1. The 2 First Visions
Both Lehi and Joseph Smith were aware of the wickedness of their days, as well as the professed (and confusing) religious fervors that surrounded them. The activities of those around them in both time periods left great needs for a prophet, or prophets, to speak God's correcting revealed truth and will (Amos 3:7).
Nephi, who was likely using Lehi's book as a guide to write some of his own chapters, says in 1 Nephi 1:3 that "in that same year (about 597 BC) there came many prophets, prophesying unto the people that they must repent, or the great city Jerusalem must be destroyed."
I can't help but notice the parallels to Joseph Smith's own story who said that beginning in 1819 "there was in the place where we lived an unusual excitement on the subject of religion. It commenced with the Methodists, but soon became general among all the sects in that region of country. Indeed, the whole district of country seemed affected by it, and great multitudes united themselves to the different religious parties, which created no small stir and division amongst the people..."
Both of these men were in the midst of religious excitement, Lehi's being that righteous prophets were calling Jerusalem to repentance and Joseph's being that numerous preachers and religious teachers were doing the same around Palmyra, New York. Both of these men were good-hearted followers of God who wanted to do the right thing which led to very similar outcomes: they both decided to pray.
Nephi notes that his "father, Lehi, as he went forth prayed unto the Lord, yea, even with all his heart, in behalf of his people." (1 Nephi 1:4). Joseph Smith tells us that "At length I came to the conclusion that I must either remain in darkness and confusion, or else I must do as James directs, that is, ask of God." (Joseph Smith History 1:13).
Both of these faithful men, one older and one younger, elected to pray and the responses to their prayers were very similar: they both had a "First Vision" that opened the heavens and began their calls as prophets/fathers of new dispensations (Lehi's was that of the Nephites while Joseph's was that of the Dispensation of the Fullness of Times).
When Lehi prayed, Nephi tells us that "there came a pillar of fire and dwelt upon a rock before him; and he saw and heard much..." (1 Nephi 1:6). Of note, Moses also described Jehovah's presence with the camp of Israel at night as a pillar of fire (Exodus 13:21-22). When Joseph Smith prayed in the Sacred Grove, he said, "I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me." (JSH 1:16).
A "pillar of fire" and a "pillar of light". What powerfully sacred similar experiences began the prophetic callings of Lehi and Joseph. While Nephi doesn't say much about what Lehi specifically saw in that pillar of fire (maybe Lehi never said), Joseph Smith was very clear: "I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!"
Lehi DID say that he also saw God the Father in a follow-up vision (1 Nephi 1:8) then also spoke with and learned from "(His) Beloved Son" (1 Nephi 1:9-12).
These two "calling" experiences are in line with the calling of prophets in ancients times. Like Lehi, Ezekiel was given a book and told to "eat it" (Ezekiel 9:2-3:4) which, of course, was symbolic of him reading the book as Lehi read the book given to him (1 Nephi 1:11-12). The apostle Paul told King Agrippa that when he was called, "I saw in the way a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shining round about me" (Acts 23:16), words that sound very similar to Joseph Smith's own description of his experience in the Sacred Grove.
And both Lehi and Joseph described seeing God and angels (in other accounts, Joseph Smith mentioned that several angels were present in the Sacred Grove). This is referred to as being received into God's council, an experience that the ancient prophet Micaiah described to cement his credentials in the eyes of King Zedekiah when he said, "I saw the Lord sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing by him on his right hand and on his left." (1 Kings 22:19). Through the prophet Jeremiah, whom Lehi probably knew (or at least knew of), the Lord spoke of Israel's false prophets in later days and then asked why Israel was even listening to men who had not been received into, and called through, God's council. Jehovah asked, "For who hath stood in the counsel of the Lord, and hath perceived and heard his word? who hath marked his word, and heard it?" (Jeremiah 23:18).
Clearly this experience is a divinely-appointed fundamental step to some prophets being called, one that both Lehi and Joseph Smith underwent.
Two pillars, two prophets, two first visions. And to think, our study of Lehi and Joseph is just beginning.
