Musings on the Making of Mormon’s Book: 1 Nephi 12

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1 Nephi 12:1-5

1 And it came to pass that the angel said unto me: Look, and behold thy seed, and also the seed of thy brethren. And I looked and beheld the land of promise; and I beheld multitudes of people, yea, even as it were in number as many as the sand of the sea.

2 And it came to pass that I beheld multitudes gathered together to battle, one against the other; and I beheld wars, and rumors of wars, and great slaughters with the sword among my people.

3 And it came to pass that I beheld many generations pass away, after the manner of wars and contentions in the land; and I beheld many cities, yea, even that I did not number them.

4 And it came to pass that I saw a mist of darkness on the face of the land of promise; and I saw lightnings, and I heard thunderings, and earthquakes, and all manner of tumultuous noises; and I saw the earth and the rocks, that they rent; and I saw mountains tumbling into pieces; and I saw the plains of the earth, that they were broken up; and I saw many cities that they were sunk; and I saw many that they were burned with fire; and I saw many that did tumble to the earth, because of the quaking thereof.

5 And it came to pass after I saw these things, I saw the vapor of darkness, that it passed from off the face of the earth; and behold, I saw multitudes who had not fallen because of the great and terrible judgments of the Lord.

The chapter break created in 1879 camouflages the context for these battles. Separated from the previous verses, these simply discuss military actions. However, the context following immediately upon the heels of 1 Nephi 11:34-36 is the war for humankind’s souls. 1 Nephi 11:34 is explicit: “and after [Christ] was slain I saw the multitudes of the earth, that they were gathered together to fight against the apostles of the Lamb.” This places even the apparently secular battles of 1 Nephi 12:1-5 in the greater context of the spiritual battle.

The descriptions lead to the coming of the Messiah to the Nephites as will be described in 3 Nephi. In this vision, Nephi sees the physical destructions and conditions that will immediately precede that event.

From a structural point of view, it is interesting that each verse of the set selected begin with “and it came to pass.” That is a phrase that Nephi uses to move along a narrative. The quick succession of these may intend not only to show a chain of events, but to imply the long passage of time required for the fulfillment of those events.

1 Nephi 12:6-8

6 And I saw the heavens open, and the Lamb of God descending out of heaven; and he came down and showed himself unto them.

7 And I also saw and bear record that the Holy Ghost fell upon twelve others; and they were ordained of God, and chosen.

8 And the angel spake unto me, saying: Behold the twelve disciples of the Lamb, who are chosen to minister unto thy seed.

The vision continues the description of the future events in Bountiful. These twelve are the Nephite twelve.

1 Nephi 12:9-10

9 And he said unto me: Thou rememberest the twelve apostles of the Lamb? Behold they are they who shall judge the twelve tribes of Israel; wherefore, the twelve ministers of thy seed shall be judged of them; for ye are of the house of Israel.

10 And these twelve ministers whom thou beholdest shall judge thy seed. And, behold, they are righteous forever; for because of their faith in the Lamb of God their garments are made white in his blood.

The vision clarifies the difference between the Old World twelve and the New World twelve. The pronouns leave the interpretation more open than we might like, but the verses appear to indicate that the New World twelve would be the judges for Nephi’s descendants, but that the New World twelve are themselves judged by the Old World twelve as part of the whole house of Israel for whom the Old World twelve have responsibility.

1 Nephi 12:11-15

11 And the angel said unto me: Look! And I looked, and beheld three generations pass away in righteousness; and their garments were white even like unto the Lamb of God. And the angel said unto me: These are made white in the blood of the Lamb, because of their faith in him.

12 And I, Nephi, also saw many of the fourth generation who passed away in righteousness.

13 And it came to pass that I saw the multitudes of the earth gathered together.

14 And the angel said unto me: Behold thy seed, and also the seed of thy brethren.

15 And it came to pass that I looked and beheld the people of my seed gathered together in multitudes against the seed of my brethren; and they were gathered together to battle.

Nephi’s vision of the future includes the ultimate destruction of his people at Cumorah. The prophecy is specific in retrospect because we know that the four generations equaled four hundred years. The term generation is not that specific. If taken as a literal generation, it would be shorter than a hundred years.

