Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Book of Mormon Lesson 8: “O How Great the Goodness of Our God” 2 Nephi 6-10

Book of Mormon Lesson 8: “O How Great the Goodness of Our God”
2 Nephi 6-10

Why does Nephi have Jacob and Isaiah’s teachings in his book?
2 Nephi 6

We may sometimes wonder why Nephi and Jacob quote Isaiah so much, or why Nephi includes Jacob’s teaching in his own book.  There is a reason.  For Nephi, he will later explain that Jacob, Isaiah and he (Nephi) all had something in common: each is a personal witness of the Lord Jesus Christ.  In adding the three together, Nephi is combining three witnesses together of Jesus’ premortal existence and his forthcoming role as Messiah and Savior of the world.  The Hebrew law of witnesses is an ancient concept that Nephi and the Lord took seriously.

Secondly, Nephi understands the concept of pesher or Midrash.  These were ancient commentaries that often included quoting a scriptural text, and then commenting on it in a way to apply it to the commenter’s day. A perfect example of this is the Dead Sea Scroll, Habakkuk Pesher or Commentary (1QpHab).  In the pesher, written in the first century BC, the Book of Habakkuk is quoted and explained in a manner that fit the Qumran people of the later era.  The term “Kittim” described by Habakkuk as the Babylonians, is now likened to the Roman Empire. Other concepts taught by Habakkuk in our Bible are adapted to the Jewish experience in Roman times, with conflicts between Israel and Gentiles creating other foes, such as the Wicked Priest and the Teacher of Righteousness.

Just as we see this practice of quoting and then reinterpreting the scripture in the Habakkuk pesher and various other ancient commentaries, we see Nephi and Jacob doing the same thing. That Nephi and Jacob quoted Isaiah so extensively is actually evidence of the Book of Mormon’s veracity. Among the copies of scripture found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, there were more fragments of Deuteronomy and Isaiah than any other books of the Old Testament.  These are probably the two books of scripture used most by Nephi in his books: writing often concerning Moses and even comparing Lehi and himself to Moses (see previous lessons), and Nephi and Jacob’s peshers on Isaiah.

That Jacob’s pesher quotes chapters of Isaiah that discuss the Gentiles connection with Israel, and then explains how it applies in his commentary, reminds us of the  Book of Habakkuk and the Habakkuk Pesher discussing the gentile intrusion into Israelite lands.  In this instance, however, it is regarding the Gentiles returning Israel back to its former glory, as children carried on Gentile shoulders (2 Nephi 6:6-12).

I Clothe the Heavens with Blackness
2 Nephi 7, Isaiah 50

The Lord explains to Israel why they have been cast aside, carried off into exile.  God has divorced their mother because of her infidelity.  She has slept with Baal and other idols, and the children have called upon the idols as their father, rather than their true Eternal Father.  Jehovah has cast them off, but is willing and able to restore them when they are ready to change from their evil ways.
“Wherefore, when I came, was there no man? when I called, was there none to answer? Is my hand shortened at all, that it cannot redeem? or have I no power to deliver? behold, at my rebuke I dry up the sea, I make the rivers a wilderness: their fish stinketh, because there is no water, and dieth for thirst” (vs 2).

When God came to Israel, no one was at the door to greet him.  When he called out, all had left their true home, and entered into the temples of the idols.  They left God, thinking there was greater power with the idols, who allowed them to live sinful lives as long as they worshiped at their altars. Yet it is God who has the power to redeem and deliver Israel.  When God rebukes, or rather removes his holy protection, the waters dry up and all things die from famine and drought.  They have left his protection, and in depending upon idols to protect themselves have brought destruction upon themselves.  Yet, even in being destroyed, they do not return to God to be delivered.

“I clothe the heavens with blackness, and I make sackcloth their covering” (vs 3).

Here we see Isaiah using poetic imagery to show just how dreadful things will be for apostate Israel.  Sackcloth was literally mourning clothing that was made from the poorest of materials, often from goat’s hair.  The heavens clothed in blackness suggests that things are so bad that even the heavens are in mourning because of the death of Israel.  This ties into literal prophesy for the last days, when we are told the stars will not give their light, the sun will be turned black and the moon turned blood red (Rev 6:12, Isa 13:10, Jere 4:28).  Even like the destructions in the last days, Israel’s apostasy and destruction shocks the heavens and earth, the angels weep, and only hope in future deliverance and redemption can bring them back from despair.

