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God in 1 Nephi 11

GodHoly GhostLamb Lamb of GodThe Lorda Man

Most High GodRedeemerSon of God • Son of the Eternal Father

Son of the Everlasting God  •  Son of the Most High God

the Spirit •  Spirit of the Lord

1 Nephi 11:1

Carried away in the Spirit of the Lord

The Book of Mormon teaches

that God through His Spirit can lead us places that we have never imagined

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 mine 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.

The vision begins!  Nephi has previously explained all the doctrinal teaching from his father that had piqued his interest.  He has testified of the power of the Holy Ghost to make things manifest, and he has emphasized that a person who wants to learn something from the Lord must diligently seek.  He now details his own process a little more:  He had desires, he had faith, and he pondered.  

How important desire is!  It precedes even faith, the first principle of the gospel.  Dalin Oaks said, “God judges us not only for our acts, but also for the desires of our hearts. He has said so again and again. This is a challenging reality, but it is not surprising. Agency and accountability are eternal principles. We exercise our free agency not only by what we do, but also by what we decide, or will, or desire. Restrictions on freedom can deprive us of the power to do, but no one can deprive us of the power to will or desire. Accountability must therefore reach and attach consequences to the desires of our hearts. . .

“Our divinely granted willpower gives us control over our desires, but it may take many years for us to be sure that we have willed and educated them to the point that all are entirely righteous.

“President Joseph F. Smith taught that the ‘education … of our desires is one of far-reaching importance to our happiness in life.’”

And from Neal A. Maxwell:  “Whether in their conception or expression, our desires profoundly affect the use of our moral agency. Desires thus become real determinants, even when, with pitiful naivete, we do not really want the consequences of our desires.

“Desire denotes a real longing or craving. Hence righteous desires are much more than passive preferences or fleeting feelings. Of course our genes, circumstances, and environments matter very much, and they shape us significantly. Yet there remains an inner zone in which we are sovereign, unless we abdicate. In this zone lies the essence of our individuality and our personal accountability.

“Therefore, what we insistently desire, over time, is what we will eventually become and what we will receive in eternity. . . .

“Actually, everything depends – initially and finally – on our desires. These shape our thought patterns. Our desires thus precede our deeds and lie at the very cores of our souls, tilting us toward or away from God. . . .

       “One’s individual will thus remains uniquely his. God will not override it nor overwhelm it. Hence we’d better want the consequences of what we want!”

1 Nephi 11:2

What do you desire?

The Book of Mormon teaches that God gives us according to our true desires

And the Spirit said unto me: Behold, what desirest thou?

Nephi’s recording of his vision is very precise and thorough.  Unlike his writing of his father’s vision, this is no vague outline, punctuated with a few memorable points. Nephi will give us a blow-by-blow transcription of his discourse with the heavenly beings who guide him.

Nephi’s vision, granted to him because of his desires and faith and pondering, begins with the Spirit asking him what he desires.

Nephi was very clear in explaining to his readers what his desires were, and the steps he took to achieve those desires.  His desire to know was stimulated by hearing his father’s experiences and discourse.  Now you are reading the very same things that Nephi heard.  What are your desires?

1 Nephi 11:4

Do you believe?

The Book of Mormon teaches

that believing is an essential part of receiving something from God.

And the Spirit said unto me:

Believest thou that thy father saw the tree of which he hath spoken?

The Spirit’s second question probes Nephi’s motives in desiring to see a vision:  Are his motives pure as he “seek[s] and ask[s] of [the Lord], and not for a sign”?  (D&C 46:9)  Does Nephi already believe, or is he seeking a miracle, a sign for its own sake? “Some things must be believed in to be seen.”  (Anon)

This is similar to the interview one receives before entering the holy temple:  Do you believe?  

1 Nephi 11:5

Yea, I believe

And I said: Yea, thou knowest that I believe all the words of my father.

Nephi doesn’t have to search his heart for the answer to the question as to whether or not he believes.  He considers it a rhetorical question, because he knows that both he and the Lord know his believing mindset.

