Illuminating a Darkened World

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(This is an excerpt from the chapter "Illuminating a Darkened World" by Seth J. King in the book Things Which My Father Saw: Approaches to Lehi's Dream and Nephi's Vision.)

Lehi followed the prophets, prayed fervently, kept the commandments of God, and searched the scriptures, all before experiencing his dream (see 1 Nephi 1:5, 18; 2:3; 5:10, 21). He held to the rod and walked the path. These faithful actions made it possible for Lehi to taste the fruit and have a revelatory experience, but the action of seeking to help others come and partake appears to be the faith-inspired action that illuminates the rest of the scene in his dream. For as Lehi was looking to guide others, he clearly beheld “a world” with numberless concourses of people “pressing forward, that they might obtain the path” (1 Nephi 8:20–21).

These multitudes came and began to walk in the path that led to the tree (see 1 Nephi 8:22). The record does not indicate whether they saw the tree clearly or only hoped the path was taking them somewhere they would want to be. However, it does mention them “pressing forward, that they might obtain the path which led unto the tree” (1 Nephi 8:21). Perhaps they were told about the tree and had been invited to walk in a path that led to it. It could also be that they recognized this path as one leading to light. Even if they could behold the tree at first, it is significant that there is no mention of these multitudes grasping the iron rod. Could they not see the rod even though it was only a few feet or even inches away from the path? Or did they choose not to see and hold to it? Possibly Lehi wondered the same thing as a mist of darkness overshadowed them and they blindly wandered off and were lost, having failed to anchor themselves tangibly to the path (see 1 Nephi 8:22–23).

Like many people in the world, these multitudes did not recognize the importance of the word of God, symbolized by the iron rod. Though it lay distinctly before them, they would not so much as reach out their hand in faith to grasp the stable guide. Instead, these concourses of people were content to wander off. It seems that they did not notice or feel the dark mist, for would not any human beings in their right minds reach out for help when suddenly bombarded by misty darkness? Lehi’s illuminated perspective allowed him to see their surroundings (mist, guiding rod, and path), but the multitude may not have fully recognized these things. In many ways Lehi can sympathize with parents like Elder Henry B. Eyring who, seeing the mists of darkness, feel “the anxiety of sensing danger [their] children cannot yet see.”

Continuing to look, Lehi beheld others pressing forward who not only found the path, but “caught hold of the end of the rod of iron” (1 Nephi 8:24). When mists of darkness accumulated, this multitude continued to press forward through the dark haze, clinging to the rod for guidance and support (see 1 Nephi 8:24). These came forth and partook of the fruit, but the immense joy of tasting was short-lived. Shortly after these people reached the tree, Lehi saw them looking around, ashamed (see 1 Nephi 8:24–25). He “cast [his] eyes round about,” looking to see why anyone would be ashamed to taste of such joy (1 Nephi 8:26). Again the world of his dream was illuminated, and Lehi saw for the first time what had symbolically always been there. Perceiving the vista on “the other side of the river,” Lehi beheld a great and spacious, foundationless building standing “high above the earth” (1 Nephi 8:26). Inside this mighty edifice, people of all ages and genders had the “attitude of mocking and pointing their fingers towards those who had come at and were partaking of the fruit” (1 Nephi 8:27). Such ridicule shamed these individuals, and though they had been enlightened by the tree and tasted its fruit, they fell away into “forbidden paths and were lost” (1 Nephi 8:28).

How could this be? These people had experienced guidance by the rod and walked the strait path. They had tasted of that which was most joyous to the soul! Undoubtedly, Lehi knew the pressures these at the tree may have experienced at the hands of worldly scoffing and ridicule. He had already endured the mockery of the Jews when he proclaimed to them the revelation wherein his “whole heart was filled” and “his soul did rejoice” (1 Nephi 1:15). Yet the world’s mocking, anger, and threats did not push Lehi away from the glory of the tree. He remained there, obediently looking to help others arrive.

As he was looking for and perhaps calling others to come to the tree, Lehi saw “other multitudes” (1 Nephi 8:30). Some made it to the tree and partook, “continually holding fast” (v. 30) to the rod of iron. We have no record of these falling away from the tree—it seems that their continual holding exemplified stronger faith and commitment than the aforementioned ashamed individuals who were clinging to the rod. Elder Bednar offers this enlightening insight: “Clinging to the rod of iron suggests . . . only occasional ‘bursts’ of study or irregular dipping rather than consistent, ongoing immersion in the word of God. . . . People who pressed forward continually holding fast to the rod of iron . . . consistently read and studied and searched the words of Christ. Perhaps it was the constant flow of living water that saved the third group from perishing.”

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