The River by the Tree (more on Lehi’s dream)

September 23, 2006    By: Jacob J @ 11:10 pm   Category: Scriptures

And as I cast my eyes round about…I beheld a river of water; and it ran along, and it was near the tree of which I was partaking the fruit. (1 Ne. 8:13)

In a previous post I explored a few connections between the Garden of Eden, the ancient temple, the Exodus story, and Lehi’s dream. In this post I’ll focus on the river of water.

There is a conspicuous error in every artistic depiction of Lehi’s dream that I have ever seen. It is that the river of water does not does not cut across the strait and narrow path. This is a pretty obvious error if you understand that Lehi’s dream is another version of the Exodus, because everyone knows from the Exodus that you must cross the Red Sea to get out of Egypt. The bondage in Egypt represents mankind’s captivity to sin in the fallen world; when the children of Israel fled that bondage to live by God’s law, they were divided from the wicked in Egypt by the Red Sea. The river in Lehi’s dream is described similarly:

16 And the angel spake unto me, saying: Behold the fountain of filthy water which thy father saw; yea, even the river of which he spake; and the depths thereof are the depths of hell.
18 And the large and spacious building, which thy father saw, is vain imaginations and the pride of the children of men. And a great and a terrible gulf divideth them. (1 Ne 12)

The river of water is described as a great and terrible gulf that divides the wicked. When Nephi is explaining the vision to his brothers he restates this in a significant way saying that this gulf “separated the wicked from the tree of life, and also from the saints of God” (1 Ne. 15:28).

Mormon provides some crucial interpretive insight when he breaks into the narrative in Helaman 3 to give one of his classic “and thus we see” commentaries (this is how he makes sure we don’t miss the point). I’ll bold the references to Lehi’s dream and italicize the interpretive springboard.

24 And it came to pass that in this same year there was exceedingly great prosperity in the church, insomuch that there were thousands who did join themselves unto the church and were baptized unto repentance.
26 And it came to pass that the work of the Lord did prosper unto the baptizing and uniting to the church of God, many souls, yea, even tens of thousands.
27 Thus we may see that the Lord is merciful unto all who will, in the sincerity of their hearts, call upon his holy name.
28 Yea, thus we see that the gate of heaven is open unto all, even to those who will believe on the name of Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God.
29 Yea, we see that whosoever will may lay hold upon the word of God, which is quick and powerful, which shall divide asunder all the cunning and the snares and the wiles of the devil, and lead the man of Christ in a strait and narrow course across that everlasting gulf of misery which is prepared to engulf the wicked-
30 And land their souls, yea, their immortal souls, at the right hand of God in the kingdom of heaven, to sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and with Jacob, and with all our holy fathers, to go no more out. (Helaman 3)

It is plain from this passage that Mormon associated crossing the everlasting gulf (the river) with baptism. If we want to draw the landscape how Mormon envisioned it, we need to have the river cutting across the path and under the iron rod so that a person in the spacious field can “lay hold upon the word of God” and then travel a strait and narrow course across the river. If you decide to redraw a version for me, make sure you don’t add a bridge because we cross the river through baptism.

At first this may seem to be at odds with the angel’s interpretation of the depths of the river being the “depths of hell.” Actually the symbolism holds together remarkably well. In the atonement, Christ descended below all things. He died and descended into hell, before being resurrected in triumph over death and hell. In baptism, we symbolically follow Christ into the depths of hell. We die with Christ in a watery grave, and then we are brought forth out of the water in likeness of the resurrection. Symbolically we have overcome death and hell. Thus the interpretation that the depths of the river represent the depths of hell corresponds well with the concept that we enter the straight and narrow path by crossing the river through baptism.

The ordinance of baptism typifies the resurrection. Lehi also speaks of coming forth out of the eternal gulf through the resurrection. He tells his straying children to awake (as in the resurrection) from the death and hell that they are headed toward:

13 O that ye would awake; awake from a deep sleep, yea, even from the sleep of hell, and shake off the awful chains by which ye are bound, which are the chains which bind the children of men, that they are carried away captive down to the eternal gulf of misery and woe.
14 Awake! and arise from the dust. (2 Ne. 1)

Once again, they are supposed to leave captivity and bondage (Egypt) by coming out of the eternal gulf. Paul did for the Exodus what Mormon did for the river in Lehi’s dream:

1 Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea;
2 And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea (1 Cor 10)

While the children of Israel came forth out of the Red Sea on dry ground, the Egyptians were drowned in the Red Sea:

2 Therefore let us go up; let us be strong like unto Moses; for he truly spake unto the waters of the Red Sea and they divided hither and thither, and our fathers came through, out of captivity, on dry ground, and the armies of Pharaoh did follow and were drowned in the waters of the Red Sea. (1 Ne 4)

