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
———————-
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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Chas Hathaway is the author of the books Scripture Study Made Awesome, Marriage is Ordained of God, but WHO Came Up with Dating? and Giraffe Tracks. Learn more at chashathaway.com. Please participate in the conversation by adding comments and sharing with friends on the web!

Gospel Living Made Awesome is not an official work of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. If Chas says something stupid, it's his own fault.

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.”
———————
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.)
———————
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
———————-
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

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