1 Nephi 12:16

16 And the angel spake unto me, saying: Behold the fountain of filthy water which thy father saw; yea, even the river of which he spake; and the depths thereof are the depths of hell.

Although the vision has been showing secular events, the angel makes it clear that the secular wars are simply part of the spiritual war for the souls of humankind. Thus, right when we have combatants gathered for the final battle, the angel returns to the symbolic element of the vision of the tree—the fountain of filthy water. When Nephi recounted his father’s vision, he mentioned the water, but not that it was filthy. Here, that element is clear and Nephi indicates that it was a part of his father’s dream. There is no indication of why he left it out in the earlier account.

1 Nephi 12:17-18

17 And the mists of darkness are the temptations of the devil, which blindeth the eyes, and hardeneth the hearts of the children of men, and leadeth them away into broad roads, that they perish and are lost.

18 And the large and spacious building, which thy father saw, is vain imaginations and the pride of the children of men. And a great and a terrible gulf divideth them; yea, even the word of the justice of the Eternal God, and the Messiah who is the Lamb of God, of whom the Holy Ghost beareth record, from the beginning of the world until this time, and from this time henceforth and forever.

The symbolic explication continues. Placed right after the description of  gathering for the final battle at Cumorah and the foretelling of the demise of the Nephites at that location, these verses contextualize Nephi history into the larger pattern of righteousness and unrighteousness. The suggestion here is that the Nephite demise will be a result of their acceptance of the ways of the world, the ways of the large and spacious building.

The Nephite promise of the land is that they would be protected if they continued in righteousness. This vision not only shows that they cease to be protected, but clarifies that the destruction will come as a result of their abandoning principles of righteousness in favor of those of the large and spacious building.

1 Nephi 12:19-20

19 And while the angel spake these words, I beheld and saw that the seed of my brethren did contend against my seed, according to the word of the angel; and because of the pride of my seed, and the temptations of the devil, I beheld that the seed of my brethren did overpower the people of my seed.

20 And it came to pass that I beheld, and saw the people of the seed of my brethren that they had overcome my seed; and they went forth in multitudes upon the face of the land.

The end of the Nephites is explicitly related to “the pride of my seed, and the temptations of the devil.” That is the statement that is to be expected from the symbolic  interlude describing the large and spacious building.

1 Nephi 12:21-23

21 And I saw them gathered together in multitudes; and I saw wars and rumors of wars among them; and in wars and rumors of wars I saw many generations pass away.

22 And the angel said unto me: Behold these shall dwindle in unbelief.

23 And it came to pass that I beheld, after they had dwindled in unbelief they became a dark, and loathsome, and a filthy people, full of idleness and all manner of abominations.

It is interesting that this description is for the Lamanites and that they will “dwindle in unbelief.” We expect that they had already been unbelievers. This prophecy continues the process and moves them even farther from their roots in the house of Israel. Verse 23’s description of “a dark, and loathsome, and a filthy people” is a set of descriptions that are applied to the Lamanites long before this event. While it is tempting to see that particular phrasing being adopted from this prophecy and applied throughout the Book of Mormon, there is little indication that the contents of the small plates of Nephi has any real impact on Nephite life. This was simply a set of terms that was used to describe a people in apostasy. In the case of the vision, it describes Lamanites after the close of the Book of Mormon, but the description is also applied throughout.

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About Brant A. Gardner

Brant A. Gardner (M.A. State University of New York Albany) is the author of Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon and The Gift and Power: Translating the Book of Mormon, both published through Greg Kofford Books. He has contributed articles to Estudios de Cultura Nahuatl and Symbol and Meaning Beyond the Closed Community. He has presented papers at the FairMormon conference as well as at Sunstone.

5 thoughts on “Musings on the Making of Mormon’s Book: 1 Nephi 12

  1. Notice that those who were destroyed are referred to throughout this vision as the seed of Nephi. During the 165 years of the Zion society in America there were no divisions or “-ites” (4 Nephi 1:17). When this society broke up those who were called “Nephites” were those who were the true believers in Christ (4 Nephi 36-37). Apparently, however, this division was also along family or tribal lines as is indicated in the subsequent verses (4 Nephi 1:38-39). Also, within one hundred years there were almost no righteous believers in Christ (4 Nephi 1:45) so the division by righteousness would no longer have any meaning. To be consistent with 1 Nephi 12, and numerous other passages, the final division must have been along family (tribal) lines.

