Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Book of Mormon: 1 Nephi 10

Today’s scripture is in 1 Nephi 10.

According to Nephi, much of the contents of this chapter are things Lehi has said to Laman and Lemuel following his recitation of the dream mentioned in chapter 8.  After that, Lehi began to prophesy about Jerusalem (v3-14).

  1. Jerusalem will be destroyed.
  2. Many will be carried away into Babylon
  3. They will be brought back out of captivity
  4. 600 years after Lehi left Jerusalem, a Messiah will be born among the Jews.
  5. Many prophets have spoken of a Messiah
  6. All Mankind were in a fallen state and would always be unless they rely on this Messiah
  7. A prophet will come to prepare the way for the Messiah
  8. He will speak certain words concerning Messiah being greater than he is.
  9. He will baptize in Bethabara beyond Jordan
  10. He will baptize Messiah with water
  11. He will witness that he has baptized Messiah
  12. The gospel will be preached among the Jews
  13. The Jews will dwindle in unbelief
  14. They will slay Messiah, after which he will rise from the dead
  15. He will then make himself manifest to the world, even the Gentiles.
  16. Lots about the Gentiles and the Hebrews.
  17. The children of Israel compared with the branches of an olive tree that are broken off and scattered over the earth.
  18. After the Gentiles have received the gospel, they and the children of Israel will be grafted in and come to a knowledge of the true Messiah.

Nephi notes that Lehi said lots of other things that Nephi didn’t feel like they were all as important as the ones mentioned above.  After hearing all of this, Nephi was filled with a desire to see, hear and experience the things that his father did when he had his vision. 

At this point, Nephi bears his testimony about God and the Holy Ghost.  He testifies that God is and has always been and will always be the same.  He says that the mysteries of God will be unfolded to people who diligently seek them through the power of the Holy Ghost.  Nephi reminds us that we will all be judged by our actions.  He finishes up by informing us that the Holy Ghost has given him the authority to write the things he’s just said.

Applying the Scriptures to My Own Life

I think the piece of information that touched me the most this time through the Book of Mormon was the knowledge that the Lord is, has been and will always be the same, forever.  So, the fact that the Lord loves me means that he has always loved me and he will always love me, forever.  This is an important fact for me to remember because I have difficulty loving myself.  So, knowing that there is, has, and always will be someone to whom I can look for constant love and care is a comforting thought.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Book of Mormon: 1 Nephi 9

We’re looking at 1 Nephi 9 today.

This chapter is actually pretty short and fairly simple, so this entry is also likely to be pretty short.  Nephi mentions that he’s keeping his record on plates and tells us that some of these plates are just general history and some are specifically for his “ministry” which I take to mean the results of his work as a prophet of the Lord.  Nephi says specifically that the Lord has commanded him to do things this way for some reason that Nephi doesn’t know.  However, he notes that the Lord knows everything from the very start.  He has all knowledge and all power and is able to fulfill all his words.

Applying the Scriptures to My Own Life

I got a lot more out of this passage of scripture than I got out of the others so far.  I’m given to understand from this that it’s okay, even desirable, to keep more than one journal during your lifetime.  One of these should be for your personal history; the “this happened and then this happened” of life’s day to day round.  The other should be to collect spiritual happenings, such as impressions obtained from the scriptures, church meetings and/or casual reading and conversation, prayers answered and blessings obtained.  Then, in kind of a strange way, you have your own volume of highly personal scripture; something you can pass on to your children so that they can see how the gospel has effected your life, how much it’s meant to you, and even what kinds of spiritual things turned out to be important to you.  As Nephi mentioned, this volume or even series of volumes can even show your future generations your testimony of God and how He really does have all power and all knowledge in making his purposes known and getting them fulfilled.  The Lord loves us.  He is looking for every possible way to make that plain to us.  The journals of our ancestors is one of those ways in which he does this.  We can help contribute to that by faithfully keeping journals of our own, if not for their sakes, for ours.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Book of Mormon: 1 Nephi 8

Today’s scripture of choice is in 1 Nephi 8.

This chapter deals with Lehi’s dream.  Since it’s longer than the previous chapter (38 verses) I’m going to try to just pick up the salient points on this one and try to clarify as much as I can.  So, if I say anything you don’t understand, please feel free to leave a comment below and I’ll try to answer it to the best of my knowledge and abilities.

First of all, Nephi comments that the families were gathering together seeds of every kind.  I’m guessing that the reason for that is because they don’t know what all kinds of food will be available to them in the new land.  Therefore, to be safe if for no other reason, they have decided to bring along some local seeds that they can plant and, later, harvest.  What’s more, sometimes seeds can be edible in and of themselves, so, they might also have been something of an emergency food source when meat was scarce as is seen later.

Anyway, while they’re there, Lehi gathers everyone together.  He’s had another vision. This vision leads him to believe that Nephi and Sam will be saved along with many of their descendants.  Like any good father, however, he’s afraid for his two eldest sons.

As Lehi’s dream begins, he finds himself standing in a “dark and dreary wilderness.” Merriam-Webster’s main definition of wilderness impresses upon us the idea of a place uncultivated and uninhabited.  A wild place.  While Lehi is there, a man dressed all in white appears, then walks over, stands before him and directs him to follow.  Lehi states next that he travelled through a dark and dreary waste.  Merriam-Websters definition of waste isn’t too much different from “wilderness”, but the differences, such as the word “barren,” add a whole new understanding of the kind of place Lehi found himself in.  After what seemed to be a long time travelling in darkness, Lehi pled to the Lord for mercy.  When he’d finished praying, he looked and realized he was in a large field, which Merriam-Websters defines as an open area with no woods or buildings of any kind.  So, at first, all Lehi noticed was that the place he was in seemed very dark and desolate.  Then, following prayer, he realized he was in an open, undeveloped place with no trees or signs of human habitation.  In one place in this field, Lehi saw a tree whose fruit he knew was meant to make the partaker happy.  So, he went and had some fruit.

