Helaman 14

Reading today a chapter which spent quite some time talking about the signs of Christ’s birth – and knowing what’s coming in the next few chapters – it suddenly dawned on me on how appropriate it is to be reading this section of scripture at this time of year. Especially since with my current pattern of reading (I’m reading mostly from the Bible at present, but am reading a chapter of the Book of Mormon each day), I should hit 3 Nephi 1 on Christmas day itself, which seems positively serendipitous.

Aside from this fortunate timing, two things from this chapter really stuck out to me today. Firstly this chapter discusses Christ’s role in saving us from spiritual and physical deaths, and speaks of the first and second deaths. Now a lot of the time at Church I’ve heard people use the terms first and second death as synonyms for physical and spiritual death. This is not how the terms are used in the Book of Mormon, however, and it is especially clear here:

Yea, behold, this death bringeth to pass the resurrection, and redeemeth all mankind from the first death—that spiritual death; for all mankind, by the fall of Adam being cut off from the presence of the Lord, are considered as dead, both as to things temporal and to things spiritual.
But behold, the resurrection of Christ redeemeth mankind, yea, even all mankind, and bringeth them back into the presence of the Lord.
Yea, and it bringeth to pass the condition of repentance, that whosoever repenteth the same is not hewn down and cast into the fire; but whosoever repenteth not is hewn down and cast into the fire; and there cometh upon them again a spiritual death, yea, a second death, for they are cut off again as to things pertaining to righteousness.

(Helaman 14:16–18)

Christ saves all from the first death, which includes being saved from physical death and from the spiritual death of the fall, and brings everyone back into the presence of God. However, those who do not repent will then experience spiritual death again, which is the second death. So both the first and second death are spiritual. The distinction between them is less about type, and more about timing.

The second thing that really popped into my mind while reading this chapter was the phrase used several times here, and also throughout the Book of Mormon and in the New Testament too, of believing on/in Christ’s name:

And behold, he said unto them: Behold, I give unto you a sign; for five years more cometh, and behold, then cometh the Son of God to redeem all those who shall believe on his name.

(Helaman 14:2)

And if ye believe on his name ye will repent of all your sins, that thereby ye may have a remission of them through his merits.

(Helaman 14:13)

This caused me to ponder what is the particular significance of believing on his name. I am sure that part of the significance is more than just the actual label, just like in the similar concept found in the Book of Mormon and expressed in the sacrament prayers of taking upon ourselves his name means so much more, including being part of his family, and being his disciples and seeking to emulate him in all things. His name may also connote his attributes, character, reputation, faithfulness and so on as well. At the same time, this did make me think of the actual names of Christ if we take this literally. There’s the title Christ, the Greek term for Messiah, or anointed one. There’s Immanuel, meaning God with us. Or there is the name Jesus himself, which must carry some significance because both Mary (Luke 1:31) and Joseph (Matthew 1:21) were commanded that that should be his name. Yeshua (Jesus comes from the Latin transliteration of the Greek rendition of the Hebrew name) is a fairly common Hebrew name, seen in figures like Joshua. But its meaning seems particularly applicable, since the name is closely connected to the Hebrew verb and noun for saving and salvation. This is seen in Matthew 1:21, where Joseph is commanded to call him Jesus “for he shall save his people from their sins”. Thus while I think that to believe on his name has a more than literal meaning, literally believing on the actual name of Jesus itself surely means to believe this: that he will save his people, and can save us, from our sins.

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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.

 

A Bible! A Bible! We have got a 76 Bible[s]

Sometimes I get a trifle confused at things that I really shouldn’t. The other day I got a little confused because someone left their scriptures at home beside their bed where they had last been reading them. I was a trifle baffled for a micro-second, before I remembered that most people did not have sets of scriptures for studying with, and a separate set for taking to church. And yet more sets for when working on the thesis. And more sets for when I happened to be working away from home on the thesis. And yet more sets, because that old Bible looked really lonely in the charity shop, and needed a new home…

I’ll begin again. I’m David Richards, and I have a problem…

However, while it is true that I have an inordinate number of books of scripture, and not always for the most rational of reasons, sometimes a different set can offer a genuine benefit. So I’ve used differently Bible translations from time to time. Sometimes, however, even just a different format can offer distinctive benefits. Sometimes people aren’t always aware of these, so I thought I’d share what I’m currently using for my own personal reading (I tend to change them from time to time):

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For the Book of Mormon, I’m using a 1830 replica published by Herald Publishing House (the Community of Christ – formerly RLDS – publishing house). I think I ordered it some years ago, I’m pretty sure directly and it was very inexpensive, particularly since it was coming across the Atlantic. As a replica, it also reproduces some faded script and wonky pages that may have been part of the original too. However, there’s a couple of reasons that make it worth reading over a more recent edition. One is paragraphs!

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Ta da!

This makes a huge difference in reading, much more than people may expect. The 1830 edition isn’t perfect in this regards: the paragraphing was largely done by the typesetter (the original manuscript was largely without paragraphing or punctuation), and sometimes those paragraphs can extend for several pages. But it still often reads better than “spreadsheet” format. It is my dream that one day the official LDS edition will also revert to paragraphs (for those looking at a modern edition that does, Grant Hardy’s Reader’s Edition of the Book of Mormon puts the 1920 LDS edition into paragraphs, while Royal Skousen’s Earliest Text employs sense-lines).

