Mosiah 19

We have a change of pace in this chapter, as a rebellion breaks out against King Noah. It’s somewhat interesting to me that Noah accused Alma and the Church of “stirring up the people to rebellion against him” (in the previous chapter, Mosiah 18:33), and so sent the army after them, but that they weren’t and the rebellion only broke out after they fled. Noah’s paranoia about Alma seems to have misled him about the actual rebellion brewing amongst the “lesser part” (Mosiah 19:2-3) of who was left (although he was right to fear a revolt).

And so we meet Gideon. And I think Gideon is awesome:

And now there was a man among them whose name was Gideon, and he being a strong man and an enemy to the king, therefore he drew his sword, and swore in his wrath that he would slay the king.

(v. 4)

First verse and he’s already drawing swords and swearing wrathful oaths to kill kings. Now that’s a man of action!

I find the next sequence interesting, however, because it sits at odds with what seem to be our expectations. King Noah tends to be depicted rather like this:

abinadi-before-king-noah-39651-wallpaper

i.e. the fat man with the beard. Not the ripped old man in chains (that’s Abinadi), and certainly not the Jaguars…

I don’t know quite why Noah is always pictured like this. We know he likes his women and his wine (Mosiah 11:14-15). But there’s nothing that really suggests the “fat man with beard” that occupies our image of him. I don’t know if that stems from the well-known bias towards beauty (in which we associated goodness with physical attractiveness, and badness with ugliness), or from an apparently indelible mark that Henry VIII has left on the Anglo-American psyche. But this chapter suggests this depiction isn’t accurate:

And it came to pass that he fought with the king; and when the king saw that he was about to overpower him, he fled and ran and got upon the tower which was near the temple.

In verse 5, after apparently physically fighting with Gideon and realising he was going to lose (Gideon is awesome), he flees and runs up a tower. Upon the tower he sees the Lamanites have taken the opportunity to invade, and after pleading with Gideon to spare his life in view of the emergency (incidentally, the note that “now the king was not so much concerned about his people as he was about his own life” in verse 8 suggests the theme of pretence is still present), he then leads his people in “flee[ing] into the wilderness”, “go[ing] before them” and manages to outrun their Lamanite pursuers even when they began to “overtake” and kill some of his people (vv. 9-10). Although the Lamanite pursuit actually ends when many of his men refuse to obey his instruction to leave their women and children behind, and surrender instead, Noah just keeps on running. The text actually seems to indicate he was quite an athletic man! For that matter, so was Henry VIII as a younger man.

This is a fairly unimportant matter, but I think it’s interesting for how such bias and perceptions – about goodness and wickedness no less – affect us. As I’ve linked to before (see here and here), human bias towards attractiveness even affects court cases: attractive defendants are more likely to be found not guilty and given more lenient sentences, while defendants are likely to attract harsher sentences when the victim is attractive. We are inclined, it seems, to view good people as being fair, and worse the fair as being inevitably good (and the ugly as bad). If Noah was an attractive and athletic man, perhaps that is one factor in why his people were prepared to follow him for so long. And perhaps it is no accident that Abinadi quoted Isaiah’s prophecy that the Messiah “hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him” (Mosiah 14:2//Isaiah 53:2).

Of course, neither Noah’s possible athleticism, nor charisma, nor royal status, can spare him from the karmic fate and judgment of God he has brought upon himself, in fulfilment of Abinadi’s words:

And the king commanded them that they should not return; and they were angry with the king, and caused that he should suffer, even unto death by fire.

(Mosiah 19:20)

Mosiah 12

I smile a bit at the very first verse of this chapter, for we learn:

And it came to pass that after the space of two years that Abinadi came among them in disguise, that they knew him not, and began to prophesy among them, saying: Thus has the Lord commanded me, saying—Abinadi, go and prophesy unto this my people, for they have hardened their hearts against my words; they have repented not of their evil doings; therefore, I will visit them in my anger, yea, in my fierce anger will I visit them in their iniquities and abominations.

