1 Nephi 11

1 Ne 11-15 Nephi's version of the vision of the tree of life

These five chapters describe what Nephi saw in vision when he asked the Lord to show him the things his father saw. The resulting vision is remarkable because it sheds additional light on the tree of life vision of Lehi. It also contains much more. It seems at first glance as if Nephi is shown two separate visions: one of the vision of the tree of life and another of the history of the world beginning with the birth of the Savior. Yet in the narrative, the visions are intertwined. A careful study of these chapters reveals that Nephi's vision of the history of the world ties in perfectly with the vision of the tree of life. Whenever the angel shows Nephi a portion of the dream Lehi saw, whether it is the tree or the rod of iron or the great and spacious building, he next shows him an event in the history of the world which exemplifies the interpretation. The following table shows what historical events Nephi was shown after each portion of Lehi's dream was given.

Vision of the Tree of Life Vision of the History of the World­­­­
Tree=love of God (v. 8) The birth of the Lamb of God to a virgin from Nazareth (v. 13-21)
  The Savior going forth among the children of men (v. 24)
Rod of iron=word of God (v. 25) The Lamb of God was baptized (v. 27)
  He ministers in power and great glory (v. 28)
  12 apostles and the ministering of angels (v. 29-30)
  The Lamb of God heals the sick and afflicted (v. 31)
  He is judged of the world and crucified (v. 32-33)
Large and spacious building=pride of the world (v. 35) The multitudes of the earth gather to fight against the apostles of the Lamb (v. 34-35)
Mist of darkness=temptations of the devil (1 Ne 12:4,17) Vapor of darkness covers the Americas for 3 days (1 Ne 12:5)
  Christ appears to the Nephites (12:6)
  They are righteous up to the fourth generation (12:12)
  They fall prey to the temptations of the devil and are destroyed (12:17-20)
Filthy water=depths of hell (12:16) Wickedness and destruction of the Nephites (12:19-20)
Terrible gulf=justice of God (12:18) Nephites destroyed for their wickedness (12:19-20)

In other words, when the angel explains to Nephi that the tree means the love of God, he next shows Nephi how God loved the world by giving His Son to save mankind from the fall of Adam (Jn 3:16). When he gives the interpretation of the rod of iron, he shows Nephi the ministry of the Savior and His apostles as they taught the word of God. The large and spacious building is represented by the multitudes of the house of Israel who were so wicked that they killed the Lord and they gathered to persecute His apostles after the resurrection. The mist of darkness are the temptations of the devil which overcame the Nephites who were destroyed by the destructions which accompanied the crucifixion of the Savior and by the Lamanites in the final battle. It is by the justice of the Eternal God that the wicked (Nephites) must be separated from the righteous and suffer their just rewards by being cast into the depths of hell represented by the filthy water. Speaking the justice of God and the hell prepared for the those who are filthy, Nephi wrote, Wherefore, if they should die in their wickedness they must be cast off also, as to the things which are spiritual, which are pertaining to righteousness; wherefore, they must be brought to stand before God, to be judged of their works; and if their works have been filthiness they must needs be filthy; and if they be filthy it must needs be that they cannot dwell in the kingdom of God; if so, the kingdom of God must be filthy also (1 Ne 15:33).

"Nephi's vision consisted of much more than the scene of the tree of life and the efforts of some to obtain its fruits. That scene provided the setting and the backdrop for an even greater set of revelations-an expanded prophecy of the future: the coming of Christ and his atoning mission, the future of Lehi's descendants, the restoration of the gospel in the last days, and the ongoing struggle between the forces of evil and righteousness. These revelations unfolded to Nephi great events of the future and used symbols from the vision of the tree of life to clarify events." (Kent P. Jackson, ed., Studies in Scripture, Vol. 7: 1 Nephi to Alma 29, p. 35.)

