Monday, January 28, 2013

Background context of Lehi’s dream of the tree of life

I noticed a verse that I usually slide right over as I’m reading through the beginning chapters of the Book of Mormon.  It comes just barely before Lehi’s relation of his tree of life dream.

And it came to pass that we had gathered together all manner of seeds of every kind, both of grain of every kind, and also of the seeds of fruit of every kind. (1 Nephi 8:1)

I can imagine the intense search efforts to gather all those seeds and process them and store them.  Lehi and Ishmael and his family were about to begin their long journey to the land of promise and they didn’t know what cultivatable, domesticatable plants they would find, nor would they have the time to learn about them before they’d need food to eat, so they prepared crop seeds they were familiar with to take with them.

It makes sense for the Lord to use those searching efforts of seed-gathering as a context to communicate how wonderful and joyous to the soul it is to find the love of God, by representing it as a fruit one can gather.  It is as if He says, “While you are so concerned about gathering fruits and seeds to nourish the body, don’t forget to gather the fruit that can nourish and feed the spirit.” 

And too, to underline the importance of the message, the Lord showed Lehi the spiritual status of his family and where they were in relation to that search.  He saw his wife and sons Sam and Nephi were came to partake of the fruit, but Laman and Lemuel didn’t.  The whole reason Lehi shared his dream is because he wanted to show Laman and Lemuel why he was worried about them and help them understand why he would work harder to teach and exhort them.  The dream he had perfectly showed what they had to gain, but also what forces they were vulnerable to.

Every once in a while the Lord has given me dreams that show me how I’m doing.  I’ve been grateful for these dreams.  Some of them came at times when I felt too burdened and felt I was failing, and they showed me I was actually doing a great job.  Other dreams came at times when I was enamored with the wrong thing and showed me the great danger I was in such that I became willing to make immediate changes.

Back back to Lehi’s dream..   If you’re curious and want to learn a little more about Lehi's dream, here are a few neat articles about it that I found edifying.

Hugh Nibley’s article “Lehi’s Dream” in which he shows how the basic setting imagery of Lehi’s dream corresponds perfectly to “over a dozen vivid little snapshots or colored slides of the desert country that show that somebody who had a hand in the writing of the Book of Mormon actually lived there.”  This article helps you get inside the ancient Beduoin mind.

Corbin T. Volluz’s article “Lehi’s Dream of the Tree of Life: Springboard to Prophecy" in which he shows how the order that elements are presented in Lehi’s dream makes it a symbolic representation of the wide sweep of history that Nephi views in his visionary interpretation.   I hadn’t picked this out before, and it was a revelation to me.  I was floored to find out that there are things missing from Lehi’s dream that correspond to history that Nephi recounts in his vision.  (What? Missing?!  Yes, missing!)  Also, two other interpretations of the dream are pointed out!  (Be aware that this article starts a little slow, but be patient.  Or you can just skip to #2 in the text, which is where it gets interesting.)