1 Nephi 1:7-11 — LeGrand Baker — Lehi’s Sode Experience, the Meaning of Sode

1 Nephi 1:7-11
7 And it came to pass that he returned to his own house at Jerusalem; and he cast himself upon his bed, being overcome with the Spirit and the things which he had seen.
8 And being thus overcome with the Spirit, he was carried away in a vision, even that he saw the heavens open, and he thought he saw God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels in the attitude of singing and praising their God.
9 And it came to pass that he saw One descending out of the midst of heaven, and he beheld that his luster was above that of the sun at noon-day.
10 And he also saw twelve others following him, and their brightness did exceed that of the stars in the firmament.
11 And they came down and went forth upon the face of the earth; and the first came and stood before my father, and gave unto him a book, and bade him that he should read.

With those words ,Nephi firmly established that his father was a true prophet, and he did so with a legalistic precision that the Jews and Christians would have recognized as legitimate even as late as New Testament times. The Bible clearly establishes the criterion for a true prophet, and Nephi emphatically states that he and his father met that standard.

The definition of that standard is expressed in Amos’s testimony: “Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7). The key word there is secret. It is translated from the Hebrew sode, which means the decisions of a divine council.{1}

Many Old Testament scholars agree that the council Amos referred to was the Council in Heaven, and that in similar contexts throughout the Old Testament, sode refers to the decisions made by that premortal Council of the gods. The most detailed study of the meaning of sode in the Old Testament and of its equivalent, mysterion in the New Testament (translated “mystery”), is by Raymond Brown. He writes:

We may begin with the Hebrew word “sod”. … the word has a wide semantic area: confidential talk, a circle of people in council, secrets….When we approach the early biblical uses of “sod” with the idea of “council” or “assembly” in mind, we find that this meaning particularly fits the passages dealing with the heavenly “sod” in biblical references to the heavenly council of God and his angels….Amos (3:7) announces almost as a proverb that God will surely not do anything until he has revealed his ‘sod’ to his servants the prophets.{2}

What Amos says is that the Lord will not do anything until after the prophet has returned, in vision, to the premortal Council in Heaven. During that vision, he will be shown the deliberations of the Council and the covenants and assignments he made and accepted in conjunction with those decisions—as they related to that prophet’s time and place on the earth. In other words, a true prophet is one who does and says on earth what he covenanted he would do and say while he was at the Council.

The Savior called attention to this principle in the Beatitudes when he said, “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.” He was quoting Psalm 37 and paraphrasing Psalm 25. Both psalms define the meek as those who keep their eternal covenants. Psalm 37 is not so explicit, but it equates “ those who wait on the Lord” with those who are “meek,” promising that they “shall inherit the earth”(Psalm 37:8-11).

However, Psalm 25 is very explicit. It defines the meek as those whom God will “teach his way,” who “keep his covenant,” whom God will “teach in the way that he [God] shall choose,” because “the secret [sode] of the Lord is with them that fear him; and he will shew them his covenant.” The psalm reminds the meek that the Lord will bless them according to the covenants he made with them at the Council and that those blessings will reach into the eternities: “His soul shall dwell at ease; and his seed shall inherit the earth.”{3}

Joseph Smith gave us a key to understanding the importance of a sode experience,{4} and of the Council in Heaven when he wrote that the Council took place in Kolob. In February 1843, at the request of W.W. Phelps, the Prophet re-wrote the vision in poetic form. It was published in the Times and Seasons, February 1, 1843, and republished in the Millennial Star the following August. In the poem, Joseph equates the Doctrine and Covenants phrase “of old” with the time and place of the Council “in Kolob.” In the preceding quote, Nephi seems to be using that phrase the same way. The poem reads:

For thus saith the Lord, in the spirit of truth,
I am merciful, gracious, and good unto those
That fear me, and live for the life that’s to come:
My delight is to honour the Saints with repose,

That serve me in righteousness true to the end;
Eternal’s their glory and great their reward.
I’ll surely reveal all my myst’ries to them —
The great hidden myst’ries in my kingdom stor’d;

From the council in Kolob, to time on the earth,
And for ages to come unto them I will show
My pleasure and will, what the kingdom will do
Eternity’s wonders they truly shall know.{5}

Notwithstanding the initial importance of the activities of the Council in Kolob, throughout the Bible and the Book of Mormon the most significant role of the members of the Council was not so much what they did in their premortal lives but what they did on the earth after they returned to the Council and re-affirmed their covenants regarding the responsibilities they had on this earth. The scriptures teach us that the significance of the premortal covenants each of us made before we came to this earth is as relevant to our present earthly responsibilities—and to our ultimate salvation—as the covenants God made with the prophets at the Council are relevant to their earthly responsibilities and ultimate salvation.

