Friday, May 30, 2014

LDS Public Affairs posts statement on criticism and Women's Issues

Great article and letter by Michael Otterson, Managing Director of LDS Public Affairs regarding the Church's stance on women's issues, etc.  Posted at Millennial Star, where I often permablog.

Monday, March 31, 2014

OT#13 Bondage, Passover and Exodus

Old Testament Gospel Doctrine lesson #13:  Bondage, Passover and the Exodus
Exodus 1-14

You can read my previous post on this lesson here.

Exodus as a Creation Story

In discussing the Creation previously, I've detailed how we actually get several Creation stories in the Bible, including the two in Genesis 1 and 2.  Isaiah, the Psalmist and others make mention of the ancient Sumerian Creation story, where God must subdue Chaos, which is represented by a great sea dragon, Leviathan or Rahab.

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. (Isa 17:1)

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? (Isa 51:9)

Thou didst divide the sea by thy strength: thou brakest the heads of the dragons in the waters.
 Thou brakest the heads of leviathan in pieces, and gavest him to be meat to the people inhabiting the wilderness. (Psalm 74:13-14)

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 their place found any more 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. (Rev 12:7-9)
In the Genesis story, Chaos is represented by Darkness and the Waters of the Great Deep.  When the power of God passes over the Chaos, it is transformed into Order: Light and Land.

For the story of the Exodus, we begin a new Creation.  The Egyptian world is a land of Chaos.  There are many gods, each fighting for its spot in the pecking order.  The Egyptians thrive, not because of the land, but because of the River.  Without the Nile River bringing water and nutrients in the annual flood, there would have been no Egypt, no dynasties of Pharaohs, nothing.  The people depended on the chaotic nature of the River (flooding in spring, lower at other times) to provide for themselves.

As God creates a new people, he takes them through the Creation myth. The Ten Plagues show the Chaos that Egypt brought upon itself by Pharaoh's fighting God and Moses in their Creation story. Turning the Nile River into blood is poetic, as it suggests the blood of Leviathan being poured out as God slays him in battle.  As animals are created in Genesis 1 and 2, God destroys the cattle and flocks of the Egyptians, and replacing them with the chaos of frogs, locusts and flies.

The Darkness of Chaos is represented by the days of darkness cast upon the land of Egypt. Only God is able to bring the sun's light again in a new birth of Creation.  As the firstborn males of Egypt die, the way is opened for the firstborn of Israel to depart to their new land.

Of course, Egypt's military dragons were not yet done.  They also had to be defeated in the depths of the sea.  Only God's new Creation is allowed to come forth on the other side of the darkness and floods.  The Land of Promise was still far in the future, but sacred places were to be visited and created along the way.

OT #12 Fruitful in the Land of My Affliction

Gospel Doctrine lesson #12, Fruitful in the Land of My Affliction
Genesis 40-45

My previous post on this lesson can be found here.

Promised Lands/Promised Peoples

The Book of Genesis is all about a promised people. Adam, Eve and their righteous children (Abel, Seth) were a promised people, while Cain was cast out.  Enoch and Zion were chosen, while the giants and wicked were rejected of God.  Noah was chosen to escape the destruction of the Flood, and his tiny ark became the promised land of safety.

Abraham was chosen to become the beginnings of the Promised People.  His new land of promise was filled with Canaanites and others, who worshiped other gods.  His son (Isaac), and son's son (Jacob) would get wives out of the former familial lands of Haran.

For Joseph, Egypt was the land of his affliction, but a fruitful place that would care for Israel and many others during a time when they were cut off from the Promised Land.  Egypt would frequently become the temporary oasis for the Chosen People. Once removed from the land of Canaan for drought, famine or other reason, Egypt usually becomes the place of worldly safety.  Two millennia later, Joseph and Mary would escape into the land of Egypt and sojourn there for a time with their fugitive child, Jesus.

The concepts of Promised Lands and Promised Peoples are important for Latter-day Saints.  We believe that we are building a modern Zion people.  The center of Zion will one day be in Missouri, with thousands of Stakes to strengthen it.

Interestingly, Joseph Smith moved the Saints to Missouri, but they were driven out.  First Nauvoo, and then later, Utah, became the "temporary" Egyptian desert sanctuary for modern Israel.  As the children of Israel would spend centuries in Egypt, so Mormons would spend the last century and a half waiting to return to build a new Zion.  During that time, Mormons have excelled in business, politics, and many other ventures of American modern society.  Some continue walking the path that God set for Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; while today there are many others who have become cultural Mormons, who no longer believe in the spiritual, but solely enjoy the social aspects.

