Verse by Verse Commentary: 1 Nephi 1:8

And being thus overcome with the Spirit, he was carried away in a vision, even that he saw the heavens open, and he thought he saw God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels in the attitude of singing and praising their God.

He saw God…

With the help of the next verses, I gather that Lehi saw a vision of God the Father, with angels all around, and that Jesus Christ was among the angels, and He (Jesus) came down, with his twelve apostles following behind. Finally, Jesus comes to Lehi and gives him a book.

I only jump ahead like that to illustrate here that it appears that it really was God the Father (not Jehovah) that Lehi saw sitting on the throne.

If I’m correct about that understanding, then this was a rare opportunity for Lehi. Even among prophets, seeing the Father during mortality isn’t common. What do we know about the opportunity to see the Father, either in vision or by visitation?

Can a Person See God?

Some outside our faith argue that a person can’t see God and site the scripture, “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” (John 1:18). But Joseph Smith clarified this verse when he presented the correct translation of the verse: “And no man hath seen God at any time, except he hath borne record of the Son; for except it is through him no man can be saved.” 1) JST John 1:19

John 4:12 says, “No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us,” but again Joseph Smith gives us a better translation, “No man hath seen God at any time, except them who believe…”

There is a verse in Exodus that says, “And he said, Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live.” (Exodus 33:20) but the Joseph Smith Translation clarifies, “And he said unto Moses, Thou canst not see my face at this time, lest mine anger be kindled against thee also, and I destroy thee, and thy people; for there shall no man among them see me at this time, and live, for they are exceeding sinful. And no sinful man hath at any time, neither shall there be any sinful man at any time, that shall see my face and live.”

Yes, a person can see God, but like I said, seeing the Father is a very rare blessing.

Who Can See God the Father?

These inspired scripture revisions may give us some of the biggest clues to who may have the opportunity see God. According to the three verses cited above, three qualifiers of those who can see God include:

  • They bare witness of the Son of God.
  • They believe.
  • They have no sin.

Obviously, prophets aren’t perfect, but through repentance, they can be cleansed of sin, like the rest of us. Perhaps that last one is the reasons many heavenly visitations begin with the words like, “Thy sins are forgiven thee.” They are forgiven, and then they see God. 2) In one account of the first vision, these were the first words Jesus said to Joseph after the Father introduced Him to Joseph. “Joseph, my son, thy sins are forgiven thee. Go thy way, walk in my statutes, and keep my commandments. Behold, I am the Lord of glory. I was crucified for the world that all those who believe on my name may have eternal life. Behold, the world lieth in sin at this time, and none doeth good, no not one. They have turned aside from the gospel and keep not my commandments. They draw near to me with their lips while their hearts are far from me, and mine anger is kindling against the inhabitants of the earth to visit them according to their ungodliness and to bring to pass that which hath been spoken by the mouth of the prophets and Apostles. Behold and lo, I come quickly, as it [is] written of me, in the cloud clothed in the glory of my Father.” See Richard L. Anderson, Joseph Smith’s Testimony, General Conference April 1996

What other qualifiers have people had to meet before they could see God?

I’ve put the qualifier phrases in italics:

  • For no man has seen God at any time in the flesh, except quickened by the Spirit of God. 3) Doctrine and Covenants 67:11
  • Not that any man hath seen the Father, save he which is of God, he hath seen the Father. 4) John 6:46
  • Yea, and my presence shall be there, for I will come into it, and all the pure in heart that shall come into it shall see God.5) Doctrine and Covenants 97:16
  • Therefore, sanctify yourselves that your minds become single to God, and the days will come that you shall see him; for he will unveil his face unto you, and it shall be in his own time, and in his own way, and according to his own will. 6) Doctrine and Covenants 88:68
  • Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. 7) Matthew 5:8
  • But great and marvelous are the works of the Lord, and the mysteries of his kingdom which he showed unto us, which surpass all understanding in glory, and in might, and in dominion; Which he commanded us we should not write while we were yet in the Spirit, and are not lawful for man to utter; Neither is man capable to make them known, for they are only to be seen and understood by the power of the Holy Spirit, which God bestows on those who love him, and purify themselves before him; To whom he grants this privilege of seeing and knowing for themselves; That through the power and manifestation of the Spirit, while in the flesh, they may be able to bear his presence in the world of glory. 8) D&C 76:114-118

Which Prophets Have Seen the Father?

Though a great many of the prophets have seen Jesus Christ (who is Jehovah, God of the old testament), a few have seen The Father.

