Mosiah 8

There seems to be a running subtheme of God’s unseen providence running through these chapters, as I was struck by how fortuitous it was that the party Limhi set out to find Zarahemla ended up finding something quite different:

And the king said unto him: Being grieved for the afflictions of my people, I caused that forty and three of my people should take a journey into the wilderness, that thereby they might find the land of Zarahemla, that we might appeal unto our brethren to deliver us out of bondage.

And they were lost in the wilderness for the space of many days, yet they were diligent, and found not the land of Zarahemla but returned to this land, having traveled in a land among many waters, having discovered a land which was covered with bones of men, and of beasts, and was also covered with ruins of buildings of every kind, having discovered a land which had been peopled with a people who were as numerous as the hosts of Israel.

And for a testimony that the things that they had said are true they have brought twenty-four plates which are filled with engravings, and they are of pure gold.

(Mosiah 8:7-9)

Now we can’t be sure about the details of the geography – namely how difficult or easy it was to miss Zarahemla completely and reach the former land of the Jaredites instead (it does suggest the model of a single bottleneck of a very narrow neck of land may not be strictly accurate) – but, just as in the previous chapter, we have to consider how fortunate this was. While it may be inevitable that if they kept heading in a certain direction they’d hit the Jaredite ruins eventually, the chances that they’d come across the plates of Ether seem very remote. Of course, while it’s not explicitly stated, I don’t believe we’re meant to take this as simple sheer chance: it was divine providence. And consider the consequences: the very content of the Book of Mormon is at stake here, since these plates contain the record of the Brother of Jared and the account of the fall of the Jaredites, and were the sources for Moroni’s account of the same. If these people didn’t “chance” to find them, we would not have them.

And yet, at this point, both the king who sent them out and doubtless the party involved considered the mission a failure: the hope was to find a living Zarahemla who they could call upon for assistance. Instead they found a ruin. But once again what appears to be a failure, while it may have frustrated the expectations and plans – even righteous ones – of human beings ultimately turned to good. And God likewise provided other means for delivering the people of Limhi, so that “failure” didn’t turn to their harm either.

And the king said that a seer is greater than a prophet.

And Ammon said that a seer is a revelator and a prophet also; and a gift which is greater can no man have, except he should possess the power of God, which no man can; yet a man may have great power given him from God.

(Mosiah 8:15-16)

In reading these words today, I couldn’t help but think about how this is the first occasion in scripture (at least the scripture we have), in which these three titles – seer, revelator and prophet – are conjoined. 1 Samuel 9:9 includes both seer and prophet, but not revelator.

Interestingly, the use of these three titles together in the Doctrine and Covenants appears a bit later in the book than one might expect, in D&C 107:92 (once again just seer and prophet occur earlier, in D&C 21:1). I find this interesting, because it suggests that it took time for concepts introduced by the Book of Mormon to seep out to the early Church, including to the very men involved in translating and taking dictation of the book! We might sometimes assume that Joseph Smith and the others would have known the book and its contents backwards, but that really doesn’t appear to be the case: they had to read and learn from it too, and just like us they continued to learn things as they read it. These may be reassuring for those who are just starting out to study the scriptures: there’s no royal road to learning their contents, but at the same time its a path that anyone can follow because we all, no matter who we are, start at much the same place.

Thus God has provided a means that man, through faith, might work mighty miracles; therefore he becometh a great benefit to his fellow beings.

(Mosiah 8:18)

While Ammon’s comments above are speaking specifically of seers, I believe this also addresses in a more general way one of the recurring themes of the Book of Mormon: God has actual power, and he can and does give this to human beings who exercise faith, and seek to serve God and his children. It’s another interesting connection with 2nd Ammon too, who to explain his deeds to King Lamoni will say:

And a portion of that Spirit dwelleth in me, which giveth me knowledge, and also power according to my faith and desires which are in God.

(Alma 18:35)

The Book of Mormon teaches a God who is a God of power, a God who works supernatural miracles, and a God who confers that power upon human beings, “according to [our] faith and desires which are in God”.

“Reclaiming Jacob” | The Interpreter Foundation

Duane Boyce has written an excellent article at The Interpreter, responding to what I thought was a rather unconvincing and poor reading of Jacob 7 by Adam Miller, but which what at least some seemed to have feel was rather deep.

