Monday, January 27, 2014

OT #5: If Thou Doest Well, Thou Shalt Be Accepted

Old Testament Gospel Doctrine lesson #5, "If Thou Doest Well, Thou Shalt Be Accepted"

 My 2010 lesson #5 is available for reading here.

 Adam, Eve and children as a Pattern

As Latter-day Saints, we believe Adam and Eve were literal historical beings. That said, we do not know for certain which parts of their story are historical and which parts are allegorical, a symbol for teaching. Many Church leaders have questioned the literalness of Eve being born from the rib of Adam, for instance. It makes for an important story on how the animals were not good companions for Adam, and so God created Eve from his own flesh. It also is symbolic of how mankind fell from the presence of God (and each other), and must learn how to become "one flesh" again.

Driven out of the Garden, Adam and Eve were "shut out from His (God's) presence". Physically they would die one day. Spiritually, they were already dead. They would have to learn to live by the sweat of their brow, bearing children along the way. But they were given counsel prior to being cast out:
"And he gave unto them commandments, that they should worship the Lord their God, and should offer the firstlings of their flocks, for an offering unto the Lord. And Adam was obedient unto the commandments of the Lord" (Moses 5:5)
Only after years of complying, was Adam given the reason for the sacrifices he performed:

And then the angel spake, saying: This thing is a similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father, which is full of grace and truth.
 Wherefore, thou shalt do all that thou doest in the name of the Son, and thou shalt repent and call upon God in the name of the Son forevermore.
 And in that day the Holy Ghost fell upon Adam, which beareth record of the Father and the Son, saying: I am the Only Begotten of the Father from the beginning, henceforth and forever, that as thou hast fallen thou mayest be redeemed, and all mankind, even as many as will. (Moses 5:7-9)
 Adam now knew that a Savior would come to redeem mankind from the Fall. In this moment, as the Holy Ghost fell upon Adam and Eve, they were brought again back into the presence of the Godhead. It was the first step in returning into the full presence of God.  Note in this verse that God promises a near universal redemption. Only those (like Satan) who would refuse the atonement of Christ will not be redeemed, which redemption is offered as a free gift to all who are fallen from God's grace: all mankind.

Once Adam and Eve knew of the future atonement, they spread it forth to their children.
And Satan came among them, saying: I am also a son of God; and he commanded them, saying: Believe it not; and they believed it not, and they loved Satan more than God. And men began from that time forth to be carnal, sensual, and devilish. (v 13)
 Note that this is how Satan introduced himself to Moses. He insisted he was the Only Begotten sent to redeem mankind and to worship him rather than God.  Moses had a difficult time casting Satan out, imagine how difficult it must have been for Adam's children: not knowing any religion, but knowing their father had been cast away from and by God. Lucifer could come among them and they could dwell in his presence!

I note that it seems that Satan only now comes among them AFTER the pronunciation of salvation by God. If God were to reclaim them on conditions of repentance, the devil would embrace them in their worldly sins.  It is only at this point that the scripture notes that men become carnal and evil, not before.

 And the Lord God called upon men by the Holy Ghost everywhere and commanded them that they should repent;
 And as many as believed in the Son, and repented of their sins, should be saved; and as many as believed not and repented not, should be damned; and the words went forth out of the mouth of God in a firm decree; wherefore they must be fulfilled. (vv 14-15)
How does the Holy Ghost work to call men to repentance?  How has he moved upon us to believe and repent?  Note that before the angel went to Adam at the sacrificial altar, Adam was to sacrifice and keep commandments.  Now there is a new focus and priority: believe and repent. Suddenly, animal sacrifices and commandments were not in the forefront, but were a corollary to faith and remission of sins. No amount of animal sacrifices (or sacrifices of any kind) or obedience to commandments could bring mankind back into the presence of God.

So, what does it mean that those who refused would be damned?  We learn in modern scripture that this is actually part of God's goodness and mercy.  Alma 36 shows us that when we sin, we remove ourselves from God's presence, and it pains us. We suffer from being out of his presence, and ironically suffer if we attempt to return to his presence while in our sins! Only when we finally choose to repent and believe, does the darkness diminish, the pain subsides, and suffering is replaced by exquisite joy. In his dream, Lehi walked in darkness until he called on God's mercy, and then was ushered to the Tree of Life and the sweetness of its fruit (1 Nephi 8).  In Moses 1, the prophet had to call upon the Lord to be rescued from the Satan's attack, and was brought back into God's presence.