The other significant difference is that it does not have the chapter and verse system imposed by the 1879 edition. Considering how we moderns tend to use chapters and verses to break our reading up, this means we sometimes treat the same speech, for example, as several separate disconnected parts, and miss the overarching theme. It’s as if we only listened to conference talks in 5 minute segments, and insisted on leaving 24 hours between listening. The 1830 edition has chapters which appear to stem from the original manuscript, but they are longer, and in some cases divide the text in different places. Again, that can all make a bigger difference when reading than many might suppose.

The New Cambridge Paragraph Bible (in this case the personal size, which is quite affordable via Amazon, although in my case it was a much appreciated gift) is a version of the King James Version. It has modern spelling and punctuation, but most importantly (as the name suggests) it is also paragraphed!

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Ta da harder?

One again, paragraphs make a big difference. While the KJV can be difficult for many people (and there are some books where it legitimately is), at least part of the difficulty is often the formatting. So far reading the NCPB is much easier on the eyes, which allows more attention to be devoted to the word itself rather than wrangling with how they are arranged. I recommend it.

New “Reading through the Book of Mormon” page

Last year I began a series of posts in which I wrote whatever had caught my eye or my attention in my personal reading for each chapter of Book of Mormon. The pressures of trying to finish my thesis, however, meant that series became disconnected from my personal reading, and then got interrupted completely. However, I’ve now finished writing my nemesis and hope to submit shortly, so I thought it worthwhile to revive this series. In preparation for that, I’ve made a new page indexing all the previous posts (I got up to Jacob 3, and then had one post for Alma 29), and will add links to the new posts as I do them. I haven’t quite yet decided in what order I’m going to do them in yet, and I’m leaning towards doing it in a decidedly non-chronological order. Eventually, however, there will be posts for every chapter, before doing something like moving to the other standard works.

Reading the Book of Mormon: Title Page and Testimonies

As I have done many times before, as part of my personal study I have started reading the Book of Mormon from the beginning once again. This time around, however, I thought I do something a little different and record something here – however small – that catches my attention in each chapter I read. I plan to read a chapter a day, so should have some small thing each day. Anyone who happens to have any observations on the same chapters is welcome to chime in on the comments.

Without further ado, today I read the Title Page and the Testimonies (as well as the introduction, though that isn’t part of the sacred text itself). I’ve commented to a lot of people on the importance of the Title Page in particular, especially once we understand that it is the actual beginning of the Book of Mormon (and not 1 Nephi 1:1!). This time around, however, my eye was caught on the wonderfully ambiguous phrase that the Book of Mormon was “written by way of commandment“. This doubtless refers principally to the fact that the various authors of the Book and its source documents were commanded to write it, but it also carries a potential meaning applying to us: that the Book of Mormon was not just written because of commandments, but is written as commandments, and that its writings carry the force of divine commandments for us.

The Adventures of Nephi son of Helaman

In my personal study I’ve be reading through the travails of Nephi son of Helaman (Helaman 7-11) lately, and really was just struck by the following points, and since it’s good to share:

1) Nephi is accused at one point of personal ambition, that he was seeking to make himself “a great man” (Helaman 9:16) and so had conspired for someone to murder the chief judge. What struck me on this read through is how this may well have seemed outwardly plausible to the people at the time, since Nephi himself had been chief judge (Helaman 3:37, 5:1-4). The circumstances of his abdication might have seemed particularly controversial, for while we learn from 5:4 that he was ‘weary’ of the judgment-seat and undertook to preach the Gospel as Alma had done earlier, the fact that this came in the wake of the Nephites losing half their territory (Helaman 4) and that Nephi appeared to lack political support (5:2-3) may have led many to think Nephi was seeking to reclaim an earlier position of power via other means. And perhaps we too need to be cautious about assuming what appear to be ‘obvious’ motives.

2) The attitude of the five who went to check on the chief judge following Nephi’s prophecy seems important. They didn’t believe Nephi was a prophet, but what I find significant is that they were willing to check and – should it turn out to be correct – expressed the willingness to then believe everything else he had taught (Helaman 9:2). It seemed an illustration of what Alma teaches in Alma 32:27, about how one could “experiment” upon the word and “exercise a particle of faith”. These five didn’t even necessarily “desire to believe”, but they were willing to go and look, and willing to believe all if what they checked was true.

3) The point at which Seantum, the brother and murderer of the chief judge, is accused is very interesting. Nephi tells them precisely what to say, and what Seantum’s replies and reactions will be (Helaman 9:26-36). The actual account of them doing so, however, simply states:

And it came to pass that they went and did, even according as Nephi had said unto them. And behold, the words which he had said were true; for according to the words he did deny; and also according to the words he did confess. (Helaman 9:37)

By giving Nephi’s prophetic instructions in detail, and then not actually giving an account of what happened other than to say it went like Nephi said, I think the passage emphasises the power and accuracy of prophetic fulfilment. It’s saying that Nephi’s prophecy was so accurate, there’s no need to retell it all over again.

4) Finally the section from Helaman 9:39 to 10:1 seems quite ironic. At least some believe Nephi is a prophet (9:40). Others even say “he is a god” (v.41). But amidst all the arguments, even those who claim to believe Nephi “went their ways” and leave Nephi “alone” (Helaman 10:1). That he feels “cast down” (v.3) is quite understandable – even those loudly proclaiming that Nephi is a prophet have wondered off rather than listening to him!