Monday, April 30, 2012

Book of Mormon Lesson 18: “God Himself … Shall Redeem His People” Mosiah 12-17

Book of Mormon Lesson 18: “God Himself … Shall Redeem His People”
Mosiah 12-17

Abinadi as Moses

Imagine the prophet Moses descending from Sinai, carrying the Tablets of the Law containing the Ten Commandments. At the bottom of the mount, he sees Israel in rebellion, creating other forms of religion that could offer them salvation that rejected living prophets and repentance, and encouraged rebellious living.  Previously I’ve written regarding the golden calf that was created by Aaron and the rebellious Israelites.  The young bull represented the Egyptian god Apis, the god of strength and fertility.  However, it also represented the God of the Promised Land, El Elyon.  El Elyon means “God Almighty” and is often also called Elohim.  He was the head God of the divine council, which (according to ancient writings) included Jehovah and Baal.  Not only was El represented by the bull of fertility and strength, but so was Baal (and sometimes Jehovah, as well).

It is possible that the ancient Israelites believed they were replacing the onerous desert god, Jehovah, with a symbol of a god they knew from slavery and that would also be acceptable in the land they were entering.  In the concept of El as head of the divine host, he would have outranked Jehovah, giving some the belief they were accepting a more powerful god in Jehovah’s place.

So, what does this have to do with Abinadi?

As Abinadi came before King Noah and his evil priests, we see several things to connect Abinadi with Moses.  First off, Abinadi is directly connected to Moses.  When he chastised the king and priests, the people were ready to kill him immediately. However, Abinadi warned them not to touch him, or they would instantly die, as the power of God was upon him even as it was on Moses as he returned from Sinai:

“Now it came to pass after Abinadi had spoken these words that the people of king Noah durst not lay their hands on him, for the Spirit of the Lord was upon him; and his face shone with exceeding luster, even as Moses’ did while in the mount of Sinai, while speaking with the Lord” (Mosiah 13:5).

When Moses descended, his face shone so brightly that the people had him veil his face so they could stand in his presence.  Moses was at that moment a divine being, carrying down with him the Lord’s glory.  He was a member of the divine council, able to stand in God’s presence and partake of the divine glory.  As with Abinadi, the divine glory that shone from them was too powerful for regular people to deal with.  So King Noah and his priests did not touch Abinadi, as the power shining from him was too great for them to stand.

This event began with a priest of Noah quoting Isaiah and asking Abinadi what it meant to him:

“And it came to pass that one of them said unto him: What meaneth the words which are written, and which have been taught by our fathers, saying:
How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings; that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good; that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth;
Thy watchmen shall lift up the voice; with the voice together shall they sing; for they shall see eye to eye when the Lord shall bring again Zion;
Break forth into joy; sing together ye waste places of Jerusalem; for the Lord hath comforted his people, he hath redeemed Jerusalem;
The Lord hath made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God?” (Mosiah 12:20-24, Isaiah 52:7-10).

Why would a priest of Noah quote Isaiah and then ask Abinadi what it meant, if they were so certain they already had the truth?  For the wicked priests, salvation came through the Law of Moses (Mosiah 12:32), and for them Isaiah specifically referred to Moses.  Moses’ feet were beautiful on Mount Sinai and he brought forth freedom to Israelite slaves as good tidings. The Law of Moses was literally published by God, who would reign in Israel.  Now that there were Israelites in the Americas, the ends of the earth were seeing the salvation of God through the animal sacrifices and other works of Noah’s priests.

Standing in for Moses, Abinadi will reteach them the Ten Commandments - the most important part of the Mosaic Law, and the portion they were not living nor teaching.  Interestingly, among the Dead Sea Scrolls, the two most common books of the Bible found are Isaiah and Deuteronomy.  Here, we have Abinadi combining the teachings of Isaiah 52 and Deuteronomy 15 (Ten Commandments). Interestingly the prophets most quoted/mentioned in the Book of Mormon are Moses and Isaiah.

For Abinadi, one could be saved by living a good life, which meant obeying the commandments of God. However, the most important things of Moses’ Law were neglected or even rejected by Noah, his priests and the people.  Listing them, Abinadi was able to show that they were not keeping any of them properly.  Noah and his priests worshiped power and wealth more than God.  These were the idols they worshiped.  They did not keep the Sabbath nor honor their parents (otherwise, Noah would have kept the teachings of his father, Zeniff).  They committed whoredoms, violating the law of chastity.  Heavily taxing the people so they could enrich themselves, they stole from everyone. They lusted after the things of others.  Perhaps the one thing they had not yet done was murder, and that would soon become the final nail in the coffin for them as they would martyr Abinadi, thus sealing their own fate, as well.

Quoting Isaiah again, Abinadi quotes the prophecy of the Suffering Servant, who would pay a ransom for men’s iniquities (Mosiah 14, Isaiah 53). This Savior, this Messiah, would come down, being the Son and the Father.  Christ’s birth is of two beings: mortal and immortal.  He is the Father (or of the Father) being his seed, and Jesus is the Son being born of Mary into mortality.  He not only would have the ability to die, but also take upon himself all things so as to save mankind.  Jesus, through the power given him by his divine birth, becomes the Father of our Salvation (Mosiah 15:1-4).

