Alma 37

Alma 37 is the second part of Alma’s counsel to his son Helaman, this time revolving around the sacred records that Helaman is being charged to take care of, as is clear from the verses that book-end the chapter:

And now, my son Helaman, I command you that ye take the records which have been entrusted with me;

(Alma 37:1)

And now, my son, see that ye take care of these sacred things, yea, see that ye look to God and live. Go unto this people and declare the word, and be sober. My son, farewell.

(Alma 37:47)

This is quite a sizeable chapter that ranges over several topics, but if one thing unites them it is this theme of sacred records, of scripture. Thus in the first part, Alma charges Helaman to take the records, and to make a record himself, and to keep them sacred. For these are not just any records:

Behold, it has been prophesied by our fathers, that they should be kept and handed down from one generation to another, and be kept and preserved by the hand of the Lord until they should go forth unto every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, that they shall know of the mysteries contained thereon.

(Alma 37:4)

Verse 3 immediately preceding this is talking about the plates of brass, which might cause one to wonder if it’s the plates of brass that are thus prophesied about. However, verse 2 speaks of the plates of Nephi and the record Alma has kept and that Helaman is to keep, and so it seems verse 3 is more parenthetical, and verse 4 refers to the Book of Mormon and the future records that are due to come forth (which includes, of course, some of the material on the plates of brass).

Alma expands on why in the following verses, in which he speaks about the power and influence of such records. I particularly like verse 6-8 here:

Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise.

And the Lord God doth work by means to bring about his great and eternal purposes; and by very small means the Lord doth confound the wise and bringeth about the salvation of many souls.

And now, it has hitherto been wisdom in God that these things should be preserved; for behold, they have enlarged the memory of this people, yea, and convinced many of the error of their ways, and brought them to the knowledge of their God unto the salvation of their souls.

God, it appears, likes working in ways that confound human expectation. Thus he works through the weak and foolish to confound the mighty and “wise” of the world, and he works through “very small means” to accomplish great works. Thus while the sacred records themselves are literally small – we can hold them in our hands – and perhaps seen as small by those who look down upon them, they will work great things because of the power and influence they have to sway people: to enlarge our memory, to convince us our our errors, and to bring us to a knowledge of God.

From verse 21 onwards, Alma speaks of the contents of the 24 Jaredite plates, which Mormon – our narrator – has already promised we will have an account of (Mosiah 28:19). Alma here, however, instructs Helaman to be careful about what and how he shares. Lest this point be misunderstood, however, I think we also need to bear some of Alma’s other comments here in mind.

Thus in verse 21, Alma instructs Helaman to keep these records and preserve the interpreters that go with them:

And now, I will speak unto you concerning those twenty-four plates, that ye keep them, that the mysteries and the works of darkness, and their secret works, or the secret works of those people who have been destroyed, may be made manifest unto this people; yea, all their murders, and robbings, and their plunderings, and all their wickedness and abominations, may be made manifest unto this people; yea, and that ye preserve these interpreters

A significant contribution of these twenty-four plates is to make manifest the Jaredite misdeeds. Indeed ultimately the destruction of such “secret works” relies upon revealing and bringing them to light, as Alma goes on to prophesy:

And the Lord said: I will prepare unto my servant Gazelem, a stone, which shall shine forth in darkness unto light, that I may discover unto my people who serve me, that I may discover unto them the works of their brethren, yea, their secret works, their works of darkness, and their wickedness and abominations.

And now, my son, these interpreters were prepared that the word of God might be fulfilled, which he spake, saying:

I will bring forth out of darkness unto light all their secret works and their abominations; and except they repent I will destroy them from off the face of the earth; and I will bring to light all their secrets and abominations, unto every nation that shall hereafter possess the land.

(Alma 37:23-25; it’s not entirely clear who Gazelem is and various identifications have been proposed, including Mosiah, Joseph Smith, an unknown Jaredite, or others, including that it may be the name of the stone)

While, however, it is God’s purpose to ultimately replace darkness with light and make all such things manifest, Alma counsels Helaman to be careful about what he shares. Thus he tells him:

And now, my son, I command you that ye retain all their oaths, and their covenants, and their agreements in their secret abominations; yea, and all their signs and their wonders ye shall keep from this people, that they know them not, lest peradventure they should fall into darkness also and be destroyed.

Therefore ye shall keep these secret plans of their oaths and their covenants from this people, and only their wickedness and their murders and their abominations shall ye make known unto them; and ye shall teach them to abhor such wickedness and abominations and murders; and ye shall also teach them that these people were destroyed on account of their wickedness and abominations and their murders.

(Alma 37:27, 29)

And elaborates in verses 32-34:

And now, my son, remember the words which I have spoken unto you; trust not those secret plans unto this people, but teach them an everlasting hatred against sin and iniquity.

Preach unto them repentance, and faith on the Lord Jesus Christ; teach them to humble themselves and to be meek and lowly in heart; teach them to withstand every temptation of the devil, with their faith on the Lord Jesus Christ.

Teach them to never be weary of good works, but to be meek and lowly in heart; for such shall find rest to their souls.

Thus Alma counsels Helaman to not share the details of the secret oaths, agreements so on by which the Jaredites performed their “secret works”, only to make clear “their wickedness and their murders and their abominations”, and to teach repentance, faith in Christ, humility, and other such inspiring principles.

I think there’s a number of things we can learn from this passage and episode, but I’m not entirely sure what to conclude. Some thoughts:

  1. As a bit of a spoiler such secret combinations get reintroduced to the Nephites by the original “source” anyway. Does this mean Alma’s plan didn’t work, or did it buy several decades of peace. As his prophecy indicates, Alma realises that such discretion isn’t the permanent solution to such things, anyway.
  2. I do think this counsel underlines the power of words, ideas and of course of the scriptures. If they have a great power and influence to do good – as Alma taught for much of the first half of the chapter – then misused, it makes sense they could have power in inflict harm. It perhaps underlines that we should not be careless about how we use such things.
  3. Likewise, I think the counsel in verses 32-34 teaches a valuable lesson on the importance of focusing on good and inspiring things, in what we learn and what we teach. There are dangers we need to be warned against, true, and sins we should be taught against. But – and I believe I’ve seen this – if we focus unhealthily on such things to the neglect of that which is good, we risk negative consequences. Our thoughts affect our actions, our emotions, our psyche, and our spirituality. If we wish to draw closer to God (and not some other influence) we need to focus on goodness. Likewise we don’t conquer sin with an obsession with it, but by yielding to the influence of the Holy Ghost towards righteousness. Darkness is ultimately conquered by light.