“Behold, all ye that kindle a fire, that compass yourselves about with sparks: walk in the light of your fire, and in the sparks that ye have kindled. This shall ye have of mine hand; ye shall lie down in sorrow” (vs 11).

The heavens have been darkened and the wicked seek to lighten the way with sparks.  Matthew Henry noted:

“Sinners are warned not to trust in themselves. Their own merit and sufficiency are light and heat to them. Creature-comforts are as sparks, short-lived, and soon gone; yet the children of this world, while they last, seek to warm themselves by them, and walk with pride and pleasure in the light of them. Those that make the world their comfort, and their own righteousness their confidence, will certainly meet with bitterness in the end. A godly man's way may be dark, but his end shall be peace and everlasting light. A wicked man's way may be pleasant, but his end and abode for ever will be utter darkness.”

We walk in much darkness in this life.  Yet only those who truly trust in God will be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  He becomes their light.  The sparks or tiny lights of the sinner may convince them they are seeing clearly, but they are unable to truly see what is ahead of them: destruction and sorrow.

Look Unto Abraham your Father
2 Nephi 8, Isaiah 51

“Hearken to me, ye that follow after righteousness, ye that seek the Lord: look unto the rock whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye are digged.Look unto Abraham your father, and unto Sarah that bare you: for I called him alone, and blessed him, and increased him.For the Lord shall comfort Zion: he will comfort all her waste places; and he will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving, and the voice of melody” (vs 1-3).

God calls upon Israel to look to where they truly come from and where they currently are.  The rock is their heritage of prophets and patriarchs.  They are now standing in a pit, which they dug themselves with shovels of sin.  The more they worship idols and sin, the deeper their pit becomes.  Yet they can still be reached.

They are called upon to look to their father Abraham.  Abraham was called alone. In a previous lesson on Abraham we noted how Jehovah was given Israel as his assigned kingdom by Elohim.  Rather than seek out a people that were already well established in the land, Jehovah selected one man to build a new nation from scratch, built upon faith in the Lord God.  Abraham was Jehovah’s friends, as we discussed  in the last lesson.  God is calling upon all of Israel to be his friend, and to receive all the blessings of being Jehovah’s offspring.

And while Israel is now scattered to the nations, the Lord foresaw the reestablishment of Zion and its abandoned treasures.  The wilderness would bloom as a rose, and be as holy and peaceful as the Garden of Eden.  Here is the secret to establishing a Zion and a Zion people: they must look to Abraham’s example, and follow it.

“Hearken unto me, my people; and give ear unto me, O my nation: for a law shall proceed from me, and I will make my judgment to rest for a light of the people.My righteousness is near; my salvation is gone forth, and mine arms shall judge the people; the isles shall wait upon me, and on mine arm shall they trust. Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look upon the earth beneath: for the heavens shall vanish away like smoke, and the earth shall wax old like a garment, and they that dwell therein shall die in like manner: but my salvation shall be for ever, and my righteousness shall not be abolished".

Isaiah makes it clear that God shall bring forth a new law.  This is not the Mosaic law, which already came from God, but a new law that will establish Zion as God’s chosen place, giving the righteous a place of rest and light.  This law was brought forth by Christ during his mortal ministry.  He came to fulfill the law of Moses, replacing it with the higher law.  No more would animals be sacrificed, as the Messiah would be the final sacrifice.  It is He who has the power to redeem and deliver” (vs 4-6).

Christ’s judgment is based upon both justice and mercy.  For those who trust upon him, his mercy is sufficient to save them from hell fire.  And to the extent that a person seeks after Christ’s redemption is the level that his mercy fully extends in saving the person.  So mercy has Christ reaching out to all and giving them as much salvation as he can give them . Justice comes in that we only receive the level of salvation and deliverance that we want.  This comes from our actions, words, thoughts, and desires.  If we only desire the minimal salvation, we will live our lives barely giving Christ any thought and will not think often on our sins or repenting of them.  If we have great desires to follow Christ, he will redeem us to a higher glory of salvation, according to the true desires of our hearts.

