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.

Helaman 13

It’s been a long while since I’ve written one of these, and I feel that I’d like to do better at it. To recap, this is part of a series generated by my personal reading of the Book of Mormon, in which I happen to comment on one or two (or occasionally more) things that leapt out at me during my reading. It doesn’t aim to be an exhaustive or comprehensive examination of the chapter (the former I’d argue would likely be impossible), but simply commenting on something that struck me during my reading.

While reading Helaman 13 this morning, several points of varying importance came to mind:

  1. Firstly, I was curious about the fact that Samuel the Lamanite mentions several times (Alma 13:5, 9) that the Nephites face destruction in under “four hundred years”. Alma the younger has already mentioned the figure in Alma 45:10, although that is privately to his son Helaman. I am curious as to whether Samuel’s audience dismissed his remarks because it all sounds so far away. Of course, Samuel is also discussing more imminent events (and gives more imminent dates for those in the next chapter), but I guess many people’s natural response is to not worry about what will happen in four hundred years.
  2. One line that struck: “nothing can save this people save it be repentance and faith on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Helaman 13:6). I think this is true (and think it is being used here) both individually and collectively. But, individually and collectively, we often have a tendency to look towards different sources of salvation, whether it be the “right” political leaders, wealth, our own powers or intellect or whatever. In an ultimate sense, however, we all need to depend upon those two principles.
  3. Overall the chapter spends a lot of time talking about wealth, and it becoming “slippery”, so that the people are unable to find or keep it. I was wondering about why the focus on this, and think that part of the reason is the relationship people have with their riches here is emblematic of several serious sins. On one hand, one major sin is that the people do not remember and thank God for their material blessings, instead becoming prideful (Helaman 13:22); ingratitude may be a far more serious sin then we realise (see D&C 59, in which thanking God is specifically listed amongst the commandments given in vv. 5-13, and “confess[ing] not his hand in all things” is described as invoking God’s wrath in v. 21). On the other hand, the people trust in their riches (rather than God) and depend on them to preserve them from their poverty (Helaman 13:31-32), or to work or defend themselves (the mention of tools and weapons in particular in v. 34). The treasures becoming slippery teaches both that He who gave them can take them away, and that such material things are not dependable and to be trusted in.
  4. One to tag onto the list of “scary passages”, Helaman 13:37-38 is a particularly imposing passage:

Behold, we are surrounded by demons, yea, we are encircled about by the angels of him who hath sought to destroy our souls. Behold, our iniquities are great. O Lord, canst thou not turn away thine anger from us? And this shall be your language in those days.
But behold, your days of probation are past; ye have procrastinated the day of your salvation until it is everlastingly too late, and your destruction is made sure; yea, for ye have sought all the days of your lives for that which ye could not obtain; and ye have sought for happiness in doing iniquity, which thing is contrary to the nature of that righteousness which is in our great and Eternal Head.

 

2 Nephi 1

And ye have murmured because he hath been plain unto you. Ye say that he hath used sharpness; ye say that he hath been angry with you; but behold, his sharpness was the sharpness of the power of the word of God, which was in him; and that which ye call anger was the truth, according to that which is in God, which he could not restrain, manifesting boldly concerning your iniquities.

And it must needs be that the power of God must be with him, even unto his commanding you that ye must obey. But behold, it was not he, but it was the Spirit of the Lord which was in him, which opened his mouth to utterance that he could not shut it.

2 Nephi 1:26-27

It’s interesting that Laman and Lemuel had apparently been claiming that Nephi had been angry with them; for those keeping count, 1 Nephi records Laman and Lemuel getting angry with Nephi some 7 times (and doubtless there were more instances than recorded) and while Nephi later does allude to feeling some similar feelings in reverse (2 Nephi 4:27), he’s not the one making semi-regular murder attempts. Projection is a very real thing, in many areas (as a rather bizarre online conversation recently demonstrated to me).

We can, of course, be both Laman and Nephi. Sometimes we have to receive the word of God in sharpness and correction, to which we should respond not with anger but with a penitent heart. And then sometimes we’re called upon by the spirit to say something, in which case we’d better be sure we’re listening to the spirit and not any anger or pride of our own.

2020 Edit:

It’s not entirely clear why 1 Nephi ends and 2 Nephi begins at this point, as verse 1 here implies that Lehi’s address here follows Nephi’s conversation with his brothers:

And now it came to pass that after I, Nephi, had made an end of teaching my brethren, our father, Lehi, also spake many things unto them, and rehearsed unto them, how great things the Lord had done for them in bringing them out of the land of Jerusalem.

