Tuesday, January 12, 2010

LDS Gospel Doctrine Class - Old Testament #3

Lesson #3 Moses 1:26-42; 2-3, Abr 4-5

Gospel Doctrine Lesson #3, Moses 1:26-42; 2-3; Abraham 4-5

Moses has recently seen God face to face, then struggled with Satan. He told Satan he had other things to inquire of God, and he believes he will get that opportunity. Because of his faithfulness, he is now worthy to have greater things revealed to him concerning the Creation. In verse 26 of Moses 1, we see that Moses has not yet gone back to Egypt to retrieve Israel, but receives his call to do so. Moses is in God’s glory and hears his voice.

Moses 1:27-42
Moses looks and beholds the earth from atop the high mountain. With spiritual eyes, he is able to discern all of it, even every little particle. We can ponder just what size particles Moses was able to view: did he see particles the size of sand, or even smaller? Atoms or subatomic particles? Would Moses have understood particles that small, given that such science wasn’t available in his day to understand such small things?

The prophet then sees the inhabitants of the earth in his day. Estimates of world population from 1000 to 2000 BC are between 35 and 50 million inhabitants. This truly would have seemed as numerous as the “sand upon the seashore.”

At this point, Moses asks God the why and how of Creation. God then appears to Moses, and the prophet sees Jesus face to face. Such an experience requires “the glory of the Lord” to be upon a person. The individual is transfigured, his body is changed temporarily so as to be able to withstand the level of glory he is about experience. After Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon viewed the vision of the kingdoms of heaven (D&C 76), Sidney was exhausted and pale. Joseph smiled and stated that Sidney was not used to such glory as Joseph was. One must learn to adjust and adapt to glory, so that one becomes comfortable in the presence of angels and God. For us today, we have the temple experience to help us become accustomed to a higher glory. When we enter the temple, we are changed, even if slightly, as we feel the Spirit move within us and raise us to a higher state. Many temple goers can note how they feel differently when within the temple, and can then feel the loss after they reenter the world afterward.

God tells Moses that it is for his own purpose that the earth and man have been made. What is that purpose? Moses 1:39 tells us, “this is MY work and MY GLORY, to bring about the immortality and eternal life of man.” As mentioned in a previous lesson, God is the “most moved mover.” His glory comes from creating and bringing structure out of chaos (more on that later), and in creating sentient beings who can share in the glories, knowledge, and joys of God.

In verse 32, God tells us that it is by his Word, even his Only Begotten that all things are done. In some way we do not understand, the Power and Atonement of Christ reaches all the way back into the premortal existence and the Creation of the world. God has created “worlds without number” – an amazing statement given how little was understood in Moses’ or Joseph Smith’s time concerning the cosmos. Since the early 20th century, we’ve understood that there is more than one galaxy. While mankind has speculated concerning planets outside our solar system, we’ve only begun finding them in the last 20 years. Our galaxy has 100-300 billion stars in it. There are multitudes of galaxies, estimates are over 100 billion galaxies. Given our sun has 8 planets and several dwarf planets circling it, imagine multiplying that number across our galaxy alone, much less all galaxies! Clearly the Lord was correct when he stated there were worlds without numbers.

In verse 34, the Lord states: “And the first man of all men have I called Adam, which is many.” We know this is true of our world, but does this also apply to all other worlds as well? Was the first spirit child/mortal man placed upon an earth, also called “Adam”? In Hebrew, the word Adam means “red” or “man.” A similar root word is Adamah, which means “earth.” So we get a word play on whom Adam was: man made from the red earth.

Of God’s creations, they are continually in flux. Things are created and destroyed constantly. This idea was uncommon in the past, as most thought the heavens were solid and unchanging. Modern science has shown us just how wild the universe can be: super novas, galaxies colliding, stars collapsing into quasars or black holes, etc. Yet, with all the seeming chaos, there is still an order to all things. This order comes from the “light of Christ”:

▼ 6 He that ascended up on high, as also he descended below all things, in that he comprehended all things, that he might be in all and through all things, the light of truth;
▼ 7 Which truth shineth. This is the light of Christ. As also he is in the sun, and the light of the sun, and the power thereof by which it was made.
▼ 8 As also he is in the moon, and is the light of the moon, and the power thereof by which it was made;
▼ 9 As also the light of the stars, and the power thereof by which they were made;
▼ 10 And the earth also, and the power thereof, even the earth upon which you stand.
▼ 11 And the light which shineth, which giveth you light, is through him who enlighteneth your eyes, which is the same light that quickeneth your understandings;
▼ 12 Which light proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space— (D&C 88).
It is by the Light of Christ that all things are organized, given life and structure. Regardless of whether it is a planet’s course, or a newborn’s first breath, it is all directed by the Light that comes from the presence of God. The second of the laws of thermodynamics states that closed systems tend towards entropy, or disorder/chaos. While this law tends true in most instances, God’s light of Christ is able to bring order out of chaos, as we see in the Creation.