Trust in God the Creator
2 Nephi 8, Isa 51

“Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord; awake, as in the ancient days, in the generations of old. Art thou not it that hath cut Rahab, and wounded the dragon? Art thou not it which hath dried the sea, the waters of the great deep; that hath made the depths of the sea a way for the ransomed to pass over? Therefore the redeemed of the Lord shall return, and come with singing unto Zion; and everlasting joy shall be upon their head: they shall obtain gladness and joy; and sorrow and mourning shall flee away. I, even I, am he that comforteth you: who art thou, that thou shouldest be afraid of a man that shall die, and of the son of man which shall be made as grass; And forgettest the Lord thy maker, that hath stretched forth the heavens, and laid the foundations of the earth; and hast feared continually every day because of the fury of the oppressor, as if he were ready to destroy? and where is the fury of the oppressor? The captive exile hasteneth that he may be loosed, and that he should not die in the pit, nor that his bread should fail. But I am the Lord thy God, that divided the sea, whose waves roared: The Lord of hosts is his name. And I have put my words in thy mouth, and I have covered thee in the shadow of mine hand, that I may plant the heavens, and lay the foundations of the earth, and say unto Zion, Thou art my people.” (vs 9-16)

God uses patterns in Creation and Destruction.  In creating the world, the tradition is that Jehovah had to subdue the sea serpent/dragon Rahab.  In another passage, Isaiah foresees Jehovah defeating its twin Leviathan in the last days (Isa 27:1, see also Rev 12).  God must destroy, or at least subdue Chaos in creating Order and Righteousness. The chaos of the oceans with its sea serpent had to be subdued in order to form land and life.  In casting Lucifer out of the Garden with a curse, and in binding him for the thousand year Millennium, we see that Jehovah defeats the Dragon/Sea Serpent twice.  This is necessary to accomplish his plans.  The Sea Serpent is Chaos, trying to destroy all things for eternity.  God destroys in order to reform things into a higher order.

Reminiscent of the Creation is the Exodus, where God created a new covenant people by destroying Egypt.  Egypt with its many gods and idols represented chaos and the serpent (see Ezekiel 32:2).  Slavery also represents chaos, and these had to be destroyed to create a new order of things: Israel.  God brought the ransomed Israel across the chaos of the Red Sea to safety, while destroying their Egyptian serpent.  Then, Israel was given the law of Moses as a new order in which to live and serve God in his order.

Every time God creates, he is creating or planting a heaven, laying the foundation of an earth or a great work, and creating a Zion people.  Creation means bringing order out of chaos.  When God gives commandments, they are a protection.  He is creating order, which can guide and protect the people from chaos and harm.  Yet, when they abandon the laws of God, chaos floods in destroying society and the benefits of the order and protection given it.

There is none to guide her among all the sons whom she hath brought forth; neither is there any that taketh her by the hand of all the sons that she hath brought up. These two things are come unto thee; who shall be sorry for thee? desolation, and destruction, and the famine, and the sword: by whom shall I comfort thee?” vs 18-19)

Jerusalem is called to awake from its chaotic sleep and realize just what troubles they are really in.  When society stops following the basic principles and doctrines God has established for an orderly society, it corrodes.  There is no one who can truly lead them, for how does one rule over chaos?  All that is left them is desolation, destruction, famine and death by sword.

Yet in the final verses, God states that the day will come when he will remove the cup of affliction from Jerusalem and give it to those who afflict Israel.  Why? Because through great trial Israel will repent and seek the Lord’s way once again, while others will ripen in iniquity, choosing chaos over the freedom God offers in his order.

Put on Thy Strength, O Zion!
2 Nephi 8:24-25

“Awake, awake; put on thy strength, O Zion; put on thy beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city: for henceforth there shall no more come into thee the uncircumcised and the unclean. “Shake thyself from the dust; arise, and sit down, O Jerusalem: loose thyself from the bands of thy neck, O captive daughter of Zion”.

The time will come when God will call upon Zion and Jerusalem, the two holy cities, to lift themselves from the dirty ground, shake the dust off themselves, and glory in God’s splendor.  No longer will they be bound down in sin and chaos, but be redeemed and restored to their former glory.

We begin to see physical Israel gather together in Jerusalem in our day.  The nation of Israel stands once again, though its existence remains fragile because of its enemies that surround it.  In these last days, Spiritual Israel also has been restored, with the stakes of Zion being established through out the world.  These too remain in a fragile existence, as they are beholden to kings and rulers to allow the small congregations of Saints to gather and worship.  Yet as they seek to serve God, he will strengthen their little footholds on the earth, making them greater than their numbers.