(Mosiah 12:1, my emphasis)

Abinadi’s disguise did not last very long, for he promptly announces himself. I’m not sure why this is. There’s been several suggestions, Alan Goff in particular appealing to the idea of a type scene in the Old Testament of a king or a prophet disguising themselves when going to see a prophet or another king (see here for a summary of the suggestion). I’m not convinced, however; not only are the proffered examples mostly kings (with only one offered example of a prophet in disguise), but crucially the prophet reveals himself after presenting his message to the king. Here, however, Abinadi promptly reveals himself when speaking to the people, long before seeing the king. So I’m not sure, but my gut instinct suggests something more is going on. Though, as suggested, it may well have a connection with Noah’s “who is Abinadi… or who is the Lord that shall bring upon my people such great affliction” from the preceding chapter (Mosiah 11:27).

Verse 3 of this chapter does appear to be a direct reply to Noah’s challenge:

And it shall come to pass that the life of king Noah shall be valued even as a garment in a hot furnace; for he shall know that I am the Lord.

The Lord’s answer appears to be that the time will come when Noah will know full well the answer to his question, but by that point it will be far too late (and painful)!

I was also struck by verse 8, another part of Abinadi’s prophecy against the people:

And it shall come to pass that except they repent I will utterly destroy them from off the face of the earth; yet they shall leave a record behind them, and I will preserve them for other nations which shall possess the land; yea, even this will I do that I may discover the abominations of this people to other nations. And many things did Abinadi prophesy against this people.

On one hand I was struck by the fact that, of course, this did eventually happen, albeit not with these people at this time, but with their descendants centuries hence. What stood out more, however, was I feel like this answers part of the puzzle as to why king Limhi in particular, when we heard from him a few chapters ago, was particularly interested to learn the contents of records his people had retrieved from the ruins of the civilisation northwards, and particularly the reason that civilisation had been destroyed (Mosiah 8:12). Remember, of course, that we’re in somewhat of a flashback sequence here: Limhi is the son of king Noah, speaking to Ammon some years later. But perhaps Limhi remembered these words of Abinadi, that have this concept of records being left behind and preserved by God of civilisations he has caused to be destroyed.

In Mosiah 11, I commented on some disingenuousness on the part of king Noah, but it’s interesting to see it also displayed by his people here too. Thus from verse 9 onwards:

And it came to pass that they were angry with him; and they took him and carried him bound before the king, and said unto the king: Behold, we have brought a man before thee who has prophesied evil concerning thy people, and saith that God will destroy them.

And he also prophesieth evil concerning thy life, and saith that thy life shall be as a garment in a furnace of fire.

And again, he saith that thou shalt be as a stalk, even as a dry stalk of the field, which is run over by the beasts and trodden under foot.

And again, he saith thou shalt be as the blossoms of a thistle, which, when it is fully ripe, if the wind bloweth, it is driven forth upon the face of the land. And he pretendeth the Lord hath spoken it. And he saith all this shall come upon thee except thou repent, and this because of thine iniquities.

And now, O king, what great evil hast thou done, or what great sins have thy people committed, that we should be condemned of God or judged of this man?

(Mosiah 12:9-13, bold is my emphasis)

Now the people’s paraphrase of Abinadi’s words against the king in verse 10 is not word for word, but it’s close enough to what Abinadi said in verse 3. However, verses 11 and 12 are very interesting; verse 3 is the only thing Abinadi said about Noah specifically, so where’s the content of verses 11 and 12 coming from? Now verse 8 does state that Abinadi prophesied “many things” against the people, so perhaps it’s not mentioned. But I have another theory. It seems to me that there is a resemblance (although a rather looser one) between the report in verses 11-12 and Abinadi’s words as we have them in the remainder of verses 2-7: there’s mention of beasts (v. 2), the wind (v. 6), of crops (grain in v. 6, implied by mention of stalk in verse 11). But crucially, these are not words that Abinadi directs against the king, but against the people.

