“God Sitting Upon His Throne”

Brant Gardner

Literature: This part of the vision shows members from that heavenly council descending to earth. According to Ostler, these elements are authentic aspects of the throne-theophany literary form:

The Hebrew symbols employed make clear that the descensus is a continuation of the vision of the heavenly council. Yahweh is typically envisioned in the Old Testament as enthroned amidst the worshiping host of heaven—the sun, moon, and stars. As Frank Cross demonstrated, “The heavenly bodies, given ‘personality’ in protological fashion, were conceived as part of the worshiping host of beings about the throne of Yahweh.” He pointed out that kokebe boker “the morning stars” in Job 38:7 may be considered in parallel with bene elohim “the sons of God” (compare Isa. 14:12, Ps. 148:2–3), and the terms saba’ or sebot apply equally to heavenly bodies and the angelic host. Thus, the sun and stars which Lehi beheld in vision proceeded from the heavenly council and probably foreshadowed Christ and the Twelve Apostles as in the Ascension of Isaiah, or possibly the chosen one and the twelve tribes of Israel as in Joseph’s dream (Gen. 37:9). Such a symbolic vision of the coming Messiah can be found in the Testament of Judah: “And after this there shall arise for you a Star from Jacob in peace: And a man shall arise from my posterity like the Sun of righteousness” (Testament of Judah 24:1). Although the descensus motif is not essential to the Gattung [literary form] of the call narrative, nevertheless, the motif, as it appears in 1 Nephi 1, is a logical extension of the throne-theophany and evidence of the Hebrew influence on Lehi’s account.

The twelve who accompany the One are quickly identifiable to Christians, though probably not to Lehi, as the Twelve Apostles of the Lord. Lehi would have seen them as representatives of the twelve tribes of Israel. In the context of pre-reform religion, the brilliant “One” is surely Yahweh, whom we, as Christian readers, easily recognize as Jesus the Messiah. For Lehi also, Yahweh and the Messiah are the same person. Barker has traced this theme impressively in her The Great Angel.

The Nephite prophets understood the mission of the Messiah as having two phases. In the first phase, the Messiah would come to earth, live among human beings, and accomplish the atonement. In a second coming, this Messiah would return as the king of the earth, the Messiah upon whom the Old Testament focused after Josiah’s reforms downplayed the figure of the Atoning Messiah. For convenience, I designate these two functions of the Messiah as the Atoning Messiah and the Triumphant Messiah. In this particular vision, Lehi is describing the Atoning Messiah, who would be born in what we know as the meridian of time, but which was, for Lehi, a future event.

Symbolism: The brightness of the twelve (likely including the “One”) exceeded that of the stars. “Shining,” “whiteness,” and “brightness” are typical descriptions of heavenly beings who appear in glory. The comparison to stars, however, is fairly unusual, as stars are considerably less bright than either the sun or the moon. Therefore, the phrase is an allusion, not to their brightness, but to their membership in the heavenly council which is frequently associated with stars in Hebrew literature. Thus both the “One” and the twelve are being compared to the rest of the “stars” or sons of heaven, and are declared superior in status to them.

Scripture: The inclusion of the Twelve in this vision, long before their calling, alludes to their foreordination and to the connection between the apostles and the tribes of Israel.

Second Witness: Analytical & Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 1