2 Nephi 26

2016 notes;

And after Christ shall have risen from the dead he shall show himself unto you, my children, and my beloved brethren; and the words which he shall speak unto you shall be the law which ye shall do.

(2 Nephi 26:1)

Nephi’s particularly talking of Christ’s post-resurrection appearance to the Nephites here, but it applies to us too. I find myself thinking that – though I believe in Christ and try to follow him – how often do I actually treat and think of his words as law?

And as I spake concerning the convincing of the Jews, that Jesus is the very Christ, it must needs be that the Gentiles be convinced also that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God;

(2 Nephi 26:12)

Part of this section addresses the fact that both Jew and Gentile have gotten Christ wrong in some regards. At a time when people increasingly do not believe in the divinity of Christ, I think this verse – and the accompanying message – apply more than ever. It also surprises me when I have met young members of the Church who, while accepting Christ as their Saviour and talk of their “elder brother”, seem to have difficultly understanding him as their God. But this is one of the key messages of the Book of Mormon, as stated on the title page: “that JESUS is the CHRIST, the ETERNAL GOD”. He is not just a great teacher, or a perfect man, or the Messiah, or our Saviour, or an examplar, though he is all of these things. He is also our Lord and our God. And thus, as Nephi says in the preceding chapter:

And now behold, I say unto you that the right way is to believe in Christ, and deny him not; and Christ is the Holy One of Israel; wherefore ye must bow down before him, and worship him with all your might, mind, and strength, and your whole soul; and if ye do this ye shall in nowise be cast out.

(2 Nephi 25:29)

2020 Edit:

Several things stood out to me today.

One was Nephi once again showing a strong emotional reaction to events in the far future (in this case the devastation that would occur in connection to the death of Christ amongst his people):

O the pain, and the anguish of my soul for the loss of the slain of my people! For I, Nephi, have seen it, and it well nigh consumeth me before the presence of the Lord; but I must cry unto my God: Thy ways are just.

(2 Nephi 26:7)

Once again it’s interest that his perspective was such, and his visions of these events were vivid enough, that they made the sort of emotional impact one would expect of contemporary events (and indeed that Nephi often doesn’t seem to react as strongly to his present).

Then there’s the statement in verse 8 (which goes along with similar statements in verses 3 and 5):

But behold, the righteous that hearken unto the words of the prophets, and destroy them not, but look forward unto Christ with steadfastness for the signs which are given, notwithstanding all persecution—behold, they are they which shall not perish.

For Nephi’s people approaching the calamities that would accompany his first coming to them (i.e. his post-resurrection appearance), a crucial factor determining one’s safety (and I’m sure this is not speaking in a purely physical sense; that is there isn’t necessarily a guarantee of physical safety here, but on the other hand even more is offered) was one’s reaction to the prophets: those who cast out, stone and kill  the prophets (vv. 3, 5) will face destruction, while those who do not, but listen to them and look forward “with steadfastness” for Christ will not perish. I think it is undoubtedly the case that there is a type in Christ’s appearance to the Nephites for that which is to come in the future.

I also found (although perhaps partly because it relates to topics I’ve already thought about) the following verse sticking out:

And the Gentiles are lifted up in the pride of their eyes, and have stumbled, because of the greatness of their stumbling block, that they have built up many churches; nevertheless, they put down the power and miracles of God, and preach up unto themselves their own wisdom and their own learning, that they may get gain and grind upon the face of the poor.

(2 Nephi 26:20)

There’s several elements here, a listing of various errors that the Gentiles of the last days and their churches will often fall into. A number of these themes will return as a running theme in this passage (meaning 2 Nephi 25-30), but two which catch my attention in particular are:

  1. “they put down the power and miracles of God” – while the Book of Mormon does address the topic of atheism (for example, with Korihor in Alma 30), something it seems to spend even more time warning against is what I sometimes dub “practical atheism”: that is, beliefs that may acknowledge the existence of God, but which deny his power, the existence of miracles or that he is prepared to actively intervene in our lives. It should be noted that the first vision likewise addresses this point, with Christ warning Joseph Smith against those that ‘“… teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.”’
  2. They “preach up unto themselves their own wisdom and their own learning”: they will set up their own learning as the content of their teaching (in contrast to, as 2 Nephi 25-30 addresses, the knowledge available from God). Jacob in 2 Nephi 9 of course condemns those who are learned but do not hearken to the counsel of God; the error here is in some respects even more pernicious, that some will set up their learning and teach it as if it were the counsel of God. And some will do this to “get gain” (priestcraft), and to “grind uponthe face of the poor”. It’s interesting that these are two items, suggesting that simply getting gain isn’t enough for those it is talking about; they not only seek to enrich themselves, but also to deprive others (something that, unfortunately, rings true with human psychology: unfortunately we only tend to think of ourselves as rich or prosperous not when we are, but when we’re doing so compared to other people).

The next few chapters will build upon these themes.

