Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Gospel Doctrine Lesson #28 - Still Small Voice

OT Gospel Doctrine lesson #28 - After the Fire, a Still Small Voice
1 Kings 17-19

Elijah fed by ravens

Background: The nation of Israel has gone from bad to worse. Israel’s first king, Jeroboam, introduced an unauthorized El worship by setting up two calves in the nation. Now, King Ahab would not only bring heresy into Israel, but apostasy. Ahab married Jezebel, a princess of Phoenicia. Phoenician nation were a group of Sea People that came from the Greek Islands. Jezebel brought with her the god Baal, a powerful Canaanite/Phoenician storm god, who would be Jehovah’s arch-nemesis throughout the period of the Divided Kingdoms of Judah and Israel. Both gods were gods of power, fertility, and strength. According to tradition, both were divine sons of El from before the Creation. Both claimed the same territory. Canaanites worshiped Baal long before Moses brought Israel to the Promised Land. Yet Abraham had worshiped Jehovah centuries before in the land of Canaan and was promised the land by Jehovah. Both gods had a consort/wife. Baal’s wife was Astarte, though in the Hebrew Bible is named Asherah (who is Jehovah’s consort), the goddess of wisdom and fertility, represented by the Tree of Life and the sacred grove.

In this period, Jezebel sought to forever make Baal the god of the land. She supported the priests of Baal, hundreds eating at her table in Jezreel. She also sought out and murdered all the prophets of Jehovah. That is, she killed all but one: Elijah. He alone was Jehovah’s prophet and representative in the land of Israel. He would spend much of his life in hiding, and the rest of the time in direct confrontation with Ahab, Jezebel, and Baal’s priests.

Elijah Seals the Heavens
1 Kings 17

Why would a prophet of God seal the heavens so they do not rain for three years? Wasn’t he aware of the sufferings it would cause the people of Israel? While Ahab and Jezebel were Elijah’s key enemies, the people were the ones that would go without. Droughts first cause the crops to die and the waters to dry up. With no crops nor water, eventually the animals that depend upon grass/hay/fodder would also die. Famine first brings about the death of all animals that eat only vegetation. With dead and dying animals bloating in the Sun, pestilence would be the next great disaster to hit mankind. Flies and maggots would become common place, spreading illness and disease. The poor would be hit hardest, and would usually die first in such circumstances, while the king and queen would find ways to keep comfortable and well fed.

Why would God allow Elijah to bring about drought, famine and pestilence? The Book of Mormon suggests that such actions cause people to humble themselves and turn to God in humility. Nephi, son of Helaman, saw the people in open warfare and heading towards a complete destruction. Only drastic actions could save them:
“3 And it came to pass that in this year Nephi did cry unto the Lord, saying:
4 O Lord, do not suffer that this people shall be destroyed by the sword; but O Lord, rather let there be a famine in the land, to stir them up in remembrance of the Lord their God, and perhaps they will repent and turn unto thee.
5 And so it was done, according to the words of Nephi. And there was a great famine upon the land, among all the people of Nephi....
7 And it came to pass that the people saw that they were about to perish by famine, and they began to remember the Lord their God; and they began to remember the words of Nephi.
8 And the people began to plead with their chief judges and their leaders, that they would say unto Nephi: Behold, we know that thou art a man of God, and therefore cry unto the Lord our God that he turn away from us this famine, lest all the words which thou hast spoken concerning our destruction be fulfilled.
9 And it came to pass that the judges did say unto Nephi, according to the words which had been desired. And it came to pass that when Nephi saw that the people had repented and did humble themselves in sackcloth, he cried again unto the Lord” (Helaman 11:3-9).

In Nephi’s instance, the people were about to destroy themselves with the sword. In Elijah’s case, the people were spiritually destroying themselves with the worship of Baal. In creating a three year famine, Elijah was softening their hearts for them to return back to Jehovah.

Elijah raises widow’s son

Still, Elijah was mindful of the suffering. In staying with the poor widow and her son, he ensured their survival during the famine. When the widow’s son was hit with pestilence, it provided Elijah with an opportunity to display Jehovah’s power. In raising the child from the dead, he ensured not only survival from the famine, but brought about conversion to Jehovah:

“And the woman said to Elijah, Now by this I know that thou art a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in thy mouth is truth” (1 Kings 17:24).

Elijah versus the Priests of Baal
1 Kings 18

Elijah’s Sacrifice

The famine continued for three years. Those surviving the famines and plagues are duly humbled and ripened for conversion. They seek an answer to their starvation, which King Ahab has not been able to provide for them. Before turning on the spigots of heaven, Elijah’s opportunity to show Jehovah’s power and that Jehovah would end the drought was at hand.

