Friday, January 27, 2012

Book of Mormon Lesson 6: “Free to Choose Liberty and Eternal Life” 2 Nephi 1-2

Book of Mormon Lesson 6: “Free to Choose Liberty and Eternal Life”
2 Nephi 1-2

Lehi as Moses, the Patriarch and Prophet
2 Nephi 1
“And now it came to pass that after I, Nephi, had made an end of teaching my brethren, our father, Lehi, also spake many things unto them, and rehearsed unto them, how great things the Lord had done for them in bringing them out of the land of Jerusalem. And he spake unto them concerning their rebellions upon the waters, and the mercies of God in sparing their lives, that they were not swallowed up in the sea.And he also spake unto them concerning the land of promise, which they had obtained—how merciful the Lord had been in warning us that we should flee out of the land of Jerusalem: (2 Ne 1:1-3).

In verse one, it appears that Nephi taught his brethren. It is possible that it involves the quoting and interpreting of Isaiah that we find in 1 Nephi 19-22.  As it is written to the reading audience, one may not notice that he is repeating a lesson he has already given.  It is possible that the 1 and 2 Nephi division is a more modern change, or perhaps something Nephi did in writing the account 20 years later.  The focus on Nephi’s teaching is the destruction of the Jews in Jerusalem, the Babylonian captivity, the scattering of Israel, the coming of the Lord in flesh, and the eventual gathering of Israel in the last days.  That Nephi is teaching his elder brethren in the presence of Lehi suggests that Nephi is now the “official” guide of the family and foreseen leader.

From here, we can note that Lehi’s words then continue much on this line of thinking.  While Nephi spoke of the entire House of Israel, Lehi will confine his focus on his family..  According to Nephi, his father becomes the Moses of his family.  He led them out of captivity.  Jerusalem would be carried off by Babylon into physical captivity, but the spiritual captivity already lay heavy upon the Jews.  He saw in vision that Jerusalem already was destroyed - meaning there was nothing to return to, even if they could return.

The ocean represented Israel’s wandering in the wilderness, and the Red Sea.  God allowed Israel to pass safely through the sea and into the Promised Land, except for their rebellion.  For Lehi, the rebellion on board the ship was just like ancient Israel partying in rebellion, while Moses received the tablets on Mt Sinai. Only God’s mercy prevented ancient Israel from drowning while crossing the Red Sea on dry land. And only His mercy prevented Lehi’s family from sinking into the ocean when the storms threatened them.

After many difficult experiences in the wilderness, Moses and Lehi brought their peoples into the Land of Promise.  Lehi reminds them of their trials and the source of their blessings. Such protection will only continue as they seek the Lord and repent.  To do so, they must accept Nephi as their prophet and leader.

“But, said he, notwithstanding our afflictions, we have obtained a land of promise, a land which is choice above all other lands; a land which the Lord God hath covenanted with me should be a land for the inheritance of my seed. Yea, the Lord hath covenanted this land unto me, and to my children forever, and also all those who should be led out of other countries by the hand of the Lord” (2 Ne 1:5).

Lehi recognized that his family may not be the only peoples who were in the Americas.  He realized the Lord may have brought forth others as well.  In fact, it is possible that Lehi and his people may already have come in contact with others, absorbing them into their group.  We shall see little hints within the text that the Nephites and Lamanites were not the only peoples here, and that the Mulekites were just one major example of this.  

Archaeology shows that various groups have arrived here in the past. One of the original major groups is the Clovis group.  These came from Asia during the last Ice Age.  Many of these came over an ice-land bridge from modern Russia through Alaska and then through much of the Americas.  Good evidence from various archaeological sites show that they are not the first. Some groups traveled quickly by boat, following the coast lines.  In fact, it is possible the Nephites also used this technique as they traveled past the Indian subcontinent and other Asian coastlines until they entered into the Pacific Ocean, then they could island hop, even as the ancient Polynesians did..

Among the Pre-Columbian peoples that arrived in the Americas, there is evidence of Caucasians, Africans, Chinese, Norwegians, and possibly even Jews.  

Lehi explained that if the inhabitants of the Promised Land rejected Christ and his gospel, they would be replaced by others, who would come forth and take over the land.  Lehi’s fear is that his own children would reject the gospel and end up scattered and lost as a people, replaced by a new group of believers.

