The following is simply a personal commentary on 1 Nephi 11 and how it relates to theophany.
These are my own observations and overlook many, many other important doctrines and principles contained in these verses. My object was to explore only a certain facet of what is here and the conclusions are my own. I’m publishing them here at oneClimbs because I feel that some things might be of use to others and fit the spirit of this site’s purpose: to simply share insights.
Nephi’s personal preparation
1 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.
Nephi’s preparation includes the following three things:
- Desire: a wish to possess some gratification or source of happiness which is supposed to be obtainable (Webster’s 1828 Dictionary)
- Belief: an assent of the mind to the truth of a declaration, proposition or alleged fact, on the ground of evidence, distinct from personal knowledge (Webster’s 1828 Dictionary)
- Pondering: to weight in the mind…to view with deliberation; to examine; (Webster’s 1828 Dictionary)
Nephi is caught away by the Spirit because in this case, he is almost ready for Theophany.
Theophany: 1630s, from Late Latin theophania, from Greek theophaneia, from theos “god” + phainein “to show” (etymonline.com) a visible manifestation of a deity (merriam-webster.com).
Often, we just study as part of a schedule with no real desire other than to keep that schedule and feel good about checking it off a list as a task completed. Effective study should be driven by a desire to know something. We should study that which we desire the most.
The Workings of the Spirit
2 And the Spirit said unto me: Behold, what desirest thou?
The Spirit responds to desire. He drills deep into what we think we want to reveal a deeper inner desire to find what we need that will allow us to commune with deity. Any question can lead to Theophany. The Spirit knows how to sense when we are asking the right questions that will lead us to experience God even though we might have originally had a different purpose in mind.
3 And I said: I desire to behold the things which my father saw.
4 And the Spirit said unto me: Believest thou that thy father saw the tree of which he hath spoken?
The Spirit then asks Nephi if he believes that his father saw the tree. It is important that we confess what we believe to the Spirit of the Lord whether with our voices or in our conscious affirmation.
5 And I said: Yea, thou knowest that I believe all the words of my father.
6 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.
The Spirit gets really excited when he finds believers. Just the power of belief alone is significant enough for the Spirit to rejoice because of the mighty miracles that can be wrought in our lives. If we have believe we can not only be saved but have all things revealed to us, even the Father and the Son.
7 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 will prepare us for what we are about to receive and then give us the obligations associated with that knowledge.
8 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.
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.
We must acknowledge what the Spirit shows us. We can acknowledge it through response; by recording what was revealed, or by changing our lives.
10 And he said unto me: What desirest thou?
The Spirit showed Nephi what he had originally desired, so one might assume that Nephi could now just go on with his life. But the Spirit does not stop there, he asks Nephi the original question again for reasons that are not mentioned. However, we can infer from what happens next what the Spirit’s intentions may have been.
Do we do ourselves a disservice by just seeking a single “answer” to a prayer? Do we look for just that and no more or do we linger in ponderous thought after we receive our answer to see what further light having that answer can unfold?
11 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.
It is possible that after seeing the tree, a new desire filled Nephi’s heart and the Spirit perceived it. This could mean that as we desire and have those desires fulfilled by the Spirit, new desires may arise and we should not shrink but continue down the paths that open to us.
The role of angels
12 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.
Nephi’s desire is sufficient that greater things can be unfolded to him, so the Spirit departs before unfolding the first portion of a great vision so that he can be guided though it by an angel of the Lord who has been appointed to do so.
13 And it came to pass that I looked and beheld the great city of Jerusalem, and also other cities. And I beheld the city of Nazareth; and in the city of Nazareth I beheld a virgin, and she was exceedingly fair and white.
14 And it came to pass that I saw the heavens open; and an angel came down and stood before me; and he said unto me: Nephi, what beholdest thou?
Since Nephi’s desires are known, the angel is curious as to what Nephi sees and perhaps what he thinks or knows about what he is seeing.
15 And I said unto him: A virgin, most beautiful and fair above all other virgins.
16 And he said unto me: Knowest thou the condescension of God?
Condescension: Voluntary descent from rank, dignity or just claims (1828). The angel is asking Nephi if he understands this idea about God descending. This appears to be something that Nephi is not familiar with.
17 And I said unto him: I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.
18 And he said unto me: Behold, the virgin whom thou seest is the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh.
The Israelites knew of a Messiah but perhaps the did not know that he would be born and come to earth as a little child.