Nephi notes that "after the Lord had shown so many marvelous things unto my father, Lehi, yea, concerning the destruction of Jerusalem, behold he went forth among the people, and began to prophesy and to declare unto them concerning the things which he had both seen and heard." (1 Nephi 1:18). And while his own public vocal instruction and correction ministry would fully ramp up a few years after his own first vision, Joseph Smith's friend John Taylor would say after his death, "Joseph Smith, the Prophet and Seer of the Lord, has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it." That would include, like Lehi, going "forth among the people,... to prophecy and declare unto them concerning the things which he had both seen and heard." (1 Nephi 1:18).
Lehi's ministry in Jerusalem was short, for as with so many prophets before him, his public declarations of eternal truths and the denunciations of the people's wickedness was unpopular and Nephi writes, "when the Jews heard these things they were angry with him; yea, even as with the prophets of old, whom they had cast out, and stoned, and slain; and they also sought his life, that they might take it away." (1 Nephi 1:20). The Lord then commanded Lehi to take his family and depart Jerusalem, thus beginning the grand history contained in what the world knows as The Book of Mormon.
Joseph Smith's life was full of similar persecutions and threats to his life which also caused him to have to move on several occasions. He writes in JSH 1:23:
"How very strange it was that an obscure boy, of a little over fourteen years of age, and one, too, who was doomed to the necessity of obtaining a scanty maintenance by his daily labor, should be thought a character of sufficient importance to attract the attention of the great ones of the most popular sects of the day, and in a manner to create in them a spirit of the most bitter persecution and reviling. But strange or not, so it was, and it was often the cause of great sorrow to myself."
Joseph later noted that the angel Moroni taught him "that God had a work for me to do; and that my name should be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues, or that it should be both good and evil spoken of among all people. (JSH 1:33). It was a declaration that proved to be true during his short lifetime and even today. But it is a truth that could also be applied to Lehi for God had a work for him to do as well, and that his name was known for good and evil among his own family, as well as those of his many descendants for nearly one thousand years on the American continent. Even today, those who praise, or condemn, the Book of Mormon cannot do so without accepting or rejecting Lehi and Joseph Smith with equal acclaim or defamation.
Yes, the lives of both Lehi and Joseph Smith were full of adversity and assaults on their health, their character, their families, their fortunes, and the list goes on and on. Even so, both prophets found periods of temporary rest and peace in their own "lands of bountiful", proving Nephi's words about his father (which also apply to Joseph Smith) that, "the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance." (1 Nephi 1:20).
Lehi was delivered from the people who wanted to kill him, from Jerusalem's destruction, from their trials in the wilderness, even from the dangerously rebellious natures of his two oldest sons (as well as some of the sons of Ishmael) who wanted to kill him.
Joseph Smith was delivered from mobs, assassins, slanderers, betrayals, false charges brought against him in court, imprisonment, illness, poverty and so much more.
And yet, when both of these prophets' mortal ministries had reached completion, the Lord allowed their lives to end. Lehi's life was possibly shortened due to the difficulties involved with his journeys in the wilderness, in crossing the ocean and in the Promised Land. And we know that those who opposed God's restored church and the work that Joseph Smith was doing to build the Kingdom of God on earth ultimately succeeded in murdering this prophet of God in Carthage Jail on June 27, 1844.
Both of these men remained strong in the face of persecutions and adversities. Both did their best to fulfill the commandments of God and to teach and instruct the eternal truths they had been given. They were humble, loving leaders who labored daily to bless their respective peoples. Like Paul, at the end of their lives, they could say, "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith... Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing." (2 Timothy 4:7-8).
The words of Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin ring eternally true when he said "Joseph Smith was true to his calling and fulfilled his duty even in the face of severe persecution and great personal sacrifice. He persevered, he endured, and he accomplished..." His words can equally be applied to Lehi who was also "true to his calling and fulfilled his duty even in the face of severe persecution and great personal sacrifice."
Lehi's faithful perseverance in the face of adversity laid the foundation for the Nephite nation that lasted for nearly 1,000 years. Joseph's laid a foundation that will last through the Millennium. We owe them both so much.