“Awake! and arise from the dust, and hear the words of a trembling parent, whose limbs ye must soon lay down in the cold and silent grave, from whence no traveler can return; a few more days and I go the way of all the earth.…. My heart hath been weighed down with sorrow from time to time, for I have feared, lest for the hardness of your hearts the Lord your God should come out in the fulness of his wrath upon you, that ye be cut off and destroyed forever;Or, that a cursing should come upon you for the space of many generations; and ye are visited by sword, and by famine, and are hated, and are led according to the will and captivity of the devil” (2 Ne 1:14-18).

In his fear, Lehi fully understands that a wicked people are a people in decline, ripe to be replaced by a holier group.  They would suffer for generations, perhaps connecting with Moses’ 2nd commandment:

“Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth:Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments” (Exodus 20:4-6).

Lehi is well aware that when people reject Christ, they lose his mercy and protection.  They are left to fend for themselves against others.  And God will often bring a holier and/or stronger nation in to replace the rebellious.  Only generations later can they hope to recover, when like the Israelites enslaved in Egypt, they have finally humbled themselves enough to merit his mercy and rescue.

Nephi pronounced as Lehi’s successor

“Rebel no more against your brother, whose views have been glorious, and who hath kept the commandments from the time that we left Jerusalem; and who hath been an instrument in the hands of God, in bringing us forth into the land of promise; for were it not for him, we must have perished with hunger in the wilderness; nevertheless, ye sought to take away his life; yea, and he hath suffered much sorrow because of you.And I exceedingly fear and tremble because of you, lest he shall suffer again; for behold, ye have accused him that he sought power and authority over you; but I know that he hath not sought for power nor authority over you, but he hath sought the glory of God, and your own eternal welfare....” (2 Ne 1:24-26).

This is Lehi’s attempt to declare Nephi as the legal successor to his father.  Lehi promises him the “double portion” of the eldest son.  In this lesson and the next, we will see that others, and more particularly Sam, will be placed under Nephi’s blessing.  In essence, Nephi is absorbing their inheritance into his own.

Laman and Lemuel will not lead the family.. For the children of Jacob/Israel, the eldest sons lost their right of inheritance: Reuben for sleeping with his step-mother. Simeon and Levi for slaying those involved in Dinah’s rape, Judah for sleeping with his daughter-in-law and his involvement in selling Joseph into Egypt.  Joseph’s other older brothers were sons of Jacob’s concubines (secondary/slave wives), and so would not be included in the list of those considered for the birth right.  

So it was with Nephi.  Laman and Lemuel’s rebellion prevented them from receiving the birth right and blessing.  The sons of Ishmael, not being of the line of Lehi, would be like secondary children, and so not considered for the line.  Nephi was the next in line, save one.

          Sam’s Disability
Sam was the only potentially eligible son, but was not chosen. In the very last blessing Lehi would give, he would say to his son, Sam:

“And after he had made an end of speaking unto them, he spake unto Sam, saying: Blessed art thou, and thy seed; for thou shalt inherit the land like unto thy brother Nephi. And thy seed shall be numbered with his seed; and thou shalt be even like unto thy brother, and thy seed like unto his seed; and thou shalt be blessed in all thy days” (2 Ne 4:11).

.We would hear of tribes of Laman, Lemuel, Jacob and Joseph, but not of Sam. Why not?  Ever since his introduction, Sam seems to always believe Nephi and follow him (1 Ne 1:17).  Now, he is told he will be blessed by his father for his faith, yet he and his seed will be absorbed into Nephi’s line.  I believe that Sam may have had a disability, perhaps mental retardation, which prevented him from ever being independent enough to manage a tribe of his own.  If Sam had the mental capacity of a young child, he could bear children, but perhaps not be able of caring for them.  It seems that Sam and his family needed extra care from other family members.  Now that Lehi was old and no longer able to care for his disabled son, he was passing the responsibility over to Nephi.

    First Blessing

Again, Lehi discusses the birth right:

“And now my son, Laman, and also Lemuel and Sam, and also my sons who are the sons of Ishmael, behold, if ye will hearken unto the voice of Nephi ye shall not perish. And if ye will hearken unto him I leave unto you a blessing, yea, even my first blessing.But if ye will not hearken unto him I take away my first blessing, yea, even my blessing, and it shall rest upon him” (2 Ne 1:28-29).