“17 And it came to pass, when Ahab saw Elijah, that Ahab said unto him, Art thou he that troubleth Israel?
18 And he answered, I have not troubled Israel; but thou, and thy father’s house, in that ye have forsaken the commandments of the Lord, and thou hast followed Baalim.
19 Now therefore send, and gather to me all Israel unto mount Carmel, and the prophets of Baal four hundred and fifty, and the prophets of the groves four hundred, which eat at Jezebel’s table.”

Note that many blamed Jehovah and Elijah for the drought, including Ahab. But Elijah explained that the drought occurred not because people were following Jehovah, but because they had rejected Jehovah and ran after Baalim (plural of Baal). Elijah called forth all the priests of Baal and Asherah. Hundreds of priests against just Elijah in a literal dual to the death. The sacrifice would show just which God had real power in Israel.

“24 And call ye on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the Lord: and the God that answereth by fire, let him be God. And all the people answered and said, It is well spoken. “

This is the ancient trial or test of fire. A testimony that is sealed by fire was a true one. We see the trial of fire in the Book of Mormon with Abinadi:

“9 Now Abinadi said unto him: I say unto you, I will not recall the words which I have spoken unto you concerning this people, for they are true; and that ye may know of their surety I have suffered myself that I have fallen into your hands.
10 Yea, and I will suffer even until death, and I will not recall my words, and they shall stand as a testimony against you. And if ye slay me ye will shed innocent blood, and this shall also stand as a testimony against you at the last day.
11 And now king Noah was about to release him, for he feared his word; for he feared that the judgments of God would come upon him.
12 But the priests lifted up their voices against him, and began to accuse him, saying: He has reviled the king. Therefore the king was stirred up in anger against him, and he delivered him up that he might be slain.
13 And it came to pass that they took him and bound him, and scourged his skin with faggots, yea, even unto death.
14 And now when the flames began to scorch him, he cried unto them, saying:
15 Behold, even as ye have done unto me, so shall it come to pass that thy seed shall cause that many shall suffer the pains that I do suffer, even the pains of death by fire; and this because they believe in the salvation of the Lord their God” (Mosiah 17:9-15).

King Noah almost released Abinadi, because he feared the trial of fire. Later, King Noah would also be slain by fire for his sins, even as Abinadi prophesied.

Meanwhile, in 1 Kings 18, we read that Baal’s priests built their altar and spent the entire day praying, shouting and cutting themselves in an attempt to have Baal light their sacrifice. But it was to no avail. Even Elijah’s mocking that they needed to dance harder and shout louder, for perhaps Baal was asleep or deaf, did not cause the altar to light with flame.

Then it was Elijah’s turn:

“30 Elijah said unto all the people, Come near unto me. And all the people came near unto him. And he repaired the altar of the Lord that was broken down.
31 And Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, unto whom the word of the Lord came, saying, Israel shall be thy name:
32 And with the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord: and he made a trench about the altar, as great as would contain two measures of seed.
33 And he put the wood in order, and cut the bullock in pieces, and laid him on the wood, and said, Fill four barrels with water, and pour it on the burnt sacrifice, and on the wood.
34 And he said, Do it the second time. And they did it the second time. And he said, Do it the third time. And they did it the third time.
35 And the water ran round about the altar; and he filled the trench also with water.
36 And it came to pass at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that Elijah the prophet came near, and said, Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word.
37 Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may know that thou art the Lord God, and that thou hast turned their heart back again.
38 Then the fire of the Lord fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench.
39 And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces: and they said, The Lord, he is the God; the Lord, he is the God” (1 Kings 18:30-39).

Elijah rebuilt the sacred altar at Carmel that was broken down due to neglect or perhaps vandalism by Jezebel’s priests. The bullock or bull was a symbol of Baal’s strength, fertility and power. The wood symbolized Asherah, goddess of wisdom, fertility and the grove. He soaked the offering and the altar until there would be no doubt that it was God that consumed the sacrifice, and not just a parlor trick. God’s power was shown in that fire came down from heaven consuming not only the bullock and wood, but the stones, dust, and even the water in the trench.

There was no doubt about it. The people saw with their own eyes that Baal was unable to light his sacrifice on fire, while Jehovah consumed everything. Israel fell on their faces and proclaimed Jehovah as their God. Only now that they had been humbled by three years of famine and drought were they ready to repent and truly embrace Jehovah as God. This same action, if done at the beginning of the drought, would not have impressed them for long and the people would have continued to worship Baal. But now it mattered. If Jehovah had power to consume even rocks with fire, he had power to end the drought.

Elijah called upon the people to slay the 450 priests of Baal, and they gladly did. Interestingly, the Bible does not say that the priests of Asherah were harmed at all. Some, such as David Larsen at the Heavenly Ascents blog, believe it is because the Asherah and her priests were a later addition by the Deuteronomists to justify their destruction of Asherah’s groves and to remove the Tree of Life out of the temple worship. However, I believe it is possible that Elijah did not slay them because Asherah was part of the worship of Jehovah, even as his consort/wife. Jehovah took back his consort from Baal, his arch-nemesis, and restored her in the proper worship of Jehovah. Not only did Elijah’s challenge restore Jehovah as God of Israel and defeat Baal, but it also restored Asherah as Jehovah’s wife.