Adam and Eve–in person, in the garden of Eden 9) Moses 4

Lehi–in a vision of God on His throne 10) 1 Nephi 1:8-11

Alma the younger–in vision, after the angel comes, right after he calls out for Jesus 11) Alma 36:22

Stephen–in a vision of God on His throne, with Jesus at His right hand.12) Acts 7:55-56

Joseph Smith–in person, in the first vision, (better named, the first visitation) 13) JSH 1:16-17

Others in the early history of the church:

Zebedee Coultrin was interviewed regarding the following incident that took place in the school of the prophets in the Kirtland Temple:

Joseph having given instructions, and while engaged in silent prayer, kneeling…a personage walked through the room from East to west, and Joseph asked if we saw him. I saw him and suppose the others did, and Joseph answered that this was Jesus, the Son of God, our elder brother. Afterward Joseph told us to resume our former position in prayer, which we did. Another person came through; He was surrounded as with a flame of fire. [I] experienced a sensation that it might destroy the tabernacle as it was of consuming fire of great brightness. The Prophet Joseph said this was the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. I saw him….

He was surrounded as with a flame of fire, which was so brilliant that I could not discover anything else but his person. I saw his hands, his legs, his feet, his eyes, nose, mouth, head and body in the shape and form of a perfect man. He sat in a chair as a man would sit in a chair, but This appearance was so grand and overwhelming that it seemed that I should melt down in His presence, and the sensation was so powerful that it thrilled through my whole system and I felt it in the marrow of my bones. The Prophet Joseph said: “Brethren, now you are prepared to be the apostles of Jesus Christ, for you have seen both the Father and the Son and know that They exist and that They are two separate personages. 14) 3 October 1883, Salt Lake School of the Prophets Minute Book 1883

Everyone Who Inherits the Celestial Kingdom Will See God

We are genuinely children of God, and deep down, we know Him well. He’s our Father, and we are well acquanted with Him. Brigham Young explained,

“I want to tell you, each and every one of you, that you are well acquainted with God our Heavenly Father, or the great Elohim. You are all well acquainted with him, for there is not a soul of you but what has lived in his house and dwelt with him year after year; and yet you are seeking to become acquainted with him, when the fact is, you have merely forgotten what you did know.
“There is not a person here to-day but what is a son or a daughter of that Being.” 15) Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 50.

We need not be troubled that we don’t see the Father now. In the end, all of the faithful will see God.16) Alma 40:21

…there is a space between death and the resurrection of the body, and a state of the soul in happiness or in misery until the time which is appointed of God that the dead shall come forth, and be reunited, both soul and body, and be brought to stand before God, and be judged according to their works. That will be a glorious experience. Ezra Taft Benson said,

“Nothing is going to startle us more when we pass through the veil to the other side than to realize how well we know our Father [in Heaven] and how familiar his face is to us.”  17) Jesus Christ-Gifts and Expectations,” in Speeches of the Year, 1974, Provo: Brigham YoungUniversity Press, 1975, p. 313.

If we’re living right, it really doesn’t matter if it’s  in this life or the next. There is no point in laying eyes on Him just to prove He exists. Now is the time to exercise faith in Him.

Lehi’s Prayer was a Selfless One

Lehi saw a vision of the Father and the Son, not because He asked for that blessing, but because his prayer was an unselfish one, on behalf of His people. There is power in praying for others. David A. Bednar:

We learn a vital lesson from the example of Lehi in the Book of Mormon. Lehi responded in faith to prophetic instruction and warnings concerning the destruction of Jerusalem. He then prayed unto the Lord “with all his heart, in behalf of his people” (1 Nephi 1:5; emphasis added). In answer to this fervent prayer, Lehi was blessed with a glorious vision of God and His Son and of the impending destruction of Jerusalem (see 1 Nephi 1:6–9, 13, 18). Consequently, Lehi rejoiced, and his whole heart was filled because of the things which the Lord had shown him (see 1 Nephi 1:15). Please note that the vision came in response to a prayer for others and not as a result of a request for personal edification or guidance.18) David A. Bednar, Pray Always, LDS General Conference, October 2008, Saturday Afternoon

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References

2.
 In one account of the first vision, these were the first words Jesus said to Joseph after the Father introduced Him to Joseph. “Joseph, my son, thy sins are forgiven thee. Go thy way, walk in my statutes, and keep my commandments. Behold, I am the Lord of glory. I was crucified for the world that all those who believe on my name may have eternal life. Behold, the world lieth in sin at this time, and none doeth good, no not one. They have turned aside from the gospel and keep not my commandments. They draw near to me with their lips while their hearts are far from me, and mine anger is kindling against the inhabitants of the earth to visit them according to their ungodliness and to bring to pass that which hath been spoken by the mouth of the prophets and Apostles. Behold and lo, I come quickly, as it [is] written of me, in the cloud clothed in the glory of my Father.” See Richard L. Anderson, Joseph Smith’s Testimony, General Conference April 1996
9.
13.
14.
 3 October 1883, Salt Lake School of the Prophets Minute Book 1883
16.
 Alma 40:21

…there is a space between death and the resurrection of the body, and a state of the soul in happiness or in misery until the time which is appointed of God that the dead shall come forth, and be reunited, both soul and body, and be brought to stand before God, and be judged according to their works.