19 And it came to pass that I beheld that she was carried away in the Spirit; and after she had been carried away in the Spirit for the space of a time the angel spake unto me, saying: Look!
20 And I looked and beheld the virgin again, bearing a child in her arms.
21 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?
22 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.
Nephi knows the meaning of the tree. He understands that the love of God is the most desirable of all things. He sees that God loves us not as a creator loves his creations but as a father loves his son. This probably had an incredible impact upon Nephi’s view of his own father.
23 And he spake unto me, saying: Yea, and the most joyous to the soul.
I like how the angel injects his own opinion into the conversation. Next, he taken through the vision his father saw and is shown the meaning of each of the elements.
24 And after he had said these words, he said unto me: Look! And I looked, and I beheld the Son of God going forth among the children of men; and I saw many fall down at his feet and worship him.
25 And it came to pass that I beheld that the rod of iron, which my father had seen, was the word of God, which led to the fountain of living waters, or to the tree of life; which waters are a representation of the love of God; and I also beheld that the tree of life was a representation of the love of God.
He sees that the tree of life and the fountain of living waters are connected to Jesus Christ who is the personification of God’s love for mankind.
26 And the angel said unto me again: Look and behold the condescension of God!
It is at this point that Nephi is shown “the condescension of God”. Interestingly, it begins with his baptism. Christ was baptized in the Jordan river which is close to the Dead Sea, which region is literally the lowest area of land on the earth.
27 And I looked and beheld the Redeemer of the world, of whom my father had spoken; and I also beheld the prophet who should prepare the way before him. And the Lamb of God went forth and was baptized of him; and after he was baptized, I beheld the heavens open, and the Holy Ghost come down out of heaven and abide upon him in the form of a dove.
28 And I beheld that he went forth ministering unto the people, in power and great glory; and the multitudes were gathered together to hear him; and I beheld that they cast him out from among them.
29 And I also beheld twelve others following him. And it came to pass that they were carried away in the Spirit from before my face, and I saw them not.
Nephi sees the baptism of the Savior which he comments on later in 2 Nephi 31 and notes how this act showed his submission to the will of the Father.
30 And it came to pass that the angel spake unto me again, saying: Look! And I looked, and I beheld the heavens open again, and I saw angels descending upon the children of men; and they did minister unto them.
31 And he spake unto me again, saying: Look! And I looked, and I beheld the Lamb of God going forth among the children of men. And I beheld multitudes of people who were sick, and who were afflicted with all manner of diseases, and with devils and unclean spirits; and the angel spake and showed all these things unto me. And they were healed by the power of the Lamb of God; and the devils and the unclean spirits were cast out.
32 And it came to pass that the angel spake unto me again, saying: Look! And I looked and beheld the Lamb of God, that he was taken by the people; yea, the Son of the everlasting God was judged of the world; and I saw and bear record.
Interestingly the real judge of the world, stood by and humbly allowed himself to be judged of the world.
33 And I, Nephi, saw that he was lifted up upon the cross and slain for the sins of the world.
Though Jesus was slain for the sins of the world, those who crucified him did so in ignorance. Jesus himself said that “they know not what they do”.
34 And after he was slain I saw the multitudes of the earth, that they were gathered together to fight against the apostles of the Lamb; for thus were the twelve called by the angel of the Lord.
35 And the multitude of the earth was gathered together; and I beheld that they were in a large and spacious building, like unto the building which my father saw. And the angel of the Lord spake unto me again, saying: Behold the world and the wisdom thereof; yea, behold the house of Israel hath gathered together to fight against the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
Ironically, the enemy of the Savior is not some band of heathens but the house of Israel, his own people.
36 And it came to pass that I saw and bear record, that the great and spacious building was the pride of the world; and it fell, and the fall thereof was exceedingly great. And the angel of the Lord spake unto me again, saying: Thus shall be the destruction of all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, that shall fight against the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
The house of Israel is not the great and spacious building but they did join in the mocking and persecution that came from that place. The pride of the world will always mock God’s works and will always end in destruction. Therefore, one must at all times, never give heed to any influence from that source.
Nephi witnesses the death, burial and resurrection of Christ and obtains the same witness as an apostle. We can discern that one of the purposes of angels are to prepare us to witness the resurrected Christ. Because Nephi witnessed Jesus Christ, he experienced an unexpected theophany that began with a simple desire to see something his father had seen.
In the simple pursuit of answers, we should be ready to receive whatever God feels that we are ready for and understand that the purpose of all revelation is to prepare us to behold God.