 

 

2 Nephi 25

2016 Comments:

There’s so much in these chapters and the next few, sadly too much to really fit into my thesis, so a case study around 2 Nephi 25-30 had to get chopped out (though some of my thoughts on this section can be found here).

A few verses that stuck out this time though:

And as one generation hath been destroyed among the Jews because of iniquity, even so have they been destroyed from generation to generation according to their iniquities; and never hath any of them been destroyed save it were foretold them by the prophets of the Lord.

(2 Nephi 25:9)

A general pattern is being described here: ancient Israel was punished many times for their iniquities, but they were always warned first. On one hand this can be quite reassuring, especially on an individual scale (it reminds me of Elder Packer’s comment that the Lord will always warn us if we’re about to make a major mistake). On a bigger scale, it’s perhaps less reassuring, because the nations of our time have been warned: the Book of Mormon is all about the destruction of whole civilisations.

Wherefore, these things shall go from generation to generation as long as the earth shall stand; and they shall go according to the will and pleasure of God; and the nations who shall possess them shall be judged of them according to the words which are written.

(2 Nephi 25:22)

The next couple of verses tend to get a lot of attention, but there’s a lot here too. I keep coming back to this this notion of us being judged by the scriptures. When we first come into contact with them (especially the Book of Mormon), it is we who are in the position of judge, trying to determine if they are true. When we gain a spiritual witness that they are, however, that relationship changes: now we are accountable for how we measure up to them.

I find myself wanting, on many things.

2020 edit:

While included in the reading of 2 Nephi 11 onwards for 2020’s Come Follow Me schedule, 25 really begins a separate section from 2 Nephi 25-30 (indeed, there’s a chapter break at the beginning of 25 in the pre-1879 chapters too). However, it does begin by talking about interpreting Isaiah, which is why I guess it got folded into an already packed week.

Wherefore, hearken, O my people, which are of the house of Israel, and give ear unto my words; for because the words of Isaiah are not plain unto you, nevertheless they are plain unto all those that are filled with the spirit of prophecy. But I give unto you a prophecy, according to the spirit which is in me; wherefore I shall prophesy according to the plainness which hath been with me from the time that I came out from Jerusalem with my father; for behold, my soul delighteth in plainness unto my people, that they may learn.

(2 Nephi 25:4)

If anyone struggles to understand Isaiah, apparently you are not alone in this as Nephi explains here that Isaiah is not plain, in comparison to his own writings. In verse 1 he likewise states that “Isaiah spake many things which were hard for many of my people to understand”. Apparently knowing “the manner of prophesying among the Jews” (v. 1), knowing “concerning the regions round about” (v. 6), and knowing about the “judgments of God, which hath come to pass among the Jews” (v. 6 again) can help in interpreting Isaiah,  but above all else it is “the spirit of prophecy” that can make Isaiah “plain”.

One important reason that prophecy is needed to understand Isaiah comes down to the fact that Isaiah wasn’t writing purely for his own time. Some of what he spoke did apply to his own time, as indicated by Nephi pointing out the utility of knowing things “which hath come to pass among the Jews”, past tense. But he spoke of other time periods as well, often at the same time, with events of different time periods mingled together, or speaking in such a way that the thing he was speaking about has multiple fulfilments in many different times and places. Thus, per 2 Nephi 16//Isaiah 6, we’ve seen that Isaiah’s own contemporary audience were not given to understand him, while Nephi goes even further:

But behold, I proceed with mine own prophecy, according to my plainness; in the which I know that no man can err; nevertheless, in the days that the prophecies of Isaiah shall be fulfilled men shall know of a surety, at the times when they shall come to pass.

Wherefore, they are of worth unto the children of men, and he that supposeth that they are not, unto them will I speak particularly, and confine the words unto mine own people; for I know that they shall be of great worth unto them in the last days; for in that day shall they understand them; wherefore, for their good have I written them.

(2 Nephi 25:7-8)

Isaiah will be understood when it is fulfilled, and so will only be completely understood in the last days (which we haven’t quite reached yet).

I’ve also written before about the themes on the title page (more on this in The Book of Mormon & the Bible). Here in 2 Nephi 25, however, we can see how those three themes (revelation & prophecy, the restoration of Israel, and Jesus being the Christ & eternal God) are part of a cohesive whole:

And the Lord will set his hand again the second time to restore his people from their lost and fallen state. Wherefore, he will proceed to do a marvelous work and a wonder among the children of men.

Wherefore, he shall bring forth his words unto them, which words shall judge them at the last day, for they shall be given them for the purpose of convincing them of the true Messiah, who was rejected by them; and unto the convincing of them that they need not look forward any more for a Messiah to come, for there should not any come, save it should be a false Messiah which should deceive the people; for there is save one Messiah spoken of by the prophets, and that Messiah is he who should be rejected of the Jews.