I thought the following points were particularly good:

  1. That we have two major witnesses as to Sherem’s character and conduct other than Jacob himself: Sherem, and the Lord.
  2. Laman and Lemuel were not somehow sincere and pious, as some people keep suggesting (I respond to the same claim here).
  3. That our definition of what constitutes Christlike conduct has to be based on the actual words and actions of Christ himself, rather than the rather selective image people use which would actually exclude the real Christ (again, a subject I’ve briefly touched on too). Boyce happens to quote one of my favourite quotes of Jesus to make this point (“Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?”, Matthew 23:33), but also makes the excellent point that – since he’s presumably the Lord here – it’s Christ who actually strikes Sherem dead!
  4. The problems we face when we place a “lens” over our reading scripture (again – sorry! – something I mention here). I think Duane Boyce does a thorough job of showing precisely how that has happened here.
  5. We should be very cautious in attempting moral evaluations of prophets, and run very real risks. I think that should be especially the case when we’re charging them of being judgmental and “un-Christlike”.
  6. “An unconventional reading of scripture is not equivalent to a deep reading of scripture”.

Read the whole thing here: Reclaiming Jacob | The Interpreter Foundation

2 Nephi 7

Yea, for thus saith the Lord: Have I put thee away, or have I cast thee off forever? For thus saith the Lord: Where is the bill of your mother’s divorcement? To whom have I put thee away, or to which of my creditors have I sold you? Yea, to whom have I sold you? Behold, for your iniquities have ye sold yourselves, and for your transgressions is your mother put away.

Wherefore, when I came, there was no man; when I called, yea, there was none to answer. O house of Israel, is my hand shortened at all that it cannot redeem, or have I no power to deliver? Behold, at my rebuke I dry up the sea, I make their rivers a wilderness and their fish to stink because the waters are dried up, and they die because of thirst.

(2 Nephi 7:1-2//Isaiah 50:1-2)

Sometimes its just gratifying to know that – while we often sell ourselves by our iniquities – we are not cast off forever, and that God always has the power to redeem and deliver.

2020 Edit:

Perhaps amusingly, it is much the same verses that leapt out at me today as did when I wrote the original post. They summarise a key point of this passage, however: God is not unfaithful, and does not abandon us. We often abandon him, like Israel did many times, but God will continue trying to reach out, being faithful to his covenant, and has the power to do so.

This chapter is a quotation of Isaiah 50, although the way this chapter’s beginning and ending synchronise with the chapter divisions in Isaiah is an artefact of the post-1879 chapters; in the 1830 edition 2 Nephi 6-8 are all one chapter.

A key part of this chapter, as it is for these chapters in Isaiah, is this image of a servant, one described here as being given “the tongue of the learned” to address the people (v.4), who listens to the Lord and does not rebel nor turn back (v. 5), and who the Lord will help(v. 9). Many of these words can apply at least in part to a number of prophetic figures, as I mentioned in the post on 1 Nephi 21//Isaiah 49. As I discussed there, however, and as can be seen in things like Abinadi’s interpretation of Isaiah 52:7 in Mosiah 15:14-18, many of these prophecies can simultaneously apply to a range of prophetic servants or such servants generally, and at the same time apply above all else to Christ himself. In this chapter, it is perhaps verse 6 and 7 that show this most clearly, where the servant states:

I gave my back to the smiter, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair. I hid not my face from shame and spitting.

For the Lord God will help me, therefore shall I not be confounded. Therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed.

And again, much as in 1 Nephi 20-21//Isaiah 48-49, the consequences of continuing to reject the Lord and refusing to obey the voice of his servant are laid out, here in verse 11:

Behold all ye that kindle fire, that compass yourselves about with sparks, walk in the light of your fire and in the sparks which ye have kindled. This shall ye have of mine hand—ye shall lie down in sorrow.

Those that “kindle fire” – which as fire provides both light and warmth, suggests those that seek guidance and security from sources other that God – will be left to their own devices, indeed to my ear it seems suggested that they’ll be damaged by the very sparks they kindle, and ultimately receive sorrow when they could have received joy.

