1 Nephi Chapter 12
verses 1-3 In these verses Nephi is given a preview of the hostile relationship that will exist among the different factions of the people, particularly the Nephites and Lamanites. It is difficult to be certain about what specific time period is being seen here in vision. Presumably Nephi is seeing Book of Mormon peoples during the time period covered by the Book of Mormon.
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.
verse 1 "as many as the sand of the sea" This is an interesting, obviously hyperbolic, expression denoting many. As with all expressions of hyperbole it is not meant to be taken literally. There are numerous references in which similar expressions are found (Genesis 22:17; Genesis 22:32:12; Joshua 11:4; Judges 7:12; 1 Samuel 13:5; 2 Samuel 17:11; and 1 Kings 4:20). The expressions "sand," "sands," and "sands of the sea" are also found when the intended meaning is great weight (Job 6:3; Proverbs 27:3) or great size (1 Kings 4:29).
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.
verse 3 "I beheld many generations pass away" The terms generation or generations are common in the Bible and the Book of Mormon. In the Bible they are translations of the Hebrew root dor, meaning "circle," or "assembly," as in a "circle of contemporary people." These terms then refer to a group of people living during the same period of time and, by extension, the period of time itself. These terms are used in a few different senses in the Old Testament and the Book of Mormon:
1. The period between the birth of parents and the birth of their children. Adult contemporaries of the parents are considered part of the parents' generation; their children belong to the next generation. The phrase "from generation to generation" (2 Nephi 8:8; 2 Nephi 8:25:16; Moroni 10:28) simply means "from parents to children." The phrase "unto the third and fourth generation" (Mosiah 13:13) indicates that the actions of parents can have a serious effect on their descendants.
2. The period of time during which all of a group of contemporaries live and die. This seems to be the sense of the term in 4 Nephi 1:14; 4 Nephi 1:18-22, where most of the first generation after Christ had died by the year AD 110, and most of the second had died by AD 200. Book of Mormon prophets and the Savior prophesied that the fourth generation from the coming of the Christ (that is, within four hundred years) would turn from righteousness and would be destroyed (1 Nephi 12:11-12; 2 Nephi 26:9; Alma 45:10-12; Helaman 13:5-10; 3 Nephi 27:32).
3. A designation or characterization of a specific group of people at a given time, such as "blessed are this people in this generation" (Alma 27:12), a "wicked and perverse generation" (Alma 9:8; Alma 10:17, 25; Helaman 13:29), and "unto future generations" (Alma 24:14; Alma 37:18-19; 3 Nephi 26:2).
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.
verse 4 In this verse Nephi is shown the great destruction that occurred on the western hemisphere at the time of the Savior's crucifixion. This destruction is a foreshadowing or type of the destruction that will be wrought upon the wicked at the time of Jesus's second coming.
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.
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.
verses 5-6 Here, of course, Nephi sees Jesus's visit to the western hemisphere after his crucifixion and resurrection. He appears to those who survived the great destructive phenomena which occurred at his crucifixion. Presumably these were generally the more righteous among the inhabitants of Book of Mormon lands in that day.
7 And I also saw and bear record that the Holy Ghost fell upon twelve others; and they were ordained of God, and chosen.
verse 7 The "twelve others" are the twelve disciples or apostles chosen on the western hemisphere.
"they were ordained of God, and chosen" See the discussion of the interesting word chosen in the commentary for 1 Nephi 1:19-20.
8 And the angel spake unto me, saying: Behold the twelve disciples of the Lamb, who are chosen to minister unto thy seed.
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.
verse 9 "Thou rememberest the twelve apostles of the Lamb?" The angel had just mentioned the twelve apostles in the two verses that precede this one.
The "twelve apostles of the Lamb" spoken of here in verse 9 are Christ's twelve apostles in Jerusalem. The verse makes explicit the significance of these twelve. They will play an important role in the eternal scheme of things! The verse helps us to sense the true greatness of those twelve men. They shall judge all Israel (see also D&C 29:12; Matthew 19:28)! For further discussion of this concept, see the commentary for Mormon 3:18.