As the tribes of Israel would deal with changes in Egyptian politics (a pharaoh arose that knew not Joseph - Exodus 1), some would leave the teachings of Abraham in order to gain power and wealth within Egyptian life.  Why did it seem normal for Egyptians to slay all the male children in Israel, yet allow one of those boys to grow up in Pharaoh's household?  Was Moses the first/only one to be adopted? Or was there a long line of Israelite children who had been taken in by Egyptian women seeking children of their own, but wishing to retain their slim figures?  While Moses would lead Israel out of Egypt and back to the Promised Land of his fathers, what about those Israelites that remained behind?  Surely there were some that did not follow Moses, but preferred the fleshpots of Egypt?  Again, there would be others that would follow Moses, only to later wish to return to Egypt, its gods, and the annual crops grown along the Nile River.

In a world of constant pressure to worship the gods of Egypt (who provide fleshpots of food) or to worship the gods of Hollywood (who provide us sex, drugs and rock n roll), we will find that we cannot always stand with one foot in Zion and the other in the World.  Eventually, each of us must choose.  Will we be true followers of a modern day Moses, or a cultural Israel, who are happy while water pours out of rocks, manna falls from the sky, and the prophet is willing to share priesthood authority and power with them (Numbers 16)?  Will we make popular demands, and have golden calves built, because we do not believe the prophets (or God) are watching?

We already hear the clarion call to leave the corruption of the World/Babylon/Egypt behind and to "Come to Zion" ("Israel, Israel God is Calling", Hymn #7).  Today we are building a spiritual Zion in the midst of 3000 stakes and 170 temples.  Eighty-thousand missionaries seek out the lost of Israel, inviting them to spiritually become part of the people of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Soon, the call will come to build up the center of Zion, and a final call will be made to those who refuse to leave the fleshpots of Egypt, prior to the great and coming day of the Lord.

Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thine habitations: spare not, lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes; (Isaiah 54:2)
Look upon Zion, the city of our solemnities: thine eyes shall see Jerusalem a quiet habitation, a tabernacle that shall not be taken down; not one of the stakes thereof shall ever be removed, neither shall any of the cords thereof be broken. (Isaiah 33:20)

These are important issues that will be a key focus for most of the Old Testament lessons throughout the rest of 2014.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

OT #11 How Can I Do This Great Wickedness?

Old Testament Gospel Doctrine lesson #11:  How Can I Do This Great Wickedness?
Genesis 34, 37-39 (32-39)

See my previous post on this lesson, where I discuss the Testaments of the 12 Patriarchs and the connection with the lesson. 

Here, I will discuss some of the key events that unfortunately are missed in the official lesson.

Wrestling with Man The story of Esau and Jacob begins with their struggles within their mother's womb.  At birth, they fought for which would be born first, with Jacob holding onto the ankle of Esau. 

Jacob (Supplanter) was a trickster.  He tricked Esau into selling his birthright for a bowl of soup (Gen 25).  Later, with his mother's guidance, he would trick Isaac into giving him the first son's blessing (Gen 27).  Esau's true nature is also revealed, as he then sought to slay his brother.  Jacob goes on the run, where he receives a theophany, seeing God on his throne at the top of a staircase (Jacob's ladder - Gen 28).  Jacob sets up the stone he used as a pillow as a pillar/altar, and naming it Beth-El or House of God.

Jacob spent about 21 years working for Laban. He originally worked 7 years to gain Rachel as his wife, only to have Laban trick him into serving several more years for wives and a herd of his own. During this time, Jacob, the trickster, learned that what you sow, so shall you reap.

Beginning in chapter 32, Jacob enters into the Promised Land, a land he has been promised, yet has not seen for decades.

 And Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him.
And when Jacob saw them, he said, This is God’s host: and he called the name of that place Mahanaim. (Gene 32:1-2)
 Mahanaim means "two camps". This is where Jacob would divide his people into two groups.