For those interested in the textual differences between this chapter and Isaiah 50 in the KJV, see pp. 396-398 in the appendix of The Book of Mormon and its relationship with the Bible. Perhaps one the most substantial additions/substitutions in this passage is the addition of “O house of Israel” in verse 2 and the substitution of “O house of Israel” into verse 4, clearly indicating that it is the house of Israel that is not cast off forever (and so resisting any supercessionist reading of this chapter). Another substantial addition is the whole clause of “and I will smite him with the strength of my mouth” to verse 8, indicating that the theme of judgment is likewise never that far away.

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.

1 Nephi 1

My attention today fell on the following verses:

And he read, saying: Wo, wo, unto Jerusalem, for I have seen thine abominations! Yea, and many things did my father read concerning Jerusalem—that it should be destroyed, and the inhabitants thereof; many should perish by the sword, and many should be carried away captive into Babylon.

And it came to pass that when my father had read and seen many great and marvelous things, he did exclaim many things unto the Lord; such as: Great and marvelous are thy works, O Lord God Almighty! Thy throne is high in the heavens, and thy power, and goodness, and mercy are over all the inhabitants of the earth; and, because thou art merciful, thou wilt not suffer those who come unto thee that they shall perish!

1 Nephi 1:13-14

As I was reading this, it again seemed a bit of a strange dichotomy. Much of what Lehi reads in his vision is about the judgments coming upon Jerusalem and the forthcoming activity. And Lehi’s response is to rejoice (explicitly so in v.15), and among other things single out God’s mercy (twice in fact, particularly with the mention that he ‘wil[l] not suffer those who come unto [him] that they shall perish’). This seems at first glance a little odd.

Now it’s possible this reaction is to the other stuff he read that isn’t mentioned (the ‘great and marvelous things’), and we know from verse 19 that one of the things he read about is ‘the coming of a Messiah, and also the redemption of the world’. But verse 18 also emphasises that the principle subject of the ‘many marvelous things’ shown to Lehi ‘concern[ed] the destruction of Jerusalem’.

I think it’s possible there’s something else also going on here. Lehi’s original encounter with ‘a pillar of fire’ occurred because he was praying ‘in behalf of his people’ (vv.5-6). Now it’s easy to assume that ‘his people’ meant the people at Jerusalem, but I think its possible that this may be a more specific reference. Verse 4 recounts ‘many prophets’ coming to tell the people of Jerusalem, to ‘repent, or the great city of Jerusalem must be destroyed’. And we know, both from the Book of Mormon and the Bible, how such prophets such as Lehi and Jeremiah were received. Jeremiah 26:20-23 is particularly illustrative, where another prophet by the name of Urijah fled to Egypt for safety, but King Jehoiakim (Zedekiah’s brother and predecessor) sent agents after him to retrieve him, and once he was retrieved the king had Urijah killed.

Could Lehi have perhaps been praying on behalf of these prophets and those (like Lehi) who believed on them? If so, it’d make Lehi’s reaction to the forthcoming destruction – seeing it as a form of deliverance for those who were seeking to ‘come unto [him]’ (1 Nephi 1:14) – make much more sense, particularly as it’d be a direct answer to his actual question. Nor would this be the last time in the Book of Mormon that divine judgment on some be seen as providing deliverance for others, with perhaps the clearest association of these two concepts being seen in 1 Nephi 22:16-17 (and perhaps, thinking about it, it is no coincidence that concept comes up in the last chapter of this book if it’s also here in the first chapter).

Minor Notes:

The 2013 edition has changed the type-face, so that the introduction to the book of Nephi is in un-italicized text indicating it’s part of the sacred text, while chapter headings are not. It’s interesting that Nephi feels the need to spoil much of the ‘plot’ of 1 Nephi in advance, further indicating that telling a story is not his primary aim. It is interesting that Lehi’s vision of the Tree of Life and Nephi’s own vision, with associated discussions, are not mentioned when they occupy a considerable portion in the centre of the book.

2020 Edit:

Several  things caught my eye while reading today, a couple of which it turns out I hadn’t already commented on above!

A brief thing to note is Nephi’s use of the word abridgment and abridged in verse 17:

But I shall make an account of my proceedings in my days. Behold, I make an abridgment of the record of my father, upon plates which I have made with mine own hands; wherefore, after I have abridged the record of my father then will I make an account of mine own life.