3. Getting the Plates
After Lehi led his family out of Jerusalem, one of the first things the Lord commanded him to do was send his sons back to retrieve the Plates of Brass from Laban (1 Nephi 3:2-4) which contained the "record of the Jews", or much of what we call the Old Testament, as well as Lehi's genealogy. It was a journey of two weeks or so each way, yet this commandment was fulfilled and Lehi and his descendants were able to read and study the scriptures to their eternal benefit. We do not know exactly to what extent the Plates of Brass were available to the people in the Book of Mormon, but their influence can be seen throughout the history contained in that sacred book of scripture.
I find it interesting that Nephi and his brothers were unsuccessful in the first two attempts to retrieve the Plates of Brass from Laban. When Joseph Smith first climbed the Hill Cumorah after his initial visit from the angel Moroni, Joseph looked at the gold plates and began to ponder their material worth instead of their spiritual worth. As such, when he tried to reach in and get the plates, he felt a shock and found that he could not. The angel Moroni then appeared and explained that the young prophet could only retrieve the plates if he desired to do so for pure reasons, to bring forth the kingdom of God. As such, Joseph was to return on the same date for the next four years.
Like Nephi, Joseph had to go back multiple times to retrieve the plates he was commanded to get. He had to exercise faith, be humble and obey the directions he received. And in the end, his family and his people (not to mention the entire world) were blessed beyond measure because of it. As of 2020, over 192 million copies of the Book of Mormon have been printed around the world and has been fully or partially translated into 112 languages. I remember as a young missionary handing out copies of the Book of Mormon like they were candy; I wanted everyone to have the chance to come to Christ through it, for as the cover states, it IS "Another Testament of Jesus Christ".
I also find it interesting that the last guardians of these respective sacred records were both military leaders, albeit on opposite ends of the scale. Laban was described as a wicked leader in Jerusalem who had wealth and influence that could "command fifty, yea, even he can slay fifty" (1 Nephi 3:31). Later, Nephi reminds his brothers Laman and Lemuel that the Lord is mightier than Laban's "fifty, yea, or even than his tens of thousands" (1 Nephi 4:1).
Compare that to Mormon, the main editor and compiler of the gold plates, and Moroni, who was the last mortal possessor of and recordkeeper on the Nephite plates before Joseph Smith brought them forth and translated them "by the gift and power of God" (Book of Mormon title page). Mormon was the general of the entire Nephite army (far larger than Laban's tens of thousands) and it is likely that he had some wealth and obviously possessed great influence in Nephite society, even if they failed to heed his spiritual warnings. And Moroni his son was also a soldier/military leader in some capacity and took part in his father's final campaigns.
Laban, a military leader, had the Brass plates before Lehi and Nephi. Mormon and Moroni, both military leaders, had the gold plates before Joseph Smith. These are small details, and I am not sure if they have any spiritual significance, but I found this all fascinating nonetheless.
Another interesting note is that Laban possessed the famous "sword of Laban." Who else possessed it? Likely Mormon as the leader of the Nephite armies, then Moroni as his successor since it was Moroni who buried the "gold plates" in the Hill Cumorah where Joseph Smith found them 1,400 years later, along with the sword of Laban.
Both the Nephite dispensation and the latter-day Restoration/final dispensation required that their first prophet retrieve sacred records of scripture (Nephi from Laban and Joseph from Cumorah) for the sake of the following generations for as the Lord taught regarding the Book of Mormon "the holy scriptures are given of me for your instruction; and the power of my Spirit quickeneth all things."
4. Journeys in the Wilderness
If there is one thing that the lives of ancient prophets teach us it is that once they were called, their lives were both divinely blessed and full of challenges beyond measure. Just ask Abinadi, Jeremiah, Joseph in Egypt, Daniel, Elijah, Samuel the Lamanite, and so on how "easy" it was to do God's work in their days.
As we have discussed, both Lehi and Joseph Smith came to understand just how tough the life of a prophet could be, but one of the similar ways that they did so was in the manner of their travels and journeys "in the wilderness".
After Lehi's rejection by the people of Jerusalem, Nephi tells us that "he left his house, and the land of his inheritance, and his gold, and his silver, and his precious things, and took nothing with him, save it were his family, and provisions, and tents, and departed into the wilderness." (1 Nephi 2:1). Nephi also adds that their property "was exceedingly great..." (vs. 25), great enough that Laban was willing to kill them for it (1 Nephi 3:24-26) and great enough that Laman and Lemuel constantly wanted to go back to their previous lifestyle.