1 Ne 11:1 as I sat pondering in mine heart

It is often while pondering that the Spirit speaks to us. Joseph F. Smith was pondering over the scriptures when he was shown his vision of the spirit world (DC 138:1). Nephi was pondering as he walked home when he heard a voice telling him, Blessed art thou, Nephi, for those things which thou hast done (Hel 10:2-4). Moroni gives us a pattern for pondering. He suggests we 1) read the scriptures, 2) remember God's mercy and dealings with the children of men, and 3) ponder it in our hearts. Moroni 10:3 reads, Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in you hearts. If we do this, we will have the truth manifested to us by the power of the Holy Ghost. This promise is not limited to determining the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon; it applies to all things (Moroni 10:5).

"Who can assess the value of pondering, the impact of a righteous soul meditating upon the eternal word?  Who can measure the worth of careful and deep reflection upon the things of God?  'The things of God are of deep import,' Joseph Smith wrote from the Liberty Jail, 'and time, and experience, and careful and ponderous and solemn thoughts can only find them out' (Teachings, p. 137).  Some of the greatest revelations of all time have come as a direct result of pondering.... 

"Pondering and meditation are forms of sacred devotion, quiet and effective moments of prayer by which man draws near to the infinite and is made a partaker of the things of God.  In regard to savoring the words of holy writ, Nephi exulted: 'My soul delighteth in the scriptures, and my heart pondereth them.... Behold, my soul delighteth in the things of the Lord; and my heart pondereth continually upon the things which I have seen and heard.'" (2 Nephi 4:15-16.) (McConkie and Millet, Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon, vol. 1, p. 75)

There is a reason why scriptures require more than a casual reading. They are filled with truths of eternal importance, often packed so closely together, that you can't get all the meaning on the first pass. This principle is beautifully taught in the following passage:

"We might ask why the scriptures have to be pondered to be understood and appreciated. After all, we don't need to ponder newspapers or magazines. We understand them at a first reading. What makes the scriptures different?

"An analogy might help. The scriptures are like a symphony. The problem with a symphony, if it can be called a problem, is that there is so much going on at the same time that an inexperienced listener feels bewildered, not knowing what to listen for, or how to make sense of everything. But the music lover knows what to do. He picks out a theme carried by the string section, compares it to a variation on that theme by the oboes, and hears the composer being playful or reflective or joyful. Unlike the novice, he hears and feels the effects of the details that give the symphony, in all its complexity, its power and impact." (Dennis and Sandra Packard, "Pondering the Word," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, p. 51)

1 Ne 11:1 I was caught away...into an exceedingly high mountain

Prophets have often communicated with the Lord from the mountains. Ascending a mountain to commune with God symbolizes an attempt to leave the world behind and draw nearer to the Lord. The brother of Jared saw his vision of the pre-mortal Christ on mount Shelem (Ether 3:1), Nephi was commanded to go into a high mountain to receive instruction on how to build tools and a ship (1 Ne 17:7-11), Moses communed with God on mount Horeb, i.e. Sinai (Ex 3:1-2), Ezekiel was shown his vision of the celestialized city of Jerusalem after he was caught away in the spirit into a very high mountain, (Ezek 40:1), Christ chose to pray on a mountain to get away from his followers (Matt 14:23), and finally the Transfiguration happened on a high mountain apart (Matt 17:1).

These high mountains were like temples for these prophets. The symbolism continues with the practice of building temples on hills or mountains, And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD's house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord (Isa 2:2).

1 Ne 11:6 Hosanna to the Lord

"Hosanna. The Spirit of the Lord, contemplating the great faith of Nephi, and his desire for knowledge, cries with a loud voice, 'Hosanna to the Lord!' The Hebrew, 'hoshiah-na' is an acclamatory prayer for the well-being of somebody, and it means, literally, 'save now!' In this connection it is a prayer to the Lord by the Spirit for the preservation of the young prophet in his faith. It is a remarkable illustration of the truth stated thus by St. Paul: 'The Spirit itself maketh intercession for us...according to the will of God.' (Rom. 8:26, 27)

"We note that this prayer (or, is it a song?) of the Spirit has the form of Hebrew poetry:

Hosanna to the Lord, the Most High God;

For he is God over all the earth,

yea, even above all.

And blessed art thou, Nephi,

because thou believest in the

Son of the Most High God.