In fact it’s not clear why there’s a 1st book and a 2nd book of Nephi at all, although they do differ in degree in their contents: the 1st book contains the narrative of their journey to the promised land, with all that happens along the way, while the 2nd book has very little narrative, consisting mostly of Lehi’s last address here, Jacob’s sermon in 2 Nephi 6-10, the quotation of Isaiah 2-14 in 2 Nephi 12-24, and then Nephi directly addressing the reader in speaking of the last days and the restoration of Israel, quoting Isaiah (again), and then speaking of the gospel of Christ. So perhaps the division is partly on those grounds, but then it might be seen as funny that the break seems to take place partway through the same scene. But on the other hand, perhaps it is the fact that this is Lehi’s last address that is the significant marker; the book of Mosiah likewise begins with a last address by the previous reader (King Benjamin in Mosiah 2-5), so this wouldn’t be the only example of that.

This chapter includes Lehi’s address to Nephi’s brothers (including Sam & the sons of Ishmael, v. 28), as well as a portion for Zoram in vv. 30-32. Chapter 2 is directed towards Jacob, and chapter 3 towards Joseph, and then in chapter 4 he addresses his grandchildren by Laman & Lemuel, and then the sons of Ishmael again and “all his household”, and some last words for Sam (v. 11). Just thinking about this, it’s interesting we don’t have anything that Lehi directly addressed to Nephi. Did he not say anything to him? Or did he, and Nephi has chosen not to relay it to us? It’s a point to ponder (although there’s no way to answer it at present).

Most of the comments towards the brothers, of course, are an exhortation to change their ways and a warning if they do not change. My attention was drawn, however, to the first topic he apparently raised with them (from verse 1 again): “how great things the Lord had done for them in bringing them out of the land of Jerusalem”. This isn’t really the first or only time this sort of topic is brought up in the Book of Mormon: in 1 Nephi 1 we saw Nephi’s acknowledgement of what God had done for him, and exhortations towards gratitude and our indebtedness to God are common in the rest of the book (Mosiah 2 being a good example). But I found that interesting to see that be the first thing Lehi turned to in addressing his wayward sons, suggesting that a recognition of what God has done for us is a vital early step in keeping ourselves on the straight and narrow.

And while I can’t think of much to comment on it, the centre of Lehi’s address is worth quoting for its rhetorical strength, a last appeal in the face of the one certain event we face in this life, but one which perhaps helps us to realise and awaken to those things which are truly important (2 Nephi 1:13-15):

O that ye would awake; awake from a deep sleep, yea, even from the sleep of hell, and shake off the awful chains by which ye are bound, which are the chains which bind the children of men, that they are carried away captive down to the eternal gulf of misery and woe.

Awake! and arise from the dust, and hear the words of a trembling parent, whose limbs ye must soon lay down in the cold and silent grave, from whence no traveler can return; a few more days and I go the way of all the earth.

But behold, the Lord hath redeemed my soul from hell; I have beheld his glory, and I am encircled about eternally in the arms of his love.

 

1 Nephi 2

And it came to pass that he built an altar of stones, and made an offering unto the Lord, and gave thanks unto the Lord our God.

1 Nephi 2:7

Lehi had to flee into the wilderness because the people were trying to kill him, he had to leave behind all his property and riches, and we subsequently learn that his family did not believe him (and seem to have been most unconcerned about any death threats). Yet the first thing Lehi does when he reaches a stopping point is to build an altar, make an offering and give thanks to the Lord!

He’s a better man than I am!

2020 Edit:

Several things stood out to me today.

Firstly, there’s Lehi’s dream in verses 1-2. This is the third visionary experience of Lehi’s we have record of (after the two in 1 Nephi 1), although obviously there may be more. This is the one that kicks off the account of the Book of Mormon as we have it, however, since it’s the one that commands Lehi to take his family and flee into the wilderness (more on that in a bit).

One thing that struck me when reading it, however, was how much clearer it was that Lehi’s first two, the first of which we really only have Lehi’s reaction (1 Nephi 1:6), and the second couched very much in apocalyptic terms (in the original, not popular sense). This may be an artefact of how they are recorded, but then that too would be a deliberate choice. I wonder if one implication is that, since Lehi was obedient to what God had commanded him to do earlier (as he is particularly commended for in 1 Nephi 2:1), that further instructions came with increased clarity. In the same way, as we learn to follow the promptings of the spirit and revelation, it becomes easier to hear the spirit and understand what we are to do. That’s one suggestion.

Turning now to the journey into the wilderness. This is a motif, of course, that occurs throughout scripture, especially in the Old Testament and the Book of Mormon: Abraham was commanded to leave his home and kindred and promised a land of promise; Jacob fled the home of his father-in-law to return to said land; Moses leads the people of Israel across the wilderness in the exodus; in the Book of Mormon not only do Lehi and his family embark on this trek, but many groups of their descendants will likewise have to flee into the wilderness; and it turns out that long before them the Jaredites had to do the same thing. It is a recurring pattern, one that has also recurred in more recent eras, and may well do so again.