Such faith and repentance, as suggested by Adam S. Miller, must be total and complete. We cannot nibble on the edges of salvation.  Faith and repentance are not like antacids to calm an upset stomach caused by some spicy sin, but is like taking old fashioned castor oil in order to vomit up food poisoning sin. 

Cain and Abel

It was Eve's hope that on bearing Cain, she had "gotten a man from the Lord; wherefore he may not reject his (God's) words" as many of her other children had done.  Yet, as he grew, his response was, "Who is the Lord that I should know him?"

This is similar to the response Moses gave to Satan in chapter 1. Moses had experienced the presence and glory of God, and was able to see Lucifer with his natural eyes.  There was no comparison between the two.  However, Cain was still out of God's presence. In comparing the missing God or the ever-present Satan, Cain chose to follow the devil and learn from him.

 Old Testament Scholar, Margaret Barker, noted that Satan and his fallen angels turned the sons of God into animals/mortals by giving them worldly knowledge (fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil) rather than offering them the wisdom found in the fruit of the tree of life (The Tree of Life: From Eden to Eternity, The Tree of Life: The Fragrant Tree, Margaret Barker).

Taking the wisdom of God and twisting it, the world grew worse as mankind embraced secret combinations and used talents and other resources to get gain, rather than to glorify God and bless mankind.  While Cain proudly proclaimed he was free and his brother's flocks had fallen into his hands (personal wealth), after killing Abel; Lamech would later brag about killing a man for the sake of the oath. It is in this new and violent world that Enoch appeared.

Enoch the Seer

So little is said about Enoch in the Bible. Yet so much information is now available to us thanks to ancient texts that claim to be from Enoch.  These texts, including the Book of Moses, speak of Enoch's battles with the Watchers of his day: fallen men and giants (possibly men of great renown) who used the knowledge of the world to get gain.

While in Adam's case, he regained the presence of God three years before his death when Jesus appeared to him and his righteous descendants at Adam-Ondi-Ahman, Enoch regained God's presence by ascending into heaven on at least two occasions.  In his first ascension, Enoch saw the creation and state of the world he lived in. He foresaw the destruction by flood.  In some ancient texts, Enoch ascends to God's throne, puts on celestial robes, is anointed with holy oil, and sits down on God's throne as Metatron the archangel, a symbol of the Messiah to come!

For Enoch's final ascension, he took the entire city he built with him.  After centuries of preparing a righteous people and battling evil in the world, Enoch and his people were translated.  They were changed from a mortal and fallen state (tree of knowledge) to an immortal state of glory (tree of life).  His celestial city would be sought after by Melchizedek, Abraham, and seen in vision by John the Revelator (who described the city as having the tree of life growing in it).

As Enoch's city grew in love, peace, beauty and glory of God, the world sank deeper into Satan's darkness and violence. Enoch's leaving was the final act needed to prepare the world for its final destruction. Methuselah and a few others would die of old age, leaving Noah to build a tree of life, an ark, to rescue humanity from itself.

Conclusion

The world today offers us the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  We can have great clothing, toys and tools to make our lives not only easier, but better than others.  We can put ourselves in the middle of the universe through modern technology, showing everyone else how wonderful we are. We can take advantage of others, believing we are good and our actions are justifiable, because the ends justify the means. "I am free!" We are free to have any stuff we can take. We can even free ourselves from responsibility to God and man.

Meanwhile, Abel and Enoch symbolize the person who partakes of the fruit of the tree of life and wisdom. All God asks of us is to believe and repent. Once we do this, we are rescued from physical and spiritual death. We do not have to go to hell or spirit prison, if we do as Alma did and repent (Alma 36). Once we change inside, and vomit out the sins that are gnawing at our soul, then we are truly free to return into God's presence.  As with the Nephites in King Benjamin's day, we will no longer have desire to do evil, but to do good continually (Mosiah 5:1-5).  Obedience and sacrifice are no longer done simply because they are commanded. We do them because naturally want to do them.  We become as God is by wanting to do the things that God would do for his children.

As we go through the Old Testament, we will see this continuing battle for mankind to return into God's presence, or embrace Satan's path.