Verse by Verse Commentary: 1 Nephi 1:7

And it came to pass that he returned to his own house at Jerusalem; and he cast himself upon his bed, being overcome with the Spirit and the things which he had seen.

After Lehi’s first visitation or vision, Lehi was overcome with the Spirit. That may mean he was totally wrapped up in his experience, but it could also mean he was physically drained from the experience. We know from other sources that intense spiritual experiences (especially those involving the presence of God) can be completely overwhelming to the physical body.

Moses:

9 And the presence of God withdrew from Moses, that his glory was not upon Moses; and Moses was left unto himself. And as he was left unto himself, he fell unto the earth.
10 And it came to pass that it was for the space of many hours before Moses did again receive his natural strength like unto man; and he said unto himself: Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed. 1) Moses 1:9-10, italics added

Daniel:

8 Therefore I was left alone, and saw this great vision, and there remained no strength in me: for my comeliness was turned in me into corruption, and I retained no strength.

9 Yet heard I the voice of his words: and when I heard the voice of his words, then was I in a deep sleep on my face, and my face toward the ground.

10 ¶And, behold, an hand touched me, which set me upon my knees and upon the palms of my hands. 2) Daniel 10:8-10

Joseph Smith:

20 He again forbade me to join with any of them; and many other things did he say unto me, which I cannot write at this time. When I came to myself again, I found myself lying on my back, looking up into heaven. When the light had departed, 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. I replied, “Never mind, all is well—I am well enough off.” 3) Joseph Smith History 1:20

Sidney Rigdon (toward the end of the shared vision of the three degrees of glory with Joseph Smith):

“This manner of conversation was reported at short intervals to the end of the vision, and during the whole time not a word was spoken by any other person. Not a sound nor motion made by anyone but Joseph and Sidney, and it seemed to me that they never moved a joint or limb during the time I was there, which I think was over an hour, and to the end of the vision.

“Joseph sat firmly and calmly all the time in the midst of a magnificent glory, but Sidney sat limp and pale, apparently as limber as a rag, observing which, Joseph remarked, smilingly, ‘Sidney is not used to it as I am.’” 4) Recorded by Philo Dibble, Juvenile Instructor, May 1892, pp. 303–4.

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References

1.
 Moses 1:9-10, italics added
4.
 Recorded by Philo Dibble, Juvenile Instructor, May 1892, pp. 303–4.

Verse by Verse Commentary: 1 Nephi 1:6

And it came to pass as he prayed unto the Lord, there came a pillar of fire and dwelt upon a rock before him; and he saw and heard much; and because of the things which he saw and heard he did quake and tremble exceedingly.

there came a pillar of fire

What is the significance of Lehi seeing fire?

Fire has an interesting significance in the gospel, and not just symbolically. Many of the great visions of the prophets have been described using the word fire. Moses described a burning bush. We sometimes think of that as the Lord’s attention-getter to get Moses to climb the mountain, or a strictly symbolic thing, but other prophets’ descriptions of the presence of the Lord make me think that perhaps Moses never actually saw fire, but the glory of the Lord, which looks very much like a blazing fire. In another instance, Moses said, “For the Lord thy God is a consuming fire, even a jealous God.” (Deut. 4:24)

In Joseph Smith’s earliest recorded account of the first vision, he wrote that he saw a pillar of fire, but then he crossed out the word fire, and changed it to light.1) while in<the> attitude of calling upon the Lord <in the 16th year of my age>a piller of fire– light above the brightness of the sun at noon day come down from above and rested upon me and I was filled with the spirit of god” Joseph Smith Papers, History, circa Summer 1832 In another account of the same vision, he says,

I kneeled again. My mouth was opened and my tongue liberated, and I called on the Lord in mighty prayer. A pillar of fire appeared above my head, it presently rested down upon my head, and filled me with joy unspeakable. A personage appeared in the midst of this pillar of flame which was spread all around, and yet nothing consumed