So also, the wicked were drowned in the river of Lehi’s dream:

32 And it came to pass that many were drowned in the depths of the fountain; and many were lost from his view, wandering in strange roads. (1 Ne 8:32)

Now, what of the filthiness of the river? You may recall that Lehi got carried away and didn’t notice that the water was filthy (1 Ne 15:27) but Nephi told his brothers that “that the water which my father saw was filthiness” (1 Ne 15:27). We don’t usually think of the waters of baptism as filthy, but it is not unfitting considering the fact that they contain the wicked and their works as well as the sins of the righteous which were symbolically washed away in baptism.

I have been hitting the Exodus parallel pretty hard, but it is even more striking when compared with the history the angel superimposes over the symbols of Lehi’s dream. In 1 Nephi 13 the angel shows Nephi the world at the time of Columbus. He sees the Columbus cross the Atlantic and settle America. He sees the Revolutionary War and the independence of America established. This history is related in terms of the Exodus and Lehi’s dream.

We are told that the great and abominable church is responsible for bringing the saints into captivity–this brings to mind the children of Israel in captivity in Egypt. We also learn that the great and abominable church sits upon “many waters” (1 Ne 14:11). “Many waters” is the Nephite name for the ocean (1 Ne. 17:5). Just as the river is a gulf that divides the wicked from the saints of God, Nephi “…looked and beheld many waters; and they divided the Gentiles from the seed of my brethren” (1 Ne 13:10). Thus, just as the children of Israel crossed the Red Sea, and those in the spacious field had to cross the river, so also the Pilgrims had to cross the “many waters” to get to the promised land of America. We are reminded five separate times that the Gentiles lead by Columbus were coming out of captivity (verses 13, 16, 19, 29, 30). The Atlantic Ocean served as the equivalent to the Red Sea in the Exodus lead by Columbus.

Before quitting, let me briefly mention a very important point about these symbols which recurs with nearly all symbols of covenant. The river serves, at once, as a symbol which saves the righteous while destroying the wicked. For the righteous it is baptism, but the wicked are drowned and carried away. The same is true of the sacrificial animal. For the covenant keeper, the animal represents Christ slain in the atonement, but the covenant breaker must become the sacrifice himself as punishment for breaking the covenant. The glory of the Lord at his second coming glorifies the righteous who are caught up with the Lord but burns the wicked as stubble. When we get to the rod of iron we’ll see that it similarly serves in a dual role to help the righteous while punishing the wicked. (See: The Rod Along the Bank)

33 Comments »

  1. Nice work on both posts in this series, Jacob.

    I think there is a really good reason none of the pictures of Lehi’s dream have the river crossing the path — the actual dream chapters make no mention of it. If I remember correctly they only say the river runs parallel to the rod of iron. The passage you quoted about the gulf between the tree and the great and spacious building doesn’t quite do it either. The most natural reading does not have the family of Lehi starting in the floating building after all — they seem to start in a field or something and then press forward to either the tree or the building. (This is reminscent of the ancient 2-ways concept that Nibley loved to preach about so often. Of course there is only one path but one can move in one direction or the other on it.) So if they start somewhere in the middle and the end of the down road is the building and the end of the up road is the Tree of Life one could argue that the filthy water must be passed through to get to the Great and Spacious Building rather than the tree based on 1 Nep 12.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 24, 2006 @ 12:04 pm

  2. I can tell you are not buying my use of the scripture from Helaman 3, but I’m not sure on the details. A couple of clarifying questions will help me tell where we start to disagree so I can respond better.

    Do you agree with my basic premise that Lehi’s dream is closely related to the Exodus?

    Do you agree that Mormon is working the baptism of thousands into the framework of Lehi’s dream?

    Do you agree that the “everlasting gulf of misery which is prepared to engulf the wicked” (Hel 3:29) is a reference to the river?

    Comment by Jacob — September 24, 2006 @ 3:40 pm

  3. Jacob,

    It seems (to me) that when bodies of water are traveresd in the exodus pattern–whether they be rivers, seas, or oceans–the symbolism tends to point to a cleansing of sorts. I don’t think the river of filthy water in Lehi’s dream matches that particular dynamic in the pattern.

    Comment by Jack — September 24, 2006 @ 5:47 pm

  4. Jacob, What you say makes sense to me. It might also be worth comparing the gulf to the waters or pre-creative chaos in Genesis. Blake had an excellent paper about a Greek sense of the word exist substantiating rather than denying ex materia creation.

