Saturday, February 27, 2016

Mosiah 5-8 - From Benjamin to Zeniff

Mosiah Chapters 5-8 is a transition piece that moves the narrative from King Benjamin’s eloquent address to the story of King Zeniff. I think, Mormon wrote about Zeniff because of the dynasty of religious leaders who arose from his people. I’m speaking of Alma and the five generations of prophet-leaders who are his descendants. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

For this entry, several things struck me. One is the Nephites considered life as slaves to Nephites a better  arrangement than what they had under the Lamanites. Under the Lamanites they had a 50% tax rate and they couldn’t leave. Tax day is coming. When you pay your taxes this year, keep in mind, the Nephites thought a 50 percent tax rate was worse than slavery.

Another is Ammon, the leader of the expedition to the land of Lehi-Nephi. He was not a descendant of Lehi but a Mulekite. I’m curious why he would be so interested about the Nephites? It begs the question and dovetails into my last observation on this section.

The people don’t weary Mosiah about the Nephites who left so many years ago until after Benjamin dies. I doubt their interest just flipped on at that time. So, why didn’t they do anything before he died? I don’t know, but there’s a lot going on here which we don’t know about.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Temple Observations

A few thoughts I had while listening to the endowment creation presentation:

One of the signs of a well designed system is when it's self-correcting. An example of that is the steering assembly of modern automobiles. The mechanical linkages are designed in a way that the car's weight helps center the steering wheel to help the car track straight down the road. While a simple, yet elegant design, it is one which some unknown mechanical engineer spent many hours of work to get it right. Today, we don't even think about it -- we just expect cars to behave that way.

Consider now something far more complex: the oxygen level in the earth's atmosphere. How is it that the chemical binding energy of oxygen is such that enough of it can exist in the atmosphere to empower animals, including us, to move about while being low enough that it doesn't cause plants and dried carbon-based things to spontaneously combust? If the atmosphere contained a higher percentage of oxygen, fires would be much more prevalent and advanced cultures would be much harder to develop because of the volatility of the building materials.

We take take the world we live on for granted because it just works. Yet, because we see it working day after day, it rarely comes to mind just how amazingly well designed it is. Like Alma the Younger, I think one of the great witnesses of God's existence is this amazing planet we live on. The more astrophysicists learn about exoplanets, the greater is their awareness of how rare the Earth is. To paraphrase one scientist, its existence makes you "think twice" about the odds that were beat if random chance was the only determinant in its creation.

To wit: we live on a planet that's an engineering marvel. According to our understanding of cosmology and physics, mathematically, the Earth is an improbable place. Yet here it is! We have Heavenly Father to thank for it.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Mosiah 4 - The Great Sermons

While the Book of Mormon is filled with many truths, there are within it, sermons which rise above the rest. Benjamin's sermon on charity is one. I’m also pretty certain, Mosiah 4 is on your list too. What makes it great? For me, it’s Benjamin explaining God’s definition of charitable giving. “What is it?” you ask.

This: Give according to the need. Don’t judge the recipient. Especially don’t withhold your help because you think they deserve the problems they have. Give according to your means. This is how God helps us. To be like Him, do it the same way with the same intent.

For what t’s worth, here’s my list: (Listed in the order in which they appear)

The Coming of Jesus Christ - Nephi’s vision in 1 Nephi 11

The Role of Agency and Opposition - Lehi’s benedictory admonitions to his sons  in 2 Nephi 2-3

The Evils of Pride and the Proper Role of Fathers - Jacob’s exhortation to the Nephites in Jacob 2-4

The Future History of the World, a recitation of Zeno’s prophecy by Jacob - Jacob 5.

