Alma 19

There’s a point in Alma 19 where things can seem a little farcical; actually several points thinking about it. First there’s the point at which King Lamoni, waking from his slumber is overwhelmed by the joy the gospel, and sinks back down, swiftly followed by the queen, then Ammon, and then all but one of the servants. Then there’s the peoples’ conflicting reactions when they come across this scene, especially after a vengeful member of the crowd is miraculously struck down (more on this later).

To a degree I think this is deliberate; human beings can be pretty farcical, and God meets us where we are. Of course, if we are willing, he doesn’t leave us there but will change us; by the end of the chapter the farce has disappeared in the light of the gospel.

When reading this chapter today, I was struck first by the very first verse, which – since it is mostly description – might be passed over quite lightly:

And it came to pass that after two days and two nights they were about to take his body and lay it in a sepulchre, which they had made for the purpose of burying their dead.

We come to understand, like Ammon understands, that of course the king is not dead, but is undergoing a process of spiritual rebirth. And yet reading this it struck me how appropriate it was that people believed he had died. For death – death of the old person – is as much a part of the process of conversion as birth of the new. Thus baptism not only symbolises a rebirth, it also symbolises death and burial:

Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

(Romans 6:4)

Part of the aim of baptism is that “our old man is crucified with him [Christ], that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin” (Romans 6:6). Likewise in speaking more generally of the process of conversion, Paul speaks of putting off the “old man” and putting on the “new” (Colossians 3:9–10). Conversion is both a process of death and life, destruction and creation; killing traits, habits and qualities that separate us from God and creating new ones that draw us closer to him and to the version of ourselves he desires us to be. It thus seems fitting that in King Lamoni’s own “rebirth”, that he appears to many to be literally dead, and his rising again akin to a resurrection of a new, better man.

Once again, as always with these chapters, there’s many details that could be elaborated on and discussed further: the queen’s own display of faith, King Lamoni’s prophetic statement when first waking, Ammon’s own reaction of joy. The story of Abish again drew my attention this time around:

And it came to pass that they did call on the name of the Lord, in their might, even until they had all fallen to the earth, save it were one of the Lamanitish women, whose name was Abish, she having been converted unto the Lord for many years, on account of a remarkable vision of her father

(Alma 19:16)

On one hand this is another incident which reminds us that we’re only ever getting a small portion of the story, and there’s many incidents involving the people in the Book of Mormon that we do not have the account of or know of. But upon reading this today, I was also struck by what it shows about God’s willingness to speak and reveal himself to us personally, in all sorts of circumstances and situations. When addressing the world or the Church generally, God speaks through certain channels, who he endows with his authority (such as prophets and apostles). However, such general revelations are only a portion of God’s willingness to reveal himself and communicate with us, particularly to those, such as Abish and her father, who are otherwise through no fault of their own cut off through any authoritative guidance. I think of those times of apostasy, which we sometimes describe as periods when the heavens were sealed, and can’t help but think that while that may be true generally (in the sense that there was no prophet called and given authority to address people collectively), that probably wasn’t the case individually: that where there were those who were earnestly seeking God, that he revealed himself to them, and who – like Abish and her father – “never… made it known”.

Onto the second aforementioned farce. Said Abish, upon witnessing what is happening, seeks to gather the people to the house of the king in the hopes that they will believe:

Thus, having been converted to the Lord, and never having made it known, therefore, when she saw that all the servants of Lamoni had fallen to the earth, and also her mistress, the queen, and the king, and Ammon lay prostrate upon the earth, she knew that it was the power of God; and supposing that this opportunity, by making known unto the people what had happened among them, that by beholding this scene it would cause them to believe in the power of God, therefore she ran forth from house to house, making it known unto the people.

(Alma 19:17)

She believe this demonstration of God’s power will cause people to believe in the power of God. Unfortunately she is mistaken: upon witnessing the scene the people being arguing, some believing it is divine vengeance upon the king for killing his servants, others for having sheltered a Nephite, and others still (the would-be flock-stealers) who disagree again (vv. 19-21). One – the brother of the leader of the thieves, who was killed by Ammon – attempts to get revenge by killing Ammon on the spot, and is struck down in a further demonstration of divine power (vv. 22-23). But this does not settle the matter, and causes even more arguments, as to whether Ammon was the “Great Spirit”, or “monster”, or a means by which the “Great Spirit” could afflict them. (vv. 25-27)

Seeing her well-meant hopes dashed by the “exceedingly sharp” contentions, Abish is distressed, and seeks to raise the queen, who indeed is roused, praises Christ, and rouses King Lamoni, who promptly rebukes his people, and begins teaching them (vv. 28-31). Clarity is brought: “as many as heard his words believed” (v. 31), and the exception are those “who would not hear his words”.

Why recount this episode in more detail? Because I think it is illustrative. Like Abish, I think sometimes we are inclined to think that a demonstration of God’s power may help people believe. There’s certainly some who claim that they would believe, if they received such a sign. Even if we reject this idea, I think we do so mostly on the grounds that such signs lack convincing power compared to the testimony of the Holy Ghost. But while that is true, I think this passage points to a further truth: without explanation, demonstrations of God’s power are liable to be misinterpreted and misunderstood, and certainly not recognised for what they are. The crowd argued over many theories, none of which were right, and their witnessing of God’s power (particularly the divine protection of Ammon, lest we think the sight of a bunch of comatose people may not have struck some as quite so miraculous) only induced confusion and contention. It took explanation and teaching from another party (the king and queen) to uncover the meaning of miracles the people had witnessed, at least for those willing to listen, and to offer a clear choice. Miracles alone therefore may not only lack convincing power, but also explanatory power.

It’s also a particularly interesting corrective to the earlier part of the story, if we have misread it. After all, Ammon’s earlier demonstration of power is what lead to his conversation with the king. And yet there is a difference: while the earlier miraculous events opened the door to that conversation, the king then earnestly sought guidance to understand what he and his people had witnessed, and had someone on scene willing to offer it. Without Ammon there to teach him (and his willingness to listen and act upon those teachings), those earlier miracles would likewise have been spiritually fruitless.

Alma 12

Alma 12 is one of my favourite chapters, and there’s just so much in it, so that I feel that anything I choose to mention is only just picking at a few of the things this chapter has to offer. Some of those I have written about elsewhere though, and in any case this series isn’t meant to be exhaustive, but just sharing a few things from my latest reading.

Some things always seem to stand out a little, but some of these I’ve written about elsewhere. Thus, I believe I have commented on verse 32, and its statement that “God gave unto them commandments, after having made known unto them the plan of redemption” elsewhere (ah, here!), which I think it is interesting to ponder. Certain commandments only really make sense once we have the framework of God’s plan to put them into context, and – while God doesn’t always explain the reasons for his commandments – knowing why can I think help us to live them. Likewise Alma 12:33-37, and its re-shaping of the provocation that prompted God’s wrath (Israel’s disobedience in the wilderness in Psalms 95:7-11, Hebrews 3:8-11 and Jacob 1:7, but here clearly referring to an earlier primordial event, likely the fall, the “first provocation”) received a bit of commentary in the appendix of The Book of Mormon and its relationship with the Bible.

