The Vision of the Tree of Life (Part II): Biblical Comparisons

The following is a comparison of Nephi’s/Lehi’s vision of the Tree of Life to several other scriptures in the Bible. This portion of the Book of Mormon uses motifs from multiple sources in the Bible, and makes changes to reflect the circumstances of Lehi’s family rather than blatantly copying from such sources. This further illustrates the complexity of the Book of Mormon and supports the notion that it is not simply a regurgitation of memorized scriptures. The vision of the tree of life comprises 1 Nephi 8 and 1 Nephi 11-14 respectively.

  1. STRUCTURE OF THE VISION OF LEHI AND NEPHI = The vision presented to Nephi and Lehi follow similar patterns of visions given to John the Revelator as well as other Old Testament Prophets like Jeremiah and Ezekiel.

a) I WAS TAKEN TO A HIGH MOUNTAIN= Multiple prophets refer to being carried away in a vision. They are taken to different locations, such as high mountains.

  • “For it came to pass after I had desired to know the things that my father had seen, and believing that the Lord was able to make them known unto me, as I sat pondering in my heart I was caught away in the Spirit of the Lord, yea, into an exceedingly high mountain, which I never had before seen, and upon which I never had before set my foot” (1 Nephi 11:1)
  • “And there came unto me one of the seven angels which had the seven vials…And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and shewed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God” (Revelation 21:9-10)” (Revelation 21:10)
  • “Afterwards the spirit took me up, and brought me in a vision by the Spirit of God into Chaldea” (Ezekiel 11:24)

b) I TURNED TO LOOK= Both John and Nephi turn to see the voice that is speaking to them, but they turn and no longer see the person speaking, but rather continue to see the vision unfold.

  • “he said unto me: Look! And I looked as if to look upon him, and I saw him not; for he had gone from before my presence” (1 Nephi 11:12)
  • “And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks” (Revelation 1:12)

c) WHAT SEEST THOU? = The Spirit who guides the visions asks those who see the vision to identify what they are seeing.

  • “and an angel came down and stood before me; and he said unto me: Nephi, what beholdest thou? And I said unto him: A virgin, most beautiful and fair…” (1 Nephi 11:14-15)
  • “Then said the Lord unto me, What seest thou, Jeremiah? And I said, Figs; the good figs, very good and the evil, very evil…” (Jeremiah 24:3)

2. SIMILARITIES AND DIFFERENCES OF MOTIFS

a) THE ROD OF IRON = (See “The Vision of the Tree of Life: Part I”)

b) TREE OF LIFE= The tree of life is a motif used in both the Old Testament and New Testament. On many occasions, the Bible refers to trees that are planted near rivers of water. While this may be a minor consistency, it is nevertheless important to note that the Tree of Life in Nephi’s/Lehi’s vision is placed near a river of water and a tree planted near a river of water is a common metaphor used in the Old Testament. Proverbs 3:13-18 also combines the emotion of happiness to the tree of life.

  • “I beheld a river of water; and it ran along, and it was near the tree of which I was partaking of the fruit” (1 Nephi 8:13)
  • “And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season” (Psalm 1:3)
  • “For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out her roots by the river” (Jeremiah 17:8)
  • “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God” (Revelation 2:7)
  • “And it came to pass that I beheld a tree, whose fruit was desirable to make one happy” (1 Nephi 8:10)
  • Happy is the man that findeth wisdom…she is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her: and happy is everyone that retaineth her” (Proverbs 3:13-18)

c) CHURCH OF SATAN = There is a subtle difference between the revelations of Nephi and John. John, who has witnessed the persecution of the saints by the Jews, has identified them as being members of the “synagogue of Satan” (Revelation 2:9/3:9). Nephi, on the other hand, identifies a church among the Gentiles that is founded by the devil. Both are similar motifs used to describe different circumstances.