    The basis of the natural man is an eternal intelligence in a state of chaos – no law and no body either. Each time we obtain a better tabernacle we have to learn to discipline it according to the instructions provided, thus becoming a new man, not a man of nature (or the “waters”), but a man of the Spirit. So in a way we are on a metaphorical ascent out and away of the chaos of the waters. Are there too many fates more fearful than the prospect of a watery grave?

    Behold, I, the Lord, in the beginning blessed the waters; but in the last days, by the mouth of my servant John, I cursed the waters. Wherefore, the days will come that no flesh shall be safe upon the waters. And it shall be said in days to come that none is able to go up to the land of Zion upon the waters, but he that is upright in heart.
    (D&C 61:14-16)

    D&C 61:5 is a very interesting prophecy by the way. Also, It should be “Helaman”.

    Comment by Mark Butler — September 24, 2006 @ 5:51 pm

  5. Water is also a very common disease vector. Habitability is not always a healthy thing.

    Comment by Mark Butler — September 24, 2006 @ 5:53 pm

  6. Jack,

    I assume it is the “filthiness” which makes you think it doesn’t fit since I am tying the river to baptism which certainly fits with the exodus patter of cleansing that you mentioned. Notice, however, that although the crossing of the Red Sea was cleansing for the children of Israel, it became a watery grave to the wicked Egyptians who gave chase. As I described in the post, the idea that the waters represent “hell” works well with the image of baptism, as does the idea that the waters are filthy since they symbolically contain the sins of the righteous washed away in baptism. I should say that I think this is one of the interesting and wonderful things about symbols, that they can convey many things at once and need not mean one thing specifically and only that thing.

    Mark,

    Thanks for the connection to Blake’s paper, I hadn’t considered that angle. Also, thanks for the spelling correction. I am appropriately embarrassed and made corrections above.

    Comment by Jacob — September 24, 2006 @ 7:59 pm

  7. Jacob,

    You may be right. Certainly, something like the symbol of the “serpent” has what appears to be multiple conflicting meanings. But still, I don’t see anyone traversing the filthy water to get to the tree.

    Comment by Jack — September 24, 2006 @ 8:47 pm

  8. Hey Jacob,

    I am anything but passionate about this subject actually. These sorts of exercises remind me of the guys that find chiasms in everything Joseph Smith wrote — I find it mildly interesting but I have difficulty 1) believing the chiasms really exist or at least that they were anything but random, and 2) figuring out why I should care.

    But I’ll answer your questions anyway.

    Do you agree with my basic premise that Lehi’s dream is closely related to the Exodus?

    Sure, I can buy that parallel. I’m all about patterns and analogies and all. Of course I think we agree that the basic pattern probably didn’t start with the exodus or even with this world.

    Do you agree that Mormon is working the baptism of thousands into the framework of Lehi’s dream?

    Meh. Could be. I’m agnostic about that. I mean it seems like he is using language that hearkens back to the language of Lehi’s dream so I can buy the connection. Of course it might be hearkening back to even older texts than that for all I know.

    Do you agree that the “everlasting gulf of misery which is prepared to engulf the wicked” (Hel 3:29) is a reference to the river?

    I could buy the idea. But I think it is probably a loose allusion to general religious themes rather than some sneaky allusion to specific parts of Lehi’s dream.

    As I mentioned before, I am skeptical of this sort of exercise in general. It seems way too close to the wacko Bible Code ideas for my tastes.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 24, 2006 @ 10:23 pm

  9. I think there is much Exodus parallelism that was clear from the last post (which I loved, BTW). This one leaves me a little less convinced, however. I’m trying to picture what Lehi’s friends did to get across the river. Slide along the rod like a monkey bar so as not to fall into the river? :) Does all parallelism need to be perfectly matched, point by point? I don’t think so.

    I have always understood the dividing gulf to be between the rod/path/righteousness and the wickedness of the building, although I confess I have also been a bit confused by it. That said, I don’t feel compelled to use all the gulf scriptures to then assume the river crossed the path. I see the path as including the concept of baptism, and the gulf representing what happens to those who leave that path. But what do I know…. :)

    Comment by mullingandmusing (m&m) — September 24, 2006 @ 10:27 pm

  10. Geoff,

    Wow. When you compared the post to papers on chiasmus your comment became hard-hitting (that’s good, I like that), but when you compared it to Bible Code you left me scratching my head. Does this really seem like it is in the same league as Bible Code to you? Keep in mind that Bible Code takes every tenth letter or every third letter (or whatever) from a text and looks for snippets of meaningful words. It’s silly. You are right to call it wacko. I’m amazed this reminds you of that.