I was struck by verse 5 & 6 (especially verse 5), where Alma is now speaking to Zeezrom (who is beginning to have doubts about his prior course). Speaking of Zeezrom’s abortive attempt to offer to bribe Amulek (but keep the money), Alma states:

Now this was a plan of thine adversary, and he hath exercised his power in thee. Now I would that ye should remember that what I say unto thee I say unto all.

And behold I say unto you all that this was a snare of the adversary, which he has laid to catch this people, that he might bring you into subjection unto him, that he might encircle you about with his chains, that he might chain you down to everlasting destruction, according to the power of his captivity.

I find it significant that Alma states that Satan was Zeezrom’s adversary. Zeezrom has been doing the devil’s work so far, and being a lawyer this probably wasn’t the first time. But Alma’s correct identification of Satan as Zeezrom’s adversary I think really makes clear that – despite Zeezrom doing his work – Satan doesn’t will any good towards him. He wants to drag him down and make him miserable too. All but the worst human tyrants have generally wanted something good for somebody – their followers, lackeys, spouses, pets – even if they were utterly evil towards everyone else. But Satan doesn’t; indeed thinking about it I doubt he does for those who followed him from the very first, and he certainly doesn’t for anyone mortal. He is omni-malevolent, a reverse image here of God who is omni-benevolent and would have everyone to be saved.

Verse 9 is something that’s often stuck on the mind:

And now Alma began to expound these things unto him, saying: It is given unto many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him.

I think it’s a powerful concept: that although there are many things which haven’t been collectively revealed yet, that God may and has shared some of these mysteries with individuals as they’ve sought to follow and know him, that there are less limits to what God is prepared to reveal than we may assume. This verse really prompts three thoughts for me:

  1. On one hand, we may be living below our spiritual privileges. It may be that we have questions that – although not generally answered – God is prepared to answer for us if we seek them.
  2. On other hand, this verse really underlines the need to be careful and hold in confidence the thing things God has revealed to us and the sacred experiences he has blessed us with. There is an implied connection: in order to receive those mysteries God is willing to bless us with, we have to be sufficiently trustworthy to keep them in confidence. In connection with this, there is President Marion G. Romney’s statement (as quoted by Boyd K. Packer, commenting on this verse): “I do not tell all I know; I have never told my wife all I know, for I found out that if I talked too lightly of sacred things, thereafter the Lord would not trust me.”
  3. I remember reflecting on this verse once in connection with various speculations I and other missionaries had been arguing about. It struck me then, and it still does, that we also need to sometimes be restrained and careful about what we speculate in terms of the gospel. For it makes little sense if those of us who are speculating are being loud and even dogmatic about things we don’t actually know about, while those who know must keep quiet. If there is an issue about which an answer has not been publicly revealed, the only noisy voices will be the ignorant, and this does not seem wise.

Verses 10-11 contain a concept also elucidated in 2 Nephi 28:27-30: those who accept the word of God will receive more and more, while those who reject it will receive less and less until they actually lose what they already had. However, while 2 Nephi 28 is particularly addressing how people respond to scripture (i.e. the written word of God), particularly in the form of the Book of Mormon (or the Bible for that matter), here it also clearly encompasses any form of “the word”, including that received in personal revelation:

And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full.

And they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction. Now this is what is meant by the chains of hell.

I think that when it comes to knowledge, we tend to assume that we know what we know, that we somehow possess our knowledge and that knowledge is ours. And yet this isn’t really the case when it comes to knowledge of the gospel: our knowledge of the gospel depends upon a living link to divinity. And so what we know may be increasing, as we seek to try and follow God and do his will, or may be diminishing when we rebel against him, but it’s not a static thing we can hoard. Our knowledge of the gospel then is more like an internet connection and a cache rather than having an actual hard drive.

There so many fantastic things in this chapter one could go through verse by verse: notice again Alma’s power to evoke the feeling of the final judgment in verses 13-15; again in terms which evoke his own experience as described in Alma 36. However, one thing I appreciate about this chapter is Alma’s argument for “why death is a good thing”, which is not an argument that many have tried to make. An interesting point about this is that apparently immortality would bring about immediate judgment, foreclosing any period of preparation or change:

And now behold, if it were possible that our first parents could have gone forth and partaken of the tree of life they would have been forever miserable, having no preparatory state; and thus the plan of redemption would have been frustrated, and the word of God would have been void, taking none effect.

(Alma 12:26)

I’ve wondered about this: does this mean that our current state of mortality, and all that goes with it, is particularly conducive to change? Does immortality lock us in into some unchanging state? However, this perhaps risks getting into areas that I at least don’t about.

However, on this week’s reading, I was particularly struck by verse 24:

And we see that death comes upon mankind, yea, the death which has been spoken of by Amulek, which is the temporal death; nevertheless there was a space granted unto man in which he might repent; therefore this life became a probationary state; a time to prepare to meet God; a time to prepare for that endless state which has been spoken of by us, which is after the resurrection of the dead.

It is particularly that phrase “probationary state” that stuck out to me. It’s a phrase that has been used fairly frequently within the Church, and certainly isn’t unknown to me. However, I wonder if we sometimes use it a bit unthinkingly, without really pondering all that encompasses. I think I certainly have. All of this life is a probation: it’s not the main event, but the mere prelude in which we are observed, tested and evaluated. And everything – everything – that we do or come across in this life isn’t an end in itself, but is part of that probation, part of that preparing to meet God and experience eternity. It’s an interesting concept to contemplate, and a perspective I think I need to have more.

Testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith

As I mentioned when discussing the introduction, today’s section (“The Testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith”) isn’t originally part of the Book of Mormon either, being an edited extract from Joseph Smith-History in the Pearl of Great Price, which was added in later editions (presumably for additional context). I bring this up as when reading through this today, one of the principal things to come to mind actually happens to be one of the things that was edited out:

The first paragraph as given in Testimony is as follows:

“On the evening of the … twenty-first of September [1823] … I betook myself to prayer and supplication to Almighty God. …

While here is Joseph Smith-History 1:29, which these lines were taken from (with the bits edited out in bold):

In consequence of these things, I often felt condemned for my weakness and imperfections; when, on the evening of the above-mentioned twenty-first of September, after I had retired to my bed for the night, I betook myself to prayer and supplication to Almighty God for forgiveness of all my sins and follies, and also for a manifestation to me, that I might know of my state and standing before him; for I had full confidence in obtaining a divine manifestation, as I previously had one.

I don’t think there’s any great significance in the editing decisions themselves. After all, it’s hardly like JS-H was being hidden, especially since readers are being referred to there “for a more complete account”. Whoever edited the passage was clearly trying to abbreviate a significantly longer passage so that it would fit, and so removed things that could either be regarded as not strictly necessary (“above-mentioned”, retiring to bed etc), or which were part of the back drop of the wider JS-H text (the reference to the first vision Joseph Smith had already experienced, and his praying for forgiveness for his sins which he speaks about in JS-H 1:28). However, while reading today I couldn’t help but think of his motivations for praying as he did that night.