A third part of these chapter involves Alma giving a typological reading of an earlier episode in the Book of Mormon,, namely their use of the Liahona, and the direction it gave to the promised land provided their exercised their faith and diligence. As Alma reads it:

And now, my son, I would that ye should understand that these things are not without a shadow; for as our fathers were slothful to give heed to this compass (now these things were temporal) they did not prosper; even so it is with things which are spiritual.

For behold, it is as easy to give heed to the word of Christ, which will point to you a straight course to eternal bliss, as it was for our fathers to give heed to this compass, which would point unto them a straight course to the promised land.

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

(Alma 37:43-45)

I’ve written about typology before, but one thing that struck me upon reading this time round was how it addresses the supposed divide between literal and allegorical readings of scripture. This has been very much a concern in the West, for a considerable length of time. Thus several scholars have read the concern in 1 Nephi 22, for instance, about whether prophesied events are to be understood “according to the spiritual” or “the flesh”, as addressing concerns along these lines. That’s actually not quite the case in 1 Nephi 22, as I cover in pp. 136-140 of The Book of Mormon and its relationship with the Bible (and my blog post on 1 Nephi 22), but it’s understandable why people might leap to that conclusion.

It should be evident that there are parts of scripture that should definitely be read in a symbolic fashion (the parables, for instance, are not fundamentally about agriculture), and others that should definitely be read quite literally (such as prohibitions on murder and adultery). But as I was reading Alma 37 this time round, I was really reminded of how types and typology (in which actual events can also carry a prophetic or symbolic meaning) can really bridge that gap. A purely literal reading of Lehi’s journey would prevent one from seeing any deeper intended meaning, and indeed may cause on to think of it simply as a historical account or story of a long distant time. On the other hand, a purely allegorical reading would render the examples of faith and faithfulness, and the examples of how God intervenes and delivers his people, null and void; they would, after all, be fiction. But reading the story as a type allows us both to learn the lessons from and be inspired by the actual events, and perceive the symbolic meaning of the story in our own journey through the wilderness of mortality. It preserves and transmits both sets of lessons, without destroying either.

Alma 13

I remember trying to memorise the first part of Alma 13 on my mission – it was in one of the later parts of my mission’s memorisation programme – with some difficulty. I found that if one could work out how a passage should be said – its rhythm, so to speak – memorisation came easily to me, but that first part of Alma 13 is quite clunky to speak, and so trying to find a way to say it in which it flowed proved challenging. Got there in the end though.

While it might prove a bit of a mouthful for the unwary, however, Alma 13 does teach a lot of important things. It’s the one chapter of the Book of Mormon that really talks about the priesthood as priesthood (others speak of authority, and even “holy order”, but the word is only used elsewhere once, in Alma 4:20), about Melchizedek, and about foreordination, those bearing the priesthood being “called and prepared from the foundation of the world”. Some people have supposed this due to qualities – “their exceeding faith and good works” – expressed in pre-mortal life, but the fact that God knows about these due to “the foreknowledge of God” suggests against this. Another writer has suggested it isn’t talking about foreordination at all; I respond to their article here in which I delve into this chapter some more (I conclude they’re right it isn’t speaking of pre-mortal life, but that their other conclusions – including about foreordination – are flawed).

One thought that struck me when reading today, however, is not one that I’ve had previously. Verse 5 states (my emphasis):

Or in fine, in the first place they were on the same standing with their brethren; thus this holy calling being prepared from the foundation of the world for such as would not harden their hearts, being in and through the atonement of the Only Begotten Son, who was prepared

I was struck by the line that I’ve highlighted. It’s speaking here that being called to the priesthood (and presumably all that goes along with it) is in and through the atonement of the Only Begotten. It struck me when reading this that ordination to the priesthood, that possibility of divine power being delegated to human beings, is only possible due to the atonement of Christ. That it’s only due to the atonement that that delegation is even possible, and that without the atonement no one could hold the priesthood. That people can bear the priesthood at all, can perform ordinances, and exercise that divine power on behalf of others, is another blessing given through the atonement of Christ.

Which really makes sense in retrospect, so maybe this has been obvious to others long before. After all, repentance is mentioned as a key condition (v. 10), and its only the atonement that allows the possibility of repentance. But this was a profound thought for me.

Of course, it might be wondered why Alma is going into so much depth about the priesthood at this point in its sermon, where again it might come across as a digression. Once again I suggest we should resist such conclusions. In this case, I think there is a clear thread running through: that of repentance. First Alma speaks of those ordained to the priesthood being so in part because they had chose to repent (v. 10). He then speaks of them becoming sanctified, and urges his audience to follow that example of obedience in verses 11 to 13:

Therefore they were called after this holy order, and were sanctified, and their garments were washed white through the blood of the Lamb.

Now they, after being sanctified by the Holy Ghost, having their garments made white, being pure and spotless before God, could not look upon sin save it were with abhorrence; and there were many, exceedingly great many, who were made pure and entered into the rest of the Lord their God.

And now, my brethren, I would that ye should humble yourselves before God, and bring forth fruit meet for repentance, that ye may also enter into that rest.

Then in verse 14 he switches to a related example, that of Melchizedek, who was a high priest, and the people he was trying to teach:

Yea, humble yourselves even as the people in the days of Melchizedek, who was also a high priest after this same order which I have spoken, who also took upon him the high priesthood forever.

Now this Melchizedek was a king over the land of Salem; and his people had waxed strong in iniquity and abomination; yea, they had all gone astray; they were full of all manner of wickedness;

But Melchizedek having exercised mighty faith, and received the office of the high priesthood according to the holy order of God, did preach repentance unto his people. And behold, they did repent; and Melchizedek did establish peace in the land in his days; therefore he was called the prince of peace, for he was the king of Salem; and he did reign under his father.

(Alma 13:14, 17-18)

Here I think Alma is drawing a deliberate, though unspoken, parallel: Alma, like Melchizedek, is a high priest after the order of the Son of God. And the people of Ammonihah, like the people of Salem, have “waxed strong in iniquity and abomination”, so much so that God has commanded Alma to threaten the people with destruction unless they repent. Follow the example of the people of Salem, Alma implies, and you too can have peace in the land instead, under the “Prince of Peace”, Christ, whose order the priesthood is, and of whom Melchizedek and the priesthood itself (v. 16) are types, helping people to “look forward to him for a remission of their sins”.

And then Alma makes this central thread more clear, beginning the last section of this chapter (and the conclusion of whole sermon) with a direct appeal in verse 21:

And now it came to pass that when Alma had said these words unto them, he stretched forth his hand unto them and cried with a mighty voice, saying: Now is the time to repent, for the day of salvation draweth nigh;

That, after all, has been the very point of this sermon. It can always help us to understand a passage if we consider its purpose and what question it is addressing. In the case of this sermon to the people of Ammonihah, while it has ranged over matters of the resurrection and judgment, the mysteries of God, the fall and the purpose of death and now the priesthood, the central aim all along has been to persuade these people to forsake their sins and repent.