    I understand the comparison to chiasmus a little better, so let me respond briefly. I’ll agree that getting too caught up on some particular aspect of some particular symbol (a criticism this post is open to) can seem pointless. I understand your “who really cares?” response. But if we generalize the question we might just as well ask, why should we care about the scriptural symbolism at all? To which I would likely respond: because the scriptures are full of symbolism and I want to understand and get the most out of the scriptures that I can. I’ve often wondered why Jesus didn’t just say what he was thinking in plain Aramaic. Why give us parables and make us argue about what the parable of the laborers is trying to tell us for thousands of years? Why is everything in the gospel clothed in types and shadows that we have to spend all this time unravelling? I am not sure, but as long as it is, I have to spend time figuring out what Jesus meant by being “born again” because he explained it through the symbol of birth instead of being analytical about it.

    My interest here lies in the fact that I think the the ancient prophets who authored the scriptures were steeped in this sort of symbolism and we are not. To me, it seems obvious that Mormon is deliberately framing his comments about the thousands of people being baptized in the language of Lehi’s dream. The language of the Exodus story appears everywhere in the scriptures. If you don’t tune in and understand the symbolism of the basic framework, you simply miss a lot of what is said between teh lines. So, I find that understanding how all of these symbols tie together helps me understand the scriptures on their own terms, even if it is a bad idea to get too caught up on this or that minor point.

    Comment by Jacob — September 25, 2006 @ 12:18 am

  11. m&m,

    If you like even one post of mine, that is enough for me, so even if I don’t sell you on this I am still happy you like the last one. I don’t have any disagreement about the gulf dividing the people on the path from the people in the building. Also, I agree with you that every symbol does not have to match exactly point for point. I tried to give several scriptural connections in the post to show why I think the river happens to be one of the symbols that connects well with the symbolism of the Exodus story. I’ll admit that I used the part about it not appearing in the artistic renditions of Lehi’s dream as a way to make a point. As Geoff correctly points out, the initial recountings of Lehi’s and Nephi’s dreams do not make any connection between baptism and the river.

    To answer your question about the monkey bars, I don’t think you can usually get baptized without getting wet, so I wouldn’t think they used the rod as a monkey bar, but then, my whole point is to see the connections between these symbols and those in other familiar frameworks. As with most symbols, the point is to paint a mental picture and to draw on the richness of things in life to convey gospel truths; it is no good debating who cuts the umbilical cord in our spiritual rebirth. It gets a little silly to take it all too literally (which was your point I gather), but I can say that for the children of Israel the Red Sea parted and they walked through on dry ground, whereas, for me, my dad said a prayer and pushed me under the water (lucky for me, the baptismal font was filled with clean water).

    Comment by Jacob — September 25, 2006 @ 12:35 am

  12. The umbilical cord is never truly cut in any kind of of birth, just transformed. The purpose of birth is not to make us independent, but rather inter-dependent. The problem in the first estate was the same problem we have here – it degenerated too easily into every man for himself.

    So instead of having a body of Saints that loved and served each member as they loved their own persons, there was widespread contention, schism, and disunity – the symbolic death of the body of Christ. In the resurrection we shall not only regain our lesser bodies, but the body of Christ shall be reassembled as well. That we may serve the Lord with one accord, in Adam-ondi-Ahman…

    Adam is mankind is his natural, self-willed state.
    Ahman is Elohim or the Man of Holiness in His exalted Christ-like state.
    Adam-ondi-Ahman is where Adam meets Elohim.

    “In the name of Jesus Christ, Ahman” AMN (Ahman) Father Son Holy Ghost, MAN (Man) Son Father Holy Ghost, NAM (Name, Spirit) Holy Ghost Father Son, and they are one God infinite and eternal. There is a bit of true mysticism to ponder. Endless is His name, Man of Holiness is His name, and Messiah is His name also.

    A = Aleph (the Eternal Father, Endless)
    M = Mem (the Messiah, the Mediator, the Anointed One)
    N = Nun (the Angel of his Presence)

    Comment by Mark Butler — September 25, 2006 @ 9:18 am

  13. Also note that every man for himself, only temporary relationships between each member is like unto the relationship between atoms or molecules in a liquid (water).

    Lasting, eternal relationships (i.e. no divorce, no abandonment) is like unto the relationship between atoms or molecules in a stable solid (a body). Nothing too rigid, or fragile lest the body fracture, but a living unity, each member serving the interests of all others, but having a primary responsibility for his neighbor.

