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How Does the Parable of the Sower Help Us Understand Lehi’s Vision of the Tree of Life?
Luke 8:5, 8; cf. Matthew 13:3, 8; Mark 4:4, 8
One of the first parables delivered by Jesus is often called the parable of the sower. In all the Gospel accounts that record this parable, Jesus delivered it to a large multitude who came earnestly seeking to know the truths Jesus taught.
According to this parable, “a sower went out to sow his seed,” which then fell on four types of soil. These included (1) the wayside, where the seed was trampled or eaten by birds; (2) rocks unsuitable for growth; (3) soil with thorns already growing; and (4) good soil that allowed the seeds to grow and bear fruit.1
According to John and Jeannie Welch, this parable may have been drawn out by a question about the nature of Jesus’s teachings. Those listening to the Lord may have wondered, “Why will the results [of Jesus’s preaching] indubitably vary so widely?”2 The message each individual heard constituted the same words, or “seeds” in the context of the parable. The only variable that could stimulate or hinder the seed’s growth would prove to be how it was individually accepted.
Similarly, the Book of Mormon contains a vision relating four distinct groups of people who accept or reject the gospel. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland has noted how “the same four types of people” mentioned in Christ’s parable coincide with the groups described in Lehi’s dream of the Tree of Life.3
The first group in Christ’s parable are the seeds that “fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up” (Matthew 13:4), representing those who are least receptive to the gospel. This group corresponds to those who filled the great and spacious building in Lehi’s dream.4 Lehi described them as being “in the attitude of mocking and pointing their fingers towards those who had come at and were partaking of the fruit” (1 Nephi 8:27). Others who blindly sought to join them were drowned or lost in strange paths (see 1 Nephi 8:31–34).
The second group of people in Christ’s parable are represented by seeds that “fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth: and when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away” (Matthew 13:5–6). Jesus identifies this group as those who leave the gospel when “tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word” that causes them offense (Matthew 13:21). Similarly, Lehi saw a group of people who initially accepted and began to follow the gospel path to eternal life but ultimately were blinded by the mist of darkness so that they “wandered off and were lost” (1 Nephi 8:23).5
The third group consists of those seeds that “fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them” (Matthew 13:7). These thorns “choked off the ongoing possibility of Christ-centered living that had actually taken root.”6 In Lehi’s vision, this group made it to the Tree of Life by “clinging to the rod of iron,” but “after they had partaken of the fruit of the tree they did cast their eyes about as if they were ashamed” (1 Nephi 8:24–25). Sadly, they listened to those in the great and spacious building, and “the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches” caused them to wander into forbidden paths (Matthew 13:22; cf. 1 Nephi 8:28).
Finally, and most blessed of all, is the fourth group of seeds that “fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit” (Matthew 13:8). Interestingly, both Mark and Luke describe the good soil in terms of holding on to the gospel or word of God, which parallels the symbolism of the iron rod in Lehi’s dream.7 In Mark 4:20, these individuals must “accept” the word, but this could alternatively be rendered as “receive with approval … literally to be given the right hand.”8
Likewise, in Luke 4:18 this group is described as those who “keep” the word or “hold it tight.”9 This again corresponds to Lehi’s dream, in which some people “did press their way forward, continually holding fast to the rod of iron, until they came forth and fell down and partook of the fruit of the tree” (1 Nephi 8:30).10 Once they had reached the tree, this group fully acknowledged the love of the Savior by falling down in worship of Him.
The parable of the sower and the vision of the Tree of Life teach similar principles. In each, three groups of people lose their way for various reasons. The sad outcome for these seeds acts as a warning of what behaviors and attitudes we should avoid as well as an explanation of why some people reject God’s truth and goodness. The fourth group—those who plant the gospel in their hearts and nurture it—are those who find ultimate joy and lasting peace in their lives.
As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland has noted, both of these symbolic stories portray Jesus Christ “as the source of eternal life and joy, the living evidence of divine love, and the means whereby God will fulfil his covenant with the house of Israel and indeed the entire family of man, returning them all to their eternal promises.”11
However, for Christ’s cleansing and saving work to take root in the soil of our hearts, we must willingly choose to believe and follow His words. No matter our current progress on the path of discipleship, we can all soften our hearts and repent, preparing a place for the word to grow within us. President Dallin H. Oaks explained:
It is up to each of us to set the priorities and to do the things that make our soil good and our harvest plentiful. We must seek to be firmly rooted and converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ (see Colossians 2:6–7). We achieve this conversion by praying, by scripture reading, by serving, and by regularly partaking of the sacrament to always have His Spirit to be with us. We must also seek that mighty change of heart (see Alma 5:12–14) that replaces evil desires and selfish concerns with the love of God and the desire to serve Him and His children.12
John W. Welch and Jeannie S. Welch, The Parables of Jesus: Revealing the Plan of Salvation (American Fork, UT: Covenant Communications, 2019), 50–59.
Dallin H. Oaks, “The Parable of the Sower,” April 2015 general conference.
John A. Tvedtnes, “A New Testament Parallel to Lehi’s Tree of Life Vision,” in The Most Correct Book: Insights from a Book of Mormon Scholar (Springville, UT: Horizon, 1999), 113–115.
Jeffrey R. Holland, Christ and the New Covenant (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1997), 159–162.
- 1. See Luke 8:4–8; Matthew 13:3–8; Mark 4:4–8.
- 2. John W. Welch and Jeannie S. Welch, The Parables of Jesus: Revealing the Plan of Salvation (American Fork, UT: Covenant Communications, 2019), 51.
- 3. Jeffrey R. Holland, Christ and the New Covenant (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1997), 161–162. For slightly different comparisons between this parable and Lehi’s dream, see John A. Tvedtnes, “A New Testament Parallel to Lehi’s Tree of Life Vision,” in The Most Correct Book: Insights from a Book of Mormon Scholar (Springville, UT: Horizon, 1999), 113–115.
- 4. Holland, Christ and the New Covenant, 161.
- 5. See Holland, Christ and the New Covenant, 161.
- 6. Holland, Christ and the New Covenant, 161.
- 7. See Evidence Central, “Book of Mormon Evidence: Iron Rod as the Word of God,” Evidence #0073, September 19, 2020, online at evidencecentral.org.
- 8. Welch and Welch, Parables of Jesus, 55.
- 9. Welch and Welch, Parables of Jesus, 55.
- 10. See Holland, Christ and the New Covenant, 162.
- 11. Holland, Christ and the New Covenant, 162.
- 12. Dallin H. Oaks, “The Parable of the Sower,” April 2015 general conference.
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