(2 Nephi 25:17-18)

In order to restore Israel, God will bring his words to them, and those words will convince them that Jesus is the Christ. Thus all three themes relate to the “marvelous work and a wonder” that God will carry out in the last days. And the Book of Mormon will be a tool in carrying that out, something which Nephi has become very much aware of:

Wherefore, for this cause hath the Lord God promised unto me that these things which I write shall be kept and preserved, and handed down unto my seed, from generation to generation, that the promise may be fulfilled unto Joseph, that his seed should never perish as long as the earth should stand.

Wherefore, these things shall go from generation to generation as long as the earth shall stand; and they shall go according to the will and pleasure of God; and the nations who shall possess them shall be judged of them according to the words which are written.

(2 Nephi 25:21-22)

Perhaps one reason that Nephi dwells mentally so much in the future, and not so much with his own people is because he has become painfully aware that the real significance and influence of his own writings will occur several thousand years in the future. On one hand it’s an awe-inspiring and rather scary responsibility (and thus perfectly understandable that Nephi then writes of “labor[ing] diligently to write”). On the other, one can see how it’d focus one’s perspective rather differently than is the norm.

Nephi is speaking of his writing also makes a statement about grace:

For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.

(2 Nephi 25:23, my emphasis)

That last clause – “for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do” – has often been understood as implying that God’s grace only comes after we have done everything we possibly can in terms of living righteously, as if we must become perfect first. But I believe that has been misunderstood. Such a notion is incompatible with how the Book of Mormon speaks about grace in other passages (see, for instance, Mosiah 2 and Mosiah 4, and for that matter 2 Nephi 2). Our very capacity to act comes as a gift from God. Sure, we need to choose to accept and follow Christ, and seek to repent, but we then need grace to accomplish that very act of repentance. Moreover it is not just the scriptures that teach this; I know from my own experience that I have needed grace long before “perfection” and what’s more, God has given it. He’s never held back his grace, his blessings, or his miracles from me until I’ve done everything I possibly could.

I think our mistake here is to read “after” in the sense of “until after” as if the verse said we are not saved by grace, until after all we can do. But it doesn’t say that. What seems more in keeping with the teaching of the rest of scripture is to understand the “after” in the same way we’d understand it in the phrase “after all is said and done”: We are saved by grace, after all is said and done; we are saved by grace, after all we can do. That is, our acts alone cannot save us (as 2 Nephi 2:5 very clearly teaches), nor perfect us. After all we have done, no matter all we have done, we need grace to save us. “After” does not mean “because” (as Elder Uchtdorf points out, in a Conference address that turns out to cover much the same topic). Nor does it mean “following”. It can mean “despite”, if we seek, as Nephi urges in that very verse, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God.

Mosiah 2

Several passages stood out to me today.

Firstly, in verse 9:

And these are the words which he spake and caused to be written, saying: My brethren, all ye that have assembled yourselves together, you that can hear my words which I shall speak unto you this day; for I have not commanded you to come up hither to trifle with the words which I shall speak, but that you should hearken unto me, and open your ears that ye may hear, and your hearts that ye may understand, and your minds that the mysteries of God may be unfolded to your view.

I was struck by the force of this earnest appeal. The Gospel and the Scriptures are not something that we can simply sit back and engage with cognitively, and hope to understand. Nor is it something we can simply live without giving too much thought to it. To understand and to follow the gospel requires us to use all our faculties: spiritual, mental, emotional and physical. We can perhaps paddle in the scriptures, seeking only that which we already know or live, without rising to the challenge and deploying everything we are and possess to comprehending them and making them a part of ourselves. King Benjamin’s appeal neatly addresses that.

Secondly, in verse 21:

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.

This is a very clear statement that we can’t earn anything from God; we cannot put ourselves in credit with him. Which is a basic but most powerful truth that we may sometimes lose sight of. But what stood to me today was twofold. On one hand, the statements that he is “preserving you from day to day” and “supporting you from one moment to another” gain in significance when we think of these things in the light of what Section 88 of the Doctrine and Covenants has to teach us about how the power and influence of God is continually extending life and light and law to all things. Were that influence to stop or be paused for any reason, our very elements would devolve into chaos.

On the other hand, I have a renewed personal appreciation of this verse. As alluded to on some other posts, I’ve been experiencing some health challenges lately, which came as a surprise after not needing see a doctor in 14 years. Earlier this year I had a case of flu which became quite serious, and for the first time in my life, really found it difficult to breathe, something I had hitherto taken for granted. But I remembered this verse, about the Lord “lending you breath”, and felt a renewed appreciation for the times in my life I could breathe. Of course, who knows what else I take for granted, but which others struggle with, and which is ultimately a gift or loan from God. For as this chapter also states in verse 25:

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 that created you.

Everything we have is his.

2020 edit:

Once again, I find my eyes alighting on a verse that it turns out – when I go to edit this post – I’ve already written about. Verse 25 is what really struck my attention today. To quote it for a second time:

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.