    Comment by Mark Butler — September 25, 2006 @ 9:31 am

  14. One more thing (if Jacob doesn’t mind),

    The liquid state is hardly the worst – it is far superior to a gaseous state – which is truly a war of all against all – the whirlwind, the desert blast. So we might say that when we enter the waters of baptism (or the Church) our relationships with most of the other members are initially temporal relationships. We get all wet – we become familiar with their infirmities and they become familiar with ours. The water at first is indeed not completely pure, we suffer by the acquaintance and are inclined to withdraw, to evaporate back into a gaseous state of individualism and self-ishness.

    But what is one of the classic symbols of Christ? The fish is it not? Through our participation in the Church, we are consumed by the fish and become part of the body of Christ. Our relationships one with another are more congenial – we become more humble and obedient – we act as one body.

    But eventually the fish becomes more than a fish, it becomes a Man, a Man of Holiness, the true body of Christ, the Kingdom of God. This of course happens only after (and through) the Resurrection, the event / process whereby the Lord saith to Jacob, “Stand up and be a people!” (or Arise and be a Man!).

    In the beginning Adam (who was many) was created of of the dust of earth. And the Lord said unto Adam, “Arise and be a Man!”. But Adam was not a Man, for the members of Adam transgressed one against another, turning the intended Man of Holiness into a fallen man, the man of sin, individual, sensual, and devilish, reprobate unto every good work. Thus was the spiritual death of Adam – each member was cut off and became single once again.

    And so the institution of marriage was established, and temporal birth, and temporal mortality, to redeem Adam (and Eve) from the Fall whereby they had suffered spiritual death – the war of each member one against another, being reduced to dust – namely, individualism. The first ruel of marriage is thou shalt bear with one anothers infirmities. Divorce is the end of marriage.

    Temporary loving relationships (aka dating) are a lot like a liquid – we stay acquainted with another person as long as we can stand them. But though we enter the waters of baptism in order to become all wet, and date to become familiar one with another, we cannot be saved in a liquid state. That is why eternal marriage and eternal parent child relationships are required.

    Marriage is the backbone of the plan of salvation. A higher and more difficult law than membership in the Church alone. But it is the only means whereby the body of Christ can stand up and be a Man, or a true Zion society, having one heart and one mind. And that is a transition from the waters of baptism to the rebirth of the Spirit: The Re-surrection. Not after the manner of the first (the “surrection” of Adam), but after the manner of the second, the Re-surrection.

    For as by Adam we all sinned, in Christ shall we all be made alive.

    Comment by Mark Butler — September 25, 2006 @ 12:32 pm

  15. Jacob #10: Why give us parables and make us argue about what the parable of the laborers is trying to tell us for thousands of years?

    I’ve been thinking about this a fair amount over the last several weeks (I’ve linked to the Feast wiki commentary on Isa 6:9-10, Mark 4:12, Alma 10:12 etc. before, so I’ll spare you), so I perked up when I read in Jacob’s post:

    When we get to the rod of iron we’ll see that it similarly serves in a dual role to help the righteous while punishing the wicked.

    How the word of God does this I think is the question. Normally I think of the word of God as urging me to repent and I can either accede to this call or I can hearden my heart against it. But I think more challenging texts like Isaiah and the parables work a bit differently: they are difficult and multi-layered so that we will be confused and have to turn to God and study them out with great care. The confusion we experience is the moment of truth that determines our standing before God—does the confusion humble us or harden us? We’ve been contrasting Jonah with Isaiah on this point: Isaiah is “undone” (also meaning “silenced,” also meaning “perished,” also meaning “lost”), whereas Jonah flees and is drowned (though he eventually carries out the task, possibly parallel to the remnant of Israel in Isaiah and elsehwere…). This undoing effect that the difficult word has on us parallels the death that baptism symbolizes. On this view, I think the idea that the word of God takes us through the burying baptismal waters is apt….

    Comment by Robert C. — September 26, 2006 @ 7:45 am

  16. Robert,

    Interesting thoughts, thanks. The idea that Isaiah is intentionally obscure just so we will have to pray about it and study carefully is interesting when juxtaposed with Nephi’s thoughts on the obsurity of Isaiah in 2 Ne 25:1-7. The way I read that passage, it seems that Nephi is saying he doesn’t really like the obscurity of Isaiah and is going to make sure his own record is not so obscure. He says Isaiah is plain to people like him who saw the same vision of the history of the earth, but it is pretty tough for everyone else. Pointedly, he says “I proceed with mine own prophecy, according to my plainness; in the which I know that no man can err.”

    So, I thought of this passage when I read your comment because it seems Nephi didn’t see the difficultness of Isaiah in the same positive light you are spinning it in #15. Who is right, Isaiah or Nephi?