1 Nephi 11:6

Hosanna to the Lord, the Most High God

The Book of Mormon teaches that God is over all the earth, and above all

And when I had spoken these words, the Spirit cried with a loud voice, saying: 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; wherefore, thou shalt behold the things which thou hast desired.

This interesting verse is the first that presents all three members of the Godhead together, as few verses do.  The Book of Mormon is a testament of Jesus Christ, and most references to Deity are to Him.  Throughout all scriptures, most references to “the Lord” or “God” are about the Son of God.  The Holy Ghost bears witness of the Son.  All power has been given to Him, and He is the Administrator for the Father in the affairs of this earth.

However, in a few discrete situations both the Father and the Son are revealed.  Nephi is not receiving the vision of the glories of heaven, presided over by God the Father, as his own father did.  He asked only to see the tree, and that’s where he’ll start.  He will eventually receive a much more extensive vision than he has described his father receiving.  But he is specific in telling us that his vision is mediated by the Spirit.  And the Spirit fulfilled his calling to testify, in this case of both the Father and the Son.

“Hosanna” is a special Aramaic phrase, originally an appeal for deliverance, “Please save!”  Through the centuries, as the phrase was used in major Jewish holidays, the connotation was broadened to include the idea not only of a request, but recognition and gratitude for past salvation, and faith and gratitude for future salvation, all effected by God or His Messiah.  All that is condensed into the single transliterated word “Hosanna.” Thus a translation would be a weak and primitive representation of a joyful exclamation. “Hosanna” has come to be “an expression of joy and praise for deliverance granted or anticipated.”  (

After praising the most high God and the Son of God, the Spirit praised Nephi.  He repeats a key to being in favor with God:  have faith in the Son.  (1 Nephi 1:20) Combining these two references, we determine that God will bless with knowledge and deliverance those who have faith.

1 Nephi 11:7

A Man descending out of heaven

The Book of Mormon describes

how the prophet Nephi saw the Son of God in a vision

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.

The Spirit has agreed to show Nephi the tree which his father saw.  But the vision will entail much more than that.  In order that Nephi understand the central figure in the vision, indeed, the central figure in all of history, he tells Nephi specifically what to look forward to seeing.  As the story unfolds, Nephi will see a tremendous vision, broad in its scope through the ages, but not veiled in symbolism as the Apocalypse.  The Spirit doesn’t foreshadow any of this.  He tells Nephi to look at what is important – the Son of God coming – as he absorbs the other details of future history.  Without understanding and hoping in the Son of God and His atonement for all, history is only meaningless wandering, a bewildering conglomeration of names, dates, and wars, as all high school students know.

That Nephi’s vision only begins with his specific request and then opens up to more is so much the modus operandi of the Lord.  When they asked for the greatest commandment, He gave them the two greatest.  When asked a political question to which there was no right answer, He gave the right answer, then pointed them to God.  When asked derisively, “Who is my neighbor?” He told a story that has reverberated through the ages, changed history and how we look at people, and spurred the development of charitable organizations and hospitals.

God gives “liberally” when asked (James 1:5).

1 Nephi 11:8

I beheld a Tree

The Book of Mormon uses a beautiful tree image to represent the Love of God

And it came to pass that the Spirit said unto me: Look!

And I looked and beheld a tree;

and it was like unto the tree which my father had seen;

and the beauty thereof was far beyond, yea, exceeding of all beauty;

and the whiteness thereof did exceed the whiteness of the driven snow.

The Spirit gives a command to Nephi: “Look!”  This is in direct answer to Nephi’s request to behold, and the Spirit’s confirmation that he will behold what he desires, and more.  Several times in this great, over-arching vision the Spirit will repeat this order, each time introducing a new aspect or phase of God’s plan.

Nephi reports, “I looked and beheld.”  Obviously but not trivially he could not have beheld if he had not looked.  The act of simply looking was elevated during Moses’s experience with the serpent of brass, and several Nephite prophets taught their people about Christ using this incident.  (Alma 33:19,20, etc.)   

How often do people refuse to look because they do not want to behold?  And how often do we desire something of the Lord, but He requires some act, some motion, some participation on our part, and we refuse to make that effort, leaving it all up to Him?

