Evidence #329 | April 11, 2022

Lehi’s Calling (Throne Scene)

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Scripture Central

Abstract

Lehi’s vision of God sitting on a heavenly throne captures the essence of heavenly throne scenes found in a variety of ancient texts, including prophetic call patterns in the Bible and pseudepigrapha.

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 common element of this genre is called the throne theophany, which entails a vision of God sitting upon a heavenly throne.

As described by Nephi, his father “saw God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels” (v. 8). Later, when praising the Lord, Lehi commented again upon the Lord’s throne, declaring, “Thy throne is high in the heavens, and thy power, and goodness, and mercy are over all the inhabitants of the earth” (v. 14).

Blake Oster explains,

The presentation of the prophet before the heavenly council was a momentous experience. Such a scene has an extensive ancient Near Eastern background. The vision of God on his throne was more than literary convention, however, for there is every indication that the Hebrew prophets who related their experience of this council felt it was as much a reality as the existence of Yahweh himself.2

Similar scenes—with descriptions of angels surrounding God as he sits upon his throne, as well as the throne being lifted up high in the heavens—can be found in biblical and pseudepigraphic texts.

Biblical Texts

After establishing that the “Lord hath prepared his throne in the heavens,” Psalm 103 exhorts various groups (“his angels,” “his hosts,” “ministers of his,” and “all his works”) to “Bless the Lord” (vv. 19–22). While testifying before King Ahab, Micaiah reported, “I saw the Lord sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing by him on his right hand and on his left” (1 Kings 22:19).

When Isaiah received his prophetic commission, he “saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up” (Isaiah 6:1). In Ezekiel’s prophetic call, he saw four angelic beings, above which “was the likeness of a throne … and upon the likeness of the throne was the likeness as the appearance of a man above upon it” (Ezekiel 1:26). After describing how Jesus was “set down at the right hand of the throne of God,” the book of Hebrews declares, “ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, To the general assembly and church of the firstborn” (Hebrews 12:2, 22–23).

Pseudepigrapha

The Testament of Adam records that “seraphim and cherubim … stand before the majesty of our Lord Jesus the Messiah and serve the throne of his magnificence” (4:8).3

As related in 1 Enoch, Enoch beheld an elaborate building in which the “Glorious One” sat upon “a lofty throne.” None of the “tens of millions” of beings that “surrounded” the throne were allowed to come near it, except the “most holy ones” (14:18–25).4 Another passage describes a divine being “sitting on the throne of his glory surrounded by the angels and the righteous ones” (60:3).5 Yet another states that the “seraphim, cherubim, and ophanim—the sleepless ones who guard the throne of his glory—also encircled it. And I saw countless angels … encircling that house” (71:6).6

The opening lines of 2 Enoch discuss Enoch being taken up into the “highest realm” where he saw the “Lord’s immovable throne” and the “ranks and organization of the bodiless armies” (1:4–6).7 Later the text describes “the Lord … sitting on his exceedingly high throne” surrounded by “heavenly armies.”8 It also mentions “cherubim and seraphim standing all around his throne” (21:1).9

Initiate being escorted by an angel to behold God's glory. 

In 3 Enoch, Rabbi Ishmael is escorted “to the camp of the Sekinah and presented … before the throne of glory.” Ishmael, however, begins to fear and tremble because all the angelic beings who are present are looking at him (1:6–9).10 Metatron (also known as Enoch) states that when he was enthroned, all the angels of heaven—including “all the ministering angels that serve before the throne of glory”—feared him (14:1).11 Another passage says that “the Holy One … sits on the throne of judgment” and that “Glorious seraphim surround the throne on its four sides” (32:1).12 Similar imagery is presented throughout this text.

