I really like Lehi’s dream, but I don’t usually care for Gospel Doctrine lessons on Lehi’s dream. You are all studying the Old Testament, but I am in Primary so I get to study whatever I want. So, rather than another post on Job, I thought I’d take a stab at digging something interesting out of Lehi’s dream.
The Exodus story, the Temple, and Lehi’s dream are all just different portrayals of the same plan of salvation. It was very helpful to me when I realized this. Some of the symbols in Lehi’s dream take on added meaning when we see how the same symbol appeared in the Exodus or in the ancient temple. But I get ahead of myself, the symbols will have to wait for subsequent posts. To see how these frameworks tie together, it is useful to take notice of a particularly inconspicuous scriptural term: “the way.” The first mention of the way occurs when Adam and Eve are driven out of the Garden of Eden:
So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life. (Genesis 3:24)
From the verse above, we see that the way leads back to the tree of life and that it has been guarded since the fall. The Garden of Eden was the first temple. Donald Parry does a good job of summarizing the connection to the temple:
Once a year on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, Adam’s eastward expulsion from the Garden is reversed when the high priest travels west past the consuming fire of the sacrifice and the purifying water of the laver, through the veil woven with images of cherubim. (Temples of the Ancient World pg. 135).
The cherubim embroidered on the veil of the ancient temple were set there to symbolize the cherubim God placed to protect the way of the tree of life. This also calls to mind Brigham Young’s statement that the purpose of the endowment is “to enable you to walk back to the presence of the Father, passing the angels who stand as sentinels” (JD 2:31).
The Hebrew word translated as “the way” is derek which can refer to a literal road, a journey, or even a moral character. A familiar verse in Isaiah illustrates the latter usage when it speaks of people in the last days inviting others to the temple:
Come ye, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths (Isa. 2:3).
The way is not a literal road, but a symbolic path representing a course of life or a manner of living. The people in Isaiah’s vision went to the temple to learn how to live a godly life. They went to learn the manner in which they must live in order to return to the tree of life and partake of its fruit. This manner of living is also referred to as the “name” of the Lord. When Moses asked God to “shew me now thy way,” God responds by proclaiming the name of the Lord:
Now therefore, I pray thee, if I have found grace in thy sight, shew me now thy way that I may know thee, that I may find grace in thy sight: and consider that this nation is thy people. (Ex. 33:13)
5 And the LORD descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD.
6 And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth,
7 Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation. (Ex. 34)
The Lord revealed his name as a list of his attributes. It is clear that the way/name of the Lord is a manner of living. This adds deeper meaning to the concept of taking upon ourselves the name of the Lord. Taking on Christ’s name involves a new manner of living, taking upon ourselves his attributes, becoming as he is. The way and the name are closely related. Thus, Nephi concludes a chapter in which he had not previously used the word “name” by saying: “this is the way; and there is none other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved” (2 Ne 31:21). We’ll get back to that passage momentarily.
The way is expanded and developed by the symbolism of the Exodus. The Exodus story sets up the most important typology of the Old Testament. The symbolism of the Exodus is drawn on constantly in subsequent scriptures, including modern revelations. The story of the Exodus contains many parallels to the ancient temple which should be familiar to any student of the Old Testament.
Just as the temple drama depicts the journey from the captivity of sin to the tree of life, the Exodus story describes a journey from captivity in Egypt to the promised land. The temple was divided by two barriers into three areas: the outer court, the holy place, and the holy of holies. In the Exodus story, Egypt is divided from the wilderness by the Red Sea, which is, in turn, divided from the promised land by the Jordan River. Egypt, like the outer courtyard of the temple, was representative of man in his fallen condition and under the bondage of sin. An offering at the altar of sacrifice and a washing in the laver of water were required in order to enter the holy place from the outer courtyard. The altar of sacrifice is paralleled by the Passover, in which all the firstborn sons who were not covered by the blood of the lamb on their door posts were killed. The laver is represented by the Red Sea in which the children of Israel received their baptism (cf. 1 Cor 10:1-2). The holy place of the temple was modeled by the wilderness in which the children of Israel received manna from heaven (shewbred) and were guided by a pillar of fire (candlestick). The children of Israel crossed the Jordan River (final veil) into the promised land, representing their entrance into the holy of holies.