The Power of Prayer - Enos

The Meaning of Charity, King Benjamin’s benedictory address - Mosiah 4

The Coming of Christ by Abinadi to King Noah’s court - Mosiah 13

The Proper Role of Government: an essay by King Mosiah II - Mosiah 29

The Saint’s Checklist for a Christ-like Life, a sermon by Alma the Younger - Alma 5

An Exposition on Faith, a sermon by Alma the Younger to the humble Zoramites - Alma 32

Who Is God, a dissertation by Ammon to King Lamoni - Alma 18

Repentance and Forgiveness and the Plan of Salvation, Alma the Younger’s letter to his son Corianton - Alma 39-42

Man’s role in defending Liberty. A letter to Pahoran by Captain Moroni - Alma 60

Faith, Hope and Charity. A sermon to the righteous Nephites of Mormon’s day - Moroni 7.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Mosiah 3 - Speaking, again, of Christ

Such a goldmine! I read Mosiah 3 this morning. From a spiritual point of view it’s like trying to drink from a fire hydrant because of the great density of doctrine it contains.

In here is a scriptural definition of the torment the wicked will endure. There are comments about what the Savior will/did go through for us. There is more about our relationship with Him. Again and again, the message is said, that only through Christ can we enjoy all the Father has for us. Only through Him can we find lasting and true joy in this life and in the life to come.

There are stern warnings to those who know better who turn away from Christ and seek their own path through life. Open rebellion is a weighty phrase. Yet that’s what Benjamin uses to describe the actions of those, who having been taught the truth turn away from it to seek their own way through life. The consequences are dire.

This is one of those passages where I hear Elder Maxwell’s voice saying Jesus is not only the God of Love, but also the God of the straight and narrow path.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Mosiah 2 - This isn't Kansas Toto... More evidence

As I started into Mosiah, I thought I’d write more about the great doctrinal themes it contains which show up in the LDS Temple rituals. But that isn’t how it seems to be this morning. Instead, I’m struck by the cultural differences on display in Mosiah chapter 2 from anything anyone in 1820 America would be familiar with.

I’m going to say right now as I begin this essay or series of essays, that Orson Scott Card covers the territory I’m going to write about in much greater detail than I will here. Check out his essay here. He is uniquely qualified to say what he does because he is a master story teller and a faithful member of the LDS church.

Why is he qualified to write about it? Because he knows what it takes to write a work of fiction. Critics of the Book of Mormon claim it is just that. Card knows how difficult it is to produce something like it and have it be well done. Read the essay. It’s well worth your time.

In the mean time, I marvel at the different culture on display in Mosiah. These people are not American Indians. Neither are they frontier settlers of 1820, but rather citizens of ancient Israel…with a twist. While Joseph Smith and the other alleged authors of the book knew of kings and kingdoms. We see a succession here which exists no where else in the Bible let alone in history. Well, there’s one place where it does occur, but Joseph knew nothing of it and that’s in the succession of kings in Meso-America. I’m a heartlander myself and it’s hard to admit that, but it’s true just the same.

In Joseph’s day kings filled the role until they died or were deposed. In Mosiah, the people accept what’s happened without any fuss. Imagine what would happen if John Adams said, “I’m going to retire and name my son as your new president.” How well would that go over?

Yet this is what happens in Mosiah and Joseph doesn’t say a thing about how extraordinarily un-American this is. Going back to Card, one theme he states is it’s human nature for an author to point out differences to his readers so they’ll appreciate his wit or understand what’s going on. Joseph never does it, although Mormon does, but that’s fodder for a different essay.

So there you have it, a compelling slice of cultural difference Joseph couldn’t imagine because it was outside his realm of experience. Occam’s razor says all things being equal, the simplest explanation is the truth. In this case, it’s easier to believe the Book of Mormon is a record of an ancient and different culture than any other explanation. The evidence and human nature won’t allow another.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Mosiah 1 - Compelling Proof for the Book of Mormon

I’m glad Joseph Smith hadn’t translated this chapter before the 116 page manuscript was lost. It contains an event no one in North America knew off in 1829. I’m speaking of Mosiah 2’s “coronation” ceremony. In other words, Benjamin’s benedictory address and a ritual act of succession wherein he hands the kingdom to his son, Mosiah.

In his book “An Approach to the Book of Mormon,” Hugh Nibley asserts this one passage is the most convincing set of evidence which had yet been brought forth to show the Book of Mormon’s authenticity as an ancient work. He said no one knew of or identified the pattern of this ceremony of succession until the 1920’s. How then could Joseph write about something with such unerring accuracy a century earlier? Dumb luck? I think not.