But Lehi left it all behind to answer God's call and Nephi painted a fairly clear picture when he simply said that after that, "My father dwelt in a tent." (1 Nephi 2:15). Lehi, and his family, would travel in the wilderness for eight years, living off what they could hunt, catch, gather, or perhaps even barter for. Then they had to build a ship, prepare for a long ocean voyage, then sail across the ocean to The Promised Land, and then they had to figure out where to and then actually build a settlement.
Joseph Smith for parts of his own life had to live on the charity and support of others while he focused on doing the Lord's work. He moved from Palmyra, NY to Harmony, PA to Fayette, NY then back to Harmony, PA then to Hiram and Kirtland, OH then Far West, MO and then to Nauvoo, IL, his final home before his martyrdom in Carthage Jail. In several of these locations Joseph purchased or built homes, only to have to leave them behind when mobs and persecutions became too great for the church to remain in the area. He was never "wealthy" by the world's standards, though the Lord and his fellow Latter-day Saints supported him in his mortal journeys, in addition to the income he earned through his own hard work and endeavors.
No wonder Joseph said of himself, "I am like a huge, rough stone rolling down from a high mountain; and the only polishing I get is when some corner gets rubbed off by coming in contact with something else, striking with accelerated force against religious bigotry, … Thus I will become a smooth and polished shaft in the quiver of the Almighty" (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 304). While Joseph was symbolically describing his mortal journey of progression, it is not far off to compare his physical journeys in the same way, that he was "like a huge, rough stone rolling down from a high mountain...", rolling from place to place, wherever the Lord's will took him to live and "pitch his tent" like Lehi, as it were.
Both Lehi and Joseph sought to do God's will more than they sought to obtain wealth and prestige, and they went wherever God commanded them to. Yet their sacrifices and humble mortal probations laid rich foundations for the followers of God to build on. Who knows how many millions of Nephites and Lamanites were born after Lehi on the American continent (nor how many millions were able to join the Lord's church in those days). And who knows the grand total of how many millions have + how many million more will join the Lord's restored church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, before and during the Millennium.
It makes me think of that famous quote penned by author J.R.R. Tolkien, who wrote, "Not all who wander are lost" ("The Riddle of Strider", The Fellowship of the Ring). Lehi wandered in the wilderness for 8 years, then wandered/sailed across the vast ocean, then died shortly after they reached the American continent. Joseph Smith moved/wandered from place to place throughout most of his life until his death at the hands of murderous assassins. Like Tolkien asserted about Strider, neither Lehi nor Joseph were lost. The Lord always knew where they were and they were engaged in His work until the ends of their mortal probations. Oh, how much we owe to these great men!
While I do plan to continue my study of comparisons between Father Lehi and Brother Joseph (so be sure to come back to this post in the future for updates), how grateful I am to these two great prophets of God whose faith and examples have richly blessed my life and the lives of millions around the world.
Indeed, we rightly sing of Joseph Smith, "Praise to the man who communed with Jehovah!" ("Praise to the Man", Hymns #27). Perhaps the Nephites had their own hymns that praised Lehi, yet that statement is 100% accurate when applied to Father Lehi because he, too, "communed with Jehovah". So, too, is that hymn's chorus, which the Nephites could have sung of Father Lehi during their lives:
Hail to the Prophet, ascended to heaven!
Traitors and tyrants now fight him in vain.
Mingling with Gods, he can plan for his brethren;
Death cannot conquer the hero again.
Even today, traitors and tyrants can fight them in vain all they like. The Lord himself declared, "Wherefore, I the Lord, knowing the calamity which should come upon the inhabitants of the earth, called upon my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and spake unto him from heaven, and gave him commandments;" (Doctrine and Covenants 1:17). He could very easily say those same words of Lehi who was called because "the Lord, knowing of the calamity which should come upon the inhabitants of (Jerusalem), called upon my servant (Lehi), and spake unto him from heaven, and gave unto him commandments;).
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