You can read 1 Nephi 11:8-23 here.
Context and General Information
- According to Nephi’s desire and faith, the Spirit begins to show Nephi the things that Lehi saw in a dream.
- Nephi sees the tree his father saw – it exceeds all beauty.
- After seeing the tree, the Spirit tells Nephi that it is most precious above all. The Spirit then asks Nephi, “What desirest thou?”
- Nephi wants to know the interpretation of this tree.
- Nephi spoke to the Spirit as a man speaks to another man. Th Spirit was in the form of a man, but Nephi knew it wasn’t actually a man.
- The Spirit answers Nephi by telling him to Look!
- Nephi saw Jerusalem, Nazareth, and a virgin.
- The Spirit asks Nephi if he knows the condescension of God, but Nephi doesn’t.
- The Spirit explains that the virgin that Nephi sees is the mother of the Son of God. She was carried away in the Spirit, then the Spirit told Nephi: Look!
- Nephi looked and saw the virgin bearing a child in her arms – the Son of God.
- Through this, Nephi begins to understand the meaning of the tree- the love of God – it is the most desirable above all things and the most joyous to the soul.
Look! And I Looked..
Yesterday, I already mentioned that we would study this section for more than one day. Some of this, I actually wrote in yesterday’s post. Yesterday, when I started studying/writing a blog post, I actually had titled it “Look! And I looked…” (today’s title). Then, if you read yesterday’s post you already know this, the post went in a completely different direction – one I wasn’t necessarily prepared for, but it was the exact right thing to study. So, I changed yesterday’s post title then published it as you read it.
But I really like the concept of looking and I wanted to study it further…
So I’m going to repeat a few things from yesterday, but not everything will be the same, I promise.
For the past couple of days, we’ve studied Nephi’s desire. He wanted to know the the things his father had seen. This is how chapter 11 opens. Now, the After a little back and forth, the Spirit rejoices – Nephi has the desire and faith in order for Nephi to learn more about this dream. The Lord will grant according to Nephi’s desires.
So then, what we read next looks like this, right? (Spoiler alert, this is NOT how it goes).
The Spirit pulls down a giant blackboard, dons a pair of glasses and writes at the top of the Blackboard: Lehi’s Dream. “Get your plates and etching tool out, Nephi. You’re gonna need to take notes.”
Then he continues, “First all – the tree. It symbolizes the love of God. Okay? Get it? Let me know when you’re done writing…”
If you’ve read the text, then you know that there is no blackboard, no glasses, no list of meanings.
The Spirit doesn’t just show Nephi the dream and tells him what it means. Instead, the Spirit commands: Look!
And Nephi looks.
This is kind of fascinating to me. Look! The command, “Look!” appears at least 12 times throughout the vision that Nephi sees. (There are other similar commands, too – like Behold…but I didn’t count the “beholds.”) Instead of answering Nephi’s question outright, the Spirit bids him to look.
So, in other words, instead of answering Nephi’s question with information, the Spirit answers Nephi with an experience that requires work on Nephi’s part.
After “looking” the first time, the Spirit asks Nephi again what desirest thou? Nephi answered that he wanted – not only to see what his father saw, but to understand the interpretation of that tree.
How does the Spirit answer?
“And it came to pass that 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
Over and over again, the Spirit says to Nephi: Look!
And Nephi looks.
What can we learn from this?
One – The Teacher
What really stands out to me is that this is how the Lord chose to teach Nephi. He doesn’t tell Nephi. Instead, the Lord invites Nephi to have an experience.
As a mother, am I just telling my children? Lecturing them? And then expecting them to learn this way? Or am I inviting them to have an experience – with the Spirit that will help them to know what they need to know? I can’t force my children to look, but I can force them not to look by keeping them from the opportunity in the first place.
I’ve been thinking a lot about persuasion lately, and I actually think that this is one of the keys of persuasion – letting the person “look” for themselves. We can learn from this experience, too. Nephi is high up on a mountain. He is in a safe environment. The Lord is letting him “look” and experience these teachings in a relative risk-free place.
Part of this, of course, is because the place needs to be holy in order for the Lord’s spirit to dwell there. But I also think that there is something we can learn about this as parents.
While our children are still in the safety of home, we can let them have their own experiences where they have to “look” instead of endure lectures. Then, we can help to guide them – just as the Spirit guided Nephi – as they learn for themselves.
Two – Accountability
I’ve been thinking a lot about the Spirit asking Nephi “What desirest thou?” for the last few days. I’ve also been thinking a lot about the Spirit, instead of answering Nephi directly, giving the answer of “look!” Yes, Nephi’s question is answered, but it requires much more work and submission on Nephi’s part.
I also feel fairly confident that the Lord knew exactly what Nephi wanted.