“And now I say unto you, who shall declare his generation? Behold, I say unto you, that when his soul has been made an offering for sin he shall see his seed. And now what say ye? And who shall be his seed?
Behold I say unto you, that whosoever has heard the words of the prophets, yea, all the holy prophets who have prophesied concerning the coming of the Lord....” (Mosiah 15:10-11)

All of the prophets have looked forward to the coming of the Messiah. Those who hear and accept their teachings become the children of Christ, and share in his salvation.

“Yea, and are not the prophets, every one that has opened his mouth to prophesy, that has not fallen into transgression, I mean all the holy prophets ever since the world began? I say unto you that they are his seed.
And these are they who have published peace, who have brought good tidings of good, who have published salvation; and said unto Zion: Thy God reigneth!
And O how beautiful upon the mountains were their feet!
And again, how beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of those that are still publishing peace!
And again, how beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of those who shall hereafter publish peace, yea, from this time henceforth and forever!” (Mosiah 15:13-17).

Abinadi expands this concept further and further.  Isaiah spoke not only of Moses as one whose feet are beautiful upon the mountains, but also all the prophets who have foreseen and taught of the forthcoming salvation through Christ.  Not only this, but all who accept Christ and share their testimonies throughout all time will be among those with beautiful feet upon the mountains.

Note here that in Middle Eastern tradition, the foot is the lowest part of the body. It is next to the dirt, and so is considered less than any other part of the body.  When the woman anointed Jesus’ feet with oil and washed them with her hair, she was showing she was less than the dirt on his feet. Such was shocking to the Jews, but praised by Christ, who taught the importance of humility (Luke 7).

Imagine how feet must be that are seen as “beautiful”!  And if the feet are beautiful, imagine how magnificent the person who owns those feet.  Such is a person made beautiful through Christ. This ties in well with Abinadi, whose face shone brightly with the glory of the Lord.  The people could not fathom this power, and yet there was a greater power that could make dirty and lowly feet just as glorious.

“And behold, I say unto you, this is not all. For O how beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that is the founder of peace, yea, even the Lord, who has redeemed his people; yea, him who has granted salvation unto his people” (Mosiah 15:18).

Without the Messiah, there is no good news to share with the world.  He is the Prince of Peace. On the eve of his birth, the angels would proclaim “good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people” (Luke 2:10).

This is the key teaching and purpose of the Book of Mormon - to be a special witness of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Abinadi clearly teaches of his birth, mortal ministry, death and resurrection.  As with all the Nephite prophets, Abinadi proclaims repentance and faith on Christ.  Keeping the Law of Moses only is helpful if it brings us to Christ, where true salvation and eternal joy and hope can be found.  

How beautiful upon the Mount of Olives are the feet of him that knelt to pray and experience great grief and pain for our sins. How beautiful upon the Mount of Calvary are the feet of him that were pierced for our sakes.  How beautiful upon Mount Zion are the feet of him that brings eternal salvation to all those who become the seed of Christ!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Book of Mormon Lesson 17: “A Seer … Becometh a Great Benefit to His Fellow Beings” Mosiah 7-11

Book of Mormon Lesson 17: “A Seer … Becometh a Great Benefit to His Fellow Beings”
Mosiah 7-11

Mosiah 8-9

With this lesson, we add a new group of people to the Nephite story: the people of Zeniff.  There are many interesting questions that arise, regarding Zeniff and his people.

Zeniff tells us:
“ I, Zeniff, having been taught in all the language of the Nephites, and having had a knowledge of the land of Nephi, or of the land of our fathers’ first inheritance, and having been sent as a spy among the Lamanites that I might spy out their forces, that our army might come upon them and destroy them—but when I saw that which was good among them I was desirous that they should not be destroyed” (Mosiah 9:1).

Zeniff was “taught in all the language of the Nephites.” Was he a Nephite taught by his fathers in “all the language” or was he a Mulekite that was absorbed into the Nephites and was taught their language much as today: modern immigrants often do not learn the whole language, but their children raised here do.

Why did they travel back to the Land of Nephi?  Was there not room elsewhere in the Nephite nation for them to settle themselves?  A few generations later, Captain Moroni will establish cities in the disputed wilderness territory between the Nephites and Lamanites.  Would it not have been safer to clear out the few Lamanites in the area, and establish their settlements?  Or was the Land of Nephi considered part of the wilderness?

Why did King Mosiah I allow an army be sent against the Lamanites in the first place? Or was this an independent militia group? Did not the Nephites have a belief in defensive wars, rather than offensive ones? Their history generally shows this, and if so, then why an offensive army? Was this considered a legitimate effort to regain and possess anew the land that originally belonged to Nephi, and therefore, them?  If so, would it be considered an offensive or defensive war? Both or neither?