Bibliography:

Letters to a Young Mormon, Adam S. Miller
    -         Read chapter 3 on Sin, here at Fairmormon.


The Tree of Life: From Eden to Eternity, ed John Welch and Donald Parry

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

OT#4 "Because of My Transgressions, My Eyes are Open"

Old Testament Gospel Doctrine Lesson #4, "Because of my transgressions, my eyes are open"

The 2010 version of this lesson, which includes a discussion of the pseudepigrapha Book of Adam and Eve, can be found here: http://joelsmonastery.blogspot.com/2010/01/gospel-doctrine-lesson-4.html

The Tree of Life and the Endowment
The concept of the Garden of Eden and the Tree of Life are very ancient historically, and go back even to the ancient Babylonians.
Most modern scholars see a significant relationship between the tree of life in Genesis and similar trees or plants described in the literature of the ancient Near East. Though almost all cultures of the ancient world, especially the ancient Near East, possess soome kind of reference to the tree of life and humankind's quest to enjoy its fruit, there seems to be more profound connections between the Bible and the tree of life motifs in the oldest cultures of Mesopotamia than anywhere else. From an old Babylonian seal impression, now in the British Museum, the bilbical Garden of Eden scene appears to be clearly depicted, reflecting a "tradition that is no doubt of very ancient origin." In this scene, a tree stands in the middle, its boughs stretched out. On either side of the tree, two human figures are seated, each with an arm stretched forth, presumably to take the fruit of the tree. A serpent stands erect behind the figure on the left. The tree of life and the tree ofknowledge of good and evil are merged into one" (The Tree of Life: From Eden to Eternity, The Tree of Life in the Hebrew Bible and Later Jewish Thought, Andrew Skinner)


Because a tree can describe so many different concepts on many levels: tree, branch, leaf, fruit, roots, trunk, etc., it becomes the perfect symbol. The tree of life is believed in many stories to be in the center of Eden, and is viewed as the either the complement or the opposite of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.
The two trees represented two ways of knowing, perhaps two attitudes to knowledge, and the state that arises from each. The tree of life represented Wisdom, and those who ate from it were angels, "men." The other tree represented knowledge that could be used for good or for evil, and those who ate from it were mortals, "animals." The story of the two trees is the story of a clash of cultures: the life of the angels or the life of mortals. (The Tree of Life: From Eden to Eternity, The Tree of Life: The Fragrant Tree, Margaret Barker)
In other words, there are two methods people try to become as God is. One is through Wisdom, and the other through the school of hard knocks (knowledge). Some traditions hold that God offered Wisdom to Adam and Eve, but Lucifer deceived them into the path of knowledge instead. They were changed from angelic beings into mortals, with the trials and tragedies that come with learning the hard way. They followed Lucifer's path of knowledge, one that opened the door to good and bad knowledge, but did not have wisdom. There was no saving power in the fruit of that tree, only death and suffering. A method of saving mankind from the necrotic side effects of the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil would be needed.

In one of its symbolic forms, the Tree of Life is compared anciently to the woman Wisdom, consort/wife of God, sometimes called "Asherah". She represents not only Wisdom, but Life, fertility and rebirth. In John's Revelation, we learn that when the heavenly city appears, the tree of Life will be an integral part of the city, providing its immortal fruit to all the city's citizens. For Lehi and Nephi, the tree represented both the wife of God (in the symbol of Mary, mother of Jesus) and as the Messiah (in the form of the fruit of the tree of life).

The concept of the Tree of Life is also known in ancient America, where in the Popul Vuh, the dead God Hun Hunahp├║ is reborn when his head is planted inside a Calabash tree, and his seed (fruuit from from the tree)is dropped into a passing young woman, who bears twins that do marvelous works among mortals. From the story, we see a rebirth and a hope for the ancient Mayan world.

