2 Nephi 26

2016 notes;

And after Christ shall have risen from the dead he shall show himself unto you, my children, and my beloved brethren; and the words which he shall speak unto you shall be the law which ye shall do.

(2 Nephi 26:1)

Nephi’s particularly talking of Christ’s post-resurrection appearance to the Nephites here, but it applies to us too. I find myself thinking that – though I believe in Christ and try to follow him – how often do I actually treat and think of his words as law?

And as I spake concerning the convincing of the Jews, that Jesus is the very Christ, it must needs be that the Gentiles be convinced also that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God;

(2 Nephi 26:12)

Part of this section addresses the fact that both Jew and Gentile have gotten Christ wrong in some regards. At a time when people increasingly do not believe in the divinity of Christ, I think this verse – and the accompanying message – apply more than ever. It also surprises me when I have met young members of the Church who, while accepting Christ as their Saviour and talk of their “elder brother”, seem to have difficultly understanding him as their God. But this is one of the key messages of the Book of Mormon, as stated on the title page: “that JESUS is the CHRIST, the ETERNAL GOD”. He is not just a great teacher, or a perfect man, or the Messiah, or our Saviour, or an examplar, though he is all of these things. He is also our Lord and our God. And thus, as Nephi says in the preceding chapter:

And now behold, I say unto you that the right way is to believe in Christ, and deny him not; and Christ is the Holy One of Israel; wherefore ye must bow down before him, and worship him with all your might, mind, and strength, and your whole soul; and if ye do this ye shall in nowise be cast out.

(2 Nephi 25:29)

2020 Edit:

Several things stood out to me today.

One was Nephi once again showing a strong emotional reaction to events in the far future (in this case the devastation that would occur in connection to the death of Christ amongst his people):

O the pain, and the anguish of my soul for the loss of the slain of my people! For I, Nephi, have seen it, and it well nigh consumeth me before the presence of the Lord; but I must cry unto my God: Thy ways are just.

(2 Nephi 26:7)

Once again it’s interest that his perspective was such, and his visions of these events were vivid enough, that they made the sort of emotional impact one would expect of contemporary events (and indeed that Nephi often doesn’t seem to react as strongly to his present).

Then there’s the statement in verse 8 (which goes along with similar statements in verses 3 and 5):

But behold, the righteous that hearken unto the words of the prophets, and destroy them not, but look forward unto Christ with steadfastness for the signs which are given, notwithstanding all persecution—behold, they are they which shall not perish.

For Nephi’s people approaching the calamities that would accompany his first coming to them (i.e. his post-resurrection appearance), a crucial factor determining one’s safety (and I’m sure this is not speaking in a purely physical sense; that is there isn’t necessarily a guarantee of physical safety here, but on the other hand even more is offered) was one’s reaction to the prophets: those who cast out, stone and kill  the prophets (vv. 3, 5) will face destruction, while those who do not, but listen to them and look forward “with steadfastness” for Christ will not perish. I think it is undoubtedly the case that there is a type in Christ’s appearance to the Nephites for that which is to come in the future.

I also found (although perhaps partly because it relates to topics I’ve already thought about) the following verse sticking out:

And the Gentiles are lifted up in the pride of their eyes, and have stumbled, because of the greatness of their stumbling block, that they have built up many churches; nevertheless, they put down the power and miracles of God, and preach up unto themselves their own wisdom and their own learning, that they may get gain and grind upon the face of the poor.

(2 Nephi 26:20)

There’s several elements here, a listing of various errors that the Gentiles of the last days and their churches will often fall into. A number of these themes will return as a running theme in this passage (meaning 2 Nephi 25-30), but two which catch my attention in particular are:

  1. “they put down the power and miracles of God” – while the Book of Mormon does address the topic of atheism (for example, with Korihor in Alma 30), something it seems to spend even more time warning against is what I sometimes dub “practical atheism”: that is, beliefs that may acknowledge the existence of God, but which deny his power, the existence of miracles or that he is prepared to actively intervene in our lives. It should be noted that the first vision likewise addresses this point, with Christ warning Joseph Smith against those that ‘“… teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.”’
  2. They “preach up unto themselves their own wisdom and their own learning”: they will set up their own learning as the content of their teaching (in contrast to, as 2 Nephi 25-30 addresses, the knowledge available from God). Jacob in 2 Nephi 9 of course condemns those who are learned but do not hearken to the counsel of God; the error here is in some respects even more pernicious, that some will set up their learning and teach it as if it were the counsel of God. And some will do this to “get gain” (priestcraft), and to “grind uponthe face of the poor”. It’s interesting that these are two items, suggesting that simply getting gain isn’t enough for those it is talking about; they not only seek to enrich themselves, but also to deprive others (something that, unfortunately, rings true with human psychology: unfortunately we only tend to think of ourselves as rich or prosperous not when we are, but when we’re doing so compared to other people).