Notions of ownership, of mine, are deeply ingrained in our society and I believe in the (natural?) human psyche. I myself find that I get very territorial. And yet this verse goes so far the other way: it’s not just that the things we own, our property or clothes or possessions or whatever come from God. We cannot lay claim to owning even the very particles our body is composed of. We didn’t create them, we didn’t organise them, we did nothing by which their rightful title (which surely belongs to the one who did) passes to us. On anything lower than the most obvious scale we don’t even control them: we don’t control the very cells of our body, which work without our conscious will, let alone the chemicals, and then the elements, and then the atomic and sub-atomic particles those are composed of in turn. We cannot dictate that they work, and we cannot dictate when they stop working. All we have, including our very bodies, organs and matter, are on loan.

Which also makes me think of the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14–30; Luke 19:11–27). Along with our earthly wealth and position, and along with our gifts and “talents”, our bodies and our lives too must surely count amongst that sum that is given to each of the servants. Which is interesting when we consider the one who buried his singular talent for fear of losing it, and so who ultimately lost all because he did nothing with it. We are, I am sure, intended to be wise stewards of our lives and bodies. But we are not here to simply seek to preserve or perpetuate our mortal existence at any price for as long as possible, to hoard it so as to preserve it from all possible harm. Rather, like those who were trustworthy, and used their talents, we are meant to spend our life for the most good possible, to take this gift that God has loaned us and to invest it in things of eternal value. As the Saviour taught (Matthew 16:25):

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.

Jacob 6

Several years ago I began a series of posts related to my personal reading of the Book of Mormon, in which I would pick out something that struck me through that read through. As happens, other pressures meant that while I continued reading, the posts stopped just after Jacob 5. I don’t think that’s a complete coincidence considering the approximately 20,000 words that I wrote on that chapter and the surrounding passages, for The Book of Mormon and its relationship with the Bible. At the time it doubtless seemed a tad exhausting, and I certainly felt I’d written a lot about it.

However, it is my conviction that we can always learn more from reading the scriptures, that we can never – except at the perfect day – say we have learned everything from any particular passage, especially since the Lord may well use such passages to teach us things that the human authors never had in mind. And since I’ve always intended to return to the series (and have briefly from time to time) and finish it, that includes those chapters I might have written a lot about elsewhere, like today’s.

There is much that could be said about Jacob 6, especially as it relates to Jacob 5, but what stood out for me today as I read it comes in the very first verse:

And now, behold, my brethren, as I said unto you that I would prophesy, behold, this is my prophecy—that the things which this prophet Zenos spake, concerning the house of Israel, in the which he likened them unto a tame olive tree, must surely come to pass.

That last phrase – “must surely come to pass” – really stood out. Sometimes those things which are prophesied of seem so distant or far off from every day life. But, no matter how long it will take for them to happen, they will be fulfilled. Sometimes that requires waiting longer than thought: when reading this I thought of 3 Nephi 1, where despite being given a time-frame, many thought the time had already passed, and those who still kept faith with the prophecy faced extermination from those who did not. It seems some times that faith in such things is tested to the very brink, and then beyond some. And yet, all such things “must surely come to pass”.

The prophecy that Jacob is referring to here, of course, is particularly about the restoration of Israel, and then the end of the world (v. 2):

And the day that he shall set his hand again the second time to recover his people, is the day, yea, even the last time, that the servants of the Lord shall go forth in his power, to nourish and prune his vineyard; and after that the end soon cometh.

I’ve commented to some people before that the Book of Mormon is principally focused on the gathering of Israel, and the accompanying judgment upon the Gentile nations, rather than the Second Coming itself and those events that immediately precede it (see, for example, Nephi being commanded to leave writing about the latter to John the Revelator in 1 Nephi 14:18-25). And that’s true, but the Book of Mormon does talk about end of the world, and while distinct, the two events are linked: the gathering of Israel and everything accompanying it will be a necessary precursor to the Second Coming that will follow. And while some people have perhaps focused too much on such events, it is at the same time important to keep this in mind. This world – and the culture, and habits, and entertainments and so on built around it – will end. If we want anything we do to be of lasting value, we must build for another.

I’m also slightly intrigued by the mention that the servants of Lord (depicted as the servants of the Lord of the vineyard in Jacob 5) will both nourish and prune the vineyard. It’s easy to see things like the work of the Church, especially in things like missionary work, to be part of nourishing the vineyard (and in Jacob 5 itself, transplanting the various branches about). But what form will the pruning take, and what part will the servants of the Lord play in that?