Moses asks in verse 36 to not only know of the earth and its people, but of the heavens. God must reject his request, because while Moses has been transfigured to stand in God’s presence, he is still not able to bear all of God’s glory. To see all God’s creations means Moses would have to bear all of God’s glory, as well. In visiting our earth, God must withhold some of his glory, otherwise mankind could not remain in the flesh.

In the early Jewish/Christian text, Ascension of Isaiah , Isaiah sees Jesus descend through the levels of heaven, reducing his glory to a level those in each heaven can bear. We see that with Moses, the Lord has also had to reduce his glory, as Moses does not experience God’s full glory – otherwise he could not remain in the flesh.

The Creation
The Lord commands Moses to write down the vision he is to receive of the Creation. With Genesis 1-2, Moses 2-3, and Abraham 4-5, we have several varying accounts of the Creation.
Many LDS authors have suggested that the difference between Genesis 1 and 2 is that one is a spiritual creation, while the other was the actual physical creation. We definitely see such an event in Abraham. Many scholars, however, believe the difference lies in what is known as the Documentary Hypothesis. The Documentary Hypothesis was formed in the 19th century by German scholars. In studying the Old Testament texts, they determined that our current Bible came through several authors and redactors (editors). The various authors who affected the books of the Moses are known by the following names (Yahwist – J, Elohist – E, Priestly – P, Deuteronomist – D, and Redactor – R). There are good articles and books on these, so I won’t go into depth here, but refer you to the following:
Wikipedia article: Documentary hypothesis - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Kevin Barney’s LDS discussion on DH: B

The concept is that while Moses may have originally written things down, the oral history continued among the Israelites for centuries, until it was written down by J and E. These were eventually combined and enhanced by P and D. Finally, Ezra the Redactor put it all together in one final series of books. Genesis 1 and 2 end up being two separate Creation stories that represented key components of faith from two of the groups’ (J and P) main views.

Given that all of the Creation accounts, including the temple’s version, have key differences, it is very likely that at least portions of the accounts given us are allegorical. God DID create the earth, but gave us a somewhat symbolic story from which we can gain greater understanding on how God creates and works with his children. Considering that so much creation is covered in just a few verses, lots of details are left out. We cannot tell just how long a “Day” is from the accounts. Were they 24 hours long each, or millions of years each? When Jehovah created the earth, did we help? Or did we stand by and watch? If we did assist, were we able to wave a hand and create entire mountain ranges? Or did we create each flower petal by hand, one at a time?

Creation Ex Nihilo
Unlike most of the rest of Christianity, LDS do not believe God created the earth from nothing (creation ex nihilo). Rather, we believe God formed the earth from matter that already existed. In Moses 2:2, we see that the earth is, but it has no form and is void (empty). The reference to God causing darkness or his Spirit to come upon the waters references an ancient Sumerian belief that God initially had to defeat the great Sea Serpent, Leviathan, in order to bring order to the seas, which were in chaos. Only then was God able to bring greater order to the world (see Job 41:1, Psalms 74:14, Isaiah 27:1).

The Creation is based upon the concept that the earth is in the center of the universe. The model shows the waters being divided between the earth’s center and in the skies or heavens directly above the earth.

Creation of the dry lands is part of bringing order to the void. Once the waters are controlled, the lands can then be organized. Interestingly, in a latter-day revelation, the Lord told Joseph Smith that Satan had power over the waters – a direct tie to the chaos Satan wishes to bring to the world (D&C 61:19).

The Church’s stance on Evolution
Continuing the organization, plants and animals are designed and formed on the earth. These bring greater order from the chaos. Some today argue as to what it meant to create animals and plants that would multiply in their own “kind.” Some mistakenly think this means “species.” We have to be careful not to confuse modern views with ancient ideas. God can form and re-form things as often as he wishes. The Church has no official stance on evolution, as the Lord has not clarified the issue. Some General Authorities have given their opinions regarding evolution in the past, but we see them on both sides of the issue. Elders B.H. Roberts and James Talmage were both open to the idea of evolution. Elders Joseph F. Smith and Bruce R. McConkie were against evolution. The Church stated that the Lord has not specifically stated its position.