The "twelve disciples of the Lamb" in verse 8 and the "twelve ministers of thy seed" in verse 9 are the twelve Nephite disciples or apostles who will be called by Jesus in the western hemisphere. This verse teaches that they are presided over by the original twelve called in Palestine, yet they are apostles in the complete sense of the word (Moroni 2:2). In an analogous way, might we assume that the apostles in this final dispensation are presided over by the original twelve as well?
Brother Kevin L. Barney has discovered an interesting syntactic or writing device utilized by the authors of the Old Testament Hebrew which is called enallage, which is Greek for "interchange." In this pattern of writing, the author intentionally shifts from singular to plural forms for rhetorical effect and emphasis. In this pattern a divine being or prophet directly addresses an individual using the singular, "thou." He then makes a third-person reference to that individual's posterity, "thy seed." Finally, he directly addresses the individual and his posterity together in the second-person plural, "ye." If the reader cares to take a moment, it is easy to identify that pattern in this particular verse (see also Genesis 17:9-10; 2 Nephi 1:31-32; 2 Nephi 3:1-2). For further discussion of this interesting form of Hebrew poetry, see the supplemental article, Enallage in the Hebrew Bible and the Book of Mormon.
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.
verse 10 This verse refers to the twelve Nephite apostles. See 3 Nephi 27:27. They shall assist in judging the tribe of Joseph.
"their garments are made white in his blood" "They" and "their" in this verse seem to refer to the twelve Nephite disciples or apostles. The figurative phrase here-"their garments are made white in his blood"-refers to the principles of justification and sanctification. See the commentary for 3 Nephi 19:13-14. In other words, they are justified and sanctified through the influence of the atonement of Christ. For a more complete discussion of the principles of justification and sanctification see Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 1, chapter 17, Justification and Sanctification.
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.
verses 11-12 Following Christ's appearance in the western hemisphere there were several years of general righteousness among the people. This was the "golden age" of the Nephites which lasted until AD 200-"three generations." During this idyllic period, men "did deal justly one with another" and "there were not rich and poor, bond and free" (4 Nephi 1:2-3). This period has been referred to as the Nephite "mini-millennium."
13 And it came to pass that I saw the multitudes of the earth gathered together.
verse 13 "I saw the multitudes of the earth gathered together" Nephi is seeing different factions of Book of Mormon peoples gather together to do battle. The expression "multitudes of the earth" simply refers to the peoples of the Book of Mormon world. The Book of Mormon story took place in a limited geographical location and involved a specific population of people. It certainly did not involve all the peoples of the earth or even all the peoples of a hemisphere or continent.
14 And the angel said unto me: Behold thy seed, and also the seed of thy brethren.
verse 14 Throughout the remainder of this chapter, Nephi's "seed" are not his literal descendants but rather those descendants of the families of Lehi, Ishmael, and Zoram who chose to identify themselves, nominally at least, with Jesus Christ and his gospel during the years AD 200 to AD 421. Similarly the "seed of thy brethren" are not the literal descendants of Laman and Lemuel, but rather the descendants of those who rejected the gospel during the same period.
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.
verses 16-18 In these verses, the scene suddenly changes, and Nephi's angel guide provides an interpretation of part of the vision of the tree of life experienced by both Nephi and his father Lehi.
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.
verse 16 "hell" This is the first mention of the word "hell" in the Book of Mormon. It will be found fifty-eight more times in the Book of Mormon text. What is hell? In Mormonism, is hell a place or a state of mind? It certainly is both. Specific meanings of hell include: (1) the spirit prison. This is the most common meaning. (2) "outer darkness" or the eternal abode of Satan and his adherents. (3) Infrequently, the term may be used to refer to the telestial kingdom. (4) Also hell is the state of mind-the pain caused by sin-the sorrow, anguish, torment, and anxieties when one is not right with God. Each time the word "hell" is used in the scriptures, you should try to decide which of these few meanings is intended.