  2. Nephi saw in vision the American people of our day and made the following observation:

    “And I beheld the Spirit of the Lord, that it was upon the Gentiles, and they did prosper and obtain the land for their inheritance; and I beheld that they were white, and exceedingly fair and beautiful, like unto my people before they were slain.” (1 Nephi 13:15)

    Nephi knew that there would be a mixture of his seed with the seed of the surviving Lamanites (1 Nephi 13:30). He also knew that the Gentiles in America would be “white and exceedingly fair” and look like his people, but there is no evidence that Nephi thought that these Gentiles might be his descendants. There are, however, some clear statements about the descendants of Nephi’s brother, Joseph. Before he died, Lehi explained some very significant things to his youngest son, Joseph.

    “3 And now, Joseph, my last-born, whom I have brought out of the wilderness of mine afflictions, may the Lord bless thee forever, for thy seed shall not utterly be destroyed.
    4 For behold, thou art the fruit of my loins; and I am a descendant of Joseph who was carried captive into Egypt. And great were the covenants of the Lord which he made unto Joseph.” (2 Nephi 3:3-4)

    The seed of Joseph, son of Lehi, would not utterly be destroyed because he was a descendent of Joseph of Egypt, and the Lord had made some great covenants with Joseph of Egypt. The scripture goes on to explain what the most significant promise was.

    “5 Wherefore, Joseph truly saw our day [Lehi’s day]. And he obtained a promise of the Lord, that out of the fruit of his loins [through Lehi] the Lord God would raise up a righteous branch unto the house of Israel; not the Messiah, but a branch which was to be broken off, nevertheless, to be remembered in the covenants of the Lord that the Messiah should be made manifest unto them [unto Lehi’s descendants] in the latter days, in the spirit of power, unto the bringing of them out of darkness unto light–yea, out of hidden darkness and out of captivity unto freedom.
    6 For Joseph truly testified, saying: A seer shall the Lord my God raise up, who shall be a choice seer unto the fruit of my loins…
    15 And his name shall be called after me; and it shall be after the name of his father. And he shall be like unto me; for the thing, which the Lord shall bring forth by his hand, by the power of the Lord shall bring my people unto salvation…
    21 Because of their faith their words shall proceed forth out of my mouth unto their brethren who are the fruit of thy loins; and the weakness of their words will I make strong in their faith, unto the remembering of my covenant which I made unto thy fathers.
    22 And now, behold, my son Joseph, after this manner did my father of old prophesy.
    23 Wherefore, because of this covenant thou art blessed; for thy seed shall not be destroyed, for they shall hearken unto the words of the book.
    24 And there shall rise up one mighty among them [among the seed of Joseph, son of Lehi], who shall do much good, both in word and in deed, being an instrument in the hands of God, with exceeding faith, to work mighty wonders, and do that thing which is great in the sight of God, unto the bringing to pass much restoration unto the house of Israel, and unto the seed of thy brethren.
    25 And now, blessed art thou, Joseph. Behold, thou art little; wherefore hearken unto the words of thy brother, Nephi, and it shall be done unto thee even according to the words which I have spoken. Remember the words of thy dying father. Amen.” (2 Nephi 3:5-25, editorial comments added)

    These scripture are clear that the choice seer of the restoration would be a descendant of Joseph, son of Lehi. That is what the message of the dying Lehi to his son Joseph was all about. The reason that Lehi’s son, Joseph, was so blessed is because this choice seer, Joseph of the restoration, would be of his seed. The Prophet Joseph Smith was to be a descendant of Joseph, son of Lehi.

    Joseph Smith had no Native American bloodlines. His ancestry is all traced back to northeastern England. The only way this prophesy could have been fulfilled would be for some of the descendants of Joseph, son of Lehi, to be guided by the Lord to northern Europe and to England.