With Israel now returned to the worship of their true God, Elijah turned to Ahab and told him to stop fasting, go eat and prepare for rain. The drought was over.

Still, Small Voice
1 Kings 19

While Ahab may now have started down the road to repentance and believing in Jehovah again, Jezebel was beside herself. She had slain almost all the prophets of Jehovah in Israel. Now, Elijah had slain all the priests of Baal. This became a major setback in Baal worship, as the temples and sacred high places to Baal had no priests to sacrifice to the god. Jezebel sought revenge and demanded Elijah’s head. Elijah fled into the land of Judah for safety. He was fed by an angel, then wandered to Mount Horeb, fasting 40 days and nights. Mount Horeb is another name for Mount Sinai, the mountain where God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses. This was the place where Moses had his theophany, or grand vision of God, and Elijah also went there in hopes of having his own grand experience.

On the Mount, Elijah awaited on God in a cave:
“11 And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake:
12 And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.
13 And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah?”

Note that even with Moses, Elijah was able to see the Lord pass by him. But Elijah noted that God was not in the wind (probably a whirlwind), the earthquake, or the fire. Remember, Jehovah recently used fire to consume the altar. While these are great powers, they are not God. Some Canaanites saw in these powers the gods they worshiped. However, Jehovah was to be found in the still, small voice. Elijah recognized that and only went out of the cave when he heard the voice.

How often are we distracted or absorbed by the loud noises of society around us? How often do we seek answers or even God in the powers of the earth? How often do we sit quietly enough that we can even hear the still, small voice of the Spirit?

“ 14 And he (Elijah) said, I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts: because the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.”

Elijah was tired. He spent three years enduring a famine, hiding out from Jezebel and Ahab, and watching the sons of the prophets of Jehovah slain by Jezebel. He was ready for his mission to be over, and God agreed. The Lord commanded him to anoint new kings for Syria and Israel, and to anoint his own replacement.

“And the Lord said unto him, Go, return on thy way to the wilderness of Damascus: and when thou comest, anoint Hazael to be king over Syria:
16 And Jehu the son of Nimshi shalt thou anoint to be king over Israel: and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah shalt thou anoint to be prophet in thy room.
17 And it shall come to pass, that him that escapeth the sword of Hazael shall Jehu slay: and him that escapeth from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha slay.”

The reign of Baal’s terror would soon end in Israel. Between Hazael of Syria, Jehu of Israel, and Elisha the prophet, the worship of Baal would be ended, at least for a time. And Elijah was reminded that his works had made a big difference, even though it may not have seemed that way:

“18 Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him.”

Elijah’s efforts had converted thousands. The worship of Jehovah in Israel was not dead, but was still very much alive. And in the following generation of kings and prophets, Jehovah would have greater power in Israel.


David Larsen’s Heavenly Ascents on Elijah and Lesson 28: http://www.heavenlyascents.com/2010/07/27/the-great-elijah-stories-ot-lesson-28/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+HeavenlyAscents+%28Heavenly+Ascents%29&utm_content=Google+Reader

William G. Dever, Does God have a Wife? http://www.amazon.com/Did-God-Have-Wife-Archaeology/dp/0802863949/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1280257633&sr=8-1

Margaret Barker website: http://www.margaretbarker.com/

Daniel Peterson, Nephi and His Asherah: http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/jbms/?vol=9&num=2&id=223

Johanna H. Stuckey, Asherah and the God of the Early Israelites: http://www.matrifocus.com/LAM04/spotlight.htm

Wikipedia, Asherah: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asherah

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

OT Gospel Doctrine Lesson #27 - The Influence of Righteous & Wicked Leaders

OT Gospel Doctrine Lesson #27 - The Influence of Righteous & Wicked Leaders
1 Kings 12-14; 2 Chronicles 17, 20

High Place of Jeroboam
(Nearly all archaeologists agree that this excavated podium was the one that Jeroboam constructed to house the golden calf at Dan. Archaeologists now think the platform was roofed. Evidence of a four-horned altar has been found as well as religious objects such as three iron shovels, a small horned altar, and an iron incense holder.)

Background: While we often focus on Solomon's wisdom, giving the one example of dividing a living child to two women in a maternity suit; we often neglect the degree to which his decrees and decisions harmed not only himself, but Israel.

While he built a temple to Jehovah, he built even larger palaces for himself. While his father David sinned, he repented and still remained faithful to the Lord. Solomon drifted to worshiping other gods & marrying outside of Israel. It became an issue of David breaking the portion of the 10 Commandments related to mankind, while Solomon blasphemed against the God that made him king. Alma taught that only denying the Holy Ghost was worse than murder or adultery (Alma 39:11-13), and it seems that Solomon’s evil works came close to this gravest of all sins, as he continued sinning even after being rebuked by prophets.