Paul carefully explains that in his letter to the Ephesians. He uses most of chapter one to discuss the covenants made at the Council. Then, in the rest of the letter, he teaches what one must do to fulfil those covenants. Implicit in that and in other scriptures is the principle that the covenants we make in this world are reaffirmations of the covenants we made before we came here. In short, the experience we have in remaking those covenants and ordinances is a kind of this-world representation of a sode experience, and carries with it much of the same responsibility.

Jeremiah established the standard in the Old Testament for knowing the difference between a true prophet and a false one (Jeremiah 23:18-22).{6} There, the Lord condemns false prophets for presuming to speak for God without authority from him. A true prophet is one is one who has the authority to speak on behalf of God.

Nephi was very aware of that standard; therefore, he clearly identified both his own and his father’s prophetic authority in those terms.

In his discussion of the meaning of the Hebrew word sode and the Greek word mysterion in the Old and New Testaments,{7} Brown shows that both words have essentially the same meaning. That is, they both refer to the decisions made at the Heavenly Council.

The Book of Mormon uses biblical words the same way the Bible does. So when Nephi writes in the very first verse that he has “a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God,” he is declaring that he has had a sode experience (which he will later describe to us in much detail) and that therefore he has met the qualifications of being a true prophet.

Almost immediately after that, Nephi identifies his father as being a true prophet by showing that Lehi was transported to heaven where he heard the angels singing (members of the Council), he saw God sitting upon his throne, and he received his assignment by reading it in the heavenly book that was given him by Jehovah.

In terms of the ancient Israelite religion, if the Book of Mormon is to be understood as scripture that was written by true prophets of God, then it must begin at the Council in Heaven with a sode experience—which is precisely what it does.

The ancient Israelite temple drama was a generic enactment of the sode, because in it each person in the audience remade the covenants they had once made at the Council. But even though it was generic, it was very personal. It was about each person’s relationship with God. Even though the room might have been full of people, the Spirit taught each one individually about its personal meaning to that person.

When the Spirit teaches us about who we are or about what we should be doing just then, he is opening a window for us. So, even though few of us actually see the vision, we are each taught as much about the sode as we need to know to enable us to keep our covenants, without imposing so much upon us that it impedes our agency.

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FOOTNOTES

{1} Sode is pronounced with a long “O” as in “over.” Some scholars spell it in all caps: SOD. Other scholars spell it differently. It is spelled “sode” in the dictionary at the back of James Strong, ed., The Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, #5475.

{2} Raymond E. Brown, The Semitic Background of the Term “Mystery” in the New Testament (Fortress Press, Philadelphia, 1968), 2-6.

{3} That last phrase is one of many places in the scriptures that quietly teach the doctrines of eternal marriage and eternal increase. The Savior called attention to those doctrines at least twice in the Beatitudes: First, where he paraphrases Isaiah 61 (“Blessed are they that mourn from they shall be comforted” in which the new name and the final two verses contain those same eternal promises. Then again when the Savior called attention to the promises in Psalms 25 and 37 (“Blessed are the meek”).
The meaning of “inherit the earth” is clarified in D&C 88:17-20:

17 And the redemption of the soul is through him that quickeneth all things, in whose bosom it is decreed that the poor and the meek of the earth shall inherit it.
18 Therefore, it must needs be sanctified from all unrighteousness, that it may be prepared for the celestial glory;
19 For after it hath filled the measure of its creation, it shall be crowned with glory, even with the presence of God the Father;
20 That bodies who are of the celestial kingdom may possess it forever and ever; for, for this intent was it made and created, and for this intent are they sanctified.

{4} For a discussion of sode see Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, First edition, p. 195-208; Second edition, p. 139-148.

{5} “A Vision,” by the Prophet Joseph Smith. In February 1843, at the request of W.W. Phelps, the Prophet rewrote the vision, which is now the 76th section of the Doctrine and Covenants, in poetry form. It was published in the Times and Seasons, February 1, 1843, and republished in the Millennial Star, August, 1843.

{6} In these verses the word sode is translated as “counsel” rather than as “council” or “secret.”

{7} Raymond E. Brown, The Semitic Background of the Term “Mystery” in the New Testament (Fortress Press, Philadelphia, 1968).

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