    Comment by Jacob — September 26, 2006 @ 10:42 pm

  17. Jesus is. Or rather, Nephi’s words serve a critical purpose, explaining the primary themes of the book of Isaiah in plain language. But listen to the resurrected Lord on the subject (after he finishes almost a direct quote / paraphrase of several of the latter portions of Isaiah’s work):

    And now, behold, I say unto you, that ye ought to search these things. Yea, a commandment I give unto you that ye search these things diligently; for great are the words of Isaiah.

    For surely he spake as touching all things concerning my people which are of the house of Israel; therefore it must needs be that he must speak also to the Gentiles.

    And all things that he spake have been and shall be, even according to the words which he spake.

    Therefore give heed to my words; write the things which I have told you; and according to the time and the will of the Father they shall go forth unto the Gentiles.
    (3 Ne 23:1-3)

    That is high praise.

    [Please feel free to edit out my wandering commentary on liquidity, by the way]

    Comment by Mark Butler — September 26, 2006 @ 11:21 pm

  18. Mark,

    Yes, I was aware that Jesus said Isaiah was great, but that doesn’t necessarily answer my question. I’m pretty sure Jesus liked the writings of Nephi pretty well also.

    Nephi’s words serve a critical purpose, explaining the primary themes of the book of Isaiah in plain language.

    Which gets to the heart of the question I asked Robert. If it is a good thing that Isaiah is so difficult (causing us to study carfully and humbly as Robert suggested) then why would it also serve a “critical purpose” for Nephi to come along and de-mystify the primary themes of the book of Isaiah. Is the obscurity good or not?

    Comment by Jacob — September 27, 2006 @ 9:06 am

  19. Jacob,

    The obscurity no doubt serves many purposes which include:

    1. Efficiency – convey an enormous amount of information in a small number of words. Isaiah was master of what I call grand parallelism (three of more parallels communicated at once).

    2. Preservation – it is hard to distort a record one does not understand

    3. Pearl Principle – the greatest truths are reserved for the true followers of Christ, who acquire the spirit of prophecy through their diligence in a dozen different activities.

    Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord,

    According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.

    And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.

    For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
    (2 Pet 1:1-8)

    That is how the unlearned acquire the gift of prophecy – though it may take many years – by doing his will, not here and there, but with full purpose of heart.

    For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.
    (Heb 5:12-13)

    Comment by Mark Butler — September 27, 2006 @ 9:29 am

  20. 1. Efficiency – It is one thing to say it is efficient in representing a lot of stuff in a small number of characters, but it is another thing to say it is efficient in actually communicating that stuff. I would say Isaiah is pretty low on efficiency by the second standard, and I would think communicating is pretty fundamental to the purpose of writing it in the first place.

    2. Preservation – I think this is way overblown, usually because of an incorrect idea about how “plain and precious” truths were lost. A lot of people seem to think that the texts had this or that word changed, which does not appear to be a real problem. For the most part, plain and precious truths seem to be lost when whole books were lost.

    3. Pearl Principle – This gets to the point of my original question. Nephi doesn’t seem to subscribe to your pearl principle because he specifically said he was going to NOT obscure things the way Isaiah did.

    Comment by Jacob — September 27, 2006 @ 3:26 pm

  21. Jacob,

    I think you are improperly placing a full ordering on virtue, as if given any two means of addressing the same subject, one was necessarily absolutely superior to the other, in general. If that was the case, to be perfect, we would all have to be clones.

    Now suppose Isaiah wrote out his book in full expository style – I imagine it would be about the size of the Old Testament. Given the labor required to copy such a library before the inventing of the printing press, efficiency is no small matter.

    Also, if you will consider my latest post, I think you will see that the poetic form and grand parallelism has some enormous benefits, if only to those who are filled with the spirit of prophecy.

    Again, if the New Testament Apostles applied the principle you are suggesting, it too would be expanded to perhaps four or five times the size of the Book of Mormon. Now that might be a good thing – it would be harder for the Christians to have gone so far of course that way.

    So the real question I think you should be asking is why does the Lord prefer to hide his greatest mysteries, whether of history, or embodiment, or of the temple, and so on? The author of Hebrews said it was because the audience was “dull of hearing”, and thus needed milk, rather than meat.

    Isaiah too has lots of milk – some scholars deny that it has anything but milk. It is only when one gets into prophetic exposition, regarding the Messiah, and the last days, that the meat is there. Just like the New Testament it is a valuable introduction into the basics of the gospel as well.

    By the way, corruption does indeed happen relatively rarely by transcription. But it is worth noting how rare a distorted treatment of Isaiah is, compared to distorted treatments of the New Testament, or even unusually watered down treatments of the Book of Mormon. It is a lot easier to water something down when it does not appear solid in the first place.