I have oxen, and asses, flocks, and menservants, and women servants: and I have sent to tell my lord, that I may find grace in thy sight.
And the messengers returned to Jacob, saying, We came to thy brother Esau, and also he cometh to meet thee, and four hundred men with him.
Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed: and he divided the people that was with him, and the flocks, and herds, and the camels, into two bands;
And said, If Esau come to the one company, and smite it, then the other company which is left shall escape. (Gene 32:5-8)
 One does not gather 400 men, except to come to battle. Sending several groups before him with gifts to assuage Esau, Jacob did not demand his birthright, but only to dwell peacefully in the land with his brother.  Bowing himself before his older twin, he showed himself not as the rightful lord and heir, but as a servant. Esau, seeing that Jacob did not desire to rule over him, softened his heart and the two were able to live peacefully, though separate, in the land of Abraham and Isaac.

Wrestling with God
While the strategy to soften Esau's heart with herds and presents and humility, Jacob's main test would happen the night before he met his brother.

And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.
And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him.
 And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.
 And he said unto him, What is thy name? And he said, Jacob.
 And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.
 And Jacob asked him, and said, Tell me, I pray thee, thy name. And he said, Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after my name? And he blessed him there.
 And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.
 And as he passed over Penuel the sun rose upon him, and he halted upon his thigh. (Gene 32:24-31)
 While some modern prophets have speculated that Jacob was actually wrestling a mortal man, the context is clear that Jacob believed himself to be wrestling God.  How could Jacob wrestle the Lord, who was then without a body of flesh and bone?  There are a few possibilities.

First, the Lord can take upon himself many appearances.  To Moses, he appeared as a burning bush and a pillar of fire.  To the brother of Jared, he appeared as he would in the flesh.  In fact, the Lord was able to touch the stones prepared by the brother of Jared and cause them to shine (Ether 3).  Is a spirit able to touch stone?  So, it is possible that the Lord used a temporary body of flesh, or even just his body of spirit, as spirit is also made of matter (D&C 131:7).  Who knows if a spirit can touch or be touched under certain circumstances?

The other possibility is that through the Law of Divine Investiture, a translated being stood in the place of the Lord.   As I've noted elsewhere, 11Q Melchizedek, a Dead Sea Scroll fragment, tells us:  “Melchizedek is El (God)!”  and “Melchizedek is Yahweh (Jehovah).”  It is possible that Enoch or Melchizedek, both having been translated with their cities, could have stood in the place of God.

The ancient Hebrews believed that for God to create the world, he first had to wrestle and defeat Chaos.  Chaos included the dark, the waters, and a great sea serpent (Leviathan or Rahab).  In defeating Chaos, God showed himself capable and worthy to be God of the world, and more so: God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  With Job, we shall see that the Lord engages in a contest with other sons of God, including the Adversary (Satan), using Job as the centerpiece of the challenge.  Here, in Jacob's darkest hour, after years of humbling servitude, toil, and struggles, he finds he can only return to the Promised Land by first going through his brother, whom he shamed and tricked decades before.  To defeat God in wrestling meant Jacob could also defeat Esau.

No battle is without cost.  For Jacob, it was damaging his thigh.  Yet, he prevailed, and asked for the NAME of God.  Anciently, the NAME was imbued with great power.  If one had the secret NAME of God, one could prevail upon him to remain with you constantly.  This was something that God was not willing to reveal.  Instead, God gave Jacob a new NAME, which included the name of God "EL" in it.  He was no longer Jacob, but Israel (Persevered with God).  One who could persevere with God could overcome any obstacle.  With this new name, he was no longer the Supplanter/Trickster (Jacob), but a new and powerful man of wisdom and courage and righteousness.  He was ready to return into the Promised Land and into the presence of the Lord.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

OT #10: Birthright Blessings; Marriage in the Covenant

Old Testament Gospel Doctrine lesson #10:  Birthright Blessings; Marriage in the Covenant

You can read my previous blog post regarding this lesson here:

Today, Mormon Christians focus on two key portions of Abraham's promised covenant: the birthright and the eternal covenant of marriage.  Many hold it a bit of personal pride to be "born in the covenant" of the temple sealing. 

In my last blog post on this topic, I discussed several traditions tied to Abraham and Jacob in connection with the garment of Adam, the birthright, etc. 

Here I would ask us a few questions to ask ourselves:

Have you sold your birthright for a mess of pottage?  Do we choose to live the type of life Esau did, which may put us in a position to barter away our birthright?  Do we choose addictions, entertainment, power or wealth in exchange for our divine birthright?  Do we prize our relationship with God, as sons and daughters, or do we seek to be adopted out to another deity or being?