Zeniff saw these people as good, so as not to want to destroy them.  As a spy, what did he see among the Lamanites that softened his heart towards them? If a soldier refuses to follow the orders of the captain, is it not lawful to slay him for treason or dereliction of duty? In this instance, Zeniff went on the journey with the understanding they were going to fight the Lamanites and drive them from the area. What caused him to change his mind to the point that it led to insurrection?  Why did “fathers rise up against fathers and brothers against brothers” in order to rescue a traitorous spy?  Was refusing to destroy the Lamanites in that area worth the great battle that killed all but 50 of the Nephite army?  How do the words of a spy cause such a major division in an entire army?

Given that Zeniff will later find that the Lamanites actually entered into the treaty with the intent to later enslave the Nephites, was Zeniff correct in his initial assessment of the Lamanites, or would they have been better off to drive the Lamanites off instead?  Given Zeniff told us the Lamanites were good and that his commanding officer was a “bloodthirsty” man, and he will later give the kingdom to his evil son Noah, just how far should we trust Zeniff’s judgment in the story he relates to us?  It seems that on the three most important issues relevant to the story, Zeniff may have been wrong on all three decisions.  Zeniff does admit years later when he wrote his account that he was “over-zealous” and that his people were “slow to remember the Lord our God” (Mosiah 9:3).

“...they were a lazy and an idolatrous people; therefore they were desirous to bring us into bondage, that they might glut themselves with the labors of our hands; yea, that they might feast themselves upon the flocks of our fields” (Mosiah 9:12).

Why did Zeniff initially believe there was good among the Lamanites, and now seriously changes his tune regarding them?  

In asking these questions, I hope to bring out the concept that our perceptions concerning the world around us are not always that good.  Also, just because a leader seems to be good, does not mean he’s a good leader, nor that he has sound judgment.  We find that Zeniff made many choices, several of which turned out to be totally wrong.  He thought himself smarter than his military leader, using subjective and inflammatory words to belittle him (who knows if they are actually true?), and to gain power for himself.  It may be that Zeniff was a very poor king, perhaps almost as bad as his son, Noah, but in writing his own history made himself look good.

We learn here that taking one’s own counsel is not always the good thing. Also, our perceptions of the world around us may not be the best understanding of that world.  Finally, those who are not close to the Lord do not receive his guidance and direction in the decisions they make.  The choices Zeniff made in leading a people into a new land are very different than Lehi’s and Nephi’s humble walk with the Lord.

King Noah
Mosiah 11

Noah is introduced as being evil.  The first evil noted is that he has “many wives and concubines” and causes the people to seek after whoredoms.  When Nephi’s brother Jacob warned the Nephites to not have multiple wives, it may be that they observed the peoples around them having many wives, and sought to justify it by David and Solomon’s actions in the scriptures (Jacob 2).

This suggests that one of Noah’s first and foremost sins was to take the women and reduce them to sexual slavery..  Such was just the beginning of excesses, as he not only lusted for women but for fine clothing, statues and buildings in his honor, drunkenness, and riches.

Interestingly, their actions are described as “laziness”.  The Lamanites were also described as being lazy, and sought to conquer Zeniff’s people in order to be lazier. In wanting to live in luxury, Noah and his people were guilty of the sin of being lazy.  Taxes were raised to support their sins and laziness.  Government excesses could be explained as making their land greater by all of the wonderful state buildings built, and the “freedoms” given to men as to regarding the ignoring of commandments, responsibilities, etc.  As long as the taxes were paid to handle Noah’s lifestyle, people could be as spiritually and morally lazy as they wish.  Abinadi will soon speak to those excesses.

If we were to look at our own government and how we run our own homes, perhaps we could see some of the same inclinations.  Have our excesses been justified?  Do we now spend trillions of dollars in deficit spending to support indolence?  Have we become a lazy people that want government reduced, but only as long as it does not reduce our personal entitlements?

A Seer
Mosiah 7-8

King Limhi’s people went in search of Zarahemla.  In their search, they came to the lands of the Jaredites and found an ancient record.  Limhi wished it to be deciphered.  Ammon explained that King Mosiah II was able to translate the record, because he was a seer.

“Now Ammon said unto him: I can assuredly tell thee, O king, of a man that can translate the records; for he has wherewith that he can look, and translate all records that are of ancient date; and it is a gift from God. And the things are called interpreters, and no man can look in them except he be commanded, lest he should look for that he ought not and he should perish. And whosoever is commanded to look in them, the same is called seer.
And behold, the king of the people who are in the land of Zarahemla is the man that is commanded to do these things, and who has this high gift from God.
And the king said that a seer is greater than a prophet.
And Ammon said that a seer is a revelator and a prophet also; and a gift which is greater can no man have, except he should possess the power of God, which no man can; yet a man may have great power given him from God.
But a seer can know of things which are past, and also of things which are to come, and by them shall all things be revealed, or, rather, shall secret things be made manifest, and hidden things shall come to light, and things which are not known shall be made known by them, and also things shall be made known by them which otherwise could not be known.
Thus God has provided a means that man, through faith, might work mighty miracles; therefore he becometh a great benefit to his fellow beings” (Mosiah 8:13-18).

