And it came to pass, as he prayed unto the Lord, there came a pillar of fire and dwelt upon a rock before him; and he saw and heard much; and because of the things which he saw and heard he did quake and tremble exceedingly (1 Nephi 1:6).
When Israel traveled in the wilderness the Lord manifested his glory as a pillar of fire by night and a cloud by day (Exodus 13:21-22). After the wilderness tabernacle was dedicated this same cloud of glory filled it (40: 34-35). This glory was present, accompanied, and led the people of Israel in all their wanderings (40:36-37) “For the cloud of the Lord was upon the tabernacle by day, and fire was on it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel, throughout all their journeys” (Exodus 40:34-38). On the day Solomon dedicated the temple at Jerusalem the cloud of the Lord’s glory again filled the temple (1 Kings 8:10-11) and was thereafter thought to abide there. Lehi’s contemporary Ezekiel would see in vision how the Lord’s glory which dwelt at the Jerusalem temple would depart from that house and the city because of the wickedness and abominations of the people, shortly before its destruction (Ezekiel 10:4, 18).
The pillar of fire was manifest by night during the Exodus suggesting that Lehi experienced his first vision in the night as well. Bill Hamblin in his thoughtful notes on 1 Nephi has suggested that this may have happened as he prayed in the temple and that this was a temple theophany. What I find interesting, however, is that Lehi encounters the pillar of fire, “as he went forth” (1 Nephi 1:5) and after this experience “he returned to his own house at Jerusalem” (1:7). That may indicate that Lehi's vision occurs somewhere outside Jerusalem to which he later returns. If so, the implications would be significant: The Lord’s glory, signified by the pillar of fire, had or would shortly depart leaving the unrepentant of the city and their temple to destruction.