Evidence #277 | December 6, 2021

Divine Fire

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Scripture Central


The account of Lamanite conversions involving a divine fire in Helaman 5 is an example of the Exodus pattern in the Book of Mormon.

Lamanite Conversion Account

The book of Helaman provides an account of the miraculous conversion of a group of three hundred Lamanites and Nephite dissenters (Helaman 5:22–52). On a mission to the Lamanites, the prophets Nephi and Lehi were cast into prison. When their captors went forth to put them to death, the prophets were protected by a divine fire which encircled them and prevented the Lamanites from killing them. The captors were then overshadowed by a cloud of darkness which immobilized them with fear. Through a series of events in the prison, these Lamanites and Nephite dissenters were led to exercise faith in Christ, repent, and become converted, leading to a revolutionary change in their society.

Exodus Typology and the Hebrew Bible

In recent decades biblical scholars have recognized Exodus typology as an important characteristic of the Hebrew Bible.1 The ancient biblical writers frequently characterized important events in Israelite history as repeating their ancestors’ earlier deliverance from Egypt. As Michael Fishbane explains, “the new event is elevated into the history of the divine promises and acts of redemption; for the event takes on new meaning precisely by virtue of its correlation with, and depiction in terms of, the great originating event of Israelite redemption, the exodus.”2

The Israelites Passing through the Wilderness, Preceded by the Pillar of Light. Painting by William West.

The Call of Moses and the Burning Bush

In several ways, the Helaman account also appears to draw on the language of the Exodus story, specifically Moses’s call at the burning bush on Mount Sinai (also known as Horeb; Exodus 3:2–6) and the manifestation of the pillar of fire at the Red Sea (Exodus 13:21–22; 14:19–20). The Exodus account describes Moses’ prophetic calling as he was keeping the flocks of Jethro:

And the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed. And Moses said, I will now turn aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt. And when the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the midst of the bush (Exodus 3:2-4).

In the Helaman account, the prophets in the prison were encircled about with fire, “nevertheless, Nephi and Lehi were not burned; and they were as standing in the midst of fire and were not burned” (Helaman 5:23). The wording evokes the description of the burning bush, but in this case it was the prophets, rather than the Lord, who stood within the divine fire.

Burning Bush on Mount Sinai, by Jerry Thompson.

In the book of Exodus, Moses feared to approach the Lord at Sinai, “for he was afraid to look upon God” (Exodus 3:6). We are told in the Helaman account that when the prophets saw that they were protected by divine fire, “their hearts did take courage” (Helaman 5:24), indicating that they were initially fearful. In Exodus, “when the Lord saw” that Moses turned aside to see, he “called unto him out of the midst of the bush” (Exodus 3:4). Similarly, when Nephi and Lehi “saw that they were encircled about” and saw that the Lamanites could not harm them, “they began to speak unto them” just as God spoke from the bush on Sinai (Helaman 5:24–25).

The Pillar of Fire and Darkness

Nephi and Lehi (Sons of Helaman). Image by James Fullmer. 

The account in Helaman 5 also evokes the events of the Exodus where the army of the Egyptians was confronted at the Red Sea by a pillar of fire which protected the children of Israel. The pillar of fire was associated with God’s presence in the wilderness. According to the biblical account, “the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them by the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night: He took not away the pillar of the cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people” (Exodus 13:21–22).

When the armies of the Egyptians tried to attack, “the angel of God which went before the camp of Israel, removed and went behind them; and the pillar of the cloud went from before their face and stood behind them. And it came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel; and it was a cloud and darkness to them, but it gave light by night to these: so that the one came not near the other all the night (Exodus 14:19–20).

In the book of Helaman, the flames which surrounded and protected Nephi and Lehi is similarly described as a “pillar of fire,” suggesting their proximity to the Lord’s presence (Helaman 5:24). The Lamanites and dissenters “were overshadowed with a cloud of darkness, and an awful solemn fear came upon them” (Helaman 5:28). This cloud of darkness not only kept them from harming the prophets but also kept them from fleeing the prison (Helaman 5:34). The contrast between the pillar and the cloud recalls the division between the children of Israel and the Egyptians, but places Nephi and Lehi in the role of the former and the Lamanites in the role of the latter.

Miraculous Conversion

Most surprising in the Helaman narrative is how the position of the Lamanite group in the prison begins with them being separated by a cloud of darkness and then transitions to their participation in the Divine presence after their faith and sincere repentance. When Lamanites asked how to remove the oppressive cloud, a dissenter named Aminadab told them to repent and call upon God (Helaman 5:40–41).3 When they did so, the cloud of darkness was dispersed and each of them “were encircled about, yea every soul, by a pillar of fire” (Helaman 5:43). As with the burning bush, the divine fire “did harm them not, neither did it take hold upon the walls of the prison; and they were filled with that joy which is unspeakable and full of glory” (Helaman 5:44).

Aminadab. Image by James Fullmer. 