Consider for a moment the following question: Does the state of mind referred to as hell in the previous paragraph exist in the terrestrial or telestial kingdoms? Probably not. Those in the telestial kingdom for example are happy and fulfilled to be there, they are where they belong. They would be unhappy and uncomfortable anywhere else. In section 19 of the Doctrine and Covenants the expressions "eternal punishment" and "endless punishment" are mentioned and then explained. We are taught in D&C 19 that we do not believe in a punishment, or "hell," that goes on forever and that the terms "eternal or endless punishment" refer to God's punishment, not punishment without an end (D&C 19; James E. Talmage, Vitality of Mormonism, 264-65).
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.
verse 17 "which blindeth the eyes, and hardeneth the hearts of the children of men" See the discussion of hard-heartedness in the commentary for Alma 10:6.
"broad roads" This phrase is used to form a contrast with the "strait and narrow path." While the latter expression implies a path that is narrow, rigorous, and demanding to negotiate (see the commentary for 1 Nephi 8:20), the "broad roads" can and will be traveled by multitudes of the spiritually careless.
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.
verse 18 "a great and a terrible gulf" Nephi is shown a great gulf which separates those in the great and spacious building-those who are caught up in worldliness-from those successfully pursuing the tree of life. An analogous gulf existed in the spirit world before Christ's resurrection. See the commentary for 1 Nephi 15:28-29. Does such a gulf exist in mortality? It certainly does, and one need only to understand the concept of justification to know the gulf which separates the sinner from exaltation. Again, for a review of this important concept, see Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 1, chapter 17, Justification and Sanctification.
"even the word of the justice of the Eternal God" One point of some interest is that the original manuscript rendered this phrase "even the sword of the justice of the eternal God." Oliver Cowdery misread sword as word when he was copying the original manuscript into the printer's manuscript, yet neither he nor subsequent editors noticed that the Book of Mormon nowhere else refers to the "word of the justice of God." But in several instances the phrase "the sword" of the justice of God is found (see Alma 26:19; Alma 26:60:29, Helaman 13:5, 3 Nephi 20:20; 3 Nephi 29:4, and Ether 8:23). Dr. Royal Skousen has referred to phenomena like this as "inconsistent wrinkles" in the Book of Mormon text.
verses 19-20 The scene changes again, and Nephi sees in vision the final destruction of the Nephite people by the Lamanites in about AD 385 near the hill Cumorah (Mormon 6).
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.
verse 20 "and they went forth in multitudes upon the face of the land" The subject of Book of Mormon geography and how the people of the Book of Mormon might coincide with contemporary scientific archeological findings is discussed in the supplemental article, Book of Mormon Geography. We will also make reference to various specific points of this subject in the commentary as we go. Some students of Book of Mormon geography feel that the apostate Lamanite culture, following the destruction of the Nephites, coincides with the Mayan culture of Central America. The "classic" Mayan period was from about AD 200 to AD 900. This classic Mayan period is so named by virtue of the quality and quantity of buildings and monuments that have been found dating from this time period. The "post-classic" and "pre-classic" periods, as contrasted with the "classic period," are characterized by a lesser quality and quantity of constructed remnants which have been discovered. It would not be surprising to one day learn that they remnant of the Lamanites may have joined with the Mayans but did not constitute the principle founders of that group.
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.
verse 23 "dark, and loathsome, and a filthy people" Loathsome means disgusting; hateful; abhorred; detestable.
Be careful lest you associate skin color with righteousness or unrighteousness. In the Book of Mormon story, a dark skin was neither good nor evil, but the dark skin was designated, doubtless arbitrarily, to be the sign of the curse. The curse itself was separation of the cursed people from the priesthood of God. For a more complete discussion of the "mark" placed on the unrighteous Lamanites, see the commentary for 2 Nephi 5:20-21.