Thursday, December 31, 2015

2 Nephi 13-15 - A Tale of Two Peoples

From a doctrinal perspective, Isaiah’s warnings to the people in 2 Nephi 13-15 are repetitive and reinforce Revelations 1-7. Revelations 12 gives the added dimension that the evil in the world is due to Satan waging war against the righteous. This is not just a war of clashing armies. It is also a war of deception, calumny, libel and temptation heaped upon all in an attempt to draw men from God.

Isaiah warns it is pride, manifest in ignoring God’s counsel, that leads to wickedness. John shows how Satan appeals to it with the allure of power, wealth and moral debauchery. Isaiah warns that those who ignore God to follow their own counsel will rue the day. Both show God’s wrath will lay desolate the lands and lives of those who choose to follow Satan.

Amidst all the warnings of moral and physical destruction, are the promises to the righteous of God intervening in their behalf. They also show the great blessings which will come to those who endure these difficult times.

Like Dicken’s in his “Tale of Two Cities,” these will be the best of times for those who are righteous in that they will see many blessings from God. It will likewise be the worst of times as they, along with the wicked, wade through unspeakable trials. The difference between them is the righteous will abide the day. They will survive with their faith, burnished and intact. Not so for the rest.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

2 Nephi 12 - Isaiah 2 - Revelations 1-3: the Introduction

This is a fitting introduction to the Isaiah passages because it sums up in one chapter what the rest of his prophecies say: humble yourselves, turn to the Lord and live by revelation and the light of His word. If you don’t, the day will come when your pride and everything on which it’s based will be taken from you.

There’s no linear or positional relationship between the contents Isaiah and Revelations. Yet, a weak correlation exists in that John’s counsel to the seven churches in Asia acts as a prelude to the rest of the book. Like Isaiah, the gist of Revelations is summed in the first three chapters: be righteous and be blessed. Ignore the Lord and suffer grievous consequences.

Where John spoke to the seven churches, Isaiah spoke to all the House of Israel. Indirectly, they both speak to us. The warnings are the same. John speaks more of the blessings that come than Isaiah. Both offer stern warnings to pride and disobedience.

As I’ve pondered on how to compare the two, I will focus on the individual rather than the last-day application of these passages. Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Another Primer on Isaiah and Revelations

A key to understanding Isaiah is its applicability in three different cultural contexts. One is now only interesting, another is important and the third is crucial for us to understand. The least important context is that of his original audience, the people and times of pre-exilic Israel and Judah. The events, people and places he wrote about, they all knew. As Nephi said, because of his learning of the Jews, Isaiah was easy for him to understand. But it all happened a long time ago. For us it’s just history.

The second most important context is for us, the people of the end-of-times. Like the Book of Mormon, it was written for our day. Its rich, literary style is filled with inspired types. The names of those places and people are types of nations and roles we will see in the participants and events of our day. Events which will mirror ones in our day. For example, Egypt was a waning geopolitical super-power. In the context of our day, Egypt represents the United States of America. You can read it replacing the one with the other and have a correct understanding of what’s going to happen. Where the Spirit comes in, is understanding who and what all the types represent.

The last and most important context for understanding Isaiah is it's individual applicability. I think this is why the Savior and Nephi both thought he was so important. For example, his warnings to Judah to rely upon God not Egypt for help, is counsel we all should heed. In Nephi’s words, we should lean not on the arm of flesh. Understanding Isaiah on this level requires the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

It's the same for Revelations. It has these three contexts. The latter-day event context is important, but the personal applicability of his teachings are vital. Studied together, the latter-day context is more easily understood. Studied together, the role and need of the temple in the personal context becomes clear.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

2 Nephi 10-11 - The Windup to Isaiah

In this passage, Jacob finished his sermon on the coming of the Savior and the relationship the Jews and Gentiles will have in the coming times. Nephi summarizes his brother’s comments by explaining Jacob saw the Savior as he and Isaiah had. He wanted their testimonies available to his people so they would have these as proof of God’s existence and of the Savior’s importance.

So then, at the end of Chapter 11, he introduces Isaiah. Remember, Nephi saw our day as did Isaiah as did John the Revelator. It’s in chapter 12 that the major copying of Isaiah begins. It’s interesting that Nephi starts with what we know today as chapter two and not one. Since he doesn’t quote all the Isaiah we have, we can assume only that he didn’t think it was needed. What he already quoted a couple chapters earlier flies in the face of contemporary bible scholarship.