When Orson Pratt (a close friend of the prophet) described Joseph’s vision, he said that Joseph was surprised when the trees didn’t catch fire.2) Orson Pratt: “He expected to have seen the leaves and boughs of the trees consumed, as soon as the light came in contact with them; but, perceiving that it did not produce that effect, he was encouraged with the hopes of being able to endure its presence. It continued descending, slowly, until it rested upon the earth, and he was enveloped in the midst of it. When it first came upon him, it produced a peculiar sensation throughout his whole system; and, immediately, his mind was caught away, from the natural objects with which he was surrounded; and he was enwrapped in a heavenly vision, and saw two glorious personages, who exactly resembled each other in their features or likeness. Appendix: Orson Pratt, A[n] Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions, 1840

In another instance, the prophet Joseph Smith taught that, “God Almighty Himself dwells in eternal fire; flesh and blood cannot go there, for all corruption is devoured by the fire. … When our flesh is quickened by the Spirit, there will be no blood in this tabernacle.” (Teachings, p. 367.)

Other references point to the same idea, that God’s dwelling and presence are so full of glory that they are often referred to as fire. 3) Hebrews 12:29: “For our God is a consuming fire.”
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D&C Institute Student Manual, D&C 137:2–3. Why Is God’s Presence Described As “Blazing” and “Like unto Circling Flames of Fire”?
The Prophet Joseph Smith in his account of the First Vision wrote that God’s “brightness and glory defy all description” (JS—H 1:17). He also taught that “God Almighty Himself dwells in eternal fire; flesh and blood cannot go there, for all corruption is devoured by the fire. ‘Our God is a consuming fire.’ [Heb. 12:29]. …
“… Immortality dwells in everlasting burnings.” 4) Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 367. President Joseph Fielding Smith stated: “God is full of energy, and should we mortals stand in his presence, unless his spirit was upon us to protect us we would be consumed. That is how much energy there is in a celestial body.” (Seek Ye Earnestly, p. 275.)
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Joseph Smith:
“You have got to learn how to be gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God, the same as all gods have done before you, namely, by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one; from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation, until you attain to the resurrection of the dead, and are able to dwell in everlasting burnings, and to sit in glory, as do those who sit enthroned in everlasting power. And I want you to know that God, in the last days, while certain individuals are proclaiming His name, is not trifling with you or me.” Joseph Smith, The King Follett Sermon, Ensign April (and May) 1971
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When Moroni appeared to Joseph in his room, he gave this description:
“On a sudden a light like that of day, only of a far purer and more glorious appearance, and brightness burst into the room, indeed the first sight was as though the house was filled with consuming fire; the appearance produced a shock that affected the whole body; in a moment a personage stood before me surrounded with a glory yet greater than that with which I was already surrounded. This messenger proclaimed himself to be an angel of God sent to bring the joyful tidings.” 1 March 1842 account

Basically, this probably no ordinary flame that Lehi saw.

and he saw and heard much; and because of the things which he saw and heard he did quake and tremble exceedingly

This line seems to suggest that we don’t get to learn the full extent of Lehi’s vision. He saw many things and he heard many things, but all we know about the experience is that it caused him to quake and tremble. The next verse suggests that it was after this first vision/visitation that Lehi had the second vision described in the rest of the chapter.

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References

1.
 “while in<the> attitude of calling upon the Lord <in the 16th year of my age>a piller of fire– light above the brightness of the sun at noon day come down from above and rested upon me and I was filled with the spirit of god” Joseph Smith Papers, History, circa Summer 1832
2.
 Orson Pratt: “He expected to have seen the leaves and boughs of the trees consumed, as soon as the light came in contact with them; but, perceiving that it did not produce that effect, he was encouraged with the hopes of being able to endure its presence. It continued descending, slowly, until it rested upon the earth, and he was enveloped in the midst of it. When it first came upon him, it produced a peculiar sensation throughout his whole system; and, immediately, his mind was caught away, from the natural objects with which he was surrounded; and he was enwrapped in a heavenly vision, and saw two glorious personages, who exactly resembled each other in their features or likeness. Appendix: Orson Pratt, A[n] Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions, 1840
3.
 Hebrews 12:29: “For our God is a consuming fire.”
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D&C Institute Student Manual, D&C 137:2–3. Why Is God’s Presence Described As “Blazing” and “Like unto Circling Flames of Fire”?
The Prophet Joseph Smith in his account of the First Vision wrote that God’s “brightness and glory defy all description” (JS—H 1:17). He also taught that “God Almighty Himself dwells in eternal fire; flesh and blood cannot go there, for all corruption is devoured by the fire. ‘Our God is a consuming fire.’ [Heb. 12:29]. …
“… Immortality dwells in everlasting burnings.” ((Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 367.
4.
 Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 367. President Joseph Fielding Smith stated: “God is full of energy, and should we mortals stand in his presence, unless his spirit was upon us to protect us we would be consumed. That is how much energy there is in a celestial body.” (Seek Ye Earnestly, p. 275.)
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Joseph Smith:
“You have got to learn how to be gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God, the same as all gods have done before you, namely, by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one; from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation, until you attain to the resurrection of the dead, and are able to dwell in everlasting burnings, and to sit in glory, as do those who sit enthroned in everlasting power. And I want you to know that God, in the last days, while certain individuals are proclaiming His name, is not trifling with you or me.” Joseph Smith, The King Follett Sermon, Ensign April (and May) 1971
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When Moroni appeared to Joseph in his room, he gave this description:
“On a sudden a light like that of day, only of a far purer and more glorious appearance, and brightness burst into the room, indeed the first sight was as though the house was filled with consuming fire; the appearance produced a shock that affected the whole body; in a moment a personage stood before me surrounded with a glory yet greater than that with which I was already surrounded. This messenger proclaimed himself to be an angel of God sent to bring the joyful tidings.” 1 March 1842 account