My suggestion is that the people are offended not so much at Abinadi’s words against Noah as they are the words directed at them personally. Thus verse 13: “and now, O king, what great evil has thou done, or what great sins have they people committed, that we should be condemned of God, or judged of this man?” It is pitched as the people taking offence at words spoken against the king, but their real concern – being offended at works spoken about them – comes right out afterwards, despite the fact it appears they have recast many of Abinadi’s prophecies as being about the king in an attempt to rouse him to anger (Noah’s priests will also manipulate Noah by playing on his anger in Mosiah 17:12). And perhaps the passionate offence the people felt at Abinadi’s words against them also explains why they report these words less accurately than the actual words Abinadi directed against the king: in the former case their emotional reaction may even have affected their memory (anger strongly affects what people think they hear), while the words actually directed at the king himself were regarded more dispassionately.

Connected to this, in some degree, although this is not a new observation, is what I believe is the reason the priests of Noah end up quoting Isaiah 52:7-10 (incidentally a frequently quoted scripture in the Book of Mormon, albeit usually from better sources than the wicked priests):

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings; that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good; that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth;

Thy watchmen shall lift up the voice; with the voice together shall they sing; for they shall see eye to eye when the Lord shall bring again Zion;

Break forth into joy; sing together ye waste places of Jerusalem; for the Lord hath comforted his people, he hath redeemed Jerusalem;

The Lord hath made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God?

(Mosiah 12:21-24)

Why would the priests of Noah quote these words and ask Abinadi about them? I think the crucial issue is that they’re trying to catch Abinadi out. All parties involved – king and people both – have taken offence at Abinadi’s prophecies of affliction and destruction. These verses, however, speak about “good tidings”, about those that preach “peace” and “salvation”, and speaking about how the Lord has “comforted his people [and] hath redeemed Jerusalem”. My suggestion is that the priests of Noah are offering these up as a contrast, an implied claim that they contradict Abinadi’s prophecies and so the latter can’t possibly be true. Of course Abinadi takes the opportunity they give him to speak and runs with it, but I think we can learn from the contrast between the two prophecies and the priests attempted misuse of Isaiah. For as readers, we can know, as they do not, that both prophecies are true.

Why is this important? Because  I think the same temptation can exist today, to have a very selective image of God and his words. The priests of Noah appear to imply that because God has given prophecies offering hope, peace and good tidings, that he couldn’t possibly offer prophecies that threaten destruction and death. But he gave both. Likewise, as I’ve written about before, there’s selective images of Christ, that emphasis only a part of his character and teachings, and ignore those that run counter to it. Rather perversely, this makes Christ himself “un-Christlike” by some people’s selective definitions, but even more crucially it can be a species of idolatry, albeit of an idol that exists only in the mind.

We may all have favourite teachings in the scriptures, parts that particularly resonate with our personality, or which perhaps we need particularly need to hear. There’s nothing wrong with that. But we do need to be careful not to ignore those parts that may challenge us, or which differ from those that accord with us so well. It may well be that it is those passages we particularly need to pay attention too, just as Noah’s people really really needed to pay attention to Abinadi’s rather more grim prophecies. Likewise, just because we’re used to God speaking in a certain way, or on a certain topic, does not that he will not or cannot speak in very different ways and on different topics. We should not and cannot try to limit God’s word, either as it exists in the past or will exist in the future. All we’d succeed in doing is deafening ourselves to the full range of all that God has to tell us.

2 Nephi 25

2016 Comments:

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

A few verses that stuck out this time though:

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

(2 Nephi 25:9)

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

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

(2 Nephi 25:22)

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

I find myself wanting, on many things.

2020 edit:

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

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

(2 Nephi 25:4)

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

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

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

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

(2 Nephi 25:7-8)

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

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

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

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

(2 Nephi 25:17-18)

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

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

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

(2 Nephi 25:21-22)

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

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

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

(2 Nephi 25:23, my emphasis)

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

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

2 Nephi 11

Come Follow Me’s reading schedule is a little unbalanced; the coming week covers 15 chapters, so blog posts and edits for 2 Nephi 11-25 will have to be somewhat brief to be manageable.

