Tuesday, December 31, 2013

OT #2: "Thou Wast Chosen Before Thou Wast Born"

Old Testament Gospel Doctrine lesson #2: “Thou Wast Chosen Before Thou Wast Born.”

You can read my rather extensive 2010 Old Testament lesson #2 here: http://joelsmonastery.blogspot.com/2010/01/lds-gospel-doctrine-class-old-testament_07.html 

The lesson focuses on the Book of Abraham 3, and the Book of Moses 4:1-4. Both are “translations” from Joseph Smith, wherein the term “translation” is used differently than we use it today. Joseph often used extant texts or items to as catalysts to receive revelation. In studying the Bible, he received a revelation on the Creation that we now have as the Book of Moses. In studying an ancient (2oo AD) Egyptian papyrus that we now know included portions of the sensen or Book of Breathings, Joseph received what we now have as the Book of Abraham.

The Premortal Existence
The concept that God was not alone prior to earth can be a stunning revelation to many Jews and Christians. The concept of God creating everything from nothing (creation ex nihilo) has been a belief of many Jews and later Christians since at least the times of the Maccabbees (200 BC). Yet Joseph Smith taught that matter is eternal, co-eternal with God. Even Spirit is made of purely fine matter. One form of spirit, the Light of Christ, flows through all things (D&C 88, 93, 130). This creation of the spirits of men and women from pre-existing matter means that while there is the hand of divinity in our making, so too is there something independent of God in each of us. It is possible that this duality is what provides us with individuality, freedom to choose, and even choose to reject God and the things of our Creator. This opens up the ability to have “opposition in all things” (2 Nephi 2), which is necessary for life to exist.

Many Bible scholars now accept the concept of God having a divine council or assembly prior to the earth’s creation. These were angels, cherubim, seraphim, and archangels that stood in God’s presence, worshiping and counseling with God (see Isaiah 1:1-6 for an example). This assembly included holy beings that resembled God, including Jesus Christ. It must have been a great surprise to Abraham to find out he was in that special group at the very beginning. We find that God is surrounded by the “intelligences that were organized”, later calling them spirits.

The question here is: what kind of organization? Were they organized as a special group of angels/divine beings, or were they initially unorganized intelligence/matter that was later organized into sentient spirits? Or both?

The Fall of Lucifer: Two Stories
As we will see next week with the Creation, we often try very hard to reconcile differing stories, or to ignore the differences. Yet, there are differences in the two stories we receive in regards to Lucifer’s fall from grace.

In Moses 4:1-4, we see a contest of wills between Jesus and Lucifer occur:
“And I, the Lord God, spake unto Moses, saying: That Satan, whom thou hast commanded in the name of mine Only Begotten, is the same which was from the beginning, and he came before me, saying—Behold, here am I, send me, I will be thy son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it; wherefore give me thine honor. But, behold, my Beloved Son, which was my Beloved and Chosen from the beginning, said unto me—Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever. Wherefore, because that Satan rebelled against me, and sought to destroy the agency of man, which I, the Lord God, had given him, and also, that I should give unto him mine own power; by the power of mine Only Begotten, I caused that he should be cast down.” (Moses 4:1-3).

Here we see a classic stand-off between hero and villain. Each presents a plan, but somehow Satan’s plan leads to a rebellion that we do not get clear details on. In what way did Satan rebel? The story is not exactly clear on this. When Lucifer came before God to share his plan, were his followers standing behind him ready to overthrow the kingdom? Was his plan asked for, or did he put it forth as a demand, rather than as an option? Why is offering to “redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost” an effort to destroy agency? Wouldn’t everyone want to be saved? And does “saved” mean exalted, or just an escape from death and hell? Or does it mean something entirely different?

Satan demanded God’s glory and power, while God gave his glory and power to Jesus. Is such an attitude all it requires to be in rebellion? Or was something more going on here?

