but I think a key here is suggested by a few different scholars, Gaye Strathearn and Joseph Spencer. Namely, we are now transitioning into Lehi seeing the posterity of Laman and Lemuel and how they will react to the path, darkness, and tree. We are now going to see the ripple effects upon posterity, in other words.

READ 1 NEPHI 8:19-28

"19 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.

20 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.

21 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.

22 And it came to pass that they did come forth, and commence in the path which led to the tree.

23 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.

24 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.

25 And after they had partaken of the fruit of the tree they did cast their eyes about as if they were ashamed.

26 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.

27 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.

28 And after they had tasted of the fruit they were ashamed, because of those that were scoffing at them; and they fell away into forbidden paths and were lost."


What lessons or insights have you gleaned from your studies this week about the different groups of people that approach the tree? Or about the rod of iron?

Elder David A. Bednar once gave us this insight about the second group of people in verses 24-28:

"This group pressed 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 this second group of people was mocked by the occupants of the great and spacious building, they were ashamed and fell away into forbidden paths and were lost. Please notice that this group is described as clinging to the rod of iron.

It is significant that the second group pressed forward with faith and commitment. They also had the added blessing of the rod of iron, and they were clinging to it! However, as they were confronted with persecution and adversity, they fell away into forbidden paths and were lost. Even with faith, commitment, and the word of God, this group was lost—perhaps because they only periodically read or studied or searched the scriptures. Clinging to the rod of iron suggests to me only occasional “bursts” of study or irregular dipping rather than consistent, ongoing immersion in the word of God." (9)


What can we learn from the symbol of the great and spacious building? About its details?

We learn that the building is "in the air, high above the earth". The most obvious Hebrew word Lehi would have used here is hekal which means "great building" or, as an alternate translation, "temple". The people therein wore exceedingly fine clothing which is the same language Exodus uses to describe the dress of the priests in the temple (see Exodus 28:5-8, 39; 39:27-29). And, as the most obvious parallel, the temple in Jerusalem at this time was on the verge of a great fall when the Babylonians would destroy it in 586 BC. That is the symbolic meaning of it being "in the air". (10)

President Boyd K. Packer has said that in today's world, we are, "in effect, living inside of [the great and spacious building]." (11) Understanding the great and spacious building as an apostate or counterfeit temple can add meaning to this idea. Namely, we are constantly being pulled to worship other things.


In conclusion, let us read of another group that approaches the tree.

READ 1 NEPHI 8:29-30

"29 And now I, Nephi, do not speak all the words of my father.

30 But, to be short in writing, behold, he saw other multitudes pressing forward; and they came and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and they did press their way forward, continually holding fast to the rod of iron, until they came forth and fell down and partook of the fruit of the tree."


What can we learn from this group of Lehi's posterity? What words jump out to you and what do you think they mean or describe?

In the mind of one living in the ancient Near East, "to fall down" is the same thing as "to bow down." (12) Here we have a group of people who were "pressing forward", which implies an uphill climb. How else could Lehi see all these things going on unless he was on a mountain beholding the surrounding scene? In essence, what we have in verse 30 is a group of people falling down before the Tree of Life and partaking in the goodness of Jesus. We might begin to understand what Lehi meant when he says on his deathbed, "I am encircled about eternally in the arms of His love" (see 2 Nephi 1:15).

The personal application this vision has in our everyday lives has been frankly articulated by Elder Kevin W. Pearson:

"... when trials and challenges come our way, we are often told to simply “hang in there.” Let me be clear: to “hang in there” is not a principle of the gospel. Enduring to the end means constantly coming unto Christ and being perfected in Him... The tree of life is the central focus in Lehi’s dream. Everything points to the tree of life. The tree represents Christ, who is the clear manifestation of the love of God. The fruit is His infinite Atonement and is great evidence of God’s love. Eternal life with our loved ones is sweeter and more desirable than any other thing. To realize this gift, we must “come unto Christ, and be perfected in him.” He is “the way, the truth, and the life.” We can fill our lives with accomplishment and well-doing, but in the end, if we do not enter into sacred covenants to follow Christ and faithfully keep them, we will have utterly and completely missed the mark... Lehi’s message is to stay by the tree. We stay because we are converted unto the Lord.

Brothers and sisters, enduring to the end is the great test of discipleship. Our daily discipleship will determine our eternal destiny. Awaken unto God, cling to truth, keep your sacred temple covenants, and stay by the tree!" (13)


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