David reached out to all the tribes of Israel, accepting political, military and religious leaders from both Judah and Israel. On the other hand, Solomon favored Judah. He began by rejecting leaders that favored Israel, including his brother and one of David's two high priests. He taxed the Ten Tribes heavier, including requiring more soldiers and laborers to build his palaces and edifices, than he required from Judah.

Instead of expecting Israel to worship only Jehovah as David did, Solomon built temples to the gods of his foreign wives.

Because of Solomon's betrayal of Jehovah, Jeroboam was anointed and ordained as the future King of Israel. And because he ruled Israel so harshly, he left Israel and his son Rehoboam little room to negotiate and maneuver.

Dear Abby's Advice to New Royalty - Listen to the Old Guys!
1 Kings 12-14

Israel's unity as a kingdom was fragile. Rehoboam inherited his father's penchant to annoy and punish the 10 Tribes. And they knew it.

Jeroboam, previously anointed King of Israel, returned from Egyptian exile. Surely, many in Israel were wary of making such a drastic dynastic change, and so Jeroboam decided to present an immediate challenge to Rehoboam, packaged neatly as a populist demand for basic rights. Israel would gladly accept Rehoboam as king if he would lessen the hardships imposed by his father, Solomon. The young prince sent Israel away for three days while he sought council.

We learn from Rehoboam that if you don't like the first answer you are given, keep looking around and eventually someone will tell you what you want to hear. And as Voltaire once said, "common sense is not that common."

Rejecting the council of the elders to accept Israel's common sense demands, Rehoboam instead followed the guidance from his peers. They insisted the people only understood brute force. If he gave in to Israel now, what would they demand next? His kingdom would immediately be diminished, never being as great as David or Solomon. The young men's Machiavellian counsel of "whipping them with scorpions" and having a pinkie finger thicker than Solomon's loins, was clearly meant to tell Israel they were no longer Tribes of the God of Israel, but subjects and servants of the king.

Rehoboam fell head first into Jeroboam's political trap. He was forced to choose between being a weakened ruler or a tyrant. For him, following sharply in his father's stead seemed to be the proper choice. Solomon slew or exiled many at the beginning of his reign and succeeded in holding the nation together by force. Rehoboam believed he could do the same.

Israel rebelled, proclaiming Jeroboam their king. The short-lived United Kingdom would never reunite again in history.

Jeroboam's Ancient Bull Cult

Jeroboam worships the golden calf

Although anointed by a prophet to rule the Ten Tribes, Jeroboam still had a fierce competitor: Solomon's Temple. In fact, this was Jehovah's (Yahweh) temple. This was the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses.

As mentioned in previous lessons, Jehovah was one of the divine sons of Elohim or El Elyon. When El divided the nations in the days of Peleg, he assigned a nation to each of his divine sons. Jehovah received the future kingdom of Israel, which he nurtured from Abraham on, until Israel fully came into its own.

Jeroboam knew that Jehovah chose the Levites, and particularly the sons of Aaron to serve him in the temple. Most of the Levitical authority was in Jerusalem and attached to the temple. By the time he could build his own temple to Jehovah, Israel may have defected back to Jerusalem for religious reasons.

Jeroboam needed to provide an option acceptable to his people. He made two calves (young bulls), which anciently symbolized both Elohim and Baal. He did not embrace the local Canaanite god Baal. Instead, I believe he reached back into Israel's past and resurrected the worship of El Elyon for Israel to follow.

Elohim or El Elyon, being the father of all the gods/divine sons, would have been very familiar to Israelites, Canaanites, and other Semitic tribes in the region. Unlike Jehovah, the invisible mountain God that sat on the mercy seat between the two cherubim in the Jerusalem Temple, Elohim was often represented by bull or calf images that symbolized his power and fertility. He was not assigned to a particular nation, but was father of the gods. And he was often worshiped at wilderness shrines or "high places."

Jeroboam created not one, but two shrines to El. These were placed in the northern (Dan) and southern border (Beth-el) regions. It seems the king did this for two reasons: first to prevent Israel from leaving to worship elsewhere, and second to encompass the entire land. Jehovah's temple was confined sacred space. The sacred bulls on the far borders of the land made all of Israel a holy place. There were other reasons to build a high place in Beth-el. First, its name means "House/Temple of El." It was named anciently by Jacob, when he saw in vision El Elyon on his throne above Jacob's ladder/staircase (Genesis 28:11-19). Jeroboam adopted and adapted the ancient worship of El to fit his needs.

There was just one problem with Jeroboam's plan: he had not been authorized by either Elohim nor Jehovah to take such a radical departure. No prophet of God approved his plan, nor anointed the priests, as was done in the cases of the Tabernacle and the Temple. Still, his sin was not as wicked as Baal worship which would come under future kings (2 Kings 3:1-2). Jeroboam’s sin was not of worshiping a god from the Canaanites, but of wrongly worshiping El without God’s permission.