Modern Biblical scholars assume the Book of Isaiah is composed of the writings of different authors, three in particular known today as Proto-, Deutero-, and Tritio- Isaiah. One of the reasons for assuming multiple authors is some passages speak of events far in the future of Proto-Isaiah's time. They assume the history written by the others was done so “after the fact.” The Book of Mormon disputes this assertion by containing passages attributed to Deutero-Isaiah. Scholars maintain these two wrote after the time Lehi left Jerusalem. Their presence in the Book of Mormon shows Deutero-Isaiah’s contributions occurred earlier than contemporary scholars think.

I can’t dispute the differences in literary style in Isaiah. Multiple authors apparently did write it. We see something like that in the Book of Mormon. The Book of Alma has three authors. Helaman has two plus heavy editorial commentary by Mormon. Third Nephi and Mosiah both have multiple authors. So, could there be more than one contributor to Isaiah? Yes.

But, why can’t God speak of future events as if they already happened? Why can’t He speak in precise detail of those same events? Only the blinded hubris of man demands Deutero-Isaiah wrote after the fact, not before. As for me, there’s room in my faith to allow for multiple, inspired authors of Isaiah. I just think, if there is Deutero-Isaiah, he added his part before Nephi got the plates from Laban.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

2 Nephi 9 - the Atonement made simple

In the temple, we make covenants with God. The key ones are: obedience, sacrifice, righteous living, chastity and consecration. Each builds upon the preceding, like layers in a road. To endure, every road needs a strong foundation. For these covenants, it is the Savior and the Atonement.

Jacob’s teaching about it in 2 Nephi Chapter nine goes into depth on explaining why and what it means. It’s no secret God empowers us to ascend to higher levels of righteousness through covenants. While they do, it is the scriptures which help us more completely understand them. This chapter is all about the Savior’s Atonement and what it means for us. Simply, this passage explains in plainness why He did it.

We read in the preceding Isaiah passages of God’s great power and an exhortation to us to trust Him and obey Him. Chapter Nine explains that power and why we should. To more fully appreciate His role in our lives and why it’s important to us, we need to understand this chapter.

While this might seem like basic doctrine, it’s often good to remember and refresh our understanding of the basics. Like that road, it’s the foundation for everything that follows.

Sorry for not having many entries lately, between the rush of the holiday season and all the snow we’ve had, I’ve been kinda busy. I’m still here.

Friday, December 11, 2015

2 Nephi 3-6 - The Separation

The concentrated presentation of great doctrines continues through this section of the narrative. It starts with Lehi reciting the prophecies of Joseph, Son of Jacob, of the coming of a Moses and of a future Joseph who would restore the Gospel and do a great work among the people. This also contains Nephi’s lamentation and praise of God known as the “Psalm of Nephi.” It ends with more recitation of Isaiah by Nephi's brother, Jacob.

There is a lot to cover here. But as I’m not writing to discuss the content so much as my thoughts about it, I’ll write what impresses me.

Remember, Joseph Smith translated this passage last. By the time he got to it, not counting the lost Book of Lehi, nearly 90 percent of the work was done. I can’t speculate on the Book of Lehi’s contents other than to say it was probably much more of a historical narrative with lessons drawn from what happened… Just like what we have from Mosiah forward. So what happens here? Joseph reads/translates the prophecy about a future Joseph, named after his father who would be the instrument of God to bless a future people.

A review… God unfolds things to us not all at once, but in bite-sized pieces so we can assimilate and process them. When He unloads a lot of information, you run the risk of having Nephi’s experience when he saw the future destruction of his people… it was devastating. So, in His mercy, God gives things to us in smaller amounts.

Such is what happened here with Joseph. He’d been told to this point, that his name would be had for good and evil. Now, he sees that not only is he bringing forth scripture, he’s going to do a lot more. He realizes his life mission is already set and that through him God is going to restore the authority and organization needed to carry the message in the Book of Mormon to the world. I wonder what conversations he had with Emma as they talked about these things?

Monday, December 7, 2015

2 Nephi 2 - Opposition and Agency

For many, the highlight of 2 Nephi Chapter 2 is Lehi’s discourse on opposition. It is an important concept to understand, but for me, the heart of the chapter is verse 27 which talks about agency.

Lehi teaches because of the two polar forces in the universe, with God and Jesus on one side and Satan on the other, man is left in a position to chose for himself who he’ll choose to be like. God set it up that way.

I’ve often wondered why there is opposition and what need there is for Satan and his temptations. It’s not until I realized we learn more about who we are from our failures than we do from our successes, that it all made sense to me. This life is a test of our character. But it’s not God who needs to know, it’s us. Since we learn more from our failures, God in His wisdom placed us in an environment where that would happen a lot.