    • “5 Wherefore, Joseph truly saw our day [Lehi’s day]. And he obtained a promise of the Lord, that out of the fruit of his loins [through Lehi] the Lord God would raise up a righteous branch unto the house of Israel; not the Messiah, but a branch which was to be broken off, nevertheless, to be remembered in the covenants of the Lord that the Messiah should be made manifest unto them [unto Lehi’s descendants] in the latter days, in the spirit of power, unto the bringing of them out of darkness unto light–yea, out of hidden darkness and out of captivity unto freedom.

      In my opinion, the fruit of Joseph’s loins and the righteous branch that will be remembered refers to the tribe of Ephraim.

      • Ejolley,

        I agree, through Lehi & Sariah. Brigham Young stated that, “Joseph Smith was a pure Ephraimite” (JD 2:269). When Lehi first read the Brass Plates he discovered that he was a descendant of Joseph of Egypt (1 Nephi 5:14). This passage does not specify which son of Joseph that Lehi descended from. Later, Alma’s missionary companion Amulek states that Lehi “was a descendant of Manasseh” (Alma 10:3). Tribal affiliation in the Old Testament traditionally followed the paternal line. This comes from the Lord’s commandment to Moses to count the children of Israel “after their families, by the house of their fathers” (Numbers 1:2). But paternal descent is not the sum total of being designated to a certain tribe. It is common for LDS patriarchs to declare different tribal affiliations for children of the same family. I am of the tribe of Ephraim and my wife is of the tribe of Judah. Three children are of Ephraim, one is of Judah, and the other is of Ephraim, “but the blood of Judah is strong in her veins.” The Messiah was to be of the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:10), but Jesus received His Israelite blood from his mother. If Jesus can receive his tribal affiliation from his mother why could not one of His prophets do the same? Joseph Smith said that Ishmael, whose family came out of Jerusalem with Lehi, was of the tribe of Ephraim (JD 23:184). Ishmael’s daughters married Lehi’s sons, and Lehi’s wife, Sariah, may well have been of Ephraim. In the same discourse where Brigham Young stated that Joseph Smith was a pure Ephraimite, Brigham also stated, “Take a family of ten children for instance, and you may find nine of them of purely of the Gentile stock and one son or one daughter in that family who is purely of the blood of Ephraim. It was in the veins of the father or mother, and was reproduced in the son or daughter, while all the rest of the family are Gentiles” (JD 2:268). Brigham Young obviously believed that the blood, or tribal affiliation, could be transmitted through the mother. There is also a spiritual or eternal element to tribal affiliation as well as a physical bloodline. For example, Jesus said, “I came unto my own, and mine own received me not”(D&C 10:57). The implication is that the Jews were His own family or tribe before he came to them. When we understand fully what it means to be a member of a particular tribe of Israel we will understand how Joseph Smith can be a descendent of Joseph, son of Lehi, and still be a pure Ephraimite.

        If Joseph Smith is a descendant of Lehi, then perhaps all of the latter-day prophets are also? Perhaps most of the American founding fathers were also? Perhaps most of the Latter-day Saints in America are also descendants of Lehi? Perhaps we are mostly Nephites? In being restored to the gospel, the children of Joseph, son of Lehi, have been brought out of the wilderness of their afflictions. After being nursed over the centuries by kings and queens (Isaiah 49:23; 1 Nephi 21:23; 2 Nephi 6:7; 2 Nephi 10:9) the Nephites have returned to the land promised to them, the land of Joseph, the land of the Everlasting Hills. They have returned to reclaim their inheritance (2 Nephi 3:1-2), and to join with their Lamanite brothers and sisters to build up the Kingdom of God on the earth, and to establish Zion, in preparation for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.

  3. In a review article in Review of Biblical Literature, March 2012, online at http://www.bookreviews.org/pdf/7961_8705.pdf , Spencer Allen says that “a ‘generation’ or dôr, which generally represents 40 years in the Deuteronomic History, can also mean ‘life span’ or a unit as large as 100 years, which are interpretations that have been offered to reconcile the 400 years in Gen 15:13 with the four generations mentioned in verse 16.”

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