There are, of course, a lot of other interesting things in this chapter to consider too. Verse 23 is another verse that suggests that – as I’ve stated before – the Nephites were a special case in terms of how clearly they were taught of Christ and the gospel:

And they are made known unto us in plain terms, that we may understand, that we cannot err; and this because of our being wanderers in a strange land; therefore, we are thus highly favored, for we have these glad tidings declared unto us in all parts of our vineyard.

Another thing from this chapter to ponder might be the various ways in which the priesthood and the manner of ordination is a type of Christ. I’ve had a few thoughts over the years: One is that Christ too was foreordained from the foundation of the world. Another is that, just like everyone must receive priesthood ordinances from someone else (we cannot lay hands on our own head), so to must everyone look to someone else – Christ – for our salvation. But I am sure there are others.

Mosiah 7

I’m about to plow through exams and don’t really have a handle on things like metamorphic rocks, so there’s going to be a bit of pressure when it comes to these posts. They will simply have to be a few things I pick out or notice rather than the (sometimes unplanned) more extensive posts that I occasionally do.

Turning to Mosiah 7, several things I ended up thinking about today while reading:

And it came to pass that on the morrow they started to go up, having with them one Ammon, he being a strong and mighty man, and a descendant of Zarahemla; and he was also their leader.

(Mosiah 7:3)

I find it interesting (and this is an observation I’ve had before) that the individual who is called upon to lead the party is called Ammon. This will not be the first time in the Book of Mormon when someone named Ammon will take a leading part in leading a small party up to the land of Nephi, and (spoilers!) come back with thousands of people who have become converted to the gospel of Christ.

We find this sort of repeating story in the Bible too (Abraham/Isaac disguising their wife as their sister; a betrothal at a well; a messenger from God telling a barren woman she is to have a child, and other examples), which Robert Alter, in his The Art of Biblical Narrative, termed a type scene (basing the idea on typology), in which a similar narrative is repeated, although often with differences, and for those familiar with the pattern, even small differences can thus be quite revealing. I think in this context too, we’re not just dealing with a type scene but with an actual type (a type being a kind of prophecy in the form of an event or person): the first Ammon, who goes and retrieves the descendants of Zeniff’s party, is a type of the second, who goes and ends up retrieving thousands converts from the Lamanites.

Also while reading today, I was struck by the events in these verses:

And behold, they met the king of the people who were in the land of Nephi, and in the land of Shilom; and they were surrounded by the king’s guard, and were taken, and were bound, and were committed to prison.

And it came to pass when they had been in prison two days they were again brought before the king, and their bands were loosed; and they stood before the king, and were permitted, or rather commanded, that they should answer the questions which he should ask them.

And he said unto them: Behold, I am Limhi, the son of Noah, who was the son of Zeniff, who came up out of the land of Zarahemla to inherit this land, which was the land of their fathers, who was made a king by the voice of the people.

And now, I desire to know the cause whereby ye were so bold as to come near the walls of the city, when I, myself, was with my guards without the gate?

And now, for this cause have I suffered that ye should be preserved, that I might inquire of you, or else I should have caused that my guards should have put you to death. Ye are permitted to speak.

(Mosiah 7:7-11)

Now there’s several observations that could be made: apparently the situation is dangerous enough that anyone approaching the king outside the city could be considered dangerous. While Limhi’s people pay tribute to the Lamanite king, there seems to be no protection as a result of this, so the relationship seems more like banditry than one in which there are responsibilities towards the vassal. But what caught my eye was simply how fortuitous it was that Ammon and his party happened to bump into the king, and then that the King chose to question them directly. They could easily have met someone who would have compromised or sabotaged their goal. But I don’t believe this is meant to be seen as mere chance, but as the result of that sometimes unseen guiding hand by which God steers events. While sometimes God’s guidance is direct, via an instruction, sometimes he steers or allows events to unfold in such a way that it is only by looking back that we can discern his hand, his providence, at all.

Which takes me onto the last passage that really stood out to me today:

And it came to pass that when they had gathered themselves together that he spake unto them in this wise, saying: O ye, my people, lift up your heads and be comforted; for behold, the time is at hand, or is not far distant, when we shall no longer be in subjection to our enemies, notwithstanding our many strugglings, which have been in vain; yet I trust there remaineth an effectual struggle to be made.

Therefore, lift up your heads, and rejoice, and put your trust in God,…

(Mosiah 7:18-19)

The people of Limhi had tried to free themselves many times before, but had failed repeatedly (for a number of reasons). Limhi’s statement of hope here – “yet I trust there remaineth an effectual struggle to be made” – is in itself worth noting, a counsel against despair and for perseverance, that victory over whatever ails or hinders us may come. But I think the very next line (in the 1830 edition, part of the very same paragraph) also clarifies this: an effectual struggle can be made if they put their trust in God. They’ve been unable to liberate themselves by their own strength, but can with God’s strength.

I find together these things very comforting: that God acts to steer events to fulfil his purposes in ways beyond our perception, and that – despite failures on our part – if we trust in him he can bless us to overcome things in which we’ve failed in the past. I think it’s important to realise that God isn’t sitting back, doing nothing unless asked otherwise: he’s actively working to do his work, which includes our eternal salvation. Sometimes I often feel that we (or I) can hinder than, though our failings, our weakness, our sins, or just general mistakes. But while obviously our actions and the desires of our hearts play a part in what we will ultimately be blessed with, we can really only sabotage our own plans and goals, not God’s. As stated in a passage I was reminded of when reading today:

The works, and the designs, and the purposes of God cannot be frustrated, neither can they come to naught.

Remember, remember that it is not the work of God that is frustrated, but the work of men;

(Doctrine and Covenants 3:1 & 3)

We might experience many failures in this life, some of which may be our own fault. But our own plans – our own “work” – may not have much eternal value, indeed our failures in these areas may serve to help God’s eternal purposes. Furthermore, we cannot hinder or stop God’s work through our own failings or even simple incompetence, for he acts constantly, many times in ways we cannot even perceive – to ensure his purposes are fulfilled. And where we fall short in doing his will, “there remaineth an effectual struggle to be made”: if we put our trust in him, deliverance will come.

2 Nephi 22

And in that day thou shalt say: O Lord, I will praise thee; though thou wast angry with me thine anger is turned away, and thou comfortedst me.

(2 Nephi 22:1//Isaiah 12:1)

I’ve mentioned before that I tend to worry about messing things up. It’s comforting to know that – while we may well do things that displease the Lord – He is merciful and forgiving, and always prepared to receive and comfort us if we repent.