"The chief characteristic of Hebrew poetry is, as is well known, 'parallelism,' which means the rhythm of thought, rather than sound, and the arrangement of the words in such a manner that their full meaning comes out first in the second or third line." (Reynolds and Sjodahl, Commentary on the Book of Mormon, vol. 1, p. 80)

1 Ne 11:6 blessed art thou, Nephi, because thou believest

Again, the reason why Nephi is privileged to see the things his father saw is because of his great faith and righteous desires.

1 Ne 11:11 [the Spirit of the Lord] was in the form of a man...and he spake unto me as a man speaketh with another

There has been some confusion regarding this passage. Who is the personage described as the "Spirit of the Lord?" This term can be used to mean either the Holy Ghost or Jehovah. The vast majority of scriptures which use the term are speaking of the Holy Ghost. Phrases like "the Spirit of the Lord came upon him," and "the Spirit of the Lord which was in him" make it clear that the term refers to the third member of the Godhead. In Nephi 11, verses 6-7 also make it clear that the "Spirit of the Lord," in this passage, is not the pre-mortal Christ.

Now that we have established that Nephi is conversing with the Holy Ghost, we must underscore the singularity of this event. No other prophet describes a vision in which he/she sees and converses directly with the Holy Ghost. This unusual conversation brings new meaning to the phrase "caught away in the Spirit."

James E. Talmage

 "That the Spirit of the Lord is capable of manifesting Himself in the form and figure of man, is indicated by the wonderful interview between the Spirit and Nephi, in which He revealed Himself to the prophet, questioned him concerning his desires and belief, instructed him in the things of God, speaking face to face with the man [1 Ne 11:11]. However, the Holy Ghost does not possess a body of flesh and bones, as do both the Father and the Son, but is a personage of spirit. Much of the confusion existing in human conceptions concerning the nature of the Holy Ghost arises from the common failure to segregate His person and powers. Plainly, such expressions as being filled with the Holy Ghost, and His falling upon persons, have reference to the powers and influences that emanate from God, and which are characteristic of Him; for the Holy Ghost may in this way operate simultaneously upon many persons even though they be widely separated, whereas the actual person of the Holy Ghost cannot be in more than one place at a time." (Articles of Faith, p. 42, as taken from Latter-day Commentary on the Book of Mormon compiled by K. Douglas Bassett, p. 36)

1 Ne 11:12 and I saw him not; for he had gone from before my presence.

It is often assumed that the Spirit which begins to show Nephi the dream is the same individual as the angel who finishes the vision. However, Nephi makes it clear that the Spirit of the Lord had gone from before his presence and that the rest of the vision was shown to him by an unidentified angel, And it came to pass that I saw the heavens open; and an angel came down and stood before me (v. 14).

1 Ne 11:16 Knowest thou the condescension of God?

This unusual phrase, "condescension of God," deserves some comment. It does not appear anywhere in the scriptures with the exception of 1 Ne 11. In English, to condescend is a commonly used verb, but as a noun, it is rarely seen. In the context of this scripture, it means Jehovah's voluntary surrender of his exalted status as a pre-mortal God to be born into mortality in the most humble of circumstances. The Dictionary defines condescension as the "'voluntary descent from one's rank or dignity in relations with an inferior.' President Ezra Taft Benson taught, 'It means to descend or come down from an exalted position to a place of inferior station.' " (Ensign, Dec. 2001, 18). Before being born of Mary, he was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. After the virgin birth, he was seen as the carpenter's son.

Gordon B. Hinckley

"'Knowest thou the condescension of God?' (1 Ne. 11:16.) I suppose none of us can fully understand that-how the great Jehovah should come among men, born in a manger in a vassal state, among a people who would hate him." (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley, p. 285 - 286.)

Elder Richard C. Edgley

"From his magnificent throne, Jesus Christ, the God of this world, all-knowledgeable and all-powerful, descended. Indeed, it is sobering to ponder that He alone would come down from this glorified throne to face the most extreme humiliation and suffering that mortality could inflict.

"President Benson stated, 'When the great God of the universe condescended to be born of a mortal woman, He submitted Himself to the infirmities of mortality to 'suffer temptations, and pain of body, hunger, thirst, and fatigue, even more than man can suffer, except it be unto death' (Mosiah 3:7).