Lehi’s description of the fruit is that it was sweeter than anything he’d ever tasted and whiter than anything he’d ever seen.  Upon eating the fruit, Lehi found that his soul was filled with joy and he immediately wished to share it with his family.  I’m familiar with this feeling.  After being in the dark for long periods of time, I’ve found that anything that brings me joy is something I find myself wanting to share with people I love.  So, anyway, Lehi turned around and started to look for his family.  As he did, he noticed that there was a river running not too far from the tree and at the head of this he saw his wife and two younger sons.  He called to them and they also came and ate some fruit.  However, Lehi noticed that Laman and Lemuel hadn’t come, so he looked back toward the head of the river trying to spot them.  When he saw them, however, he was dismayed to find that they wouldn’t come forward to eat some fruit. 

While he was in the middle of trying to pursuade his sons to join him at the tree, Lehi happened to notice that there was a path leading along the bank of the river to the tree that most of his family was enjoying and also out past the head of the river and into the field, which now seemed so big that Lehi said it was “as if it had been a world.”  Next to the path, there stood a rod of iron, like a hand rail, I’m guessing and the field was filled with people, all pressing forward to try and reach the path that led to the tree by which Lehi and his family stood.  As the people gained the path, a thick mist arose, causing many of those that were on the path to wander away from it.  Still others gained the path, these, however, caught hold of the hand railing and clung to it as they moved forward on the path until they reached the tree and ate the fruit.  But, to Lehi’s surprise, they immediately appeared ashamed.  Confused, Lehi also looked around and saw a large building nearby, hanging high in the air.  It was filled with people who were mocking and ridiculing those that ate the fruit so that they wandered onto “forbidden paths” and were lost.

At this point, Nephi says, rather funnily, that he feels a need to compress the remainder of the dream.  To be succinct, other people came, grabbing the iron hand railing, and pressed forward holding it until they reached the tree and ate the fruit.  These, Nephi notes, didn’t pay any attention to the people in the building.  He also saw a number of people find their way to the building, where everyone was well dressed and well fed and mocking those that ate the fruit.  However, Lehi’s last words in describing the dream are those of a worried father. “And Laman and Lemuel partook not of the fruit. (v35)”  Nephi comments that Lehi spent a lot of time talking with his two elder boys, trying with all the feeling of a loving father to try and persuade them to stick close to the gospel, so that they might obtain the mercy of the Lord.  He even prophesied some things to them, but we’re not told what those things were.  After that, however, Nephi says he left them alone.

Applying the Scriptures to My Own Life

Since we’ll be going into the interpretation of the dream in further chapters, I want to focus on Lehi’s reactions toward the actions of his family where the tree was concerned.  He had reason to rejoice because of Sam and Nephi.  Their feet were firmly planted on the path leading to the tree.  Laman and Lemuel, however, gave him cause to worry.  They almost completely refused to move forward and take the fruit.  The scripture doesn’t say so, but it’s been implied that Laman and Lemuel ended up in the great building.  As a mother, I understand the feelings Lehi is feeling where it comes to his two elder sons.  I wish, sometimes, that I could guarantee to myself that my children’s hands will be firmly placed on that iron hand railing.  With that in mind, reading this scripture, I know that I can only teach them this by holding onto it myself and trying to beckon them on.  I cannot force them to hold on.  I can only hope and pray that my actions and my words will be enough to put that hand railing in their hands.

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Book of Mormon: 1 Nephi 7

Today’s scripture is 1 Nephi 7.

At twenty two verses, this chapter is the longest one so far.  It’s not the longest chapter in the Book of Mormon (Jacob 5), but it’s long enough that I want to try to summarize as much as possible.

So, after father Lehi has finished prophesying, the Lord tells him to send his boys back to Jerusalem, this time, to obtain wives.  After all, it’s tough to build a whole new nation with just four boys.  The family selected for this purpose is that of Ishmael, who has five daughters and two sons, who are probably already married and have kids of their own (v6).

Anyway, they’re on their way back to the Valley of Lemuel when Laman and Lemuel, two of Ishmael’s daughters and both his sons and their families decide that they don’t want to go back to the wilderness.  They want to return to Jerusalem.  Nephi, who must have loved his brothers deeply, feels compelled to speak to them.  His speech to them comprises a little less than eight verses (v 8-15).  Rather than recount the entire speech, I’ll try to give you a list of all the salient points.

  • You’re older than me?  Why do you need to be so proud that I, your younger brother, must teach you and set a good example for you?
  • Why haven’t you hearkened to the word of the Lord?
  • Why have you forgotten all the wonderful things that have happened the last time we went to Jerusalem and how the Lord helped us?
  • Why can’t you remember that the Lord can do anything for those who have faith in him?
  • If we’re faithful, we’ve been promised a new land.
  • The Lord’s prophecies concerning Jerusalem must eventually be fulfilled because of the wickedness of the people.
  • If you go back to Jerusalem, you’ll die with them.
  • It’s your choice.  Go ahead and go back if you want to.  Just remember, when Jerusalem is destroyed, that I said this to you.
  • I’m saying all these things because God told me to.

This speech makes Laman and Lemuel so angry that they grab Nephi and tie him up, with the intention of leaving him out in the desert as dinner for wild animals.  At this point, Nephi has an opportunity to show his brothers the power his faith has granted him.  He asks the Lord for the strength to free himself and is instantly freed.  He speaks to them again, though we’re not told what Nephi said.  I imagine it was more of the previous.

Needless to say, Laman and Lemuel decide to grab Nephi again and would have done so except that one of the daughters of Ishmael and Ishmael’s wife and also one of his previously rebellious sons begged them to stop.  It is then that the two brothers come to realize just what they’re doing and begin to repent.  They even bow down and Nephi’s feet and beg him for forgiveness.  Needless to say, Nephi easily forgives them, but suggests that they should request forgiveness from the Lord.  They do this.  Then they complete their journey to the Valley of Lemuel, where they show their gratitude by offering burnt offerings on the family altar.

Applying the Scriptures to My Own Life

I know I’m not perfect.  In fact, I’ve got a temper on me that I’ve struggled to overcome for most of my life.  However, I know that I can’t complete my journey in this life unless I am repentant.  The Lord doesn’t expect perfection from me.  He expects repentance and for me to try to leave my temper behind each and every day.  He loves me and is willing to forgive my lapses of temper as long as I’m willing to work on changing and trying to forgive the people who hurt or offend me.  However, if I neglect repentance, eventually, such neglect will come back to bite me on the butt, just like it did for the people of Jerusalem, when the city was wiped out almost eleven years after Lehi left. 