2020 Edit:

This chapter – the quotation of Isaiah 12 – is very short, as Isaiah 12 is, an artefact of imposing the Isaiah chapter divisions upon the lengthy quotation in 1879. As such, I can pretty much quote it in full, and I’m going to:

And in that day thou shalt say: O Lord, I will praise thee; though thou wast angry with me thine anger is turned away, and thou comfortedst me.

Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid; for the Lord Jehovah is my strength and my song; he also has become my salvation.

Therefore, with joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation.

And in that day shall ye say: Praise the Lord, call upon his name, declare his doings among the people, make mention that his name is exalted.

Sing unto the Lord; for he hath done excellent things; this is known in all the earth.

Cry out and shout, thou inhabitant of Zion; for great is the Holy One of Israel in the midst of thee.

(2 Nephi 22//Isaiah 12)

Why quote this in full (other than because I can)? Because this chapter really serves as a conclusion, a summary and even a punctuation to many of the preceding chapters, which have laid out both forthcoming judgments to come upon Israel for her wickedness, but also the future deliverance, found above all else in the figure of Christ, the Holy One of Israel, who will restore and redeem Zion. And true to the way that Isaiah can, and should, be read as having multiple fulfilments, as being filled with types and antitypes, it can apply to each of us individually too (as I did in my original post). I suspect Nephi did too; the whole statement that “Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid” is reminiscent of his own words in 2 Nephi 4:19 that “nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted”. Likewise this chapter is echoed in his declaration in the same passage that:

Rejoice, O my heart, and cry unto the Lord, and say: O Lord, I will praise thee forever; yea, my soul will rejoice in thee, my God, and the rock of my salvation.

(2 Nephi 4:30)

The Lord is praiseworthy; despite our individual and collective rebellions and weaknesses, he is merciful, and has provided for our salvation and our joy. In him we can trust, and not be afraid. And trust is the crucial thing: trust is what separates true and living faith from simple belief. The devils believe God exists, and tremble (James 2:19), for they did not trust him and rebelled against him. Likewise we might believe about him (that he exists), but not in him (that we trust him, and place our confidence in him). But we need to have that confidence and trust in him to follow him, to take us through what may seem some very strange roads and through the valley of the shadow of death itself. If we let go at that point, out of fear and doubt in his judgment, we will be lost. But if we hold on, trusting in his guidance, trusting that whatever trials we may go through, and indeed submitting to all things he sees fit to inflict upon us, then he will bring us safely through to the other side. For he is our strength and our song: he, and he alone, has the capacity and full will to save us, and will if we trust him enough to let him.

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 5

Everything I said about Jacob 4, in terms of being able to mention all sorts of things, applies even more to Jacob 5. Most of chapter four of my thesis is a detailed examination of Jacob 5, and I can confidently say after that exercise that there’s a lot to examine. I’ve also happened to post about Jacob 5 before in part, in commenting on an article that I felt was inadequate in its approach to the allegory. So there’s a lot that could be said, and a lot that I have said elsewhere.

What struck me reading through it this time though was the very first few verses (Jacob 5:1-3):

Behold, my brethren, do ye not remember to have read the words of the prophet Zenos, which he spake unto the house of Israel, saying:

Hearken, O ye house of Israel, and hear the words of me, a prophet of the Lord.

For behold, thus saith the Lord, I will liken thee, O house of Israel, like unto a tame olive tree, which a man took and nourished in his vineyard; and it grew, and waxed old, and began to decay.

Aside from the incongruity of a olive tree in a vineyard (something I do happen to discuss in the thesis), this opening reminded of thoughts I had when I was first writing the chapter, and unravelling the vast number of ways in which Jacob 5 connects to biblical passages that use olive tree imagery. It’s one of those things where the more you dig down, the more complex the issue actually gets. Scholarship tends to be very focused on the issue of where such ideas came from, and Jacob 5 has attracted similar commentary. But who first used the Olive Tree to symbolise Israel? The deeper one digs the more it seems like a chicken and egg scenario where it’s not quite clear what influenced what (assuming direct contact at all). And of course, Zenos does not attribute this image to himself but directly to the Lord.

It’s while I was thinking of this chicken and egg issue that my mind turned to a couple of other scriptural passages:

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.

(2 Nephi 11:4)

And behold, all things have their likeness, and all things are created and made to bear record of me, both things which are temporal, and things which are spiritual; things which are in the heavens above, and things which are on the earth, and things which are in the earth, and things which are under the earth, both above and beneath: all things bear record of me.

(Moses 6:63)

From these verses we learn that all things given by God typify Christ, and that all things are created – both spiritual and temporal – to bear record of God, Christ and the plan of salvation (see Moses 6:62). With these verses in mind, I wondered if this whole thing went even further? Perhaps it’s not an issue of ascribing who first used the olive tree to represent Israel to any one author, even God? With the above verses in mind, is it not possible that the Olive Tree was purposely created and permitted to have the traits that it has, precisely so that it might serve as such a symbol (for God would know of the destiny of Israel)? In other words, is it the symbol that came first, before the actual tree and even the world itself was created?

2020 Edit:

Ah, Jacob 5 my old friend. I’ve written and published extensively on Jacob 5 elsewhere, so for a more exhaustive look at the chapter, I’d refer you to chapter four of The Book of Mormon & its relationship with the Bible.

While reading over it the past couple of days, however, what stood out most in my mind was the perseverance the Lord of the vineyard (who symbolises variously the Father, or Christ; symbols in this allegory should not be taken as referring to one and only one thing) displays in his care for the trees of his vineyard. Facing the corruption of the initial tree he works diligently upon it, and when it becomes clear that main branches are continuing in their corruption, he implements the plan to remove the corrupt branches, plant the young and tender branches elsewhere, and to graft wild branches into the main tree.

When at a later stage – after lengthy labour on his part, and a period in which the main tree and the satellite trees have all borne good fruit – he finds all the trees have become corrupted, he expresses his lament, his frustration at their corruption despite all his labours evident:

And it came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard wept, and said unto the servant: What could I have done more for my vineyard?

Behold, I knew that all the fruit of the vineyard, save it were these, had become corrupted. And now these which have once brought forth good fruit have also become corrupted; and now all the trees of my vineyard are good for nothing save it be to be hewn down and cast into the fire.

And behold this last, whose branch hath withered away, I did plant in a good spot of ground; yea, even that which was choice unto me above all other parts of the land of my vineyard.

And thou beheldest that I also cut down that which cumbered this spot of ground, that I might plant this tree in the stead thereof.

