Evidence #325 | March 29, 2022

Lehi’s Calling (Confrontation)

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Lehi’s encounter with a “pillar of fire” is consistent with the prophetic call narrative found in biblical and pseudepigraphic texts, in which prophets are confronted with similar manifestations of God’s glory.

In Nephi’s summary of his father’s record, Lehi is introduced to a council of divine beings and receives a prophetic commission (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 important feature in this pattern is known as the “divine confrontation,” in which the prophet encounters a supernatural manifestation of God’s presence (Hebrew: shekinah), usually some type of fire that represents the enlightening glory of the Lord or his angelic messengers.2

Lehi sees a pillar of fire. Image via churchofjesuschrist.org. 

In Lehi’s case, as he was praying unto the Lord on behalf of his people, “there came a pillar of fire and dwelt upon a rock before him; and he saw and heard much” (1 Nephi 1:6). Note that the reader isn’t told what Lehi beheld in this vision.3 Instead, we are only given the visible aspect of the divine manifestation—“a pillar of fire”—with an indication that it involved some type of auditory and visual revelation.4

Divine Confrontation in Biblical Texts

Centuries before Lehi’s day, “the angel of the Lord appeared unto [Moses] in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush” (Exodus 3:2). God’s fiery presence then continued to attend Moses throughout the fulfillment of his commission. For instance, as the Israelites fled from Egypt, the Lord led them “by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light” (Exodus 13:21). Later on, the Lord told Moses, “I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb” (Exodus 17:6), analogous to the fire that “dwelt upon a rock” in Lehi’s vision.

Attribution unknown. 

Much closer to Lehi’s time, the prophet Isaiah, as part of his prophetic call, encountered “seraphims” (Isaiah 6:2). These creatures were conceived of as fiery, serpent-like, angelic beings.5 One of the seraphim then laid a hot coal on Isaiah’s lips, reinforcing the motif of fire or burning (v. 7).

In Ezekiel’s prophetic call, “a whirlwind came out of the north, a great cloud, and a fire infolding itself, and a brightness” (Ezekiel 1:4). Ezekiel also saw a man on a throne, which included “the appearance of fire, and it had brightness round about” which Ezekiel explained was “the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord” (vv. 26–28).

Divine Confrontation in Pseudepigraphic Texts

Similar accounts can be found throughout the pseudepigrapha.6 In Enoch’s prophetic call in 1 Enoch, he beheld structures surrounded by “tongues of fire,” as well as a throne which was “issuing streams of flaming fire” from its base. In addition, a being described as the “Glorious One” was sitting upon the throne with “flaming fire … round about him, and a great fire stood before him” (14:10–22).7

In 2 Enoch, Enoch beheld two angelic beings whose “faces were like the shining sun; their eyes were like burning lamps; from their mouths fire was coming forth” (1:2).8 Enoch later declared, “the lips of the Lord are a furnace of fire, and his angels are the flames which come out. … I am one who has seen the face of the Lord, like iron made burning hot by a fire” (39:5; cf. Isaiah 6:7).9

In 3 Enoch, Rabbi Ishmael was escorted to a realm of heaven by an angel named Metatron (also known as Enoch). Ishmael reported: “Then I entered the seventh palace and he led me to the camp of the Sekinah and presented me before the throne of glory,” where Ishmael was confronted by “fiery seraphim.” He was “stunned by the radiant appearance of their eyes and the bright vision of their faces” (1:6–8).10

Enoch and His People Are Taken Up to God. Image via churchofjesuschrist.org.

According to the Apocalypse of Abraham, as Abraham sat pondering upon the wickedness of his father Terah, “the voice of the Mighty One came down from the heavens in a stream of fire, saying and calling, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’” (8:1–2).11


More examples could be added. As Blake Ostler concluded, “All of the pseudepigraphic sources note the fiery glory of the mediating angel who has come to initiate the prophet into the heavenly realm.”12 These later pseudepigraphic sources are in agreement with the biblical accounts which portray the same phenomenon. Lehi’s encounter with a pillar of heavenly fire fits well alongside these ancient sources.  

The distinction between Lehi’s encounter with the “pillar of fire” and the vision that followed may also be important. Ostler explains,

It should … be noted that Lehi saw the pillar of fire “as he went forth,” but was carried away in a vision only after he had returned to his house in Jerusalem and lay upon his bed. Though the initial experience is temporally distinct from the experience of the ascension, they are presented as a literary unity. Hence, the concern with presenting Lehi’s experience in a unified literary pattern is evident.13

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.

John W. Welch, “Lehi’s Council Vision and the Mysteries of God,” in Reexploring the Book of Mormon: A Decade of New Research, ed. John W. Welch (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1992), 24–25.

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.

Bible Exodus 3:2Exodus 13:21Exodus 17:6Isaiah 6:2Isaiah 6:7Ezekiel 1:4Ezekiel 1:26–28Book of Mormon1 Nephi 1:6


Exodus 3:2

Exodus 13:21

Exodus 17:6

Isaiah 6:2

Isaiah 6:7

Ezekiel 1:4

Ezekiel 1:26–28

Book of Mormon

1 Nephi 1:6

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

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