Understanding the Covenant of Christ
2 Nephi 9

And now, my beloved brethren, I have read these things that ye might know concerning the covenants of the Lord that he has covenanted with all the house of Israel” (2 Ne 9:1).

Isaiah explains the covenants that God has made with the house of Israel. Anciently, covenants were made with some individuals such as Abraham. However, under the Law of Moses, covenants were made with the nation.  Here though, Jacob is attempting to redefine the covenant on an individual basis for the Nephites.

What the Jews did not understand, and had lost because of the changes done by the Deuteronomists and temple priests from King Josiah’s time forward, was the true temple worship, with the covenants and ordinances done therein. Teachings such as the temple being the place for the Presence of God was lost.  The symbolism that expected a Messiah that would pay for the sins of the people was lost.  Many key teachings were lost among the Jews as they changed the worship to focus primarily on animal sacrifice and the 613 laws of Moses, instead of these being symbols of the eternal covenant.

So, Jacob explained the important matter of the eternal covenant of Christ with his Israelite family.

"Wherefore, it must needs be an infinite atonement—save it should be an infinite atonement this corruption could not put on incorruption. Wherefore, the first judgment which came upon man must needs have remained to an endless duration. And if so, this flesh must have laid down to rot and to crumble to its mother earth, to rise no more” (2 Ne 9:7).

Animal sacrifices do not make an infinite atonement. The twisted and apostate Jewish temple worship could not save anyone.  Moses’ teachings would lead us to Christ, but were not the source of atoning salvation.  Without Christ’s atonement, death would be eternal. We would not resurrect.  We could not be placed in a redeemed and sinless state, wherein we could dwell in God’s presence, represented by the ancient temple.

O the wisdom of God, his mercy and grace! For behold, if theflesh should rise no more our spirits must become subject to that angel who fell from before the presence of the Eternal God, and became the devil, to rise no more.And our spirits must have become like unto him, and we become devils, angels to a devil, to be shut out from the presence of our God, and to remain with the father of lies, in misery, like unto himself; yea, to that being who beguiled our first parents, who transformeth himself nigh unto an angel of light, and stirreth up the children of men unto secret combinations of murder and all manner of secret works of darkness.O how great the goodness of our God, who prepareth a way for our escape from the grasp of this awful monster; yea, that monster, death and hell, which I call the death of the body, and also the death of the spirit” (2 Ne 9:8-10).

Here is how important the covenant is with Christ. Had he not atoned for us, we not only would remain as spirits forever, unable to resurrect, but we could not progress.  Without progression, we would eventually succumb to the stagnation offered by Satan. Shut out from the presence of God, unable to access the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying power, we would not have the agency to choose life over death.  Christ becomes our rescue from the eternal monsters of death and hell. Death of the body and death of the spirit.  Hell is to be forever out of the presence of God’s presence, light, and truth. It is to remain forever in a state of darkness, unable to grow, because Satan will not and cannot give us agency or choice.

And he cometh into the world that he may save all men if they will hearken unto his voice; for behold, he suffereth the pains of all men, yea, the pains of every living creature, both men, women, and children, who belong to the family of Adam. And he suffereth this that the resurrection might pass upon all men, that all might stand before him at the great and judgment day” (2 Ne 9:21-22).

The covenant is that Christ is sacrificed, bringing about the resurrection and the atonement, in exchange for us promising to believe on his name, repent, and be baptized (vs 23-24).  We have what should be an easy choice: accept and follow Christ and receive eternal life, or refuse to accept his atonement and suffer in darkness and turmoil, simply because we would not make the covenant with Jesus.

O, my beloved brethren, remember my words. Behold, I take off my garments, and I shake them before you; I pray the God of my salvation that he view me with his all-searching eye; wherefore, ye shall know at the last day, when all men shall be judged of their works, that the God of Israel did witness that Ishook your iniquities from my soul, and that I stand with brightness before him, and am rid of your blood.O, my beloved brethren, turn away from your sins; shake off the chains of him that would bind you fast; come unto that God who is the rock of your salvation” (2 Ne 9:44-45).