In any case, from my original posts four years ago:

And now I, Nephi, write more of the words of Isaiah, for my soul delighteth in his words. For I will liken his words unto my people, and I will send them forth unto all my children, for he verily saw my Redeemer, even as I have seen him.

And my brother, Jacob, also has seen him as I have seen him; wherefore, I will send their words forth unto my children to prove unto them that my words are true. Wherefore, by the words of three, God hath said, I will establish my word. Nevertheless, God sendeth more witnesses, and he proveth all his words.

(2 Nephi 11:2-3)

I’m not entirely sure why these verses have hung on me today. There’s lots that can be found in them, of course, such as this concept of Nephi, Isaiah and Jacob acting as three witnesses of Christ. Likewise in the concept that God will both send more witnesses and vindicate his words. But what I think most sticks out to me at this time is the power of scripture, to both convince and act as evidence for other of God’s words. It’s very easy when writing about scripture to hung up on one’s own words, but really it’s the scripture itself that has the most power.

Back to 2020:

It’s verse 4 that caught my attention today:

Behold, my soul delighteth in proving unto my people the truth of the coming of Christ; for, for this end hath the law of Moses been given; and all things which have been given of God from the beginning of the world, unto man, are the typifying of him.

Typology has long been a traditional approach to Christian interpretation of scripture, dating from the New Testament, and its an approach the authors of Book of Mormon adopt and advocate at many times themselves. Thus events, individuals, and all many of other things may not only have a significance in and of themselves, but also for what they pre-figure or symbolise, the antitype. This is often (as it is here) Christ, but can be other things. In a sense, it is a way in which actual events or individuals can also have a symbolic meaning. In an other, it’s also an understanding of the world and its history, understanding that God is able to shape events so that prophecy is given not just in words, but in the fabric of historical events and in the lives of individuals.

However, despite the advocacy of typology within the Book of Mormon (including, as in Alma 37, applied to events described in the Book of Mormon itself), it’s an approach to reading we don’t always do much of in the modern Church. Perhaps that’s something we should strive to do more of.

 

Jacob 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2020 Edit:

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

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

Thus Jacob taught his own people:

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

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

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

(Jacob 6:5-7)

And:

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

O be wise; what can I say more?

(Jacob 6:11-12)

 

Ether 14

Came across the following passage today in my reading:

Nevertheless, Shiz did not cease to pursue Coriantumr; for he had sworn to avenge himself upon Coriantumr of the blood of his brother, who had been slain, and the word of the Lord which came to Ether that Coriantumr should not fall by the sword.

And thus we see that the Lord did visit them in the fulness of his wrath, and their wickedness and abominations had prepared a way for their everlasting destruction.

(Ether 14:24-25)

Several things struck me about this passage that hadn’t before:

  1. Firstly, perhaps the most obvious one (and crucial to what follows) was that Shiz was motivated to kill Coriantumr not simply because Coriantumr had killed his brother, but also specifically because of the prophecy Ether had given to Coriantumr. For whatever reason, it appears that Shiz wanted to falsify the prophecy in the most expedient and bloodiest way possible.
  2. If we keep this in mind, the “and thus we see” that follows takes on more specific meaning. It’s possible to simply connect the following statement (“and thus we see that the Lord did visit them in the fulness of his wrath”) to the preceding accounts of the war and the devastation it inflicted. But the Lord didn’t directly do that. But if we connect it to the immediate preceding statement about Shiz’s desire, then it begins to read a bit differently. Shiz sought to falsify prophecy by killing Coriantumr, and in doing so perpetuated the conflict that brought such devastation upon the Jaredites.
  3. Thinking about this, I thought about the prophecy itself, contained in Ether 13:20-21:

    And in the second year the word of the Lord came to Ether, that he should go and prophesy unto Coriantumr that, if he would repent, and all his household, the Lord would give unto him his kingdom and spare the people—

    Otherwise they should be destroyed, and all his household save it were himself. And he should only live to see the fulfilling of the prophecies which had been spoken concerning another people receiving the land for their inheritance; and Coriantumr should receive a burial by them; and every soul should be destroyed save it were Coriantumr.