The Curse of Jeroboam

In 1 Kings 13, we find a prophet of God (Jehovah) went to the high place in Beth-El and condemned Jeroboam for his apostate twisted form of worship. The prophet foresaw the future destruction of Jeroboam’s family and the bull idol. Amazingly, Jeroboam did what Solomon and Rehoboam did, continued worshiping false gods. It wasn’t in his interest to repent. As with most people of the day, Jeroboam believed there were many living gods, and Jehovah was just one of many. When Jeroboam’s hand withers as he touches the altar, he asks the prophet of Jehovah to heal his hand. He knows Jehovah has the power to heal, and his hand is healed. Yet, he continues in his apostate worship, because for him, Solomon, and many future kings of Israel and Judah, Jehovah is just one of many.

Because of rebellion, we will see kingdoms ripped from many kings of Israel and Judah over the course of several centuries. Few kings will be considered faithful and true to Jehovah God. However, some soon appear in Judah, such as Asa and Jehoshaphat. Still, it would not be long before Israel is taken from Jeroboam.

Jeroboam’s only son is found on his deathbed. The king sends his wife in disguise to the prophet Ahijah, who originally anointed him king. Ahijah is now old and blind, yet the Lord reveals to him the Jeroboam’s wife and her purpose. The prophet tells her that the child would die and the kingdom soon would be torn from the house of Jeroboam (1 Kings 14:1-20).

Rehoboam’s sins

The account turns to the king of Judah, Rehoboam. Not only did Solomon’s wives lead him to worshiping other gods, but Rehoboam is also affected by his mother’s foreign influence. She was an Ammonite, and brought with her the worship of her land.

This strange religion included, “they also built them high places, and images, and groves, on every high hill, and under every green tree. And thee were also sodomites in the land: and they did according to all the abominations of the nations which the Lord cast out before the children of Israel” (1 Kings 14:23-24).

High places were hills (natural or man made) where ancient people worshiped. High places included Jehovah worship for centuries, and included Jacob’s sacred site at Beth-El (see above). However these high places were tied to the goddess Asherah. Asherah was known as the goddess of wisdom and fertility. Anciently, she was viewed (or differing versions of her were viewed) as the consort or wife of Elohim, Jehovah, and/or Baal. Asherah was represented by the tree, and often groves were grown in her honor. The version that Rehoboam introduced was probably as a wife of Baal, for it also included “sodomites” or homosexual prostitutes involved in the worship rites.

Asherah was also connected tightly to Jehovah and his temple. She represented the Tree of Life, the mother of God (Jesus). However, direct worship of her was less common among those who worshiped Jehovah. In Nephi’s Vision of the Tree of Life, the Tree is directly connected to the Mother of God, with Jesus as her fruit. Nephi understood this temple symbolism as representing Asherah, the wife of the true God (1 Nephi 8-15).

“7 And behold this thing shall be given unto thee for a sign, that after thou hast beheld the tree which bore the fruit which thy father tasted, thou shalt also behold a man descending out of heaven, and him shall ye witness; and after ye have witnessed him ye shall bear record that it is the Son of God.
8 And it came to pass that the Spirit said unto me: Look! And I looked and beheld a tree; and it was like unto the tree which my father had seen; and the beauty thereof was far beyond, yea, exceeding of all beauty; and the whiteness thereof did exceed the whiteness of the driven snow.
9 And it came to pass after I had seen the tree, I said unto the Spirit: I behold thou hast shown unto me the tree which is precious above all.
10 And he said unto me: What desirest thou?
11 And I said unto him: To know the interpretation thereof—for I spake unto him as a man speaketh; for I beheld that he was in the form of a man; yet nevertheless, I knew that it was the Spirit of the Lord; and he spake unto me as a man speaketh with another.
12 And it came to pass that he said unto me: Look! And I looked as if to look upon him, and I saw him not; for he had gone from before my presence.
13 And it came to pass that I looked and beheld the great city of Jerusalem, and also other cities. And I beheld the city of Nazareth; and in the city of Nazareth I beheld a virgin, and she was exceedingly fair and white.
14 And it came to pass that I saw the heavens open; and an angel came down and stood before me; and he said unto me: Nephi, what beholdest thou?
15 And I said unto him: A virgin, most beautiful and fair above all other virgins.
16 And he said unto me: Knowest thou the condescension of God?
17 And I said unto him: I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.
18 And he said unto me: Behold, the virgin whom thou seest is the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh.
19 And it came to pass that I beheld that she was carried away in the Spirit; and after she had been carried away in the Spirit for the space of a time the angel spake unto me, saying: Look!
20 And I looked and beheld the virgin again, bearing a child in her arms.
21 And the angel said unto me: Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father! Knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw?
22 And I answered him, saying: Yea, it is the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore, it is the most desirable above all things.
23 And he spake unto me, saying: Yea, and the most joyous to the soul” (1 Ne 11:7-23).

