Nephi’s Vision as Tragedy
After viewing the vision of the Tree of Life, as Nephi calls it, the angel shows him a vision that seems to reach far beyond his initial petition. Nephi reports that he sees multitudes of people, but it is the angel who divides up the masses into two distinction categories: “thy seed” and “the seed of thy brethren.” (1 Ne. 12:1). After Nephi sees the fourth generation pass away, the angel once again invokes this distinction: “Behold thy seed and also the seed of thy brethren.” Nephi sees both groups engaged in warfare. (1Ne 12:14-15). Nephi sees that the seed of his brethren “overpowered” his seed. At this point, Nephi’s seed disappears from world history.
Nephi’s reaction to this one scene is absent from the record.
In the next stage of history, the angel discusses the “seed of thy brethren” (1 Ne 13:10, 11, 12, 14) in relation to the Gentiles. Then later the angel lets Nephi know there is a “mixture of thy seed among thy brethren.” (1 Ne 13:30). Did this give Nephi hope? A “mixture” of his seed might still remain? The vision flashes back to the visitation of Christ to his people. But then the Lord tells tell Nephi that his “seed shall be destroyed and dwindle in unbelief.” (1 Ne 13:35). First a glimmer of hope, but then confirmed revelation. The angel continues with the vision, and now Nephi sees only “a remnant of the seed of my brethren.” (1 Ne. 13:38). The vision that began with Nephi rejoicing in God’s love ends on a somber note. It’s at this juncture that Nephi writes:
“And now I, Nephi, was grieved because of the hardness of their hearts, and also, because of the things which I had seen, and knew they must unavoidably come to pass, because of the great wickedness of the children of men. And it came to pass that I was overcome because of my afflictions, for I considered that mine afflictions were great above all, because of the destructions of my people; for I had beheld their fall.” (1 Ne. 15:5).
Nephi grieves for the destruction of his people, not necessarily for the seed of his brethren. Yet, it’s “his brethren” that do not understand the revelations of God. Does not Nephi wonder why his seed are doomed while the seed of his rebellious brothers lives on and will live on throughout human history? Does this trouble Nephi?
When Nephi answers his brothers questions about Lehi’s vision, Nephi refers to both his seed and the seed of Laman and Lemuel as “our seed” (1 Ne. 15:13, 14, 18). But Nephi never shares with his brothers that unbearable part of his vision that their seed will overpower and destroy his seed. He keeps this revelation to himself.
Yet, the vision does speak of Nephi having seed, which is a blessing, and he marries soon after. (1 Ne. 16: 7). The journey to the promised land is peppered with references to wives, sons, daughters, and children. Lehi has two sons while in the wilderness. (1 Ne. 18:7). Lehi tells his family that if they keep the commandments they will be blessed. (2 Ne. 1:9, 20). When he gives his sons his final blessing, he speaks of seed and posterity. Lehi blesses his son Joseph “thy seed shall not be utterly destroyed.” Did this cause Nephi to remember that his seed is destroyed? Maybe Lehi would also give Nephi the same blessing? Maybe there is still a way to prevent what had already been decreed. But there is no blessing mentioned for Nephi. Nephi omits his father’s blessing from the record. Whether he had a blessing, or not, we do not know.  The record notes that Lehi spoke to “the children of Laman, his sons and daughters” (2 Ne. 4:3) and to “the sons and daughters of Lemuel.” (2 Ne. 4:8). Where are references to Nephi’s sons? Later, after Nephi’s death, we are told that before he passes, Nephi “anointed a man to be king and ruler over his people.” (Jacob 1:9). Why not his son? What happened? 
Lehi passes away soon after leaving his final blessing. With his father’s death, blessings about posterity given to his bothers, and this vision that he could not escape, Nephi writes:
“O then, if I have seen so great things; if the Lord in his condescension unto the children of men, hath visited men in so much mercy, why should my heart weep, and my soul linger in the valley of sorrow, and my flesh waste away, and my strength slacken, because of mine afflictions? And why should I yield to sin, because of my flesh? Yea, why should I give way to temptations, that the evil one have place in my heart, to destroy my peace and afflict my soul? Why am I angry because of mine enemy?” (2 Ne. 4:26-27).
When Nephi finally leaves his brothers and establishes his own people, did the undeniable visions of their destruction continually haunt him?
God told Nephi that “cursed shall be the seed of him that mixeth with their seed, for they are cursed with the same cursing.” What did Nephi make of this, especially since his people would ultimately be destroyed? Perhaps Nephi wanted a mixture of his seed to remain. At this point God tells Nephi “And inasmuch as they will not remember me and hearken unto my words, they shall scourge them until destruction.” (2 Ne. 5:25). But Nephi already saw this happen in a vision. The conditional language is rendered moot by the vision Nephi knew must come to pass. Nephi reports “And it sufficeth me to say, that forty years had passed away, and we had already had wars and contentions with our brethren.” (2 Ne. 5:34). Things were unfolding exactly as he had seen in his vision, and he was powerless to prevent it.
When preaching unto his people, Nephi tells them:
For behold, I say unto you, that I have beheld that many generations shall pass away, and there shall be great wars and contentions among my people. . . . O the pain, and the anguish of my soul for the loss of the slain of my people! For I, Nephi, hath seen it, and it well nigh consumeth me before the presence of the Lord; but I must cry unto my God, thy ways are just! . . . And when these things shall have passed away, a speedy destruction cometh unto my people; for, notwithstanding the pains of my soul, I have seen it; wherefore, I know that it shall come to pass . . . then cometh speedy destruction; and this grieveth my soul.” (2 Ne. 26:7-11).
The pain that Nephi has carried all these years since that fateful day he was caught up to that “exceedingly high mountain” returned (1 Ne. 11:1). His language reveals his pain, his anguish of soul. He keeps repeating “I have seen it,” “I have seen it, wherefore I know that it shall come to pass.” (2 Ne. 26: 7, 10). This is not the language of a man who believes it’s possible to abrogate the vision of the Lord.
There is a bitter sadness that the “promised land” rings hollow for Nephi. He kept the commandments, and statutes of the Lord, but at the end of his life, there is no evidence of sons to carry on his tradition. While his vision included unprecedented views of the Messiah, it also included visions of fratricidal carnage and destruction that he carried with him to the end of his life. He dies with the knowledge that ultimately “his people,” the ones he weeps over, will be overcome and destroyed by the seed of his brethren, the seed of Laman and Lemuel who never sought the Lord as did Nephi, or cared anything about his revelation, but who were nevertheless blessed with sons and daughters, with the Lord promising that he would not utterly destroy their seed. Nephi knows his seed will be destroyed, but “the words of your seed . . . shall hiss forth unto the ends of the earth.” (2 Ne. 29:2). All Nephi’s hopes are placed in “what I have written.” What Nephi can do is leave behind a record.
1. Grant Hardy, Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Guide. (Oxford University Press, 2010): 50-51. “The details of Nephi’s fatherhood may not just have been irrelevant to his main themes; they may have been too painful to relate. Given his cultural background, it would have been impossible for Nephi not to have viewed the absence or loss of sons as a chastisement from God.”
2. Understanding the Book of Mormon, 48-49.