For Abraham, he became the divine son of Jehovah, AFTER receiving the covenant and then showing himself faithful through many trials and demands.  He would not see the promise fulfilled in his day, as the promised land would primarily remain in Canaanite hands for centuries.  He would allow himself to be sacrificed, risk losing his wife to Pharaoh, and to sacrifice his own son, in order to keep the covenant intact.

Jacob sought the birthright and the covenant.  He was willing to flee his angry brother and to worship God in a foreign land to keep the birthright.  In beginning of his trek, he saw God on his distant throne.  On his triumphant, but risky, return, he saw and touched God. He wrestled the Lord, seeking the power of God's name. He received a blessing and a new name for himself.

Are we actively engaged in developing and maintaining the birthright and covenant?  Or are we happy to sit back and relax, smug in our knowledge that we've been born in the covenant, and convinced that it alone gives us the birthright we think we are owed simply because we exist.  The ancient Jews often thought the same way, and yet were destroyed on many occasions because of their slothful and sinful natures.

What are we doing with our birthright?

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

OT #9: God will provide himself a Lamb

Old Testament Gospel Doctrine lesson #9: "God will provide Himself a Lamb".

My previous lesson on this is found here.

God commanding Nephi slay the drunken Laban. God making a bet with Satan (Adversary) in regards to Job.  Moses and Joshua commanded to utterly destroy cities of women and children. Such events bring up major ethical issues in regards to God and man.  Can God be considered good or great, and yet order or allow terrible things to occur?   Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac becomes a case study for us.

The Binding of Isaac
The Binding of Isaac is known as the "Akedah".  In Genesis 22, after Abraham caused Hagar and Ishmael to leave into the harsh desert, Abraham is called upon by God to offer up Isaac as a sacrifice.  For centuries, Jews, Christians and others have pondered the story of the Akedah and how to make it sound politically correct in light of more modern concepts.

From the time of Moses, the Old Testament defines child sacrifice as an abomination before God (Leviticus 18:21; 20:1-8; Deuteronomy 12:31;18:10; 2 Kings 13:27; 16:3; 17:17, 31; 21:6; 23:10; Jeremiah 7:31; 19:5; Ezekiel 20:31; Micah 6:7; 2, Chronicles 28:3; 33:6),  However, Abraham preceded Moses by several centuries. Israel was not yet a people.  Abraham was Jehovah's first follower, and the promise of the nation God would one day rule over.  Abraham dwelt among pagans from Ur to the north, to Egypt in the south, he had to deal with the beliefs and customs of the nations and tribes around him.  Child sacrifice was common among several of these groups, including the Canaanites and Philistines.  It wasn't only acceptable, but expected to offer up one's first born to the deity.

Still, how can an ethical Jew or Christian of today work through the dilemma of the Binding?  Can God command people to do evil things against his own commandments and will?  The discussion of evil in the world is a very difficult one that has challenged the best of philosophers.

Some only see a happy ending in that it ends up only being a divine test, and that Abraham did not actually slay Isaac.  God never intended anything malicious, and so every one lives happily ever after.

Many Jews see the Akedah as a promise and importance of martyrdom.  The New Year festival of Rosh Hashanah includes a prayer on judgment day,

"Remember unto us, O Lord our God, the covenant and the loving-kindness and the oath which Thou swore unto Abraham our father on Mount Moriah; and consider the binding with which Abraham our father bound his son Isaac on the altar, how he suppressed his compassion in order to perform Thy will with a perfect heart. So may Thy compassion overbear Thine anger against us; in Thy great goodness may Thy great wrath turn aside from Thy people, Thy city, and Thine inheritance."
 The ram's horn, or shofar, is then sounded.  It is a reminder that Isaac was the lamb to be sacrificed and replaced by a ram.  Christians would see this as a symbol of the Father sacrificing Christ so that the blessings of Abraham could fall upon all mankind.

 Kierkegaard believed that God did intend for Abraham to sacrifice Isaac.  In this instance, it is a contest between the status quo of commandments and the dynamic of hearing God's voice.  We see a clash between Kierkegaard's discussion of the "ethical man", who would never break the commandments, and the "knight of faith", who realizes that sometimes God suspends ethics in accomplishing His work.