When we combine this description of seers and the Urim and Thummim/Interpreters with the description in D&C 130, we get a better understanding of what is going on:

“Then the white stone...will become a Urim and Thummim to each individual who receives one, whereby things pertaining to a higher order of kingdoms will be made known;
And a white stone is given to each of those who come into the celestial kingdom, whereon is a new name written, which no man knoweth save he that receiveth it. The new name is the key word” (D&C 130:10-11).

The Urim and Thummim can take a variety of shapes (glasses, white stone, etc). Its purpose is to reveal “things pertaining to a higher order of kingdoms”, as well as “know of things which are past, and also of things which are to come, and by them shall all things be revealed”.

This device is accessed by using the new name, which is “the key word”. In essence, the new name is a password to gain access.  The individual who uses such a device must use caution on what he seeks for, “lest he should look for that he ought not and he should perish.”  

To me, the scripture is describing computer devices that are hooked up to a spiritual Internet.  It requires a key word/password, and we understand the power for good and evil that the Internet has. A person can use it to gain much knowledge and wisdom, or can skulk around looking at pornography and other evil things.  Such a person spiritually perishes by misusing such a powerful tool.  

Yet, ask any scholar how great computers and the Internet are for research and development, and one can see that when man uses them properly,  they “becometh a great benefit to his fellow beings”.

The Book of Mormon, translated in 1829, describes celestial computer and Internet capability. Given that Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine was designed in 1822, and it did not have Internet access nor a password, we can see that God revealed to Joseph some incredible things back at the time when simple computational machines were just being dreamed of.

Three Men, Three Worlds

A key concept here is we can learn from studying the differences between the men Zeniff, Noah and Mosiah I.  Noah was definitely an evil man, seeking to thrive through being lazy by taking from others.  His excesses are noted, but we do not see the direct impact on the people.  Women were treated as lesser beings.  High taxes were hard to bear for the people.  Instead of working with his own hands, as did King Benjamin, he enriched himself on the backs of others. The only thing given back was permission to also engage in sin and excess, as women were treated as whores, rather than as the daughters of God.

Zeniff was not a close follower of God, and his choices and perceptions of the world around him displayed his serious lack of judgment regarding his enemies, his people, and even his own son.  While not evil, his mediocre attention to spiritual things seriously affected his ability to protect and defend his people.  He walked into a trap, and brought all his people with him.

King Mosiah I was a holy man.  As his father, he worked the land with his own hands, to keep from burdening the people. We do not hear of great taxes being placed on the people. Nor are there huge buildings and constructions built all over the Nephite lands, as a sign of the “greatness” of the king and/or government.  Instead, Mosiah has been a prophet-king, leading the people in charity and faith.  He is the seer.  Because he has access to God and the higher order of things via the Interpreters, he is able to greatly bless the people.

We must all decide just what kind of person we wish to be: Celestial, Terrestrial, or Telestial.  Shall we follow God with all our heart, be lukewarm in our testimonies, or reject God in revel in our laziness?


Urim and Thummim as ancient computer:

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Book of Mormon Lesson 16: “Ye Shall Be Called the Children of Christ” Mosiah 4-6

Book of Mormon Lesson 16: “Ye Shall Be Called the Children of Christ”
Mosiah 4-6

King Benjamin’s discourse continues in this lesson.  After declaring to the people that all of them are fallen and not worthy of anything, and then explaining the atonement of Christ, we find that the people are converted.

“...behold they had fallen to the earth, for the fear of the Lord had come upon them.
And they had viewed themselves in their own carnal state, even less than the dust of the earth. And they all cried aloud with one voice, saying: O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified; for we believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who created heaven and earth, and all things; who shall come down among the children of men.
And it came to pass that after they had spoken these words the Spirit of the Lord came upon them, and they were filled with joy, having received a remission of their sins, and having peace of conscience, because of the exceeding faith which they had in Jesus Christ who should come, according to the words which king Benjamin had spoken unto them” (Mosiah 3:1-3).

Here we see the pattern to change and convert ourselves to a spiritual life.  First, we must humble ourselves, seeing ourselves as “less than the dust of the earth.”  Without such an attitude, our pride will always prevent us from having a full spiritual experience.  We cannot fully repent, as long as we hold onto any sin or belief that binds us to the material world.  Instead, we must see ourselves as unworthy of anything we have received.  We cannot think that the world or anyone owes us a living, because the Lord has already given us life and agency.  For forgiveness, mercy and at-one-ment to occur, we must surrender our hearts to God.  Anything less will not give us the entire blessing.

And what is that blessing? As Benjamin’s people repented, they were filled with the Holy Spirit, which testified to them that their sins were forgiven, filling them with exquisite peace and joy. This was a free gift to those who fully accept the gift and do not resist receiving it through a lack of faith. As with them, it required “exceeding faith” to obtain a clear conscience and to be redeemed from the Fall.