That’s how a loving God can subject His beloved children to misery, pain, and failure. He knows we will learn more about ourselves this way. He knows we are more malleable in the heat of affliction than we are when things are going well. And as imperfect beings, we need the refining.

In other words, it’s an act of faith and love on His part in our behalf. Some might say tough love, and perhaps it is. He did stand close by the Savior in the darkest hours of Gethsemane and Golgotha, doing what He knew was best for all of His children, including His perfect Son. Having seen my children go through pain and difficulties, I’m certain Heavenly Father felt vicariously the pain His Son endured. As well as He feels ours. He was close to Him and He is close to us. In all the trials I’ve been in, I’ve found Him quick to answer prayers and all His answers while not what I’ve wanted, have always been, on reflection, what I needed.

I think of Laman when he complained about building a boat and Nephi’s answer that if God had wanted, He could have caused them to walk to the Promised Land. If He’d granted Laman’s request, that’s what they would have done. Can you imagine walking from Bountiful to America? A boat was the best way to get there. God knew that. Laman didn’t. Because of God’s love for him He insisted on building a boat.

The moral of the story is it’s in our best interest to build the boat when we think we’d rather walk.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

2 Nephi 1 - The Promised Land

The literary feel of 1 Nephi is not present in 2 Nephi. 1 Nephi is a chiasmus telling the story of their journey to the Promised Land and focuses on the exposition of new doctrine about the Savior. In contrast, 2 Nephi is a series of doctrine rich essays with a minimal amount of historical narrative to tie them together. Nephi wastes no time and jumps into the first one in Chapter One. He teaches us about the Promised Land.

For him, it was a real place. A place they gave years of their lives, endured repeated and severe trials, and exercised great faith to attain. Each of us has goals, desires, even life missions we feel deeply within us. All these have the potential to be our personal Promised Lands. 1 Nephi gives us lessons on how to get there. This chapter explains an essential component of our Promised Land and how we stay there once we arrive.

The first key concept is in 2 Nephi 1:6. No one gets to the Promised Land without God allowing them to get there. His method for limiting access is controlling the knowledge of its existence. Simply, if you don’t know, you won’t go. Without God, there is no Promised Land. Without Him, you not only can't get there, you'll never know what it is.

The second key concept is repeated throughout the Book of Mormon, but expressed best in 2 Nephi 1:20. Obedience is key to prosperity once you arrive. He also defines prosperity. It’s not wealth, it’s having God’s presence in your lives. It doesn’t mean you see Him, but you see His hand in shaping events in your behalf. You hear His voice in the scriptures and in quiet moments, in your heart. You live each day confident you are known and loved by Him. Living each day, close to God is the great blessing of our personal Promised Lands.

The corollary to that great promise is also explained: it’s all perishable. Whether by laziness or direct action, we can separate ourselves from God. When that happens, no matter where we are, we’ve lost the Promised Land.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

1 Nephi 99-22 - A Primer on Isaiah

This finishes out First Nephi. It’s an interesting segue in that we are introduced to Isaiah. First, Nephi explains how the two sets of records came to be, then he launches into the future-history of the Jews and Gentiles and he uses Isaiah to tell it.

In Chapter Nineteen, Nephi tells us how the Lord first instructed him to make the plates and keep a record on them. Once he did that, the Lord then instructs him to make another set. It’s an insight into how the Lord operates with us. He gives us what we need in the moment then, once we’ve finished that, He gives us the next step. Always He has the end goal, our salvation in mind. I recommend it as an approach we should take too. Keep the eternal perspective, but focus on the now to do the steps which lead to that long range goal.

In Chapters Twenty to the end, we are introduced to Isaiah. Nephi doesn’t actually introduce him other than to say he used Isaiah to more fully persuade them (us) to believe in the Lord. He records Isaiah 48 in Chapter Twenty-One, then he explains it.

This is a personal chapter for Nephi because the prophecies Isaiah wrote are what Lehi and Nephi experienced. Read 1 Nephi 21:1. It's a summary of 1 Nephi 1-2. It's worth pondering.

If you want to understand Isaiah, the last two chapters are a primer on how to do it. In one chapter you have “Isaiah-speak” and in the other you have “Nephi-speak” saying the same thing. Nephi also explains you need the Spirit to understand Isaiah. With all these tools in place and once you master it, all the Isaiah chapters in Second Nephi will be much easier to understand.