The next few chapters will build upon these themes.

 

 

“The Visions of Joseph Smith”

I ran across the following devotional after being asked a question about the first vision and thought it was interesting enough to share. Several snippets:

Visions can take various forms. Personal visitations or appearances of deity, angels, or even Satan and his emissaries certainly come under the heading of visions. Visions can also include seeing vivid images where the veil is lifted from an individual’s mind in order to see and comprehend the things of God. Certain dreams could be considered visions, particularly when heavenly or spiritual messages are conveyed. Finally, certain revelations received through the Urim and Thummim mediums such as the Nephite interpreters and the seer stone may also be classified as visions.

While the visions received by Joseph Smith were also revelatory experiences, revelations were not always visionary. Hence, in researching Joseph Smith’s visions, I attempted to distinguish between visions and other kinds of inspiration or revelation. More often than not, when a vision was involved, the wording of the source material indicated that a vision–not a more general “revelation”–had been received. However, in some instances, the visual nature of the experience was not quite clear.

Three major points became apparent as I researched Joseph Smith’s visions. First, and perhaps most remarkable, is the sheer number of visions the Prophet received. The majority of these visions are not found in the standard works but pervade the Prophet’s own history and the records kept by contemporaries who were present when a vision was received or when Joseph Smith spoke about his sacred communications. As I began collecting the accounts of the visions, I realized that any attempt to total the number of visions would risk excluding some, since evidence of visions relies upon documentation, and some visions may have been purposely unrecorded. Of one vision Joseph remarked, “I could explain a hundred fold more that I ever have of the glories of the kingdoms manifested to me in the vision were I permitted, and were the people prepared to receive them.”

Second, the Prophet was privileged to receive so many visions that is appears they became almost commonplace experiences for him. For example, in 1843 he said, “It is my meditation all the day, and more than my meat and drink, to know how I shall make the Saints of God comprehend the visions that roll like an overflowing surge before my mind.” Perhaps because his visionary experiences were so frequent, he often left out details or failed to record certain events altogether.

Finally, in a number of instances, others witnessed Joseph Smith’s visionary experiences or were present when the Prophet had visions, often seeing the manifestation with him. The recorded statements of these witnesses and co-participants give additional testimony and credibility to the reality of the Prophet’s seeric experiences.

The remainder can be found at the BYU Hawaii website at “The Visions of Joseph Smith” | Devotionals and Speeches

1 Nephi 11

And the Spirit said unto me: Behold, what desirest thou?

And I said: I desire to behold the things which my father saw.

1 Nephi 11:2-3

And he said unto me: What desirest thou?

And I said unto him: To know the interpretation thereof—for I spake unto him as a man speaketh; for I beheld that he was in the form of a man; yet nevertheless, I knew that it was the Spirit of the Lord; and he spake unto me as a man speaketh with another.

1 Nephi 11:10-11

The beginning of Nephi’s vision again has lots that could be said about it – including possibly a rather singular episode where the Holy Ghost personally turns up (the Book of Mormon usage of Spirit of the Lord – and Nephi’s reaction for that matter – suggest this may be the Holy Ghost as opposed to the pre-incarnate Christ as in Ether 3). Yet one striking question I feel is one asked by the Spirit twice of Nephi: ‘what desirest thou?’

It is Nephi’s answers to these questions that dictate the course of his vision. So much seems to hinge on what we really want, and how badly we want it. It seems to my mind a key component of receiving a testimony or revelation, which in my experience (personal and observed) does not appear to come in response to idle curiosity. We’re told that ultimately God gives us ‘according to [our] desire[s]’ (Alma 29:4), for good and for bad (‘unto salvation or unto destruction’). And so much of our course in life appears to be governed by our desires, and the extent to which we’ve been able to refine and purify them.