“For behold, if the knowledge of the goodness of God at this time has awakened you to a sense of your nothingness, and your worthless and fallen state—
I say unto you, if ye have come to a knowledge of the goodness of God, and his matchless power, and his wisdom, and his patience, and his long-suffering towards the children of men; and also, the atonement which has been prepared from the foundation of the world, that thereby salvation might come to him that should put his trust in the Lord, and should be diligent in keeping his commandments, and continue in the faith even unto the end of his life, I mean the life of the mortal body—
I say, that this is the man who receiveth salvation, through the atonement which was prepared from the foundation of the world for all mankind, which ever were since the fall of Adam, or who are, or who ever shall be, even unto the end of the world.
And this is the means whereby salvation cometh” (Mosiah 4:5-8).

Here are the steps to salvation: 1. recognize we are nothing and are fallen from the grace and presence of God, 2. recognize that God is good and wishes to save us if we believe and trust in Him, keeping his commandments until the end - not as a way to earn salvation, but as our way of showing faith and repentance enough to receive his grace and not defy it.  In verses 9-10, Benjamin reiterates his stance. We must believe in God and that he is all powerful. Then we must repent, and repentance means leaving sin behind and following Christ demonstrated by keeping the commandments.

In following this course, Benjamin notes,

“And behold, I say unto you that if ye do this ye shall always rejoice, and be filled with the love of God, and always retain a remission of your sins; and ye shall grow in the knowledge of the glory of him that created you, or in the knowledge of that which is just and true” (Mosiah 4:12).

As such, the Nephites did not receive a remission of sins because they were already keeping the commandments nor trying to earn heaven, but because they truly believed and repented. Then, as the Holy Spirit fell upon them, we find it changed them forever.

“And they all cried with one voice, saying: Yea, we believe all the words which thou hast spoken unto us; and also, we know of their surety and truth, because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually” (Mosiah 5:2).

The mighty change of heart they experienced caused them to want to do good. Not because the Mosaic Law demanded they follow a checklist of rules, but because the Spirit had filled them. Pharisees tried keeping every rule in the Mosaic law, and then some. They were excellent at minutiae. Where they failed was they did not have the right faith nor humility to repent.  Some modern Christians (including some Mormons) mistake keeping a checklist of rules with having been changed through the atonement of Christ and to now desire to obey for they no longer desire evil.

While we are saved only in faith and repentance, our works are still very important.  Our future works determine if we are continuing in the grace of Christ, or are drifting back toward the "natural man, which is an enemy to God" (Mosiah 3:19).  Only in casting off the natural man, and then putting on the man of Christ, can we ever hope to obtain the presence of God.

Benjamin notes ways in which we should “desire to do good continually.”  He lists the importance of teaching the gospel to our children, providing for the sick and needy, and doing good to all mankind. For those who deny helping out the beggar, thinking the person obviously deserves his poverty, the prophet-king proclaimed:

“But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God.
For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind?” (Mosiah 4:18-19).

Could God not determine that we deserve the struggles we go through, and not provide, for the same reasons we judge those around us?  The Ghost of Christmas Present mocked Ebenezer Scrooge, using his own words against him: “Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses? “  Imagine if God were such a scrooge with his charity and grace!  None of us would get out of this world alive.

“And behold, even at this time, ye have been calling on his name, and begging for a remission of your sins. And has he suffered that ye have begged in vain? Nay; he has poured out his Spirit upon you, and has caused that your hearts should be filled with joy, and has caused that your mouths should be stopped that ye could not find utterance, so exceedingly great was your joy.
And now, if God, who has created you, on whom you are dependent for your lives and for all that ye have and are, doth grant unto you whatsoever ye ask that is right, in faith, believing that ye shall receive, O then, how ye ought to impart of the substance that ye have one to another” (Mosiah 4:20-21).

We would not give an addict more heroin.  But if he were to ask for something that could actually help him, is it not our responsibility to do so?  If we wish to be true Christians, then yes.  And in doing so, the Lord will then shed upon us his grace, salvation and Spirit, filling us with exceeding joy and peace, even in such a troubled world as we live in.

The Covenant

Again, in Mosiah 5, we find that the people are completely changed. They no longer desire “to do evil, but to do good continually.”  Their disposition was now towards following Christ.  They were now ready to enter into a covenant with God.

“And we are willing to enter into a covenant with our God to do his will, and to be obedient to his commandments in all things that he shall command us, all the remainder of our days, that we may not bring upon ourselves a never-ending torment, as has been spoken by the angel, that we may not drink out of the cup of the wrath of God” (Mosiah 5:5).

As with the Doctrine of Christ (2 Ne 31, 3 Ne 11), we follow a pattern: Faith in Christ, Repentance, Making a Covenant (often tied to an ordinance like baptism), and Receiving the Holy Ghost. In the modern LDS Sacrament/communion prayer, we covenant to “ take upon [us] the name of thy Son, and always remember him, and keep his commandments which he hath given [us], that [we]may always have his Spirit to be with [us]” (Moroni 4:3). This, of course, is the eternal round or the cycle of progression.  