Our inconspicuous friend the way makes several appearances in the Exodus story:
And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night (Ex 13:21).
Isaiah later referred to the path through the Red Sea in the same terminology:
Art thou not it which hath dried the sea, the waters of the great deep; that hath made the depths of the sea a way for the ransomed to pass over (Isa 51:10; cf. Isa 43:16)
When the children of Israel started worshiping an idol they were described as having “turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them: they have made them a molten calf, and have worshipped it” (Ex 32:8). It is worth noting that the Lord drew on this imagery and terminology in modern revelation when describing the last days:
They have strayed from mine ordinances, and have broken mine everlasting covenant; They seek not the Lord to establish his righteousness, but every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god, whose image is in the likeness of the world, and whose substance is that of an idol. (D&C 1:15-16)
In Lehi’s dream the way is called “a path.” Indeed, it is the “strait and narrow path” we hear so much about. It should be no surprise at this point that the path in Lehi’s dream leads to the tree of life. The strait and narrow path is the path through the temple, from the outer court to the holy of holies, from Egypt to the promised land, from the “dark and dreary waste” (1 Nephi 8:7) to the tree of life. When Nephi spoke about the strait and narrow path, he mingled temple imagery into his language:
17 …For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost.
19 And now, my beloved brethren, after ye have gotten into this strait and narrow path, I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay…
20 Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life. (2 Ne 31)
Before entering the holy place, a priest would prepared himself by making sacrifice and cleansing himself at the laver of water. Nephi says the gate by which we enter is repentance (sacrifice) and baptism (cleansing by water) and then “we are on the straight and narrow path.” The lampstand in the temple burned pure olive oil. In D&C 45:56-58, light from such a source is compared to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Nephi says once we enter into the way we receive the Holy Ghost (vs. 18). Reception of the Holy Ghost is not the end however: “Ye must press forward with a perfect brightness (lampstand) of hope …feasting (shewbread) upon the words of Christ” (2 Nephi 31:20). If you endure to the end (all the way to the veil), the Father will say, “Ye shall have eternal life.” “And now, behold, …this is the way” (2 Nephi 31:21).
Nephi continues in the next chapter. He says that once we enter the way and receive the Holy Ghost we can receive the word of Christ from angels because “angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost” (2 Nephi 32:3). Again he admonishes us to “feast upon the words of Christ.” He says that if we do not understand it is because we are not asking or knocking, hence, we are not brought into celestial light (vs. 4). Nephi gets a little frustrated in verses 5-7. He says that the Holy Ghost is the one who is supposed to teach us this and that the Spirit is stopping him from saying more (vs 7), however, he does give one more clue as to what the spirit might teach us. He says that the spirit teaches a man to pray (2 Nephi 32:8). It seems more than coincidence that the Altar of Incense represents the prayers of the saints (Rev. 8:3-4). The smoke from the Altar of Incense represented the prayers of the saints ascending up to God. So, Nephi gets in a mention of every piece of furniture from the ancient temple while discussing the strait and narrow way.
This all makes it much more interesting when Jesus claims to be “the way.” There is no doubt that Jesus was fully aware of the implications of that statement. Christ’s claim that he is the way indicates that all the models of the way (the Exodus, the Temple, Lehi’s dream) are ultimately representations of Christ and his mission. John tells us that Christ, ultimately, is the temple (Rev. 21:22; John 2:21). Christ is the sacrifice on the altar of sacrifice, he is the cleansing water in the laver, he is the light of the world (candlestick), he is the bread of life (showbread), he is the intercessor of our prayers (altar of incense), he is the veil of the temple (Heb 10:20). The iron rod is the word of God; Christ is the Word of God. The tree of life represents his condescension (1 Ne. 11).
The point I am trying to make is that all of these things must be studied together as different versions of the same thing. In a later post I will try to use the connections discussed above to find new insights into the symbols in Lehi’s dream. See: The River by the Tree.