  • “Which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan” (Revelation 2:9)
  • “Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which they say are Jews” (Revelation 3:9)
  • “I beheld this great and abominable church, and I saw the devil that he was the founder of it” (1 Nephi 13:6)

d) FOUNTAIN OF LIFE = In addition to this being a Biblical motif, it is interesting that Nephi uses “fountain of living waters” and “the tree of life” interchangeably. As far as I know there are no examples in the Bible of these two motifs combined in such a manner. It is also important to note that John (Revelation 7:17) states that Jesus Christ will lead the righteous to the fountain of life. Similarly, Nephi’s and Lehi’s vision show a rod of iron, interpreted as the “word of God,” leading to the fountain of living waters (Jesus Christ is sometimes referred to as “the Word” (John 1:14))

  • “And it came to pass that I beheld that the rod of iron, which my father had seen, was the word of God, which led to the fountain of living waters, or to the tree of life, which waters are a representation of the love of God; and I also beheld that the tree of life was a representation of the love of God” (1 Nephi 11:25)
  • “For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters…” (Revelation 7:17)
  • “For with thee is the fountain of life: in thy light shall we see light” (Psalm 36:9)
  • “they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters” (Jeremiah 2:13/17:13)

e) PIT OF HELL = This motif seems to be a synthesis of the “bottomless pit” described in the book of Revelation and the pits described by David as being digged by the wicked to ensnare him, only for them to fall in their own pits. Nephi’s vision combines these two motifs.

  • “And that great pit, which hath been digged for them by that great and abominable church, which was founded by the devil and his children…that great pit which hath been digged for the destruction of men shall be filled by those who digged it” (1 Nehpi 14:3)
  • “And he opened the bottomless pit; and there arose a smoke out of the pit, as the smoke out of a great furnace; and the sun and the air were darkened by reason of the smoke of the pit” (Revelation 9:2)
  • “The heathen are sunk down in the pit that they made: in the net which they hid is their own foot taken” (Psalm 9:15)
  • “They have prepared a net for my steps; my soul is bowed down: they have digged a pit before me, into the midst whereof they are fallen themselves. Selah” (Psalm 57:6)
  • He made a pit, and digged it, and is fallen into the ditch which he made. His mischief shall return upon his own head, and his violent dealing shall come down upon his own pate” (Psalm 7:15-16)

f) THE WHORE OF THE EARTH = This motif is also founded in the book of Revelation and other scriptures in the Old and New Testaments, but the motif is used somewhat differently in the Book of Mormon. John uses Bablyon as a metaphor of wickedness, whereas the vision presented to Nephi and Lehi excludes the great city of Bablyon, and substitutes the metaphor with a “great and spacious building.” This may be due to the fact that Lehi and his family left before the Jews were taken captive by Babylon. While Lehi and his descendants knew that Babylon and destroyed Jerusalem, the metaphor would not have been as significant for them since they had been in the wilderness for many years before the Babylonian captivity.

  • “belongeth to that great church, which is the mother of abominations; and she is the whore of all the earth…and she sat upon many waters” (1 Nephi 14:10-11)
  • “I will shew unto thee the judgment of the great whore that sitteth upon many waters” (Revelation 17:1)
  • “And the woman which thou sawest is that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth” (Revelation 17:18)

g) BABYLON HAS FALLEN = This further expands upon the metaphor described previously, but combines language similar to Matthew 7:27. Once again, Nephi’s vision replaces the city of Babylon with the great and spacious building.

