Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Clouds of Darkness and Circles of Fire

When Nephi and Lehi (the brothers) were preaching in the land of Nephi, they were thrown into prison by an army of Lamanites, and kept without food. After many days, the Lamanites went to the prison to kill them. Much to their astonishment, "Nephi and Lehi were encircled about as if by fire, even insomuch that they durst not lay their hands upon them for fear lest they should be burned. Nevertheless, Nephi and Lehi were not burned; and they were as standing in the midst of fire and were not burned" (Helaman 5:23). Unwilling to touch the missionaries that had been divinely protected, the Lamanites didn't know what to do.

As Lehi and Nephi spoke to them, "the earth shook exceedingly, and the walls of the prison did shake as if they were about to tumble to the earth; but behold, they did not fall....And it came to pass that they were overshadowed with a cloud of darkness, and an awful solemn fear came upon them. And it came to pass that there came a voice as if it were above the cloud of darkness, saying: Repent ye, repent ye, and seek no more to destroy my servants whom I have sent unto you to declare good tidings...And it came to pass that the earth shook again, and the walls trembled. And it came to pass that the Lamanites could not flee because of the cloud of darkness which did overshadow them; yea, and also they were immovable because of the fear which did come upon them. Now there was one among them who was a Nephite by birth, who had once belonged to the church of God but had dissented from them. And it came to pass that he turned him about, and behold, he saw through the cloud of darkness the faces of Nephi and Lehi; and behold, they did shine exceedingly, even as the faces of angels. And he beheld that they did lift their eyes to heaven; and they were in the attitude as if talking or lifting their voices to some being whom they beheld"

Aminadab, a dissenter from the Nephites, told the Lamanite mob that Lehi and Nephi were conversing with the angels of God. The Lamanites asked him, "What shall we do, that this cloud of darkness may be removed from overshadowing us? And Aminadab said unto them: You must repent, and cry unto the voice, even until ye shall have faith in Christ, who was taught unto you by Alma, and Amulek, and Zeezrom; and when ye shall do this, the cloud of darkness shall be removed from overshadowing you"

The men began to pray in earnest, "yea, they did cry even until the cloud of darkness was dispersed. And it came to pass that when they cast their eyes about, and saw that the cloud of darkness was dispersed from overshadowing them, behold, they saw that they were encircled about, yea every soul, by a pillar of fire... yea, they were encircled about; yea, they were as if in the midst of a flaming fire, yet it 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"

As I was reading this story recently, I realized something that had never occurred to me before. The fire that encircled the people had been there throughout the whole story. When the walls shook, the fire was there. When the army prayed to the voice they heard, the fire was there. The fire didn't appear when the cloud of darkness lifted--the fire had always been encircling the people, unseen, hidden by the cloud, but still there. But it was only when the darkness had lifted that the people "saw that they were encircled about" by the fire, and the sight of God's power surrounding them filled them with "that joy which is unspeakable and full of glory."

"And behold, the Holy Spirit of God did come down from heaven, and did enter into their hearts, and they were filled as if with fire, and they could speak forth marvelous words. And it came to pass that there came a voice unto them, yea, a pleasant voice, as if it were a whisper, saying: Peace, peace be unto you, because of your faith in my Well Beloved, who was from the foundation of the world. And now, when they heard this they cast up their eyes as if to behold from whence the voice came; and behold, they saw the heavens open; and angels came down out of heaven and ministered unto them...and they were bidden to go forth and marvel not, neither should they doubt" (v. 27-49).

It is comforting to me to realize that even in our darkest moments, we are surrounded by the fire of God's protection and His glorious love. Even when everything is black, even when the walls that hold up our dwellings shake, even when our hearts are filled with awful fear, when the darkness that clouds our lives seems impenetrable, we can have confidence that God's protective power surrounds us. And when we rend the veil of our unbelief, when we exercise faith in Christ, we can see the glory of God, and be given His whispered peace, His angelic ministrations, and His infinite love.

Picture from


  1. I was thinking of this post this week, and re-read the account in Helaman 5. As I did so, something stood out to me which I had never noticed before.

    When Aminadab directs the Lamanites to "repent, and cry unto the voice, even until ye shall have faith in Christ, who was taught unto you by Alma, and Amulek, and Zeezrom," forty-four years have passed since the only mission where these three men taught people who would become Lamanites, the mission to the Zoramites.

    Which tells us that these Lamanites are probably descended from Zoramite dissenters. But the amazing thing is that their families have apparently passed down the story of Alma's preaching through two generations. These men, and Aminadab, know what Alma, Amulek and Zeezrom preached even though they were quite possibly born after Alma, Amulek and Zeezrom died.

    I think this is a powerful message of the influence the Gospel can have on a family, even a family which rejects it, generations down the line.

  2. That's a great point. Wow, I never thought of that! I'll have to go back and read those chapters again.