- 1 Ne. 8:2 - Dreams and visions
And it came to pass that while my father tarried in the wilderness he spake unto us, saying: Behold, I have dreamed a dream; or, in other words, I have seen a vision.Was it a dream or a vision? Dreams occurs while sleeping. Almost all people experience dreams, many of which are entirely natural events but some few of which are presented in the scriptures as divine messages. Visions, on the other hand, occur while the recipient is awake and conscious, often able to relate in real-time the images or events seen by them (with their spiritual eyes) but apparently not seen by bystanders or observers. Later references are no help: 1 Nephi 10:2 refers to it as a dream ("after my father had made an end of speaking the words of his dream"); 1 Nephi 10:17 refers to it as a vision ("concerning the things which he saw in a vision").
- 1 Ne. 8:4-35 - Lehi's dream
Part vision and part parable, Lehi's dream in 1 Nephi 8 is one of the most striking passages in the Book of Mormon. Visual representations of the symbols portrayed in Lehi's dream abound. There are actually three separate scenes or tableaus described in Lehi's account of the dream: (1) first Lehi was in a "dark and dreary wilderness" (8:4); then (2) after following a man in a white robe, Lehi found himself in a "dark and dreary waste" (8:7); finally, after many hours and a sincere prayer to the Lord (3) Lehi beheld "a large and spacious field" (8:9, 20).
The remainder of the vision all takes place within an extended scene in which all of the symbols are related to the large and spacious field and to each other. "Numberless concourses of people" (8:21) are in that field, many searching for the path to the tree, others feeling their way to the great and spacious building, some drowned in the depths of the spring at the head of the river, and yet others "wandering in strange roads" (8:32) and lost to Lehi's view. Yes, there are many paths that you can go by, but there's still time to change the road you're on.
Symbols From Lehi's Dream
Symbol Meaning References Large and spacious field the world 8:9,20 Tree with white and desirable fruit love of God; the Tree of Life 8:10-11; 11:21-22,25 River of water the depths of hell 8:13; 12:16 Rod of iron word of God 8:19; 11:25 Strait and narrow path leads from the field to the tree 2 Nephi 31:17-20 Fountain (or spring, at the head of the river of water) the depths of hell 8:14,20,32; 12:16 Mists of darkness temptations of the devil 8:23; 12:17 Great and spacious building vain imaginations and the pride of the children of men 8:26-27,31,33; 11:35-36; 12:18
Nibley offers some fascinating historical commentary on some of the elements of Lehi's dream: the river of water, from springs that emerge from nowhere in Arabian deserts (p. 173); mists of darkness, mixtures of dust and fog from the sea (p. 176); tall, towering houses build in desert towns with no windows for the first twenty to thirty feet for security, then higher windows from which light would flow at night (p. 177), thus rendering the illusion of a building that stands "as it were in the air, high above the earth" (1 Nephi 8:26).
Lehi's dream bears some resemblance to Joseph Smith Sr.'s dream of 1811, recounted by Lucy Mack Smith in 1845. The text of Lucy's account is available at an old post of mine, Three Visions of the Tree. Some suspect that Lucy's 1845 account of Joseph Smith Sr.'s dream was influenced by the text of 1 Nephi 8 rather than the other way around.
Hugh W. Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Part 1 (FARMS, 1993).