Notice that Nephi saw this vision before he even left the Old World. He knew what his future home--the land of promise--looked like before he even built the boat. He saw the waters that "divided the Gentiles from the seed of [his] brethren." (1 Nephi 13:10) These were the waters he would cross with his family, which tells us two things that we can analogize to our lives.
First, he knew in advance that he would have trials and tribulations. Crossing such a vast sea was beyond his realm of experience (and probably the experience of anyone he had met). It would be a tremendous challenge.
[Note: in next week's lesson we'll look at what sea Nephi crossed. Was it the Pacific or the Atlantic?]
Second, because of the vision, Nephi knew he would survive the challenge and prosper in the promised land, even if his descendants would fall into wickedness.
I like to think of Nephi's vision as a sort of Patriarchal blessing. The vision was a roadmap of his future, just as our patriarchal blessings assure us of eventual victory despite the challenges we will face.
The lesson manual includes this statement: "The discovery of the Americas by Christopher Columbus." I realize that there has been a long tradition in the Church that 1 Nephi 13:12 refers to Columbus, but the text does not mention his name. Here's what it says:
12 And I looked and beheld a man among the Gentiles, who was separated from the seed of my brethren by the many waters; and I beheld the Spirit of God, that it came down and wrought upon the man; and he went forth upon the many waters, even unto the seed of my brethren, who were in the promised land.
13 And it came to pass that I beheld the Spirit of God, that it wrought upon other Gentiles; and they went forth out of captivity, upon the many waters.
14 And it came to pass that I beheld many multitudes of the Gentiles upon the land of promise; and I beheld the wrath of God, that it was upon the seed of my brethren; and they were scattered before the Gentiles and were smitten.
Nephi's vision doesn't say the man he beheld in verse 12 was the first to discover the promised land. This man among the Gentiles is identified because (i) the Spirit of God wrought upon him and (ii) he went to the "seed of my brethren." [Note: If the man was the first to cross "the many waters," then it would have been Leif Ericson and the Vikings, not Columbus (although there could have been any number of other crossings prior to Columbus.)]
If Nephi was not referring to the first European to "discover" the New World, he could have been referring to any of the many migrants. If he was referring to the first European who stayed and "smote" the indigenous people, he still may not have been referring to Columbus. There is some evidence that the English reached North America before Columbus. John Cabot was the first European since the Vikings to land on North America. His second voyage, in 1497, brought him to Newfoundland. Cabot was financed by an Italian bank with an office in London that paid him to undertake expeditions to "find the new land." Some scholars think this means Cabot was sent to land that had already been discovered.
The final question this week is, where and what is the promised land? This is a critical question because of all the promises and covenants associated with the promised land. What do you think? Is the promised land the United States? Mexico? "Guatemala?"