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Book of Mormon: 1 Nephi 6

Today we’ll be studying 1 Nephi 6.

This chapter is comparatively short; only six verses long.  As a result, my entry, today, isn’t likely to be particularly long, either.  Let’s hope. 

Anyway, Nephi starts off by saying he’s not going to give his family genealogy in this part of his record.  That’s significant in that one’s family line is pretty important in the life of a Hebrew.  He notes that the genealogy is given in his father’s record, so he feels no real need to include it.  What’s more, I feel very strongly that, had the Lord felt that the genealogy was that important, he’d have inspired Nephi to include it in his own record as well as referring us to the record of Lehi.  Anyway, it’s enough for Nephi to say that they’re descendants of Joseph.

Nephi also points out that he’s not interested in giving a full account of his father’s story.  There won’t be enough room, he says, because he wants the room for the things of the God.  This is also understandable, however, it also means that we know virtually nothing about Lehi beyond his first vision in the first year of the reign of Zedekiah way back in 1 Nephi 1.  However, that also points to Nephi’s priorities with this record.  He’s not so much interested in recounting his father’s history so much as making us aware of the “things of God” he’s been inspired to write. 

Finally, Nephi tells us he’s not interested in sharing the “things of the world” in his record.  So, no long involved histories and no tutorials about building bows or ships or anything like that.  The purpose of Nephi’s record is to share those things that the Lord tells him to write; things “not of the world.”  So Nephi tells us he’s going to require his descendants only to write stuff on these plates that are worthwhile for people.

Applying the Scriptures to My Own Life

What I learned from this chapter was the definition of in the world but not of the world.  The Lord knows where my attention should be focused much better than I do.  If I rely on Him exclusively for guidance and direction, I can almost guarantee that I’ll learn and grow in the ways that I need to.  In short, let’s not concern ourselves with what the world thinks is important.  Let’s turn to the Lord and get His to-do list.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Book of Mormon: 1 Nephi 5

Today we will be in 1 Nephi 5.

This is the chapter in which we learn that Sariah, Lehi’s wife, may have had doubts about her husband’s calling as prophet.  To be honest, there’s every chance that the quest her boys had been sent on would take something in the nature of about nine days or so [the Math:  three days journey to reach the family’s camp, and three days to obtain the plates, one for each plan. (3x2)+3=9 days], just speaking from personal experience, I can say that it’s quite natural for any mother to start to worry.  Worry is a peculiar emotion and it often greases the way for us to say things we wouldn’t normally say, but that have been on our minds for a while.  That seems to have been the case here.  The real problem wasn’t that Lehi had visions that tore Sariah from her home and her things, although that may have bothered her a good deal.  The real problem was that her boys had been gone for longer than she thought that they should have been gone and she was worried about them.

In any case, Lehi must have loved his wife very much and the Spirit must have helped him understand her fears, because he spoke gently to her, addressing each of her complaints, without calling her to repentance or rebuking her or anything like that.  The main jist of what he said, though, was to reassure her that the Lord would protect their sons and deliver them from Laban.  How she must have clung to those words.  So, when the boys returned with Zoram and the plates, her faith was confirmed and she knew her husband was a prophet.  In fact, both parents were so grateful that they offered sacrifices of gratitude on the family altar.

After that, Lehi sat down with the record to examine it. It’s here that we learn the nature of the Brass Plates.  They are, in effect, the Old Testament, containing the five books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy), the record of the Jews (Joshua, Judges, Ruth, and most of Kings and Chronicles) the prophecies of the prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, etc.) and, most important to a Hebrew, the family’s genealogy.  Thanks to the plates, Lehi knew he was a descendant of Joseph, who had been sent to Egypt as a slave by his jealous brothers.  Apparently the Brass Plates were the record of the descendants of Joseph, which was why Laban, another descendant of Joseph, and his forefathers had kept them. 

When Lehi has finished looking over the scriptures, he was moved to prophecy, saying that the plates would never decay or be dimmed by time.  Then he said lots of things about his family.

Nephi’s last comment in this chapter is to reflect on how he and his father had, thus far, kept the commandments the Lord had given them concerning getting the plates.  They had examined them and discovered that they were a great treasure to them because, through them, they would be able to teach the Lord’s law to their children and their children’s children for as long as their family lived.  So, as Nephi says, the Lord was wise to command them to get the plates and take them along on their journey.

Applying the Scriptures to My Own Life

There are so many important messages in this chapter.  As Sariah, I learn to trust the Lord to guard my little family and guide me in keeping his commandments and to be a good example to my children of that precept, as well as gratitude to the Lord as he protects and provides for us.  I learn from Nephi and Lehi what a treasure the scriptures are and to look to them often for counsel and guidance as I unearth the heavenly treasures they contain.  Finally, I learn, as Nephi said, that the Lord has been wise to command us to study them regularly.

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Book of Mormon: 1 Nephi 4

Today’s scripture is in 1 Nephi 4.

In this chapter, we get the details of the brothers’ final successful attempt at obtaining the Plates of Brass.  In the previous chapter, if you recall, Laman and Lemuel had just seen an angel of the Lord who had commanded them to return to Jerusalem, informing them that Laban would be delivered into their hands.  I don’t know about you but, if I was Nephi, I imagine I’d be shaking my head in wonder.  Rather than rebuking his brothers, which would have been beneath him, really, Nephi begins to teach his brothers about the nature of God.

God, he says, is mightier than the whole earth.  In other words, if the whole world were to go to war against God, he would win, hands down.  So why wouldn’t God be mightier than Laban and his paltry fifty men?  Why wouldn’t God be mightier than Laban, even if he had fifty thousand men?  I’m reminded here of the time when Elisha and his servant were about to be attacked by soldiers and the servant yelled that they were done for.  Elisha’s calm response was something to the effect of “Don’t be afraid, there’s more with us than there are with them.” Then the servant’s eyes were opened and he saw a multitude of angels all decked out for war(2 Kings 6:15-17). 