    Comment by Mark Butler — September 27, 2006 @ 3:48 pm

  22. Jacob #16: Good point, I don’t think my “so we have to study more carefully and diligently” point is really justified anywhere in scriptures. But I do think there’s justification in Nephi’s writing for the “humble oneself and turn to God” point I was trying to make. This point seems particularly evident when Nephi asks God about the meaning of Lehi’s dream, and in 2 Ne 32. In fact 2 Ne 32:7 seems particularly interesting in this light: Nephi, who likes to speak plainly, is constrained from speaking more—perhaps this is precisely b/c Nephi speaks plainly, contra Isaiah who speaks in way that guards the truth from those who “do not have the spirit of prophecy” (in Nephi’s words, or in NT terms, “those who do not have ears to hear…).

    I think there are intriguing BOM issues to explore in this vein related to the way the Jews look beyond the mark and the Gentiles “become learned and think they are wise.” Also in the BOM, I think the “easiness of the way” idea is very interesting and related: Nephi suggests that Isaiah is easy for those with the spirit of prophecy, like it was easy for the children of Israel to look at Moses’s staff to be healed—but they didn’t do it. Thus this hardening theme in Isaiah does seem to show up in Nephi’s writing in discussing the Liahona and in discussing the hard-heartedness of Laman and Lemuel….

    The NT also seems to address this in a similar way (well, perhaps not that similar to the BOM view—I know many readers feel that Nephi really gets Isaiah wrong, for example one can argue Nephi misconstrued the “line upon line” phrase). Not only does Christ quote this hardening theme in Isaiah (Mark 4:12 in explaining why he uses parables), but it becomes an important consideration in Paul’s discussion of election by grace, e.g. Acts 28:26-27; Rom 11:8 (cf. Rom 9:18); 1 Cor 2:9; 2 Cor 3:12-16.

    Comment by Robert C. — September 27, 2006 @ 7:23 pm

  23. It is worth noting that Nephi quotes Isaiah, without particular exposition, whenever he seems to be forbidden from explaining the details.

    But the things which thou shalt see hereafter thou shalt not write; for the Lord God hath ordained the apostle of the Lamb of God that he should write them.

    And also others who have been, to them hath he shown all things, and they have written them; and they are sealed up to come forth in their purity, according to the truth which is in the Lamb, in the own due time of the Lord, unto the house of Israel.

    And I, Nephi, heard and bear record, that the name of the apostle of the Lamb was John, according to the word of the angel.

    And behold, I, Nephi, am forbidden that I should write the remainder of the things which I saw and heard; wherefore the things which I have written sufficeth me; and I have written but a small part of the things which I saw
    (1 Ne 14:25-28)

    Now one might imagine that the book of Nephi is itself is ordered to be a prophecy of sorts, and that the position of his excerpts from Isaiah, and what he quotes are significant for us in the latter days, as in hiding in plain sight.

    Comment by Mark Butler — September 27, 2006 @ 10:57 pm

  24. (See some follow-up comments/thoughts by Joe Spencer here.)

    Comment by Robert C. — September 28, 2006 @ 12:39 pm

  25. Robert,

    Thanks for the link. Just to clarify, I never intended to convey that I thought Nephi’s only point was that he was going to be clear while Isaiah was difficult. Joe seems to be countering this idea, but I’m not sure who is advancing it. (me?):

    All of this said, Nephi’s relation to Isaiah is far too complex to summarize as his simply thinking Isaiah was hard and his own writings plain.

    The passage I cited originally (2 Ne 25:1-7) does make a point about Nephi’s view of Isaiah’s style of plainess vs. his own. Obviously there is more to the Isaiah chapters in the BofM than just that point.

    I was sad to read that Joe doesn’t think the issue can be engaged meaningfully here. If I can do something to fix that, feel free to email me about that.

    Comment by Jacob — September 28, 2006 @ 1:22 pm

  26. In response to Joe Spencer’s commentary I must add that the most apparent part of Jesus Christ’s commentary on Isaiah after his resurrection is that he places almost everything he speaks of (in Third Nephi chapters 16, and 20-25) in the latter days. The part that he fulfilled in his mortal life was water under the bridge.

    It is also worth noting that the exposition of those principles (much of which Nephi was forbidden to write) is what allows the Nephites to establish and maintain a Zion society, a perfect type of the Millennial era.

    Comment by Mark Butler — September 28, 2006 @ 6:17 pm

  27. Jacob #25: Actually, I think Joe was responding to my comment in #22 where I said:

    In fact 2 Ne 32:7 seems particularly interesting in this light: Nephi, who likes to speak plainly, is constrained from speaking more-perhaps this is precisely b/c Nephi speaks plainly, contra Isaiah who speaks in a way that guards the truth from those who “do not have the spirit of prophecy”. . . .