In contrast to the Exodus account, where Moses alone was brought into the Divine presence, the Lamanite converts were collectively brought into the sacred sphere with Nephi and Lehi. Then, having witnessed these things for themselves from within the midst of the fire, “they were bidden to go forth and marvel not … and they did go forth and did minister unto the people, declaring throughout all the regions round about all the things which they had heard and seen” (Helaman 5:49–50). This variation and expansion of the Exodus material underscores the significance of the conversion of the Lamanites at this point in the Book of Mormon.


By making use of wording which subtly echoes the Exodus accounts (including the burning bush, the pillar of fire, and the cloud of darkness), the account of deliverance in the book of Helaman acts as a hinge-point in the history of the people of Lehi during a time of Nephite apostasy.

In these accounts, divine fire manifests the Lord’s redeeming power to Moses, to Nephi and Lehi, and then to the repentant Lamanites in the prison. The fire does not burn, but blesses those who experience it. From within the midst of the fire, people call out to others by way of invitation—the Lord to Moses, Nephi and Lehi to their captors, and the transformed Lamanite converts to their own people, working a miraculous change in their society.

Exodus typology has not always been recognized or appreciated by biblical scholars.4 Nor were such connections immediately discerned in the Book of Mormon. Only in recent decades has this important pattern been discovered and analyzed in these sacred volumes of scripture, demonstrating another aspect of the Book of Mormon’s subtle literary complexity and Hebrew origins.

S. Kent Brown, “The Exodus Pattern in the Book of Mormon,” BYU Studies 30, no. 3 (Summer 1990): 111–126, reprinted in S. Kent Brown, From Jerusalem to Zarahemla: Literary and Historical Studies of the Book of Mormon (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1998), 75–98.

David R. Seely, “‘A Prophet Like Moses’: Deuteronomy 18:15–18 in the Book of Mormon, the Bible, and the Dead Sea Scrolls,” in “To Seek the Law of the Lord”: Essays in Honor of John W. Welch, ed. Paul Y. Hoskisson and Daniel C. Peterson (Orem, UT: Interpreter Foundation, 2017), 360–374. 

Noel B. Reynolds, “The Israelite Background of Moses Typology in the Book of Mormon,” BYU Studies 44, no. 2 (2005): 5–23. 

Noel B. Reynolds, “Lehi as Moses,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 9, no. 2 (2000): 26–35.

Terrrence L. Szink, “Nephi and the Exodus,” in Rediscovering the Book of Mormon: Insights You May Have Missed Before, ed. John L. Sorenson and Melvin J. Thorne (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1991), 50–51.

Allen Goff, “Mourning, Consolation, and Repentance at Nahom,” in Rediscovering the Book of Mormon: Insights You May Have Missed Before, ed. John L. Sorenson and Melvin J. Thorne (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1991), 92–99.

George S. Tate, “The Typology of the Exodus Pattern in the Book of Mormon,” in Literature of Belief: Sacred Scripture and Religious Experience, ed. Neal E. Lambert (Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1981), 245–262.

BibleExodus 3:2Exodus 3:3Exodus 3:4Exodus 3:5Exodus 3:6Exodus 3:2–6Exodus 13:21Exodus 13:22Exodus 13:21–22Exodus 14:19Exodus 14:20Exodus 14:19–20Book of MormonHelaman 5:23Helaman 5:24Helaman 5:25Helaman 5:26Helaman 5:28Helaman 5:29Helaman 5:31Helaman 5:34Helaman 5:36Helaman 5:40Helaman 5:41Helaman 5:42Helaman 5:43Helaman 5:44Helaman 5:49–50


Exodus 3:2

Exodus 3:3

Exodus 3:4

Exodus 3:5

Exodus 3:6

Exodus 3:2–6

Exodus 13:21

Exodus 13:22

Exodus 13:21–22

Exodus 14:19

Exodus 14:20

Exodus 14:19–20

Book of Mormon

Helaman 5:23

Helaman 5:24

Helaman 5:25

Helaman 5:26

Helaman 5:28

Helaman 5:29

Helaman 5:31

Helaman 5:34

Helaman 5:36

Helaman 5:40

Helaman 5:41

Helaman 5:42

Helaman 5:43

Helaman 5:44

Helaman 5:49–50

  • 1 Noel B. Reynolds, “The Israelite Background of Moses Typology in the Book of Mormon,” BYU Studies Quarterly 44, no. 2 (2005): 5–23.
  • 2 Michael Fishbane, Biblical Interpretation in Ancient Israel (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988), 360.
  • 3 For evidence of wordplay on the name Aminadab, see Evidence Central, “Book of Mormon Evidence: Aminadab Wordplay,” Evidence# 0226, August 16, 2021, online at evidencecentral.org.
  • 4 “Fishbane identifies typology as one of the developed interpretive techniques used by Old Testament writers, and not as a New Testament invention as has often been thought.” Reynolds, “The Israelite Background of Moses Typology in the Book of Mormon,” 22n.11. See also Fishbane, Biblical Interpretation in Ancient Israel, 350–379.
Literary Features
Exodus Parallels
Divine Fire
Book of Mormon

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