Evidence #336 | May 2, 2022

Lehi’s Calling (Commission)

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Scripture Central


Although not directly recorded in 1 Nephi 1, Lehi’s commission to preach the contents of his vision is nevertheless discernable in the text and comparable to other examples of ancient prophetic commissions.

In Nephi’s summary of his father’s record, Lehi is introduced to a council of divine beings (1 Nephi 1). In several ways, the details of Lehi’s heavenly encounter follow the pattern of prophetic call narratives found in biblical and pseudepigraphic literature.1 One key element of this pattern is the prophet’s receipt of a divine commission, often involving the preaching of repentance to a hardened and wicked people.

At first glance, it may seem that Lehi’s commission is missing in 1 Nephi 1. Just when a reader familiar with the call pattern would expect Nephi to report Lehi’s commission, Nephi interrupts the narrative by declaring: “And now I, Nephi, do not make a full account of the things which my father hath written” (1 Nephi 1:16). As noted by Blake Ostler, it appears that Lehi’s prophetic commission “has been obscured by Nephi’s editorial activities.”2 One can more easily see this development by comparing the progression of key prophetic call elements in Lehi’s account with similar biblical call narratives:3

Prophetic Call Element




Historical Introduction

1 Nephi 1:4

Ezekiel 1:1–3

Isaiah 6:1

Divine Confrontation

1 Nephi 1:6

Ezekiel 1:4–26a

Isaiah 6:1–4


1 Nephi 1:6–7

Ezekiel 1:28b

Isaiah 6:5

Throne Theophany

1 Nephi 1:8

Ezekiel 1:20–26a

Isaiah 6:2–4



Ezekiel 2:3–5

Isaiah 6:1, 13

This doesn’t mean, however, that Lehi’s commission has been entirely lost from the record. When Nephi resumes the narrative a few verses later, he states “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). This seems to imply that Lehi’s commission was to preach the contents of his vision to the people. And, indeed, this is confirmed in the next chapter when the Lord tells Lehi that he has been “been faithful and declared unto this people the things which I commanded thee” (1 Nephi 2:1; emphasis added).

Because Lehi’s commission is only affirmed after the fact, one might wonder when and how it was given to him. Based on other ancient call narratives, Lehi most likely received his divine directives while still in the presence of the Lord and the divine council. As explained by Ostler,

The commission was given only to the prophet who had stood in the heavenly council and heard the words of Yahweh, which the prophet was commanded to deliver to his people as contained in the heavenly book. Indeed, the very designation nabi (the Hebrew word for “prophet”) meant literally “one who was called” and, according to E. Theodore Mullen, Jr., “implies the background of the [heavenly] council, for the prophet was called to proclaim the will of the deity which issued from the assembly.”4

Divine commissions can be found in prophetic call narratives in both biblical and extrabiblical texts.

Commission Narratives in the Bible

Perhaps the most famous prophetic commission was given to Moses, who received it while in the presence of the Lord (as manifested by a burning bush). The Lord declared, “Come now therefore, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring forth my people the children of Israel out of Egypt” (Exodus 3:10). Although somewhat different, commissions given to other early Israelite prophets such as Samuel and Elijah were also recorded. Samuel heard the voice of the Lord call him three times in the night (1 Samuel 3:1–14), and Elijah heard the voice of the Lord on a mountain top (1 Kings 19:1–18).

Moses and the Burning Bushes, by Jerry Thompson. Image via churchofjesuschrist.org. 

More closely related to Lehi’s prophetic calling are the commissions of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. To Isaiah, the Lord declared, “Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not” (Isaiah 6:9). Ezekiel was told, “Son of man, I send thee to the children of Israel, to a rebellious nation that hath rebelled against me” (Ezekiel 2:3; 3:1). And Jeremiah was instructed to “go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak” (Jeremiah 1:7).

Commission Narratives in the Pseudepigrapha

As recounted in 1 Enoch, the Lord declared: “Do not fear, Enoch, righteous man, scribe of righteousness; come near to me and hear my voice. And tell the Watchers of heaven on whose behalf you have been sent to intercede …” (15:1–2).5 In 2 Enoch it is recorded that “God commanded Enoch to live on the earth for 30 days, to impart knowledge to his sons and to his children’s children. After 30 days he was taken up to heaven once more” (36:1J).6

Levi is told by the Lord in the Testament of Levi: “Counsel and understanding have been given to you so that you might give understanding to your sons concerning this” (4:5).7 In 4 Ezra, the Lord commands Ezra to “lay up in your heart the signs that I have shown you, the dreams that you have seen, and the interpretations that you have heard” (14:7–8). He was also commanded to “set your house in order, and reprove your people” (14:13, cf. 14:20).8

The early chapters of the Apocalypse of Abraham tell of Abraham’s inability to persuade his father, Terah, to cease his worship of false idols. Afterward, the voice of the Lord came to Abraham saying, “Go out from Terah, your father, and go out of the house, that you too may not be slain in the sins of your father’s house” (8:4). Abraham’s father was then destroyed by fire from heaven. Shortly thereafter, Abraham was told to “make a pure sacrifice” and that afterward the Lord would “announce to you guarded things and you will see great things which you have not seen” (9:5–6).9

A young Abraham destroys his father Terah’s idols, by Jacob Ernst Marcus, 1819. Rijksmuseum.Image and caption via thetorah.com.

This series of divine instruction given to Abraham is noteworthy because Lehi similarly (1) failed to persuade his people to repent, (2) was commanded to depart from them for his own safety, (3) promptly made an animal sacrifice, and (4) was given further revelations from the Lord (such as the vision of the Tree of Life).


Although Lehi’s commission itself is not directly recorded in Nephi’s account, it is still discernable in the surrounding narrative. In fact, the way Nephi’s editorial comments interfere with the form and structure of his father’s account may provide evidence that 1 Nephi 1 is a genuinely redacted historical document.  As for the commission itself, Lehi’s instruction to preach the contents of his vision parallels prophetic call narratives found in both biblical and extrabiblical texts. In some cases, as in the Apocalypse of Abraham, the similarities involve more than one divine instruction.

Stephen O. Smoot, “The Divine Council in the Hebrew Bible and the Book of Mormon,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 27 (2017): 155–180.

John W. Welch, “The Calling of Lehi as a Prophet in the World of Jerusalem,” in Glimpses of Lehi’s Jerusalem, ed. John W. Welch, David Rolph Seely, and Jo Ann H. Seely (Provo: FARMS, 2004), 421–448.

Blake T. Ostler, “The Throne-Theophany and Prophetic Commission in 1 Nephi: A Form Critical Analysis,” BYU Studies Quarterly 26, no. 4 (1986): 67–95.

BibleExodus 3:101 Samuel 3:1–141 Kings 19:1–18Isaiah 1:4–8Isaiah 2:1Isaiah 6:9Ezekiel 1:1–26Ezekiel 2:3–5Ezekiel 3:1Jeremiah 1:7Book of Mormon1 Nephi 1:161 Nephi 1:181 Nephi 2:1


Exodus 3:10

1 Samuel 3:1–14

1 Kings 19:1–18

Isaiah 1:4–8

Isaiah 2:1

Isaiah 6:9

Ezekiel 1:1–26

Ezekiel 2:3–5

Ezekiel 3:1

Jeremiah 1:7

Book of Mormon

1 Nephi 1:16

1 Nephi 1:18

1 Nephi 2:1

Literary Features
Lehi's Calling
Lehi's Calling (Commission)
Book of Mormon

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