Verse by Verse Commentary: 1 Nephi 1:5

Wherefore it came to pass that my father, Lehi, as he went forth prayed unto the Lord, yea, even with all his heart, in behalf of his people.

There are many great lessons in this verse. First, Lehi was a prophet, and his prayer was for his people. One of the most common ways people reject prophets is that they put the words of dead prophets above those of living ones. But the guidance and revelations that come to prophets on our behalf are the most important revelations of all. President Ezra Taft Benson said,

The most important prophet, so far as we are concerned, is the one who is living in our day and age. This is the prophet who has today’s instructions from God to us today. God’s revelation to Adam did not instruct Noah how to build the ark. Every generation has need of the ancient scripture plus the current scripture from the living prophet. Therefore, the most crucial reading and pondering which you should do is of the latest inspired words from the Lord’s mouthpiece” 1) in Conference Report, Korea Area Conference 1975, 52.

James 5:16
16 Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.

There is power in praying with all our hearts. There is also power in praying for others, which means some of the most powerful prayers are those where we are praying for others with all our hearts. Such was the case with Lehi, and the answer he received was spectacular.

David A. Bednar:

Petitioning Heavenly Father for the blessings we desire in our personal lives is good and proper. However, praying earnestly for others, both those whom we love and those who despitefully use us, is also an important element of meaningful prayer. Just as expressing gratitude more often in our prayers enlarges the conduit for revelation, so praying for others with all of the energy of our souls increases our capacity to hear and to heed the voice of the Lord.

We learn a vital lesson from the example of Lehi in the Book of Mormon. Lehi responded in faith to prophetic instruction and warnings concerning the destruction of Jerusalem. He then prayed unto the Lord “with all his heart, in behalf of his people” (1 Nephi 1:5; emphasis added). In answer to this fervent prayer, Lehi was blessed with a glorious vision of God and His Son and of the impending destruction of Jerusalem (see 1 Nephi 1:6–9, 13, 18). Consequently, Lehi rejoiced, and his whole heart was filled because of the things which the Lord had shown him (see 1 Nephi 1:15). Please note that the vision came in response to a prayer for others and not as a result of a request for personal edification or guidance.

David A. Bednar, Pray Always, LDS General Conference, October 2008,  Saturday Afternoon

Answers that come when we pray for others are often more specific, too.2) When Enos prayed for his own soul, he received comfort, and a voice telling him his sins are forgiven, but when he prayed for others, this was the result:
Enos 1:9-17
9 Now, it came to pass that when I had heard these words I began to feel a desire for the welfare of my brethren, the Nephites; wherefore, I did pour out my whole soul unto God for them.
10 And while I was thus struggling in the spirit, behold, the voice of the Lord came into my mind again, saying: I will visit thy brethren according to their diligence in keeping my commandments. I have given unto them this land, and it is a holy land; and I curse it not save it be for the cause of iniquity; wherefore, I will visit thy brethren according as I have said; and their transgressions will I bring down with sorrow upon their own heads.
11 And after I, Enos, had heard these words, my faith began to be unshaken in the Lord; and I prayed unto him with many long strugglings for my brethren, the Lamanites.
12 And it came to pass that after I had prayed and labored with all diligence, the Lord said unto me: I will grant unto thee according to thy desires, because of thy faith.
13 And now behold, this was the desire which I desired of him—that if it should so be, that my people, the Nephites, should fall into transgression, and by any means be destroyed, and the Lamanites should not be destroyed, that the Lord God would preserve a record of my people, the Nephites; even if it so be by the power of his holy arm, that it might be brought forth at some future day unto the Lamanites, that, perhaps, they might be brought unto salvation—
14 For at the present our strugglings were vain in restoring them to the true faith. And they swore in their wrath that, if it were possible, they would destroy our records and us, and also all the traditions of our fathers.
15 Wherefore, I knowing that the Lord God was able to preserve our records, I cried unto him continually, for he had said unto me: Whatsoever thing ye shall ask in faith, believing that ye shall receive in the name of Christ, ye shall receive it.
16 And I had faith, and I did cry unto God that he would preserve the records; and he covenanted with me that he would bring them forth unto the Lamanites in his own due time.
17 And I, Enos, knew it would be according to the covenant which he had made; wherefore my soul did rest.