The Apocalypse of Abraham mentions a “throne of fire and many-eyed ones round about” (18:3).13 According to the Testament of Isaac, Isaac was escorted by his father Abraham into a heavenly realm where he beheld “all the godly ones.” Isaac reports, “they took me by the hand and led me to the curtain before the throne of the Father” (6:1–5).14 Jacob, in the Ladder of Jacob, addressed the Lord as “You who sit firmly on the cherubim and the fiery throne of glory.” He also mentions “the six-winged seraphim” that were “Before the face of your glory” (2:7, 15).15 In the Testament of Levi, Levi records, “the angel opened for me the gates of heaven and I saw the Holy Most High sitting on the throne” (5:1–2).16

The Grand Council, by Robert Barrett.

According to the Ascension of Isaiah, Isaiah was taken up into the “first heaven” where he viewed “a throne in the middle, and on the right and on the left of it there were angels” (7:14–15). A similar scene of thrones and angels is described in the other degrees of heaven that Isaiah beheld.17 The book of 2 Baruch mentions the “countless holy beings … who stand around [God’s] throne” (21:6–7).18 The Questions of Ezra explains that “guardians stand around the throne of the Divinity” (26–30).19

Conclusion

Although brief, Nephi’s description of his father’s vision captures the essence of the heavenly throne scene, as described in both biblical and extrabiblical texts. While this motif is well-attested outside of prophetic call narratives, it is also a typical feature of the call narrative and is therefore an entirely appropriate component of Lehi’s prophetic call.

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.

BiblePsalm 103:19–221 Kings 22:19Isaiah 6:1Ezekiel 1:26Hebrews 12:2, Hebrews 12:22–23Book of Mormon1 Nephi 1:8Alma 36:22

Bible

Psalm 103:19–22

1 Kings 22:19

Isaiah 6:1

Ezekiel 1:26

Hebrews 12:2,

Hebrews 12:22–23

Book of Mormon

1 Nephi 1:8

Alma 36:22

Footnotes
  • 1 See 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; an earlier version was published as “The Calling of a Prophet,” in First Nephi, The Doctrinal Foundation, ed. Monte S. Nyman and Charles D. Tate Jr., Book of Mormon Symposium Series, Volume 2 (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1988), 35–54; Stephen D. Ricks, “Heavenly Visions and Prophetic Calls in Isaiah 6 (2 Nephi 16), the Book of Mormon, and the Revelation of John,” in Isaiah in the Book of Mormon, ed. Donald W. Parry and John W. Welch; (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1998), 171–190;
  • 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.
  • 2 Ostler, “The Throne-Theophany and Prophetic Commission in 1 Nephi,” 78.
  • 3 James H. Charlesworth, ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Volume 1: Apocalyptic Literature and Testaments (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1983), 995.
  • 4 Charlesworth, ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Vol. 1, 21.
  • 5 Charlesworth, ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Vol. 1, 40.
  • 6 Charlesworth, ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Vol. 1, 50.
  • 7 Charlesworth, ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Vol. 1, 102, 104.
  • 8 Charlesworth, ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Vol. 1, 134.
  • 9 Charlesworth, ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Vol. 1, 134.
  • 10 Charlesworth, ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Vol. 1, 134.
  • 11 Charlesworth, ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Vol. 1, 266.
  • 12 Charlesworth, ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Vol. 1, 286.
  • 13 Charlesworth, ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Vol. 1, 698.
  • 14 Charlesworth, ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Vol. 1, 909.
  • 15 James H. Charlesworth, ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Volume 2: Expansions of the “Old Testament” and philosophical Literature, Prayers, Psalms and Odes, Fragments of Lost Judeo-Hellenistic Works (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1985), 408.
  • 16 Charlesworth, ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Vol. 1, 789.
  • 17 Charlesworth, ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Vol. 2, 166.
  • 18 Charlesworth, ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Vol. 1, 628. In the same text, see also 48:10 (p. 636): Innumerable hosts stand before you, and serve peacefully your sign according to their positions.
  • 19 Charlesworth, ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Vol. 1, 598.
Literary Features
Lehi's Calling
Lehi's Calling (Throne Scene)
Book of Mormon

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