Thursday, March 26, 2020

Movie Review: Heart of Africa

Movie Review: Heart of Africa


In 1899, Joseph Conrad published his serialized novel, "Heart of Darkness." It is the tale of British entrepreneurs  who go up the Congo River seeking to expand the ivory trade. Instead, they find disillusionment and death.

In this new film, written by my friend Margaret Blair Young* and produced by her husband, Bruce, we get a Latter-day Saint recreation of Conrad's novel. In this film, entirely filmed in DR Congo, we find a young Congolese man, Gabriel, who runs away from the destiny thrust upon him by his foster father, a tribal leader who seeks revenge from Belgians, Rwandans, whites, and others who enslaved and brutalized their people.

In running from his home, Gabriel encounters missionaries, who take him to their home and feed him. Soon, he is baptized, though the conflict of his former life and the life he is entering in cause giant conflicts in his life. The mission president, who knew him as a child, sends him on a six month mission back to his village to build an orphanage.

Conflicts occur, as he immediately hates his white American missionary companion, and his foster father and older brother come on the scene to stir the pot. We get a real feel for modern African tribal tensions that still exist because of colonialism and tribal feuding over the past centuries. At the same time, we see how distrust and conflict can turn to forgiveness, understanding and love.

In Conrad's novel,  in Africa we only find darkness and despair. Heart of Africa shows us the continued struggles and hardships seen by Conrad a century ago, but offers us another ending, one of love, hope, healing and redemption.

The film has received excellent reviews at the festivals where it has been presented, and in the theaters over the few weeks it was seen, until the Corona virus pandemic shut theaters down.

Fortunately, Living Scriptures quickly offered to provide its streaming service for us to see this marvelous film in the comfort and safety of our quarantined homes. 24 hour rental is only $5, and you can own it for $16.

It is mostly in French and Congolese, still it was a marvelous film, even reading the English subtitles.

https://www.livingscriptures.com/movies/?t=heart-of-africa&uuid=1tux3a


* I met Margaret, along with Darius Gray, at the 2004 FairMormon Conference, when my dear friend, Renee Olson (who informally adopted me as her brother), introduced us. Young and Gray are the co-authors of a series of historical novels on early LDS black members: Standing on the Promises

Book Review: Theological Introduction to First Nephi, by Joseph Spencer


 

Book Review: Theological Introduction to First Nephi, by Joseph Spencer


Joseph Spencer is a theologian. He does theology. What exactly, though, does that mean and what does that mean for the average reader?

Theology is the study of God and his works. When I joined the Church at the age of 16 in 1975, I became enamored with the Book of Mormon. However, after a few years of studying it, I got stuck. The stories and teachings all seemed to be the same.

Then, as Spencer notes in his conclusion concerning his own experience, I also discovered Hugh Nibley.

In his Conclusion, Spencer states,
“The Latter-day Saint scholar I hold in highest esteem is–and i think always will be–Hugh Nibley.”
 Nibley was a scholar focused on history of the Ancient Near East. As I initially read his books, I felt I was drinking from a fire hose. I didn’t literally have blood coming out of my ears and eyes, but sometimes it felt that way. However, I knew that Nibley gave me keys to better understanding the Book of Mormon in new ways.

Spencer admits he is no historian. However, a theologian helps us in other ways to understand and appreciate the text. Spencer’s strength, as I’ve found from reading his other books, is the skill to break down a reading into its simplest parts and then suggest a theory or two on what it possibly means. Thankfully, he also has the keen sense and ability to make such theories understandable and accessible to the average reader.

So it is with this initial venture by Maxwell Institute on discussing the Book of Mormon. The “Theological Introduction to First Nephi” gives us some very new ways to read and consider what we are reading in 1st Nephi.

In his introduction, Spencer notes that many do not get very far in the Book of Mormon, because, as C.S. Lewis once noted, we spend too much time like hurried tourists that only enter the entry hall, then leave, as we study scripture. For Spencer, many Latter-day Saints treat 1st Nephi as that entry hall. There’s a tendency to read and re-read the book, only to be stymied by Isaiah in 2nd Nephi, and so the rest of the book is left unread.

Worse, 1st Nephi is rushed through continually, without really slowing down and breaking it down. While Spencer’s book does not cover much history or certain topics, the topics he does cover give us perfect insight on valuable tools we can use in studying all of the Book of Mormon.

For example, Spencer shows that Nephi did not write a pristine record about himself. He did not make himself out to be a perfect hero. Instead, 1 Nephi doesn’t hide Nephi’s complicated relationships nor his weaknesses. Rather, Spencer shows us how Nephi matures through his experiences. At the end of 1 Nephi 1, Nephi noted that his story would show forth God’s grace, and in fact Nephi is letting us know that such grace applied directly to him. First Nephi becomes an “astonishing textual embodiment of grace.”

As Nephi encouraged us and his brethren to “liken” scripture to ourselves, Spencer suggests there is perhaps another interpretation of this term that is equally important as the normal method most readers use, which is to take scripture and apply it to their daily lives. “Likeness” is a form of the term “likening” and suggests that we should compare the events occurring in the times the prophecy was made to our own day. So, Nephi quotes Isaiah, and then compares the likeness of Isaiah’s day to his own. We, too, can and ought to dig deep enough into scripture and the background history of it, to see how it might apply to our circumstances.

As Spencer explains, “The stories provide context, while we’re meant to look for the book’s prophetic message.” In the case of First Nephi, it is the final destiny of Lehi’s descendants and those Gentiles who join with them in the gospel covenant. “Nephi wishes us to see that ancient and modern prophecy, so to speak, are to be trusted together.”