When we develop faith in Christ, or even begin to desire to believe (Alma 32), we then determine we are unworthy and require rescue.  That rescuing comes through repentance and making a covenant to live a Christ-like life for the remainder of our days.  On making such a covenant, symbolized by ordinances like baptism, sacrament, ordination, endowment or sealing, we are filled with the Spirit of God, which imbues us with new spiritual life. We enter into the presence of the third member of the Godhead, the Holy Ghost, and have begun our ascension into the presence of the Lord.  As we exercise ever more faith, we desire more change, and so we repent of more weaknesses we recognize in ourselves, commit or renew a covenant, and are imbued with even more of the Holy Ghost.  Eventually, we receive the great promise:

“...then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.
The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever” (D&C 121:45-46).

The Holy Ghost is our constant companion and we can stand with confidence in the presence of God.

With the covenant we make at baptism, we receive a new name, even as King Benjamin’s Nephites received:  

“And now, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters” (Mosiah 5:7).

Through Christ, the Only Begotten of the Father in the flesh, we become spiritually reborn as His children.  We become “heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17).


“Christmas Carol”, Charles Dickens:

Monday, April 09, 2012

An Infinite Atonement and Grace

Last Thursday evening, a fellow high councilor mentioned he would be speaking on the Atonement of Christ for Easter in his ward.  He wanted to know more about it, as we generally understand the events occurring in Gethsemane and Calvary, as well as the Garden Tomb.
The discussion went beyond those events.  Several of us, including an Institute director, saw the atonement as being “infinite” or without beginning or ending of days.  We saw it as reaching back to our pre-mortal existence, touching the lives of those living on previously created worlds, and extending forever into the eternities.
While there are are theories on how the atonement works (Ransom , Compassion, Infusion, etc), we went deeply into a component of the atonement that is often overlooked: grace.
While the pinnacle of the atonement occurred 200 years ago, it is ongoing. 2 Nephi 2 teaches that without the atonement, we would have no agency, for as Jacob explained, we would not rise again, and therefore be subject to the devil, being angels to the devil.
So, the atonement allows us to choose life or death.
But we are also taught that even as Christ went from “grace to grace, receiving grace for grace” until he was perfected in all things (D&C 93), so we should also seek grace.
What is grace? It is anything and everything that God gifts to us. It is the air we breathe and the food we eat. It is saying a prayer, and immediately afterward, finding the lost car keys. It is in the inspiring moments God gives us.  It is in knowing that God stands with us through the tough times. It is the big and little miracles that occur daily around us.  It is giant revelations like Nephi and John the Revelator received, and it is the tiny whisperings of the Holy Spirit.
Grace is God reaching down to us and touching us, because the atonement has bridged the gap between fallen man and risen Lord.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Book of Mormon Lesson 15: “Eternally Indebted to Your Heavenly Father” Mosiah 1-3

Book of Mormon Lesson 15: “Eternally Indebted to Your Heavenly Father”  
Mosiah 1-3


Most of the books in the Book of Mormon begin with a colophon, an introduction by the author. So, we get “I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents....” (1 Ne 1:1) as a colophon.  However the Book of Mosiah does not have one.  Why?

LDS scholars believe that it has to do with the 116 lost manuscript pages story. While translating the first portions of the plates, Martin Harris asked Joseph Smith if he could take the manuscript to show to his wife and a few others.  Joseph was told “no” by the Lord on a few occasions, but then was allowed to do so with strict requirements. Martin Harris became complacent, and allowed the 116 pages of manuscript to be stolen.  The lost manuscript would begin with the writings of Lehi, and it seems, end with the first chapter or two of Mosiah.  So, where we have Mosiah chapter 1, was probably chapter 2 or 3 in the original.  The small plates of Nephi, appended to the back of Mormon’s abridgement, would then become the first portion of our modern scripture, possibly with some missing information, such as the first portion of Mosiah.

In Mosiah, we see the aged King Benjamin preparing for what would possibly be his last great sermon to the Nephite and Mulekite peoples.  The gathering equates to the ancient Middle Eastern Year Rite.  In the Year Rite, the king proclaims the wonderful things he has done for the people in the previous year, protecting them from enemies and crop failure, among other things.  Often, the Year Rite would contain a symbolic crowning or anointing of the King.  The king would either symbolize God (the King of Heaven) or as with the Egyptians, the Pharaoh-King would be god!  In this instance, Benjamin would proclaim Mosiah as his successor in the divine right of Nephite kings, but as we shall see, will teach the people to focus not on Benjamin or Mosiah, but on the real King.

This Yearly Rite would also be a Festival of Booths/Tabernacles, where the followers would set up tents facing the temple.  In the Mosaic tradition, the Festival of Booths represented Moses coming down from Sinai (the temple) with the plans for the Tabernacle, a mobile temple. Israel recognized that their little tents symbolized the Tabernacle of Moses, wherein was the Presence of the Lord.  This was symbolic also, because each man was Lord of his own Tent, bringing his family to be in the presence of the king, who represented God.

Benjamin’s Sermon
Mosiah 2

As mentioned, the Year Rite was a time to present the king to the people, so he could show all the wonderful things he has done for them.  But Benjamin changes the Year Rite to remove himself out of the center of the picture.