In rabbinic law is the belief that God could never go against his own nature and command a murder. Some of these think Abraham was not clearly listening to God's command, and misheard him.  The Hebrew verb  alah (עלה) can mean "to ascend" or "to climb", as well as to offer a burnt offering (turn something into smoke).  Some believe that Abraham was to take Isaac to Mt Moriah to ascend the mountain and dedicate him to God in the same way Jacob saw angels ascending to heaven on a ladder/staircase. Along these lines, we read:

 In a later talmudic passage (Taanit 4a) it is stated explicitly that God never intended Abraham to kill his son any more than God wishes Baal worshippers to carry out human sacrifices. In a comment to Jeremiah's fierce castigation of the people for burning their sons in fire as burnt offerings for Baal 'which I commanded not, nor spoke it, neither came it into My mind' ( Jeremiah 19:5), this passage elaborates: '"which I commanded not" refers to the sacrifice of the son of Mesha, the king of Moab (2 Kings 3:27); "nor spoke it" refers to the daughter of Jephtah ( Judges 11:31); "neither came it into My mind" refers to the sacrifice of Isaac, son of Abraham'. Similarly, a rabbinic midrash (Genesis Rabbah 56:8) describes Abraham, after the angel had told him in the name of God to spare Isaac, puzzled by the contradictory statements: 'Recently Thou didst tell me (Genesis 21:12): "In Isaac shall seed be called to thee," and later Thou didst say (Genesis 22:5): "Take now thy son." And now Thou tellest me to stay my hand!' God is made to reply in the words of Psalm 79 verse 35: 'My covenant will I not profane, nor alter that which is gone out of My lips.' 'When I told thee: "Take thy son," I was not altering that which went out from My lips [i.e., the promise that Abraham would have descendants through Isaac]. I did not tell thee: "Slay him" but bring him up [i.e., take him to the mountain and make him ready to be sacrificed]. Thou didst bring him up. Now take him down again.' (The Problems of Akedah in Jewish Thought, Louis Jacobs,
  It is interesting to note that on the return from Moriah, we only see Abraham and his two servants, and not Isaac.  Some early rabbis suggested that Abraham indeed killed Isaac and left his body behind, only to be resurrected by God and to return later to his family.

How can God be considered a God of mercy and kindness when he allows wars, plagues, pestilence, natural disasters and famine to occur?  How can he be such a great God when he commanded Nephi to slay a drunk Laban, toyed with Job just to win a bet with the Adversary, or ordered Joshua to destroy all the Canaanites?  On the surface it seems like there is no good answer.  The truth is, there is no easy answer.  We see things from a mortal perspective, built upon limited knowledge of the universe and eternal things.  We do not understand eternity or how God works within a larger framework, where he explains,

For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:9)
 We do know that we all go through trying times in this life.  We all feel that God sometimes asks difficult things of us, and sometimes we feel abandoned. Even Jesus on the cross proclaimed, "My God, why hast thou forsaken me?"  Yes, even Jesus had to descend below all things so that he could ascend above all things (D&C 88:6).  But we are given a promise:

And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. (Revelation 21:4)
God has a purpose to life for us.   We learn through trials so that we may learn to be as He is.  God is not a static God of rote commandments, but a living and vibrant God.  He reveals himself daily through modern prophets, through the Holy Ghost to some, through the light of Christ to all, through science and other discoveries.  The ethics we have now evolved from cultures that today we would deem barbaric. Even in the United States, it took us over a century to overcome most of the barbarism of slavery - and then only after a tragic war and many false starts.

Perhaps it is not an issue of ethics, but, as Kierkegaard suggests, an issue of faith?  If one believes in continuing revelation and that the heavens are not silent today, then it is very possible that God could ask each of us to do something very difficult, even while society looks on disapproving of it.  Joseph Smith stated, "a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has the power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation."  Joseph learned of this sacrifice through many things he was required to do: consecration, tithing, missions, plural marriage, and martyrdom.

In the scriptures and the temple, we learn about sacrifice, obedience to law, consecration and dedication to new commands of God.  Our sacrifices, as with Isaac's, are often not fully understood by us.  Jesus' suffering, death and resurrection are yet to be grasped by mankind, as well.  What we can finally do is believe that God has a divine purpose that we may not always understand.  There is evil in the world, and God will one day defeat it.  In Christ, we have a divine sacrifice that gives comfort and hope. Abraham and Isaac's willingness to be the Lord's servants is perhaps something we should all aspire to become.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

OT #8 Living Righteously in a Wicked World

Gospel Doctrine lesson #8: Living Righteously in a Wicked World

Genesis 13-14; 18-19

My previous 2010 post on this lesson may be found here.  It brings up several ancient documents on Abraham and Melchizedek to help us understand who they are, and the priesthood, better.