And thou beheldest that a part thereof brought forth good fruit, and a part thereof brought forth wild fruit; and because I plucked not the branches thereof and cast them into the fire, behold, they have overcome the good branch that it hath withered away.

And now, behold, notwithstanding all the care which we have taken of my vineyard, the trees thereof have become corrupted, that they bring forth no good fruit; and these I had hoped to preserve, to have laid up fruit thereof against the season, unto mine own self. But, behold, they have become like unto the wild olive tree, and they are of no worth but to be hewn down and cast into the fire; and it grieveth me that I should lose them.

But what could I have done more in my vineyard? Have I slackened mine hand, that I have not nourished it? Nay, I have nourished it, and I have digged about it, and I have pruned it, and I have dunged it; and I have stretched forth mine hand almost all the day long, and the end draweth nigh. And it grieveth me that I should hew down all the trees of my vineyard, and cast them into the fire that they should be burned. Who is it that has corrupted my vineyard?

(Jacob 5:41-47)

Yet while he suggests there is now not much more to be done than to “hew down the trees of the vineyard and cast them into the fire” (v. 49), and it is the servant who urges him to spare the trees a little longer (v. 50), it is the Lord of the vineyard who introduces the plan of another lengthy programme of labour to save all the trees (vv. 51-69): returning the natural branches to the mother tree; grafting branches from the mother tree onto the satellite trees; pruning, dunging and digging about the trees; and plucking off and burning the branches with the most bitter fruit in a careful fashion so as to not overwhelm the remaining branches.

I’m sure the Lord would be justified in being most frustrated with us, individually and collectively, for how despite his aid, blessing and invitations we continue to go astray and do wrong. And yet, again and again, he is prepared to perform a lengthy work in us, in order that we might be spared and might bear good fruit.

“According to the foreknowledge of God”

The Interpreter has published an article, in which the author suggests a new interpretation for Alma 13, particularly verse 3:

And this is the manner after which they were ordained—being called and prepared from the foundation of the world according to the foreknowledge of God, on account of their exceeding faith and good works; in the first place being left to choose good or evil; therefore they having chosen good, and exercising exceedingly great faith, are called with a holy calling, yea, with that holy calling which was prepared with, and according to, a preparatory redemption for such.

(Alma 13:3)

This has often been taken as referring to the foreordination of those ordained to the priesthood, on account of faith and good works in the pre-existence. The author (A. Keith Thompson), challenges this on three grounds:

  1. That this teaching would not have served Alma’s rhetorical purposes in encouraging them to repent, since it would have suggest their unworthiness was a continuation of their state before mortality, and that “unbelieving Ammonihahites were unworthy to receive the priesthood from before the foundation of the world”.
  2. He claims that it was the “worthiness standard” that was foreordained, rather than individuals. He argues further that the manner of ordination is “intended to offer an example of how those on earth should live to qualify for redemption by the Son of God”.
  3. He states: “to interpret this passage any other way is to return to the ideology that underlay LDS practice before 1978 that denied the priesthood to some men on account of their race or ethnic origin.”

As it happens, I think it’s quite likely that Alma is not referring to the pre-existence when he talks about ‘their exceeding faith and good works’ (Alma 13:3). At the same time, I still consider it very likely that its referring to foreordination, and I don’t think the essay adequately deals with the context of what Alma is speaking about, the rest of Alma’s statement in Alma 13:3 nor this issue of priesthood bars. I, alas, do not have large reserves of time at present to fully engage with this in detail, but will outline some points below:

Alma’s intent

Thompson states:

It is submitted that it is much more likely that Alma2 was explaining that the people of the city of Ammonihah could qualify for ordination to the holy priesthood after the order of the Son of God as had the people of the city of Melchizedek before them.

And further:

he intended them to contemplate how they could repent and live worthy mortal lives so that they could also qualify for the privilege of ordination to the Priesthood in mortality

I believe this both misunderstands how the priesthood worked in Alma’s context, and Alma’s intent on bringing up the topic here.

Firstly, it should be recognised that the modern LDS practice of ordaining every worthy male is just that: modern (albeit directed by revelation). Priests were a minority of the men in the Church in Alma’s time. His father, for example, ordained one priest to every fifty members (Mosiah 18:18), and there’s nothing to suggest that practice changed. Likewise in Alma 13, there is nothing to say that Melchizedek’s people, after repenting, had qualified for or received ordination to the priesthood. The sole mention of them is that they  wicked (Alma 13:17) and then repented at Melchizedek’s teaching (v.18). I suspect here that there may be a projection back of current LDS practice (something I believe I’ve seen with approaches to the Temple too), so that such ordinations are being inferred. But they are not there in the text. There is nothing here necessarily encouraging qualification for ordination, since such general ordination for all worthy males is not on offer (even Alma 13:4, with its suggestion that if some had not been unfaithful “they might have had as great privilege as their brethren” has the crucially qualifier “might”).

Such, therefore, is not Alma’s intent. So what is it? I believe Thompson is right to recognise that a lot of importance is being placed on the “manner” in which the ordinances are given, and right that this is not referring to the physical means or things like sacrifice. I think his mistake is to conclude that the primary intent is that these high priests and the manner after which they were ordained were a type of the believer, “of how anyone might qualify to receive blessings or privileges from God”. Yet it is not Melchizedek who the the people of Ammonihah are being compared to, but rather explicitly his people, of which nothing has been spoken concerning priesthood: “yea, humble yourselves even as the people in the days of Melchizedek, who was a high priest after this same order which I have spoken” (Alma 13:14). That Alma happens to be high priest over the Church suggests *he* is the one to be compared to Melchizedek, who is preaching and offering repentance. Alma, like the high priests of verse 6, is called and ordained “to teach his commandments unto the children of men”.

Alma goes further though:

Now these ordinances were given after this manner, that thereby the people might look forward on the Son of God, it being a type of his order, or it being his order, and this that they might look forward to him for a remission of their sins, that they might enter into the rest of the Lord.

(Alma 13:16)

Thompson interprets this as saying “that the manner in which men are ordained to the Priesthood demonstrates, to those who observe their example, how to prepare for and benefit by the Son of God’s atonement”. But it is not clearly saying this. It is saying that the priesthood is a type of Christ’s order (and is his order), and so its ordinances are given in a way so that people might “look forward on the Son of God”. “Look forward” is repeated twice here, something hardly likely to be coincidental when a major theme of Alma and Amulek’s teaching in Ammonihah, and Alma’s teachings in Zarahemla and Gideon, is the future coming of the Son of God. “Look forward is also used in verse 2, again so that the people “might know in what manner to look forward to his Son for redemption”. It is “types”, amongst other things, that allow one to look forward to their antitype, or fulfilment. What I suggest Alma is saying here is that the priesthood is a type of *Christ*, not the believer. Thus the manner in which the priesthood is ordained is intended to allow people to “look forward” towards the coming of Christ. That Melchizedek is promptly referred to as “the prince of peace” (Alma 13:18, deriving said title being the point of referring to him as king of Salem and reigning under his father) emphasises this by making Melchizedek personally a type of Christ. It is no accident that Alma moves decisively back to the topic of Christ’s coming in verse 21 onwards.