    The prophecy Shiz was apparently so animated by was not, in this case, a positive prophecy for Coriantumr. If he and his household would repent, the people would be spared. But they didn’t, and he didn’t (at least at this time). Thus the alternative, that instead the people would all be destroyed, except Coriantumr, who would be buried by another people. The prophecy is thus a warning of destruction. Shiz’s response, however, and the fact that his response helps cause that destruction, makes the prophecy not only a warning, but actually one of the things that provokes that destruction. The Lord’s warning to them also turns out to be an instrument in visiting his wrath upon them.

  4. This makes sense of the last part of Ether 14:25: “And thus we see that the Lord did visit them in the fulness of his wrath, and their wickedness and abominations had prepared a way for their everlasting destruction” (my emphasis). It is the violent response of Shiz and others to that prophecy that actually creates the conditions for its fulfilment. Had they not responded so, it would not have happened. Instead its Shiz’s very attempt to falsify the prophecy that helps bring it about.

“A New witness for Christ”

In the eighty-fourth section of the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord decreed that the whole Church was under condemnation, even all the children of Zion, because of the way they treated the Book of Mormon. “And they shall remain under this condemnation until they repent,” said the Lord, “and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon.” (D&C 84:57).

Zion cannot fully arise and put on her beautiful garments if she is under this condemnation.

 

Second, for whom was the Book of Mormon meant? Moroni, the book’s last writer, speaking to us said, “Behold, I speak unto you as if ye were present, and yet ye are not. But behold, Jesus Christ hath shown you unto me, and I know your doing.” (Morm. 8:35). God inspired Mormon, its chief compiler, to put into the book what we would need in our day.

 

Fourth, what is the major purpose of the Book of Mormon? To bring men to Christ and to be reconciled to him, and then to join his churchin that order.

We do not have to prove the Book of Mormon is true. The book is its own proof. All we need to do is read it and declare it! The Book of Mormon is not on trial—the people of the world, including the members of the Church, are on trial as to what they will do with this second witness for Christ.

Ezra Taft Benson, “A New Witness for Christ”, 154th Semiannual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, October 1984

3 Nephi 1

star-jesus-birth-154378-tablet

Told you.

So as I mentioned, by pure happenstance I happen to have read the account of the signs of Christ’s birth on Christmas day itself. Since this is Christmas, I’ll keep it brief, but two points of observation from today’s reading:

  1. Christ is often described in scripture – especially in the gospel of John – as both “light” and “life”. Here, this is very literal: Christ’s birth is accompanied by literal light, so that there is a night with no darkness. Likewise, the appearance of the sign literally saves the lives of the believers, who were otherwise to be put to death (v. 9). Christ is also both our light and salvation for our lives, in many different senses: he shows us the way, illuminates our souls, is the source of the grace that will exalt us, and will redeem us from both physical and spiritual death..
  2. God seems to have this habit of letting timing be quite short. The passage doesn’t actually say when the assigned date for killing all the believers was in relation to when the sign appeared, but it was undoubtedly pressing in view of Nephi’s praying all day for those “who were about to be destroyed” (vv. 11-12). And it turned out that that night was the very time for the sign to appear. Likewise, the Israelites were trapped against the Red Sea and the Egyptian armies were upon them before the Lord saved them. The Lord will often test our faith, but redeem us at the very last moment, and I guess what we must do is simply hold on in faith. The example of the believers here is instructive: while they worried “lest by any means those things which had been spoken might not come to pass”, “they did watch steadfastly” (vv. 7-8). While they were worried, they did not let those worries stop them from holding on and hoping for the sign. And sure enough, in the Lord’s timing, that hope was justified and all things fulfilled “according to the words of the prophets” (v. 20). Likewise we may worry about the fulfilment of God’s promises to us, and wonder how long we must wait or whether such things will ever happen. Such worries are natural, but I guess the lesson is that we must not let our worries stop us from “watch[ing] steadfastly”, and that – in the Lord’s timing – he will fulfil his promises to us.

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.

Jacob 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2020 edit:

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

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

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

Verse 6 is always somewhat striking:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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