Saturday, January 30, 2016

Jacob 1 - 3: Wealth and Pride

God’s expectations of the example and role parents play in raising their children is front and center in this passage. Right next to it are His expectations of husbands treatment of their spouses. By corollary it’s applicable to wives treatment of husbands too. The best way for us to set the good example and treat the spouse with respect is to obey all God’s commandments. Anything less causes problems.

The other takeaway from this is Jacob’s denunciation of the pride that comes with wealth. He actually says having wealth is okay… if done in the Lord’s way. If we seek the Lord first and then seek the wealth with the intent to bless others. Then we are doing it in the proper way.

Their search for gold is a clue they were part of a larger culture. A handful of small families living in an enclave in the wilderness of America will focus on survival. An enclave of Nephites living in a much larger culture is going to have a lot of interest in gold since it’s the means of getting the necessities of life.

From this point in the narrative forward, trade with other groups is a recurring thread. Whether you believe the events of the Book of Mormon took place in Meso-America or the Ohio River valley, the common trait to both regions’ cultures is an extensive network of traders and trading.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

2 Nephi - The End

Nephi knows he is coming to the end of his life. His writings at the end of 2 Nephi show that by not only what he says, but by its doctrinal density. This is rich, weighty material. Again, books could be and have been written on the teachings here. I’m just touching on the highlights.

Baptism: Christ set the example of showing obedience to the Father by being baptized Himself. Nephi pointedly asks, “if He, being perfect, has need of it? How much more do we?”

Enduring to the end: He gives this beautiful promise. “Ye must press forward with steadfastness in Christ… If ye shall, feasting upon the words of Christ and endure to the end… Ye shall have eternal life.” Doesn’t get much better. I read this and I think of the powerful promise in Helaman 5:12.

The role of scripture and the Holy Ghost in enduring: “Wherefore, feast upon the words of Christ, for behold [they] shall tell you all the things which ye should do.” Studying the scriptures teaches us what to do. Be honest. Be forgiving. Repent. The list goes on. You know it as well as I. Reading it and pondering gives the Holy Ghost an opening to teach us and bring to our mind all these things. Which leads to an even better promise, “If ye will enter in by the way and receive the Holy Ghost, it will show you all things what ye should do.”

There is a subtle, wonderful, and powerful difference in these two phrases. As a writer, the mantra in writing is to “show not tell.” When we “tell” something we use words like “it was hot”. When we show something, we immerse the reader in the situation: “sweat ran in rivulets down his face, burning his eyes and soaking his thin cotton shirt. Holding his hand to his head to shield his eyes from the blinding white sun, he searched in vain for shade.” Do you see the difference?

This is what is promised to us. The scriptures give us the goals and objectives. If we let Him, the Holy Ghost is in the trenches with us dealing with each moment so we can achieve those goals. How cool is that?

All this and more awaits in the end of 2 Nephi.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

2 Nephi 27 - Isaiah 29 and the Translation

This chapter is Nephi’s last comment and citation of Isaiah. Based upon chapter 29, it has more changes from the Masoretic version found in the King James Bible than any other chapter. This one foretells the advent of the Book of Mormon and the efforts taken by Joseph Smith to get it translated.

The book “From Darkness into Light” by Michael Hubbard MacKay and Gerrit J. Dirkmaat, is an excellent history of that effort. From the book, I learned Martin Harris left on the trip because of a vision he’d received from the Lord. He also wanted to go to get a scholar’s confirmation that the characters were authentic. All Joseph knew was they were ancient. He didn’t know they were “Reformed Egyptian” till late in the translation process.

Joseph sent him for a different reason, to find someone who could translate the plates. He’d spent all 1827 studying the characters on them, not knowing the Seer stones or the Urim and Thumim would do that for him. He was anxious to figure out how to translate the plates. It wasn’t until Harris returned that he finally learned he would do the translating. Up until that time, he hadn’t learned the stones could be used to translate, instead he used them to keep the plates safe.

It wasn't until they were almost finished with the work that they read this chapter and saw how Harris' trip fulfilled the prophecies it contains.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

2 Nephi 25 - What I said

That phrase pretty much explains what Nephi says in this chapter. He summarizes what Isaiah wrote by declaring the future history of the Jews. Along the way, he admits Isaiah is hard to understand for those who don’t have the Spirit to explain or an understanding of how the Jews prophecy.

Then he speaks of Christ.

What strikes me most in this chapter is the clarity of his description of the Savior and His role. Nephi’s finishes with his desire to teach Christ to his descendants. There is a great change on display here in First and Second Nephi of their understanding of the Savior. At the beginning, when Lehi has his vision, he describes seeing, “One who’s luster exceeds that of the noon-day sun, comes down out of heaven followed by twelve others.”

Today we know the One was Jesus Christ. At that time, Nephi and Lehi didn’t. But after all the revelations and experiences they had coming to the Promised Land, they knew Him well. This chapter shows that new level of understanding.

So it is for us. One of the goals God has for us in our personal journeys to our own promised lands is to learn of His Son, Jesus Christ. Through all the trials and hardships and our personal moments on the mountain, we can come to know Christ in a powerful, personal way.

We have the same opportunity. Like them, once we learn, we need to teach Him to our children.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

2 Nephi 24 - Winding up Isaiah

It’s hard to believe that I’m through the Isaiah chapters in Nephi. Well, almost, there’s just one more after this one, Isaiah 29 but after that we won’t see him until Abinadi quotes him at length in his sermon to king Noah. After that, we won’t read of him until the Savior quotes him.

