Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Book of Mormon: 2 Nephi 1

Today, we begin our study of the book, Second Nephi with 2 Nephi 1.

In this chapter, Nephi tells that, as he was finishing explaining the scriptures to his brothers, his father took up the thread of conversation, “rehearsing” to them the miraculous circumstances that brought them to the place they are in now.  Merriam-Webster tells us, among other definitions, that “rehearse” can mean “to present an account of” or relate.  But it can also mean, “to say again (repeat)” or “to recount in order (enumerate)”.  I won’t go into everything Lehi repeats to them.  Suffice it to say that he goes over both the good and the bad that happened and that they did together during their journey to the promised land.

From there, Lehi begins to prophesy, telling his family that he has obtained a promise from the Lord that this land, on which they stand, is one that has been set apart and consecrated for those whom the Lord choses to bring.  As long as they obey his commandments and serve Him they will prosper and be protected.  No one will be able to hurt them.  When, (you’ll note he doesn’t say “if” here) they dwindle in unbelief, if they choose to reject the Savior (especially after all the Lord has done for them by bringing them to this glorious land of promise), the land will be cursed and other nations will be given power to take their land and their possessions and scatter them.  He says, “…as one generation passeth to another there shall be bloodsheds and great visitations among them (v12).”

Having said all this, Lehi then begins, with all the passion of a loving and, no doubt, worried father, to implore his sons to repent and live close to the commandments of the Lord.  He tells them to Awake.

It’s interesting to me that he should choose to use this particular word.  Awake.  “Awake from a deep sleep, yea, even from the sleep of hell (v13).”  Think about it.  Sometimes, when you’re deeply involved in sin and you’re brought to a knowledge that what you’re doing is fundamentally wrong, for whatever reason, doesn’t it feel sometimes like you’re waking up from a deep sleep?  To me, it’s the kind of sleep I get after eating too much junk food.  It’s not often a restful sleep and I wake from it feeling more tired than I would have had I eaten something healthy.  Or imagine that you are in a coma and you awake.  I’m told that people in comas often can hear the voice of those who love them pleading with them to awake, but find themselves unable to respond. 

Given the knowledge that the land will be cursed if the people living on it are unrighteous, Lehi begs his sons to be righteous, shrug off the coma of sin and emerge to a real, waking, joyful life; a life filled with light and truth. 

Lehi also suggests that they stop rebelling against their brother, whom they have often accused of seeking power over them.  Lehi tells them he knows Nephi has never sought power over them at all.  I can think of a number of times when I have rebelled against people who had authority over me.  Perversely, even though intellectually I knew they didn’t mean me any harm and weren’t trying to control me, even though I knew they were right, I became too easily irritated by them, which attitude made it difficult for the spirit to speak to me.

I’m reminded of a story I was once told about Joseph Smith.  He said that he was often criticized by people and he had a way of handling it that I found to be insightful.  He would listen to them and try to figure out if what they were saying about him was true, putting his feelings, his emotional self aside for the moment.  If what they said was true, assuming that it was something bad, he would endeavor to change it.  If what they said wasn’t true, he would ignore them. 

If we are careful and allow the Spirit to work in us, when people say things to us that seem controlling or critical, we can seek the Lord’s help in handling it.  We can make that situation into one of learning and repentance, instead of wasting our emotions being angry with the people who spoke to us.  As God is my witness, I know this is possible.  I leave this testimony with you in the sacred name of Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Book of Mormon: 1 Nephi 22

Today, we’ll be studying 1 Nephi 22, which will finish out the book of First Nephi. 

The Lord and, by extension, Nephi, knew that Isaiah would be hard for some to understand.  Jesus Christ stated the reason for this when his disciples asked him why he chose to speak in parables.  However, having been called to be his brothers’ teacher, Nephi did his best to explain the previous passages to them (Click the following links to visit my entries concerning 1 Nephi 20 and 1 Nephi 21).

The brothers start out by asking if the previous passages had to do only with things of the spirit, not the flesh.  My understanding of this is as follows.  If Nephi had said they regarded things of the spirit (spiritual) then they could be taken as symbolic of their spiritual journey homeward.  If Nephi had said they were of the flesh (temporal) they could be taken literally, as things about to happen in the physical world.  Nephi, however, tells them that they deal with both spiritual and temporal things, meaning that information can be gleaned from these passages that can provide us with necessary direction on the path back into the presence of our Father, however they also provide us with concrete knowledge of things meant to happen in the physical world. 

Nephi informs them that Israel will be scattered across the face of the earth and among all nations.  This means that, very likely, there will be a pretty large number of people who aren’t even aware of their Israelite heritage.  In fact, by the time Lehi and his family left Jerusalem, most of the children of Israel had already been scattered and much of the previous prophecy read to the brothers by Nephi has been concerning them.  Then the Lord will set up the Gentiles (non-Israelites) as a standard.  I love the definition of this word:

1.  something considered by an authority or by general consent as a basis of comparison; an approved model.

2.  an object that is regarded as the usual or most common size or form of its kind: We stock the deluxe models as well as the standards.

3.  a rule or principle that is used as a basis for judgment: They tried to establish standards for a new philosophical approach.

4.  an average or normal requirement, quality, quantity, level,grade, etc.: His work this week hasn't been up to his usual standard.

5.  standards, those morals, ethics, habits, etc., established by authority, custom, or an individual as acceptable: He tried to live up to his father's standards.

This means that the Gentiles (i.e., us) would be chosen by the Lord to represent an approved model.  They (we) would be regarded as the most usual, common form of their kind and used as a basis for judgment.  Their (our) example would be considered the normal requirement and established by the Lord as acceptable morals, ethics and habits for the re-emerging children of Israel.  It also means that the Gentiles would be held up to the world like a banner or flag for people to follow.  Many, if not all, of us know what this is like.  There’s a good chance that sometime in your life someone has pointed to another person and said something like, “be like that person.”  That person has been set up as a standard for you.  You may even have been the person people were saying that about.  Our ultimate standard, of course, is Jesus Christ.

Nephi also mentions that the Gentiles will nurse the children of Israel, carrying them in their arms and on their shoulders.  This makes me think of parenthood.  I think it means that the Gentiles will raise, nurture, care for and look after the children of Israel.  I’m put in mind of the reestablishment of the country of Israel by the United States in 1948.

He also promises that the righteous will be preserved by the power of the Lord, even if it means the destruction of their enemies by fire.  Further, Nephi speaks about the coming of the “Holy One of Israel,” better known as Messiah or the Savior of the World.  He tells that all churches built for the sake of making money or getting power or being popular, etc, need to be afraid, because they will be brought low and consumed by fire.  At this point, I want to reiterate that at no time in this blog do I intend to point the finger of judgment at other churches.  That’s not the job for which I was put onto this earth.  Moving on.

After Christ returns to the earth, he will gather his children from all over the world…”and there shall be one fold and one shepherd; and he shall feed his sheep and in him they shall find pasture.” I am of the opinion that this means his church will be gathered into one place and he will be the leader and they will look directly to him for knowledge and guidance.  What’s more, Satan would be bound, not with cords, but by the righteousness of the people.  It is with this information that Nephi ends this part of the Book of Mormon.

Applying the Scriptures to My Life

The part of this scripture that struck me hardest was when Nephi explained that the Gentiles, meaning us, would be set up as a standard to the children of Israel.  Looking up the word, as I was inspired to do, gave me an interesting insight into the particular use of that word, “standard.”  I knew that a standard could be a flag and it could be a set of morals and good habits that we would be wise to live by.  I also remembered John Bytheway explaining that a basketball hoop is called a “standard.”  He explained that this was because it is always set at a specific height and that height never changes. 

I know that people look at Mormons with quizzical looks wondering what we have that they don’t.  So I can’t help wondering if we have already been set up as a standard, not just for the children of Israel, but for the entire world.  That sort of makes me think that I should be trying harder to live as close to the gospel and the commandments as possible.

Have a different interpretation of this scripture, or personal thoughts and feelings about it?  Feel free to leave them in the comments below.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Book of Mormon: 1 Nephi 21

Again, I apologize for the length of time this article has taken me to put out.  I appreciate your patience.  As I mentioned, Isaiah isn’t the easiest book for non-Jews to study. Anyway, today, I will attempt to delve into 1 Nephi 21.
As I was reading this, the poet in me was impressed by the symbolism included in this chapter.  First, Isaiah speaks to those  that are “broken off and are driven out because of the wickedness of the pastors of my people. (v 1)”  The term pastor, in this case, refers to shepherds, and was frequently used among the Jews of the day as a reference to their leaders.  Imagine for a moment that you are a sheep.  The true shepherd has hired someone to look after you and the flock you are a part of, but that person is wicked.  He doesn’t care about you except as a means to an end (as a source of money or, in some cases, food).  Though they’re stupid, sheep can usually tell if the person watching them cares or not.  So, as a sheep, you know the person watching you doesn’t care about your personal welfare.  So, perhaps, you leave in search of the true shepherd. 
Second, Isaiah tells us that the Lord has “made my mouth like a sharp sword…and made me a polished shaft; in his quiver hath he hid me.(v 2)”  Think about these similes for a minute.  If y  our mouth were like a sharp sword, your job would be to say things likely to stab your listeners to the heart.  The same with an arrow or “polished shaft.”  However, in the form of this weapon, your job is to strike the center of the soul.  How many of us, while reading the scriptures or listening to the prophets haven’t felt their words seek the very center of our being, as though they were speaking directly to us?  To be hidden in the quiver (a storage place for arrows) indicates that he is being saved for just the right moment (like Bard and his black arrow which he used to bring down the dragon, Smaug, in the Hobbit). 
Finally, in Isaiah’s vision, we are told that Zion will claim to have been forsaken.  The response tells us in a very poetic way who is being referred to.  “Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands…(v 16)”  “Graven” means engraved, or scratched or carved.  We know that, during the crucifixion of Christ, they drove nails into the palms of his hands.  So this verse is a direct reference to the atonement of Christ. 
The Book of Mormon Study Guide makes the following points
  • 1 Nephi 21 contains material not included in the original scripture
  • Verses 1-9 are a reference to the Savior, but can also properly be applied to Isaiah and Joseph Smith
The scripture heading also points out that this scripture refers to the eventual gathering of Israel in the last days (our days).
Applying the Scriptures to My Life
Having read this chapter and given the amount of time it’s taken me to finally write about it, I feel that the Lord is also talking to me.  We are told that each of us was chosen before we were born.  perhaps I, too, have a responsibility to “bring Jacob again to him (v 5).” I know I should be anxiously engaged in sharing the gospel and not be afraid of spending my strength in service to him.  As he has spent his blood on me and I am carved into the palms of His hands, so, too, are they, and I have a responsibility to them to share what I know.
As usual, you are invited to leave your thoughts in the comments section below.  What impressions do you get from this scripture?  How do you apply it to your life?

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Book of Mormon: 1 Nephi 20

Greetings, faithful readers and studiers, and welcome to this long awaited next post.  I confess, like most who study the Book of Mormon, I tend to stall out when I get to the chapters “comparable with Isaiah.”  As you see, given the amount of time that has come between 1 Nephi 19 and 1 Nephi 20, it happened to me again.  Much of the intervening time between this chapter and the past one has been spent in trying to figure out how to handle it.  Should I cover it either on its own merits or as it relates to the Book of Mormon thus far or should I skip it and cover it later when I start to tackle the Bible (which, by the way, I do intend to cover at a later date)?  After a good deal of prayer and pondering, I’ve decided to go ahead and cover 1 Nephi 20 in as many ways as the Spirit directs, as it relates to me personally, since Nephi mentioned in the previous chapter that he “liken[s] all scriptures unto [himself and his people] that it might be for [their] profit and learning (1 Nephi 19: 23).”  I should also mention that a friend of mine pointed out that, as 1 Nephi ends shortly after the two quotations of Isaiah, I might as well cover them.  That made a certain amount of sense.  So, my friend, you know who you are.  Thank you for your suggestion.  Please bear in mind that the following is my personal interpretation.  If your interpretation is different, please leave it in the comments section below.  Here goes.
To begin with, Isaiah talks about the people of Israel.  He says that they continue to swear by the name of the God of Israel but don’t do so righteously.  He says that they seem to think that, since they live in the Holy City of Jerusalem and are part of the race of people He calls His, that they don’t have to keep His commandments.  In other words, the Lord will always help them, regardless of the state of their personal righteousness.  Isaiah told them off for this because it is contrary to the Word of the Lord in the scriptures and from the mouths of the prophets.  (v1-2)
The Lord has provided us with plenty of evidence to believe the words he gives us.  In these scriptures, Isaiah mentions several of these and tells why they were needed
  1. They were declared suddenly because he knew we were obstinate and stubborn.
  2. They were given to us from the beginning so we couldn’t declare that our idols provided them.
  3. We were shown new and hidden things, created now so we can’t say “I already knew that.”
The Lord loves us the way a good father does.  He loves us knowing we’ll screw up and knowing we’ll deserve his wrath.  He gives us prophecies and warnings, trying to shine a light into the fog so that we’ll be able to see where our next steps should go.  Because we continue to call on his name and ask for his support, his rage is deferred.  However, we must realize that sometimes trials must come, so that our faith will be purified, like silver in the refiners fire.  In particular, he loves his prophets, who declare these necessary words to us.  They speak to us with the Lord’s voice.  He has promised that those whom he has called into his service will be supported.   As for the wicked, they will know no peace.
Resources: Book of Mormon Student's Study Guide

Applying the Scriptures to My Life
Thinking about these words, I can remember a few times in my life that I thought it didn't matter how I behaved simply because I was a Mormon.  This is not the case.  The prophets have often said that we were required to be examples and missionaries to our brothers and sisters who haven’t received the gospel.  We have been promised that we will receive support if we spread the word.  Also, we have been asked to study the scriptures daily.  They contain the Word of the Lord.  There is no reason why we shouldn't partake of this lasting feast.  You can’t gain physical weight by partaking of a spiritual feast and there’s nothing wrong with gaining spiritual weight.  Most of us, spiritually, are pitifully thin.  I admit it, I’m one of those.  Anyway, thanks for reading this.  I hope I haven’t babbled too much and I’ll be back tomorrow with the next chapter.
God be with you.