I suspect that there are many ways in which this is the case, and many things which could be considered (and should be). However, one pertinent way in which the manner the priesthood were ordained, under a more classical reading, points forward to Christ is that he too (as Thompson readily admits) was foreordained before the foundation of the world (1 Peter 1:20). Knowing that Christ has already been chosen and selected, and will carry out his mission as others who have been chosen and selected have done so, provides one powerful way that the priesthood and the manner of its ordination is a type of Christ.

Alma 13:3

Perhaps a minor quibble before moving on to Alma 13:3 proper. Thompson suggests that Alma 13:1’s reference to “the time the Lord gave these commandments unto his children” and “ordained priests” is a reference to the Exodus and the giving of the Ten Commandments, something he supports by noting the reference to “the first provocation” in Alma 12:36. However, while “the provocation… in the wilderness” in Psalm 95:8-11, Hebrews 3:8-11 and Jacob 1:7 are all clearly referring to the Exodus (indeed the latter two passages are quoting Psalm 95), Alma 12:36 refers to “the first provocation” (my emphasis). Moreover, throughout Alma 12 (from v.22 onwards) Alma has been speaking of primordial times following the fall. Thus he specific reference in 12:31:

Wherefore, he gave commandments unto men, they having first transgressed the first commandments as to things which were temporal, and becoming as gods,knowing good from evil, placing themselves in a state to act, or being placed in a state to act according to their wills and pleasures, whether to do evil or to do good—

While the quotation of 12:33-35 closely resembles Psalms 95:8-11//Hebrews 3:8-11, it is also clearly set – unlike the biblical passages, and Jacob 1:7 – in primordial times. Alma 12:37, furthermore, closely follows Alma’s remarks about the first provocation by appealing for his audience to repent so “we provoke not the Lord our God to pull down his wrath upon us in these his second commandments which he has given unto us” (my emphasis). The term “second” clearly sets these apposite the “first commandments” mentioned in 12:31, namely the commandments given prior to the fall. In Alma 12:36, then, it is the fall that constitutes the “first provocation”.

Onto Alma 13:3:

And this is the manner after which they were ordained—being called and prepared from the foundation of the world according to the foreknowledge of God, on account of their exceeding faith and good works; in the first place being left to choose good or evil; therefore they having chosen good, and exercising exceedingly great faith, are called with a holy calling, yea, with that holy calling which was prepared with, and according to, a preparatory redemption for such.

(Alma 13:3)

Thompson suggests that “being called and prepared from the foundation of the world according to the foreknowledge of God” is a parenthetical statement, that refers to the manner (which he interprets as “the worthiness standard”), as opposed to individuals, being called and prepared from the foundation of the world. Yet there are problems here. While Alma 13 is a complicated text, the Book of Mormon tends to be much more overt about such parenthetical statements. Furthermore, as he himself admits, “being called” is an odd description of a manner, and while he appeals to verses 4, 5, 6, 8, and 11, stating they refer to an ordination in mortality, it doesn’t change the fact that every one those verses is referring to people being called. It is much more likely that it is “they” who “were ordained” are the object of being called.

It is furthermore difficult to see why “the worthiness standard” would require the foreknowledge of God. It is clear, however, what would when these clauses are not taken as a parenthetical statement, for in this case the verse states that this calling and preparation according to God’s foreknowledge was because of “their exceeding faith and good works”. God’s action in calling and preparing is because of his foreknowledge of the faith and works of those called.

Now, one point where I feel Thompson is right: such foreknowledge also cannot be referring to acts done in the pre-mortal existence. God would not require foreknowledge about those either. This faith and works must then referring to acts in mortality, which God foreknows, and upon which he acts. I agree with Thompson that other verses, such as verse 8, are largely referring to ordinations in mortality. Yet once again the appeal is to God’s “foreknowledge of all things” (v.7). That these ordinations are done in mortality, however, and based on God’s foreknowledge of mortal acts, does not undo the fact that he is acting on his foreknowledge, and that people were foreordained. This isn’t accepting Calvinist predestination, as Latter-day Saints have always sharply distinguished between foreordination and such Calvinist concepts (which is clearly what Joseph Smith is referring to when he speaks of rejecting God ‘foreordaining everything’: God knows, but does not necessarily will everything that happens and certainly everything we do in life. But that is no rejection of God foreordaining people to callings). God’s foreknowledge of how people will act using their agency – and his response in turn, even if chronologically prior – does not deprive men of their agency. Since Thompson freely accepts God’s foreknowledge, he presumably recognises this.

Likewise, that verse 9 is referring to ordination on earth by which they “become high priests forever” does not diminish that those ordinations were foreordained according to God’s foreknowledge. Thompson presumably recognises this, as he admits that at least some have been foreordained to certain callings in mortality, and presumably recognises that the fact that some of those on his list were likewise ordained in mortality doesn’t mean they weren’t foreordained to those callings. Likewise a foreordination does not mean that there isn’t a need for ordination on earth. A proper reading of this passage, then, can easily accommodate both being called and prepared from the foundation of the world (though on account of what God foresees, rather than pre-mortal acts), and being ordained in mortality.

So Thompson is, in my opinion, likely right to question the idea that faithfulness in the pre-existence is the primary basis Alma 13 gives for foreordination. However, I believe close reading of this passage must reject the notion that it’s not speaking of foreordination at all.

Priesthood bans

A final comment about Thompson’s views regarding the pre-1978 priesthood ban. Thompson rightly notes that certain explanations – such as the notion that some were barred because of lack of faithfulness in the pre-mortal life – were disavowed (indeed, his quotes indicate that even some holding to them – such as Joseph Fielding Smith – recognised them clearly as “not the official position of the Church, [and is] merely the opinion of men”). However, Thompson himself appears to go further. He suggests that there is no reason that “believed any of God’s mortal sons could not qualify themselves to receive the priesthood according to the foreordained worthiness requirement” and that “to interpret this passage any other way is to return to the ideology that underlay LDS practice before 1978 that denied the priesthood to some men on account of their race or ethnic origin”.

Thompson’s views are unclear, but he seems to be suggesting that concepts of foreordination motivated such a ban (or the continuation of it, since historically speaking this explanation emerged some time after the restriction was in place), and even more that this ban – or any such ban – was wrong.

