(Forgive me for the long pause in teaching this particular process… I was bitten by the flu bug.)
In my last post I talked about the three step process of “the sign” which was given to Nephi from the Spirit of the Lord. He was told he would see a tree, then a man descend out of Heaven, and then witness that this man was literally the Son of the Eternal Father.
After Nephi witnessed that the Son of God was born of a Virgin, who is “the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh”, the Angel (not the Spirit of the Lord, remember different person…) proposed the following question:
1 Nephi 11: 21…Knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw?
Why would the Angel be so concerned about the tree?
Although for us the meaning of the tree might not be very clear, Nephi, when posed with the above question, answered that he did know the meaning of the tree. How does he know?
Daniel C. Peterson has explored this topic extensively and has explained his findings in the following:
“How has Nephi come to this understanding? Clearly, the answer to his question about the meaning of the tree lies in the virgin mother with her child. It seems, in fact, that the virgin actually is the tree, in some sense. Even the language used to describe her echoes that used for the tree. Just as she was "exceedingly fair and white," "most beautiful and fair above all other virgins," so was the tree's beauty "far beyond, yea, exceeding of all beauty; and the whiteness thereof did exceed the whiteness of the driven snow." Significantly, though, only when she appeared with a baby and was identified as "the mother of the Son of God" did Nephi grasp the tree's meaning.
Why would Nephi see a connection between a tree and the virginal mother of a divine child? His vision seems to reflect a meaning of the "sacred tree" that is unique to the ancient Near East and, in Israelite history, specifically to the period before the Babylonian captivity — Nephi's era. This can only be fully appreciated when the ancient Canaanite and Israelite associations of that tree are borne in mind.
Recent scholarship, including archaeological finds, has demonstrated that the goddess Asherah, worshipped among Israel's Canaanite neighbors as the wife of the supreme god, El, was also revered by many Israelites as the consort of El(ohim) and the (in some accounts, virginal) mother of his children. She was symbolized by a tree, and, in fact, a representation of such a tree stood within the temple at Jerusalem during the time of Lehi.”
(For a complete account of Dr. Peterson’s views you may want to read his article written for the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies called, Nephi and His Asherah. )
Nephi did not understand the condescension of God. Because of the perspective he had, looking to a future event, he did not know how God would come to earth, and how the Atonement would actually happen. It simply had not happened yet. The Lord answered his request to know how this loving act was to take place. He showed him in the most simplistic way so he could understand. We need that simplistic view too. We simply complicate it too much.
Go and read Daniel Peterson’s full article… digest this…and we will talk more.