Interestingly, he seems to offer it as a group blessing to his three eldest sons and the sons of Ishmael, even though the Israelite tradition was to give it specifically to the eldest deserving son.  Here we see Lehi making a distinction between Nephi and all the other men combined.  If Laman, Lemuel and all the others are not righteous and listen to Nephi as their prophet, none will receive the first blessing. We see this in Sam’s blessing, where he and his children are absorbed into Nephi’s blessing.  He doesn’t get established in his own right, but only as part of a group.

The only person mentioned separately is Zoram.  He is noted for his faithfulness to Nephi and the Lord.  Here, his seed will be blessed with the Nephite line.  Not being of Lehi’s line, Lehi cannot bless him outside of his family line. He can adopt him into one of his children’s lines, which is Nephi in this case. However, we shall see later in the Book of Mormon, where the descendants of Zoram tire of being lost and unrecognized as a separate body, and will rebel because of it.

Jacob’s blessing
2 Nephi 2

It is doubtful that the blessings of Laman and Lemuel were so very short, while Jacob’s was an in-depth discourse.  More likely, Nephi has focused on the more important parts of the things taught and shared by Lehi.  In this instance, Lehi will explain what is one of the most important discourses on free will ever written, either within or without Mormonism.  This is Jacob’s temple endowment, delivered by his father.

“And now, Jacob, I speak unto you: Thou art my first-born in the days of my tribulation in the wilderness. And behold, in thy childhood thou hast suffered afflictions and much sorrow, because of the rudeness of thy brethren.Nevertheless, Jacob, my first-born in the wilderness, thou knowest the greatness of God; and he shall consecrate thine afflictions for thy gain” (2 Ne 2:1-2).

No temple experience would be complete unless there was reference to darkness, trials, afflictions, the lone and dreary world.  Lehi’s “tribulation in the wilderness” not only refers to the many years walking through the Arabian desert, but perhaps also to the hours he walked in the dark during his vision of the Tree of Life.  We begin our personal journey in darkness, pain and sorrow, until we find the way out.  Lehi will then expand on how we escape the telestial state we live in.

“thou hast beheld in thy youth his (the Redeemer’s) glory....” (2 Ne 2:4).  

Even as a lad, Jacob has seen the Lord, perhaps in a vision.  He has had the same spiritual experience as his father Lehi, and brother Nephi.  Jacob has seen the Messiah, and already understand as does his father, how to escape the dark and enter into the light.

Lehi explains that via the Holy Spirit, “men are instructed sufficiently that they know good from evil” (vs 5).  All have the law of God written in their hearts via the Spirit and the light of Christ.  Our conscience generally tells us when we have done wrong things.

But there is another law given to men.  For the family of Lehi, it is the Law of Moses with the carnal commandments and animal sacrifices.  

“And the law is given unto men. And by the law no flesh is justified; or, by the law men are cut off. Yea, by the temporal law they were cut off; and also, by the spiritual law they perish from that which is good, and become miserable forever.Wherefore, redemption cometh in and through the Holy Messiah; for he is full of grace and truth” (2 Ne 2:5-6).

In Lehi’s day, the people of Jerusalem believed they were saved simply because they offered animal sacrifices at the temple and had themselves circumcised.  Lehi knows this is wrong. We are not saved by the Ten Commandments, the 613 laws in the Mosaic code, or by sacrificing an animal.

Only in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ is there salvation.  Only in the Messiah do we find the path to “grace and truth.”  The grace of Christ frees us from sin.  Truth allows us to choose to follow Christ.

Atonement, Justification and Sanctification

Behold, he offereth himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law, unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and unto none else can the ends of the law be answered” (2 Ne 2:7).

Here we see an early concept that develops more in LDS theology.  Christ offered himself as a willing sacrifice. Nephi notes this in the present tense, and not the future, because the premortal Christ indeed offered himself as the Savior of the world (Moses 4:1-4, Abraham 3:27).  All that is required from us is a broken heart and contrite spirit.  

This is a concept that goes beyond what many Christians believe. Some believe we must save ourselves through keeping commandments.  Commandments are important, but we cannot save ourselves.  As Hugh Nibley once wrote, “work we must, but the lunch is free.”

