CLICK HERE to read 1 Nephi 8.
CLICK HERE to read 1 Nephi 8 translated from Hebrew.
It’s almost like the beginning is the happy ending: now Lehi has the family records, and Nephi and his brothers have wives. The families have reunited in the wilderness, and they have taken the time to thank the Lord. There’s more to the story, though.
Now that they all back together, and settled in (as much as you can be while journeying in the wilderness), Lehi tells them he has had a dream.
This dream is the “seed” of the fruit to come (the understanding of why we are here and who we are and where we are going, or – in other words – the plan of salvation).
This dream continues the same theme, with Lehi expressing his confidence in Nephi’s decisions to follow the Lord and his efforts of behavior that proves him a child of the covenant, as well as his concerns about Laman and Lemuel continuing to refuse to obey.
This is Lehi’s dream:
There is a dark and dreary wilderness.
After many hours of traveling in the darkness, he prays to the Lord asking for mercy “according to the multitude of his tender mercies”.
This last piece is important, because that is how it works for us. The tender mercies are like tiny little blessings meant just for us, specifically for us, unique to us, and they show us the way and give us direction and understanding and hope. Elder Bednar said these tender mercies are:
“the very personal and individualized blessings, strength, protection, assurances, guidance, loving-kindnesses, consolation, support, and spiritual gifts which we receive from and because of and through the Lord Jesus Christ.”
They are, for Lehi in this dream, a “light” in the darkness, shedding just enough light on the path that he knows where to step next – or that it is safe to do so.
Finally, Lehi (still dreaming) sees a field, with a tree in it. The fruit of the tree makes people happy. Lehi tasted it, and it was sweet, and he was happy.
It was so good, and made him so happy, that he wanted to share it with his family. Verse 12 says, “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.”
So he looks around for his family, and sees them a ways away. He sees his wife, and Nephi, and one of Nephi’s (good) brothers. When he looked at them, he could tell they did not know what way to go. He calls out to them, and tells them to come to where he is and to taste this fruit. They do.
Lehi keeps looking, because Laman and Lemuel are missing! When he finally sees them far away, they refuse to come to him to taste the fruit.
Then Lehi sees a “rod of iron” that leads along the path to the tree where Lehi stands trying to pass out the happy fruit. He sees how people can cling to this iron rod to stay safely on the path, even when the mists of darkness come. He sees how people wander away or get lost when they do not hold on to the iron rod.
He sees also, a “great and spacious building”, floating in the air. It is filled with all kinds of people, and these people have attitudes of mocking and pointing fingers at those trying to get to the happy fruit or those who have tasted the happy fruit. They are scoffers and scorners, these people in the great and spacious building.
Then verse 29 is a tiny monologue, as if Nephi looked up from the metal plates upon which he had been writing. Nephi lets us know that he is not sharing the whole story of his father’s dream, just a part.
Verse 30 continues the dream-story again, as Lehi describes that those who “press forward” along the rod of iron are they who make it to the tree to taste the fruit.
But Lehi’s concern about his sons Laman and Lemuel continues to grow, as in his dream they refuse to taste the fruit. Lehi is scared for them, that they will not be able to enter the presence of the Lord. So he preaches to them, prophesies to them, and urges them to keep the commandments.
Then he is done, having said all he could say.
This “rod of iron” dream of Lehi’s is classic mormon culture literature. The different pieces of the dream itself get interpreted a few chapters later, and it is worth the wait! But this is a big piece to LDS theological concepts. We even sing a song about it!
Here is part of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir performing it (lyrics below):
Lehi says, though, that it doesn’t matter how close we are to the iron rod if we don’t actually hold on to it. Going through the motions is not enough. Pretending will not keep us safe. We must do the work of reaching out to hold on tight, through praying sincere prayers, and through really studying the scriptures. Our obedience does not earn the safety of salvation, but rather is a token we offer as an act of faith and in gratitude for all the Savior has done for us.
This tells me a lot about living in this world, and it tells me a lot about parenting in this world:
“Many others simply copied the behavior
(like a coin being minted),
but not actually holding on to the iron rod.
These people were drowned in the water.
“And many others
left the field
(where the tree was)
until they were so far away
we could no longer recognize them
(in the distance
and through the fog),
all because they wandered down
(outside the covenant).
“Many others entered the great big building,
curious about the perspective of those within.
“As they became part of that crowd,
they joined in with them
and began to sneer at us
and mock us,
ridiculing me and those eating the fruit.
However, we knew what they said
was not ordained by Elohim,
so we did not let their words
into our hearts or minds.”
In this, my father, Lehi, taught me
by pointing out that all those
who took to heart
what was not of Elohim
because part of the crowd
that went back down the path
and lost their way.
(This taught me, then,
that to keep my way,
I must stand on my own
and follow the words of Elohim
and put his prophets’ words in my heart
and live by them
and learn by them.)
We cannot know the Book of Mormon is true if we do not pray and ask Heavenly Father, who tells us the truth in all things. We cannot apply it to our lives if we do not take the time to read it, and to practice the things the prophets taught us. We cannot progress without taking to heart the gentle guidance of the spirit, embracing the increased capacity offered by the atonement, or holding tight to that iron rod even when that “large and spacious building” looks far more comfortable and cozy and delicious.
The party at the mansion is an illusion, though, created by the fog.
Our Heavenly Parents call us home, call us to become a separate people, set apart to holiness.
And that’s hard work, even when it’s Him doing most of it.
“Iron Rod” Lyrics:
1. To Nephi, seer of olden time,
A vision came from God,
Wherein the holy word sublime
Was shown an iron rod.
Hold to the rod, the iron rod;
’Tis strong, and bright, and true.
The iron rod is the word of God;
’Twill safely guide us through.
2. While on our journey here below,
Beneath temptation’s pow’r,
Through mists of darkness we must go,
In peril ev’ry hour.
3. And when temptation’s pow’r is nigh,
Our pathway clouded o’er,
Upon the rod we can rely,
And heaven’s aid implore.
4. And, hand o’er hand, the rod along,
Through each succeeding day,
With earnest prayer and hopeful song,
We’ll still pursue our way.
5. Afar we see the golden rest
To which the rod will guide,
Where, with the angels bright and blest,
Forever we’ll abide.
(Text: Joseph L. Townsend, 1849–1942; Music: William Clayson, 1840–1887)