In discussing the slaying of Laban, we learn how Nephi matured in his understanding of his calling as a ruler and leader over his brethren. Nephi must have assumed after Laman’s failure at getting the plates, that his idea to bribe Laban would succeed. Spencer ponders aloud how Nephi must have felt when his plan failed, especially as Laman beat him with a rod. It is only after Nephi humbled himself and followed the Spirit without a plan of his own that things turn out for the better. As Nephi discovered the drunken Laban, Spencer notes, “the Spirit proves more livelier and perhaps more dangerous” than Laban ever could be.

We learn that “Nephi is human-wonderfully human.” It is this understanding that allows sinners like me to realize that if God can use imperfect men like Nephi and Joseph Smith, he can use me too. And Spencer also understands this implicitly: “We follow the prophets precisely because of what God does through them, not because of what or who they are on their own.”

Several other topics are discussed in this book: The Vision of the Tree of Life, Women in the Book of Mormon, etc. In each of these topics, Spencer will challenge your current understanding and encourage you to take another step further into discovering what the text of 1st Nephi is really trying to speak to us.

One thing I’ve realized from reading this and other books by Joseph Spencer, is that the depth of theology is so profound that there’s no way a young man with a third grade education could ever have written such a book. I think that is one of his goals for this book. If an imperfect and historical Nephi can learn and grow and admit his faults and weaknesses, so could Joseph Smith and all the prophets following.

I hope you’ll give this book a close reading. As with me, you won’t quite look at 1st Nephi in the same light again, and you won’t be standing briefly on the threshold of the entry hall any longer.

Now available at Amazon

https://www.amazon.com/1st-Nephi-Brief-Theological-Introduction-ebook/dp/B0857KFMWW/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=joseph+spencer+nephi+introduction&qid=1585244862&sr=8-1


Sunday, March 22, 2020

Come Follow Me: Enos through Words of Mormon

Enos-Words of Mormon

Enos and Prayer

If we consider the timeframes established in the Book of Mormon, Enos was a child born in Jacob’s late years.  Jacob must have been around 80 years old when Enos was born!  That Enos probably was not as involved in the government or church, as were his father and uncle Nephi, is suggested by the fact that Enos is out hunting as an adult, and begins to think upon his own salvation.  It is at this time that he thinks upon the words of his father, Jacob, (who likely had died years before) and turns to the Lord for his own witness.

Something lacking in many modern testimonies today is the level of desire and effort to gain a witness and forgiveness. How often do we hear of people praying through the day and into the night for their own soul?  

During this time of self-quarantining due to the Corona virus/Covid 19 (March 2020), have you considered seeking such a spiritual experience through prayer and self reflection? What is the longest period of time you've ever spent praying? A former stake president once reflected to me that all of his questions and problems have been answered whenever he fasted and prayed for three days. What better time to seek a spiritual experience than now, as many are stuck in their homes for several weeks?

Of course, for Enos, and hopefully for us, once we gain forgiveness, we should begin to ponder the outcome for those around us.  Yet, again, how many of us “pour out [our] whole souls” and “struggle in the spirit”?

Perhaps from this alone, we can measure our own level of spirituality.  Are our prayers Celestial, Terrestrial, or Telestial in quality?  Do we pour out our whole souls, or only a part of it?  Are we giving all we have, or just what is comfortable and convenient?  What is our commitment level?

Flocks of Herds

Later, he discusses the daily grind of Nephites and Lamanites.  In sharing the agrarian work of the Nephites, he mentions they have “...flocks of herds, and flocks of all manner of cattle of every kind, and goats, and wild goats, and also many horses” (Enos 1:21).

What are “flocks of herds”? Are they any different than flocks of flocks?  They seem to not include cattle, goats or horses, as these are mentioned in addition to the flocks of herds. The term actually seems to be an early 19th century term, being used in the 1823 “A geographical dictionary or universal gazetteer, ancient and modern”, Volume 2,  by Joseph Emerson Worcester.  In the gazetteer, Worcester talks of the highlands (altiplano) of Bolivia and notes, “Oruro, jurisdiction Buenos Ayres,  The greatest part of this jurisdiction is so cold, that no esculent vegetables will flourish here; but it abounds with numerous flocks of herds, besides the numerous cattle peculiar to this country.” (see link below)

Here we see that he not only uses the term “flocks of herds”, but also separates it from the cattle.  It seems to include flocks of animals other than cattle, at least in this instance.  For the Nephites, it may be that many wild animals were domesticated which were not known in Jerusalem, but were useful and found in the Americas.

Archaeologically, there are issues regarding horses in the Americas at the time of the Nephites. In this instance, horses do not seem to be noted as animals for carrying or riding, but for food.  It may be possible that some indigenous animal in the Americas was seen by the early Nephites and designated as a horse-like animal.  For example, when the Greeks first went to Egypt and saw the animals there, they used their terminology and understanding to name them.  So, the large animal they found strolling in the Nile River was called the “water horse” or hippopotamus.  In this way, it is possible that the Nephites also named an American animal a “horse” due to similarities. It may have been a type of deer, tapir, llama, or some other animal.

The Lamanites that Enos Knew


“And I bear record that the people of Nephi did seek diligently to restore the Lamanites unto the true faith in God. But our labors were vain; their hatred was fixed, and they were led by their evil nature that they became wild, and ferocious, and a blood-thirsty people, full of idolatry and filthiness; feeding upon beasts of prey; dwelling in tents, and wandering about in the wilderness with a short skin girdle about their loins and their heads shaven; and their skill was in the bow, and in the cimeter, and the ax. And many of them did eat nothing save it was raw meat; and they were continually seeking to destroy us” (Enos 1:20).