In these verses we find that Nephi recognizes the Tree of Life as representing the Mother of God. It is the Love/Wife of God that sheds itself through her son (the fruit of the tree) to all mankind.

But this is not the Asherah that Rehoboam builds high places to. This is an apostate wife of Baal, encouraging sexual sin and perversion. The sacred things of God have again been distorted and twisted into an apostate form.

To punish Judah, the Lord sent in the Egyptians to punish them. The royal and spiritual treasures of Judah were carried off as the prize for Egypt’s entrance into the land. Rehoboam’s sins have not only cost him half the kingdom, but all the kingdom’s riches. He has no choice but to replace the gold implements (such as shields) of his army with items made of bronze. Jehovah’s temple probably received no implements of any kind, since the Bible is silent on the topic (1 Kings 14:25-28), In less than a generation, David’s dream of a temple for the Lord had become an afterthought. Solomon built it, then neglected it in his pursuit of riches and other gods. Rehoboam also neglected the Lord’s House in his perverse sexual desires and worship of the apostate goddess.

Asa, the Righteous King of Judah
2 Chronicles 14-16

Judah was occasionally blessed with righteous kings. Among these was Asa. In his days, he

“took away the altars of the strange gods, and the high places, and brake down the images, and cut down the groves: and commanded Judah to seek the Lord God of their fathers, and to do the law and the commandment” (2 Chron 14:2-5).
He built up Judah and had no war in his days, “because the Lord had given him rest” (vs 6).

In chapter 15, the prophet Azariah tells the king and people they shall prosper if they would only follow Jehovah and keep his commandments:

“Hear ye me, Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin; The Lord is with you, while ye be with him; and if ye seek him, he will be found of you; but if ye forsake him, he will forsake you” (2 Chron 15:2).

So upright was Asa’s kingdom in his early years, that not only did Judah and Benjamin repent and follow God, but many faithful people out of “Ephraim and Manasseh, and out of Simeon” immigrated to Jerusalem to worship God and escape the evils being done in Israel (vs 9).

Asa does suffer from a lack of faith, when Syria came to war with Judah. Rather than trust in God, Asa emptied all the treasures out of the temple and his palace as a tribute, to send Syria away. Because he lacked the faith to trust in God’s deliverance, he was chastened by the seer Hanani, and smitten with illness, which he died from (2 Chron 16).

Jehoshaphat and Ahab - The Odd Couple
2 Chronicles 17-20

One of the strangest alliances in the Bible was between Jehoshaphat and Ahab.

Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, was revered as a very righteous king and follower of Jehovah:

“And the Lord was with Jehoshaphat, because he walked in the first ways of his father David, and sought not unto Baalim (plural of Baal)” (2 Chron 17:3).

The kingdom that waned under Rehoboam was again growing in glory. Jehoshaphat became rich as king, because the Lord blessed him for his devotion. He removed the groves and high places that Rehoboam and other kings set up (vs 6). He sent the Levites throughout all the land, teaching God’s law to the people (vs 9). So great was God’s glory on Jehoshaphat that other nations feared him and would not go out to war against Judah (vs 10).

On the other hand, Ahab reigned over Israel’s darkest times. His wife was Jezebel, and the worship of Baal and his consort Asherah had become the main worship in the land. Still, Jehoshaphat joined Ahab in fighting Syria.

The Premortal Divine Council
2 Chronicles 18:18-22

Ahab’s apostate prophets all predicted an easy victory for the allies. Yet, Jehoshaphat insisted on hearing from a prophet of Jehovah. Ahab was concerned, because the nearest prophet was Micaiah, who never prophesied well of him. Still, Micaiah was sent for on behalf of Jehoshaphat.

The prophet began mocking Ahab, telling him what the others had said. However, Ahab knew Micaiah spoke falsely and commanded him to tell him the truth. Interestingly, the story is reminiscent of the ancient divine council:

“18 Again he said, Therefore hear the word of the Lord; I saw the Lord sitting upon his throne, and all the host of heaven standing on his right hand and on his left.
19 And the Lord said, Who shall entice Ahab king of Israel, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead? And one spake saying after this manner, and another saying after that manner.
20 Then there came out a spirit, and stood before the Lord, and said, I will entice him. And the Lord said unto him, Wherewith?
21 And he said, I will go out, and be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets. And the Lord said, Thou shalt entice him, and thou shalt also prevail: go out, and do even so.
22 Now therefore, behold, the Lord hath put a lying spirit in the mouth of these thy prophets, and the Lord hath spoken evil against thee” (2 Chron 18:18-22).