“I have not commanded you to come up hither that ye should fear me, or that ye should think that I of myself am more than a mortal man” (Mosiah 2:10).

He quickly explained that he is just as frail and weak as the rest of them, even though he has sought to serve them all his days.  Interestingly, most ancient Middle Eastern kings did not see themselves as servants of the people, but as divine sons of the gods, with the expectation that the people serve and worship them!

The people clearly loved Benjamin for his service.  Yet, Benjamin does not want their praise.

“And behold also, if I, whom ye call your king, who has spent his days in your service, and yet has been in the service of God, do merit any thanks from you, O how you ought to thank your heavenly King!” (Mos 2:19).

Where many kings saw themselves as divine mediators between heaven and earth, Benjamin only sees himself as a messenger boy.  He is not mediating anything.  At most, he has sought to be an example for the people of service and humility.  But the thanks and glory will go to God the king, and not to a mortal man acting as a king.  This must have especially been a significant concept for the Mulekites, given their people had spent centuries under the Jaredite yoke of oppressive kings and their wars, before escaping south to the place they named Zarahemla.

The Grace of God

And here is where Benjamin’s teachings get very interesting:

“I say unto you, my brethren, that if you should render all the thanks and praise which your whole soul has power to possess, to that God who has created you, and has kept and preserved you, and has caused that ye should rejoice, and has granted that ye should live in peace one with another—
I say unto you that if ye should serve him who has created you from the beginning, and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will, and even supporting you from one moment to another—I say, if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants” (Mos 2:20-21).

Benjamin gives us a reason for worshiping God, but also how useless we are in trying to do so. Here is the first part of what God has done for mankind.  God has given us life, protected us, given us moments of happiness and peace. He has given us air and agency, supporting us from moment to moment. After all, it only would take a moment for the Sun to erupt and eliminate the earth, for something to occur to destroy our atmosphere and have all oxygen sucked away, or to have a world of continual death and destruction in all places, with no place to escape.

The king notes that even if we spent our whole lives thanking and praising God, we still would be “unprofitable servants.”

“And behold, all that he requires of you is to keep his commandments; and he has promised you that if ye would keep his commandments ye should prosper in the land; and he never doth vary from that which he hath said; therefore, if ye do keep his commandments he doth bless you and prosper you.
And now, in the first place, he hath created you, and granted unto you your lives, for which ye are indebted unto him.
And secondly, he doth require that ye should do as he hath commanded you; for which if ye do, he doth immediately bless you; and therefore he hath paid you. And ye are still indebted unto him, and are, and will be, forever and ever; therefore, of what have ye to boast?
And now I ask, can ye say aught of yourselves? I answer you, Nay. Ye cannot say that ye are even as much as the dust of the earth; yet ye were created of the dust of the earth; but behold, it belongeth to him who created you” (Mos 2:22-25).

He asks for obedience, and in so doing we will prosper in the land. Scriptures suggest that righteous people tend to have fewer wars, pestilence, or other tragedies. To “prosper in the land” goes back to the promises made to Lehi by the Lord. If the Nephites were obedient, they would prosper. Wickedness would bring destruction.  That Lehi and Nephi symbolically equated the Promised Land as being in the “Presence of the Lord” is an important concept here.

God has given us everything. If we were to keep the commandments, he blesses us more. In being paid or blessed for our obedience, we still remain in debt.  Benjamin notes we are not “even as much as the dust of the earth”, referencing back to Adam and Eve (“to dust shalt thou return” Gene 3:19).  While Latter-day Saints do not believe in “Original Sin”, we do believe we are in a fallen state.  No matter what we think we could possibly do, we could never achieve a higher form of living without God’s help. Without God, we really are nothing but “dust in the wind”.

Adam and Eve fell because they partook of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. This tree teaches that life is full of tangible, material things.  We can and will all experience birth and death, happiness and sickness, light and darkness, pleasure and pain.  The Tree of Knowledge only offers us what this world can offer, and no more.  We literally are not worth more than the dust, as we shall all return to it someday, taking nothing with us.  In such a miserable concept, Benjamin will offer us something better, something that makes the Tree of Knowledge bearable and useful to us.

Benjamin notes that mankind must learn to follow God and not “out in open rebellion against God; therefore he listeth to obey the evil spirit, and becometh an enemy to all righteousness; therefore, the Lord has no place in him, for he dwelleth not in unholy temples” (Mos 2:37).

The problem with the Tree of Knowledge, is that we know we fall very short of obedience to God. Each time we disobey, we are in “open rebellion against God” and are obeying the evil spirit that tempted Adam and Eve in the Garden.  As with Adam and Eve, when we partake of the Tree of Knowledge, we fall from God’s presence, there is no place for God within us, nor our unholy selves within God’s holy temple.  We are cast off, just as dust is swept out the door.

To stay in this awful state of sin, causes mankind to “shrink from the presence of the Lord, and doth fill his breast with guilt, and pain, and anguish, which is like an unquenchable fire, whose flame ascendeth up forever and ever” (Mos 2:38).  There is no mercy for those who remain at the foot of the Tree of Knowledge.