But I think that the Spirit asks Nephi “What desirest thou?” and then requires work of Nephi by telling him to Look! Because what Nephi sees is a big deal. The Lord can’t force this on Him. The Lord can’t just “show” Him. Nephi can’t be passive. If he is to see and understand all of what the Lord will show, then it absolutely must be based on Nephi’s agency and his tenacity to keep looking.
Even before Nephi sees the vision, the Spirit tells Nephi:
“And behold this thing shall be given unto thee for a sign, that after thou hast beheld the tree which bore the fruit which thy father tasted, thou shalt also behold a man descending out of heaven, and him shall ye witness; and after ye have witnessed him ye shall bear record that it is the Son of God.” – 1 Nephi 11:7
This isn’t just a fun dream for Nephi. The Lord isn’t answering him just to satisfy his curiosity. Nephi will be a witness of Christ, and then after that, Nephi will be expected to bear a special witness of Christ.
The command to “Look!” is required because the information he receives is so sensitive. If Nephi isn’t willing to do the work for this desire, then the Lord can’t give it. It would be unfair – to Nephi!
I mean think about it – if Nephi was to treat this vision and revelation lightly, he might have been treading on the line of perdition. The Lord wouldn’t set Nephi, you, or me up for that kind of problem. But that is what’s on the line for any blessing, really. Satan is always going to try to destroy us. We need to remember the warning that the Savior gave to Peter:
“And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat:” – Luke 22:31
If the Lord is too liberal with His prophecies, revelations, blessings, then He knows He might be setting us up for massive failure.
To Peter, the Savior continues:
“But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.” – Luke 22:32
The Vision that Nephi sees – the interpretation of the Vision, as well – is a vision that will give Nephi a special witness of Christ. It is powerful. Depending on how Nephi chooses to use this powerful experience, it will either propel him closer to God and make him a mighty prophet, or it will destroy him.
I know that Heavenly Father understood this. In a way, each utterance, “What desirest thou?” and each command, “Look!” is another time for Nephi to exercise his agency. The Lord will not force this amazing blessing on Nephi. Yes, the Lord wants us to know Him – He wants each of us to develop testimony like this. He delights in blessing us with all of His greatest blessings.
But He will not force them on us.
Not only that, the Lord is merciful. He knows that if there is a blessing that He’s willing to bestow on us, but that it comes with a lot of responsibility, then He gives us many opportunities to really understand and make the choice to receive the blessing.
Nephi had many choices, and each time he faithfully chose to Look! He faithfully chose the Lord, and I think that this is what makes Nephi Nephi! This is how his testimony develops. This is the game-changer. Nephi was part of the “game changer” moment. He chose the Lord when he chose to look.
What are We Doing?
I want to bring in what I’ve been learning in the last few days – desire and now looking. When we express our desires to the Lord, I think that He gives each of us the opportunities we need to receive. Are we taking those opportunities?
Just like the vision that Nephi’s having, sometimes these opportunities happen in real time. The Lord teaches us line upon line, precept upon precept – which means we might have to “look” again and again and again until we receive according to our desires. (By the way, we’re assuming that these desires are righteous and in line with the will of God).
When Nephi told the Spirit that his desire was to know the interpretation of the tree that his father saw, the Spirit responded with: Look!
Nephi looked. The Spirit was gone completely, and then Nephi saw:
- Jerusalem, Nazareth, and other great cities.
- A beautiful virgin
The Spirit interrupted and asked Nephi what he saw. Nephi told the Spirit, and then the Spirit asked:
“…Knowest thou the condescensionof God?” – 1 Nephi 11:16
Nephi admits that he doesn’t know the condescension of God. The Spirit tells Nephi that the virgin was the Savior’s mother. Then Nephi was back to looking/beholding without the Spirit telling or explaining. Now he sees:
- A virgin bearing a child in her arms.
The Spirit stops again, and then bears witness of that child saying:
“And the angel said unto me: Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father! Knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw?” – 1 Nephi 11:21
I’m not sure how Nephi really began to understand this – other than through the experience of looking, He was feeling the Spirit, too. But Nephi answers:
“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
He gets it! He is beginning to understand exactly what his father saw.
The Lord works in mysterious ways, and we don’t really need to understand those ways to know that he works. When we understand that, then we will be like Nephi – willing to “look.”
It is worth noting that Nephi’s “looking” isn’t just a passive stare. He is looking, listening, feeling, and learning. The Spirit is working with His Spirit – so that he is able to discover what his father’s dream meant – rather than simply be told.
In our own lives, we shouldn’t be passive either. We need to heed the promptings of the Spirit with exactness and with real intent. It is then that we will learn and receive what we desire.
Thanks for looking at looking with me today.