Then, we go to the story in the Book of Abraham. In Abraham 3, the Lord doesn’t ask for options, but just explains the plan of salvation:
“We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell; And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them; And they who keep their first estate shall be added upon; and they who keep not their first estate shall not have glory in the same kingdom with those who keep their first estate; and they who keep their second estate shall have glory added upon their heads for ever and ever.” (Abraham 3:24-26)

There is no second plan offered. The only question left open for discussion by God was: “Whom shall I send (to be the Savior)?” Lucifer does not provide an alternative plan. It does not seem like he may have stepped forward with a demand to take God’s place. He simply offers himself to go. It is only when God chose Jesus as the Savior that we see Satan become angry, rebel and cast down.

We do not know how long of a time it required for this rebellion to occur. It could have been minutes, days, or years in the preparation stages of the world, before the war in heaven finally occurred, according to Abraham’s account. But in Moses’ story, it seems that the encounter between God and Satan immediately created an impasse that caused a rebellion that was probably already in the planning stages.

Why two stories?
So, why are there two stories? Because Abraham and Moses come from different cultures and belief systems, and each were given a different revelation that was adapted to the symbolism and “history” of his day.

Moses was only given a revelation of this earth, because to see more would bring too much glory upon him and cause him to cease being mortal. Abraham was not only shown this earth, but the Sun and many other suns and planets that led to Kolob and the throne of God, yet he continued in the flesh!
According to the early Jewish historian Josephus, Abraham taught astronomy to the Egyptians. If so, that knowledge of astronomy may have been passed down through several centuries to the days when Moses would walk the courts of Pharaoh as a child. Would Moses have recognized that it came from Father Abraham?

Perhaps it falls into the needs of the two patriarchs. Abraham needed to share great wisdom with Egypt, to gain its trust and power, as an ally and friend. He had but a few hundred servants and followers in his group that wandered wherever there was pasture for the flocks. Teaching the Egyptians from Pharaoh’s throne gave him power and access to teach God’s word to the most powerful people on earth. There probably was no major competition between Abraham and Pharaoh when he received the revelation.
On the other hand, Moses was establishing the new kingdom of Israel from Egyptian slaves. Instead of an ally of Pharaoh, Moses was an enigma and threat to the power and supremacy of Pharaoh and Egypt. His revelation of Christ and Satan would symbolize Moses against Pharaoh: one offering freedom and salvation to Israel, the other offering slavery and death. One represented God and sought the glory of God, while the other held a false priesthood power and used it to build vast cities and monuments to praise and empower himself. Pharaoh was Lucifer to Moses’ Jesus!

Through the 10 Plagues, Pharaoh’s power would be unable to save Egypt, while Moses would deliver chosen Israel through the power of God. One could think that in the premortal existence, God would ask, “Whom shall I send?” and Moses would have answered, “Here am I, send me!” as a symbolic foreshadowing of the coming Messiah to save all of Israel (compare with Isaiah 1:1-6).

Thursday, December 26, 2013

OT #1: This is My Work and My Glory

Amazing how four years go by and we again begin the Old Testament. For those who did not read my last go around on the Old Testament lessons in 2010, you can read lesson #1 here.

This first lesson in the Old Testament actually starts us in the Book of Moses, chapter one. The Book of Moses is a part of Joseph Smith's "Translation" of the Bible. Rather than an actual translation, however, we are benefited by a revelation given to Joseph Smith of things revealed to Moses. Beginning the Old Testament with Moses 1 gives us a truly Mormon taste of what the gospel throughout the ages is all about.