Something similar happened with the first vision too. Joseph Smith appears to have had several motivations for praying as he did then: as recorded in JS-H, there was his confusion over the Churches, and then as several other of his accounts record (and which is alluded to in D&C 20:5) there was again a concern for personal forgiveness of sins. Of course, much as with Moroni’s visit, the first vision ended up being about so much more. In both cases, the spiritual experience that Joseph received addressed so much more than what he was asking about.

I wonder about this. I wonder if sometimes we have a tendency to reduce our model of spiritual experiences down to transactional events. That is, even if we are careful to avoid thinking of God as some sort of Santa Claus (that is, we avoid the tendency for our prayers to devolve into simply asking for things we want), we can still approach spiritual experiences in which we produce the question, we meet certain conditions for an answer, and then God provides the answer as if he were a spiritual cash machine and the initiative is entirely on our part. I wonder if we sometimes forget that God himself has agency, more so than we do, and he has his own plan (indeed a crucial part of faith is accepting his own plan over ours). As part of that, we may have questions, but he may well provide answers to questions we haven’t asked. The two experiences Joseph had here are examples of this, and I think there are other scriptural examples too of revelation not being doled out according to certain preconditions, but at divine initiative (Moses and the burning bush, the angelic visitations to Zacharias and Mary, Saul & the road to Damascus and I think many more). I think also of my own experiences, and indeed of the most powerful were those that did not simply address the questions I had, but went far beyond it and addressed questions I didn’t have.

Of course, perhaps the very fact that Joseph was on both occasions seeking divine guidance in faith, even if about personal matters, meant that he was ready to also receive divine guidance about bigger matters too, which takes me onto the other thing that came to mind while reading (and which wasn’t edited out), namely the matter of motivation:

But what was my surprise when again I beheld the same messenger at my bedside, and heard him rehearse or repeat over again to me the same things as before; and added a caution to me, telling me that Satan would try to tempt me (in consequence of the indigent circumstances of my father’s family), to get the plates for the purpose of getting rich. This he forbade me, saying that I must have no other object in view in getting the plates but to glorify God, and must not be influenced by any other motive than that of building his kingdom; otherwise I could not get them.

Our motivations appear to be of crucial concern to both the Lord and to the adversary. But while the adversary would seek to use our motivations to manipulate us into doing evil, the Lord wants us not only to do good, but for good motives too (Moroni 7:6). What we want and how badly we want it appears to have great power and influence on our course through life, the gospel and our eternal destiny (see Alma 29:4). In Joseph’s case, his desires in relation to the plates not only has to be right, but not clouded by any desires, in order for him to receive them at all. And I think that sometimes too that can be the case for us: there may be some kind of blessing, or responsibility, or something that God would have us obtain, but which we can only obtain if our desires and motivations are right before him.

Of course, changing or purifying said motivations may not always be straightforward!

Edit: I’d originally mistakenly attributed the adding of this excerpt of JS-H to the 1981 LDS edition (which added the “Introduction”), however upon checking, the 1920 edition has a very similar extract entitled “Origin of the Book of Mormon”. So while not original to the Book of Mormon, and I’d argue very much added for context, it was added earlier than 1981. The “Brief Explanation About the Book of Mormon” also seems to date from the 1920 edition, where an earlier version appears as “Brief Analysis of the Book of Mormon”.

Jarom

Re-continuing this oft-paused and oft-begun series, some observations on my personal reading of Jarom.

I often get the sense that the small, single-chapter books like Jarom and Omni tend to get overlooked between the longer and more notable books of Jacob and Mosiah. Enos tends to get a bit more notice, because of the strong narrative core of Enos’ own search for spiritual succour, but Jarom and Omni are not so striking. Thus Jarom states in verse 4:

And there are many among us who have many revelations, for they are not all stiffnecked. And as many as are not stiffnecked and have faith, have communion with the Holy Spirit, which maketh manifest unto the children of men, according to their faith.

This is a pretty profound verse by itself: those who are not stiffnecked and have faith have communion with the Holy Ghost. The implication is that, on the same grounds, we too can and ought to have communion with the Holy Spirit and have revelations. We should be experiencing revelation, and if not we may be living below our spiritual privileges. But for an example of the reading between the lines that can be done, in Omni (as I note there) one of the record keepers, Abinadom, claimed to know of no revelation than what was written. This is a striking contrast to Jarom 1:4: while in Jarom’s time there were a number who qualified for such revelation, part way through the next book the record keeper doesn’t know of anyone who is receiving such.

Another thing that really caught my eye reading this book/chapter today, in verse 2:

And as these plates are small, and as these things are written for the intent of the benefit of our brethren the Lamanites, wherefore, it must needs be that I write a little; but I shall not write the things of my prophesying, nor of my revelations. For what could I write more than my fathers have written? For have not they revealed the plan of salvation? I say unto you, Yea; and this sufficeth me.

I guess a question that sticks with me is whether Jarom was right? He was labouring under logistical limitations (he mentions here, and also at the end of the chapter in verse 14 that he was working with limited space). But he likewise seems influenced by the thought that there’s little he could write that others have not already written about, and perhaps better. He’s not in the same situation as some of those in Omni: he receives revelations and he knows of many who do, but he’s not sure about writing them for a wider audience.

This speaks to me because it’s a thought I often have, not about revelations, but about writing things in general. One reason I maintain this blog is I often feel driven to write about certain things, including gospel topics. There are several book projects I am working on because of the same feeling. But I also often wonder if its worth writing them? Have others written about the same things, but in a better way? Even if well written, will anyone read them considering the deluge of written material that’s out there? The very tagline of this blog is taken from Ecclesiastes 12:12: ‘… of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.’ Even then: prior to the invention of printing, prior to the invention of paper, there were those who felt that in some respects there were simply too many books. I do wonder what the preacher would make of now, where one can find a positive mountain full of stuff appear every day, at least some of which probably shouldn’t.

But on the other hand, the Preacher clearly didn’t feel that nothing should be written, or Ecclesiastes itself would not exist. Indeed, when we read all of Ecclesiastes 12:11-12, we get a better understanding of what he was saying:

The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies, which are given from one shepherd.

And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.

There are indeed many books, and one might weary out the flesh trying to keep up with them, but what the Preacher was counselling was to seek out the words of the wise, to be selective in that reading and pick rightly. Counsel that’s probably even more relevant today, when anyone can publish (including me), than it was back then.

But back to Jarom’s dilemma, I’m not sure I even have an inkling of an answer. I can certainly empathise with that feeling, since I’ve felt it, and I think it’s all the keener when one is talking about writing sacred things, as he most especially is. If space were limited, would he writing more risk us missing Omni 1:26? But aside from any immediate logistical issues God clearly felt that further writings after Enos was useful, since he continued to inspire prophets to write. Perhaps there is something Jarom could have shared, that perhaps he might take for granted, or feel that others wrote better, but which in his words could reach some people better than others’ words would have? Something to ponder about, I guess.

2020 edit:

I was struck again by the beginning of verse 2, in which it is noted that the plates are small and so Jarom must write but a little. He’s not the only record keeper who talks about these limitations of space – Mormon does so a lot – and today it caused me to think about how they prioritised what to include. Nephi and Jacob have both previously spoken about only including the most important matters on their small plates, and it caused me to reflect that what we read in the Book of Mormon is there because someone somewhere felt it was the most important thing they could include. Passages that may seem to make less of an impression or hold less importance for us may teach something invaluable to someone in a different life situation (even ourselves at a different date). Or the passage may require us to rethink: perhaps there’s something there we’ve missed.

There are several themes in this fairly brief chapter that build on what’s gone before and are continued thereafter: there’s the continuing conflict between the Nephites and the Lamanites, how they are preserved by God and prosper, so long as they exercise faith and are obedient, and how the prophets must warn (verse 10 uses the word “threaten”) the people in very strict terms to avoid them falling into transgression and being destroyed as a result. By warning the people in these terms “they did prick their hearts with the word, continually stirring them up unto repentance” (v. 12).

Verse 11 provoked some thought:

Wherefore, the prophets, and the priests, and the teachers, did labor diligently, exhorting with all long-suffering the people to diligence; teaching the law of Moses, and the intent for which it was given; persuading them to look forward unto the Messiah, and believe in him to come as though he already was. And after this manner did they teach them.

These people of course lived before the time of Christ; but they were taught to believe in him “as though he already was”. This is not the only time the Book of Mormon displays some temporal inexactitude when it comes to the coming of Christ. Abinadi, in speaking of the coming of Christ in Mosiah 16:7, uses the past tense and then openly admits it, “speaking of things to come as though they had already come”.

What verse 11 and 12 here in Jarom suggest is this is not mere looseness about the temporal location of events; keeping the coming of Christ as something past and present in mind, as real, helped the Nephites to believe and repent. Their salvation, after all, was just as dependent upon Christ’s atonement as ours is, even if that atonement was yet to happen. Perhaps things in the future seem less real, or not real yet to us (perhaps because we haven’t got to the point where we decide our own future acts). But the atonement was already real: as Enos found out, its effects could already be experienced, even if the time of the actual cause was yet to come.

We live at a similar temporal disconnect with two comings of Christ. There’s the one in the past, now some two thousand years ago, in which Christ conquered sin and death through his sufferings, death and resurrection. And there’s the one yet future, where he comes to make the world right, to complete his work and bringing about the final assessment of this test. It might be tempting when facing events that were long ago or sometime in the unknown future to lose sight of them or ignore them, to think of them as less real. But perhaps we too can best keep these events in mind by treating them in some way as if they were present. We have the ordinance of the sacrament, of course, to cast our mind back and remember the sacrifice of our Saviour, to take that past act and reflect on its present reality. And likewise we anticipate and need to prepare for the coming of Christ, which timing may be uncertain to us but is not to God. In either case, perhaps we too, like the Nephites, can realise that while we may be separated in time these events are still real, and we can still believe and trust in them.

Omni 1

And behold, the record of this people is engraven upon plates which is had by the kings, according to the generations; and I know of no revelation save that which has been written, neither prophecy; wherefore, that which is sufficient is written. And I make an end.

(Omni 1:11)

While there’s lots that could be drawn from this chapter, I find this verse of particular interest. In just the preceding book (and chapter), Jarom states that:

And there are many among us who have many revelations, for they are not all stiffnecked. And as many as are not stiffnecked and have faith, have communion with the Holy Spirit, which maketh manifest unto the children of men, according to their faith.

(Jarom 1:4)

Jarom himself doesn’t write his own revelations, but for the reason that he feels it is unnecessary in the light of what his predecessors have written. But he asserts that he and many others have had revelations, and goes further to say that all who are not stiffnecked and have faith may have the same privilege.

In this light, Abinadom’s statement that he doesn’t know of anyone who has any revelations is an indication of apostasy. As Mormon declares about miracles or the ministering of angels, “if these things have ceased wo be unto the children of men, for it is because of unbelief, and all is vain” (Moroni 7:37).

When we think of apostasy and restoration, we tend to think in terms of the Apostasy and the Restoration, but passages like this show it as an ever present cycle throughout the scriptures. Thus in the book of 1 Samuel we read that “the word of the Lord was precious in those days; there was no open vision” (1 Samuel 3:1). And then the Lord appears to Samuel:

And Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him, and did let none of his words fall to the ground.

And all Israel from Dan even to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was established to be a prophet of the Lord.

And the Lord appeared again in Shiloh: for the Lord revealed himself to Samuel in Shiloh by the word of the Lord.

(1 Samuel 3:19-21)

Likewise here Abinadom likewise claims there are no revelations and prophecies, and then in the very next verse his son, Amaleki, records how God revealed himself to Mosiah, who led all those who listened to God’s word to safety. Likewise, based on what King Benjamin was commanded to reveal to his people, it appears much of what Nephi and Jacob had taught about Christ had been forgotten by the people, so it had to be revealed again. As if to hammer home the point about the importance of continuing revelation in avoiding apostasy, Amaleki states how he will give his records to King Benjamin for safe-keeping, “exhorting all men to come unto God, the Holy One of Israel, and believe in prophesying, and in revelations” (Omni 1:25, my emphasis).

There is more here than just the general pattern, however. It is not only salvifically important to believe in the existence of prophecy and revelation, but Jarom’s words in Jarom 1:4 suggest the promise of revelation is to everyone: “as many as are not stiffnecked and have faith, have communion with the Holy Spirit”. It reminds me of the following comment by Brigham Young:

There is no doubt, if a person lives according to the revelations given to God’s people, he may have the Spirit of the Lord to signify to him his will, and to guide and to direct him in the discharge of his duties, in his temporal as well as his spiritual exercises. I am satisfied, however, that in this respect, we live far beneath our privileges.

(Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 32)

As we believe and follow the revelations God has given to His prophets, we may also experience such revelations ourselves. I’ve had such experiences, and it is a marvellous thing. But I am also sure Brigham Young is right, and that it is easy for us to live beneath our privileges in this regard. And I am sure that at least one key step in being able to receive these privileges is to believe that they are possible, and that we personally can and ought to receive such revelations, and be willing to follow them. Then, if we are not stiffnecked and if we have faith, we too may have communion with the Holy Ghost.

2020 edit:

I think it’s very easy for people to glance over Omni, as the first half is this quick succession of record-keepers adding their own imprint. As I mentioned when discussing Jarom, I think there’s more there than we realise, but we – as with the point in my original post – have to read between the lines a little. When we do, however, an interesting account emerges. Indeed it seems like there were at least two points at which spiritual crises it a peak. The first is just after Omni’s time, his son Amaron recording that “the more wicked part of the Nephites were destroyed” (v. 5), although the righteous had been delivered (v. 7). It’s interesting to ponder whether Omni’s own claim to be “a wicked man, and have not kept the statutes and commandments of the Lord as I ought to have done” (v. 1), is reflective of his people at this point, although that self-consciousness of sin and humility are usually indicative of a degree of penitence.

Likewise, Abinadom’s ignorance of any revelation and prophecy is, I think, an indicator as to where the people are, but the interesting thing is that his son, Amaleki, who records Mosiah being warned through vision and leading the righteous out of the land (ultimately to end up in Zarahemla, vv. 12-13), states that he was “born in the days of Mosiah” (v. 23), which means that Abinadom and Mosiah were contemporaries. Did Abinadom write that before Mosiah’s prophetic “career” started? Did Abinadom listen to Mosiah, or was he one of the apparently many who rejected his message? For that matter, what does happen to the people of Nephi, who up to this point are what we’d consider the main branch of Nephite civilisation? When we next call on the land of Nephi with Zeniff and company, it’s inhabited by Lamanites, but obviously not too densely, since the Lamanite king is happy to order his people to leave the land of Lehi-Nephi as part of his treaty with/scheme against Zeniff (Mosiah 9:6-8, it’s interesting too that the walls of that city need “repair”).

We’re obviously only getting some of the details, and probably would have more if we had Mormon’s account based on the large plates. However, if the record-keepers of the large plates had operated like those of the small plates in this period, we might find the account similarly light on detail. Jarom, of course, mentions space as a concern for keeping his account brief, but of course he also writes far more than Omni onwards do: the very briefness of the accounts may be symbolic of the condition of the people. And yet, despite the fact that some of the record-keepers (like Omni) are self-confessed wicked men, and others are maybe putting less effort in than they should (looking at you Chemish!), God is still able to work through them and use the efforts of imperfect men for his own purposes and to accomplish his own work.

The second part of the book of Omni is just one narrator, which is really the brief account of Mosiah (again abbreviated: we have none of Mosiah’s preaching or prophecies) and into the reign of King Benjamin. I think it’s this half, in which the narrators are not playing pass the parcel, that tends to naturally get more attention form readers, and there are some powerful messages in it. Verse 26 I feel is particularly special:

And now, my beloved brethren, I would that ye should come unto Christ, who is the Holy One of Israel, and partake of his salvation, and the power of his redemption. Yea, come unto him, and offer your whole souls as an offering unto him, and continue in fasting and praying, and endure to the end; and as the Lord liveth ye will be saved.

Religion is full of offerings: sacrifices and so on. What the path of the gospel ultimately requires, as this verse so eloquently puts, is that we offering our whole selves to God, that we consecrate ourselves to God. But in doing so, God in return offers us everything.

2 Nephi 32

So my reading of the Book of Mormon has slowed down since I started reading it in the Deseret Alphabet, but I hadn’t realised how much further back these posts had gotten from from my personal reading, so there’s plenty of backlog.

When reading this chapter personally, I guess was in part struck by the “why do ye ponder these things in your hearts?” (v.1). There’s a lot I’ve been wondering about personally; is this “because ye ask not, neither do ye knock” (v.4)? To what extent do the words “for they will not search knowledge, nor understand great knowledge, when it is given unto them in plainness, even as plain as word can be” (v.7) apply to me?

There is one verse that always sticks out when I read this chapter:

And now, my beloved brethren, I perceive that ye ponder still in your hearts; and it grieveth me that I must speak concerning this thing. For if ye would hearken unto the Spirit which teacheth a man to pray, ye would know that ye must pray; for the evil spirit teacheth not a man to pray, but teacheth him that he must not pray.

(2 Nephi 32:8)

I remember a conversation I had with a friend who I cared about very much, who had stopped praying because they felt that God didn’t want to hear from them, that they were unworthy of God’s attention, that they didn’t want to waste God’s time, and that if the devil was working upon them than he wouldn’t be working on someone else. I could understand (perhaps better than they realised) some of the emotions that might lie behind such feelings, but on the other hand that sentiment seemed to underestimate both God’s and the devil’s resources. And they did know better than that, something I tried (and believe I succeeded) to remind them of. I know those sorts of feelings hang around, and the devil lies to prey upon such feelings, but I hope they are still praying and rejecting such lies that teach them not to pray.

But I have often wondered how this verse applies to me. I have never quite felt as my friend did, since – while I have often felt unworthy before God – I’ve never really felt I can escape him, nor really felt that I am occupying too much time of an infinite and eternal being who isn’t bound by mortal time scales. But there have been times in my life when prayer became more perfunctory and less efficacious; when it became more of a habit and less me actually trying to speak to my God.

And I think this may be covered by this verse too. If the adversary can’t actually stop us praying, I’m sure he’ll do all he can to make our prayers less effective and real. In my experience so many things can happen to do that: putting prayer off to the last minute, not making the space (mentally, spiritually or physically) to pray, treating prayer as a repetitive shopping list (we’re commanded to pray for things we need, but that’s not all prayer should be), probably a whole bunch of small things I barely notice.

I guess the good thing is that in my experience many of these things are easy to fix too. Just like – for all the emotional turmoil they were suffering – all my friend needed to do about prayer was to actually pray, I’ve found that small things can help rectify it: making time to pray, being open and honest about my feelings in my prayers, sometimes simply seeking an appropriate physical space to pray (Joseph needed the sacred grove, after all). Sometimes it can simply be following that impulse to get on my knees right now, rather than listen to the little voice saying it can wait a few minutes. With at least one message at general conference being about the importance of “worshipful prayer”, I guess the importance of this verse – and which voice we choose to listen to – remains as important today as it did thousands of years ago.

2020 edit:

Verses 1, 4 and 5 really stood out to me today:

And now, behold, my beloved brethren, I suppose that ye ponder somewhat in your hearts concerning that which ye should do after ye have entered in by the way. But, behold, why do ye ponder these things in your hearts?

Wherefore, now after I have spoken these words, if ye cannot understand them it will be because ye ask not, neither do ye knock; wherefore, ye are not brought into the light, but must perish in the dark.

For behold, again I say unto you that if ye will enter in by the way, and receive the Holy Ghost, it will show unto you all things what ye should do.

I guess it can be a perennial question, “what shall we do?”, in a number of contexts. Sometimes it’s clear, sometimes it’s very clear, but there’s sometimes other seasons where it’s not quite so clear what we should be doing right now. One resources, also mentioned in this chapter, are “the words of Christ” (v. 3), but there is also the privilege of personal revelation. One thing I think this verse points out is that there is almost a duty to seek such revelation: it’s not only something that we (and not just others) can receive, it’s something we should be seeking out. It is that revelation that can tell us personally what we should do.

Now that doesn’t necessarily come when we want it: God sometimes answers in his own due time for his own reasons, and sometimes we need to place ourselves in the right place – physically, emotionally, spiritually and otherwise – to obtain such revelation (much as discussed for the closely linked topic of prayer, above). But it is personal revelation, and sometimes it is only personal revelation, that can give us the guidance and directions we seek.

2 Nephi 6

And now, the words which I shall read are they which Isaiah spake concerning all the house of Israel; wherefore, they may be likened unto you, for ye are of the house of Israel. And there are many things which have been spoken by Isaiah which may be likened unto you, because ye are of the house of Israel.

(2 Nephi 6:5)

This refrain can be found elsewhere in the Book of Mormon (for instance in 1 Nephi 19:24, or Jesus himself in 3 Nephi 23:1-2): the people of the Book of Mormon are members of the house of Israel, and as Isaiah prophesied concerning the entire house of Israel, his words are applicable to them too. This is likewise true of modern Israel, by blood or adoption, and the Gentiles also (3 Nephi 23:2). Isaiah, and many of the other prophets, prophesied concerning us. If Isaiah’s words are applicable to Jacob’s audience, they are also applicable to us. Sometimes we read the scriptures as if they are purely about people long ago. Sometimes we do seek to learn some lesson from them, but in too general a fashion, failing to recognise that Isaiah and others speak about us too, being blessed by the Almighty to see our day. We should be able to read to read the scriptures and recognise ourselves in them, to place ourselves in them and to feel and understand those words as they are spoken to us, even if they were first uttered many years ago or “from the dust”.

2020 Edit:

This chapter is the beginning of a sermon by Jacob, given in 2 Nephi 6-10, and which is included with little apparent context. The sermon includes an extended quotation of Isaiah in 2 Nephi 6:16-8:25//Isaiah 49:24-52:2, making Jacob one of the four voices in the Book of Mormon (alongside Nephi, Abinadi and the risen Christ) to engage in giving extended, chapter-length quotations. What’s interesting about Jacob, however, is that he appears to be doing so principally because Nephi’s asked him to speak about Isaiah. Thus he introduces the first of the (briefer) quotations in this chapter with the following:

And now, behold, I would speak unto you concerning things which are, and which are to come; wherefore, I will read you the words of Isaiah. And they are the words which my brother has desired that I should speak unto you. And I speak unto you for your sakes, that ye may learn and glorify the name of your God.

Jacob thus introduces his Isaiah quotations by specifying that his brother has asked him to speak them. His post-Nephi writings seem to bear this out: there are no explicit quotations of Isaiah at all, let alone extended ones, although if one treats Jacob 5 as a quotation (since it’s attributed to Zenos), the habit of chapter-length quotations may not be completely alien to him.

In interpreting the passages he’s quoting, Jacob employs similar methods to that of Nephi, namely using other scripture (in this chapter, another part of Isaiah, Isaiah 11:11 in 2 Nephi 6:14), and reference to his own revelations. That’s worth noting, however: while Jacob may be quoting Isaiah under assignment from Nephi, it is to revelation he has personally received (and not simply that of his brother) that he turns in trying to interpret what he is reading. Thus the following in 2 Nephi 6:8-9 and 11 (my emphasis):

And now I, Jacob, would speak somewhat concerning these words. For behold, the Lord has shown me that those who were at Jerusalem, from whence we came, have been slain and carried away captive.

Nevertheless, the Lord has shown unto me that they should return again. And he also has shown unto me that the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, should manifest himself unto them in the flesh; and after he should manifest himself they should scourge him and crucify him, according to the words of the angel who spake it unto me.

Wherefore, after they are driven to and fro, for thus saith the angel, many shall be afflicted in the flesh, and shall not be suffered to perish, because of the prayers of the faithful; they shall be scattered, and smitten, and hated; nevertheless, the Lord will be merciful unto them, that when they shall come to the knowledge of their Redeemer, they shall be gathered together again to the lands of their inheritance.

It’s also worth noting that while both Nephi and Jacob quote Isaiah 49:24-26 (in 1 Nephi 21:24-26 and in 2 Nephi 6:16-18 in this chapter), they do so quite differently. To compare:

But thus saith the Lord, even the captives [ET: captive] of the mighty shall be taken away, and the prey of the terrible shall be delivered; for I will contend with him that contendeth with thee, and I will save thy children.

(1 Nephi 21:25//Isaiah 49:25, ET is the reading in Skousen’s Earliest text)

But thus saith the Lord: Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken away, and the prey of the terrible shall be delivered; for the Mighty God shall deliver his covenant people. For thus saith the Lord: I will contend with them {him} that contendeth with thee— <and I will save thy children>

(2 Nephi 6:17//Isaiah 49:25, bold represents text not in the KJV, underlined where text has been substituted for the text in curly brackets, and text in triangular brackets is text in the KJV but not in the quotation).

To quote from The Book of Mormon and its relationship with the Bible (pp. 133-134):

Here 2 Nephi 6:17 contains both a substantial addition compared to 1 Nephi 21:25 and Isaiah 49:25, and a substantial omission (‘and I will save thy children’), the combination of which is highly unlikely to be the result of error or memory. Notably, both quotations are described as being read (1 Nephi 19:22, 2 Nephi 9:1). Likewise the Book of Mormon demonstrates elsewhere that it is perfectly capable of quoting the same passage repeatedly with little or no variation (e.g. 1 Nephi 15:18, 1 Nephi 22:9, 3 Nephi 20:25, 3 Nephi 20:27//Acts 3:25) or with the same systematic changes (e.g. 2 Nephi 12:10, 19, 21//Isaiah 2:10, 19, 21). Skousen likewise suggests based on the additional clauses that the differences seen between 1 Nephi 19:25 and 2 Nephi 6:17 are deliberate (Skousen, Analysis of Textual Variants, pp. 451–52, 576–77). That ‘and I will save thy children’ is omitted in 2 Nephi 6:17 but not in 1 Nephi 21:25 when, as seen, the narrative context of 1 Nephi 20-21 (namely its audience of [p. 134] Nephi’s brothers) makes the theme of the restoration of descendants particularly applicable, further suggests the differences are not accidental.

It is unlikely that both quotations are claiming to be the reading of a more authentic ancient text, and neither version is presented as more correct than the other. That both of these quotations are openly attributed and both in the Book of Mormon likewise suggests that it is hardly concealing the fact that it is deliberately quoting the same passage differently. Again, one is reminded of Christopher Stanley’s observations of Paul, that ‘he takes no pains to conceal from his audience the fact that he has incorporated interpretive elements into the wording of his quotations’ and that he may have assumed – as perhaps the Book of Mormon does – that readers would be ‘unperturbed’ by such changes (Stanley, Paul and the Language of Scripture, p. 264). In addition, the differences seen here between these two quotations of Isaiah 49:25 are characteristic of the differences we see between Book of Mormon quotations and their biblical sources, including additional text that serves to expand upon a theme found already in the text (in this case once again, God’s forthcoming deliverance of his covenant people). It is therefore likely that a
number of the most significant textual differences are similarly the result of deliberate alterations.

1 Nephi 19

For the things which some men esteem to be of great worth, both to the body and soul, others set at naught and trample under their feet. Yea, even the very God of Israel do men trample under their feet; I say, trample under their feet but I would speak in other words—they set him at naught, and hearken not to the voice of his counsels.

1 Nephi 19:7

I’m not entirely sure why this verse stuck out to me today. I think there’s a lot it can be applied to. So much of our receptiveness to the gospel seems to come down to what we really want: what we “esteem to be of great worth”. And people vary so much in this respect, so that what one person values beyond price is regarded and treated as trash by another. Yet there is also an eternal hierarchy of values, so that while worldly and temporary things may be held to be most precious by some, they are still merely temporary and ephemeral. Likewise some may disregard eternal things – even God himself – that means nothing for their true eternal worth and value. It is incumbent upon us, then, to try and align our vision correct and not be distracted by other people’s valuations, so we can perceive what is truly valuable and what is not.

2020 Edit:

To some degree I find it hard to know what to write about the next few chapters, since I’ve written quite a bit about them already. The third chapter of The Book of Mormon and its relationship with the Bible is in fact based on a case study of 1 Nephi 20-22, including the latter parts of 1 Nephi 19. Yet I do believe that the scriptures are an inexhaustible well, that there is always more to learn, especially when our reading is guided by the Holy Ghost. So I can’t really let the >20,000 words I’ve already written be an excuse.

Connected with this, however, it’s worth pointing out that this is one of the places in the Book of Mormon where the divisions of old, pre-1879, chapters do not coincide with those of the current chapters. As originally published (and indeed perhaps written, since the divisions are reflected on the manuscripts), the Book of Mormon had much longer chapters (it also lacked versification completely), and then in 1879 Orson Pratt introduced new chapters and a system of versification which allows easy reference. As an unintended side-effect, however, this can break the text different and certainly breaks it more often. Which we means we sometimes read passages that are connected in a rather disconnected fashion, as if we insisted on only watching portions of conference talks rather than watching a talk as a whole. An example would be Alma 32-34, which is really one sermon taught by Alma and Amulek, but which we often read as disconnected chapters, with the risk that we can pick up a lot of what is being said, but miss the overall point and argument of the sermon.

Here, however, the opposite occurs. Most of 1 Nephi 19 in the pre-1879 chapters is part of chapter V (which covers 1 Nephi 16-19:21), and so Nephi’s account of making his first places, his discussion of what he included and how people treat the sacred, and then his prophecy of how people will do the same to the God of Israel himself, his rejection by the house of Israel, but then the ultimate restoration of Israel is included in the same chapter as the last past of their journey in the wilderness, Nephi’s sermon on the exodus, and the building and travelling upon a ship. But there’s a break between verses 21 and 22, so that verse 22 – in which Nephi explains he taught about Christ & the restoration of Israel to his brothers, and read the scriptures and particularly Isaiah to them for that purpose – is the beginning of chapter VI, which includes the quotation of Isaiah 48-49 in 1 Nephi 20-21, and then the commentary Nephi gives in 1 Nephi 22. It’s a possibly significant organisation of the text we’re liable to miss in modern editions. And that can matter, because how a text is organised – how it breaks, what it ends passages on, what begins passages – can serve to emphasise particular messages.

Aside from that matter of top-level organisation, there was one thing that caught my eye again when reading this passage, which is this in some respects rather puzzling statement by Nephi in verse 20:

For behold, I have workings in the spirit, which doth weary me even that all my joints are weak, for those who are at Jerusalem; for had not the Lord been merciful, to show unto me concerning them, even as he had prophets of old, I should have perished also.

Nephi here states that if God had not been merciful enough to show him “concerning Jerusalem”, then he would have “perished also”. And yet the reason the family left Jerusalem, and thus are in a position to dodge the incipient Babylonian conquest, is because Lehi was shown about the destruction of Jerusalem, and was commanded by God to take his family away because the people were also seeking Lehi’s life. So what does Nephi mean when he talks about what God showed him?

I suspect here that there is a connection to what Nephi recounts in 1 Nephi 2:16, following their departure from Jerusalem:

And it came to pass that I, Nephi, being exceedingly young, nevertheless being large in stature, and also having great desires to know of the mysteries of God, wherefore, I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit me, and did soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father; wherefore, I did not rebel against him like unto my brothers.

Nephi here explains that – because of his desire to know of the mysteries of God (and presumably above all else about this visions of his father that have led them out into the desert) – he prayed and received a response, in which God softened his heart and he believed the words of his father, and so did not rebel like his brothers did. The implication is that had he not had this experience, he may well have rebelled like his brothers. Hence the importance of Nephi too being shown concerning the people of Jerusalem.

However, in what sense does he mean perished, since they’d already left Jerusalem? I see several possibilities. One is that Laman and Lemuel several times expressed the intent to return to Jerusalem, and on occasion (1 Nephi 7 perhaps being the best example), the only person who stood in their way and urged otherwise was Nephi. Had he been likewise minded, they might have actually returned to enjoy the delights of Nebuchadnezzar’s seige.

It’s also possible, considering the peril of their journey and the way they needed God’s help (and the fact that he often worked through Nephi), that Nephi also sees it as possible that said perishing would have happened somewhere along the way. And yet I think there’s also another potential meaning: perish can be a somewhat ambiguous term, perhaps purposefully. Another possibility might be that – like Laman and Lemuel – he would have eventually made the trip, but perished spiritually.

These possibilities are not mutually exclusive, and it may well be (in fact I think it’s quite likely) that Nephi doesn’t know how or when or in what sense he would have perished, but simply knows that if he hadn’t been blessed with the personal revelation he received, that in some way he would have. And that’s all he really needed to know to appreciate the blessing he received, and the importance of the revelation he was given. But, like much of this trek, I can see how this applies to us too. It is not enough for prophets and leaders alone to receive revelation for us to be able to follow the revelations given to others. Like Nephi, in order for us to make the trek successfully – in order to not perish – we need some level of personal knowledge, some level of personal inspiration. That may well vary from person to person according to our spiritual gifts, but all of us need some contact with the divine, even if it be as simply as a softening of the heart. As Heber C. Kimball taught:

Remember these sayings, for many of you will live to see them fulfilled. The time will come when no man nor woman will be able to endure on borrowed light. Each will have to be guided by the light within himself. If you do not have it, how can you stand?

1 Nephi 17

And it came to pass that according to his word he did destroy them; and according to his word he did lead them; and according to his word he did do all things for them; and there was not any thing done save it were by his word.

1 Nephi 17:31

Nephi’s speaking here of the children of Israel in the wilderness, and how as they followed God or rebelled against him they were led or punished accordingly. But, particularly as I was reading it today, the line ‘there was not any thing done save it were by his word’ seemed to have broader import. Lots of stuff happens to us – some stuff happens to me – that we/I would rather not. Sometimes those things get in the way of our righteous efforts. Now on occasion it may indeed be the case that – like the children in Israel – we’re meeting the consequence of our misdeeds. But there are also plenty of scriptural examples of trials and difficulties hindering or afflicting the faithful. And God either permits these to happen, or in some cases ordains them for reasons that – at least at the time – we are unable to perceive.

Just thinking about this now, I’m reminded of the example of Joseph in Egypt. It would have been very understandable for him to be frustrated and even angry at what happened to him; indeed I’m sure there times he probably was. It would have been easy to feel that one was almost being punished for doing the right thing: check his brothers are well for his father, and get sold into slavery by his brothers; serve faithfully as a slave, get falsely accused and thrown into jail for years; correctly interpret the dream of Pharaoh’s chief butler, get forgotten about and left in jail for even more years. Every righteous effort appears rewarded with failure. It certainly be understandable if he held a grudge against his brothers.

Yet – and this is admittedly after the great turn around in his fortunes, although it’d also have been easy to let years of slavery and prison hold their mark – when he reveals himself to his brothers his perspective is quite different:

Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life.

… And God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance.

Genesis 45:5, 7

While Joseph’s  brothers did sell him into slavery, Joseph ultimately attributes this to God. But he does not blame God, rather his acknowledges divine foresight and providence, that all this misfortune he has experienced ultimately has placed him in a position to save his family and indeed and entire nation. God’s ways are indeed higher than ours, and Joseph sees divine providence even in the ills he experienced at the hands of others.