"...It is at the extremity of His suffering, His greatest condescension, that we witness the majesty of His mission. It was at this time of His greatest humiliation and lowest state that He gave greatest glory to His Father in Heaven and then signaled the completion of His mission by simply uttering the words 'Father, it is finished, thy will is done' (JST, Matt. 27:50). Indeed, He had descended to fulfill His Father's will.

"...And so the angel said to Nephi, 'Knowest thou the condescension of God?' (1 Ne. 11:16). I believe we know something of His condescension-as God the Creator, Redeemer, Exemplar. For instance, we know:

  • He descended to be born of a mortal woman, even though He was glorified and exalted.
  • He descended to be baptized of man, even though He was perfect and sinless.
  • He descended to minister to the humblest of the humble, even though He was exalted.
  • He descended to subject Himself to the will of the Father, suffering Himself to be tempted, mocked, scourged, cast out, and disowned, even though He was all-powerful.
  • He descended to be judged of the world, even though He was the Judge of the world.
  • He descended to be lifted on the cross and slain for the sins of the world, even though no man could take away His life.

"So what does this mean for us? Our understanding of Christ's condescension should take us beyond our feelings of awe and deep gratitude. As members of His Church, being called to represent Him and testify of Him, our great opportunity is to try to emulate Him." (Ensign, Dec. 2001, 18-20)

1 Ne 11:17 I do not know the meaning of all things

Henry B. Eyring

"Will there be perplexities? Yes, indeed. 'I know that [God] loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things' (1 Ne. 11:17). Indeed, we too will not always know the 'meaning' of things happening to us and around us. Therefore, whatever knowledge we may have, we still need to have faith to see us through those puzzling moments. Because of past verifying experiences, we can know that we have proven God 'in days that are past,' thus giving us faith for the challenges of the present." (On Becoming a Disciple Scholar, p. 22.)

Neal A. Maxwell

"There have been and will be times in each of our lives when such faith must be the bottom line: We don't know what is happening to us or around us, but we know that God loves us, and knowing that, for the moment, is enough." (Not My Will, But Thine, p. 120.)

1 Ne 11:19 she [Mary] was carried away in the Spirit

Mary was overcome by the Spirit in her conception. The virgin birth has been doubted by many skeptics. We see that the Book of Mormon again confirms the truth of the Bible as contained in Luke 1:35 and Matthew 1:20. The fact remains, Jesus of Nazareth was literally the mortal son of Mary and God the Eternal Father. This incredible reality is referred to many times by the Lord during his ministry, My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand. I and my Father are one (Jn 10:29-30).  It wasn't an artificial insemination, it was a spiritual insemination.  

1 Ne 11:22-23 the love of God...is the most desirable above all things...and the most joyous to the soul.

Saints have struggled for ages to be worthy of the love of God. What greater feeling could there be, after struggling through mortality, than to hear the Lord say, 'Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord' (Matt 25:21)?

1 Ne 11:25 What is the fountain of living waters?

The fountain of living waters is a symbol as significant as the tree of life. If one drinks from the fountain of living waters, one will live forever with the blessings of eternal life. If one partakes of the tree of life, one receives the same blessing. They both represent the love of God for his children. This fountain of living waters is a part of the great, celestialized city of Jerusalem which John the revelator saw, For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes (Rev 7:17). John was shown the close relationship between the celestial tree of life and the fountain of living waters, 'he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life...let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely' (Rev 22:1-2,17).

These waters are separate from the river described by Lehi and Nephi. The river was filthy and is representative of the depths of hell.

Merrill J. Bateman

"Another indication that the 'love of God' refers to Christ is the reference to the fountain. The 'fountain of living water' symbol in the scriptures refers to Jehovah or Jesus. Jehovah lamented the fact that the Jewish nation had forsaken Him, 'the fountain of living waters' (Jer. 2:13). Jesus offered living water to the woman of Samaria at the well. Not understanding, she told Him that the well was deep and that He did not have anything with which to draw. He then said: 'Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.' (John 4:10-14.) The 'fountain of living water' is a type of Christ as the source of life with regard to both immortality and eternal life." (Heroes from the Book of Mormon, p. 23.)