Nephi reminds his brothers of his own favorite Old Testament moment.  Namely, the time when Moses and the children of Israel were trapped by the Red Sea, about to be slaughtered wholesale by Pharaoh’s armies.  Moses spoke to the Red Sea and it parted for them, allowing them to pass through on the sea floor.  Then, when Pharaoh’s men tried to follow, they were drowned.  Only then does he remind them that they only recently saw an angel, which should have erased any possibility of doubt in them.  Then again, I’m reminded that we’ve been told that no amount of miracles are likely to change the heart of someone who’s not humble.  Laman and Lemuel are the purest examples of this.  Lots of miraculous things happened to them, of which this was probably just the first and sometimes they’d change, but only for a little while.  Then they’d revert to their old ways again.

In any case, nothing Nephi said to them was convincing enough to kill the older brothers’ doubts.  Still, they did follow Nephi back to the city.  Then he got them to wait outside, hidden, while he went inside, guided by the Spirit.  Now, here’s where we learn what the Lord meant when he said he would “deliver Laban into [Nephi’s] hands.”  Nephi comes to Laban’s house and, outside, he finds a drunk man collapsed to the ground.  After closer inspection, he finds that the man is Laban himself.  My assumption was that the man was out celebrating his recent windfall and didn’t make it back home before the wine he’d been celebrating with overtook him.  In any case, that’s how Nephi found him.

According to Nephi’s account, the first thing he noticed was Laban’s sword.  It was made from the most precious steel.  Its hilt was made from pure gold and it was very well made and, I assume, quite sharp.  Anyway, while Nephi was admiring Laban’s sword, the spirit suggested that the best use for that sword would be in taking Laban’s life.

I like the way that Nephi handled this.  He knew that killing people is against the Mosaic law.  So he questioned the commandment.  He didn’t express any doubt in where the command originated, he simply stated, “I’ve never killed anyone before,” and didn’t want to do it.

I noticed, at this point, that the Lord never, ever has just one reason for anything he asks us to do.  Here’s the list of reasons Nephi was given for slaying Laban.

  1. the Lord delivered Laban into Nephi’s hands. (v11)
  2. Laban tried to kill Nephi and his brothers (v11)
  3. Laban wouldn’t hearken to the commandments of the Lord (v11)
  4. Laban had stolen the property of Nephi’s family (v11)
  5. The Lord kills the wicked to bring forth his righteous purposes (v13)
  6. It is better that one man should die than that a whole nation should dwindle and die because of unbelief. (v13)
  7. Nephi has been promised that his seed will prosper in the promised land if they keep the commandments.  They can’t do that if they don’t have the law.  (v14-15)
  8. The law was engraved on the brass plates. (v16)
  9. The Lord delivered Laban into Nephi’s hands specifically so he could get the plates. (v17)

With all these reasons given to him, Nephi obeyed the voice of the Lord and cut off Laban’s head with his own sword.  After that, the rest of it was easy.  Here’s where we learn that Laban was probably a pretty healthy man and Nephi was likely about as tall, if not exactly as tall, as Laban.  Nephi is able to put on all of Laban’s clothing and armor and pass himself off as the man well enough to obtain the plates and the convince the servant who brought them to accompany him outside the city.

Needless to say, the rest of Nephi’s brothers are also fooled, thinking that Nephi has been killed and Laban has come himself to get revenge on the rest of them as well.  Nephi stops them by calling out in his own voice.  Then he has to turn around and stop the servant as well.  They learn the man’s name (Zoram) and get him to promise to come into the wilderness with them in exchange for both his life and his freedom.  Their main reason for this was that they were afraid Zoram would warn the Jews that Nephi and his brothers had the plates and that the Jews would then pursue and kill them all.  So, once Zoram had promised to come with them, the brothers stopped worrying about him and returned to their father with the plates.

Applying the Scriptures to My Own Life

I’m caught by two things in this chapter.  First, Nephi’s determination to follow the Spirit, even though he had no notion of exactly how he’d get the plates.  Second, the fact that the Lord gave nine reasons why Nephi should kill Laban.

With this in mind, I realize that the Lord really does take good care of the people who follow him.  He won’t ask you to do anything just on a whim.  He won’t say “do it because I said to.”  He always has many good reasons for the things he asks us to do and we may not know all of them.  On the other hand, the Lord is that good kind of father who, if we ask why something needs to be done, will give us a reason we can get behind.  I’m put in mind of Mary, the mother of Christ, who’s sole question regarding the coming of Messiah was, “How is this going to happen, considering I haven’t had sex with anyone, yet?”  The messenger didn’t question her faith in that instance any more than the Spirit questioned Nephi’s.  Rather, he quietly explained the thing to her. 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Book of Mormon: 1 Nephi 3

Today’s entry is on 1 Nephi 3.  Honestly, I don’t seem able to complete these as expeditiously as I’d like.  Nevertheless, the effort is what counts, right?  Right?

Never mind.  Let’s just get to it.

This is the one chapter that contains the scripture most often memorized by Mormons. 

And it came to pass that I, Nephi, said unto my father: I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them. 1 Nephi 3:7

What it basically suggests is that God won’t ask us to do impossible things.  If the things he commands are outside our usual abilities, God will take up the slack to make things that seem impossible into things that are possible.  The example given in this chapter is the Lord’s commandment to Lehi to send his sons back to Jerusalem for the Plates of Brass, which, according to Lehi, contained the record of the Jews (better known as the Old Testament of the Bible).  When Lehi first mentions this to Laman and Lemuel, their first response was to suggest that this task was beyond their abilities, “It is a hard thing which [Lehi has] required of them”.  Nephi’s opinion, on the other hand, is that nothing the Lord has commanded can be impossible because the Lord will make it possible.  When he says that, Lehi rejoices because he knows Nephi has been well blessed. 

So, anyway, they make three tries at getting the plates.  The first two unsuccessful attempts are included in Chapter 3 and, along with Laman and Lemuel’s reactions, they make for an interesting contrast between the two sets of brothers.

For the first attempt, Nephi says they cast lots.  That basically means they drew straws and Laman got the short straw.  Their first idea was to simply go and ask for the plates.  So Laman, as the one chosen for this task, went to Laban, who was the keeper of the plates, and requested them from him.  We aren’t told what words Laman used in his attempt to persuade Laban to give them up.  What we are told, however, is that Laban flatly refused, calling Laman a robber and threatening to kill him.  Laman and Lemuel’s reaction is basically, they say “okay, we tried, let’s go back.”  Nephi, however, puts a quick halt to this plan by the simple expedient of refusing to return until they’ve found a way to fulfill the commandment they’ve been given. 

