The prophecy of Lehi can be broken into three parts: (1) None shall come to this land save they are brought by the hand of the Lord (v. 6); (2) it will be a land of liberty and never be brought into captivity except because of iniquity (v. 7); and (3) it is wisdom that the land be kept from a knowledge of other nations lest it be overrun, and there be no place for an inheritance. Lehi expounds upon these promises to his sons.
Does the first part of the prophecy, being brought to this land by the hand of the Lord, apply to all time periods or just from Lehi to Columbus? The prophecy makes no distinctions and must be considered as future from Lehi’s time. Any exceptions to the prophecy would have been or will be announced by the Lord through his prophets. Those who question the time frame sometimes ask: were people who are criminals, or secret organizations, or others of questionable character and continue their works of darkness on this continent, brought here by the Lord? The purposes of the Lord are not always known or understood, but some possibilities are offered. Perhaps the Lord was giving these individuals an opportunity to repent and forsake their doings or associations. Laman and Lemuel “were like unto the Jews who were at Jerusalem” (1 Nephi 2:13), yet the Lord brought them and gave them many opportunities to repent. This presents another possibility, perhaps it was because of the desires of a family or faithful friends that un righteous characters were included in a group that the Lord brought here. Again they were given an opportunity for a new environment and chance to change their ways. As the Lord said to the Prophet Isaiah: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord” (Isaiah 55:8). Also, Jacob, brother of Nephi, wrote:
8 Behold, great and marvelous are the works of the Lord. How unsearchable are the depths of the mysteries of him; and it is impossible that man should find out all his ways. And no man knoweth of his ways save it be revealed unto him; wherefore, brethren, despise not the revelations of God. [Jacob 4:8]
Someday we will know the Lord’s purposes, and then we will undoubtedly see Lehi’s prophecy verified.
The second part of Lehi’s prophecy: the inhabitants of this land will “never be brought down into captivity” except because of iniquity (v. 7) should be a great comfort, and also an incentive to Americans to shun iniquity as we fight the war on terrorism. We should also make every effort to live righteously, because even if “iniquity abounds” the righteous “shall be blessed forever” (v. 8).
The third part of Lehi’s prophecy: a knowledge of this land kept from other nations, may have been fulfilled when the Spirit of God “came down and wrought upon the man (Columbus) and he went forth … unto … the promised land … and it wrought upon other Gentiles; and they went forth out of captivity” (1 Nephi 13:12–13). Since that time the Americas have been known to all the world. Some may argue that if the third part of the prophecy ended with Columbus, why not the first part, and even the second part also? In response, the promises made by Lehi to his sons indicate an extension of the first two parts, but not the third. Furthermore, the land remains a promised land for many reasons, but the main one because of “the covenant which [the Lord] made with your father Jacob; and it shall be a New Jerusalem” (3 Nephi 20:22). “Zion is the whole of America … where the mountain of the Lord should be” (TPJS, 362).
Lehi is Carried Away in a Vision
Lehi’s spiritual experience apparently left him in a weakened condition (v. 7). This is similar to the prophet Joseph Smith’s spiritual experience in the Sacred Grove when he conversed with the Father and the Son. Joseph described his condition thus: “I had no strength; but soon recovering in some degree, I went home. And as I leaned up to the fireplace, mother inquired what the matter was” (JS—H 1:20). After “Moses was caught up into an exceedingly high mountain, And he saw God face to face and he talked with him, and the glory of God was upon him… . it was for the space of many hours before Moses did again receive his natural strength like unto man” (Moses 1:1, 10). Lehi’s weakened condition supports his being called as a prophet on this occasion.
The later spiritual experiences of Joseph Smith, Moses, and Lehi (see 1 Nephi 2:1; 5:17; 8:1) do not leave them in a weakened condition. In fact, Joseph’s later experiences become strengthening ones to him.
On a subsequent visit to Hiram [Ohio] I arrived at Father Johnson’s just as Joseph and Sidney were coming out of the vision alluded to in the book of Doctrine and Covenants, in which mention is made of the three glories. Joseph wore black clothes but at this time seemed to be dressed in an element of glorious white, and his face shown as if it were transparent; but I did not see the same glory attending Sidney. Joseph appeared as strong as a lion but Sidney seemed as weak as water. Joseph, noticing his condition smiled and said: “Brother Sidney is not as used to it as I am.”
Being overcome with the Spirit (the Holy Ghost) can also refer to one’s being filled with the Spirit to the extent that he is no longer aware of physical things. In such a condition one is prepared to see and understand things of a spiritual nature. Being in this condition, Lehi was then prepared for a further vision.
Although it is not recorded what Lehi saw and heard in the first vision, he was given another vision immediately after the original one (v. 8), possibly in support of the first one. Joseph Smith was visited three times by the angel Moroni, who repeated his original message each time and then related additional things to him (see JS—H 1:29–53).
Lehi’s uncertainty of his seeing God (v. 8) is not a question of whether he saw but who he saw. His conclusion was that it must have been God and strongly suggests that he had not seen him before, again supporting that these several visions were his calling to be a prophet.
The personage he saw was sitting on his throne and surrounded with angels (v. 8). As an earthly throne represents temporal power, so God’s heavenly throne represents the power and authority by which he rules and governs throughout the universe. This description is similar to the descriptions of other visions. John, on the Isle of Patmos saw a vision and cried “Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb. And all the angels stood round about the throne” (Revelation 7:9–12). Isaiah “saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphim [angelic beings]” (Isaiah 6:1–4). These men were apparently so awed by their visions that they were unable to describe them except in symbolic terms. Lehi’s awe is not stated until later (vv. 14–15), and even then his actual words are not recorded. Instead, Nephi, in making an abridgment of his fathers record (v. 16), gives a paraphrase that may account for the simplicity of the description compared to that of John and Isaiah.
The one descending out of heaven (v. 9) certainly refers to the spirit of Jesus Christ, and shows that the pre-mortal Christ was an eminent being from whom the light of truth radiated. The twelve following him undoubtedly represent the twelve apostles of Christ who were chosen in pre-mortal life, their ministry not being limited to their mortal life on earth but including work in other dispensations (see 1 Nephi 12:9; D&C 29:12; Mormon 3:18).
The book given to Lehi to read was like unto John the Revelator and Ezekiel, but they were told to eat the book (see Revelation 10; Ezekiel 2:8–10). The prophet Joseph Smith explained that the book eaten by John “was a mission, and an ordinance, for him to gather the tribes of Israel” (D&C 77:14). Ezekiel saw “written therein lamentations, and mourning, and woe” concerning the children of Israel [Judah]” (Ezekiel 2:10). As Lehi was filled with the Spirit of the Lord, he also saw and heard of the abominations of Jerusalem and its coming destruction (vv. 12–13).