    Also, I think Joe’s decision to post at the wiki has much more to do with his web habits (frequenting the wiki as opposed to blogs) and perhaps some negative experiences with blogs (not this one in particular) that tend to drift off in more tangents and not get into as careful analysis of the text of scriptures. At any rate, I’m sure we’ll be considering this issue more at the wiki over the next several weeks and months. I’ll try to repost here any particularly interesting insights we discover there so as to bring it to the attention of those who don’t follow the wiki….

    Comment by Robert C. — September 28, 2006 @ 7:35 pm

  28. Mark #26: When I get some more time, I’d like to consider more the passages in 3rd Nephi regarding “things that couldn’t be written” with this Isaiah question in mind. That is, it seems interesting to me that the words of Christ and the thoughts of Nephi cannot be written, and yet both of them quote Isaiah a bunch. Mere coincidence? I suspect not….

    Comment by Robert C. — September 28, 2006 @ 7:39 pm

  29. In one of the most well known scriptures on the topic, this is what the author of Hebrews had to say about what they were able to say about Christ:

    Called of God an high priest after the order of Melchisedec. Of whom we have many things to say, and hard to be uttered, seeing ye are dull of hearing.

    For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.

    For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.
    (Heb 5:10-14)

    Now it seems that in the contemporary Church this scripture is notorious for being quoted by various splinter groups as a justification for their doctrines. And of course, they often have something interesting or valuable to say, but different is not necessarily better. Some of those groups seem like they are stuck in the 1850s. Others, generally less organized, act like the doctrines of the scriptures are water long under the bridge.

    Nonetheless, it is a valid principle – the prophets could have said much more in plainness, but were constrained by the Spirit, and there is more to the scriptures than a casual perusal will reveal. To me it seems like the main reason why the apostles cannot speak plainly (outside of Priesthood meeting or in their inner chambers) is that they will be soundly criticized by the cognescenti within and without the Church for preaching something contrary to contemporary notions of enlightenment and virtue. The Lord seems to have a plan, however:

    Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts. For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little:

    For with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people. To whom he said, This is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest; and this is the refreshing: yet they would not hear.

    But the word of the LORD was unto them precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little; that they might go, and fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken.
    (Isa 28:9-13)

    Note that line upon line, precept upon precept refers to both a good and a bad approach to the scriptures in this passage. To some (those who are humble and child-like) it is the way to divine understanding. To others it is a way to judgment according to their own conceits. The scripture does not say “drunkards of Ephraim” or a “fading flower” for no reason – though we should take care before jumping to conclusions.

    Comment by Mark Butler — September 29, 2006 @ 7:09 am

  30. Geoff (#8).

    I could buy the idea. But I think it is probably a loose allusion to general religious themes rather than some sneaky allusion to specific parts of Lehi’s dream.

    FWIW, today I ran into this comment from Tvedtnes on the passage in question (Hel 3:29) and thought I’d add it to this thread since it speaks directly to the question we were discussing:

    The inclusion of the “strait and narrow course” and the “gulf of misery,” along with the “snares and the wiles of the devil,” clearly ties this passage to Lehi’s vision, where it is the rod or the word of God that brings people safely past Satan’s obstacles (the mist of darkness, the gulf, the fiery darts of the adversary, and the forbidden paths) to the tree of life (1 Nephi 8:19–24; 12:17–18; 15:24, 28). (John A. Tvedtnes, Rod and Sword as the Word of God, Provo, Utah: Maxwell Institute, 1996. pg. 148–55.)

    Comment by Jacob J — July 1, 2007 @ 6:14 pm

  31. Jacob (and others), if you see this, I thought you’d be interested in this note by Ben McGuire that notes that the original text of 1 Ne 12:18 read “the sword of justice” instead of “word of justice” in talking about the gulf. At any rate, reading Ben’s comment reminded me of these posts you wrote on Lehi’s dream….

    Comment by Robert C. — January 16, 2008 @ 12:46 pm

  32. Thanks Robert. Indeed, I mentioned that textual correction in the next post of this series when I argued that the rod of iron is related to the sword.

    Comment by Jacob J — January 16, 2008 @ 12:55 pm

  33. Great insight! However, I can’t quite use this for my seminary class because Lehi said it plainly that “a rod of iron extended along the bank of the river.

    I hope someone could help me to get pass this point…

    Comment by M Bennett — October 7, 2013 @ 8:35 pm

Leave a comment

RSS feed for comments on this post.