For the second attempt, the brothers return to their ancestral land and gather up all the family riches.  With these they go back to Laban and offer to buy the plates in exchange for the entire amount.  Laban’s response is, unfortunately, fairly typical.  He gets greedy, kicks them out and sends servants after them to kill them so that he can keep their property.  Obliged to leave their riches behind in order to keep their lives, they escape by hiding in a cave outside the city.  Again, Laman and Lemuel’s response is telling.  They pick up a stick and start beating on Sam and Nephi with it.  We aren’t told the why of this action.  However, thinking about what kind of people they were and why I might react in this fashion if I were them, I’m reminded that Laman and Lemuel were cut from more or less the same cloth as the people of Jerusalem who wanted to kill their father.  More than likely, they were upset for two reasons.  First, that they lost all their riches and, second, that the second attempt (which I assume was Nephi’s idea) nearly got them killed.  This is stopped pretty quickly when an angel of the Lord appeared to them.  Whenever I am called upon to read this passage aloud, I always read it as if I were talking to my own wayward children.

“Why do ye smite your younger brother with a rod? Know ye not that the Lord hath chosen him to be a ruler over you, and this because of your iniquities? Behold ye shall go up to Jerusalem again, and the Lord will deliver Laban into your hands.” 1 Nephi 3:29

However, when the angel disappeared, Laman and Lemuel’s response, I find, is more or less in direct opposition to Nephi’s assertion to his father that the Lord makes everything he asks possible.  Laman and Lemuel reply with, “How is it possible that the Lord will deliver Laban into our hands?  Behold, he is a mighty man, and he can command fifty, yea, even he can slay fifty; then why not us?” 

Applying the Scriptures to My Own Life

Looking at the difference between the two sets of brothers, one responding with faith in the Lord’s ability to help his servants and the other in serious doubt about the same, I know that I need to let go of my own pride and doubt in my own personal abilities and remember what Nephi said about the Lord making his commandments possible.  If He says build a food storage, I shouldn’t worry about where the food is going to go or how we’re going to get it.  I should just get and store it and be grateful for those things that come to us.  If He says grow a garden, I shouldn’t grumble about the extra work or wonder how I’m going to remember to water it.  I should just do it and store the results.  If He says to take care of my body, I should let go of all my useless excuses and just do it.  I shouldn’t look too far into the future or back into the past.  I should just concentrate on today and trust the Lord to make it possible for me.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Book of Mormon: 1 Nephi 2

Today, we’ll be studying 1 Nephi Chapter 2

First off, Lehi is told in a dream to take his family and “depart into the wilderness.(v 2)”  Lehi doesn’t hesitate, but gathers up his family and camels and tents and they leave.  Here, too, we learn that Lehi was a wealthy man.  They leave behind gold and silver and “precious things(v 4).”  In this chapter, we learn the composition of Lehi’s family.

  1. The head of this family is Lehi /lē´hī/ (Hebrew: cheek or jaw) and his wife Sariah /sa-rī´a/ (Hebrew: Princess of the Lord or Jehovah is Prince)
  2. The first son is Laman /lā´mun/ (Arabic: twinkling)
  3. The second son is Lemuel /lĕm´yūl/(Hebrew: devoted to God)
  4. The third son is Sam /săm/.  At the website I found the following “The name is Egyptian. ‘It was the distinctive name of one of the highest orders of the priesthood. The great Rameses, himself, belonged to the order of Sam.’ (George Reynolds)” (Reynolds and Sjodahl, Commentary on the Book of Mormon, vol. 1, p. 25-26)  It could also be a shortening of the name “Samuel” which was a Hebrew name meaning “Asked of God” according to the Bible’s footnotes.
  5. The fourth son is Nephi /nē´fī/(origin unknown)

They traveled three days until they came to a lovely little valley with a stream flowing through it.  After pitching tents and building an altar, which I take to mean that Lehi wished to establish his camp as decidedly a Hebrew dwelling place, Lehi named the stream or river for his eldest son and the valley for his second son.  Then, being a loving father, he offered his two wayward eldest sons something to think about, thus letting them know his naming of these features of their camp after them wasn’t to be an honorific, but a lesson.  In verse 9, Lehi exclaims that he wishes Laman were like the river which was named for him, “continually running into the fountain of all righteousness.”  In verse 10, he makes the same wish for Lemuel, desiring him to be “firm and steadfast, and immovable in keeping the commandments of the Lord.”

Like many, I have wondered why Lehi did this, other than in the obvious parental desire to gently teach his children where they needed to point themselves.  Hugh Nibley states in his book Lehi in the Desert that this is a practice that the Bedouin still follow today.  Lots of people have debated about whether this constitutes definitive evidence that the Book of Mormon is true.  Personally, I think that it’s reasonable that Lehi, during his travels before the events detailed in this book, noticed this practice among the Bedouin and thought it was cool.  This is fairly typical of many of us, in that, if someone else has a tradition that we admire, we may take that home and implement it.  For example, this Christmas our Relief Society were discussing Christmas traditions our families use to put Christ back in Christmas.  One of the sisters said that they have a white stocking hanging with the family’s stockings.  This they fill with little notes telling of deeds they did or others did for them that were Christ-like.  I thought that was a pretty neat tradition.  The very next day, I bought a white Christmas stocking and hung it on the mantelpiece with ours, telling the kids that this was Jesus’ stocking and that we were going to fill it with the kind of gifts he wants, namely Christ-like behavior, which we would read out loud on Christmas day.  Now, even though this wasn’t previously a tradition of my family, this doesn’t mean I can’t borrow it.  I think the same may well have been the case for Lehi.  He saw this wonderful tradition of naming a campsite among the nomadic tribes and, since he and his family were going to be nomadic for a while, he implemented it.  It makes sense to me.

Anyway, Laman and Lemuel murmured a great deal because A) their dad was behaving like a lunatic, dragging them from their home without any of their wealth and making them live in the wilderness, B) He is claiming that Jerusalem will be destroyed, which seems unlikely to them because it’s been attacked several times already and it’s still there (at the time), and C) they didn’t understand the ways of the Lord.   