 

References

2.
 When Enos prayed for his own soul, he received comfort, and a voice telling him his sins are forgiven, but when he prayed for others, this was the result:
Enos 1:9-17
9 Now, it came to pass that when I had heard these words I began to feel a desire for the welfare of my brethren, the Nephites; wherefore, I did pour out my whole soul unto God for them.
10 And while I was thus struggling in the spirit, behold, the voice of the Lord came into my mind again, saying: I will visit thy brethren according to their diligence in keeping my commandments. I have given unto them this land, and it is a holy land; and I curse it not save it be for the cause of iniquity; wherefore, I will visit thy brethren according as I have said; and their transgressions will I bring down with sorrow upon their own heads.
11 And after I, Enos, had heard these words, my faith began to be unshaken in the Lord; and I prayed unto him with many long strugglings for my brethren, the Lamanites.
12 And it came to pass that after I had prayed and labored with all diligence, the Lord said unto me: I will grant unto thee according to thy desires, because of thy faith.
13 And now behold, this was the desire which I desired of him—that if it should so be, that my people, the Nephites, should fall into transgression, and by any means be destroyed, and the Lamanites should not be destroyed, that the Lord God would preserve a record of my people, the Nephites; even if it so be by the power of his holy arm, that it might be brought forth at some future day unto the Lamanites, that, perhaps, they might be brought unto salvation—
14 For at the present our strugglings were vain in restoring them to the true faith. And they swore in their wrath that, if it were possible, they would destroy our records and us, and also all the traditions of our fathers.
15 Wherefore, I knowing that the Lord God was able to preserve our records, I cried unto him continually, for he had said unto me: Whatsoever thing ye shall ask in faith, believing that ye shall receive in the name of Christ, ye shall receive it.
16 And I had faith, and I did cry unto God that he would preserve the records; and he covenanted with me that he would bring them forth unto the Lamanites in his own due time.
17 And I, Enos, knew it would be according to the covenant which he had made; wherefore my soul did rest.

Verse by Verse Commentary: 1 Nephi 1:4

For it came to pass in the commencement of the first year of the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah, (my father, Lehi, having dwelt at Jerusalem in all his days); and in that same year there came many prophets, prophesying unto the people that they must repent, or the great city Jerusalem must be destroyed.

Up to this point, the verses have mostly been giving introduction. But now Nephi starts giving us the context of his situation–his backstory, if you will.

In the commencement of the first year of the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah

From the way he wrote this, Nephi seems to recognize that we, the readers, would be familiar with Zedekiah, and we do have an account of Zedekiah’s reign. Though Nephi wasn’t around to see much more than the beginning of Zedekiah’s reign, we know from the Bible what happened to Zedekiah. Zedekiah began his rule at age 21 in about the year 597 BC (600 BC by the Nephite calendar)1) Since we know our modern calendar to have a few year’s discrepancy, we can trust the Nephite calendar better. James E. Talmage said: “According to the commonly accepted reckoning, Zedekiah was made king in the year 597 B.C. This shows a discrepancy of about three years between the commonly accepted date of Zedekiah’s inauguration as king and that given in the Book of Mormon statement; and, as already seen, there is a difference of between three and four years between the Dionysian reckoning and the nearest approach to an agreement among scholars concerning the beginning of the current era. Book of Mormon chronology therefore sustains the correctness of the common or Dionysian system.” Jesus The Christ by James E. Talmage, chapter 6

This was a time of heavy political and social turmoil. The eventual overthrow of Jerusalem wasn’t an isolated incident. It was more like the worst blow in a series of attacks that had been taking place for several years. Wikipedia gives us the following timeline:

627 BC: The death of Ashurbanipal and the successful revolt of Nabopolassar replaces the Neo-Assyrian Empire with the Neo-Babylonian Empire
609 BC: Jerusalem becomes part of the Empire of the Twenty-sixth dynasty of Egypt after Josiah of Judah is killed by the army of Pharaoh Necho II at the Battle of Megiddo. Josiah’s son Jehoahaz of Judah is deposed by the Egyptians and replaced as ruler of Jerusalem by his brother Jehoiakim.
605 BC: Jerusalem switches its tributary allegiance back to the Neo-Babylonians after Necho II is defeated by Nebuchadnezzar II at the Battle of Carchemish.
599–597 BC: first Babylonian siege – Nebuchadnezzar II crushed a rebellion in the Kingdom of Judah and other cities in the Levant which had been sparked by the Neo-Babylonians failed invasion of Egypt in 601. Jehoiachin of Jerusalem deported to Babylon (Biblical sources only)
587–6 BC: second Babylonian siege – Nebuchadnezzar II fought Pharaoh Apries’s attempt to invade Judah. Jerusalem mostly destroyed including the First Temple, and the city’s prominent citizens exiled to Babylon (see Nebuchadnezzar Chronicle)
582 BC: Gedaliah the Babylonian governor of Judah assassinated, provoking refugees to Egypt and a third deportation

In a sense, Zedekiah was Judah’s last chance to prove that Jerusalem could handle governing itself. Nebuchadnezzar was watching Jerusalem close, ready to strike if it rebelled against him. Even more important, the Lord was giving His people one last chance to prove that they were willing to obey His laws and heed the counsel of His prophets. The king and the people had become so rebellious against the Lord that even when God counseled them to avoid an alliance with Egypt and side with Babylon (with whom Jerusalem already had an alliance, and had been paying tribute), they wouldn’t listen. Even the priests of Israel had adopted many of the wicked practices of the surrounding nations and defiled the Lord’s temple. When it came down to it, the children of Israel had lost sufficient faith in the Lord to follow His counsel, and even despised the prophets He sent.

2 Chronicles 36:11-17

11 ¶Zedekiah was one and twenty years old when he began to reign, and reigned eleven years in Jerusalem.

12 And he did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord his God, and humbled not himself before Jeremiah the prophet speaking from the mouth of the Lord.

13 And he also rebelled against king Nebuchadnezzar, who had made him swear by God: but he stiffened his neck, and hardened his heart from turning unto the Lord God of Israel.

14 ¶Moreover all the chief of the priests, and the people, transgressed very much after all the abominations of the heathen; and polluted the house of the Lord which he had hallowed in Jerusalem.

15 And the Lord God of their fathers sent to them by his messengers, rising up betimes, and sending; because he had compassion on his people, and on his dwelling place:

16 But they mocked the messengers of God, and despised his words, and misused his prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against his people, till there was no remedy.

17 Therefore he brought upon them the king of the Chaldees, who slew their young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary, and had no compassion upon young man or maiden, old man, or him that stooped for age: he gave them all into his hand.

Zedekiah’s fall marked the end of the rule of Judah, meaning that once he was taken, the Jews would not govern Jerusalem again until modern times.

Who were the other prophets that testified against Jerusalem?

The fact that the bible doesn’t mention Lehi suggests that there were probably several prophets now unknown to history that testified against Jerusalem, but the bible does mention a few. Some were before Lehi’s time, others after (those who called either the remaining survivors, or those taken away to Babylon, to repentance), but only a couple were known to be operating in full ministry when Lehi received his prophetic call.

Jeremiah, serving from about 627-580 BC 2) Jeremiah 49:34 ¶The word of the Lord that came to Jeremiah the prophet against Elam in the beginning of the reign of Zedekiah king of Judah, saying,

35 Thus saith the Lord of hosts; Behold, I will break the bow of Elam, the chief of their might.

36 And upon Elam will I bring the four winds from the four quarters of heaven, and will scatter them toward all those winds; and there shall be no nation whither the outcasts of Elam shall not come.

37 For I will cause Elam to be dismayed before their enemies, and before them that seek their life: and I will bring evil upon them, even my fierce anger, saith the Lord; and I will send the sword after them, till I have consumed them:

38 And I will set my throne in Elam, and will destroy from thence the king and the princes, saith the Lord.

Jeremiah 9:5-11

5 And they will deceive every one his neighbour, and will not speak the truth: they have taught their tongue to speak lies, and weary themselves to commit iniquity.

6 Thine habitation is in the midst of deceit; through deceit they refuse to know me, saith the Lord.

7 Therefore thus saith the Lord of hosts, Behold, I will melt them, and try them; for how shall I do for the daughter of my people?