Enos described the Lamanites that the Nephites had contact with.  They were ferocious and dwelt in tents.  Not much later, we will see Ammon the missionary go among the Lamanites to large cities, a structured government, laws, and some civility.  While it is possible that the Lamanites changed quickly from a hunter/gatherer group to city dwellers, it is probably unlikely.  More likely, the Nephites dealt with the Lamanites on their wilderness border.  While most Lamanites probably dwelt in or near cities, those along the border would have been the backwoods hicks of their time. Just as a modern New York socialite might look down his nose at Jed Clampett, so the Nephites may have been guilty of treating the Lamanites living on the border as people needing to be taught how to be civilized.  Such effort could easily be construed by the “savage” Lamanites in the same manner as the Native Americans viewed the whites trying to civilize them, an insult to their heritage and traditions.

This attempt was very different than Ammon’s experience, where he did not insult the Lamanite traditions, but asked to live with them, and even be a servant.  Perhaps Enos’ people demonstrate a method we could learn from in how not to bring people to Christ.

Jarom and Omni

In Omni, we first find that an apostasy lasting several generations occurs among the Nephites. Even Omni himself admits he has not kept the commandments of his father, Jarom (Omni 1:2). Yet it became so bad that the “the more wicked part of the Nephites were destroyed” and only the righteous were preserved (Omni 1:5-7).  It is easy to miss this great destruction, as it is covered in only a few short verses.  Still, we can imagine the destruction and wars to be similar to later events, such as in the times of Captain Moroni or Mormon.  We can note here, and will see occur many times in the Book of Mormon, that a common event that precedes the destruction is that the people spread out over the land and become very wealthy (Jarom 1:6-8).  It may be that large populations that sought wealth and more than they needed would strain the resources of the land, until wars would grow over the scarce resources.  Among the ancient Maya, slash and burn farming techniques would often wear the soil out after just a few generations.  The only choice in this issue would be for the entire city to move, often into the territory of an enemy, in order to be slashing and burning land for agriculture again.  We will see this again and again, including Mormon noting that the people were spread over the land, suggesting a fight among Nephites and Lamanites over scarce resources.  And when the resources are impossible to find, the soldiers reduce themselves to cannibalism (Moroni 9).

King Mosiah I and Zarahemla

The writer Amaleki notes that King Mosiah, in fact, moves his people to another location. Perhaps it is because of an impending invasion of the Lamanites, or just as likely because the resources are depleted.  A disastrous crop failure (or series of them over several years), would have weakened them, leaving them open to destruction by the Lamanites.

Don Bradley suggests that it is during this trek that Mosiah discovers the Interpreters (Urim and Thummim), at which time the batteries on the Liahona give out and it stops working as a revelatory device.

Mosiah flees into the wilderness towards the narrow neck of land.  On the march, they come across the city of Zarahemla.  Here are the relevant passages, followed by some key points concerning the Mulekites (people of Zarahemla) and the Jaredites that will influence the rest of the Nephite story.


“And they discovered a people, who were called the people of Zarahemla. Now, there was great rejoicing among the people of Zarahemla; and also Zarahemla did rejoice exceedingly, because the Lord had sent the people of Mosiah with the plates of brass which contained the record of the Jews.
Behold, it came to pass that Mosiah discovered that the people of Zarahemla came out from Jerusalem at the time that Zedekiah, king of Judah, was carried away captive into Babylon....
And at the time that Mosiah discovered them, they had become exceedingly numerous. Nevertheless, they had had many wars and serious contentions, and had fallen by the sword from time to time; and their language had become corrupted; and they had brought no records with them; and they denied the being of their Creator; and Mosiah, nor the people of Mosiah, could understand them.
But it came to pass that Mosiah caused that they should be taught in his language. And it came to pass that after they were taught in the language of Mosiah, Zarahemla gave a genealogy of his fathers, according to his memory; and they are written, but not in these plates.
And it came to pass that the people of Zarahemla, and of Mosiah, did unite together; and Mosiah was appointed to be their king.
And it came to pass in the days of Mosiah, there was a large stone brought unto him with engravings on it; and he did interpret the engravings by the gift and power of God.
21 And they gave an account of one Coriantumr, and the slain of his people. And Coriantumr was discovered by the people of Zarahemla; and he dwelt with them for the space of nine moons” (Omni 1:14-22).

Here we see that not only do the people of Zarahemla rejoice to meet the Nephites, but also their leader Zarahemla also rejoices. Cities in antiquity were often named after their leaders, and so was the custom in the MIddle East and among the Nephites. Mosiah discovered the city of Zarahemla around 200 BC.  This means the man, Zarahemla, is alive in 200 BC, and so the city of Zarahemla probably was created no earlier than 250 BC.  The man Zarahemla notes HIS genealogy, and not that of his people, probably because there are many that do not have his lineage.  That the people lived for a long time with no records, and therefore lost their traditions, religion and language (Hebrew), suggests they had to learn another.  

Given they had Coriantumr, last king of the Jaredites, dwell with them for nine months, we can determine that the Jaredites’ final destruction was actually around 250 BC.  This suggests that upon arriving in the Americas, the Mulekites dwelt among the Jaredites for centuries. During that time, they would have learned to speak the Jaredite language, although not read it (as they could not read/interpret the large stone).  The wars and violence mentioned would have been from the violent Jaredite wars.

The Mulekites were cultural Jaredites, and may even had several living among them. Starting with this event, we will begin to see Jaredite names appear in the Nephite record: Morianton, Corianton, Gadianton ( anton suffix), Korihor, Nehor, and many others.

We will also see Jaredite tactics begin, as secret combinations and priestcraft will appear among the Nephites.  Governments will be toppled, and getting gain will bring wars and destabilize governments.

Other concepts to consider:

First, when the Nephites showed up in Zarahemla, they were not able to settle down into every other house, as if the Mulekites emptied the houses for them. Instead, we will see a division between Nephites and Mulekites that will last for generations.  Just as modern cities have different areas for groups (Chinatown, Jewish Quarter, Spanish area, etc), so we would see the division among these. And we do. Later, we will see Captain Moroni establish cities on the border. Two “sister cities” will be Lehi and Morianton (a Jaredite name), and we can easily guess which will be the troublemaker: Morianton.