Mormon famously talks of having abridged the previous records in making most of the book, and I think a lot of people assume from that that his role was more that of an editor, snipping bits out to shorten it, but otherwise leaving the words of Alma, Helaman etc untouched. Which isn’t the case, since careful reading shows that it’s Mormon narrating through most of Words of Mormon to Mormon 7, and he’s usually pretty careful when he introduces a quotation from someone else (like Alma or Helaman). I think this example by Nephi, however, shows what the Book of Mormon means by using this word: it’s quite clear that this passage is in Nephi’s words – he’s writing it – but he’s telling a shortened account of his father’s visions (and may be using his own father’s writings described in verse 16 – which we sadly don’t have a full record of – as a source for said dreams and visions).

The other thing that really popped out at me, and which has done before, comes in verse 1, possibly the most-read verse of the Book of Mormon:

I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father; and having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days; yea, having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God, therefore I make a record of my proceedings in my days.

The line that has caught my eye on more than one occasion is the line about “having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days”.

I think this is striking for the balance it strikes between acknowledging trial and suffering on one part, but also confessing the Lord’s hand and his help and aid on the other. I think it’s important to realise we can acknowledge both at the same time. It sometimes seems that some feel that in order to maintain a positive perspective, one must deny when one is suffering, or feeling sad or unhappy, or so forth. The gospel can bring us peace, yes, but “not as the world giveth” (John 14:27). We are not promised permanent happiness, in the sense of an absence of any negative emotions, in this life, no matter how diligently we live the gospel: Christ himself experienced upset, grief, and deep distress (see John 11:35, Luke 19:41, Mark 14:33 and Luke 12:50), while a prophet like Jacob writes of “mourn[ing] out our days” (Jacob 7:26). “Men are, that they might have joy”, but one only learns to experience joy by also learning to experience misery (2 Nephi 2:25, 23). Now it is right to count our blessings, to look for the positive, and not to dwell or trap ourselves in negative emotions and experiences. But we don’t need to deny that we are or have experienced those things in order to do so. As I’ve written before, to deny that we’re going through bad times or feeling bad things when we are strikes me as less than honest. Which is counter-productive, because as Elder Cook has pointed out (quoting Arthur Brooks): “‘How could it not make you feel worse to spend part of your time pretending to be happier than you are’”? Acknowledgement of our afflictions can co-exist with gratitude for divine assistance.

But I also think the dichotomy that Nephi points too goes beyond acknowledging both experiences, but also points to a relationship between those two things. As I’ve indicated in several places before, several years ago I went through a prolonged period of trial and extremely negative feelings. Yet, it’s worth point out that it was during the midst of those trials that I was blessed with some of the most powerful spiritual experiences I’ve ever had. These came as oases in the wilderness, brief moments which when they came blotted out how I was feeling and all I was going through, and which – even if only for a brief moment – filled my soul with peace and joy. Those moments passed, but holding onto those experiences gave me strength to endure when life as it was resumed. I believe that not only were those experiences “previews”, so to speak, of the joy we can and will experience permanently in the eternities, but also came not despite, but because of the trials I was going through. And I believe Nephi is pointing to the same truth: the favour of God came not just as a way of navigating the afflictions he was experiencing, but because of those very afflictions, that the Lord can “consecrate thine afflictions for thy gain” (2 Nephi 2:2).

“Behold ye are worse than they”

And now when ye talk, ye say: If our days had been in the days of our fathers of old, we would not have slain the prophets; we would not have stoned them, and cast them out.

Behold ye are worse than they; for as the Lord liveth, if a prophet come among you and declareth unto you the word of the Lord, which testifieth of your sins and iniquities, ye are angry with him, and cast him out and seek all manner of ways to destroy him; yea, you will say that he is a false prophet, and that he is a sinner, and of the devil, because he testifieth that your deeds are evil.

But behold, if a man shall come among you and shall say: Do this, and there is no iniquity; do that and ye shall not suffer; yea, he will say: Walk after the pride of your own hearts; yea, walk after the pride of your eyes, and do whatsoever your heart desireth—and if a man shall come among you and say this, ye will receive him, and say that he is a prophet.

Helaman 13:25-27 (My emphasis)

I happened to read this today, and it seems particularly applicable in an age when – to quote Elder Holland – “if people want any gods at all, they want them to be gods who do not demand much, comfortable gods, smooth gods who not only don’t rock the boat but don’t even row it“.