From Lehi's dream (2 Nephi 8-15) to the Popul Vuh to the story of the Garden of Eden, the Tree of Life represents redemption from a lost world. We are trying to return to the Garden, or as Nephi would put it, "the presence of the Lord". Adam and Eve lost access to the tree, and required a new path of return. The tree of life was now guarded by a flaming sword and cherubim (guardian angels). The Book of Mormon teaches us that the path to the tree of life entails rejecting the world's knowledge (represented by the great and spacious building) and embracing God's Wisdom. This does not mean we reject all of science, math, and literature. It means we need to realize that there is a greater thing to know out there: how to be like God in the manner that can make us god-like. Lucifer sought to overthrow God and his kingdom with the knowledge he had (Isaiah 14, Moses 4:1-4, Abraham 3). While knowledge can do many wonderful things (like create the computers and IPhones we now use), it pales in comparison to God's ability to create new worlds and to prepare them for his creation. He has the ability to forever restrain Chaos and Entropy, so that life can go on eternally. Knowledge cannot do all that is needed to hold off the dragon Leviathan from eventually consuming the earth and its inhabitants into the murky chaos of time and space.

Adam and Eve begin their exile by living a law of animal sacrifice and obedience. Only after years of learning through the life of knowledge and basic obedience that an angel is sent to ask Adam why he offers sacrifice. He has no reason, except for blind obedience. It is then that the angel gives to hiim the first bit of redeeming wisdom: this is done as a similtude of the Only Begotten, who is full of grace and truth (i.e., Wisdom). Adam and Eve are filled with the Holy Ghost and rejoice, for they are beginning the path back to the Tree of Life and the full presence of God. The stories about the Tree of Life are a form of endowment. It teaches us a higher goal than just working by the sweat of our brow, instead returning us back to the presence of God. It offers new and everlasting life through the fruit, Jesus Christ.

Bibliography

The Tree of Life: From Eden to Eternity, ed John Welch and Donald Parry
Popul Vuh
Nephi and His Asherah, by Daniel Peterson

Friday, January 10, 2014

OT #3: The Creation

Old Testament Gospel Doctrine lesson #3: The Creation

You can read my lesson #3 from 2010 here: http://joelsmonastery.blogspot.com/2010/01/lds-gospel-doctrine-class-old-testament_12.html

The Creation, a Prologue

According to Bible scholars, Genesis 1 was written by an ancient person/group named the Priest (P), while Genesis 2 was written by the Jahwist (J). These stories were not specifically written as a modern history or scientific description of creation, but as a prologue.  Israel was being recreated as a nation in the days of Moses.  As they left Egypt, they needed their own history that would show them to be an ancient group.  God provided them with a prologue, so they could show the Canaanites in the new land they were entering that they were an ancient people, with a lineage going all the way back to Adam.

Scholar Gerhard Von Rad notes,

The two presentations (Genesis 1 and 2) are alike in that they have as their chief end, though doing it in very different ways, the creation of man, that is, mankind as male and female-with the result that the rest of the world is ordered around them as the chief work of Jahweh in Creation. (Old Testament Theology, pg 141).
We shall find as we go through the Old Testament that the main theme is the story of God saving his main creation.  This will be seen from different viewpoints, as there are many symbolic creation stories in the Old Testament, or new beginnings: the Flood, the Abrahamic Covenant, Moses and the Exodus, the reign of King David, etc.  Each of these is a saving moment, where Jahweh provides salvation to his people, and a reason for their existence.  For Mormons, we can add other new beginnings, including the Restoration.

 It all begins "In the beginning."

Other Creation stories
While the lesson discusses the teachings on the Creation, primarily focused on the Book of Moses, we need to recognize that in the Bible alone are at least 3 or 4 versions of the Creation story, and the Books of Moses and Abraham give us additional story lines. While most of these are very similar, some are very different from one another. What are we to learn from this?  That the specifics of a historical Creation are not the important thing.  What is important is that God is the Creator and did create the earth.

Whether the earth's creation occurred in 6 twenty-four hour periods or billions of years, is really immaterial. For the ancient Hebrews (which includes Abraham and Moses), their view of history and science were very different from our modern understanding. If an ancient prophet saw every particle of the earth, does that mean every bit of sand, atom, quark?  Would an ancient prophet understand an atom or quark?  Would an ancient prophet understand Big Bang theories, etc?