Then there are claims to authority.  Nephite leaders claim authority through Nephi.  Yet, now we have descendants of Mulek, who can claim authority and the right of kings through “Zedekiah, King of Judah” and descendant of David!  Who has the right to rule, David or Nephi, the tribe of Judah or Joseph?  And of course, Laman and perhaps others also have claim on the throne, so we shall see how such kingship claims will affect the Nephites going into the future.

I’ve noted that the Nephites and Lamanites absorbed other peoples previously, but did not explicitly mention it.  Why mention the Mulekites now? Exactly because of the new struggles that will appear among the Nephites.  Previously, there were no other claims to the throne (that we know of) or attempts to create secret combinations to obtain such goals.  Now we will see how the Jaredite traditions and the divine right of kingship will combine to destroy the Nephite nation.

Bibliography

“A geographical dictionary or universal gazetteer, ancient and modern”, Volume 2,  by Joseph Emerson Worcester - Google Books 


Don Bradley, The Lost 116 Pages: https://gregkofford.com/products/the-lost-116-pages
 


Sunday, March 15, 2020

Come Follow Me: Jacob 5-7



Come Follow Me: Jacob 5-7

Allegory of the Olive Tree
 
There are some great write ups regarding the Allegory of the Olive Tree available, so I will only touch on side thoughts regarding it. Some of those great blog posts regarding it can be found in the links below.

Jacob quotes Zenos’ allegory of the olive trees.  This is not his own.  Zenos was a prophet on the brass plates of Laban.  Given the Documentary Hypothesis concepts I've explained previously, Zenos would likely have been a prophet in northern Israel between 800-721 BC.

The allegory correctly teaches certain concepts regarding olive trees.  Olive trees can live for a very long time. Some orchards today have trees that were first planted in the days of Jesus.  These trees, as they grow old, are reinvigorated by grafting branches into and out of them, as needed. New branches in an old tree will stimulate the growth of new roots, making the tree almost become young again.  Given the fact that little olive tree husbandry was occurring in the Americas in the early 19th century, it is unlikely that Joseph Smith would have known such concepts regarding olive trees.

When a tree comes to the end of its usefulness, it is burned, allowing its ashes to enrich the soil for the next new planting.


So it is with each of us. We have seasons of our lives.  As new events, experiences and learnings are grafted into our lives,  we change.  The gospel is nourishment that can stimulate us into growing new shoots and roots.  At the end of our lives, each of us will be judged to determine whether we have produced good, bad, or mixed fruit.


In chapter six, Jacob explains how the allegory fits in with his people and the last days.  He understood that in the end, the world would be burned. All that will remain is the good fruit. The Lord will have returned from the Gentiles back to Israel, where his covenant belongs.  Where there is good fruit, it will be put away. Where the fruit is shriveled and bitter, it will be burned along with the branches and trees.  



“...as many as will not harden their hearts shall be saved in the kingdom of God.
Wherefore, my beloved brethren, I beseech of you in words of soberness that ye would repent, and come with full purpose of heart, and cleave unto God as he cleaveth unto you. And while his arm of mercy is extended towards you in the light of the day, harden not your hearts” (Jacob 6:4-5).


The choice is simple. Cleave unto God, and not unto the world.  Allow God to tame you, and do not run wild after the desires of the world.  Bear forth fruit meet for his kingdom.  Harden not your hearts.


Sherem
Jacob 7


Sherem is an interesting story.  As noted in previous lessons, the Nephites are not alone. They have adopted or absorbed many native peoples in the Americas.  We see this in the building of the temple,and  in passages that note people other than Nephi and his brethren. Now we will see another example.


If Jacob dwelt only with his Nephite family, there would only be a few hundred.  Yet, Sherem comes from somewhere else, desiring to meet Jacob!  He is not a Lamanite, because he isn’t called a Lamanite.  Sherem also actively teaches his version of the Law of Moses.  Having fully rejected the scriptures, the Lamanites would not have anyone actively teaching the Mosaic law.


Instead, we have Sherem, a native American, whose people were conquered by the Nephites. The Nephites taught the people the law of Moses, as well as the coming of Christ.  For Sherem, he could see the value of the Mosaic Law and the sacrifices involved, because they would probably have been similar to the laws and sacrifices already done by his people prior to the Nephites conquering them.

Sherem, then, would go forth as a missionary for the old ways, adjusted to accept the Mosaic Law as a means to get the Nephites to also accept his teachings.  Interestingly, when one travels through the Americas, you can often find native peoples who have been partially absorbed into Christianity, but will still hang onto their old way of doing things, as well.  As a missionary in Bolivia in 1979, we knew of many natives who were part Catholic/evangelist, but also maintained belief in their ancient ways.  I had the opportunity to see pages from a spiritualist book, where the person could create a love potion using the holy water from the local Catholic church.  We see the same thing occurring throughout the Americas, such as Voodoo in Haiti. Throughout the Andes mountains, miners worship Christ in town, but inside the mines they worship Tio (uncle or Satan), who they believe has greater power than God inside the earth. So, a mixture of Christian and pagan still occurs today, and likely would have occurred anciently. 


After being struck down by God, Sherem gathers the people around him for his final confession:

“And he said: I fear lest I have committed the unpardonable sin, for I have lied unto God; for I denied the Christ, and said that I believed the scriptures; and they truly testify of him. And because I have thus lied unto God I greatly fear lest my case shall be awful; but I confess unto God” (Jacob 7:19).


This shows that Sherem does not understand the gospel.  He has heard mention of certain concepts, such as the unpardonable sin, but does not realize it does not apply to him.  The unpardonable sin is to totally reject all good things, become the absolute enemy of Christ, seek to get gain through murder and robbing.  It is to be like Cain, who worshiped Satan, even though he had spoken with God, he chose to slay Abel. “And Cain gloried in that which he had done, saying: I am free; surely the flocks of my brother falleth into my hands” (Moses 5:33).


That Sherem preached only the Mosaic Law, without belief in Christ, does not mean he committed the unpardonable sin.  In fact, his confession at the end was the beginnings of repentance.  He probably would find on dying that his new confession of faith, along with repentance would rescue him from Spirit Prison and bring him into paradise, even as it did for Alma (Alma 36).  His basic faith and repentance would be enough to justify him before Christ, making him guiltless through the atonement.  He would yet be judged according to his being sanctified to determine his final reward.

One thing we can learn from this: are each of us living the full gospel, or do we only accept a small portion of it, satisfied with what we’ve chosen?  In doing so, we will be blessed for what we take, but may risk leaving behind the most important things of all.


Additional Links

BoM Central on Zenos: https://bookofmormoncentral.org/search/google/zenos

 Neal Rappleye on Zenos' name: https://tinyurl.com/wh2e5ow






Joe Spencer on Jacob 5-7: http://feastuponthewordblog.org/2012/03/08/book-of-mormon-lesson-13-the-allegory-of-the-olive-trees-jacob-5-7-gospel-doctrine/


Jim Faulconer’s notes on Jacob 5-7:
http://www.timesandseasons.org/?p=557

Sunday, March 08, 2020

Come Follow Me: Jacob 1-4

Come Follow Me: Jacob 1-4

Jacob 1

Jacob wrote chapter one when he was about 50-54 years of age, noting that he was writing 55 years after Lehi left Jerusalem.  Nephi would have been around 70-75 years of age when he gave the plates to Jacob. We may note here that for a period of time, we will see much discussion from prophets in their older years.  If we count the time periods given in the scripture notes for Jacob and Enos, for instance, we see Jacob must have been around 75-80 years of age when Enos was born!

We can determine that Nephi either did not have any sons, or that they passed away or were not worthy to continue carrying the record, as he delivers the record to his brother Jacob, instead. That Nephi establishes the larger record as an official historical record to be passed down official channels, but this record to be passed down through Jacob’s line, suggests it is a family record.

Again, we see the possibility of other peoples being absorbed by the Nephites.  If the smaller plates of Nephi are only for the family, then why have the larger plates as well as an official record? A reasonable conclusion is that there were many under the rule of the Nephites, who were not Nephites nor of their religion.  These would not be interested in Nephi’s spiritual record, while the official record would record the important history of all the peoples involved.

After a few remarks discussing Nephi’s design for the small plates to be a spiritual testimony to his family, Jacob then explains his purpose for writing his portion of the Nephite record:


“Wherefore we labored diligently among our people, that we might persuade them to come unto Christ, and partake of the goodness of God, that they might enter into his rest, lest by any means he should swear in his wrath they should not enter in, as in the provocation in the days of temptation while the children of Israel were in the wilderness” (Jacob 1:7).

In 55 years, the Nephites (after their separation from Laman) would only number 300 adults at most.  If Nephi, Sam, Jacob, Joseph, and Zoram all had 10 surviving children each (50), and they paired off into 25 couples that each had 10 children, then by the third generation there would be about 300 adults.  

That Nephi would see the need to anoint a king, suggests that there were actually more people involved.  That Jacob “labored diligently” to persuade them to follow Christ seems to be an easy task to do with a group the size of a modern LDS ward, generally isolated from all others.  However, with a larger group of non-believers also in the mix, it would cause Jacob to have a great struggle on his hands. In a later lesson, when Sherem comes forth in his missionary zeal, one would imagine that Jacob would have known him among a group of just 300 adults.  Clearly there were others for Jacob to deal with.

“But I, Jacob, shall not hereafter distinguish them by these names, but I shall call them Lamanites that seek to destroy the people of Nephi, and those who are friendly to Nephi I shall call Nephites, or the people of Nephi, according to the reigns of the kings” (Jacob 1:14).

That the Nephites are internally labeled by their tribal affiliations, Jacob sees it fit to provide a cultural nomenclature to both the Lamanites and Nephites.  From this point forward, Nephites would be any person or group friendly to the Nephites, while all enemies would be Lamanites, regardless of whether they originally were Nephite, Lamanite, Jaredite, Mulekite, or some other group not specifically mentioned in the Book of Mormon.

Whoredoms are not Plural Marriage
 
Jacob 1-


“And now it came to pass that the people of Nephi, under the reign of the second king, began to grow hard in their hearts, and indulge themselves somewhat in wicked practices, such as like unto David of old desiring many wives and concubines, and also Solomon, his son” (Jacob 1:15).

Where would 300 adults get “many wives and concubines” from, unless it was from among the conquered native peoples of the Americas?  It was a standard practice in the ancient Middle East for the conqueror to take the women as concubines (slave wives).  Solomon obtained many of his wives through political treaties made with other nations, and many concubines from the tributary lands conquered by King David,

Interestingly, the view we receive here of David and Solomon would fit well with the concept of E (Elohist) from the Documentary Hypothesis, as I discussed in another lesson  According to Richard Elliott Friedman, King David united the tribes of Israel, partially by having a priest of Aaron (Zadok) and a priest of Moses (Abiathar) as his two religious advisers.  However, when Solomon came to power, he exiled Abiathar to the northern parts of Israel.  For the author of E, to see Solomon show such disdain to the Ten Tribes would affect his view of the reign of David and Solomon.  E always viewed Moses as the hero of Israel, never mentioning his weaknesses noted in the Bible.  That the Brass Plates of Laban may have been the source for E among the people in Jerusalem, would also suggest writings in the Brass Plates that were not favorable to David and Solomon.

That the Nephite men were beginning to adopt polygamy as a normal practice, which Jacob suddenly had to deal with, suggests that the natives that dwelt with the Nephites may already have been practicing it for a long period.  Upon seeing the local custom, it would be easy to justify if from the scriptures that describe David and Solomon also having many wives and concubines.

Suddenly, Jacob had major issues to deal with, as apostasy crept in among his own people, from the culture surrounding them.  Jacob would take two directions in dealing with this.

First, he explained the scriptures:

“For behold, thus saith the Lord: This people begin to wax in iniquity; they understand not the scriptures, for they seek to excuse themselves in committing whoredoms, because of the things which were written concerning David, and Solomon his son.
Behold, David and Solomon truly had many wives and concubines, which thing was abominable before me, saith the Lord.
Wherefore, thus saith the Lord, I have led this people forth out of the land of Jerusalem, by the power of mine arm, that I might raise up unto me a righteous branch from the fruit of the loins of Joseph” (Jacob 2:23-25).

As mentioned before, they used the scriptures to justify whoredoms, pretending it was correct in God’s sight.  If it was okay for David and Solomon, then it must be okay also to do it.  Interestingly, such practice as having many wives and concubines (or sexual sin) is suggested as one reason the Nephites were led out of Jerusalem in the first place!

“Wherefore, my brethren, hear me, and hearken to the word of the Lord: For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none;
For I, the Lord God, delight in the chastity of women. And whoredoms are an abomination before me; thus saith the Lord of Hosts...
And I will not suffer, saith the Lord of Hosts, that the cries of the fair daughters of this people, which I have led out of the land of Jerusalem, shall come up unto me against the men of my people, saith the Lord of Hosts.
For they shall not lead away captive the daughters of my people because of their tenderness, save I shall visit them with a sore curse, even unto destruction; for they shall not commit whoredoms, like unto them of old, saith the Lord of Hosts.
” (Jacob 2:27-33).

God places the blame for whoredoms not on women, but on the men.  Remember, Jacob apologized to the women and children for his harsh words, not to the men.  He even noted that the Lamanites were more righteous in this thing, continuing in faithful monogamous relationships. We should note that in the Book of Mormon, it seems that the mistreatment of women tends to always be an issue with the Nephites, but rarely with the Lamanites (or at least not  on the same scale).

It may be an interesting future study to study from the Bible and Book of Mormon how the mistreatment of women tends to corrupt a society and may lead it to destruction.  That Jacob felt that such was a key issue that brought about Jerusalem’s destruction and Lehi’s fleeing the city, should be well noted.

From this, Latter-day Saints can learn from this scripture that only God through the living prophet may command plural marriage.  If it is not done in this manner, then it is nothing but whoredoms committed by the men.  Indeed, Jacob explains the eternal default standard of monogamy:

“For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things” (Jacob 2:30).
Only if God commands through his prophet is plural marriage allowed. Otherwise, it is not plural marriage, but a whoredom the man is committing.

Be Pure in Heart
Jacob 3

Because of such sins, Jacob warns the Nephites to be pure in heart.  If they are not, the consequences are clearly spelled out:


“But, wo, wo, unto you that are not pure in heart, that are filthy this day before God; for except ye repent the land is cursed for your sakes; and the Lamanites, which are not filthy like unto you, nevertheless they are cursed with a sore cursing, shall scourge you even unto destruction.
And the time speedily cometh, that except ye repent they shall possess the land of your inheritance, and the Lord God will lead away the righteous out from among you” (Jacob 3:3-4).

The Nephites are considered filthy in their sexual sin and pride.  The Lamanites are cleaner than they are.  It is like comparing the proud rich and the humble poor.  The one group is rich with the gospel and squanders, even rebels against the gospel light.  Meanwhile, the humble poor among the Lamanites, who have not been taught the gospel, still follow much of God’s will.  They being cleaner than the Nephites will inherit the land, even with their flaws.  And only a small group of righteous will be led out from among the Nephites to a new land of promise, just as Lehi was led out of Jerusalem.

“ Behold, their husbands love their wives, and their wives love their husbands; and their husbands and their wives love their children; and their unbelief and their hatred towards you is because of the iniquity of their fathers; wherefore, how much better are you than they, in the sight of your great Creator?
O my brethren, I fear that unless ye shall repent of your sins that their skins will be whiter than yours, when ye shall be brought with them before the throne of God” (Jacob 3:7-8).

Jacob speaks metaphorically about skin color here.  When we are brought before God’s throne of judgment, literal skin color will be meaningless.  In fact, it is very possible that Jacob is discussing the word “skins” as in animal clothing.  

Nephi had previously noted "scales of darkness" as applying to the Jews, as well as Lamanites (2 Nephi 30:1-6). Meanwhile, Jacob speaks often of shaking his garments out in testimony against the people, ensuring his own are clean before the Lord.  For LDS, the idea that Adam and Eve’s first garments were made of animal skins gives Jacob’s warning a new and unmistakable reading.  Several ancient texts, including the books of Enoch and the Ascension of Isaiah, discuss them being dressed in white garments before they approach the throne of God.  That Lamanites would have whiter garments than the Nephites would definitely have given the men pause.

Be Reconciled unto Christ
Jacob 4

After his great lecture, and in preparation to share Zenos’ Allegory of the Olive Tree (chapt 5), he leaves us with some key concepts:


“Wherefore, beloved brethren, be reconciled unto him through the atonement of Christ, his Only Begotten Son, and ye may obtain a resurrection, according to the power of the resurrection which is in Christ, and be presented as the first-fruits of Christ unto God, having faith, and obtained a good hope of glory in him before he manifesteth himself in the flesh” (Jacob 4:11).

Reconciliation is the key thing God desires of us.  Earlier, Jacob warned the Nephites regarding rebelling against God (Jacob 1:8).  How do we rebel against God? By not fully accepting the atonement of Christ into our lives.  Every time we sin or rebel, we separate ourselves from God. We cannot abide his glorious and perfect presence while we are in a fallen state of sin and rebellion. By making a true reconciliation, through faith and repentance, we are made guiltless or sinless before God.

For Christians today, as with the ancient Jews, we often look for “mysteries” of the gospel, which in reality are speculations about teachings in scripture.  Such speculations, or “looking beyond the mark” (Jacob 4:14), led the ancient Jews to reject the prophets that lived in their day, and to reject Jesus as their Savior.  Today, many look beyond the simple gospel offered to all through Christ’s atonement, and instead find other things that end up replacing the real gospel.

As the Nephites strayed by justifying their sexual sins by misinterpreting the scriptures, so can we get off track and be led astray of the true reconciliation that occurs between Messiah and man.  Jacob will continue explaining this true mystery, of how the atonement works in our lives.

Bibliography

“Who Wrote the Bible?”, Richard Elliott Friedman on the Documentary Hypothesis:
http://www.amazon.com/Wrote-Bible-Richard-Elliott-Friedman/dp/0060630353/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1331065948&sr=8-1

Solomon in the Old Testament Gospel Doctrine lessons at Joel’s Monastery: http://joelsmonastery.blogspot.com/2010/06/ot-gospel-doctrine-lesson-26-king.html

Documentary Hypothesis explained, Book of Mormon lesson one at Joel’s Monastery:
http://joelsmonastery.blogspot.com/2011/12/book-of-mormon-gospel-doctrine-lesson-1.html

Sunday, March 01, 2020

Come Follow Me: 2 Nephi 31-33

Come Follow Me: 2 Nephi 31-33

I want to thank those who visit my blog. It just passed 500,000 visits! It may seem like small potatoes compared with major sites, but it gladdens my heart that there are those that find my posts worth reading and hopefully pondered upon.

The Doctrine of Christ
 
2 Nephi 31

Nephi’s discourse on the Doctrine of Christ (2 Ne 31:2) will be a key teaching that the Savior will also discuss in 3 Nephi 11.

Nephi notes at the end of the chapter,


“And now, behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and the only and true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one God, without end” (2 Ne 31:21).

The concept of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost being “one God” can be confusing and seem very Trinitarian in scope, until one understands the theme Nephi discusses here.

Nephi has seen in vision the two paths laid out before his people and all nations.  They can either choose life and liberty through Jesus, or death and misery through Satan.  In his visions, he described the great contentions and destructions that occurred among the wicked.  The Savior would also mention to the Nephites that contention is of the devil, and must be avoided to follow him.

“For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.
Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away” (3 Nephi 11:29-30).

Nephi and Jesus note that what is required is a unity among the saints, even as the Father, Son and Holy Ghost are “one God.”  Without such a unity in the Church, they can never hope to attain the presence of God, or be like him.  Such a concept is very important in the LDS Church today, as we establish the eternal family as a key to our eternal happiness.  How do we ever hope to be one with Christ, if we cannot learn to be one with our spouse?


   How do we become one?


So then, how do we learn unity?  The steps are far easier than most would believe.  Nephi teaches us that the five steps are:

    1. Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ
    2. Repentance
    3. Baptism/Ordinances
    4. Reception of the Gift of the Holy Ghost
    5. Endure to the end


This is not a one time event, but cycles through us AND the community of Christ.  As individuals and a covenant people, as we grow in faith, we desire to repent and change ourselves.  We partake of the ordinances of baptism, sacrament/communion, and the temple in order to be more Christlike. In D&C 84:19-26, we learn that the ordinances of the Melchizedek Priesthood actually teach the “mysteries of godliness”, or how to be more like Christ.  For example, baptism symbolizes our death and rebirth into a spiritual person.


Then, as a new person, we are ready to receive an infusion of the Holy Ghost.  Now, we have an active relationship with the third member of the Godhead.  We have begun to become as they are, and in so doing, become unified as saints.


Finally, we then must begin enduring to the end.  This does not directly mean keeping the commandments.  It means we must continue on the cycle of faith, repentance, ordinances and the Holy Ghost.  As we become ever more spiritual, we are changed, even as the people of King Benjamin were.  As the Spirit fell upon them, they exclaimed,

“...the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually” (Mosiah 5:2).

The commandments become part of what we do, not because it saves us, but because we cast off evil, no longer desiring to follow Satan.  Instead, we desire “to do good continually.”  As we are obedient and do good, we increase in faith.  We then have the desire to repent of more sins and weaknesses, receiving ordinances such as the Sacrament to renew our covenants.  Then we receive a greater portion of the Holy Spirit to fill us, causing us to desire even more “to do good continually.”


As we follow in this cycle, we become holy. We become saints, united to each other and to the Godhead.  We become one with the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, who are “one God.”


Speaking with the Tongue of Angels
2 Nephi 32


Nephi continues his discussion on how we become one in this chapter.

“Do ye not remember that I said unto you that after ye had received the Holy Ghost ye could speak with the tongue of angels?” (2 Ne 32:2).

In Christianity, we need to take another look at how we consider angels.  Today, they are often considered just messengers of God.  Anciently, however, they were part of God’s closest allies and counsel.  In LDS theology, angels and men are but different forms of the same being, each holding the capacity to be like God.  In Isaiah 6 (which Nephi quoted), we see God surrounded by seraphim, holy angels at his throne, who were involved in God’s decisions.  Isaiah becomes one with the seraphim, as he is cleansed by the burning coal, after which he joins in the discussion regarding God’s question: “Whom shall I send?”  With the seraphim, Isaiah was now able to “speak with the tongue of angels” and even offer himself up as the messenger/angel who would impart the voice of warning to Israel. Of course, this also ties in with the angelic Messiah, who at the primordial councils also volunteered, when Heavenly Father asked, "Whom shall I send?" (Abraham 3:27).

Just as angels are holy guards, counselors and companions of Christ, so we can become.  As we grow in faith, repent and receive of the ordinances, we are filled more and more with the Holy Spirit, even until we too can “speak with the tongue of angels.”  From there, it may not be a large step to then experiencing the presence of God, even as Isaiah did.

For Latter-day Saints in the year 2020, we prepare to celebrate and honor the 200th anniversary of the First Vision. This theophany, where man enters the presence of God, is not a unique experience. In fact, Joseph Smith's desire was for all mankind to prepare to enter into God's presence and see His face. The Kirtland Temple dedication was such an experience for many. Joseph sought a Pentecostal experience for the saints. And indeed they did have such a sublime experience. Early journals of those who attended meetings during the weeks approaching the dedication mentioned several spiritual events: Saints speaking in tongues and prophesying. Angels flying through the windows and sitting with the leadership. The temple roof ablaze with the Spirit and angels walking upon it. In one meeting, an older man with a suit walked up the aisle, followed by a man wrapped in flames. Joseph Smith declared these to be Jesus and his Father.

All of this culminated a week after the dedication, when Jesus, Moses, Elias and Elijah appeared to Joseph and Oliver Cowdery (D&C 110). 

This isn't the only such experience. In 2002, when President Gordon B. Hinckley dedicated the newly rebuilt Nauvoo Temple, he paused at one moment and noted, "I feel the presence of the Father, the Son, and Joseph Smith."

We are challenged today to have Pentecostal moments of our own, to speak with the tongue of angels, and hear the voice of Christ. Recently, President Russel M. Nelson encouraged us to "take steps to hear Him better and more often," and to share that witness with the world.


The Path
2 Nephi 32-33


Though the path outlined in the “Doctrine of Christ” may seem easy, many reject it. The path seems too easy.  Just as with Moses’ brass serpent, where one only had to look to be healed, many died because they just would not believe in such an easy path.  As Jacob would note, they “looked beyond the mark” seeking mysteries to save them, rather than looking to the simple Doctrine laid out before them.


“...there are many that harden their hearts against the Holy Spirit, that it hath no place in them; wherefore, they cast many things away which are written and esteem them as things of naught” (2 Ne 33:2).

If a person cannot exercise even a little faith in Christ, enough to repent and accept baptism, then there is no room for the Holy Spirit in her life.  She has hardened her heart and will not experience speaking with the tongue of angels.  And for the Christian (and especially the LDS Christian) who is comfortable with her station in life, she may limit the Holy Ghost.  If her heart is only half soft, the Spirit cannot be fully experienced.  If she is happy with just a part of the gospel, not willing to learn or accept more, then she has hardened her heart towards the Holy Spirit, and will receive no more.


The true saint will pray.  Nephi notes that it is Satan who teaches us not to pray, showing us by a plain measuring stick just where we may be spiritually.  If we’re dragging our feet to do the basics, then we are spiritually on life support.  This should be a major wake up call to all of us.  God wants us to do more than just believe when it is convenient.  God wants us to speak with the tongue of angels, so that we are speaking the language of God, with the power of God.  He wants us to be one with the Godhead, and we just cannot make it if we do not fully embrace Christ’s Doctrine.

The path that Nephi delineates, with baptism/ordinances as the gateway, shows a pathway into the presence of God.  We are free to choose whether we are ready to stand before the judgment bar of God, or whether Nephi’s words will condemn us (2 Ne 33:14-15)

President George Q. Cannon once noted about seeking spiritual gifts:

"We find, even among those who have embraced the Gospel hearts of unbelief. How many of you, my brethren and sisters, are seeking for these gifts that God has promised to bestow? How many of you, when you bow before your Heavenly Father in your family circle or in your secret places, contend for these gifts to be bestowed upon you? How many of you ask the Father, in the name of Jesus, to manifest Himself to you through these powers and these gifts? Or do you go along day by day like a door turning on its hinges, without having any feeling on the subject, without exercising any faith whatever; content to be baptized and be members of the Church, and to rest there, thinking that your salvation is secure because you have done this? I say to you, in the name of the Lord, as one of His servants, that you have need to repent of this. You have need to repent of your hardness of heart, of your indifference, and of your carelessness. There is not that diligence, there is not that faith, there is not that seeking for the power of God that there should be among a people who have received the precious promises we have.... I say to you that it is our duty to avail ourselves of the privileges which God has placed within our reach....

"I feel to bear testimony to you, my brethren and sisters, ... that God is the same today as He was yesterday; that God is willing to bestow these gifts upon His children.... If any of us are imperfect, it is our duty to pray for the gift that will make us perfect. Have I imperfections? I am full of them. What is my duty? To pray to God to give me the gifts that will correct these imperfections. If I am an angry man, it is my duty to pray for charity, which suffereth long and is kind. Am I an envious man? It is my duty to seek for charity, which envieth not. So with all the gifts of the Gospel. They are intended for this purpose. No man ought to say, "Oh, I cannot help this; it is my nature." He is not justified in it, for the reason that God has promised to give strength to correct these things, and to give gifts that will eradicate them. If a man lack wisdom, it is his duty to ask God for wisdom. The same with everything else. That is the design of God concerning His Church. He wants His Saints to be perfected in the truth. For this purpose He gives these gifts, and bestows them upon those who seek after them, in order that they may be a perfect people upon the face of the earth, notwithstanding their many weaknesses, because God has promised to give the gifts that are necessary for their perfection." (Millennial Star, 23 Apr. 1894, 260)

 Again, prayer and diligently seeking/desiring are utmost in this effort to follow the Doctrine of Christ, seek spiritual gifts, to speak with the tongues of angels, and see the face of God.


Citations:
Russell M Nelson - Hear Him https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sGhQym_vhFU

George Q. Cannon: https://scottwoodward.org/giftsofthespirit_seektocorrectimperfections.html