Nephi’s vision is similar to Doctrine & Covenants section 76, the vision of the degrees of glory in heaven.  Both were given in answer to a question, stimulated by a prior word from God – Lehi’s vision and the Bible.  Both present a broad panorama of God’s plan – future earthly development of God’s people and the organization of heavenly kingdoms.  Both are given in discrete sections, not as a continuous flow.

The Spirit’s command of “Look!” will be repeated throughout this vision, providing punctuation and focus to divide and understand the various segments of the vision.

Part 1 of Nephi’s vision is the answer to Nephi’s direct request:  He simply wanted to see the tree.

1 Nephi 11:9

And it came to pass after I had seen the tree, I said unto the Spirit:

I behold thou hast shown unto me the tree which is precious above all.

Nephi acknowledges that his desire has been granted.  What he wished was fulfilled.  The end?

1 Nephi 11:10

The Book of Mormon teaches that if we’re persistently attentive to the Spirit,

we can learn much more

And he said unto me: What desirest thou?

The Spirit initiates a continuing dialogue.  He prods Nephi to express what he now wants, as a result of seeing the vision he had originally requested.  Was Nephi content with what he saw, and did he need to be guided to have more ambitious desires?  Did he already wonder about the interpretation, but was reticent to ask?  (“I will not ask, neither will I tempt the LORD”  Isaiah 7:12)

From the Spirit’s point of view, He has already promised to manifest to Nephi the Son of God.  Nephi’s own desires will be the stimulus, so as to make it more meaningful for him.

1 Nephi 11:11

The Spirit of the Lord spake as a Man

The Book of Mormon teaches that God can reveal

the interpretation of the symbols that He uses to teach His children

And I said unto him: To know the interpretation thereof --

for I spake unto him as a man speaketh; for I beheld that he was in the form of a man; yet nevertheless, I knew that it was the Spirit of the Lord;

and he spake unto me as a man speaketh with another.

Now that Nephi has seen the tree, he is probably no better informed than when his father told him about the vision.  He knows it’s significant, to have been shown to his father and himself, and he may have an idea of its meaning, but he wants direct clarification from the source, so as to have no misunderstandings.  

Simply seeing a vision would be an awe-inspiring experience.  Learning wisdom from the vision elevates it to a life-changing experience, allowing it to be internalized.

Nephi now explicitly states that his guide through this vision was the Spirit of the Lord.  I am unaware of any other incident in recorded history where the Holy Ghost appeared as a man.  Nephi’s experience is unique.  

All prophets testify of Jesus Christ.  Old Testament prophets and Book of Mormon prophets testified of a Messiah to come, to be seen (but not recognized) by all the nation of Israel.  New Testament prophets and some Book of Mormon prophets testified of His sojourn among their peoples, of His personal visitation and ministry, which they themselves and their people saw.  

But the vast majority of humanity did not and do not live in the land of Israel, and are classed as “Gentiles.”  Nephi recognized that a part of his ministry was to write for these Gentiles, and the Gentiles in general do not personally receive the visitation of Jesus Christ.  They receive the witness of the Holy Ghost.  So it was important for Nephi, the prophet who introduces the Book of Mormon, to testify of the Holy Ghost, who in turn testifies of the truthfulness of both Nephi’s words and of the reality, power, and grace of the Messiah.

The Father and the Son introduced Lehi to heavenly vision; in Nephi’s vision, the Holy Ghost completes the trio.

(I should note that Bruce R. McConkie believed that “Spirit of the Lord” referred to the unembodied Spirit of Jesus Christ, the same who spoke to a later Nephi shortly before His birth.  This would be more consistent with the fact that Jesus, or Jehovah, is the God who has communicated with man through the ages.)

1 Nephi 11:12

He had gone from before my presence

The Book of Mormon teaches us to be attentive to God’s lessons,

because even though we cannot see Him, He is still teaching us

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.

The Spirit’s second command of “Look” introduces the second phase of the vision, which will be both the answer to Nephi’s second desire, to know the interpretation, and the fulfillment of the Spirit’s promise that Nephi will witness the Son of God.

Nephi’s “he had gone from before my presence” seems rather poignant, considering that it is unlikely he ever saw the Holy Ghost again.  He must have treasured this brief manifestation.

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