The various reasons (and they vary, and are in some cases contradictory) that have been given for the pre-1978 restriction have been disavowed. But a false inference based on ideas of foreordination does not in itself show foreordination is incorrect (especially since Thompson accepts it for some things). Furthermore, while the circumstances for its initiation are unclear, the restriction itself for its time has not. The letter of June 8, 1978, quoted in OD 2, makes reference to ‘the long-promised day’, a concept that loses considerable coherence if such a restriction is held to be entirely due to the faulty understanding of men. Furthermore, setting the pre-1978 restriction aside, scripturally there have been other examples of the priesthood being restricted on grounds other than worthiness. As mention, in Alma’s time priests would have constituted a small minority of the Church. Under the law of Moses, only Levites bore the priesthood. And in the Book of Abraham, Pharaoh “is of that lineage by which he could not have the right of Priesthood”, even though (unlike his successors) he himself is “a righteous man” who “judged his people wisely and justly all his days”. For whatever reason in God’s wisdom, and despite his personal righteousness, this man was prohibited from having the priesthood on other grounds. I highly doubt that this man, or non-Levites, or non-priesthood holding males in the Church at Alma’s time, were barred from salvation.

There is no reason to reject the idea, taught clearly in scripture, that God does foreordain people, or to reject the notion that in Alma 13 Alma is discussing those called to the priesthood as “called and prepared from the foundation of the world” (remembering, perhaps, that not all those called are chosen). There is good reason to reject any easy assumptions that such foreordinations, or any of our earthly circumstances, can be directly and easily traced from our pre-mortal conduct which we can easily infer. And Thompson is likely right that in any case Alma 13 is not talking of pre-mortal conduct. But there is no reason to throw out the foreordination with the bathwater.

As it happens, I suspect our circumstances in the pre-mortal life do have a great effect on the circumstances in which God has placed us; however, I suspect that they are so personalised that we have absolutely no way of knowing, from our own mortal perspective, what that connection is. The same circumstance or blessings or deprivations may be influenced by very different factors. But whatever God has in store for us, and whatever he’s based that on, our role of having faith in Christ, repenting and obeying remains the same, knowing that in the eternities nothing will be withheld from the righteous. God, the author of our plan of salvation for each of us, knows us each so thoroughly, both in pre-mortality and in his knowledge and foreknowledge of our mortality, that he is capable of acting in ways that are beyond us, and yet are best suited to personally propel us along the path that leads to eternal life.

 

2 Nephi 24

For the Lord will have mercy on Jacob, and will yet choose Israel, and set them in their own land; and the strangers shall be joined with them, and they shall cleave to the house of Jacob.

(2 Nephi 24:1//Isaiah 14:1)

While a quotation from Isaiah (and this verse is quoted word for word, unlike say verse 2), this verse manages to encapsulate one of the major messages of the Book of Mormon. Despite misdeeds, trials and tribulations, God has not forgotten Israel, and will have mercy upon them and keep His covenants with them; meanwhile salvation for the Gentiles required becoming part of the House of Israel. While there were exceptions, this was not a common view at the time of the publication of the Book of Mormon; much of Christianity was supercessionist at least in part, believing that the Gentile Church had replaced or was the true continuation of Israel. The Book of Mormon declares the opposite: Israel has not been forgotten, God is about to fulfil his covenants with them in restoring them spiritually and physically, and that the Gentiles need to repent or face the judgment of God.

God’s long suffering, mercy and faithfulness towards a people to whom he has made promises can of course be reassuring to us on a individual scale. Despite the elapse of hundreds of years, God had not forgotten Israel. Likewise, despite our own personal weakness and wanderings, he will not forget us (Isaiah 49:15-16) and “he is faithful that promised” (Hebrews 10:23).

2020 Edit:

This chapter (meaning Isaiah 14, which 2 Nephi 24 quotes), most notably features the Lord’s judgment upon “Lucifer”. Some have taken this to mean the Adversary, some the King of Babylon, some other figures. Which is correct? For anyone following so far, the answer should suggest itself: both possibilities can be absolutely correct. Isaiah is addressing the tyrants of his day (Sennacherib, king of Assyria), the future tyrants from Babylon and maybe other figures in the future, all of whom are types of the original who sought to usurp the highest authority and deprive men of their agency.

And it shall come to pass in that day, that thou shalt take up this proverb against the king of Babylon, and say: How hath the oppressor ceased, the golden city ceased!

The Lord hath broken the staff of the wicked, the scepters of the rulers.

He who smote the people in wrath with a continual stroke, he that ruled the nations in anger, is persecuted, and none hindereth.

The whole earth is at rest, and is quiet; they break forth into singing.

Yea, the fir trees rejoice at thee, and also the cedars of Lebanon, saying: Since thou art laid down no feller is come up against us.

(2 Nephi 24:4-8//Isaiah 14:4-8)

Both Assyria and Babylon bestrode the nations, moving entire populations in a gigantic programme of ethnic cleansing to subjugate any who tried rebellion. Yet within centuries they were no more, backwaters and ruins, unable to further oppress those they had ruled over. Likewise the Adversary has oppressed mankind, both individually and collectively, taking us into captivity through sin, and inspiring any tyrant he can. Yet the time will come when he will no longer have any power to tempt or otherwise influence the hearts of men, while humanity will be delivered from the captivity of death and hell with which he has sought to trap us through the power of Christ’s redemption.

Hell from beneath is moved for thee to meet thee at thy coming; it stirreth up the dead for thee, even all the chief ones of the earth; it hath raised up from their thrones all the kings of the nations.

10 All they shall speak and say unto thee: Art thou also become weak as we? Art thou become like unto us?

Thy pomp is brought down to the grave; the noise of thy viols is not heard; the worm is spread under thee, and the worms cover thee.

(2 Nephi 24:9-11//Isaiah 14:9-11)

Those the Assyrians and Babylonians slew can likewise point to the fact that in the grave these mighty kings have become just like those they conquered. In the final judgment, the Adversary too will be reduced, no longer possessing the power and influence he once had.

How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! Art thou cut down to the ground, which did weaken the nations!

For thou hast said in thy heart: I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north;

I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the Most High.

Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.

They that see thee shall narrowly look upon thee, and shall consider thee, and shall say: Is this the man that made the earth to tremble, that did shake kingdoms?

And made the world as a wilderness, and destroyed the cities thereof, and opened not the house of his prisoners?

(2 Nephi 24:12-17//Isaiah 14:12-17)

For all their pride and ego, for all that they sought to conquer, the kings of Assyria and Bablyon are likewise subject to death, in the which they shall appear rather pathetic figures, causing those who see them thereafter to wonder that they caused so much trouble. So too with the Adversary: he literally sought to usurp God, demanding God’s honour and power, and so he lost he previous high estate and was cast down. And he shall be cast down yet further.