2020 Edit:

I’ve commented before that sometimes, when going over these posts I’ve made previously, I’ve found the same elements sticking out to me when reading much later. The same is true today, even down to the very phrase “must surely come to pass” (v. 1). The inevitability of prophecy – at least of those that aren’t conditional – is awe-inspiring, and can be hard for people to believe. It can be difficult to look at the world around us and imagine it being much different. And yet things can change, in most unexpected ways. A year ago, I did not anticipate that in six months I’d be returning to university to study the sciences (indeed, it was about a week from a year ago today that I discovered that the opportunity even existed). Several months ago, I did not anticipate that the city I was living in would be about to enter lockdown due to a virus, with mass social isolation and huge economic impacts even setting aside the disease itself. I anticipated that there would be widespread pestilence at some stage (both from prophecy, and historical precedent), but I didn’t anticipate it would happen in a matter of months, where suddenly it’s not clear whether I’ll even sit my “first” year exams.

Things change, in ways we often cannot expect or anticipate, and can do so with bewildering speed. And yet prophecy can mark out sure events, hundreds or even thousands of years before they happen, and what’s more help us to realise in all of life’s events what is truly at stake, and that God is at the helm. Thus Jacob used Zenos’ prophecies to teach his own people, although they were far more remote from their fulfilment then we are. For wherever we are in the great chronicle of prophecy and history, and whether such events will happen next week or a century hence, they can teach us that what we obtain in this life is of little import, but what we do with this life has eternal consequences and shapes our immortal soul.

Thus Jacob taught his own people:

Wherefore, my beloved brethren, I beseech of you in words of soberness that ye would repent, and come with full purpose of heart, and cleave unto God as he cleaveth unto you. And while his arm of mercy is extended towards you in the light of the day, harden not your hearts.

Yea, today, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts; for why will ye die?

For behold, after ye have been nourished by the good word of God all the day long, will ye bring forth evil fruit, that ye must be hewn down and cast into the fire?

(Jacob 6:5-7)

And:

O then, my beloved brethren, repent ye, and enter in at the strait gate, and continue in the way which is narrow, until ye shall obtain eternal life.

O be wise; what can I say more?

(Jacob 6:11-12)

 

Failure

I first made a draft of this post over six months ago. However, I ran across it much more recently and, in view of events I’ve experienced lately, its topic seems particularly appropriate.

It first came to mind when I was thinking of the prophet Mormon. This is a figure I’ve long admired in scripture, particularly for his perseverance in remaining faithful and continuing to stand for what is right, despite his peoples’ failure to repent and even while he fought to defend a people that he knew were doomed to lose and who deserved to lose. This perseverance is perhaps best captured in Moroni 9:6, where despite the atrocities that Mormon goes on to recount, he tells his son:

And now, my beloved son, notwithstanding their hardness, let us labor diligently; for if we should cease to labor, we should be brought under condemnation; for we have a labor to perform whilst in this tabernacle of clay, that we may conquer the enemy of all righteousness, and rest our souls in the kingdom of God.

Now this is admirable, but as I was thinking about him, his trials and the course of his life, I realised that by certain worldly standards, Mormon would be regarded as a failure. Despite his talents as a military commander, he lost in perhaps the most complete way a general can lose: his people were annihilated. His people not only did not repent at his teaching, but they went past the point of no return and incurred divine wrath. And he spent a considerable portion of his life writing a book that few if any (perhaps only his son Moroni) read, not only in his lifetime but for many centuries afterwards.

By worldly standards it would be easy to judge him a failure. And yet now his work has been read and has influenced millions. The book he composed inaugurated the restoration of the Gospel and the dispensation of the fullness of times. His work is to be both a sign that God will fulfill his prophecies, and one of the instruments God is and will use in bringing many souls to Christ, in restoring Israel, and in preparing those who will be prepared for the second coming of our Lord and Saviour. Considering all this, can his work be judged a failure? μη γενοιτο!

His career is a demonstration that many of the values by which we measure life and success are wrong. It is, moreover, far from the only or even most important scriptural example. As Paul speaks concerning Christ and his crucifixion (1 Corinthians 1:22-25):

For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom:

But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness;

But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.

Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

​Crucifixion was not only an exceptionally painful execution method, but it was also considered a shameful one, for the basest of criminals. For those who expected the Messiah to appear as a conquering hero, this was indeed a stumbling block (σκανδαλον – from whence is derived the term “the scandal of the Cross”), while it appeared nonsensical to others. Yet God chose this means – this apparent defeat in worldly terms – to work the most complete and important victory of all time: the victory over sin and death. And as Paul goes on to state, this is a pattern that God intends to use again and again (1 Corinthians 1:27):

But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty;

God shows his power by working through those that the world sees as weak and simple, and triumphs in circumstances that the world sees as failure.

I don’t know if my own personal “failure”, in regards to my viva, will quite come under same category as those above. I hope, however, my work can be of some interest, do some good, and get a fairer reading than it did at the viva (and once again readers may download my work “The Book of Mormon and its relationship with the Bible” as a free PDF, or order the paperback from Amazon.co.ukAmazon.com and various Amazon Europe pages, and judge for themselves). In any case, however, one thing I have come to realise more profoundly over the last month is that many of the measures by which we judge success in this life – titles, careers, wealth and so forth – matter little to God and do not go with us into the eternities. Conversely, there are other matters which may seem trifling to us at this stage, but which have a great significance for the next life and which God measures by very different scales. And life is full of possibilities, so long as we weigh by the correct measures and prepare for eternity.