Given what I've written at my previous post, I wanted to add only a few key thoughts.

First, it is amazing how the world has drifted further from God in just 4 short years.  As noted, Sodom and Gomorrah were not destroyed because of the homosexuals living there.  It was destroyed because wicked people were imposing their will upon good people.  They insisted on having Lot's guests, whether they were willing or not.

Today we have questionable laws and requirements being placed upon us in the United States and elsewhere, because the wicked believe their behavior must not only be considered acceptable, but honorable and preferred.  While marriage has struggled for decades due to divorce and infidelity, it is now being replaced by new definitions of marriage.  While abortion has been legal for decades, religious people and organizations are now being forced to financially pay for the "right" to contraceptives and abortifacients. Youthful rebellion against modesty, chastity, and righteousness are now part and parcel of all of society.  Our media cherishes and promotes sexual promiscuity, the cheapening of women as sex toys, and replacing commitment and true love with sex and pleasure.  Society is destroying itself, and they don't seem to notice.

Today's heroes are Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke.  Modern society crowds into its great and spacious building in the air, pointing fingers and mocking the few who eat at the tree of life.

We are to be in the world, but not of the world.  It is now that we as Latter-day saints and other Christians must show ourselves holy, even if it means we are not popular.  We cannot partake of the fruit of the Tree of Life and then shamefully slink away into forbidden paths.  We cannot be like Lot, who placed himself in the path of destruction, and then delayed until the last minute - having angels literally pushing him out the walls of the city.  We cannot drag our feet when it comes time to choose. We cannot have one foot in Zion and one in Babylon.

Our choice is to dwell safely in the wilderness, as did Abraham, building altars and worshiping God as we've been taught.  Then, when the time comes, Melchizedek, the King of Righteousness and Prince of Peace will come to take us to the city of Salem or the city of New Peace (Jerusalem) to go no more out.  But we now must decide just which side of the fence we will be on. There is no more time to sit on the fence, as did Lot.  We cannot have our tent facing towards Sodom, while serving God.

The Lord has called upon us to prepare the world for the last days.  It is our responsibility to begin harvesting the wheat and separating out the tares.  We must choose God all the way, or as with Lot, we will find ourselves standing amidst the devastation of the last days.  It is easy to pretend it will not happen in our day. Yet, whether the end comes via commotions in the world, or our own death at old age, we will eventually meet that point of decision.

I recall as a youth my stake patriarch William Maughan sharing his testimony and special experience with the stake, which I will share here. This was an event that took place about a century ago.  As a young man, he was strong and worked hard. He decided to get a second job, so as to make twice as much money for his young family.

However, one night as he slept, an angel came to him. The angel guided him outside, where the world was all white and light. As he described it, all things were in there place, nothing was out of place. They entered a large building in which was a very large room. In the back, he saw many of his loved ones that had previously died.  Before him were two stands, with a man on each.  The angel told him to choose between Jesus and Satan.  Initially he thought that would be an easy choice. However, as he looked at them, he could not tell them apart.  He feared to make a choice, and collapsed on the floor. He awoke in his bed, so weak he was unable to leave his bed for a week.

He then chose to spend his life getting to know Christ and be a true follower.

For the world today, they have a difficult time distinguishing between Satan and Christ. The devil has wrapped up his lies in pretty packages that can even deceive the elect if they are not careful.  In our effort to not judge or offend, we can be swept up in the things of the world.  We spend our lives doing normal things that do not seem bad: work, play, etc.  However, we do not seek out God, and leave his work to be done by others.  We choose the easier path of Lot into the fertile plains, rather than the tough climb through the highlands like Abraham.  We cannot look back, as did Lot's wife.  We cannot waffle between right and wrong, as did Lot.

As with Abraham and Melchizedek, we must seek diligently the priesthood and its power in the ways God would have us receive them. We must become the true seed of Abraham, willing to sacrifice all on the altar of God.  We must flee to Zion, her stakes, and her temples.  We must flee Sodom while it is still safe to flee it.

Monday, February 10, 2014

OT #7: The Abrahamic Covenant

Gospel Doctrine Old Testament lesson #7: The Abrahamic Covenant

I've written to previous articles on this at these two posts:

On these previous lessons, I discuss some of the ancient stories found outside the scriptures regarding Abraham.

Abraham's Search for the Priesthood

The Book of Abraham gives a very detailed and concise introduction.