Here, Jacob uses some parallelism.  He shakes his garments at us, showing he is clean of our sins because he has done his part to warn us.  He then pleads to us to shake off the chains that bind us to Satan.  In many ancient ascension/temple texts, there is a change of garment.  In ancient writings regarding them, Isaiah and Enoch, in ascending to heaven, are given a new garment to place upon themselves, prior to entering into God’s presence.  This garment represents taking upon oneself the covenants and ordinances (including baptism) we need to make with Christ.  But to put it on, we must first remove the garment that represents our earthly, sinful life, and become a new person in Christ.

Perish in the flesh
2 Nephi 10

For behold, the promises which we have obtained are promises unto us according to the flesh; wherefore, as it has been shown unto me that many of our children shall perish in the flesh because of unbelief, nevertheless, God will be merciful unto many; and our children shall be restored, that they may come to that which will give them the true knowledge of their Redeemer” (2 Ne 10:2).

There is the concept that has been taught by some General Authorities that suggests that if faithful parents teach their children and they go wayward, that they will eventually be restored by God.  Prior to this rescue, they will first have to “perish in the flesh” so that they can be saved in the spirit.

In D&C 19:10-20, the Lord commands us to repent or suffer even as he did.  For those who go astray, they will suffer in hell until they repent, whether that suffering requires a few days or several centuries.  The prophet Alma explains how such a painful experience drove him to repentance and a return to faith. Alma notes that he suffered until he remembered the words of his father, and he repented.

We read on this:

“The Prophet Joseph Smith declared—and he never taught a more comforting doctrine—that the eternal sealings of faithful parents and the divine promises made to them for valiant service in the Cause of Truth, would save not only themselves, but likewise their posterity. Though some of the sheep may wander, the eye of the Shepherd is upon them, and sooner or later they will feel the tentacles of Divine Providence reaching out after them and drawing them back to the fold. Either in this life or the life to come, they will return. They will have to pay their debt to justice; they will suffer for their sins; and may tread a thorny path; but if it leads them at last, like the penitent Prodigal, to a loving and forgiving father’s heart and home, the painful experience will not have been in vain. Pray for your careless and disobedient children; hold on to them with your faith. Hope on, trust on, till you see the salvation of God.”Orson F. Whitney, in Conference Report, Apr. 1929, 110.

Joseph Smith explained:

Hence God hath made a provision, that every spirit in the eternal world can be ferreted out and saved, unless he has committed that unpardonable sin, which can not be remitted to him. That God has wrought out a salvation for all men, unless they have committed a certain sin.Every man who has got a friend in the eternal world can save him unless he has committed the unpardonable sin, so you can see how far you can be a savior. A man can not commit the unpardonable sin after the dissolution of the body, and there is a way possible for escape. Knowledge saves a man, and in the world of spirits a man cannot be exalted but by knowledge; so long as a man will not give heed to the commandments, he must abide without salvation.” – Joseph Smith, KFD, Apr 7, 1844, Times and Seasons Minutes

Such is the promise and covenant we have with Christ that it maximizes salvation and eternal joy.


Matthew Henry’s Commentary:

Order out of Chaos:

Joe Spencer’s lesson 8:

Joel’s Monastery blog on Old Testament lesson 39, Isaiah 50-53:

“Our Wayward Children” post at Millennial Star blog:

1 comment:

rameumptom said...

I wanted to add some further thoughts on Jacob's interpretation of Isaiah.
In Isaiah's chapters, he is referencing the Creation story. We've already dealt with this with Nephi and Lehi representing Adam or Moses in a new creation. Now, it is Jacob and Isaiah that will speak of this. Isaiah mentions the Creation, where God fought the sea dragon Rahab, in order to destroy or control chaos, and establish order (2 Ne 8:9). Part of the Creation was establishing light and earth to balance the chaos of darkness and sea.

As Jacob does his pesher or commentary on the Isaiah text (2 Ne 9-10), he explains that the great chaos for mankind is death and hell. These are the darkness and water that prevent us from the perfect order. Overlorded by Satan, he becomes the devil or sea dragon. Only God, Jesus Christ, can bring light out of darkness, and land from the storm tossed seas. He brings about salvation from temporal and spiritual death. Without these, we would forever dwell in the darkness of Satan's grasp, forever to be his children, even demons of the Dragon.