As I read this chapter, I felt very much as though this was the chapter about obedience to the commandments of the Lord. If we look at each family member, we see a different attitude to keeping the commandments.

Lehi, the family prophet and leader, was the one who had the vision.  The Lord commanded him to skedaddle and what did he do?  Did he stand there dithering over what to bring?  Nope!  He packed up all the essentials – provisions, tents, camels, wife and sons – and skedaddled.  His wife, Sariah, it is assumed, quietly obeyed her husband.  We’re not told what her reaction was, though, as evidenced in later chapters, she obviously had her doubts.

Next we come to the continuum of people who follow the prophet.  Nephi, the youngest of the four brothers, is at one end of this continuum.  He’s the brother who, rather than blindly obeying his father, took the matter to the Lord so he could know for himself.  His faith meant that he received a visitation from the Lord and confirmation of the words of his father.  So, he was able to obey his father without causing any trouble.

Sam is someplace in the middle of the continuum.  We aren’t told much about him except that, when Nephi spoke to him, he believed Nephi’s words and also didn’t rebel.  So, although Sam, it seems, didn’t possess the faith to ask the Lord himself, he did have faith in Nephi’s faith.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, given that the results are basically the same.

Laman and Lemuel are on the opposite end of the continuum from Nephi.  They never stopped murmuring until their father had to tell them off (v 14).  Even then, however, their belief flagged again and again until, finally, they decided that doing away with their younger brother would be their best bet.  To my mind, and the Lord’s it seems, that’s always a deal breaker.  Nephi, too, was concerned about their behavior and that they didn’t seem to believe him when he said he’d received confirmation from the Lord that their father was following commandments.  The Lord’s response was pretty definitive.  If they continued to fail in following the commandments, Nephi would be made a ruler and teacher over them and, if they rejected him, they would be cut off and their descendants would be used as a scourge when Nephi’s descendants forgot the gospel. 

Applying the Scriptures to my own life:

Obviously, I want to be like Nephi and/or Sam.  When a commandment comes from the prophet, I want to be one of those who goes to the Lord for confirmation or, if I don’t, quietly obeys the voices of those that did.  The Prophets have given us many commandments in these latter days.  There’s nothing that says I can’t follow in Nephi and Sam’s footprints and do as they did in following those commandments.  I can be like Lehi and immediately obey rather than standing here dithering about the how.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Book of Mormon: 1 Nephi 1

Today we’ll be studying First Nephi Chapter 1.

The first thing I note about 1 Nephi 1 is that Nephi begins his account about the same way I have started many of my own journals, namely with his reasons for keeping a record.  Here’s my list.

  1. He has good parents.
  2. He was taught in all the learning of his father (good education).
  3. He’s seen lots of trials and afflictions in his life.
  4. He’s been highly favored by the Lord all his life.
  5. He has had a great knowledge of the goodness and mysteries of God.

It occurs to me that these are good reasons for each of us to keep journals.  There isn’t one of us that doesn’t have at least two or more of these reasons for keeping a personal record of our lives.  There are other reasons, of course, but these, I think, are the primary ones.

Nephi also tells about how he’s keeping his record, in a language that consists of the learning of the Jews and the language or writing of the Egyptians.  Egyptian writing of the day was in modified hieroglyphs called Demotic and, as a result, easier to use when writing on sheets of metal especially when combined with the learning of the Jews to create what Book of Mormon scholars and later chapters of the book itself refer to as Reformed Egyptian. It’s worth noting here that Hebrew, the language of the Jews, isn’t written left to right, the way English is.  It’s written right to left.  Egyptian, however, can be written right to left, left to right or even top to bottom, so it’s very practical to keep records in Demotic, especially if you’re writing it on sheets of metal.

Nephi notes that he knows his record is true, that he is making it with his own hands, and according to his own knowledge.  That’s a nod to a practice that was relatively prevalent in 600 BC of hiring a scribe to write a record for you, as I can assume Laban and his family must have done with the plates of Brass, mentioned in another chapter.  Nephi, here, is saying that there’s no middle man between us and his story.  It’s just us and him and it’s not just a story, either.  This really happened.

We now move down into the beginning of Nephi’s narrative.  Here, Nephi provides a time reference: The first year of the reign of King Zedekiah of Judah.  For that, we have to go to the Bible.  In 2 Chronicles 36:9-11 we learn a few things about this King Zedekiah.  First of all, the king before him, Jehoiachin was only eight years old and reigned for all of three months and ten days.  The scripture says “he did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord.”  However, I note that, since the kid was only eight, he probably had some counselors that led him pretty far astray and/or his parents brought him up the wrong way.  In general, I’ve found that eight-year-olds, though capable of telling right from wrong, still look to their adult keepers for direction.  About eight years previous to that, Nebucadnezzar, king of Babylon had conquered Judah and taken away several young men, among which were four boys (Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah or Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego).

Anyway, at the end of the year, Nebucadnezzar sent people down and they grabbed him and brought him back to Babylon, along with all the “goodly vessels” (read gold cups and jars and things of that nature) in the temple.  Then Nebucadnezzar made Zedekiah, who was Jehoiachin’s brother, king over Judah.  I don’t know why Zedekiah wasn’t king already if he was older than Jehoiachin (he was twenty one when he came to the throne). We do know, however, that Nebucadnezzar made him swear by God that he wouldn’t rebel against Babylon.  Zedekiah reigned all of eleven years and also did evil in the sight of the Lord “his God,” which I take to mean that he knew he was doing something wrong.  Then, stupidly, to my mind, he decided that he would break his promise to the king who had set him on the throne and rebelled (v. 12-13), even after the Lord sent his prophet, Jeremiah, to warn him to stick close to the gospel or Jerusalem would be destroyed.  He refused to humble himself (which I suppose means that he let his new office get the better of him and forgot that he was nothing more than a puppet king) hardening his heart and stiffening his neck. 

Just a quick note here: a hard heart cannot learn and a stiff neck will not bend.  So, when it says he stiffened his neck and hardened his heart, that simply means he refused to humble himself.

This wasn’t all, however. Not only did Zedekiah rebel, the high priests in the temple and almost everyone else weren’t following the gospel, either.  Verse 14 tells us, “Moreover all the chief of the priests, and the people, transgressed very much after all the abominations of the heathen; and polluted the house of the Lord which he had hallowed in Jerusalem.”  They were following idol worship in the Lord’s temple. 