Nibley identifies the event as a “Grand Assembly” held, often at the beginning of a new year or a new age, in which a major change was announced to the people. He goes on to cite 36 elements in this narrative which are the typical attributes of such an event. I won’t list them all here. But you can find the material in Chapter 33 in that book. He said all of the traits in this passage which identify such a ceremony have been found in the Old World. None of them in the Book of Mormon exist only in it too.

In the end, despite the weight of evidence for its authenticity, archeological evidence will never prove it. At most, it will show the culture in which these events take place is plausible. Additionally, there will never be archeological proof of the truthfulness of the doctrines it contains. That comes only from God.

While a story can teach, a true story telling the same theme can inspire. Such is the role of the historicity and plausible archeological authenticity of the Book of Mormon.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Jarom to the Words of Mormon - The end of the record

I hope some day to read what was in the lost 116 pages about this time. The record fast forwards through time covering five generations of writers and several hundred years. And yes, I realize there are six writers during this period, two of them are brothers, so for me they count as one generation. During this period the Nephites fall into apostasy. One writer confesses he is a wicked man. Another says he knows of no new prophecy among the people. It’s interesting to me that they also quit mentioning how much time has passed. The last that’s mentioned is by Amaron, Jarom’s grandson, when 320 years had passed.

The narrative resumes, a couple generations later, when Amaleki closes it out with the story of the Nephites fleeing from the Land of Nephi. Amaleki’s story is a poignant one. On the one hand, he has no children. At the same time, he mentions a brother who leaves with Zeniff to go back to the Land of Nephi. He had no one to give the plates to so he makes the choice to give them to King Benjamin. Benjamin is a prophet-warrior-king over the amalgamated nation of Nephites and Mulekites.

Perhaps it’s just because of the brevity of the record, but it’s here we read for the first time of dissensions away from the Nephites to the Lamanites. Reading between the lines, you realize joining the two people was difficult. It required a lot of effort by the king or government leaders to keep it going. This thread of discord runs throughout the rest of their history until Christ appears.

Just a reminder: this is the last part of the record Joseph Smith translated. When they sent the book to be printed, he put this account in front of the rest. The day dreamer in me thinks that had the 116 pages not been lost, it would’ve been at the end of the record, after Moroni. Like an appendix in a modern book. We start next in the Book of Mosiah. You’ll note, it doesn’t begin like any succeeding book with an introduction by Mormon: that was part of the 116 pages.

We don’t even know if it was originally named Mosiah by Mormon. Given the seminal event of Mosiah I fleeing into the wilderness it could be named after him. It may have been named Benjamin for the work he did in uniting the two people. It may even have been part of the Book of Lehi. Whatever the case, I’m certain Mormon did not name it after Benjamin’s son Mosiah II.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016


One of the things which amaze me about Enos is how much time passes and how few men it takes to witness it all. When Enos finishes his record, 179 years have passed from the time Lehi left Jerusalem. That’s a lot of years covered by two and a half generations. I say two and a half because Nephi and Jacob though brothers have a few years between them. Nephi was an adult when Jacob was born. I wonder if Nephi knew Enos. Would I know my younger brother’s son?

What it does say is they lived long lives! It’s something to wonder about.

But the heart of Enos’ record are the four stages of his life journey. The first is what I’d say is normal: he goes about his life, but his guilt over weaknesses and his desire to know the things his father knew concern him. Eventually, it becomes an earnest desire which compels him to spend hours in prayer.

He receives an answer, which begins the second phase of his life: his concern for his family. At some time, he gets an answer about them which starts the third and a long phase of his life: his concern for his distant relatives, the Lamanites. After many years of praying and participating in missionary efforts to reclaim them, the Lord answers his prayers saying the record he is keeping will be preserved for a future time.

This begins the final phase of his life: his soul at rest, he spends the rest of his days preaching and prophesying to whoever will listen of the many things he’s learned, seen and heard. He makes the observation there are many prophets among the people. I wonder what happened to their records?