One reason for that, I believe, is the important symbolic meaning attached to these journeys, as both Alma the younger and the author of Hebrews point out. As Alma states, speaking of Lehi’s journey, in Alma 37:45:

And now I say, is there not a type in this thing? For just as surely as this director did bring our fathers, by following its course, to the promised land, shall the words of Christ, if we follow their course, carry us beyond this vale of sorrow into a far better land of promise.

And in Hebrews 11:13-16, speaking of the patriarchs:

These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.

For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country.

And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned.

But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.

These recurrent treks in the wilderness, leaving behind previous comforts and braving the trials of the journey for a new land of promise, are a type of our journey through mortality, seeking the “better country”, the “far better land of promise”, that is our hopefully heavenly destination, one that we too might not always see clearly.

Why did these thoughts pop up while reading this today? Well not just because this is the beginning of Lehi’s journey, but also because of what he did (1 Nephi 2:4):

And it came to pass that he departed into the wilderness. And he left his house, and the land of his inheritance, and his gold, and his silver, and his precious things, and took nothing with him, save it were his family, and provisions, and tents, and departed into the wilderness.

This again is a recurrent part of the pattern, but I think a vital one. Such treasures are of course little use on such a journey: facing the trials of a genuine wilderness, the accoutrements of civilisation shed their apparent value. Perhaps that’s one reason why the people of God have to recurrently make such trips literally. But we too, travelling through mortal life, must also learn to leave such things behind: not just material treasures (though often them), but also all the other things that the world would teach us are utterly necessary but which are ultimately transitory: titles, position, careers, awards, degrees and much else. These may be useful for a season, but we cannot take them with us, and we need to be prepared to give them up, lest we end up like Laman and Lemuel whose opposition to their father was rooted in the fact that he had lead them “to leave the land of their inheritance, and their gold, and their silver, and their precious things” (1 Nephi 2:11). We must, as the book of Hebrews states, hold the attitude that we are “strangers and pilgrims on the earth”, because as C.S. Lewis pointed out in the Screwtape Letters, it is when we feel we are finding our place in the world that it is finding its place in us.

Speaking of the Exodus, one thing to note as we read through 1st Nephi is how closely tied the account is to the Exodus narrative. There’s several deliberate allusions and references, of course (most especially in 1 Nephi 17), but one detail I first noted when I wrote an undergraduate essay on the topic (while in Jerusalem) can be seen in this chapter, which is the detail that Laman and Lemuel “murmur” against their father (v. 11). The word choice is interesting, because one can find that “murmur” and its derivatives (“murmuring” and so on) are used 22 times in the Exodus narrative in the KJV, and only 18 times in the entire rest of the Bible. The same pattern occurs with 1 Nephi, which uses “murmur” and so on 19 times, compared to only 14 times for the entire rest of the Book of Mormon. The word choice is deliberate.

As a final item, it’s also worth noting in verse 20 onward is the first appearance of the oft-quoted promise to Nephi’s descendants in the Book of Mormon: “And inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments, ye shall prosper…”. Of course, it’s always worth bearing in mind that the Lord’s notion of prosperity may not be the same as the world’s and – per C.S. Lewis – worldly prosperity was often highly spiritually dangerous for the Nephites.

Another Psalm…

My Lord and my God,
thy mercies are above all,
thy blessings more than I can count.
I felt alone,
I felt in darkness,
I was struck
and my heart lay wounded,
assailed by bitter memories.

Yet thou hast blessed me,
and lifted me up!
Though I felt fallen,
thou hast pushed me up!

For thou hast shown me marvellous things,
things too great for me to consider.
Thou hast been merciful unto me,
and taught me in the precincts of thy holy house,
even hidden things at which I marvel.
How can I thank thee enough?
How can I praise thee for thy mighty works?

Thou hast seen thy lowly servant in his trials,
and given him knowledge.
Thou hast blessed me,
and comforted my soul.
Thou hast consoled me with precious truths
and not left me to wander by the pools of melancholy.

My heart still aches,
and my wounds are sore,
but I know that thou wilt bind them up,
that thou wilt heal me and cause me to rejoice.
For I did not err or fail in these things,
and thou guidest my feet.
Yea, I will rejoice, My Lord,
at the grace that thou hast poured upon me,
and I know that thou art with me.

My heart cannot contain,
nor can my words express,
my joy and gratitude at thy loving mercy.
I sorrowed,
yet now I rejoice.
I cried in despair,
yet now I sing in exultation!

For who can gainsay the word of the Lord,
or argue with his secret counsel?
He that is wonderful
has shown me wonderful things!
He has had compassion
and comforted me,
and raised the cup of healing to my lips.

And though I still hurt,
I know that thou has blessed me.
Thou wilt heal me and guide me,
and will lift me up.
I thank thee and praise thee.
Good are thy ways, O Lord,
though they defy the understanding of man.
Bless me, I pray,
as thou hast done.
Make me to serve thee,
and grant me the grace to perform all thy will,
and bless me with all that thou hast promised,
in thy due time and according to thy will.