As usual (v 15) he sent prophets to warn them that Jerusalem would be destroyed if they didn’t repent.  But (v 16) the people abused these messengers and mocked them.  The Lord won’t put up with that for very long at all and, in this case, He didn’t.  He sent the King of the Chaldeans, who wasn’t like Nebucadnezzar at all.  He and his armies didn’t just kill men, they killed boys, girls, old men, young men and children (v17).  So, as was promised, Jerusalem was destroyed. 

Now, way back in the first year of Zedekiah, prophets, including Jeremiah, who was sent specifically to the king, were rising up and commanding the people to repent or the city of Jerusalem would be destroyed.  Lehi, who, we assume, must have been a trader or merchant at the time, must have heard one of these prophets speak.  So, troubled, he was walking along, praying to the Lord for his people, whom he must have loved deeply.  I found this particularly interesting.  It says, “as he went forth [he] prayed unto the Lord.”  That means he was walking and praying.  This is something I frequently do myself.  So I found it interesting to note that I’m not the only one who does that.  So, he’s walking along and praying fervently for his people when, out of nowhere, a pillar of fire comes down from the sky and lands on a rock in front of him.  I don’t know about you, but that would scare me to death.  In the fire, Lehi saw and heard a great deal, so much that Nephi notes “he did quake and tremble exceedingly.” So, if he wasn’t trembling already, what the fire showed him definitely made sure he was.

Then, exhausted, he went home and collapsed onto his bed where, overcome by the Spirit, he had a vision in which the Lord showed him a book that detailed the sins of Jerusalem, or why it would be destroyed unless people repented.  After he’d read the book, he praised the Lord, exclaiming that he believed in the Lord’s mercy to all those who were righteous and repented in his sight, that they wouldn’t die. 

Here, Nephi breaks off to say that he’s not going to write everything his father wrote.  We believe that this record mentioned by Nephi was contained in the first 116 pages translated by Joseph Smith Jr.  These were the pages Martin Harris took to his wife, ostensibly to prove that he wasn’t wasting the family’s money.  She, in her turn, stole them with the hope that Joseph would retranslate them and then they would bring out the originals, cleverly altered of course, to prove that the work was false.  Joseph never retranslated those pages, however, so they are lost to us.  I can only assume that Lehi’s complete genealogy and a complete accounting of all his visions was likely contained in those 116 pages.  By the commandment of the Lord, not knowing why, Nephi abridged this account and then wrote the story of his own life. 

Anyway, Lehi lost no time in becoming one of the messengers mentioned in 2 Chronicles.  Nephi says he went out and began to prophesy about the things he read in the book and that a Messiah would come to redeem them.  Like many of us, the Jews didn’t like being told that they needed to repent.  They got angry and began to plot the murder of Lehi.  Nephi, however, points out that the Lord is merciful with everyone he has selected because they have faith in Him and he can save them from destruction.  We’ll learn more about that in chapter 2.

I apologize for the length of this post.  If you managed to get all the way through it without getting bored, I applaud you.  Until tomorrow.

Friday, January 18, 2013

The Book of Mormon: Introduction

The Introduction has four parts that I’m aware of.

  1. The Official Introduction
  2. The Testimony of Three Witnesses
  3. The Testimony of Eight Witnesses
  4. The Testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith

Let’s take these one at a time.

The Official Introduction does what any book’s introduction does: it introduces the Book of Mormon.  The first three paragraphs sum up the content of the book, along with an assertion that the Book of Mormon is a work of scripture that is very like the Bible, the main purpose of which was to testify of the divinity of Jesus Christ.  The next paragraph summarizes how we came to have this ancient record in today’s modern world and how it was translated. Here, too, we are told of Joseph Smith’s assertion that the Book of Mormon was “the most correct of any book on earth and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.”  Finally, it mentions the next three sections and invites you to continue reading, promising a testimony of your own if you read the book and pray faithfully to know if the book is true or not.Arch-Diagram

Let’s look at this comment of Joseph Smith’s about the Book of Mormon being the keystone of our religion.  First of all, what’s a keystone?  Have you ever seen an arch?  It looks sort of like an upside down letter “U,” right?  If you look at the part of that arch right at the top of the bend.  That’s the keystone, right there. If that were removed, the entire arch would collapse.  What’s interesting is that many religious leaders and ex-Mormons know this about the Book of Mormon.  That being the case, they’ve spent a great deal of their time and money trying to disprove the truth of the book, to LDS_Growth_decades-2006dislodge that keystone and bring us down.  Judging by the rate of growth the church has shown over the years, though, I’m not sure they’ve been particularly successful.

three_witnessesNext comes the Testimony of Three Witnesses.  These witnesses were Oliver Cowdery, who had served as the scribe to Joseph Smith Jr, David Whitmer, whose father provided the Smiths with a place to live while they were being persecuted, and Martin Harris, who provided a great deal of money to aid in publication of the work.  I won’t go so far as to recap their testimony, but I will say that they never changed their stories as long as they lived, even though two of the three, namely Cowdery and Whitmer, eventually left the Church.

Eight witnesses_5-18

Third, we have the much shorter Testimony of Eight Witnesses.  Again, I won’t recap the testimony for you.  However, I do know that Christian, Jacob, John and Peter Whitmer Jr were all sons of the Whitmer that gave the Smiths lodgings.  Joseph Smith Sr, Hyrum and Samuel H. Smith were his father and two of his brothers. Hiram Page was one of the elder Whitmer’s sons-in-law. 

Last, but certainly not least, Joseph Smith Jr’s account of how he came to have the plates is given.  Which details the series of visions he had one night wherein an angel calling himself Moroni appeared to him and directed him to a certain hill where, in due course, he might obtain the above mentioned plates.  Smith tells us that, as these visions took up the entire night, the following morning found him completely exhausted and unable to function.  Then, as he was attempting to return home for, I suppose, a nap, the angel appeared to him yet again, repeating everything he had said the previous evening and commanding him to tell his father.  I could go on, but I probably shouldn’t.  I want you to read it for yourself.  Suffice it to say that Smith tells about how he eventually got the plates and how a good deal of persecution and deception were used to try to take them from him once people learned that he had them.  Especially once people learned that the plates were supposed to be made of gold.  I’m told that many people in the area referred to them constantly as “Joe Smith’s gold book.”  At one point, Joseph was even dragged from his home so that the house could be searched, to no avail. 

