Marcum argues that the vision of the tree of life employs the imagery of siege warfare, with Satan besieging the people of God with fiery darts of scorn and carrying away blinded captives with an iron yoke. Christ, in contrast, extends an iron rod to help us hold on to his word, allowing us to find safety in the kingdom of God.
In this article, Jared Marcum explores the vision of the tree of life through the lens of siege warfare—a horrific circumstance that both Nephi and Lehi could have been familiar with. Perhaps wanting to communicate the urgency of Laman and Lemuel’s spiritual situation, or because the vision itself in part resembled an ancient siege, Nephi emphasizes a series of images connected to Satan’s attempt to besiege and capture followers of Christ. These include:
- The adversary’s fiery darts, or fire arrows that were used to terrify and burn out those under siege.
- The “terrible gulf” separating the righteous from the wicked, comparable to a moat.
- The great and spacious building, which for Marcum may have represented a siege tower.
- The mists of darkness, which may represent Satan’s effort to cut off access to the Tree of Life and blind would-be followers.
Marcum places particular emphasis on the imagery of fiery arrows, with a potential underlying Hebrew word (zîqôṯ) meaning both firebrands/arrows and fetters/chains. This is a fitting dual meaning, as the adversary fires these arrows, connected to the scoff and scorn of those in the great and spacious building, with the intent to lead them away captive using yokes of iron, a common ancient method for leading captives out of conquered cities. These iron rod-based yokes could stand in contrast to Christ’s rod of iron, which Marcum frames as a scepter being held out rather than a rod extending along the trail. By holding on to that scepter, we become part of the tribe or family of Christ, with an obligation not just to follow his word but to speak it.
As Marcum concludes:
“In a time where Satan’s siege of the Tree of Life is resulting in so many casualties, holding fast to Christ’s word, particularly the Book of Mormon, is more important than ever. Unlike Satan, Christ’s word is offered freely, without compulsion. Christ honors our agency to choose between eternal life and everlasting captivity.”
It has often struck me just how inspired the vision of the Tree of Life is, in that it perfectly captures what it feels like to live one’s religion in a hostile secular world. From the feeling of confusion and blindness that comes from trying to sort out competing moral paradigms, to having so many seemingly successful people heap scorn on our way of life, to watching friends and family leave both tree and rod to feel their way slowly toward the great and spacious building, to, in the midst of all this, doing one’s best to hesitatingly grasp at the iron rod—I can’t imagine any other allegory that could better describe these experiences.
The metaphor of siege warfare, in that context, is an apt layer to add to this familiar series of images. To be a modern member of the Church, particularly one that engages in secular culture to any extent, is to feel under siege. Hardly a day goes by where the world doesn’t seem to be doing its level best to choke belief off at the root. Thankfully the vision gives us a solution, and though following it isn’t always easy, it’s almost always clear. We know where the rod is. We know who’s offering it to us. And no matter where we’re at, the choice to reach for it is always available to us. Marcum’s work is a more-than-useful reminder of the power of these images, and the power of the one who inspired them.