El Elyon
And God spake unto Moses, saying: Behold, I am the Lord God Almighty, and Endless is my name; for I am without beginning of days or end of years; and is not this endless? (Moses 1:3)
In the original sense, "Lord God Almighty" denotes God the Father. God Almighty is El Elyon or Elohim in Hebrew. Many LDS leaders have suggested that it was Christ that appeared to Moses in the stead of the Father. This is possible, for "he that hath seen me hath seen the Father" (John 14:19). However, we are to understand by the terminology used that Moses is in the presence of the Father.
The words of God, which he spake unto Moses at a time when Moses was caught up into an exceedingly high mountain, And he saw God face to face, and he talked with him, and the glory of God was upon Moses; therefore Moses could endure his presence. (Moses 1:1-2)

In a time when there are no temples or tabernacles, God spoke to mankind in secluded, special places. Often the secluded place would be at the top of a mountain. To speak to God on a mountain top meant a climb. The person would ascend towards the heavens and God's throne. One ascends out of the common world and into a world that is starkly different and set apart.
As a preparation to speak to God, Moses is then transfigured by the glory of God. No one can see God and still live, unless he is first changed so he can withstand the glory of God. Still, we will see that Moses does not see the full glory of God, but only a part of it. In the ancient text, Ascension of Isaiah, the prophet sees Christ descend through the heavens to the earth. As he descends, he empties himself of his glory, so that the angels and beings on the lower levels of the heavens/cosmos may bear his presence. So we see the Lord explain to Moses:
Wherefore, no man can behold all my works, except he behold all my glory; and no man can behold all my glory, and afterwards remain in the flesh on the earth. (vs 5)
God revealed what he could to Moses. It is possible that Moses, in awe of the things he saw, would not fully understand all that was shown to him.
Satan the Deceiver
And it came to pass that when Moses had said these words, behold, Satan came tempting him, saying: Moses, son of man, worship me. And it came to pass that Moses looked upon Satan and said: Who art thou? For behold, I am a son of God, in the similitude of his Only Begotten; and where is thy glory, that I should worship thee? For behold, I could not look upon God, except his glory should come upon me, and I were transfigured before him. But I can look upon thee in the natural man. Is it not so, surely? Blessed be the name of my God, for his Spirit hath not altogether withdrawn from me, or else where is thy glory, for it is darkness unto me? And I can judge between thee and God; for God said unto me: Worship God, for him only shalt thou serve. Get thee hence, Satan; deceive me not; for God said unto me: Thou art after the similitude of mine Only Begotten. (vv 12-16)
Once the Lord departed and left Moses alone and weak, the Tempter showed up. Satan demanded that Moses worship him. He is, after all, the god of the fallen world, and claims it as his own. Moses noted that only because he has experienced the glory of the true God can he determine the deceit of Satan. Where Moses was filled with glory and light, now all he experiences is an emptiness and darkness.
This is an important concept for us today. Many people cannot tell the difference between God and Satan, simply because they have not tasted the glory of God, or have forgotten the spiritual experiences they have had. Satan can also climb exceedingly high mountains and provide stimulating experiences to humans, whether through drugs, sex, pride, power, wealth, or other methods.
The differences lie in these concepts: 1. the real God tells us that we are "after the similitude of mine Only Begotten", meaning we are made of the same substance as God himself is. 2. God's glory is an experience that can help us determine the light from the dark. 3. It doesn't matter what logic Satan uses with us, there is only one God.
Finally, Satan's desire is to rule and reign over us as he sees fit, using us as chattel. God has a different goal:
For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. (v 39)
For those who believe that God is the "Unmoved Mover", who does not feel emotion towards the children of men, we see here and will see through the Book of Moses and the Bible that God is the "Most Moved Mover". He is glorious because of his purpose, which is to save and exalt his creation. In this he gains his glory. To be a being with great power does not necessarily merit worship and devotion from mortals. There are those who see God as a cruel and vengeful God, whose desire is to save only a few, and condemn the rest of his creation to hell fire. Where is the glory in being that kind of God? So were the gods of Egypt, where Moses was born. So is Satan, who was willing to use fear and power to cause Moses to obey and follow.
But the Lord God Almighty, who has created us in the similitude of the Only Begotten, has placed us in a special place. We are his children, and he has determined that true glory comes from focusing on glorifying his own creation.