As have people before me, I invite you to read the book and learn for yourself if it’s true or not. Tomorrow we will delve into the Book of Mormon itself when we tackle First Nephi chapter one.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Book of Mormon: Title Page

Usually, when I begin my study of the Book of Mormon, I skip over all the introductory materials at the front and start off at First Nephi.  However, I noticed that the Church tends to start with the intro stuff.  So, for a blog on the scriptures, I figure that I should start there as well.

So, let’s start with the title page.  As with any ordinary book, we start off with the title of the work, “The Book of Mormon.”  Beneath that, we find the name of the person who, at least, did the largest amount of work on the book, namely Mormon.  Generally, in books that are a compilation of works or like that, you’ll find the name of the person or corporation that did the compiling listed on the title page of the book in the place of an author.  This title page is much the same.  After that, we learn that this book was originally written on metal plates.  This means that this book, before it was translated, was written entirely by hand.

Now we come to the meat of the title page.  In the first sentence of the first paragraph, we learn that this work is an abridgment of records kept by the people of Nephi (Nephites) and Laman (Lamanites).  You’ll find a pronunciation guide in the back of most copies of the Book of Mormon if you’re in any doubt as to how to say those names.  Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary tells us abridgment means “a shortened form of a work retaining the general sense and unity of the original.”  That seems to indicate that the information contained in the Book of Mormon was once much larger and more detailed.  Given that the book was originally hand-written on metal plates, that would tend to make the book rather cumbersome, at best.  Making an abridgment would, at the very least, make the book much more portable than leaving it in its original form might.

The writer of the title page next tells us that the book is meant, in part, for the Lamanites, “a remnant of the house of Israel.”  Merriam-Webster defines remnant as “a small surviving group.”  That means that the Lamanites are some of what’s left of the scattered Israelites mentioned in the Bible.  It has long been held that the Native American tribes have a distinct connection with the mentioned Lamanites.  It is not the purpose of this blog to either prove or disprove this idea.  Other websites have done both and I leave you to read them and decide for yourself.

Moving onward, we learn that the Book of Mormon was also written in particular to the peoples known colloquially as “the Jews” and “the Gentiles.”  Gentile is a Hebrew term meaning someone who isn’t Hebrew.  So, basically, this book has been prepared for… us, all of us.

The writer continues, stating that this book has been compiled and abridged “by way of commandment.”  That basically means that the Lord told them to do it.  Furthermore, it was also abridged “by the spirit of prophecy and of revelation.”  All that means is that the Lord told them how to abridge the work so that the general sense (see the above definition of abridgment) and unity were retained.

We are then told that, following the writing and abridgement of the book, it was hidden “that it might not be destroyed.”  That raises questions all over the place for me.  Why did the book’s abridgers fear that the book might be destroyed?  Perhaps some group of wicked people had heard that a record was being kept and made it their business to find and destroy it.  We aren’t told.  What we are told is that the work is expected to be brought forth by the power of God, so that it can be interpreted.  The name of the person who has hidden the record is given as Moroni.  It is assumed that this is the person who has prepared the title page.  Finally, we are told that the interpretation of this work is given “by the gift of God.”  That, to my mind at least, means that this book can only be translated with God’s help.

Moving right along, the second paragraph begins by adding that an abridgement of the “Book of Ether” has also been added.  The Book of Ether is described succinctly as a record of the “people of Jared” scattered from the tower of Babel.  The writer informs us that this is meant to show the remnant previously mentioned how well the Lord has taken care of their ancestors as well as to give them knowledge of the covenants of the Lord, so they’ll have a chance to be redeemed with everyone else. 

Finally, we are told that the book is meant to convince everyone (Jew and Gentile) that Jesus is the Christ.  If you don’t know already, Christ, here, is a Greek translation of the Hebrew word “Messiah,” which, roughly translated, means “Savior.”  We are enjoined that this work was compiled by people, who are, at best, flawed.  So, if it has mistakes, they are man-made, and not from God.  We are asked to refrain from condemning the works of God and, thus, avoid condemnation ourselves.

Then the name of the translator (Joseph Smith, Jr) and the publisher (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) is given.

From what I understand, the main reason the Book of Mormon has such a long and detailed title page is to make it fully clear what the purpose of the book is, who it’s intended for and where it came from.  In a way, it is as though the ancient writers are offering us this book and saying, “Here! Read this!  It has vital information in it for you.”  I leave you with this same suggestion.  As far as I know, you can obtain a copy of the Book of Mormon at most bookstores or, if you’d rather, you can get a free copy for the small price of having a couple of Mormon missionaries visit you.  Who knows?  You might even be able to get a copy from a Mormon friend, if you have one.  If not, simply visit  The entire book is available online at that site.  Tomorrow we’ll delve further into the Introductory materials and, hopefully, I won’t be quite so long-winded.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

In the Beginning There Was a Blog

Welcome, faithful readers, to my scripture blog.  This first entry should be considered to be something of an introduction to what comes next.  First of all, I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Our prophets have often counseled us to make scripture study a daily activity.  I'm hoping that writing to this blog will help me remember to do this.  That being the case, I apologize in advance if I fail to post every day. My memory isn't all that great, so there may be some days when my schedule or the needs of my family prevent me from posting an entry.

As for the kind of content you'll find here, you'll find that the entries mainly read like a scripture study journal.  However, I'll be using as many of the LDS scripture resource books as I can conveniently obtain both online and off it.  So, if you wish, you can think of this as a kind of online Seminary or Institute class.  I lay no claim to being any kind of knowledgeable scriptorian.  However, I do invite you to comment after every entry.  Just like participating in class.  I'll probably make some references to my family and my situation here at home in many, if not all my entries.  There will be a link to the scripture passage I'm studying in every post, so you can follow along if you don't have your own scriptures handy.

In any case, I thank you for allowing me to publish this blog and I hope you will be as edified as I hope to be.   In any event, I hope we'll be able to get through the entire standard works a few times before I'm done with this blog.