Life is a probation, wherein we are attending a special college.  God provides the necessities of life, so that we can focus on learning and growing.  Unfortunately, many people spend their time trying to get more lunch.  So it is for those who think they can earn their way into heaven.  God provides a free salvation for mankind, only requiring a contrite spirit and broken heart.  Instead of developing our spiritual heart and spirit, we focus on getting gain in the world. We think we can offer up obedience as a way to pay God back, so we can get back into his graces and presence. We shall see as we study the Book of Mormon that keeping commandments are important, they are a part of the work, but not to earn our salvation.  Instead, when done properly, obedience teaches us how to become like Christ.

Nephi also sees things this way:

Wherefore, how great the importance to make these things known unto the inhabitants of the earth, that they may know that there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah, who layeth down his life according to the flesh, and taketh it again by the power of the Spirit, that he may bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, being the first that should rise” (2 Ne 2:8).

We simply cannot earn our way back into the presence of God.  The lunch is free. Our part is to work to improve ourselves, developing contrition that will allow us to remain in God’s presence, after Christ’s mercy brings us there.

Here we see the importance of resurrection.  It is an entirely free lunch.  We do not have to earn the resurrection, nor beg for it.  Joe Spencer notes that in the Book of Mormon, the term “resurrection” includes the term atonement.  He explains:

For the Nephites, the resurrection is the core of the atonement. It’s the resurrection that makes repentance possible. This is to say, of course, that there’s no doctrine of atonement paying for sin in the Book of Mormon.”

Jacob will later explain that without the resurrection, we could only become “children of the devil”, with no hope for redemption (2 Ne 9:9).  This is a very important concept Lehi and the Nephite prophets will teach again and again- that Christ offers a free lunch, and all that is required is a deep humility and teach-ability, a broken heart and contrite spirit..

Wherefore, he is the firstfruits unto God, inasmuch as he shall make intercession for all the children of men; and they that believe in him shall be saved.And because of the intercession for all, all men come unto God; wherefore, they stand in the presence of him, to be judged of him according to the truth and holiness which is in him. Wherefore, the ends of the law which the Holy One hath given, unto the inflicting of the punishment which is affixed, which punishment that is affixed is in opposition to that of the happiness which is affixed, to answer the ends of the atonement” (2 Ne 2:9-10).

Christ makes intercession for everyone. Period.  The only key is we must believe in him to be saved. Upon believing in Christ, we are justified in his blood and resurrection.  We are made sinless and guiltless of all evil. Note that all will be brought back into the presence of God.  Only those who refuse to believe, those who embrace Satan and refuse to accept Christ’s atonement, will not be saved. Sons of Perdition are those who refuse to believe, insisting Christ is their enemy. Such will not remain in the presence of God.  For LDS, the “presence of God” connotes being in the presence of any of the members of the Godhead (Father, Son or Holy Ghost).  Depending upon the level of belief and contrition determines how much of God’s glorious presence we can endure.

In the ancient text, Ascension of Isaiah, the prophet ascends through levels of heaven, each level having a greater level of glory than the preceding one. Eventually, one ascended into the full presence of God, Jesus and the Holy Ghost.  While it seems we must earn higher levels of salvation, we can determine that it is still a free lunch.  As we seek to become more holy, God sends his Spirit upon us to sanctify us to a higher level.  We are lifted up, not by our works, but via the sanctification, wherein the Holy Spirit and Christ’s atonement makes us holier.  This  work to make us holy is how sanctification works for us.

Opposition in All Things

Agency is something LDS Christians believe in, yet often do not understand how it works.  Lehi explains it to us.  First, God allows opposition to occur.  Without opposition, there is nothing that can be or do.  Even laws of science show us the importance of opposing forces.  When we toss a ball, there is an equal and opposite force that goes away from the ball’s direction. We do not float away into space, because the force of gravity opposes such.  Exercise strains muscles through opposing force, which allows them to strengthen and grow.

There cannot be life, existence, nor growth without opposition. Opposition means change is possible.  Early creation beliefs show that God did not form the world from nothing (creation ex nihilo), but formed it from existing matter.  His effort was to bring order out of chaos.  Isaiah notes that God had to conquer the sea serpent or dragon Rahab, to bring order (Isa 51:9, Psalms 89:10).  The waters and darkness represented chaos, and God brought forth light and land to establish order.  In the last days, God again will fight against the spouse of Rahab, even the dragon, Leviathan, to bring about the order of the Millennium (Isa 27:1, Job 41:1, Rev 12).