 

Jacob 4

Jacob 4 is a chapter I’ve gone over a lot recently, as it plays a significant role in my thesis and revising chapter four (which covers Jacob 4-5) took some time. So I wasn’t quite sure what would catch my eye this time around, and there’s so much in this chapter I could talk about: Jacob’s foreknowledge of Christ, and how he explains this, the reason the Old Testament isn’t so clear on the topic (and it is not because of human tampering), the Book of Mormon’s approach to causality (namely that God is not bound by it), and the definition of truth. But there’s a couple of other things that caught my eye this time.

Firstly (and I’m quoting these as they appear in the 1830 edition, because in some cases the different punctuation and paragraphing helps bring things out):

Now behold, it came to pass, that I, Jacob, having ministered much unto my people, in word, (and I cannot write but a little of my words, because of the difficulty of engraving our words upon plates,) and we know that the things which we write upon plates, must remain; but whatsoever things we write upon any thing save it be upon plates, must perish and vanish away; but we can write a few words upon plates, which will give our children, and also our beloved brethen, a small degree of knowledge concerning us, or concerning their fathers.

I was struck when reading this by the emphasis placed on the impermanence and perishability of records that were not recorded upon the plates. I think it’s a human tendency to imagine a lot of the things around us as permanent institutions. But most human acts, governments and cultures are so impermanent that they will not only one day fail, but will for the most part be so forgotten no one will know that they’ve been forgotten. Anything that is not rooted in something eternal will fade away and perish, and yet we put so much emphasis on those things. Likewise, it took considerable effort (part of which Jacob refers to above) as well as divine aid to preserve the words of the Book of Mormon for later millennia, yet at the time it must have seemed to some that such efforts were unnecessary. Jacob, however, was blessed with a far longer perspective.

The second bit which caught my eye is definitely partly the result of how it is formatted. I think in previously reading Jacob 4, the potential implications of the passages around it have caused me to read over verse 11 more lightly. In the 1830 edition, however, verse 11 comes at the end of a paragraph, and moreover is a continuation of a sentence from verse 10, so it is clearer to see how it is a continuation of the thought expressed there:

Wherefore, brethren, seek not to counsel the Lord, but to take counsel from his hand. For behold, ye yourselves know, that he counseleth in wisdom, and in justice, and in great mercy, over all his works; wherefore, beloved brethren, be reconciled unto him, through the atonement of Christ, his only begotten Son, that ye may obtain a resurrection, according to the power of the resurrection which is in Christ, and be presented as the first fruits of Christ, unto God, having faith, and obtained a good hope of glory in him, before he manifesteth himself in the flesh.

Personally, I found it a little easier to see this time how knowing that God counsels in wisdom, justice and mercy can encourage us to seek to be reconciled to him through the power of Christ (and how it did for them, even before he appeared in the flesh). Likewise, it’s interesting (and perhaps emphasises elements of his redeeming power that we are prone to miss) to see this described as “the power of the resurrection which is in Christ”. By having faith in Him and seeking reconciliation through Him, we may obtain a hope that we too may be resurrected by this power of His and presented to God in the first resurrection.

2020 edit:

It’s funny for me when I go over these chapters that I’ve made posts on before to note what I spot relative to what I’d already written. Sometimes there’s things that are apparently wholly new to me, and at other times I’ll have a couple of verses in mind that really stood out as I was reading them, and they’ll turn out – like today – to be the two verses that had really stood out to me 4 years beforehand.

This is also a chapter I’ve expended a lot of ink on elsewhere (i.e. chapter four of The Book of Mormon & its relationship with the Bible). There I particularly look at the “stone” texts in verses 15-17 and their connection with what follows (the question of the gathering of Israel, which the allegory in Jacob 5 addresses). I also look at the question of the Nephites knowledge about Christ, in which verses 12-14 are of particular interest.

While I do quote it above, I was quite struck again by verse 10’s “seek not to counsel the Lord, but to take counsel from his hand”. How often do we want something, ask for something, when God knows that’s not actually good for us or has something better in store? While he has commanded us to ask for the things we need we must always be alert, I guess, to what his will actually is, and to not insist on our own way but humbly seek to do whatever he’d have us do.

Verse 6 is always somewhat striking:

Wherefore, we search the prophets, and we have many revelations and the spirit of prophecy; and having all these witnesses we obtain a hope, and our faith becometh unshaken, insomuch that we truly can command in the name of Jesus and the very trees obey us, or the mountains, or the waves of the sea.

… that’s quite a bit of faith. Jacob – true to form – is quick to then speak of their “weakness” and speak of such miracles as an example of God’s grace and “great condescensions” (v. 7).