2020 Edit:

I could say this about virtually every chapter, but if one were seeking to pick out everything of significance, one might never actually finish. What we pick out on any given read through seems to depend almost as much on where we are rather than simply what the text says, even setting aside the way the Holy Ghost can use the text to communicate things beyond the text. Confining myself to just a couple of items, however:

Firstly, I think it significant that as part of his vision, Nephi is caught away “into an exceedingly high mountain, which I never had before seen, and upon which I never had before set my foot” (v. 1). Putting aside the general association of mountains with visionary experiences & temple imagery (think Moses, the Mount of Transfiguration, the Brother of Jared etc), it’s that point about how this was a mountain that Nephi had never seen before and never set foot upon before that catches my eye. This vision, after all, seems to come as a new “peak” (pun half-intended?) to Nephi’s spiritual life, an experience which in it’s spiritual and emotional intensity dwarfs any he has had before, a spiritual “high” (I believe it’s no coincidence we use these sorts of phrases) that he hasn’t had before now.

Secondly, there’s the question posed by “the Spirit of the Lord”. It’s unclear who is meant precisely by this: if it were the Lord himself in his pre-incarnate state, as with the Brother of Jared, presumably he’d be referred to a bit differently than simply as “the Spirit”, as in vv. 2, 4, 6, 8 & 9, and it’d seem strange for “the Spirit” to voice verse 6 as his does. Which might suggest this is an exceptionally rare *visual* appearance by the Holy Ghost, which would be rather singular, although possible. I think most readers (including the likes of Talmage and George Q. Cannon) have gone with the second option, which I also lean towards, but there’s room for interpretation.

In any case, however, I find the question posed in verse 4 interesting: “Believest thou that thy father saw the tree of which he hath spoken?” It’s interesting on one hand that such questions, whether involving heavenly messengers or deity himself, often seem to involve such questions, even though presumably the answers are already known. There seems to be some power in openly confessing belief in such things. The second is that on many occasions, and especially here, that belief or faith serves as a gateway for greater knowledge. I think it’s customary for us to often think of faith and knowledge to be antithetical to some degree, but when one looks at this experience and ones like it, faith seems to serve more as the gateway to knowledge, one which must be tested or confessed to be unlocked.

Thirdly, during his vision of the ministry of the Saviour, Nephi notes in verse 32:

And it came to pass that the angel spake unto me again, saying (bold is my emphasis):

Look! And I looked and beheld the Lamb of God, that he was taken by the people; yea, the Son of the everlasting God was judged of the world; and I saw and bear record.

This tallies with a line in 2 Nephi 9:5, where Jacob teaches that (again my emphasis):

Yea, I know that ye know that in the body he shall show himself unto those at Jerusalem, from whence we came; for it is expedient that it should be among them; for it behooveth the great Creator that he suffereth himself to become subject unto man in the flesh, and die for all men, that all men might become subject unto him.

It seems here to suggest that there is an aspect to the atonement of Christ we have yet to fully grasp or appreciate, that one of the axes upon which it works is that Christ voluntarily submitted himself to human authority, “to become subject unto man in the flesh” and be “judged of the world”, and that was in order “that all men might become subject to him”. There seems to be a connection, that because Christ yielded to our authority, we become answerable to his, and because Christ submitted to the world’s judgment, we in turn become rightly subject to his.

1 Nephi 8

So much could obviously be discussed about Lehi’s vision of the tree of life (and Nephi’s vision that follows it), that it’s difficult to know what to single out. The very phenomenon of prophetic dreams is an interesting one; the Lord has most certainly used them as a means of revelation, as to Lehi here (and in 1 Nephi 2:1), or to Joseph, Pharaoh or even to Nebuchadnezzar in the Bible. For some people that seems to be the principle means by which they get such revelation. Most of my dreams are from a more mundane source.

One part does stick out:

And after they had partaken of the fruit of the tree they did cast their eyes about as if they were ashamed.

And I also cast my eyes round about, and beheld, on the other side of the river of water, a great and spacious building; and it stood as it were in the air, high above the earth.

And it was filled with people, both old and young, both male and female; and their manner of dress was exceedingly fine; and they were in the attitude of mocking and pointing their fingers towards those who had come at and were partaking of the fruit.

And after they had tasted of the fruit they were ashamed, because of those that were scoffing at them; and they fell away into forbidden paths and were lost.

1 Nephi 8:25-28

These people had clung to the rod of iron, made their way to the tree, and tasted of the tree of life and its goodness. But they still fell away, because of shame at the mocking of those in the great and spacious building.

Mockery is in great fashion at present, including in both political and religious discussions. It’s certainly a very effective rhetorical tool. But it is not one that establishes truth. You don’t need truth to win an argument with mockery. You just need enough people to jeer with you, and the targets to feel ashamed. And shame can drive people away from things they know to be good.

There’s not much that can stop the mockery of the great and spacious building: that’s left to the Lord’s timing. But in the meantime, I guess we’re in the situation Nephi describes a little later, when others (and the ‘we’ and ‘me’ suggests it includes Nephi) had made their way to the tree of life. Nephi states that others who had entered the building ‘did point the finger of scorn at me and those that were partaking of the fruit also; but we heeded them not’ (1 Nephi 8:33). We too have to somehow not pay attention to such mocking voices, especially when they’re trying to make us ashamed of something that we know to be good and true. We need to be true to God and our better selves, and to ignore the heckling crowd.

2020 Edit:

Two things really stood out to me during this read through. The first is the dream thing that I mentioned in passing above. Lehi received this vision as a dream, and that’s not the first time: he also received revelation via dreams in 1 Nephi 2:1 and 1 Nephi 3:2. Indeed, even his second recorded revelatory experience in 1 Nephi 1:7-15 occurred while he was prostrate on his bed, even if it doesn’t mention that he was sleeping. Perhaps, like positioning an aerial, he received the spirit best while in a horizontal position?

More seriously, dreams were clearly a major avenue of revelation for Lehi. So it’s interesting they’re not for Nephi, even when (as will happen in 1 Nephi 11-14) said revelation is about Lehi’s dream and covers much the same content. Perhaps that’s because of a different focus: Grant Hardy, in his Understanding the Book of Mormon, suggests that Lehi and Nephi looked for somewhat different things in their visions, with Nephi explicitly asking for an interpretation of the tree of life. Perhaps their revelations were received differently because what they wanted from the content was different? But Lehi in general seems to have a general propensity for dreams, while Nephi does not. And these are far from the only scriptural examples: Joseph (of coat fame) is particularly known for visionary dreams and the interpretation of dreams, while yet other biblical prophets do not seem to have received these much at all. In short, revelations do not appear to be homogeneous experiences. We can receive them in different ways at different times in our life, and it appears that we may have particular propensities for receiving revelation in certain ways that are different from person to person, perhaps influence by our gifts and personality. God’s revelation is not monolithic or monotonous, but manifests in different ways but which all witness to the same harmonious truths, as if each revelation were a different instrument in an orchestra, producing different sounds but producing one performance.

The other thing that caught my eye today were all the groups of people, and I’m not sure why I’ve never broken it down like this before. As far as I can make out, there are a bunch of overlapping groups (overlapping because some move from one spot to another). Aside from Lehi himself, there are:

  1. Those who refuse to even begin making their way to the tree: Laman and Lemuel fall into this category (vv. 17-18).
  2. Those that begin their journey on the straight and narrow path, but who get lost due to the mists of darkness (vv. 22-23).
  3. Those who get to the tree and taste of the fruit, but who then, in response to mockery from those in the Great and Spacious building, become ashamed and fall away (vv. 24-25, 28).
  4. Those in the great and spacious building itself, who are apparently well dressed and spend their days scoffing at those eating from the tree (vv. 26-27, 33)
  5. Those who make it to the tree, taste of the fruit and do leave as they do not pay heed to those in the great and spacious building: this includes Nephi and presumably the rest of Lehi’s family (vv. 14-16, 30, 33-34).
  6. Those that seek out the great and spacious building (v. 31), some of whom make it and join that crowd (v. 33), but others of whom appear to get lost along the way or drown in the fountain (v. 32).

It’s interesting to think about these different groups and what and who they represent. With any use of such imagery in the scriptures, it rarely seems the case that there is only one fixed meaning: often, like prophecy, imagery can mean several different things at the same time, with multiple legitimate and correct interpretations. But thinking about these groups, I think several general applications suggest themselves: there are those who refuse to even begin along the straight* and narrow path of the gospel, and then there are those who do, but get lost along the way. There are those who experience the joy of the gospel and who have tasted of the spirit, but who then stray. There are those who look for what the world offers symbolised by the great and spacious building and its fine clothing, and some indeed get to enjoy such things (if temporarily and in this life only). But then there are others who seek out this world and don’t even get that, who find that such a path brings disaster even sooner. And then there are those who a) choose to look to the right destination, namely the eternal life found in the gospel, b) who manage to stay on the straight and narrow path, and then c) endure to the end, ignoring influences that might lead them to abandon the treasure they have found.

 

* The present LDS edition reads “strait and narrow path” in 1 Nephi 8:20, but the 1830 and other early editions have “straight and narrow path”, and Royal Skousen concurs this is likely the proper reading (and so is the reading of his Earliest Text). Which makes sense, since “strait and narrow” means “narrow and narrow”, which isn’t impossible reading (since it may be for emphasis), but would be redundant.

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).