Made In God’s Image
Perhaps one of the greatest issues made in the scriptures as regarding man’s relationship with God is found in Genesis 1:26-27 (see Moses 2:26-27). God and Christ made man and woman in their image. Many Christians do not understand this. The concept of Trinity means that God has no shape nor image. There are just representations in art, but the true Trinity has no shape. As described by some Christians, God is large enough to fill the universe, yet small enough to fit in one’s heart. According to the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646), the Trinity does not have “body, parts and passions”.

But for the LDS, one of the biggest revelations is that we ARE made of the same stuff as God. We literally are his spirit children, having been created by him prior to this earth. He and Jesus created us in their image, meaning God has a body with parts and passions. What does it mean to be “in his image?” It means that ours looks like his. Granted, God’s body is glorified, and ours is not. Joseph Smith learned that all things are made of matter. Even spirit is made of matter (D&C 93, 88). God is made of the same stuff we are, because he made us from the same stuff he is made of. We are literally his children, and that concept helps us to understand a great paradox: we really are less than the dust of the earth (Mosiah 2-4), yet are God’s greatest creation (Moses 1:39). We come to be proven on this earth (Abraham 3) so that we can go from being just a smattering of matter to God’s masterpiece.

Spiritual Creation
Moses 3:5-7 teaches us that before the physical creation, there was a spiritual creation. Abraham 4-5 expands on this concept. The Great Council is convened, whereupon the “great and noble ones” have gathered with the title of “gods.” This is the Divine Council from ancient Hebrew and Semitic lore, where the sons of Elohim are gathered to be gods in training. They have planned the earth spiritually, with Elohim and Jehovah as the leaders of the group.

Interestingly, the Gods in Abraham’s account use different terminology. In verse 3, the Gods command “Let there be light”, and there was light, but then notes that they “comprehended the light, for it was bright.” There was a learning process for many of the Gods, who had yet to experience physical creation.

In issuing commands, we see that things did not necessarily come to order immediately. Verse 10 notes “and the Gods saw that they were obeyed” suggesting that perhaps they waited to be obeyed, or to see if they would be obeyed! Verse 18 makes this idea even stronger: “And the Gods watched those things which they had ordered until they obeyed.” It isn’t until the creatures are formed that the Gods were certain “that their plan was good” (vs 21).

The Work is Finished

With the work completed, God rests (Moses 3:1-3). He blesses the 7th day and sanctifies it. Why? What makes his day of rest more significant than the days in which he created? And how does this apply to us?
For mankind, a day of rest can be a special event. It allows us time to reflect, relax our minds momentarily from the mundane efforts of our own creations, and focus upon the things that matter most. It allows us to pause and consolidate our thoughts. I find in my own life that moments of quiet rest are needed after a busy and noisy period of work, just so my mind can restructure itself.

Once, Joseph Smith was chewed out by a member for playing with kids, rather than acting like a prophet on all occasions. He told the story of an English Duke, who upon returning from hunting in the forest, saw the wisest man in the land sitting under a tree, whittling on a piece of wood, and whistling a silly tune. The duke chastised the wise man, telling him he should be off thinking of important things. The wise man paused momentarily, then asked the duke if he always kept his bowstring taut. The duke said he didn’t, because the string would eventually lose its elasticity. The wise man said, so it is with the mind, if I don’t let it relax on occasion, it will lose its elasticity.

Of course, we need to ensure we focus our day of rest on true spiritual rest. We live in a day where many people seek to entertain themselves even when they should be creating.

The key point of learning about the Creation, in my opinion, isn’t that the Creation was necessarily done in this manner (as each Creation story differs somewhat), but that it shows God in his element, doing his great work. And given we are his spirit children; we need to learn to busy ourselves in the creation process, as well. We need to learn what he knows, then apply it to making the world around us a better place. Do we work solely so we can buy things to entertain ourselves with? Or do we seek to create beauty? What have we done recently that we could then look at and declare it “good”?

Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil
Man and woman are formed and placed in the Garden of Eden. Within the Garden are two special trees, the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Adam and Eve are created in innocence. They do not understand good or evil, even as they do not understand that they are naked. There is nothing for them to compare with their current state of existence.

When woman is formed, the Biblical tradition is that she was made/formed from Adam’s rib. Several General Authorities have stated that this was allegorical. The woman was not literally made from Adam’s rib, but it is a symbol that man and woman were once united in God, and must learn to be one again in God. Just as man was pure and innocent in the Garden, we must seek to return to the purity of the Garden again in our own lives.

Eden was designed as a holy place, a sacred space. It was where Adam and Eve could stand in the presence of God and be like him. In the next lesson, we’ll discuss the Fall, how it was necessary for mankind, and how we must all strive to return to the sacred space God prepares for us.

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