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Jacob 5-7 - Wrapping up Jacob

Reading through my notes on Jacob 5, I was reminded of a couple of observations. One is that verse 40 is Nephi’s day. This is when Lehi’s party was brought to the New World. Verse 61 is the start of our day, when the Gospel is restored and taught the last time.

The pruning and replacing of the evil fruit occurs in our day.

Chapter six, verse one is where Jacob gives his commentary and prophecy about what he’s just written. I think it’s instructive to note that speaking as prophet, his prophecy consisted of saying simply, “Everything I told you is the truth.”

So it can be for us today. A prophet is still speaking by the power of the Holy Ghost and prophesying when he says no more than, “this is all true.”

For those dealing with critics of the Church and its teachings, Jacob gives us the story of Sherem. Sherem’s arguments are persuasive. They seem to make sense. It’s clear that what he says is effective because many people, Jacob says followed after him.

He gives the antidotes to the Sherems of our day in verse five. He speaks of the many revelations he’d been given, even seeing angels and hearing the Lord’s voice. While this may sound extraordinary, keep in mind, Laman and Lemuel both had seen angels and God’s power in personal ways. It didn’t help because they were tone-deaf to the Spirit.

Jacob wasn’t. And that’s the key. If you’ve had experiences with the Spirit and you keep them fresh through regular study of the scriptures, you will be inoculated to the Sherems of our day. This may seem an audacious thing to say, but it is what I’ve experienced. With all that I’ve experienced of the Spirit and all that I continue to feel, the Sherem arguments that get thrown at me just bounce off. As long as I read the scriptures, go to the temple and attend church on Sundays, in other words as long as I make the Savior the rock on which I stand, none of this will destroy me. I love Helaman 5:12 for that reason.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Jacob 5 - the Apocalypse of Zenos

Jacob 5 is one of the longest single chapters in the Book of Mormon. It’s also a verbatim quote of a prophet not found in the King James Bible, Zenos. What I find most interesting about it is it contains a concise history of the world. One that covers time from the scattering of Israel through it’s final gathering and salvation at the end of the world.

In this context, it encompasses our day, and hence my interest. What does it say about our day? God is preparing the world for the eventual harvest… the Second Coming. It outlines a Divine iterative cyclic approach to improving the world. God weeds out the worst, letting the righteous fill in the space occupied by the recently removed wicked. Then He goes to the next place and removes the most wicked there as soon as there is enough righteous growth to take its place. There's a lot of pruning to do.

The other take away from that is the answer I got to what all the pruning actually is. It’s war. God prunes the vineyard, the Earth, with war. It’s not that He “chooses” to do that, but He allows it to happen amongst the wicked. It’s a tough way to do it, but one thing I’ve learned lately is sometimes that’s the only way people can be reached.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Jacob 4 - You get what you ask for

Jacob’s insights into revelation and God's relationship with Man is  thought provoking. It shows more than anything else God respects man’s will. He knows what is best for us, but He respects our right to choose and do less beneficial things.

The testimony of His great wisdom is in verse 10: “Wherefore, brethren, seek not to counsel the Lord, but to take counsel from his hand. For behold, ye yourselves know that he counseleth in wisdom, and in justice, and in great mercy, over all his works.

When you contrast this, with what the Jews did, it should give us pause. We ought to consider what it is we are asking of God when we pray to Him. See verse 14: “But behold, the Jews were a stiffnecked people; and they despised the words of plainness ... and sought for things that they could not understand. Wherefore ... God hath taken away his plainness from them, and delivered unto them many things which they cannot understand, because they desired it. And because they desired it God hath done it, that they may stumble.

In verse 13, Jacob testifies God speaks the truth of things as they are and will be. He doesn’t lie. It takes humility to accept this truth and to follow His counsel. As I think about this, I realize, I need to be more humble and follow the counsel to in D&C 50:30, where the Lord promises it shall be given to us what we shall ask. I used to think that meant if we asked for something God would give it to us, which is true. But a former mission president made this observation that has forever stuck with me. It also means God will give you, or tell you, what you should ask for.

Isn’t that interesting?