As mentioned, I’ve spent some time writing about verse 12 elsewhere, but I think it and verse 13 are profound:

And now, beloved, marvel not that I tell you these things; for why not speak of the atonement of Christ, and attain to a perfect knowledge of him, as to attain to the knowledge of a resurrection and the world to come?

Behold, my brethren, he that prophesieth, let him prophesy to the understanding of men; for the Spirit speaketh the truth and lieth not. Wherefore, it speaketh of things as they really are, and of things as they really will be; wherefore, these things are manifested unto us plainly, for the salvation of our souls. But behold, we are not witnesses alone in these things; for God also spake them unto prophets of old.

Verse 12 really underlines what God can reveal to us: for these people, it was hundreds of years before the coming of Christ, but God – whose knowledge and power is not circumscribed by the limitations of time – is perfectly capable of knowing and revealing about things many years hence, as he is about things beyond even the end of the world itself. We should not limit in our minds what God is capable of communicating to us, nor what his warnings or his promises can address.

Verse 13 follows on addressing the truthfulness of prophecy – “for the Spirit speaketh the truth and lieth not” – and then gives a beautifully simple definition of what that truth can encompass: “wherefore, it speaketh of things as they really are, and of things as they really will be”. Compared to a lot of the academic wrangling over the subject (and of course increasingly it’s fashionable to deny the existence of objective truth), this statement comes as something clear and refreshing. Truth is things as they really are (no matter what we might think them to be) and as they really will be.

“Mere morality is not the end of life”

All right, Christianity will do you good a great deal more good than you ever wanted or expected. And the first bit of good it will do you is to hammer into your head (you won’t enjoy that!) the fact that what you have hitherto called ‘good’ — all that about ‘leading a decent life’ and ‘being kind’ — isn’t quite the magnificent and all-important affair you supposed. It will teach you that in fact you can’t be ‘good’ (not for twenty-four hours) on your own moral efforts. And then it will teach you that even if you were, you still wouldn’t have achieved the purpose for which you were created. Mere morality is not the end of life. You were made for something quite different from that. J. S. Mill and Confucius (Socrates was much nearer the reality) simply didn’t know what life is about. The people who keep on asking if they can’t lead a decent life without Christ, don’t know what life is about; if they did they would know that ‘a decent life’ is mere machinery compared with the thing we men are really made for. Morality is indispensable: but the Divine Life, which gives itself to us and which calls us to be gods, intends for us something in which morality will be swallowed up. We are to be re-made. All the rabbit in us is to disappear — the worried, conscientious, ethical rabbit as well as the cowardly and sensual rabbit. We shall bleed and squeal as the handfuls of fur come out; and then, surprisingly, we shall find underneath it all a thing we have never yet imagined: a real Man, an ageless god, a son of God, strong, radiant, wise, beautiful, and drenched in joy.

‘When that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away’ (1 Cor 13:10). The idea of reaching ‘a good life’ without Christ is based on a double error. Firstly, we cannot do it; and secondly, in setting up ‘a good life’ as our final goal, we have missed the very point of our existence. Morality is a mountain which we cannot climb by our own efforts; and if we could we should only perish in the ice and unbreathable air of the summit, lacking those wings with which the rest of the journey has to he accomplished. For it is from there that the real ascent begins. The ropes and axes are ‘done away’ and the rest is a matter of flying.

– from C.S. Lewis, “Man or Rabbit?”

“Jim, you don’t understand”

I came across this story a long time ago, when it was very helpful to me in understanding several things. Since I’ve just come across it once again, I’d thought I’d post it:

There is a little farm on the edge of Tooele where my father was born. My Aunt Jessie still lives there. She’s in her nineties now, and she has so many grandchildren and great grandchildren that none of us can count them, but she knows them all. She’s a remarkable person. It was on this farm, when we were teenagers, that my father decided my brother and I needed to learn how to work. He was running the newspaper in town and being president of a stake that covered a hundred square miles. He was pretty busy, but he had my brother and me working on that farm. We were in the 4-H program, and a bunch of the fathers of the boys in the 4-H program bought some purebred, registered Guernseys from the Northwest and brought them down, and we all got a cow. I should say my brother got a cow, and, since I was his little brother, it was mine by association. I don’t know how many of you have had experience with cows, but our cow had heifer after heifer after heifer, and, when you get a heifer, you end up with another cow; and, when you end up with another cow, that’s one more cow to milk. It was not very long until we were sort of in the business. We had a number of cows that we were milking, and it was quite an experience. We built a little reservoir on the farm so that we wouldn’t have to get up at three o’clock in the morning to take the water. We could run the water in the reservoir and use it as we needed it.