1 Ne 11:26 Look and behold the condescension of God!

"The condescension of God" is referred to again with reference to the baptism of Christ (v. 26-27). In this instance it means Christ's condescension to submit to an ordinance designed for sinners. He does it not because the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob needs baptism, but to fulfill all righteousness, according to the will of the Father.

Perhaps the latter-day saints don't spend enough time following the advice of the angel.  Perhaps we should "look and behold the condescension of God" in our own lives.  Perhaps we should ponder why God became Man.  He didn't do it for him; he did it for us. Jehovah came down so that we could go up.  In other words:

Without the Fall of man, there is no condescension of God. 

Without the condescension of God, there is no ascension of man.

1 Ne 11:32 the Son of the everlasting God was judged of the world; and I saw and bear record.

Nephi's tone here shows that he is overwhelmed and astonished that the Savior of the world could be judged by wicked men. How absurd it must have seemed to Nephi? How could anyone plot to kill him when his ministry was teaching righteousness and healing the sick? Nephi's phrase, and I saw and bear record, implies that he wouldn't have believed it if he hadn't seen it with his own eyes.

Gerald N. Lund

"He showed condescension in his patience and restraint when brought before men for judgment....(1 Ne 19:9) The God who created everything was judged to be nothing! And yet he endured it with complete patience. Imagine the Being whose power, whose light, whose glory holds the universe in order, the Being who speaks and solar systems, galaxies, and stars come into existence-standing before wicked men and being judged by them as being of no worth or value! When we think of what he could have done to these men who took him to judgment, we have a new and different sense of his condescension. When Judas led the soldiers and the high priests to the Garden of Gethsemane and betrayed him with a kiss, Jesus could have spoken a single word and leveled the entire city of Jerusalem. When the servant of the high priest stepped forward and slapped his face, Jesus could have lifted a finger and sent that man back to his original elements. When another man stepped forward and spit in his face, Jesus had only to blink and our entire solar system could have been annihilated. But he stood there, he endured, he suffered, he condescended." (Doctrines of the Book of Mormon, 1991 Sperry Symposium, pp. 85-86 as taken from Latter-day Commentary on the Book of Mormon compiled by K. Douglas Bassett, p.37)

1 Ne 11:34-35 they were gathered together to fight against the apostles of the Lamb

"The world is still fighting the apostles of the Lamb because they represent the truth and the world rejects the truth. Even those of the house of Israel at times will gather to fight against the twelve: 'And the angel of the Lord spake unto me again saying: Behold the world and the wisdom thereof; yea, behold the house of Israel hath gathered together to fight against the twelve apostles of the Lamb' (v 35). This verse describes the apostasy following Christ's ministry in Jerusalem. The Apostasy was caused by the pride and wisdom of the world, but it will not stand forever: 'And it came to pass that I saw and bear record, that the great and spacious building was the pride of the world; and it fell, and the fall thereof was exceedingly great. And the angel of the Lord spake unto me again, saying: Thus shall be the destruction of all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, that shall fight against the twelve apostles of the Lamb' (v 36). The world still fights the Twelve Apostles and their teaching with its own wisdom, but it will eventually fall, and the pride that motivates the fight will be the cause of that fall." (Monte S. Nyman and Charles D. Tate, Jr., eds., Fourth Nephi through Moroni: From Zion to Destruction [Provo: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1995], 210.)

1 Ne 11:36 the great and spacious building was the pride of the world; and it fell

Neal A. Maxwell

"The gigantic, global collapse that is yet to come will not be that of a failing stock market, but the fall of hardened mind-sets and collective pride when it all finally tumbles. Nephi testified: 'It came to pass that I saw and bear record, that the great and spacious building was the pride of the world; and it fell, and the fall thereof was exceedingly great. And the angel of the Lord spake unto me again, saying: Thus shall be the destruction of all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, that shall fight against the twelve apostles of the Lamb.' (1 Nephi 11:36.)" (Meek and Lowly, p. 54.)