As I continue my study of Nephi’s vision I wonder, “How did he know what the symbols meant? It wasn’t like the angel gave him a definition for everything he saw. Then a couple of things occurred to me. 1) God teaches us with things we are familiar with. 2) God doesn’t always tell us the answers when He is teaching us, instead, He leads us along a path of discovery, a path of remembrance. In my studies I read that in ancient days in that part of the world, scholars have recently come to accept that in ancient Israelite religion, there was a belief in a divine mother goddess named Asherah, who was represented by the tree of life. The symbolism is widespread throughout the ancient Near East, and can be seen in association with different goddesses by various cultures. While these other cultures may have warped her symbolism, ancient Israel say her as a nursing mother. Nephi describes the tree and the woman the same. The adjectives describing the virgin (“most beautiful,” “exceedingly fair,” “white”) compared to those describing the tree (“exceeding all beauty,” and “exceed[ing] the whiteness of the driven snow”), are synonyms (1 Nephi 11:8). The tree and the woman both bare fruit that is most desirable (Christ). Nephi may have been familiar with a tree of life prior to the vision. I think he would have understood the use of the river, the rod, and the path for the same reason. He would have been familiar with the stories of Moses smiting the rock , giving the Israelites “living water” and the Red Sea swallowing up the unrighteous Egyptians. He would have been familiar with a rod used by Shepard to guide the flock and the rod held by Moses as a symbol of safety from snakes. Nephi did not go into this vision completely clueless because God taught him using things Nephi would have known well. He just had to remember them. That memory began by remembering that God loves him, and everyone else too. That memory helped him to remember the next things and to see the lessons in the pictures.
Well… that is what I’m thinking. I love learning through symbols. I find it deeply meaningful. I see the symbols in ancient religions and I wonder why we have lost so much of an appreciation for those symbols. As for me, I need the simple reminders symbols give me as to what is important in life and where I should focus.
Anyway, the next thing I hovered over was in 1 Nephi 12. I brushed by all the bad stuff that happens. I know that is happening. I can see it happenings all around me. What caught my interest was “they are righteous forever; for because of their faith in the Lamb of God…” Man! What would it take to be righteous forever? As a writer I enjoy reading said, “I am righteous for about 15 minutes after I take the sacrament and then some judgmental thought slips in.” (you can read what she said here). She mentioned in her writing what boils down to the 4th Article of Faith. To be righteous forever isn’t what we are doing, it is what Jesus does for us we practice faith in Him, repent continually, renew our baptismal covenants regularly, invite the Holy Ghost to help us and to teach us and repeat… un-numbered times.
The last thing that really got my attention in reading chapter 12 is the importance of the rod. Nephi said the mist of darkness represented the temptations of the devil. The point of the temptations is to get you to let go of the rod. If the rod is the scriptures, if the rod is the Savior, the goal of the temptation is the same, to get you to stop reading, studying and pondering. To get you to move away from Jesus. Even Jesus experienced temptation, so it’s not being tempted that gets you into trouble. It is giving in and letting go that gets a person into trouble.
My dad is a retired fireman and Battalion chief. When I was a teen there was a 3 alarm fire in my little town. A three alarm fire if a BIG fire. My dad led a group of men on a hose into the fire. They crawled along the floor, knocking down the flames as they went. The smoke and water vapors were choking and thick, even for guys with breathing gear on. As my dad told the story, a little voice popped into his head and told him to turn around and get the men out. At first he argued with the voice. They were making progress. The flames seemed to calming down. But the voice persisted. My dad turned to the other men and told them to follow the hose and to back out. It would have been easy to panic and to stand up and run for the exit. But they followed orders and crawled out, hand over hand along the hose. When they reached the safety of outside and stood up the building collapsed crushing the hose they had just followed. This is a great story for me to remember several awesome lessons. 1) don’t let the smoke overwhelm you – wear the proper gear and stay with the hose. 2) listen to the voice – it will keep you safe.
Today, as I learn, I will strive not only to acquire knowledge but also to increase my capacity to learn. As I teach, I will strive not only to impart knowledge, but also to increase my students’ capacity to learn. Today as I learn I will be open to the lessons God is attempting to teach me. Today as I learn I will remember the lessons He has already taught me and will remember the symbols I already understand. Today as I learn I will hold to the rod.
I am so grateful for scripture time…. even when it leads me down a rabbit hole and I end up spending 2 hours rather than 30 minutes studying and journaling about what I learn.
I am grateful that my current employment allows me to spend time down rabbit holes. I look forward to retirement when I can wander in rabbit holes more regularly.
I am grateful for for time at home today. I don’t get to be home enough.