8 Their tongue is as an arrow shot out; it speaketh deceit: one speaketh peaceably to his neighbour with his mouth, but in heart he layeth his wait.

9 ¶Shall I not visit them for these things? saith the Lord: shall not my soul be avenged on such a nation as this?

10 For the mountains will I take up a weeping and wailing, and for the habitations of the wilderness a lamentation, because they are burned up, so that none can pass through them; neither can men hear the voice of the cattle; both the fowl of the heavens and the beast are fled; they are gone.

11 And I will make Jerusalem heaps, and a den of dragons; and I will make the cities of Judah desolate, without an inhabitant. and Daniel 3) Daniel’s ministry seems to begin at the time of his being carried away into Babylon. A great deal of Daniel’s prophecies deal with the last days, and the coming forth of the gospel when God’s kingdom would fill the earth.

Prophet’s just prior to Lehi’s time, some of whom may have known Lehi, included Joel (about 620 BC), Habakkuk (about 630 BC), Zephaniah (630 BC), and Nahum (640 BC). Their Old Testament books reflect much of the concern that the prophet’s held for Israel, and the pending destruction of Jerusalem. There were several other prophets earlier than this that also warned the people to return to the Lord, or Israel would be scattered over the face of the earth, such as Isaiah (745-685 BC), Micah (740-700 BC), and Amos (767-753).

There are many biblical chapters about this time period that may be worth studying.4) 2 Kings 24, 2 Chronicles 36, Jeremiah 37, Jeremiah 44

Lehi, having dwelt at Jerusalem in all his days

Manasseh Inheritance

Inheritance of Manasseh, superimposed over a modern map.

Most likely, Lehi didn’t live right in the middle of the city of Jerusalem. Nephi’s record was written 30+ years after leaving his home in the middle east. Likely, everything in that region of the world would be referred to as Jerusalem, much as a person visiting another country might refer to the cities of West Valley, Sandy, and West Jordon as Salt Lake City. Though we don’t know for certain his home town, we do know that the tribe of Manasseh (from which Lehi was born) inherited the land north of Jerusalem. It’s possible Lehi’s inheritance was in that area.

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References

1.
 Since we know our modern calendar to have a few year’s discrepancy, we can trust the Nephite calendar better. James E. Talmage said: “According to the commonly accepted reckoning, Zedekiah was made king in the year 597 B.C. This shows a discrepancy of about three years between the commonly accepted date of Zedekiah’s inauguration as king and that given in the Book of Mormon statement; and, as already seen, there is a difference of between three and four years between the Dionysian reckoning and the nearest approach to an agreement among scholars concerning the beginning of the current era. Book of Mormon chronology therefore sustains the correctness of the common or Dionysian system.” Jesus The Christ by James E. Talmage, chapter 6
2.
 Jeremiah 49:34 ¶The word of the Lord that came to Jeremiah the prophet against Elam in the beginning of the reign of Zedekiah king of Judah, saying,

35 Thus saith the Lord of hosts; Behold, I will break the bow of Elam, the chief of their might.

36 And upon Elam will I bring the four winds from the four quarters of heaven, and will scatter them toward all those winds; and there shall be no nation whither the outcasts of Elam shall not come.

37 For I will cause Elam to be dismayed before their enemies, and before them that seek their life: and I will bring evil upon them, even my fierce anger, saith the Lord; and I will send the sword after them, till I have consumed them:

38 And I will set my throne in Elam, and will destroy from thence the king and the princes, saith the Lord.

Jeremiah 9:5-11

5 And they will deceive every one his neighbour, and will not speak the truth: they have taught their tongue to speak lies, and weary themselves to commit iniquity.

6 Thine habitation is in the midst of deceit; through deceit they refuse to know me, saith the Lord.

7 Therefore thus saith the Lord of hosts, Behold, I will melt them, and try them; for how shall I do for the daughter of my people?

8 Their tongue is as an arrow shot out; it speaketh deceit: one speaketh peaceably to his neighbour with his mouth, but in heart he layeth his wait.

9 ¶Shall I not visit them for these things? saith the Lord: shall not my soul be avenged on such a nation as this?

10 For the mountains will I take up a weeping and wailing, and for the habitations of the wilderness a lamentation, because they are burned up, so that none can pass through them; neither can men hear the voice of the cattle; both the fowl of the heavens and the beast are fled; they are gone.

11 And I will make Jerusalem heaps, and a den of dragons; and I will make the cities of Judah desolate, without an inhabitant.

3.
 Daniel’s ministry seems to begin at the time of his being carried away into Babylon. A great deal of Daniel’s prophecies deal with the last days, and the coming forth of the gospel when God’s kingdom would fill the earth.