Jesus Christ - the Tree of Life and Mercy
Mosiah 3

So, how do we escape the fact that we will all suffer and die, both physically and spiritually?  We cannot find the answer with the Tree of Knowledge. Its reach is only to this material world, and no further.  It requires only those things we can commonly experience.  The Tree of Knowledge is not evil, but it is the source of knowledge of good and evil things.  

It offers no way out.  We will die. Period.  Man has not found a way through his science, math, literature, history, nor any other accomplishment to permanently bring men back from the dead.  From before the days of Nimrod with the Tower of Babel, mankind has sought its own methods and purposes to acquire heaven and eternal life, and failed.

Only the fruit from the Tree of Life can bring mankind back to life and into the Presence of God.

Benjamin is awakened by an angel, a messenger who is to lead him through a vision of things to come.

“For the Lord hath heard thy prayers, and hath judged of thy righteousness, and hath sent me to declare unto thee that thou mayest rejoice; and that thou mayest declare unto thy people, that they may also be filled with joy.
For behold, the time cometh, and is not far distant, that with power, the Lord Omnipotent who reigneth, who was, and is from all eternity to all eternity, shall come down from heaven among the children of men, and shall dwell in a tabernacle of clay...” (Mos 3:4-5).

The king has told the people they were no more than the dust under their feet. But now, there is a new reality, one of hope in the future.  The Lord would come down among men and lift them from dust.  God would change frail mortal men into children of God.

“And lo, he shall suffer temptations, and pain of body, hunger, thirst, and fatigue, even more than man can suffer, except it be unto death; for behold, blood cometh from every pore, so great shall be his anguish for the wickedness and the abominations of his people.
And he shall be called Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of heaven and earth, the Creator of all things from the beginning; and his mother shall be called Mary....
also his blood atoneth for the sins of those who have fallen by the transgression of Adam, who have died not knowing the will of God concerning them, or who have ignorantly sinned.
But wo, wo unto him who knoweth that he rebelleth against God! For salvation cometh to none such except it be through repentance and faith on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Mos 3:7-12).

Suddenly, those who died without knowing God have or who have sinned out of ignorance have a way out. Even little children are saved through Christ (Mos 3:15).They do not have to be under the pain of original sin and death, but are rescued by the Savior. Imagine the billions of people who lived and died having never heard of Jesus Christ or the Bible, but sought to live decent lives, and now being rescued from eternal death and hell!

“...whosoever should believe that Christ should come, the same might receive remission of their sins, and rejoice with exceedingly great joy, even as though he had already come among them” (Mos 3:13).

Here we see what activates the Tree of Life in our lives.  Alma taught that planting and nourishing the seed of faith in our hearts causes the Tree of Life to grow until it bears fruit (Alma 32).  Where the Tree of Knowledge gave mankind information and experience, including that given through the Law of Moses (see Mos 3:14-15), the Tree of Life rescues us through faith in Christ and repentance.  This belief also required hope of future things, the resurrection and atonement, which will save all mankind who will but partake of the fruit of the Tree of Life.

“ drink damnation to their own souls except they humble themselves and become as little children, and believe that salvation was, and is, and is to come, in and through the atoning blood of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent.
For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father” (Mos 3:18-19).

The natural man is the man who only believes the experiences before him. He has never seen a person resurrect, and so refuses to believe.  He sees no need to believe or repent, because for him there is no merit in doing so.  Only in yielding, or repenting and believing, can he receive the Spirit into his heart, and allow the great change from natural to spiritual man to occur.  As with Lehi, one must walk to the Tree of Life and then partake. Otherwise, as in his vision, mankind will find itself forever lost in mists of darkness.

The day will come when all people will be judged according to their faith and faithfulness to Christ and God.

“...if they be evil they are consigned to an awful view of their own guilt and abominations, which doth cause them to shrink from the presence of the Lord into a state of misery and endless torment, from whence they can no more return; therefore they have drunk damnation to their own souls.
Therefore, they have drunk out of the cup of the wrath of God, which justice could no more deny unto them than it could deny that Adam should fall because of his partaking of the forbidden fruit; therefore, mercy could have claim on them no more forever.
And their torment is as a lake of fire and brimstone, whose flames are unquenchable, and whose smoke ascendeth up forever and ever. Thus hath the Lord commanded me. Amen” (Mosi 3:25-27).

In the resurrection, all will be brought back into God’s presence for the judgment. Those who refused to believe and repent will shrink from God’s presence. They will receive another kingdom, simply because they refuse to repent.  Joy is only found in the light and joy of Christ. If one refuses that light and joy, what else is there but the darkness and damnation?

Adam was forbidden to partake of the Tree of Life while in the Garden.  He needed time to learn the gospel, believe and repent.  But he did not have forever to choose to symbolically partake by believing God and his Christ.  We also must partake of the living fruit of Jesus Christ and live.


Festival of Tabernacles/Booths:

“An Experiment on the Word: Reading Alma 32”, editor Adam S. Miller: