Thursday, October 29, 2015

1 Nephi 2 - A River of Water

We meet more of Nephi’s family in Chapter Two, particularly Laman, Lemuel, and Sam. They’re all older brothers to Nephi. We also encounter a tidbit of proof about the authenticity of the narrative.

Because I’m an aspiring writer and find this interesting, I’m covering this first. In most cases all authors write to their audiences from the context of their personal experience. In verse six, Nephi mentions a river of water. Sounds simple enough, but why not just say, “a river?” Why go to the trouble to explain it was a river in which water is flowing? Answer: raised in a desert with many dry river beds, wadis, a river that actually had flowing water was extraordinary. So, Nephi made mention of that distinction. From his experience, it was natural to say so.

Here’s the kicker. Raised in New England, rivers and creeks had water in them all year round. A dry river would have been extraordinary. If Joseph had been making it up, he would likely have just said, “a river.” Slim evidence you say?

Now, consider this...for years, decades even, critics used this as evidence against the Book of Mormon since they say there’s no geological evidence to corroborate his claim. Enter Google Earth. About 75 miles south of Jerusalem, there’s a fissure in the desert leading to the Red Sea, an impressive one which contains a dry river bed and palm trees. Geologists say there is evidence that 2500 years ago, the river probably flowed continuously, fed by runoff from distant mountains. There's even a shrine in there. I've seen pictures of the place, it's an impressive "valley". No maps in Joseph's day showed this. So, did he just guess correctly? If the critics are correct, he's made quite a few good ones. Just sayin'.

Here’s my abbreviated bit about Laman and Lemuel. Getting shaken by the spirit when Nephi spoke to them in Bountiful isn’t the first time this happened to these two. In verse 14 we read that Lehi speaking to them did it too. Some people just never learn.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

1 Nephi 1 - Who is Nephi?

I rarely spend more than one entry on one chapter, but this is The Nephi we’re talking about. Without him and his commitment to do whatever the Lord commanded, we’d not have the Book of Mormon. So, he gets special attention with another entry.

There are several interesting traits about him in this chapter. One is, at that time and place in the world, almost all people were illiterate. Only those with means could afford to learn and take the time to write. It’s more evidence Lehi was a wealthy man, since it was a luxury to have the time to write and teach it to his sons. The small plates show the ability to write was handed down, father to son for many generations thereafter.

Nephi was also a metal smith. He made his own plates on which he wrote, his own tools to build the boat and weapons for his people. This is one of those “proofs” critics used to use to debunk the Book of Mormon but don't mention now because it shows its authentic. Until lately, metal smiths from this time were considered bottom-dwellers of the social order like common laborers. Yet, recent archeological discoveries in the Middle-East show they were regarded much like we do doctors and lawyers today. Imagine that! A perceived "flaw" is actually evidence of the narrative's internal consistency.

I have some bonus material I came across just this morning. In 2000, archeologists found a stone tablet, written about 100 BC, in Jordan containing writings about a messiah who would come, suffer, die and then rise again. It's non-canonical evidence a belief among Jews in a suffering messiah existed before He came. It's known as the “Gabriel Stone” because it also references an angel named “Gabriel.”

This find corroborates the Book of Mormon's pre-exilic belief in a Messiah. In the past, critics have said this notion is one of the proofs it’s a fraud, that it was just made up. I wonder, will they say the  same about the Gabriel Stone?

Thursday, October 22, 2015

1 Nephi 1 - A perfect beginning!

Any of you know what a colophon is? A few. How many of you who do know what it is, know how many there are in the Bible? Crickets… I’ll help: there’s maybe one, Leviticus 26:46. Don’t spas… I didn’t know either but thanks to Mr. Google, I came up with that answer.

Now, go back to 1827. Do you think Oliver Cowdery knew what one was? How about Sidney Rigdon? Solomon Spaulding? Again… crickets. It goes without explaining there’s no way Joseph Smith knew. Remember, he’s the guy who asked, “Hey, Emma. Did you know there’s a wall around Jerusalem?” while translating the Book of Mormon.

Then, given his utter ignorance of such things, how did he write a perfect, classically Egyptian colophon and put it in the correct place for one to start the Book of Mormon? A lucky guess? Dumb luck? I think not. Archeological proof of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon’s antiquity starts with a bang in 1 Nephi 1:1… a perfect colophon. And what do we hear from critics in rebuttal to this? Crickets.

So for those who don’t know, a colophon is used to prove the author’s authority to say what he’s written. It was de rigueur for anyone trained as an Egyptian scribe. Oh, and as an aside, “goodly” in 1828 didn’t mean righteous as we often think today, it meant wealthy. Lehi was loaded and he spent it well teaching his sons, as we will see in Nephi’s superb craftsmanship as an author.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Moroni 10 - Farewell

Reading this chapter brought back a lot of memories. So, more than a commentary, this entry is my personal testimony of the Book of Mormon.

On January 2, 1974, while I was a Junior in high school, I finished reading it all the way through for the first time. I remember kneeling at my bedside, with my (now well worn Book of Mormon) laying on my bed in front of me opened to Moroni 10:4-5. For several days leading up to this moment, I'd read with anticipation, wondering what kind of answer I'd get when I took "Moroni's Test."

No sooner than I'd started praying, I found out. Imagine the heat you feel in your face when you're majorly embarrassed and are blushing. Now, move that "heat" sensation to your chest and expand it so it fills your entire body. That's about what it was like for me. It went on for minutes. How many I don't know, but I lingered in the prayer because I didn't want it to end. That's about as close as I can come to the feeling, but even that doesn't do the experience justice.

Suffice it to say, it changed my life. The next day, I had a similar though less pronounced ( as in shorter duration ) experience witnessing to me about Harold B. Lee and Spencer W. Kimball. The question there was, "are they prophets?" The answer... a resounding, yes.

So, for me, the promise worked spectacularly well. Since that time 'till now, I've had a lifetime of other experiences with the Spirit that have strengthened my testimony and revitalized my memory of that evening. In many ways, it has proven again and again Joseph Smith's observation that a man can get closer to God through this book than any other.

FYI, I will start over with 1 Nephi and go through at least to Helaman to cover the entire book in this blog. After that... we'll just have to see. Thanks for coming along with me on this journey so far.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Moroni 9 - The Window into Hell

Throughout his book, Mormon spoke of the wickedness of the Nephites. In Moroni 9, his letter to his son, Moroni, gives us a glimpse into the awful depravity of both them and the Lamanites. It truly is a glimpse into hell.

This is a short entry because of it. By the time Mormon wrote this letter, he'd witnessed or heard accounts of the Lamanites forcing cannibalism upon their captive Nephites. That's horrifying by itself, but he goes on to say the Nephites were worse. And they were... they chose to be cannibals. It's a window into the depths which Satan is willing to take those who give themselves over to him.

The Lord's encouragement to Moroni at the chapters' end is one which we all can use... be faithful to Christ. As we remember him, and focus on the great peace and joy which He offers us, that can give us hope to endure well, the wickedness of the world and the trials in which we live.

That is a lesson we can use. It's what carried Moroni through all those lonely years.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Moroni 8 - God's Universal Mercy

Moroni chapter eight is well known for its lesson on child baptism. What struck me is what it says about the universality of God’s mercy and its sober warning to those who have learned about the gospel but reject it.

The universality of the Atonement is far greater than we realize. Because of it, children and those who can not comprehend sin and consequences of their actions, are held blameless before God. Additionally, all those who don’t know about the commandments, such as Joseph Smith’s brother Alvin, plus a world full of other people, are blameless for their actions.

Those of us who do know must live a higher standard. If we reject it, we will suffer the consequences of our actions. The Lamanites destroyed the Nephites and they destroyed themselves because they all turned from the gospel.

It may seem unfair to learn about the gospel, but here’s a great differentiator… knowing and living the gospel does more for us than just being forgiven of our sins. It’s the grace and power to become like God which is the majesty and great blessing of the gospel.

Christ not only forgives us of our sins, He helps us become like Him and the Father. That's the great blessing. Only through living it can we become like God in this life. Without it, we can still be good, decent, and honorable, but with it we can become Christlike.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Moroni 7B - Faith, Hope and Charity

Understanding the principles defined by faith, hope and charity and then using them is the best way to happiness and true success in this life. They are principles by which even Heavenly Father lives by. Consequently, they are principles which we will benefit greatly by mastering in this life. They are simple to express, but they will take lifetimes of effort to learn.

In the simplest form, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ becomes the motivation for what we choose to do. It gives us confidence not in our abilities, but in God's grace to help us do whatever He asks of us... especially repenting and becoming like Him.

Hope is the vision we have of ourselves… what we can become.

Charity is THE motivating emotion of Heaven. It’s putting the needs of others before our own because their happiness means more to us than our own.

Moroni chapter seven is the summary chapter. Alma 32 is the great chapter on faith. 1 Nephi has powerful examples of hope, of vision of what we can become. The Saviors visit to the Nephites is all about charity. We see these lessons repeated throughout the Book of Mormon. They are in the temple endowment ceremony and ordinances. They define the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They are why the Prophet Joseph Smith correctly said abiding by the teachings of this book will bring a man closer to God than any other.


Thursday, October 15, 2015

Moroni 7a - Judging

The tenor of the the Book of Moroni is completely different from the rest of the Book of Mormon, for in it Moroni is not telling a story, he’s reciting some of his father’s sermons. It’s much more didactic. There is so much in Moroni chapter seven there’s no way cover it all in such an entry as this. There's more than enough material to fill a book.

For this reason, I’m splitting it in two with this entry on judging and another on faith, hope and charity. God has given us the ability, commanded us even, to choose, to make choices. The prerequisite to making them is determining which decision is the best one for us. That requires judging.

Moroni 7, is the clearest exposition in all scripture on God’s expectation and counsel to us about this great gift. It is: choices which bring us closer to God are good, anything else is bad. Actions, circumstances, events, the words of others, which bring us closer to God are of God, anything else is of the devil.

Moroni observes it is easy to judge. Christ counsels us elsewhere that the ruler by which we judge the world around us, is the one He will use on us. So judge because we must. Just do it wisely.

As an aside, the fact this is a sermon which Mormon gave, tells me there were at least a small number of Nephites who remained faithful to the end.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Moroni 1-6 - Being Alone

Most of this is a series of short chapters which focus not on a narrative or sermon but on procedures in the church: how to bless the sacrament, how to set someone apart in a calling, how to conduct meetings, sort of thing. Included in them are the sacrament prayers for both the wine/water and bread. These more than likely played a role in the revelatory process which led to the sacrament prayers in D&C 20. My guess is  the Savior revealed these prayers when He appeared to the Nephites/Lamanites hundreds of years earlier.

Chapter one is different. When you think of the recent shootings in Oregon, Moroni’s declaration of his faith and that he fears for his life because he won’t deny Christ, hits with more force than normal. Here is a military officer, who by today’s standards would have been a division commander, a two-star general. This is a brave man who survived the slaughter of his entire command, so he was painfully aware of his mortality. Rather than denounce Christ, he did the only thing he could do in those circumstances, he ran and hid. Not out of cowardice, but out of an earnest desire to stay alive long enough to finish the job his father gave him. Once he had, I imagine he hid the plates and quit hiding so he could join the rest of his family… who were already dead.

I wonder if we fully appreciate the human cost wrapped up in the Book of Mormon? Chapter one gives just a taste… a hint.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Ether - The End

The moral of the end of Ether can be summed up in one sentence: If a people turn away from God and they don’t repent, they will destroy themselves.

Satan took them from one degree of darkness to another until there was no light of the Lord in them and anger, revenge and hatred ruled them. In that state, people choose death over life. It took four years to gather in all the people to the armies of Shiz and Coriantumr and eight days to kill themselves in one horrifying string of battles.

But enough of that, I start on Moroni in my next post.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Ether 12 - Jesus Christ

In some respects, Ether 12 is THE reason why that book is included in Book of Mormon. (In reality it’s loaded with great doctrine and truths, but Chapter 12 is one of the best in all scripture, ranking up there with Mosiah 4, Isaiah 53, D&C 76, D&C 84, and John 17.)

While Ether 12:27 is well known for its great promise of Christ’s grace in helping us be strong, a lesser known jewel, but no less valuable scripture is v. 39. “And then shall ye know that I have seen Jesus, and that he talked with me face to face, and that he told me in plain humility, even as a man telleth another in mine own language, concerning these things.

This casts the rest of the chapter into its correct perspective. It is the transcript of a conversation between Jesus and Moroni. It is our great privilege to have it for our perusal and spiritual blessing.

As an aside, like so often happens when God speaks to man to answer a question, the answer often goes far afield from the original topic. The Jaredites never had Ether 12. Not even the Nephites… we are the recipients. For I suspect by that time in Moroni’s life, there was no one for him to share it with.

Like the rest of this most amazing book, it was written for our day. For us.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Ether 9-11 - The Age of Kings

These thee chapters in Ether cover hundreds, if not more than a thousand, years of time telling the genealogy of a succession of Jaredite kings. Some were righteous, most were not. The common thread running through it all is the Lord always strives to teach and bring us, His children, back to Him. Most of the time, we’re to busy to bother.

He often has to resort to pain and suffering to get our attention. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t.

When a society ignores the Lord, just as certain as gravity pulls us down, it descends into darkness, materialism, anger and war. The headlines of newspapers and the internet show we are well on that path to war. Secret combinations rage. People are focused on ephemeral interests of no lasting value, totally absorbed in the goal, “I’m gonna’ get what’s mine, no matter what it costs anyone else…”

Such are our days. Yet in all that darkness, there were still prophets and enough who listened that the Gospel of Jesus Christ endured. So it is with us, though we live in times of darkness, we can still have a personal relationship with the Savior. It won’t spare us the difficulties of this day, but it gives us hope to endure it well.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Ether 8 - Secret Combinations

If the account the Savior’s visit to the children of Lehi is the apex of the Book of Mormon, Ether 8 is the nadir. In it is the account of the formation of a secret combination that destroys the Jaredites. This practice of conspiring to trade blood for money and fame destroyed the Nephites and Lamanites. It is also destroying us.

Along the way, it is a powerful example that gross wickedness is not only a man’s game. Both sexes are capable of committing horrible sin. In this instance this great evil is inspired by a daughter who’s ambition was to please her father. Talk about twisted values!

The casual nature of marriage and polygamy in the Jaredite culture comes to light in this story. From Akish’ stature and prominence, he surely was already married when he asked for the daughter of Jared. Yet the simple act of dancing… it must have been quite the dance, was enough to inspire him to want her. It says something about him too for I doubt he was thinking, "she will be a great mother for my children," as she gyrated in front of him.

I can’t help but think, Moroni felt passionately about this episode, for it was a secret combination that destroyed his people and took from him everything in this life he valued. He wants us to know just how deadly dangerous these are. He saw our day, he knew from painful, personal experience their true nature. And so, across the centuries he warns us to be more wise than they were.

Will we?

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Conference notes 2015

I don’t know about you, but this past conference was the most amazing one I’ve experienced in my life! From the tremendous outpouring of the Spirit to the timeliness of the messages, I’ve never seen a conference like this one. More than once, I commented at how quickly it seemed each session passed.

Each conference session zoomed by leaving me at the end wondering where the time went. Yet when I look back on the speaker list, each session contained a full set of talks. (Although, Priesthood meeting was one of the shortest I recall.) As I’ve started playing them on my computer, they do take the full two hour time, but sitting through the sessions, none seemed that long. Like a good movie or book when each was over, I was left yearning for more.

There are some amazing highlights though…

Elder Schwitzer’s talk on the need for disciples who boldly bare their testimonies. President Eyering’s talk on the Holy Ghost. Elder Anderson’s talk on faith. Elder Christofferson’s talk on the need for an organized church. And President Nelson’s talk on the role and need for covenant keeping women in the church.

There are so many stellar talks, each session contains gems worth studying again and again. Take the time… make the time… it will be well spent.

For myself, I plan on ponderizing the scriptures, on being a living witness of the Gospel to my family and having a conversation with each child that starts like this: “I was your age once, I’m in your corner and anytime you’d like to talk, I’m here for you…”

Ether 6-7 - The pattern begins

Once in the New World, the people begin to grow and flourish. With the passing of the years, as it is with all men, Jared and his brother age and face death. They see something must be done to provide some societal order for their posterity and that of those who traveled with them.

What happens next foreshadows of an event that will happen many years in the future among the House of Israel when they clamor for a king. As the prophet Samuel warned, Jared’s brother laments, “surely this thing leadeth into captivity.” None of his sons agree to be king, in fact, between the two men, only one, Jared’s son Orihah, agrees to be king.

While he's righteous, after just a few generations, all the things Jared’s brother warned of, come to pass. The rest of the chapter has the same pattern of events which eventually lead to their entire destruction: prosperity, pride, wickedness then judgement from God. It's a multi-generational chain of one sibling rising against the other to take the kingdom from his father. And so it goes until Shule wherein the prophets warn the people, “repent or be destroyed.” In this instance, they hearken to them and repent.

A big reason why they do, is Shule gives the prophets the political or government approval and protection to preach. Thus protected, they are able to reach and convert and convince enough people to avert the prophesied destruction. But at the end of this, the stage is set for Akish which will be the subject of a future post.