 In the land of the Chaldeans, at the residence of my fathers, I, Abraham, saw that it was needful for me to obtain another place of residence;
 And, finding there was greater happiness and peace and rest for me, I sought for the blessings of the fathers, and the right whereunto I should be ordained to administer the same; having been myself a follower of righteousness, desiring also to be one who possessed great knowledge, and to be a greater follower of righteousness, and to possess a greater knowledge, and to be a father of many nations, a prince of peace, and desiring to receive instructions, and to keep the commandments of God, I became a rightful heir, a High Priest, holding the right belonging to the fathers.
 It was conferred upon me from the fathers; it came down from the fathers, from the beginning of time, yea, even from the beginning, or before the foundation of the earth, down to the present time, even the right of the firstborn, or the first man, who is Adam, or first father, through the fathers unto me.
 I sought for mine appointment unto the Priesthood according to the appointment of God unto the fathers concerning the seed.
 My fathers, having turned from their righteousness, and from the holy commandments which the Lord their God had given unto them, unto the worshiping of the gods of the heathen, utterly refused to hearken to my voice (Abr 1:1-5)
 You can read in the above links some of the reasons why Abraham was forced to find another residence.  His battles with Nimrod over who held the true power of God are a key to this.  Whenever a people become very wicked, the righteous are often removed by God and sent to a Promised Land. The whole people, including his fathers had turned from righteousness and towards idol worship. In Abraham's time, Ur of Chaldea was a large city set on the banks of the Euphrates river and on the Persian Gulf as a mighty port (it is now inland). It was a major economic center centuries before Abraham. The Deity of Ur was Sin or Nanna, the Moon.  However, there were many gods worshiped within the walls of the city by the various peoples in the area.

For many, the variety of gods provided a comfortable living.  Abraham's father was one of those known to make idols to sell to the people.  For many, personal wealth guided worship, it seems.

However, Abraham discovered that true happiness came through seeking out the real God. He sought for the "blessings of the [righteous] fathers" (Noah, Melchizedek, etc).

Through faithful and righteous living, he gained many of his desires in his life, however many were left to be fulfilled after his death.

The revelations he received, such as his understanding of Creation and Cosmos that we find in Abraham 3-4, allowed him to teach the Egyptians, who developed intricate math algorithms to build their cities, pyramids, and other magnificent structures.  It seems that being a "father of many nations" is tied to having a greater knowledge of the things of God.  Interestingly, even though Ur was founded 1-2 thousand years before Abraham, he sought what he believed was an even more impressive timeline of priesthood power going back to the first father, Adam.

Right of the Firstborn
With this came the "right of the Firstborn" (Adam).  Abraham saw Adam and Eve as the first children born of God into mortality.  In reaching back to the beginning of time, he stretched forth into the Meridian of Time to the second Adam, where Jesus Christ became the Firstborn of the Father in the flesh, and to the end times when Christ will bring together the Church of the Firstborn: all those who (as with Abraham), have sought the blessings and power of the priesthood and fulness of the gospel, have received through revelation an increased knowledge of the things of God, and through faith and righteousness have gained the power to do all things necessary to return back to God's presence.

For us today, as we seek the rights of the Firstborn, and do so in the correct manner (as many seek to obtain God's power for unrighteous purposes), we become as Abraham and Adam: among those counted as the First born of God.  The firstborn received a bigger portion of the inheritance than did others who were not given this blessing.  For Abraham, this included being the father of many nations, to have innumerable descendants. To rule over more than just a few water holes in the desert, but to rule with God over all things.

As we seek the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, we will also be blessed with being one of the first born, receiving all blessings promised to them and more.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

OT #6: Noah Prepared an Ark to the Saving of His House

Old Testament Gospel Doctrine lesson #6: "Noah Prepared an Ark to the Saving of His House"

You may read my 2010 post on this lesson here.

Sons of God vs Sons of Men

Ancient texts tell us that angels fell from heaven, bringing with them the secrets of heaven to corrupt and use for selfish purposes here on earth. According to scholar Margaret Barker, these fallen angels were once righteous men who were considered divine beings (angels), but then mixed with the sons of men and became animals (mortals). In one sense, Adam went from being a man to an animal when he fell and was cast out of the Garden.  Yet, because of his repentance, he was again saw as an angel or Son of God.

In Noah's world, most of the sons of God escaped by entering into Enoch's city, a cosmic ark, and being translated into heaven. Noah, however, did not have the great power to move mountains as did Enoch. His strength was in preparing the ark so that a remnant of the sons of God could remain on earth after its destruction.