Isaiah believed and referenced the Babylyonian/Canaanite creation story, where God had to fight the dragon Leviathan/Rahab in order to overcome Chaos. Old Testament scholar Gerhard Von Rad noted:

...a dramatic struggle of Jahweh (Jehovah) with the powers of Chaos. In this concept a new element is presupposed-a blatant enmity of Chaos towards God. Psalms 46:3 and 89:9 speak of Chaos' inordinate pride. But Jahweh rebuked Chaos (Psalms 104:7), he smote it terribly (Ps 74:13f), and forced these powers to go down underneath the earth, so that they now sleep in the depths of Creation: they could possibly be reawakened (Job 3:8), but God has set a guard over them (Job 7:12)....Jahweh's opponent is hypostasised as a mythical person to such an extent (he is called Rahab or Leviathan, Is 51:9f, Psalm 89:11) that one could be well nigh tempted to regard these texts as implying a cosmological dualism. In comparison with Genesis I, even the elements in this concept which Israel took over are remarkable for their strongly mythological form. (Old Testament Theology, pp 150-151).

Another version of the Creation is that of God creating all things through Wisdom.  In the scriptures, Wisdom is viewed as the wife of God, the Tree of Life, and the creative power of God.  The Bible's Wisdom literature (Psalms, Proverbs, Job, etc.) discuss Wisdom in conjunction with the Creation (Psalm 104:5-24, Job 26:3-10, 38:2-7).  In Proverbs 8, we read:

I wisdom dwell with prudence, and find out knowledge of witty inventions.  The fear of the Lord is to hate evil: pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the froward mouth, do I hate.
 Counsel is mine, and sound wisdom: I am understanding; I have strength.... The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was.  When there were no depths, I was brought forth; when there were no fountains abounding with water.  Before the mountains were settled, before the hills was I brought forth:  While as yet he had not made the earth, nor the fields, nor the highest part of the dust of the world.  When he prepared the heavens, I was there: when he set a compass upon the face of the depth:  When he established the clouds above: when he strengthened the fountains of the deep:  When he gave to the sea his decree, that the waters should not pass his commandment: when he appointed the foundations of the earth:  Then I was by him, as one brought up with him: and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him;  Rejoicing in the habitable part of his earth; and my delights were with the sons of men.  Now therefore hearken unto me, O ye children: for blessed are they that keep my ways. (Proverbs 8:12-32).
So, we have a variety of Creation stories, all with at least some minor differences.  What should we learn from it? That the ancient Hebrews were not focused on historical or scientific methods or evidence, but sought to understand their relationship with God.  Genesis 1 is different from the story of Wisdom or Leviathan (at least in some respects), simply because different prophets were seeking to understand Creation from a different perspective, from a different time period, from a different cultural aspect, and with a different purpose to what they wanted to teach.  Because of the symbolism involved, whether any or all of the events are "true" in a historical sense, the important issue is what we learn from Creation, and our relationship with our Creator.

Man in God's Image

In a world where most Christians believe that God is an unknowable spirit, we find something different about God in the Old Testament.  Gerhard Von Rad explained:

Actually, Israel conceived even Jahweh himself as having human form. But the way of putting it which we use runs in precisely the wrong direction, according to Old Testament ideas, for, according to the ideas of Jahwism, it cannot be said that Israel regarded God anthropomorphically (man-like), but the reverse, that she considered man as theomorphic (God-like). (Old Testament Theology, pg 145).
Here, the concept of Mormonism that man can become God is present in the concept that God made man in his own image.  In speaking of God, we sometimes mistakenly say that God is in man's image, which (as Von Rad notes) is going in the wrong direction.

Creation and Redemption

For Israel, Creation and Redemption go hand in hand. Von Rad again noted:

Jahweh created the world. But he created Israel too. In Isaiah 51:9f, the two creative works are almost made to coincide. The prophet apostrophises the creation of the world, but at the same time he speaks of Israel's redemption from Egypt. For hardly has he spoken about the driving back of the waters, in the language of the mythical struggle with the dragon of Chaos, than he jumps to the miracle at the Red Sea, where Jahweh again held the waters back "for the redeemed to pass through." Here creation and redemption almost coincide, and can almost be looked on as the one act of dramatic divine saving action in the picture of the struggle with the dragon of Chaos. The situation is just the same in Psalms 77:17ff....(Old Testament Theology, pp 137-8).
The earth was created for mankind.  Creation was the first great act by God, so that we may exist in mortality.  God's second great act is that of the Redemption, without which, creation would be meaningless.  It is the first great step in mankind becoming like God.


Bibliography

Old Testament Theology, Volume 1, The Theology of Israel's Historical Traditions; Gerhard Von Rad, ISBN: 0-06-068930-7