Here Micaiah has a theophany, a vision of God on his throne. God is surrounded by the “host of heaven” which are the ancient divine council (see Isaiah 6, Abraham 3, Job 1). In Abraham, we see the original council, where God asks “whom shall I send” to be the Savior of mankind. In Isaiah, the Lord asks “whom shall I send” to preach to the people (Isaiah volunteers as a symbol of Christ). Here, God asks who shall go to entice Ahab. A lying spirit offers to do the work. Some may find this strange, but we find that Satan (Adversary) was among those in the ancient divine councils, and Job even saw him challenge Jehovah for primacy over Israel by tempting Job himself! Here, the same spirit entered into the mouths of the prophets of Baal, leading Ahab to his death in battle.

“So Shall Ye Prosper”
2 Chronicles 19-20

The battle against Syria having gone badly, because the two kings disobeyed Jehovah’s prophet, Jehoshaphat found himself rebuked, and he repented.

His big challenge came when the Ammonites and others attacked Judah. Should he do as previous kings and give up a tribute from the treasuries of the palace and temple? The king went to the temple and prayed:

“5 And Jehoshaphat stood in the congregation of Judah and Jerusalem, in the house of the Lord, before the new court,
6 And said, O Lord God of our fathers, art not thou God in heaven? and rulest not thou over all the kingdoms of the heathen? and in thine hand is there not power and might, so that none is able to withstand thee?
7 Art not thou our God, who didst drive out the inhabitants of this land before thy people Israel, and gavest it to the seed of Abraham thy friend for ever?
8 And they dwelt therein, and have built thee a sanctuary therein for thy name, saying,
9 If, when evil cometh upon us, as the sword, judgment, or pestilence, or famine, we stand before this house, and in thy presence, (for thy name is in this house,) and cry unto thee in our affliction, then thou wilt hear and help.
10 And now, behold, the children of Ammon and Moab and mount Seir, whom thou wouldest not let Israel invade, when they came out of the land of Egypt, but they turned from them, and destroyed them not;
11 Behold, I say, how they reward us, to come to cast us out of thy possession, which thou hast given us to inherit.
12 O our God, wilt thou not judge them? for we have no might against this great company that cometh against us; neither know we what to do: but our eyes are upon thee.
13 And all Judah stood before the Lord, with their little ones, their wives, and their children.
14 Then upon Jahaziel the son of Zechariah, the son of Benaiah, the son of Jeiel, the son of Mattaniah, a Levite of the sons of Asaph, came the Spirit of the Lord in the midst of the congregation;
15 And he said, Hearken ye, all Judah, and ye inhabitants of Jerusalem, and thou king Jehoshaphat, Thus saith the Lord unto you, Be not afraid nor dismayed by reason of this great multitude; for the battle is not yours, but God’s” (2 Chron 20:5-15).

The Lord delivered Judah and their king, because of their faith. Because of that faith, “came the Spirit of the Lord in the midst of the congregation” (vs 14). The priest Jahaziel told them, “stand ye still, and see the salvation of the Lord...fear not, nor be dismayed” (vs 17).

The next morning, Jehoshaphat cried to his people, “Believe in the Lord your God, so shall ye be established; believe his prophets, so shall ye prosper” (vs 20).

Judah found that day that the Ammonites and Moabites had slaughtered themselves, leaving great treasures for the people to spoil. Once again, the “fear of God was on all the kingdoms of those countries, when they had heard that the Lord fought against the enemies of Israel. So the realm of Jehoshaphat was quiet; for his God gave him rest round about” (vs 29-30).

Final Comments

Even as a righteous king can create an environment of peace and protection from God, so can we do in our families, our churches, and in our lives. However, it requires us to reject the false gods that continually are about us. Many offer sordid pleasures, while others justify our sinful lifestyles. However, only God can create order from the chaos that surrounds us, and bring peace and safety to us.


Daniel Peterson, Nephi and His Asherah: http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/jbms/?vol=9&num=2&id=223

The Ancient Divine Council: http://www.thedivinecouncil.com

Order out of Chaos: http://joelsmonastery.blogspot.com/2010/07/gospel-scholarship-order-out-of-chaos.html

Map of Divided Israel/Judah:

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Gospel Scholarship: Order out of Chaos

Gospel Scholarship: Order out of Chaos

"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?" (Isaiah 51:9-10).

This verse discusses, among other things, the Creation of the world and how God brought order out of chaos. We will see how the ancient Middle East believed the earth was formed. This article will also show how this Creation motif is re-lived and renewed in the story of the Exodus, the atonement of Christ, and the ordinances we receive.

Isaiah's words reflect the ancient belief that God formed the world out of Chaos:
"And the earth was without form and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters" (Genesis 1:2).

Here we see that there IS an earth already available for him to work with. There is no ex nihilo creation, or creation from nothing. However, this earth is "without form, and void" or is not organized yet. The earth is steeped in darkness and covered in water.
For the ancients, nothing was more chaotic than darkness and water. Before creating life, God must eliminate chaos by bringing forth light. This light is not the sun, moon and stars, for those are brought forth on the fourth day (vs 14-19).
Instead, on the first day, light was called forth, ordered, and divided from the darkness. The chaos of darkness is not destroyed nor eliminated, but is diminished and held at bay (vs 3-5).