However, even with the children of Noah's sons were problems.  They were starting to go astray, marrying themselves to the sons of men.  These are the same ones whose giants tried to kill Noah, and now were marrying and giving in marriage to those outside of the faith.  Worse, their daughters were marrying those who served and kept secret combinations.
And when these men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them, the sons of men saw that those daughters were fair, and they took them wives, even as they chose.
 And the Lord said unto Noah: The daughters of thy sons have sold themselves; for behold mine anger is kindled against the sons of men, for they will not hearken to my voice. (Moses 8:14-15)
Two trees: the tree of life versus the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  Two Gods: Jehovah and Lucifer. Two covenants: faith in God or faith in the devil. Two lifestyles: righteous or wicked.

Why would Noah's granddaughters and others reject his teachings and embrace the world? Because they became convinced that it was not wicked.  They could see good things in the world that made them feel special or important. Pretty clothing enticed them, and the inventions of the Watchers (the fallen angels) made life easier and more exciting.  Their period of time was as confusing and challenging as today's world.  Youth today do not think that sex outside marriage is sinful. Sex and violence are ever present in the world today in movies, video games, music, and tweets.  Putting oneself in the center of the universe seems better than losing oneself in service to God and others.  The knowledge of this world makes God's wisdom seem foolish and antiquated. 

Our world has tasted of the fruit of knowledge of good and evil and now are convinced they may be as the Gods knowing good and evil.  Sadly, the fruit of that tree places them in the path of physical and spiritual death, as the concepts learned can easily be corrupted and used for evil and selfish purposes by anyone and everyone.  For the sons of men in Noah's day, their lives caused them to mock and hate Noah the prophet. They refused to enter the ark, and so forfeited their only chance at life, because they thought they were smarter.

Noah's ark becomes a tree of life, filled with animals and birds, food to eat, and with salvation and new life at the end of the Flood. Only those within the ark would survive the ordeal - and it was an ordeal as life is extremely difficult.

After the Flood, the animals moved off the ark and into a new world, representing the presence of God.  It was like stepping through the veil and into the celestial room of a temple, where all was pristine and life was new and fresh.  It was a new Creation, as the ark passed through the Chaos of the waters, its passengers baptized by the giant waves crashing against the little ship. The Chaos dragon was conquered again, as the ark settled down.  A dove returned with an olive branch, showing that the tree of life preceded them to the new Eden.

The Nations

Gerhard Von Rad tells us that the establishment of the 70 Nations by God, each receiving its own divine Lord to rule over it, may seem out of place in a story focused on the Creation of the people of God.  Jehovah would reserve Israel for itself, and yet Israel would not be a people for several more centuries!  This story seems to contradict a second story, wherein the Tower of Babel still has the people gathered together, suggestive of two different writers (Documentary Hypothesis).

At this point, the Lord seems pleased with the re-population of the world through the 70 Nations.  Yet if we are to combine the two stories, we find that with Nimrod, the Nations suddenly seem to gather together to again establish secret combinations.  It is in confounding the languages at the Tower of Babel that God prevents mankind from uniting again in the great violence and evil they once did before the Flood.

And yet, we see that the people of Babel are eager to use their knowledge of construction, war and other talents to  cast God out of heaven.  This is a second attempt at a war in heaven, as Satan tries to use humans as his army to cast down God.

With the Table of Nations, Jehovah has chosen Israel as his own. Yet, as I noted, Israel does not yet exist. The Lord will choose Abram as his only son in beginning a path that would one day flood the earth with the Bible and the story of God's people.


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

 Old Testament Theology, vol 1. Gerhard Von Rad.

Monday, January 27, 2014

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

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

 My 2010 lesson #5 is available for reading here.

 Adam, Eve and children as a Pattern

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cain and Abel

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

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

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

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

Enoch the Seer

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

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

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

The 2010 version of this lesson, which includes a discussion of the pseudepigrapha Book of Adam and Eve, can be found here:

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Friday, January 10, 2014

OT #3: The Creation

Old Testament Gospel Doctrine lesson #3: The Creation

You can read my lesson #3 from 2010 here:

The Creation, a Prologue

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

Scholar Gerhard Von Rad notes,

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

 It all begins "In the beginning."

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

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

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

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

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

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

Man in God's Image

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

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

Creation and Redemption

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

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


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