The opposition in all things is a fight between order and chaos, light and darkness, good and evil, growth and stagnation, salvation and damnation.  Law, whether it is the Ten Commandments, the guidance of the Light of Christ (our conscience), natural laws like gravity, or the guidance given in many religions and cultures, are put in place by God and man as a way to master chaos.  

Lehi explained that for man to grow, the Garden of Eden required opposition for Adam and Eve. The Garden was a safe place, where innocent beings, such as Adam and Eve, could easily dwell. However, they could not progress, learn, or increase without the ability to experience more opposition.  Scripture denotes the opposition in the Garden being partaking of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, versus the fruit of the Tree of Life.  Lehi suggests that one had sweet fruit, and the other had bitter fruit.  This may have two connotations.

First, a physical connection.  If all we eat are sweet items, they pretty much all taste the same. But when one adds a lemon, suddenly the experience becomes very different.  The Garden was a place of complete order, but a sour or bitter fruit would bring about an opposing experience: unpleasant, yet still intriguing.  Many people eat lemons for the bitter flavor, even though it causes chaos to our taste buds.

Secondly, partaking of a forbidden fruit brings about chaos.  No more is there obedience, but disobedience. This also brings about a change, from innocence and stagnation into a different state. Yes, it is a fallen state, but it is a difference. Sometimes it is better to feel bad or guilt than to feel nothing at all.  Without chaos, we cannot bring order back into our own lives.

For mankind, agency is necessary for us to be able to choose between order and chaos. However, with the Fall of Adam, we lost the ability to choose for ourselves.  Regardless of how we lived our lives, we could not return back into the presence of God.  As noted above by Jacob, we would forever be trapped in the chaos of stagnation. We could not eternally grow. We could not resurrect and dwell with God. We would stagnate until we eventually became demons, “even children of the devil.”  

Here, Lehi’s story of Adam and Eve explains a key motif in the temple endowment: our own agency and rescue from bad choices.  Along with Adam and Eve, we are cast into the “lone and dreary world” where we learn, hopefully grow, and live a probationary life where we can repent. Opposition here in a world of chaos is much greater than in an ordered or innocent world. Yet, if we only had the Fall, our overall agency would be ended.  

Remaining in the Garden, there would be no choice, no growth, no children, no experiences. We could not have the chance to understand the difference between sweet and bitter. Worst still, we could not return to God, nor learn to be like him.  

Fortunately, God’s plan teaches, “Adam died that men might be, and men are that they might have joy” (2 Ne 2:25).

Not only was the Fall necessary to bring chaos and opposition into the world, but one other thing was necessary: the atonement.  Without the atonement, our agency would be seriously curtailed. We could choose to be as good as we wanted, but still could not resurrect nor return back into the presence of God.  Because of Christ’s atonement, we both resurrect and return to God’s presence.

And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day, according to the commandments which God hath given.Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself” (2 Ne 2:26-27)

Christ would come to redeem all mankind from the Fall. He brings order back into the mix for us, empowering us with agency, so we can personally choose to believe and be saved, or choose to disbelieve. We now are given the choice of two opposing powers: Christ’s atonement and order, or Satan’s temptation and chaos.  In accepting Christ, we receive even greater freedom. We can become like God through Christ. In doing so, we gain greater power to order things, and to overcome chaos.  For those who choose Satan, they lose agency and power. They are unable to control chaos, because they have no ability to bring forth order by themselves. They become captive within the very chaos they promote and embrace, while the righteous become free in the order they embrace through Christ’s atonement.

It is our choice via the agency Christ gives us to choose happiness or misery, life or death, order or chaos.  We may ascend into the presence of God and his order, or descend into darkness and chaos.


Joe Spencer’s  excellent in-depth study of lesson 6:

Hugh Nibley, “Work we must, but the lunch is free”:

Groups that migrated anciently to the Americas:
Clovis culture

Southeast Asia

Kennewick Man

Solutrean Europeans and others in Brazil

Africans in America

Bat Creek Inscription - early Jews in Tennessee?

Ascension of Isaiah:

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