We had some great experiences on the farm, my teenage brother and I, unsupervised. I think he was more steady than I was. We had some fruit trees and a lot of lucern, a lot of hay. We grew some corn; we grew a little wheat. We had a number of things on that farm. We weren’t the best farmers in the world. We were doing the best we could, but we were not the best farmers. We were surrounded by other farms, and those farms were being farmed by people who knew what they were doing. One day one of the neighbors came to my father. He was a farmer, and he had a whole list of the things that my brother and I were doing wrong. I think I could have added more things to that list than he had. Anyway, he went down the list as he was talking to my father, and my father sat back and then he said, “Jim, you don’t understand. You see, I’m raising boys, not cows.”

Elder Loren C. Dunn, “Our Spiritual Heritage”, BYU Devotional, May 4th 1982

C.S. Lewis: “You have never talked to a mere mortal”

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics.

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.

The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis

2 Nephi 8

Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look upon the earth beneath; for the heavens shall vanish away like smoke, and the earth shall wax old like a garment; and they that dwell therein shall die in like manner. But my salvation shall be forever, and my righteousness shall not be abolished.

(2 Nephi 8:6//Isaiah 51:6)

So much of what I find myself worried about, or thinking about or even simply curious about is in the grand scheme of things so impermanent. As the Lord speaks through Isaiah here, even the earth and the heavens are fleeting and will pass away. So why do I expend so much energy and so much thought and so much emotion of that which does not last, good or bad? While some of those things must take their proper place, surely what I should be most worried about is those things which are permanent, such as the Lord and the salvation he offers?

Edit 2020:

This chapter continues the quotation from Isaiah, now covering Isaiah 51 and 52:1-2. Much of this chapter seems to be offering reassurance, that despite any present trial or suffering Zion (and by analogy us) will be redeemed, and emphasising both the ephemerality of those things that trouble us, and the power of God in contrast. Thus in addition to the verse quoted above there’s some other powerful passages along the same lines:

Hearken unto me, ye that know righteousness, the people in whose heart I have written my law, fear ye not the reproach of men, neither be ye afraid of their revilings.

For the moth shall eat them up like a garment, and the worm shall eat them like wool. But my righteousness shall be forever, and my salvation from generation to generation.

(2 Nephi 8:7-8//Isaiah 51:7-8)

It can be natural to worry about what other people think or say about us or to us, but these are likewise temporary things, and it is God’s opinion, and the consequences that flow from that, that are of lasting import. Verse 12-13 likewise touch on this point.

Verses 9-11 are particularly interesting:

Awake, awake! Put on strength, O arm of the Lord; awake as in the ancient days. Art thou not he that hath cut Rahab, and wounded the dragon?

Art thou not he who hath dried the sea, the waters of the great deep; that hath made the depths of the sea a way for the ransomed to pass over?

Therefore, the redeemed of the Lord shall return, and come with singing unto Zion; and everlasting joy and holiness shall be upon their heads; and they shall obtain gladness and joy; sorrow and mourning shall flee away.

This is mostly a reference to the Exodus, Rahab being Egypt and the dragon (Hebrew: תַּנִּֽין tannin, lit: sea monster/serpent) can be seen as standing for Pharoah (although it has a whole host of other allusions, to the widespread – indeed near ubiquitous – myth of the chaoskampf and ultimately, I believe, to the pre-Earth struggle against the original “dragon”). The Exodus, due to its scale and spectacular nature, has become the preeminent example of God using his power to deliver his people, and so is used here as reassurance that God can and will deliver Zion in the end. Indeed, Jeremiah 16:14-15 makes an even more striking point in this regard:

Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that it shall no more be said, The Lord liveth, that brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt;

But, The Lord liveth, that brought up the children of Israel from the land of the north, and from all the lands whither he had driven them: and I will bring them again into their land that I gave unto their fathers.

That is God’s work in gathering and delivering Israel in the last days will be so spectacular and miraculous that it, and not the Exodus, will henceforth become the example of God’s power.

There’s some interesting and significant differences between the passage as quoted in this chapter and as found in the Bible in verses 19-20 (underlined is text that is substituted for text in curly brackets, while bold text is found only in the BoM):

These two sons {things} are come unto thee, who shall be sorry for thee—thy desolation and destruction, and the famine and the sword—and by whom shall I comfort thee?
Thy sons have fainted, save these two; they lie at the head of all the streets; as a wild bull in a net, they are full of the fury of the Lord, the rebuke of thy God.

As these verses read in the bible, the two “things” that come to Israel are “desolation and destruction”, and “the famine and the sword” (two pairs). A couple of small differences make the verses here read quite differently: it is two sons who come to Israel, who shall be sorry for the desolation and destruction that have happened to it, and shall be a means of God to help Israel. These two, unlike the other sons, will not faint in the face of these perils. These two may well be connected to the two witnesses of Revelation 11. It’s an interesting example of how some fairly small insertions and substitutions can communicate new meanings (as for where such differences come from, I find it quite funny that commentators tend to ascribes such differences either to an original text – which for reasons I outline here and in tBoM&irwtB I find quite unlikely – or to Joseph Smith. It doesn’t seem to cross many minds that it might be the likes of Jacob and Nephi – and in a sense, God himself – doing it).