But on with this chapter. In it, Isaiah speaks of the final rewards of how we live in this life. He resumes using the pattern of alternating consequences for the righteous and the evil right at the end of the chapter.

People marvel at how small and insignificant Satan is when they see him bereft of his power. Their epitaph will be, “Is this the man that made the earth to tremble?” They won’t believe what they see at that day.

The whole chapter is a recitation on the destruction of the evil in this world. The centerpiece of it being the end of Satan’s power and the revelation of his true appearance without it. Kinda makes you wonder, who’s side do you want to be on doesn’t it.

He has so much now because we give it to him. God’s power is within Him. From it flows His love for us. Satan on the other hand has only what he can deceive us into giving him. It’s quite the contrast.

The chapter ends with a couple of Hebrew parallelisms portraying the fate of the righteous: the firstborn of the poor will feed and the needy will lie down in safety while the nation of the wicked is dissolved with none to deliver them. As we’ll read later on, God is with us through the end of all things. Satan can’t. Additionally, he abandons us when he has no further use for us.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

2 Nephi 19-23 - The Lesson Continues

In these chapters Isaiah hammers home the point that we need to trust God, to have faith in Him rather than in the wisdom of men and our pride. There is too much going on in these chapters to review them in any comprehensive way. Doing so requires books worth of ink and paper and a lifetime of pondering.

There’s a lot about the last days here. There’s the destruction of “Babylon” which is a type of the wicked and oppressive governments that exist in our day. There’s also mention of the purging wars waged by the wicked which hearken to Jacob 5’s references of the pruning of the orchard to clear out the evil branches to make room for the righteous. Revelations references to the dragon making war against the woman and the great destructions caused by the evil beasts also speak to this.

In the end, God delivers His people and they experience great peace.

On a personal level, which for me is where all this matters, is the lesson that all will go through adversity and faith challenging trials. The righteous will humble themselves and turn to God. Then, in the midst of great adversity, they will experience a peace which will cary them through these times. The wicked will turn to their own wisdom and suffer a different fate.

There repeats a series of punishments which end with the warning, “for this his hand is stretched out still.” I used to think this meant that despite these punishments, God’s hand of mercy was still extended if the people would repent. I can see how this is a correct interpretation. But I’ve also come to believe this interpretation, that despite all He’s done to get them to repent, He’s prepared to smite them again because they won’t.

The bottom line: everyone is going to experience trials. The great question is: how will we handle it? Will we take faith, turn to God for help and in the end enjoy great peace? Or will we ignore God and follow our own reason to spiritual death and destruction?

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

2 Nephi 17-18 - Trust God

If you ever face a trial or adversity that seems certain to overwhelm and destroy you, then you’ll want to remember the lesson of 2 Nephi 17 and 18. Syria and Ephriam, the Northern Kingdom, combined forces to attack Judah, the Southern Kingdom. Ahaz was the king of Judah at the time. Egypt was the other super-power of the day. Under the conditions, Ahaz felt a lot of pressure to ally with Egypt to protect the country from the pending war with Syria.

Acting on inspiration from God, Isaiah went to Ahaz and said, in effect, don’t worry about them, they won’t hurt you. They have problems of their own and are no real threat to Judah.

Then God inspired Isaiah to offer Ahaz a sign that this would be. I don’t know that much about him, but to his credit he demurred, saying, “I will not ask nor tempt the Lord.” So, instead He offers a sign, the birth of the Messiah.

I thought, how odd, that the sign of proof that these two nations were no threat, is a future event. So why bother? Then it occurred, Isaiah wasn’t writing this for Ahaz, but for us.

He then warns that allying with Egypt would lead to ruin.

The lesson for us… We will in this life face difficult trials and times of such adversity, we’re certain we’ll be overwhelmed by them. But as Isaiah says in 2 Nephi 18:14, let the Lord be your fear… turn to Him for help. As proof that things will work out, consider the Savior’s birth and life, the offered sign of God’s mercy and love for you.

Don’t turn to Egypt, the “thinking man’s” rational thing to do for that will only lead to ruin. Turn to God instead and have faith. That has been, is, and always will be the only safe way through the trials of this life.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

2 Nephi 16 - Jehovah, Seraphs and the Temple

In Isaiah 6/2Nephi 16, Isaiah recounts a vision in which he sees Jehovah in the temple. In Revelations 4, John’s revelation changes tone from being one of counsel to the seven churches in Asia Minor to an apocalyptic recitation of what he sees. While Isaiah sees inside a temple, a place where God lives or visits, John sees into Heaven where God resides.

In both places, there are “winged” creatures. Isaiah calls them Seraphim, John says they are “beasts.” They have common qualities in that both have six veils or wings and that they both sing praises to God. Did both men see the same thing? It’s interesting to contemplate, especially when you realize they are separated by nine hundred years. Word meanings can change a lot in that time.

What I found most interesting in this is in Isaiah and the purification he goes through. Isaiah cries he is unworthy to behold the vision. In response an angel comes (one of the Seraphim??) holding a hot coal in tongs and purifies him by touching it to his lips.

This is a ritual purification: touching your tongue with a glowing coal will not purify your soul but destroy your tongue. So, where on earth do we have a place where we can be in God’s presence and be purified through a ritual? Yep, the Temple.

I don’t know why it is, but God uses actions to teach abstract principles. We eat a piece of bread and drink a small cup of water to help us remember the Savior. Likewise, we do things in the temple to help us learn eternal truths and make covenants with God. There’s a lot more to these actions and accounts than meets the eye. It’s the Holy Ghost that explains it all.