  • “the great and spacious building was the pride of the world; and it fell, and the fall thereof was exceedingly great” (1 Nephi 11:36)
  • “And he cried mightily, with a strong voice, saying, Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils…” (Revelation 18:2)
  • “And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.” (Matthew 7:27)

h) RICHES ARE THE DESIRES OF BABYLON/THE GREAT CHURCH 

 “And saying, Alas, alas, that great city, that was clothed in fine linen, and purple, and scarlet, and decked with gold, and precious stones, and pearls!” (Revelation 18:16)

“Behold the gold, and the silver, and the silks, and the scarlets, and fine-twined linen, and the precious clothing, and the harlots, are the desires of this great and abominable church” (1 Nephi 13:8)

i) DROWNING IN THE RIVER = On several occasions in the Bible, the wicked are described as being drowned in iniquity or overcome by water. This motif is reflected in the vision of the tree of life, where those who stray from the rod of iron are drowned in the filthy water of the river.

“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 Nephi 8:32)

“But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition” (1 Timothy 6:9)

“Then they had swallowed us up quick, when their wrath was kindled against us: Then the waters had overwhelmed us, the stream had gone over our soul. Then the proud waters had gone over our soul” (Psalm 124:3-5)

j) MISTS OF DARKNESS = Take note of Proverbs 2:12-16, which describes wicked people who leave the path of righteousness to walk in darkness after the temptations of a harlot. This imagery is very similar to the harlot described in the book of Revelation and the Book of Mormon, where the mother of harlots draws the wicked to her to fight against the Lamb of God. The mist of darkness seems absent from the Book of Revelation, other than a reference to the land being darkened by smoke coming from the bottomless pit.

“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.” (1 Nephi 8:23)

“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.” (1 Nephi 8:28)

“And the mists of darkness are the temptations of the devil” (1 Nephi 12:17)

“These are wells without water, clouds that are carried with a tempest; to whom the mist of darkness is reserved for ever.”   (II Peter 2:17)

“and the sun and the air were darkened by reason of the smoke of the pit” (Revelation 9:2)

“To deliver thee from the way of the evil man, from the man that speaketh froward things; who leave the paths of uprightness, to walk in the ways of darkness; who rejoice to do evil, and delight in the frowardness of the wicked; whose ways are crooked, and they froward in their paths; to deliver thee from the strange woman, even from the stranger which flattereth with her wordsNone that go unto her return again, neither take they hold of the paths of life” (Proverbs 2:12-16, 19)

3. RANDOM BIBLICAL REFERENCES FOUND IN THE VISION OF THE TREE OF LIFE

a) DREAMED A DREAM

  • “I have dreamed a dream; or, in other words, I have seen a vision” (1 Nephi 8:2) 
  • “And the king said unto them, I have dreamed a dream” (Daniel 2:3)

b) MULTITUDE OF HIS TENDER MERCIES

  • “I began to pray unto the Lord that he would have mercy on me, according to the multitude of his tender mercies” (1 Nephi 8:8)
  • Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.” (Psalm 51:1)

c) THE LOVE OF GOD SHED ABROAD

  • “And I answered him, saying: Yea, it is the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore, it is the most desirable above all things” (1 Nephi 11:22)
  • “And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us” (Romans 5:5)

d) A YOKE OF IRON

  • “yea, and tortureth them and bindeth them down, and yoketh them with a yoke of iron, and bringeth them down into captivity” (1 Nephi 13:5)
  • I have put a yoke of iron upon the neck of all these nations, that they may serve Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon” (Jeremiah 28:14)

e) A MARVELOUS WORK

  • “For the time cometh, saith the Lamb of God, that I will work a great and a marvelous work among the children of men” (1 Nephi 14:7)
  • “I will proceed to do a marvellous work among this people, even a marvellous work and a wonder” (Isaiah 29:14)

f) A TERRIBLE GULF DIVIDETH THEM

  • “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; yea, even the word of the justice of the Eternal God” (1 Nephi 12:18)
  • “And beside all this between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence” (Luke 16:26)

g) THOSE WHO PUBLISH PEACE; HOW BEAUTIFUL UPON THE MOUNTAINS THEY WILL BE

  • “and whoso shall publish peace, yea, tidings of great joy, how beautiful upon the mountains shall they be” (1 Nephi 13:37)
  • How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation” (Isaiah 52:7)

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