All the kings of the nations, yea, all of them, lie in glory, every one of them in his own house.

But thou art cast out of thy grave like an abominable branch, and the remnant of those that are slain, thrust through with a sword, that go down to the stones of the pit; as a carcass trodden under feet.

Thou shalt not be joined with them in burial, because thou hast destroyed thy land and slain thy people; the seed of evil-doers shall never be renowned.

(2 Nephi 24:18-20//Isaiah 14:18-20)

While the remains of many kings lie in rest in ornate tombs, the King of Babylon here will not. His remains shall lie unmarked, and his memory abandoned. These verses apply with even more force to the Adversary: all those who lived on earth, no matter what they did with it, will be resurrected and re-receive a physical body, their “house”. But the Adversary and those who followed him in the war in heaven lost their first estate, and so never gained and will never regain a body, so that their spirits will be diminished and without habitation. Whatever slings they throw at us in this life, they will lose – indeed they have already lost – their war against the Almighty. His power is greater, and so whatever trials we’re going through now, we can draw closer to him for protection, trusting that he will deliver us, and defeat the enemy of our souls.

2 Nephi 19

The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.

… For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder; and his name shall be called, Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.

Of the increase of government and peace there is no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of Hosts will perform this.

(2 Nephi 19:2, 6-7//Isaiah 9:2, 6-7)

I’ve spent some time (okay, a lot of time) on this blog lamenting particular developments in the world. And I’m pessimistic about the current future of Western civilization. But the message of the gospel is ultimately one of hope, on both a personal and a collective level. Through Christ, each of us personally can be saved from sin and death, and He promises to “wipe away every tear” of his people (Revelations 21:4), and make right all our sorrows. Collectively, there will come a time when He will reign, and the Earth will be at rest, and governed in peace and justice. Bad stuff may happen in the meantime, but these too will pass; while the immediate future may sometimes be dim, God’s light will shine, and will shine forever. And if we are faithful, we will be blessed to walk in that light forevermore.

2020 edit:

As is true, really, for all of these chapters, 2 Nephi 19//Isaiah 9 shows the same trait that Isaiah displays of speaking in such a way that his words are applicable to multiple different situations, separated by thousands of years, at the same time. Thus on one hand he’s addressing the situation the nation of Judah faces there and then, with Israel (the Northern kingdom) and Syria allied against it, and promises deliverance for Judah and judgment on those that oppose it. His words about a forthcoming ruler can surely apply in part to the next king, Hezekiah, who would indeed be one of the greatest and most righteous kings that Judah would ever have. There have likewise presumably been many situations since affecting Israel to which these words can be applied. But of course the complete fulfilment of these verses, the antitype to the type, the one who would be a “great light” (beginning in the tribal lands of Zebulun and Naphtali – which includes Nazareth – and Galilee), who would be the one who would be rightfully called “the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace”, is Christ, both on his mortal ministry and in his reappearance and forthcoming millennial rule yet to come.

1 Nephi 18

And it came to pass that they did worship the Lord, and did go forth with me; and we did work timbers of curious workmanship. And the Lord did show me from time to time after what manner I should work the timbers of the ship.

Now I, Nephi, did not work the timbers after the manner which was learned by men, neither did I build the ship after the manner of men; but I did build it after the manner which the Lord had shown unto me; wherefore, it was not after the manner of men.

And I, Nephi, did go into the mount oft, and I did pray oft unto the Lord; wherefore the Lord showed unto me great things.

1 Nephi 18:1-3

Just reading this today, I was struck by the fact that the Lord revealed to Nephi “from time to time” how to build a boat after he had begun making it. I’m no expert on making boats, but usually I imagine it’s wise to have both blueprints and construction techniques sorted before one begins construction. Not so in this case: The Lord showed Nephi how to do things a bit at a time, not all at once, and after Nephi had begun construction. The thought gave added emphasis to the statement that “neither did I build the ship after the manner of men”: perhaps one difference was the fact that Nephi begun it, not really knowing what the final result was going to be or how to actually get there.

Again this reminds me of the hymn Lead Kindly Light and the line “I do not ask to see the distant scene—one step enough for me”. Just as Nephi was asked to, we’re often asked to begin stuff we have no idea how to finish either, and with little idea of the final result. But God’s not going to give us the final blueprint in one go. Rather we too will have to “pray oft” so we can be shown “from time to time” how to do the next step, trusting that He has the final blueprint sorted.

2020 Edit:

Much of this chapter, of course, is occupied by the account of the party’s voyage by sea, and in particular the point at which Laman, Lemuel and Company forget God  are are “lifted up unto exceeding rudeness” (v.9). Nephi rebukes them, and in response they tie him up, ignoring the entreaties of their father (and in doing so bringing him and Sariah close to death’s door through grief), Nephi’s wife, and Nephi’s children (vv. 10-11, 17-19). The only thing, we’re told, that “could soften their hearts” was the “power of God”, displayed through the Liahona ceasing to work and a storm that drives them back for four days and threatens to sink the ship (vv. 12-15, 20). Only after they repent and release Nephi, and he prays, does that threat ebb and they resume their journey (vv. 21-22).

What catches my eye, however, is that the description of the first leg of the journey also has them “driven”, except rather than backwards it is “forth before the wind to the promised land” (vv. 8-9). So they are “driven” forwards and then backwards. Driven has the connotation of force, particularly in the Book of Mormon where, out of the 109 times (including “drove” etc) it’s used, most seem to be in reference to the action of armies scattering people (the other incidences include things like Lehi being driven from Jerusalem, and animals being driven before predators and twice by herdsman; interestingly the word is used much more often in the Book of Mormon than it is in the other Standard Works). That force is obvious with the storm that drove them back, but it seems to me to imply that God’s power was likewise deployed (if in a less threatening fashion) to push them there too. In which case they had no way of controlling how fast they were progressing towards the promised land. What the people on the ship had control of was the direction they steered in (implied by the fact that they needed the Liahona to know where to steer, vv. 12-13), and their conduct along the way. And when their conduct failed to measure up they also lost the ability to steer.

It strikes me that this too is a type of our own journey through this life. We often have less control than we’d like over things that may speed us towards the next trials, blessings or responsibilities God has in store for us. We may progress swiftly at some times, and far slower than we’d like at others. Many events are in God’s timing. But what we do have control of is our own conduct, and the ability – so long as we’re trying to do what’s right – to receive God’s guidance and steer a course accordingly. And if we do so then, in God’s own due time, we will reach a far better land of promise.