When Nephi recounted the dream that his father had of the tree of life, he shares a description of four distinct groups and how they responded to their surroundings. How we react to the events of our mortal lives has as much to do with how we developed in the premortal world as it does with where we are sown here in mortality. We lived an eternity making choices before we were born (see Alma 13). If we approach Lehi’s dream through this lens, then we can understand things more clearly. The events of our premortal existence prepared us for mortality. Still, it is here that we must continue to choose and to act to be partakers of the heavenly gift eventually.
1 Nephi 8:21 And I saw numberless concourses of people, many of whom were pressing forward, that they might obtain the path which led unto the tree by which I stood.
Lehi saw many striving to get to the tree. Everyone that was born on this earth came through obedience to the plan that was provided by our Heavenly Parents. They, along with our Savior, designed a plan that would involve us coming to earth to receive a physical body. Our premortal choices play a part in who we are and what we receive, but we are all here to make our way to that tree. Some stay on course much longer than others. This is what Lehi saw through the course of his dream.
I want to begin with the last group first. There are some essential differences that we can see with this group from any of the other groups. It is more than just the direction that stands out. It is their hearts, intent, and gratitude that we can capture from Nephi’s recording of his father’s dream. First, let us compare the last group that makes it to the tree with those of the earlier group that do, as Nephi mentions. By comparing these two, we can see the keywords that Nephi uses to distinguish them from each other. These key points help us to understand what we can do to remain faithful and not be caught up in the ways of the world and be lost.
1 Nephi 8:24 And it came to pass that I beheld others pressing forward, and they came forth and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and they did press forward through the mist of darkness, clinging to the rod of iron, even until they did come forth and partake of the fruit of the tree.
25 And after they had partaken of the fruit of the tree, they did cast their eyes about as if they were ashamed.
1 Nephi 8:30 But, to be short in writing, behold, he saw other multitudes pressing forward; and they came and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and they did press their way forward, continually holding fast to the rod of iron, until they came forth and fell down and partook of the fruit of the tree.
As I have marked the words that are different within their journey to the tree, we see several that may not have much more relevance than just simply to provide different conjunction. But there are some words that stand out here. First off, the earlier group was clinging other than continually holding fast. This indicates a difference in the way that they were attached to the Savior and His council.
Second, how they felt when they partook of the fruit of the tree had a lot to do with their destiny. If we just go through the motions, then we may fail to recognize the majesty of God. We will miss out on true conversion. If we approach our covenants, as well as the renewal of them, with sincere gratitude and rejoicing, then we will be more apt to remain in the presence of God. Those who continually hold fast have experienced the Atonement of Jesus Christ. These are individuals who have grown grace to grace. They have continuously exercised faith, “relying alone upon the merits of Christ” (Moroni 6: 4).
Elder Bednar recently taught about the contrasts of these two groups and how they approached their journey along the path. In regard to the earlier group he described their “clinging” in this way:
“It is significant that the second group pressed forward with faith and commitment. They also had the added blessing of the rod of iron, and they were clinging to it! However, as they were confronted with persecution and adversity, they fell away into forbidden paths and were lost. Even with faith, commitment, and the word of God, this group eventually was lost—perhaps because they only periodically read or studied or searched the scriptures. Clinging to the rod of iron suggests to me only occasional ‘bursts’ of study or irregular dipping rather than consistent, ongoing immersion in the word of God.” (Elder David A. Bednar, October 2011 Ensign)
Now, looking at the latter group and how they held fast, he stated:
“The key phrase in this verse is continually holding fast to the rod of iron.
“The third group also pressed forward with faith and conviction; however, there is no indication that they wandered off, fell into forbidden paths, or were lost. Perhaps this third group of people consistently read and studied and searched the scriptures. Perhaps it was diligence and devotion to a seemingly ‘small and simple [thing]’ (Alma 37:6) that saved the third group from perishing. Perhaps it was ‘the knowledge of the Lord’ and ‘the knowledge of the truth’ (Alma 23:5, 6) obtained through faithful study of the scriptures that yielded the spiritual gift of humility—such that this group of people’ fell down and partook of the fruit of the tree’ (1 Nephi 8:30; emphasis added). Perhaps it was the spiritual nourishment and strength provided by continually ‘feasting upon the word of Christ’ (2 Nephi 31:20) that enabled this group to heed not the scorning and mocking of the people in the great and spacious building (see 1 Nephi 8:33). This is the group you and I should strive to join.” (Elder David A. Bednar, October 2011 Ensign)
The two seemingly similar groups of individuals conclude with very different results. The earlier group became ashamed, and many fell away even after partaking of the fruit of the tree, or the eternal covenants of our God. At one point, they felt “to sing the song of redeeming love,” but they failed to remain. Is this where we are at? If so, then we ought to repent and return.
The latter group had the confidence and strength, through their dedication to recognizing God’s tender mercies in their journey. The fell down in gratitude upon obtaining the fruit of the tree. They chose to remain faithful to the blessings that they had been given. If we give our lives over to Christ, then we will learn to walk with Him. As we do, then we will be able to remain firm and steadfast, even amidst our friends enticing to join them in the great and spacious building. Those who have held fast have learned to walk in the ways of Lord. Beyond staying on the path, they held fast to the Word. They studied, acted, repented, and grew.
Lehi’s dream helps us to unlock these critical attributes to the plan of happiness. We are all strangers in a strange land. As we learn of the grace of Christ and to utilize the resources that he has given” to us, we will learn what real joy is.
Now, as we detail out the other of these four groups, we see that these can easily be compared to the four groups that Jesus shared in the parable of the sower.
4 And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up:
19 When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side.
23 And it came to pass that there arose a mist of darkness; yea, even an exceedingly great mist of darkness, insomuch that they who had commenced in the path did lose their way, that they wandered off and were lost.
5 Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth:
6 And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away.
20 But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it;
21 Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended.
24 And it came to pass that I beheld others pressing forward, and they came forth and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and they did press forward through the mist of darkness, clinging to the rod of iron, even until they did come forth and partake of the fruit of the tree.
25 And after they had partaken of the fruit of the tree they did cast their eyes about as if they were ashamed.
8 But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold.
23 But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.
30 But, to be short in writing, behold, he saw other multitudes pressing forward; and they came and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and they did press their way forward, continually holding fast to the rod of iron, until they came forth and fell down and partook of the fruit of the tree.
7 And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them:
22 He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful.
31 And he also saw other multitudes feeling their way towards that great and spacious building.
32 And it came to pass that many were drowned in the depths of the fountain; and many were lost from his view, wandering in strange roads.
As we learn each of these four groups, we can understand the different aspects of the soil. Often in our lives, we develop our own soil. We make our own decisions. As we learn to apply the Atonement, we can move from stony ground to fertile soil. Just as we learn in Jacob 5 regarding the Olive Vinyard, the Master can help us to grow to bring forth good fruit. Even if you have found yourself in the great and spacious building, it is not too late to repent and return to the path. By virtue of the grace of Christ through the Atonement, all who chose Him may become chosen and partake of the fruit of the Tree of Life.