Next, the waters had to be tamed. On the second day, waters on earth were separated from those in the skies. And on the third day land masses jutted up into the air, forcing the waters into the oceans, seas, and rivers (vs 6-10).

As with the darkness, the waters were not destroyed, but controlled. Isaiah's above quote mentions a dragon, or sea serpent, which in the ancient beliefs was slain or defeated by God, in order to bring order and create the earth.

In some traditions there were two dragons, male and female. The Lord defeated one in the Creation, and will defeat the second one in the last days. Isaiah also foresaw this event:

"In that day the Lord with his sore and great and strong sword shall punish Leviathan the piercing serpent, even Leviathan that crooked serpent; and he shall slay the dragon that is in the sea" (Isaiah 27:1).

Leviathan and Rahab are sea serpents. They caused the waters to be chaotic. In forming the earth, the Lord was able to control, but not totally defeat the monster(s) until the end.

Confusing? Puzzling? Let's let the scriptures explain:
"And there was war in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was there place found anymore in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him" (Revelation 12:7-9).

As with the ancient tradition, the serpent, or Satan was not completely defeated until the end:
"And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil and Satan, and bound him a thousand years" (Rev 20:2).

In LDS theology, Lucifer sought to replace both Christ and God, recommending a replacement plan that did not require a Suffering Savior nor agency, but would force a chaotic salvation on all (Moses 1:1-4, Abraham 3:23-28, Isaiah 14:12-20).

So, in the beginning, God had to defeat Satan (Adversary) and his chaos in order to form the earth. But he did not totally destroy the chaos, as it was necessary for earth life. Half of the earth is bathed in life and the other in darkness. Water still covers most of the earth.

While a group of elders traveled down the Missouri River, Wilford Woodruff spotted Satan raging upon the waters. The party pulled to the bank, and Joseph Smith asked God the meaning of the vision. The answer is found in Doctrine & Covenants 61.

The Lord preferred them to slow down and preach along the way, because the "the inhabitants on either side (of the river) were perishing in unbelief (spiritual darkness)" (61:3).

The Lord allowed them to travel by river, because he wanted to reveal to them an important concept: "there are many dangers upon the waters and many more hereafter" (61:4). The Lord "decreed in mine anger many destructions upon the waters, especially these waters" (61:5). Here we see Satan connected to the chaos of the waters of the Missouri. The Lord still allows the chaos its place. Still, "he that is faithful among you shall not perish by the waters" (61:6).

The Lord explained that the waters were blessed "in the beginning" or in the Creation as he brought order to them. However, they would be cursed in the last days, even as John the Revelator prophesied. Interestingly, the Missouri River is especially noted as cursed. Here we have the greatest curse/chaos located on the edge of Zion.

In fact, modern revelation tells us that the line between chaos and order will be very visible in the last days. "And it shall come to pass among the wicked, that every man that will not take his sword against his neighbor must need flee to Zion for safety." In fact the only people not at war, a man-made chaos, will be those in Zion (D&C 45:68-69).

Satan, the Dragon, will rule the hearts of many, filling them with rage and chaos. Those who turn fully to Christ will go to Zion, rejoicing for the peace and order it provides (D&C 45:71).

There has always been a delicate balance between order and chaos. Lehi explained to his son Jacob that "opposition in all things" is necessary for life to exist. Without it, there is no agency and free will. Nor is there a need for a Savior and atonement to save us from total chaos: Perdition and Outer Darkness, death and hell. We do experience temporary chaos in life, in order to learn, grow, and have personal choice. In the premortal existence, we experienced the chaos of Satan's rebellion, where 1/3 of the host of heaven followed the Dragon (Rev ) and were cast out of heaven. The dark womb and chaotic waters that break forth in new life, creates order from birth. In this life, we struggle with unanticipated events and entropy- the natural flowing of energy and systems from order to chaos. Things break down, requiring us to use more energy to restore order. Even the sun is expected to burn itself out in a few billion years, collapsing into a dark chaotic mass.

God brings new order to those things that accept his infusion of light, life and order. Just as Christ calmed the Sea of Galilee and ordered the waves, "Peace, be still," he can bring order out of our lives. He has formed several levels of heaven (1 Cor 12:1-4) to give each of us blessings according to the level of order and chaos we choose to live with. For those who abide a celestial law or level of order will receive a celestial glory (D&C 88:22-32).

Our sins separate us from God, because in sinning we embrace chaos and darkness. In embracing the atonement of Christ through faith and repentance, we accept order and light. Faith in Christ allows God to defeat the Dragons and Leviathans of life and bring forth in us a new Creation as saints and children of God.