It’s quite possible we may not quite get that perspective in this life, and may only see how the various events and circumstances fit together at that point when all things are revealed. But I think it’s important to hope for that. I myself have been experiencing quite a bit of frustration in areas of my life where it feels like the Lord would have me progress, and yet it often feels like one step forward and two (or many) back; that my righteous efforts are being rewarded with failure. But it’s important to acknowledge in all these things that God has his own purpose in these events, and that nothing happens without his foreknowledge and without his permission, and in many cases because he expressly wills it. And God can turn misfortune and even evil events to good purposes.

All that matters on our part is that we too seek to do all that we do ‘by his word’.

Edit 2020:

I think 1 Nephi 17 is one of my favourite chapters. Not the favourite chapter, but its up there. There’s just so much to it. The bulk of it is Nephi’s whole recap of the Exodus story, which isn’t just telling that story, but is also the culmination of 1 Nephi’s references and allusions to the Exodus account as a whole. I commented briefly upon that connection when writing about 1 Nephi 2, and its something that’s often been on my mind as I read this book since I wrote an essay on the relationship between the two as an undergraduate while studying in Israel. Both are accounts of a group of people, led through the wilderness and delivered from their enemies by divine power (Pharoah/Laban – 1 Nephi 4:2-3 makes the connection explicitly). These people travel to a new land of promise, but often struggle in their journey due to “murmuring” and rebelliousness on the part of the travellers. Despite this, the Lord provides food for them and points out the direction they should go, and is their “light in the wilderness” (1 Nephi 17:13). Both journeys likewise involve crossing a body of water (well two in the case of the Exodus, and one really big one in 1 Nephi), again with divine aid.

By recapping the story here, Nephi makes all these connections explicit, particularly placing his brothers – who again reject their father’s revelations as “foolish imaginations of his heart” (v. 20) – in the same position as those who “reviled against Moses and against the true and living God” (v. 30). Against Laman & Lemuel’s claims that the people of Jerusalem were a righteous people (v. 22), Nephi builds on the conquest of Canaan, pointing out that God in truth does not play favourites: “the Lord esteemeth all flesh in one; he that is righteous is favoured of God”. The Canaanites had “rejected every word of God, and they were ripe in iniquity, and the fulness of the wrath of God was upon them” (v. 35). But by becoming wicked in turn, and rejecting the word of God by seeking to kill the prophets (such as Lehi), the people of Jerusalem have become just like them, and will likewise be destroyed, and because Laman and Lemuel have likewise “sought to take his life” Nephi declares: “ye are murderers in your hearts and ye are like unto them” (vv. 43-44).

It’s a brilliant sermon, as it builds to Nephi’s denunciation of Laman and Lemuel’s hardheartedness (v. 45):

Ye are swift to do iniquity but slow to remember the Lord your God. Ye have seen an angel, and he spake unto you; yea, ye have heard his voice from time to time; and he hath spoken unto you in a still small voice, but ye were past feeling, that ye could not feel his words; wherefore, he has spoken unto you like unto the voice of thunder, which did cause the earth to shake as if it were to divide asunder.

That very last episode we just saw in 1 Nephi 16:38-39; Nephi is not just recapping the Exodus, but their own journey too, with its displays of divine power and aid and their rebelliousness. And after the brothers turn once more to murderous anger, which is quelled once more by a further display of God’s power, Nephi affirms once more that – contrary to their earlier claims – he can indeed build a ship, with a verse that is on one hand so simple in wording, and yet seems to me to have powerful import for us too (v. 51):

And now, if the Lord has such great power, and has wrought so many miracles among the children of men, how is it that he cannot instruct me, that I should build a ship?

A ship – or whatever we’ve been asked to do – seem so paltry compared to that which God has already done, and which we may have already witnessed.

A couple of other points that stick out: I find it interesting that Nephi notes he’d been at Bountiful “for the space of many days” before he received further instruction. This suggests to me that likewise in our own journeys that there may be periods of pause, and comparative peace which the Lord allows us, particularly after periods of intense trial. However, such times our not our final destination, and we must press on. Likewise it’s interesting that the first command Nephi received in this chapter was simply the direction to go up the mountain, and it was up there he was commanded to build a ship; similarly divine instruction to us may sometimes simply be a small thing which directs us to a better position for us to receive further revelation.

On a final note, there’s the brothers’ complaint that Lehi had “judged” the people of Jerusalem, which couldn’t help but remind me of our own society, in which “judging” is likewise held in negative regard. It is true, of course, that the Saviour commanded us to “judge not lest ye be judged” (Matthew 7:1), but it strikes me that there’s a difference between that and “don’t judge me!”. The first prompts us to humility, to remember our own sins and accountability before God rather than go round condemning everyone else. The latter sentiment, however, is prideful, an arrogant resentment that one might ever be disapproved of or held to account, including by God. It should be remembered that Christ not only also taught “judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment” (John 7:24, because as I’ve noted before some judgment is unavoidable, like who you let look after your children), but the former restriction doesn’t apply to God, to whom we will very much be accountable. The resentful mode expressed by Laman and Lemuel also tends to break down under its own weight, as one is left holding that it is wrong to judge people, except for being “judgmental”. At which point things start looking quite silly.

On Sustaining the Brethren

The brief discussion here (and the linked ‘letter’) reminded me of several conversations I’ve had in the last few months, in the wake of things like the amendments to the Church handbook of instructions. In particular I’ve been asked, by a friend who has had difficulties reconciling themselves with the policy, whether given certain conditions I’d still put up my hand and sustain the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve.

To which the answer would be yes. But any such question, I believe, can help us to understand what we’re truly doing.

When we’re asked to sustain the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve as prophets, seers and revelators, we’re not being asked if they’re nice guys. We’re not being asked whether we agree with their talks or their actions. We hypothetically might have disagreements about particular policies or issues (and hopefully we should recognise that while we do not claim infallibility for anyone, that includes ourselves!). But really, that’s not what we’re being asked about. I happen to think C.S. Lewis got an awful lot of things right, but I’m not raising my hand to sustain him as prophet, seer and revelator.

What that question is asking is whether we accept that God has called them to their positions, that they hold His authority in His Church, and that they are entitled and able to receive revelation from God to guide His Church. And that’s something we can only really come to know from God through supernatural experiences of our own.

As it happens I’ve had those experiences. I’ve felt, heard and seen marvellous things, and have continued to experience and see God’s power, including through His priesthood and His Church. I don’t say all this to boast, because I don’t really have much to boast of; I am just fortunate that God is merciful. But having had them, I need to remember them and not ignore them; having had them and the big questions answered, any other issues really just become a matter of details.

So for anyone else who is wondering whether they should sustain the brethren, I really think its important to ask the key questions: not upon what they may think or feel about any particular policy, but on whether they believe and/or know that this is the Lord’s church and that God has called those men as prophets within it. If they’re not sure at present, I’d encourage them to work from what they do know God has revealed to them and to remember what experiences they’ve had. If they’ve written them down at all, reread them. If they haven’t had those experiences yet, then they should seek for them. If they have, I’d encourage them to seek new such experiences from him, because the gospel teaches not that we should work things out for ourselves (how can we?), but that each of us as individuals may approach and get answers from He who is the source of all truth. And what we’re putting our hand up to is really what we believe and/or know He thinks.